We were on our way to Cape Town for a week of exploring the unexpected city. As two ex-pats, Cape Town is always a pleasure to visit, but this time, it was not to spend time in familiar haunts, but to be a real tourist and Cape Town Tourism had given us an itinerary that made sure were going off our beaten tracks.
We were looking forward to this. Family and friends were shown the itinerary and needless to say that most of what was included had been heard of, but never considered as something to try or somewhere to visit. We were duty-bound to report back, in detail, on how we had got on.
**An energetic tortoise, butterflies and a huge dragonfly complement a lazy breakfast in a peaceful garden.**
Fortified with buttermilk rusks and cups of rooibos, we headed off to walk through the cool and shady Company Gardens, already filling up with school children and tourists taking photographs of the ubiquitous grey squirrels.
It was all so familiar, but when last were the many lovely, uniquely Cape Town museums and art galleries situated just off Government Avenue visited? The South African Museum, Bertram House, South African Jewish Museum and St Georges Cathedral to name but a few of the places to tempt those not on a timetable to stray and spend time exploring.
What is there not to like about the V&A Waterfront? Still a working harbour, famous too for the place to catch the ferry to Robben Island, we were shown a different side to this busy shopping destination. We were going to explore the links between the land, sea and people, though still important, perhaps not that obvious, and that is what our lovely guide, Alida, was planning to show us. Not many tourists take the time to experience a guided tour and we had the opportunity to see the unexpected diverse layers of the V&A.
We had a look at the original fortification that protected Cape Town in the early 18th century in the Chavonnes Museum, built by the Dutch East India Company and named after the governor of the Cape Colony Maurits Pasque de Chavonnes. Did he look as grand as his name? We studied the nearby Claudette Schreuders’ bronze creations of the four South African Nobel Peace Prize Laureates in Nobel Square: Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, F.W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
**Cape Town is a walkable city. Not to be rushed, but explored and savoured.**
Something new that is being trialled are ‘pop-up’ shops – a great way to give access to local talent to sell their wares, many using reclaimed materials that are given a new function or fascination. The locals really do incorporate design in their daily life, and it’s evidenced in these tiny shops.
We were disappointed that we would not have time to have a sleep-over at the Aquarium – and quietly pleased that we would therefore not be invited to dive in the huge tanks for a new perspective of the occupants!
**I want to find an arum lily frog in the wild. These tiny creatures are only found in the Cape.**
We recommend the heritage trail that has been developed to bring all these hidden Waterfront gems together. Make sure to get the V&A map at the information centre which will give a clearer perspective.
Khayelitsha cookies were served at the Mount Nelson Hotel, a lovely juxtaposition of Cape Town and a hotel with historical links to the sea. In 1890, a private residence was converted by the owner of the Union-Castle line, into a luxury hotel for the exclusive use of first class passengers, who were among the tourism pioneers and early travellers to stay in the Cape. All around the hotel, famous for its ‘blush’ of rosy-pink, are lovely old street maps of Cape Town, travel posters from a time when travel was exclusive and exotic locations out of reach for most people, and stern-looking Victorian generals, resplendent with busy beards and military regalia stare out of their frames.
**Helmsley place, now part of the Mount Nelson was where in 1841 the first Jewish service was held in Cape Town.**
Our ‘Unexpected Cape Town’ tour was only warming up, and already we were overwhelmed with new experiences and it was about to get better. That evening, we were heading off with Michael from CoffeeBeans Routes to dine with Sheila and listen to Cape Town jazz at her home. It feels awkward visiting someone’s home whom you don’t know, but Sheila, Tete, Lateli and Itumeleng soon made us welcome. The evening was unexpected for so many reasons; the conversation over the home cooked meal of local vegetable dishes and ‘chicken ala Sheila’ with our group of ex-pats and a family from Gauteng, who all went back for second helpings – and of course the musicians. We slipped away to chat with Sheila who introduced us to her sister-in-law and 90-year-old father, who we couldn’t help but think looked like a younger Nelson Mandela!
**Spotted: Dramatic panoramas high up on the walls inside the old Post Office building that show a colonial view of the old Cape Colony.**
Part 2 of ‘Unexpected Cape Town’ coming soon
Guest post by www.CapeTown.travel – the local website where you can find out what is hot and what’s not in this amazing city.