Travel provides insight and adventure. It’s also a great way to learn about the people, politics, history, art and cuisine of the countries discussed in  Bloodlines and On the Sickle’s Edge. For an unforgettable experience, think about planning a trip to South Africa, Russia or Latvia.

Inspired to visit South Africa? As anyone knows who has traveled there, South Africa is a country filled with breathtaking landscapes, diverse cultures and incredible flora and fauna. Here are some of our favorite places to visit.

Mpumalanga: Big Five Private Game Parks in Sabi Sands and Timbavati, Kruger National Park (self-drive)

Johannesburg, Pretoria and Environs (Gauteng Province): Soweto, Apartheid Museum, Hector Pieterson Museum; Constitution Hill and Old Fort

Sun City: Kwa Maritane Game Reserve

KwaZulu-Natal : Drakensberg Mountains, Hiking near Cathedral Peak, Prehistoric Cave Art, Wetlands of La Lucia, Zulu and British Battle Fields, including Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift (Stay at Fugitives’ Drift Lodge for world-class tours), Highlands/Midlands Meander

Cape Town and Environs: Table Mountain, Robben Island, Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront Area , Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Two Oceans Aquarium, Cape Beaches, Clifton and Camp’s Bay Beaches, Hout’s Bay, Whale Watching in Hermanus, Great White Shark Diving at Gansbaii, Chapman’s Peak Drive to Cape Point & Cape of Good Hope, Drive along Peninsula, Indian Ocean, towns along coast road (e.g., Wilderness), Boulders Penguin Colony, Seal Islands Cruise, Big Five Game Farms (no risk of malaria).

Wine Country/Cape Winelands: Stellenbosch, Franshoek, Paarl, wine farms and wine routes

Garden Route (Southern Coast): Port Elizabeth, Knysna Forests, World’s Second Highest Bungy Jump, Plettenburg Bay, Keurbooms River to Nature’s Valley

1 JanuaryNew Year’s Day
21 MarchHuman Rights Day
25 March*Good Friday (Friday before Easter Sunday)
28 March *Family Day (Monday after Easter Sunday)
27 AprilFreedom Day
1 MayWorkers’ Day
16 JuneYouth Day
9 AugustNational Women’s Day
24 SeptemberHeritage Day
16 DecemberDay of Reconciliation
25 DecemberChristmas Day
26 DecemberDay of Goodwill


* The dates on which Good Friday and Easter Sunday fall are determined according to the ecclesiastical moon. That varies each year but they fall at some point between late March and late April.

**The Public Holidays Act (Act No 36 of 1994 [PDF]) determines whenever any public holiday falls on a Sunday, the Monday following on it shall be a public holiday.


21 March [Human Rights Day]

The Bill of Rights contained in the Constitution is the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa.

The Constitution provides for the establishment of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The aim of the Commission is to promote respect for human rights, promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights, and to monitor and assess the observance of human rights in SA. The SAHRC was launched on 21 March 1996, 35 years after the fateful events of 21 March 1960 when demonstrators in Sharpeville were gunned down by police.

The Native Laws Amendment Act of 1952 extended Government control over the movement of Africans to urban areas and abolished the use of the Pass Book (a document which Africans were required to carry on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’) in favour of a reference book which had to be carried at all times by all Africans.

Failure to produce the reference book on demand by the police, was a punishable offence. The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) proposed an anti-Pass campaign to start on 21 March 1960. All African men were to take part in the campaign without their passes and present themselves for arrest.

Campaigners gathered at police stations in townships near Johannesburg where they were dispersed by police. At the Sharpeville police station a scuffle broke out. Part of a wire fence was trampled, allowing the crowd to move forward. The police opened fire, apparently without having been given a prior order to do so. Sixty-nine people were killed and 180 wounded.

In apartheid South Africa this day became known as Sharpeville Day and although not part of the official calendar of public holidays the event was commemorated among anti-apartheid movements.


27 April [Freedom Day]

Freedom Day commemorates the first democratic elections held in South Africa on 27 April 1994. Read more about Freedom Day celebrations.


1 May [Workers’ Day]

Workers’ Day celebrates the role played by trade unions, the Communist Party and other labour movements in the struggle against apartheid.  It originated from May Day, which was born from the industrial struggle for an eight-hour day. Read more about Worker’s Day.


16 June [Youth Day]

In 1975 protests started in African schools after a directive from the then Bantu Education Department that Afrikaans had to be used on an equal basis with English as a language of instruction in secondary schools. The issue, however, was not so much the Afrikaans as the whole system of Bantu education which was characterised by separate schools and universities, poor facilities, overcrowded classrooms and inadequately trained teachers. On 16 June 1976 more than 20 000 pupils from Soweto began a protest march. In the wake of clashes with the police, and the violence that ensued during the next few weeks, approximately 700 hundred people, many of them youths, were killed and property destroyed.

Youth Day commemorates these events.


9 August [National Women’s Day]

This day commemorates 9 August 1956 when women participated in a national march to petition against pass laws (legislation that required African persons to carry a document on them to ‘prove’ that they were allowed to enter a ‘white area’).

More information


24 September [Heritage Day]

“The day is one of our newly created public holidays and its significance rests in recognising aspects of South African culture which are both tangible and difficult to pin down: creative expression, our historical inheritance, language, the food we eat as well as the land in which we live.

“Within a broader social and political context, the day’s events…are a powerful agent for promulgating a South African identity, fostering reconciliation and promoting the notion that variety is a national asset as opposed to igniting conflict.

“Heritage has defined as “that which we inherit: the sum total of wild life and scenic parks, sites of scientific or historical importance, national monuments, historic buildings, works of art, literature and music, oral traditions and museum collections together with their documentation.”

(Statement issued by the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology, 17 September 1996)

In an address marking Heritage Day in 1996, (former) President Mandela stated:

“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.

We did so knowing that the struggles against the injustice and inequities of the past are part of our national identity; they are part of our culture. We knew that, if indeed our nation has to rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division and conflict, we had to acknowledge those whose selfless efforts and talents were dedicated to this goal of non-racial democracy.”

Government determines a theme for each year’s celebrations.

More information


16 December [Day of Reconciliation]

16 December is a day of great significance in South Africa because of two historical events that took place on that date.

In apartheid South Africa 16 December was known as Day of the Vow, as the Voortrekkers in preparation for the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838 against the Zulus took a Vow before God that they would build a church and that they and their descendants would observe the day as a day of thanksgiving should they be granted victory.

The second historical event that took place on 16 December was in 1961, when Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), was formed. Prior to its formation, the ANC had largely approached the fight against apartheid through passive resistance, but after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, where peaceful protestors were indiscriminately shot by police, passive resistance was no longer seen as an effective approach in bringing apartheid to an end. MK mostly performed acts of sabotage, but its effectiveness was hampered by organizational problems and the arrest of its leaders in 1963. Despite this, its formation was commemorated every year since 1961.

With the advent of democracy in South Africa 16 December retained its status as a public holiday. South Africa’s first non-racial and democratic government was tasked with promoting reconciliation and national unity. One way in which it aimed to do this symbolically was to acknowledge the significance of the 16 December in both the Afrikaner and liberation struggle traditions and to rename this day as the Day of Reconciliation.

On 16 December 1995, the Day of Reconciliation was celebrated as a public holiday in South Africa for the first time.

Our thanks to the South African Government website for the information about the holidays. For more information go to:

If you want to learn more about the world of On the Sickle’s Edge, travel to Russia, the world’s largest nation. Indeed, Russia is a fascinating and complex place to visit. You can trace the richness and complexity of Jewish life in that vast country, as well as experience first-hand the land of Lenin, Stalin, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Moscow, The Kremlin, the Bolshoi, St. Petersburg, the Hermitage Museum’s art collection, and much, much more.