30 October 2006

winery tours, part II

27th of September, 2006. We used the Vinehopper to visit the following five wineries. It is a hop-on hop-off tour, as you see in the link, but as we were the only two on the tour that day, we didn't have to follow the schedule exactly. So in reality, we had our own private chauffeur. For the price of a hop-on hop-off minibus. That was very nice because we could visit the wineries at our own pace.

They have a very nice rosé, and one of their reds was quite nice. They have a lovely garden, where you can have a picnic under a weird umbrella. Wouldn't you love to have a back yard like that? *sigh* :) They also have a mini game park on their grounds, with zebras, springbok, ostriches, etc.

We did 2 different kinds of tasting here. The first one was a wine and cheese tasting. And then a “regular” tasting of five wines, though not the same wines that were with the cheese.

The wine and cheese pairings were as follows:
1. Spier Classic Merlot 2004/5 with Fairview White Rock with Cranberries.
2. Spier Classic Shiraz 2004 with Dutch Old Master
3. Spier Discover Sweet 2005 with Cape Salut with a sultana and peppadew compote.

All the wines were given a :-)+ rating while all the cheeses got a :-D As I mentioned in another post, the cheeses here are so gooooooooooooooooood... And as you can see in the photo, even Mini Wolfgang was enjoying all the good wine and cheese action!

We were given a pamphlet about the wines and cheeses for the tasting; it has some information about how to match wine and cheese. I'll post that information somewhere, someday...

Spier is very “commercial” and “touristy,” but nonetheless an interesting place with excellent wines. Aside from the wines, you can do cool things like the Eagle Encounters (excellent for people like me who dig birds of prey)...

Or you could visit the Cheetah Outreach program, where you can pet a live cheetah!

Haskell (formerly Dombeya)
We tasted some wonderful white wines here and ended up buying a chardonnay. We also had lunch on the patio of their restaurant, overlooking some beautiful scenery, and enjoyed a bottle of their lovely shiraz 2003 (since we weren't allowed to try it during the tasting – big mistake on their side as this is a wine people would want to buy once they know what it tastes like) along with our very tasty lunch.

(btw - wine tasting notes and food review will be posted in the future.)

This was the biggest pleasant surprise, as Bilton is a small winery and relatively unknown, especially when compared to places like Boschendal, Spier and Fairview. I'm glad they were on the tour; there's nothing wrong with the über-touristy wine estates per se, but it's also fun giving the new, not-so-established places a chance. I've already written a little bit about Bilton.

Kleine Zalze
By now, we were a bit tipsy, but we were able to acknowledge that this winery had some really nice white wines. The 2006 Sauvignon blanc was especially noteworthy. I've heard (after our return home of course! Hmmf!) that the restaurant here is quite amazing... maybe we'll try it next time we're in the area :-)

29 October 2006

nice South Africans... and the top five freak list

Back in the mid-80s, a TV show called Spitting Image put out a single called I've never met a nice South African. It was to protest Apartheid; here is an analysis of the song.

Well... we found quite the opposite of the song title. The people of South Africa are great. They are friendly - almost everyone, black or white, smiled and said hello to you as you passed them on the street, or if people were sitting on a bench and saw you walking by, they would wave. That kind of thing. Shop owners were polite and usually helpful, and never breathing down your neck all the time like in the US or Asia (well, my only reference is Thailand). It was easy to strike up interesting conversations with almost anyone, and at the same time most people seemed to respect others' space and weren't overly nosy in the questions they may have asked you.

Of course, every place has its freaks, for better or for worse. The ones we encountered during our trip were pretty "harmless" compared to what I have to deal with in Oslo sometimes. Interaction with these freaks was minimal. We just observed ;-)

Now onto the list...

  1. At an Engen petrol station in Hout Bay, there was this guy leaning over his car. He had a motorcycle gang-type beard, pierced ears, and his arms were completely covered with tattoos. When he stood up, he exposed another interesting feature. Tits. Big tits too. And we're not talking mighty manboobs, but proper lady tits. With visible nipples. It would have been nice to take a picture of him. He probably would have shot us though...

  2. During a township tour, we visited the township witch doctor. Um... uh... right... fascinating...

  3. At the café at Jonkershoek, we were peacefully eating our lunch when this guy came up to me and gave me a little purple flower. He said that Mother Nature told him to give me the flower, because the purple matched my t-shirt. Charming. It actually made me smile a bit :-)

  4. While eating at Krugmann's Grill at the Waterfront, on the second floor, we watched as a couple came into the restaurant from the first floor, pushing a shopping cart full of food. Uh?

  5. The freaky turkey at the Stellenbosch Village Museum. He was strutting around like he owned the place... *gobble* *gobble* *gobble* :-)

things that make you go WTF...

Here are some of the experiences that, very simply, made us say "what the fuck..." They're not necessarily negative things. They're just, um, strange ;-)

  1. When we arrived in Cape Town (at the airport), we both went to take a leak before our luggage showed up. In the ladies' there was an attendant there who handed everyone a piece of paper towel after washing their hands. The same thing was going on in the men's room, according to boyfriend of feitpingvin. Having just arrived though, I had nothing to give as a tip...

  2. My first experience with an ATM and South African money was kind of freaky. If you take out, say, R 3000, it all comes in R 100 notes. Yeah, that means you get a big fucking wad of cash. I guess there aren't that many people that take out so much cash at once (*duh* - it's more than what a lot of people earn in a month), and it takes a while to spend that much too, and we weren't exactly being miserly...

  3. For the guys – you'll sometimes find urinals filled with ice...

  4. Vyfster. We were watching TV one evening and found this while flipping channels. We thought it was a movie, but apparently it's a TV series. From the Apartheid era. In Afrikaans. Without subtitles. It's set in a prison, and of course the first scene is when the main guy is arriving at the prison, getting into his prison garb, and getting all his bedding and linens and stuff. And then at some point they showed this guy who took out some kind of drawing hidden in the sole of his shoe, and then you see him filing some metal... aha. The drawing is of a key and he's trying to make a key. But of course, the key broke in the lock when he tried it... and so on and so on. And then there was this boxing scene. And all kind of scenes revolving around “power games” within the prison community. It was rather fascinating to watch...

  5. While we're on the subject of weird TV shows, I may as well mention Muvhango, a Venda-language soap opera. Though once in a while, English sentences and phrases would be thrown in.

  6. The Singing Turd of the puppet shows at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

    They had this puppet shows exhibit where they played 3 different shows at regular intervals. Each one had some kind of "how you can save the environment" message. The Singing Turd show was about what not to throw into the toilets...

  7. We were at this pub and this woman ordered these freaky drinks – a shot of Jagermeister was placed in a glass, and the glass was filled up with Red Bull (up to the edge of the shot glass). Eeeewwww...

  8. The supersized t-shirt. We were at this t-shirt shop and I saw this t-shirt that I thought was really cute and wanted to buy. So I first tried on an extra small. It was too big. As in drowning in it too big. I asked the salesgirl if they had anything smaller, so I ended up trying on children's sizes. I finally found the right fit – the ages 9-10 size!

  9. There's a rugby team called the Pot-Bellied Pigs. They have pink uniforms. (OK, just found out they're a Hong Kong team... I guess they have lots of SA players)

  10. At World of Birds, we were about to exit one of the exhibits when there was this bird that took a keen interest in boyfriend of feitpingvin's shoe.

    It was screaming and pecking at it. At first I thought it thought the shoelace was a tasty worm or something, but then the bird tried to mount the shoe...!!

    see here for a larger version of the picture along with comments.

And a bonus WTF: Not really South Africa-related, but while listening to "News from Africa" (or something like that) on SBC, I learned that some Kenyan parents get their boys circumcized and pierce the ears of their girls in order to make them "undesirable" for witch doctors that kidnap children for use in rituals. These witch doctors only use "untouched" children, not children that have had their bodies manipulated and/or mutilated.

the South African wine industry - and winery tours, part I

The South African Wine Industry – Historical and General Information
The South African wine industry began in 1652 with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape region. His first wine was made in 1659.

The history of what has happened in between then and now is rather interesting. Lots of politics, and I'm not talking about Apartheid...

Currently, depending on what statistics you look at, the South African wine industry is the 6th or 7th largest in the world and growing. Producers are divided according to one of three different types - estate wineries, co-operatives, and independent cellars.

Wine regions include the Cape Winelands, which includes Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek and more. Contantia is the oldest, and there are lots of others outside of Cape Town, such as Swartland and Cape Point.

The Pinotage grape, a cross between Cinsault and Pinot Noir is exclusively South African, and the youngest grape variety in the world. However, Cabernet sauvignon dominates the red varieties, while Shiraz is becoming more and more popular. Chenin blanc is the most planted variety of all...

Winery tours – 26th of September
We went on the Easy Riders group wine tour that included the following four wineries:

The highlight of this trip was watching a bottle of sparkling wine be opened with a sword ;-) This was the only winery on this whole tour where we had a guide who presented information about wine production in general and where we got to see a cellar. The wines were OK - we didn't grade them very high. Most likely because we were stingy with the grading at the start...

Yes, indeed. Goats do roam here! And they let us taste the good stuff, not just their cheapest stuff – at most wineries, they only have a certain set of “cheaper” wines they let the tourists taste. In order to taste the good stuff, you usually have to book a special appointment/tasting. Or pay extra, though it's difficult to get that in order if the place is busy. And not only did we taste lots of really good wine, we also got to taste some really tasty cheeses, produced from the goats' and cows' milk from the animals on the farm. Too bad it was impossible to take some of the cheese home with me :-/

Kudos to Enoch, who assisted us in the tastings and with buying a few bottles. He was brilliant!

Dieu Donné
They have a very nice sparkling (Methode Cap Classique/Maingard Brut) and a lovlier wooded chardonnay. Not too crazy about the the other wines though.

The wines we tasted were already set up for us when we arrived, i.e. poured in the tasted glasses, which I wasn't overly amused with. However, they have a white wine called Le Bouquet that was just amazing – everyone sitting at the tasting table with us liked the Le Bouquet. Which was interesting because the others we sat with had very different tastes in wine than our tastes... We ended up buying a bottle :-)

27 October 2006

General Observations, Part I

  • The sun here is very intense. If you visit this area, use lots of sunblock with the highest SPF you can get hold of. (Unless it's cloudy – duh!) Wear a hat. Wear sunglasses. For fuck's sake don't sunbathe!

  • (I guess the whites get it, because most looked stay-out-of-the-sun white.)

  • For being a third world country, the quality of the roads and highways is in general, at least in the Western Cape, very good.

  • However, being in a third world country, the infrastructure pretty much sucks. Public transportation is more or less non-existent. What does exist is generally unsafe. Will something happen before the World Cup comes to South Africa?

  • At restaurants, they are very quick to clear your plate away when you're done eating, even when the other person(s) are still eating.

  • The above is contradictory to “African time”, which is no myth. The pace here is generally slow. On our Robben Island tour, even our guide said “never make an appointment with an African” and said something along the lines of “if you say let's meet in 3 hours, you'll wait 3 weeks”...

  • Everyone says hello and smiles to one another and it seems like they mean it.

  • The vast majority of cars are white. Other popular colors are silver/gray, blue, and red.

  • The most aggressive drivers drive blue cars.

  • Cyclists are typically suicidal, way beyond the suicidalness of cyclists in Oslo. Among the things we saw – cycling against traffic on the highway and cycling with, against, and perpendicular to traffic in the dark while wearing dark clothes.

  • Very few restaurants provide proper alcohol-free alternatives as drinks (other than over-sugary pop or water); i.e. no non-alcoholic beer or wine. And yes, combined with the lack of proper public transportation, drunk driving is a big problem in South Africa...

  • Electronics are extremely expensive here (more expensive than in Norway/Europe), and around 2-3 years behind what we have in Norway/Europe.

  • Restaurants have smoking sections, and the smoking age is 16 and up, but I didn't see too many smokers in general.

  • The coffee is more likely to be awful than not. It typically tastes like warm water with brown coloring, or else it tastes burned. It is possible to choose cold milk or hot milk to go with the coffee, which is quite nice, but it doesn't help much when the coffee isn't any good. I guess (rooibos) tea is the big thing there?

  • Food is cheap, at least by Norwegian standards. However, one thing that isn't cheap is Norwegian salmon, which we saw priced at R 225 per kg. The rand is more or less at 1-1 with the NOK. Here, we pay around 75-80 kroner per kg. I wonder how typical South Africans feel about food prices, especially considering I was recently told by a South African that a bottle of wine for R 50 is considered "on the expensive side."

  • Rugby is very popular here. It's on TV a lot, and you see lots of rugby fields and lots of young people going to and from training, rugby ball under their arms...

  • Umqombothi is one of the nastiest drinks on this planet, but very popular in the township shebeens. It's a "homemade" concoction of fermented maize, sorghum and water. The alcohol percentage is low, around 2-3%, and it is served in buckets...

  • It is not possible to get beer in a regular supermarket, like you can in Norway. You have to get it at a liquor store.

  • There are lots of beautiful houses here, hidden behind high walls and/or fences, some electrified. Some people also use barbed wire. Armed security patrols are everywhere...

  • Parmalat has infiltrated – lots of Parmalat dairy products here. But I chose and was rather impressed with the local stuff. The milk was very good, and the local cheeses were to die for! I wish I could get some of that stuff here! *pout*

BEE and the South African wine industry... and a plug for Bilton ;-)

One of the main motivating factors for going to South Africa at all, is that South Africa is a wine-producing nation. I will get into more details about the South African wine industry, along with information about all the wineries we visited, in a different post. I just wanted to share something I wrote about in my other blogs that is relevant for this travel blog. It singles out a single winery, but hey... they deserve it!

Here goes:

I just read a very interesting article about black economic empowerment in South Africa and its relation to the wine industry in the Western Cape.

This article mentions a young woman by the name of Moira van de Merwe who works for Bilton Wines, near Stellenbosch. Among the many wineries boyfriend of feitpingvin and I visited, Bilton was one of the wineries that impressed us most. Bilton is a relatively new winery; their first product was launched in 1998. They started with red wines and only this year started producing whites. Their wines (at least the ones we tasted) are excellent. If it's available where you are, try it. You won't be disappointed. We bought a few bottles to take back to Oslo with us. I wish we could have taken more...

Anyway, Moira van de Merwe was the young lady who set up the tasting for us. (Well, I'm quite sure it was her; I had forgotten her name. So unless they have several young black women participated in the program in France, it has to be her.) I have nothing but highly positive things to say about her. She's friendly, charming, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. Oddly enough though, of all things, the one thing I remember most about her was our chit-chat about how boyfriend of feitpingvin and I found it strange that you can't get beer in supermarkets in South Africa (I'll save that one for another JE) and her shock and pleasant surprise to be able to buy beer in the supermarkets when she arrived in France... beer chat in a top-notch winery. WTF, right? :-P

It was quite cool reading about her on the BBC. As for the last bit... I think that she has the right personality type, attitude, and knowledge to go around the world marketing or doing some kind of PR for Bilton Wines. I truly hope it works out for her. And that she comes to Norway with her stash first ;-)

two weeks in the Western Cape...

Soon, you will be reading about our adventures in Western Cape (province), South Africa. I've decided to do this trip report in a different way than the "usual" day-by-day report. You'll see what I mean eventually...

I'll start by going a little bit "backwards" - a report about our trip home. I wrote this on the 8th of October, in my other blogs, but it's a good way to start this particular travel blog ;-)

Here goes:

Not quite sure how I feel right now... this was probably the best holiday I've ever had, and at the same time it's kind of nice being back here. We'll see how I (and RoF) feel after getting up at 6 am to go to the g-y-m, with the following return-to-work routine, the rest of the t-r-a-i-n-i-n-g routine, the d-i-e-t (damn, the food there was so good, and the portions were so huge! And don't get me started on the wine!)...

We almost didn't make it back today at all. We were supposed to fly from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then to London and Oslo, starting Saturday afternoon. But shortly after we checked in, we got a message saying that the flight from Johannesburg to London was delayed by 24 hours! And this message was via SMS on boyfriend of feitpingvin's mobile... apparently they tried to page us but we didn't hear anything (of course it has nothing to do with the fact we were sitting in a noisy sports pub drinking wine and watching the rugby)... and then they tried to call him on his mobile but he couldn't hear anything... and finally the SMS...

Panic set in and we were running back and forth between the domestic and international terminals to the various British Air desks, and we were finally told that we were rebooked on a flight out of Cape Town that night and that we just had to collect our luggage and re-check them in. We got boarding cards for Cape Town to London and were good to go...


As much as I loved it in the Cape Town region, and as much as I would like to see Johannesburg, I really can't afford to arrive later than expected and have to miss a day of work. And being stuck in transit like that sucks no matter what... urgh...

When we got to London, we had less than an hour to get to our gate, and of course they only had ONE security lane open and tons of people going through the security check to catch a flight IN THE SAME FUCKING TERMINAL... and of course they were stopping people with hand luggage full of cosmetics, perfumes, gels, liquids, and other shit... and of course all these people didn't know about the ban (after being exposed to poster after poster, sign after sign telling about the ban - you can't fucking miss them. They're all over the fucking place!)... And let's not get started with the people who were asked "do you have a laptop in your bag?", only to stare back blankly, and then having to take their fucking laptop out of their bag after it went through the x-ray once, delaying everyone...

So nice that some people have hours before their next flight...

Poor boyfriend of feitpingvin was targeted for a random search of his rucksack, behind all the idiots of course... I only got frisked by an ugly woman... what a downer... :-P

But now we're finally home. We're relaxing and listening to one of our last-minute purchases now. Beautiful Creatures. We found out about this CD series (Beautiful Creatures, More Beautiful Creatures, Even More Beautiful Creatures) kind of randomly - while driving the rental car back to the airport, there was a reportage about it on the radio. It sounded kind of fun and charming (it's actually targeted for children) so we looked for it at the airport and found it! Too bad we didn't know about it earlier, as we could have gotten it for much cheaper at a regular CD shop in town. Oh well... :-P The song that "sold" us is called "Harry the Hungry Hadeda", which is on the More Beautiful Creatures CD ;-)

(Looks like you might be able to listen to it here - haven't tested it. Let me know if it works or not if you try it.)

I'll write a proper trip journal and get the pictures set up later on, and use a separate forum to do this, as the report will be quite long. I will write some of the highlights/teasers here. Later on of course ;-)

Ooops - forgot to mention that our luggage didn't make it from London to Oslo. I hope it gets here tonight. If it doesn't, I'll probably have to work from home tomorrow, in case they send it here during the day, and I would rather go to the office. And I want my (and boyfriend of feitpingvin's) 8 bottes of wine! :-)

Update: Luggage here!