To be honest, Johannesburg was not the location I was most excited about when we decided to travel to South Africa. It has a bad reputation for crime, and not a particularly well known reputation for culture and arts, aspects I am usually interested in when visiting a new city. I think it was because I was not expecting anything in particular that discovering some parts of the city so far has been so enjoyable. Sure, there is crime. It would be foolish to not admit that when you see the electric fences and armed security in front of all ATM machines. However, there is a great deal of history and culture that goes beyond crime and racism.
The highlight of my trip so far has been getting to know people from various socio-economic communities, hearing what they have to say, and learning a little bit more every day about how this country works for the people who inhabit it. Visiting the government high school which my aunt works at struck a chord with me personally, it was truly eye opening to see how students from different religious, racial and economic circumstances can learn together harmoniously. This is not the South Africa that you often hear about. Although frustratingly the students were more interested by the fact that Sam supports Arsenal (they did not agree with him) than my amazing advice on how to flirt in French. They will regret it one day I know.
Aside from that, Johannesburg and its surroundings have been amazing to visit so far and considering we have only just scraped the surface, it is promising many opportunities for future visits. The war museum was a treasure trove of memorabilia, things you would never see in Europe are in its permanent collection. Adjacent to it, the zoo is uncrowded and serves really good food. Most of the buildings in there are historical ones, from when the zoo was first built, which gives a very singular and enjoyable air to the area.
I am sure that Sam will mention the cricket, I do not have much to add as I still do not understand much about the sport, except that we had excellent food and the best donuts I have ever had. As you can tell, I rate places highly depending on the food quality.
Richie took us to the Cradle of Humankind, a 45min drive away from Johannesburg, to visit the Sterkfontein caves and the Hartbeesport Dam. If you think you have seen beautiful scenery before visiting the Cradle of Humankind, then be prepared for your mind to be blown (also, very good food at the top of the mountain when you take the cableway FYI).
I cannot wait for the rest of our JoBurg adventures to continue, but I am just too tired at the minute to do anything else but sleep.
Spending time in Johannesburg reminds me a lot of what life was like living in Houston when I was a child. The city is quite spread out and there are seemingly endless suburbs with impressively literal names like Greenside (there are a lot of trees) or Parkside (there is a park and a zoo). There is also of course the security issue which, similarly to Houston, is at the forefront of most people’s minds. I was surprised at the lengths people have to go to to stay safe (electric fencing, security doors, private security companies, etc.)
Having said that, the most surprising thing about Johannesburg for me is how much I like the city. The zoo, which is not far from where we were staying, is world class and so too is the adjoining Military Museum. Going to watch South Africa play cricket at the Wanderers stadium is a memory which I will cherish for years to come and seeing Hashim Amla score a century in his 100th test (only the 8th player ever to do so) was incredible. However the most amazing experience of our time here was driving 40 minutes or so out of the city to visit the Cradle of Human Kind. We went first to the Sterkfontein Caves where some of the oldest fossilised hominids were found and are continuing to be found to this day. We then went up a cable car to a viewing area overlooking the Hartbeesport dam. It is safe to say that Johannesburg has a lot more to offer than the scaremongering you often read on the web.
So far our trip has exceeded even our lofty expectations and we are both really looking forward to what is still to come. Kruger National Park, Cape Town, the Drakensberg mountain range, the Garden Route and not to mention a whole three months in Australia still await us!