Cape Town, a fascinating meld .

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February 6th 2016
Published: June 26th 2017
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Geo: -33.979, 18.5102

We arrived in Cape Town early in the morning of Feb 4th. By 7am we were docked at our berth at the Cruise Terminal. We had arranged to meet Barbara and Roger Smith, members of La Chaines whom we had met at the Young Sommeliers'' Competition in Adelaide last September. We rang them about 8-30 and confirmed our meeting spot. This was to be at the main entrance of the Table Bay Hotel at the V&A Waterfront which was in walking distance from the dock. It was a beautiful day, sunny skies and temperatures in the high 20s. We left the ship about 9am after breakfast and took our time walking through the waterfront area. We had been here in 1998 but much had changed. We did recognise the Clock Tower and the Swing Bridge. Further on, outside the Victoria shopping centre was a huge private yacht, the Vava1, with several crew members busy on board. We found the Table Bay Hotel and walked through this 5 star hotel to the front entrance where we waited for our friends.

Once in the car we were driven out of the city heading to the Winelands. Barbara was excellent, giving us a running commentary on the various places we passed and the conversation flowed. Roger drove well avoiding others who weren't quite so careful. Our first stop was a special one. They stopped at the open prison from which Nelson Mandela was finally released. He had been brought there from Robben Island. There is a fantastic statue of him there now. Roger said that most tourists miss it. We then went on to the Graaf winery. This has been built by the diamond merchant and, as Barbara said, is the most "posh" of the wineries. It has some amazing art work and fantastic landscaped gardens. We walked through admiring the surroundings. I couldn't persuade Fletcher, though, to buy me the 118 carat Yellow Diamond ring that was on display!! Oh and I am told the wine is good too, though we didn't taste there.

We drove on seeing the destruction caused by recent bushfires. At our next stop, Delheim Wines, burnt ground was right at the edge of the vineyards. Here we stopped for lunch. The main chef is a member of the local La Chaine and Roger assured us the food was fantastic. He was proved right. We sat outside in a pretty courtyard and enjoyed the sun and the gentle breeze. A perfect day for it. Fletcher chose spring rolls for starters while I went for the fishcakes. Both were delicious. We both opted for the Springbok loin as main. This was cooked perfectly, medium rare and was tender and scrumptious. We can't get over the prices here. The entrees were about 45 rand ($A4-50) and the main course about 165rand. The top of the range bottle of red was only 300 rand. We started with a luscious Gerwurtztraminer and then had the red. We did taste their pinotage which is the main grape grown here, but it was too light. Barbara drank that happily while we demolished the very nice Cabernet.

Desserts were also excellent. I had a cheesecake with berry jus while Fletcher opted for the pannacotta. Well sated we drove on. This time we went to another winery called Villiera and we had a tasting. These were all very reasonably priced but not as fine as Delheim. However, they did have a nice bubbly and a fine sticky. We then returned to the ship having spent almost the perfect day with lovely company, great food and wine!

On Friday morning we left the ship about 9am and walked over to the V&A Waterfront. I had booked tickets on line to go across to Robben Island. It was another beautiful day, with blue skies and about 30 degrees. We walked around to where we thought was the right place but found that there was now a big new wharf and building, next to the Clocktower from where the ferries departed. Once we had retrieved our tickets we had a quick breakfast at a nearby café and then boarded the ferry at 10-30. It took an hour to travel across the harbour to the island. On the way we saw seals and a couple of whales as well as many of the local Cape Cormorants diving for fish. Once we arrived at the pier we were shown to buses, waiting nearby. Our young guide was excellent. He lives on the island along with about 250 others. As we drove he explained the history and pointed out sites of interest. This had been set up as a leper colony and then a military base. During WW2 it had been reinforced with large guns that were supposed to be able to fire across the bay to stop an attack on Cape Town Harbour. However, they were only completed in 1947! There are still a couple of them here. We saw the leper cemetery and the bluestone hospital which was used as a school after the lepers left but is now closed as there are not enough children on the island. We also saw the Garrison Church built when the military were here. The British had used it as a prison for tribal leaders in the 19th century. It then became a prison for criminals before being used for political prisoners during the apartheid era.

We stopped briefly at a viewpoint close to a penguin colony and took photos of Table Mountain and Cape Town across the bay. We drove past the limestone quarry where Mandela and other prisoners were forced to work. We saw the cave in which they would gather during breaks and where they continued to hold political meetings by placing their buckets of excrement across the entrance so the guards wouldn't come inside!. We were then driven to the prison itself. There we were met by a former inmate, Sipho Msomi, who had spent 5 years as a political prisoner here. He was originally from Durban where he was arrested for being a member of the ANC and brought here when he was 21. He described the interrogation methods of the BOSS which always included torture. His descriptions were horrific. He took us inside the big cell block, F section. In each large room, 40 prisoners would live in bunk beds. He said they could keep up their discussions as the guards would only check on them once an hour when they were locked in there. We sat, spellbound, while he told his story.

We then went to the single cell block. This is where the leaders were kept, one man to a cell, with a bucket for a toilet, a tin dish and pannikin and a strip of carpet on the floor on which to sleep. We were shown Mandela's cell. Hard to imagine he was imprisoned there for 27 years. Another block of single cells were used for solitary confinement which was often used as a punishment. The surrounding courtyards are barren and dusty with only some cacti as embellishment. It had been a grim but important visit, confirming human's ability to harm others and leading to admiration for those who survived their incarceration here.

We then made the return trip in the boat, again seeing many seals and a frolicking whale dashing his tail on the water. After arriving back at the dock I bought a T shirt in the souvenir shop to honour the memory of Nelson Mandela. We then went off to find lunch as it was now 3pm and we hadn't eaten since breakfast. We stopped at the Cape Town Fish Market restaurant which boasted free WiFi but it was so limited we could not use it. However, we shared a large seafood platter which had more than enough for the two of us for only $A25.
We then wandered on seeking WiFi. We had some wine at Hildebrand's Ristorante which gave some access for a short time. Then we went looking through the Victoria Shopping Centre. There were many great souvenir shops there and as it was now Friday evening the area was teeming with both locals and tourists alike. The many restaurants were full and many families were enjoying a beautiful evening. At Balthazar's wine bar we were successful in logging on and had another wine or two. We had earlier bought a couple of bottles at a local wine store with the Chenin Blanc, an award winner the owner told us, costing $A6. About 9-30 we stopped for a quick pizza before returning to the ship with some purchases and having spent another great day.

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