No longer a moto-taxi novice!

No longer a moto-taxi novice!
No longer a moto-taxi novice! It can be exhausting but it's great fun!

Saturday, 30 April 2011

South Africa - Cape Town

View of table Mountain from Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Sunday 3 April
After a long and tiring journey I took a taxi to Cape Town Backpackers my temporary stay-over until somewhere else was found.  It was  busy with a very young clientele as you'd expect. My room was very good but fairly expensive at R475 with no breakfast included. There was a good selection of restaurants on the next block where I chose the Green House and had excellent chicken harissa with lentil mash.  Not surprisingly as I was in South Africa, they had good house white and red wines too! 
My original guest house booking had fallen through the day before my departure from Kigali, but one of the partners in the business promised to find alternative accommodation for me. It was only after my arrival at Cape Town that I got a message with the details of the second booking!  So the next morning I visited the recommended guest house, Rose Lodge after breakfast to check availability, which was not certain.  It was only ten minutes walk away. I met Bruce the Canadian owner, checked the room, in a separate annexe with two others and agreed to take it until 16 April. The street is called Rose Street and the annexe is "Orange on Rose".
Rose Lodge on the right, Orange on Rose to the left.
I couldn't believe my luck that a taxi that colour got into my photo!
I took a taxi to bring over my luggage. Rose Lodge is on the edge of the Bo Kapp district which is a formerly mainly muslim area with a style of its own and only five minutes on foot from the main shopping and entertainment areas of the town centre.  The small terraced houses are all painted in striking colours as are the shops and mosques.  There has been no modern building except on the very edge of the district and there are plans to restrict any further development which is out of keeping.

In the afternoon I walked to Cape Quarter shopping centre - where I was rather culture shocked to find amazing boutique design shops with swish restaurants in the Square at the centre. I found a great photo shop with work of a Caroline  Gibello, wild life photographer and bought some greetings cards which were great value for excellent Photoshop style designs.  I had lunch at Voila on the Square, which had half price pasta dishes for Sunday - I tried Windhoek lager as recommended by Mark - pretty good flavour, not too fizzy. 
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
I continued walking to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront ( yes it is Victoria and Alfred, after her son not her husband!).  This re-developed harbour is a very lively area, lots of shops, bars and restaurants so I walked along the breakwater and back, then did a tour of the shopping malls.  There was a concert by the University of Cape Town Big Band from 17-18.00. 
Open air concert platform at V&A Waterfront

 They were excellent young musicians who created a good atmosphere at the open air amphitheatre.  The walk back to Rose Lodge was not very pedestrian friendly with new fast roads all around and took about 45 minutes - I'll get the bus next time!  I met the other two men staying in the Lodge annexe - Mario from Geneva in Switzerland and Ivor from Cambridge in UK.

I went to Marco's African Place for dinner which is just about 500 metres from Rose Lodge. They have an African atmosphere with a live band every night.  Great food - I chose grilled kingclip (fish) with chips and fresh vegetables.  The music was very good, a four piece band with a male and a female singer, who also wiggled her large rear end a lot!  The wine by the glass was very good once more.

Monday 4 April
In the morning I made a late start to walk down to town centre.  Started at the Gold of Africa Museum, which has good displays of gold crafts going back to well before colonial times and, after coffee in their tented cafe, I moved on to Greenmarket Square, which is a cobbled square full of African Craft stalls. The usual assortment of carvings, masks, paintings, batik, printed cloth and jewellery.  Some very interesting sculpted animals from recycled materials.  One was done using ribbons cut from plastic drinks bottles around a wire frame, which was then moulded and shrunk slightly using a heat gun.  Other figures were made of strips of drinks cans wrapped round a wire armature.  All very skilful and unusual. 
Green Square craft market  
Went along Long Street, the night life area - not very impressive by day , but supposedly really lively at night.  Took a look at the super-modern railway station - really smart!  Had lunch in the out door cafe at the Botanical Gardens - quite good toasted tuna sandwich.  Strolled around a couple of shopping malls and department stores - it's just like being in Europe or the USA.  Got back to Orange on Rose (the annexe) mid afternoon for a rest and some reading.
Had dinner in the Pizzeria opposite Orange on Rose, with Mario from Switzerland.  Good food and a pleasant evening.
View of Camps Bay from the open top tour bus

Tuesday 5 April
Took City Sightseeing Bus for town tour. Started at the nearest stop to Rose Lodge which is the start of the out of town section.  Route goes up to Table Mountain Cable Car station, then drops down to the coast and goes all along the sea front back to the city centre.
Cable car station from tour bus

Then it covers all the points of interest around the city before returning to my starting point.  That took about two and a half hours.  After lunch I set off to walk back along the coastal section expecting to pick up the bus at the start of the coast part of the route.
The financial district is as modern as any in the world.
 There is an interesting sculpture trail with work of one sculptor which blends a little girl and a dragon fly through a series of about 20 sculptures all along the promenade.

In fact I misjudged the distances involved as the gap between the two stops was very long.  Luckily the bus driver let me join the bus as they slowed down for some road works. Call from Emma from VSO Rwanda asking to meet for a drink - she had just arrived in Cape Town.  Met at V&A Waterfront, had wine then went to Marco's African Place for a meal. Good food and music again!

Boulders Bay African penguin reserve.

Wednesday 6 April
Met Emma at station to take train to Simonstown, down the coast about an hour in a slow stopping train - but only about £2.50 return! The last part of the journey is literally along the water's edge, with great views. At Simonstown, the end of the line, we walked along some distance to reach Boulders Bay where there is a reserve for African penguins.  That was interesting and I got some nice photos of the penguins on the beach and in the sea.  We had a great lunch in a restaurant overlooking a lovely bay.

Singing group on harbour at Simonstown

Bo Kapp District with its colourful buildings.
Thursday 7 April
Low key rest day exploring the streets of Bo Kapp, taking photos, trying to capture the array of colours used on the houses, mosques and shops which are on hilly streets overlooking the city and Table Mountain.  Wandered around the city centre shops in the afternoon, after sampling the lunch at a "gentrified" cafe just near the guest house, which had a great art and craft gallery adjoining.  It was so refreshing to see good contemporary art and crafts away from the tourist street markets and similar places in Rwanda and Tanzania. I get the impression that the existence of good modern art and crafts depends so much on a high standard of living, which is available in Cape Town but not even in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.  Craft in Rwanda is there purely for the tourist market and it is hard to find original contemporary work. Very few Rwandans can afford art which is merely decorative and not useful.

View of Cape Town and Table Mountain from Robben Island
Friday 8 April
Met Emma and her friend, Gianna on the V&A waterfront to go to Robben Island on 13.00 ferry.  Robben Island is the notorious prison island where Nelson Mandella spent many long years in captivity.  Now a world heritage site manned by ex-prisoners, who give the guided tours and explain how life was for them then.  It's a really barren island whose only plus is the great views of Cape Town and Table Mountain across the bay. The tour is informative but not enjoyable in any way as it is all time led with an enclosed ferry trip, a coach tour round the island with commentary, a guided visit of the cell blocks, then a quick walk to the return ferry - all rather too regimented for my liking.

The prison compound on Robben Island

Our guide on Robben Island
One of many wineries we had to visit!
Saturday  9 April
I was invited to join Emma and her friend Gianna at Strand station to go for a wine tasting tour near Stellenbosch. That was another train journey along the same route, but to a different station.  We soon left the sea behind in Gianna's car and headed for the hills of the winelands.  The scenery was stunning - could have been France, Spain, Italy, California - mile after mile of neatly planted vineyards overlooked by mountain ranges with wineries dotted all around offering wine tasting tours.  Luckily Gianna knew exactly where to take us and the first winery was magnificent (owned by SA international golf champion Ernie Els).  As it was only about 11.00 it was deserted so we had a luxurious terrace and view to ourselves.  The wines were excellent and  it only cost about £2.50 to taste six wines!  We then called for Gianna's mother who joined us for a lovely lunch at another winery and then drove us to yet another wine tasting - this time with about 12 cheeses to sample!

Sunday 10 April
Started day by walking into town to the South African Art Gallery.  Not a large collection but there were some contemporary works which were interesting, particularly those developing traditional crafts such as beading and wire work.  There was a good exhibition of photographs taken by a photographer who documented the time of apartheid in black and white photos.  There were many very striking images, many quite shocking, of course.  Walked up Kloof Street towards Table Mountain and had lunch with a good view from a terrace cooled by fine water misters and cold beer!  Took bus to Green Point to walk through the new park, built with the new world cup stadium, but just finished, and along the promenade towards Sea Point from Green Point to enjoy the sunset over the sea with a sundowner at a nice bar overlooking the coast.
The new world cup stadium from the newly finished park at Green Point
Lion's Head seen from Table Mountain

Monday 11 April
Decided to take a walk up the Lion's Head mountain, which goes up just behind the lodge.  It turned out to be very difficult to find the start of the path, so I spent a frustrating hour wandering around the top part of Bo Kapp and then into Timberkloef where I found the edge of the town, but no sign of a path.  By now it was getting hot and I realised I had not brought enough water and I had told no-one where I was going.  I know that the path is accessible from near where the cable cars go but that was still a good hour away and then the climb would be getting on for two hours.  Time to change the plan!! I pottered back down to the main road and walked back towards my lodge.  On the way I called at the Bo Kapp museum, which tells the story of the mainly Muslim community, which is under threat of gentrification - too many guest houses, new cafés and up-market boutiques taking over the lovely old terrace houses as the original occupants are forced out by rising taxes.  The Museum tells the story of the people there who actually were the labour force that built Cape Town, descendants of slaves and immigrant workers.  After the traumas of the apartheid era they now have to face the threat of developers taking over the district.  Fortunately there is a strong local pressure group which is resisting the attack.

Spent the afternoon shopping, looking for clothes - not much joy as the shops are full of the winter collections!

Kalk Bay  harbour

Tuesday 12 April
Went to Kalk Bay by train to meet Emma and Gianna.  Beautiful oldish sea side town with main street full of Victorian wrought iron facades. There is an art gallery selling excellent art and crafts ranging from from clever traditional souvenirs to more contemporary takes on wire-work, recycling and beading.  There were also many excellent paintings and prints from current artists for sale at very reasonable prices, compared to the UK. We had lunch in a very eclectic café/restaurant with very good food.  The kitchen area was practically in the restaurant and you had to pass through it to go to the toilets!!  In the afternoon we continued driving to find a winery near Stellenbosch which specialises in wine tasting with dark black chocolate, once more in beautiful surroundings.
Wine tasting with chocolate - Yummee!
View of Table Mountain when wind kept the cable car closed.
Wednesday 13 April
Walk across town to Gardens Shopping Centre.  Bought new waterproof jacket and a pullover to help me cope with the cooler wet season in Rwanda.  Walked back to town centre, had lunch on Green Market Square enjoying the atmosphere of the African crafts market.
I had hoped to do Table Mountain at sunset so I took a taxi to the cable car start… but the mountain was closed  because of the wind!  As we set off to go down to town my taxi driver spotted his stolen car parked by the road, so he stopped and then got into a wrangle with the traffic police as both that car and the one we were in were unroadworthyI  I took a few photos and chatted to the traffic police about rogue taxi drivers the world over.  I took the same taxi back to the Castle in town - it was about to close!!  What a waste of money on those taxi fares - it is cheaper to get the Red Bus tour as that also calls at the cable car station!

Thursday 14 April
Strangely, for different reasons both the contacts I had in Cape Town chose to meet me on the same day - the one before last of my stay!  Firstly I met with Heloise of  Hoerikwaggo Lodge for lunch. Heloise was the kind hotelier who found Rose Lodge for me when her own lodge was unexpectedly sold from under her feet. She wanted to meet me to make up for the last minute panic about my booking. We met in a super deli-restuarant in Green Point where we ate well and I learned a lot about what it is like living and working as a business person in Cape Town.  I was most impressed by the range of "irons" Héloise had "in the fire"!  She was clearly a very considerate lodge owner, who aims to give her guests a good experience in Cape Town.  I hope she is successful in finding a new lodge to start up soon.  That evening I travelled to Fishhoek on that same coast train to meet with Bridget , Mark's step sister for dinner.  Again very interesting to meet a successful business woman, working in educational publishing who gave me more insights into life in South Africa.  Unfortunately the last train back to Cape Town was at 19.20!  It was a little disconcerting getting to Cape Town station at about 20.30 as it was virtually closing and very quiet, but I made my way safely back to my lodge without any problems at all.

Cape Town from Table Mountain, you can see the stadium at the top left and Robben Island

Friday 15 April
Took coffee at little out door cafe on way to station.  Used free internet to get e mails.  After Wednesday's disaster I decided to do Table Mountain this morning as the weather looked great. Took day tour on Red Bus in order to get to Table mountain cable cars.  Queue of about 20 minutes to get tickets then another 10 minutes to get on the gondola.  I actually got a student reduction of about £6 on my ticket - amazing!  Quick trip to top in a rotating gondola, so everyone gets a good view at some point.  beautiful sunny day, slight breeze at first.  Followed paths around the plateau and ended up on the path to the highest point - Maclear's Beacon.  Super views all the way around the top.  The path was increasingly demanding and involved some clambering with rope hand supports for a brief period. It was worth it for the scenery.  The whole round walk only took about one and a half hours including stopping for the views and photos. The further I got from the cable car the fewer people around of course, which made it even better!

High tide in Camps Bay

Came down about 13.30 and re-joined the Red Bus to go to Camps Bay.  The tide was high and the waves were breaking over the rocky shore quite spectacularly.  Had great Italian lunch - fresh tuna pasta, overlooking the shore then walked a little to take some photos.  Hopped back on the Red Bus to continue back to Cape Town via the Waterside.  Got off in town and went to do a little last minute shopping before walking up to the lodge, Orange on Rose.  After a cup of tea I sorted out my packing and got ready to go out for a meal. Decided to go to Marco's place to enjoy the African music ambiance and I wanted to have kingclip for dinner again.  It was just as good as the first time!  I couldn't stay too late as I had the prospect of a long day's travelling before me, though the taxi was due only at 07.30, which was not too early.

Camps Bay with the Twelve Apostles peaks behind.

V&A Waterfront in the evening
Two weeks had flown by and I still hadn't seen all that Cape Town and its surroundings has to offer.  It's not a place for a beach holiday especially as the sea is so cold and I was disappointed not to have better access to long walks on the beaches unless I took a bus or train.  Nonetheless there were plenty of alternative places to explore and things to do.  Cape Town was certainly worth visiting for a luxurious break from the basic standard of life in a developing country like Rwanda.

Famous SA statesmen who struggled to abolish apartheid, statues on Waterfront

There are many music groups to see and hear around the Waterfront, adding to the atmosphere.

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