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5 Days in Cape Town: Day 4 Robben Island

Posted on Jul 13, 2017 | 1 comment

5 days in Cape Town Day 4 Robben Island

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If you missed my earlier posts, be sure to read about Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

Robben Island

Monday morning was spent on a tour to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. I had done this years ago with our oldest daughter and it had been very memorable but after reading many negative reviews on Tripadvisor I was worried it wouldn’t be as good this time.

However, I didn’t feel we could miss out on the experience with my youngest daughter and her friend (both 17), so I went ahead and booked tickets about a month earlier. Tickets sell out so it isn’t advisable to wait until you are there to buy them. You can buy them online. Tickets cost about $25 for adults and $15 for children.

The boat to the island leaves from the Waterfront and we arrived about 30 minutes early (you have to go through security). The boat trip is included in the price of the ticket. Try to sit (or stand) outside as your view from inside is rather limited. The boat ride is about 30 minutes each way and you spend about 3 hours on the island ie the whole tour is around 4 hours. If you are lucky you will see seals – we weren’t! But you do have a great view of Table Mountain and the Harbor.

Boat trip to Robben Island

Boat trip to Robben Island. Photo by Amy van der Merwe

Once you reach the island, you are divided into smaller groups and you get on a bus with a guide. Our guide was very funny, but his accent made it difficult for foreigners to follow what he was saying. He told us about those who tried to escape and showed us various landmarks and places of interest. You get out of the bus at one point and can buy snacks, take photos etc.

View from Robben Island.

View from Robben Island. Photo by Amy van der Merwe

Once the bus tour was done, we were handed off to another guide – who had been a prisoner here – and he took us inside the prison. He explained what the life of a prisoner was like – everything from their arrival, to what meals were like and getting visitors. We then got to walk past Nelson Mandela’s cell.

Nelson Mandela's Cell, Robben Island

Nelson Mandela’s Cell. Photo by Amy van der Merwe

We also walked at our own pace through a number of other cells which had artifacts made by prisoners in them. On the walls, there were short written articles about the prisoners.

I was so glad we did do the tour – and so were the girls. It is a very moving experience which was made even more poignant by the quiet dignity of our guide. It was hard imagining him going through what he did.

Lunch at San Marcos

Back at the Waterfront, we met my ex-boss from many many years ago when I worked as a programmer at Shell in Cape Town. We chose to eat at San Marco as they have outside seating and we could enjoy the view and our sandwiches at the same time.

After lunch, the girls did some shopping at the Waterfront stores (Lush in particular) and then we spent a few hours back at the apartment resting/sleeping.

Supper at Nando’s

Before supper, we stopped at Pick n Pay supermarket in Seapoint to stock up on South African foods to bring home. We had left plenty of space in our bags as we knew we needed to buy for gifts – and for ourselves!
Nandos chicken

For 4 days my daughter had been waiting for a taste of her favorite South African “fast food” – Nando’s. It is Portuguese-inspired peri peri chicken. You can get lemon and herb if you aren’t a fan of “hot food – or you can get “very hot” if you are. Nando’s has become so popular that you can now find them in many major cities around the world and you can buy their sauces on Amazon.

Then it was time to head back to our beautiful apartment at the Waterfront.

Table Bay

Read about our last day – Day 5 in Cape Town – to see how we concluded our trip.

5 Days in Cape Town Day 4 Robben Island

Photographing Washington DC

Posted on Jul 4, 2017 |

Continuing on my series of posts from major sites to photograph …

I arrived in Falls Church (just outside DC) last night.  Falls Church is where I could find a reasonable hotel room but be on the DC Metro for easy access.  Finding parking in DC is obviously an issue.

Lessons learned about photographing Washington D.C..

1.  The distance between the key attractions is actually much larger than you first expect.  This means that you need more time than you think if you are going to maximize light conditions.  You really can only do one monument properly at the magic hour.

2. Tripods.  A problem.  They are prohibited in any of the memorials or near the Capitol/White House. So for example, when you photograph the Vietnam Memorial, you may not a tripod in the walkway.  You may not use a tripod above the line of the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.   Some websites say that you can get a permit from the National Parks Service to be able to use a tripod.  Even the official who stopped me at the Vietnam Memorial said I needed a permit. The NPS permit only permits commercial shots in the park area, but officially these shots cannot use tripods in the restricted areas anyway.  It would appear that not all the officials on the ground understand that.  A commercial permit costs $50 a day and takes several days to obtain. Go here for more info  Around the Capitol and other key buildings, the police will stop you.  You can get permits from the Capitol Police (Permits for the Capitol) 202-224-8891.

3. You may want to do research before you go on to see if repairs are being done on any of the memorials. For example, in 2012/13 the Washington Monument was being repaired after the earthquake a while back.

4. I suggest you give at least half day to recon the area before you begin.

Here is the photo I squeezed off on the tripod of the Vietnam Memorial before I got stopped.

Sunrise through the reflection of the Vietnam Mem.



Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 |

The Sheik Zayed Mosque Grand Mosque Abu Dhabi

For a long time I have wanted to take this shot at the Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. The mosque is typically referred to as the Grand Mosque. I have been to the UAE many times and have been to the Grand Mosque several times, but always with other people. Photography (of this sort) and groups don’t really mix. Earlier this year I was back in the UAE and managed to sneak away on the night I was leaving to take this image. Planes tend to leave at strange hours from Dubai, which meant I had the whole evening to do this.

Sheik Zayed’s full name or title is Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He was the architect of the UAE. His father was the ruler of Abu Dhabi until he was assassinated in 1926. Together with one of his brothers, he led the people of the region, firstly in opposition to Saudi (who wanted to influence, if not control the region) and then in forming a federation of trucial rulers, that ultimately formed the State known as the UAE. Oil was discovered in 1958. (The Trucial States were those on the coastal region of the southeastern Persian Gulf).

The architect of the Grand Mosque is a Syrian called Yousef Abdelky. It is the biggest and most important mosque in the UAE. More than 3000 workers and 38 contractors were employed in the building of the mosque. The principal contractor was an Italian company.

The mosque is beautiful in a simple way. The extensive use of white (lot’s of marble) makes for an elegant appearance, somewhat reminiscent of the Taj Mahal in India.

This photo was a challenge because there were constant crowds and the variation of light made post-processing difficult. In particular, I was most irritated with a group of Chinese visitors who insisted in standing in the same position for about 25 minutes. How inconsiderate! :)

Kayaking in Knoxville

Posted on Jun 30, 2017 |

Kayaking on the Tennessee River in Knoxville
Photo by Amy van der Merwe

Last Sunday we rented kayaks and spent a pleasant hour kayaking. We rented from Billy Lush Boards which operates from Volunteer Landing in Downtown Knoxville.

At $30 per hour for a double kayak they aren’t cheap. (Check the rates for single kayaks and longer time periods.) But it was very easy to book ahead of time using their online system. You are provided with links for the waivers too so you can send those to all in your party and they are also completed online.

**Tip: They do Half Off Hump Days – so visit on a Wednesday if you want half off AND grab a punch card as your 5th rental is free!

Parking was no problem and we were quickly checked in and sent down to the river. All the staff were very friendly. We got straight into kayaks and were off up the Tennessee River. It was very peaceful on the water and we saw very few boats.

Kayaking in Downtown Knoxville

Billy Lush also rents canoes, SUPs (Stand up paddleboards), Hydro-bikes and Beach Cruiser Bikes. They are open Wednesday to Sunday.

You can also rent kayaks, canoes and SUPs at Mead’s Quarry in Ijams. They are cheaper (only $12 per boat). Our daughter has done this a few times and has enjoyed it – but paddling around a small lake isn’t quite the same as paddling on the Tennessee River. You can download and print the waiver from their website and they are open 7 days a week.

Kayaking on Mead's Quarry

Photo Credit: Liz Jones

Another option is to rent kakaks, SUPs and canoes at the Cove on Northshore Drive. Once again you will be on the Tennessee River but the drawback here is you have to rent for either a 1/2 day ($40) or a full day ($50).

You can’t book either of the last two options online – so you just have to go to the locations and take your chances. Both are operated by River Sports Outfitters.

So if you enjoy kayaking and live in Knoxville or are visiting the area, these are three options you have to enjoy the sport.

Kayaking in Knoxville

5 Days in Cape Town: Day 3 Canopy Walk, Coffee and Colored Houses

Posted on Jun 24, 2017 |

Day 3 in Cape Town itinerary

If you missed my earlier posts, be sure to read about Day 1 and Day 2.

Our third day was a Sunday. We got moving fairly early so that the photographers could take advantage of the early morning light at Kirstenbosch and so we could miss the crowds. (If you go in the afternoon the sun goes down behind the mountain).

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Kirstenbosch is one of the most amazing botanical gardens in the world. The 36-hectare garden contains over 7000 species of plants from southern Africa. It costs R60 for adults and R15 for children (under 6 are free). You can buy tickets at the gate or online.

We parked on the street near the Rycroft Gate (Gate3) which is the gate closest to the Canopy walk. If you plan to spend a few hours in Kirstenbosch then you can park at the main entrance (be sure to go to the restaurant too – it’s great!). But if you want to go specifically for the Canopy walk as we did, then it would be a really long walk.
Canopy Walk Kirstenbosch Gardens

The Canopy Walk is not long but it is really cool to be walking in the tree tops. The photographers in our group (ie everyone but me) all got spectacular shots. I just enjoyed the feeling of nature all around me.

Truth Coffee Shop

Truth Cafe is a cool steampunk style coffee shop

Next stop was a coffee shop our younger son recommended. Truth Cafe is done in Steampunk style – not just the decor, but the waiters too! And their coffee is great so this is a stop you want to make. It isn’t a shop you will just walk past – you have to make a specific trip there, but it isn’t far from the Waterfront and the main part of Downtown, so jump in your car or call an Uber and visit!

The Bo-Kaap

Bokaap colored houses
The Bo-Kaap (previously known as the Malay quarter) is one of the oldest residential areas of Cape Town. It is known for its beautiful colored house. We parked on Wale Street and wandered around the area for about half an hour. This area became home to many freed slaves and Muslims. I would have loved to have visited the Bo-Kaap Museum but it is closed on a Sunday. It costs R20 for adults and R10 for children.

If you are there around lunch or supper, stop by Biesmiellah Restaurant. I have fond memories of their great food from when I worked Downtown in Cape Town many many years ago.

Lunch and the Rest of the Day

Back to the Waterfront for lunch at Balducci’s with old family friends, James and Kathy. This was the view from the restaurant. The food was excellent too.

View of the Waterfront in Cape Town from Balducci's restaurant

Before walking back to our apartment for an afternoon siesta, the girls took a detour to H & M for a quick shopping expedition.

Sunday evening we spent with my brother and his family again. Find out what we did on Day 4 here.

Day 3 in Cape Town: Canopy Walk, Coffee and Bo-Kaap

5 Days in Cape Town: Day 2 Driving Round the Peninsula

Posted on Jun 19, 2017 |

Day 2 in Cape Town

If you missed, Day 1 of our trip, you can catch up here.


Day 2 was a Saturday and we started the day with breakfast at the Oranjezicht City Farmers Market just 5 minutes from our apartment.

My sister-in-law and the fitter members of her family joined us as they had just done the nearby 5k Greenpoint Park Run which starts at 8 am each Saturday. (This is free to enter and if you enjoy running, you should do it!)Breakfast at the Granger Bay Farmer's Market

There is a large variety of breakfast foods and drinks to choose from. Wander around and select your favorite and it will be cooked while you watch. We opted for crepes and coffee and freshly-squeezed juice. Afterward, we browsed the food stalls and the girls bought themselves macaroons.Food stalls at Granger Bay Farmer's Market

Hout Bay

From there we drove around the coast to Hout Bay. Be sure to look out for the houses with funicular lifts on the left side of the road. There are quite a few you can spot easily. The houses are built right into the side of the mountain and the stairs up to them are very steep, which is why many have electronic means to get up!

Beverley, a longtime friend, met us at Hout Bay Harborto join us for the day. She found us shopping at the outdoor stalls. Don’t accept the price given. They will always drop if you haggle. And if you feel they aren’t coming down enough in price, start walking away! The girls bought a number of gifts to take home.Stalls at Hout Bay Harbor

While we were shopping, Piers was playing with his drone.

Just before we left we were very fortunate to be entertained by Cape Minstrels, known locally as Kaapse Klopse. Their colorful clothing and lively music are always a crowd pleaser.Cape Minstrels at Hout Bay Harbor

Chapman’s Peak Drive

Chapmen’s Peak Drive is possibly one of the most beautiful drives in the world. The 9km of coastline you travel along is stunning! It is a toll road but well worth the money (R42 for a car).

We stopped for lunch at Thorfynns Restaurant at the Monkey Valley Resort in Noordhoek. It was a little too chilly to sit outside so we missed out on the sea view, but the interior was cozy and the food was good.

Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach

Visiting the African penguin colony was one of my favorite things to do when we lived in Cape Town. And it didn’t disappoint again. It costs R35 for adults and R10 for children under the age of 12. From the entrance you walk down a path to the beach. You will see penguins in the bushes as you walk, and possibly dassies (rock hyraxes) too. (We had one sit on a branch right next to the path – and one of the girls didn’t notice until she was a few feet away – the poor dassie was subjected to an earsplitting shriek and it scampered across the path away from us)

You can’t get on to the beach – you watch the penguins from a raised boardwalk overlooking the beach. They are so comical and it is great seeing them in their natural habitat and not in an aquarium.Penguin Colony at Boulder Beach

From there we made our way back through Simonstown and stopped at Fish Hoek for ice creams bought at a store just off the beach. Then we drove to Constantia Village for coffee at Tasha’s Coffee Shop

Route Day 2 Cape Town

Our driving route for the day


We finished the day with supper at my brother’s house. He “braaied” (barbequed) chicken kebabs and ostrich steaks. Do be sure to try ostrich!. Similar to beef – but better! And healthier. Dessert was Malva Pudding. So good!! It’s a baked cake-type dessert with a syrup poured over it. You will find it on many menus. Be sure to try that too.

Continue reading about our trip with Day 3.

Day 2 in Cape Town: Good food and penguins!