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Cape Town

Day One

We had never been to Cape Town before; never been to South Africa before and, in fact, never been to Africa before, so it was all new to us.

The flight to Cape Town was very long. We first flew for nine hours from Hong Kong to Doha; spent three hours in Doha Airport; then flew another nine hours to Cape Town. We arrived fairly exhausted, but had fortunately pre-booked a transfer to our hotel, The Park Inn by Radisson, in the Foreshore area. The transfer was there waiting for us, so we got to our hotel with ease.

We did not want to waste our limited time so went for a stroll while it was still light. We walked towards the old town and were very pleased to see a large group of people, including many little children, performing traditional African dancing in the street near Saint George's Cathedral. We stopped and watched them for a while.

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After watching the dancing for a while, we took a stroll in the Company Gardens.

Cape Town's European history began when the Dutch realized this area was an excellent place from which to take on new provisions for their ships sailing to and from Batavia. The Company Gardens were founded by Governor van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company in the 1650's. They were used to grow fresh vegetables and fruit for passing ships.

Nowadays the gardens are a beautiful place for a stroll. They contain lots of plants, statues and memorials. The parliament, library, Tuynhuys and several museums, such as the Iziko South African Museum, are in or next to the gardens. There are statues here of Sir George Gray, governor of the Cape Colony from 1845 to 1862, and Cecil John Rhodes among others. The Delville Wood Memorial commemorates the battle of Delville Wood in WWI where many South Africans lost their lives.

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Posted by irenevt 00:34 Archived in South Africa Comments (2)

Day Two

Castle of Good

Refreshed after a much needed night's sleep, we set out to explore The Castle of Good Hope - the oldest building in Cape Town. On the way to the castle we walked past City Hall and the Grand Parade. The Grand Parade seemed to be home to many vagrants and homeless people - a reminder that Cape Town may look like paradise on Earth, but it has many problems.

The Castle of Good Hope was built by the Dutch East India Company in the seventeenth century. It was originally situated on the coast of Table Bay, but is now quite far inland due to land reclamation.

The Castle of Good Hope is a pentagonal shaped building surrounded by a moat. We visited on a Sunday when there is no changing of the guard ceremony or ceremony of the keys. Entry on a Sunday is 25 rand.

Once inside the castle, it is possible to walk all the way around its walls, visit some rooms filled with period furniture, see the statues of three former African kings: Cetshwayo, Langalibalele and Sekhukhune and seventeenth century resistance leader, Doman. These three African kings were once imprisoned here for fighting against the colonialists. Its also possible to visit the bell tower, former prison cells, store rooms and a torture chamber.

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Robben Island

In the afternoon we visited Robben Island. We walked from our hotel to the waterfront. We had pre-booked a boat to the island. On arrival at the Robben Island museum and ferry building, we joined a long queue. I thought we would have to wait for a later boat, but by arriving thirty minutes early we timed it right for boarding our pre-booked boat. The views back towards Cape Town from the boat were beautiful.

Robben Island lies around 7km from Cape Town. Its name comes from the Dutch word for seal. Robben Island is oval shaped and very flat. In its eventful history it has housed a leper colony and a prison. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for eighteen years.

On arrival at the island we were ushered onto a bus for a tour round the island. We saw the prison building and its visitor center, the lepers' graveyard, the quarry where political prisoners used to work, Robben Island village, two churches, a school, a clinic, Robert Sobukwe's house. He was the founder of the Pan Africanist Congress and was considered so dangerous by the Apartheid government that he was imprisoned indefinitely and forbidden from speaking to anyone.

As well as sights we saw a lot of wildlife such as: African penguins, a tortoise, fallow deer and on our way back on the ferry a humpbacked whale.

After the bus tour we were taken around Robben Island's former prison for political prisoners. The tour guide had himself been imprisoned here charged with terrorism. The most interesting part was seeing the cell where Nelson Mandela spent eighteen years of his twenty-seven year prison sentence.

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Posted by irenevt 02:03 Comments (2)

Day Three

Kirstenbosch, Groot Constantia, Camps Bay

Kirstenbosch

We did not have a car in Cape Town, actually we don't drive, so decided to use the big red hop on hop off bus. I'm generally not a fan of these. They are too touristy and too expensive, but I must admit I ended up being very much impressed with the service in Cape Town. It got us pretty much everywhere we wanted to go safely, comfortably and efficiently. The only safe alternative would have been the myciti buses which looked fine though we did not actually use them.

We had planned to start the day by taking the big bus red route to Table Mountain, but we awoke to find the table cloth was down, which means the mountain was absolutely hidden in a thick blanket of cloud, so we had to change plans. We hopped on a blue route bus and headed for Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Kirstenbosch is situated at the eastern foot of Table Mountain. The gardens were founded in 1913 to conserve local flora. We spent around two hours here, but could have easily spent a full day. The gardens are stunning. We began by exploring the stone sculptures garden. I loved all the statues here and we had great fun posing for photos with them.

We eventually made our way to the boomslang or tree canopy walkway from which there are spectacular views. After that we walked through the cycad garden. Cycads have been around since prehistoric times so the gardens boasted several models of dinosaurs. We then strolled through the fynbosch and erica gardens. Fynbosch are plants with thin leaves found all over Cape Town, many have lovely colourful flowers. Erica is like heather.

There are concerts at Kirstenbosch on Sundays during the summer.

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Groot Constantia

After Kirstenbosch we reboarded the blue route then swapped to the purple wine route at Constantia Nek. We went to Groot Constantia the oldest vineyard in Cape Town. Groot Constantia was founded by Simon van der Stel of the Dutch East India Company. He arrived at the Cape in 1679. He had already gained knowledge of viticulture at his vineyards in Muiderbergh and made full use of this knowledge to establish vineyards in the Cape.

We began our visit here by strolling through the vineyards. They were lined with rose bushes and backed by stunning mountainous scenery - absolutely breathtaking. When we had finished with the vineyards we strolled to the manor house. We paid to wander around it, looking at the period furniture and the garden with its huge bougainvillea bush and boisterous ducks. We then headed to the wine cellar where all the magic of creating wine takes place. Groot Constantia has two restaurants and a deli and offers wine tasting sessions, too.

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Camps Bay

After Groot Constantia we took the purple route back to the blue route and continued past some wonderful scenery through Hout Bay to Camps Bay. I think Camps Bay must be one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. It has a long stretch of silver white beach washed by the ice cold waters of the Atlantic. I put my feet in the water and felt waves of pain go through my whole body due to the cold.

Beyond the beach there is a plethora of cafes and bars. Behind the town the Twelve Apostles Mountains stand guard over the coastline. In the distance it is possible to see the steep triangular shape of the Lion's Head. If I were to choose the most beautiful place in Cape Town, I think I would choose here and believe me it is up against some tough competition.

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Posted by irenevt 03:59 Comments (1)

Day Four

Table Mountain

Table Mountain, Sea Point, The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

We were keeping our fingers crossed that the table-cloth would not be down on Table Mountain two days in a row. We awoke to find perfect clear blue skies and very little cloud. We set off early just in case conditions changed.

One of the good things about the red hop on hop off bus is that you can buy your cable car tickets from the bus driver so there is no need to queue for tickets when you arrive. The drive up to the mountain was very scenic and there are great views over Cape Town even from the cable car station at the foot of the mountain. There was a queue to get on the cable car itself but it moved reasonably quickly. The cable car cabins rotate as they ascend and descend so you will get a 360 degrees view as you go up and down.

When we reached the top of the mountain, we first wandered from viewing spot to viewing spot. There is a spectacular view over Camps Bay and also over Sea Point and the stadium. When we had had our fill of drinking in the view, we chose a trail to follow and set out on the paths through the fynbosch. Fynbosch are thin leaved shrubs, many of which are flowering, and they are typical vegetation in the Cape. We saw lots of different kinds of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks. Although there were lots of people up the mountain, it was very peaceful up there.

Eventually we made our way back to the cafe/restaurant/toilet area and bought beer and cheese sticks for Peter and ice-cream for me. As Peter was eating a cheese stick, an extremely cheeky red starling swooped down and took it right out of his mouth. We were stunned. We later found out these birds do this all the time. As well as the birds we saw a dassie wandering around the seating area hoping someone would feed it. A dassie is a herbivorous rock hyrax native to South Africa, in other words it's a kind of cute cuddly rodent that looks a bit like a cross between a mini-wombat and a giant guinea pig. Apparently it is related to the elephant, but there's not much family resemblance there.

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Sea Point

When we finally came down from Table Mountain, we hopped back on the red route and took the bus round to Green Point. We had a look at the red and white lighthouse standing guard on the shore here. The Green Point Lighthouse was first lit on the 12th of April 1824, making it the oldest operational lighthouse in South Africa. This lighthouse was commissioned by Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, acting Governor of the Cape Colony. It was designed by German architect Herman Shutte.

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Across the road from the lighthouse is Green Point Urban Park. This is a pleasant park in itself and has excellent views of Cape Town Stadium. Cape Town Stadium was built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. It is the home ground of Ajax Cape Town and Cape Town City.

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The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.

After visiting Green Point we took the hop on hop off blue route bus and did a full circuit just to see all the wonderful views again. We finally got off at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and took the harbour cruise. We saw lots of seals on this cruise.

We visited the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront several times on this trip. It has great places to eat and drink and buy sounvenirs. It's also home to a huge aquarium that we did not visit and a big wheel.

I liked the waterfront's clock tower, its movable bridges, the dry docks where ships can be repaired and Nobel Square with its statues of Nobel Peace Prize recipients: Albert Luthuli, former president of the African National Congress, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, President FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.

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Posted by irenevt 19:17 Comments (1)

Day Five

An organized day trip to Hout Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Bay and Chapman's Peak.

Hout Bay

Neither of us drive. We like to get around by public transport where we can. If that isn't an option, we have to do tours, which to be honest we only like to do occasionally. We booked this tour to the Cape of Good Hope before arriving in South Africa and then discovered that the big bus company had started a trip there too. I know the big bus isn't actually public transport, but the difference is: use them you can decide what to do with the time you have at a location, use a tour you are told what to do with the time you have at a location.

Anyway the tour was fine. It was enjoyable; we saw a lot, but it did feel rather rushed.

We began by going to Camps Bay for a photo stop. We had already been there so were not too bothered that it was just a very brief stop. Then we went on to Hout Bay. It's also possible to get here on the big bus, but we had not actually got off because we knew it was on our tour. Our tour though only had time to go to Duiker Island, an island famous for seals, . We decided not to go to the island and to look around Hout Bay instead.

Hout Bay is a fishing port. Near the place where the ferry leaves for Duiker Island there is a lovely market. i bought a giraffe wood carving here. As we wandered along the waterfront we saw so many seals. They really know how to enjoy life and look like they are having great fun in the water. I loved the fact that there were several capsized boats. I know this isn't a good thing, but they certainly looked picturesque.

Hout Bay has a lovely long stretch of silvery white beach. Behind it on the mountain their is a luxurious house designed to look like Liechtenstein Castle in Germany. Hout Bay is famous for fish 'n' chips.

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The Cape of Good Hope

From Hout Bay our tour went to Kirstenbosch, but only went inside for half an hour. This is way too short to see the gardens, so we just stayed outside. Next stop after Kirstenbosch was the Cape of Good Hope. We drove up the peninsula which was covered in fynbosch. We saw ostrich, some kind of African deer and baboons. Our photos of these were not great though as they were either taken from a moving car or a far distance.

We stopped at the Cape of Good Hope signpost for photos. Then we drove to the funicular and took it to Cape Point - the southernmost point on the African continent, famous for shipwrecks and storms.

We climbed up to the lighthouse at the top of Cape Point and admired the views from there.

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Boulders Bay

After the Cape of Good Hope we drove to Boulders Beach. We passed a lovely craft market on the walk from the car park to the beach. I bought another giraffe here on the walk back.

Boulders Beach is home to a large colony of African penguins. These used to be called jackass penguins because of the sound they make. I had thought that it was possible to go right next to the penguins on Boulders Beach, but this is not the case. You stay on a board walk and observe them from behind a fence. This is probably better for the penguins.

There were hundreds of penguins: some sunning themselves, some swimming, some nesting, some fighting, some mating, some waddling from place to place. I could have happily watched them for hours.

The scenery from Boulders Beach is very beautiful. On the way back to the car, we stopped for some ice-cream.

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Chapman's Peak.

After Boulders Beach, we drove back to Cape Down via the extremely scenic Chapman's Peak Drive.

Chapmanā€™s Peak Drive goes along the Atlantic coast between Hout Bay and Noordhoek. This road was originally constructed during the First World War It stretches for 9 kilometres and has 114 curves.

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Posted by irenevt 22:51 Comments (0)

Day Six

Greenmarket Square

Greenmarket Square, Saint George's Cathedral, Groote Kerk, Bo Kaap and swimming at Saint John's in Sea Point.

This was our last full day. We were leaving early the next morning. We decided to pay for another full day on the big red hop on hop off bus in order to have transport.

We took the red bus to the main office on Long Street then hopped on the yellow route to go all the way around the old town. We then walked from Long Street to Greenmarket Square.

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Saint George's Cathedral

From Greenmarket Square we walked to Saint George's Cathedral. Saint George's Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Cape Town. It was designed by Sir Herbert Baker to replace an earlier church built on the same site.

Saint George's Cathedral is often referred to as the "people's cathedral", because of the political stance it took against apartheid. Desmond Tutu, the first black archbishop of South Africa, led numerous anti-apartheid marches and campaigns from the front steps of Saint George's Cathedral.

Saint George's Cathedral has several beautiful stain glass windows. I was very impressed with its African Madonna and child sculpture which I thought was extremely beautiful, unfortunately my photos of it are not quite sharp enough.

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The Slave Lodege

From Saint George's Cathedral we walked to the nearby Slave Lodge. It cost 30 rand to go inside. The Slave Lodge is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town and dates back to 1660. As well as being used as a Slave Lodge, this building has been used as a brothel, a jail, a mental asylum, a post office, a library, the Old Supreme Court and a museum.

When it was a Slave Lodge this building was once home to as many as 1000 slaves. They were kept here in damp, insanitary, over-crowded conditions until as late as 1811.

I must admit I do not generally like museums very much. I really really did not like this one. This was because it jumped from one area to another and was all over the place. Downstairs there was a bit on slavery which was what I was interested in learning about; then about human rights under apartheid, then about clothes worn for a street carnival. When I went upstairs there was silverware, pottery, a model of an old shop, an exhibit made out of vinyl records. I was just left confused. Nothing seemed to link it all together. Don't be put off by my description though as I said I'm not at all a museum fan.

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Groote Kerk

After the Slave Lodge we crossed the street to the Groote Kerk. I thought this was an absolutely beautiful building, with a wide open spacious feel quite different from most churches. The Groote Kerk is a Dutch Reformed church which was built by Herman Schuette in 1841. This church is South Africa's oldest place of worship. This church has an amazing pulpit with two large wooden lions carved on it. This is the work of Anton Anreith and carpenter Jacob Graaff.

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We don't normally eat out early, but Cape Town is not a place to wander around in the dark, so we decided lunch out it was, and we ate it in Shwarma Cafe, 8-9 Short Market Street. This place has excellent cheap and tasty food.

When we ordered two bottles of very reasonably priced beer, we were surprised that the bottles were huge 750ml each. We ate a Boerewors roll and fish and chips made with hake. Both were delicious and excellent value. This place is always busy and for very good reasons. It's excellent and it's cheap.

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Bo Kaap

After eating and drinking it was back to the hop on hop off red route. We took the bus to Bo Kaap. It was a very, very windy day, the Cape Doctor, as the strong wind here is known, was whistling all around town. We had to fight to stay upright.

Bo-Kaap used to be known as the Malay Quarter; most of its residents are descended from former slaves. It is located on the slopes of Signal Hill. Bo-Kaap is famous for its brightly coloured houses and cobble stone streets.

I thought Bo Kaap looked lovely in pictures I had seen prior to our visit, but I was not expecting such heavy traffic. Between dodging the wind and dodging the cars it was most certainly not the most relaxing experience I have ever had.

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Swimming at Saint John's in Sea Point.

Finally after Bo Kaap we jumped back on the red route hop on hop off bus and went to St John's Road, Sea Point where we bought a ticket to use Sea point Public Swimming Pools for 22 rand each. If you want a locker bring your own padlock. We spent an extremely enjoyable afternoon swimming here. The perfect end to our holiday.

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Posted by irenevt 05:20 Comments (0)

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