Cape Town, South Africa
33° 55' S 18° 24' E
Jul 24, 2009 20:48
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Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel

Time for a little about the history of Cape Town to start the day.

 The early colonial development of St Helena was influenced by the Dutch East India Company - Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC)        and the Honourable East India Company.  Today I shall outline the creation and expansion of the VOC, tomorrow the HEIC and then on Sunday retell the clash of 1672, when both sides fought over the contol of the island. 

“In March 1594 some Dutch merchants founded a "Company of Far Lands" at Amsterdam, their objective was to send two fleets to East Indies. The first fleet of four ships reached Bantam and returned in the Netherlands in August 1597, only three ships with a small cargo of pepper returned but it more than covered the cost of the expedition. Following in the steps of this first enterprise, five different companies (voorcompagniën) were founded and in 1598 twenty-two ships left Dutch ports for East Indies. In 1601 sixty-five ships left for the East Indies.

As early as 1598, the States General suggested that various companies should amalgamate. On March 20, 1602, finally from a fusion of six small Dutch companies the VOC (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) was born, the unification into one company did not happen spontaneously, but was enforced by the Dutch government. The charter (octrooi) was valid for 21 years. The States General, granted a monopoly on the trade in the East Indies to the Dutch East India Company (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC), the area of trade granted to the company was called the octrooigebied (trade zone). Its purpose was not only trade; the Compagnie also had to fight the enemies of the Republic and prevent other European nations to enter the East India trade. During its history of 200 years, the VOC became the largest company of its kind, trading spices (nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon and pepper mainly) and other products (tea, silk and chinese porcelain). The VOC was virtually a state within a state.”  

Last year, during our time in Cape Town, I outlined the development of the colony, under the direction of Jan van Riebeeck. 

“Cape Town was originally developed as a victualling station for Dutch ships sailing to Eastern Africa, India, and the Far East more than 200 years before the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869. Jan van Riebeeck's arrival on 6 April 1652 established the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. Cape Town quickly outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost at the Castle of Good Hope.  It was the largest city in South Africa until the growth of Johannesburg and Durban.” 

“Jan van Riebeeck was sent to establish a fortified trading base and a company garden at the Cape. In practice he laid the basis of a colony that expanded hundreds of miles beyond the Cape peninsula, beyond the control of the VOC itself, that ultimately evolved to became the Republic of South Africa.” 

The VOC had become the first multi-national corporation by the mid 17th century.  The base in Cape Town was one of many sites across the world.  The Dutch had exclusive rights to trade in Nagasaki, Japan, from 1639.  They developed bases in Zeelander (Taiwan), the Malay peninsula, Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia and India.  In 1669 the VOC employed over 10,000 soldiers, 40 warships and 150 merchant vessels.  The Company was at the height of its power and had successfully replaced Portuguese administration in many areas.  It was the largest trading corporation in Europe, however the British and French were determined to eclipse this Dutch giant. 

Erin was still very much under par when we got up this morning.  She couldn’t face breakfast and still had a high temperature.  We have an electronic thermometer, which puts her temperature at about one degree centigrade above any other family member.  That’s hot in my books, but not necessarily swine flu or any other nasty illness!  But at least she has not been throwing up as Ailsa did last year, all the way from Cape Town to Livingstone! 

Today we judged that the children were old enough to visit the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, located in Hatfield Street, next to the Company Gardens.  We have twice visited this place before and have found the graphic exhibits rather thought provoking.  It is only by remembering the past that we learn from our mistakes and move forward as a society or at least recognise the old dangers reappearing in new forms.  National Socialists may have had their day but new forms of extremism have taken their place in the world of the 21st century. 

"The Cape Town Holocaust Centre is dedicated to creating a more caring and just society in which human rights and diversity are respected and valued.” 

"Events happen because they are possible. If they were possible once, they are possible again. In that sense, the Holocaust is not unique, but a warning to the future."

Professor Yehuda Bauer 

The Holocaust Centre is a moving tribute to those who died between 1933 & 1945, whilst the Nazis were in power in Germany.  As I have previously stated it is also a warning for the future.  Sadly discrimination, persecution and genocide still continue to the present day.  

It was a beautiful sunny day in which to walk across town to the Company Gardens, passing the Parliament Buildings en route to the Jewish Museums.  The children, who have both studied the Holocaust at school, were very attentive.  No matter how many times you see some of the photographic material, some photos stick in your mine as being particularly thought provoking.  Such as the photo taken in the Ukraine around 1942 showing a woman holding a small child, both of whom are about to be shot by a German soldier with a rifle; or the photo of two young children begging on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1941.  Haunting images indeed. 

We did also visit the South African Jewish Museum next door to the Holocaust Museum.  We only had an hour as it closed at 1400hrs for the Jewish Sabbath.  We saw the old Synagogue, which reminded me of the one in Cochin, India.  The museum had some interesting exhibits in relation to European immigration (of Jews) and the contribution they had made to South African society.  Unlike the Holocaust Museum the South African Jewish Museum was not free. 

We took the precaution of making a reservation for Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel.  This has become a sort of family institution when passing through Cape Town, although I was not so impressed last year as in 2000 or 2002.  But it is still one of the best colonial afternoon tea spreads around.  It is also very reasonably priced at R150 for adults and R75 for children under 12. 

“No visit to Cape Town is complete without experiencing Mount Nelson Hotel’s legendary Afternoon Tea. Famous foodies and travel writers the world over describe it as being one of the best afternoon tea experiences in the world.

Not for the faint of heart, the daily buffet is laid out on the Windsor Table in the hotel’s Lounge area and includes savoury favourites the likes of smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches, smoked salmon grissini, local Malay specialities, and sweet temptations from chocolate confectionery, to petit fours, homemade coconut ice, marshmallows and fudge, cupcakes, scones, and assorted cakes.

Graceful notes from the Grande Piano add to the ambiance, and a selection of over thirty of the finest loose leaf teas, from Rooibos and Lapsang Souchong, to Earl Grey and Darjeeling, completes the indulgence.”

The Mount Nelson Hotel has seen a number of famous guests over the years, including Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill and the Prince of Wales (1925).  We stayed at the Mount Nelson in 2002 for a few days.  This is a most impressive heritage property.  Sadly it is beyond our current budget.  Besides we would need two rooms, which would significantly increase expenditure. 

“Mount Nelson Hotel, opened on the 6th of March 1899. It was the fruit of the imagination and determination of shipping magnate Sir Donald Currie. The hotel was designed to emulate the finest in London which was then the leading capital of refined hostelry. The reviews following the grand opening claimed that it had surpassed all expectations and even exceeded comparison with its British rivals.” 

Last year we found afternoon tea crowded due to a function.  However this year it was quite empty and the quality of the savoury items were first class.  The Mount Nelson goes back to the top of the class, alongside the Hyatt in Canberra!  We relaxed for over two hours and drank Darjeeling tea and Rooibos.  Erin ate almost nothing but did seem to pick up a little.  The children were happy to play in the grounds in front of the terrace whilst the adults stayed in the conservatory.  The children reminded me that I have promised to pay for their stay at the Mount Nelson once they backpack their way across Africa, pencilled in for around 2019 AD! 

On the way back to our accommodation we stopped at the Spar in Adderley Street for supplies for our long boat journey.  Castle Beer was on special offer!  We are looking forward to our boat journey far more than the Intercape bus service to Livingstone, Zambia!

Photos / videos of "Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel":

South African Parliament, Cape Town, South Africa. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett in Company Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. Company Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. War Memorial in Company Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. Statue of J C Smuts, Company Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. Table Mountain as seen from Company Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. Jewish Museum, Cape Town, South Africa. Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside the Jewish Museum & Holocaust Centre, Cape Town, South Africa. The Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett outside the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett enjoying afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. The driveway of the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett enjoying afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. Duncan Burnett enjoying afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. The afternoon tea buffet table at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. The Terrace at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa. Table Mountain as seen from the grounds of the Mount Nelson Hotel,Cape Town, South Africa. The Cape Town Club as seen from the grounds of the Mount Nelson Hotel,Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Colony Restaurant, Mount Nelson Hotel,Cape Town, South Africa. Ruth, Erin & Ailsa Burnett enjoying afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa.