Wine and Flights

Monday was our last full day in Franschhoek and we had already booked our driver from Thursday and Friday night (Hannes) to take us on a tour of wineries for the day, finishing with a late lunch at Roca, the restaurant in the Dieu Donne vineyard. I’m not sure how your Monday mornings are shaping up these days, but if it’s better than this one, I’d be surprised.

We set off at 10:30 and headed out of town on the road towards Stellenbosch and Paarl to visit Vrede en Lust vineyard. The tasting they offered us was a remarkable 6 wines for ZAR 50 per head. One thing that comes as a constant surprise is the opportunity to sit outside, drinking wine in the warm summer sunshine, and admiring the Christmas decorations. Jarring. But pleasant.


We took our time enjoying the three whites and three reds they provided then headed back to the car. When I say we took our time, I was surprised to find that we had been there for an hour and a half.

Next stop was intended to be Rupert and Rothschild, but it was closed. Hannes knew I was fond of the occasional beer, so he offered to take us to a winery that had both wine and beer. And chocolate. The Spice Route farm near Paarl has a number of different tasting experiences available but, in the end, we plumped for a dozen different amazing chocolates for ZAR 20 per head, and went straight on to the five wines for ZAR 40 per head. We burned up another hour here, so we were running out of time to do anything else. Nevertheless, we squeezed in a quick visit to Fairview. We felt we had already managed a lot of wine at our stops so far, but we hadn’t had any cheese! Fairview is a renowned South African cheese maker and, despite the splendid wines on offer elsewhere, this was by far the busiest venue we visited today.


We paid ZAR 20 to enjoy 6 cheeses, each of which was excellent but the standout was the garlic goats cheese. We bought a small amount of that in case we decided on a late supper that evening after our lunch.

On to Roca, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch and where, I think, we redeemed ourselves for the instagram generation. I had free range, deboned, Mozambican chicken with roasted vegetables, peri-peri sauce, and hand-cut chips.

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Ishbel went adventurous and had a medium ostrich fillet with pommes puree, young vegetables and a creamy peppercorn sauce.


To follow, Ishbel had the vanilla creme brulee with wild berry puree and strawberry sorbet and I went for the cheese board.

Also, if you remember how I raved about the Chocolate Block wine when we arrived in Franschhoek last Thursday, I’m delighted to have ticked that particular box at Monday’s lunch.


I was so delighted, I even sent a gloating Whatsapp to friends back home, which was unworthy of me. Sorry Dims.

After lunch, we drifted back to the hotel in a stupor and made a half-hearted attempt at packing for the following day’s flight. Our Johannesburg flight was leaving Cape Town at 12:20, so we needed to get a reasonably early start on the one hour drive, but it wasn’t a desperate rush. What we did find was that, once again, BA decided we had too many flights on our booking to allow us to check in online. This feels like a fundamental flaw in how they market and sell round-the-world tickets. But I’m still not paying an extra 70 quid a head to book a seat.

Anyway, as Tuesday dawned, we had an early breakfast and headed to the airport to return our Toyota Corolla, which had served us well, and check in for the flight. It all turned out well enough and we were in 2E and 2F. Not what I’d have chosen if I’d had access to the seat selections earlier, but at least we were next to each other.

The flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Johannesburg on time. We made our way over to Avis, which is much closer than at Cape Town, but really badly signposted. They try to make you go down and up in an escalator to bypass the airport road, but since we had trolleys, this was impossible. Eventually, we just went straight out the front door and across the road, which was nice and easy.

As with Cape Town, we had booked a small car and, as with Cape Town, they upgraded us. This time to a Nissan Almera. If you intend travelling like this, it is definitely worthwhile joining the Avis Preferred, or whatever loyalty program is offered by your preferred renter. It definitely makes a difference, both in length of queue and type of car.

Anyway, we picked up the car very easily. I had also rented a mobile hotspot from them, We don’t have free data access here, so this is a cost efficient way of accessing the net and using phones as SatNav solutions. This got us to our AirBnB in Melville, Johannesburg in a fairly straightforward fashion. We settled in and did a quick grocery shopping. Thanks to the business class on the plane, we had enjoyed a substantial lunch so we got some cold meats for a light supper plus, of course, the wherewithal for a pot of tea.

We’re two flights in to the journey and now the Johannesburg adventure starts. Keep checking in for the updates.



Whale season is over…

Planning for eight months of travel to places where, for the most part, you’ve never been before is a bit of a guessing game. You’re never sure how long will be too much or too little in each stopping point. The major flight stopping off points are cast in stone at the point of booking but the additional side trips could be left more flexible. Except for the fact that I like to know what I’m doing and when I’m doing it. So, as mentioned in a previous post, the first month and a half of accommodation were booked well before we left the UK.

Thus it was that we left Cape Town on Monday. I had booked three nights in a hotel in Hermanus, a former whaling village and now resort town famed for its whale watching opportunities. We had been warned that we were approaching the end of the season as Southern Right Whales make their way to Antarctica for the summer but we were already booked for Hermanus so we were going. There’s a direct route from Cape Town down the N2 and on to the R43. Looking at the map, however, there is a coastal route that goes around the Kogelberg Nature Reserve, so we decided to try that.

We took the N2 until the turn off for the R44 then hit the coast at Gordon’s Bay before turning on to what turned out to be a magnificent drive. It had been raining for most of the drive out of Cape Town but it had dried up by now, although it was still overcast. The road itself had obviously been recently resurfaced and its sweeping bends and elevated viewpoints, thanks to it having been hewn out of the cliffs, were a joy to drive. One point to note is the number of small, and larger, rocks that had fallen on to the road. We may have encountered a higher incidence of these because of the heavy overnight rain.

On the way along the road, we saw numerous baboons amusing themselves and had to be careful to avoid some of their rambunctiousness as juveniles rolled into the road during their play-fighting.


On to Hermanus, and we arrived at the hotel at around 1:30. We knew we were a little early for standard check-in time but the manager told us that the room was almost ready. If we wanted, we could pop across the road from the hotel and see the whale that was in the cove there until the room was ready. We decided that was a great idea, and watched the whale (Ishbel’s photo at the top of the page) and her calf for around 20 minutes. The whales made their way off, presumably antarctic-bound, and we returned to the hotel to get our room.

The South African electricity supply company, Eskom, has been undertaking a round of what they call “load shedding” which means regional power cuts. This happened a couple of times while we were in Cape Town and Hermanus was in the middle of a load shed event when we arrived here. We realised this was the case on the way in as all the traffic lights were out. Despite encountering what sometimes seems like manic driving on the part of some locals under normal circumstances, behaviour at non-working traffic lights was courteous and practical with each section of the 4-way junction moving in turn. It meant for some slow progress but it was very safe.

After checking in and a little unpacking, we went for a walk into town. On our walk, we encountered the nearest living relative to the elephant: the Rock Hyrax, known locally as the Dassie.


The elephant, hyrax and manatee share a common ancestor. These are three animals that have clearly taken very different evolutionary paths.

In town, I found a barber shop where I decided to get a beard trim. Ishbel didn’t accuse me of being a manatee, but she did use the term walrus-y in describing my magnificent mustachios so a trim was probably due. Lorenzo’s barber shop did a brilliant job and I should be fine for a few weeks before Ishbel starts again with the marine mammal comparisons.


Greatness and Darkness

Our Sunday started early. We were booked on the 9am ferry to Robben Island so we breakfasted in the flat then drove down to the Waterfront. The area was dead quiet at that time, so we parked easily in the Ulundi garage and made our way to the Nelson Mandela Gateway to catch the boat. We got there by 8:30 and boarding was just starting. It was an easy 30 minute crossing to the island, where we disembarked and were loaded on to buses. Our bus went direct to the main gate of the prison, which took 5 minutes at most, where we disembarked and were greeted by our guide for  the prison tour, Sipho Msomi.

Sipho was a fascinating guide. In 1984, at the age of 22, he was arrested by the South African Secret Police together with 5 of his colleagues. He was held in solitary confinement and periodically tortured for 5 months before coming to trial. At trial, he discovered that one of his friends had died in captivity. He and his surviving four friends were found guilty. Sipho was sentenced to five years on Robben Island for three separate crimes: being a member of the African National Congress; recruiting others to be members of the ANC; campaigning on behalf of the ANC. Although Mandela (whose cell is pictured above) had already been moved to prison on the mainland by the time of Sipho’s arrival, many more of South Africa’s future political leaders remained on Robben Island. Sipho’s knowledge of the history of the place together with his first hand experience of incarceration made this one of the most informative and inspiring tours I’ve ever taken. I highly recommend this to anyone.

Back on the buses after the prison tour, we circumnavigated the island, seeing some of the other structures such as the mosque which was built for moslems taken prisoner by the Dutch East India Company when they were quelling rebellion in Indonesia. We also saw the Robert Sobukwe house where a leading figure in the early anti-apartheid movement and founder of the Pan Africanist Congress was imprisoned. He was kept in solitary confinement on the island and was thought so dangerous that the government passed a law specifically to keep him locked up.

After the boat trip back, we wandered around the commercial hotspot that is the V&A Waterfront. Knowing that you’re on the road for eight months is very liberating when it comes to shopping. You’re just not in the market for anything, unless you’re willing to throw away something you already have to make room for it.

We headed back to the apartment and cooked dinner. Since this was to be our last night in Cape Town, we decided to try to see some live music. Google didn’t seem all that informative about possibilities, but we eventually decided to go to a bar called The Dubliner on Long Street, a seven minute walk from our apartment. We had a couple of beers there and listened to a band comprised of two guitars and a drum machine playing rock hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s. The closest this got to an authentic African experience was when they played Toto’s “Africa”.

More entertaining was the ever expanding street party taking place right outside. There seemed to be a regular procession of minivans with the side sliding door opened, full of young men and women drinking cans of lager and dancing while other dancers kept pace with them along the street. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. I asked the bouncer if this was a regular occurrence. Apparently it happens on special occasions, like end of term or the start of a season. Today’s special occasion was that Cape Town’s Christmas lights were turned on. It sounded to me like they didn’t need much to decide it was a special occasion. The bouncer agreed that any excuse would do.

When we decided to head back to the flat, the bouncer offered to get us a taxi but we were so close and the street so crowded that I thought it better to just walk. We hadn’t gone far when three young men got around us and asked if we wanted marijuana. Some hands came towards me and I knocked them away and hustled the pair of us away from the main drag. The street was quieter here and we made steady progress towards the flat. We were walking hand in hand when Ishbel shouted “Brian!” I hadn’t really paid attention to the youth as he was approaching us but he was now bounding away across the road and down a side street.

“What happened?”, I asked.

“I’m not sure”, Ishbel answered. She then realised that he had tried to rip the small gold chain from her neck.

The kid had ghosted off into the night and the chain and its wearer were undamaged, so we just headed back to the flat at pace and with hyper sensitivity to other people.

We had, of course, been warned about the possible dangers of street crime and, with hindsight, we should probably have taken a taxi at that time of night. It’s possible to get complacent when you’ve gone through your entire life without encountering street crime, which is pretty much true for both of us. We won’t be complacent again.


Gardens and Golfs

We’ve been doing a lot of driving around in Cape Town and a couple of things are very noticeable. First, pedestrians are in no hurry. Ever. People stroll across the road at their own, often leisurely, pace and drivers simply need to avoid them. It encouraged me to do a little research into whether this had any noticeable impact on statistics. It turns out that 57% of all fatalities in Cape Town road traffic accidents are pedestrians. This is something to be wary of if you decide to drive around the city.

The second thing we noticed was the VW Golf. Specifically, the Mark 1 Golf which was superseded in Europe by the Mark 2 in 1984. Not so here in South Africa where Volkswagen decided to continue to produce the Mark 1, branded the Golf Citi, up until 2009.


It must have been hugely popular judging by the number still on the road here. The reason we have a soft spot for this model is that our first car was a Golf Mk1 convertible, which we only had for a couple of years before trading it in for a more sensible Jetta on the day our older son was born.

We decided to start our Saturday with a bit of grocery shopping. Our jet-set lifestyle knows no boundaries. We bought food for two breakfasts and two dinners for the princely sum of £8. With that task completed, we drove up to the cable car station on Table Mountain but were deterred by the queues. As an alternative, we decided to drive up Signal Hill from which we had splendid views of Table Mountain and of Cape Town laid out below us.


There was also an enterprising group of young men offering tandem paragliding jumps and no shortage of people willing to rely on their skills and throw themselves off the hill. Neither Ishbel nor I took them up on their offer.

Later in the day, we headed out to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens  which is a lovely place for a relaxed wander around and is clearly well utilised by locals as well as tourists.

Returning to our apartment, we encountered an interesting conundrum. The flat is in a one way street and the entrance was closed off because filming was taking place in the cross street. We decided to go around to the top end of the street to see if we could reverse down to our parking garage. Luckily, the top end of the street was manned and we were allowed to drive down the wrong way since we were residents. It appears that they are filming a marathon scene, but we have no idea of what the context is.

Penguins and The Point

Friday was our first full day in South Africa and we decided to head out of town for the day. Our particular target was to see the colony of African Penguins that nest at Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town about 45km down the coast. After a false start in trying to find the right road to get there, we improvised slightly and took the much slower, but very interesting, coast road. This took us through towns like Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay, which was South Africa’s first resort town back in the 1860s.

After getting to Simon’s Town, we found the Penguin Centre very easily. African Penguins are on the red endangered list so access to the colony is controlled, with the area accessed through a turnstile pay point and along a couple of boardwalks to either side of the little bay they are in. You can get very close to the colony and they seem fairly untroubled by the humans milling around on the boardwalks above them. Ishbel took the photo at the top of the page, which gives an idea of how close you can get.

Having made it this far, why not drive the extra 25km to Cape Point, just south of the Cape of Good Hope, where you can see two oceans collide. We did that, and were very glad we did. As you drive down the road, there are several signs warning that baboons may be on the road, and advising that they are wild and dangerous animals that should not be approached, and definitely not fed. We didn’t see a single baboon all the way down.

The Point itself is part of a National Park, so we paid our entrance fee – ZAR 303, or about £17 each – and drove down to what seemed like the end of the earth.  There is a funicular railway that runs up and down to the lighthouse, but we decided to walk up since it was such a beautiful day, and maybe we would see baboons. It was a long climb, and no baboons appeared.


Ishbel gets another photo credit here as she took this panoramic shot looking north back along the peninsula with ocean either side.

We decided to take the funicular back down to avoid the toll on the knees from the steps. I was pretty thirsty by this time but when we got down we found that the shop and restaurant had closed early for stocktaking and there were no drinks to be had. What we did find, however, was that the baboons were out in force wandering around the restaurant and car park searching for scraps left by previous diners. We had ticked that box so headed back to Cape Town by the more direct route.

We dined at Charango Barbecoa, just around the corner from our apartment where I had a 200g fillet steak for ZAR 200, about £11. Ishbel had lamb ribs for the same price. Eating out in Cape Town is not expensive.

After a long day, we settled back in the apartment to relax and have an early night. At around 10:30pm, we heard a brass band playing somewhere close by and decided we would investigate. Having been warned repeatedly about the dangers of Cape Town at night, we left any valuables at home and went out to see what was going on. There was a huge march just one block over from us and people were carrying lanterns with 1834 written on them. From our visit to the Slave Lodge on our first day, I remembered that December 1st was emancipation day for slaves. We asked one of the marchers if emancipation was what was being celebrated and that was indeed the occasion. We followed along for a few blocks enjoying the festive atmosphere before heading back to the apartment for the night. It’s always nice to stumble upon things like that.

First leg hiccups

Nothing serious! Just a couple of annoying little episodes that I’d have preferred to do without.

First things first though. It appears I have managed to bury the details of where we will be and when we will be there somewhere deep in the recesses of this blog, so I’ve added a link at the top of the page for easier access.

In my excitement, I set an alarm for Tuesday night at 9:29pm so I could check in for the Cape Town flight exactly 24 hours before take off. With BA, you have the opportunity to reserve your seat in advance if you have tier status with the Executive Club. Sadly, I lost those privileges a while ago when I stopped travelling internationally for work. You can still pay for seat selection in advance but an extra seventy quid just doesn’t seem worth it. Consequently, I wanted to get online as soon as check in opened to get decent seats for the 11 hour flight.

Bear in mind that I bought these tickets through BA in the first place, although the first and last flights are the only BA coded ones we have. I was unable to check in online and received the error message: “This booking has too many flights to check in online. Please check in at airport.” Hmmm. Never mind.

We got to the airport in good time for the flight, and were rewarded with Seats 18A and 18E. Disappointing not to be seated together, but they helpfully informed us that we should have checked in online, 24 hours in advance. Ishbel kept me calm and I explained in a controlled fashion that was exactly what we tried to do. Apparently, there was nothing to be done. The flight was completely full. Never mind.

The flight itself was very smooth and entirely uneventful, which is the most you can hope for in a flight. Big queues at South African immigration, but we were processed fairly efficiently and out into baggage reclaim. We picked up our bags from the carousel and Ishbel’s spangly dobro case from the outsize luggage desk. Onward to the Avis desk. If you find yourself at Cape Town airport headed for the car rental desks, take a trolley. It’s a fair old trek.

Easy drive into Cape Town itself and, since we were early for the AirBnB, we parked near the place and had a wander in town. We’re staying in Church St, and grabbed a drink at Greenmarket Square then went to the Slave Lodge Museum to be educated on the history of slavery on the Cape. By then, it was time to pick up the keys and get in to our AirBnB place.

One of the reasons for choosing this place was that parking was included. We went back and grabbed the car so we could drive into the secured parking under the building. By the time we got back, someone had managed to park a pick up truck in front of the entrance to the garage, and been clamped. We went round the block once more in the hope that it would be cleared up by the time we got back. What was happening when we got back was a vociferous argument between the pickup driver and the building’s security guard, which didn’t look like it was headed for a prompt resolution. As luck would have it, the car that arrived at the building immediately after us was driven by a lady who was part of the management committee. There was an alternative garage available and the security guard was able to point us to an unoccupied space there. At some point in the afternoon the situation must have reached some kind of conclusion as I was later able to move the hire car to the appropriate allocated space.

A little bit of excitement for Day 1, but nothing too traumatising. We relaxed in the flat a little, played our instruments then went for a relaxing dinner in Tiger’s Milk on Long Street.

We’re having an early night tonight and doing some planning for the rest of our stay here. We tried to get tickets for the early boat to Robben Island but for the next two days only later boats are available. Consequently, we’re leaving that until Sunday.

We’re spending a lot of time in the Southern Hemisphere on this journey so we’re going to see as many different types of penguin as we can, starting tomorrow.