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Issue 8
Africa Travel> Issue 8
UPDATED: October 8, 2014
Purple Rain – 48 Hours in Pretoria
By Jo Kromberg

The Voortrekker Monument is a unique cultural and historic attraction to commemorate the Voortrekker pioneers who left the Cape Colony between 1835 and 1854 to travel north into Africa.

"Oral in die strate is die fans van country plate." (Everywhere in the streets are the fans of country records – the Afrikaans phrase gets seriously lost in translation sadly). So mused local musician Bernoldus Niemand AKA James Philips in a zombie-like voice, describing his take on Pretoria during the 80s.

Snor City. The Jacaranda City. Tshwane. Pretoria goes by many names, not all of them complementary. But a lot has changed since the 80s and today Pretoria is a world-class, vibrant city, nestling in surrounding hills and devoid of any fog or pollution due to the lack of industrial plants nearby. During October the Jacaranda trees transform the city into a magical light purple cloud. It has arguably the best weather in the country and during the summer, you have the place virtually to yourself as the masses inexplicably make their way to expensive, crowded and windy Cape Town.

So allow me to take you on a tour of my adopted city. The journey might surprise you...

Friday night lights

Pretoria has a vibrant nightlife, so come the weekend people are out en masse, enjoying the mild evening temperatures in summer. So head out to one of the many live music venues in Pretoria. Arcade Empire, Café Barcelona, The Barnyard Theatre, The Atterbury Theatre, Steak & Ale and Tings & Times all offer a variety of live music genres some week-nights and over week-ends – from jazz to rock to blues and yes, sometimes even Afrikaans pop music from the likes of Kurt Darren!

Cafe Barcelona is a firm favorite of ours featuring prominent South African musicians like Valiant Swart, Van Coke Kartel, Dan Patlansky and many other class acts. Tings & Times also offers live music by prominent musicians and the atmosphere is vibey and fun with a bohemian/reggae theme and dishes like Selassie's Spear (haloumi and mushroom skewers) and Mary Jane's Lamb (delicious marinated lamb in a pita).

If theatre and cabarets are more your thing, check out what shows are on offer at the Grande Dame of South Africa theatres, the Pretoria State Theatre. This centrally located and opulently designed theatres offer everything from opera, ballet, cabaret, musicals and children's theatre. Alternatively there is the unique Asbos - not your typical theatre when it comes to seating and size. The theatre only has room for about 80 people and has a "homey, living room feel". This provides for a much more rewarding theatre experience. Asbos aims to provide a platform for artists of all genres, from amateur to professional. Visitors to the theatre can expect to see performers up close and experience their talents in a relaxing and intimate environment.

Chow down After a busy night on the town, I would not suggest sleeping in the next morning, no matter how tempting. Pretoria has some of the best food and craft markets in the country but for the best experience get there early. And again, this is why Pretoria in December is so lovely, no traffic, no crowds, no hassles, even though the markets are still very popular. The Irene Market is my favorite and is situated on the banks of the Hennops River on the slopes of Smuts Hill in the leafy suburb of Irene. With its pastoral, rural landscape of green dairy farms, rivers and forests you might find yourself in the middle of some lovely Constable painting somewhere in England rather than in Pretoria!

Trading since 1989 and open every second Saturday, it is one of the oldest markets in Pretoria and with ample guarded parking, kid's entertainment, a fully-licensed tea garden, many yummy food stalls and more than 250 exhibits with wares ranging from arts and crafts to clothing, antiques, flowers, curious and beautiful jewelry. You can spend the entire morning here. Check them out at http://www.irenemarket.co.za/ if only to see the funky website!

Alternatively, foodie obsessed folk should head to the Hazel Wood market in Greenlyn Village Centre, Menlo Park

Open every Saturday from 8 a.m. till 2 p.m., this market is a gourmand's paradise but beware! Average prices here are about half of those at any Southern Suburbs food market in Cape Town, so its pretty damn pricey...

During December they will also offer night markets and this is a must-do! Go to  http://www.hazelfoodmarket.co.za/ for a list of stalls and mouth-watering offerings.

Culture vultures

After a morning of savoring snacks and treats, its time for a spot of sightseeing.

Union Buildings are arguably one of the most beautiful landmarks in the country; the grounds house a magnificent terraced garden, filled with statues, fountains and memorials, where people come to walk, exercise or have a picnic or just marvel at the gigantic Mandela statue on the terrace in front of the buildings. A myriad of museums and galleries such as Melrose House, the Pioneer Museum, Sammy Marks Museum and the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History also give the visitor a chance to expand their cultural horizons. Make a point of seeing Kruger House, the historical Pretoria residence of the Boer leader and President of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger.

It was built in 1884 by architect Tom Claridge and builder Charles Clark. Milk was used, instead of water, for mixing the cement from which the house was constructed, as the cement available was of poor quality. The house was also one of the first in Pretoria to be lit by electricity. The Kruger House is now a house museum that tries to recreate the ambience of the period that Kruger lived in.

And how can a trip to Pretoria be complete without a visit to the Voortrekker Monument? The massive granite structure, built to honour the Voortrekkers (Pioneers) who left the Cape Colony in the thousands between 1835 and 1854, was designed by the architect Gerard Moerdijk who had the ideal to design a "monument that would stand a thousands of years to describe the history and the meaning of the Great Trek to its descendants". It can be seen from almost any location in the city, as it is seated on top of a hill.

It has thrown off the shackles of its notorious and most underserved bastion of apartheid and has emerged as a widely admired beautiful architectural structure. It is indeed magnificent to see.

Dining out

Pretoria has, in my opinion, some of the best restaurants in the country. So come evening, splash out a bit and make reservation at one of the following recommended restaurants: Koi for a taste of Asia, Kream for a touch of class and Cynthia's for classic dining. The upmarket chain restaurant Crawdaddy's is our favorite for great ambience, excellent service and unbeatable food. Make sure you book since they are jam packed all through the week.

Then of course there is Ritrovo...

The ambience is relaxed with soft music and lighting, It is suggested that we try the signature wine called Nick and Forte's Artscape so we decide on the 2012 Sauvignon/Chenin Blanc blend. It is simply excellent, with a very fruity nose and it lands crisp and dry on the palette.

For starters we are treated to scallops in a white wine, apricot and basil sauce. The scallops are cooked to perfection and the delicate sauce enhances these little morsels magically. We are also served lamb kidneys flashed in the pan with Marsala wine and their own pan juices bound with double cream and a touch of Dijon mustard.

Mains come in the form of veal chops prepared the Milanese way, with a herb crust. The veal is tender and still slightly pink and the flavors join in harmony like the chorus of Carmina Burana. I choose the Pemba Bay cob, freshly flown in from Mozambique, perfectly crisp on the outside but cooked tenderly on the inside, as fish should be, with a beautiful lemon butter sauce, finished with toasted almonds.

Ritrovo is an absolute gem where the service is fit for royalty and the food is unsurpassed. But best of all, charming owner Fortunato might just serenade you. He is a trained opera singer and every now and then Ritrovo has music evenings where Forte himself sings to guest in his beautiful tenor voice.

Lazy Sundays

Make you way to one of the outstanding deli's in Pretoria for a lazy, luxurious Sunday brunch. Carlton Cafe Delicious is a daytime eatery and since opening in Menlo Park in 2002, it has enjoyed a loyal epicurean following "From picnic baskets to cakes that dazzle, deli breakfasts and lunches, nougat in flavors that take you on a magic carpet ride to one of her creative specialized dinners, she keeps pushing boundaries and serving delights that linger.

The putu pap with fried biltong and mascarpone for breakfast and Southern fried chicken with a secret mix of spices for lunch are regulars that remain on the menu to prevent a riot," writes Diane de Beer.

Then there is Deli on Duncan in Hatfield. Eat Out calls it: "Packed with personality. The ambience and setting are unique, allowing you to escape into another world. Stand-out dishes: lamb pie; biltong, pear and blue cheese quiche; open tart with ham, apple, Camembert and fig; baked cheesecake; shortbread; and carrot cupcakes." So once the deli-cious craving is satisfied, head to one of the many beautiful nearby reserves for a picnic with friends and family. Nkwe provides nature at its best offering bird life, scenic walks though quite and peaceful shaded valleys situated on the banks of the Pienaars River. It is an ideal braai (barbecue) and picnic spot so while away the day here, imagining yourself far from the madding crowd Pretoria is a wonderful city waiting to be discovered. Amazing surprises await you!

Did you know?

- Pretoria's also home of the Nan Hua Buddhist Temple, the largest Buddhist temple and seminary in Africa.

- Not only is it one of the largest cities in the world when it comes to land size, but it's said to hosts the second most diplomatic missions in the world (after Washington D.C)

- Pretoria's Rietvlei Nature Reserve, one of the world's largest urban reserves, is a unique retreat where many bird and animal species can be viewed on 3 800 hectares of open grassland.

- Pretoria is home to the National Zoological Gardens – the largest zoo in the country – and its botanical gardens spread over 76 hectares

- Pretoria recently became the only city in the world with a big-five game reserve within city boundaries – the 90 000-hectare Dinokeng Big 5 Game Reserve.

- Almost half of all Chinese tourists to South Africa visit Pretoria's Voortrekker Monument.

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