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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cape Town 8.30 - 8.31

South Africa

When H and I were planning our wedding in 2007, I wanted a Safari honeymoon. H was not ready for Africa, so we ended up going to the French Polynesian Islands instead.  It was the perfect honeymoon and I would not change it for anything, but I never took the safari off my travel list.

Six years later, the time has finally come. We are on board for not only our first safari, but also the first trip to the African continent.  As much as I would like to see myself as adventurous, I must say that Africa seemed intimidating.

Since we know very little about Africa, any safari destination would work for us. I was greedy at first, and wanted to visit Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Namibia all at once. However, after the shocking realization of how expensive the itinerary would be, we quickly settled for South Africa only.  The country is stable, relatively safe, the capital city of Cape Town would serve as the gentle introduction to our first African experience. Kruger region is ideal for a safari at this time of the year.

We booked our trip at the beginning of this year, and counted months and days for my romanticized African expedition to finally come.

8.30 - 8.31

South African Airway(SAA) provides daily direct flights between New York (JFK) and Johannesburg (JNB).  The flight is 15 hours long. There are several flights a day between Johannesburg and  Cape Town (CPT), which is another 2 hours long. It was our first time traveling via SAA, the food was good, there was plenty of water provided and many movies to choose from. It is worth mentioning that quite a few movies had Chinese captions.  Who knew! I assume SAA must have a lot of Chinese customers.  We are used to the long haul flights  from our trips back to Asia.  The flight seemed shorter this time somehow.  Upon landing in Johannesburg, our pilot announced that this was his last flight before retirement.  As a tradition, our plane was sprayed down by two airport fire trucks in honor of the pilot's successful career (As the pilot said, equal numbers of take-offs & landings). The cabin erupted into loud claps and cheers.  It was a really neat experience. 

Johannesburg is a huge airport and we only had less than 90 minutes to go through the customs, claim the luggage, and check-in for our domestic flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town.
While we were running across the airport trying to board, two guys looked like they were the airport staff guided us to the customs.  The first guy guided us to the customs designated for airline crew.  The second guy then showed us the right customs that was 500 feet away.  He showed H a 100 euro bill and told him to pay tips.  Really? 100 euro for 2 minutes' walk? We didn't think so.  H handed him 2 dollars and he walked away.  However, this seemed to be quite common in JNB.  A lovely couple we met during this trip shared a similar story and paid us$20.  
By the time we got our rental car at Cape town International airport, it was around 2PM on Saturday 8/31.  H was anxious about driving on the right side of the road for the first time so we rented a GPS to help us navigate.  H quickly adopted to driving on the left side. Not having too much traffic on the road most of the time definitely helped.
We arrived in Cape Town at the end of the winter.  The air was cool and crisp.  The temperature during our stay was between 56 – 68 F (15-20C) during the day and cooled down to around 45F (9C) at night. Table Mountain was the dramatic backdrop on the N2 Highway when driving into the city.  As we drove through one of the townships by the highway, there were people running across the highway to the other side of the township! This was definitely something we have not seen before in other countries that we visited!

The drive to our hotel took about 20 minutes.  For the first three nights, we stayed at the Westin Hotel by the convention center near the V & A Waterfront. It’s becoming our preference these days as we are expanding our travel map to countries that may seem intimidating at first.  We would book the international chain hotels first to gain our footing and get comfortable with the surroundings.  I was hoping to check out neighbourgoods market  since it only opened on Saturday. but it was too late by the time we checked into the hotel. After a quick shower, we took our car out and drove to the nearby V & A Waterfront.
V & A Waterfront is like South Street Seaport in New York or Quincy Market in Boston, It’s touristy and commercial.  It is the most visited attraction in Cape Town. We first headed into the shopping mall searching for food.  Willoughby & Co has pretty good reviews.  It is a seafood restaurant and the sushi is strongly recommended.  Unfortunately, we were rather disappointed. The sushi was mediocre at best.   
We spent the afternoon taking a stroll on the waterfront, passing through the upscale shops, and browsing isles of groceries in the supermarket.  There were people from all walks of life and all races.  The shopping mall had quite a few interesting home good stores with names I never heard of in New York.  I kept searching for clues that I was in South Africa and the only thing that gave it away was the accent when people talked. We were back at the hotel by 7 PM, and spent a couple of hours at the hotel's swimming pool, jacuzzi, and sauna on the top floor taking in the view of the city.  After a 17 hours flight and more than 35 hours from when we last slept in a bed, it was time to call it a night. 

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