South Africa (Capetown): A World of Wonder and the Trip of a Lifetime

2010 – World Cup, South Africa.

Years ago my dad took my brother to the Rugby world cup in France. As I looked on in admiration , he said “you’re next”. I assumed he was joking. It never crossed my mind that I would be seated in South Africa for the FIFA World Cup 2010. Not only was I destined to go to a World Cup (the holy grail of athletics for an aspiring soccer player of any age), but I was to attend the first world cup ever to be hosted in Africa. This was history in the making and I was part of it.

As we boarded the group bus on the way from the airport to the Table Bay Hotel, where we were to be based during our stay, I had to pinch myself, just to make sure that this lifelong dream was really coming true. As we winded our way through the streets of Capetown, the gentleman at the front of us gave us a brief summary of South Africa’s turbulent past, taking us through the challenges of Apartheid and explaining to us how far the united people of South Africa had come. While most of us have a general idea about what the world apartheid signifies, the repercussions of separatist policies stretch far beyond the stories of Nelson Mandela and the division of a people based on race. While touring the country, we heard numerous sides to a very complicated history. While some claim that the past has merely extended itself into the present, others insist that the country is moving forward and undergoing a long but effective healing process. South Africa’s complicated history is not something I am prepared to tackle in a personal blog, however if you would like to find out more about the country’s history, visit the BBC country profile of South Africa for a complete timeline and breakdown of political issues before, during and following the fall of apartheid.

Table Bay Hotel

The Table Hotel itself was immaculate, in design, in location, in just about everything. But the best part by far? The view. Located just across from Table Mountain, the hotel provides picturesque view of Table Bay Mountain, a South African landmark. Every day I awoke to a sunrise full of purples, reds, pinks and oranges, as they welcomed me to the horn of Africa. Located on the V & A Waterfront, the Table Bay Hotel offered the perfect place to perch ourselves for the duration of our stay. The staff was exceptional and the service impeccable. Each morning, the house staff would leave samples of facial and body creams on my pillow, or sometimes a tiny chocolate to make the afternoon an absolute delight. Given the length of our stay, which was considerable (3 weeks), we were each provided a coupon, upon arrival, for one free afternoon tea experience. I have to call it an experience, because it really was. Not only did they serve the traditional finger sandwiches, scones and cakes loved by every and all tea enthusiasts, they had an additional table with even more teeny tiny sweets, or whole cakes if you were really hungry! It was amazing. And now I’m hungry. Again.

Our packaged tour didn’t include meals at the hotel, which was fine by us. We fell into a very comfortable routine of going to the coffee shop, Truth, next door for breakfast every morning! In all truth – it was delicious.  Breakfast and a coffee and we were set for a day of exploration and discovery! We tried the breakfast at the hotel (buffet) one morning but to be entirely honest, it wasn’t really worth the money. Good food (an eclectic mix, that’s for sure) but for 1/5 of the price, we were happy to go elsewhere. We did, however, several glasses of wine at the hotel throughout the duration of my stay. We sipped, and we sipped… and we sipped… adn we sippeded… adn ew seppid…  My personal favourite was a red (I’ll be damned if I can remember which exactly it was) from Kanonkop vineyards. Delicious. South African wines on the whole really abide by the “you get what you pay for” rule. As it turns out, I was with someone who happened to be a bit of a connoisseur so we were able to sample a variety of grapes at both ends of the price line.

Capetown, South Africa

There is undoubtedly more to Capetown than we were able to visit during our brief stay in what is South Africa’s legislative capital and second largest city. Fortunately, Table Bay Hotel is located directly along the V&A Waterfront, so were able to get around fairly easily. After a day or two of getting over the jet lag that had us falling asleep in the downstairs lobby, we were ready and willing to let the adventure begin.

The V&A waterfront is lined with restaurants, pubs and souvenir shops that welcome the tourist – whether at the expense of local visitors, I can’t be certain. Given the timing of our visit, the city was taken over by World Cup fans – people from far and wide were wandering the waterfront sporting colours from their own country and speaking bit of pieces of various languages. It was amazing – unglaublich – fantastique! The waterfront is also host to a number of historical monuments like the swing bridge (allowing larger ships to pass through), the clock tower (the red building – see picture left), and statues of inspirational figures like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu who are forever standing guard over the city.

Every day, we would meander the waterfront, and everyday there would be a new group singing or dancing – I admit, I have a soft spot for African song. It is always so uplifting! If only we had known the words, we could have had a little singalong, or maybe a flashmob! I would have totally joined a South African flashmob. In fact, I think I’ll add that on my list of things to do (be part of a flashmob, not necessarily South African). Moving on. Dinners along the water were the highlight of my culinary experience in South Africa. This is primarily because it was on this trip that I discovered the other red meat: Ostrich. Oh. My. God. Succulent. Soft. Melt in your mouth. It cuts like steak but is actually healthier for you than chicken! Who knew? The best ostrich we tried was at a restaurant on the upper level of the V&A mall, next to our hotel. It was called Baia, and I highly recommend that you give it a try. Baia is apparently quite a famous seafood restaurant in Capetown – fit enough for… the Queen of Spain! Yup, that’s right, we dine with royalty, on occasion – when it suits us.

You may think that we being lazy by strolling next door for dinner instead of venturing on some culinary expedition through the city – but it was cold at night! Winter in Capetown can get as low as 7 degrees Celsius so of course, I was layering myself with just about every piece of clothing I had. The cold however, didn’t three traveling Canucks from continuing to explore what we could of the city – and with the shoreline nearby, what better to do so, than by boat? There are tons of tourist offices located along the V&A that offer visitors the chance to get a view from the water, or if you’ve the guts to do it, from in the water a la shark cage. To our credit, we did, in fact sign up for this underwater adventure, but to our chagrin (okay 30% chagrin, 30% relief), the tour was canceled due to unsuitable weather conditions and we took it as a sign – that we were meant to live. So, foregoing our shark tank experience, we hopped on board a motorboat to see Capetown from every angle. The view of Table Mountain from the water was surreal. Even more fascinating however, was seeing the Capetown soccer stadium that had been erected during the months leading up to the World Cup.

There had been queries as to whether or not the infrastructure would indeed be ready on time and we were happy to be able to see that it was more than ready, it was wonderful! Pulling back into shore, we figured it was about time we stop gawking at the beauty of Table Bay Mountain and discover it for ourselves. So, on one of the warmer days, we decided to take the cable up the mountain and have a look around.

The view was just as amazing as we thought it would be and well worth the ride. Once you are on top of Table Bay, you can walk around the top of the mountain and take in views from all sides. It was absolutely breathtaking. This was one of those moments when you take a step back and say to yourself: “I’m in South Africa, I’m in South Africa… Holy crap, I am in South Africa!”

It was only after we’d conquered Capetown from nearly every angle, that we realized we hadn’t actually ventured inwards yet. So, we tied up our laces, grabbed our backpacks and put aside a full day to get off the waterfront and explore downtown Capetown by foot. The city of Capetown is, in many ways, very similar to Toronto! A hybrid of old and new, tourists get a glimpse into the history of the city while standing in admiration of modern development. One of the first things we saw on our tour of Capetown was the Castle of Good Hope, built in 1666 by Dutch colonists. The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa and remains the seat of the military in Capetown today!

Unfortunately the Castle itself was closed upon arrival, however during operating hours, the Castle offers visitors the chance to enjoy wine and food at a restaurant and cafe, and houses both a military museum and art collection. After touring the Castle ground, we made headway for the inner city, passing some really impressive works of art. One of the most poignant was the mural (pictured below) that acted as a reminder of the ongoing fight for freedom and equality suffered by many around the world.

As we cruised the streets of Capetown, my eyes were immediately drawn to the vibrant colours that decorated some of the buildings along Long Street, Capetown’s party capital!

Long street offers visitors passing through the chance to dine and dance the day (and night) away, or simply take a stroll and breath in the energy that this city has to offer. Making our way slowly through the inner city, we decided to take a break near the Company’s Garden, established in 1652 by Dutch settlers, and home to: the oldest pear tree in South Africa (1652); a rose garden built in 1929; a fish pond; an aviary; a restaurant (the Garden Tea Room); an herb garden; historical statues (like that of Cecil Rhodes, founder of Rhodesia, present day Zimbabwe) and much, much more!

It was in this garden that we began spotting zebras everywhere. Not real zebras, but zebras that had been spotted all over the city by the World for All Foundation as part of their “Not all is Black and White” campaign.

The zebra (see right) was painted with the label “District 6” which is the infamous former inner-city residential area of Capetown that experienced the forced removal of over 60,000 inhabitants – mostly “coloured or African” – during the 1970s by the apartheid regime. We left the Company’s Garden and continued our adventure towards Greenmarket Square and the mother of all craft markets. On the way, however, we passed by a building that is known as the Slave Lodge. The lodge, which is now a museum, was built in 1679 by the Dutch East India Company. Between 1679 and 1811, as many as 9000 slaves, convicts and mentally ill patients lived in the building which was, in 1810, converted into government offices.

After moseying around most of the city, we finally made it to Greenmarket Square. The market offers clothing, jewellery, sandals, crafts, fabrics… you name it, they’ve got it. While dad picked up a couple of well forged rugby shirts, I myself had my eyes set on a pair of springbok pillowcases for a certain German back home who loves covering everything with dead animal skin. Don’t ask. After I’d accomplished my mission, we set off to enjoy a cup of coffee on the square and settled down to watch the world go by.

Robben Island

A highlight of our time spent in Capetown was, unsurprisingly, our trip to Robben Island which served for centuries as a place of banishment and imprisonment for many. According to the official Robben Island website, the island has been used a prison since the Dutch settled at the Cape in the mid-1600s.

Furthermore, Robben Island was used as a training and defence station during WWII and between 1846-1931, due to it’s health benefits and isolation, was used as a hospital for patients with leprosy, as well as the mentally and chronically ill. Most famously of course, Robben Island was where Nelson Mandela, Madiba, was imprisoned from 1964 – 1982 for his role in the anti-apartheid movement. Normally watched over closely by guards at the prison, the limestone quarry pictured above is where Mandela and other political prisoners would communicate and exchange political thoughts, theories and ideas. In an effort to break their spirits, and their back, prisoners were forced to work here for hours on end, facing unbearable brightness and heat. Pictured below, is the cell where Mandela spent 18 years of his life before being transfered to Pollsmoor Prison, and then Victor Verster Prison in 1998 where he remained until his release in the year 1990. Nelson Mandela became the State President of South Africa in 1994 and continues to fight for human dignity, decency and kindness.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear – Nelson Mandela

Upon our return from Robben Island into the ferry port at Capetown, we found ourselves being greetings by an unexpected welcoming committee: a pair of seals! Not only had they managed to climb up onto the pier, but they luxuriously bathed in the sunlight for all to see. While I was fascinated by the fact that these gigantic creatures were lying but a stone’s throw away, I was revolted by their seriously fishy odor. It was foul, and I mean foul.  I tried to block it out but eventually we had to part ways. It never would have worked out between us.

The Cape of Good Hope

I bet you’ve nearly forgotten that the we were in South Africa to watch the World Cup. Well, we were! But there were, at times, days in between matches, and we were determined to make the most of our time by exploring as much as we possibly could. On our list of “must-sees” that we’d made weeks prior to leaving Canada, was the Cape of Good Hope. So, on a blustery day in S.A, we packed our bags and set out for an incredible journey, starting in Capetown, heading down the Western coast, stopping at the Cape of Good Hope and working our way back to Capetown via Boulder Beach.

As we made headway down the coast, we came across a number of unexpected treasures including high-end ares, like Clifton, with houses overlooking the sea, and, to our delight, a little piece of Welsh heritage in the form of Llandudno beach!

Okay, here it comes. Something I would have never chosen to reveal but given it’s relevance in this particular case – here goes. Not only do I like eating Ostrich. I have, it would seem, a particular talent for walking like one. Yup, that’s right. At parties, family gatherings, or sometimes in the middle of a shopping mall, I am called upon to do “the ostrich walk”. The ostrich walk is essentially where I look like an overgrown chicken and walk, knee first, legs high, making bird like noises and flapping my non-existent wings. It’s pretty funny, at least the first time. Why am I telling you this? Good question.

As it would happen, during our travels en route to the Cape of Good Hope, we stumbled upon an ostrich Farm! They had lots of ostriches, although they came mostly in purse form, with the occasional wallet being up for grabs. Ostrich eggs were also for sale, and for quite a price! We made one sole purchase – food for the birds. Feeding an ostrich wasn’t nearly as easy as we thought it would be – those birds really go for the kill. If you don’t keep your palm flat, you may end up down a finger… or two. That being said, I hear that feeding them isn’t nearly as hard as riding them. Oh yes, you can do that too. Unfortunately, not at this particular farm. Too bad, eh? As left the farm and continued onward towards the cape, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt. As that vicious bird had pecked away at my fingers, all that had been going through my head was how good it would look, surrounded by roasted veggies and a side of rice. Yum.

Finally, we arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of the African continent. The Cape of Good Hope which lies within the boundaries of a national park was once described by Sir Frances Drake in 1580 as ” … the most stately thing and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth,” and it really was.

The first thing we did upon arriving at the cape was climb the stairway to the original lighthouse that guided some of the world’s first explorers but proved relatively ineffective at such a high altitude in stormy weather. We proceeded to walk around the beach, admiring the view from atop and musing over the incredible events in history that had taken place around us. There is a magic to the cape. Thousands have been there before you, yet there remains so much to be discovered. We left the cape, feeling grateful to be a part of something so significant in the history of mankind and very conscience of the fact that we too, were experiencing a moment in history; the first world cup to ever take place in Africa. The world has evolved so far, but there is always another step to take.

On the way back from the cape, we made one final stop before bee lining it to Capetown.

Boulders Beach! Why is this particular beach so very special? Penguins. Boulders Beach, located just outside Simon’s Town is home to a colony of penguins who have what can only be described as an extremely warped sense of direction. They are descendants of an African penguin colony who chose to settle at Boulders Beach  in 1982, and haven’t looked back since.

Stellenbosch

Every day we spent in and around Capetown was unique in its own way but none compared to the tranquil beauty that we experienced on the day that we toured the vineyards of Stellenbosch.

Never have I in my life, seen landscape more beautiful than when we drove through the mountains and enclaves that make up this beautiful wine land. With vineyards as far as the eye can see, the mountains form circles around those who come from near and far to indulge in the wines of South Africa and experience the serenity of Stellenbosch. During our day trip to Stellenbosch, we visited a number of vineyards, five of which stick out in my head as being the most exceptional for either wine or overall experience: Ernie Els Wines, Kanonkop Wine Estate, Asara Wine Esate and Hotel, Boschendal, and Spier Wines.

The moment we entered Stellenbosch and pulled into the Ernie Els Wine Estate, the sun came out and shone a light as far as the eye could see. It was a moment of pure contentment and relaxation, and the three of us took a deep breath, standing amazed by what we could see… oh, and the wine was good too! We never expected that this experience could be surpassed, but as we pulled into the Asara Wine Estate and Hotel, we stood flabbergasted. Not only was the wine from this particular vineyard of superb quality (we took a few bottles with us for the road), but the view was magnificent. The estate is hidden completely between the endlessly rolling mountains, leaving you with the feeling that you are one with the stillness that surrounds you. The only thing that breaks the silence is this small estate, which, in complete honesty, I was tempted to book for upcoming nuptials. As of now, it is most certainly on the list as somewhere I expect to be taken for a milestone anniversary (ah-hem). Kidding aside, it was stunning, and that alone, was well worth the drive.

Following Asara, we made our way to Kanonkop which was exciting for me because I’d fallen in love with their wine back at the hotel. In all honesty, it was kind of a let down once I’d sampled what else was out there. Cruel isn’t it?

To turn things around, we went for lunch to Boschendal, located in Franschhoek valley or, French Corner Valley. Why French corner? Because in 1685, when Protestantism was outlawed in France, hundreds of Huguenots fled to the Cape of Good Hope and were given land by the Dutch government. Needless to say, in French corner, the wine was fantastic, and the property so lovely that we decided to stay and enjoy a bite of lunch.

One of the last vineyards we visited was Spier Wines. Spiers is the least wine-focused of the vineyards we saw, in fact, it is often suggested that serious wine tasters skip Spiers because of the number of large families that gather there on weekends and the like. The uniqueness of Spiers however, is that it houses an animal sanctuary. From large cats (cheetahs, for example) to small birds (owls, hawks etc), the team at Spiers rescues animals that have been injured, rejected or tossed out of captivity and back into the wild.

The discoveries we made as we explored Capetown, drove around the Cape of Good Hope, and sampled our way through the vineyards of Stellenbosch were one half of our adventure in South Africa. These were the day trips we made in between the matches at what is, arguably, the most universally revered sporting event the world over – the World Cup (read more here).

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Categories: giraffe travel, thetravelinggiraffe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “South Africa (Capetown): A World of Wonder and the Trip of a Lifetime

  1. I can’t believe that I hadn’t ever really talked about South Africa with you. So this blog was especially good for me, I loved reading and hearing your impressions of Capetown and SA. Great post.

  2. Pingback: South Africa: World Cup 2010 | thefriendlygiraffe

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