Day 263: The French Corner

Fri. 3rd May 2013

Me and my friends Che & NelsonFor the first time since arriving in Africa, we woke up this morning and it was grey, raining and blowing a hooley. We’d been told that there was a low-pressure front coming in and sure enough the blue skies have gone for the time being at least. Even with this storm, this southern tip of Africa doesn’t feel as bleak as when we were in Punta Arenas at the bottom of South America and we don’t feel like we are at the ‘end of the world’ in the way that we did there. Once again, we feel very privileged to be able to compare the two places.

It wasn't like this last nightIn prospect, we have an easier day’s driving today as we have broken the back of the distance between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Today, we are heading for the wine growing areas of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and so we head north out of the cape and then continue west. For large expanses, the road is empty of people, cars and buildings. There is so much space here, even in this relatively developed part of the most prosperous country in Africa. What is the rest of the continent going to be like?

Coming in to land!Periodically, we spot birds of prey perched on top of telegraph poles by the side of the road. They just watch the car go by but when we try stopping to take pictures then they quickly fly off. This is the best photo we managed – how Janet captured it coming in to land, I’m not sure. If it isn’t the landscape then it is the wildlife. There are so many distractions in this country, it is a wonder that we make any progress whilst driving at all!

Looking down the valley into FranschhoekThere is also a town in the US with their name on a hill!We get to Franschhoek by lunchtime which is always a bonus. It is immediately obvious that this is an old colonial town and that it is well to do. It has a completely different feel to the Spanish towns in South America (no Plaza Mayor for one thing) but it is still definitely European in style and design. The streets lined with white-painted buildings with ornate gables. As we have travelled round the world, time and time again we have come to places where Europeans have colonised and transformed a country. We talk about ‘globalisation’ today as if it is a new concept but 300 or 400 years ago it was going strong and having at least as big an impact as it is today.

The Huguenot Museum in FranschhoekAs we later learn, Franschhoek is Dutch/Afrikaans for ‘French Corner’ and the town is named after the Huguenots who settled here. Before we got here, I couldn’t honestly say that I knew who or what a Huguenot was and so we head off to the museum in order to find out. The displays in the Huguenot Museum are in a mixture of Afrikaans, English and French – with not all of the signs shown in each language. However, we read enough to learn that the Huguenots were French Protestants who were persecuted in 16th and 17th Century France (particularly under Louis 14th – the Sun King) and who fled to Holland and then emigrated to South Africa.

The Huguenot MemorialRight beside the museum is a monument to the Huguenots – very photogenic, particularly with the mountains in the background. A sign by the monument helps to explain some of the symbolism – the three arches within a single arch representing God and the Holy Trinity, for example. In the garden beside the monument we spot some bushes with large flowers on and deduce that these must be Proteas. Its a name we have often seen here in South Africa (and is the nickname for one of the sports teams) and we have learnt that it is South Africa’s national flower. We are just out of season and they are a little past their best but still spectacular enough.

Protea in bloomEventually, we tear ourselves away and head on to Stellenbosch where we are booked in for tonight. We weren’t hugely impressed with the last De Oude Meul we stayed in (near Oudtshoorn) but we have booked in to its (unrelated) namesake in Stellenbosch. This turns out to be a much better experience a small guest house above a bustling coffee shop where we are warmly greeted by Arno, the owner. Besides the history and the culture, our priority in Stellenbosch is to taste some of the local wines and so our first task is to book a wine tour for tomorrow. After consulting Trip Advisor, we decide to pass on the tour that is advertised in the hotel and sign-up with Redwood tours. Arno assures us that we will be in good hands and that Keith is ‘a character’.

Love the architecture of these churchesWe have been lucky, once again, to have had another rich and full day where, not only have we seen some of the incredible countryside in this area, we have learned a little more about the history of the country – and also of Britain too. Like so many other places, the history of this area is complex – a French enclave in a Dutch colony, taken over by the British. When the British decide to end slavery, this does not go down well with some of the colonists and a group of them, the Voortrekkers, leave so they can retain their slaves and this sets up for the Boer war at the start of the 20th Century. As we have mused before, the world is far from perfect today but it is in much better shape than it was.


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