Tag Archives: neighborhoods

Off the Beaten Track: Pretoria’s Hatfield

Pretoria, like the rest of South Africa, has entered times of massive urban renewal. Since hosting the World Cup in 2010 Pretoria, along with Cape Town and Johannesburg, has successfully revamped particular neighborhoods into vibrant and interesting places. Unfolding in Pretoria’s prettiest neighborhood is a real-life open-air exhibition of human, cultural, and architectural contrasts. Hatfield’s grounds are cultivated with student dorms, rustic bungalows, and stately diplomats’ houses. For good reasons, however, Hatfield is often referred to as party area, catering to University of Pretoria students. When moving away from the main streets, the sounds of sprinklers watering flower beds slowly replace the honking of horns and traffic noises. In Jacaranda shaded streets like these, you will find hidden shops, restaurants, and backyard pagodas typically unseen by the average visitor to Pretoria.

Taxi buses come and go, carrying and loading at least twice their capacity, before speeding off. The antique Volkswagen 1s that dominate the streetscape, purr in front of traffic lights. Hustling and bustling with activities, central Burnett Street provides you with a good first impression of modern day South Africa. With its cafes, fast food restaurants, hotels, and diverse shops, it’s the throbbing heart of Hatfield. Many young people spend most of the day smoking hookah in one of the many bars on Hatfield Square. However, beyond this lively square there is much more to experience.

Jacaranda 3

Photo by Flickr user: Ockert Botha CC2

Leave the chaos behind you by heading north. Rest your feet in Springbok Park where giant, hungry Hadada Ibis birds roam in search of a snack. Continue your way along the borders of at least a dozen countries, housed in fine ambassadorial villas. Passing the enormous American embassy, unsurprisingly bigger and more grand than its neighbors, you’ll find Eastwood Village Centre. Tucked away in the shadiest corner sits Café 41, one of Pretoria’s most enjoyable lunch spots. The cafe is praised for its good deals on continental dishes, cozy seating, and cosmopolitan vibe. Alternatively, Harrie’s Pancakes offers some of the most exotic pancakes around, both sweet and savory.

Pop into one of the few shops that have not yet been swallowed by one of many malls that scatter Pretoria. For artsy shoppers, enchanting Duncan Yard is an absolute must-see. These formerly ruinous buildings on the corner of Duncan and Prospect Street have tastefully been converted into a mini shopping center connected by picturesque corridors and stoney passages. Nowadays, the Yard is home to twenty stores selling exclusive furniture, unique merchandise, and delightful food. Maybe not as quirky but certainly charming is Owl Books just down the street. Among its dusty and unorganized shelves there are literary gems to be found. The Hatfield Flea Market, held every Sunday afternoon in the parking lot of Hatfield Plaza mall, is the place to stock up on African curios and souvenirs. Early birds can start off the weekend with a visit to the Boeremark (farmers market). Here you’ll find organic cheeses, honeys, and cakes. Be sure to be there on time since stalls are bound to be sold out by 9am.

If eating food sounds more appealing than shopping for food, you won’t come short in Hatfield’s multicultural dining scene. In self-proclaimed bastion of good times, Bravo Pizza, you can laze around, do your laundry, or pick out a good quality cut in the butchery area whilst you are waiting for your pizza. On Burnett Street, Shen Zhou Chinese Dumpling Restaurant cooks up the sweetest chili chicken you have ever tasted. With prices so cheap you keep ordering, the shabby exterior is easily ignored. On the brink of being pretentious, Papa’s Real Food is a good value, serving  international dishes and rich viands. Their minced meat and bell pepper stuffed pizza Calzone, in particular, does not leave room for dessert. All the way in the back, the attractively lit courtyard promises the same ambiance as neighboring Duncan Yard. For an elegant dining experience, try Braza in Menlyn Mall. Their Brazilian dishes, predominantly seafood, will leave you speechless; and not just because the dishes’ names are so hard to pronounce. Taste typical South African cuisine at Boer’geoisie, situated off the main roads in the middle of quiet Brooklyn. Once here, go for the Bobotie, a traditional and delicious South African version of meatloaf.

Squeeze in between uber-fanatical rugby supporters or soccer fans at Lady Chatterley’s Pub for after-dinner drinks. Low-key Aandeklas attracts similar crowds but preserves a more laid-back atmosphere. Postpone ordering beers until halftime or risk getting caught up in passionate cheering. For live action, consider a free evening game of university league rugby or soccer at the LC de Villiers sports campus. Unleash your sports-related frustrations or celebrations on the beer pong table in Herr Gunters. Mind-blowing dance-offs are common occurrences at Cheeky Monkey, a bar on the other side of the square. Ultimately, by far the poshest nightclub is Moloko Club. Balancing a strictly enforced dress-code and refined ambiance with the right amount of exuberance, this club has become one of the region’s hippest nightlife destinations.

In a land that is known for its magnificent natural beauty and coastline, metropolitan areas have always come second. Previously believed to lack noteworthy sights and, even worse, presumed to be foul, unsafe, and highly populated, Hatfield proves outdated presumptions wrong. Following the path of its predecessors, Hatfield offers an intimate and dynamic neighborhood experience as well as an urban escape from nature.

Off the Beaten Track: Madrid’s Malasaña

Formerly a sleepy district in the center of Madrid, Malasaña has become a refuge for the city’s outcasts in recent years. Mostly dissidents of mainstream city life, these newcomers have revived and transformed the area into one of Madrid’s most thriving neighborhoods. With forward-thinking businesses sprouting on nearly every street corner, dusty and decayed structures have made room for artisan butcheries and trendy shops. Nowadays, you’ll find local culture peacefully coexist with erotic boutiques, grow shops, and heavy metal clubs. Despite these radical changes in locals’ everyday lives, the area has remained its authentic Madrilenian panache.

Upon exiting Tribunal metro station, the earthy colors of Malasaña’s buildings take you back to Moorish times. Make your way through clothespined alleyways towards Plaza del 2 de Mayo, Malasaña’s central hub for summer festivals and weekend flea markets. Make a pit stop at Buenas y Dulces for one of their ever-so-fruity tarts before nestling yourself on one of the park’s benches; the ideal spot for serious people watching. Zigzag your way down to charming Calle del Espíritu Santo from which streets meander into the dense neighborhood. Camouflaged amongst typical Spanish facades, Lolina Vintage Café is a hidden gem. Take a breather in their eighties inspired interior and enjoy a glass of icy Tinto de Verano.

Photo by Flickr user: Javier CC2.0

Make up for skipping your siesta by adopting the Spanish tradition of late-afternoon tapas. With a hundred different mini-sandwiches on the menu and special prices on Wednesday and Sunday, Cervecería 100 Montaditos is a welcome alternative from ordinary sandwich shacks. Here’s how it works: skim the menu, order by number, and wait for your name to be called. For what are believed to be the best tapas in the area, head to Albur. With its fair prices, this restaurant provides a popular hang-out for both classy and casual crowds.

If you still find yourself with an itch in your pocket, browse through one of many specialty shops. Located just off Plaza del 2 de Mayo, Numbers Sneakers is the place to stock up a Malasaña essential: a pair of colorful hipster-approved kicks. While you’re at it, check out the custom cap-wearing mural on the wall behind the cash register. Magpie Vintage is the go-to place for both men and women looking to find unique pieces and explore new styles. End your shopping spree in Mercado de Fuencarral; a mall that houses a selection of the wackiest shops. Collections range from Jamaican memorabilia to tuxedo-styled bibs. Malasaña is also home to some of the oldest businesses in town: still-operating farmacia Juanse, founded in 1898, is the oldest of its kind in Madrid.

Sauntering the neighborhood with heavy shopping bags will work up an appetite, but remember that dinner is seldom served before 9 pm. When craving quality burgers, it’s hard to beat industrially-designed Naif Madrid Burguer & Bar, serving fully-loaded homemade burgers on toasty buns. For less than 8 euros, take-out eatery Ay Mi Madre! offers daily menus of Spanish classics; the menu may be small, but the food is quite satisfying. Alternatively sit down at atmospheric A 2 Velas and let a candlelit Iberian dinner herald true Malasaña dining and ambiance.

The people are loud and the waiters are rude; yet, Sidrería El Tigre provides a true Spanish experience. Elbow your way to the bar, order a round of beers and you’ll be rewarded with piles of complimentary tapas. Head over to Diplodocus for some serious pre-partying; bring some friends to share one of the massive 2-liter cocktails. Madrid nightlife is only getting started around midnight. Follow the twenty-something crowd to underground parties or queue up in front of scruffy-looking nightclubs. As soon as your eyes adjust to the brightly lit decorations, you’ll understand why Tupperware is among the coolest alternative rock bars in the city. Derived from what is not considered to be the most elegant of words, Maderfaker caters to a funkier crowd.

For the time being, Malasaña remains a retreat where weirdos feel perfectly normal again and people living the most banal of lives feel wonderfully weird again viagra moins cher. Set in a rustic Spanish setting, Malasaña and its residents will welcome you with open arms whether you’re a rebellious teenager, mutinous office worker, or suffering from a midlife-crisis.

Off the Beaten Track: Introduction

Contributing writer Tom Aussems from The Netherlands introduces a new blog series focusing on  unique neighborhoods around the world. Each segment of this series highlights an interesting niche of a major city that proves to be amazing and off the beaten track.

The power went out in Paris’ 18th arrondissement. Tucked away in a cobblestoned alleyway, it was quite the adventure to make it back to the room. The run-down hotel showed little aspiration of earning a second star, with its springy bed, stale croissants, and magnificent views of the next-door neighbor’s toilet. However, that particular trip to one of Paris’ shabbiest neighborhoods sparked a desire to absorb local culture and follow paths less traveled. Eating airy sugar-coated crêpes, sipping soda in smoky cafes and strolling Clignancourt’s anonymous streets might not be mentioned in tourist guides, but these experiences prove to be more fulfilling than anything offered in pre-packaged deals. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself staring at real estate pamphlets, daydreaming of becoming part of the neighborhood, rather than merely visiting.

An authentic and vibrant local lifestyle unfolds away from downtown’s silly dance: a bunch of tourists sprinting in the same direction, queuing up for coffee, and taking pictures of street signs. Wandering through these areas, where hop-on-hop-off buses are banned and big retail chains are unwanted, puts travelers in locals’ rather than tourists’ shoes. Captivated by the Eden-like neighborhood atmosphere, travelers create lifetime memories and develop a strong desire to experience a feeling of belonging. Ultimately, that is what makes traveling and discovering new places so rewarding.

Flickr - Neighborhood Charm

Photo by Flickr user: Shadowgate CC2.0

This series attempts to focus on neighborhoods that may not appear on a typical tourist’s list, but nonetheless, offer unique local vibes. Due to snobbish traits or indulgent motives, sheer simplicity is often overlooked when travelling. Thankfully, invaluable experiences don’t usually require a fat wallet. Just forget about the nearest cathedral for a second. Take a break and settle down on a bench in the shade of a hidden parklet with a locally brewed tallboy. Throw away the travel book and rely on your senses to lead your way to neighborhood gems, completely off the beaten track.