We awoke when the plane was somewhere off the Namibian coast, an hour or two from Cape Town. The sun was not quite up yet, but bit by bit the sky started to brighten as we approached the Cape. Unfortunately, as we started our approach we began to see clouds, clouds that had not been present at all near Namibia or northern South Africa. While technically it was still winter in Cape Town, we had checked the weather reports several times before we left home, and the weather was supposed to be sunny and mild during our time there. We flew right over the Cape Peninsula (south of Cape Town), circled around False Bay (seeing Seal Island), and came into the airport from the south.
From the runway, it was apparent it had recently rained, but it was dry as we got off the plane. There was no one at the airport (it was very early on a Sunday morning), but since we were at the very back of the plane we had a fairly long line in front of us for immigration and customs. The Cape Town airport was even quieter than Heathrow – you literally could have heard a pin (well, maybe a pen) drop. Our bags were waiting for us on the conveyor belt. We picked them up and then headed to the exit, hoping there would be someone there to pick us up.
Fortunately there was. Our guide, Sumaya, was there to grab us and drive us to our hotel. The drive was just over 20 minutes, and went past several of the local townships. Sumaya told us a bit about the apartheid times in South Africa, and the classification of people into different races. One thing that stuck with us was the "pencil test" – if a pencil was stuck in your hair and did not fall out you were classified as black, while if it fell out you were classified as either colored or white.
When we got to the Cape Grace, it was well before check-in time, so we asked for a day room just so we could clean up after being on the plane for so long. Alas, others were in the same predicament, and had arrived before us, so we were told we'd have to wait until 11am for a day room. In the interim, we just had some snacks and breakfast in the hotel library, and read a little bit about the places we were going to see while in Cape Town. We also took a quick jaunt over to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, just across a small bridge from the hotel. The V&A Waterfront is relatively new, and is basically a gigantic tourist trap in a very nice setting.
The staff at the hotel was excellent. There were a ton of people waiting to greet us when we got in – more of them than there were of us. While waiting in the library, people were coming up all the time to check in on us and see if there was anything they could do. The lobby was also very nice, with a huge Proteaceae arrangement in the middle of the room. We got our day rooms, and just after cleaning up found out that our regular rooms were ready. We put our stuff down, grabbed some items for the afternoon, and headed down to lunch. We had to rush through lunch (which was very good) so we could take off at 1pm for our afternoon excursion.
We were supposed to go up to the top of Table Mountain, Cape Town's most famous landmark, but were debating the pros and cons of that since the weather was relatively cloudy. Sumaya said it might just be better to wait for a clear morning and do it then. She also told us, however, that the weather was generally very unpredictable, and that if it looked decent today, we might just want to do it today and get it over with. The sky started to clear up a bit, so we told her we'd just go now. We parked at the base of the mountain, where it starts to get almost vertical. The view from even the base was outstanding. We headed up to the top in a cable car, going what we soon realized was quite fast.
It was much colder at the top, and also much more cloudy. Fortunately, the clouds were getting blown around and offered moments of sunshine before new clouds rolled in. From the top there were great views of the city bowl, Lion's Head, and the West Coast. Occasionally it cleared up enough to see much of the rest of the city past Devil's Peak.
We came back down and drove over to Signal Hill, which sits atop the Lion's Rump. Supposedly the peak they call Lion's Head and the hill they call Lion's Rump actually look like a lion – we didn't see it. But, the view of Table Mountain was outstanding, and it was much warmer and clearer. At one point it was basically clear. There were also great views of the shoreline, including Green Point where they are building a new soccer (we'll call it soccer so as to not be confusing, but every country except the US calls it football) stadium for the 2010 World Cup. Since the World Cup will be held in the middle of the winter, when Cape Town is cold and windy, the new stadium will have a roof.
From Signal Hill, we drove to the historic Mount Nelson Hotel, known locally as "The Nellie." Justin's mom had always wanted to go to afternoon Tea at the Nellie, and this was the best afternoon for doing so, since the other days we would be out at different excursions fairly far away from the city itself. The presentation was very nice, and we got our fill of food (mostly desserts), plus tea itself. Justin needed the tea, since he was barely staying awake. He had stayed to a strict regimen on the plane, eating and sleeping at only the appropriate times for South Africa. Because of this, he had slept much less than everyone else, and sitting around in a comfy chair with a full stomach was making it hard for him to stay awake.
We left the Mount Nelson to return to the Cape Grace at around 5pm. Because of tea, we didn't sit for dinner, and instead walked around the Waterfront some more. We unpacked, then went to sleep early.