Introducing someone to South Africa for the very first time is one of the best ways to experience your own home country – appreciating a place like a first time visitor truly makes it that much more special. It is with this in mind that we started our First Impressions interview series… asking various international travellers what their very first impressions were of South Africa!
Today it’s the turn of Annika Ziehen from Germany who writes about her travels over at The Midnight Blue Elephant
She write about solo travel, adventure travel and luxury travel. She loves to tell funny stories and sharing the unique places and experiences she uncovers on her travels around the world. Read on below to find out more about how her love affair with South Africa began…
So let’s get to know Annika and find out more about her first impressions of South Africa…
When did you first visit South Africa?
When I was 16 which was in… uhm… 1996.
What had you heard about the country before you boarded your flight?
I just knew that I had family there who loved it so much that they emigrated decades ago and never looked back. I was also told that it gets so hot there that the candles would melt off the Christmas tree – something I really wanted to see for myself (never did!).
What motivated your first visit to SA?
I think I was just jealous because all my German cousins got to go and visit our South African family in Cape Town and since that sounded wonderfully exotic I convinced my parents that I should go too. It happened that my sister had just returned from a year of living and working in SA so she came with me as my chaperone.
What were your feelings/ emotions about visiting South Africa before leaving home?
I don’t remember when I first visited, but I returned to visit again when I was 28, basically moving from New York to Cape Town on an Oprah-inspired whim. I was deeply unhappy, borderline depressed in New York and Cape Town felt like it would be my salvation and in a way it was.
How did you feel coming in to land on South African soil?
My cousin was due to fetch me from the airport and I was so nervous that I wouldn’t recognize her since we had last seen each other as children. Afterward, she told me that she was worried about the same and had considered taking a name sign. But it wasn’t necessary – we immediately recognized each other and it felt like coming home.
What was an experience you had on your first day?
I looked over the ocean and the Sea Point pool and started to smoke again because I was so nervous being in my new home 🙂
What were your first impressions – the smell, sound, sights that struck you?
I remember having breakfast on my aunt’s patio in Claremont, Cape Town. We had mango and croissants which felt utterly luxurious to eat on a regular weekday and I remember looking up at the sky. It seemed so incredibly blue and very different from home and I told my sister that I thought it to be bluer than blue. She dismissed my enthusiasm and said, no it is just blue. But to me, she got it wrong and I will never forget that South Africa’s sky is bluer than blue and somehow wider, more open, allowing me to breathe and be.
Where did you explore first?
I actually went to Lesotho within a week of my arrival to take a trip with my uncle. This is where I learned how to drive on the left and how to use a 4×4. Afterwards, I got lucky and found a job in production. My job took me all over the Cape Peninsula which was a great way to explore and see parts that I may not have seen otherwise.
What was your trip to South Africa like?
What was meant to be a two months trip turned into 7 years – so it wasn’t your average holiday I would say. I arrived to start a life in South Africa (with all its ups and downs) and since I stayed for so long I would say it was quite successful overall.
What was your highlight?
My life took place in Cape Town and its surroundings. I have yet to explore the rest of the country, but I liked everyday life in the city. The Southern Suburbs (don’t judge!!), Hout Bay and just being able to surround myself with nature and enjoying the views even when I sat in traffic. My favorite was taking Victoria Road from Camps Bay to Hout Bay – this is the most beautiful coastal drive in the world and when you drive it during sunset it is pure magic.
What were your first impressions of the people of the south?
To be honest I found Cape Town to be very cliquey and still quite divided. You will still see that black people are usually the ones behind the counters, doing the work, while it is mainly white people eating out, shopping in fancy stores, lounging on the beach, living in nice houses. While I know many incredible South Africans who work hard every day to change the aftermath of Apartheid I think this division can come as quite a shock to visitors. Mind you, I think we have to remind ourselves that, whether we see it or not, there is unfortunately much injustice and poverty all over the world and to me personally it helps to see it as it motivates me to roll up my sleeves and do something about it.
What were your feelings about South Africa after your visit?
Eventually, I decided that South Africa wasn’t for me anymore. I was expanding my travel blogging and traveling around the world with South African Rands in my pocket proved a bit tricky. I also dreaded the travel time – Cape Town is far if you travel regularly to destinations that are not in Southern Africa. Leaving was a business decision and a good one. Still, I consider South Africa to be my emotional home and miss it all the time. With that, I usually spend the summer months there and I think Cape Town will be the place I retire to one day.
Have you returned to visit South Africa?
I am going back for the Christmas holidays in a week’s time and I’m looking forward to sitting by the pool with a glass of bubbles in hand, listening to Michael Buble as one does for Christmas in Cape Town.
What do you return?
It’s my home or at least the closest to a place that feels like home to me. Also, I am incredibly close to my family in Cape Town and being with them for the holidays just feels natural to me. It is also the place for me to recharge, get some work done and just be.
Would you recommend South Africa to your friends and followers?
Oh yes, I always rave about South Africa and there are so many more places that I still like to see as well. I think it is a very special place and while many people are initially a bit hesitant, because of politics and what they hear about crime, they are immediately won over once they actually get to experience the country for themselves.