Our new apartment was on the far end of Bree Street, closest to Table Mountain. Located on the edge of the City Bowl and Gardens district, it was an easy walk into the center of the city or up into Bo-Kaap. Shopping was effortlessly accomplished on Kloof Street with several different grocery stores and gourmet shops nearby.
Our new home was very nice and spacious, in a modern building with underground parking, a 24hr doorman and laundry facility. Though it did have a few quirks, like an electronic key fob for the building and garage entrance, but a skeleton key for the apartment door. Really, when’s the last time you used a skeleton key? And there was the day when the handle to the apartment door pulled off just as we were about to go out for the day.
The balcony offered a wonderful view of Table Mountain and the reclining profile of a woman that gave the town its second name, the Mother City. Much time was spent watching the flat clouds, locally known as the “tablecloth,” gather and spill down from the top of the mountain. Several times brilliant rainbows formed after it rained, seemingly close enough to find that pot of gold.Unbeknownst to us, Bree Street is considered “Cape Town’s hippest street.” The area is in the midst of gentrification with numerous restaurants, bars and cafes scattered between high-end boutiques, art galleries, mechanic shops, plumbing supply stores, classic car and motorcycle showrooms, along with marine and industrial supply stores. And I swear all the above seem to offer luscious cappuccinos!
That seems to be a Cape Town thing. It’s a thriving area popular with the afterwork crowd that overflows onto the street to take advantage of outside dining along this extra wide, tree lined boulevard. Aside from the weekend markets and the V&A Waterfront, it’s the only street that has outside tables in the city. It’s a competitive restaurant scene with many places offering two-for-one lunch specials, happy hour drinks and West Coast Oysters for R15, or $1.00 each. We enjoyed sitting with classic cars at Dapper Coffee, lamb burgers and sushi at Sotano, oysters at Clark’s. Splurging, we dined at Exhibit A, a high-end conceptual dining experience, where our friend Frankie was pastry chef.
The food was fantastic with intense layers of flavors and creatively presented, as if Salvador Dali had plated the food. The tasting menu included an excellent selection of South African wines which eased the agony of the breathtaking dinner tab. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the colorful homes of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, located between Signal Hill and the city center, were only a few blocks away. One of the oldest continuously inhabited neighborhoods in the city, the first homes were built in the 1760s as housing for mostly Muslim slaves, who were brought by the Dutch from Malaysia, Ceylon and Indonesia to work. The neighborhood grew when slavery was abolished throughout the English empire in 1833. It’s said the houses were then painted bright colors as an expression of newfound freedoms. The neighborhood is home to the Auwal Mosque, the first built in South Africa in 1794 and still in use today. In 1957 the apartheid government declared Bo-Kaap a Malay Only Area and forcibly relocated everyone else. The pressure continues today under the new guise of gentrification. Bo-Kaap means “above the Cape” in Afrikaans and with its stunning location on the lower slope of Signal Hill and its close proximity to the Cape Town Business District, it has become a very desirable location. Old time residents fear the heart of Bo-Kaap will disappear and it will just become a façade of brightly painted buildings.We walked the hilly, cobbled streets of Bo-Kaap several times, enjoying its cityscape. One day we encountered a small flock of sheep grazing, within sight of the city’s skyscrapers, as we made our way to the Noon Gun, a naval cannon fired once a day, every day for over two-hundred years. Originally it was a signal for ships in the harbor, back in the day when they used sextants to navigate, to set their chronometers which were used to help calculate longitude. Critical stuff when you are navigating around the treacherous Cape of Good Hope. It’s a tradition that has survived the Dutch, English and apartheid. The Cape Malay community has contributed greatly to establishing Cape Town as a foodie’s destination with a cuisine that embraces exotic spices. Cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, mustard seed, chili and roasted fenugreek seeds all flavor various curries, bobotie, biriyani, rendang, and samosa recipes that have endeared themselves to Capetonians.
We enjoyed a nice selection of Malay dishes at the Biesmiellah Restaurant, a simple establishment that doesn’t serve alcohol. For a healthy fusion experience we tried the Harvest Cafe & Deli where vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters will be delighted and awed by the sheer beauty of the food presented. Both are located in the heart of Bo-Kaap on Wale Street, near the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum, which is housed in the first buildings, slave quarters, from the 1760s.Renting a car made it easy for us to reach points farther afield in Cape Town and its outlying districts. Our day trips included taking the cable car to the top of Table Mountain for a hike around its flat summit, that offered spectacular views of the city below. This is a very popular activity and we purchased our tickets online ahead of time to speed through the queue. One morning we walked through the Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens, a landscaping masterpiece featuring the native fynbos. The eastern face of Table Mountain rises dramatically behind the gardens, which were a delight with their indigenous plantings. Lucky for us, the plants were greening after much needed rain and the proteas were still blooming.
After our morning at the botanical gardens we headed over to Woodstock for lunch at Ocean Jewels Seafood, a small seafood shop and luncheonette committed to supporting sustainable fisheries and preparing very delicous seafood dishes, before wandering around Woodstock looking for the creative street murals and cool bars the area is known for.
Stopping to photograph a mural, a local fellow wonderfully introduced himself as the “curator of street art” and offered to guide us further. We admired his creative introduction, but declined the offer and continued along on our own. We ended the day with a few beers at the Three Feathers Diner, an eclectic place that’s part pop art palace and part auto mechanics garage. We returned to Woodstock to check out The Neighbourgoods Market, a Saturday only food event, at The Old Biscuit Mill, a renovated mixed-use industrial site with offices, galleries featuring local artisans, vintage shops and eateries. If you need a retail therapy fix, this is the place to head. They have an interesting photography store called Exposure Gallery that’s a combination camera store and gallery. What caught our attention was their extensive inventory of Diana cameras. These were beloved, old plastic film cameras from the 1970’s that Donna & I used in a college photography course. (Yes, we met in the darkroom, but that’s another story.) To our surprise the cameras are still made under the Lomography brand and have all sorts of accessories today. The Neighbourgoods Market was the originator of the weekend market concept in 2006 with “a vision of reviving the community market as a social institution.” It’s a terrific concept that has caught on all across South Africa.
Street parking in Cape Town can be challenging. During the day if it’s a business district there is usually an official city parking person assigned every two blocks, who photographs your license plate and has an electronic device that accepts your credit card payment, the preferred way, and issues a receipt for display on your dashboard. You estimate the time you are going to be gone and if you are away longer, they will bill you an additional amount before you drive away. Then there’s the practice in the informal economy, where one or two car guards will work a street, waving you theatrically into an open space and assure you that your car will be protected while you are gone. Occasionally disputes would erupt among them if someone felt that their territory was being infringed upon. There is the expectation of a small tip upon leaving the parking space.James Michener’s play South Pacific, an appropriate story for the times about diversity and acceptance, was performing downtown at the Artscape Theatre Centre a large modern, multi stage and arena complex that hosts a full calendar of events. Uber-ing there and back was very affordable. Uber works very well in Cape Town and we constantly received promotions for discounts toward our next rides.“You must attend a rugby game while you are here, it’s so South African. The playoffs are next weekend.” So Vincent, Donna’s friend from seminary, took us to our first rugby match. We are not sports fans and typically avoid watching any sports on TV. But this playoff match between the hometown favorites the Stormers and the underdog Sharks from Durban was a fascinating contest of almost continuous play; there was never a dull moment. Shockingly, the underdogs pulled off a surprise victory in the final second of the game and earned themselves a spot at the Rugby World Playoffs in Canberra, Australia.
A warm sunny day lured us to plan a full day in Muizenberg. The still hours of the morning were perfect for bird watching at the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve. It’s a short distance inland from the ocean and in the dry season the Zandvlei is more of a lake than river, but in the rainy season the river slices through the sand at Muizenberg Beach and flows into the ocean. In the reserve an extensive boardwalk snakes through the marsh to several bird blinds on the water’s edge that offer the perfect vantage point for viewing waterfowl and two elusive hippos, which were brought to the reserve about 40 years ago to help control the wild grasses. We were really eager to spot them, but had to be satisfied with sightings of very large droppings, proof to us that we almost saw them! Muizenberg beach is renowned for its gorgeous stretch of sand, colorful beach cabanas on False Bay and interesting streetmurals scattered about town.
The consistent, gentle wave action here facilitates easily learning how to surf and draws huge numbers of surfers to its waters on the weekends. Some surfers refer to it as “the epicenter of Cape Town’s surf culture.” We spent the afternoon sitting on the beach watching folks of all ages and expertise catch waves.
That night we ate at the Blue Bird Garage Food and Goods Market. It’s a legendary weekend-only market that draws in a boisterous following who spend the evenings socializing at huge communal tables in what was an old mailboat hangar. On a cool Saturday we hiked up Lion’s Head Mountain along a trail that corkscrewed around the mountain to the top. The path deteriorated as we climbed higher with uneven footing that at times narrowed to the width of our feet as it edged, for short distances, along cliff tops. In some spots, ladders were used for short vertical climbs. If you plan to go, bring water and food. There are plenty of boulders to sit on to enjoy the 360 degree views the trail offers. We didn’t make it to the summit, with the last part a little too vertical for us, but we felt very satisfied with what we accomplished.We spent several afternoons on Signal Hill, watching paragliders launch into the sky above Sea Point, and then gently drifting toward the beach as the sun slowly sank below the South Atlantic horizon. This is a popular spot at the end of the day with many folks making a picnic of it, clinking glasses of wine as the sun sets. There are also several food trucks that provide light meals and of course cappuccino. It is, after all, Cape Town.
Till next time, Craig & Donna