Returning to Cape Town after nearly 17 years was a little daunting to say the least. I never thought I'd return to the land of my birth, but as I always say, never say never! My parents still live there and were in the midst of selling their home and moving to a senior complex and needed help with the move. My sister and brother-in-law gifted me some of their British Airways air miles and off I went. A little nervous at the prospect of returning and taking such long flights, I headed to London to meet with my sister to discuss our parents. I also spent a couple of nights with my bestie, Bron, in London. Being summer in the northern hemisphere, it was naturally winter down south, so clothes packing was a bit of a challenge. Not really, I limit myself to a small suitcase and what I can't fit in, gets left behind. As it turned out, my light and foldable layers weren't touched! I lived in jeans, sandals and the two t-shirts I took. A little boring but then I've never been a fashion plate and the winter weather in Cape Town was gloriously warm.
The first leg of my trip was an airport shuttle from Colorado Springs airport to Denver International with Colorado Shuttle where I endured a 7-hour delay due to heavy winds. The inbound British Airways flight couldn't land so was diverted to Phoenix and it took forever. It also took forever for British Airways to announce what was going on and we sat and sat and sat. Finally, around 8:15 p.m. someone came and told the few passengers hanging around the desk what was going on. Other passengers were more informed as they were connected to the Internet on their mobile devices. It took another 45 minutes for them to speak to the rest of the waiting passengers on the intercom. Anyhow, we got a food voucher each and we had something to eat and continued to wait patiently. We eventually took off around 2.am. and an hour into the flight, post dinner, we went through the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. I don't mind saying that I thought that was that as far as my life was concerned. We were rattled around in our seats and bumped around for about 45 minutes. I eventually grabbed my barf bag and went to the galley where a flight attendant asked if I was okay. I said I didn't feel that great and she gave me a ginger ale to sip to settle my stomach. I mentioned that I felt wobbly and felt the sweat coming out of my pores I was so scared. It felt like the end of the world, and I wasn't the only one who thought so!
Arrival in London was a whole lot later than anticipated so essentially I lost half a day but didn't feel too bad considering. I stayed with my sister in Kent for a few days as I prepared myself for the job at hand in Cape Town. I opted to stop over in London for a few days to avert the long airport waits and allow some breathing space between long flights seeing as I'm claustrophobic. It worked as I didn't feel as though I had flown across the Atlantic on an 8-hour flight. I also had two nights and two days in London with my friend, and once again, got a huge blister and achy feet from stomping around the hard and unforgiving London sidewalks. My niece Emily kindly made me a lovely dinner upon my arrival which we enjoyed on the patio in the warm evening air!
Visits to the V&A Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum) and the National Gallery made my limited time in London so worthwhile, and I ended up seeing a few Monets, Van Goghs, a Degas and a couple of Renoirs. I felt suitably fulfilled artwise. I was also treated to the 250th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts with my sister and my other niece, Amy! We stopped in at St. James's Church Square for lunch, and I chose the creamy beef from the Taste of Portugal stand. (On Mondays and Tuesdays is the food market and Wednesdays to Saturdays the arts and crafts market.) We then headed for the fabulous art show, curated by the indomitable Grayson Perry, which was as wacky as it was wonderful. Not ones to turn down an offer of afternoon tea and cakes, we piled ourselves into the cafe at the Royal Academy of Arts, but their cakes, sadly, were old and two of the three we chose we returned.
Next it was on to Cape Town! A 12-hour flight that wasn't too bad (other than Terminal 3 security bending an arm of my glasses!) and the scenery I enjoyed at the break of the next day was spectacular. Unfortunately the plane windows weren't that clear so getting a sharp and in-focus photo was a challenge. I forgot to go and look at the info screen at our seats as to where we were, but from the terrain below I gathered we were somewhere over southern Namibia. The ground was dark red and you could make out distinct mountain ranges and rivers. As we got closer to our destination, we saw snow on the mountains, the actual mountain ranges, and beautiful farmlands dotted about below. A passenger told me at one stage that we were over the Mattroosberge and close to where they grow rooibos tea. Before long we touched down in the Mother City and I was "home". My old friend Alex met me for lunch and a catch-up chat before I picked up my rental car and negotiated driving on the left side of the road after having just mastered driving on the right side in the States! I rented through RentalCars.com who offered a very competitive and all-inclusive rate with Budget Car Rental. (Something that struck me was that nearly all the cars on the roads were white. I saw very few cars with color paint and the reason I was told, was that white was the least expensive color.) The Cape Town International Airport was surprisingly fantastic. I'd not seen it in many years and the expansion was impressive, and I couldn't get over how big and bold, shiny and cosmopolitan it was.
The next two weeks I spent at my aging parents' house helping with paperwork for their new accommodations, taking them out for lunches, out to see family, helping with shopping, and in general, catching up! Seeing them again was lovely but in many ways very sad, as I knew this was the last time I'd be seeing them. In all probability. We watched Wimbledon on TV, went for walks, drove around enjoying the warm winter weather, visited old childhood haunts, enjoyed the beautiful beaches (too cold to swim in the Atlantic!) and a bit of sightseeing for me. I did enjoy many a lovely meal my mother made for us like chicken curry, crumbed pork chops, homemade soups, and my father made a small braai (barbecue) with chicken and traditional SA sausage, boerewors. I also ate my way through South African chocolates and delicious brown bread, muesli and various candy bars I hankered after. The delectably sweet Koeksuster (a doughy "cake" in twists or sometimes braids, deep fried and then drenched in syrup) was a definite blast from the past, and I had perhaps a few too many! One thing I didn't overdo was biltong (jerky). I sampled a bit here and there and saved my splurge for ostrich biltong which I gobbled at the airport shortly before departure.
We drove to Table View for a walk on the beautful white sea sand and then to Blouberg for the postcard-famous view of Table Mountain, with Devil's Peak to the left, Lion's Head to right, and Signal Hill farther to the right. Lunch was at the Ocean Basket (a chain of restaurants) where I satisfied my craving for calamari. My parents and brother enjoyed fried fish and chips. A lunch meal for four cost about R310 or about $22!
Back at my parents' place there were a pair of Cape Dikkop (Spotted Thick Knee) birds in the neighbor's yard. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the birds at my dad's feeder and saw a Masked Weaver, some Mossies (sparrows) and some Pin-tailed Whydahs. Also plentiful in and around the neighborhood were Hadedas (Ibis) and Guinea Fowl, Egyptian Geese and a few Blacksmith Lapwing. Thankfully a couple of Cape White Eye made an appearance. They are tiny and very busy. The colorful and amazing amount of blooming flowers (remember it was winter!) never ceased to amaze me. Red Hot Pokers, Strelitzia (Bird of Paradise), Bouganvillea, Hibiscus and so many more were abundant.
I didn't do the touristy things like going up Table Mountain or Robben Island (have done both in the past) but I did drive up Signal Hill for lovely views of the city, Table Mountain, Lion's Head, the Twelve Apostles, Mouille Point, Cape Town harbor, the ever-growing city and the distant mountains. I knew the city intimately and just needed to do a quick once over to see the changes. And there were many changes. One I just loved were the brightly painted cottages in Bo Kaap (Upper Cape Town) which put a smile on my face. I left Cape Town because of the violence and lack of personal safety, and although I was vigilant at all times, I didn't feel scared. In most open parking areas there are now "car guards" who keep an eye on the cars and help you if need be, for a few Rands. The Rand is still pretty pathetic against other currencies and the US Dollar was about $13.75 to the Rand and the British Pound was about R18. So, even though you got a lot of Rands for your dollars and/or pounds, the cost of living is high and thus, your Rands disappear rapidly. I paid about R20 for a cup of tea which was less than $2.
I had one day in the Waterfront, which had exploded with more and more buildings. I had a very affordable (and delicious) lunch of calamari and salad for R60 (about $4.35) at the Fat Fish Cafe. I did indulge in forking out R180 ($13) to see the incredible Silo Hotel and MOCAA (Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) museum. How they have changed the old building from silos into a fascinating and modern building housing an art gallery, was mind-blowing. A little pricey to visit but quite eye-opening. I noticed that the Waterfront shops included many, many high-end designer names, and I had to wonder who on earth in Cape Town could afford to shop there. I was told that those shops were tailored to the wealthy international visitors and those with deep pockets. Way out of my league but interesting to look at nonetheless.
I spent a night with my friend Amy (she visited me in the States and I drove them to South Dakota!), another old friend, and we went out for a meal at her local Spur, the Alamo Spur, part of a very successful and still-going-strong restaurant chain. We used to have a ritual of meeting at one near her old house where we'd discuss all sorts of things in our "office", downing cup after cup of coffee. (We had met for tea at the Chinook Spur, near my folks.) These restaurants are family restaurants and serve steaks, burgers, and fish and the decor is distinctly "American West". I always loved going to a Spur (Silver, Apache and so on) and never really gave the decor a second thought. I guess it was because I always associated closely with things American. I visited the Chinook Spur more than a couple of times to use their internet as it was more reliable than at my parents' home. (Eating out in Cape Town can be pricey but the Spur restaurants aren't that expensive. Good for me on a tight budget.)
All in all, it was a lovely trip home, good weather, the chance to see a couple of old friends and family, see and taste familiar things, see our old house, and of course, spend time with the folks. I doubt I'll be going back so it was a trip of a lifetime as it were. I'll be forever grateful to my sister Fiona and brother-in-law Mark for their generosity and for affording me this wonderful opportunity. The flight back to London was a bit of a pain because some woman near my seat had doused herself in vile-smelling perfume and I almost passed out. I asked for a different seat but there weren't any, so short of choking, I took myself to the back of the plane and sat there for about four hours. I eventually went back to my seat and pulled the blanket over my head and managed to kind of drown out the perfume. Where are people's brains?
Four nights over a weekend with my sister and brother-in-law was a wonderful way to come down after such an emotional trip. My nephew, who lives in London, came for Sunday lunch which was a treat! We went to Rye for a drive through Kent and enjoyed fish (I had haddock) and chips and a walk along the beach. A trip down to the quaint village of Smarden was wonderful as we got to see a fabulous art gallery, enjoy a Pimm's, stop by the Parish Church of St. Michael the Archangel, and enjoy the quintessential English village. My sister indulged me by making a bobotie (South African curry dish) which was scrumptuous! My ankles barely had a chance to reduce the swelling when I was driving to Heathrow for yet another flight, this time, home to Colorado.
I had great weather both in the UK and in Cape Town, but if I never see those two t-shirts again, it'll be too soon! I didn't bring back too much but I got a pair of shoes and a cheese slicer as gifts from my mother, a bit of art stuff for me, and a new little backpack and a blouse from my sister! I'm a really lucky little git, I am. (I did buy a traditional African safety pin bracelet.) I was totally spoiled and I was left yearning for more family time in the UK and a dream I'll dream from time to time about possibly spending more time over there in the future. I caught the Front Range Shuttle to Colorado Springs Airport and was truly home! The weather was wonderful and not too hot and just the right amount of rain. Apparently I missed all the horribly hot temperatures, howling winds, and yes, cold weather in the UK, and horrendous flooding in Colorado!
I had to include a tribute to Kent, the Garden of England, in the form of my sister's beautiful garden. Every day I was there I was out and about scouting for photos, and I was never disappointed. The variety of flowers and plants is quite amazing, and how she remembers them all, I'll never know. Anyhow, it's always a delight to return to their lovely home and to wander about the garden.
I have to say that British Airways was a challenge on this trip. Beginning with a horribly long delay and no one telling us what the reason was. Their planes appear to be old and worn and the seats not that comfortable. Of course I travel cattle class so perhaps that's why. I had issues on each of the four flights I took, anything from a passenger wearing too much perfume and choking me to seats where I couldn't move my legs and I'm only 5'4"!! The food wasn't bad but flying the same airline, I got the same food over and over again.
Colorado Shuttle (between Colorado Springs and Denver International Airport)
We were met on time by a friendly Matthew who kept us informed of where we were stopping and our expected arrival time. There was free wi-fi on the shuttle and it worked! A free little bottle of water was given to each of us which was a nice touch. I wasn't nervous and it was a good ride. One-way cost $50.00. (I used another shuttle company coming back as their timetable cut out a 3-hour wait.)
V & A Museum
Address: Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL (Gloucester Road or South Kensington tube stations)
This wonderful institution in London is a must for all visitors. There is something for everyone from paintings, sculptures, iron work, silver, fashion, and of course, current exhibitions. I recommend you consult their website for opening times and what they have on the go.
Address: Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN (Charing Cross, Leicester Square or Piccadilly tube stations)
Another free option to strongly consider when visiting London. I love seeing the art and there is a lot of it, gallery after gallery after gallery, from all over the planet. Be prepared to walk a bit when there. Do visit their website for opening times.
Royal Academy of Arts
Address: Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1I 0BD (Green Park and Piccadilly tube stations)
Email: Use their online contact page.
FREE admission (We paid to see the Summer Exhibition.)
I haven't been to the academy in ages so I'm not that familiar with what's what anymore. However, if you love art and are short of a bob, then this might be what you need. We thoroughly loved the 250th Summer Exhibition by Grayson Perry.
RentalCars.com (Budget Rent a Car)
A delightful chain of seafood restaurants in and around Cape Town, famous for their fish and chips. I came across at least three on my travels and we tried the one in Table View. Friendly and obliging servers and reasonably priced. I was surprised to see kingklip fish on the menu as I don't recall seeing that much in the past. I loved my grilled calamari and chips. They have a menu on their website for variety and prices.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Visit their website for up-to-date info. You could easily spend an entire day in the Waterfront and not see everything. Be prepared to walk a lot. There are loads of eating places to suit any budget, lots of museums, fab hotels to check out, or just park yourself on a bench and people-watch. On a nice day you can take a boat to Robben Island or a helicopter ride or a harbor cruise. Parking is plentiful and not free.
Fat Fish Cafe
Email: Use their Contact page on their website.
I was on a mission to have more calamari and I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon the Fat Fish Cafe, right near the Clock Tower in the Waterfront. I checked out their menu and found what I was looking for. Service is slow so be prepared to wait. Their fried calamari strips were melt-in-your-mouth soft and tasty. I chose a salad rather than chips and it was delicious. All that for R60 ($4.35).
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (at the Silo Hotel)
Front Range Shuttle (Denver International Airport to Colorado Springs Airport)
Email: Use their Contact page or call (719) 237-2646
I used this shuttle company for the return leg of my journey as their departure time was closer to my arrival time and I didn't want to wait another three hours. I paid $45 (senior price one-way) for my ticket and a very friendly Bob drove us safely home. We didn't make any stops on the way as the three passengers were all going to the Colorado Springs Airport.
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