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July 05, 2012

My unexpected winter experiences in Cape Town

Take a slow meander through the Company's Garden for entertainment. Photo © City of Cape Town

Winter in Cape Town can bite to the bone. With the beaches looking grey and thoughts of hot water bottles and hot chocolate in the air, there are still a few activities that you can get up to in the Mother City.

In order to look to the future, we also have to glance back to where we are from, to see just how far we've come and there are some beautiful places in Cape Town full of history and stories. Within the city bowl, there are a number of buildings and sites to see historical artefacts in a modern setting.

I've listed a few interesting things to do in the city this winter:

Every day at noon, we hear the noon gun sound, but do we remember why it does this?

The noon gun is a set of two old cannons (one for “just in case”) and are some of the oldest working cannons in the world. The sounding of the noon gun is one of Cape Town’s oldest traditions and was used (and still is) to mark the time of day and for the ships to check their chronometers. People over 200 years ago checked their pocket watches, something most do today using their watches or cell phones, to make sure they’re all on the right time.

You can observe this piece of history every day from 11h30, but be sure to protect your ears! (Open every day except Sundays and public holidays)

The Castle of Good Hope is the place to go to understand more of Cape Town's history. Being the oldest colonial building in South Africa, (built between 1666 and 1679) a multitude of historical tales are to be expected. Guided tours can be arranged from Monday to Saturday at 11h00, 12h00 and 14h00 (except on Sundays).

Weather permitting, you can walk the old sewers of Cape Town. The tours start at the Castle and end at the slopes of Table Mountain. Find out more about the original brick work and the Camissa River, a Khoi name for Cape Town meaning, “the place of sweet waters”. A unique adventure, the walk covers 3kms underneath the city and comes complete with a tour guide to fill you in on the history. Find out more details on the Good Hope Adventures website and find out more about the Reclaim Camissa project on their facebook page.

Feel like a swim? Long Street's Turkish baths can offer you a heated swimming pool experience in the middle of the city. This beautiful old building is still in use and is frequented by locals for fitness and leisure. Be sure to take advantage of the Turkish baths which includes a plunge pool, massage area, a sauna and steam rooms. For more information, call +27 (0)21 400 3302.

The Company's Garden, Cape Town's very own Central Park, is still a gorgeous place to take a winter stroll. The garden was originally used in the 1650s to grow fresh produce, which was watered by the springs that run down from Table Mountain. Visit the rose garden, the aviary, the fish pond, the historic statues and the oldest cultivated Pear tree (circa 1652). Alternatively, just feed the squirrels some nuts and enjoy a cup of tea at the Garden Tea Room.

The South African National Gallery is a masterpiece not to be missed this winter. Photo © Iziko Museums

Just across from the Company's Garden is the South African National Gallery. The building, a work of art itself, boasts halls of impressive South African, African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish artworks. Exhibitions are constantly changing at the gallery so find out more on the website.

More museums under Iziko’s umbrella include the Bo-Kaap Museum, Groot Constantia Manor House, Koopmans-De Wet House, Maritime Centre, Michaelis Collection at the Old Town House, the Planetarium, Rust en Vreugd, SAS Somerset, the Slave Lodge, the Social History Centre, South African Museum, South African National Gallery, Bertram House and the William Fehr collection at the Castle of Good Hope.

Why not visit the Planetarium for some star gazing? Find out more about the night sky every Saturday and Sunday at 1pm which includes a map to find the constellations and planets that are visible for the month. Find out more about the shows, as well as child activities, on the Iziko website.

The South African Museum is just one the many treasures to rediscover in Cape Town this winter. Photo © Iziko Museums

Conveniently attached to the Planetarium, is the South African Museum. Among others, you can visit the dinosaurs, marvel at the sound of whales and the sight of their bones and gather information on the giant squid and the wonders of nature. For more information, visit the museum's website

The closer you get to Table Mountain, the more history you can uncover. A small piece of this history exists on Upper Orange. The Homestead Park is part of the land that used to belong to the van Breda family. The house was torn down, but one of the sheds still exists as well as the old slave bell tower. One can still see a hook that's been assimilated into one of the big, old trees in the park. This was where the scale hung that weighed the fruit and vegetables that were for sale.
Spend time in the park with children for a picnic or hire out the old barn, which is predominately used by the local scouts. For more information visit www.ohwatch.co.za.

Craving an easy coffee and something for the eyes? Visit the Power and the Glory on Kloof Nek for coffee, local beers, wine, good food and some doodling on the paper table cloths. Open Monday to Friday from 8h00 to 22h00 and on Saturday from 9h00 to 22h00 – the bar is open from 17h00 till late.

Nothing says old school class like a glühwein at the Rhodes Memorial restaurant. Make this an extra special occasion and take one of my cross stitch kits with you.

Tamboers Winkel is the hot new eatery to visit in the Mother City. Photo courtesy Lauren Fowler

Tamboers Winkel is the new kid on the block. Having opened its doors on June 2, 2012, I'm sure this is to be my new favourite hangout. With the added extra benefit of being open on a Sunday, till 16h00, this cosy restaurant owned by Theo van Niekerk and Chef Clarissa Lee, serves free-range chicken, deluxe coffee and beautiful salads. You can take the experience with you by buying fresh bread, free-range eggs and even a whole chicken!
Find them on 3 de Lorentz Street, Tamboerskloof.

A little further out of town, in Franschhoek, one feels as if time slows down as you reach the turn-off to Babylonstoren where a beautiful restaurant, glass tea house and guest accomodation are available. There is so much to do here that staying a weekend is  essential, however, an afternoon can do too. This modern-day farm is perfect for a late morning tea and an afternoon lunch. Finish the day with a stroll among the vegetables.

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