Monday, January 27, 2014

Cape Town Part 1-V&A Waterfront, City Centre

V&A Waterfront, Kloof Street
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Our two-week African adventure began in Cape Town. Still getting over the damp and cold of Germany, Cape Town was like a breath of spring. Actually, a breath of spring was exactly what it was. It was the first time south of the equator for both of us, and instead of facing a harsh and bleak northern hemisphere December, we were greeted by a countryside erupting in bloom.

It isn’t hard to get your bearings in Cape Town, the “City Bowl.” The site is a natural amphitheater, and the city center is ensconced in the “armchair” of Table Mountain, with Lions Head and Devil’s Peak as arm rests. The city faces north overlooking Table Bay and the Atlantic Ocean, with the Indian Ocean to the southeast, around and beyond the famous tip of the Cape of Good Hope.  Cape Town was established in the 1650’s as a provisioning station for Dutch and Portuguese ships sailing the spice route to East Africa, India, and the Far East. It’s a place that is isolated and yet it’s a historic crossroads – by sea, if not by land.

Cape Town Google 4

We were surprised at how familiar and comfortable it felt. Many times over the next few days, looking at the coastline, we found ourselves saying, “It’s like Southern California. It looks like Long Beach. Or maybe San Diego.” Cape Town is a big city with a small-town, yet very international flavor. The population seemed young to us, although maybe that’s because of the artsy, kind of funky area our hotel was in. It also seemed that there was a focus on environmental sustainability, and this made sense to me as our week progressed. The isolated tip of South Africa has a unique array of plants, many of which are endemic and found no place else, and must be protected. And, I can only imagine that the people living the region, isolated as they were until modern times, have a long-standing ethos of not wasting precious resources.
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Instead of booking a hotel, we were spending our six nights in a “self-catering”
apartment in central Cape Town called More Quarters, on a little lane off of Kloof Street, with Table Mountain looming above. With that amount of time to spend, we wanted to get the feeling of being locals.

Also, knowing that we would be going on to two all-inclusive resorts at Lion Sands and Royal Chundu, we wanted to economize on our meals and maybe, hopefully, keep our calorie consumption under control, at least for the beginning of the trip.

Africa (114)However, breakfast was included, and every morning we walked over to the More Quarters reception and breakfast room, which provided a lovely buffet decked out with fresh fruits, pastries, breads, meats, and cheeses, as well as a full menu including omelets and eggs benedict. The first morning, I sampled a fruit I had never seen before. It had tender little edible seeds in a tangy juice. It was passion fruit. Just. Delicious.

Victoria & Albert Waterfront, Table Mountain in background.

The first thing we always do is get the “lay of the land,” either driving or walking. So on our first day we decided to walk from our apartment to the city’s main tourist attraction, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. It was a bit further than we had anticipated. The V&A Waterfront is an historic port that was built in 1860, eventually fell into disuse, and was redeveloped in 2006 with restaurants, shops, museums, hotels, and entertainment.

Boma dancers at V&A Waterfront

We actually went there twice, and my favorite things to do were browsing the craft mall, seeing the Clipper Round the World racing sailboats which were there on a stopover, watching the Zulu dancers, and eating calamari (we ate a LOT of calamari in Cape Town – so delicious!) and drinking beer for lunch while soaking up the sights and the sun.

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There was a great wine store, and we were surprised at the really cheap prices. One South African rand exchanges at less than a US dollar. Most of the bottles were under $10 US. South Africa’s signature blend is Pinotage. But more, much more, about the wine later, in the nest post or maybe the one after.

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When we tired of the waterfront, we caught a taxi back to our neighborhood so that we would have a bit of energy to take a walk there. It was mid-afternoon, and by our vacationing standards, that means it was the beginning of the cocktail hour. Starting at the top, we worked our way downhill. My first drink was a Rooibos TEAni, which was made with South African Rooibos tea, spiked with gin. Served in a teapot, it was a perfectly civilized cocktail and healthy, even, containing antioxidants and ingredients that help fight allergies and skin rashes.

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We then ambled downhill, stopping at various trendy outdoor bars where girls younger than my daughter were hanging out in sundresses. We drank white wine and sampled calamari, which Mark had a jones for.

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I am not complaining. The calamari was crisp and juicy, the wine sublime, and the sunshine, mighty fine.

Next: Atlantic Seaboard and Cape of Good Hope
Thanks for reading.

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