Hear about travel to Cape Town, South Africa as the Amateur Traveler talks to Annika Ziehen from Midnight Blue Elephant about her former hometown.
Annika fell in love with South Africa when she first visited at the age of 16, and then later moved to Cape Town where she lived for 7 years.
Annika says, “honestly it is the most beautiful city in the world. It is regularly voted by people who have seen more places than I have. It really has the stunning geography and the mix of mountains and ocean. I always find that very attractive in a city. To that, over the last couple of years, has come a really interesting food scene. There’s lots of interesting things coming out of Cape Town’s kitchens. A great art scene. There’s music. There’s obviously wine which makes everything better. To that comes a really interesting mix of peoples. So all around it makes for a very interesting and pleasant holiday destination.”
Annika starts us with a climb up the famous Table Mountain which dominates the landscape of Cape Town. She also points out her favorite beaches, dive spots and even suggests we try hang gliding off Lion’s Head.
For those who are not as inclined to adventure travel, Annika suggests some favorite restaurants and suggests you see if you can get yourself invited to a braai, a South African BBQ. She even suggests one food tour that will get you to a family table in one of the townships.
After spending some time downtown at the museums, aquarium (maybe) and shopping, Annika lays out some great side trips to taste wine or see wildlife like penguins.
Come hear about this African jewel from someone who left her heart in Cape Town.
This episode is sponsored by Ride Guru.
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Midnight Blue Elephant
Cape Town Tourism
West Coast Natural Park
The Test Kitchen
The Old Biscuit Mill
South African National Gallery
Nelson Mandela Capture Site
Two Oceans Aquarium
White Shark Diving Company
The Pot Luck Club
Kyoto Garden Sushi
Castle of Good Hope
Taste the Cape
Warwick Wine Estate
Coffee Beans Routes
Cape Town: Winter is the New Summer
The World: A Place to Call Home
Top 10 Things to do in Capetown
Another nickname: City of Festivals.
Go to the Milwaukee Public Market. One of the best in the United States. Located in the Old 3rd Ward, off of the Milwaukee River. You must visit the world-class Art Museum.
No else in the world will see thousands of people tailgating before a baseball game like the Milwaukee Brewers fans at Miller Park… Finally, there are more bars per capita in Milwaukee than any other city in North America [I could not verify this – Chris]. Friendliness exudes in every place in Milwaukee. Ok, I’m done.
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Chris: Amateur Traveler, Episode 539. Today, the Amateur Traveler talks about beaches and wine and braais, penguins, and Nelson Mandela, as we go to Cape Town in South Africa.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by Ride Guru. Ride Guru is the Expedia of ride hailing services. They know which ridesharing company to call in over 70 countries so you don’t have to. Check out their service now or when you travel at ride.guru.
Welcome to the Amateur Traveler, I’m your host Chris Christensen. We’ll hear more from our sponsor in a few minutes, but first, let’s talk about South Africa. I’d like to welcome to the show Annika Ziehen from midnightblueelephant.com, who’s come to talk to us about South Africa. Annika, welcome to the show.
Annika: Hey, thank you very much, Chris. Glad to be here.
Chris: And I say South Africa, really what we’re talking about, we’re gonna focus in on the area of Cape Town, which we’ve done a show on, on Amateur Traveler before. But it’s been 10 years so it seems like a good time to revisit. Why should someone come to Cape Town?
Annika: Honestly, it is the most beautiful city in the world. That’s regularly voted by people who have seen more places than I have so far. It really has stunning geography and the mix of mountains and ocean, I always find that very attractive in a city. And to that, over the last couple of years, has really come a great food scene. There’s lots of interesting coming out of Cape Town’s kitchens, a great art scene. There is music. There’s obviously wine, which makes everything better. And to that comes a really unique mix of people. So all around, it just makes for a very interesting and pleasant, at the same time, a holiday destination.
Chris: Well, then we should say, because I failed to earlier, what is your connection to Cape Town?
Annika: Two of my mom’s siblings moved to Cape Town over 50 years now. And I came here for the first time when I was 16 and I immediately fell in love with it. And after studying and working in New York, I just needed a change of scenery and Oprah reminded me of how great South Africa was so I thought, “Ah, maybe I’ll give that a try.” And that try turned into seven years here. And yeah, this place is still home. So right now I’m here for the holidays. Home is where the heart is and a big part of my heart is still here.
Chris: Excellent. And what kind of itinerary would you recommend for people who are going to Cape Town? Where would we start?
Annika: Depending on whether you’re a beach or a mountain person, you’ll wanna base yourself smack back in the center at the foot of Table Mountain. Or you would go a little more towards the coastal areas, Sea Point, Camps Bay or my favorite, Hout Bay, which is a very beautiful family oriented suburb.
I would recommend that you hire a car. You would need to be able to drive on the left side, left side traffic here, but really that’s the best way to get around. And then really, it is very much an adventure, outdoors destination with a nice bit of, yeah, fine dining and wine.
So typical activities for first timers obviously, at Table Mountain you would probably like to hike up or you would take the cable car both ways, but usually it makes for a nice mix to hike up and then take the cable car back down.
Chris: I know people who also do it the opposite way, those of us who are less in shape.
Annika: You know what though, for me, and I have spoken to many other people, it becomes a knee issue going down.
Annika: It’s really sort of harder on your knees so while it might be a bit more strengthness to hike up, it will also be easier on your knees, so that’s my take on it.
Chris: Before you go on, I wanna go back to the driving. Driving on the left side is something I’ve done before. And it’s a little uncomfortable, but it’s something you get used to surprisingly quick. But for people who are not comfortable doing that, are there alternatives for getting around?
Annika: Yes, Cape Town has now in the last couple of years gotten a very nice, great public bus system. Before the options, were a bus that let’s just say wasn’t that nice or minibus taxis. Those are perfectly fine. A lot of people use them for transport to get from the outer suburbs to the city burbs for work. The problem with these taxis is that they’re usually quite overcrowded and that the drivers are a little bit reckless, because they need to fulfill a certain quota and it’s cheap. That was probably your cheapest option of transport. But with that combination of having vehicles that are not in great shape, taxi drivers being really fast, it’s not something I would necessarily recommend.
But that new bus system that they have introduced with the World Cup and have since extended it, that’s a really nice option. Other than that, if you’re coming from North America and you have dollars to spend, the exchange rate is really favorable right now, so you could even just hire a driver with your car to take you around. Or if you’re planning to stay in the city, what has a sprung up here and is doing really well is Uber, so that’s my preferred option. If I’m going somewhere and I know I’m gonna have some wine, I’m just gonna use, order an Uber.
Chris: Okay, excellent. And you were at Table Mountain before I so rudely interrupted.
Annika: What is important to keep in mind here, when you plan activities in Cape Town or in the Western Cape, is to keep the wind in mind. We have quite a few strong winds so even if you wake up and the sky looks bluer than blue and the sun is shining, you still need to check if your activity is wind proof. And a lot of times you can call a number before or check on the website, you can see if the cable car is even open. And sometimes for the undiscerning eye it may look, “Oh it’s a perfect day,” and then you get outside and you have a southeasterly blowing and that will not be pleasant. Or in the case of the cable car, it won’t be possible. So that’s just something to keep in mind.
Chris: Is that gonna be more common some times of the year, which leads us to another question, what is the best time of year to come?
Annika: My preferred best time is March. I might be subjective because that’s my birthday month. And I love the fact that for the first time my birthday was actually in the height of summer, not in winter so that was nice for me. I think March is pretty perfect. Over Christmas and New Year’s, no, the crowds are just insane. You can’t get a table anywhere. The traffic through the beach areas, just to get to the beach is insane. And I would definitely avoid the holiday time here. But in March, you still have a really nice, warm, sunny days. The wind has eased a bit. Usually the wind is worse in the height of summer. The wind will have eased a bit so you still have nice beach weather, but it’s also, it’s not scorching any more. So that is really, for me, it’s my favorite time.
Chris: And when you say scorching, what is scorching in Cape Town definition?
Annika: Probably about mid-30s.
Chris: Okay, that’s not too bad.
Annika: The nice thing is for people, it doesn’t really get humid here. And I know I personally like humidity and people look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s a big plus for a lot people who say, “Yeah, I can do heat. I just don’t like humidity.” You will find very little humidity here. But then when you head out of Cape Town, towards the wine lands, Pearl, Stellenbosch, those areas are surrounded by mountains and you’ll even get into the 40s then.
Chris: Okay. So, and for my Fahrenheit crowd, 35 or mid-30s would be about 95 Fahrenheit, and 40s would be way too hot.
Annika: Yeah, exactly. But another season I do want to talk about, which a lot of people underestimate, is our local winter. So that would sort of be May till August. And that is also a time of the year, if you’re not here for the beaches that I can highly recommend. It rains. It does rain, I won’t lie. Well, this year it actually hasn’t rained enough so there’s a big drought problem here now. But usually, it will rain a little bit, but then you also get beautiful days in the low 20s. And now what is happening, it’s off season so the locals come out more. You will find the best deals on beautiful hotels. You will get tables and really nice deals in all the great restaurants. Also for divers and surfers, I personally I’m a diver but I have heard also for the surfing, the waves are the best.
Annika: And everything is coming really green, so for people who like the outdoors, who like hiking, who like being in nature, that’s a really nice season. Because towards the end of summer, and it’s already starting now because of the water issue, it’s starting to look a bit brown. So winter really is some nice season also to be here.
Chris: Okay, and then again for Fahrenheit, low 20s we’re talking basically room temperature, so very comfortable.
Annika: I mean, as I said, it does get a bit colder, it does rain, but we have had many beautiful winter days, just sitting out on the balcony and drinking wine. So that also happens.
Chris: The weather sounds, in that fashion, just maybe a tad warmer than here in Northern California or what we would get if we go inland. And again, being a wine region, that’s not too surprising for the summer.
Chris: Except obviously, the opposite, because of the Southern Hemisphere. Or is there anything else we should know while we’re at Table Mountain? I should pause and say, is there anything else we’re doing besides a hike and taking pictures of the city which is right below the mountain?
Annika: No, you would walk around there. For people who are not into hiking or who like me, are very afraid of cable cars, you could also just take a drive up to the opposite hill, which is Signal Hill. There’s a car park all the way on the top and you also, you get the same beautiful, well not the same, but you get a pretty stunning view of the whole city. A 360 degree view. And you also get the view of Table Mountain, which is nice, which might be a nice alternative if you happen to not be able to go up Table Mountain because of the wind. If you are adventurous, this would also be the place to do some paragliding from, which I have done, and that is really, really fun.
Chris: Wait a second, you’re afraid to go up in a cable car but you’ve done paragliding?
Chris: Would you care to explain that?
Annika: I realized I’ve developed a weird fear of heights and that I don’t mind looking down, but when I’m sort of halfway up a manmade structure I get really scared looking up. I know it does make no, it makes no sense, I know that. But even when I was paragliding, I could look down, but I wouldn’t look up at the chute. That really scared me.
Chris: Okay. And paragliding, how much training does one have to have? I mean, it always looks fascinating to me. It always looks amazing.
Annika: Who’s always do tandem, if you…
Chris: You’ll always do tandem, okay.
Annika: Yeah. Unless you’re going pro, you always do tandem. So they will strap you in and your guide will strap himself to you and then you just need to do a little bit of running and he’ll tell you, “Don’t stop. You run even if you can’t feel the ground,” and then off you go. And that’s, yeah, that’s really fun. And it’s a nice activity because I think you don’t need to leave the city very far to do it here. And you get stunning views over the Atlantic, over Green Point Stadium, all the mountains in the background. So I think it’s a cool activity.
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Annika: For those not as adventurous, which is the big thing here to do if you don’t wanna go all the way up Table Mountain, you would do a hike of Lion’s Head, which is sort of, you have Table Mountain, you have Lion’s Head and then you have Signal Hill. And it’s called Lion’s Head because when you’re coming into the city, you’ll see it’s shaped like a lion’s head. Okay, you need a bit of fantasy for that, to see that, but. So that is a pretty famous hike. Usually, Capetonians love to do it when the moon is full. So you go and yeah, hike in the moonlight. I would still recommend to bring a torch because the moonlight is actually not bright enough and it is a steep hike.
Chris: And when we say a torch, for those of us with US English, we mean flashlight, just in case anybody didn’t do the translation. We’re not bringing torches and pitchforks. So that’s a whole different podcast.
Annika: I don’t even think about that anymore, and I’ve lived in the States for so long. I forgot that word. I never used the torch or a flashlight when I lived in New York. Yes, so you would bring a flashlight or headlamp or something to that extent. You would wear good shoes. You bring something to drink. And then it’s really a bit of a social happening, and it’s funny to see, from the city actually, at night you’ll see like all the little lit dots making their way around lines set and going up and going down. Yeah, so that I think is it for the sort of main hike things. I mean, there are so many hiking routes for nature enthusiast in and around Cape Town.
Chris: Do you have a favorite one?
Annika: I’m not the most avid hiker. I personally love going to Newlands Forest. It’s a suburb towards Muizenberg, which is one of the beach areas. And it’s just, like to me it always looks a bit magical when I’m there. It looks like, you get this very distinct flora and fauna which has lots of fynbos. And I always think there should be dinosaurs flying over the area. It just looks very ancient. Yeah, it’s close to one of my family’s houses, so we’d go there with the dogs and just take a walk. And it’s easy, it’s not really hiking, it’s easy walks. But it’s really, really beautiful.
The other one is obviously as Kirstenbosch Gardens, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. And that is really for botanists or just people who like to be surrounded by greenery. That is absolutely stunning. Again, it gives you another side of Table Mountain and all the different plants, the different trees. They have a smell garden so you’re actually allowed to touch and they actually planted that for people who are blind so they could also enjoy the gardens. And they have different exhibitions. Last, they had an artist sculpture dinosaurs, bronze dinosaurs. That was really cool because again, it fits so much with the plants that they have. It looks like a Jurassic Park exhibit.
One of the favorite things for people to do is picnic in Kirstenbosch Gardens, and then on Sunday, during summer they have the summer concerts. So they have local and international artists and they come and play. And that’s really special because they have this little stage and you bring a blanket and you bring a picnic and you sit on the lawn and then you have the concert, again, with this backdrop, beautiful backdrop of Table Mountain, and that’s really spectacular. So if you’re here in the summer months, look it up. That’s definitely something I would recommend.
Chris: Excellent. And anybody who is trying to look up fynbos earlier, it’s gonna be a little tricky. It’s F-Y-N-B-O-S, which means in Afrikaans, Fine Bush., but I don’t recognize it at all. It looks more like a cactus family sort of thing.
Annika: You’ll see that a lot here. I would say next, obviously, are the beaches, because if you come to South Africa, you wanna have a bit of beach time. I would personally not recommend you to go to Camps Bay. And every single travel guide will tell you to go to Camps Bay, I personally hate the area. Like the main beach strip and it’s like a really wide, easy accessible beach. But it gets so crowded. The beach is not very sheltered so when the wind is blowing, it’s not pleasant here. And all the restaurants surrounding, they’re very pretentious, let’s just put it this way.
Annika: Not one of my favorite. But if you’re coming from town, if you’re driving, just before Camps Bay, there are the Clifton beaches. They’re called Clifton one, two, three and four, very innovative names. And those are all small little beaches that a quite sheltered. Clifton Fourth beach is sort of the cool beach. That’s where all the cool kids hangout. We usually go to Clifton First Beach. It’s just a bit more family-oriented. And those are just really pretty, cute, little beaches. Close to town, which is obviously one of the big draws of Cape Town. You don’t need to drive far to go to the beach.
Chris: Well, then if we were on the bus lines, it looks like the buses go right to the beach, so.
Annika: Exactly, the deal. And again, if you happen to be here over a holiday time, I don’t know, walk or take a bicycle, because you’ll be on the bus for a long time because the traffic in that part of town is ridiculous. A word of warning or a word of advice, our water is very, very cold.
Annika: That’s something I think a lot of people forget. So while it gets to 30 something degrees, the water in summer will probably be between 16 and 18 degrees.
Chris: Oh, okay.
Annika: I’m still in Cape Town, in my mind, I’m speaking off the Atlantic side. If you go over to the southern peninsula towards Muizenberg, the water is gonna be significantly warmer there.
Chris: Okay. And 16 actually is not as cold as I was thinking. When doing the conversion that’s be 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which is not as cold as the water here in Northern California, so.
Annika: Okay. I heard someone who knows more about weather should confirm that, but I heard that it actually is colder in the summer because then we get ice from the pulse that is melting, so we get Antarctic currents.
Chris: Interesting. That’s not something one would guess.
Annika: No, well, I mean, it’s definitely colder in summer and a little bit warmer in winter. But I mean, if you wanted to have a little bit of warmer water, you would either need to go all the way to Durban, or if you want to take a little day trip away from Cape Town, take a car and go up to the West Coast National Park. It’s a beautiful National Park. You will see ostriches. You will see little duckies, springboks or such.
Chris: Which is a, in the deer family.
Annika: Yes. You drive through there and you come to an area called Kraalbaai, and that’s a little, shallow bay which has beautiful turquoise water and because the water is so shallow, it actually does warm up quite nicely. So that’s an area where even I would go swimming.
Annika: What is exciting, if you were to go to the other side, again, go towards the southern peninsula and towards Muizenberg, you will come to a little seaside town called Simon’s Town. It’s, I think it’s an old naval base, they have an old harbor there. And it’s a beautiful, little, quaint town. You can even take a train out there from the city, and there is a beach called Boulder’s Beach, and that beach is famous because you can swim with penguins.
Annika: So that’s definitely a reason to get into the cold water because that’s quite an exciting thing, when the penguins swim all around you and under you. Yeah, that’s exciting.
Chris: Where else? We haven’t actually gone to Cape Town itself yet.
Annika: Yes, that’s because you need to get to Cape Town itself. Cape Town has, probably its most famous street is Long Street. It’s sort of the area where a lot of backpackers are, cafés, restaurants. It’s a bit of a touristy area. Again, it’s in all of your guidebooks, it’s not my favorite. I like streets which run parallel to Long Street. It’s very easy to find your way around because it’s almost, it’s similar to New York in that way, that at least in the middle part of Cape Town it’s all on the grid.
So parallel to Long Street you’ll find Bree Street, which in recent years has really become a sort of a culinary destination with lots of great, little restaurants and cafés, boutiques. Cape Town has gone quite an interesting direction when it comes to home decor and fashion. There’s lots happening here with local designers, so that street is definitely a nice one to wander up and down.
Very close to Bree Street you’ll find the Bo-Kaap, and that’s the mainly Muslim area of the Cape Malay. And it’s very easily recognizable because every house has a different color. It’s a really cute area, and sort of old cobblestones. It’s built on the hill, so you’ll walk quite a bit up and down. But again, that’s just a really picturesque, pretty area, which also has a new share of cafés and little shops so that’s a nice area to walk around in.
Where else do we go in Cape Town? We go to Woodstock. Woodstock is the industrial up and coming area of Cape Town. So you will find, again, lots of design shops, lots of designers moved out. There are very famous restaurant, The Test Kitchen is out there. And that started a little, well, not they started it but with that, has become a very trendy area of innovative design of little local businesses doing cool things.
There is, on Saturday, The Test Kitchen is in a place called The Old Biscuit Mill. And that’s a little, I guess you could say it’s a mall, housed in this Old Biscuit Mill, but it’s really is a pretty laid out with little shops. And every Saturday, which people love, locals and visitors alike, they have the neighborhood market, and that is a really nice market with your sort of usual market stalls for flowers and groceries, but then you get your specialty things. You have the mushroom man. You have your hipster gin bar and all those sorts of things.
So that’s a nice place to either do your shopping or to just hang out, have a glass of bubbly, have a Saturday breakfast, seated on hay bales, listen to some music. And again, it’s one of those things that I like because it’s really an attraction where visitors and locals alike will come and mingle.
Chris: And you said sitting on hay bales, right?
Annika: Hay balls, yeah, hay balls.
Chris: Okay, hay bales, but that just, that’s sort of the opposite of pretentious.
Annika: Yeah, it’s sort of hipster. Especially made hay bales. And you’re drinking nice, overpriced gin while you sit on them.
Chris: All right. All right.
Annika: Again, that is an area which has lots of design treasures to discover, some new galleries. I must admit that Cape Town has quite a nice art scene. And not the big art fiend, but there is the Stevenson Gallery, for example, which is really great. The National Gallery. So art interested people will definitely have their share of things to discover here too.
Chris: Now, a couple of places that I know are on some tourist list there. One is going to be Robben Island.
Annika: Yes, I think you should go. I must shamefully admit, for one reason or another, I have yet to go.
Chris: Okay. And we’re talking about a place that became well known because this is the place where Mandela and other people were housed, it’s a prison.
Annika: Yes. I’ve heard great things about it. And I think it’s definitely a must see place because he is such an iconic figure in the history of South Africa. And even if you look at politics and the face of the country today, the history of this country is still so important in today’s life, the good and bad.
And Madiba was such an iconic figure of this country, what he stood for, his fight. Actually, I have recently, I was in Durban and in the area they have Madiba’s capture site and with a little museum and this beautiful statue. And it’s just, walking through there again just brought back to me the struggle of apartheid that still shows today for many, many people and just what he did for the country. So yes, Robben Island is definitely something, if you’re interested in history in general, but especially if you wanna get more of an insight to the country and what still shapes the country today from its past. It’s a place you shouldn’t miss. Again though, you go out there with a ferry. You need to check the weather, the ferry doesn’t go in every weather.
Chris: And it looks like it goes from the main harbor area.
Annika: Yes. And that’s also, that’s an area the V&A waterfront.
Chris: V&A, Victoria and Albert, I’m assuming?
Annika: Yes, it’s touristy, but it does has a nice mall, it has some nice shops and restaurants for fresh seafood. So it’s definitely for a little stroll and if you wanna buy some souvenirs or some things, and you don’t wanna search for little boutiques, it’s all there. And it’s nice. It’s nicely laid out, I think so.
Chris: Well, and I’ve heard good things from listeners of the show actually, who’ve been to Cape Town about the Two Oceans Aquarium, which is right near there.
Annika: Yeah. I’m a bit in two minds because I love the aquarium, I won’t lie. I think it’s really, really nice. At the time I started diving, about a year and a half ago, and I write a lot or I think a lot about how we treat animals for entertainment, I have for me, personally, decided that I don’t wanna visit zoos or aquariums anymore. Yes, it’s a really nice aquarium. Just for personal reasons, I wouldn’t recommend it anymore.
Chris: Okay. Now, you’ve mentioned diving. I know friends who the big thing they wanna do when they go down to Cape Town, is they wanna dive, but specifically they wanna do some of the shark diving.
Annika: Yes. And I have just had an interesting conversation with a friend of my uncle, who is here from Chile, and he’s like, “Yeah, I wanna go shark cage diving,” and I said, “No.” Shark cage diving is one of those activities, and there’s no conclusive studies yet, I have spoken to people whose opinion I trust on the matter and I agree that it changes the shark’s behavior and it also brings some a bit closer to the coast and to humans than I think they should be.
You don’t harm the sharks, but I wonder if the consequences have been fully explored. Especially because South Africa, I don’t wanna say we have a shark problem, but there are sharks here and ever since “Jaws”, it has gone down hills for sharks. So I think anything that increases that by bringing them closer to humans is ultimately not a good thing for the animal.
What I would recommend is that you actually go diving with sharks. There’s no cage necessary. There are some amazing dive companies out operating from Simon’s Town and they offer a package where you go dive with the seals, which is so much fun, and then you also go dive with the sevengill sharks. And that’s, well, it’s not a great white but they are pretty big and scary looking and really exciting, but you can just go dive with them with no cage necessary. So that’s an alternative that I would highly recommend. It’s so much more exciting when there’s no cage in between you.
Chris: I’m not necessarily looking for that kind of excitement, but good to know. Well, and I’m just thinking of the video that I saw recently of the cage diving that went wrong, where the great white ended up inside the cage, but…
Annika: I know, that poor shark.
Chris: That was not actually what I was thinking, but.
Annika: I like sharks, in case you haven’t noticed.
Chris: I did, I did. Excellent, so what else are we doing in Cape Town itself before we get outside a little more?
Annika: I consider that a day trip from Cape Town, you would probably wanna go to Cape Point, which is not the southernmost point. That’s actually Cape Gallows, but they say the oceans do meet in Cape Point. It’s a beautiful drive out there, that’s what I would recommend. Even if you’re not driving yourself, get a driver and just enjoy the driving here. We have beautiful coastal roads and the scenery is just really, really stunning.
In Cape Town itself, oh you need to eat. You need to eat everything. I don’t know why not more guides mention that, but the food in South Africa is ridiculously good. I think it comes with just a really good produce, to begin with. So whether you love your meat, I have, my uncle is from Argentina, so whenever I ask him who has a better meat, Argentina or South Africa, he gets in so much trouble answering this question, because he doesn’t wanna say South Africa, but deep down he really wants to say South Africa.
The meat here is stunning. Ocean all around, so you get great seafood, great fish. There has been sort of so much happening in the food scene that is really a new farm-to-table approach, also nose-to-tail philosophy when it comes to eating meat, so lots of new interesting dishes.
Chris: Nose to tail, eating all of the animal, although not all in one sitting necessarily.
Annika: Yes. So you get lots of interesting cuts and maybe things that you wouldn’t necessarily consider. You’ll see that even in fine dining restaurants here. The great thing, again, if you pay in dollars, or Euros or pounds, well, yeah, pounds is still okay right now, you get really good value for money. So you have beautiful meals, fine dine experience. You can’t get a sandwich for that money in New York.
Chris: Okay. Any particular restaurant where you would recommend or a dish you would recommend that we have to try while we’re there?
Annika: Restaurant, one of my personal favorite is The Pot Luck Club. That is also one of Luke Dale Roberts, who I mentioned previously who has the Test Kitchen. But it’s more of a non-Spanish tapas style.
Chris: Okay, so small dishes, but not the same type I would get in Spain.
Annika: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So when I say tapas, I mean so yeah, small dishes. That is spectacular. And so it’s such a nice restaurant to, and it’s fun even to share and just order everything from the menu, basically and you have your little dishes.
You wanna try to score an invitation to a braai. So in South Africa we don’t call it a barbecue, it’s a braai. That’s what people do here basically every other day of the week, and at least once a week. If you get together somehow as locals. Well, it’s basically something that every South African loves to do, it doesn’t matter how old they are, it doesn’t matter what race they are, it doesn’t matter how much money they have. The Heritage Day in South Africa is also called Braai Day. That’s how much the people here love the Braai.
So you’ll wanna have some sort of piece of meat here, even if you can’t score an invite to a family, if I’m still here I’m happy to take some of your readers to my home. If they can’t, yeah, get a steak.
Other places that I love to eat, if you wanna eat fish, if you wanna eat the best fish in town, you’ve got to go to Kyoto Gardens. And that’s a little Japanese restaurant. It’s very understated, very Zen. And it has just the most magnificent seafood. It’s unpretentious. It’s fresh. It’s so yummy. I think it takes a certain customer to appreciate it because it’s just so understated and just such a little hole in the wall. But it’s really, really good. So for fish, that would be my top recommendation.
There’s a place that I love, if you wanna have the best chicken pie in town, which I don’t know, I never really ate pie so that came as a surprise to me. It’s a little place called Tamboers Winkel. It’s in Cape Town’s city center. Yeah, they make the best deconstructed chicken pie, or you could get a grilled chicken for takeaway and just eat it on the beach.
Chris: You’ve talked about getting invited to a braai and we’re gonna have to meet some locals to do that. What’s the best way to connect with locals? Is it go to a Springboks game or to…where do we connect with locals? Where are we gonna meet some?
Annika: Rugby or cricket. I’m personally in cricket game so you won’t see me at a Springboks game, but that is definitely a good way.
Chris: Well, cricket is gonna give us a lot more time to talk too.
Annika: Well, I like the 20-20. The other one, no. My attention span is not long enough.
Chris: The 20-20 is the new version of crickets that doesn’t take three days.
Annika: Exactly. Exactly. It’s just 20 hours.
Chris: There is no other sport in the world where someone would describe something as being the short version, “It’s just 20 hours.”
Annika: No, over. It’s not hours.
Chris: Oh, overs. Oh, 20 overs. Okay, that makes more sense. Got it.
Annika: Not 20 hours, oh Gosh, no. Where else do you meet locals? I think you would actually, you would go hike. You meet people on the way. You chat to people. Same actually on the beaches, because I find that a lot of activities that visitors would do here is something that the locals do too. So going to the beach on the weekend, or a sunset drink, that’s something we do. Going for hikes.
Chris: No, you couldn’t drink on the beach.
Annika: You would sit on the shade by the beach, of course.
Chris: Ah, okay.
Annika: You go to Sea Point Promenade, which is sort of everybody walks their dog and goes running there. Those are great ways. They have considered like a new dining concept as well, which I’ve tried last year, where you just sit at big tables and you either just have a little meal in the evening.
Chris: Okay, family style.
Annika: Yeah. And I think that’s quite a nice way to meet locals as well. The other thing is what I would definitely recommend if you wanna connect more with locals, is getting an Airbnb instead of a hotel. Quite a few of my family members, they actually rent rooms in their homes. And South Africans love their country and are always happy to share and give tips and tell you where to go. And yeah, if you end up at my uncle’s house, he’ll talk your ear off and tell you all about his life and what to do and what not to do. And you’re gonna have a good time.
Chris: When I want to get us out of the town, because I think we hinted it talking about a wine region. And I wanna get us there briefly. I did say that the Star Fortress downtown, the Castle of Good Hope, I wanna get to, but we’re not gonna talk about. So, anything else we wanna do in town, though, before we head off and briefly mentioned and add into the wine region?
Annika: I would recommend that you, which could be a nice mix, that you do a food tour. There is a company that does amazing food tours where you go and you sort of experience the food of the different cultures of Cape Town. So South Africa, just quickly, is called the Rainbow Nation, just because people from all over have come together here, and especially in Cape Town. And that has shaped the face of the city and also of what we eat. And I think a food tour is a great introduction if you wanna go beyond your braai and your steak, to actually learn something about the heritage.
That food tour, which I also would recommend, will also take you to one of the townships where you will have a traditional Xhosa meal. And I’m saying Xhosa now because I can’t actually speak Xhosa so that’s why it sounds very butchered to any Xhosa speaking people, I apologize. And that’s definitely an experience that I think one should have to see how a big part of the South African population lives. But obviously, do it in a way where you’re not driving around or tour neighborhood and you visit a zoo.
Chris: Right. And also do it in a way that where the money is going to the neighborhood, yeah.
Annika: Exactly. And that way, when I did this food tour, it was amazing because we went to the home of a lady called Sheila and she had made this amazing meal for us and had made ginger, beer and cocoa. Into the kitchen we sat and chat to her and it was just really a nice way of obviously, yes, part of the tour comes back to them directly in their pocket, but also, you don’t just walk or drive through it. You actually get to talk to people and you experience another side. That I find very important, especially in a country like South Africa.
Chris: And we’ll put a link to that on the show notes afterwards. The wine region, you promised people wine earlier on here.
Annika: Presently. Okay, so the sort of major wine regions are Stellenbosch. Then if you’re heading east, which is one of my favorite, that’s Elgin. And that has lots of minerals in the soil and that makes beautiful Pinot Noir, which is one of my favorite grapes.
Chris: And how far did we just go? We’re doing a day trip or we’re gonna go spend a night at least out there?
Annika: I guess you could do either way. Obviously, you would have to hire a driver here so you can, you actually do your wine tasting, because in South Africa we don’t spit, we swallow. So people will look at you very weirdly if you try to use that spit in. So you hire a driver. You know, I think there you can do a day trip. I mean, it’s a beautiful area not only for vineyards, but also for orchards. And there are some little lakes, so there is some stunning places out there. It’s well worth spending the night. But if you didn’t want to spend the night, a day trip is absolutely fine. You’re driving about an hour there.
Annika: And again, a beautiful landscape just driving through very different from the coastal area, but still stunning, so it’s gonna be a fun drive.
Chris: And do you have one winery you would recommend most highly or?
Annika: I like Shannon. That’s S-H-A-N-N-O-N.
Annika: That Pinot Noir, I’m still dreaming of, it’s out of this world. Then you go to Stellenbosch, and Stellenbosch is a really cute, little, university town, beautiful old buildings. And that’s definitely worth an overnight stay. You don’t have to, it’s just a little behind the airport so you’re there in half an hour, 40 minutes, but that’s well worth the stay. And there are some beautiful vineyards where you can also sleep, so that’s always nice.
There is a wine estate called Warwick, where you can have a picnic by the lake with your wine tasting. Oh, and there’s another place, that’s one of my favorite, it’s called Babylonstoren. It’s not so much a wine farm. They do have wine, but it’s gardens. They have beautiful restaurants and a little hotel. And it’s a beautiful mix of having a typical Cape Dutch architecture with very modern elements.
So you’ll find a lot of the wine farms have this Cape Dutch architecture, which is beautiful, but it repeats itself as well. And Babylonstoren, they have sort of mixed that up a little bit. And you can either just go in there and walk through the gardens or you can have a lunch there, or you can spend the night. It’s just one of those places where you just, I don’t know, you just arrive and you walk around and you’re connected to nature, and everything that you eat there comes the directly from the garden that you’ve just walked through.
That is definitely a place I would recommend for, if you don’t wanna stay there, it’s a little bit on the pricey side, but I would just recommend that for a nice, leisurely lunch.
Chris: Excellent. Anything else where you wanna talk about in the region around Cape Town before we start to wind this down?
Annika: I could mention that there is, which is a bit hard, the Western Cape, per se. It doesn’t really have a lot of big game farms, and I know that’s such a big par for people coming to South Africa. However, there are two farms. One is called Aquila, which is about an hour and a half out of Cape Town, which is small. You’ll definitely see things but it’s sort of on the fence of being a game farm and being a zoo a bit. But it’s a nice experience where you’ll see some exciting animals.
The other place where you would need to take a four hour drive approximately, is called Botlierskop and that’s really nice. You have luxury tents, you do boat, jeep safaris, and you can do safaris on horseback, which is really exciting. And that’s definitely a place I would recommend going if you wanna see some animals, but you don’t have time to go to Kruger or one of the other big places.
Chris: Okay, yeah. And that’s really where more of the game parks are, is the other end of the country.
Annika: Yeah, I’ve just recently, as I said, I’ve been to Durban and from there we went to a place called Phinda, and that was absolutely stunning, and so fun, but that’s a different holiday. Or you would need to at least take an inland flight. I should mention that South Africa has lots of cheap national airlines these days, so it is quite easy to get around from Cape Town to Johannesburg, or to Durban with a national flight. So it’s not impossible to connect that.
Chris: Well, and if people want to know more about that area, we do have a show that we’ve done on Johannesburg. And we actually have a show on Lesotho as well, as well as on each of the neighboring countries. So if you’re having a longer trip, we have some resources that will help you plan that too.
Annika: I would definitely recommend to go to Lesotho, it’s a stunning country.
Chris: One warning you would give.
Annika: Don’t leave anything in your car.
Chris: Okay. Especially in view.
Annika: Yeah, we usually leave the cubby hole open.
Chris: Oh really? Okay, just to show that there is nothing hidden in it.
Annika: Yeah. The unfortunate truth is that even, and I have had friends who had old sneakers stolen out of their car. And I had my car broken in and had my old bikram yoga mat, which was really stinky stolen. And it’s often things that you wouldn’t even consider valuable enough, but unfortunately for some people it is. And then you just have the hassle of having to get a new window and all of that, and the insurance. And it’s just annoying and a lot of hassle. So that’s something to be mindful of.
The rest, in terms of security, I would say is the same as in any other big city. But again, just be mindful that what may not be particularly valuable to you might have a lot of value to people here. So that’s just something to keep in mind.
And also do not feed the monkeys and be careful with them. They steal stuff and they can bite you. And yeah, keep a safe distance. My cousin, when he was a baby, almost got stolen by a monkey.
Chris: Oh my Gosh.
Annika: No, they’re called baboons. And you’ll see them everywhere, and it’s quite fun because they sit on the side of the road and obviously, if you come from a big city that’s something, you’re like, “Oh.” But they can be quite aggressive, so that’s something, keep your distance and keep your food safe.
Chris: Best day of the year to be in South Africa, in Cape Town?
Annika: I guess Heritage Day would be fun. But then again, you really wanna have someone local showing you around because you can’t really braai at a restaurant or at a hotel and it’s the more the merrier. I think the best day and so far has passed, because honestly, Cape Town was the best year in World Cup. Oh my Gosh, we had so much fun. Yes, so unfortunately that’s not gonna come back anytime soon.
But I guess in general, when there’s big sporting events and South Africa is playing, whether they actually know what they’re doing or not, in case of soccer, people get very enthusiastic. And again, it’s one of those things that just sort of goes across for all and I quite like that.
Chris: Anything else you wanna say before we get to my last four questions?
Annika: Get a local SIM card, bring your passport and a proof of address, as I just learned, just something practical.
Chris: Okay, good to know. You’re standing in the prettiest spot in Cape Town, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Annika: I’m actually in the car and I’m driving along Victoria Road coming from Camps Bay, going to Hout Bay. And that road is just so stunning. It’s probably just sunset. And I will say, every single time I get a bit teary eyed. I’d be like, “Oh my Gosh, this is so beautiful,” and my friends would always laugh at me because I lived here for seven years and every time I would go there, my family lives out in Hout Bay so I’d go there fairly often. But every time I drive this drive I’m just like, “This is so beautiful, life doesn’t get any better.” So that’s definitely a drive to take. And there is plenty of places where you can just stop on the side of the road to take pictures or actually not. You can just put your camera down and enjoy.
Chris: One thing that makes you laugh and say, “Only in Cape Town.”
Annika: There’s lots of people, when you stop at a traffic light who come to sell you stuff. And sometimes useful stuff, sometimes not so useful stuff. And yesterday there was a guy who, I think he was collecting trash and was then asking, they do that often, so they’ll take the trash out of your car and then you’ll give them a few rand. And he was wearing a hat, which he made himself with lots of different caps, stuck to the hat.
Chris: Like plastic cups and things?
Annika: Like McDonald’s paper cups. Each cap was for a special coin, so he had a big one for two rand coins, a bigger one for one rand coins and a smaller one for five rand coins. And my uncle was just chatting with him and he just, it makes me happy and it breaks my heart at the same time when you see a lot of people here that are a lot less fortunate than I am, or that we are. And he just had such a good spirit. He was so fun and so friendly and always laughing. And that’s just something you also only see in Cape Town.
Chris: Finish this sentence, “You really know you’re in Cape Town when…”
Annika: When you walk over the sidewalk and you see a little basil plant on the sidewalk and you wonder, “That could be mine. That looks like the same I had on the balcony,” and then you realize yeah, so as easterly was blowing, my basil plant blew off my balcony.
Chris: And if you had to summarize Cape Town in three words, how would you summarize it?
Annika: The next one is not one word. The sky is bluer than blue.
Chris: So we’ll go with blue.
Annika: Bluer than blue.
Chris: Bluer, okay.
Annika: Warm, but not in a temperature way.
Chris: Okay, warm as in the people?
Annika: Yeah, warm as in the feeling it gives me. There is a warmth to it. This is someone, you arrive here and the city just embraces you.
Chris: Our guest again, has been Annika Ziehen, from midnightblueelephant.com. Annika, is there a particular great article that you’ve written about Cape Town that we can find on your blog?
Annika: I’ve written several. One is actually called “The World, A Place to Call Home,” which is in direct reference to Cape Town and how it makes me feel coming home. And another one which might be interesting because I mentioned that before is, “The Great Things That You Can Do Here in Winter.”
Chris: Excellent. We’ll put links to both of those in the show notes. And Annika, thank you so much for coming on The Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your obvious love for Cape Town.
Annika: Thank you so much for having me, Chris. It was a pleasure.
Chris: In news of the community, I heard from a few people, not a lot of people that said they still do like the enhanced version of the show, so we’re planning to continue to do that, at least on the short term.
On the show that we did on Milwaukee, I heard from Kevin. Kevin wrote, “Another nickname for Milwaukee is ‘The City of Festivals.’” That I did not know. He suggests, “Go to the Milwaukee Public Market, one of the best in the United States, located in the Old Third Ward, off the Milwaukee River. You must visit the World Class Art Museum. Nowhere else in the world will you see thousands of people tailgating before a baseball game like the Milwaukee Brewers fans at Miller Park. Finally, are there are more bars per capita in Milwaukee than any other city in North America. Friendliness exudes in every place in Milwaukee.”
Okay, I’m done. I wasn’t able to verify more bars per capita in Milwaukee, look to me like it may be six, depending on which list I looked at. But thanks for the feedback, Kevin. And with that we’re gonna end this episode of Amateur Traveler. If you have any questions, send me an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet, leave a comment on this episode at amateurtraveler.com.
Don’t forget about the trips to Japan and India. If you have any questions about that, drop me an email. And as always, thanks so much for listening.
Transcription sponsored by JayWay Travel, specialists in Central & Eastern Europe custom tours.