Monday, January 30, 2017

Cape Town - Western Cape - South Africa

We departed Stony Brook on Sunday 22nd Jan and headed back towards Cape Town where we would be staying at a 'Boutique Hotel' named Rouge on Rose in the Bo-Kaap area.  After the hour-and-a-bit drive we parked streetside, our vehicle watched by car guards who patrolled the streets after dark.

Our Suite at Rouge on Rose in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
We were greeted at our hotel by Michel, one of the proprietors who helped us with getting our cases from the car and taking them upstairs, where he also personally delivered some bubbles on ice to celebrate our honeymoon.  The suite was excellent, both comfortable and stylish, and all the staff we encountered were very friendly and helpful.

Complimentary bubbles at Rouge on Rose
For our first evening we decided to check out the V&A (Victoria and Alfred) Waterfront.  We decided to walk as it was only 20 minutes from the hotel but undoubtedly made the wrong choice, by taking the quickest route along the main roads and encountered quite a lot of hassle from the same folks who approach cars for money at intersections and red lights.  We were followed a short while by one individual until it became clear that we weren't going to give any money, and whilst we never felt directly threatened it was a little uncomfortable.  Needless to say we used Uber for most journeys following this (taking the hire car around the city and finding parking seemed disproportionately inconvenient compared to how cheap it was simply to arrange a car to take us from A to B).

Kate at the V&A Waterfront - Cape Town
Arriving at the Waterfront, the contrast couldn't have been more different.  Luxury yachts scatter the marina and well-dressed holiday makers wander, chatting to one another past the exquisite selection of upmarket restaurants awaiting their custom.  The area is busy, but not overbearing, and whilst you would do well to make a reservation to ensure you are able to dine at your restaurant of choice at a suitable time if you have constraints, as a couple without any real agenda we were able to find a table for two in a restaurant recommended to us by our tour operator Meldon, called Den Anker.

Sneak peak inside the kitchen at Den Anker
I couldn't believe the value when looking at the menu prices.  Whilst it isn't incredibly cheaper than what we pay to eat out in China, for the food you're receiving and the setting you are in there is no denying that South Africa has an incredible quality to price ratio.   For those coming from more expensive regions, if you were to compare it to the equivalent dining experience in the UK or elsewhere, then you'll be among the foodies weeping tears of joy whilst allowing yourself shamelessly to enjoy a starter, mains and desert.  You'll find that there is very little need to compromise and soon be relaxing your vigilance in converting those South African Rand knowing full well that ordering that extra bottle of wine isn't going to hurt the pocket too much, nor is ordering exactly what you want from the menu.   Of course, if you did want to spend that little more on the ultimate luxuries on offer, there are tasting menus comparable to the prices of back in the UK, but again they come in a little cheaper and tend to offer a lot more (including wine & tea matching among other things).

Evening at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
On January 23rd we had a arranged a helicopter tour as a honeymoon gift courtesy of some friends from home.  The company it was arranged through was called Sports Helicopters and we opted for the blue route, or 'Two Oceans' tour.  We took an Uber directly to the point of departure, although they do offer a shuttle service from the V&A Waterfront.  We arrived early (just before 10.00am) as instructed for our scheduled 10.30 departure.  It did feel a little rushed as the somewhat impatient, young staff were doing all they could to usher us onto the helicopter where the driver was already on the tar mac and seemingly waiting for us.  It soon became clear we were going to be simply taking off as soon as possible rather than taking our time and after a short safety briefing we were being escorted to the helicopter and without a moments hesitation took off at 10.00am.

Paul and Kate after the ride
The rushed start was soon forgotten however, as we were up in the air in no time and soaking up the panoramic views over Cape Town and enjoying the information provided to us by our captain come tour guide.  This being my first ever helicopter ride, Kate allowed me the privilege of the copilot position and the experience was unreal.  As we coasted over the bays on this clear day it was undoubtedly the best way to experience the geography of Cape Town in all its glory.  The half hour flew by and by the time we had completed our descent we were all the more appreciative and knowledgeable about the capital city that had recently become our place of residence for this short period of time.

Bird's eye view of Cape town from the helicopter
As it was still early and the helicopter company was able to take us to the Waterfront via their shuttle, we decided to shop around for a decent travel camera.  We looked into possible options then opted to shop around, but soon realised that South African electronics don't represent great value for money.  If only we hadn't been so busy prior to our departure to pick one up in China.  We opted out of it and instead decided to pay a visit to a gun store which also hosted a firing range (as you do).

Fun with guns at 'Gun Fun', Cape Town
The range we found on 57 Haut Street had a gun shop, 'City Guns' above it, the range is from the company 'Gun Fun' where we went for the popular 'Shoot the Poacher, Save The Rhino' package.  Unfortunately there weren't any AK47s available so we switched this for a .223 assault rifle and before firing this, had a chance to try out a Glock handgun on our own targets.  It was great fun, and the guide helped us with a safety briefing as well as by assisting with loading and general safety on the range (basically making sure nobody pointed the guns anywhere else but down the range).  Kate mainly shot her target in the balls which was slightly disconcerting.  Afterwards we were able to keep our targets and we donated to the 'Save the Rhino' charity box they had in the facility.

Unloading a Glock at Gun Fun, Cape Town
That evening, we were lucky to get a table for two at Miller's Thumb restaurant without reservation (we arrived quite early), which is extremely highly rated for seafood.  It ticks all the boxes of great hospitality, a great choice of specials when it comes to seafood and a various array of styles in which your dish can be prepared (i.e. Malay, piri piri etc).  We also tried the local fish, kingklip, which I later found out was actually in the eel family.  It was prepared very well but the texture is not that of a nice slightly oily, flaky fish which I tend to go for usually.  Kate had 'bluenose' which was delicious and both dishes were cooked to perfection as you can see from the picture.  Of course this was all washed down with a bottle of local wine!

Enjoying some fish at 'Miller's Thumb', Cape Town
On January 24th it was time for our long awaited Robben Island and full day table mountain tour.  We weren't too sure what this would comprise of, but it turned our that we had a private guide/chauffeur for the day (thanks Kruz Africa!).  Theo picked us up from our hotel in his BMW and took us to the dropoff point for the Robben Island ferry.  There wasn't anything Theo didn't know about South Africa and Cape town and we delighted not just in his knowledge, but in his passion for history and what he did.  We just chanced to be going to the island the same day as a 'Miss South Africa' photo shoot, damn shame.

Miss. South Africa candidates getting ready for a picture
After departing the ferry, we made a short walk to where we boarded a bus and the friendly guide, who was also very witty, was giving us clear and concise information about the various historic sites and landmarks as we went by.  As we were passing a gun installation intended for the Nazi Germans during World War Two (which was subsequently never required), a turtle meandered past and we later saw a wild deer which was an unexpected delight.  The tour was unexpectedly far from somber and whilst the topic in question was far from jovial, the guide had the ability to keep it engaging and frank without allowing it to become overbearing.

Robben Island Deer spotted from the bus
Following the coach journey around the island, we were dropped at the prison facility and introduced to Nthando, an 'ex-resident', a man who had actually been incarcerated in Robben Island as a political prisoner for around 6 years.  In fact all of the tour guides of the prison had previously served time as inmates when it had been a 'correction facility'.  His frank but unemotional accounts really brought the information to life, again it could have been a darker experience than it was, but his insistence on the importance of looking forward whilst not forgetting the past and emphasising his belief in the 'power' in the 'power to forgive' and not let the past continue to do damage was inspiring. I'll not go into much more detail as it's something everybody visiting Cape Town should experience for themselves, but it was a very worthwhile and informative experience and yes, we did see Nelson Mandela's cell!

Nthando and I

Nelson Mandela's Cell
This was our most overcast day in South Africa to date and as a result, on Theo's recommendation, we skipped the Table mountain part of our tour (since the cloud cover would obscure any view from the mountain) and instead opted to visit the Castle of Good Hope which was established by the Dutch, followed by a visit to the Botanical Gardens and a visit to a local prestigious vineyard called 'Groot Constantia'.  The long awaited rain came down (South Africa had been experiencing a drought so this was in many ways a great thing) as we made our way through the castle.  There were a fair few renovations going on, but we were still able to experience the area and Theo all the while was contributing bits and pieces of knowledge to put everything into context and bring it all to life.  We didn't spend a great deal of time here considering we are from the UK (and Jersey) where there are castles a plenty, and much older ones at that!  We made our way to the Botanical Gardens.

Inside the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town
The rain was still coming down, but it was time to grab a bite to eat so we left Theo and waiting out the rain with a good old chicken mayo sandwich.   As luck would have it, it was clearing up by the time we had finished and we got to enjoy the splendour, scale and serenity of these impressive and lush gardens.  I was very impressed, especially considering I'm not really down with horticulture and even just the name 'botanical gardens' has me innately looking for the nearest exit sign.  They are amazingly well kept, and the variety of what's on offer is astounding.  There is a 'Canopy Walkway' that is only a few years old from where you can get a great bird's eye view of a lot of the gardens.  The indoor facility is nice, but a bit of an afterthought, but all in all it's a worthwhile visit.

The Botanical Gardens, Cape Town
Theo was on time to meet us as scheduled, from here we visited Groot Constantia for our 4th... I think, I'm losing count now... but certainly not our last, wine tasting session.    This is the oldest vineyard in South Africa, with the estate being founded in 1685.  Now it is obviously a successful commercial endeavour, with a substantial wine-tasting hall packed full of benches and discerning, and not so discerning customers.  I took full opportunity to ignore the spittoon with benefit of our friendly guide showing us around, and having tried 5 generous portions of wine for 'tasting' (more or less what would pass as a a full glass of wine in some bars at home), Kate and I were feeling very jolly.  The wine itself was of a great standard, and worthy of it's reputation as an estate at the forefront of wine production after all these years.  If I was wealthy, there would have definitely been a few crates added to the container bound for China as would have been the case for every vineyard we had the pleasure of visiting to date.

Groot Constantia, Cape Town
On our way back to the hotel, Theo pointed out District 6, an area that was leveled during apartheid as it didn't comply with their policies of segregation.  Theo's own family were displaced from here and there is still nothing occupying the land even today.  It' s still a sensitive issue, and the time that has passed since apartheid is but a blip.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that this is the case when exploiting the playground that is South Africa for the average tourists like ourselves, combined with the positivity exuded from the locals who freely discuss all there is to experience here and are rightly proud of everything their home has to offer.  An honourable mention has to go to 'Nelson's Eye' Steakhouse where we spent dinner that evening.  Amazing range of steaks, perfectly prepared in an unpretentious and welcoming atmosphere.

Fillet steak at Nelson's Eye, Cape Town

January 26th was our final full day in Cape Town, and we had a tour of Bo-Kaap scheduled which included a 'cooking safari' in this predominantly Muslim area.  We had the brightly coloured houses, synonymous with Bo-Kaap on our doorstep, so we were eager to find out more about the history behind this.  Our tour guide arrived around 15 minutes late, which was a little frustrating as was her inability to acknowledge this but we put it down to 'African timekeeping'.  Shireen firstly took some time to explain the architecture of the area before taking us to the local shop, The 'Atlas Trading Company', to explain mainly the spices that we would be using later that day for our cooking experience.  She was very knowledgeable and understandably so considering she was born in this very area and had seen it change over the years.

The brightly coloured houses in Bo-Kaap
The most interesting snippet of information I garnered from the wealth of history being provided, pertained to how the Cape Minstrels came about.  Originally the slaves of the area's colonial landowners, they would have been forced to work new years day but would have been provided with a day off on the second of January during which they were free to celebrate in a manner of their choosing.  They opted to sing about their life troubles, often this would relate directly to their masters and they would parody and joke about them to ease their woes.  Now of course this would have attracted attention, notably so from the local children who would report back to their parents about the jest at their expense and punishment would ensue.  As a result, they decided to paint their faces but being slaves, of course their wardrobes were modest and it would be possible to identify individuals from their clothing.  So to combat this, they would sew patches of fabric onto their clothes and thus making it difficult, if not impossible to ascertain who was who to any degree of certainty leaving them free to mock and poke fun of whom they pleased.  This tradition continues, and the Kaapse Klopse or Cape Minstel Carnival (originally dubbed the 'Coon Carnival' under apartheid) takes place on the 2nd of Jan, and the competitors can be seen performing their music in bright attire on Saturdays throughout the month.

Atlas Trading Co. Cape Town
After the spice shop we went to Faeeza's Home Kitchen (  Faeeza was incredibly welcoming, we even had a local drink on arrival, and in a short time it felt just like being at home and part of her family.  She explained to us what we would be cooking, a Cape-Malay style chicken curry along with samosas, curry bites and roti.  She walked us through the various steps and the smells were simply incredible.  She made the cooking seem straightforward and we were able to construct the various items ourselves.  We were provided with a recipe book to take with us after and left with happy memories and full bellies.

Curry and Roti at Faeeza's Home Kitchen

Saying goodbye to Faeeza
For the final part of our tour, Shireen met us with us and after a nice cultural chat in Faeeza's kitchen about everything from the weather in various countries to the guy outside trying to wash her car for a few coins, we did the touristic thing of taking pictures around Bo-Kaap as she nodded to the other locals and gave sweets to some of the local children.  It was much better seeing the area with a little more history to back it up, as it isn't especially big and without this it would have been nothing but a 10 minute tour.  It's ultimately very picturesque and being just a short 5 minute walk from our hotel it was great to finally check out the neighbourhood.

Picturesque Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Picturesque Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
On our final evening in Cape Town, we had heard via our hotel about a 3 person show,  'Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Queen's Diamond' that was taking place in Camp's Bay's 'Theatre on the Bay'.  As we hadn't spent any time in this part of Cape Town, and our opportunities in China to see a production like this are few and far between, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat followed by the show.

I'd had a little time to check out the reviews before the performance, but even so I was still pleasantly surprised by the wit and talent that was on display.  The energy from the performers was incredible, they were engaging throughout as they interacted between each other and occasionally the audience whenever there was an audible guffaw or even an awkwardly timed sneeze!  Often requiring character changes in quick succession, and playing off the parodied inconvenience of this was a major highlight for me, with the actors 'deciding', via persuasion or inescapable logic (after all this is Sherlock Holmes) who would need to go offstage and return in a new role.

I'd highly recommend looking into what may be showing during your trip to South Africa, check out 'Pieter Toerien Productions' to find out more.  After the show, like proper stalker fans we waited to congratulate the actors and ended up going for a drink together at nearby 'Dizzys', which is more like your typical non-pretentious pub and a good option if you're looking to enjoy Camps Bay without the premium price tag.  It's also good for sports and were showing live football whilst we were there.

A picture with the writer, and one of the cast Robert Fridjhon
On our final morning in Cape Town we decided to try for Table Mountain again, luckily the weather was looking absolutely glorious.  We queued for at least an hour and a half for the cable car up the mountain, but it was a nice day and the views whilst you are waiting are stunning, the highlight of the wait was hearing the 'noon gun' cannon being fired.

Queue at Table Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain Cable Car, Cape Town
Finally we were shuffling into the cable car, in which the floor rotates 360 degrees to help everybody get a chance to enjoy the ascent.  It's quite a quick ride and we were soon stepping onto the top of Table Mountain.  I must admit, I was floating the option of turning straight around when we first saw the queue but when we were up there it was well worth the wait.

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town
The views for one are stunning, and being in the open air is a different experience from when we had the chance to see cape town from the heavens in our helicopter ride.  The walking trails are quite vast and there is even a fair amount of wildlife to see, especially lizards, birds and dassies.  No, I wasn't sure what a dassie was before either, but their proper name is 'Hyrax' and they're pretty cute.

Hyrax or 'Dassie' on Table Mountain, Cape Town

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