Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cape Town Travelogue: Part 3

What continues to strike me about Cape Town – even after 14 visits – is the stunning natural beauty. There is the Atlantic Ocean with its working harbor and the mountains – Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill, and the 12 Disciples. Even if the weather cooperates and you make it up Table Mountain, a drive to Signal Hill offers spectacular views of the sea, city, and mountains. If you plan it right and bring your beverage of choice, you can enjoy a sundowner while watching the sun set into the sea from Signal Hill.

My favorite destination for an afternoon drink in anticipation of sunset is on the veranda at Harvey’s located in the Winchester Mansions, a lovely hotel on Beach Road in Sea Point. You can enjoy a glass of South African wine, a Castle beer, or my top choice for a sundowner, a gin and tonic, while patiently waiting for the sun to disappear beyond the horizon. The Sea Point Promenade that separates Beach Road from the ocean is ideal for long walks or jogging. A plus to staying in Green Point or Sea Point during your Cape Town holiday is the easy access to the promenade.

You can follow the promenade nearly all the way to the V&A Waterfront. (That’s the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, not Victoria and Albert as you might assume.) You have to go to the Waterfront to take the ferry from the Mandela Gateway to Robben Island. If you don’t like large retail developments, you might be tempted to skip the V&A, but resist the temptation and spend at least a few hours at the Waterfront. Even if shopping isn’t your thing, there is always entertainment happening somewhere at the V&A – singers, dancers, fire-eaters – you name it. Most days you can see seals in the harbor. The statues of South Africa four Nobel Peace Prize winners (Albert Lutuli, Desmond Tutu, F.W. De Klerk, and Nelson Mandela) remind you, even in a shopping center, of South Africa’s history.

The Waterfront is home to numerous restaurants, but the best one is also the one that you might be the least likely to try. Willoughby’s is well known for their fish and is a frequent haunt of locals. Being situated in the middle of the mall with shoppers walking past on all sides can be off-putting to some, but the food will win you over. The calamari is excellent and the picked fish superb. Willoughby’s also tops the list for best sushi in Cape Town.

Although the V&A is well worth a few hours of your time, it is not the place to buy African souvenirs. Instead, go to the Pan African Market on Long Street in City Bowl. The Pan African Market is home to dozens of merchants selling their African wares in stalls on several floors of this old Victorian building. Although most of the products are not made in South Africa, this is the location for masks, clothing, artwork, trinkets, music, ostrich eggs, and much more. Just down the street from Pan African is the open-aired Greenmarket Square where similar curios are available. Whether you are shopping indoors at the Pan African or outdoors at Greenmarket, you should negotiate the price of your purchases. If you aren’t a shopper, but find yourself in Long Street with people who are enthusiastic shoppers, perhaps you would enjoy a cup of coffee at Tribe or tapas and a drink at Fork. Both cafes are located near the Pan African Market on Long Street.

If craft markets aren’t your thing but you still want to shop for some genuinely African products, here are some suggestions for a higher end shopping experience.

The Carrol Boyes store, located in the Waterfront, offers functional metalwork art for the home and office. Boyes’ signature pieces are her cutlery and dining accessories, but she offers an extensive line of other products as well, including clocks, vases, and smaller home furnishings. Carrol Boyes also has shops in New York City and Paris.

Africa Nova in De Waterkant Village features a higher-end product line with many original items, from paintings to beaded animals to ceramics, all made by local artists. Tribal Trends on Long Street has a greater line of products on its two floors, including larger, more dramatic pieces of African arts and crafts. Two blocks away, on Burg Street, is African Image. African Image carries less expensive, though just as interesting products, as these other shops.

For a truly unique retail adventure in Cape Town, head to the Monkeybiz store on Rose Street in Bo-Kaap. Even in a neighborhood of brightly painted homes, the yellow Monkeybiz building with red monkey faces stenciled on the exterior will stand out.

Monkeybiz is a non-profit organization that is reviving the art of beading in South Africa. Township women and men are given beads and asked to produce works of art. The result is whimsical animals and stunning dolls, all made with colorful glass beads. The products themselves are spectacular, but you get so much more than just a work of art when you buy Monkeybiz products. Each purchase helps to create jobs in the townships – jobs that allow people to provide food for their families, pay school fees for their children, and contribute to burial savings plans to ensure that families aren’t bankrupted, primarily from deaths due to HIV/AIDS.

Purchasing beaded art at Monkeybiz creates jobs in Cape Town. So does patronizing some of the Mother City’s truly fine restaurants. Next up in Cape Town Travelogue: Part 4…favorite restaurants.

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