Day 3 Cape Town & Winelands Tour
Ben, August 18, 2010
We spent most of the day yesterday traveling from Johannesburg to Cape Town. The trip was relatively painless and I wish that US airlines would take note from the South Africans about how many people should be staffed at airline desks. Security was much more lax than in America (perhaps unsurprisingly) -- no taking out liquids, no taking off shoes or coats, etc. We arrived in Cape Town and got into our hotel around 6:00PM. Our hotel is incredible. We are staying at a small boutique hotel (probably 6-8 rooms) in what seems to be a converted house. Nevertheless, it is incredibly luxurious and far beyond what we were expecting for accomodations. We got dinner at the V&A (Victoria & Alfred) waterfront last night at a place called Sevruga (I think that spelling is correct). It was a delicious dinner -- steak, seafood and a delicious bottle of wine, all for about 350 Rand (about $50US). When you read about South Africa, you frequently read that it is a 1st world country/infrastructure in a 3rd world setting (or something to that effect). This is something that you definitely begin to appreciate or understand while you're here. You will see pockets of extreme poverty, and then you will get dropped in a luxurious hotel and have an incredible dinner. This may be due primarily to our experience so far, but I definitely get the impression that there is very little middle ground in this area. We will ask for dinner recommendations for somewhere 'not too pricey, where we can wear jeans.' This will end with us in a nice restaurant eating steak and drinking wine.

We spent the majority of today on a Cape Winelands tour. It ended up being a private tour for the two of us where we had three different wine tastings. We started in Stellenbosch, which is the most well known wine region in SA. We had a rather early (~10:00AM) tasting at Kannonkop, where we had our first Pinotage wine. It is definitely a different varietal and taste, but we enjoyed it. Next, we went to the Paarl region where we had a tasting and cellar tour at Seidelberg. Our guide there was excellent and gave us a great overview of how their process works. For lunch, we went to a farm called Dieu Donne, where we had steak, zebra, and some more wine while overlooking the winelands and mountains. While this was described to us as a farm, it was again a modern and luxurious restaurant. We then had a quick, rainy walk through the town of Franschhoek  and ended with a champagne tasting at Grahm Beck. Grahm Beck champagne was apparently used at Nelson Mandela's inauguration as South Africa's president, as well as at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

We spent a large portion of our time talking with our tour guide about South Africa and their culture. Pam and I both really enjoy hearing about local culture, opinions and pursuasions, so this was a welcome aspect of the tour. I was surprised to hear our guide claim that South Africans prefer to keep to themselves. He said that they typically prefer to tend to their own problems instead of those of the rest of the continent. At the same time, I've gotten the impression that South Africans are very, very proud of themselves and their country. Years of international isolation forced the country to become relatively self-sufficient. Nuclear power and the world's first heart transplant are two quick acheivements that come to mind. Our guide today also said that he felt that Africa would be completely unrivaled in the world if they could organize properly, due to the abundance of natural resources (oil, diamonds, etc.). Not sure if I entirely agree, but it was definitely interesting to hear that opinion/perspective.

Comment from Pam:

Sorry I am a day late on this one. Ben wrote the post above alone last night while I slept off the LARGE tastings of wine we had all day! Apparently my tolerance is not enough to handle the South African winelands. Anyways, I just wanted to note, that this trip has made me a lover of S. African wines. While the Pinotage may take some getting used to (and as Carl, our tour guide states, Kanonkop Winery has some of the good stuff in terms of Pinotage), the Merlots from Franschhoek are delicious!! I never enjoyed Merlot until I made it to this country - and now I think I'll be drinking it for life!! The other thing Ben didn't point out was the incredible difference in temperature, sunlight, precipitation, etc. from Cape Town to the Winelands (only a short 30 minute drive away). It is truly crazy how mountains can keep the heat from the coast away, or protect the area from the cold of the coast. Apparently, this temperature/climate difference is so drastic that you can turn a corner in the winelands, and find the next winery's wine/grapes taste totally different than the winery's wine you just tasted. Amazing! I really just never understood how much plays into that little bottle of wine. The whole day was really insightful!!
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