Welcome to the latest in our regular series, You’ve Been Where? In this series we throw the blog over to you to find out where your latest travel adventures have taken you. In this post we catch up with Jen Smit, a South African living in England who tells us all about her trip back to Africa. If you’re anything like us, this post will make you hungry and give you itchy feet!
Who are you and what do you do for a living?
Who am I? Now there’s an existential question! A friend once described me as a ‘quaintrelle’ (Wiktionary def: A woman who emphasizes a life of passion expressed through personal style, leisurely pastimes, charm, and cultivation of life’s pleasures.) and it’s a description I have now claimed for permanent use. But in simpler terms, my name is Jen Smit and while I do a number of things that contribute to living, the one that helps pay the bills is my job as a Communications expert at Barclays Bank in London.
Where is home?
Gosh, another complex question! Well, certainly for someone like me who, thanks to dual British and South African citizenship, has to straddle two homes many thousands of miles apart. I was formed in South Africa, but for the past 11 years have based myself in London, UK. I travel back to Cape Town, where my parents and brother are based, several times a year.
Where have you been? When did you go?
If anyone is ever looking for me, there are four places to check: London, Amsterdam, the Berry region of France, and Cape Town. My most recent trip was back to my one home, Cape Town, for two weeks in November 2016.
Who did you travel with?
Technically I travelled alone, but of course arriving back in the country of your birth automatically means connecting with family and friends who go way, way back. Also this time there was the added bonus of travelling back for a wedding between friends who met in Amsterdam but are based in London which meant that I got to spend time with some of my favourite people from the UK, the Netherlands and France as well.
What were the highlights of your trip?
My parents relocated to Cape Town from Pretoria – in the north of South Africa – only four years ago so going ‘home’ these days has the added bonus of feeling a little bit touristy – in a good way. As usual, I spent the first few days prostrate on the sofa reading magazines, occasionally tilting my head to admire the vast expanse of mountain on display through the panoramic windows of my parents’ porch. For someone who usually beetles around London in a blur, I can assure you this was very much a highlight!
Once corporate stress had vacated my shoulders I got stuck into one of the best aspects of life in the Cape: eating and drinking.
I started my gastronomic vacation with a voluminous bowl of calamari and a chilled glass of white wine at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel in Hout Bay. This is a Cape Town icon and, as far as I am concerned, a must on any itinerary. Aside from some of the best calamari you’ll ever eat, you get to soak up the view of the Hout Bay beach and the Sentinel.
Ideally, once replete you’d take the staggeringly scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive over to Noordhoek for either a long walk on the creatively named Long Beach, or a coffee at Noordhoek Cafe. If travelling with kids, Cafe Roux at Noordhoek Village has a great play area within easy view of the outside tables. If you choose to linger longer in Hout Bay you could trundle along the (much shorter) beach to Dunes cafe for a post-feed drink. Dunes, loved by young and old, local and visitors, must surely be named for its position, which is so close to the beach as to be almost one with it. The children’s play area is, in fact, a beach.
But I know what you’re thinking, what about the famous Cape Winelands? Fear not, there are plenty to choose from. Two of my favourites – partly, but not only, because they are so close to my parents’ house – are Constantia Glen and Beau Constantia.
These two neighbouring wine estates offer the kind of picture postcard views you see in travel magazines with the benefit of not requiring you to leave the city if you don’t have time. Sure, you could do a tasting, but my recommendation is to head to Constantia Glen for a great value repast of a cheese platter and a bottle of rose.
Further afield, I loved my first-time visit to Vergenoegd wine estate just outside Stellenbosch where you can delight in watching the working Indian Runner Ducks on the run. You can even do a duck tour with the on-site duck whisperer. Did you know, that you can tell whether an egg will result in a male or a female bird based on the shape of it?
There is a risk that having directed this tale slightly away from Cape Town that I will carry on driving north and get entirely off-topic describing the rest of SA so best I reign it in and take us all back to the city and into the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Sigh. I love it here. If the Garden of Eden existed, surely Kirstenbosch must be modelled on it.
Spend half a day just meandering along the pathways of this magnificent garden as it sweeps up the side of Table Mountain. Maybe take a picnic blanket and a book and just ‘be’. I experienced a Kirstenbosch ‘first’ on this trip: a close (though fortunately not that close) encounter with a Boom Slang, one of Africa’s most venomous snakes. It was very busy with an unlucky bird but still, after checking it out from a safe distance we beat a fairly hasty retreat.
What did you least like about your trip?
What did I like least? Hmm. Tricky. I guess the thing that still gets to me is seeing the vast gap between the haves and the have-nots. I feel exceptionally lucky to be able to experience South Africa from a place of privilege, but it simultaneously pains me to see how many people struggle to survive every day.
Do you have any funny stories from your travels?
Erm, no. I’m obviously not very funny.
What were the locals like?
Among the friendliest in the world. And I don’t just say that because I am South African. There is something very warm about Saffas and, for the most part, we are super-proud of our country and love showing off its best side. You may need to get accustomed to the concept of ‘African time’ in order to relax into the local rhythm, but once you do, you’ll feel right at home.
What was the food like?
Divine! And while you might find a supermarket shop quite pricey in comparison to a similar shop elsewhere, eating out in South Africa is generally more affordable and better value than many countries.
Did you learn anything about yourself or the world on this trip?
I go back fairly frequently so I wouldn’t say I learned anything in particular on this trip but the experience always reminds me to be grateful.
Would you recommend others travel here?
South Africa is truly one of the most beautiful and diverse countries in the world. It may be challenging at times, but if you stay alert and allow yourself to adapt to the local rhythm, you’ll have a magical time.
Do you have any tips for people thinking of travelling here?
I find that driving in South Africa can be a bit hairy at times. Don’t let that put you off, but be aware that many drivers have a loose appreciation for the rules of the road so you will need to keep your wits about you. And perhaps don’t go for the smallest hire car.
If you are travelling more widely than just Cape Town – which I highly recommend – I would suggest making Cape Town the last stop on your travels for a final indulgence in good food, great wine, excellent shopping and astounding scenery.
Been somewhere lately? Why not share it with the AllabroadAU community? Drop us a line via allabroadau(at)gmail.com. We’d love to hear about your adventures.