Johannesburg | Sine Thieme

When I’m asked by prospective expats about Johannesburg, the first topic that invariably comes up is the crime rate. It’s the Eiffel Tower for Paris, the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco, and Roadside Smash-and-Grab for Johannesburg. Yes, the reputation is there for a reason, but I don’t know of any other major city in the world where the chasm between perception and reality is quite so deep. If you’ve ever actually lived in Johannesburg, or Joburg or Jozi as it is also often called, and someone asks you what you remember it for, the crime rate won’t top your list. 

What will probably top your list is the weather. Joburg gets an incredible 300 hours of average sunshine per month, which translates into about 10 hours per day. From the early morning when you’re woken by the blood-curdling screech of the hadeda, a bird in the ibis family and an icon of South Africa, until evening when the sun dips over the horizon in a sea of orange and red marking another breathtaking African sunset, the sun will shine as reliably, well… as reliably as traffic lights work in places other than Johannesburg. Actually, they are not traffic lights but robots, as South Africans inexplicably call them, but we’ll get back to those later. Even places like Rio or Sydney, which you might think of favorably in terms of climate, don’t get much more than 150 hours of sunshine a month. And they are not just regular hours of sunshine; they are splendid – mild, dry, never humid. Sleeping with open windows and a breeze wafting through our bedroom is one of my fondest memories of life in Johannesburg.

As is often the case, the sunny climate seems to seep into a person’s soul, and so the people of Johannesburg are known as the friendliest in the world. The smiles and jokes being lavished on you from all sides on a daily basis are so contagious you will make friends faster than you have ever before, and when you do you’ll probably be invited into their homes for a braai, labeled by some as the best kind of barbecue in the world (probably because it lasts so long and involves a lot of wine and beer). Random people will offer you their help. They will be genuinely interested in your problem or project and generous with their time helping to solve it. Surrounded by such goodwill, you will find yourself strolling through the streets of Joburg with an extra spring in your step. 

Though I admit that you might not, in fact, stroll – Johannesburg is huge, around 10 million people, though estimates vary greatly – but rather find yourself in a car, and more often than not that car will be stuck in traffic, which to me far outpaces crime as Joburg’s worst feature. This is due to its almost non-existent public transport system and the fact that numerous ill-maintained and largely unregulated minibus taxis take up the slack, and often also due to the aforementioned robots, a good number of which can be counted on not working on any given day. Don’t ask me why, there is no good reason for it, it’s just the way it is. But in typical African fashion predicament is turned into opportunity, and thus you get one of Joburg’s most endearing features: Its ubiquitous street vendors. You will see them simply everywhere offering their colorful wares, from beaded key chains to rugby shirts, pirated DVDs and clothes hangers. As a newcomer you will often be warned to keep your windows up, but to me engaging with the street vendors and haggling over price was a favorite pastime. Not only that, I’d often despair at not finding an item in any stores, and sure enough a street vendor could be counted on to source it for me.

The things you can do and see in Joburg are too numerous to count. If you’re interested in culture and history, must-see stops are the Apartheid Museum, Liliesleaf Farm, and the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto. While you’re at the Apartheid Museum, you might also plan a visit to Gold Reef City, an amusement park that has it all, from a Kiddies Corner for your toddler to the Tower of Terror where you can plunge headfirst into an old mineshaft at breakneck speed. While you visit Soweto, you might sign up for an official tour – even bike tours are available – that takes you to other important landmarks such as Mandela House, Walter Sisulu Square, and Regina Mundi Church. If you like shopping, then Sandton City is a place for you; it’s one of the largest (and confusing) shopping centers I have ever been in. Be sure to also step onto Mandela Square and get your picture taken next to the giant bronze statue of Nelson Mandela. If it’s Sunday, pay a visit to the Rosebank Roofetop Market for a colorful collection of antiques, African artifacts, and ethnic foods, where you might also be entertained by talented drumming or a capella performances. In the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg, which is where most expats choose to settle, you can walk on cobble-stoned streets at Montecasino, an indoor shopping and entertainment complex built to resemble a Tuscan village with quaint stores, many restaurants, movie theaters, a casino, bowling alley, comedy club, and the “Teatro” featuring all the big-name performances coming to South Africa.

If you’re more of a nature and animal lover and tired of the hustle of the city, embark on a day trip into Joburg’s surroundings. There is the Elephant Sanctuary near Hartbeespoort Dam where you can ride on an elephant and be kissed by one, the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Centre at De Wildt not far from there where you can pet cheetahs and see them run at their incredible speed, there are canopy tours and balloon safaris on offer in the Magaliesberg, there is the Lion Park where you can drive right up to lions in your own car, and there is Pilanesberg National Park less than two hours away where you can see all of the Big Five in their natural habitat. 

While Joburg might pale in comparison to its glitzier cousin Cape Town when it comes to world class restaurants, it nevertheless offers countless options for high quality (and very affordable) dining. You might try dinner at Tasha’s at Melrose Square, lunch at the Saxon Hotel in Sandton, or High Tea at the Westcliff Hotel where you can enjoy an amazing view. Or stroll along 4th Avenue in Parkhurst and pop into some of the furniture and antique stores, then treat yourself to a sandwich of freshly-baked bread at Vovo Telo bakery or eat on the rooftop terrace at George’s on 4th. If you don’t mind a longer drive, head out into the lovely Muldersdrift area and enjoy the plantation-like setting at Casalinga over a leisurely meal on the patio, or try the Leafy Green Café for some renowned vegan fare. If vegan doesn’t appeal to you, I’m sure you will love the food (and African-themed atmosphere) at nearby Carnivore.

Speaking of views, be sure to drive up to Northcliff Hill, park your car at the water tower, and take the 15 minute stroll around the top for some stunning views of the Joburg skyline and surrounding areas. If you’re adventurous you might want to go off the beaten track and go on a graffiti walking tour with Past Experiences, join the Joburg Photowalkers on one of their Sunday walks, or find a tour that ventures into Alexandra, one of the most infamous (and historic) townships in the area. 

What strikes most visitors is how young and vibrant Johannesburg seems. Perhaps this is so because it is, in fact, one of the youngest big cities in the world, having only been founded in the late 19th century.  It is also one of the greenest cities of the world – it is said to be the largest man-made forest – which is remarkable given its semi-arid climate (you won’t get a drop of rain from May to October, another factor contributing to those long hours of sunshine I promised earlier) and the fact that it’s also the world’s largest city not built next to water of any kind.  Some more facts: Johannesburg is the largest city in Sub-Saharan Africa, is home to the tallest tower in all of Africa (the Hillbrow Tower which in the years we lived there was clad in a giant soccer ball in honor of the first African Soccer World Cup), almost half of the world’s gold comes from the Johannesburg region, and – perhaps less well-known – almost half of the world’s humanoid fossils were found nearby. In fact, another excursion not to miss is a half-day trip to the Cradle of Humankind and its Epcot-like Maropeng Visitor Centre and Sterkfontein Caves – be sure to have a cappuccino on the terrace afterwards for some breathtaking views of the Magaliesberg mountain range.

You’ve asked about the crime rate. I know you have, there is no denying it crossed your mind when the word Johannesburg came up. So let me close in telling you that yes, you should be careful and sensible, especially at night and in places unknown to you, much like you might be advised when visiting any other metropolitan area. Some people make a point of not stopping their cars at a red light at night (which, you will remember, most likely isn’t working anyway) and we’ve had some fun with this while living there. It won’t be a bad idea to find a home in a fenced-in estate with around-the-clock security and to do your shopping and dining where there is guarded parking (which is almost everywhere in South Africa). However, some of your most memorable experiences in Johannesburg might happen when you step out of your comfort zone. 

And you should know that there are a large number of expats living happily in Johannesburg whose biggest fear is not crime but the fact that they’ll have to move back home one day.

Mumbai | Nickolai Kinny

Mumbai, the name itself associates an immediate sense of chaos, noise and commotion to the people that belong or have visited it. One would imagine its roads possessing a topography of its own; overcrowded with lazy cattle. Try hard fast bikes, rickshaw drivers that would put Tokyo drifters to shame, trucks, vendors, an occasional elephant and then people. Sometimes it seems like the island was overtaken by the sea, a sea of people. Being diverse and a hub to people from all over India, it has created a sense of ethnicity for itself; borrowing generously from various rich cultures and rituals.

Mumbai’s most endearing quality is also its most annoying, most beautiful, and also its most tiresome: the sheer volume of people versus space. In a city where more visitors find jobs than homes, there isn’t a chance to be alone. As you walk you’re surrounded by people carrying out their own itineraries, trajectories and destinies. You are part of their journey; they, a part of yours. You become covered in the cities sweat, its tears, and its dirt but most importantly, you become covered in the cities stories.

This chaotic, cosmopolitan is India’s finance powerhouse, cultural centre and its most dynamic city. Described as the Manhattan of India, Mumbai is unlike the rest of the subcontinent. Its 14 million inhabitants, more than half of whom live in slums, are all crammed into a narrow peninsula that reaches out to the Arabian Sea.

With a whirlwind of sounds, colours, tastes and smells that is as enchanting as is confounding. There isn’t a single part of the city that doesn’t grasp at your attention, from the turbulent streets of the flower markets in Matunga and Dadar to the dazzling Bollywood sets in film city, from the wailing hawkers of Hill Road to the curries at Khau Gali (Eat Street) and smell of kebabs on Mohammed Ali Road, from the erratic auto-rickshaw drivers that choke every highway to the sacred cows that clog every road.

Mumbai, a city so fast paced and busy that people recite communal hymns in praise to the Hindu god’s on their way to work on the Churchgate fast train, get their lunch delivered at work by 4,500 Dabbawallas (Lunchbox delivery men) who collect and deliver 175,000 packages all over the city in a matter of few hours in the very same trains. And after most people end their day with Mumbai’s mighty grime and dirt, their clothes go on to be relentlessly pounded at the Dhobi Ghat, a huge open-air Laundromat consisting of row upon row of concrete wash basins, all with a flogging stone. Here, a traditional laundry-man will collect your dirty linen, have it washed and returned neatly pressed to your doorstep for the next week of chaos repeat.

But for all that Mumbai throws at the senses; it throws as much at the heart. It’d be false to claim that everyone falls for Mumbai as soon as they arrive. For many, the experience is too intense, the people too abundant, divided into the ones that live in high rise skyscrapers that stand 100 meters away from the ones that live in slums and shanties. It almost has a remarkable yet absurd balance to it and becomes cohesive and functional by the people that never sleep.

When people refer to Mumbai as the city that never sleeps, they’re actually referring to stock market investors at Dalal Street and Dharavi. Dharavi, made famous by Slumdog Millionaire and often dubbed as Asia’s largest slum, to me in reality is ‘Asia’s largest enterprise’   Walking tours of the place help explore the different facets of this world, including the many industries which thrive here. From potters to recyclers to tie & dye to perfumes and to soap making can all be noticed by a mere walk around the place. Dharavi generates business worth $500 million from leather goods alone every year. They don’t just follow designs but also set fashion trends.

Another main reason for keeping Mumbai restless and alive is the city’s top nightlife spots. Barhopping is recommend with a start at enjoying the sun downer with a cocktail at Aer, a bar that’s located on the 34th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel and is open air, breezy, and provides panoramic views of the city. Move then to Dome, a sensuous and seductive rooftop bar to enjoy another cocktail and the lighting up of the Queen’s Necklace a sparkling row of lights by Marine Drive. Follow that by live gigs or plays at either The Blue Frog or NCPA. From live jazz performances to electronic world DJ’s, Contemporary dance exhibits to Classical Music orchestras, Cinemas  and pubs to luxury sushi bars, the night life here can keep you high, pockets dry and still strung.

One has to walk to truly discover the heartbeat of Mumbai. To understand what makes it click, tick and move. Various routes can be explored to visit remarkable art and architecture like the historic Dockyard Road, the Kala Ghoda Art District for dog eared copies of all the books and bestsellers, sleepy lanes of old Colaba, and arcades and bazaars along Victorian style D.N. Road.

To test your bargaining power explore a maze of Bazaars and markets like Crawford Market, Mirchi Galli (spices market), Zaveri Bazaar (Gold Market), Phool Galli (Flower Street) and lastly Chor Bazaar (Theives Market). The key is to quote nearly half the price and then walkway until they grumble and call you back.

And lastly remember that even though Mumbai can drown you with its sea of people and noise, don’t write it off just yet. Let it consume you. It may seem tiresome, but you won’t get tired of it. It might overwhelm you into leaving, but hang on awhile longer and you’ll be back to discover more. Mumbai is the place to be at least once in your lifetime; so give it a fair try, after all 14 million people can’t be wrong.

Remember the buzz of the city will drive you crazy, but the constancy and calm of the sea will call to you.

There’s a famous Bollywood Hindi song that sums up my advice:

“Ai Dil Hai Mushakil Jeena Yahaan

Zara Hat Ke, Zara Bach Ke

Ye Hai Mambai Meri Jaan”

“Oh my heart, life is a struggle living here
Duck a little, watch out..Save yourself little

This is Mumbai, my love”


Old Delhi | Rohan Dahiya

Walking around in Old Delhi is always an adventure. It seems to be based on a foundation of the constantly shifting sands of time which seem to whisper secrets and stories of the past in the smoke and mirrors of the narrow alleyways. You could take one turn and enter a whole different corner of the city in the classic style of a mystery novel, with every street offering different sights, sounds, and aromas. The only common denominator is the crowd. The people come in like a tide and one either goes with the waves or is pushed into submission. However, this inimitable assault on the senses is a must for every traveller to really be anointed with the vibe and energy that Delhi exudes.

From the art-deco façade of Delite Cinema to the butchers’ streets where blood flows down both sides of the road, it’s possible to see everything in the original walled city of Delhi. 

A typical exploration of Old Delhi should begin with a walk through the markets. This area of Delhi is famous for being a one-stop shop for everything under the sun – from ornaments of prayer to dry fruits and nuts, the lace lining traditional Indian attire to beads, semi precious stones, all kinds of leather artifacts, street food, tobacco, spices – whole and ground, everything. The entire setting before you can change at the turn of an alley, in fact the alleyways are just as unique, an ever-changing mirage of wide-open spaces to shoulder-grazingly narrow.

A walk through the markets usually leads up to the Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, sprawling majestically across from the Red Fort – another iconic Delhi landmark. With its pearly domes, the arches, high minarets, Jama Masjid is the epitome of Mughal architecture. Built in 1628 AD, it can hold up to 25,000 worshippers in its courtyard, but on most days has a flurry of pigeons flying around in its vicinity – they make for a perfect photo-op. Take a walk around the courtyard or climb the 125 stairs up to the minaret, left of center, for a panoramic view of the whole of Old Delhi. This is Delhi as the locals do it! 

From there hop on for a quick rickshaw ride through the winding lanes and the throng of people, past Kinari Bazaar – a haven for household knickknacks and accessories – and the Balli Maran, before landing at the famous Chandni Chowk. Soak in the energy of this bustling street and cross through to the Paranthe Wali Gali – the street of parathas: deep-fried and stuffed Indian bread – I promise you it’ll be a haze of all things spicy. 

Once the food coma subsides, a walk is recommended to the Khari Baoli – a busy street where one can find every spice and dry-fruit under the Indian sun (if you keep an eye out you might also see two-storey shops crammed in the space of one). One might feel a tad jostled here as enormous sacks of raw spices are constantly on the move, and the sharp aromas tend to shoot up the nose, but it’s the place that best articulates the carnivalesque air of Old Delhi. Take a walk around and climb up the stairs of the enormous complex – just behind the Fatehpuri Masjid – to the very top. The bird’s eye view of the market, the mosque, the many terraces, the open skies and crowds below, with maybe an appearance by the pigeons; it is the perfect setting to end your day.






Seoul | Cho Hee Shrader

Wandering Around: Lost in the streets of Seoul at night, you can’t help but wonder what time it really is, and how those intricately painted and painstakingly designed green and red ancient gate manages to shine so brightly even with 20-story buildings trying to cloud its beauty. A layer of gently glowing light hovers within the atmosphere, illuminating the bright lights of shop windows, karaoke bars and Hof houses, labeling Seoul as a rebel that doesn’t listen to calls for bedtime. However, that’s about where the disobedience stops (or starts) in this well-mannered capital of the Republic of Korea.

Seoul, directly translated from Korean as “Capital City,” boasts (actually Koreans find it rude to brag…maybe “is fortunate to house” would be a better term) a population of over 25 million inhabitants within its suburbs. There are approximately 632,000 expatriates living in Seoul, making Expature a valuable asset in connecting with other expats and exploring this world’s second largest metropolitan area. Seoul hosts other superlatives: the world’s fastest growing financial centre, largest technology company (Samsung), largest subway network by length (Seoul Subway), fastest internet connection (with speeds up to 1 Gbps), largest indoor theme park (Lotte World), longest bridge fountain (Moonlight Rainbow Fountain), most visited national park (Mount Bukhan), largest cinema screen (Times Square’s Cultural, Great and Vital Stadium) and the world’s best airport- as rated seven years in a row (Incheon International Airport).

Seoul also encompasses four UNESCO world heritage sites: Chandeok Palace, the Royak Tombs of the Joseon Dynasty, Hwasun Fortress and Jongmyo Shrine. These ancient artifacts are well preserved and seem almost out-of-place when situated next to sky-rises. However, they are a valuable aspect of Korean history, transporting visitors back in time to a simpler life. Another site worth seeing is Namsan Tower, especially at sunset or sundown, where the view of the city is transformed from a flurry of chaotic houses into a brilliant constellation of building lights.

No need to feel overwhelmed: Seoul likes to make a great first impression and wants you to feel comfortable, as Koreans are some of the most hospitable people on the planet. Don’t feel shy to ask us for directions – the Koreans would love to assist you. Their foundations are collectivist and have been built upon valuing culture and the elderly, as well as our ancestors.

As Korean culture is built upon respect, the language requires that speakers show reverence for others with varying levels of vocabulary appropriate for speaking to the elderly, cohorts, youth, acquaintances, family and friends. Non-Korean speakers can easily enroll in Korean-language programs offered at nearby universities such as Yonsei University, Seoul University or Ehwa University. One option may also be to post a flyer in your local coffee shop, proposing a language-exchange friendship. Although you may want to dive into the culture and learn the language, don’t be shocked when Koreans try to learn more about your culture instead. We’re a curious bunch, and without much space in the city, we focus more on people and what makes different heritages unique as opposed to geographic places. It’s interesting and entertaining for us to learn about other culture and language. Knowledge is an important aspect of the mentality of Koreans as knowledge is power, especially the knowledge of different languages.

English is seen as a golden ticket to the business world and is taught at all schools-even kindergarten. English is also how many expats make their income while living in Seoul or its surroundings. Many agencies assist expats with the visa, housing and school-matching process and will ensure a smooth transition into this culture. English teachers usually sign up for a 1 - 2 year contract, generating about 1,200,000 Won a month (about $1,200) and then an additional bonus upon contract completion with agencies financing their housing, cultural activities and some meals. Because Seoul is a hotspot for teachers, it may be wise to look in surrounding cities such as Busan, Gyeongju, Ilsan or Suwon if no jobs are open in the capital.

Apart from learning, Seoul residents have plenty of options in this vibrant city. South Korea is known for its fad culture almost as much for its pop culture. Variety shows are performed daily, giving everyone a chance to see a rising star or one that is fading. K-pop artists are known to sweep the nation with deity-like status only to disappear for months before emerging with an even greater hit. Take Psy’s “Gangnam Style” for example. Who knew that an obnoxious horse dance and catchy tune (in addition to several hidden celebrity cameos) was the secret elixir to ultimate fame?

When Psy originally wrote Gangnam style, he intended it to be a satirical repartee to the residents of Gangnam, an exclusive Seoul suburb. Gangnam, south of the Han River dividing Seoul in half, specializes in Seoul’s hottest commodities: people, shops, clubs and plastic surgeons. After a few minutes in Gangnam (or the adjacent Apgujung), you’ll probably notice ridiculously good-looking people holding hands with other ridiculously good looking people - a direct result of 60% of Koreans having had plastic surgery. Gangnam can be compared to a hybrid of New York City and Miami, with a stylish and glamorous above-ground night life and a fashionable underground subway shopping plaza (Gangnam station underground shopping plaza). Seoul has more than soul, it also has style. Lots of style.

Shopping is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. The below subway map indicates where you can enjoy a wide array of different styles, depending on your budget, personal preference and location. Lovers of designer brands (and typical mall hours) should flock to Coex, Lotte Baekhwajum or Shinsaegae Baekhwajum. Baekhwajum, meaning department store, offers all levels of brand names from Armani to Zara. The more adventurous shopper may enjoy the challenge of haggling with local shop owners at Dongdaemun (East Gate) where trendy outfits can be purchased at affordable rates. This center is composed of several multistoried malls, with Doota the most popular one, and 24/7 coffee shops to give weary shoppers a boost while browsing the never-closing shops.

Itaewon is a district known for its international vibe and is an excellent place to buy tailor-made suits, shirts and leather jackets. There are many international restaurants in Itaewon but for a more local-college experience, try drinking and dining in Shinchon. Like most neighborhoods in Seoul, a Paris Baguette (French-Korean fusion bakery) stands in every corner as well as Angel-In-Us Coffee or Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. You will be confused standing in the middle of the street with an assortment of coffee-shops at every turn. Which one do you pick? I’d recommend skipping the commercialized Starbucks and going for Caffe Bene. Grab a coffee and wander around Shinchon, browsing the many shops. Or, stay in and watch the hoards of crowds cruise by, giggling, gossiping and guessing which Soju Bar will be the best. Shinchon is synonymous with Soju, a Korean alcohol, which tastes delicious with yogurt drink or pineapple juice.

Other Soju Hot Bars can be found in Hong Dae, a college suburb that boasts an excellent nightlife, night shopping and karaoke bars. The Karaoke Bar, or Noraebang, is different here. For about 10,000-15,000 Won per hour, groups can rent a room and order drinks, snacks and, of course, SING late into the night. You have a wide selection to choose from in English, Korean and Japanese.

Another hotspot in vibrant Seoul is Myongdong. Myongdong also offers many Soju Houses lined with street shopping late into the night as well as an excellent Kalguksu restaurant. Diners may be surprised at the speed of how quickly they are served in Korean restaurants. They enter Myongdong Kalguku, sit down, order Kalguksu and dumplings, pay, eat and leave; all within 20 minutes. Eating in Seoul is convenient, with meat dishes such as Ddukgalbi, Bulgogi, Samgyupsal and Gobchang being served along with a dozen side dishes. Kimchee, the national banchan (side dish) of Korea, is a spicy pickled cabbage that is served at each meal, and must be handled with care. You either love it or hate it. Most people that hate it are usually weaklings that can’t eat spicy food, much like an Expatriate founder, Sean Boulanger.

If you don’t have enough time to sit down for several hours and eat, hungry patrons can quickly (and cheaply) stop at a Pojangmatcha and eat Odang (a Korean fish patty), Ddukbokkgi (rice cake covered in spicy red sauce), Mandu (dumplings), Hotdduk (brown sugar melted into a sweet rice flour cake) or for the stronger stomachs, Soondae (pig intestine filled with noodles), bbundaegi (fried silkworms). You’re probably thinking, “Oh yeah, isn’t Korea that place where they eat dogs?” Yes. It is. However, dogs are eaten for solely health purposes and found only in very specific expensive restaurants, as it is believed this soup made with Chinese medicine is able to cure eaters of illnesses. Trust me; dogs are not a cheaper alternative to popular meats. It’s just as controversial in Korea as it is outside of Korea. And No! No one will steal your dog to cook it! Just be mindful of the living circumstances… You will most likely be living in a small apartment and will not have room for large animals.

Housing in Seoul runs on a different system. Instead of paying a monthly rent, residents pay a key deposit, which the homeowner puts into a bank to collect interest, and then pay a rental fee. After the rental period is over, renters receive their key deposit in full. It’s important to have a sponsor (often an employer) for the key deposit as the deposits can range from $20,000 to $200,000.

Living in Seoul is truly a luxury and live luxuriously you will. Throughout the four seasons, which range from -6C in January to 28C in August, residents witness a beautiful spectrum of colors as flowers blossom, leaves change and snow falls. If “Dynamic Korea” has presented you with Seoul as a home for several weeks, years or decades, I am positive you will make as big of an impression on Seoul, as much as she will on you. 

Cape Town | Alice Sholto-Douglas

I did not truly appreciate Cape Town until I was away from it for a little while. I suppose it’s a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, combined with the fact that, when you’ve grown up with the view of Table Mountain in your backyard and a beach around the corner, you tend to take certain aspects of this city’s majesty for granted. Yet, I only needed to be away from it for a couple of months to appreciate the beauty and uniqueness of Cape Town that has become so solidified as a part of who I am and how I perceive the rest of the world – because almost as soon as you arrive, you are changed. There’s something about the warm South African air of summertime that fills your lungs with a certain freshness, almost as soon as you’ve stepped foot off the plane. Immediately, you are graced with a world that can only be described as colorful; colorful people, colorful languages, and a colorful flag representing “The Rainbow Nation”. The sky is ever so slightly bluer, with deeper shades of red and orange that hangs low on the horizon during each glorious African sunset. The flowers are just a little more vibrant, ranging from the dusted pink of Proteas’ on mountainsides to the electric blues, reds, purples, and yellows condensed into each Strelitzia.  There are the different shades of the blue-green sea that stretches for miles from beaches or the sheer faces of purple mountainsides.

Despite a newfound sense of unity, there is also a beautiful variety of races, cultures, and people to be found, each bringing its own flair to the cuisine, the customs, and, arguably most importantly, the lingo. Before embarking on any trip to Cape Town, it’s probably beneficial to be able to identify a few frequently used catchphrases. There’s the surfer’s, “Howzit?” which, loosely translated, means to say, “How are you?” or “How’s it going?” Verging on Australian in its brevity, it should also be noted that it comes with a very specific accent and is often followed by, “ma bru” – “my brother” or “my close male acquaintance”. Lastly, remember that we also use words like, “loo” and “roundabout”, but that won’t be a problem for you if you’re from the UK.

Cape Town is packed with things to do and places to see to soak up the atmosphere. One way to do it all is getting on the hop-on, hop-off bus. There are multiple buses, and all of them do different routes around Cape Town and along the coast. At 100 rand per person, my mom has successfully made use of it as a taxi too, sometimes; encouraging my sister and I to use it as transportation to the Waterfront instead of her having to drive us around. So, as you can see, the hop-on, hop-off bus has uses unbeknown to its creators.

A fun spot to hop off, or just to visit regardless of how you get there, is the World of Birds in Hout Bay, which is also a great place for kids too. It has a tea garden, a magical forest, and a diverse assortment of birds. Once, whilst driving past there, a bird that can only be described as a cross between a pelican and a flamingo flew out and landed in front of me on the road ahead. Its life was spared that day, but I have been intrigued ever since. So go to the World of Birds, if only to see the pelican/flamingo.

I understand that there are thousands of really beautiful places in the world, but Chapman’s peak has to be one of them. Drive up through Hout Bay or through Noordhoek (I’d recommend coming from Hout Bay, because you’ll see more), and take in the wonder as you avoid falling rocks. Seriously, though. Stop at one of the lookout points, and if it’s during the day, fall in love with the sparkling ocean and puffy white clouds in front of you, or if it’s the evening, watch the sun set on the horizon from a mountain that is doused in crimson light. Chapman’s peak is quiet, peaceful, and calming. Most importantly, it is absolutely beautiful. Most often, my family has had picnics up there, brought a cooler box of drinks for sundowners, and once, my friends and I drove up to watch the sunset with guitars in hand. Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing baboons roaming around on the streets, this is a good place. Mind you keep your car doors locked, because they know how to open them.

Speaking of picnics, a wonderful place to lie in the grass and soak up some Cape Town sunshine is Kirstenbosch. This glorious botanical garden is full of fynbos and other South African flowers complete with koi ponds and giant trees to hide in. Kirstenbosch was my every-weekend thing to do in summers growing up. I would take a bright pink fishing net and try to catch tadpoles in the streams. Summer concerts in the evening are a must if you’re here at the right time, and even if you’re not, there’s bound to be a day sunny enough for a visit, if only to lie down and read for a while, or walk around and look at the sculptures gardens. There’s an art gallery, a grand sundial, and the mountain is right there, so you can very easily finish a hike over the mountain in Kirstenbosch.

Hiking is just one of the many outdoor-activities the people of Cape Town like to indulge themselves into, among surfing, horse riding, running, and, of course, rugby and soccer. If you’re interested in a good hike, there are plenty of places to go. You could start at Constantia Nek and walk up to the waterfall, for example, passing trees that my mother convinced me were fairy homes when I was little. They’re mossy and silver with dew, creating the perfect shade to stop for sandwiches before reaching the top. When you do reach the top, you will undoubtedly be graced with jaw-dropping views of the city, stretching from the mountainside all the way to the clear, blue ocean.

One of my absolute favorite spots on Saturdays is the Old Biscuit Mill. Located in Woodstock, it is the hub for all wonderful and weird varieties hipsters, as well as those who like good food and dressing up on occasion. Here, anything goes: you sit on hay bales, listen to 50s French music as you buy your Flammkuchen or crepes, and although the clothes are a little pricy for a market-style area, the food and overall atmosphere is to die for. It’s best to show up in the morning, because it tends to get crowded around noon (especially in the summer), and it closes at two. There are macaroons, gingerbread men, salads galore, samoosas, curries, ice-cold lemonade, red velvet cupcakes, and the list goes on. Also, I highly recommend the nutty delight smoothie from the vendor near the New York bagels stand, just in case you’re in the mood to drink heaven.

A trip to the centre of the city is also a good idea. Cape Town’s city centre is like no other, bearing historic remnants of slavery alongside brightly colored buildings painted in pastel yellows, blues, and reds. There are plenty of museums to visit, like the District Six Museum, the Apartheid Museum, or the Holocaust Museum, just as long as you’re prepared to get emotional. Parliament and law buildings are located there too, just next to the gardens, which are full of plump squirrels that will happily take food from your outstretched hands. The University of Cape Town’s arts campus is situated in town too, so don’t doubt seeing a few university students stopping by the good places to eat in the afternoon. If you want to taste the best milkshakes in the world, go to Pickwick’s or Royale. At night, there are plenty of places to eat before a night on the town, too. There’s the Fat Cactus for Mexican, the Bombay Bicycle Club (my sister’s personal favorite), and many more if you’re on the lookout.

In essence, Cape Town is unlimited in its expanse of places to go and things to see. You can watch the seals swim at the Kalk Bay harbor after a delicious sushi lunch, or get on a boat and head to Robben Island to relive Nelson Mandela’s time in jail. You could go swimming at the beach, or just walk along the warm sand on a beautiful day. You might even just want to go for a drive, where street vendors will come up to you at every traffic light hoping that you’ll buy some of their beaded designs, or perhaps you’re interested in a walk around the aquarium, where sharks swim above your head.

There really is no limit to Cape Town, but there is one thing you can be certain of: no matter what you do, where you go, and what you see, as long as you are willing to soak up the culture and the color like warm rays of the sun, you’ll leave with an ache to return. image