Friday, January 6, 2012

South Africa Day 5 - Table Mountain & Stellenbosch

Woke up to a glorious morning, a clear, burnished blue sky sporting a fat, cheerful sun. We decided that this was a perfect end to our stay in Cape Town and more importantly was a perfect time to be heading up my old nemesis – Table Mountain!

We headed out straight away, forgoing the diversion of breakfast for the moment, we could always grab some later after those Table Mountain aspirations had been sated. We buckled up and shot from the outskirts of the city like a sprightly bulimic towards an all you can eat buffet, speeding up the road to the cable car, determined not to waste our last chance at glory.

We actually got there slightly too early in fact as it was still over half an hour away from opening, but not to worry, it meant we would be one of the first up there on this most auspicious of days. We were second in line, seems someone wanted it even more than ourselves, or like us they’d thought it opened earlier than it did. So after a short wait, and with quiet anticipation, we paid our fare and entered the cable car that would take us all the way up the mother of all flat topped mountains.

At last, my view of glory awaits. That little mound at the top is the upper station.

The ascent was surprisingly quick, travelling the 704 metres from the lower station to tabletop in around 4-5 minutes, all the while the floor of the car rotates so views can be had in every direction. Once secured at the top we (well I) positively leapt out of the carriage with an agile dynamism I didn’t know I possessed. When I got outside the change in temperature was somewhat noticeable, it had dropped quite a few degrees and it was blowing a gale, but to me these were trifling considerations, I had a mission to accomplish.

I picked out a suitable spot, one that would give me a good view of the city and surrounds, set up my sturdy tripod and began methodically assembling my camera apparatus. Polariser, neutral grad filter and remote shutter release all fitted into their correct and proper positions, camera settings checked and double checked. I looked through the viewfinder and the vista was incredible, this was worth the wait I thought, and gushed loudly to everyone within earshot ‘What a wonderful life!’ No I didn’t do that, but I did think it was a cracking way to end our stay in the beautiful city of Cape Town.

All I had to do now was let loose with the shutter and get the shots I’d been waiting so long for, and this is what I got….

Oh dear. I think I said words to that effect
Yep, after 2-3 years of faultless service my camera decided that at this particular moment, on this particular day, it would start to prat around. I was somewhat perplexed to say the least. I took out the battery, memory card, took off the lens, tried a different lens, took out the battery again, tried a different memory card. Long story short, I didn’t get a single shot from up there. I didn’t even have my point and shoot camera with me, just to get a record of the view.

Suddenly the howling wind and arctic temperatures seemed to close in on me and I was freezing. Furious and freezing. I stomped into the café they have up there, which is actually rather a nice café indeed, although I wasn’t really in the mood to appreciate it, and ordered, nay demanded a cup of coffee. Which duly arrived at my table, even the word table was now sullied for me and came ready packaged with bitter despondency, which I hoped would evaporate in the passage of time, as table is a fairly ubiquitous word and I didn’t want to be thrown into fits of agonising desolation for the rest of my life every time it was mentioned. The coffee by the way was very good, but it didn’t particularly improve my temperament.

Afterwards I had a quick look around outside at the various views but my heart wasn’t really in it any more and all I wanted to do was get back down again and get some breakfast.

Apparently Table Mountain is approximately 260-million years old. By comparison, the Andes are about 250-million years old, the Rockies are about 60-million, the Himalayas are 40-million and the Alps are a trifling 32-million years old. That is quite an interesting fact, now. At the time though I couldn’t have given a baboon’s bollock.

Got back to the hotel and took the offending piece of machinery to pieces, I don’t mean I gave it a kicking, although I did feel like childishly throwing it on the floor, just to see if it might fix it, I’m not totally unconvinced deep down that giving something complicated a good smack isn’t the best way to mend it, and I’m often tempted to give it a go if nothing else works.

Thankfully some cautious words from Sarah put paid to any desires I had of performing cameracide on the errant device. So I just ploughed my way through breakfast in a foul mood ruminating on sombre, tenebrous thoughts.

We packed up our belongings and said our goodbyes to the staff at One on Queens which was a lovely place, both in setting and in itself, I would happily stay there again.

Made a slight detour and stopped at Bloubergstrand for an iconic view of Table Mountain from the this well known vantage point. Unfortunately that day it was blowing a gale so we didn't hang around for too long. Long enough to walk onto the beach, take a couple of pictures and walk off again in fact.

The Table that would always haunt my nightmares. And it's not often you hear that.
Drove the 50-60km to Stellenbosch, the second oldest town in South Africa after Cape Town and our next port of call. After an easy arrival we trundled round the town centre on the look out for a parking spot, this place certainly is busy, found one and went and got a coffee. First impressions of this university town was very positive, despite the acres of tourists, which I couldn't really get too annoyed about, seeing as I was one of them, it has quite a modern, affluent feel to it with plenty of interesting shops and restaurants, all within easy reach.

After checking into River Manor which looked very nice, we dumped our bags and I had another go at my camera, which seemed to somehow have reanimated itself and began working like there was never a problem between us. Which I was pleased about, as I’m sure you can imagine, but it had somewhat tainted our relationship and I would be keeping a close eye on it from now on.

Took one of the designated wine routes out of town and after passing many fine looking wineries we headed up the Franschhoek pass, which was scenic, as all passes should be, to the town of Franschhoek itself, where we stopped for a bite to eat. Although this town is renowned for its culinary reputation we opted for something a bit more basic, but it still good.

Afterwards we spent some time exploring Helshoogte Pass which along with Franschhoek, Viljoen’s and Sir Lowry’s Pass go to make up the, imaginatively titled, Four Passes route.The views were spectacular but due to the time of day, most of it was in shade so we agreed to return the next morning when it would be more conducive to photography.

The hotel had booked us a place to eat that evening at a restaurant called Unami which was nice, if a bit fancier than we’re used to. It was the type of place that had a menu that recommended wines to go with each course, pairing it with taste and various other parameters. Which was fine as long as you went with the recommendations, if you wanted to stray off the prescribed line you were pretty much on your own as the waiter, at least the one we had, didn't have the faintest idea about what wines should go with what.

And seeing as my travelling companion is a bit of a wine aficionado, as in she drinks a lot of it, and was eager to sample their bountiful collection in compliment with the food, so quite understandably was looking for pertinent advice on the subject. He seemed to spend most of the time at our table sporting a look that combined elements of confusion, embarrassment and persecution. We didn’t leave him a very good tip either, so it was not his best night.  

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