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venerdì 18 novembre 2011

Cape Town: where my heart lies

It was 2007 when I first went to South Africa, since, after many summers spent in South East Asia, I was willing to change continent and to try something different. After that year I went back every summer including this last one. South Africa is a marvellous country and its variety of landscapes is incredible. It changes constantly from state to state always offering a wonderful display of nature. My love story with Cape Town started as soon as I landed early on a summer morning of four years ago. My first impression was not of being in Africa but somewhere more like the States or Australia. Then as the cab drove into the city I looked at the bay and at the Table Mountains in the back and I was completely fascinated. Every time I have been there I have been staying in a guesthouse in the Waterkant village, which after this year I won't recommend because one of the two owners left and things have changed sensibly.I will instead recommend another guesthouse where I stayed only once which is in Tamboerskloof quite a hip area, on the way to the Table mountains, therefore in the high part of the city called 51 on Kloofnek. 51 on kloofnek. The owner is extremely nice and the rooms are fantastic
My room in 51 on Kloofnek
However if one wants to stay in the Waterkant which is a lovely and central neighborhood full of bars and restaurants there are also plenty of guesthouses where to choose from. Speaking of the restaurants in the area I particularly like Anatoli, a Turkish fancy place where the highlight is a tray full of delicious mezes to choose from, just like in Turkey. Anatoli. Also there is a very good Thai restaurant in the Village Lodge hotel called Soho. Soho Restaurant A good idea when you're new in town is to take the sightseeing bus just to comfortably go to all the places to see and hop on and off wherever you like. First it drives you around the center where you can see the Company's garden, the Jewish museum and the famous Long street where it gets very crowded and booming at night. Then it takes you to the astonishing Table Mountains where you take the cable car to go on the top. A funny fact is that in order to go there th sky must be absolutely clear: if there is only a cloud, it is scientifically proven that the more you wait the more clouds will come and you won't be able to see anything. It happened to me once and it's a real bummer 'cause you really can't see anything. But if the sky is clear this is what you see:
View of Cape Town from Table Mountains
If you don't take the bus to get down from there you can a take a taxi which is very cheap or a shared cab which is even cheaper. They are called Rikkis and are London taxi cabs. 0861 Rikkis . Definitively the best way to go around Cape Town. Well the ride down from Table Mountains cable car station can be a really bumpy one so , before your stomach gets in your ears you can ask to be dropped at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This is the place where all the Capetonians go shopping or for lunch and dinner since it is a harbour with a giant mall containing tons of shops and restaurants, and it is a place where you can also take a boat to go whalewatching or to Robben Island the place where Nelson Mandela was kept in jail for 26 years.
V&A Waterfront
Robben Island
While you're in the Waterfront you can have lunch or dinner at the best place for sushi in town: Willoughby's and Co. It's inside an alley of the indoor mall which is the downside of it but the food is fantastic and it's always very crowded but does not take bookings.Willoughby's Then you can take the bus or the Rikki and go to Cape Point and have a blast of an afternoon in the farthest place in Africa. On the way you can go and see the penguin colony on Boulders Beach.
Cape Point
Boulders Beach
On the beautiful drive there you might encounter an ostrich or worse a baboon. Remember NEVER EVER feed them, especially the baboons: they can become extremely aggressive and nasty and get into your car. The rule with wild animals id always not to give them food anyway, because then they become used to that and they start demanding for it and attack you. In the end in most cases they have to be put out and you surely don't want that.
Then you can take a drive to beautiful Camps Bay to sit on the beaches and look at the the villas, Llandudno one of the most beautiful beaches of the city, Green Point and Sea Point, go to Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens, Constantia, or just go around the city center and drive up to Bo Kaap the muslim neighborhood with its little coloured houses.
Bo Kaap
Or you can visit the surroundings of the city which are absolutely worth it. Kalk Bay for example where you can be lucky enough (like I was) to see a whale stealing bait from a fisherman in the harbour or play with the seals who swim around waiting for the fishing boats to come back and give them a snack.
Kalk Bay
Or Fish Hoek or Hout Bay or go to the winelands for a glass of the best wine you've had . Being Italian I am quite keen on wine and before going to South Africa I tasted some wine from there but I kept my preference for Italian wine, sometimes French but mostly Italian. Instead when I went there I can assure you I had some of the best wine you can have. It's slightly stronger and perfumed than Italian wine but it's excellent and very cheap, which is surprising. Actually South Africa is a very good bargain compared to Europe especially in(our) summer. So I went to Stellenbosch for a couple of days and went for a tasting tour. The guide explained to me (something I already knew but never put into practice) that when wine tasting you really have to spit it afterwards , otherwise if you taste 10 different kinds of wine you obviously get drunk. But did I? .. I climbed up the stairs of my guesthouse on my knees.. If only I listened sometimes...
Is this it? Oh no. There is what I think is a must do when in a place where there is a lot of history in particular when it's somehow uncomfortable. It's what I did in Vietnam at the War Museum or in Cambodia in the Khmer Rouge jail or even NYC at Ellis Island; it is what I would do in a concentration camp: see the shameful things the man has done in the years to reflect on that and learn from the mistakes hoping it will never happen again. These are things that cannot be forgotten or ignored when visiting a country. History is a big component of a country's culture and a real traveller knows that you can't just visit monuments and historic sites without visiting the uncomfortable places. So you can't go to South Africa and skip apartheid because apartheid has been (unfortunately)a big part of this country's history. If you've lived the 80's you know damn well about the fights and the anti-apartheid campaigns all over the world: the Free Nelson Mandela concert and all the movies that were made in those years and I bet everyone remembers of when this madness ended. The best place is actually in Jo'burg: the Apartheid museum which by itself is worth a visit to the city. In Cape Town there is District six" a former inner-city residential area in Cape Town, South Africa. It is best known for the forced removal of over 60,000 of its inhabitants during the 1970s by the apartheid regime". There is now a museum in that area and it's definitely worth seeing. And, if apartheid is gone and thank God no longer exists, poverty still does in South Africa and while visiting all the touristic sites one cannot look away from the townships. They were created as " racially segregated areas in South Africa established by the government as a residence for people of color" (Wikipedia) and now are the places where poor people live mostly from other places in Africa. Some parts of the townships are actually modern and well off but of course they represent a very small part of them. I think a trip to South Africa must include a visit to a township just to acknowledge that in the 21st century there are still places where people do not have water and light and live in shacks on the borders of society. And to those who tell me that they didn't go because they don't want to look at those people like a zoo I say that it all depends on the attitude and the spirit you visit them with. You simply cannot ignore these realities or pretend they don't exist. I strongly recommend to take a tour with a local guide, i.e. somebody who lives in the township. It can be really instructive and they can show you all the community projects and ways to help.
District Six
Cape Town townships (Langa and Khayelitsa)
Amongst all the things we were shown, there were a primary school built from scratch and a guesthouse which is now apparently quite popular:Vicky's B&B
Primary school kid
....Well these are not the only things to see in this marvellous city but for a first-timer, that I think would do.It might be that you'll have to go again but don't worry: you'll want to go for sure. It might be that your heart will stay there so that you'll have to go and try to take it elsewhere. You probably will have to try a few times.Like me: I haven't succeeded. I guess I'll have to try a sixth time ...