With the Western Cape and Karoo regions rapidly disappearing in our rear view mirror, we headed back to metropolitan Cape Town for more urban adventures. Our plans for exploring the internationally renowned botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch were cancelled by an unscheduled rain storm, so we opted instead for the vibrant energy of Greenmarket Square. It’s an eclectic and bustling location and the perfect place for last minute one-of-a-kind shopping (trouble, I’m told!!).
We had an incredible lunch at Barans Shisha Lounge, a Kurdish restaurant overlooking the hustle and bustle of the cobbled streets, with wrap around views of the market and the ever majestic Table Mountain.
Pre-dinner drinks were at the very hip and trendy The Bungalow located at Clifton – arguably one of the world’s most scenic beaches with its abundance of pretty people and even prettier cars! The restaurant describes itself as “Cotton and Ice. Sand and sequins. Beautiful, bronzed and a little bit blasphemous – it’s the Bungalow. Take balmy, add a splash of bubbly, stir in a breezy blonde, pop in an oyster and it’s the Bungalow. Bungalicious if you will.” Enough said!
As my niece works at a popular “Dawn of the Dead” themed Mexican restaurant called “el burro“, we decided to give it a try: the butternut enchilada was particularly delicious. (Amusingly, the location of this restaurant was also that of a popular coffee shop in the early 90′s called Rock Spiders (!)… I remember many early morning/very late night college visits, ordering soup bowls filled with hot chocolate in attempt to gear us up for the inevitable very long day ahead …) Yet more fond memories under ever constant African Skies….
We decided to visit the quaint, historic railroad town of Matjiesfontein after our safari at Aquila, for research purposes of course! (I plan to take my parents there by train from Cape Town, for an overnight stay at the gorgeous Lord Milner Hotel, sometime.) As my grandfather was a station master at several railway stations around South Africa and my mom spent a lot of time on trains as a little girl, it will be a great trip down memory lane for us all.
The town of Matjiesfontein originally owes its existence to the Cape Government Railways, and to the route that their founder, Cape Prime Minister John Molteno, chose for a railway line that would connect Cape Town’s port to the diamond fields of Kimberley. The Royal Commonwealth Society (1898) records that in a meeting with his consulting engineers, the Prime Minister called for a map of Southern Africa to be brought to him and, taking a ruler, drew his pen along it from Cape Town all the way inland. He handed the map back to the engineers, instructing them to build the railway accordingly.
The line rapidly extended inland, and a station was built at Matjiesfontein on 1 February 1878. At the time, Matjiesfontein was a small depot and farm stop. The then superintendent of this stretch of railway, James Douglas Logan, bought land at Matjiesfontein for health reasons and opened a refreshment station for the passing trains. This was so successful that the business soon formed the nucleus of a growing village. A town was laid out in the 1880s and purchased in 1968 to be preserved for its Victorian charm.
The name is derived from a decorative waterside plant (Cyperus textilis) used by the local Khoikhoi people to weave baskets and sleeping mats, to make rolled twine and for use in the construction of their homes. The town was declared a National Monument on 12 September 1975the railway station on 15 December 1989 and the cemetery on 23 September 1994.[.
We arrived on a Sunday afternoon and the transportation museum was already closed. Typical of the warmth of small town South Africa, the security guard happily opened this beautiful museum filled with classic cars and old trains, when we expressed out interest in a tour. After quenching our thirst at the only bar in town – where the staff still wear traditional, vintage “Downtown Abbey” style hotel uniforms – we were back on the road to Cape Town.
No trip through any small town in South Africa is complete without an obligatory snack stop at the local butcher, for a good supply of delicious biltong (similar to beef jerky but OH SO MUCH better!) and droewors (dried sausage – equally delicious!). In Touwsriver we discovered that they also stocked another rare delicacy – fresh curried mince vetkoek (fritters). I sat on the sidewalk in the heat of the afternoon and enjoyed every bite of this much longed for South African treat, so reminiscent of my South African childhood. Under the bluest of african skies, we sat and watched the locals hang out and visit with each other – mothers carried babies in the traditional style: wrapped in blankets, tied straddled across their backs; and we laughed at the universal guy on his fancy bicycle trying to find a date – chatting up all the lovely ladies who passed by.
The drive was another gorgeous journey of contrasts – from the arid semi-desert of the Karoo to the lush, sprawling greenness of the Breede River Valley vineyards. We decided to overnight in the beautiful town of Paarl in the heart of South Africa’s wine country. We found a great B&B – the Cape Valley Manor, ordered pizza and enjoyed a lovely dinner outdoors in a fabulous Cape rain storm, sitting underneath a garden umbrella – sipping a very delicious local Chardonnay.
It’s been a whirlwind of family memory making over the past few weeks and we are all sad that we are winding down towards the end of this unforgettable break. What better place for a never-to-be-forgotten family event than this wonderful country – something for everyone, whatever their interest!
After we bid a reluctant ‘totsiens’ (translation: until we meet again) to the beach, we headed to my hometown of Bredasdorp for a quick retail therapy stop. (Important note: when planning at trip to Southern Africa, be sure to leave plenty of suitcase space for the vast array of artistic creations that you will stumble across. Better still – bring an extra bag!) No visit to this area is complete without stopping at Julian’s Ceramics for unique home décor, coffee and great food – and then on to Kapula Candles.
The drive to Swellendam was gorgeous as always, followed by an unforgettable al fresco lunch under the trees at De Gaol restaurant, across from the church on the square. Just when we thought the scenery of the day was unrivaled, we traveled over the wonderfully rugged Tradouwpass – Sir Thomas Bain’s incredible legacy and a breathtaking addition to any local itinerary.
Thursday found us relaxing/recovering from the many and varied holiday celebrations, at the beautiful Victoria Hotel in the quintessential Western Cape town of Montague…
Friday started with a yummilicous breakfast at the hotel followed by another ‘obligatory’ shopping stop – this time to stock up with peaches, pears, guava and other delectable dried fruit before traveling the breathtaking Matroosberg range to our Safari spot.
We were greeted at the privately owned Aquila Game Reserve with champagne, followed by yet another incredible meal – this time a poolside lunch buffet. (Note to self: Design a gastronomic tour of South Africa). This was topped by us hanging out in the swimming pool while viewing elephants grazing in the distance…spectacular.
Our afternoon game drive was all we had hoped for – spotted up close and personal: elephant; lion; rhino; wildebeest; hippo; springbok; eland; giraffe; zebra and Cape buffalo. Another wonderful meal and an early night in preparation for a 5:45am game drive!
The past few days have been spent in blissful “unwind” mode, soaking up the tranquility of the wonderful little Western Cape seaside towns at the tip of Africa. Apart from boasting the longest continuous stretch of white sandy coastline in the Southern Hemisphere, and it proximity to Cape Agulhas, the area is also famous for its traditional fishermen’s architecture, whale sightings, bird life and breathtaking sunsets
As a desert dweller, I am particularly enjoying my daily walks along the beach to the harbor to watch the fishing boats deliver the catch of the day. Yesterday’s offering was the central feature of our evening meal – freshly caught Cape Salmon – a firm white fish, known locally as Geelbeck (translation: yellow mouth).
To the backdrop of crashing waves and in the warm light of yet another incredible African sunset, we chose to “braai” our meal in true South African tradition. The smell of the fish sizzling on the coals along with its accompanying roosterkoek (later served with homemade fig jam) was a heavenly aromatic and taste combination. South African cuisine has so much complexity to explore, and the “braai” is so much more than the ubiquitous grilled meat we so often settle for! I am enjoying rediscovering the variety that South African dining has to offer.
This morning we woke up to the smell of the ocean mixed with fresh rain and the sound of doves gently welcoming the softness of the morning mist. A perfect start to what will inevitably turn into yet another glorious day of sunshine and sparkling seas.
Our arrival in Cape Town to the achingly familiar spectacle of Table Mountain, unshrouded by cloud and resplendent in 73F sunshine, was everything I had anticipated and then some!
Our planned trip into London on our layover to see the Christmas lights was scuppered by Mr. P being hit by a 24 hour bug. As with all things – if life gives you lemons – make lemonade… So, instead of joining the teeming holiday crowds in Trafalgar Square, we located a secluded lounge and spa at Heathrow where we surrendered our travel weary selves to massage and dinner before our flight south.
Our first night in the mother city was spent at the Protea Hotel Fire and Ice – modern chic, with breathtaking views of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and within walking distance of many popular attractions. Silver platter service from check-in to check-out. There’s so much warmth among the locals – a real pride in being South African – that can be felt everywhere.
Easing our way into vacation mode, we strolled and shopped at the bustling V&A Waterfront and then headed out to the Delaire Graff Estate (outside Stellenbosch). Driving through the gates we entered a magical world where striking Cape Dutch architecture meets African artefacts and styling. The intense natural beauty of the surroundings, the collection of the work of some of South Africa’s finest contemporary artists, the attentive staff and incredible food and wine made for an unforgettable evening, in a trip that is already overflowing with unforgettable events!
The cultural opportunities in South Africa are as diverse as its people. We joined the audience of Amazink for an evening of a truly contemporary South African township theatre. To see and hear a Xhosa man sing the edgy and divergent Afrikaans songs of Johannes Kerkorrel took our breath away. This was followed by the Steven Biko song…not a dry eye in the house…
We took time to revisit charming oak tree lined Stellenbosch, filled with its interesting little stores, unique coffee shops and scenery. I truly feel as if I am living in a wonderful landscape painting!
Yesterday we enjoyed an el fresco breakfast on the farm of friends who own Okasie - a flowers and event company doing amazing work in the event industry in South Africa – before hitting the road to Struisbaai…
This weekend marks the start of another great fact finding adventure for me, in Southern Africa. If I close my eyes, I don’t have to try too hard to summon the unforgettable sound of cicadas in the warm night air, or the image of sitting with friends – old and new – under amber African sunset skies, wine glass in hand. In just a few days, those are exactly the sights and sounds that will be flooding my senses once more – only this time, my eyes will be wide open!
Join me on my journey as I explore and connect with new and exciting places and people in this wonderful land.
The time has come to add another business to all the fun I’m already having as an entrepreneur – the travel and tourism industry have always been my passion and add Southern Africa to it, and it’s a given to follow my dream! I have envisioned doing this for most of life – and finally here I am! African Skies Travel Connection LLC – Linking the curious traveler to unique people and places in Southern Africa. Matching YOUR dreams with our expertise. I will be posting on my blog while traveling so that you can share the adventure!