Let's Talk About My Vacation, Part 2: So I Think I'm Going To Move To Cape Town

First of all, I'm just going to put it out there right now: South Africa is my new favorite country. Apologies to Vietnam, which has now had to cede its title, and my condolences also to Paris, which I must ask—awkward though it is; we've got some history—to surrender its sash, gown, and baguette-shaped trophy, and hand over that personalized "Holly's favorite city" plaque to its new rightful owner: the wonderful, gorgeous, glorious Cape Town.

I loved Cape Town so, so, so, so, so much. Can you tell I mean business with all those sos? Because I mean business. I loved Cape Town like Tim Riggins loved Lyla Garrity, like Angela Chase loved Jordan Catalano, like every cast member on How I Met Your Mother loves every other cast member on How I Met Your Mother (is it just me or are they just endlessly recycling various combinations of Ted, Robin, and Barney until our brains collectively explode and we don't care anymore who the mother is or how many seasons we have to wait to find out?)

Cape Town gave us our very first taste of South Africa. We flew in on a Sunday afternoon, tired and discombobulated, when the city was under heavy fog. "That would be Table Mountain," said our taxi driver as he pointed ruefully at an amorphous shape somewhere to our left. "If only you could see it." 


Here is a picture where you CAN see it—which we were lucky enough to do the next day—just so you know what we were missing. That's a pretty large thing to hide, right?

Incidentally, as well as stealing the "best city" crown away from Paris, Cape Town also stole the "best shower" crown away from Barcelona, which had hitherto been home to the best shower I've ever had in my life (May 2001, my friend Vicki's apartment, after a harrowing drive from Marseille and 36 hours without bathing, unless you count the frigid 20-second sponge bath in another friend's kitchen sink at 6am that morning, and I don't.) I tell you, when you have taken two consecutive eleven-hour flights, broken up only by a fairly disturbing shower in a public train station, and then you walk into the bathroom of your hotel and it looks like this, you will think you've died and gone to personal hygiene heaven.

I loved that hotel, by the way, which I am not saying because I got any sort of freebie or discount—I didn't, obviously; rest assured that I would disclose that sort of thing immediately if I did—but because it was, hands down, one of the loveliest places I've ever stayed. It's called the Cape Heritage Hotel and I highly recommend it. Also, it is joined to a wine bar. That part is very, very useful.


The room we had for the first four nights was perfectly lovely, but when we checked back in again—we spent one night in another town further down the coast, then came back to the Cape Heritage—the woman at the front desk said "It's your last night, so we thought we'd spoil you a bit." Then she gave us the key to the room above, and I immediately hated my entire house.

So what did I like so much about Cape Town? Well, first of all, it's gorgeous. On our first full day, we did the dorkiest thing: we took this open-topped tour bus around the entire city, which, as I'm sure you know, doesn't make you look like a tourist at all. I normally shy away from stuff like that, but I'd heard good things about this bus, and they turned out to be true; the views from the top deck were glorious (and conducive to suntanning), the commentary was surprisingly un-cringeworthy, and the hop on/hop off nature of the whole shebang meant we could navigate our way around the entire city, seeing exactly what we wanted to see.

And the first thing we wanted to see was Table Mountain. Hey, do you know how you get to the top of Table Mountain? Like this:


What is that noise I hear? Oh, it's just my mother hyperventilating.

Once you're up there, the views are spectacular, and the place just stretches on for miles and miles. If it wasn't the approximate temperature of a witch's you-know-what, we could have spent the entire morning up there; as it was, we took a good hour and a half just wandering around, and stopping every few seconds for general oohing and aahing. By the way, if you're going to go to the top of Table Mountain, be prepared for some backache. Why? Eh, just the repetitive strain injury from repeatedly picking your jaw up off the ground.




Yeah, it's kind of pretty up there, I guess.

One of my other favorite places in Cape Town was the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is set on the city's historic harbor and—despite having the highest concentration of tourists of any attraction in the country—is chock full of some surprisingly good shops, restaurants, coffee places, and picnic spots, all of which we made frequent use of.

On our first night, we met a British couple in the hotel lobby called Lou and Lee, who—upon hearing that we hadn't changed any money yet—offered us a ride in the cab they'd just called and then handed us a 50 rand note to get home, just in case we couldn't find an ATM. (Yay, Lou and Lee, for upholding British niceness abroad! Don't worry, we found them later and paid them back.) After a long wander around the V&A Waterfront—and the discovery of a grocery store called Pick N'Pay, which we frequented for the rest of our trip, and which I repeatedly got wrong and called Pack N'Play—we ate our first meal in South Africa at a restaurant on the water where our waiter was called Freedom. "Hey, cool name," I said to him. "Hey, cool dude," he replied, pointing a finger at his chest.

On our last day in Cape Town, we took the ferry out to Robben Island, where, during apartheid, Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 prison years.

Naively, I'd assumed that Robben Island—much like Alcatraz, I guess—was home to the prison and not much else, but an hour-long tour around the island, now a World Heritage Site, proved me wrong; there's a school, lots of housing, and even a golf course. We saw the limestone quarry where the political prisoners toiled—to this day, our guide told us, you're not allowed to take pictures of Mr. Mandela with a flash, because his eyes were so badly damaged from the glare of the limestone in the hot sun—and the cave where, away from the watchful eyes of the guards, the prisoners met on the sly to educate each other and brainstorm, often just by scratching in the dirt.

After an hour, we arrived at the prison, where we were shown around by a former political prisoner named Jama. He'd been sent there in 1977, aged 19, after being accused of helping to organize one of the notorious school boycotts to protest the teaching of Afrikaans. He spent five years in the prison, and was finally released in 1982. Now he spends his days back there, leading visitors through the various rooms and cells, answering questions as best he can.

It was an incredibly sobering glimpse at a horrible piece of South Africa's history, but an important one, I think, to at least try and understand. You can read more about the Robben Island Museum here.

Other Cape Town favorites were the stunning Camps Bay (in the first picture up top), where we ate a picnic on the beach after being dropped off by the dorky red bus, and Greenmarket Square, a bustling craft market in the city centre, which—despite only having thirty minutes until closing—I still managed to circumnavigate in record time, purchasing a yellow bracelet, a turquoise bracelet, and four decorative bowls from a woman named Miriam who gave me her card and made me promise to email her a picture of where they ended up in my house.


This is not where they ended up in my house. I don't stack my bowls on my bed. Too wobbly.

I guess Cape Town blew me away because it wasn't really what I was expecting. I don't know what I was expecting, but it surpassed any preconcieved notions I had of what it might be like. The weather was wonderful. The scenery was wonderful. The people were wonderful. The food was wonderful—we ate at Caveau, HQ, Savoy Cabbage, and Gourmet Burger, in case you're planning a trip yourself—and pleasingly affordable, thanks to the exchange rate, and we never had a glass of wine that didn't blow us away. Cape Town, all in all, was a dream destination—and we haven't even got to the side trips we took out of the city yet. (Did I go cage diving with great white sharks? You'll just have to wait to find out. Okay you don't have to wait to find out. I totally did.)

There are more pictures here, if you're not all Cape Towned out yet, which I can barely even look at because they make me want to be back there right this minute. Mainly because there wouldn't be a dishwasher to unload and a pile of laundry to fold and a bunch of presents to wrap if I were. Wait, did I say wrap? I meant order. So easy to confuse the two. Say, is it Christmas soon or something? Don't tell me how many days are left.

 

1
Jan Ross
Dec 19, 2011

Africa is way down on my list of places to visit, but you certainly make Cape Town look attractive. I especially want to go to that market (with more than 30 minutes) and buy some bowls and bracelets. And possibly some other stuff. Possibly a lot of other stuff.

2

Wow! I'm with Jan, S. Africa wasn't ever on my radar, but you have piqued my interest. If for no other reason than staying at that hotel and its amazing bathroom!

3
Alison Presley
Dec 19, 2011

I'm so sold. This looks stunning. And it also seems likely to have...HIKING!

4
ann
Dec 19, 2011

gorgeous!

5
Cait
Dec 19, 2011

Yay! I had been waiting for this post. I turned 20 in that lovely town seven years ago. I loved Cape Town too and also went cage diving with the white sharks as well, so much fun! Did you notice how they don't call them "great" white sharks, just white sharks? Looking forward to the next posts...

6
sarah
Dec 19, 2011

It sure is beautiful there, its just sad so many South Africans are leaving because the country is so unsafe. I think we probably have more of them here now than live in Cape Town ;-) But there's no denying the grandeur and ancient beauty of the place.

7
Kristen
Dec 19, 2011

Thank you! Jared and I just got back from a short vacay, which of course prompted us to talk about where we want to go next (everybody does that, right?), and when I mentioned South Africa, he shot me right down. I'm so sending this to him.

8
Angie Orth
Dec 19, 2011

Such gorgeous shots! It took me 4 days to finally see Table Mountain... I was beginning to think it didn't exist. So glad you guys enjoyed =)

9
suzie
Dec 19, 2011

I love your pictures, and it does make me want to visit.

But I really only commented to say one thing: TimRiggins <3s Tyra, not LylaGarrity.

That is all.

10
Rachel Bowes
Dec 19, 2011

My husband is South African so I've been lucky enough to make two trips out there in the last six years and we're leaving on our third in a couple of weeks. On our last trip we spent a week in Cape Town which has to be one of the most stunning places in the world. The food is amazing, the shops are to die for and the people are beyond friendly. On both of our trips, I have never once felt unsafe. It makes me so sad when people focus on the negative stories populated by the world's press rather than the many wonderful things happening in South Africa. Yes, there are problems but a glance at the front page of Yahoo today will show you that the US has just as much violence. I am so glad that you had a wonderful trip, Holly, and for anyone who might be interested, my father-in-law edits the South Africa - The Good News books and blog that can be found here: http://www.sagoodnews.co.za/

11
jen
Dec 19, 2011

I've had SA on my list for a while and this is just moving it up in the priority timeline. Maybe next year...
Looks beautiful and amazing! can't wait to see the rest of the posts & pics. Perhaps I'll just take the exact trip you did. :)

12

This is rather odd timing because I was just about to book our flights to Vietnam (we have been thinking about going back to Asia for some time and finally settled on the exact country over the weekend) and now I read this and want to book a flight to Africa instead. You've confused me:)

13
Alex
Dec 19, 2011

Okay so I just got back from Vietnam which I must sadly admit is more or less the opposite of my favorite country. But I'm totally with you on the open top bus thing. They are just a great way to get to know a city! I think I went on, like, 5 this summer. Sadly not exaggerating.

14
Jane
Dec 19, 2011

It must be some place if it outdoes Paris!

15
Jo
Dec 19, 2011

Wow, Cape Town looks phenomenal. South Africa is definitely on my 'travel list', particularly because of the safari aspect so I'm looking forward to hearing the other parts of your holiday story. Stunning photos as always :)

16
Super Sarah
Dec 19, 2011

So thrilled you loved it, Cape Town is one of my all time favourite cities too, we love going back there for holidays and the bonus is we get to use visiting my Granny as the excuse for regulare visits! I can't wait to hear how the rest of your trip went!

17
Nicole
Dec 20, 2011

Wow, I'd never thought much of South Africa as a travel destination before but now I may have to rethink it... And I LOVE those bowls! If they don't look good in your house, they'd certainly look good in mine. ;)

18
Therese
Dec 20, 2011

Holly,

Thanks for sharing your pictures and adventures. I've been to South Africa twice and Cape Town is one of my most favorite places in the world. As I read your entry, I pictured everything you did and just nodded my head. If you ever get to go back, I encourage you to hike up Table Mountain. I've hiked it once and taken the cable car once. Both are stunning in their own ways.

For those that are worried that Cape Town is unsafe...I would say it is a major metropolitan city and you must be careful just like you would anywhere. I've been there multiple times and never felt unsafe or threatened in anyway. Using common sense and paying attention is all you need.

19
Nicole
Dec 20, 2011

Im from SA, It really is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I have lived all around the country and never really felt unsafe, you have to be weary of your surroundings and aware of who is around you but nothing has ever happened to me. The people are amazing and most will take thier shirts off their backs in order to help someone. What can I say, I live in the States now, but SA will always be my home!

I do recommend, if you can,go and visit SA. It is incredibly diverse, we have 11 official languages and each one stem form a different culture, I never realised how unique that made SA until I came here where there are mainly spanish and english speaking people. Dont get me wrong, I love the States but SA is an amazing country.

20
Nicole
Dec 20, 2011

Also if you really want to experience South Africa, take a trip down the wild coast,Its rural, untouched beauty and one of the only places in the world where you could walk along the beach for miles without seeing a sole! Its truely breathtaking.

21
Ami
Dec 20, 2011

Lovely pictures. I spent 3 weeks touring SA in Jan of 1998; I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Cape Town. It sounds like Robben Island has gotten more developed since then. Tell me, did you eat any boboti while in SA? I did, at a restaurant somewhere between CapeTown and Grahamstown, and there was a large, beautiful, brown cow walking about 10 feet away from the outdoor seating.

22
laziza
Dec 20, 2011

I always love your writing - like, always - but this made me laugh out loud: "Then she gave us the key to the room above, and I immediately hated my entire house."

23
Amy
Dec 20, 2011

Ok, you've sold me. I'm going to Cape Town as soon as I possibly can. Which... might be a while. The words "...and I immediately hated my entire house." also makes me want to stay at the same hotel in that exact room. I couldn't stop giggling at that especially wonderful turn of phrase.

24
Marcheline
Dec 22, 2011

Wow - thanks for the vicarious trip to South Africa! In the holiday spirit, I have spread Flula Borg to my entire family. That sounds truly awful, doesn't it?

25
Anna Louisa
Dec 22, 2011

wow...the whole trip sounds so amazing, but I especially love those little bowls! I can't wait to see where they actually end up in your house :)

http://anna-gemutlichkeit.blogspot.com/

26
Camels & Chocolate
Dec 22, 2011

And now you understand my obsession. Glad you love South Africa as much as I do; since my first visit there nearly two years ago, it's become my go-to answer when people ask my favorite country, and often they're perplexed by this. Then again, these are undoubtedly the people who have never been themselves.

When we were back for a week in September, we didn't even bother getting a hotel room and stayed on the ship. We were docked at V&A Waterfront RIGHT in front of the entrance to the mall, with Table Mountain towering just behind the commercial area. Can you think of a more lovely sight to wake up to daily?

27

A wonderful article that makes me miss Cape Town terribly. It is a very special place in sooooo many ways, which is why I started organizing small groups to go there. I hope you were able to get to the townships as well - the spirit of life and sense of community is so strong there it's inspiring and uplifting!

28
Bethany
Dec 23, 2011

Oh, I am jealous! Africa is definitely on my to-visit-asap list...but you know what? Then again, most are most places in the world. It sure is gorgeous there! :)

29
Teej
Dec 26, 2011

Oh! I miss Cape Town so much.

I forgot about Savoy Cabbage until you mentioned it. During our meal there, I was barely pregnant and we were in shock so we just sat there and stared at each other. I think we also ate our food.

30
Ilze
Apr 14, 2012

So happy you loved SA !!! My home country !!
Cape Town is the coolest ever !!!!! Yeah for going there and putting it on your blog !!
I live overseas, and go back occassionally....still one of the greatest places out there !!!

31
cdiamond55@gmail.com
May 02, 2012

Loved your pictures from Cape Town! It looks like such an amazing place and definitely on my husband and I's to do list. How long were you there for? Do you wish it was longer?

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