Welcome to my Place . . . Johannesburg
‘Adventurous carnivores can try springbok carpaccio or ostrich salad’
Fiona Walsh in Johannesburg, where she lives with her husband and two children
Fiona Walsh, originally from Co Laois, moved to London, where she met her South African husband, Neil. They currently live in Johannesburg with their two children, Fynn and Ashling. Fiona works as a PR consultant for clients including National Theatre Live, SundanceTV and Joburg Ballet.
What do you like about living in Johannesburg?
The vibrancy, the multiculturalism, the entrepreneurial spirit. And the weather, of course – although I find winters challenging because it doesn’t rain at all from June to October. This might sound idyllic if you’re sitting on the west coast of Ireland right now, but by August Joburg looks brown and the whole city is dry and dusty. When the afternoon thunderheads start building up at the end of September, you can feel everyone holding their breath, longing for a spectacular Highveld storm.
Where is the first place you bring people to when they visit
Usually Art Africa on Tyrone Avenue in Parkview, because it’s the perfect place to pick up gifts and souvenirs. It’s packed with handcrafted jewellery and ingenious items made from beads and recycled products, plus brightly coloured ceramics, fabrics and carvings sourced from all over the continent.
The top three things to do there, that don’t cost money, are ...
The Joburg climate means you can enjoy spending lots of time outdoors, so run or cycle in the Botanical Gardens in Emmarentia, with a break to feed the geese on the dam and to watch the catfish try to steal a stray crust.
Take the Westcliff Steps to the top of the ridge and stroll down again on the winding roads, stopping to admire some of the old Randlord houses built by mining magnates who made their fortunes at the turn of the 20th century. In October purple jacaranda blossoms form beautiful archways over the whole neighbourhood.
See an exhibition at Wits Art Museum in Braamfontein – there are free Saturday morning walkabouts, hands-on activities for families, plus a coffee shop that’s ideal for people-watching.
Where do you recommend for a great meal that gives a flavour of Johannesburg?
Adventurous carnivores can try springbok carpaccio or ostrich salad at Moyo at Zoo Lake. There’s live music and it’s really relaxed and family-friendly. Neighbourgoods Market on Juta Street every Saturday is a great opportunity try out lots of different food and drink, from craft beer to frozen mojitos.
Where is the best place to get a sense of Johannesburg’s role in history?
Constitution Hill Museum was originally a prison dating back to 1893; struggle icons including Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo and Albertina Sisulu were all imprisoned there at various times. Now it tells the story not just of Joburg, but of South Africa’s transition from colonialism through the apartheid years to democracy.
What should visitors save room in their suitcase for after a visit to Johannesburg?
A colourful cotton kikoi; originally from Kenya, it means “wrap” and works as a scarf, a shawl, a sarong on the beach and a quick-drying towel. Plus it’s really light and compact, so you’ll still be able to pack some coffee beans from Motherland Coffee Company or some delicious wine from the Western Cape.
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