Cape Town: being a tourist in your own city!

It was while standing on the Sea Point sidewalk, outside the Winchester Mansions in that last hour of daylight, that we reflected on the day, and realized it had started with pancakes for breakfast at the waterfront – it may have been only 9 hours, but it felt like we’d had that meal 3 days ago.

Isn’t it amazing when a day of activities feels like it has lasted several days?

So it was when we spent a day being tourists in our city yesterday. We got tickets for those topless red City Sightseeing hop on-hop off buses that you see driving around all the time. The ones where you mumble to yourself, or maybe your partner, “we should do that sometime”. And you should – we had such a great time!

Like I said, got our tickets at the office outside the aquarium in the waterfront, planning to take the bus to the Clocktower for breakfast. Thanks to the slightly late arrival of one in our party, we missed that bus by 3 minutes, so started our bus tour with a stroll through the blue craft shed to the Clocktower – where we had breakfast at Harries pancakes – which we hear is closing down here and moving to Hout Bay. The pancakes were good, but let’s hope their service (read: speed) improves in their new location.

With schedule in pocket – as would be the case in any city I was going to explore for the day – we moved to the bus stop with enough time to do some browsing of zebra-covered chaise-longues completely out of our price range.

I’d “built in” a few minutes spare time, as tour guides often do, by telling me friends that the bus leaves in 10 minutes, when in fact it was 15 minutes. And just as well too, as
Mr R had misplaced his ticket – so we spent a few frantic minutes calmly checking pockets, bags and wallets, while keeping a beady eye on the road for our red bus. Luckily the first one was for the “Blue Route” – allowing us a few more minutes to locate the ticket before our “Red Route” coach arrived.

All 5 tickets in hand then, we marched up the inside stairs, hoping to find 5 seats together on what looked like a very full open-top-floor. I’m not sure who spotted it first, but they rushed and grabbed the 5 seats-in-a-row at the very back – bonus! We instantly felt like naughty school kids sitting in the back like that. We unpacked our bright red earphones and plugged ourselves into the language boxes, so we could hear the running commentary. There is an impressive selection of languages available – from the standard English, German and Spanish through to Zulu, Arabic and “Kids” – which some of us enjoyed more than others!

We caught ourselves switching between languages we knew, to see what they were like; we were all impressed by commentary and especially by how the timing works so exceptionally well. When they say “on your left” you better believe that whatever you’re looking at, is on the left exactly as you turn your head.

It was a beautiful beautiful day, and leaving the clocktower in the direction of the CTICC you get breathtaking views of Table Mountain. We rode a few stops, agreeing to get out at St George’s Mall, and then take a stroll through the Company Gardens to the SA Museum. As Capetonians ourselves, we obviously knew where we were, but between the new facts we learnt from our audio guide, and the super elevation of the bus, we were constantly “wow-ed” by things we didn’t know or hadn’t noticed before. From the friezes on some buildings to noticing just how beautiful some of our older structures are.

At St George’s Mall we disembarked, took a quick peek inside the new Taj Hotel, and then wandered over to the buildings of Parliament. Have you actually ever stopped at the fence and noticed the detail on their lamps? Spoken to the police officer there – and realized where the actual main entrance of the building is? It is a beautiful building.

We strolled through the company gardens, some of us not knowing till today that there is a restaurant there, others of us helping each other to ring the old slave bell next to the aviary – which could do with an upgrade and clean-up. The poor birds…

The gardens really are very peaceful – and it was great to see them being used by so many people for picnics and relaxing time today. They’re well kept, and well worth a visit.

A short stop at the SA Museum, and a decision to return to the Planetarium in the future, we made our way (still on foot) across to the SA Jewish Museum. This is something we’d all been looking forward to (I’d been wanting to go for years already…). It was quite a busy spot – lots of people, but the Jewish Museum left us feeling… unfulfilled. For the R50 entry fee, we didn’t really get very much of interest to us, until I asked about the Holocaust centre – which is what we’d actually been after, and hadn’t realized was a separate building. And without an entrance fee!

So we skedaddled over there, and found what we’d been expecting. It’s a very tasteful and thoughtfully done exhibition of the holocaust and the way it affected lives. It is definitely worth a visit!

By now it was quarter past one, and we were becoming peckish. We quickly agreed that the District 6 Museum, Castle and Gold of Africa Museum would need to take back seat to having some lunch. And in fact, we were all looking forward to sitting on the bus again, being driven around the city. On a sunny day this really is very relaxing, and again, we realized the benefits of the raised vantage point we were at.

We passed the District 6 Museum, drove through the barren landscape of this once-busy suburb, we discussed the 6 flags on the Castle (do you know what they are, these 6 flags – very interesting!), we reminisced about the happenings on the Grand Parade and at the City Hall. We drove back down Adderley Street, up Strand Street. Had a quick discussion about whether to have lunch in De Waterkant or in Camps Bay – all in vain, as we’d missed the Gold of Africa stop now already and were set on a course to the Cableway.

We wound our way up and up Kloofnek, turned left at the summit and rode up to the lower Cableway station. Another topless bus passed us – with a bunch of sour passengers it seemed – none of them returned our waving… maybe they were so engrossed in the audio and the view of the city bowl.

We were informed that we have a stop of a few minutes here – time enough to get a snack and use the facilities. And as soon as we spotted the frozen yoghurt stall we decided to have a quick snack before lunch!

So off we scooted, with Mr R holding our back bench (yes, we managed get the back row on every bus we were on!), and headed straight for the… empty stall…

Huh? We could see the frozen yoghurts, touch them even, if we tried, but not a person in sight to sell us one.

We asked the neighbouring stallholders – no-one knew where he or she is…and by this time we had another buyer joining us – so buyers of up to 9 frozen yoghurts were standing waiting for an elusive seller who had evaporated.

It was only when we were back on the bus 10 minutes later pulling away from the parking area, enjoying our frozen yoghurts, that we spotted her. It was only then that the lady returned to her stall, and had to re-pack her fridges.

We were determined to get these cold snacks you see, and with Mr J’s long arms and legs, he could reach our desired flavours in the fridges behind the locked doors – while the rest of us made arrangements with the neighbouring stallholders to take our money and hand it over to the right person on her return. And to think we had to pay a premium for this pleasure, as we weren’t able to get change from her… but at least we had our cool-down!

A short stint down Camps Bay Drive, overlooking the surprisingly windy, yet stunning beaches, brought us to our lunch spot. Our lunch spot was decided for us. We all knew we wanted sushi for lunch, but hadn’t yet agreed on where – until we heard our audio guide tell us that we get a discount at the Cape Town Fish Market. And always up for a discount, we were sold!

And it was only at this point that we realized that there are discounts printed on the back of our bus tickets – and that we could have saved R10 at the Jewish Museum. Which the lady didn’t mention, even though I asked about where the bus stops…

A lazy lunch with some wine and water overlooking the beaches – what more? A great way to spend a public holiday.

Followed by the purchase of a very sinful ice-cream, we crossed the road to take a quick dip in the ocean. Instead of that though, we got a skin exfoliation! The water is always cold, we could have lived with that. But the wind was strong – so that our backs and legs got a bit of a sandblasting, and my shoes managed a very impressive sand collection! And I spent most of my time keeping my cone out of the wind, so prevent having Crunchy Mango sorbet in a cone… Ms R was not so lucky with hers though…

So, with Clifton not being a stop on this route, we rode the back seats all the way to Sea Point and hopped off for a final drink at Harvey’s at the Winchester Mansions. The sun was getting lower in the sky, daiquiris were on the table, and we were glowing from a super day exploring our own city – and already planning the next adventures now that we’re realized how much else there is to do!

A short wait for the final bus back to the aquarium took us past the new stadium (it is beautiful…) and along the Mouille Point coast. Past South Africa’s oldest lighthouse (“Moaning Minnie”) back to our starting point.

9 hours of exploring and relaxing, and we realized that you actually need the 2 day ticket to be able to do everything comfortably – and that’s even if you live here! What a super super day being a tourist in your own city

One thought on “Cape Town: being a tourist in your own city!

  1. Are you saying that YOU, an “examined” (ex-)tour guide in this city, found something NEW, you didn’t know? [Forget about the stadium, which is not beautiful in everyone’s opinion … but the things that were always there!?]

    Or are you “angling” for new customers?


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