A Travellerspoint blog

May 2010

Wine

I have always liked wine, but have no real knowledge about it. I will know if i like it or not, and sometimes can give a vague description of why, though without recourse to any normally used words in describing wine. And providing I am not blindfolded, I will have a maybe 80% chance of being able to tell you if it is Red, White, Rose or maybe Beer. It is something that I have wanted to know a bit more about, but which realistically I don't think I ever will know much more of: I have sadly recently had to admit that my taste buds (like my sense of smell) are really pretty poor, at least in comparison to some, and nuances in taste and flavour are simply beyond me.

Listening to wine experts talk about ...deep flavour with the crisp tones of raspberry, a hint of Rosemary, zesty full palate and slightly lingering succulent tannins... - or whatever the heck it is that these people talk about - leaves me baffled: Are they honestly tasting this, or is it all some kind of deep elaborate joke that i am not in on? I have read a number of studies and stories where renowned experts have been caught out in blind tastings: In one famous experiment, only half a person (he was wavering) out of 100 experts realised that they were actually drinking white wine which had been doctored by the simple expedient of putting odourless and flavourless red food colouring into it. But despite such tales, there is obviously allot about wines that can be tasted by those with decent taste buds, and the fact that people can often tell the specific grape blends leaves me baffled, though with allot of respect. For me, it is just red wine!

Cape Town is not far from the Cape wineries, one of the best wine growing regions of the world, home to several major vineyards and hundreds of individual wineries, the vast majority of which offer tours and tastings. We couldn't come to South Africa and not indulge, especially as Maaret is a keen amateur connoisseur, and Fred is, well, simply an alcoholic. And so in the course of 2 days, we took in 5 vineyards (not actually very many, for assorted reasons too complex to mention here) across Stellenbosch – the main centre for wine tours -, Paarl (where we bought a dozen or so bottles to be shipped to Europe) and Hermanus, which has the great bonus of being off the normal wine tasting trails and thus much quieter, friendlier and more personal, but also, all free.

Logistically we could probably have worked it better: having a car meant the need for a sober driver [though to most South Africans at least, the sober part was not a consideration] which as (a) I was the only insured driver, and (b) as noted, my tastes are not always greatly honed, pretty much answered that one. We could have left the car for a day and taken a tour, but most were very expensive and also didn't go to vineyards of particular interest or curiosity to Maaret.

Which all mean't that it was mostly left to Maaret's palate, and over the course of the 5 vineyard, she tasted 32 different wines (i took small tastes of a handful). Going to vineyards – especially those with free tastings – and not drinking might sound like hell to many people, but I actually quite enjoyed it. Sure, It would have been nice to indulge on occasions, but In all likelihood I would pretty much have just ended up getting drunk and not got anything more out of it. I actually think that I learned allot more this way, and had a good and interesting time despite not drinking.

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I also made notes and scored the tastings: I figured that normally, people end up tasting so many different wines that they either become drunk and/or the flavours and memories all start to merge together, and if asked later which they preferred and why, will probably have not the foggiest of ideas except for potential vague memories. This way, we would have a fairly reliable set of notes to use later and order wine if Maaret so chose, although it was noticeable that towards the end of the last tasting on day two, comments were becoming slightly less coherent and detailed as they had been earlier in the day...

And the best? For the record, Maaret and Fred generally both prefer red wine, so it was no surprise that her favourite – taken strictly from my notes and her scorings at the time: She will probably say it was a different one if asked now – was probably the 9.5 rated Beyerskloof Synergy Cape Blend 2006, a 70 Rand a bottle wine. The highest White was a 2008 Bouchard Finlayson Banc de Mer, the only white in the top 10 and in a group of six wines rated at 9.

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Part of the Bouchard Finlayson Cellar

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Posted by Gelli 20:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

Ruth, Penguins and cake so good Oprah recommends it

And so, in a moment of strange Deja-vu which I realised was from Imogen, Early one morning I picked up another hire car, this one named Ruth for reasons I never knew and would never understand anyway, filled her with the requisite 3beautiful blonde Scandinavian girls, and set off on the road again.

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Ruth. Picked up with about 180km on he clock, taken back with over 3500. She was an more than adequate companion to us for 11days, if uninspiring (especially on faster corners) and for a small lightweight 1.6, strangely underpowered

We didn't get far.

First there were cakes to be eaten, even at this hugely advanced time of 9am. A kind of friend of a friend of one of the Danish girls works in a cake shop in Cape Town. And not just any cake shop. It is reasonably unique. There are not, for example, many shops anywhere in the world which look more like they have come from a Hansel and Gretel fairytale as opposed to an architects drawing, and even fewer that are in obscure neighborhoods of homes and offices.

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This shop is so famous that Oprah is a fairly regular visitor. And whilst I can't comment on the cakes – I have no sweet tooth, so rarely eat such things – the place looked fantastic, the pies and pasties and coffee were both superb, and the cakes were amazing looking. And huge in size. Maaret and Camilla both had a brownie, and neither managed to finish them. These are serious cakes.

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The brownie that beat both the girls, and below, a small number of some of the other cakes

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And with the cakes out of the way, it was time for the day's serious business. Penguins. And not chocolate ones. Real penguins. And Africa is the obvious place for them.

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Mariners Wharf and Duiker Island, from Chapmans Peak Drive

We drove along the wonderful Chapman's Peak Drive down the West coast of the Cape Peninsula, eventually cutting inland and across to Simonstown, a major naval port with the look and feel of an old English seaside resort, before dropping down to a penguin sanctuary to view the strange sight of (small) but lovely penguins enjoying themselves on a sandy beach in scorching temperatures: It was probably the hottest day we had had in South Africa.

And damned, they are cute little things.

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From there, we took a leisurely drive around the peninsula before heading back to the city, and dropping the Danes to do their chores before their morning flight to New Zealand. For Maaret and I, we headed over to Camps Bay to find Adrian. Adrian has probably appeared briefly in these pages way back in Namibia where I first met him. He is a South African, who at that point was nearing the end of a long cycle trip which had started in Sri Lanka and taken in large chunks of Asia and Africa. Maaret (and Hanna, who was also with us at that time) had already bumped into him a couple of times in Malawi and Zambia, and stayed in touch. We had originally planned to head and stay with him in Stellenbosch, but had randomly bumped into him in Cape Town the previous day, and discovered he was now living in Cape Town. Lucky to know. So instead, we headed to his and spent a couple of extra days in Cape Town, happily catching up and doing day trips instead. He still looks like Jesus.

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Adrian out surfing in Camps Bay[/]

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[i]With the Danish girls and a rapidly recovering Fred the night before. As you might have guessed, there was a special on cocktails...

Posted by Gelli 15:20 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Cape stuff

Long Street is theถนนข้าวสาร of Africa. Alternatively, the Khao San Road is the Long Street of Asia. Take your pick. Either way, Long Street is the big hub of backpacking and backpackers of Cape Town, and it is inevitable that you will spend some time here on any trip. But unlike the Khao San Road, where finding a local or Thai person who is not there solely to try and make money from backpackers, Long Street exists as a real local entity. It is a reasonably important thoroughfare in its own right, has history and some excellent old colonial architecture (the sort which I mentally associate with New Orleans, though never having been there, I have no idea if this has a basis in reality or not) and is also a hub of clubs, bars and restaurants for many locals an students as well as solely visitors. And whilst it is true that many are visitors, expats and backpackers, on weekends large numbers of local also descend for a night out.

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I probably should talk more about this. But I won't. So there.

I liked Cape Town, and it was definitely a good place to meet people and go out. However, it was also somewhere where it would be easy to spend obscene amounts of money very, very fast. And I think that despite everything, and the fact that it regularly features high in lists of the world’s most desirable cities to live in, I would only enjoy living there for so long: a few months or a year at most. I can't really explain why, it's just a feeling; a gut instinct. In a strange way it's just not, well, real

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Part of Cape Town at night, from near the base of the cable-car station

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The area around Cape Town is special for several different reasons. The Earth's Flora and Fauna is so varied around Cape Flats; so rich and distinctive and as to merit being classified as having its own ecosystem. The world is split into only 6 Floral Kingdom’s. Most are vast, covering many countries and often parts of several continents – the 6th is the Capensis, the small area around Cape Town. On Table Mountain alone, there are more varieties of plant than in the whole of Great Britain, and a large number of them are found nowhere else on Earth.

As well as it's impressive diversity of Flora and Fauna, parts of Cape Town are amongst the small elite of places in the world where you can see 2 different UNESCO World Heritage sites simultaneously: Robben Island and Table Mountain.

Which brings us to Table Mountain. Sadly, Robben Island would remain elusive to me on this trip, as would walking up Table Mountain, though in both cases they have risen to the very top of my to-do list on my next years visit. Table Mountain, I did at least manage to cheat my way up, going by cable car, and wandering around the top. Though weather can be very fickle, and thus so can visibility and thus what you get to see, it was great. Gloriously clear, hot, and stunning views from all sides. But for somebody like me who generally goes up things, it just added to the sense of frustration that I couldn't climb it. I'll have to come back, to go up.

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Going up in the cable car

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Table Mountain from the harbour area, both with and without  it's renowned 'Table Cloth' covering of cloud

I really should write more about Cape Town. More of a normal style blog, of the twists and turns,m random people we met and things that happened, but for some reason, i'm just not feeling it. So I won't.

Posted by Gelli 14:46 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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