We arrived in Cape Town, excited about all the modern conveiences – grocery stores (with products we recognize and packaging we can read!), good wine, and internet that functions reliably (even if its not always fast). And everything is really reasonably priced – a decent bottle of wine is about $6.
Our first AirBnB was in a pretty central, downtown-ish area (Der Waterkant), which is also supposed to be the gay neighbourhood. (I wouldn’t have known except that someone told me.)
We pretty much spent the first 2 days doing laundry (to get all the Kilimanjaro dust out of our clothing), with the occassional outing to buy more wine & cheese. It was nice to have our own space, not be changing locations every few days, and not having a tour guide chaperone us all the time.
Everyone says Cape Town reminds them of SF, and I can see why – they are both relatively small coastal cities with weather that can change dramatically in a matter of minutes. SF has “Karl the Fog” and Cape Town has “The Tablecloth” (which I think technically is only visible in their summer months but it seems like its always foggy up on the mountain). Both cities love hipster coffee, creative cuisine, and have huge wine-growing regions nearby.
Winter is turning into Spring here, which is similar SF’s summer weather… so in other words, not exactly warm. My clothing options at this point are workout clothes or safari attire or long underwear. So basically, I’m always cold and desparately need some warmer “city clothes”, but I can’t quite find what I need/want.
We’ve heard a lot of talk about safety – things like “Cape Town is like any other city – just be vigilant.” The fact that everyone says this to you means that Cape Town isn’t like any other city. When pressed, you get advice like “Just don’t walk alone anywhere… And avoid deserted streets…. And don’t walk anywhere at night…” I was waiting for an Uber after a Zumba class at 10am on a Sat morning and they told me I should wait inside the barbed wire fence surrounding the high school, rather than on the sidewalk.
So now we are extremely paranoid about walking anywhere, which is a bummer… we both love walking around and exploring cities but its clearly just not done here (even during the day). Even in the areas where its supposedly safe to walk around, we are aggressively hit up for money and the people are hard to shake – they walk with you for blocks, telling you their stories. Plus, cars either aren’t accustomed to pedestrians or don’t care. Crossing the street means taking your life into your hands. Thankfully, Uber offered me a random “50% off your next 10 rides” promo – serendipitous given how much we’re using it here.
If I’m being totally honest, I’m homesick. I’m missing my friends… and my clothes. I think the similarities to SF also emphasize the differences and I’m wishing I could meet up with my friends over some queso. (I watched a show where they were eating burritos and I can’t stop thinking about how amazing a burrito would be right now.)
That said, it’s not like we are suffering – as I mentioned, the Zumba community has been beyond amazing, we are eating really well, and it’s been fun to explore Cape Town.
So let’s talk about the good things:
There’s really good graphic design everywhere. The South African money is lovely, most cafes and restaurants have nicely designed menus, and many producs have great packaging. I’m continually impressed with the quality of design here.
At our AirBnB hosts’ recommendation, we spent a day on one of those hop-on/hop-off tour buses. I was initially reluctant as they just seem so blatantly touristy, but it was a great way to see a bunch of different areas. And once I learned that they also stopped at a couple wineries, I got over my prejudice.
I have to admit that the bus did a good job providing an overview of the city’s history, and it did stop at a bunch of interesting places. We first hopped off at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which were vast and gorgeous. I especially liked the bridge through the tree canopy.
Next was Constantia, which is a wine region very close to the city. Wine tasting wasn’t entirely different from that in Napa or Sonoma, but it was a lot less crowded and a lot cheaper. I loved the way our wine steward spoke about the wines – he said things like “If I could, I would play violin music now as this Chardonnay is like a romance…”
We went to Beau Constantia, which was an ultra-modern building with fabulous wines and an incredible view. Most vineyards offer the option of cheese platters with your wine tasting – I don’t know why that doesn’t happen more often in Napa! We had generous portions of cheese and wine overlooking the vineyard before taking the bus back up the western coast of the city.
We did find an impressively Steampunk coffeeshop in central Cape Town one day. The interior is amazing and all of the staff were dressed in Steampunk attire. (I love a good theme.) And the coffee was great, too.
After a week, we decided to move AirBnBs to the Sea Point area. We’ve got great views of the ocean from our place, and its a lot more walkable (during the day). Plus its a really nicely designed studio with slightly better wifi. All in all, it feels better here.
We went on a day-long wine tour with a small group. Our guide was friendly and informative, and it was a diverse group so that made it entertaining. We hit 4 different wineries, and we also stopped for fresh strawberries at a farm stand along with a local biltong spot (which is like jerky – I didn’t actually go inside that one). All in all, a nice day even though it was pretty cold and grey.
While the wine tasting itself was pretty comparable to what you’d experience in Napa or Sonoma, the landscape is a lot more lush. Many wineries have zebra or antelope or ostrich either nearby or on the property – this will never cease to be exciting to me! And again, there was no shortage of cheese so I didn’t hate that, and the prices are great. (We splashed out and bought a really nice bottle for $9.)
Our AirBnB backs up to a hill and on a very rainy day the sound of the frogs was overwhelming… like a crazy frog party in our back yard! As someone who’s been living in a city for the last 20+ years, I find it very charming. But dang, they kept that chorus going constantly!
So now we’ve got just over a week left here. I still have a long list of tourist outings (like Table Mountain, and penguin viewing, etc), plus a few more Zumba classes thanks to Cindy and Omar, so I’m glad we didn’t rush our time here. Going from safari “vacation” mode back to “traveler” mode was a little bumpy (and I’m still very much missing my friends, and also burritos), but I’m feeling a lot better now. Still cold, but better. 🙂