Monday, October 1, 2012

Cape Town, South Africa August 2012

All Pictures are at the bottom of the post

Flying to Cape Town from Johannesburg, the plan is to spend a week in the area touring and exploring. If all goes well we will be having a late lunch when we arrive with Theo Pauw, one of our teammates from the Tour de Tuli.

We arrived in Cape Town at 11:15 AM, we found a taxi that agreed to shuttle us to several stops for 8 ZAR (1 U.S. dollar). We had to pick our apartment key up at the property managers office, Stop 1. Next, we dropped our bags off at our apartment, which is in the Icon building, located between the water front and the central business district, part of the city bowl, Stop 2. We got a great deal on the apartment as there had been a couple of murders recently so rents were lowered.

Stop 3 is the Old Biscuit Mill,located in the Woodstock section of Cape Town. The Old Biscuit Mill is a revitalization project that Theo along with a few investors have been working on for the past 7 years. They have created a mixed use, both retail, and office from old industrial buildings. Most of the business are small privately owned and geared toward the creative side of the brain. Currently a big project going on is the renovation for a brand new University in the Old Biscuit Mill.

We had lunch at The Test Kitchen,one of Theo's partners joined us, Francisca (Fran), she will be the CEO/DEAN a new University, which is called "Cape Town Creative Academy" it will be opening in 2013. During lunch Theo explained what there was to do and see in the Cape Town area, he also gave us a list of some restaurants to try. After our three hour lunch and several bottles of wine we took our trusty taxi back to our apartment.

Once at our apartment we realized we needed to do some food shopping. One cool thing about staying in an apartment compared to a hotel is you get to see how the locals live. The first order of business find a grocery store. There was some retail space in our apartment building, which included a gourmet grocery, this would be our back up plan for food.

We ventured out on to the streets of Cape Town, we had been told by Americans, that Cape Town was not a safe walking town, Theo felt even though there was a lot of community policing it was best to stay on main streets.

As we walked we asked where a grocery might be. We were directed to a Pick & Pay. It was 5:25 PM, the store was pure chaos. We found out a lot of people shop on there way home from work. The quality of the food had a bit to be desired so we got some staples (not the ones in my leg) and bid farewell to the Pick & Pay.

On our return to our apartment we stopped at the Gourmet Market for salads and snacks. We had an early start to the day with a late lunch so dinner would be some light food in our apartment.

Day 2

Exploring Cape Town - we headed over to the Water Front, we wanted to take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to get the lay of the land. Most major cities have these buses, we discovered them in Istanbul, and found it was a quick way to learn a city.

The water front was a mix of industrial ship and fish factories, interlaced with shops, restaurants, craft markets, as well as tourist attractions such as an aquarium. We were told the designers of the Cape Town Water Front, visited the San Francisco Wharf, and Sydney Harbor for their inspiration, but I felt it resembled the Baltimore Inner Harbor the most. On our walk we saw a sea lion doing a little ballet in the Harbor.

We took the Red-Hop-On Hop-Off Bus, the tour covered most of the city, including Table Mountain, and many of the beach communities.

It is winter time in Cape Town, which means cold, rainy, foggy weather. It was nice to see some clouds and rain on our arrival after 3 weeks of the most pure blue skies during the day, and unbelievable star filled skies at night.

We must be very lucky as we woke up to rain, which quickly cleared for the open air bus ride, it poured again during lunch, and then the sun returned as soon as we were through and ventured back outside.

Our next stop was a tour of Robben Island, NOT, there were signs saying the tour was sold out until the 25th of August. Robben Island is an island 10 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town which housed many political prisoners including Nelson Mandela. The prison and Island are now a museum.

We inquired at the ticket counter and explained we would be leaving Cape Town on the 22nd of August, they explained the had a cancellation and we could take the tour on Sunday at 10:00 AM.

Change of plans, instead of Robben Island we would visit the Jewish Museum and Holocaust Museum. Many Jew immigrated to South Africa (Cape Town) in the early 1900's, many migrated inland when gold and diamonds were discovered in the interior of South Africa. During the dark era of Apartheid, the Jews took the side of the black minority, many time being actively involved in the both peaceful and not so peaceful demonstrations. When blacks were prosecuted only Jewish lawyers were willing to defend them. There was some hypocrisy to this as many Jewish mine owners exploited the black miners during Apartheid.

I would highly recommend both the Jewish and Holocaust Museum as a must see when in Cape Town.

It was 5:00 PM when we completed the museums, we decided to walk through the Company Gardens,these gardens were created by the Dutch East Indian Shipping Company to supply vegetables to the passing ships. They have since been converted to beautiful flower gardens, including a large raised garden. Being it was winter time the gardens were very nice, but clearly did not show off their true beauty. There was a large statue of Jan Smut an early General and Prime-minister of South Africa. After a full day of touring we were tired and decided another dinner of snacks in the apartment. One of these days we will try one of the restaurants Theo recommended.

Day 3

We woke up to just a beautiful morning. Sunny with just a little haze, 50 degrees Fahrenheit and climbing. It is hard to believe it is winter. We decided since it was such a beautiful day we would hike Table Mountain. Table Mountain is a mountain that forms the back drop of Cape Town. Table Mountain is flat at the top, causing it to resemble a giant table. We were not sure of the route to climb the mountain, but figured it must be near the base. We left our apartment and headed up Lower Long Street, to Long Street, to Upper Long Street, during this walk we slowly rose from sea level to a few hundred feet above sea level. At the end of Upper Long we followed the windy road that lead to the cable tram building about midway up the mountain. At this point the traffic on the road was getting heavy and not so safe.

We found a dirt road we thought might be safer, there were lots of wild flowers on this road, a much better and more beautiful route. We followed this road for about a mile when we realized it was not going in the right direction, we were in fact heading back down the mountain. Margarite said she could see the road above us, and decided to bush whack a direct path. After many changes in direction, climbing rocks, crossing gullies, and getting scratched by a few sticker bushes we made it to the correct road. From the road we could see other hikers and the trail head for the path to the top of Table Mountain.

The sign at the trail head said two and a half hours to the top. This seemed a little crazy to us, we could see the top, though very steep, it did not appear to be very far away. Margarite asked another hiker how long the hike should take. His response, "I can do it in an hour and fifteen minutes, but I am very fit, most people take two to two and a half hours." I think this got Margarite's competitive juices flowing. The trail was a mix of very steep walking paths and large steps made from mismatched boulders. We started the hike at 11:00 AM and got to the top of the cable car tram at 12:00 PM. One hour exactly, crushing the other hikers time by 15 minutes. The hike up was just breath taking, as we climbed the morning haze burned off and the cityscape became clearer and clearer.

We decided to take the cable tram down to save time and get the full experience. Once back at the parking lot we found the dirt road we were on earlier and took it all the way down going through some very exclusive neighborhoods. Once back on Upper Long we stopped at one of the many boutique restaurants for a great well deserved lunch.

There was one museum left on our must do list, the Slave Museum. After lunch we headed over, about a mile walk from where we had lunch.

The Slave Museum / Salve Lodge is housed in a building that was originally the slave lodge. The Dutch India Company would house their slaves in this building. The museum was 10% about the slave history of South Africa, one of the most interesting facts was that almost all of the slaves in South Africa, were imported from other places. The other 90% of the museum was dedicated to South Africa history, interesting stuff, but most of it we had seen at other museums. For this reason I would not recommend the Slave Museum.

We decided tonight was the night to try one of Theo's recommendations for dinner. Margarite was in the mood for Sushi, with 90% of the fish consumed in South Africa coming from Cape Town we figured this is the town, Theo had recommended Wakame for Sushi. It was just perfect some of the freshest sushi we had ever had. Our waiter, Sinbad was over the top great, even making sure we had a cab home after dinner.

We had planned to walk, to dinner and from dinner, but our hotel security felt it would not be safe. While we have had no issues with crime, beside your normal pan handlers, we heeded the guards advice and took a taxi. I think the guards are on edge with the recent murders in the building.

Day 4

Another gorgeous day. Theo had laid out a few day trips we should take. One was to the Cape of Good Hope, he recommended doing this on a clear day. I got a car from Avis and we were off, ALMOST!

It was Saturday morning, and we remembered that The Old Biscuit Mill had it's organic market on Saturday mornings so we headed over to the market. What a great market, about 10% crafts, 50% prepared foods, from pizza, to smoothies, and 40% fresh foods, from olives, to fresh fruits. The quality and choices were fantastic. Everybody offered samples so I had a second breakfast made up of free samples.

After the market we were on our way to the Cape of Good Hope. We headed down the West Coast passing some of the most expensive houses lining the coast of Cape Town (Gold Coast). The waves and ocean were crystal clear with the bright sunshine overhead. We stopped a few times to take pictures.

We stopped at a small fishing village, Hout Bay. Many that work in Cape Town call Hout Bay home. We walked around the wharf area, before continuing our trek to the Cape of Good Hope.

From Hout Bay we went over Chapmans Peak, a beautiful cliff side drive along the coast with great views, I highly recommend this route.

Once at the Cape we hiked out to Cape Point this is the location of the light house and also the most Western and Southern part of Africa. As we faced South to our right was Cape of Good Hope, which is the most Eastern Southern point of Africa. Some people think this is where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, this is not correct, they meet further north and east of this Cape.

We left the Cape and headed up the East side of the peninsula. We stopped at a small roadside Restaurant in Scarbough for a late lunch.

Our next stop was to see the African Penguins, we were not certain where they could be viewed, fortunately there were signs for Boulder Park and the Penguin viewing area. The area was just south of the town of Simon. Watching the Penguins play on the beach and swim in the ocean was very entertaining. It was getting late so we continued north back into Cape Town.

We have a big day tomorrow so it is early to bed.

Day 5

Today we will tour Robben Island. Robbins Island is 10 kilometers off the coast of Cape Town. Robben Island was originally a leopard colony, after which it was changed to a prison, both for criminals and political dissidents. Robben Island got it's name from the Dutch. In Dutch robben means seal, there are a lot of seals on Robben Island.

The weather was overcast with a little rain, perfect atmosphere for today's tour. We took a ferry out to the Island, the tour started with a bus ride around the island, during it's peak Robben Island had about 1,000 residents to support the prison, there is a small town on the island that is not part of the prison. Currently 300 people live on the island these are people that support the museum. After the tour of the island we took the Prison tour. Our guide for the prison was an ex-inmate (political prisoner). This made the tour very real, when our guide explained what happened in the prison he was talking from experience. Robben Island was were Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years of his imprisonment. Our Tour Guide served a 7 year sentence on Robben Island.

He explained a little of his history, it started in 1979 when he was 19, just a year older than me. He joined the ANC (African National Congress) to help fight the Apartheid government. His journey took him to Angola for some training, traveling through Botswana. He was eventually arrested for not carrying his pass-book. During Apartheid all blacks had to carry a passbook (like a passport) at all times, if you were black and you were found without your passbook, you were sentenced to 6 months in prison without a trial. After the 6 months our guide was charged with leaving and entering the country illegally. This was why he was sentenced to the 7 years on Robben Island.

We got to see where the prisoners lived, the less important prisoners lived in group cells where they had to sleep on the floor. The quality of food was set depending on their race with the blacks getting the worst foods. If you were of some status, you had your own cell still sleeping on the cement floor. The cell was barely large enough for a person to lay down in.

The prisoners were forced to work in a quarry on the island. There was a small cave in this quarry and the prisoners would hide in the cave and hold classes. The educated prisoners would teach the less educated prisoners. This way the prisoners would come out of prison better educated then when they went in.

All communications from the outside world with the prisoners was censored, sometimes a letter would only have the greeting and the salutation, with the entire contents of the letter removed.

Hearing the stories being told by a person only one year older than me, that lived through this torture, really had an impact.

After Robben Island, we headed to Hout Bay, Theo's friend and business partner Francisca (Fran) Gebert recently moved to Hout Bay and she invited us for a visit. Her house was built into the hillside of Hout Bay, giving great panoramic views of the ocean, beaches, and opposite hill side.

As I mentioned Fran is in the process of opening an Academy in Cape Town, the name is Cape Town Creative Academy. The Academy will be opening in January 2013. We are very excited for Fran. We had a great visit catching up, and talking about a lot of the cultural history of South Africa. What a great time.

Day 6

A lot of people think that the Cape of Good Hope is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, but this is not true. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet at the Cape of Hangklip. Today that is our destination. We drove 60 kilometers east out of Cape Town on the N2, then headed southeast toward Gordon's Bay. We followed this road all the way to the Cape of Hangklip. The road follows the cliff lined coast. Once at Hangklip we hiked out to the point where the oceans meet.

After our short hike we continued our drive to Hermanus. The route we followed is known as the coastal whale route, as this is the routes that the migrating whales are known to take when they migrate from the cold waters of Antarctica to the warmer waters of South Africa.

Hermanus was originally a large fishing village, it is now a well known beach vacation destination with great restaurants and shops. We toured a few of the museums, Harbor, Photo, and Whale Museum. After the museums we had a nice lunch.

From Hermanus we headed back to Cape Town taking the inland route crossing the mountains via the Sir Lowrey Pass with it's incredible views.

Tonight will be dining out . We went to a restaurant called Planet, in the Mount Nelson Hotel. It was a fantastic experience. Our host Emanuel, recently graduated from the local hospitality university. Emanuel could not have been more accommodating to Margarite's food allergies. The food from appetizer to dessert was a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10. The decor was elegant yet casual, well lit, and very comfortable.

What a great experience, one of the best restaurants I have ever been to.

Day 7

This is our last full day in Cape Town, the day looks as if will be rainy or at least overcast. On our agenda today is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, and the wine country.

Kirstenbosch is a fantastic botanical garden. The focus of the gardens is indigenous plants of South Africa. Built into the northern base of Table Mountain. The paths of the gardens serpentine up and down the side of the mountain. Each section had very descriptive explanations of the importance of the types of plants and their effect on the eco-system of South Africa.

They even had a section on weeds, and how plants in one part of the word could be weeds in another part of the world, creating havoc on the environment. It was overcast and raining when we arrived at the gardens, but about halfway through our visit the clouds cleared and the sun came out.

From Kirstenbosch we headed north west to the wine lands, both Margarite and I are huge wine drinkers and this was a very important part of our trip. There are two major villages for wine in South Africa, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. In our quest to find the perfect South African wine we first headed to Stellenbosch. The drive was just great passing vineyard after vineyard of perfectly manicured grape vines.

As we entered Stellenbosch we noticed the fuel gage on our car was below empty. We all know wine is a fuel, but not for our little car, so the search for a petrol station was on. After we fueled the car we forgot all about our search for the perfect wine and headed for Franschhoek as it was getting close to lunch time and we had been given some restaurant recommendations in Franschhoek. It was beautiful drive from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek. The village of Franschhoek is cute with many restaurants and craft shops. We had a very nice meal at Rueben's.

On the drive home, about 20 kilometers from Cape Town the skies opened up and the rain started again, that is when we remembered our quest for the finest wine. It was getting late so we continued into Cape Town and returned the rental car, no wine for us.

We had dinner at Roberto's a restaurant just a few blocks up from our apartment on Long Street. The Chef was originally from Portugal and the food was influenced by his heritage. What a lovely place.

Tomorrow we take the Blue Train to Pretoria for our next adventure.