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Cauldron Of Cultures

Embarking on a journey to the ‘Cradle Of Mankind’, Sheetal Wadhwa discovers the ‘Mother City’ Cape Town in its stupefying contrasts

Best described in the words of its avid promoter, Sheryl Ozinsky, tourism manager, Cape Town, “One city, many cultures - it is a city of extraordinary images that clash and complement each other, a city of weather changes and one that has weathered change. It is a city of the satellite dish atop an informal settlement, a mosque alongside Cape Dutch architecture, a city where the traditional pin stripe suit is giving way to more ethnic fashion statements.”

Cape Town conjures a myriad of images, from that of a cauldron of cultures to a captivating commercial centre. It was on my last evening in Cape Town, as an awe-inspiring sojourn was drawing to a close, that I reminisced my heartfelt perceptions of this city. Memories of my quiet dinner at the bustling V&A Waterfront gorging on a sumptuous helping of indigenous Calamari and a taste of the South African Shiraz, would remain with me forever.

Predators Tank at the Two Oceans Aquarium

The half-hour journey from the international airport to the city centre itself takes one through a sliver of the culture and landscape of a fast emerging city, with its characteristic juxtaposition of privatisation and progress. Closer to the city, one drives through more affluent suburbs and along scenic drives that overlook the Cape Town business district. As I set foot in Cape Town, I saw an inviting city with its own character, made by its people, marked by them and celebrated by them. The whole aura of the Cape exudes vivacity, passion, colour and, of course, the omnipresent South African hospitality. What marked me most, however, was the diversity in the origin of the people, which is truly astounding and their conviviality is both touching and inspiring. Speaking of diversity, whatever season you have chosen to visit Cape Town, be warned about the old joke. Cape Town has four seasons - sometimes even in the same day. This is especially true if you plan to go hiking or be outdoors.

Robben Island

With regards to international acclaim, Mandela would be the indisputable flagship. The other outstanding icon in Cape Town is the Table Mountain, that serves as a beacon to the entire city, ‘an impressive exclamation mark at the base of the continent’ with its exhilarating views of the Cape and its surroundings. To access the Table Mountain, I took the cable car ride, which is very fascinating apart from being the most convenient way to access the higher grounds. A remarkable feature and also an important revenue generator for the metropolis is the extremely popular V&A Waterfront. The perfect backdrop for a romantic evening and a ‘must see’ spot for tourists, the ever-increasing number of international film and television crews is characteristic of this place. Virtually every kind of cinematic landscape exists within a two-hour radius of Cape Town.

Table Mountain, Cape Town

As I said, the city is a vibrant mix of visual delights and physical inconsistencies, to be just another fashionable tourist destination. It has a unique ambience and spirited independence. It is an exotic melange of the technological advancement of Europe and America and the cultural heritage of South Africa, which also manifests itself in its extensive variety of cuisines. Cape Town is undoubtedly establishing itself as a bustling business destination for both indigenous and international companies, a number of which have relocated to the Western Cape. Just like its varied cuisines, Cape Town has a variety of opportunities to offer a prospective investor. Business in Cape Town is alive and bustling. Huge projects such as the construction of Cape Town International Convention Centre, the GrandWest Casino and the shopping centre at Century City represent massive investments of capital and confidence.

But above all, the city is really the cultural capital that has fostered musicians and actors, artists and writers, been a platform for theatre and cinema, and various forms of art. The city is made up of such a diverse population with so many realities that it is difficult to claim a unifying cultural myth.There’s really something for everyone from commercial cinema to art films to visual arts to appeal those with an eye for aesthetics.

Cape Town is truly one of the most picturesque cities in the world. Cosmopolitan Cape Town is a holiday for those who come to see and be seen against the magnificent backdrop of Table Mountain and bask on her white beaches...

Nightlife

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

Cape Town’s nightlife is as diverse as its culture. Your choice of entertainment may include a night at the ballet, theatre, opera or rock concert. There will be a club for your particular mind-set from hip-hop to trance. Club More in Loop Street plays mostly house music and some drum-and-bass, Cape Town’s local drum-and-bass group Sublime play at The Piano Lounge. Gignet Theatre Cafe, the new music venue, is upmarket and cosy. Long Street is full of a range of clubs and bars. Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront with over 50 restaurants, coffee shops, pubs and taverns, several take-aways, the giant IMAX Cinema and a host of other leisure attractions, is an entertainment seeker’s dream. By night,Century City offers the interactive theme park Ratanga Junction with entertainment for the whole family. But first treat yourself to some live entertainment. Try Maynardville (a great venue for Shakespearean productions) in Wynberg, or the Nico Theatre Centre. Jazz is catered for in a number of restaurants and clubs. The city’s most popular jazz venues are the Green Dolphin Restaurant and Westend. As luck would have it, Sun International’s GrandWest Casino is the place to head to for a Las Vegas style casino fare.Gourmet Delights

Mama Africa Bar and Restaurant in Long Street

For all you gourmets, Cape Town showcases gastronomy galore. Wine is also very popular in Cape Town and, in fact, in the whole of South Africa. Metropolitan Cape Town boasts of several good restaurants where you can sample spicy delights of Cape Malay cuisine. So for those of you on a spice route, you need to get a taste of Cape Dutch, Cape Malay cuisine at Cape Manna, Tel:(021) 419-2181. You could also savour cuisine at Cape Colony, Tel:(021) 483-1875, which is amongst the most celebrated restaurants in Cape Town. Sticking to the spice route, you can explore Africa without even leaving Cape Town’s famous restaurant and nightclub row on Long Street. To find an indigenous dish with a difference, stop by at the new Amuka Cafe, Tel:(021) 424-9930, at the Pan African Market. To savour more African cuisine, stop by at The Africa Cafe, Tel:(021) 447-9553, which is a landmark for African cuisine and a popular stopover on the tourist route. For Austrian cuisine, check out Blue Danube, Tel:(021) 423-3624, in the trendy restaurant quarter of Tamboerskloof. Finally, don’t miss the Beluga Restaurant, Tel:(021)4182948, that boasts an award-winning wine cellar, cutting-edge cuisine and stunning decor.

Shopping

Canal Walk Shopping and Entertainment Complex

You might have heard of the Big Five, when game spotting in Africa, but in shopping terms, the numbers are much bigger! From markets to malls, Cape Town has several world-class shopping malls. The major centres include The V&A Waterfront, Cavendish Square and Tyger Valley, and the new Canal Walk at Century city. The V&A Waterfront boasts over 250 shops itself, while together, there are over 700 shops and restaurants between them. Canal Walk is the newest blockbuster mall and its proximity to Ratanga Junction could mean a combination day of shopping and shrieking - on the rides. Here are some hot shopping tips:

  • Award-winning Cape wines: Buy direct from the farm on your wine expeditions (for as little as R20 a bottle), or go to wine boutiques.
  • Honeybush tea, caffeine free and delicate, or the better known Rooibos tea. Buy these from speciality tea and coffee shops or supermarkets for a light and healthy take-away taste of the Cape.
  • Go to Church Street Mall and wander up to the Pan African Market. This is a treasure of art and artefacts, fabric and jewellery from all over Africa.
  • Art works like woodcut prints in black and white make superb souvenirs of your trip.

Basics

Contact: Information Office, Western Cape Tourism Board, Pinnacle Building, Corner Castle and Burg Streets, Private Bag X9108, Cape Town 8000, South Africa.

Getting Around: There are city coach tour services, offering from personalised minibuses to large double-decker coaches. Sedan taxis are found at most major hotels and attractions. Mini-bus taxis are found on the main roads in most parts.

Phone Code: 2721
Currency: African Rand

Business Hours: Most banks close at 15:30 hours weekdays, and have limited Saturday morning opening hours.

Tipping: It is a standard practice in South Africa. Ideally, it is 10 per cent in restaurants as well as for taxi drivers. Porters could be given R2 to R3 per piece of luggage.

Time Difference: Standard time in South Africa is 2 hours ahead of GMT (3 1/2 hours behind IST).

Credit Cards: South Africa has a modern and sophisticated banking and commercial system, and most shops and hotels will accept credit cards.

Climate: Mediterranean with warm, dry summers and mild, moist winters.

Language: In the Western Cape English, Afrikaans and Xhosa are used the most.


Accomodation

Mount Nelson Hotel

The Bay Hotel
P O Box 32021 8040,
Camps Bay

Just minutes from the city centre of Cape Town, nestling below Table Mountain and overlooking one of the world’s most pristine stretches of beach, Bay Hotel combines the personal service and charm of a small luxury hotel with all the sophistication and efficiency of a truly great international hotel...
Rates: Double Room/Twin: US$ 268.00

Victoria & Alfred Hotel
P O Box 50050, Waterfront 8002
Cape Town
Tel: 4196677,
Fax: 4198955

Framed by the ocean and Table Mountain, the luxury of the Victoria & Alfred Hotel is rivalled only by its relaxed atmosphere and warm personal service...
Rate: Double room (mountain facing): US$ 233.00

Mount Nelson Hotel
P O Box 2608, Cape Town, 8001
Tel: 4831000, Fax: 4247472

Set at the foot of our private, palm-fringed avenue, this famous landmark has four separate ‘wings’ of luxurious accommodation, all set in private gardens planted with lavender and iceberg roses. The hotel is the venue of choice for all major business and social events held in Cape Town.

Cape Grace Hotel
P O Box 51387, Waterfront 8002
Tel: 4107100, Fax: 4197622

Voted as South Africa’s top individual hotel, Cape Grace occupies a prime position. It’s architectural flavour reflects the strong historical influences of the Cape. The hotel caters for both the business and leisure traveller with every modern convenience including a small boardroom, private guest lounge, swimming pool and 24-hour service to support its five-star rating.
Rate: Double room / Twin room: $310.00

Table Bay Hotel
P O Box 50369, Waterfront 8002
Tel: 4065000, Fax: 4065050

Table Bay Hotel is situated on Quay Six of Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The elegant hotel takes advantage of the city’s most convenient and beautiful site. Its position means that all rooms have a view of Table Mountain or of the sea as far as Robben Island.


Things Not To Miss

The Top of Table Mountain : Any real sense of location in this city requires an aerial view. If your time is limited, take the cable car. Otherwise hike up. But consider yourself a poor traveller if you have not seen Cape Town from the tabletop.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company,
Tel: 424 5148.

Rooibos Tea : Rooibos, the widely-famed natural tea indigenous to the Cape, will be difficult to miss tasting. And once you have tried it, you will be a convert to its pure taste and aromatic flavour. The fine needle-like leaves of the ‘red bush’ are harvested in a completely natural manner enhancing its health benefits, so be sure to drink your brew from the right cup. Available in health shops and supermarkets.

Cape Point : The point is a rocky promontory at the end of the Cape Peninsula. The peak is 249 metres above sea level and can be reached by foot or the funicular railway. Be warned: there’s a steep hill to climb to the lighthouse at the top, but the sense of exhilaration when you get there is worth it.
Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve,
Tel: 780 9204/ 780 9100.

Robben Island : One of the most significant and symbolically charged pieces of land in South Africa, it has served for many years, as a place of banishment. Probably the island’s most famous previous inhabitant is Nelson Mandela. Now a living museum, the island is a place of history, education and insight into South Africa’s past.

Turkish Baths : To experience sensual indulgence that’s actually good for you, make your way to Long Street Baths for a Turkish bath and massage.

Women: Mon and Thurs 0900-2000 hours, Sat 0900-1800 hours

Men: Tues, Wed, Fri 0900-2000 hours, Sun 0800-1200 hours
Cnr Long/Orange Streets, Tel: 400 3302.

Pan African Market

Started by Michael and Anthea Methven in 1997, this wonderland is a multistorey indoor market packed with the arts and crafts of the local traders that sell there. The smells of wood, smoky grass and leather alone will transport you to different parts of Africa.