Travels With Myself

A Personalized Periodic Update, just for my family and friends, of the Ongoing Adventures of Your Favorite World Traveler

Location: Budapest, Hungary

After nearly 30 years in the financial industry in the US (mostly California and New Mexico), I decided it was time for my second life. I sold my house, sold my car, sold all my furniture, took a TEFL course and moved to Budapest to teach Business English to the business people of Hungary. Amazing mid-life change! I taught for about eight years, then pretty much retired. Since then I have traveled extensively, and have been to nearly 75 countries. I have had six books published, mostly about my travels - see my author's page on I have made friends all over the world. Becoming an expat is the best move I ever made and I plan to continue my travels indefinitely. Come join me on this blog and enjoy the places I've been and the people I've met in the past and present and hopefully will meet in the future.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cape Town Follies - Episode Two

De Cape Town Ladies Sing dis Song…
(Please read Episode One before reading this Blog)

Do dar, do dar! I made it. Our plane swung around for its landing and I was able to see the length of Table Mountain on my right as we came in for our final approach. Awesome, much better in person than in pictures. I said goodbye to my buddy in 32E and, after another long-distance walk to the baggage claim (what is it with these spread-out airports and their lack of easy people-moving?), I got my bag, changed a small amount of euro into rand and proceeded outside to catch the city shuttle bus I had read about. It turned out the shuttle bus went from the airport to the Civic Center, which was around seven blocks from my hotel, so not a major concern. At the Civic Center, however, the kindliness and helpfulness of the Cape Tonians began to show itself. The shuttle bus driver gave me a free ticket on the city bus from the Civic Center to half a block from my hotel! Wow, this could be a really nice trip. I took that bus and was there in minutes.
The Tudor Hotel, which bills itself as the oldest hotel in Cape Town, is located on Longmarket Street, right in between Long Street (the major action street in the city center) and Greenmarket Square, probably the best of the local bazaars. Great location. I dragged my bag and myself into the hotel and was greeted by a young black man named Pule, who acted as if I was his long-lost brother (metaphorically speaking, of course) come to visit. He couldn’t have been nicer and friendlier and more welcoming. He got me acclimated and settled into my room, one of the nicest, albeit basic, three-star rooms I have stayed in anywhere, with twin beds and the other standard amenities one expects. The only thing it didn’t have which I would have wanted was a small room fridge for my cold water. A very minor omission.
Since it was then around 4:30 PM, I decided on a short walk and a long beer. I checked out Greenmarket Square for future shopping possibilities, walked to the Tourist Information place just three blocks away and then came back to Baran’s, a streetside restaurant with a great balcony overlooking Greenmarket Square. A tall, cold Castle beer and a plate of mezes (appetizers with pita bread, including hummus, isot kebap, shakshuka, exme, kizartma, dolmades, cacik, ispanak Tarawa and chicken livers) and I was happy as I looked down on all the tourists and travelers and locals. There was a street band playing and a slight breeze cooling down the 30-degree-Celsius temp and all was finally right with the world.
My initial impressions, brief as they were, indicated the city center was surprisingly clean. The atmosphere felt….vibrant. Lots of energy and friendly people, smiling and apparently happy. I felt I was in a good place. My next thought was, fleetingly I must admit, for I had little time for that, of my many friends and acquaintances who never traveled anywhere, who lived their lives of noisy desperation in their small towns and small neighborhoods and never, never got to experience the wonder and joy of traveling in our big, fantastic world. And I was so, so glad I had gotten out from that crushing mindset and had gotten to see as much of the world as I had – and would continue to do so. South Africa was my 47th country, and I looked forward to many, many more. Life is good.
Two beers and very little sleep and those airport 500-meter Olympics pretty much did me in, so it was early to bed to await the next day with anticipation and eagerness to see what Cape Town had to show me.
Okay, Saturday morning, February 25, up at the crack of 8. I had a basic but good breakfast at the hotel, where I met hostesses Cheryl and Olga, who would be taking care of me for the next two weeks. They both had the winning personalities I was quickly coming to expect of Cape Town residents and lots of information for me, and I gobbled it all down as I gobbled down my bacon and eggs and toast. Then it was time to get myself acclimated.
It was a nice morning’s walk over to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, known as The Waterfront in Cape Town but hereinafter referred to as the V&A. I debated for awhile about the best way to get myself oriented, and finally decided the old tried and true method was still the best: the Hop On Hop Off bus tour, known affectionately by me as the HOHO. As usual, there were several choices: the Red Line city tour, the Blue Line wine country and coastal tour, the night tour, the canal tour (that one was via boat) and the sunset tour of Signal Hill. Today it would be the Red Line to see all of the basic sights around town. It turned out I could walk to almost all of the city center sights from my hotel, but riding around on an open-top bus in fine sunny weather is always a good way to pass the time, so I took advantage of it. Besides, the price was amazing: only 14 euro per person. Wow! In Dubai it was 66 euro! Such a deal.
Once we’d seen the city sights, the bus hied off to the Table Mountain Cable Car entrance, then around the Lion’s Head mountain and over to Camps Bay on the Atlantic Coast. I decided to get off and walk along the beach for awhile. Camps Bay is a really trendy area of Cape Town, home to jet-setters and rock stars and other high rollers. Big-time movie stars have flats here and can often be seen partying the night away at the local discos and music clubs. Madonna wasn’t in town when I was there, but Percy Montgomery did walk by my restaurant as I was having lunch (major SA rugby star).
Yep, I was craving seafood, so got sucked into an overpriced, but really tasty, lunch at Paranga on the beach. My waitress Bernice was a lovely SA woman and, since I was early for lunch, she had time to spend talking to me and giving me some local pointers. She also talked me into the 50-euro-lunch seafood platter: prawns, calamari, lobster, langostini and fish. Still a sucker for a pair of pretty eyes. Ah, well, the company was very nice and the seafood was excellent, so what the heck. The two Windhoek beers from Namibia also went down well on that hot sunny day. Gotta love the beach communities.
After a short beach stroll, I caught the HOHO back to the V&A, where I wandered around getting accustomed to the area and seeing what was there. Around 4 PM or so I walked back to the Fireman’s Arms pub for the England v. Wales Six Nations rugby match. Couldn’t miss that! Great local pub with food and several rooms, and the crowd cheered on the English side but it was to no avail, as Wales came from behind to whack the English. But the beer was cold.
I walked back to the hotel, presuming I’d find a good restaurant open, but was surprised to find that mid-evening on a Saturday there weren’t too many choices available. I finally had some pasta at a place called Da Capo near my hotel and called it an early night.
I made it to the V&A early Sunday morning in order to book my tour to Robben Island, only to discover that everything was sold out until Tuesday! So Tuesday at 11 AM it was. I booked and paid in advance for my tour and wandered off to see what else was available at the V&A. I did a short canal cruise, which was nice and relaxing, watching the millionaires’ homes glide by, then walked over to the Bo Kaap area on the side of Lion’s Head. This area was where the freed slaves went and, since they had been deprived of any color in their lives previously, went wild and painted the outside of their dwellings with wild, vibrant, often clashing colors. There were pink and purples next to each other, or orange and green or red and pink or blue and orange or whatever colors the natives felt like splashing on that day. Wild area.
I was still walking, and made it down to the Castle of Good hope and the Grand Parade, which these days is just a large parking lot. As I was resting on a low wall outside the Castle, a tour group stopped in front of me and their guide began giving them their lecture – in Hungarian! It was like being home, but with better weather. I walked back up the Strand to find the Harley Davidson store, only to find it out of business. Sorry, Tony, maybe next time. By that time I was in sore need of liquid refreshment, so I hiked back to the V&A and found Ferryman’s Pub. I staggered up to the bar in the dimly-lit main room and ordered a nice cold Hunter’s Gold cider. As I was waiting for my drink I felt a tap on my shoulder. Oh oh, who do I know in Cape Town, or what have I done wrong now? I turned around and it was……32E! My English buddy from the plane. He was leaving that afternoon and had stopped in for a drink before taking off, so we chatted for an hour or so before he had to leave. Small world, hah?
I decided to do the HOHO sunset tour up on Signal Hill, which was nice. I watched the sun go down into the Atlantic with the other locals and tourists and enjoyed the serenity and warmth of the Cape Town community. It was beginning to grow on me.
Monday, February 27, start of my first full week in Cape Town. It was to be a day of errands and sightseeing. After a consultation with Pule, who told me what I needed to know to do what I wanted to do, I walked down to the upper end of Long Street to the city campus of the University of Cape Town. There I caught a shuttle bus to the main campus on the other side of Table Mountain. Upon arrival, I asked a student for directions to the student store, and finally found it off a small open dining area in the middle of the campus. This journey was for my daughter Morgan, as I try and find University t-shirts for her wherever I go. I was lucky this time and found the one t-shirt left in her size, which I immediately bought, then caught the shuttle back to the city campus. Since I was in the area, I looked for Rick’s Café Americain with a view to eating there one day soon, but was unable to find it. It was, as I later learned, in plain sight but difficult to see for all that.
What I did find in my wanderings was the Mount Nelson Hotel, famous the world over for its ambience and colonial splendor. After an imposing entrance through a white-columned gateway, and a long walk up a tree-lined drive, the actual hotel proved something of a disappointment, Oh, it was nice enough and definitely reminiscent of those great old days of the British Empires, but I guess I’ve just been in too many five-star hotels over the years to be in awe of another one.
I lunched at the Royale Eatery, known far and wide (at least on Trip Advisor) for their yummy hamburgers. And they were, too. Big, juicy burger on a stout bun accompanied by sweet potato fries. Wow! I noticed the other diners all ordered hamburgers also, but were eating theirs with knife and fork. Obviously not Americans, who know a sandwich when they see one. I had the beef mixed with chorizo and topped with chiles and guacamole. Only sour note (pun intended) was that the restaurant’s home-made lemonade wasn’t really very good.
After lunch I window-shopped Long Street and wandered through the Greenmarket Square bazaar. I also walked to the Gold of Africa museum and restaurant, where I made my dinner reservations for the following night. Complete with a drumming session for tourists and amateur drummers. I couldn’t wait. I bought a new watchband, as mine had cracked irreparably and had a mid-afternoon cider at another Irish bar on St. George’s Mall. I changed some more of my euro for rand (and got a 10-1 ratio, which was very good), plus withdrew some more money from a local ATM, so I was flush for the time being. It was a lazy afternoon and evening.
The following morning was my Robben Island tour at 11 AM, leaving from the V&A Waterfront. For those who don’t know, Robben Island was a former South African prison, the one where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years or so, and is a landmark that must be seen by all visitors to the area. It was a sobering experience, as any visit to a prison must be. The boat trip was around 25 minutes each way and we had former inmates guiding us around and telling us about the conditions there in the past. Not a pretty sight, but, again, one that should be seen by everyone.
After a rest and shower, it was still too early for my Gold of Africa Museum and Restaurant set-price 14-course meal and African drum session, so I stopped off at the Alexander bar for a beer and some snacks. Nice little place, very art deco. While sitting at the bar I wrote my postcards and brought my journal up to date, and by that time it was time for drums and dinner. Well, it was great, like everything else about Cape Town. Apparently there were a couple of birthday parties booked for the night, as there were two large groups who joined lonesome me for the drumming session. An African drum leader showed us what to do and how, and we drummed our little fingers off and our hearts out for around 45 minutes on the medium-sized bongo-style drums. I was sweating by the time we finished, so it wasn’t just some wimpy little exercise, but rather a full-blown workout. So if you’re planning an African theme party anytime soon, and happen to have a spare African drum around, I’m your man for the entertainment. Baba-lu!
The evening included dancers and large puppets and wonderful African food. I’ll include the full menu in the expanded version of this Blog, which should appear in my next book, but for now, some of the dishes were: Cape Smoked Fish Pate, South African Roostekoek, Cape Malay Beef Bobotie Samoosas, Creamed Fruit Chutney, Moroccan Prawn Briouats, South African Lamb Tomato Bredie, North African Couscous and mint tea. Wonderful. I waddled back to the hotel and plopped my poor expanded stomach into bed.
Wednesday was my full-day tour of both sides of the actual cape, including the west side beaches, the Cape of Good Hope, Hout Bay and other areas of False Bay. The tour agency van picked me up at the hotel at 8:30 AM and, after gathering in another two couples, we were off to the races. Pule had made my reservations for me for all of the tours I did from the hotel, and they were, each and every one, efficient and informative. Today we were in a mini-van and we began along the west coast, down to Hout Bay for a short break. No one wanted to take the seal island trip from there, so we just motored on after checking out the marina and incredible scenery of the area. We made it to the Cape of Good Hope ahead of the tourist hordes, so were able to get our photos in at the marker before being shoved out of the way by those nasty French and Germans who seemed to think that if they didn’t get their pictures taken the entire area would be blown away.
We led the convoy of tourist vans up to Cape Point and the lighthouse. I could have walked up to the lighthouse, but chose the funicular instead, as I was still getting used to the excessive walking I was doing on my trip. I checked out the lighthouse then came back down and had a really good little pizza for lunch. Back in the van, we headed for Boulders Beach, home of one of the largest penguin colonies in South Africa. We parked the van and walked about 200 meters down a paved road to the penguin preserve, where we bought tickets for the experience. Upon entry to the fenced-in beach, sand dune and boulder area, we were funneled onto a wooden boardwalk raised above the sand so as not to disturb the penguins. We walked another 150 meters to the end of the boardwalk and found the penguin colony.
Now, all of the ads and write-ups of the tours tell you that there are hordes of the little black-and-white fellas crammed onto the beach, infesting the dunes and sunning themselves shoulder-to-shoulder (as it were) on the boulders. What you are not told, and what our tour guide only happened to mention to us as we were buying our tickets, is that the great majority of the penguin hordes leave the beach at sunrise to hunt in the sea, only returning around sunset. So, guess what’s left for the unwary tourist to see? Yep, around 14 mottled, crippled old penguins, a few moms sitting on their nest and maybe even a dead bird or two. Definitely not the great penguin hordes we were expecting. Disappointing. Yet another Shaft the Tourist adventure. I gave them a bad review on Trip Advisor.
We continued our tour up the east coast of the Cape (west coast of False Bay). We drove through an ostrich farm and then spent around an hour at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which are magnificent if you are a botanical garden fan, which I usually am not. Okay, it was a nice walk and included in the tour, but I’d rather have seen some penguin hordes. It was lots of trees and flowers and plants, oh my! Got back to the hotel around 4 PM, took a quick shower and headed out to find the Perseverance Tavern, Cape Town’s oldest drinking establishment and former hangout of Cecil Rhodes when he blew into town. It dates from 1808 and is a nice place to relax with a beer and some fish and chips on the front patio. I especially loved the wandering salespeople, one of whom offered to sell me an already-inflated air mattress. I was really beginning to love Cape Town.


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