Two Weekends In Cape Town

11:57 AM Jmo 0 Comments

Cape Town Vibes~!

     Cape Town.

     There's hardly a trendy travel list out there that doesn't list this city in its 'Top Ten Must Sees'. This city has virtually exploded internationally and has quickly rose to the top of the top in terms of travel, luxury travel, foodie travel, etc.
     In 2011, TripAdvisor gave Cape Town the "Top Destination of the World" title in its Travelers' Choice Awards. The year after, National Geographic placed in at number 2 on its "Top Ten Beach Cities" list and listed it as one of its "places of a lifetime".  And, as if National Geographic wasn't enough, it's also been slotted in Business Insider's "Top 20 Cities For Expats."  This sets the expectation bar pretty high. If I had a resume half as impressive...

So many lists! So much glamour! So much adoration!
Cape Town: So hot right now.

     It's a colorful, trendsetting, hot-spot of a city, rich with a long, complex and complicated weave of history, nestled in one of the most beautiful locations on the tip of an entire continent. So yes, it lives up to the hype.


     Cape Town was the end destination of my South African cross-country road trip. We drove into and stayed in Cape Town two separate weekends away from our Southern "home-base" of Hermanus. The drive in from Hermanus was via a scenic, country, highway weaving our way through mountains and, yes, more wine fields. 
     We crossed into the metropolis and was promptly greeted by the wall-like, intimidating facade of Table Mountain. The city sits in its shadow. And its influence and impressions can be found everywhere. Business logos, products and apparel, artworks, etc all feature the jagged outline of the prized mountain. It is a truly astounding geographical location; mountain meets sea, so the obsession over it is warranted.

     We settled in at Blue Mountain Backpackers on Long Street, the backpacker hub of Cape Town, and walked about in search of light food and hearty drink.  We stopped off at a bright, multi-teared, wrought iron building, comfortingly named BeerHouse, and posted up. The architecture of Long Street reminded me so much of New Orleans. Colors, ornamented balconies, rowdy groups of pedestrians, and street performers... This was truly a backpacking district .

     After settling our stomachs, we drove up Signal Hill to view Table Mountain, Lion's Head, and the city below. Standing above it all, looking out towards the sea, I was actually taken aback by how small Cape Town actually is. It is beautiful of course, but so  small! Maybe I've just become accustom to getting lost in Asian mega-cities; but the scale of South Africa's 'Number One Tourist Hot Spot' fit into this small crescent of land like a tiny peg in a tiny hole. Rightfully named the "City Bowl" Cape Town fits into the "dish" of the mountain like a petite, yet nutritious and hearty, cultural stew.

     South African history is complex, turbulent, layered, and rich with culture, heritage, and lore. Cape Town or The Cape, being first "sighted" in the late 1400s and in time settled in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck, set South Africa in motion as being the trading post of Africa. I'm a history nut and a can't resist an old building ladened with history and a story as fundamental and complex as any in Cape Town. So naturally, seeing the Castle of Good Hope was high on my list for Cape Town sights.
     The Castle of Good Hope (I love that name!) is a pentagonal shaped fortress on the tip of the city centre. The beautiful, Dutch, architecture shines through in contrast to the blue of the ocean with its unmistakable yellow hue. It was nice exploring this mini labyrinth of corridors, stairs, and canons turrets over looking the city. Old meets new is ever prevalent when you're standing on top of this castle over looking the city and see a portrait of Nelson Mandela overlaid on the windows of a neighboring skyscraper. A beautiful reminder of the past, the changes and progress, and the optimism of a post-apartheid South Africa.

Interior of The Castle of Good Hope.

“Perhaps it was history that ordained that it be here, at the Cape of Good Hope, that we should lay the foundation stone of our new nation. For it was here at this Cape, over three centuries ago, that there began the fateful convergence of the peoples of 
Africa, Europe and Asia on these shores.” 
– President Nelson Mandela, during his inauguration speech on May 9, 1994

     Cape Town is a great city; full of great restaurants, curios shops, art, and [expensive] drinking holes. But, if you're looking to escape to a more laid back tone, I suggest heading just outside of Cape Town to chase some penguins in Simon's Town or drink a locally brewed beer in Darling.

     Simon's Town has beaches... with pygmy penguins. Pygmy penguinsNeed I say more? A short, beautiful, windy, scenic drive away from the heart of Cape Town and you can have these little guys running about freely at your feet. Sounds like a dream. But this dream is in fact a reality in Simon's Town. There is a national park/protected nature reserve where you walk out on a long wooden pathway that ends at an open beach to commiserate with the little ones in their tuxedos. 
     Trying to get upclose and personal with our GoPro, my boyfriend was leaning over a railing to get a shot of two adult penguins who were curious about us walking by. He leaned so far over that his sunglasses fell off into a protected part of the park. Chris tried to lean over and grab them, but the little dudes quickly made it clear with their menacing, open beaks and squawking that the glasses were now theirs. The sunglasses looked like they were goners until a pair of park rangers happened to walk by. The rangers stepped over the railing and the two little penguins ran off. Glasses saved.
     Pair those little penguins with super trendy beach bars full of waspy cliental and mega-homes this Cape Town adjacent is a fantasy. Though, the penguins were great, Simon's Town wasn't for me. The wealth gap here was blatant and too much for me to truly enjoy myself in all honesty. It was just too posh for me to feel the need to spend any length of time there. I'd rather trade in my overpriced cocktail for a beer more worth my time.

     Beer, you say? 
     About an hours drive from Cape Town is the small town of Darling, which has been put on the map by Darling Brew. The town is tiny, quaint, and only a few streets wide. It almost reminded me of a fantastical little Wild Wild West town put up in the middle of nowhere.
     The brewery was lovely. Small, but lovely. The beer menu was larger than their food menu, but I actually love that for a little craft beer tap room. Warm, welcome, quaint, and yummy.

Slow Beer tasting palette at Darling Brew

     Cape Town is beautiful, yes.  But.  I can't say I'm aching to go back.
     When I told people, South Africans and non-South Africans alike, that I was heading to South Africa for travel and otherwise many people blurted out:

     "Cape Town! You're going to Cape Town right?"
     Yes, but I'm not going to be based there. I'm going to be based in Pretoria.

     After that "Oh", there is genuinely a distinct upturn of the nose. I've heard a lot about, and have  witnessed, this unmistakable Cape Town VS Gauteng rivalry (We have something similar with Michigan and Ohio.) It's not exactly a civil rivalry in comparison. The line is drawn deep in the sand. There is an air of pretentiousness when it comes to Cape Town (At least that was my experience), and I must say that it's a bit of a turn off.  Please, for the sake of your stunning city, don't let that attitude overshadow it.
     Rivalry aside, there is so much more to the country than just one tiny (but beautiful) city! Your country is huge! And diverse! Please, when others tell you that they are going to travel your beautiful South Africa, don't dissuade them from seeing it all.  If I travelled all the way to South Africa and only spent my time in Cape Town I would've felt truly cheated.

Will I go back to Cape Town?  Yes.
Anytime soon?  Nah.

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