This guest post is brought to you today from Clara Wiggins. We are exploring the concept of “leaving well” [the act of intentionally saying goodbye to a place, as one makes their way to the next destination] and today’s post discusses Pretoria, South Africa.
Leaving Well: Pretoria
Naomi has asked me to write about “leaving well” and come up with some of the things I knew I would have to say goodbye to. Yes we aren’t going for a while yet but when you know a break will be as hard as this one will be, there is no such thing as too soon. This is an excellent chance to begin this process … the process of “leaving well.”
Every week when I take my children to their weekly horseriding lessons we climb up to a point on one of the hills high above Pretoria. From here the city lies below – spreading in every direction out to the surrounding country. It’s not a classically beautiful or majestic city but the combination of the height, the breeze and the space makes for something very restful. Add to that the stunning display of purple in every direction you look when it is jacaranda season and I know this is one place I will certainly miss. And talking of jacarandas….
As I say, Pretoria is not one of those cities that people think about when they list beautiful cities of the world. But it is a pretty place and one of the main reasons is because of the foliage. Everywhere you go, especially as we reach spring, blossom is appearing. The bright red, pink and orange bougainvillea is stunning – particularly set against the brilliant blue skies that this country is famous for. But jacaranda season is when Pretoria really comes into its own – even though many cities around the world boast streets of this famous flower, I am told it is good enough here to attract Japanese tourists for this reason alone.
There is much discussion amongst expats in South Africa about the best place to live. Everyone assumes it must be Cape Town – one of those cities that frequently makes it into the top ten cities of the world for its dramatic Table Mountain backdrop, it’s cool restaurant scene and its proximity to the winelands. Personally though, as an expat, I think Pretoria is a better place to live simply because it is a city where many other transients like us reside. This means finding and making friends is very easy. What I LOVE though is that I can drive down the motorway, hop on a plane, and be in Cape Town for a weekend within a couple of hours. I am sure that if I lived there the beauty of the city would wear off, I wonder whether you would even notice the Mountain after a while? But knowing it is there, practically on your doorstep, for whenever you need it, is a great feeling. We have been twice as a family already and I also went with a friend for a girls’ weekend, but I am sure we will be back at least once before we leave.
This is a late entry but as I wrote about Cape Town I felt I needed to mention the other great city of South Africa, Jo’burg, too. Just down the road from us, this vibrant city has a reputation for crime and violence that is fast being replaced with fashion and food. It really is one of the most hip cities on the planet right now with so much going on it’s hard to know where to start. If you ever get the chance to come to SA I would recommend trying to stay at least a couple of nights in Johannesburg, maybe booking a graffiti walking tour or a cycling tour of neighboring Soweto or a foodie tour or…..you get the idea!
The dog walks
My life turned around when we got a dog. And although the dog himself is wonderful (a very good natured miniature schnauzer called Cooper) it is the accompanying life with him that has been the change. Every week at least once, often twice, a group of us meet with our pooches to walk them in the dog park about ten minutes from where I live. It is one of the only places dogs can be let off the lead safely – we also regularly meet at another place which is more of a hiking trail than a park! This group started small but has been growing in size and is now practically an institution. What I means is that every week not only do I get to catch up with my friends, meet some new ones, get some exercise and see my dog have fun with the other pups, it also means we can extend our social lives beyond those hour-long walks. So we meet, we chat, we get to know each other, we work out what ages our various children are (if we have any), we exchange numbers, we arrange to meet for coffee or playdates or doggie dates…..these walks are the highlight of my week (Cooper agrees!) and in all honesty are one of the reasons I have been so happy here.
The roof-top terrace at the Moroccan House
Never have I eaten out as often as I do in Pretoria. Why? Because it is so darned cheap! It isn’t quite as cheap as it was before the Rand had a little rally and the pound fell through the floor but even so, it is still almost as cheap to eat out as to eat in. I would probably do it a lot more if it wasn’t for the fact that portion sizes to tend to be big and the pounds are piling on….As well as eating out in the evening, with or without the children, I try to meet friends for coffee at least once a week. When you work from home life can get pretty lonely if you don’t get out so I see this as a necessity more than a luxury.
Our favorite place to meet is actually not South African at all but Moroccan – a café tucked away in a place you wouldn’t know was there until someone took you. But I suspect it’s one of the worst kept secrets in Pretoria as the car park is often lined with diplomats cars and lunches can be dominated by large groups of a certain type of lady….however, it’s a perfect spot for a morning coffee (or perhaps one of their intriguingly named Magic Juices) – an airy roof top terrace, served by attentive staff, surrounded by beautiful pieces of Moroccan pottery, tables strewn with rose petals, gorgeous little spiced biscuits and cakes on offer…..
No post about South Africa would be complete without talking about the wildlife. From the zebras we pass on our way to horse-riding to the majestic Kruger park, animals have dominated our time here in South Africa. I can’t get over what it feels like to live somewhere where you can hop in a car and see rhinos in your local reserve within 20 minutes. We have all got used to telling the difference between a springbok, an impala and a kudu.
Whales, penguins, leopards, elephants, snakes (yes, one in our garden!), dung beatles, wild dogs…you name it, we’ve seen it. Except cheetahs – the one thing that has evaded us yet. So on our list before we leave? See cheetahs…
Braai’s and outdoor living
There aren’t many days when you can’t be outside in this country. In the winter it gets pretty chilly at night but the days are generally still bright and sunny. In the summer we get thunderstorms (see my next item) but it’s still hot. We have a total indoor/outdoor life with the patio doors always open and food eaten wherever the fancy takes us. We also have a built-in braai on our patio – the Afrikaaner word for barbecue – much to my husband’s delight. He loves mucking around with fire and if it were up to him we would eat freshly grilled steaks every day. It’s lovely and casual, very little standing on ceremony and the sort of lifestyle that I think is more familiar to us from Australia. Shoes? What they?!
When I say storms I mean storms. Real storms. I have never heard thunder like it or seen as much lightening in my life. Let alone hailstorms with hailstones the size of golf balls (which can cause a helluva lot of damage in a very short period of time – our cars are always put in the garage overnight). It can be a tad noisy but it is certainly dramatic.
It’s hard to think about leaving when we are only half way through our time in Pretoria but when you only have a year left thoughts do inevitably turn to what it is you will miss most about a place. I know I will miss everything. Everything. The weather, the people, the friends, the food, the restaurants, the weather, the wildlife, the travel, the expanse, the wine and did I mention the weather? So leaving Pretoria is going to be very, very tough – I am already well aware of that and need to mentally prepare myself a long way in advance of our departure.
Clara Wiggins was born in Cuba to British diplomat parents and hasn’t stopped traveling since. As a child, she moved between the UK, the Philippines, Nigeria, Venezuela and Gibraltar before flying the nest. Her work as first a journalist and later a diplomat in the British Foreign Office took her abroad again, including to Jamaica where she met her husband. With his job, they and their two daughters have lived in Pakistan and St Lucia and South Africa. Following her experiences as an accompanying spouse, Clara has written the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide. You can find out about the book at her blog: Expat Partner’s Survival