Cape Town is just like San Francisco - except it's on the opposite side of the world, and even more beautiful. Ok, perhaps that's an oversimplification, but they do have some remarkable similarities and we felt right at home.
We stayed in the "City Bowl", an area that sits right in the shadow of Table Mountain, a strangely flat mountain that towers over the city and anchors your view no matter where you are in the city. It was very central and gave us access to lots of fun neighborhoods, like trendy Tamberskloof, tranquil Gardens and funky Long Street. After 2 months in culinary hell (sorry, dear Africa, but you will not be remembered for your food), we were ecstatic to be back in a city with a wonderful selection of world-class restaurants - all at a fraction of the price you'd pay in SF, NY or London. There were also tons of fun bars where we could enjoy live music or catch the American's embarassing defeat in the Rugby World Cup playoffs. We've actually become fans of rugby - the game is quite nasty fun when you get into it.
From the City Bowl, we could walk to the base of Table Mountain, where we started our ascent to the top. We took the "non-recommended" route up, which was seriously tough and involved some real climbing at points. The mountain was shrouded in clouds that day, and we constantly thought we were closer to the top than we really were. (It is bigger than it looks!) After 3-4 hours of hard slogging, we finally made it to the top and were rewarded with breathtaking views of... thick, white clouds. Fortunately, after a coffee and sandwich break, the clouds cleared up enough to give us a few fleeting glimpses of the "twelve apostle" mountains standing guard to the east and the Atlantic seaboard kneeling down below us. In a city of "buenas vistas", this one takes the cake.
We also ventured out to visit those same coastal neighborhoods we peered at from Table Mountain. Beach life is something that Cape Town far exceeds SF in. While spring was just beginning to gain a foothold when we were there, you could tell that places like Camp's Beach and Clifton really heat up in the summer time. With beautiful views of the coast and the mountain from pretty much everywhere, we were honestly tempted to cancel our trip and start looking for a condo...
However, as with all cities, Cape Town has it's darker side. While it's safer than the likes of Johannesburg, there is a terrible crime problem that any local will be happy to frighten you with their first hand accounts of. The electric fences and security system advertisements everywhere will quickly confirm the stories you've heard. We were actually targeted in an ATM scam, but had already been warned by some fellow travelers and saw the signs early enough to avoid any problems.
The crime problems are no doubt rooted in the country's history of racial division, which lives on in the economic divide that still persists today. East of the peninsula lie the Cape Flats and Townships, where thousands of people in this first world country live in third world conditions. Driving by on the highway you can't help but be shocked by the sea of tiny shacks with corrugated tin roofs piled on top of each other, all sharing electricity from a single pole.
Despite the social problems the country and city will need to face going forward, Cape Town is a very special place that we'll look forward to visiting again in the future. 2010 Soccer World Cup, anyone?