A Tale of Two Cities | Cape Town & Johannesburg

“You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.” ― Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

There is something sublime about being anonymous in a foreign city, about being a stranger to the streets, smells and sounds at each turn. But I have also seen a look of something a little less like awe, and a little more like terror, in the eyes of out-of-towners. When they find themselves on an unfamiliar street corner as the sun begins to set, for instance, and as rain starts to fall and their maps make less and less sense. I have looked upon my own crumpled map and uncharged cellphone with a similar gaze.

Fear and uncertainty can do wonderful things to us, though. Perhaps it is even them to credit for the love-struck look of city-travellers dizzily gazing skyward at all the sights (when the light of day still shines over them and rain has yet to taunt). A little nervousness fizzles the mind and lets us see more, take in more and feel more. (A lot of it though… well, it should make for a good tale.)

“What strange phenomena we find in a great city, all we need do is stroll about with our eyes open.” ― Charles Baudelaire

For the health of the nervous among us, I’ve deleted the last line of this quote. And even though I know they might quickly peruse the internet’s all-knowing matrix for it, why not throw caution to the wind? Why not surrender to that feeling of uncertainty and surprise, that feeling that strikes like young love?

Cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg never lose the element of surprise. The seasons change their appearance and habits, with summer in Jozi boasting scenes of fierce lightning while down south in Cape Town the sun bakes the city into a sweet souffle; winter in Joburg is the sunniest time of the year while Cape Town awaits the soft touch of snow fall on its mountain peaks.

New generations add their own changes to the character of their cities. They alter the faces you meet, the fashion on the street, the tastes and trends in bar and restaurant. Even return travellers find themselves seeing it all as though for the first time.

The beauty of cities also lies in their inability to hide the truth. Stroll the alleyways and drive the highways of the Mother City and the City of Gold and you find not merely the finery, the dazzle and the cool, but also the commonplace, the gritty and not so pretty.

But as Nelson Algren wrote of Chicago…

“Once you’ve come to be part of this particular patch, you’ll never love another. Like loving a woman with a broken nose, you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”

It is in seeing the whole picture, that you fall in love with the real thing, that the tales of the cities and the cities themselves become part of you, part of your own tale.

“By its nature, the metropolis provides what otherwise could be given only by travelling; namely, the strange.” ― Jane Jacobs

And all you need do is step outside… of your comfort zone and your hotel, such as Johannesburg’s AtholPlace Hotel & Villa, and Cape Town’s Ellerman House and The Cellars-Hohenort. Here are a few of the sights that await.

You never know where you might come across art in the bustling metropolis of Johannesburg. Here we found some beautiful local art canvassed on a building across from Agog Rooftop Bar in Maboneng. #Johannesburg #LocalArt


Meet the friendly locals when exploring Maboneng and Newton in Johannesburg. Explore SA’s World of Beer or sip on locally brewed coffee while taking in the sights. This all while being shown around by a true local, who has grown up in these vibrant neighborhoods. #Johannesburg #Sightseeing #CityLife #JoburgCulture

The beautiful stained glass at Regina Mundi Church in Soweto. Just another good reason to visit Joburg and explore this diverse and cultural city. #Johannesburg #Soweto #Culture

Get to know Johannesburg. This bustling city is full of exciting activities and has a rich history. A guided city tour is a must when staying at AtholPlace. #AtholPlace #Johannesburg

Experience Museum Night in Cape Town, where you can explore museums in the city centre in a new light, after dark. Free admission.

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” – John Muir.

The views from Wally’s Cave on Lion’s Head are worth waking up early for – what a wonderful start to a day in Cape Town!

On our way back from an inspiring visit to Robben Island.
#humanrightsday #inspirational #robbenislandmuseum

Explore the gardens of #TheCellarsHohenort and discover the second oldest camphor trees in South Africa.

Cape Town Can Wait

I adore Cape Town. But this is less about the destination – as it is with life. This is about a film and what it has to teach us about how we travel. Last night, I sat in the darkness of one of the city’s cinemas, lost in a world weaved by Eleanor Coppola, wife of Francis Ford and mother of Sofia, watching Paris Can Wait. It is, as this film review beautifully describes, “a diverting drama about the bounties of wonder, beauty, and the art of being present to the delights of the senses.”

American Anne (Diane Lane) goes on a winding journey with Frenchman Jacques (Arnaud Viard), driving from the South of France to Paris. While she is eager to get to the French capital, his philosophy of travel is to go slow and to take the backroads. It involves lake-side picnics, wine after wine, chocolate, roses, and witnessing the marvels that dot the path.

Along the way, Anne struggles with letting go, with going with the flow, but you see her changing, you see the Frenchman’s philosophy to travel winning her over. She captures every detail of the journey through her camera, which might have been where I too was won over, seeing in her so much of myself – a mix of resistance and surrender, and an insatiable hunger for the richness of life on the move.

The film is a celebration, ultimately, of the road trip, of la Route du Bonheur. On our latest trip out of and back to Cape Town, we meandered along our own route, through the Winelands, with our own lovingly prepared meals and fine wines at the Delaire Graff Estate, and into the Cederberg Mountains, for a night under the stars at Bushmans Kloof.

We had the just as charming Annie-Claude Bergonzoli at the wheel, instead of Jacques, and a BMW instead of a vintage sports car, but we experienced the same wonder and beauty of letting go and being present, and of stopping to answer the call of the spontaneous along the way.

Once at our destination, the beauty didn’t, however, end. A new journey simply began. Because if ever there was a city that you could spend days roaming around it’s Cape Town.

Read more about our trip in our Route du Bonheur Diaries: Ellerman House; Delaire Graff Estate; Bushmans Kloof, and The Cellars-Hohenort.

Mystery, Mindfulness & Mielie Bread

There are times when you might not want to eat mindfully. On an airplane, for instance. Or when on day four of hiking the 90km Fish River Canyon in Namibia the only foodstuff left in the backpack is Smash (* instant mashed potatoes, mmm…). I haven’t hiked the Fish River Canyon, but I’m sure that if it got to the stage where Smash was the only option for survival, I’d be sending my mind off to nap in the furthest, darkest lobe of my brain. And I would be second-guessing my choice of hiking partner.

There are times, though, when your mind wants very much to be there alongside (above?) you, when it stands on end like the fine and flirty hair of your forearms when you meet that person who completes your sentences. In that cute way, not the won’t-let-you-get-a-word-in way.

One of those times occurs as you enter through the glass doors of Greenhouse, The Cellars-Hohenort in Cape Town’s award-winning restaurant, masterminded by Executive Chef, Peter Tempelhoff and Head Chef, Ashley Moss.

It happens as the waiter slips your chair out and you fall into its cushion. As the menu arrives and the drinks are filled and refilled. As the first of the eleven dishes arrives on the table before you. Yes, eleven. Because after the first bite your senses will be shouting, “Yes, yes, we’re all here, now bring us more!” Because they’re demanding like that. And because they know a good thing when they see it. And sniff it. And taste it.

The light is dim, romantic, and you can detect the mystery of night through the windows of Greenhouse’s, well, greenhouse. The stars twinkle a little brighter, I’m sure of it. Because as yours is sure to be too, my mind is present. I am here. Or there. No, no, definitely here. My attention attunes to each detail because each detail is something unexpected. And so satisfying.

You don’t need to go to Tibet. Although if you do, I’ll gladly join. You don’t need a course or CD or textbook in mindfulness. Sitting down to a meal at Greenhouse will show you the way. Just go slowly.

We would be doing the restaurant (the chefs, the waiters, the farmers, the fishermen; the whole team involved) a disservice by baring it all here for you to see. But in the name of calling that mind to attention, allow us to give you a taste of the mystery that flows from the garden at night into each dish, flavour and texture. From the mielie bread and popcorn butter, the bacon brioche and banana cream, to the Atlantic tuna and kimchi, the soured fynbos honey with that Karoo lamb.

This is The Greenhouse Experience… Take a look at the menu here.

“Most of the time, we are eating on autopilot, eating on the run, eating our worries or anxieties from the day’s demands, anticipations, irritations, and ‘to do’ lists. If we are not conscious of the food we eat, if we are not actively thinking about that apple, how can we taste it and get the pleasure of eating it?

“Eating an apple consciously is to have a new awareness of the apple, of our world, and of our own life. It celebrates nature, honoring what Mother Earth and the cosmos have offered us. … As the apple becomes more real and vibrant, your life becomes more real and vibrant. Savoring the apple is mindfulness at work.”

– Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, by Lilian Cheung, Thich Nhat Hanh