Monday did not start well. I was rudely dragged from lazy dozing by a phone-call moving my late-afternoon meeting. Bang went a morning spent with my mother and sister and a visit to my grandmother. The miserable mood stayed with me as I dragged myself out of bed and got ready. It stayed until that magical moment when the train started moving and the station fell slowly away behind me. What is it about the clackety-clack of a train that makes a small part of my soul thrill with anticipation? I take a deep breath and settle back and feel a calm, gentle happiness settle over me. Just like that moment on a plane when the wheels leave the runway.
It’s raining when I arrive. It’s a chilly (for November), overcast day, with raindrops streaming across the windows as we pull into the busy transportation hub that is Cape Town station. Avoiding rushing commuters, hawkers and a strange man trying to talk to me as I crossed the road, I head for St George’s Mall.
The pedestrian mall is bustling with different people. The vegetable seller offers “Weigh-less Avos! Weigh-less…” It’s one of my favourite places in the Cape. The cosmopolitan heart of cosmopolitan Cape Town. People of every country, colour and creed wander and saunter and rush along. I stop for a moment outside the Wimpy and breathe in the cool, damp air.
After a quick breakfast, I head off to the Castle of Good Hope. The city feels like a city today. Some days, Cape Town feels like a tourist attraction or a living post card. Today, on this grey Monday morning, it feels gritty and busy and tired. And then I turn, at the bus stop and across the busy square is Cape Town’s beautiful city hall, Table Mountain rising, a perfect backdrop, against the cloudy sky.
The bulk of the Castle stands to the left. I have less than an hour before I need to be back at the station to navigate the somewhat unpredictable (and unfamiliar) train schedule. Not nearly enough time to see all of the “oldest building in South Africa“. I don’t care. I’ve decided not to be put off doing things because of limited time any longer – better half an hour immersed in fascinating history than time wasted wandering restlessly from shop to shop.
I wish I’d had more time. I’ve visited the Castle before – many years ago as a child – but all I really remember is the dark dungeon. I didn’t even make it as far as the dungeon this time. I did spend a delightful half an hour wandering up twisting stone stairs and past the bell tower and enjoying the sense of the past and incredible views from the bastions. The rain had stopped and the clouds drifting over the edge of the mountain were backlit by sunlight. Walking along a passage, the white-washed walls thick and uneven, I came upon a glass window onto an ancient armoury – did you know they made bricks in the early Cape because they couldn’t risk the sparks from a stone floor?
On the way back to the station, I looked up into the huge glass windows along the side of the station. Reflected there was the cable-car slowly descending from the top cable-station. I had a moment of mad desire to throw it all in and go up the mountain for the day. With a sigh, I let the moment pass and rushed to catch my train, leaving the other for another day, hoping, through “knowing how way leads on to way”, that some day soon I shall be back.