29.06.2014

THE CAPE OF AFRICA, CAPE TOWN

THE CAPE OF AFRICA, CAPE TOWN, Bahar Sinem Özkesici Ünal | 29.06.2014

Cape Town, a distant paradise, is 13 hours away from Istanbul with Turkish Airlines’ direct flight including a one hour wait in the plane in Johannesburg for the plane to refuel and drop people off. Despite the long flight, Cape Town is such a special place that it will make you say, “I’m so glad that I came and saw it!” Besides, South Africa is visa-free for Turkish citizens!

For centuries this country has been an object of attraction for the West not to mention its exploitation as a colony because of not only its natural beauty but also its natural wealth in minerals like gold and diamonds. Probably for that reason the indigenous peoples of Cape Town call the city names like “the center of the world” and “the place where the world came from.” Cape Town is a city formed at the cape of Africa where two oceans meet. If you keep going down, you reach Antarctica. Cape Town is also arguably the most developed and modern city in Africa.

Since Turkey and Cape Town are on the same line of longitude, Capetown has the same time-zone as us. Due to the fact that we are on different hemispheres, they have the opposite seasons. For instance, when it's summer in Turkey, it's winter in South Africa. If you ask me, the best season to go to Africa is the spring. Because it would be very hard to wander around during the boiling hot weather, the right time to visit Cape Town is spring when it's just warm during the day and cool at night. Sea-lovers can enjoy the ocean during spring time, because the temperature of the water drops more slowly and it will still be warm.

The Republic of South Africa has spent the last few decades dealing with waves of violent racism and South Africa’s indigenous peoples had few if any rights until 1991, when the fate of the country was changed by Nelson Mandela. As black voters won the elective rights, they began to stand for office. South Africa’s parliament is currently a mix, with a majority of white South Africans of English, Dutch, French and German ancestry mixed with native black South Africans. While apartheid may have ended in name, the differences in life quality and style between the white and black populations is noticeable. The official language Afrikaans is a mixture of English and Dutch. There is a large gap between the wealthy and the poor in the city. While many of the black population continue to live in the squalor of shanty towns with shared toilets and poor living conditions, the rich, most of whom are white, live in luxury housing estates with swimming pools. These condos are generally protected with electrical wires from the people of poor neighborhoods.

If you’re going to Cape Town to go on Safari you’re out of luck because there is no actual area for safari around and within Cape Town. If you really want to, there is a small national park wherein you can feed baby lions. But if you want to experience a real safari, you have to join the tours in Kruger National Park in the north of the country or you should go to the nature preserves around that area. Safaris are common in the savannahs near central Africa.

In Cape Town and its surroundings there are lots of must-see places. Let's list the most important ones:

In Cape Town

Table Mountain: Despite its height, this mountain is flat-topped and that's why it is called Table Mountain. It's believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world. With an age of about 520 million years, it's believed to be older than Himalayas. It had taken its form under the sea and with the shift of tectonic plates, it began to rise above sea level into a mountain. Eventually the winds flattened its top and formed its flat-topped shape. It's 1,086 meters high. I recommend you first take a cab and go to the lower cable station and then take the cable-car to the top of the mountain.

The cable-car has been designed well and is very roomy and through its journey to the summit it rotates 360 degrees, giving passengers a panoramic view over the city. The landscape from the summit is marvelous, it feels like you are sitting among the clouds as Cape Town and its surroundings are lying under your feet. Because of the high humidity and the temperature, there are always smoke clouds on the top of the mountain. Every day in the afternoon these smoke clouds condense and as they pour down like a waterfall they create a fabulous sight. Table Mountain is flanked by a small mountain called Lion Head Mountain due to its resemblance to a lion head from side. There is also a historical blockhouse built by the British and its doors are open to the visitors.

V&A Waterfront: I think it's the city's most alive, most touristic and most entertaining area. It's a huge complex consisting of amusement parks, malls, hotels, restaurants, cafes, street performers and a marine at the bay. Almost every evening, we were there to stroll around or grab a bite. You can watch the show of the cute seals, unique scenery of Table Mountain with its marvelous colors at sunset, you can get on the observation wheel and enjoy the air view of Cape Town, you can buy wooden or leather ethnic souvenirs from the gift shops and you can go shopping at the shopping mall named Victoria Wharf. At the bay you will see the yellow painted British-made historical lighthouse and statues of four Nobel Prize winners including Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years of his life in prison. You can also join the tours from there to Robinson Island where Mandela was imprisoned.

At the seafood restaurant called Ocean Basket you can eat the specialty of Cape Town: Hake, along with other kinds of fish, mussels, shrimps, calamari, clams, scallops and all kinds of seafood for a very good price. If you like beef I recommend Spur Steak House. You can try the cured meat called Biltong. It originates from here and is very similar to Turkish pastırma. It's typically made from antelope meat, but you can also find some made of cow or cattle meat. At the bay, just next to the observation wheel on the corner there is an Italian Café where you absolutely shouldn’t return home before trying their strawberry cheesecake. As this cafe is a bakery at the same time, its products are always fresh and delicious. Its cheesecake is especially well-known. I am telling you, they bake it early in the morning and there isn't left any by noon. Also the red velvet cake which is made of red colored herbal tea Rooibos is an experience all of its own.

Long Street: This major street is kind of hot spot of Cape Town. In fact it's very old. During the colonial period it was one of most important major streets of the town. That's why you can see lots of good examples of colonial architecture. All of them are very well preserved, painted in a variety of colors and very well-kept. Most of them have been transformed into restaurants, cafe-bars and hotels. This is also a tourist spot. I must especially warn the ones who are planning to stay in this area that it's very noisy. But at the same time it's quite secure at night. There is also a Turkish bath at the end of the street.

City Hall: When Mandela was released from the prison, he addressed the nation from the balcony of this former city hall. There is big square in front of the building, Grand Parade. You can find anything there, street barber, street tailor, lunch counters with local food, fruit stands, performing youths... Then again there is also the historical castle from the colonial period on this square and it is altered into a museum right now.

Muslim Quarter: South Africa is a secular republic where there is freedom of belief and there are citizens of all different religions. In Cape Town you can see people from every religion, and the Muslim population is a substantial portion of the overall population (around 10 percent). During the British colonial period Muslims brought from Malaysia and India helped Islam to spread among locals. Today at the enclave which is called The Muslim Quarter, they have created a well-kept, clean and enviable area with its very flamboyant one-family detached houses and cute colorful mosques with small minarets. Tourist groups and photographers flock there every day to take the photos of the streets and the houses.

South African National Museum / Iziko Museums: It's just within the park on the street parallel to Long Street. I'd say first of all you should take a stroll in this beautiful park. It's bursting with ponds, lagoons, swans, ducks and hundreds of squirrels jumping from the trees. Most of the squirrels are tame, they come near you and wait for food, some even let us pet them. It's better to go to the National Museum in the morning, because it will take at least 3 hours to finish your tour in the museum. You can see all kinds of animals of Africa and ocean in their mounted forms, examine the real skeletons of dinosaurs, and fossils, get information about the historical heritage of the region and explore the historical artifacts. Just next to the national museum there's National Art Museum. I absolutely recommend you to visit for the sake of your eyes and soul.

Camps Bay: It's just behind Table Mountain, and you can easily go there with buses. There are forms resembling huge footsteps just on the foot of the mountain and as they are called the footsteps of Jesus, that region is sacred for the Christian community. While the mountain side is all green, down, at the seaside, all blue ocean view lies in front of you.

With its well-kept luxury villas, long beach, long boardwalk, restaurants and cafes ranging on the shore, it creates the sensation of a holiday resort, an escape for a little bit of fresh air within the city.

Just a little bit above the Camps Bay, on the seaside, there are round black rocks called Whale Rocks because of their resemblance to the whales, and it's worth your while to see them.

Hout Bay: Just like Camps Bay, Hout Bay, with its well-kept houses and long beach, has the appearance of a holiday resort. The most important attribute of this place is that the former and the new shipyard's are together on the edge of the bay. Just after the shipyards, there is a pretty humble but a popular fish restaurant, its name is Fish on the Rocks and it's run by some lovely women. It's very cheap and the owners cook fresh fish every day and other seafood and serve them in paper bags like fast food. We heard the praise about this place from a local, came to try it and it was well worth it. It's a place where you can eat very fresh and delicious fish, and they have tables near the sea. İn this area, just across the shipyards there are workshops where the pieces of local artists are exhibited and created. You can visit these workshops and watch the artists at work and buy their pieces.

The recycled art created from environmental waste is particularly interesting. In fact, we can describe Hout Bay as the center of intelligentsia because of this. At the other end of the bay at Leopard Rock, there is a bronze statue of a leopard on a rock.

Around Cape Town

Cape of Good Hope: With a tour, a rented car or a cab you can go to the Cape of Good Hope, which will make you feel like you're on the edge of the world. After going to Simons Town, one of the closest train stops to us, and enjoying the town, we rented a car with a chauffeur for 4 hours from one of the tourist agencies and visited Cape of Good Hope and its surroundings. Since Simon's Town used to be a British settlement from the colonial period, it's still full of very beautiful and well-kept colonial summer houses. Most of the residents are South African British. You can join the shark diving tours and have a feast at the famous seafood restaurant Salty Sea Dog with the most delicious Hake fish you can ever eat (it's Hake & Chips on the menu). The plates are very big, for Turkish costumers it's like a double. Boulder's Beach, a settlement of a colony of African Penguins is also in Simon's Town. You should absolutely drop by, see hundreds of cute little penguins and have a photo with them.

Entry fees with a vehicle are very small. It's hard not to be impressed when you arrive at the Cape. It's the point where two oceans meet, rocks and the ocean view seems like it’ll never end, perhaps leading to its name as the Cape of Good Hope. In the past, passing through the cape using old shipping techniques meant relying on hope as much as anything else to avoid the waves and rocks that surround you. There’s an interesting story whereby, in the past, as the sailors sailed through the Cape of Good Hope, they used to leave their letters under a rock and the sailors who passed the other way round took these letters and conveyed them where they were supposed to. This used to be the communication network of the sailors. Don't forget to climb up to the historical lighthouse on the Cape of Good Hope. Delightful scenery awaits you. On your way up, you might come across some Baboons. Be aware of them, do not try to feed or pet them.

Hermanus: It's a cute and a small touristic village, two hours away from Cape Town. It's flocked by tourists especially during whale season because it's a famous spot for whale watching. It's the closest spot to the whales on the shore. I recommend that you learn which season the whales come to Hemanus so as not to be disappointed upon arrival. You might take a tour in the cute village, buy some souvenirs and taste delicious food at the sea food restaurants with an ocean view.

Muizenberg: Muizenberg, a seaside village, founded by the Dutch during the colonial period, with its long, wide beach and huge waves is one of the hot spots of surfers. Colorful beach houses all along the beach provide scenery belonging to this area that might come up very often in the postcards and books. You might visit this village to see and take photos of these beach houses, to surf, to enjoy the sun and the beach, to eat seafood and to take a walk on the beach. Besides, compared with other beaches in Cape Town, the sea water is quite warm, I guess because of the stream.

Stellenbosch: is again a very beautiful touristic town founded by the Dutch during the colonial period and it's world famous for its vineyards. You can come to Stellenbosch with a car, a tour or a train. It takes around one and a half hour from Cape Town. On the way, you might stumble upon farms with zebras, horses and ostriches. The town, founded far from the seaside, within the green vineyards is a very well-kept and a wealthy place. You will very much enjoy walking in the beautiful streets, buying the local products and drinking coffee at the cute small cafes.

The things you should be careful about

  • Not every street is safe due to the increase in the rates of crimes such as burglary, battery and murder. That's why I advise you not to go out alone or just use the streets and neighborhoods (Waterfront, Long Street etc.) that are safe. Plus, do not use public transportation like bus or trains after the dark, use cabs instead. Since security workers tend not to work at night, in case of danger you may not be able to find anyone to help you. Somehow you see fewer cops on the streets than the yellow-vested security officers, like they are the ones trying to maintain security.
  • At most of the beaches, you will see signs warning you not to swim without a surf board to avoid shark attacks. You can find any kind of sea creatures from White Whales to Killer Whales. I'd say, be careful in the sea, don't swim too far from the shore. Besides the dangerous ones, you will also come across to the cute sea creatures like penguins, sea lions and seals.
  • If you are like me, overly cautious against flies and insects, visiting South Africa in a hot season, try and choose a hotel which has screens on its windows and doors or bring a mosquito net with you. Because of the warm and humid climate here, it is possible to see flying big cockroaches everywhere. In fact they are harmless, people are used to them and they are not afraid. But since it is not very common in our country, it can be kind of scary. During our ten days visit, they perched on me 3 times and I was quite frightened. Even though I never saw one, I heard that there is a kind of a fly which is called a tsetse fly and it causes an illness called narcolepsy. There might be some situations that our immunity system is not used to, so it's better to protect oneself from the flies with a mosquito net and spray.
  • In the city you will not see many but outside the city, in Cape of Good Hope, Table Mountain and highlands, you can come across baboons. Do not touch them and do not feed them, there is a possibility that they’ll attack you. Keep your eyes on your bag and camera, they are liable to thieve them away from you.
  • If you want to see a shanty town where some indigenous South Africans live, going there alone might be dangerous. Touristic tours are organized to these slums. I recommend you join these tours if you're at all interested in them. 

Don't feel intimidated, if you're careful about the things I mentioned above, you won't have any problem in Cape Town. Just be a little cautious.

The sea, the nature, the modern city life, shopping, delicious seafood, fun... If you dream of a cultural tour, I advise you to go to Cape Town and have a wonderful holiday. 

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