Reading Under the Olive Tree‘s first guest post takes us to Cape Town, South Africa.
Currently, most of us are feeling stuck and craving travel. Although cities around the globe are slowly beginning to return to a semblance of “normal” life, there’s still so much uncertainty around when we can travel freely again. What better time to launch Reading Under the Olive Tree, Travel Series than right now?
Aylin, the author of this post, is a life-long traveller. She has travelled around the globe, moved more than fifteen-times, and lived in eight different cities in the last seven years.
She holds a BA in Political Science and International Relations from Bogazici University in Istanbul, a master’s degree in Migration Studies from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and another master’s degree in European Studies from Aarhus University.
Currently, she works as a migration expert in Turkey.
In this post, Aylin writes about her journey to South Africa which started with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” (I have written about my experience with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” here–it is bizarre, I know, but it is merely a delightful coincidence)
This is not a generic travel guide post, however. If you’re planning to travel to Cape Town, you will find wonderful recommendations and invaluable information about how you can make the most of your trip. You will also experience the gorgeous Cape Town through the eyes of a fellow hyphenated spirit.
By Aylin K.
On a cold and gloomy Istanbul evening, I was sitting at a coffee shop in Galata with one of best my friends, thinking how unhappy I was to return home when I suddenly thought “why the hell not?” and submitted an application to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”
I had just finished my MA and moved back to Istanbul from Copenhagen – which, I thought, was the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
When I received a call from the show for the first interview, quickly followed by the second one, I still had no idea that I would be lucky enough to appear on the show, the following weekend.
I was exhilarated and nervous.
In fact, I was so nervous I considered not showing up for the first day of shooting. What if I was ruled out in the first or second question? What if my reputation as a Bogazici graduate would be ruined, and I would disgrace myself over a simple question that everyone else has the answer but me?
Nevertheless I showed up for the shooting with my brother and my two nephews. If you’re wondering, I ended up not disgracing myself, well, not too horribly at least.
You see, my father was a dairyman; I grew up with cows and calves. During the show, however, I got the terminology about the two wrong out of excitement. The moment I made that mistake, I knew my father would make fun of me until the end of time, and I was completely right. Anyhow, despite my gaffe, I won 15.000 TRY.
I had already promised my big brother before the show that I would pay for his ticket to Brazil If I were lucky enough to earn that much. Then I told him that I had already been to Brazil and we should head for Cape Town instead; it had always been my dream to visit Cape. The delicious, fresh and irrefutable seafood made it happen, and he said yes.
We booked our flight to Cape Town with Turkish Airlines and started our journey on February 3rd. I was a little hesitant to travel with my brother, since I am keen on my privacy and my personal space– concepts that are still foreign to some families. My brother’s concept of privacy is very much in line with not entering the restroom if you are occupying it. That’s literally the maximum privacy you can get in my Turkish family. Anyway, let me get back to the trip.
Initially, we wanted to rent a car to drive around the city, since the distances between the tourist attractions are quite long. However, they drive on the left-hand side of the road in South Africa, which made my brother feel a bit uneasy.
And me too…
I can’t even drive properly at home where traffic flows on the right-hand side of the road; there was no questioning whether I should be driving. In the end, we decided not to rent a car and use the Cape Town Red Bus tours for long distances and MyCiti bus for local travel. You can easily get a card at the airport for the local MyCiti buses and top up money to your card anytime. Contrary to the popular belief, I actually thought these buses were quite efficient. The other option is Uber, which is affordable and reliable. One should never ever use the regular taxis, however. We had to use it once, and they made Turkish taxi drivers look like saints.
Day 1: Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach
On the first day of the trip, we went for the Cape Point and Penguin Day Tour on the red buses that took us to the Simon’s Town and Cape of Good Hope. I booked the tour online earlier, as I didn’t want any surprises due to the dramatic tourism peak during the summer months.
Since it was a Sunday, our tour guide decided that it would be better to go to the Table Mountain National Park first, where Cape of Good Hope is located, to avoid crowds. Then we would see the penguins. As we would realize later, it was definitely the right call.
Visiting Cape of Good Hope has always been my dream yet somehow I missed out the most significant piece of information regarding it: That it is not the southernmost point of Africa!
I don’t know why we are taught that it is at school– I couldn’t help but giggle when our guide said: “like most things we are taught at school, this piece of information is also not true.”
The southernmost tip of Africa is Cape Agulhas which is located way more south. Then, what is Cape of Good Hope? It is the most South – Western point of Africa. It was initially named as Cape of Storms by the explorer Bartholomew Dias. The name later was changed to Cape of Good Hope by the King John II of Portugal because the king thought that calling a newly explored route connecting India and Europe Cape of Storms was too pessimistic.
Then there is Cape Point.
Cape Point is higher than Cape of Good Hope, and it is where a lighthouse is located; you can easily climb up or take the funicular – Flying Dutchman. The photograph on the right is taken at the starting point for the short hike up to Cape Point.
Cape of Good Hope is an hour walking distance from the starting point. The walking route to Cape of Good Hope is scenic through the Dias Beach. I did not have the time to go down to the beach – which I still regret – but I had to keep up with the group, and the bus was waiting for us at Cape of Good Hope.
NOTE: Inside the Table Mountain National Park, one should beware of the baboons. I realised how much I underestimated them until I saw one of them attacking a lady from our group carrying food in her plastic bag. They are wild and powerful and like stealing food.
After the Table Mountain National Park, we continued to Simon’s Town’s Boulders Beach to see the infamous African Penguin colony. They were initially called Jackass penguins because they sound like a braying donkey. The number of African Penguins at the Boulders are about 3000, but they are not the only ones around. I have also seen quite a few of them while visiting the Robben Island.
You can see them in other areas around False Bay like Stony Point Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the chance to visit Stony Point, since it would take us a 70-90 minute drive from Cape Town to get there. However, I have been told that to visit Stony Point would cost less than a visit to the Boulders Beach.
At the end of the amazing tour, we had our first proper dinner at La Parada Tapas Restaurant and Bar.
Located at Bree Street (right next to Burgers and Lobsters), this place is quite famous among the locals. We went there upon the suggestion of a friend in the city and loved it. (I had to note down everything I tasted so I wouldn’t forget) We had Champinones al Ajillo (poached egg, truffle oil, pecorino, toasted bread), Calamares a la Plancha (grilled calamari), Gambas Croquetas (prawn croquettes), Gambas pil pil (fried prawns) and calamata olives with a bottle of Constantia Royale. Champinones al Ajillo and Gambas Croquetas were so unbelievably tasty that we asked for another one.
NOTE: There is another La Parada at Constantia Nek and Camps Bay, but unfortunately I only had the chance to visit the one at Bree St.
DAY 2: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Constantia Valley
The second day we booked the Cape Town Mini Peninsula Tour to see the Kirstenbosch Gardens, Constantia Valley and Imizamo Yethu Township.
These buses are convenient and efficient. They keep coming every 20 minutes and you can hop on/hop off anytime you like.
The first stop for us was Kirstenbosch Gardens.
This botanical garden is the most beautiful one I have seen so far. Situated in the slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch offers many options – packing a lunch, having a cold chardonnay under the shade of a beautiful tree, or simply walking around to admire the gorgeous views all over the gardens – and walking over the Canopy Walkway.
After the gardens, we changed to the purple route – the red bus leaves you at Constantia Nek and another bus takes you on for the vineyards tour. The purple route takes you to three wine stops: Groot Constantia, Eagles’s Nest and Beau Constantia Wine Estate. We stopped at Groot Constantia and Eagles’ Nest.
Groot Constantia Estate is beautiful; we had lunch in one of the restaurants in the Estate, at Jonkershuis Restaurant in company with the magnificent view of the vinery, visited the cellar with a guide and had the wine tasting tour. Bonus: you can keep the crystal glasses as a souvenir afterwards. One can imagine how thrilled I was when I managed to bring the wine glasses to Istanbul in one piece.
Later on, we visited the Eagles’ Nest Wine Farm which is quite tiny compared to Groot Constantia.
It is a boutique, family-owned vineyard and their tasting room garden is cute and cozy. We had the cheese platter and did the wine tasting tour as well. We also bought two bottles of their Shiraz. Then, we jumped back on the bus and changed to the red bus at Constantia Nek for a trip back to the Waterfront through Imizamo Yethu Township, Hout Bay, Llandudno Beach, Camps Bay, Clifton Beaches and, lastly, Sea Point. On the bus ride, we admired Hout Bay, Llandudno Beach and Camps Bay and decided to come back before our flight back home.
Day 3: Table Mountain Hike
The next day, I hiked up to the Table Mountain with an amazing guide named Martin and his dog Sammy. My brother and I met them at 6:00 am at the lower cable station. Instead of hiking with us, my brother decided to take the cable car. We agreed to meet in the cafe at the top.
This hike was the highlight of my trip to Cape Town.
I am so glad that I chose to go with Martin instead of the regular companies with one-size-fits-all approaches. I booked him through Airbnb Experiences. He knew so much about the mountain, explained the different plants and animals we came across along the way. And of course, Sammy made the trip one of a kind. Already miss this funny dog! It took us around 4 hours to hike because we stopped and chatted quite a bit.
The day was perfect; a little windy but not cold, not too hot. We had the changing view of Lion’s Head, as the clouds moved around on the way up.
When you reach to the top, the feeling that you are on top of the world never leaves you.
The top of the Table Mountain is quite a big area, and you can choose from a variety of routes to walk. I also have to mention the little funny creatures called dassies — you can find them everywhere; they are the inhabitants of the Table Mountain and the recent research claims that they are the closest relatives of elephants. We have seen quite a bit of them in the Cape Point area as well.
Once we were done exploring, we took the cable car down. The tickets were pre-booked online; it is never a good idea to wait in the line for the tickets, as well as for the cable. Afterwards, we took the bus to Camps Bay to have an amazing frozen margarita at Cafe Caprice.
And then dinner…
Hussar’s Grill was my favorite place to dine. Great place to find ostrich, regular steaks, and game steaks that you absolutely must try. I had Kudu and thought it tasted way better than ostrich. Ostrich meat is very soft, but it didn’t really have a taste. Kudu, however, was soft, juicy and delicious.
Day 4: Franschhoek Wine Tram
The next day, we hopped on the Franschhoek Wine Tram. The tram/bus takes you to many different vineyards; there’s a variety of options available. You hop off at whichever establishment you prefer and enjoy the wine tasting, cheese platters, wine/chocolate pairings, lunch, or simply the amazing view.
We took Uber to the valley from Cape Town. It was actually an expensive ride, but I had not arranged a transfer earlier. Once in the valley, we did the Green Tour and stopped at Rickety Bridge, Grande Provence, Mont Rochelle, Holden Manz and lastly La Bri, my absolute favorite. Although I wanted to buy wine from La Bri, I’d already bought seven bottles of wine from the Constantia Valley. Since I just could not fit any more wine anywhere, I bought a cheese board from La Bri, which was something I needed anyway.
The wine/chocolate pairing in La Bri was the best part– they also do a wine pairing with Turkish delights.
The staff at the vineyards were kind and efficient. Knowing that we had limited time at each vineyard, they served quickly because the tram would pick us up in an hour.
I may have seen the most beautiful views in this valley.
Every stop was different from the previous one, and I could not take my eyes off the scenery. After the tour was over, we took Uber back to the city; our driver was a chatty, kind man from Zimbabwe. Most of the Uber drivers in Cape Town are from Zimbabwe. They are full of energy and very kind. Our driver brought us to town, and I asked for his card, in case I come back and need a ride again.
He dropped us off at one of my favorite places for lunch/dinner, Burgers and Lobsters at Bree St, next to La Parada. People say their lobster roll is to die for, but I went for a burger with beef and crayfish. Their food was delicious; they have limited options to choose from and that is what makes them great at what they do.
Day 5: Robben Island
Next day, we headed for Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for two decades. The word “robben” comes from a Dutch word meaning seal.
Before this trip, I didn’t know the history of the island and thought that it was only a prison. However, the island has been used as a mental hospital, a prison and a place for outcasts throughout history. I booked the tickets for the tour earlier; the ferries leave from Waterfront 4 times a day during summer at 9:00, 11:00, 13:00 and 15:00. I booked the tour tickets online for the 9:00 am ferry and jumped on board. The tour lasts about 3.5 hours including a 30 minute ride to and from the island. When we arrived on the island, we were escorted to the buses to start the tour which was divided into two parts.
The tour starts with the bus trip that takes you to all the must-see sights on the island–with a guide narrating the island’s long and rich history. Then you jump off and visit the prison where a formal political prisoner meet you at the front and give you a tour of the prison. We were not allowed to jump off the bus and walk around on our own.
Our guide was an amazing gentleman with a twisted sense of humor supported by well-grounded facts and his great knowledge of the island’s history and the Apartheid in South Africa. He has been working on the island for 20 years–since the opening of the Robben Island Museum in 1997.
He told us that he also had the honor of meeting Nelson Mandela in person. Lucky man! He made me realize how little I knew about the island and the history of South Africa. Therefore I decided to take advantage of this opportunity to pick up some leads from this amazing person and use them as a starting point for my future readings.
He explained that in South Africa under the apartheid regime, there were four classifications: black, white, colored and Indian. One was not born black or white, but their race was decided when they turned 18. If one could not be easily classified as black or colored, they would do a pencil test to decide on how to classify that person. This article explains very well how it was like to live under apartheid.
Upon the guide’s suggestion, I bought a book named How Can Man Die Better: The Life Of Robert Sobukwe at the ferry station.
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was detained in solitary confinement on Robben Island for 6 years on the grounds of defiance. He was the leading figure for the fight against anti-pass law in South Africa, which resulted in the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March, 1960.
Under the apartheid law in South Africa, all black people needed to carry their passbooks all the time. However, on 21 March, 1960 in the town of Sharpeville, a group of people left their passbooks at home and arrived at the local station to surrender themselves for arrest. Sobukwe, who was behind this simple yet powerful act of defiance, also offered himself for arrest in another town. In Sharpeville, the police started firing at people, leading to the death of 69 protestors.
At Robben Island Prison, Nelson Mandela and other inmates were working in a quarry for so many years. The quarry was not only the place where all political prisoners were forced to work, but it also served as a platform that allowed the political prisoners to exchange ideas and study. When Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were freed and started the talks with the Nationalist Party, the president was shocked to see how prepared Mandela and his friends were. As our guide pointed out, “How can you put all the great minds to one place and expect them to come out unprepared from many years in prison?” So true. We visited the quarry and as we were driving past, we saw a pile of stones that the former 1200 inmates had put together when they’d returned to the island on 11 February, 1995 with Nelson Mandela.
After we ended our tour of the Robben Island, we headed down for lunch on the Waterfront, to Willoughby & Co. This restaurant is situated on the Waterfront inside the mall, which may not sound alluring, but God, the seafood was so fresh and delicious. The calamary, the mussels, the seafood pasta, the sushi…Everything we had was delicious. In fact, it was so scrumptious that we ate at Willoughby & Co. twice. I would’ve definitely gone back if I’d had the chance.
After lunch, we started our long walk from Sea Point to Camps Bay. We walked along Milton Beach, the Clifton Beaches, and finally arrived at Camps Bay. Needless to say, the walking route was breath-taking, and during my walk along Camps Bay Beach, I bought a picture sold by a street artist from Zimbabwe, Daniel. The picture, which currently decorates a wall in my apartment, is a constant reminder of all the lovely memories.
After a long walk, we enjoyed our frozen margaritas at Cafe Caprice.
Located at Camps Bay, this cafe was our favorite to just sit and watch the ocean and the white sand beaches. Their food is average, but it is the location that makes this place priceless.
DAY 6: Hout Bay, Llandudno Beach, Camps Bay
On our last full day at Cape, we wanted to enjoy the beautiful bays and beaches. So, we decided to take the MyCiti buses to Hout Bay.
Since it was extremely windy, we just took a walk along the beach around Hout Bay. Seals are everywhere in the harbor at Hout Bay, and it is amazing to watch them. They can suddenly jump out of the water and start running after you.
Below are some pictures of the Llandudno Beach, which was my favorite beach in Cape Town.
Cape Town has it all: white sand beaches, a magnificent mountain, splendid vineyards, delicious wines, fresh seafood, and so much more. It has the capacity to satisfy all kinds of needs; it is suitable for surfers, climbers, hikers, foodies, wine lovers, adventure lovers…you name it.
To this end, my trip to Cape convinced me that I need a proper camera. I mean, nothing can capture exactly what the human eyes can see, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do any better.
All in all, this has definitely been the trip of a lifetime.
It gave me perspective, allowed me to step outside my world, and made me realize again that the world is way bigger than us and our problems.