LIFE AT THE VICTORIA AND ALFRED (V & A) WATERFRONT
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
A contemporary Dickens would most surely have had South Africa in mind when he penned these famous words. In a country beset by government incompetence and corruption, decay of essential services, rampant crime, broken health and education systems for the masses, and areas of heartbreaking poverty, there are places and programs of ‘light.’ In this contemporary South Africa, Cape Town and parts of the Western Cape are a bubble, the only area not under the control of the ANC Government. Within this bubble lies yet another bubble, the Victoria and Alfred (V & A ) Waterfront. Given that this is where we will be living for the local summer, and the uniqueness of the place, I devote my newsletter to our first experiences of Life on the Waterfront.
To quote from their website, “The V&A Waterfront is an iconic mixed-use destination located in the oldest working harbor in the Southern Hemisphere. With Table Mountain as its backdrop, the 123-hectare neighborhood sits within the beautiful city of Cape Town, welcoming millions of people from all over the continent and the rest of the world. The V&A is a symbol of heritage and diversity, where people from all walks of life can play, live, shop, dine and work while immersed in the vibrant spirit and authentic local culture that exists in this bustling ecosystem.
It sees its role on the continent to be a platform that facilitates and champions art and design, to support entrepreneurship and innovation, lead the charge on sustainability, and drive positive social and economic change. By prioritizing people and the planet, the V&A is an example of how working with communities, respecting the environment and operating with passion and integrity is a better, more productive, and kinder way of doing business.”
It is all of that and more, quite unique in the world, and, above all, completely safe at all times. Given that we have only been living in this area for 2 weeks, the following are glimpses of the place. A picture says a thousand words, so this letter is largely a photographic excursion.
This visit we are living in a Penthouse in the V&A Residential area, yet another bubble within a bubble within a bubble. The word Penthouse truly describes our home. It looks like a house on the top of a residential building. Those of you who remember our glass house in Bratenahl, Cleveland, might be amused by the resemblance. We have 360-degree views of Table Mountain, Devils Peak and Lions Head on one side, the inner yacht basin on another, parts of the V&A canal and buildings on another, and the Cape Town cruise ship terminal on another.
The V&A is huge and, as described above, covers every facet of living. Within walking distance of our apartment are shops of every variety, restaurants of all kinds, cinemas, art museums, water taxis, small boat excursions, hotels, aquarium, you name it, it is here. It is certainly a tourist’s delight. Diverse and dynamic, it is thronged with people from all over the world including South Africa, and every language is heard.
Structures are built around a working harbor and intermingled between the shopping, eating and other venues. There are many hotels, so I illustrate a few, especially for my non-South African friends who may be contemplating a visit.
There are so many more hotels in the vicinity, but this selection is more than adequate for most.
In a country beset by electricity problems, alternates abound – solar, inverters and generators.
Now for some of the buildings and shopping areas. A lot of this is in random order, but that in fact is the way the V&A is experienced; random places, people and activities catch your eye from every direction. Historic buildings in a harbor dating over 350 years are interspersed with modern structures. Some are chimeras, for example, currently the original Union Castle Building has been gutted on the inside, and the façade maintained as a new multipurpose building is developed within.
As this is a working harbor there are several bridges to cross waterways, and the following are 2 examples.
The Aquarium is a wonderful place for children to view a wide variety of sea life species from small tanks to absolutely giant ‘walk-through’ glass containers.
Art abounds, outside and in. Chicago has its ‘Bears,’ Cleveland has its ‘Guitars’, and Cape Town has its ‘Rhinos.’
Speaking of diversity, the V&A is the true melting pot – and all get on, smile, and greet people, and somehow the world survives.
Hopefully I have not lost your attention but let me close with another view of the architecturally unique Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art of Africa (MOCAA). A cluster of grain silos in the V&A was to be demolished when someone came up with the idea of hollowing out the interior bases and developing an art museum. I show an exterior view, rather than demonstrate the interior, which I did some time back in one of my newsletters. I leave to your imagination the stunning interior. While not everyone is entranced by the art collection, a visit is a must as the building itself is an architectural triumph and a visual work of art.
I hope I have whetted your appetites to visit the V&A. It is, quite simply, a remarkable place.
Until next time, Moira and I wish you all a 2023 of health, peace, and prosperity.
Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront
December 25, 2022