Thursday, September 29, 2011

Your travel guide to Cape Town

I’ve realized that I have to take full advantage of those moments when I feel inspired to write, because as I’m sure you have seen, I don’t always feel like it. But now is one of those moments. J

I’m not sure why it is – it could be the 4k “run” I just went on, it could be that today was a warm day; a very warm day that makes me pull out a skirt and flip flops and want to paint my toes nails in a bright neon orange – whatever the reason, I want to take this moment to tell you about Cape Town.

Cape Town is not in South Africa; it’s not even Africa. I know if you look on a map you’ll see it there, but it isn’t. It’s in a completely different world of breath-taking beauty. It has everything: beach side and cliff side views for which there are no words; mountains that if you make it to the top allow you to see the whole city and far passed the ocean’s horizon; lush vineyards with charming farm houses that make A-mazing cheese! Really, whatever your scenic preference is, Cape Town has it.

My college roommate came to visit me here in Joburg for two weeks, so we took the two hour flight down to CT to explore the city for four days. The best way to tell you about our trip and give you a potential itinerary for YOUR visit, is to give you our four day schedule. And we did a lot.

Day 1: We arrived to Cape Town International Airport early afternoon. We quickly hired (rented) our charming Kia Picanto for the adventure and headed down to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Perfect way to start our CT experience. The Waterfront is filled with shops and eateries (and for every price range), some with views of the wharf. We did not pick a particularly classy place to eat our first meal in the city, so I will fail to mention it here, but it was sustenance. We spent the next two hours walking in out of shops, buying too many trinkets, and taking pictures as the sun settled on the water. You probably can’t spend more than a few hours or an afternoon at the waterfront, so this was a great way to ease into our travels.

Note: Our accommodations were with a fabulous household of singles girls in Belville; therefore, I unfortunately cannot help you in this arena. But I’m sure you can find some fabulous deals! ;)

Day 2: Ok, this was BY FAR my favorite day! (That is not to say the following days were not wonderful or not worth reading about.;) ) This was our “Kia-commercial” day; we might as well have been in an ad for a Kia, demonstrating the car’s excellent mileage, safety features, compactibility (is that a word?), and its fabulous color! We started our day by grabbing muffins, fruit, and a few other snacks to munch on throughout the day, and coffee and croissants from a local shop for breakfast. Either of the major highways (the N1 or N2) empty into downtown CT (the waterfront) and turn into the M6. Following the M6, we drove around the whole peninsula. Yep, the whole thing. From the waterfront, we drove passed Sea Point and through Clifton, stopping at the beach at Camps Bay. The beach was a gorgeous expanse of white sands, enveloped by the famous Table Mountain and other rocky cliffs. We didn’t spend any time laying at the beach or swimming (we did put our toes in the water and it was freezing!!), but plenty of people were at the beach walking dogs, throwing Frisbees, and lounging, so I am sure that would fabulous day event in-and-of-itself.
Continuing on the M6, we drove to Chapman’s Peak. You cannot miss this! And by “cannot” I mean, it is a must see and there is a toll plaza to get onto Chapman’s Peak drive – so you literally cannot miss it. But it so worth the toll! Chapman’s Peak is literally breathtaking. I really am struggling for words to describe it. The drive begins through a slice in the edge of the mountain; so, mountain on your left and to your right, the most brilliant blue and aqua-green waters toss back and forth. The drive not only gives you an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean, but of the towns that are along the base of the mountain. One particular lookout point towards the end of Chapman’s Peak gives you an absolutely stunning view; the perfect way to end the drive along Chapman’s Peak.
Once again, continuing on the M6, we traveled all the way down the peninsula to Cape Point, the tip of the peninsula and the location of the Cape of Good Hope. At this point, the M6 veers off into either the M65 or the M4; both will get you to Cape Point. We chose to take the M65, which takes you through the middle of the peninsula, because we planned to come back up along the M4. The drive down to Cape Point will make you think that, again, you are in a different world. Terrain changes, rolling fields filled with baboons abound. This too is beautiful. We arrive at Cape Point (after paying to get into the Table Mountain National Park-just noting) and walk the 15 minute climb to the lighthouse. This walk is not quite for the beginner, but we did it in flip flops and survived just find. If you really don’t want to walk however, or have a gaggle of children who will not walk, there is a lift that takes you to the top. J So at this point, I have to note that my perception of where we were was quite skewed. Don’t get me wrong, Cape Point is truly another breath-taking sight. It’s quite chilly, so pack a sweater, but you can see…I have no idea actually how far, but really far. What skewed my perception and experience at Cape Point was the delusion that we were not at the farthest southern point of the continent of Africa. Here I am thinking I’m as far south as a person can get; that if I just look really hard, I most certainly could see the icebergs of Antarctica on the horizon.  Despite not seeing any icebergs off the absolutely stunning tip of the Western Cape, I maintained this delusion and excitement until later that evening when a local shattered this idea by informing that the Cape of Good Hope is actually the farthest south-east point of the Western Cape, and not the most southern tip of the continent of Africa. Alas, the magic and adventure of this stop in our adventure was ended. But visually, the Cape of Good Hope is completely worth the drive down. And it is still cool to say you’ve been to the farthest south-east  point of the continent of Africa. J  (Oh and there’s a restaurant at Cape Point where you can eat lunch, but we didn’t. It seemed a little pricey, and we were waiting to find a charming mom-and-pop place in Simon’s Town!)
After milking the tip of the Cape for all it’s worth, we headed back up the M4 towards Simon’s Town. One word can describe this town: PENGUINS! This is the place where wild penguins roam the beaches! Ever see pictures of penguins on the beach and wonder, “where in the world is that”? Well, this is where! There is fee to actually walk on the beach, but you can avoid the fee and still see loads of penguins by walking along the penguin boardwalk. This wooden, fenced boardwalk is lined with countless penguins lounging and waddling around. I’ve always acknowledged that penguins are cute little creatures, but after this, I was sold. They are ADORABLE! And being able to take my own picture of a penguin with a beach in the background is just cool. Once we had taken more pictures of the penguins than I would ever need, we walked the one main street of Simon’s Town looking for a place to eat. We stopped at a girly-meets-modern cafĂ© where I ate some mouth watering bruschetta. We ended our time in Simon’s Town by purchasing a few silk scarves at an antique shop.
Day two was quite tiring, to be honest, but so unbelievably beautiful. I truly feel privileged to say I’ve seen this part of the world.

Day 3: This will be quick. Day three was Robben Island and Signal Hill. After visiting Robben Island, we grabbed some sandwiches and had lunch on top of Signal Hill (it’s really more a mountain to me). The drive up and down is windy and has no guard rails (so make sure you have a trust worthy driver!), but is well worth it. The top of the hill provides you with one of the most extensive views of Cape Town, with both the ocean and forests in view. Sunset is a spectacular time to go (in a group). The top is also filled with lovely wild flowers, fields and trees. Perfect for a picnic. So, here are my few words on Robben Island: First, for those of you who don’t know what Robben Island is, it’s an island that held a maximum security prison which over the years housed various types of prisoners (including victims of leprosy), but most notably, the Nobel prize winner, Nelson Mandela, and other activists of the apartheid era. It is quite a remarkable place to be; looking around and seeing how people who were only trying to fight for equality and freedom were quarantined and isolated. It would be more impacting, in my opinion, if you didn’t have to stay in your group, on a bus. The tour (and that is the only way you will see anything on the island) loads a group of 25 onto a bus and drives you around the island, only allowing you to get off and particular points. There is a tour guide on the bus, narrating what you see. That probably makes a big difference: the tour guide. Ours was not particularly audible or entertaining. The final stop on the tour is the prison itself and the guide there is a former inmate. This part was the most informative and moving part of the tour; and it last 15 minutes. So, all in all, Robben Island is worth visiting; but don’t come all the way to Cape Town just for that.

Day 4: Cape Town is known for having extremely unpredictable and uncooperative weather. This was the only day we experienced that. We woke to a gray and ominous sky, with a windy drizzle that continued all day. Our little Kia was due back before 1pm, so we turned ours in early, and hopped in a friend’s car. (This is the only way we were able to do what we did for the day.) Our kind tour guides drove us out to Stellenbosch, or wine country. I appreciated the weather this day, because I think vineyards look particularly lovely and cozy in the rain. We drove through vast expanses of vineyards and farmlands and stopped at the Fairview wine and cheese tasting venue. I’m not much of a wine person, but this really did help me to expand my taste buds, as well as, get a short introduction into wine and cheese pairing. It was a perfect way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Cape Town was such a fabulous trip! The city is not overrated at all. You do still need to watch your surroundings and maintain your safety, but it is such a lovely getaway – a perfect four day venture.

Also, I’ve decided, I would love to be a travel blog/magazine writer. Anyone hiring? J

Pictures to follow – hopefully this just got you excited!

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