(*Lekker is an Afrikaans word that was used to 1) describe food as tasty or nice. Now it’s been adapted as slang in other ways: 2) to comment about a woman who is fit/hot and 3) to express one’s feeling that something /someone is cool, sweet, dope; a basic word to express approval…summing up exactly how we felt about Cape Town)
Arriving in Cape Town on Christmas day felt like magic. Chilly, dark London transformed into sunny, breezy Cape Town on our spontaneous trip to South Africa (we booked our flights just four days prior to arrival). But even if you planned a trip to South Africa a year in advance, I think you’d still feel CPT’s sense of wonder. Table Mountain looks after you no matter where you are in the city, the emerald green waters of two oceans lure you to the coastline, and the gap between gritty streets and impeccable vacation homes is something to reckon with. We were able to steal away to the vineyards, get lost in historical landmarks, and feel like time was on our side the entire time. We’re huge fans, Capetown!
Right away, we noted the public service announcements of the severe drought plaguing the city. It’s worsened since our trip in December, and our thoughts are with Cape Town residents.
Understandably, much of the city was shut down for the Christmas holiday. In the central business district (CBD), we found a local hostel for a beer and toasted to that first feeling of vacation settling in. The Village local buffet across the street really lived up to its name as we were the only tourists amongst the cousins running around, the aunties shelling shrimp and the dads directing their kids to pick up an extra ice cream cup on the way back from the buffet. I wouldn’t put it on the ‘must eat’ list at all, but it was a fun experience being amongst the crowded tables and crowded plates.
Our sunny Christmas day was perfect for a walk after the buffet lunch. We walked through Green Market Square where a small number of booths were selling bead work, wood work, fabric work, metal work– all boasting pan-African curios. A few shops on Long street also housed similar crafts. There were sharks, giraffes, and fauna of all types made out of aluminum cans, beaded roosters and slender wooden carvings, bright fabrics, and lots of wired and roped jewelry. It felt too early to buy something but hindsight is 20/20. This would have been the perfect time to pick up handiwork and souvenirs as there weren’t crowds of people, and the prices were better than more formal stores in the malls and at the airport.
The Company’s Garden has a long, beautiful promenade with a fish pond, and a rose garden. The garden is right alongside Parliament but we didn’t realize this until we left the park to find our way to District Six.
District Six is a must-see historic neighborhood. In 1966, local government declared this multi-ethnic neighborhood a white-only residential area. The city began demolishing block after block of homes and storefronts, displacing residents, and forcing them to leave with little more than what they could carry. I read Noor’s Story, a book that Mrs. Spells gave to me upon return from her CPT trip, which tells of Noor’s memoirs as a young boy in District Six, and what he remembers of being uprooted. I’ll write more on the museum later, but for now you should know that walking through District Six feels like a gentrified, design neighborhood with bakeries, cafes and barber shops… a place where a tourist might unfortunately miss this history.
We tried for a drink at gin bar back in the central business district, but it was closed for the entire week of holiday. Not to worry if this happens to you. Just a few blocks beyond this bar is Bo-Kaap. Bo-Kaap is a Malay South African neighborhood that is another must-see! We were immediately lured by the brightly colored homes with the Lion’s Head mountain as the backdrop.
Later this evening, we caught the Westin hotel shuttle to the V&A Waterfront. It’s a behemoth mall on the waterfront with throngs of tourists dining at the restaurants that hug the pier. Also, does every tourist destination need a ferris wheel now? Oi.
We had a recommendation for Sevruga, and we think it was because of the sheer size of the sushi rolls. Corey’s sushi plate was one to ogle, though all of the pieces were smothered in some concoction of mayonnaise. Best point of the experience was the Spier white wine from Stellenbosch. It was our first, but not our last 😉
26December2017: The Cape of Good Hope
We planned today’s itinerary around picking up our rental car. The Cape of Good Hope seemed a great choice for our first official drive in South Africa. The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point on the Cape Peninsula, though still in Table Mountain National Park. The drive south takes you past various coastal towns like Camps Bay, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simons Town. I loved driving along the winding coast line, looking over at the brown seaweeds that glittered in the sunlight. The roadside is dotted with lookouts and vacation homes built into the lower parts of the cliffs. Even waiting in the hour of traffic to get into the national park didn’t get us down. We happily took in the natural beauty and the sunshine, plus I was feeling pretty accomplished as an American driver handling a stick shift in the opposite side of the car, and on the opposite side of the road.
We split a baguette sandwich before taking off down the breezy boardwalk to the Cape. The lookouts over the waves and sandy beaches were gorgeous, and though the parking lots were crowded, the ninety minute hike to the Good Hope point seemed less travelled than the funicular route up to the lighthouse. I was happy to have my sweatshirt while climbing over the large boulders as the wind was something serious. When we finally crested the small hill, we looked down and noted that there was another car park below! This meant most people skipped the hike completely and were driving directly to the Cape of Good Hope sign!
Corey and I posed for pictures at the sign, and resolved that we preferred our hike even our new knowledge of the drive-in option. On our drive back to CPT, we stopped at Seaforth Beach to catch the goings-on of the sun-kissed locals and of the nesting penguins! Simons Town and its main street were closed at this point so we continued back to the M3 highway to plot dinner on Bree Street. By the way, the M3 part of the highway was my favorite since its tree-lined and shady like a botanical garden.
Bree Street seemed a trendy street for restaurants and cafes, but La Parada’s kitchen was closed when we arrived. The walk to Villa 47 is an easy one from Bree Street, and probably where we should have stopped when we passed it the first time since it looked so cosy! Our server, Sarah (yes, first name basis), had the best recommendations which we’ll share: lamb tortellini, and the line fish of the day. We don’t usually go for a tiramisu but she insisted, and we rolled out happily. She also helped us add another great bottle to our list: Jordan Wines (also in Stellenbosch).
Though I’ve yet to visit New Orleans, The Village Idiot bar around the corner seemed like it could be set in NOLA with its second floor open-air balcony stretching around the length of the bar. The warm breeze went well with our after-dinner drinks, and we philosophized about how the DJ could improve his set.
27December2017: Table Mountain
We woke up later than expected but still figured we could make it out to the car before the parking meters started. But once outside, neither of us could find a meter or a place to pay for parking. We asked two workers at the office building near our car. They informed us we needed to find a man in a bright orange vest to pay for parking, but that he hadn’t been around this morning.
“Sometimes he comes, and other times he won’t show up”, one of the men shrugged.
“If he comes, and you’re not here, we’ll tell him to wait for you,” the other piped. Ke Dezemba Boss?!? (This saying means ‘no worries, man’…and this phrase can be applied to the entire month of December! Some even take liberties to extend this slogan to late November and early January). The office workers seemed genuinely sure the meter man would wait for us if we weren’t at our car when he arrived. We were baffled. We ran back upstairs to shower, and get on our way to Table Mountain. No rush was needed, though, because the parking meter man never showed!
The plan was to visit Table Mountain in the morning, and then drive to the wine farms for lunch and for an afternoon tasting. Traveler’s Tip: During tourist season, plan on spending the bulk of the day at Table Mountain. It’s crowded, and the lines are long to get up and down in the cable car. But the views are unparalleled.
We shuttled up the mountain, chatted for an hour with the couple in front of us in line, and loved the rotating floor in the cable car. The views are breathtaking, and we were surprised at how the surrounding boulders and rocks mask how high up you are when you reach the top.
There are three loop paths that map a 15, 30, and 45 minute walk. Everyone is trying to snap their best pictures and selfies on the various pathways, and so we joined the fun as well!
Then there are the ‘getting down’ options. The most popular is to take the cable car back down, hence the line you see below. However, you can also choose to belay climb down the face of the mountain! I was able to catch a glimpse of a woman’s orange helmet as she went over the edge (pic 1 below). You can also opt to hike down the back of the mountain but if you do this, you most likely hiked up the summit in hiking gear.
From the base, the line snaked around at the shuttle stop, so we walked back to the car park. We knew we’d miss the lunch and wine tasting this afternoon so we opted for a drive to Kalk Bay instead.
If you go to Kalk Bay, eat at Olympia Bakery and their small restaurant. Don’t eat at Harbor House, though you might be tempted because the view is gorgeous. Take our advice as we learned from experience: “If you don’t love yourself, then don’t go to Olympia Bakery” (a quote from my friend Taya). The local families at Kalk Bay in faded bathing suits and pilled towels contrast to the tourists sipping wine in floppy designer hats on the main strip. The galleries on main street are filled with home decor and upscale handmade items. You’ll find your fill of ice cream shops, and book stores, and the clothing stores are what one might call boho. We spent less than an hour strolling here since my Harbor House lunch was not making friends with my tummy.
This evening was pretty pathetic as I got food poisoning. Corey wasn’t able to meet up with Loyiso since he was trying to feed me dry toast and ginger ale between my trips to the bathroom.
28December2017: Robben Island
Unfortunately, Montezuma’s Revenge hit Corey this morning and we were down for the count with stomach issues for a majority of the day. Though we didn’t leave our hotel room, we cheered each other on to get better as we knew we had to be well enough to make our 4:30pm boat trip to Robben Island! We had our first experience with Lucozade, a Gatorade equivalent in the UK, but Gatorade is far superior. After more dry toast, we finally gained the strength to leave for the island.
((Before catching the shuttle to the V&A Waterfront, we checked to see if the meter man had come to work today. A small receipt on the window let us know we’d been ticketed. As we tried to decipher the costs, the notorious man in the orange vest literally came out of nowhere and prompted us with a card machine. We owed 6 pounds for parking all day on the street. Sweet. We could live with that….especially knowing that neither of us could have made it down earlier in the morning to move the car.))
Robben Island has been on my bucket list forever, and I was very excited to get on with the tour. But first, another traveler’s tip: Erase the images of you having a solitary moment at Mandela’s cell. There is no time or real space for one’s deep reflection on this tour. There are about five buses of tourists that visit the museum at ticketed times between 9am-5pm. That being said, it’s an experience that truly can’t be missed (even if you’re now a bit skittish on boats like me). After shuffling off the boat, you board a bus with a quick-witted tour guide who is fluent in saying hello and in telling at least one joke in over twelve languages.
Your tour takes you to the recreational facilities, to the separate blocks for criminal prisoners, and to the limestone quarry where political activists would talk shop during their endless hours of hard labor. The kinder guards would warn the activists when it was safe to make their plans. Mandela returned to the island when it was opened as a museum, and stacked the rocks in the center of the quarry (seen below) to commemorate his fellow activists. The rocks haven’t been moved since.
Before the last stop at the political prisoner block, we stretched our legs at this Table Mountain lookout, complete with the cloud cover ‘table cloth’ in the distance.
The main area of the maximum security prison housed political prisoners, surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire. The sense of bleakness is a bit hard to visualize when you’re cattled through each area, but if you stay a bit behind the group, you can experience the silence of the space for a brief moment. We learned that recreational hour was not just to pass the time. While prisoners would play tennis, they would cut open the tennis balls to pass notes of news off the island. Mandela would tend to his garden (see below), and hide his manuscript of A Long Walk to Freedom, which was found and destroyed numerous times.
The cells are no bigger than a closet with one mat and a washbin. Depending on the side of the corridor, you may have a small or smaller window. Mandela’s cell was the fourth on the right side down this long corridor. Though I was surrounded by tourists and cameras, I found that touching the bars, and closing my eyes, filled me with the weight of this place. There is a gravity that you can’t ignore.
It’s powerful to walk from the maximum security prison back to the boat rather than being bussed, at sundowners no less. Corey remarked that these are the same steps Mandela must have taken in his long walk to freedom.
The V&A Waterfront lights beckon you to dinner but we opted for a shuttle to our hotel and a stroll to Long Street for some Ethiopian food. The mushrooms on deck were our least favorite, but it was a good to have injera for our first full meal after our food poisoning bout.
29December2017: Wine Farms in Franschhoek
We’d had many wine farm suggestions, all of which I’m sure are lovey, but I’m going to spend this section gushing about Boschendal. It’s a brand of wine sold at the Tesco Metro downstairs from our flat, so I told Corey that if it was an underwhelming wine farm, at least we’d have a story to tell when we drink it back in London. It was anything but, and I’ll say I have a newfound respect for Tesco’s wine selection.
Before we get to Boschendal, first, the drive to Franschhoek was stunning. It’s greener than Napa and Sonoma, and the valley of vines is surrounded by rocky hills jutting into the blue sky. I couldn’t stop exclaiming how gorgeous it all was, and pulled over numerous times to order Corey to snap a photo. However, you also will note the stark contrast between the rich estates and the shantytowns that have cropped up between them. Some of the locals walk the medians on the road, selling boxes of fruit for tourists who want to enjoy their wine with fresh produce.
We turned off the road to a tree lined entrance to the Boschendal farm, and I knew immediately this is where we’d spend a majority of our day. There were shaded lawns to sip wine on hammocks and bean bags. Visitors buy picnic baskets from the cafe to have alongside your recently purchased bottles. If you like, you can start with breakfast at the restaurant on one side of the estate, and then make your way through the gardens to the tasting area. There is a kids camp, there are tours of the cellars and of the olive press facility. You can even ride horses through the acres of vineyards and backroads of the farm.
The tasting room staff were upbeat in their poetic descriptions of each glass. We weren’t interested in Chardonnay at all, but with a wink, our server brought us a taste that changed my feelings about Chardonnay! We bought a bottle and carried it back to the UK! After a day of the stomach bug, it was relaxing to sit back and feel the warm breeze beneath the trees with a small set of wines to sip.
With incredibly short notice, Corey lined up a lunch at Grande Provence, another wine farm with a top executive chef. The chef happens to be related to Corey’s colleague so we knew we’d be in for a treat. The Grande Provence was only twenty minutes down the road, and we were welcomed into the likes of an open air museum. The gallery pieces dot the grounds as you taste wine in the garden, or dine in the restaurant.
We were treated to additional starters and desserts, and you can see why the restaurant has won numerous awards! Though we didn’t make it to Stellenbosch, we’d give Franschhoek a top recommendation.
This evening, our plans took us to the Grand West Arena. Corey had been following his friend who was going to DJ at Afropunk, as well as some of the artists performing in Johannesburg on NYE. He was ecstatic when he learned that Anderson Paak and the Free Nationals were going to stop in CPT for a one night performance!!! Neither of us had seen him live, and what a treat to see him so spontaneously. He’s not just an incredible musician but also a talented performer! Every part of the stage he touched, came alive. My favorite was watching him play the drums during the song Room in Here. His opener, YoungstaCPT, helped bring energy to the stage as well. He’s a rapper from Cape Town who we dubbed as our new favorite artist. After this night, we heard his songs on the radio and at the bar the following night, thereby solidifying his title.
30December2017: Townships and the Lot
Today felt like the pace of a usual day of travel for us: visiting places that our friends have suggested while also mapping out where to eat based on each landmark.
We started with a tour of the District 6 Museum, which I’d highly suggest. The stories and images that the previous residents have collected are beautifully curated. It’s clear that they’ve established their narrative in the city’s history of apartheid. The quote in the suitcase below was uncanny in its parallel to my family’s own history, and the the forced evacuation of 120,000 Japanese American citizens from the West Coast during WWII.
We visited Langa Township, the oldest established township in Cape Town. We learned that Langa is a black township, segregated from the coloured township across the road. There are concrete dormitory style accommodations that house up to nine families at once in 3 single bedrooms. The residents play 20 rand per month, about 1.60 dollars. There are also single unit homes with a sitting room, kitchen, and one bedroom, yet these are coveted because they provide more privacy than the dormitory buildings.
Once you pass the concrete apartment buildings, you come upon the non-permanent houses built from corrugated sheet metal. There are businesses in old shipping crates and make-do shacks. Here is where children ran alongside us to grab our hands for coins, and where we saw some of the residents calling out to our guide. Even though we couldn’t understand what they were saying, you could pick up that some were friendly neighbors with our guide, and others were upset that he was touring us down their block.
We ducked into a shebeen, or local pub, to sample their fermented cornmeal beer. It’s said to have medicinal qualities such as healing a boy who has been recently circumcised!? We also visited a local healer with the raspiest voice I’ve ever heard. He spoke of how people today visit less for medicinal cures but more for protective recipes from ex-lovers, old bosses, new wives and other family members. He had vials filled with bright orange oily liquids and dusty yellow powders but the space was so dark, we knew taking a picture would be fruitless.
Our guide, Sia, lives in Langa and is using this job to earn money to pay for his degree in tourism. He’s not interested in living away from his family but knows that being in the tourism industry could take him to another city very soon. As we drove from Langa to our next stop, he shared that the coloured settlement across the street from Langa is one we wouldn’t visit due to the gangster culture amongst the men. I wondered how the coloured township would describe themselves? Sia also shared that ‘coloured’ is a word that meant mixed-race, and that it isn’t a slur as it is in America.
We learned that Khayelitsha is the second largest township in the country (Soweto is the first). There were many more temporary homes, which he explained was due to a high influx of people moving in, mainly from Zimbabwe. The sprawling township has about 900,000 residents though it is difficult to keep accurate census data due to the ever-changing population. We could see how prone this township would be to a fire as there were rigged wires all over the place from roof to roof and window to window.
Corey and I drove ourselves to The Old Biscuit Mill, a super hip market filled with tourists and locals alike. If you’re able to get to the Woodstock neighborhood on a Saturday, you’ll shop stalls pushing olive oil, perfumes, leather bags, hand sewn frocks, and silver jewelry shaped in the silhouette of Table Mountain. We randomly opted for dumplings which would be a quick bite before roaming the stalls. It was a hot day and Corey realised quickly that I’d struggle to make any decisions in the marketplace so he opted for leaning against a pole under an awning while I ruminated over whether or not to make any purchases. I left with two prints of a cartoon elephant and lion that felt symbolically connected to our upcoming safari. These are our favorite animals and it would be nice to have them with us as we ventured out onto the game reserve.
Since we still had day-light, we drove to Hout Bay to see the potential seals, and to stroll Mariner’s Wharf. No seals, but creative sand sculptures (see below!) If you’re there, apparently the thing for lunch is fish and chips, but we just enjoyed the beachy vibe away from the city, and found the Pearl Factory with some lovely pieces.
With one hour left until closing, we made our way to Kirstenbosch Gardens as we’d seen the ‘Boomslang’ Walkway advertised throughout the city. The park was full of families having a day out, as well as some workers setting up a large stage for their New Year’s Eve festival. It’s a majestic garden, and we were happy to visit even for a short time. The ‘Boomslang’ (meaning snake) is similar to Highline Park in that it’s elevated, but instead of buildings and a city scape below, you’re above the trees and looking out at a picturesque mountain scene.
We landed at House of H for dinner and it was our favorite restaurant of the entire trip! We highly suggest you have a meal here, even though, as the hyper-food critic in our partnership, I was initially skeptical. First, it looks like a dimly lit, pretty empty bar from its entrance on Loop street. I wouldn’t have considered it for a meal at all but we went upon recommendation from our server friend at Villa 47. Second, there is a fly net on the counter by the grill covering the meat cuts-of-the-day. Third, there were more staff than customers around 8pm on a Saturday. But we stayed the course, and wow, was it a great meal for our last night.
I loved my spider steak with veggies, and Corey selected ribs and a local beer. The bartender wanted us to take their house infused gin, even offering a tasting, but when I said I’d prefer a red, he picked a great Syrah. I’m painting the scene with these little details because in the next part of the evening, I have very few words. The rooftop looking out at Lion’s Head mountain at sundowners (synonym for sunset). The collection of stools and pallets setting the laidback vibe. The cool black and white checkered floor and the DJ playing YoungstaCPT (Go Bos!!). A real lekker goodbye to our chapter in Cape Town.
- We’d eat at House of H more than once if we could.
- Book tickets to Robben Island ahead of time. This was the only thing we booked ahead of time aside from our flights.
- Rent a car to drive to Camps Bay, Hout Bay, Simons Town, and specifically Kalk Bay if you’re looking for beach day options. We didn’t make it to any private beaches, but hear these are also beautiful though more exclusive. On the Kalk Bay Main Street, eat at Olympia Bakery.
- Shop and eat at Old Biscuit Market (Saturdays only until 3:00pm)
- Fall in love with Bo Kaap’s brightly colored houses, and maybe hit up the chocolate and gin shop down the road ( Honest Chocolate and The Gin Bar)
- Boschendal Wine Farm! I’m pretty sure you’ll be tempted to spend the day here so you might need to slate two days for your wine farm trips if you want to make it to Stellenbosch, too.
- Make a day trip to Table Mountain but you’ve got to watch the weather and alerts on the website to tell you when the cable car is open.
- Curio shops on Long Street for beaded souvenirs and all things African print. Long Street is also a centre for nightlife after the sun sets.
- Kirstenbosch Gardens was a treat, as well as the drive to the Cape of Good Hope.
Things We Will Do When We Go Back:
- Visit Stellenbosch’s wine region and more of Franschhoek. Taya and Fidel suggested these favorite estates: Solms-Delta (they also have great live music sometimes!), The Franschoek Cellar, La Motte, Babylonstoren, Haut Espoir, Môreson, Rupert & Rothschild
- Eat at Pesce Azzurro – Taya and Fidel’s favourite seafood restaurant in Woodstock
- Hike Lion’s Head: it’s only supposed to be about 90 minutes and if you can catch it for sundowners and get down the mountain before it’s dark then you’re in for a treat of a 360 view of Table Mountain and the city below (we heard it’s seedy after sundown)
- Visit Boulder’s beach and swim with penguins. We heard it’s worth the experience even with the small entrance fee for the conservation area.