Cape Town hosts a number of tourist destinations. We did not visit these all on one day, but for the sake of brevity, I shall write them into one post. Cape Town is divided into different districts, each with a different setting. Most of the tourists house and entertain themselves at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. We had an apartment in the business district, right next to the Company Gardens and museums. Outlying regions have small, neighborhood specific museums and galleries, related to various immigrants from Malaysia, India, Africa, and Europe.
The Company Gardens, being just outside our doorstep, was the place to start. This is where the origian Dutch East India Company grew the vegetables that the company vessels would restock from. On the sunny days we had upon arrival, many people were out and about in the park, strolling, looking at the floral displays, sunning themselves, reading, picnicking, and snoozing in the shade. We may have been the only tourists there, as most of the people looked like locals enjoying their city park on a sunny weekend.
Several museums are in or around the garden. Across the street from our apartment was the Slave Lodge. The building is on the site of the original slave lodge for Cape Town, but has been built and used for many different municipal purposes. A few years ago, the South African Cultural Museum filled the rooms. This is now housed upstairs, with displays relating the history of slavery and special exhibits downstairs.
At the other end of the gardens are the South African Natural History Museum and National Gallery of Art. The former has displays of cultural artifacts, models of skeletons, and taxidermied animals. We were most interested in the rock art, mammal and bird displays. Ah, wildlife spotting made easy. The Gallery of Art is housed in a building with elegant wood carvings on and over doors. Their exhibits appear to change, with emphasis on contrasting the historic collection provided by colonists and European patrons, with more contemporary works. We were most interested in the rooms of block prints produced by a local art guild during the 1970’s and 80’s. Living near enough to Washington, D.C. we are spoiled with museums on the Mall. What was most sad about these museums was the lack of people viewing their rooms. Only a handful of other people looked at the natural history displays, and no one was in the art gallery.
Castle of Good Hope is the historic site of the original fort and waterfront of Cape Town from the 18th century. The building is a self-guided tour, with two museum spaces, for art and furnishes of the colonial era, and military history. The paintings, using the techniques from Europe in the 1700’s to 1800’s with African themes, people, and wildlife filled in some of the histories that we have read. The military museum contained contemporary paintings of various uniforms, reproductions of military style and equipment, and descriptions of the various military conflicts. Twice per day, in the courtyard, guards perform the Changing of the Key ceremony.
On the campus of the University of Cape Town the Erma Stern House Museum contains works of art from Ms. Stern. She emigrated from Germany in the 1920’s. She had focused on portrait paintings of European subjects, but as with many European artists seeing post World War I as hostile to artistic expression, she left seeking an ideal life. She sought this in Africa, painting native subjects, much as Gaugain had traveled to the South Pacific seeking his idea. The house is full of her paintings and collection of artifacts from around Africa. The rooms are set up in an inviting manner, both requesting entry, but lingering for a time.
The Victoria And Albert Waterfront could be a contained tourist community, with little about Africa, expect for shops of carvings, furs, and diamonds. The buskers playing marimbas or singing acapella entertain passers-by, while hawking their CD’s. Statues commemorating the leaders who ended Apartheid, and the Robbin Island ferry ships leave from here. Also, harbor and sail boat cruises leave from Quay 5. We took one out as the breeze came up in the afternoon. The views of the skyline and mountains are stunning. The waterfront is a safe place, where you might mistake yourself for being at NYC’s Southstreet Seaport, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, or San Francisco’s Pier 39. Well, you can read between the line about my opinion of this tourist destination.