Greetings from Cape Town
Cape Town is one of my favorite cities.
It’s modestly photogenic with hints of squalor, no Paris or Amsterdam or even Sydney thought it does have a very nice waterfront area. And to be fair, Cape Town’s setting is truly spectacular, though it’s not easy to appreciate if you don’t go out on the water, such as on the boat to the infamous Robben Island, the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years as political prisoner.
No, the charm of Cape Town is its people, its culture, and even its food.
It is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world while also having plenty of wandering west African traders plying their wares from backpacks to various art galleries in the city. The people are second to none in terms of friendliness, and I say that as someone who has been to more countries than there are states in the US.
The food is fantastic. Obviously there’s lots of great game (kudu being one of my favorites), but you can find every ethnicity of food here, from Thai to Ethopian to American to Italian and the quality is uniformly good or excellent although portions certainly tend smaller than what Americans are used to. As a beer snob, I’m not a huge fan of South African beer (their big brand being the rather uninspiring Castle), though the St. Louis brand from Gabarone, Botswana is quite good as is the Core hard cider, made by the same company. When it comes to alcohol, it’s all about the wine in South Africa. The wines here, both red and white, are great and also great value. If you buy a $20 bottle of wine in a supermarket it’s going to be as good as a $50 bottle in the US.
If there’s any negative to Cape Town it’s the amount of smoking. Not having been around pervasive cigarette smoke since living in Amsterdam fifteen years ago, being in a smoke-filled cafe for a couple of hours was a less than enjoyable challenge. Still, more places have non-smoking sections than did the last time I was here, about 5 years ago, following the trend in most of the western world.
The art scene here is incredible, more interesting than all but a few neighborhoods in the entire United States, and perhaps more than those as well. Ceramics, textiles, paintings, both in tribal and modern styles, and fascinating fusions. My wife the artist finds inspiration here like no other city.
But again, it comes back to the people here. It’s all but impossible to have a dull conversation. There is so much history here, so much interesting politics, so much going on all the time, and the people love talking about it. And I love listening, not least because I like the Afrikaaner accent.
A week in Cape Town isn’t enough, especially when here with young kids. In addition to all the human-related attractions I’ve mentioned, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point have an incredible physical presence. Table Mountain towers majestically over the city while just a few miles down the road are gorgeous beach towns which rival anything on Sydney’s north side or the fancy to uber-high-end coast between San Diego and Los Angeles, but with the benefit of much smaller populations. The area has penguins, seals, great white sharks, and literally thousands of species of plants which are found nowhere else on earth. It’s great for hiking, biking, picnicking, or just a lazy walk. And it’s all within half an hour of downtown.
If Cape Town were closer to the rest of the world, it would be overrun with tourists. As it is, there are plenty of us, though not so many during the winter (as it is now in the southern hemisphere). If you want to experience one of the world’s truly great small cities, I recommend you come visit too. You won’t want to leave. (I recommend the Cape Heritage hotel if you want a great central location or the Cape Grace hotel if you want a high-end hotel near the waterfront, though about 15 minutes walk from the heart of Cape Town’s bustling downtown.)
Next week we’re off to a fairly remote beach hotel/resort just a couple hundred miles south of the Mozamiquan border on the eastern coast of South Africa.
I hope you’re all having a great summer.
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