Cape Town, First Impressions

Sunday, March 5

Everyone has arrived (well except Garry, John and Eugene, but that is a different story). You will never again have “first impressions” of Cape Town and South Africa. Some come early, others arrive late. Some get oriented quickly, others feel a bit lost.  Welcome to our global connections trip for 2017.  Please add a post with your first impressions.  What are the things that jumped out at you right away, knowing that you were in a new country and a new culture?  What let you know that you were in South Africa?

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View of Table Mountain from Signal Hill

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30 Responses to “Cape Town, First Impressions”

  1. Samantha Frapart Says:

    Unfortunately, I came down with some serious food poisoning on the 35-hour travel extravaganza to Cape Town so most of my experience on 3/5 was in deep-sleep recovery at the Pepper Club. However, I did manage to make a small trek down long street for a bite to eat and some people watching. I was surprised to see Long Street had a lively late-night scene on Sundays – especially after we had discussed some of the more religious aspects of there culture. Most places were closed, but those that were open were bumping. I was also (pleasantly) surprised by the food and bev prices, remembering quickly that USD = 13Rand meant my MBA budget would go far. The mix of sights, sounds and cheap, cheap beer made me very excited for the trip ahead.

  2. Caley Says:

    My first impression of South Africa was established on the drive from the airport to Cape Town. Out the window we saw townships that our Uber driver explained were filled with people waiting on government housing that was slowly being built. He explained that people could wait for years before they had any hope of getting a real home. This stark contrast between the have and have nots continued throughout the trip and it was a really jarring first impression that made it clear that I was no longer in the United States.

  3. Phil Says:

    I decided to get in a few days before we officially started to get the lay of the land. Parnali and I landed around 9pm, so unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot to see other than the beautifully lit up stadium on the uber ride to our Airbnb. Of course, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our 20 minute uber ride was only $15 or so.

    The next morning, we decided to start the day off right by heading up to the top of Signal Hill and paragliding down to the beach. First impressions as we got a panoramic view of the city: “Wow, is it gorgeous”. The white sand beaches, vibrant waters, and mountain backdrops were a sight to behold.

  4. Sam Says:

    I landed around 7am, the excitement of arrival in Cape Town overcoming the exhaustion from a second straight redeye flight. On the way to Pepperclub, I had a surprisingly in-depth conversation about the US justice system with my Uber driver, Rogers.

    After connecting with Tyler, we spent most of the day walking around the city – Company Gardens, Long Street, De Waterkant and V&A (unwittingly doing the SA Rugby museum tour a day early). One thing that stood out for me was seeing the Cecil Rhodes statue in Company Gardens. For such a divisive figure to have a prominent display, it reminded me of the Confederate statues along Monument Ave. in Richmond.

  5. John Says:

    My first impressions came a couple hours later, but I remember my very first thought upon leaving the airport: Why are all the cars white?

    I realized pretty quickly that it was a practicality thing when I saw a guy in a black car pouring water on the hood just to cool it down. Turns out a generic paint job is worth the money saved by not running AC as much.

  6. Linda Says:

    I rode from the airport in an Uber driven by who I thought was a 13-year-old boy. I had to ask his age because he just looked too young to me. To my surprise, he was 22! He was very friendly to us. He said he lived in Stellenbosch and was going to school for music – piano. Once at the hotel, a few of us decided to get dinner nearby at Kloof Street House. Everything about the city and the restaurant seemed very European, not like Africa.

  7. Bill Quach Says:

    I knew I was in foreign territory when many of the things we take for granted in the US became inoperable, namely our 4G enabled smart phones. It took us around 40 minutes standing outside of the CPT airport to get an Uber, and about half of those minutes were spent trying to explain to a random driver that we did not want his services.

    The drive from CPT to the Pepper Club gave me glimpses of townships, mountain views, and winding coastal roads. I immediately felt some resemblance to Australia, maybe from the right hand drive cars, weather, or different English accents. Seeing a car loaded with mountain bikes always makes me happy, and served as quick reminder that this place isn’t so different after all.

  8. Tyler Says:

    I arrived to Cape Town almost a full day ahead of the rest of the group. This gave me an opportunity to explore the city on my own terms. One of the first impressions I had of Cape Town was how different it did NOT feel from most Western cities. Besides using a different currency, the general aesthetic and feel of Cape Town was distinctively not what I had envisioned when I imagined an African city. It easily could have passed for a city somewhere in southern Europe. I didn’t have any problems communicating in English either, which further insulated me from potential culture shock. I felt like I was in a bubble as soon as I landed.

  9. Garry Ferguson Says:

    Sunday 5, March: Although I had yet to arrive to Cape Town on this day despite my schedule indicating my intention to do so, I still would like to briefly share my minimally eventful experience in Houston.

    I arrived to George Bush Intercontinental Airport anxiously anticipating my first foray to the continent of Africa only to be notified 30 minutes before my departure time that I would instead be granted one more night in the magnificent state of Texas due to aircraft maintenance issues. Any time you have additional time in Texas, it’s a good thing, but to sweeten the deal British Airways provided lodging and three complimentary meals for the perceived inconvenience. Additionally, British Airways staff promptly rebooked me on a flight scheduled for the following day after the notification of cancellation of my original flight and everything worked out well. I ended up making it to South Africa as you may have noticed, and had a wonderful time. Will I fly British Airways again? – TBD

  10. Parnali Says:

    My first day in Cape Town was absolutely incredible – I could not believe the beauty, culture, historical richness and friendliness of all those we encountered. Phil and I had a full (and busy!) day before the rest of the group arrived and it allowed me to appreciate the richness of the country in so many ways. From our AirBNB host graciously welcoming us into his home, to the friendliness of employees greeting at the local gym and grocery store to the incredible beauty we encountered paragliding, surfing and enjoying the beaches of the city, I had an incredible first impression of Cape Town.

  11. Alana Says:

    My first impression was about the beauty — the mountains and beach. Cape Town is gorgeous.

    I also had to get used to the driving (fast!) and on the other side of the road. I noticed the mountains and beach right away. The weather was really nice when I arrived and almost felt tropical. I flew from DC and left colder weather. Cape Town was a relief!

    Leaving the airport, I thought I was in a cleaner Disney World. Cape Town was pretty clean and looked similar to San Diego. However, I knew I was in South Africa when I saw the animals (zebras) on the way from the airport.

  12. Nick Eyer Says:

    I landed right around sunset, and immediately I was blown away by the natural beauty of South Africa and the Cape Town area. Perhaps my appreciation was somewhat amplified after spending 24 hours in the air, but nonetheless it was fascinating to see the waves crashing against the coast and the evening-lit skyline of Cape Town with a gorgeous mountainous backdrop. If I didn’t already realize I was in South Africa, I definitely realized it when I was passing through customs and heard multiple individuals speaking the local language. After that, I was simply busy soaking up all the views during the Uber ride from the airport to the hotel.

    Later that night I joined a group for dinner, and I was amazed at price of high-quality food and beverage near out hotel. We ventured over to an establishment called Kloof Street House, which became a group favorite after that first night. Needless to say I was beyond excited to finally be in Cape Town!

  13. Micah Says:

    We arrived at night, but even in the darkness table mountain was impossible to miss. I did not expect it to be such a dominant part of the landscape, which I would come to appreciate throughout our time in Cape Town.

    I was also surprised to see, almost immediately upon leaving the airport, one of the many shanty towns in Cape Town. It was a recurring theme throughout our time in Cape Town – the juxtaposition of beauty and poverty was obvious nearly every where we went.

  14. carolineluby Says:

    I also arrived at night, and while I had the same impressions as many above, I also found Cape Town to be smaller than I had imagined. I knew it was not a big city and that Johannesburg was the main business hub, but I was surprised at how few tall buildings there were and how residential it felt. Despite the fact that Cape Town was a critical historic city whose strategic location caused many wars, it seemed to have lost some of it’s commercial importance in favor of a perhaps more relaxed, beach culture that beckoned tourists and vacationers.

  15. Preeta Maitra Says:

    My first impression of Cape Town was that it is absolutely gorgeous! I could not get enough of the picturesque mountains and beautiful waterfront. I also found Cape Town to be relatively quite safe. I wasn’t worried about our group of 3 ladies walking from our hotel to the V&A Waterfront by ourselves. There are some cities in the world I’ve traveled to where I may not have felt as comfortable as a small group of women on our own. I was also very excited about how affordable all the delicious seafood was! I am seafood obsessed (as Samantha Frapart would tell you – “find yourself a man that looks at you the way that Preeta looks at prawns”) so it was awesome to be in a city with great food at such affordable prices.

  16. Samantha Toth Says:

    My first impression of Cape Town was that it is a beautiful city. Our cab ride from the airport gave us a picturesque first view of the city, nestled next to the ocean with Table Mountain and Lion’s Head looming in the near background. I was surprised at how small the city seemed, with very few large commercial skyscrapers (a big contrast from Doha, where we spent our layover). Our cab driver was very friendly and happy to act as a tour guide, pointing out major city landmarks. He was also quick to alert us to the townships lining the highways as we approached the city, as well as the “new developments” the government is building to replace the townships.

  17. Baoxin Says:

    We arrived at Cape Town at noon. The airport is small but convenient. I withdrew some rand and fetched the South African SIM card I’ve reserved at Austin; and ten minutes later, we were out of the airport calling a Uber.

    The Uber driver was from Zimbabwe, and when he found that Frank and I were Chinese, he became more excited, treating us as old friends. I’ve met two other Zimbabwean Uber drivers during this trip, and each showed their utmost kindness. They talked about how they loved the new China-assisted stadium, and how wonderful the volunteered Chinese doctors were. This was the first time I heard from native Africans praising what China has done for them, and I feel so proud.

    I walked along Long Street at nightfall for dinner. Most stores were closed along the street, with black iron fence guarding against theft. The on-duty policeman could be found every two or three blocks. Everything I saw was telling me: Cape Town is not a safe city.

  18. Renee Weissend Says:

    The first day, we got off the plane and immediately got food at a wonderful restaurant down the street called The Kloof House. This is perhaps my favorite bar + restaurant of all time. The vibe was super cool and the food was fantastic. I had ostrich for my first meal! After, we went to an outdoor concert at the Botanical Gardens. I kept looking out the window at the drive to the venue – the ocean, city, surrounding mountains took my breath away. The view got even better at the concert! Set underneath table mountain with green vegetation all around us. It was such a treat. I knew from the very first moments that Cape Town, South Africa would be one of my favorite places of all time.

  19. Rooma Chi Says:

    My first impression of Cape Town was that it takes forever to get there. After travelling on three flights for about 33 hours I was finally about to land in Cape Town. As I was looking out of the airplane window, I was so excited to see all the mountains and was trying to figure out which one was Table Mountain. My first day exploring was spent at the waterfront with a nice seafood dinner, great bottle of wine, and an amazing view. Cape Town was worth the long journey.

  20. Kristin Johnson Says:

    My first impression of Cape Town was amazing. We walked out of the airport having not been outside for 35+ hours to beautiful, salty air with mountains in the background. We then went to Kloof Street House for a late lunch with classmates, which is arguably the coolest restaurant and bar I’ve ever been to. Everyone we spoke with had an amazing accent and was super interesting and friendly. After Kloof Street House, we took an Uber to the outdoor concert on the other side of Table Mountain. This was easily one of the most breathtaking backdrops I’d ever seen; it was straight out of Jurassic Park. The first day was a massive success, and I couldn’t have been more excited for the rest of the trip.

  21. Moni Says:

    My first impression was from the friendly taxi driver that had also volunteered to be our unofficial tour guide on the drive to PepperClub. After the 40+ hour travel to get to Cape Town, the winding, steep roads made me clench my belly. I was surprised with how European Cape Town felt. We ended our first day walking to the V&A Waterfront, taking in the “East 6th Street like streets” of Long Street. When we got our bill for a table full of mussels, seafood, and wine bottles, it became clear the cost of eating and drinking was cheap here. #blesstheRandsdowninAfrica

  22. Adriana Penalba Says:

    We arrived at night, so I was unable to realize how truly beautiful Cape Town is without the sunlight. From what I could see, Cape Town was a clean, modern city. Transportation was easy, and our hotel was really lovely. We asked our driver some questions about monuments and government buildings we drove past, but he was not from Cape Town. It was my first introduction to the fact that many of the workers are either immigrants or travel from their hometowns because work is difficult to come by.

  23. Kavita Says:

    As soon as we left the airport, even though it had started getting a little dark out, I was amazed by the backdrop. It was also very interesting to land in a country where everyone spoke English, and there was no issue with finding transportation. I arrived at the hotel and was stunned at how nice it was! We went to Kloof Street House for dinner, and were amazed not only at how much we could get for our money, but how delicious everything was.

  24. Mansi Narula Says:

    Ah first impressions. I recall feeling the beating sun on me as I walked out of the airport. I couldn’t help but think about how old the terrain must be and that everything looked lush and desert like at the same time. The people were so nice, had as slower pace and overall were very helpful. Later in the day I remember going to the botanical gardens and literally falling to my knees with how beautiful the area was and how similar it looked to Jurassic park. Just so you know, I’m a big dinosaur fan.

  25. Swati Seth Says:

    The moment we got off the airport, the first thing that surprised me was how well the locals were speaking in English. I had not expected such as large population to be well versed with it, even if they stayed in a metropolitan city like Cape Town. While getting out of the airport, I got a firsthand experience of bargaining for services since a local taxi driver was hell bent on dropping us to Pepperclub but wouldn’t budge at the rate. The moment, I got out of the airport, I was really taken aback by the natural beauty of the place, with the mountains and waterfront both. I could see why Cape Town would be the perfect vacation spot for people.

  26. Brian Murphy Says:

    Incredible first day!!! Went to a concert at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. The most beautiful place on earth – as Kree mentioned, straight out of Jurassic Park. These Afrikaner girls came up and starting riffing to me in Afrikaans. Apparently I look just like them 🙂

  27. Lauren Busch Says:

    After 40+ hours of travel, I was beyond exhausted. However, walking out of the airport to be surrounded by beautiful mountains quickly changed my mood. As soon as we got to the hotel, we freshened up and headed to a bar on Kloof Street where we had some local dishes and drinks recommended by the waitress. It was the perfect start to the trip.

    I ended the day by attending the concert series in Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. I was blown away by its natural beauty. All in all, it could not have been a more perfect introduction to South Africa. The fact that I had a blissful 10 hours of sleep that night was just a cherry on top!

  28. Katie Thigpen Says:

    I remember walking straight out of the airport doors and being so mesmerized by the scenery–the mountains were so gorgeous, I could not believe this was real life! The beauty continued at Kirstenbosch (even though I was exhausted from the flight)–I’ve really never seen anything like it. I was also so excited to see that the people are as tall as me–I’ve been to other countries where people stare at my 6′ but I fit in here!

  29. Natasha Mayekar Says:

    Despite the slightly dark cab ride from the airport, I was in awe of the natural beauty. The mountains on either side and the city lights were incredible. I also really appreciated how many restaurants were open late on Sunday evenings – it was great to see active restaurants bustling with both locals and tourists.

  30. Ilana proudly South African Says:

    I am happy to hear you enjoyed yourselves in our beautiful City, please visit again. However, I take exception to Baoxin’s comment about the Chinese contribution. This may be the case in other African countries but certainly not in South Africa. Also, the reason why local government will never catch up with the housing backlog…..well, as long as there is a constant flow of humanity into the city from the rest of Africa, and other parts of South Africa, it remains an IMPOSSIBLE task.

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