Tag Archives: wine

A trip to the Shenandoah Valley

This past weekend, Ewan was baptized (which is worth a whole separate blog post, given what a mess he was during the service) and my dear friend Karen was in town to serve as his godmother.

The baptism boy and his entourage.

The baptism boy and his entourage.

I don’t see Karen very often because she lives in California, so when I do see her, we try to make the most of our time together. This usually involves doing something active and then sitting around talking (and, duh, drinking wine). So, the day after Ewan’s baptism, we got in my trusty 2002 Camry and drove two hours southwest to Shenandoah National Park. I’m ashamed to say that in the almost-decade that I’ve lived in the DC area, I’d only gone to Shenandoah once before (and that was, like, three weeks ago). Boy, was I missing out. It is REALLY pretty, with tons of gorgeous views of soft green hills, forests, and rivers. 

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Karen and I chose the Whiteoak Canyon trail for our hike. It’s a 4.7 mile out-and-back loop, with the option to tack on an additional 2.7 (very challenging) miles at the bottom. We ended up hiking 5 miles — 2.5 miles downhill, passing a series of beautiful waterfalls, and then 2.5 miles back up. Obviously, the way back was a bit more challenging, but the thundering waterfalls kept things refreshing.

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After our hike, we drove through the park and stopped at a couple of overlook points, then stopped at one of the many wineries in the Shenandoah Valley, Gadino Cellars. I told Karen that wine-tasting in Virginia is not so much about the wine as much as about the views, which helps to set expectations. (Sonoma this ain’t.) But the wine at Gadino was pleasant, and we got to drink it while sitting outside and looking at lush, green hillsides dotted with vines.

After our tasting, we made our way to Sperryville, the cutest little hippie river town you ever did see. First, we stopped at Copper Fox Distillery. Neither of us are big whiskey people, but we sampled four of Copper Fox’s products and I actually liked them all. (Who knew?) Next, we wandered around the corner to Wild Roots Apothecary, which sells “herbal products, herbal pantry products and beautiful botanically based natural beauty products.” I ended up buying two oxymels, delicious, vinegary-tasting syrups that supposedly cure inflammation and a whole host of other health issues (sure), but mostly just tasted like yummy salad dressings. (I blame the whiskey for these purchases, by the way).

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Oxymels in hand, we headed for our Airbnb and got cleaned up before going to dinner at Tula’s Off Main in Washington (just up the street from the very famous Inn at Little Washington). Apart from the great quality time I got to spend with my friend of 15+ years, the best part of the evening was crawling into bed at 9:30 and getting ten hours of uninterrupted sleep. HEAVEN.

Can’t wait to get back to Shenandoah for some more hiking — and so glad I got to spend some precious time with my friend!

 

New Zealand, Part 2(a): South Island

As promised, here’s the report on the second part of our New Zealand adventure (part one is here), in which we explored the South Island in our trusty camper van. Since we saw so much in the South Island, I decided to break this post into two pieces, so as not to overwhelm. New Zealand can overwhelm.

Al and I had heard before we came to New Zealand that the South Island was where the really impressive scenery was, but I don’t think we appreciated how beautiful — and varied, and, in some cases, extreme — it would be before we saw it with our own eyes. Although we didn’t travel through all of the North Island, and I’ve heard that the northern part of the North Island is spectacular, Al and I both agreed that the South Island was, overall, way more interesting. If you only have a week to spend in NZ, spend it on the South Island; I promise you won’t regret it.

Not bad, NZ.

Not bad, NZ.

After taking the ferry from Wellington, we started off in Blenheim, which is situated right in the heart of Marlborough, one of NZ’s best known wine regions. Blenheim, like most wine country towns, is pleasant and peaceful. Even the low-fuss campsite where we stayed was charming, with wandering sheep and rolling hills. But the main reason one comes to Blenheim, of course, is not for the scenery or the sheep, but for the wine tasting. Given the whole pregnancy thing that’s been happening, I played the designated driver for the day and ferried Al from winery to winery. I took sips of the wines and got an idea of what Marlborough has to offer (mainly, good aromatic whites, especially pinot gris, plus their famous, grassy sauvignon blanc, which is not my favorite but sure is distinctive), while Al got nice ‘n boozy and had a grand old time. I occupied myself by drinking a lot of flat whites (which, I’m convinced, are 99% milk and 1% actual coffee, which means it’s okay to have ten of them). To punctuate the wine tasting, we also had a great lunch at a pretty restaurant called Rock Ferry.

Blenheim

Blenheim

The entire next day we spent driving from Blenheim to Franz Josef, home of an eponymous glacier. Along the way we stopped in Punakaiki to look at the pancake rocks and blowholes.

Pancake rocks

Pancake rocks

Rainbow over a blowhole

Rainbow over a blowhole

In Franz Josef, in the morning, we took a hike out to view the glacier (you can’t get on the glacier except via helicopter), took some photos, and then got on the road to go to Queenstown.

Glacier in the background

Glacier in the background

Driving into Queenstown, Al and I were treated to one of the most stunning natural views either of us has ever seen (and keep in mind that Al’s been to LITERALLY a hundred countries, so that’s really saying something).

This doesn't adequately capture Queenstown.

This doesn’t adequately capture Queenstown. Like, at all.

Neither does this.

Neither does this.

Or this.

Or this.

The town is nestled among several ranges of mountains and is situated along a bright blue, lightning bolt-shaped lake (Lake Wakatipu), which makes for some truly breathtaking views. The town itself reminded me of a cross between South Lake Tahoe and Vail — cute and touristy. Queenstown is known for its scenery and for its outdoor (including adventure) sports. Again, being a preggo, I took a hard pass on the adventure sports, but I did go on some lovely runs along the lake (while Al did stuff like careening down a hill in a wooden cart — to each his own). We also ate some fantastic Thai food in town at the oddly named At Thai. Al claims his pad thai was the best he’s had in his life (and we spent three weeks in Thailand, so this is not faint praise).

Taken during a run in Queenstown

Taken during a run in Queenstown

Also spotted while running

Also spotted while running

On our second day in Queenstown, we did some more wine tasting (okay, Al did most of it) in Gibbston, located in the Central Otago wine region. Central Otago is known for its pinot noir, which, to an American palate, tastes nothing like pinot noir. It’s fruity and jammy and not really my cup of tea/wine, but Kiwis seem very proud of it, so Al and I were diplomatic in our comments. After tasting at a few wineries, we drove to an adorable little historical town called Arrowtown for dinner. Arrowtown used to be a gold mining town and was home to a population of Chinese immigrants who showed up to work in the mines. Today there’s a historic Chinese settlement with preserved buildings from the mining days, in which Al took many goofy pictures.

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We ate dinner outdoors at a tapas place called La Rumbla, and it was delicious.

La Rumbla

La Rumbla

Our next stop after Queenstown was Te Anau, a town situated on Lake Te Anau, the largest lake on the South Island. I really liked Te Anau; it was quiet and peaceful and, as an added bonus, our campsite had two lambs on the premises (and you could feed them with bottles!).

Te Anau

Te Anau

Running in Te Anau

Running in Te Anau

Al makes a friend

Al makes a friend

 

On our first day in Te Anau, we took a boat out on the lake to go see the Te Anau glowworm caves. Looking at the glowworms involved walking through a series of dark, dank caves filled with dripping and rushing water, then boarding some little boats and being rowed slowly though the pitch dark while peering up at the glowworms clinging to the cave ceiling above. Glowworms (AKA arachnocampa luminosa) are really beautiful in the dark — they look like a starry sky — but, as we learned during the presentation afterwards, they’re actually pretty gross. For one thing, they’re a species of “fungus gnat.” Try to think of something grosser than that. I dare you. They’re also cannibals who eat each other whole. Plus, they look super gross up close. I’m just telling you.

On Lake Te Anau

On Lake Te Anau

Roadside lunch

Roadside lunch

On our second day in Te Anau, we drove to Milford Sound, a huge fjord within the appropriately named Fiordland National Park. Milford Sound is supposedly NZ’s most popular tourist attraction, mostly because the scenery within the fjord — waterfalls, glacial peaks, wildlife — is so spectacular. Unfortunately, the weather in Milford Sound is almost always heinous, and the day we went was no exception. We took a two-hour cruise around the fjord and it rained the entire time, plus it was windy, which caused the boat to rock, which caused me to clutch my flat white and grimace stoically out the window while Al went outside and took photos. Here’s what I’m learning about myself as I get older: boats aren’t my thing. In fact, pretty much every time I go on a boat, I end up regretting it. I inevitably feel seasick, and scared, and spend the entire time wishing the boat would just stop moving, already, which it never does. But despite all of this, I don’t regret taking the Milford Sound cruise, because we got to see two rare crested penguins just hanging out on the shore, plus a bunch of fat sea lions lolling on the rocks.

View from boat, Milford Sound

View from boat, Milford Sound

Waterfalls, Milford Sound

Waterfalls, Milford Sound

On the rainy and windy van ride back to Te Anau, we encountered another example of NZ fauna: the kea, a marauding parrot known for eating the rubber off of car tires and windshields. The keas we saw walked out onto the road where traffic was stopped and peered quizzically up at the cars and trucks, as if scoping out the best opportunity for rubber snacking. Luckily, our van escaped unscathed.

Kea

Kea – look at that beak!

More on the rest of our South Island odyssey in the next post!

Portugal, part two — Sintra: gardens, castles, and creepy toys

For the second leg of our Portugal trip, Al and I took the train from Santa Comba Dão back to Lisbon, and then another train from Lisbon to Sintra, a city about 20 miles outside of Lisbon, known for its beauty, quirkiness, and abundance of castles and monuments. We stayed at the utterly charming Cinco Bed and Breakfast, which had great views of the city and a friendly cat named Jack.

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The first day, we arrived fairly late in the afternoon, hot and tired from six hours of travel, so we decided to keep it low-key and hike up a giant hill to Sintra’s Moorish Castle (Castelo dos Mouros). [About that decision — here’s the thing about me and Al: we’re constitutionally incapable of actually being low-key. We always say we’re going to “chill” and we never actually do. Even when we’re sitting on the couch, we’re both always doing something. It’s a sickness. But we are who we are, I suppose]. So, we hiked up to the Moorish Castle, which was originally constructed in the 8th-9th centuries, which is an astonishingly long time ago, if you stop and think about it. The castle has fabulous views of the city, which is lush and green and populated by all sorts of interesting looking mansions and castles.

View from the Castelo dos Mouros

View from the Castelo dos Mouros

We spent some time up there, looking around and taking obnoxious selfies, then we came back down to town and did a fortified wine tasting at a local wine shop. The Portuguese call fortified wines “vinhos generosos,” and the lady pouring them for us certainly was generous. We tried madeira, port, and moscatel. My favorite was the white port, which I’d never tried before. Boozy and delicious.

That's a lot of fortified wine. Not that I'm complaining.

That’s a lot of fortified wine. Not that I’m complaining.

After that, we returned to the B&B, where we had dinner (cheese, prosciuttio, bread, and wine — the usual) and watched British TV. We had both missed British crime dramas and since Sintra’s dinner scene seemed overpriced and touristy, it was much more appealing to sit on the couch, see the sunset, and watch Hercule Poirot solve some crimes than to venture out into the night. We’re old, what can I tell you?

The next day, I went for a run in the morning and took photos of some of the interesting things I saw around the city, including some weird animal sculptures in the local park.

Frog sculpture at the local park

Frog sculpture at the park

Then, Al and I went to the Quinta da Regaleira, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a sprawling estate packed with unique architecture and carvings. It was refurbished in 1892 when it was owned by the Barons of Regaleira, a rich family from Porto, who hired Italian architect Luigi Manini to design the estate. Manini was, apparently, into some weird stuff, as the Quinta da Regaleira is filled with references to the Knights Templar, Masonry, alchemy, and the Rosicrucians.

Templar cross on the floor of the chapel, Quinta da Regaleira

Templar cross on the floor of the chapel, Quinta da Regaleira

Al’s favorite part of the Quinta da Regaleira was a deep well that you could walk down, which led to a series of caves and waterfalls.

Emerging from the underground cave

Emerging from the underground cave

Well at Quinta da Regaleira

Well at Quinta da Regaleira

We also enjoyed the fantastical animal carvings.

Switched at birth?

Switched at birth?

Before packing it in for the day, we stopped by the Museo dos Brinquedos (Toy Museum), which was fascinating. All the nightmarish dolls one could ever want!

Creeptastic dolls at the Toy Museum

Creeptastic dolls at the Toy Museum

Finally, before leaving Sintra, we had to eat lunch and do one more wine tasting at that little wine shop. Then, we bid the town tchauzinho and headed back to Lisbon for the final leg of our journey.

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Next stop: Portugal, part three: Lisbon.

 

Portugal, part one — the Dão wine region: heavy on biking, light on wine.

This past week, Alastair and I took a vacation to Portugal. It had been on the top of my list of places to visit for years, and since we hadn’t gotten a chance to go while we were in London, as soon as Al got the opportunity for vacation, we took it. (Incidentally, for my insane husband, who has traveled more than anyone I know, Portugal was his 99th country visited. 99th!! We think he’s going to hit 100 this summer when we go to Belize. Like I said: insane (in the membrane)). Anyway, our trip can be neatly divided into three parts: 1) the Dão wine region; 2) Sintra; and 3) Lisbon. So, without further ado, I give you: Portugal, part one: the Dão.

Azulejo, Nelas train station

Azulejo, Nelas train station

In the Dão, we hoped to bike through lush vineyards while stopping frequently to taste wine. That was pretty much our entire plan. But, as we soon found out, things would not go exactly to plan.

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Making the best of things = kind of our strong suit.

Immediately upon arriving in Portugal, we took a couple of trains from Lisbon to Santa Comba Dão, the tiny town where we’d be staying at an agro-tourism cabin. We have no real interest in agro-tourism, unless you consider drinking large amounts of wine to be agro-tourism, but the place we were staying, Quinta da Abelenda, advertised that it was situated near a bunch of vineyards, and it rented out bikes, so it sounded perfect for our purposes. We pictured ourselves biking idly along country roads, stopping every couple of kilometers to booze it up in some beautiful vineyard. I had a really clear vision of us laughing over a baguette and clinking wine glasses in a sun-dappled meadow. What a fool I was!

Quinta da Fata

Quinta da Fata

We arrived in Santa Comba Dão quite late at night and went to bed as soon as we got in, after lighting the cozy wood stove in the cabin. The next morning, we were eager to get a move on our wine adventure, so we asked the proprietor of the establishment what route we should take. He seemed utterly baffled by the idea that visitors to the well-known wine region in which he owns tourist lodgings would be interested in tasting wine. He literally — literally — scratched his head with confusion and told us that it would perhaps be possible, in some theoretical sense of the word, to taste wine, in the same way that going to Jupiter is possible. But he didn’t have any clear ideas on how we would go about doing it.

Wood stove in our cabin

Wood stove in our cabin

We decided, since we had gotten a late start on the day, to just try for a full day of wine tasting the next day, and take the bikes out instead, assuming that we’d pass at least a few wineries along the way. Our cabin was situated along the Ecopista do Dão, a paved biking and walking path that stretches ~50 km (~30 miles) from Santa Comba Dão to the bustling city of Vizeu. So we set off on our bikes for a leisurely journey.

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Fifty kilometers and zero wineries later, we were crabby, sore, hot, starving, and thirsty. We walked our bikes around Vizeu, a pretty disappointing town, considering the vast effort expended to get there, until we found a restaurant, where we shoved food into our mouths like urchins. When it was time to go, I found that my butt was actually too tender from the last three hours of biking in jeans to remount a bike, so we found a bus to take us back to Santa Comba Dão. After quite a to-do involving taking the wheels and the handlebars off the bikes so that they’d fit in the hold of the bus, and then struggling to put everything back together again once we arrived at our destination, we sighed with relief to be back in Santa Comba Dão, butts intact. However, we found that the bus had dropped us off quite far from the cabin, and since I physically could ride no more, we had to walk our bikes several miles back to the cabin, as it was getting dark. Then we got lost. I think the low point was walking our bikes in the pitch dark along the side of a highway, semis and cars roaring by us, with no clear idea of where the hell we were. I should also add that we were hungry, I was cold, and, as I’ve already mentioned, my butt hurt. Not my finest moment.

Ecopista path

Ecopista path

The next day, we awoke with renewed vigor, determined to go wine tasting if it killed us. Long story short: the Dão did not feel like opening its welcoming arms to two eager wine tourists, and we were stymied at every turn. Long story long: We took a train to a town called Nelas, where we had heard that there might be wineries that actually allow people to taste their wines. After fruitlessly driving around in a taxi and passing several wineries, none of which were open, we finally made it to Quinta da Fata, a beautiful winery that, lo and behold, had wine available for tasting! [Cue heavenly choir!]

Lemon tree at Quinta da Fata

Lemon tree at Quinta da Fata

Although Quinta da Fata does not do traditional “tastings,” the bottles are very cheap (and very good!), so they encourage people to just buy a bottle and sit outside to drink it. So we did that, and it was lovely. The woman who owns the place was very kind and gave us an extensive tour of the winemaking facilities, the house, and the bed and breakfast, all of which were empty when we were there. After sitting in the sun, admiring the view, and sipping some wine, we left feeling optimistic about our prospects for finding other nice wineries in the area. That optimism ended up being misplaced, because the next place we went, while open, told us they couldn’t do a tasting because the wines “weren’t the right temperature” (huh?), so we just bought a couple of bottles and took the train back to Santa Comba Dão, accepting defeat.

Tiled bench at Quinta da Fata

Tiled bench at Quinta da Fata

That evening, we sat out on our porch at the cabin, admired the horses, dogs, chickens, and cats that came to say olá, drank some of the wine we had bought, ate prosciutto and sheep’s cheese, and read. Here’s a fairly uneventful (but short) video of what our evening looked like.

Once we accepted that we were not going to have the wine tasting experience we had anticipated, a burden was lifted, in a way, and we felt free to enjoy just sitting around and watching the world go by. I think there’s some sort of life lesson in there, about keeping expectations low, not trying to plan everything, going with the flow, and so on. Lesson learned, I guess. I think we had such high expectations for wine tasting in Portugal because we had done a similar thing in the Wachau Valley of Austria in 2010 and it was magical. As I recall, everything was easy and charming and boozy and fun. But actually, re-reading my blog post from that trip, I see now that a similar thing happened then, in which our expectations, at least at first, did not meet reality, and we had to adjust. Lots of the wineries were closed, we were turned away by an angry ogre at one of them, and it poured rain on us as we were biking. I had sort of forgotten about all of that. I guess it’s easy to forget mishaps in the past because they all get lost in the fond haze of vacation nostalgia.

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Overall, though, the Dão was beautiful and relaxing. We did eventually taste some nice wines, and I’ll never forget our cozy cabin with the wood stove and friendly horses. I’m calling it a success!

Next post: Portugal, part 2: Sintra.

Corsica

We were lucky enough to spend our vacation in Corsica this past week, staying at the lovely villa owned by the family of Al’s cousin’s wife, Camille. She’s French and her grandfather bought the property decades ago (before it was cool, in other words). Not a bad investment!

View from villa of town

View of town, from villa

View from balcony, villa

Another view from balcony of villa

The villa is located in Morsiglia, in Cap Corse, the northern tip of Corsica. This part of the island is known for being rugged, with sweeping views, winding roads, steep hills, and rocky beaches.

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Cows on the beach, Barcaggio

Cows on the beach, Barcaggio

Wind farm

Wind farm

Corsica is an interesting place. It’s a territory of France, even though geographically, it’s closer to the Italian mainland. France has been in charge since 1769 (before that, Corsica was briefly independent, and before that, it was ruled by the Genoese). Although everyone speaks French (seeing as Corsica is, technically, part of France), the island also retains Corsu as its native language, although not many people (i.e., perhaps only 10% of Corsicans) speak Corsu natively anymore, and it is a “potentially endangered language,” according to UNESCO. Corsu, as far as we could tell, is basically Italian with lots of u’s and j’s and h’s. According to our Lonely Planet guide, though, you should never even hint that Corsu sounds pretty much exactly like Italian, because the Corsican people will become deeply offended. The Corsican people, according to our Lonely Planet guide, get deeply offended by many things, including foreigners attempting to speak Corsu to them. (By the way, I’d be willing to hazard a guess that the author of the Lonely Planet guide might have tried to speak Corsu to people and received a blank stare back either because he was butchering the language or because not a lot of people actually speak it.) Anyway, almost everyone we encountered on the island seemed quite friendly and not prickly (although we didn’t attempt any Corsu, just to be safe). Most road signs are in French and Corsu, although we did see a few signs with the French spray-painted over and/or crossed out, which I suppose is some sort of Corsu nationalist statement, although I’m not sure.

Signs in Corsu

Signs in Corsu, with smaller French sign

We spent most of our time in Corsica eating, hiking, sleeping, and lazing on the beach. Pretty great. I especially enjoyed local Corsican cured meat (they’re known for their charcuterie, especially coppa) and sheep’s milk cheese. We also sampled some Corsican wine, some of which is quite good, especially the Muscat. I realized later that drinking three glasses of Muscat a night is probably the equivalent of injecting sugar crystals directly into my blood, which explains why my jeans were tight when I got back to London, but dang, it was tasty.

Domaine Pietri vineyards

Domaine Pietri vineyards

As with any vacation, there were a couple of wrinkles in the trip, including the fact that we were redirected to Milan on the way there because our plane had a crack in its windshield (good job, EasyJet) and the fact that I suffered from a mysterious stomach ailment for half of the trip (but once I recovered, things were great). Overall, though, we had a great time and I’m happy we got to see this beautiful little corner of the world. À vedeci, Corsica!

Cape Town, for the last time

No Book Review Monday today; I’m in the middle of two very long books and hope to be done with at least one of them by next week. Until then, please enjoy some pretty pictures of Cape Town, Constantia, and Stellenbosch. Also, check out last week’s double-header Book Review Monday if you’re jonesing for some book talk.

Vineyard Hotel and Spa, Cape Town

Vineyard Hotel and Spa, Cape Town

I spent this past weekend in Cape Town with my friend Ali. The visit was packed with food, wine, and beautiful scenery and I tried to soak up as much as I could. This might well be the last time I ever step foot in Cape Town, since Al and I are moving to London for three months starting very soon (I know!).

Constantia

Constantia

Vines

Vines

On Friday night, after a lovely day of wine-tasting in Constantia (a beautiful suburb full of wineries just outside Cape Town), Ali and I met two of her friends, Victoria and Tim, for a winter tasting menu at La Colombe, one of the most well-regarded restaurants in the area. I had been looking forward to eating there for a while and it didn’t disappoint. We all opted for the five-course dinner with wine pairings, and it was pretty spectacular.

Fish course - kingklip and mussel

Fish course – kingklip and mussel

This involved corn and chicken

This was a delicious combo of chicken and sweet corn. Nom.

Cheese plate

Cheese plate

The next day, the four of us, plus Ryan, another friend of Ali’s, embarked on a wine-tasting adventure in Stellenbosch, and it was glorious. We tasted wine at DeMorgenzon, and then had lunch (and wine) at the fabulous Restaurant Jordan, and then went on to do one more wine tasting at the stunning Delaire Graff. (Photos in reverse chronological order.)

Mountain, view from Delaire Graff

View from Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff

Delaire Graff – view from tasting room

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch

Hand-picked cheese selection at Jordan

Hand-picked cheese selection at Jordan – awesome.

Springbok tartare at Jordan

Springbok tartare at Jordan – that poached egg was perfection.

DeMorgenzon

DeMorgenzon

Stellenbosch

DeMorgenzon

View from tasting room at DeMorgenzon

View from tasting room at DeMorgenzon

At the end of the day, Ali and I were too tired and full of wine to do much more than order in some pizza and watch TV, which felt like a fitting end to an indulgent day. The next day, we went for breakfast at The Gardener’s Cottage in Cape Town and then I hopped on a plane back to Joburg.

Omelette at The Gardener's Cottage, Cape Town

Omelette at The Gardener’s Cottage, Cape Town

Sigh. I’m going to miss Cape Town. There’s nowhere else quite like it, is there? At least I can console myself with Joburg’s many delights, which include…my TV. And my knitting bag. Ah, well.

Stay tuned for updates on our next international relocation, coming soon.

Detox-Retox

I mentioned a few weeks ago that Al and I did a month-long booze detox, which also included elements of abstention from other temptations, including candy (for Al) and fried food/dessert/cheese (for me). I loosened up the cheese prohibition at the end because, come on, what am I, Ghandi? But I’ve stayed away from the rest, except for a few bites of an incredible mint chocolate chip Magnum ice cream bar that Al bought after a particularly taxing hike we did on Saturday – but that’s another story. Anyway, we ended the Great Detox last Wednesday and the results have been really interesting.

teetotaler

On Wednesday, after four full weeks of not letting one single drop of booze pass our lips, we decided to open a bottle of 2010 Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir, a gift from our friend Ali. We paired our oh-so classy wine with salmon steaks, quinoa beet pilaf, and Super Troopers, which my husband had somehow never seen (!!??!!), a situation which obviously needed immediate remedying. As we drank the wine, we ooh-ed and aah-ed about how delicious it was and how we had missed drinking, and so on. “Oh, wine,” we cooed, stroking the bottle, “we missed you so much. We’ll never leave you again, we promise.” Okay, we didn’t actually say that out loud, but we thought it.

And then, the next morning, I woke up and felt awwwwful: hungover, sick, tired, the works. “Damn you, wine,” I snarled, glaring at the empty bottle through slitted eyes. “A curse upon your house!!!” Okay, I didn’t say that, either. And I realize that cursing a wine bottle’s house doesn’t make sense. But I was upset!

The next day was a holiday (“Human Rights Day”) and we attended a long-scheduled celebratory lunch with Al’s boss and colleagues to mark the end of a challenging project at work. Champagne was popped, and the waiter refilled everyone’s glasses several times. And, again, to my surprise, I felt like total crap after drinking. My energy was sapped, I was vaguely nauseated, and I regretted drinking any bubbly at all. This was sad for me, because I used to love a good day drink. But I was starting to realize that things might have changed for me.

Continuing my experiment, the next night, we went to dinner with a friend and then to Cirque du Soleil. I had two glasses of red wine and felt okay the next day. On Saturday night, we went to a comedy show and I had one glass of red wine, and I felt perfectly fine the next day. Are you starting to see a pattern here? Let me spell it out for you: when I drink less, I feel better.

This was a revelation.

Al and I concluded that our month of sobriety had essentially reset our livers, such that now we can tolerate much less booze than before — and this is probably a good thing. I don’t know why this never occurred to me before, but I think one to two glasses of wine for a night out is probably enough for me. Who’d’a thunk?? I guess li’l Stephanie is growing up.  Don’t get me wrong, Al and I will never be teetotalers – we love and appreciate wine too much – but I think from now on we’ll be consuming booze less frequently and in smaller amounts — and savoring it.

So, we’ll see what happens. But for now, in the spirit of appreciating alcohol, please enjoy this clip from Father Ted, our favorite priest-focused Irish comedy, about when Father Jack goes to AA by mistake.

DRINK!

Wine tasting in Franschhoek

On Saturday, Al and I drove an hour outside Cape Town to Franschhoek (“French Corner” in Dutch), which is considered the food and wine capital of South Africa.  Our plan was to go wine tasting and also check out a few of the area’s restaurants.

 

The day started off cold and drizzly.  Our first stop was a restaurant/wine bar called, appropriately, Bread & Wine.  We got a charcuterie board/cheese plate and two glasses of wine (sauvignon blanc for Al, chenin blanc for me).  Yum.

Cheese plate number 1

Next, we headed to a winery called Leopard’s Leap, which looked from the outside like a cool, European library, and looked on the inside like a trendy boutique hotel that mated with a cool, European library.

The wine was pretty good but nothing to write home about (blogging doesn’t count).

Even though Al was driving and I was free to get as boozy as I wanted, I ended up dumping out most of my wine, since apparently the South Africans believe in very hefty tasting pours.  I think the girl at Leopard’s Leap must have served me the equivalent of 7 glasses of wine. Whoa, nelly.

I call this picture “Ghost Pillar”

After Leopard’s Leap, we checked out Rickety Bridge winery, which had the best wines we tasted all day.

The tasting system there was interesting: you sit down at a table, a waiter comes up, you tell him which wines you want to taste, and he brings them.

Theoretically, you could taste all the wines on the menu with no charge, but there seems to be an underlying assumption that you will purchase at least one bottle at the end.  We bought a couple of bottles to take home and our second cheese plate of the day.

Cheese plate number 2

Then, we headed to Grande Provence winery, which was in a really beautiful space and had an attached gallery full of contemporary South African art.  Pretty cool.

Gallery

Grande Provence tasting room

Statue

Our favorite part of Grande Provence was the fireplace.

Our last stop was The Kitchen, a restaurant attached to Maison winery.  Another very cool space.

Our hosts in Cape Town, Hillary and Alfred, had recommended The Kitchen for having great food, but when we got there (close to 4), the kitchen was closed and they were only serving – you guessed it – cheese plates.  So, we had our THIRD cheese plate of the day, plus two glasses of rose. Nom.

Cheese plate number 3

By the time we drove back to Cape Town, I was conked out in the car.  Al took a picture of me while I was sleeping and left me in the car to go show Hillary and Alfred. Thanks, honey.  I won’t post that one, but I’ll share this one instead:

Wine tasting makes us happy

Overall, I was impressed with the wine and food in Franschhoek, and it was a really beautiful, peaceful place.  As we drove around, we kept comparing the surroundings to other places: Sonoma, Krems an der Donau (Austria), even Virginia – but it was actually pretty unique. We both really loved it.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll be coming back here again.