Cheapest wine on earth

Trip Start May 12, 2009
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Trip End May 24, 2009


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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Thursday, May 14, 2009

After a 4 hour nap, I was woken by the breakfast bell.  We had the choice of eggs or pancakes.  Unfortunately Lindsey and I made the incorrect choice of pancakes.  There were 3 small pancakes stacked, then cut in half.  They also tasted as they just came out of the microwave instead of the griddle.  It's not that my expectations were high, but it has been about 11 hours since we last ate, or maybe I was mad at myself since the eggs were a big hit with everyone else.  The meal also came with a croissant, some fruit, and a juice box.  

After breakfast, I took a peak at the satellite map and noticed we were over land.  It was still dark at this time, but it was exciting to know we were that much closer to stepping foot in Africa.  After a funny episode of Two and a Half Men, where the half man goes to his first boy-girl party, I noticed the sun was coming out.  We were about an hour away from Jo'burg at this point and the excitement was really building.  Amy moved back to the seat next to me from her sleeper sofa and we prepared for landing.

South Africa doesn't have gates similar to in the US.  They drop you off in the middle of an open area and you take a bus to the terminal.  As most people do when they step foot in Africa for the first time, I decided to pull out my ipod and play the Toto song "Africa" for everyone on the bus.  This song turned out to be our anthem for the trip and we listened to it each morning as we started our escapades.  

Once inside, after heading down the wrong hallway at first (more Amazing Race jokes), we got our bags and cleared customs.  One thing we noticed at this time was how nice the Jo'burg airport was.  Everything was modern and extremely clean.  Then we saw the sign for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and realized why it was so nice.  You don't want to have a shabby airport for all those Europeans who come to town.  

There were plenty of flights leaving for Cape Town, but instead of confusing anyone, we decide to keep our original flight instead of the 2 that were leaving before it.  There is a flight every half an hour anyway, so it wasn't a big deal.  Besides, some of us didn't have a proper breakfast yet.  So after rechecking our bags and getting our new boarding passes, we headed to the food court.  It was 9:00 in Jo'burg, but for us it felt like 3am.  There was quite a selection of steak places, a fast food burger joint (named "Wimpy"), and other restaurants we were used to (KFC and Subway).  Although most of the restaurants were fast food, there was still table service.  The large seating area was broken up by each restaurant, and there were host/hostesses.  The host at Ocean Basket seemed the friendliest, so that's where we decided to dine.  Everyone ordered the same meal: one egg, toast, a grilled tomato, grilled mushrooms, a pile of shredded cheddar cheese, and coffee.  This certainly picked us up.  The bill came and the total was 80 rand (at the time of travel, you got 8.5 rand to the dollar, which was unfortunate because at the time of booking it was 11 rand to the dollar) for all four of us.  So I decided to be a nice guy and pick up the tab for everyone since this was equivalent to $9 USD and none of us had small denominations of rand.

We went through security and got on our next flight to Cape Town.  The plane was a boeing 737 and the flight time was just under 2 hours.  The girls decided that more sleep was necessary, while JB decided to read the latest John Grisham thriller.  I was content listening to some music and looking out the window.  Meals are served on all SAA flights (even our 45 minute commuter flight which I will talk about later).  We got a sandwich, but I was still full from breakfast #2.  I noticed out of the window, that the perfect Jo'burg weather has turned into a layer of clouds.  The pilot came on at this time and told us to hang on for the bumpy landing.  Even though it was cloudy, you can tell Cape Town is a beautiful city.  

Once on the ground, we gathered our belongings and proceeded to the Avis rental car counter to pick up our car.  We ordered an intermediate sized car thinking that a Toyota Corolla equivalent would be big enough (and a full size car, which is a Mercedes equivalent, was double the price).  As we checked in, we found that our choices were the Honda Jazz (you might know it as the Honda Fit) or the Hyundai Accent.  JB, being that tall guy that he is, asks which one was bigger, and the Hyundai was now part of the group.  We stepped outside and noticed the powder blue Accent in the F8 spot.  Our bags just barely fit in and off we went to Stellenbosch.

Stellenbosch is a college town that is also surrounded by many wineries.  We thought this would be a perfect way to spend 2 days before our tour officially started in Cape Town.  The drive out was pretty easy and 30 minutes later we decided to stop at a winery before checking into the hotel.  Our first stop was Ken Forrester.  We walked in and there were a few tables set up with glasses already on them.  We decided to take the closest table to the door as we were enjoying the cool 65 degree air.  Although inside there was a fire going and everyone was dressed in there winter coats.  

Ken Forrester is known for their white wines, in particular the Chenin Blanc (which I had just read an article in the SAA magazine on the flight).  The rest of South Africa is known for their reds, especially the Pinotage.  We were handed a sheet with a list of prices for each of the wines.  Not sure how it worked, we all decided to start with the Petit Chenin Blanc as the price next to it was only 30 rand.  Well we later figured out that the tasting was free, and that 30 rand charge was the price if we wanted to purchase the bottle.  My expectations weren't high because I know what $3 bottles of wine taste like, no offense to Charles Shaw if you are reading this.  In case you didn't know, I used to work with (and JB still does) Charles Shaw of which the famous "2 buck Chuck" wine from Trader Joe's is named after.  After cheers'ing with everyone we all tasted and immediately we hear Lindsey say "oooh this is good."  This turns out to be her line that she says after tasting all wine, especially after visiting a few wineries each day.  Giddy from being in South Africa, in a winery, on no sleep, we decided to order the cheese platter and stay a while.  After an hour we tried every wine on the list except for the Sauv Blanc.  I remember this because JB was convinced we did try them all, and after a small bet, he bought me a bottle of the Chenin Blanc (first bet I ever won against JB).

After looking at the prices, you could see everyone at the table trying to do the math in their head to see how much wine we could ship back.  We inquired about the cost of shipping and found that it would cost a minimum of $80 to ship 6 bottles back to the States.  Not really worth it considering those 6 bottles only cost $18 to $24 in the first place.  So I decided to set the limit of 4 bottles of wine to be purchased for the trip.  Two to bring home and two to enjoy throughout the holiday.  

We get back into Charlene (that's what she said), the name of our Hyundai Accent which I just came up with right now (you always have to name the car), and head to one more winery before going to the hotel.  A little further up the road was a winery called Avontuur.  Avontuur had a small 5 rand fee for the tasting of whichever 5 wines we wanted, and you got to keep the glass.  Amy didn't think she could handle another tasting, so we shared.  The wines were very good, but I didn't want to buy my second of four bottles already.  As we were sitting there, we were talking to the pourer (is that what you call the guy serving us wine?).  He starts off by telling us that we should have came last week when the weather was perfect.  We laughed and told him this weather was perfect.  A little cloudy, but the temperature was exactly what we hoped for.  That's when he got the last laugh and pulled out the Cape Times (their newspaper).  Sprawled across the front page was the weather map for the next three days.  The whole Cape area was covered in red.  For the wineries, this didn't bother us as most of it was inside, but for Cape Town, most of our activities were outside.  

Deciding not to let the weather get us down, we headed to the Majeka House, our hotel for the next 2 days.  The Majeka house was nestled in a neighborhood, but huge fences made it seem like it was on acres of its own property.  We went to check in and they already had all of our forms ready on the desk.  Check in was fast and after getting the tour of the facilities, we were shown to our 2 rooms.  We were the only guests staying this evening, so Lindsay (the receptionist/concierge) was at our beckon call.  We were upgraded to the superior rooms, which came with a balcony overlooking the whole area.  Everything else in the room was 5 star.  The hotel had only been open for a year, so perhaps that is why the price was still low at 1000 rand a night.  Eventually others will find it and the price will sky rocket.  I decided to lay down and take advantage of the free wifi in the hotel for a few minutes before meeting Amy, JB, and Lindsey at the indoor pool.  Well an hour later, Amy woke me up as apparently I fell asleep.  We all got cleaned up and headed out for dinner.

We stopped down in the lobby to find out more about the weather and to get a restaurant recommendation from Lindsay (the concierge, not to be confused with Lindsey the nurse).  Tomorrow was supposed to be the last decent day until our last day in Cape Town, so we were trying to decide whether to do the outdoor activities tomorrow or take our chances on "the worst storm of the season."  Meanwhile, Lindsay tells us to head into the town where there are a lot of restaurants including The Big Easy.  She highly recommended The Big Easy, but after being confronted, we found out she had never been.  She prefers to hang out in Cape Town instead of Stellenbosch.  We got directions and headed out.

We drove around a bit trying to find The Big Easy, and once we finally did, it looked a little too swanky for this particular evening.  So instead we decided to just park the car and walk around to find a restaurant.  We see a guy in a yellow construction worker's vest pointing to a parking spot, so we pull in.  He comes up to us and asked if we would like him to watch the car.  Not sure of the customs, JB asks how much, and he replies whatever we want between  2 and 10 rand.  We are more worried what will happen if we say no, so we tell him we will pay him when we get back and off we went.  After walking around a bit, we stumble upon 2 restaurants with the same owner (one Latin and one Italian).  We go into the Italian restaurant called Wijnhuis as I remembered reading about it on TripAdvisor.  

Wijnhuis is just the cutest little place with quite the wine list.  We were seated next to a large table that looked like they were celebrating a successful business venture (they must have found their Herbie).  And the drinks were flowing at that table.  Not to be outdone, we ordered some wine as well.  I started with the mussels, which were much larger than I am used to  (that's what she said) in the states, and the half chicken for the main course.  The chicken was good, but didn't look as good as what everyone else ordered.  Lindsey went with the game platter which included a sampler of gembok, springbok, ostrich, and kudu.  When in Rome.  For dessert JB and Lindsey got the malva pudding, which is a favorite in South Africa (similar to bread pudding).  Amy wanted the chocolate mousse, while I wanted to stick with a liquid dessert and ordered a limoncello.  Unfortunately they were out of limoncello, so the waitress suggested Amarula, which is a cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree.  I saw an episode of The Thirsty Traveler about amarula, so I thought I would give it a try, but only if all four of us had some.  A little sweet for my taste, but who am I to turn down a refreshing beverage to end a meal.

We headed back to the Majeka House, spoke with Lindsay one more time about the weather, and decided as a group to just sleep in and take our chances with the weather (how bad could it really be?).  It was 9:30 and time to finally get some real sleep.

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