Thursday, December 29, 2011

South Africa Day 2 - Kirstenbosch & Constantia Valley

Up bright and early in the hope that we could head up to the mountain of tables, to make up for our foolishness the day before, but it was not to be. The Mountain was comprehensively covered by the infamous Tablecloth, the roofing of cloud that gives the mountain its rather pleasingly bouffant hairdo.

Headed down to breakfast where the hotel manager cheerfully enquired how our trip up the mountain the previous day had gone. We had to admit with our heads hung low, that we’d slept through the entire show, to be fair he kept as neutral and courteous a face as possible given the circumstances, but even with my eyes almost full to the brim with bitter tears at the thought we had missed our chance, I could tell he believed we were either fatuous cretins or deranged imbeciles, either way we were far beyond his kindly help.

Accepting our lot, we saddled up our silver steed and headed through Cape Town and onwards to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

This most impressive of gardens, is the largest Botanical Garden in South Africa and also the only one in the world to be part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain it affords spectacular views of the iconic plateau and also Devil’s Peak.

The Tablecloth in full splendor, Table Mountain is on the far right, well what you can see of it

Whilst Devil’s Peak was clearly visible, the mighty TM was not, it was still draped in its troublesome shroud thanks to the moisture laden south-easterly wind that blows against this comely heap. When the currents encounter the high land they rise to approximately 900 meters before hitting the colder layers of air, forming thick clouds which proceed to roll over the mountain and down towards the city bowl, creating the characteristic tablecloth, and when reaching the lower, warmer air the other side they dissolve once more. So now you know.

The gardens themselves were well laid out with plenty of information about the plants, unfortunately though it was a bit late in the season for much colour, apart from green, most of the flowers had long gone, spring was definitely over and summer was belting on a pace.

The flowers in this picture and the one before it were the only colours I
could find that weren't green or brown in the whole park
Spent a two to three hours having a wander round the various parts of the garden, which were somewhat enlivened by the multitude of sprinklers placed around the grounds. They weren’t unwelcome, as it was a hot day, just occasionally startling.

After having a coffee in one of the garden’s cafes we made south in the direction of Constantia Valley. This is the wine region closest to Cape Town that boasts some of the countries oldest wineries. Our first port of call was Groot Constantia this historic winery that dates back to the mid 1600’s, is the oldest and probably the most famous one in the area and needless to say, when it comes to all things wine, it has the bases covered.

Typical Cape Dutch architecture. This was the museum we were too tight to go in
After having departed company with, I believe, the friendliest and most helpful security guard I have ever encountered, we had a wander around the Cape Dutch structures that grace this beguiling estate, but drew the line at the museum, which I’m sure is splendid, but we balked at parting with cash in our pursuit of grape squashing history. Instead we happily parted with it for a bite to eat in their Jonkershuis restaurant. I had bobotie which, and I have no shame in saying this, was even better than mine, served with an egg custard on top and various chutneys, cinnamon, butternut and almond rice and a poppadom no less.

I believe this was round the back of the museum
After making the short walk to see the historical bath, which was definitely bath like in its structure, but as to the history of it I haven’t the faintest idea, maybe we should have forked out for that museum after all. We made our way back to Cape Town making a slight detour up Signal Hill in the vain hope that we might get a view of the city, only to be confronted with thick soupy clouds for our troubles. We continued to the V&A waterfront. After getting a parking space, which was a minor miracle in itself, we had a pleasant amble about the place, seeing it in daylight for the first time, and stopped for a well deserved coffee, which was, as usual, very good. 

This was the view from Signal Hill towards Cape Town, this is one of the better pictures, at least you can see some of the city.
Here's a picture of some trees near the top of Signal Hill, purely because I like it
Now I’m no Captain Cook, or even Captain Kirk for that matter, I have never, for example, had to drink my own urine in a desperate bid to survive, or angered a remote tribe of people to point where they wished to stab me to death, nor have I ever had my jersey ripped at the shoulder while fighting hand to hand with an extraterrestrial miscreant before getting beamed aboard a starship and killing the bastard with an immensely agreeable blast of photon torpedoes. But I have done a bit of travelling, and it never fails to impress me how uniformly good the coffee is in other countries.

This is obviously not a difficult task to master, and while I appreciate the time and practice it takes to learn the barista trade, we’re not talking about spending 2 years at university and all your families money on tuition fees difficult here. So why then, when I venture into a coffee shop in the UK, is it generally with a sense of disquiet and apprehension about what kind of brownish slop in a cup they might offer up to me in the deluded sense that it constitutes what they imagine passes for actual coffee, and expect me to pay real, honest, authentic money for it. It really is beyond comprehension.

With those dour yet shallow thoughts rattling around we drove back to the hotel through the Cape Town rush hour traffic.

That evening, took a walk down to kloof street, where most of the restaurants are based, after a bit of a trudge round, we went back to one we had seen earlier, on the way down, which turned out to be fully booked. Couldn’t face going back to review what we’d already seen so we pointed ourselves in the direction of the Daily Deli, the cafĂ©/deli/shop we’d had coffee in the day before, just round the corner from where we were staying.

All they had was pizza, which considering we had geared ourselves up for some traditional South African fare – namely exotic and copious amounts of meat, we were initially disappointed. Thankfully the pizzas they served up did more than enough to banish thoughts of skewered springbok and flame grilled hippo from our minds. I had bacon, brie and green fig and it was marvellous, definitely recommended.

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