June 22nd, 2009
I'm yet to meet someone that doesn't mind getting up early over the weekend to take a 45 minute drive to Stellenbosch for the day.
I certainly enjoy my beauty sleep but managed to drag myself out of bed. I'm ever the better for it, I might add. I discovered a town that was alive.
I discovered a town that is steeped in culture, good food, good wine and such friendly people eager to share the town's history.
Sundays in Stellenbosch are certainly anything but dull. (For starters, there is always parking!)
Tell me more...
Our day started at eleven. Representatives from Stellenbosch Tourism met us at the Big Easy - named after golfing legend Ernie Els. The building was one of the first in Stellenbosch in the 1600s.
This restaurant is magnificent. Each room has a theme and it is never repeated throughout the house. There is a library to enjoy your coffee while reading a book and warming up next to the fireplace. (Always a plus for winter.)
The old antique feel when it comes to the décor excites you, because you know that there is a story behind every piece displayed.
Outside the building, just below the roof is a carving of the all seeing eye - the previous owner was involved with the Freemasons. (That's all we're told).
After some coffee, the group of invited journalists met on the patio to speak to a man by the name of Pietman. If there were ever anything we needed to know about the town, he would have the answer. I was so glad he would be giving us the tour; his passion for the town was very obvious.
We wouldn't just hear about the history. We would see it and experience it.
Before the tour began, we were made aware of the fact that everything we see has a story behind it. This included the magnificent outdoor sculptures I'd noticed on my way there.
The artist - Dylan Lewis was unable to make it to the educational but his manager Andy was happy to tell us anything we need to know.
Art = History (and vice versa)
Dylan Lewis is a well known South African sculptor. He is currently working on an exhibition for Christies in London. (Now that is saying something!) He has always been an avid supporter of nature and history using the big cats as his inspiration.
It seems very fitting that his bronze sculptures are displayed in Stellenbosch. The big cats he portrays once roamed the town long ago.
Each sculpture that he unveils contributes something to the community and gives them access to beautiful art.
It really shows that there is always something to be proud of in our country!
The tour begins...
Stellenbosch was founded in 1679 by Simon van der Stel. He came to "Stellies" (as the locals love to call it) for food, wood and some new land to produce. It was then an island on which he pitched his tent and made a fire to ward off the dangerous animals that roamed at night.
It was unbelievable to stand in the exact spot he pitched his tent!
Pietman took us down Dorp Street. I wasn't sure if it was because I skipped breakfast but the town just smelt like food - yummy, delicious food.
On our way to the first sculpture, there were couples taking strolls in the sun, students enjoying the last day of the weekend and cars driving back and forth.
I must admit I pictured closed shops with old men in their chairs watching us with eagle eyes.
The first sculpture was situated in front of the Old Stellenbosch Gymnasium - established in 1866. "The Running Cheetah" can be described in words, but the best way to get a feel of Dylan's art is to touch it.
The rough texture parallels the animals' wild nature and you can see his finger marks on every sculpture he produces. Natural and authentic - just like the animals he portrays.
It is impossible to name each and every one of the nineteen sculptures on our tour of the town, but my favourites were definitely the "Stalking Cheetah" and the "Buffalo Bull Pair".
The "Stalking Cheetah" was place very appropriately in the spot Simon van der Stel set up camp when he ventured into the then bush that was Stellenbosch and is now a theological building for the university.
It's a long standing joke that the statue of Duminee du Plessis also known as "Pink Piet" was moved onto the property because the students believed that his stone book pages would turn if the person walking passed it was a virgin.
The town has a few ghost stories too. The "Buffalo Bull Pair" statue is displayed outside the Moedergemeente Church in Drosty Street. Did you ever wonder where the term "stink ryk" (stinking rich) came from? There were individuals who wanted to be buried in the church itself after they died and not in the cemetery.
This was very costly and only the rich could afford it. You couldn't smell the dead bodies but it was well known that to rot in the church, you had to be rich.
There was one man who requested to be buried in the church cemetery, but the Duminee would not allow it. He believed it was in bad taste for him to be buried on the property.
After he died it was said that his spirit - very upset - was taunting and roaming the streets of Stellenbosch.
Eventually the Duminee decided to bury him in the church property but had his own revenge. On the casket he carved a skull and crossbones to make sure that people knew that this man was bad news.
Our next stop was the Stellenbosch Museum.
I saw the first fire engine built in 1732. It is not as big as you'd think it would be. The Museum is not your typical kind.
Out back there are four fully furnished houses which illustrate exactly how individuals in the different classes lived. It was even completed with our very own role playing guide dressed as the owner of the house.
The room that touched me the most was in the magistrate's house. The slave room was so sad to walk into. It was the smallest room in the entire house and I actually held an original pair of shackles worn by a slave. They were so heavy and the slaves were forced to wear it all the time!
What a day
The day ended off with a lovely four course meal at Wijnhuis in Church Street. It was exactly what we need to unwind and absorb the vast amounts of information we took in on that day.
I'm actually quite excited to go back... on a Sunday!
Stellenbosch is alive and may give us city dwellers a much needed wake up call.