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Welcome to the Mother City: An Excursion to Cape Town, South Africa

Our trip to South Africa had a bit of a rough start when my daughter and I discovered at check-in at Charles de Gaulle Airport that our 11:30 p.m. flight to Johannesburg was cancelled due to technical problems. Fortunately, the bad news turned into good news when Air France rebooked us on a flight the next morning direct to Cape Town (without a layover in Johannesburg), put us each up in our own rooms at an airport hotel and fed us two meals. That meant a good night’s sleep in a real bed rather than trying to catch a few zzz’s in economy class and arriving in Cape Town feeling like zombies. We didn’t argue and just said “Thanks — this works out just fine.”

When we settled into our respective hotel rooms, I had to make the necessary changes to our plans to make right what had been wronged. It was all “du gâteau” to let the BnB know we’d be arriving later than we thought, change the time and pick-up point of the rental car so that we wouldn’t have to navigate late at night driving on the left instead of on the right (I’ve never done this before) and change our Saturday night dinner reservations. The next morning, we were rested and ready to board from Terminal 2E with no real hassle.

Air France is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, but when it’s operating (and not on strike), the service is pretty top notch. I’ll take it over any other carrier. The food is not as “inedible” as most, the flight staff usually surprisingly friendly, accommodating and attractive (including well-dressed) and the seats pretty comfortable, even in Economy Class. On this flight there were dozens, maybe hundreds, of movies to choose from, electrical and USB plugs at our seats, and they didn’t scrimp on the blankets, decent quality earphones, eye masks, ear plugs and other gadgetry to make the long haul flight as pleasant as possible — with all this at the serious bargain of under 500€ round trip.

Cape Town Airport, Photo by Erica Simone Cape Town Airport, Photo by Erica Simone

A Rendition of Cape Town in MetalA Rendition of Cape Town in Metal

Table Mountain by Harry HamburgTable Mountain by Harry Hamburg

Cape Town by Erica SimoneCape Town by Erica Simone

Erica Simone, Self Portrait on Table MountainErica Simone, Self Portrait on Table Mountain

The 11-hour flight turned out to be a breeze, as we watched about four movies having settled in until landing, and once we collected our luggage at the “Mother City.” The Cape Town nickname, “The Mother City,” comes from the 1930’s when a local newspaper claimed that it was the only city in South Africa that could “justify calling itself a metropolis.” The public, took the word “metro” meaning mother and “polis” meaning city to create “Mother City.” There it was written in enormous letters when arriving at the airport.

We extracted Rand from an ATM (about 12 Rand to the Dollar), a taxi took us swiftly to our BnB, “Braeside BnB” in the area of the city called “Greenpoint.” Even though our arrival was at midnight, we were pleasantly welcomed to settle into our spacious room with shower, and given instructions on how to conserve water since the city is experiencing the worst drought in the past 100 years. It has only about three months left before the city runs totally dry.

Legendary photojournalist, Harry Hamburg, an American now living part-time in Cape Town and an old friend, has been plying me with photos of Table Mountain taken at all times of the day and night and in all sorts of weather from his Cape Town apartment that sits at the foot of the mountain. He’s done this for the last few weeks just to get us excited about visiting the city. Harry was a New York Daily News photographer for 39 years who has the kind of personality to whom one does not say “no.” He’s had the inside scoop and is on a personable relationship with several past U.S. Presidents — the likes of the Clintons, the Bushes and the Obamas. One story he told me personally was how Barbara Bush made a point of taking him aside to ask how his wife’s battle with cancer was progressing when she was alive.

By the time we landed, I was bubbling over with excitement to see it for myself and reconnect with Harry. Meeting up with him and then going up to the top of Table Mountain was the first order of business after picking up the rental car from a downtown location, in easy walking distance from our BnB. Harry, used to driving on the left, became”chauffeur” for the day, as well as unofficial tour guide, since he had done it all before and had a good handle on the Mother City. The only thing Harry wasn’t used to was having the turn signal lever in the car on the right instead of the left, and incessantly he hit the windshield wiper lever instead. Jokingly, I told him that “we had the cleanest windshield in all of Cape Town” and to encourage him to change his habits, told him he’d “be charged one rand for every time he hit the wrong lever!” (It didn’t work to stop him.)

The weather was stunning — warm, but not at all hot, sunny and lightly breezy. It’s summer here, on the other side of the equator, having made it difficult to pack warm weather clothing after living for months in woolen sweaters. With cable car tickets purchased online in advance, we rode to the top and took in the stunning views, the rock formations, the flora and the fauna as well as the clouds that pass beneath you obscuring the views as they float by. Yes — it’s breathtaking, from beginning to end. What amazed me most were the one or two mountain climbers we spotted bravely working their way up the rocky sides while perched on a ledge only inches wide. (You have to be brave or nuts to do such a thing!)

This was just the beginning of our adventure and it was already sensational. Lunch was at Willoughby & Co Purveyors of Fine Seafood in the hustle-bustle of Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre, at the V&A Waterfront — an unlikely spot for such great sushi…the best I’ve had in say too long a time.

With Harry behind the wheel, the afternoon was spent exploring several neighborhoods of the city about which we had heard quite a lot. Woodstock was top of our list — a once very run-down part of town where investors should be paying a lot of attention. “Young professionals have been quick to take advantage of still affordable pretty Victorian semi-detached homes, many of which have been beautifully renovated and restored. Trendy restaurants, innovative media and other businesses, offices, shops and furniture showrooms have sprung up in cleverly converted and revamped warehouses, abandoned buildings and even a disused Castle Brewery. Woodstock today, is despite the wind – “Windsock” – a vibrant suburb combining a village atmosphere with a sense of inner-city living.” ( It is here where street art is popping up and giving the district even more personality.

 Bo-Kaap Pastel HousesBo-Kaap Pastel Houses

Even more fun and interesting is Bo-Kaap, with distinctively pastel-colored houses lined up along cobblestone streets at the foothills of Table Mountain. Once known as the Malay Quarter, it is a former township on the slopes of Signal Hill bursting with revitalized energy and charm. I was ready to move right in.

I can see why so many Capetonians resettled in San Diego — the resemblance of Cape Town to the Californian city is uncanny, but I see a lot of New Orleans in Cape Town, too…especially given the racial landscape. There is a clear difference between the white community and the black one. Everywhere we have been, there seems to be a distinct class distinction that has not yet been dissipated. Most faces in the places we have visited or dined are white except for those who are serving them. They are not dining out or socializing together, nor are the neighborhoods mixed yet, by any stretch of the imagination.

I wonder how long it will actually take before Apartheid in South Africa will really be a thing of the past?

More to come from Cape Town in the upcoming Nouvellettres®.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - in Cape Town, by Erica Simone)

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

(in Cape Town, by Erica Simone)


Respond to Adrian

The Adrian Leeds Group

P.S. How would you like your Paris apartment to be featured in an upcoming House Hunters International? We will be filming at the end of February and are seeking two studios or one-bedroom apartments that normally would rent for about 1,500 euros per month (although it’s not necessary for them to be rentals), at least one in the 6th or 7th arrondissements and another in Versailles or other suburb of the city. If you have an apartment that fits this description or know of one with owners willing to allow us to film in it for about four hours next month, please email me at [email protected]


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