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Cape Town

View from the top to Table Mountain
Even though Cape Peninsula was first settled by indigenous groups as far back as 2000 years ago, it was 1488 before the Portuguese discovered the area.  And it was over another 150 years before a European settlement was developed.  In 1652, the Dutch East Indian Company established a stopping point to provide water, produce and meat for ships traveling to Asia.  The impact of the Dutch settlers has been huge on the history, language, politics and architecture of South Africa, particularly in the southernmost region of the country.

South Africa has eleven official languages, with Zulu, being spoken by almost one fourth of the population.  Everyone we came in contact with spoke at least two or three languages, and English was widely spoken.  Afrikaans or African Dutch is the primary language through the Cape and lower portion of the country.  But, English is the dominant language in the government and the media, and traffic signs (throughout all portions of the country we traveled through) and menus were in English, so we had no language problems as we moved around.

Cape Town is a multicultural, modern city, known for its outstanding food scene.  Restaurants here
Fabulous kingklip dish at Harbor House at V&A waterfront
are considered to be the best on the continent, and we were repeatedly blown away by not only the quality but the reasonable pricing on food and wine.  A $10 glass of wine in the U.S. is $3 here and the wine is unquestionably superior.  Typically, I cook as we travel, and we had a full, well-equipped kitchen in our 1-bedroom apartment in Town ($74 a night), but the restaurant food was so impressive and inexpensive, I never even considered preparing our meals.  Fresh seafood is abundant and we were able to try a few types of fish we were unfamiliar with, hake, snoek (a bony, deepwater fish) and kingklip plus outstanding calamari, oysters and prawns.

Cable car to the top
With only two full days to explore the city, we narrowed down our travel choices.  Table Mountain National Park is the dominating presence in the city, and with a cable car ride to the top, it was our first destination.  Hiking up the 3500 feet, takes 2-4 hours, depending on the trail selected, but that was not on the agenda for us.  Views from the cable car were fantastic since Mother Nature had provided perfect weather for our visit.  We were on top within 15 minutes, including the wait in line.  Visiting during the off season, lines for our entry and ascend were minimal.  The floral diversity the Park is known for during the spring and summer were now gone due to our early winter timing.

Our next stop, the Cape Town waterfront was a functional harbor prior to 1989, and it is still a working harbor with fishing boats and container ships using the facilities.  However, that year marked the beginning of a major redevelopment of the
V & A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background
area, now known as the Victoria and Alfred  Waterfront.  There are over 450 retail outlets, including dozens of restaurants.  Residential use is combined with the commercial.  The Clock Tower built in 1882, still graces the harbor located next to the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.

Robben Island--stark and wind swept--is a 30-45 minute ferry ride from the harbor and is best known as the place of incarceration for Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment.  As far back as the 1700's the island was used as a prison, and then later as a leper colony and military site during World War 2.  From 1961 to 1991 the island was used for political and criminal prisoners, with political prisoners being removed in 1991.  The prison was closed in 1996 and in 1999 the island was declared a World Heritage Site.

Mandela's cell
Ferries run hourly to the island and the full tour takes about 2- 2 1/2 hours.  It includes a narrated bus trip around to historical sites, a stop at a rocky beach where we saw our first South African penguins, and then on to the prison.  Our guide for the prison was a former prisoner from 1977-1982.  Many of the guides are former inmates, so they can offer a personal  perspective.  Our guide displayed a calm, pleasant manner, solemn but with a quick smile.  The desolation of the island must have compounded the isolation of the men sentenced here.

Next, it time for us to move on down to the Cape Peninsula.
Looking down from the cable car 
Dassies-wildlife on Table Mountain
Protea--gorgeous flower which grow on Table Mountain (but not at this time of year)
Many entertainers are scattered through the Waterfront area, working for tips and selling their CDs 
Little breezy up top!
Lighthouse on Robben Island built in 1865
At the prison

Ghost ship under renovation in the harbor

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