Monthly Archives: December 2010

Sustainability at Spier

Aluminium Cans
In my previous post I mentioned that Kerry-Anne and I went on a little holiday to the Spier wine estate (a mere 35km from our home). The photo that you see in today's post is that of an artwork in the hotel bar. If you look closely you'll notice that the entire work has been created using old aluminium cans.

My extremely condensed review of the two days is that the accommodation was great, the grounds are lush and green, the swimming pools were beautifully warm (around 28°C) and the buffet breakfast was outstanding. The evening dinner at the restaurant left plenty to be desired though. We found the service (then and during the day at the bar) to be extremely slow, and the rolled lamb (with rosemary and stuffed with feta cheese) to be pretty dry with little flavour - almost as though it had been kept warm in the oven for a few hours.

Spier lays a heavy emphasis on environmental sustainability - and whether or not this is just for marketing purposes, or if it's out of a genuine concern for the environment, I'm not sure, but it seems that at every turn one's confronted with notices informing where recycled paper has been used, or that the grounds are watered with recycled water, or that lights that are not in use should be switched off. We even found the water pressure in our room to be extremely low - presumably to reduce the amount of water used.

White agapanthus at Spier

Agapanthus at Spier

Kerry-Anne bought a voucher for a two night stay at Spier though Twangoo - but before I get into the Spier experience, I'd like to share these photos of the rare white agapanthus that are grown, almost prolifically, on the estate. So, today's post has more photos, and fewer words. :)

Click on the three below to see the larger versions. Aren't these plants just beautiful?

Religion in South Africa

Gold Thai statue
I can't work out if this is a Buddhist or Hindu statue. I've seen similar statues referred to as Thai Angles and others as Buddhist goddesses. Do you perhaps know anything about this statue - if so, please leave a message below. :)

According to the latest census information that I'm able to find, South Africans are divided into the following religious camps: Christian 79.8%, No Religion 15.1%, Undetermined 15,1%, Islam 1.5%, Hinduism 1,2%, Other 0.6%, African Traditional Religion 0.3%, and Judaism 0.2%. What you may find interesting about these stats is that Traditional African Religion makes up such a tiny percentage of the spread in an overwhelmingly black African country.

The reality about these stats are that within the Christian belief category you’ll find a huge diversity in what people actually believe. You may expect all people who say that they’re Christian to be Catholic, or protestant – but that’s not quite as clear-cut as that. Many people will call themselves Christian because they we’re once Christened, and many others (specifically black South Africans, I guess) may have the core Christian belief, but still participate in traditional tribal religious ritual that the traditional Baptists or Catholics among us may find highly questionable.

Myatt Café & Chocolatier for tea

Teapot at Myatt
I'd often seen Myatt Café in the V&A Waterfront mall, but I've always been a little confused by the place. For some reason the café's never really looked like a café to me. It's location is almost unexpected - and because of this and it's boutique-like décor and styling I've never really been sure what it was - and never taken the time to take a close look.

What eventually led us to Myatt was that it was windy outside and we were looking for a quite and comfortable place to have tea and a light snack. After browsing past other noisy restaurants and coffee shops we stumbled upon the quiet and brightly-lit Myatt Café. Even though the macarons that we ordered weren't comparable to those at Daniela's the good service and great array of tasty teas served in beautiful pots definitely made up for it.

Myatt is located on the top level of the V&A shopping mall, on the far side - close to Primi Piatti.

Windy Cape Town

Harbour at sunset
The harbour area is beautiful between the summer hours of 17h00 and 20h00 as the shadows of ships and their shadows lengthen across the water and the light softens to a slightly orange hue.

Unfortunately the Cape Town wind often spoils the otherwise-peaceful atmosphere and on these gale-force wind-swept days most people head indoors to keep from being blown over. :) I don't often get blown about by the wind, but sometimes, on particularly windy days, even I'm compelled to hold onto railings and brace myself against it's surprisingly powerful force.

Although sometimes irritating, Cape Town's wind comes with mixed blessings. Firstly, it keeps our city air pretty clean - which makes for crystal clear photos of Table Mountain ;) , and secondly makes our 30°C+ summer weather far more bearable than what it otherwise would be. Depending on when you read this post - you may see some of what I'm referring to by looking at our page that contains the current temperature and wind speed for a few spots around the peninsula.

Road cones and wheelchairs

Road Cone

In addition to a couple of stairs on the opposite side of the pillar (on the right-side of the photo), this little ramp connects the first floor of V&A Waterfront mall with restaurants that overlook the amphitheatre, and (currently) the Wheel of Excellence.

Unless you know someone who uses a wheelchair, I guess you're unlikely to realise how difficult the simplest of navigational tasks can be. I've never had to make use of one, but from what I can see, the V&A Waterfront is pretty wheelchair-friendly. Most folk use escalators to get to the upper level of the shopping centre, but there are also lifts that you could use if you're reliant on a wheelchair. The Waterfront area has two or three major levels outside and each is accessible by wheelchair; although I can imagine that one may need some assistance to use the ramps as I imagine it's pretty tiring to scoot yourself up the incline.

In case you're traveling without a wheelchair, or for some reason require one when visiting, call 021 408 7500 (preferably a day in advance) to book one. Hire is free of charge, but requires a R50 refundable deposit.

Visit Accessible Cape Town for stacks of information that would help people with impaired mobility, vision and hearing.

Trifle is from the Devil

Christmas Trifle

If trifle is indeed from the Devil then it's quite ironic that its a dessert that my mom saves to make once a year, for Christmas day. If you're not sure why I'm of the opinion that the dessert is born from pure evil - just click here for a Google image search (beware, not for sensitive viewers). ;)

From what I"ve read the earliest reports of a trifle-like dish stem from England in the 1590s - except that back then the ingredients were possibly simpler: thick flavoured cream, sugar, ginger and rosewater.

Trifles are quire different today - they contain sponge cake that's been soaked in alcohol (sherry, for example), pieces of fruit (often berries), custard, jelly (which I think our American friends call jello), and a whole lot of thickly-whipped cream. These ingredients are (as you can see from the pics) layered to form the multi-layered decadent pudding that's perfectly yummy.

Christmas tree at the Pink Lady

A Christmas Tree

Christmas Day is nearly upon us in Cape Town. In fact, it's about an hour away! In a previous post I commented on how white Christmas trees seem so out of place in Africa. This one at the Mount Nelson Hotel (a.k.a. The Pink Lady) is far more appropriate, don't you think? :)

I visited the Mount Nelson for a quick drink with a friend. If you've never been, then you have to go. The staff are really professional and the service is exactly what you'd expect from a five-star hotel. Although it's a little more expensive than other nearby restaurants, meeting for drinks at the Planet Restaurant or Planet Bar (map) is super-convenient, because while parking in Cape Town is often difficult to find, the hotel provides plenty of free undercover parking (which is awesome if you prefer not returning to a car that's been baking in our hot African summer sun)!

If you celebrate Christmas, allow us to wish you an awesome Christmas Day filled with love and good cheer. If you don't celebrate Christmas, well, then, allow us to wish you an awesome day filled with love and good cheer. ;) Merry Christmas, folks.

The Nautica

Cruise Liner
A while ago I wrote about graduate students from the Isa Carstens Academy who each year board similar liners, working their way around the world - effectively being paid to visit the world. Isn't that pretty awesome? Imagine all the places this ship has seen. Sydney, Rio, New York - I'm sure the list goes on and on.

I've heard from friends who've traveled on similar liners that once aboard it's a party atmosphere practically 24x7 - so I guess the tag line, "Every day is like Saturday on Nautica" is pretty appropriate.

Assuming that you don't work on Saturdays, imagine it being Saturday every day for 14 or 20 days. Imagine, all your food and all the shows and activities that you'd like to be entertained by are included in your ticket price - so besides for drinks, once on board it must feel like everything is free. Wouldn't that be just amazing?

Please leave a comment if you've traveled aboard a similar ship. I'm interested to know how you found the experience.

Christmas-coloured lights

Christmas=coloured lights
Each year it seems like thousands of people make their way through the quiet middle-income suburb of Bothasig (map) to catch some of the festive spirit that the residents have put on display on their homes and in their gardens.

Although we have Christmas trees in our homes, and the occasional wreath on our doors, massive amounts of Christmas lights and decorations aren't as big a thing in South Africa as we're made to believe it is in the USA. But, somehow the tradition caught on in this suburb - and each year it seems like the collection of brightly-coloured lights increase in number. Perhaps some day the suburb will glow even brighter than the City! :)

Take a look at this Zoopy news report that shows some footage from the area.

Chef Pon’s Sawaddee

Dinner at Sawaddee

Chef Pon and a partner started Chef Pon's Asian Kitchen a while ago, but then he parted ways with his partner who retained the Chef Pon's Asian Kitchen and Chef Pon (this is confusing, right?) opened Chef Pon's Sawaddee - in Rheede Street (map).

Although I've never eaten there, I've heard that CP Asian Kitchen isn't what it use to be. By contrast I've visited CP Sawaddee and found the food to be exceptional. We normally go there for their sushi (you HAVE to try the Chef's Special), but I've eaten two of their Thai beef meals and they we're both brilliant.

In summary, food was great and reasonably-priced, and the atmosphere was pleasant. The only negative aspect of the restaurant is that each time we've visited we've been surprised at how early they close. The restaurant seems clear at about 10pm (closing at 22h30) - which you realise by the fact that one or two lights are switched off and the sushi chef cleans up his station and leaves for the evening. Very subtle guys. ;)

Not a white Christmas

White Christmas trees

Yes, of course Africa celebrates Christmas... but white Christmas trees? I have to say that the chance of having a White Christmas in Cape Town is pretty slim, especially with the incredibly hot days we've been having.

Every now and again I wish that we could send some of our warm weather over to Europe to alleviate some of pain that they're feeling from the extreme cold spell that they're (you're) experiencing, but I very quickly take back these wishes as I remember our cold winter when I was practically counting down the days to summer!

Some day Kerry-Anne and I will visit the UK, France, or some similarly cold area over Christmas - just to see what a White Christmas is all about.

Empire Asian Restaurant in Sea Point

Indian Elephant

To celebrate my sister's birthday we joined her and a few of her friends for dinner at Empire Asian Restaurant, one of the Chinese restaurants in Sea Point Main Road. The plan was to take advantage of their R99 all-you-can-eat sushi special.

What I learned from the experience is that one can only eat a certain amount of salmon and tuna before feeling just a little ill. :) The service was great, but the sushi was only "okay" and not up to the likes of Sevruga (in the V&A Waterfront) and Sawadee (just off Kloof Street). Some of our party decided to skip the sushi and dine on the traditional Chinese meals which looked absolutely scrumptious (and instantly had me regretting opting for the R99 special!).

Tip: Skip the coffee, have the green tea. The Chinese don't seem to be much into coffee and I'm pretty convinced it was instant. I normally drink instant coffee, so it was fine, but it probably wouldn't satisfy my coffee snob friends. :D

Music at the Amphitheatre

Amphitheatre at the Waterfront
While walking around at the V&A Waterfront I stumbled upon the Cape Town Highlanders performing a few traditional Scottish pieces (some to a uniquely African drum rhythm) at the Amphitheatre.

Well, I guess "stumbled upon" isn't quite accurate - in fact, I heard them all the way from the far end of the shopping mall! They were awesome, but then Highlander pipe bands always are; are they not?

The whole V&A area seemed to be abuzz with activity. Besides for the crowd that the pipe band drew, there were people walking about snapping photos of the gorgeous views; some were selfishly licking away at their Hagen Daaz ice-cream; and others were just sitting in the sun, taking in the festive atmosphere.

The Waterfront is hosting a myriad of free musical concerts over the next few weeks. From choirs singing Christmas carols and cheerful Christmas bands, to fabulous 5pm concerts with the likes of Verity, Southpaw, Chasing Friday and the beautiful Louise Day.

Tip: Get to the V&A Waterfront at about 6am some time this month. There are very few people around at that time of the morning and the peaceful atmosphere with the cool morning air and bright rising sun makes the harbour area the perfect place to be.

Flower, sea, island

Flowers, sea, island
The top of Signal Hill is such a popular spot for tourists that I find it hard to believe that there could be locals who'd never been to the top. It's only a short drive, up an extremely scenic road to the lookout point at the top of the hill - so surely everyone must have gone up to take a look?

I discovered that that contrary to my previous belief, this is just not true. One of my very own friends had never been to the top! So, even though it was windy as hell (not that I'd know how windy hell may be) I decided that while we were in the city I'd take her on her first trip to the lookout point.

This is one of the photos that I shot while at the lookout point. I'm not sure what plant this is - but isn't it pretty? The wind was blowing furiously and that's how I got that cool, more-or-less-in-focus effect on some branches while others are partially, or completely blurred.

The ocean that you're able to see in the background is the Atlantic ocean that fills Table Bay; and the island that you see out in the distance is the famous Robben Island - South Africa's own version of Alcatraz Island

Ice skating at the V&A Waterfront

Ice rink

Kerry-Anne and I popped into the Waterfront on a small coffee and photo outing. She had coffee, while I wandered around the the area taking photos in the beautifully soft evening light.

On arrival I spotted a large white tent positioned outside of the Mugg & Bean entrance to the shopping mall. On closer investigation I confirmed my suspicion that the tent is actually the mobile ice rink that's been set up for the holiday period. I took a look inside and although the ice surface isn't huge, it looks like plenty of fun.

Skating costs R30 per hour between 10am and 7pm if you have your own skates, or R50 if you'd like to hire the bright orange ones you see in the photo. Between 7pm and 10pm the rink hosts themed evenings aimed at teenagers (at a cost of R50 per hour if you have your own skates, or R70 per hour if you don't).

I don't think it's a coincidence that the three-hour themed evenings coincide so perfectly with the amount of time parents would need for dinner and a movie. :)

Cul de sac – you ain’t going nowhere

Cul de sac
Translated directly from French, "cul de sac" means "bottom of bag" - and in this case means exactly what you guess, this road leads nowhere. It's a dead end.

In South Africa, we normally have these words painted on the entrance to a dead-end road, as well as a small rectangular green sign displaying a T-symbol where the vertical bar of the T is white and the horizontal is red. I guess what they're trying to say is, "slow down lest you come to a sudden and unexpected stop" - and "no, this isn't a shortcut". :)

Holiday fun at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront

The Wheel of Excellence

On 27 June I showed you a photo of the Wheel of Excellence and mentioned that it would be staying in Cape Town until the end of the year. Not only did the V&A manage to extend the wheel's stay until February 2011, but they've also moved it from the entrance of the Waterfront to inside, close to the amphitheatre.

If you've ever visited the Waterfront then you'll probably have a good idea of the sights that you'll see from the new location. While awesome at any time of day, can you imagine boarding the wheel while the sun is setting? Besides the beautiful view of Table Mountain, imagine catamarans with passengers sipping wines from Stellenbosch, Constantia, and Paarl slowly motoring around the harbour, and imagine yachts with tall masts and the picturesque cranes of the Robinson Drydock silhouetted against the pink and orange skies. This really is a beautiful time of the year to be at the Waterfront.

The V&A have a lot of great entertainment planned for December and January. Take a look at their What's On page for more detail about the new ice rink, music concerts, exotic animal shows, and the New Year's Eve fireworks, of course. :)

Sunglasses, an African imperative

Sunglasses, an African imperative
I wouldn't even consider venturing out on a sunny day without sunglasses. The bright glare of the sun is so intense that I'm practically guaranteed of a headache of migraine severity if I spend any longer than thirty minutes in the sun without my trusty sunnies.

Most people are wise enough to buy sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection - I've even gone to the point of only buying only glasses with polarised lenses because (besides for reducing the brightness) they help reduce the glare from the road, water, or beach sand.

As someone I knew once said, you only have two eyes, so buy proper sunglasses. I don't know about you, but I reckon that's a pretty fair statement.

Cinderella in December, by Cape Town City Ballet

Ballet dancer

I'm not sure that this is in fact a ballet dancer; her shoes seem to indicate otherwise.

However (and don't you think this is clever of me? ;) ), now that we're on the topic of shoes, I found out that Cape Town City Ballet will be presenting the story of Cinderella at the Artscape Opera House between 17 and 24 December, with music by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. Don't you think this would be a magical way to build up towards Christmas (assuming you celebrate Christmas)?

Guys, if you and your loved one don't have other plans, and if you think she'd love something like this, take the opportunity and buy tickets for Christmas Eve. Even us un-balleted guys should be able to follow such a well-known story. :)

Cape Town’s Le Relais de l’Entrecôte

Restaurant tables
Headquarters in Cape Town's Heritage Square is a steak restaurant fashioned after Paris's Le Relais de l'Entrecôte. The concept of both restaurants is that they serve a set starter and then for the main course only steak and chips, completing the meal with a variety of desserts from which one can choose.

Headquarters in particular serves only (extremely tender) sirloin steak with Mac Donalds-style razor-thin chips. Although they have a vegetarian option, it wouldn't make sense for vegetarians to visit - they really do specialise in steak.

A tip that I can offer is to try visiting HQ (map) at some time other than Friday and Saturday nights. They tend to get very busy around those times and things do get a little hectic in this long room. Also, we found our steak was much better on a Saturday afternoon when things weren't quite as rushed. As you can see from the photo, the restaurant is pretty quiet on a Saturday afternoon.

Food quality: pretty good, but as stated, the steak is better when it's quieter.
Atmosphere: stylish, modern and trendy.
Value for money: averagely-priced for restaurants in a similar class.

The Rainbow Nation

Coloured stones
"The Rainbow Nation" is a term originally used by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to describe the South Africa formed after the removal of apartheid in 1994.

Cape Town Daily Photo provides an insight into the Cape Town that we know and experience, but the truth is that there are many different colours to the rainbow that makes up South Africa. The sentiment expressed by the archbishop was that of a diverse country united. Whether or not we're as united as he had hoped is a debatable point. Many factors point towards a united South Africa, but still we have so many differences that it's almost impossible for us to properly understand each other. Perhaps "the Rainbow Nation" is the holy grail that every country strives for, and perhaps it's unrealistic to expect a completely united people.

To get a feel for the diversity among the people of South Africa, take a moment to read this article on South Africa at a Glance.

Crossing the waters

Crossing the waters
While watching this pirate ship replica I was struck by the craziness of a handful of men (in the 16 hundreds) boarding a small sail boat like this one and heading off from Europe to sail around the tip of Africa. I'm not sure that the rough seas, frequently poor rations, and the damp working and living conditions would have enticed me into exploring the world.

Perhaps we're too used to the comforts of large cruise liners or huge jet airplanes. Perhaps we've all (although, perhaps not all) become too accustomed to modern living. Do you think we've become too soft; too breakable?

A chef at work

A chef at work
While on honeymoon, a while back now, Kerry-Anne and I spent a short while at the spectacular Vineyard Hotel. Recently a friend invited a few of us to spend the evening enjoying a 6 course dinner at at Myoga, one of the Hotel's restaurants. The meal was wonderful. The portions were certainly not large, but on conclusion of the sixth, I felt as though I'd eaten a small elephant - and a pretty tasty one at that!

The strangely unusual thing about Mayoga is that the kitchen is more or less situated amidst the diners, so that you have a view into what the chefs are up to. Now you may not think that's strange or unusual, but what we discovered is that even by visiting the lavatories you can't escape a view of the kitchen - they have LDC monitors inside each cubical, showing the chefs preparing food in the kitchen!

Now that's kind strange, wouldn't you say so?

The Isa Carstens experience

Ex-students of Isa Carstens

The closest photo, in this photo, is the first group of Isa Carstens Academy students - from 1978. From then on and for over 30 years the Isa Carstens Academy in the leafy town of Stellenbosch has been the training ground for the top health, wellness and skincare professionals in the country.

Over the years I've known several people who've packed their bags, boarded huge cruise liners, and headed out to see the world while perfecting their practice on the rich and famous. (Well, not always the rich and famous... sometimes only the rich. ;) ). Doesn't that sound like an awesome way for a young person to kick-start their lives - traveling, seeing the world, and being paid to do so?

I guess it's no surprise that when we were offered the opportunity to visit the academy and indulge in their treatments - we eagerly accepted. Kerry-Anne's busy recovering from an arthroscopy of her hip joint, so Isabel (owner and MD of the academy) suggested that she try the lymphatic drainage treatment while one of the other students kept me in a state of bliss with a hot stone massage.

Both students were extremely professional and had such a calming nature and way of speaking that we both had no problem feeling utterly relaxed within a few minutes of lying down. It was awesome. Allow me to say it again. It was awesome. :)

What makes the Isa Carstens Academy different from many other training institutions is that the second-year students gain practical workplace experience in the academy's fully commercial spa, the Isa Wellness Sanctuary (map). While the students benefit from the experience, the public benefits from the greatly discounted rates (offered for the simple reason that the therapists are still students). Here's a link to their current rates for spa as well as for the nail lounge. (If you're visiting from abroad, remember, the prices are in Rands.)

Atlantic Adventures – a flippin’ fast boat ride

A very fast boat
In Sydney Kerry-Anne and I went on a similar trip to this one offered by Atlantic Adventures. I can still remember slowly motoring back to the harbour listening to Down Under (by the Aussie band Men at Work) at top volume after the ride on the deathly fast and highly maneuverable jet boat.

I'm not sure if this boat is quite as maneuverable the one in Sydney, but from the photos on their site, it sure looks like a hell of a lot of fun. I also noticed that they offer a combo trip that consists of a boat ride and helicopter flip! If you're into adrenaline-releasing experiences then I think this experience could be just for you.

Washed out to sea

Out at sea
However much fun relaxing on a small inflatable may seem, be sure to learn a little about the ocean currents and keep your wits about you - we've heard many stories of people on inflatables drifting out to sea, never to be seen again.

I think what some times happens is that people find the feeling of bobbing about on the water so relaxing that they shut their eyes for a little while and don't pay attention to how far away from the shore they are - until it's too late. Clifton's beach is very protected from the wind, but once you drift a little further out there's sharp change and the wind is easily able to drag you far away from the beach - too far for the average person to swim back.

Fortunately, the Clifton and Camps Bay beaches normally have lifeguards on duty who would probably warn you when you drift too far out. That said, it's not worth the risk, so be careful and keep your wits about you!

Beach time

Beach games
Wouldn't you love to be on the beach? White sand, warm sun, colourful umbrellas, and beach games - all add together to create one of the most relaxing atmospheres that in some way force your mind to switch off from day-to-day concerns and responsibilities.

Summer is here folks, so be sure to lotion up with heavy-duty African-grade sunblock before you head on down to the beach. Even if you're not keen on donning a bathing suit, grab a book, get there early, and hire a beach chair and umbrella. It'll be one of the most relaxing times you'll ever have!

Clifton 4th Beach

Clifton 4th Beach
Thanks for your comments on my previous photo Deems, Nicola and Dawn. You're all correct - the beach is one of Clifton's 4 beaches and Dawn was 100% right in naming it as Clifton 4th - my favourite.

There was no wind to speak of; the air was cool, but the sun was warm. Bobbing around on a boat just of the beach was an amazing feeling. Even though we weren't on a luxury yacht, I guess that's the best way to describe the feeling. Imagine yourself in this very spot on the deck of a luxury yacht, enjoying the sun, drinking cocktails and snacking on delightful treats. Grand hey?

This was such great fun - and if you're okay with being out on a boat, I'd suggest this to be of the things you have to do when visiting Cape Town. It was simply beautiful.

Remember to take motion sickness tablets before jumping on board. As a particular colleague of mine discovered , feeling ill on the water really does ruin the experience.

Guess which beach

Port hole
As a reward for working exceptionally hard this year my colleagues (from my day-job) and I were recently treated to a boat trip. I obviously took the opportunity to snap a few photos for your viewing pleasure. :)

The beach in this photo is a little more tricky than normal to identify because the hole in the hull obscures a lot from view. This said, I'm sure if you've spent some time in Cape Town that it would be unmistakable. Can you identify which it is?

Breakwater at Table Bay harbour

Breakwater at Table Bay harbour

The mountain in the background, along with Lion's Head and Signal Hill to the right unmistakably identifies this breakwater to be part of Table Bay harbour (which is the big harbour where your cruise liner would normally drop you off).

I heard recently, on the radio, that plans are afoot to build a proper arrivals and departures terminal that will cater for tourists arriving on large liners. Currently, visitors normally disembark alongside a commercial (and not very pretty) pier very close to the beautiful Table Bay Hotel - which I have to say is hugely convenient if you plan on bunking in one of the hotel's 5-star rooms!