I just spent a fantastic week in Cape Town, South Africa visiting a friend and have much to tell about what I ate, drank and saw while I was there. I was hoping to have some updates on this in the middle of last week to prevent an overload of blog material to post but the trip became a whirlwind and I barely had a chance to sit down at a computer until I returned yesterday!
Way back earlier this year (I think around March), I learned that an old friend had decided to move to Cape Town, and for whatever reason, I immediately jumped on the chance to visit such an exotic and far away place and booked a ticket within a month. Clearly, I had a long time to prepare for this trip, which also means plenty of time to do research, plan excursions, and daydream about it. I wanted to pack as much in as I could- I wasn’t going to travel all the way there just to sit on the beach, however nice it might have been.
Of course since I am traveling on a major budget, my flight was the absolute cheapest I could find, which means I had the pleasant itinerary of a red eye from Newark to London, followed by an 11 hour layover at Heathrow, followed by another red eye from London to Cape Town. I left the Friday after Thanksgiving but didn’t even arrive until Sunday morning! It sounds god awful, yes, but I have to say, it really didn’t go that badly. I flew British Airways, and the service/ comfort level was beyond all other US based airlines. More details later.
Now if I have any recommendation for what to do on such a long layover it’s this: book a day pass to one of the airline lounges. I chose the United Lounge- which is only $50 and provides private showers, comfortable seating, and a complimentary food buffet- restocked at all meal times. You just need a same-day boarding pass to get in, and you might need to trek a little because it’s only in certain teminals. Yes, you can try to escape the airport to visit whatever city you happen to be stuck at but the logistics of getting yourself into said city and back again for your flight takes a whole lot longer than you might think. I’ve been to London twice, so I wasn’t particularly motivated to deal with all that extra travel. I’m very glad I ended up choosing that plan because I didn’t realize that although my first flight landed in the morning, it was really only about 1am EST, so I got zero sleep.
So what made British airways so much better? In short- seatback TV’s with new release movies, very good complimentary meals (dinner and breakfast), and free flowing alcohol options. I still felt like a sardine, but when the flight attendant asked “Would you like another glass of wine to go with your meal?” I knew everything was going to be ok.
My plan was to stay with my friend for the first two nights, and then I booked myself into a boutique hotel in the Bo-kaap district called the Rouge on Rose. It took me forever to make a decision- this was my first solo vacation and I wanted to pick somewhere good! What sold me on the Rouge on Rose were its high ratings, and its delicious looking breakfast. I’m easy to please if there is good food involved.
Upon arrival in Cape Town Sunday morning, I breezed through immigration, out of the airport and went straight to breakfast after dropping off my bags at my friend’s apartment. The location was Truth Coffee, which I immediately recognized from Pinterest due to their steampunk theme and awesome coffee bar décor. It was also recently voted one of the best coffee shops in the world by the UK’s Telegraph, which is super awesome except I don’t drink coffee. The breakfast was fantastic though, and my first introduction to how affordable eating out was in the city. My eggs benedict came served over two slices of crusty bread instead of an English muffin, with roasted tomatoes, bacon and arugula… for a whopping R70, or about $5!
After a few errands to pick up some things I forgot- like sunglasses AND sunscreen, we toured around the Company Gardens briefly, walked around Greenmarket Square which is full of vendors selling the kitschy African souvenirs you’d expect to see, and then headed off to a beer festival near the stadium. In very typical fashion, we talked to not one, but two people at two different breweries that were from Portland. It’s hard to escape from the Portland web! The beers were great, and once again, so cheap, running at a little over $2 a pint. It was here that I got to try my first uniquely South African food: biltong. Biltong is everything that jerky should be. Gone is the disgusting fake spiced/ teriyaki flavor, and instead is natural, delicious, dried salted meat. It can come in different flavors or animals, like ostrich, beef, or kudu. We shared a bag for lunch as we enjoyed some pints of our favorite beers from the festival, for me, the Cape Town Blonde from Drifter brewing company.
I want to say I did lots of other fun, exciting things that day but really we just hung out at the festival for a few hours, went back to my friends apartment and ended up going to see Spectre at a nearby theater. I also want to say I enjoyed it, but I spent most of the movie trying not to fall asleep out of exhaustion. Having such a laid back first day was a good way to get acclimated and ready for the week’s activities. I’ll update you more soon!