It is a cold and rainy winter night in downtown Cape Town, in the hotel reception we are met by a smiling check-in clerk whose opening statement is “We have the oldest working elevator in Cape Town”. And he was right on both counts. The original was installed in the Grand Daddy Hotel (then called The Metropole) in 1894.And the modern version, hidden behind the old façade does work and it gets us effortlessly to our floor.
My wife and I had come to spend a week-end in Cape Town to see if we could prove that there is more to this city that just the mountain and the sea, both of which are guarded with almost fanatic jealousy by the locals. (And with almost the same fanaticism are ridiculed by every “non-Capetonian” in South Africa).
But before my wife and I get burned at the stake, we both agree that both aforementioned icons are very special. Well the mountain is, the sea, certainly on the Atlantic seaboard is far too cold for this Indian Ocean journalist!
So instead of staying in the regular “tourist “suburbs like Camps Bay, Bantry Bay, Seapoint or the Waterfront, we found ourselves at this boutique hotel on Long street.
And long it is, 3.8km to be exact! Stretching from the harbour to the slopes of Tamboerskloof, this used to be the hub of Cape Town.
But I am sort of getting ahead of the story…
Back to The Grand Daddy and its quirky rooftop trailer park.
The room that we stayed in had minimalist but interesting décor, a great bathroom but unfortunately no view at all. Unless you call looking into the windows of the office block opposite a view!
However this all changes when you climb the flight of stairs (the lift does not go all the way) to the roof and to the rather spectacular trailer park.
9 converted Airstream trailers (caravans, not Venter) are joined to a central lounge area by a series of wooden walkways.
The task of decorating the interior of each was given to 9 interior decorators and the brief? “Make them unique”…and they certainly are.
The smallest is named for John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and we all know they spent a lot of time in bed. Then there is Goldilocks and the 3 Bears with a quirky notice board and a bear costume complete with a head! We were too scared to ask what the purpose of this life-sized outfit was, but I am sure that staying there could be interesting, or perhaps it can be used as a full body hot water bottle?
While the actual hotel rooms might not have a view, the mountain looms large over the trailer park (but as I mentioned earlier, I am trying to steer away from that icon.)
Being cold and wet (famous Cape Town winter) we decided that a hot water bottle and bed beckoned, and so it was an early night for both of us.
However, for those who want to explore the night life there is a fair amount within walking distance of the hotel, including a theatre. Long Street seems to live up its reputation of being where the action is for the locals. As there are many backpacker lodges in the area, we assumed that tourists have also discovered the nightlife in Long Street.
We had breakfast in bistro area that is attached to the hotel. Bright, modern furniture, very friendly staff and good (reasonably priced) food were on offer. They have quite an extensive menu that will suit the muesli and carnivore diner. We noticed that this place seemed to be popular with the locals as well as the hotel guests
Unfortunately for us, being Sunday, all of the wonderful antique/collectables shops were closed which was a real pity as we did have our eye on a couple of interesting pieces for our home. The only store that was open was one that was selling clothing from West Africa.
And the locals complain that the foreigners are taking all the jobs, no, they are just prepared to work harder and longer hours (Australia has a similar sort of problem…with South Africans working there)
Our visit to Green Market was disappointing, as the rain had kept most of the traders away. And those that were there were selling items that were aimed specifically at the tourist trade. I sometimes wonder who came up with the carved wooden giraffe, as it probably the single most purchased tourist item (to prove this point, look around next time you are at an airport)
The museums, library and art galleries were closed but we spend time in the wonderful gardens that surround the Parliament buildings. The architecture and the statues were worth getting slightly wet for. And, for us up country visitors, the grey squirrels still have a major “cuteness” factor.
Unlike Johannesburg, where the CBD is to be avoided at all costs, downtown Cape Town reminds me very much of Auckland, NZ…a great place to explore and discover. Perhaps it’s the visual presence of hoards of security guards and CCTV cameras that make visitors feel more secure about exploring the city on foot.
On the circular route we took back to our hotel we discovered many interesting buildings and some outrageous architectural works.
We are glad that Cape Town seems to want to preserve this heritage, whereas in Johannesburg any building older than about 4 minutes gets imploded and a car park/hotel/ townhouse complex is erected.
We did succumb to the “mountain/sea” philosophy and visited the well-known Olympia café and Deli in Kalk Bay. I have it on good authority ( from my wife, and I am not going to argue with her) that it is the meeting place for the eclectic folk that live in this area…I have to admit that the pecan pie was the best I have eaten.
We spent the afternoon wandering through the various shops that line the main street in Kalk Bay and had dinner at Satori which is just a few blocks from the deli. Owned and run by an ex-Johannesburger who got tired of the rat race, the restaurant is finally getting to be well known amongst the locals. Opposite is a really interesting “junk” shop where everything including the kitchen sink was on offer (like an old fashioned E-Bay without having to wait for the goods!)..
We gave Cape Town a chance to prove that the city was more than just “The Mountain” and the sea…and she proved that she was, especially the CBD.
Look behind the tourist façade (stay away from the waterfront, except to visit the Two Oceans Aquarium), and you will find there are real people. People who are willing to offer good, if somewhat slow, service and at non-tourist prices!
Contact details: 38 Long street (also named Lang, so be aware) 021- 4247247
Web site: www.granddaddy.co.za