A city’s past and its future

Cape Town, South Africa

My alarm either didn’t go off or was completely ineffective this morning. Either way, after an omelet stuffed with mushrooms, peppers, onions, ham and cheese (“Just for you,” the friendly chef said), it was off for my first full day here.

It began with an exploration of Cape Town’s past at the District Six Museum, which focuses on the forcible removal of an entire neighborhood following the Group Areas Act of 1950. The exhibits provided background on how different this city once was — particularly moving was a map that residents had signed to indicate the location of their past residences.

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After nearly bumping into several pedestrians on Long Street, it came to my attention that not only do South Africans drive on the left side of the street — they also walk on it. This knowledge was helpful for the remainder of my trip down to the V & A Waterfront, a recently revitalized area on the Atlantic Ocean.

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My boat to Robben Island left at 1 p.m. The island’s name is Dutch for “seals,” thousands of which once called it home. It’s more notorious, however, for the maximum security prison that once housed political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, during apartheid. Unsurprisingly, with such a history, it’s a stark, terrible and powerful place.

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Our guide was a former political prisoner, who spent five years locked up on fabricated charges of sabotage. He shared stories of a truly difficult life here before bringing us to the cell of the island’s most famous resident, Mandela.

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A 30-minute boat ride brought me back to shore. From there, the walk back was long but my timing was perfect. As the cable car brought me to the top of iconic Table Mountain, the sun slowly set and clouds rolled across the water.

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Dinner with Erin and Sarah was at Jardine, consistently rated one of the top restaurants in South Africa. We had trouble trying to pick from an overwhelming menu and our waiter walked us through the dishes in delicious detail.

Then, a final decision was made. First, appetizer: An aubergine (eggplant) and zucchini stuffed baby calamari with a carrot cake pureé and spiced bread crumbs (delicious).

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Being in Africa, it was only appropriate that I order the seared wildebeest loin with celeriac pureé, braised cabbage and pomme parmentier. The meat tasted game-y but was tender and complemented the celeriac, which had a mashed potato texture.

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For dessert, we ordered a half hour in advance and were treated to a grand marnier soufflé flambé, a sweet and fiery finish.

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In what was a fitting end to the day, dinner showcased how far this city has come — and what its future may hold.

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