Some Cape Town Observations

Cape Town is gorgeous and could easily beat the likes of Vancouver, Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Rio, Miami, and San Francisco for scenery. The array of stunning natural beauty within close range of a vibrant urban core is simply staggering. The people are friendly too. But here are some other observations.

1. There is a noticeable lack of dogs and cats in the urban core, which is odd for a cosmopolitan city and makes for a lonely vibe that lacks that rooted homeliness. But I’ve just now learned from the City Views paper that the downtown core has seen a 71% increase in local residents in just one year. That means that urban life is new here. Which also means that when we return, more hipsters will be walking their pugs. And that’s a good thing.
2. There are no international chain stores or restaurants. This would not seem so surprising if it weren’t for the fact that I was expecting them. Lots of cities around the world lack them, but wasn’t expecting Cape Town to be exempt for some reason. There are one or two McDs and KFC, one Subway. But that’s it for international chains. No Starbucks. No Body Shop. No Macy’s. I was at least expecting English chains like Boots, Debenhams, or Marks & Spencer; or German ones like DM. Or anything like H&M. Not even an Ikea. It’s actually really nice to see except there is a dearth of shopping in general, partly due to #3.
3. No mid-high end department stores. Hate to be mean, but South African department stores are ugly, depressing, and cheap. They are reminiscent of JC Penny’s in the 1970s. Their main retail conglomerate is called Woolworths. It isn’t related to the American one, but that’s exactly what they were aiming for and unfortunately they are the only game in town. For either men’s or women’s fashion, one must shop in small boutiques, and those do not have an extensive selection. This makes shopping extremely difficult, frustrating, and time consuming.
4. Radically racially segregated. South Africa makes the Deep South, USA look like one big happy family. It’s disturbing to say the least. The shantytowns here are insane.
5. Paranoid about security. For good reason, I’m sure, but at times it seems extreme. And coming from an American, that means something. Josh and I were inadvertently following a few guys while walking home one night and when we stepped on a manhole cover that made noise, the two of them simultaneously shot their heads back so fast, they probably got whip lash. One of the most radical signs of paranoia are the stores on Long Street. You can’t just go shopping. There is a gate barring pedestrian access and if you want to browse, you have to buzz.
6. In spite of having a substantial and entrenched Anglo community, Cape Townians do not celebrate Halloween.
7. The Internet sucks. It is the worst internet we have encountered. It’s expensive too and we have to pay by the MB. Which means no streaming video, no downloads, no uploading pix. WiFi hotspots at coffee shops are often free but painfully slow.
8. No street food! The only thing that comes close are the public markets, and good thing they are great markets! There is almost one every day of the week: Thursday is in the CBD; Wednesday and Sunday is in Waterkamp; and the mother load is called the Neighborgoods Market every Saturday in Woodstock at the Old Biscuit Mill.Old Biscuit Mill That place rocks! It might be one of the best markets of its kind that I’ve eaten my way through.

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