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December 13, 2003
Our room was, at R375 without breakfast, quite small but clean and provided with a small TV and towels, etc. Facilities are shared with one other room (through your numbered door off the utilitarian corridor, you’re faced with four doors – your room, the loo, the shower-room and your neighbours’ room) but you have your own fan and it’s all pretty quiet. (Rooms with en private suites are available but booked up early and slightly more expensive). Breakfast is (a fairly steep) R58 pp in the self-service canteen called "Stonebreakers" (which also serves lunch and dinner, as well as snacks) and, continuing the prison theme, there’s a gym called the "Treadmill." (To give you an idea of V&A hotel prices, by comparison, the (no doubt beautifully appointed and luxurious) four-star hotel right next door was charging 1800R per room.)
Whilst playing up to its history perhaps a little too much sometimes, that history is interesting…the Breakwater was a prison between 1859 (the Industrial prison extension was added in 1901) and 1926, after which date it housed black dock workers. On its establishment, it was planned that its occupants would work on construction of the breakwater in Table Bay as part of a hard labour sentence (though some workers were housed in mobile road station prisons) – rehabilitation through work was emphasised in colonial prisons in the 19th century, though blacks were seen as less able to respond to rehabilitative programmes and more likely than whites to respond to punitive treatment, and so racial segregation began in Breakwater even before it was widespread and legislated generally. This segregation defined not just punishment and work-type but also diet and place of detention; the Industrial prison was designed and built to house white convicts and thus to effect separation from black convicts.
These days the hotel’s framed pictures, carpets and curtains hide its original purpose, but occasionally you see a glimpse of its origins, like the inches-deep steel doors, and the four castellated turrets and enclosed courtyard, based on English prisons like Pentonville, for recreation.
From journal Cape Town Pt 1 - City by the sea
February 6, 2003
The Breakwater also houses the UCT Business School (which is held in the more prison-looking parts). The staff of the hotel are also students in hotel management. This can result in a slow check-in/check-out process, (as it did for us--about 45 minutes on each end--no kidding) but otherwise the hotel was very well run and maintained.
Our room had two twin beds, a night stand and generous cupboard space, (although that left little floor space for our suitcases). A little kettle and tea making supplies were provided as was a color-TV with remote. We shared a shower room and a toilet with the room next door so that when you came in from the hallway you were in a little foyer with four doors (one to your room, one to the room next door, one to the shower, one to the toilet). This is great if you have friends staying next door, but really weird when you go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and run into a sketchy man wearing only a towel. For a little bit more, you and a friend could each have your own room and share the bath or you could have a larger room with two beds and a private bath. Because we shared a room and shared a toilet with another room, we each paid only $15/night.
The location can't be beat for this price. There is a cafeteria in the business school where you can get breakfast for less than $2. Just across the street from the hotel is the aquarium, crafts market and IMAX theatre. It's about a 10 minute walk to the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island or the entrance of the Victoria Wharf shopping center.
From journal Eating & Sleeping on the Waterfront