Michael-John recently spent two nights in Joburg at the wonderful Ginnegaap Guest House where he enjoyed a warm and welcoming break in the trendy suburb of Melville.
I went to high school in Joburg before moving down to Cape Town, which means that everyone I meet in Cape Town asks where I went to school because they're also from Joburg. I don't know where all the people who went to school in Cape Town went, but they're certainly few and far between.
All this is to say that while I went to high school in Joburg, I've since become a full-blown Capetonian and am quite unfamiliar with the ways of Joburg. I've heard rumours of the Maboneng Precinct and of Newtown and the hipsterisation of Joburg city centre, and as a card carrying 'beard in a plaid shirt' I was quite keen to see the changes that have been made.
We decided to stay in Melville at a great place called Ginnegaap Guest House. For the uninitiated, Melville is the trendy area of Joburg with more restaurants, night clubs, and coffee shops than local residents (that might not be true, but it could be).
Being a bit of a show-off I had been quite keen to impress my girlfriend with my knowledge of Joburg. I'd gone onto Google Maps and tried to memorise the way from the airport to the guest house. So after landing at OR Tambo and collecting the hire car, I headed out onto the highway brimming with confidence.
I think it was the signs to Pretoria that first alerted me to the fact that I was going in the wrong direction. That or that the landscape was becoming increasingly less urbanized. We ended up taking 2 hours for what should have been a 30 minute journey. But hey, at least we got to see the e-tolls on the way to Midrand.
Our host at Ginnegaap was more than accommodating and helpful despite us arriving well after our check-in time. We quickly got settled into a delightful cottage with two rooms right next to the swimming pool. The décor at Ginnegaap is fun yet warm and simple, which makes for a very relaxing and welcoming environment. Small touches of colour and art make for a wonderfully under-stated yet trendy environment. With a well-equipped kitchen, we could easily make our own food as we needed.
The next morning we got up to a beautiful Highveld day and went through for breakfast in the dining room. There was a wonderful spread laid out with plenty of choice for a cold and hot breakfast. The breakfast was really top notch and the friendly staff at Ginnegaap were more than accommodating of my vegetarian habit.
After breakfast we headed out to explore Melville, taking a walk down 4th Avenue to a small second-hand bookstore called Book Dealers of Melville. They certainly lived up to their name. It was like walking into a poker game of literature with people dealing books here, there, and everywhere. Not really. It was more like a quaint little bookshop. I found a few books, but my favourite purchase was an old Proclaimers album called 'Hit the Highway', which became the theme tune to our trip to Joburg.
After spending too much time with the book dealers we headed back to the guest house where we picked up our car and headed through to Newtown. Our first stop was at the Museum Africa, which is a wonderful museum that was bustling with groups of school kids when we arrived. The exhibition in the museum was on the Struggle during Apartheid. There were a number of really insightful displays with rare video and photographs on display.
Once we'd explored Museum Africa we took a further walk around Newtown and ended up at the SAB World of Beer, which has a really fantastic tour of the history of beer in South Africa. What makes the tour unique is that it's very interactive and immersive. For example the kraal environment where everyone shares umqombothi, and an old gold rush tavern complete with swing doors, wooden counter-tops and an old piano in the corner.
After we finished the tour we headed back to Melville for lunch and stopped at Café Picobella Trattoria which is walking distance from Ginnegaap. They offer a range of Italian meals at very reasonable prices.
Once we'd finished our meal we headed back to guesthouse where we spent a few hours relaxing and unwinding. By the time it got dark we decided to head out to the Maboneng Precinct for the Thursday night Market on Main where we mingled with hipsters, browsed art and had a great tapas meal at the restaurant Canteen. I was really impressed by the Maboneng Precinct and by the changes that have been made to Newtown. It's great that people are once again seeing Joburg as a vibrant cultural city filled with museums, live music, theatre and restaurants.
The next morning we awoke to another great breakfast and a friendly send off from the staff at Ginnegaap. What I really enjoyed about my stay at was the really relaxed and homely feel. Plus it is ideally situated close to the airport (if you can get your GPS working), and close to the city centre. We'll definitely be back when we next visit Joburg.
To find out more about Ginnegaap Guest House and to book a weekend away in Melville, click here.