Tour du Monde
Cape Town: City on the Rise19.07.2010 / 18:05
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Text by Alex Marashian Photos by Rainer Hosch
Cape Town: City on the Rise
How much Cape Town can you experience in a day? Well, if local hip-hop crazies Die Antwoord (“The Answer” in Afrikaans) are blaring from your rented van’s sub-par speaker system and your back seat is stocked with bins of mixed nuts and other production snacks, the answer is: enough to want more. Sophisticated and urbane, design-conscious (but not
design-obnoxious) and blessed with a mild microclimate, a gorgeous natural setting and shorelines on both sides, Cape Town is poised to become a truly global city. Hosting the World Cup here was the test, many are saying, and South Africa in general and Cape Town in particular have aced it. If there’s anything holding this city back, it’s the baggage of the past, which carries over to the present in the form of an abysmal socioeconomic divide. The Cape Town we see today is only part of the picture (the part we’re supposed to see), and it’s worth bearing that in mind as you read on.
We begin our tour on historic (and touristic) Long Street, with its fine Victorian buildings, its used bookstores and ethnic restaurants, and, more recently, its upmarket bars and eateries (including our favorite, Royal Cafe, a three-story hamburger heaven with a whole menu page devoted to veggie burgers). There was a time, a few decades back, when Long Street was a Bohemian hangout and hotbed of anti-Apartheid sentiment (frequently expressed in plays performed in the now long- gone theaters of the area). But much like Bourbon Street in New Orleans, which at moments it resembles, Long Street today is first and foremost a tourist destination, sanitized and monetized.
We make time this morning to look into a couple of used bookstores on Long Street and a shop called Beads of Africa, a bead lover’s paradise, before moving on to cobblestoned Greenmarket Square. The market here is the city’s oldest, and the square itself, once the province of well-off whites only, dates back to 1696. Nowadays, of course, the square is open to everyone, and the majority of market stalls here are run by Black African vendors selling handicrafts.
Unfortunately, the goods from stall to stall are mostly interchangeable. And while the market itself is nice enough, it’s main function these days is as a place for locals to sell stuff to tourists. That’s fine — a great many people’s livelihoods depend on it — but ambling back to the van, we decide we’ve had enough tourism for one day. We want something different.
Thankfully, our production assistant, Zac, has just the answer. With Die Antwoord’s hilarious sendup of Enya’s “Sail Away” as our soundtrack, we find ourselves cruising up the very top of long, sloping Kloof Street, in the heart of the Gardens neighborhood, then turning around and cruising right back down again. At last, the kind of place we’ve been looking for: laid-back locals lounging, strolling, stepping into shops and sipping on coffees. If there are tourists here, they neither look nor act like it. When a kid in a scruffy, early 70s Mercedes sedan pulls out of a streetside parking spot, we slip right in. Perfect.
After scouting out the street on foot, we settle down for some people watching and note taking at the local Vida e Caffè. An unpretentious, Portuguese-inspired chain of expresso bar/cafes, Vida and Caffè first got its start on this very location less than 10 years ago. In that short time, it spread throughout South Africa and even made inroads to London. Wallpaper says of it: “The best-looking coffee shops in the world. Hands down.” And it’s not only the interior that’s good- looking. The clientele here sports pretty much the same smart style you’d expect to find in the young, hip, happening quarters of any European capital. The main difference, at least to my eye, is in the large number of Black and Coloured (the South African term for people of mixed European and Black African ancestry) kids taking part in the scene.
Located in the upper part of the Cape Town’s topographical bowl (“City Bowl”, as it’s called here), just below Signal Hill and the Lion’s Head Mountain, The Gardens neighborhood, of which Kloof Street is the main artery, plays home to the city’s creative industries, new media companies, publishing and production houses, modeling agencies and the like. It’s the kind of area that, if you actually lived here, might start to get annoying after a while, but for us, for now, it’s ideal.
In part, that has to do with the weather, which is gorgeous.
Convertible tops are down, sunglasses are on, and everyone seems to be feeling as good as they look. The fresh, sea air (the open Atlantic is probably no more than a mile away, on the other side of the bowl
ridge) gives the feeling that we’ve landed in a lazy beach town rather than at the center of the hard-working local media world.
It hurts to relinquish our seats at Vida and Caffè, as they are arguably the best real estate on the street, at least at this hour and in this weather. But we’re keen to explore the neighborhood by foot and try out a restaurant we’ve been hearing about. Sometimes referred to as the Dining Mile, Kloof Street seems to be packed with outstanding restaurants — the is a foodie town, we’re discovering — but an eatery called Manna comes especially recommended. We take a seat on its front patio, perfect for more people watching, then snoop around a bit inside. The all-white theme is a little twee for my taste, but by the time the food arrives, I’ve forgotten all about it.
The menu is organized into Sweet, Sour, Bitter, Savory and Hot sections, and you can’t go wrong in anyone of them. Ingredients are fresh and packed with taste. Dishes are intelligently conceived, elegantly presented and too delicious to bother describing. Eat here.
After a bit more exploring of the Gardens, both on foot and by car, we head over the Bowl and onto the Atlantic side of the city, where we wind our way down to Camp’s Bay, a beautiful coastal suburb of Cape Town. There are plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops along the beachfront here, but they hold little interest for us. We have our eyes on Camp’s Bay Beach, an attractive white sand beach that’s the largest in the area. It’s encouraging to the see that the beach is being used by a mix of tourists and locals of all colors. Our only complaint is that, with all those cars and shops and activities just a
100 meters behind us as we step into the cold Atlantic waters (our photographer, Oliver goes all the way in), there’s a bit too much commotion. After taking a few pictures, we decide to move on.
There are many other Cape Town beaches to explore, but after the busyness of Camp’s Bay, Zac thinks he has the perfect antidote. We clamber back into van and head south down the Atlantic side of the Peninsula. In another 10 or 15 minutes, we’re rolling into a parking space just above quiet, secluded Llandudno beach. Though it’s in fact named after seaside resort in Whales, I doubt its namesake can offer anything nearly so appealing as this. Regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in South Africa, Lladuno is a long, white sand cove, hemmed in by a natural wall of granite boulders to the north, rolling green hillocks to the east and a cliff to the south featuring some of the city’s most spectacular beach houses (Sol Kerzner, South Africa’s richest man, lives in one of them). What’s best about Llandudno, after its sheer beauty, is its relative privacy. While open to everyone, the beach is practically empty except for a handful of surfers braving winter Atlantic temperatures and a few local residents walking their dogs. True, the beach is a bit harder to reach than Camp’s Bay. But my guess is that the real reason it’s so empty is that there are no shops, concessions or tourist infrastructure of any kind here.
We could easily pass the rest of this late afternoon right where we are, but there’s one last item on the list today — sunset on Table Mountain, Cape Town’s most prominent landmark. A level plateau more than one kilometer above sea level and a remarkable three kilometers from side to side, Table Mountain is most easily reached by aerial cableway, and the ride to the top is simply magnificent. On disembarking, however, we realize we’ve entered what seems to be another tourist nightmare — the plateau is absolutely swarming with people. As the sun begins to set out over the Atlantic, however, we realize that maybe it’s not a nightmare at all. There must be people from 50 nations or more, all crowded together on this beautiful mountain for what I’m tempted to describe as a moment of global solidarity. As the red sun of perfect day disappears below the horizon, an audience of thousands breaks into applause. Good job, Sun.
And good job, Cape Town. Thanks for having us.Experience the DEDON Tour du Monde Webspecial