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  • Shelley Dark

11. Walking Tour of Cape Town

photo courtesy Cape Grace Hotel

The Cape Grace Hotel is known for its wonderful staff - so wonderful in fact that our darling friend Jo Dallamore said she once tested them out by asking for a treadmill in her room - which was duly delivered and installed while she was briefly out of the hotel. Very impressive! Nothing is too much trouble.

It's in a perfect position on the waterfront - access is through a manned security gate, on its own quay, secluded from the hustle and bustle of the Victoria and Albert waterfront area which is swarming with tourists.

Our rooms face west towards the ocean, with a view of the working harbour, dry dock and the Silo Hotel. Those amazing prismatic windows in the Silo Hotel glow at sunrise and sunset and at night when the lights are on. The architect Thomas Heatherwick intended it to symbolise a lighthouse.

On the other side the Cape Grace has an equally appealing easterly view over the yachts in the marina and Table Mountain.

The interior references the Cape: its history, flora and fauna, with antique and vintage objects, maps and furniture.

The kitchen in our apartment.

Our living room.

It's a long corridor!

The chandeliers all reference the area - this one in our room has a bird's nest, crockery, beads.....

Monogrammed linen....

Fruit and other yummies...

A very big balcony.

And a view towards the V & A Waterfront.

There's a series of shallow bowls in the hotel entrance, all containing stunning displays of proteas and other native flowers.

The breakfast room and its contents didn't disappoint either!

But we were on a mission first thing this morning: a tour of the CBD with art historian Kate Crane Briggs. English by birth, Kate worked in the art world in the UK until in 2010 her architect husband's job brought him to Cape Town. Then she started Culture Connect, the only art and design tour business in southern Africa. What a find for us!

We were to meet her at 9am at the studio of the delightful Pierre Fouché, a Cape Town artist who works in both huge scale and also tiny crochet and lace-making. In a street quite close to the CBD, we climbed a few flights of stairs into his light-filled room, the huge picture window filled with a view of Table Mountain. As he poured tea for us, Pierre said he has to face away from it to accomplish any work!

Pierre uses nails to hold his work in place. He graduated in Fine Arts from the University of Stellenbosch and has achieved world recognition with his truly astounding work. He's done residencies in Paris and Basel, where he was befriended by a Swiss octagenarian lace-maker.

She gave him this tiny piece of lace - a peacock. The work is so fine it's hard to believe any human person could make it.

​It's formed the inspiration for this sketch and his latest commission: six huge panels of peacock green crochet, to be hung at a local winery, with a lace representation of man and peacock suspended in the middle. It's going to take until the end of next year to finish.

One of his framed works on the wall.

Pierre works from photographic portraiture and crafts a representation with lace-bobbins and embroidery. Can you see how many different colours are going into that tiny piece of lace???

​The design is written out, cut out of paper, knitted, letter-embossed in plastic, crocheted, assembled with dice or painted on a puzzle. His work in Cape Town is handled by the gallery What if the World. He also exhibits elsewhere in the world.

Pierre shares the top floor with three other artists. This man is working with molten metal.

I loved this brass thingamy on a brass pedestal!

After this happy beginning, we began our walking tour of the CBD with Kate. The starting point was, appropriately, the Company's Garden.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeck of the Dutch East India Company established a settlement at Cape Town as a supply station on the route from Holland to the east.

On this site, still called the Company's Garden, he planted vegetables, fruit trees, herb and medicinal plants, along with ornamental gardens of oak trees and roses. Later an elaborate system of canals and water furrows was dug, fed by the Fresh River.

It's now a well-used public garden and still has a vegetable section. Intersecting paths are marked by memorials and statues. All around the perimeter are government buildings; Parliament, the National Gallery, the National Library and the Cathedral.

How can such an elegant building have such a horrible history? Until 1811 the building above housed slaves on their arrival in Cape Town in damp, unsanitary, crowded conditions: up to twenty percent died. Brought here from Indonesia, India, Madagascar and Mozambique, they accomplished much of the hard and skilled manual labour needed to build Cape Town and work surrounding farms. Many were, and their descendants remain, Muslim. Slavery was abolished in 1834 and this is now a museum remembering those 60,000 slaves who were brought here against their will.

Can you see what's funny about this British coat of arms on one of the buildings? The unicorn is quite amused that the lion is having rather a bad day..... Colonial humour!

We walked past the old churches to the peculiarly South African art deco Mutual Heights Building, now residential apartments.

There are African tribal figures between the windows, some of them now considered politically incorrect and historically inaccurate.

A huge frieze depicting Cape Town's history is obscured by rusting wire panels all along the outside walls above street level.

A team of maintenance workers were cleaning, overseen by inscrutable carved elephants at corners of the building.

Although we couldn't go inside, the banking hall is said to be in neo-classical style with tall marble clad colonnades but the soaring entrance hall is quite severely art deco with austere black marble walls and stainless steel balustrades.

This is Muller's optometrist shop, established in 1890 by a German born Joseph Muller, art deco facade and interior constructed in 1920, and the business is still in hands of the same family four generations later.

Don't you love the art deco optometrical motif?

We wandered through the old city post office with it's lovely glass dome - it's now full of market shops.

All along the city streets as Kate pointed out the landmarks. This is City Hall, once on the waterfront, now after land reclamation, a kilometre inland.

The statue is of Edward VII - there are constant reminders of Cape Town's colonial past, and always the sheer backdrop of the mountains.

This area is known as Bo Kaap, previously the Malay Quarter, because many of the Muslim slaves settled here - now it's desirable real estate. Apparently neighbours just discuss between themselves what colour they intend to paint. The inhabitants are famous for marvellous curries - remember Jo's wonderful meal on our first night?

We were welcomed by this charming man into one of several mosques in the area.

We visited this co-operative bead work shop with its myriads of animals in a colour co-ordinated display. It was interesting to discover that the more black Africans any employer has, the more government work will be awarded to him.

Our tour with Kate ended at this 'Open House' art installation - it's simply a facade facing the street with staircases behind leading up to the open doorways and windows, a public platform for talks, addresses, performances and other creative expressions.

What a wonderful walk thanks to Kate, especially since we've been sitting for most of our time here so far! She left us at colourful Greenmarket Square, full of stall holders with African curios. No time for shopping though, as our stomachs were rumbling, and we had a reservation at the Shortmarket Club!

We walked straight past the entrance marked only with a brass 88.

Set into the cobbles though, was this reassuring brass sign - obviously everyone knows where it is!

A long corridor, a flight of stairs, and we were suddenly thrown into the noisy buzzing atmosphere of a busy weekday restaurant. Grey leather banquettes, a wall full of framed butterflies and a hum of chatter and laughter.

We decided on sharing four starters - here's the complimentary amuse bouche of freshly baked bread, home made ricotta with olive oil and balsamic.

This anonymous looking parcel was actually wild mushroom en papillote: wild mushrooms cooked in parchment paper with hazelnut oil and lemon, served with beef fat brioche. It disappeared before I remembered to photograph the inside! Mmmmmmmmmm!

Neither Helen nor I are keen on steak tartare but the couple at the next table said that if you are ever to eat it anywhere you should eat grass-fed beef tartare here, so we tried it: with balsamic pickled celeriac, burnt onion and shitake mirin tea, cured egg yolk and crispy leeks.

Also delicious!

Next burnt leek and stracciatella: fresh stracciatella, smoked pine nuts, fennel oil and roasted garlic. You guessed it. Perfection.

Lastly, Cape Malay crispy octopus on a bed of green mango atchar, mango tahini, panko and Bo Kaap masala spiced crumb, and bonito flakes. Can you believe the bonito flakes were waving around as if they were alive - quite alarming, but very wonderful to taste!

We couldn't pass up the crème brûlée, set alight at the table. What a wonderful ending to the meal!

It was mid-afternoon by the time we'd finished, and our a capella choral experience was to start at 7pm. Full of yummy food and a little weary, we ubered back to the hotel so we'd be ready on time.

There are glorious proteas everywhere in buckets, and the spring flowers are out too....

When we walked back in to the hotel, Keegan at reception recited our exact wine order from last night's arrival: Helen's red and my white, maker, grape and vintage. He does make us laugh. Tomorrow I'll show you our amazing journey into a township to see and hear the a capella experience of a lifetime.

Until then buddies,

shelley dark, writer 

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