Category Archives: Photo Gallery

Snapping Colourful Photos of the Bo-Kaap in Cape Town (2021-01-24) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 24 FEB 2021

Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the Bo-Kaap is technically a former township situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre of Cape Town. One of the main historical centres of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town, the multicultural Bo-Kaap has since garnered big tourist attention for its extremely brightly coloured homes and cobble stoned streets, with the added attraction of the area containing the largest concentration of pre-1850 architecture in South Africa – making it one of the oldest surviving residential neighbourhoods in the Cape.

Featuring a mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture, the Bo-Kaap’s origins date back to the 1760s when numerous “huurhuisjes” (rental houses) were built and leased to slaves. These people were known as Cape Malays, and were brought from Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of Africa to work in the Cape. The distinctive splash of colour that makes this particular neighbourhood stand out as much as it does is said to be attributed to the fact that while on lease, all the houses had to be white. When this rule was eventually lifted, and the slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all the houses were painted bright colours by their owners as an expression of their freedom.

With an incredibly strong percentage of Islamic population (upwards of 56% of its inhabitants identify as Muslim), the Bo-Kaap is home to a surprisingly large (given its relatively compact size) number of mosques – nine in total. Of particular interest is the Auwal Mosque, recognized as the first established and thus oldest mosque in South Africa. Dating back to 1768, the oldest house left standing in the Bo-Kaap also serves as the official Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum, and is a must stop if you are interested in learning more about this very distinctive neighbourhood and the history of its people.

Although primarily a residential neighbourhood (living admittedly in the shadow of ever encroaching gentrification), there are a few businesses, coffee shops and an art gallery or two to pop into, with the most famous of these probably being the Atlas Trading Company, a family owned store that has been operating since 1946 and which is renowned for its selection of sensational spices, rice and other rare products from around the world. That said though, 99% of visitors are there for pretty much one thing only – taking lots of photos of people’s very colourful homes!

USA 2019 – 09 The Metro and Union Station in Washington DC (2019-10-26) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 23 FEB 2021

We obviously don’t really have any true underground rapid transit metro subway here in South Africa (unless you count the 15 km long underground stretch of the Gautrain network as one), meaning then that my first interaction with the Washington Metro and its now six lines, 91 stations, and 188 km of route, really did bring out a good and proper smile from me. What can I say, I enjoy experiencing transport engineering.

Engineering aside, an added bonus is definitely that many of the older Metro stations, designed by Chicago architect Harry Weese, are an absolute visual delight to behold, a perfect example of late 20th century modern architecture with aspects of Brutalist design (thanks to the heavy use of exposed concrete and repetitive design motifs) mixed in with Washington’s de facto neoclassical architectural style through the stations’ imposing overarching coffered ceiling vaults. (Additionally, in an effort to lighten up these rather grey and stoic spaces, the metro stations themselves all tend to feature different art on the mezzanine levels above the fare machines, generally visible as you move to exit any station). It must be said that the stations have a pretty good signage system, seem to run pretty much on schedule, and pleasingly proved super easy to use – even for someone as navigationally challenged as myself!

One of the jewels of the system is the massive Washington Union Station, a major train station, transportation hub, and leisure destination all rolled into one. Opened in 1907, the incredibly busy Union Station is an intermodal facility, home to Amtrak and its rail network as well as servicing the MARC and VRE commuter rail services, the Washington Metro (which is how I ended up there), the DC Streetcar, intercity bus lines, and the local Metrobus busses. It is worth noting that it was only in 1988 that a headhouse wing was added and the original station renovated for use as a shopping mall, thus giving the station its current and very distinctive form. So, given its prime location as an intersection of so many travel options it is no wonder then that Union Station ranks as one of the United States’ busiest rail facilities and shopping destinations – with over 40 million visitors per year!

Due to Union Station’s proximity to the United States Capitol (just five blocks away), architects Daniel H. Burnham and Pierce Anderson worked hard to make this station a massive grandiose architectural triumph, incorporating an incredible array of neoclassical and Beaux-Arts style influenced elements to bring their vision to life – from the triumphal arch entrance, the 26 interior centurions looking down upon you, the six colossal exterior statues by Louis St. Gaudens (modeled on the Dacian prisoners of the Arch of Constantine), to the great vaulted spaces such as those of the Baths of Diocletian, as well as of course the inclusion of expensive materials such as marble, gold leaf, and white granite in the finishing.

Fronted by the Columbus Circle plaza and its impressive fountain, the Washington Union Station with all its architecture, commerce, and people truly is a spectacle to behold – even if done while sitting down and munching on something as mundane as a food court Johnny Rockets burger. Sigh, stupid South African Rand to the US Dollar exchange rate!

USA 2019 – 08 Pandas at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC (2019-10-26) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 22 FEB 2021

So having spent the previous afternoon happily exploring the area around the national mall, taking in architecture, statues and so, so many memorials, I changed the pace a little the next morning and headed out northwest via Washington D.C.’s relatively pretty subway stations, exiting at Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan and then taking the short uphill stroll to stop in front of the concrete lion guarded entrance of the National Zoological Park, aka the Smithsonian National Zoo.

Located at the sprawling Rock Creek Park, the National Zoo is one of the oldest zoos in the United States, having been founded all the way back in 1889. Covering an area of 66 ha, this zoo is even larger than the immense San Diego Zoo (40 ha) which I visited back in 2016, and is home to around 2700 or so animals, spread over 390 different species – a fifth of which are on either the globally endangered or threatened species list. (And yes, because this is part of the Smithsonian Institution, entrance to the zoo is completely free.)

So as you might imagine then, with that amount of space and animals at its disposal, the National Zoo demands a fair bit of your time to take a stroll through. The zoo experience is made up of a whole heap of interconnected themed spaces that you can move between, including the various trails like the Asia Trail, Elephant Trails, the American Trail, Amazonia, and Lion and Tiger Hill, as well as big standalone exhibits like the Giant Panda Habitat, the Great Ape House, Think Tank, Cheetah Conservation Station, Gibbon Ridge, the Reptile Discovery Center, the Bird House, Lemur Island and the Small Mammal House. There’s also the children specific attraction The Kids’ Farm – useful if just seeing all these wonderfully exotic creatures isn’t quite enough to hold their attention for the full day!

Discounting the African species which we have enough of back home, the National Zoo definitely held a couple of personal animal highlights for me – like the incredibly floofy Giant Panda, the goofy looking Sloth Bear, and the stoic, powerful American Bison. The Orangutans were delightful (the “O Line” crossing is wonderful to behold), Arapaimas incredibly unusual in shape and size, and of course, just as they did for us back in Kyoto, the adorable Red Pandas totally stole the show.

In addition to all the exotic (for me) animals on display, given that Washington D.C. was starting to move into Autumn territory at the time of my visit, the incredible mass of trees that also call the zoo home were all starting to undergo their colour transformation – leading to an even greater visual experience for me seeing as this isn’t a spectacle that I ever get to witness back home in the Mediterranean climate profile that is Cape Town. (In other words, I took a LOT of time wandering about the zoo with a very big goofy grin on my face.)

The weather was nice and cool, the clouds meant that it wasn’t a sweaty affair, and a little cloudburst served to inject a little extra entertainment into the proceedings. And of course I took photos. Lots and lots of photos…

Eggs Benedict and Coffee at Famous Bean in Gordon’s Bay (2021-02-15) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 21 FEB 2021

Monday saw the girls finally return to Gordon’s Bay Primary School after an INCREDIBLY long December school holiday break thanks to the current Covid-19 pandemic. Of course it is safe to say that we DEFINITELY weren’t the only parents to celebrate this return to relative normality by immediately heading out for a breakfast bite following the big 1st day of school drop-off. (Also, to add to the fun, it just so happened to be Emily’s first day of Grade 1, meaning that we are now officially released from the baby school phase of our parenting lives. In other words, even more reason to celebrate!)

Sadly, the popular Gordon’s Bay eatery that was the Old Cape Café (situated across Gordon’s Bay main beach in the Old Cape Café Mall) didn’t survive the devastating Coronavirus Lockdowns of 2019, but fortunately an eager newcomer has stepped in to fill its shoes in the form of a Famous Bean franchise trading under the name of Famous Bean @ Cape Café.

Naturally, as part of the Famous Bean company, the freshly roasted coffee on offer is fantastic, and pleasingly the food offering is pretty good too. On this particular morning both Chantelle and I indulged in some lovely eggs benedict with coffee for breakfast, and I am happy to report that all was good. Sadly the wind was a little too nippy to encourage us to sit out on the deck, but seeing as we live right here in Gordon’s Bay, its not like we don’t already know the view! ;)

McDonalds at Poinsettia Park in Somerset West (2020-08-22) Nature and Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 20 FEB 2021

I am not fond of McDonalds fast food to say the least. If we absolutely do have to have fast food then the oily (but tasty) mess that is KFC could probably be classified as my favourite fast food option, but unfortunately for me, both my wife and kids seem to like what comes out of the Golden Arches’ kitchen and thus every now and then I need to indulge them. That said, if the chance arises to not have to eat it in the fast food outlet itself, then I always try to grab that opportunity with both hands. Case in point – why eat in the admittedly nicely airconditioned and spacious McDonalds of Waterstone Village Somerset West when it is by far more pleasant to just drive up the road and munch on your cardboard patty around nearby Poinsettia Park dam instead.

Situated to the side of the very nice, up on a hill suburb of Heldervue, Somerset West, sits Poinsettia Park, a small strip of green wedged in between suburbia and the big R44 that serves to shuttle traffic between the Helderberg and Stellenbosch. Built around a small dam, this space of green is a relatively popular spot for fishing and family picnics, and also features a small loop which makes it great for getting dogs (and little girls) to stretch their legs a little. These days there is also a brightly coloured outdoor gym in case you are eager to show off some sweaty muscles to whomever is willing to take the time to look.

As for the three of us (Chantelle was back home hard at work in the kitchen on this particular day of out and about adventure), we found a bench, munched on our food, watched the birdlife and the fishermen at work, and then grumpily took a short stroll before chasing back to the car because the youngest one decided that the need for a toilet was now about to enforce itself. (Kids always make everything so fun.)

Anyway, with the relatively busy R44 lying right next door, Poinsettia Park isn’t a particularly quiet and tranquil space, but it is rather pretty to look at, and it definitely does beat sitting in a boring McDonalds, that’s for sure!

A Cairn at Rotary Way Lookout Point above Hermanus (2021-01-09) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 15 FEB 2021

Hermanus is a wonderful seaside town, squeezed into a narrow coastal plain that is bounded by the endless blue of the Indian Ocean to the south and the peaks of the Kleinriviersberge mountains to the north. One of the best ways to get a lay of the land is to drive up the easy to miss as you enter the town Rotary Way, a 5.3 km long road that ticks all the boxes of being a mountain pass but which instead simply doesn’t go anywhere.

The start of the road gives you a view to the Western areas of Hermanus, such as Sandbaai, Zwelihle and Vermont, while a little further on to the left you get blessed with the stunning landscape views of the fertile green Hemel en Aarde Valley, before reaching the final tarred section of the road which opens up views over the Klein River Valley, Stanford, the Lagoon and of course of Walker Bay and Hermanus itself. Here there are a couple of benches to sit down and quietly admire the view, or if you are like me with a couple of energetic girls in tow, head out for a stroll in the bush and add a couple of stones to the nearby cairn as a way to leave your mark. (This was by far the most fun bit of this stop for them).

The views over Hermanus are of course spectacular. You are high but not high enough that you lose any detail, and it becomes a fun way to spot the landmarks like the golf course, Hoy’s Koppie, the Old Harbour and Gearing’s Point. (It’s also worth pointing out that if you have a capable vehicle, you can actually continue along the gravel section of the road from here, which will then take you past the local hang glider launching area all the way through to the edge of the Hamilton Russell Vineyards property where the road finally terminates once and for all.)

Beautiful agamas and other rock lizards, delicate fynbos flowers, views to die for, and that fresh sea breeze in your face, a drive up Rotary Way should really be considered the next time you find yourself in Hermanus on a good weather day.

Sudoku and Bistro Fare at Alex on Fire in Somerset West (2021-01-23) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 01 FEB 2021

Tucked away in what is best described as one of the more tired looking parts of where Strand meets Somerset West is a relatively new, sparkly eatery gem named Alex on Fire Moto Bistro. Bearing in mind that subtitle, given the fact that the bistro is situated just behind a popular motorcycle workshop, and taking into account that kick-ass logo, this is of course then another one of those eateries that takes its heart from the biking fraternity – which makes sense considering the fact that co-owner Derek Chester-Browne has for many years been part of the local motorcycle scene. That said though, this is certainly no simple biker’s joint.

Housed in a heritage property and in possession of a beautiful Burmese teak bar that comes from a once popular Somerset West watering hole that has long since burned down, the Alexandria Hotel, Alex on Fire is actually a quite decent eatery that serves some pretty upmarket styled food and just so happens to have a little something for everyone on its impressive (for a bistro) menu. Again, this makes complete sense if you consider that Scott Hendrie is the chef at the wheel, which, if my LinkedIn stalking skills are correct, has him as having previously helmed some of the Cape’s top kitchens, including Le Franschhoek Hotel, Dieu Donne Restaurant, Pepper Club Hotel, and Val de Vie Polo Restaurant.

Given the intention to be a bit of a home to all, Alex on Fire actually does a great job of catering to kids, complete with a fun little adventure styled kids play area that features a magnificent boat stuck in a tree treehouse! Our particular visit fell within the period where Coronavirus Lockdown rules equalled prohibition, so no comment on the drink available but as you can tell from the photos the food came out of the kitchen looking (and tasting) pretty damn good!

An added bonus worth mentioning is that on arrival both the kids and the adults received a neat little entertainment pack – colouring in for the girls and a page of sudoku, wordsearch and crossword puzzles for the adults – a near perfect distraction while you wait for your food and maybe don’t have anything left to say to one another after having spent pretty much the entire year staring into one another’s eyes thanks to the global pandemic the world is currently engulfed in.

Donkeys, Canola and a Giant Table with Chairs at Dassiesfontein (2020-08-30) Farm Stalls | Photo Gallery 31 JAN 2021

Once a year the vast farmed canola fields that cover the farmlands of the Overberg region between Bot River and Caledon reach full bloom, turning the area into an incredible carpet of bright visceral yellow. Of course the usual worries about farm monoculture fields still applies, but ignoring that, this incredibly unusual landscape sight is one to be experienced and well worth the drive out to see.

Last year we nipped out to try and get a better view of the fantastical snowy peaks currently on display (and also get out of the pandemic-induced cabin fever headspace), and decided to sneak in a visit to these gorgeous yellow lands with a drive down the N2 to perennial favourite Dassiesfontein, an unmissable farm stall and restaurant that sits neatly between Bot River and Caledon and which has been trading there since at least the 90’s.

As you might imagine, the drive over was breathtaking, with field upon field stretched out in front of you as you start the descent down the Houw Hoek mountain pass. Pulling in at the solar panel laden Dassiesfontein farm stall building, we were excited to learn that they had since built a giant oversized table and chairs next to their donkey corral to serve both as a fun roadside attraction and also to provide some shade and shelter for their popular furry drawcard.

Avoiding the people, the girls had a blast feeding the donkeys with all the juicy grass growing outside of the enclosure, before giving in to our requests to pose for a million photos in front of the adjacent bright yellow canola field. And while there were too many people sitting in the restaurant for us to feel comfortable enough to join in, we did however make sure to peruse through this mad farm stall, browsing the bevy of antiques, curios, leather, clothing, dairy and pretty much anything and everything else that finds itself stocked in this incredible space of… stuff.

Belgian Chocolate and Curios at Chocolat etc. in Swellendam (2021-01-12) Photo Gallery | Shopping 15 JAN 2021

Our early January school holidays escape to Swellendam was lazing along quite nicely. Comfortably tucked in at the Aan de Heuvel self-catering cottage where the girls were pretty much living in our private splash pool, we didn’t need to mosey out much other than when needing to restock braai supplies or maybe pick up a treat or two while driving (aka sightseeing) around this quaint, historic, and lush green town at the foot of the Langeberg mountains.

One such treat snuffling saw us set foot in Chocolate etc., a small Belgian chocolatier/curios/gift shop that has definitely moved since we last visited Swellendam, but which is still very helpfully right by the Drostdy Museum Complex. Housed in a vintage style building squashed in between two estate agents, Chocolate etc. is primarily a place to grab a quick cup of coffee while perusing a relatively wide selection of fashionable clothing articles, gifts, curios, and of course a selection of nicely made artisan chocolates.

Of course I don’t think that Chantelle or the girls even looked at anything other than the chocolate display, as they eagerly had the lady on duty work her way through describing each and every one as the girls all made their difficult choices as to which flavours to grab. (Well not that difficult because of course all three strolled away with a nicely bulging packets at the end of our visit.)