Saturday, January 29, 2011

Crime in South Africa

Recently we had the following comment from Kristin on our Blog:

“Kristin said...
Hi there!
I am a norwegian who suddenly came over your blog :) seems like you are enjoying Sweden! Nice to see! I have a question for you... my husband got a job offer in Johannesburg, and we would love to have an exciting new experience. However, I get really scared when I read about the crime in Johannesburg... Since you are living in sweden, I wanted to get your opinion, since you are familiar with what we are used to... (we are currently living in Kuala Lumpur and enjoying Malaysia) Would you be scared to bring two kids to live in South Africa? How is daily life there, can you reduce the risks by not going out after dark and living in a safe gated community? I would be thrilled to hear from you, since you are from South Africa! Wish you all the best in Sweden :-)

These are not in easy questions to answer. Unfortunately, crime is very high in South Africa, and the highest in Gauteng, the province in which Johannesburg is located. It is also true that one of the main reasons why people emigrate from South Africa is the high crime rate (especially the violent crimes where people are injured or killed rather that just being robbed). Comparing safety in South Africa to Sweden is therefore so different that neither Swedes nor South Africans believe us when we tell about the conditions in the other country (I therefore invite anyone to comment/correct on this post if I exaggerate on any side).
Some of the major differences include the following. In Sweden you are “free” to walk almost anywhere at almost any time without a need to feel threatened. Initially this was very strange and I still jump when I hear someone in the dark jogging past me whilst walking home. In Johannesburg I would prefer not to be outside when it is dark and you are also at high risk when driving somewhere during night. There are also multiple places in Johannesburg and Gauteng that I would avoid, even during broad daylight. The homes and places of work in South Africa are also different. Where we lived and worked you only had access to the premises if you had some key card at the 24 hour manned gated. Additionally, once inside there were locked garages, locks on the homes, security locks to the doors, security guards on the premises at work, locked offices locked drawers at your desk, security cables to your computer and monitor and so forth. In Sweden this is completely different and you often require only one key to have access to any office in a whole building. Additionally, I have marvelled at people sometimes leaving their cars unlocked with valuables inside, offices left open during lunch and small children cycling to school alone. It is a very nice not to worry about safety to the same extent as in South Africa.
A second main difference we see, but are not as well known, are much safer roads in Sweden. I feel that this is an important thing to mention to people who move from Scandinavia to South Africa. South Africans often do not realise that this is a big problem and many drive excessively fast on very bad roads, even in heavily populated residential areas. Additionally many vehicles are in a bad condition and neither pedestrians nor drivers obey many of the rules. Cycling in South Africa is not a viable mode of transport. It is therefore shocking to many Swedes when they hear how many people die on South African roads and currently some of my colleagues think I lie about the death toll over Easter weekend.
This just said, both of us were able to survive with only minor crime related incidents (and only a few traffic related incidents) for more than 30 years, many of which were spent in Gauteng with regular visits to Johannesburg (Carina worked in Johannesburg city centre for 3 of the last 4 years before we left but grew up on a farm in a very peaceful environment). Being affected by crime is to a large extent a chance event and the best thing to do would be to reduce the chance of being in a place or situation where you may be at risk of being involved. Some of the things we did (and sometimes still do) may be considered paranoiac. I would however suggest that you try to make friends with a local, preferably in the area where you are going to stay. Ask them what they consider safe and what they do to minimise the risks. Ask them where they recommend going and not going and at what times (in general it is safer in most places in the day and where there are lots of people). As a general rule it is good to be aware of your environment. Again a local may be able to tell you about the neighbours and who are regular people and vehicles in your area. Listen to their suggestions. Very important is NOT to cross the street at pedestrian crossings when there are any vehicles approaching, they will NOT stop. I also cannot recommend any of the public transport facilities in South Africa. There are many other habits that may help, such as not having anything on a passenger seat when driving, minimising the time to enter through any security gates, not trusting the police, avoiding strangers on the street, always know where you are going, never stop at the side of the road, never letting strangers in your house, not trusting workmen when around and so on. This list can be quite long but as I said we may be considered paranoiac.
To end, I do want to say that a stay in South Africa could be amazing if you have someone to help you find your feet. This post may sound negative but the question is about crime in South Africa. Many people are able to keep safe and enjoy their lives. South Africans are very nice people (when they are not trying to rob you :) and you can easily make friends that will make you feel very welcome. Additionally, the food in is very, very good and I recommend trying as much as possible. To add to this, South Africa have a variety of climatic regions, which leads to many different natural environments. You could therefore visit subtropical, desert, semi-arid, savannah, forest, fynbos areas and many more with their own plant and animal life. There is also a rich diversity of cultures.
I hope that other people will add comments, both positive and negative, to give an accurate representation of South Africa.
PS. Follow this link to local (South African) news to see what happens on a daily basis (some good and some bad):

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wookie no more.

For no particular reason (except maybe this slight inconvenience of pulling the matted knots of hair when combing), Carina and I had a bit of a go at my hair. Below are the "before and after" pictures and the piece of hair that has been growing for almost 2 years:

Since the removal, I have discovered that you lose quite a bit of heat through your head. Luckily this premature shearing can be countered by the nice warm hats we got in one of the packages from home (click here to see the package).


Monday, January 17, 2011

Ice hotel vacation 2011 (Part 3 of 3): Adventures on Ice

For this final post of our Ice Hotel vacation we made a video that features the three adventures we partook in.

Final thoughts on the holiday - an excellent vacation!


PS. Note that for all our videos we have English subtitles - just press "cc" below the video. Also, by double clicking on the video you can make it full screen.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ice hotel vacation 2011 (Part 2 of 3): Met eish...

During our vacation at the Ice Hotel we slept the first night in the cold accommodation (-5° Celsius). The whole hotel is a work of art. Here is a video of this experience:

Staying in the cold accommodation:
We had a lot of questions about the cold accommodation and here are some interesting bits. To answer the most common question: No, the toilet is not made from ice. The bathrooms, sauna facilities and dressing rooms are located in a adjacent building (approximately 20 m from the cold accommodation), which is well heated. You also leave all your luggage in a big locker there. The reception in this facility is open 24 hours to assist with any problems that may occur. Here you can also obtain warm outer clothing that we kept during the whole 3 days and are very, very useful on the trips/adventures (see next post). These clothes include a warm outer overall, very nice and warm boots, thick mittens and a balaclava. The sleeping bag (or double sleeping bag, such as in our case) is also provided here. This dressing/bath/sauna building also has a cozy lounge with an open fire, coffee, internet access etc. where you can spend your time (mostly to warm yourself) before facing the cold night. After collecting your sleeping bag you run to the cold accommodation (where -5° inside is much warmer than -30° outside) in a single layer of clothes and hat/balaclava. A single layer of clothes is required for the sleeping bag to work optimally. Sleeping in a double sleeping bag is tricky in the beginning but the extra heat is definitely an advantage later. After a while the temperature in the sleeping bag is very comfortable. In the morning you are served warm lingonberry juice in bed.

Staying in the warm accommodation:
After our night in the cold accommodation we moved to the warm accommodation. This was very cozy and we had a beautiful view (see pictures below). The warm accommodation is located less than 100 m from the cold accommodation and the main reception. The main restaurant (see previous post) is just across the road from the Ice Hotel.

When visiting the Ice Hotel, a stay in the cold accommodation is a must BUT to really enjoy Jukkasjärvi and the surroundings we recommend an additional night or two in the warm accommodation ;)

You can find more information about the Ice Hotel on their main page:

or in this article:

Keep you eyes open for the last post of our ice vacation where we will feature the activities we partook in...


Friday, January 7, 2011

Ice hotel vacation 2011 (Part 1 of 3): Food at the ends of the earth

We have mainly traveled on a single longitude, starting in Cape Town as the most southern part and recently visited Jukkasjärvi 200 km north of the arctic circle. This means that we have eaten quite a lot on this line across the earth and a number of restaurants that we can recommend are: LaMadeleine (Pretoria-SA), The Odd Plate (Centurion-SA), Gondolen (Stockholm-Sweden). (Although we have visited a number of other countries, the list is biased towards where we spent most of our lives thus far, i.e. South Africa and Sweden)

As mentioned, we just returned from a vacation in Jukkasjärvi where the Ice Hotel is located. Here, almost at the end of the earth, we found two restaurants that may be the best restaurants that we have eaten at. The one is the Ice Hotel's main restaurant located across the road from the hotel itself. The second is the Old Homestead, also associated with the Ice Hotel (which is located a chilling 15 minutes walk from the hotel). Both of these restaurants can be added to the list, maybe at the top.

A lot of the dishes are made from local produce and we can recommend the following:

Topside of reindeer with potato cake (Ice Hotel restaurant): The reindeer was cooked to perfection. Soft as butter inside, tasting like the essence of meatiness. The potato cake were also very good with layers of creamy buttery potato.  

Creamy potato soup with truffle and Shiitake mushrooms (Ice Hotel restaurant): The creamy but almost neutral taste of the potato soup cause the flavors of the truffles explode in your mouth and are complimented by the mushrooms.

Elk cheese ice cream with cloudberry doughnut (Ice Hotel restaurant):  The dish is served on an ice plate, as many of the dishes in both Ice Hotel restaurants are (see picture below). The name of the dish sounds a bit confusing but I just had to taste it. The ice cream was fantastic. It tasted like a creamy cheese cake crossed with rich ice cream. Cloudberries are bright orange berries and is a valued source of vitamins in these parts therefore their nickname "gold of the north". The cloudberry doughnut was very tasty as well.
(Important note: do not remove the paper napkin under the ice as this will result in chasing your desert bowl containing the last bit of ice-cream on the smooth, wet porcelain plate)

Blue-ice diamond cocktail (Ice Hotel restaurant): This beautiful cocktail had a huge diamond shaped ice rock from the crystal clear local Torne river (from which the Ice Hotel are built) inside.

Baked Getost (goats cheese) and mushrooms on toast with lingonberry (Homestead restaurant): Best starter we ever had. This really was a dream dish.

These are just a few of the excellent courses we had.

We should also mention that the Absolut Ice bar in the Ice Hotel is well worth a visit when traveling across the arctic circle. We had a blue and red cocktails served in glasses also made from the Torne river ice (below are a few pictures of the bar and our drinks).

 Quite cozy sitting on reindeer skins.

 Note while the outer mitten has been removed the hand is still gloved.

 Testing: at -5 your tongue does not stick to the ice.

 *This is a special food filled Friday edition since it concerns the bestest food we have tasted. We hope to find more such restaurants. However if anyone can make the journey to the Ice Hotel we strongly recommend a visit to these restaurants.

Keep your eyes open for our next two posts with more stories about our adventures in Jukkasjärvi and how we survived the coldest days of our lives…