Monday, June 3, 2013

Pretoria, South Africa

Pretoria, South Africa

By Rowan Roux

The capital of South Africa, Pretoria, is known as the Jacaranda City because of the distinctive purple
colour that blooms across the cityscape every spring. The Jacaranda trees line the streets of the city, creating an amazing floral spectacle which locals eagerly await each year. Even the nearby university students have a legend that if you haven’t started studying by the time the trees are flowering, you will certainly fail your exams. Conversely, if a Jacaranda blossom lands on your head, you’ll be blessed with good luck for the rest of the year. While this legend has been around for a number of years, it still doesn’t quite compare to Pretoria’s rich sense of cultural history, just waiting to be discovered. As a country with a turbulent political history, South Africa has many stories to tell, and Pretoria is the perfect city in which to start you explorations.

One of the most remarkable things about the city is the vast number of historical monuments on offer.  Parliament is held in the Union Buildings, a beautiful sandstone landmark which was built in 1910. The Buildings have played host to a number of important political protests, but they also offer one of the most sweepingly beautiful views of the city. Pack a picnic and head up to the gardens at sunset to really be able to see the city at its best – and once the sun has gone down, the bright lights of the city are somehow equally captivating.

Another must see is the Voortrekker Monument. Fleeing British Rule, the Voortrekkers were a group of Afrikaans South Africans who began migrated towards Pretoria in 1835. This monument was built to commemorate the suffering of these people. At an imposing 40 metres tall, the Voortrekker Monument has remarkable views of the quieter mountainside of Pretoria. This is also the number one stop for most architectural lovers as the Monument is known for its magnificent design.

If you’re looking for some cultural diversity, however, Pretoria is the ideal place to enjoy the fusion of an era past and a fast developing new fusion of styles. To really get a sense of how many people live, take one of the township tours to Mamelodi, the informal settlement on the border of the city. These trips are immensely popular with tourists and provide the
best opportunity to experience some local flavour. Often you can stop by one of the local shebeens (bars) and try the home-brewed beers, or even the local cuisine. The food is certainly unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else, but perhaps isn’t for those travellers who aren’t adventurous with their diet.

Public transport might not be quite as efficient as in other countries, but in recent years, the development of the Gautrain has seen a phenomenal escalation in the number of people who use the train to commute to work – particularly as the Gautrain links Pretoria to several popular neighbourhoods in the nearby city of Johannesburg, making it an easy day trip. The system has been modelled on London’s Underground and is extremely easy to use, well maintained and runs regularly. There are also many bus routes which link up to the various train stations, making transportation around Pretoria much more effective and tourist-friendly.

When visiting Pretoria, you’ll find the people to be characteristically friendly and very helpful – particular towards tourists. Tourism is one of South Africa’s major industries, and the country has become increasingly popular among visitors because of its relative inexpensiveness, cultural diversity and year-round good weather. If you’re looking for a trip to a sunny, friendly, Jacaranda-blossoming city, Pretoria should be your first stop.

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