Monday, 30 January 2017

Wine tasting in Stellenbosch, South Africa

There aren't many things that I love in this world more than a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc or a sweet Rose on a warm summer's day, a large glass of Merlot whilst curled up under a blanket in front of a roaring fire - basically there aren't many things I love in this world more than wine.

Coincidence then, that somehow I've found myself back in South Africa for the next few months, home to a variety of the best quality wines in the world. Even better than that, around about a 30 minute drive from my temporary 'home' is the infamous town of Stellenbosch, a place known for its beautiful scenery, stunning vineyards and the oldest wine route in the country. Basically, Stellenbosch is any grape lover's idea of pure heaven.


Recently, my travel partner in crime, Rosie's, family came to visit and after having such a great time amongst the grapes last year in Stellenbosch, it was perhaps the first to be noted down on the list of things to do.

Waking up to a cloudless sky and a forecast of temperatures expected to reach 35 degrees celsius, we knew we were going to be in for the most perfect day to sit back and indulge in a wine or three or twenty seven. Picked up at 8:30am by Wine Flies, who we'd heard a heap of great things about, we were on our way to the first vineyard of the day but not before we were taught a little more about the region of Stellenbosch and South African wine generally.

For example, did you know South Africa is the 8th largest wine exporter in the world?

Ahh see, and you thought this blog was just ramblings about wine and food and a little more wine?

Anyway. Back to the wine.



Villiera was the first stop and we were first taught about the history of South Africa's wine industry, the process of grape picking as well as how grapes were pressed and turned into wine because apparently they don't just appear magically in a nice little ice cold wine bottle on their own.

Who knew.

After being shown how champagne is created and the length of time it takes to be perfect for consumption (hint: a flipping long time), it was time for our first tasting session of the day because I mean, it was getting hot and we needed to keep significantly hydrated so if champagne was the only liquid, who were we to argue? It was about our health, after all.

Now, I will say that throughout the day, our guide did an incredible job of explaining the different wines, the correct way to taste, smell and overall sense the flavours and you really were given a thorough wine education. I will also say that I did try okay, I tried to 'aaahhh' and 'mmmm' and particularly appreciate the grasslike texture and the herb fragrance but what I could really taste was really, really...bloody great wine.



Two champagnes and four wines down, we were back on the road again and our second stop was Remhoogte Wine Estate, a small family owned estate and my personal favourite of the day. On arrival, we were greeted by the most stunning mountain views, a peaceful natural lake and wild animals such as zebras and springboks roaming around the grounds - it was the most perfect setting you could ever wish to have.

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As we were seated, we were served our own individual cheese board (I know) and each of the five wines we tasted were perfectly matched to each of the five cheeses. It really was fabulous and made you genuinely appreciate the flavours of the wine more vividly (I mean it!) plus I mean, can you ever have a bad time when cheese is around?



Our third stop was for lunch because yes, on a wine tasting tour you do taste approximately 12 different wines before 1pm, and we had the pleasure of arriving at Middelvlei Wine Estate. We were served a South African braai (a BBQ for us heathens in the UK, US, Aus etc) which consisted of chicken, sausages, skewers, toasties, potato and garden salads and of course, a glass of white wine.

After soaking up at least a few droplets of wine with a heap of amazing food, and most of the group polishing off any water in sight in order to...increase capacity for even more wine, it was time to extract our own wine with each of use using a glass utensil to pour ourself a glass of stunning red wine from the barrel itself. Whilst a tad testing for those of us who were not blessed with great heights, it was another fun way of learning about wines and it's definitely something Wine Flies were great at throughout the day.



Next up was Lovane Boutique Wine Estate which consisted of wine and chocolate pairing, so of course, fabulous and the final stop, which unfortunately I can't remember the name of was perhaps the perfect way of ending what had been an absolutely fabulous day.



With our feet in the pool, glass of wine in hand and the afternoon sun shining down, it was pretty much perfect. Would I recommend a tour with Wine Flies?

Abso-hic!-lutely!

To book a tour or find out more information, click here & make sure to tell them I sent you!

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Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Is Cape Town safe?

One of the main questions I’ve received from people of all ages, all around the world regarding my time in Cape Town is ‘how dangerous is it?’. One of the main reactions I’ve experienced when talking about the city, and country as a whole actually is, ‘Wow, you must be brave going there as two young women, aren't you scared?’.

Now, I am scared of a few things - I’m scared of the dark (I wish it was still acceptable to own a nightlight), of rats (because what is the POINT of them) and I am scared of deep water where I can’t touch the ground because I used to be too busy playing with the floats at my school’s swimming class to take it seriously which has therefore left me with a underwhelming ability to swim. Something I’m not scared of is one of, if not the, most beautiful city in the world, home to the seventh wonder of the natural world, to stunning beaches and to some of the best quality vineries in the world. I’m not scared of Cape Town.


Throughout my time away, there have been people along the way who I’ve met who’ve seemed to revelled in telling stories about the suuuuuuper dangerous places they’ve been. Like Nairobi, where we were asked multiple times if we, a group of six young women, were okay and needed help at 11pm in the city centre. Like Johannesburg, where we had some of the best days of our trip. Like Cape Town, where we’ve spent weeks and weeks and never had a single bad incident happen, even when we’re out late at night after a few too many wines. It’s not that I’m saying there is no aspect of danger in these places, that there is no crime, but it’s that when it comes down to these city’s, that’s what some want to speak about first, that’s what they want to focus on. Being a martyr to a place you’ve been with a definite stigma attached to it may make you seem like you are living the ultimate ‘crazy’ lifestyle but actually, it is also contributing to the continuing stigmatisation of a place which in the long term, is hugely damaging.

When I’m asked about the dangers of Cape Town, I can only share my own experiences and opinions on the topic. I’m not an expert on the city, but I am a person who has chosen to spend a pretty large proportion of my year away here so… Is Cape Town safe?

Let’s begin… 

Cape Town has high crime rates, let’s not beat about the bush here and pretend everything is rosey, it does. It’s been voted amongst the most violent cities around the globe last year and if you type in ‘Cape Town’ and ‘safe’ into Google, it doesn't paint the prettiest of pictures. However, it was also featured in another international list last year too, which it actually won… 

…What was it you say?

Well, Cape Town was named the best city in the world… so I mean, really don't let scary articles put you off.

Walking around


In the daytime, Cape Town is generally safe. From personal experience, I have had absolutely no problems walking around the Waterfront area, Seapoint, Greenpoint, Camp’s Bay, Hout Bay, Simon’s Town, Woodstock and the city centre generally. Long Street in the city is perhaps where I’m more aware of my surroundings however there has never been any issues and actually, there is where I’ve *maybe* been where I’ve had rather a few beverages.


It really is a case of using your common sense in many cases such as not having your wallet hanging out of your back pocket, not talking to strangers as you use the ATM, leaving your phone out on the table or walking around with your phone or expensive camera in your hand. In restaurants you are encouraged to keep your bag in front of you at all times but once again, it’s all about using your noggin about what you’d do in other cities around the world.

At night time, it is recommended that you take a taxi to your intended destination. Once you are on Kloof, Bree, Loop or Long Street, the main streets in the city centre, it is, in most circumstances okay to walk along or around these areas as long as you are not alone however if you are not used to the city or would prefer to use transport (hey, who wants to walk places in heels anyway?) then order an Uber - it’s very affordable to get around the city this way.

I have had a few questions regarding the use of money belts - both my friend and I used them on our first day in Cape Town at the very start of our trip however did not use them after that. We found it to be unnecessary however it is a personal choice so if you feel like you’d be more secure wearing one, then like I always say, you do you!


Transport 

Travelling around Cape Town safely is important and there are precautions you must take. As I am solely talking about my own experiences here, I can only comment on being transported by Uber/normal taxis and train. Firstly, normal taxis in comparison to Uber charge scandalous prices so prior to arriving here, download the Uber app, set yourself up and also make sure you type in a promo code so you can get your first ride up to R100 (£6ish) for free. Not only is it affordable but it’s also an extremely safe way of travelling around as you identify your driver by the registration number and your ride is tracked from the start to finish of your journey. This blog post is surprisingly not sponsored by Uber (available worldwide) but I do bloody love it however if you are thinking of signing up and maybe want to help a girl out, you can use my promo code so I get a free ride too  charlotteh3627ue (if not, there are lots of deals on Google).

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Trains are a very affordable way of getting around Cape Town and the surrounding areas whilst also providing stunning views along the coastline to Muizenburg, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town. When travelling to Simon’s Town (home to the penguins) which is around an hour journey from the city centre, a return ticket for a first class seat is R30 (approx £1.50). I have been recommended buying a first class ticket when travelling by train and to try to avoid travelling by train at night time however I am not a local and have not actually taken this mode of transport by night so cannot particularly comment on how accurate this is.

I did not self drive along the Garden Route and instead used the BazBus service so cannot comment on how safe this is.

Nightlife

If you’ve read this blog for a while or perhaps have eyes in which you can see, I enjoy a drink or two and it’s safe to say I’ve sampled the city’s night life pretty well (for blog purposes only of course). There has been an odd occasion (ahem) whereby I have perhaps had a few more drinks that what some would deem necessary however I have never had any bad experiences apart from coming home with far too many McDonalds packages needed for one person.


In all seriousness, of course you absolutely need to take precautions such as always keeping your drink in hand, ensuring your bag is on your body at all times and, as I previously said, making Uber your best friend so you know you are getting home safely. These are all things we should do anywhere we are in the world, whether that be Cape Town or New York, London or Melbourne. Is this city safe to go out in? Absolutely.



Overall, if you are street smart in Cape Town, and South Africa generally, you will be absolutely fine. There are of course incidents that occur with visitors however I personally have only met one person who has been a victim of being mugged in the city…and she was a local. Keep your wits about you, your belongings nearby and just have a really fabulous time here - there’s no place like it in the world so you absolutely will not regret it.


If you have any more questions about Cape Town generally, or even would like to know something I perhaps haven't covered in this post, just leave a comment down below or tweet me - I’d be more than happy to answer any queries you may have.

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Friday, 6 January 2017

NEW YEAR UPDATE

It’s the beginning of 2017 which means #NewYearNewMe whereby I vow to drink 4 litres of water a day, jog three times a week and - sorry, I couldn't even get through that sentence without pausing to reach for a (large) helping of Dairy Milk and sipping on a full fat coke. It’s the beginning of 2017 and the new year will undoubtedly witness me drinking too much red wine before proceeding to vow I will never drink red wine again, make middle of the night trips to McDonalds and tell myself that walking down hill for 10 minutes one day basically means I’m a fitness queen. 

The new year is an exciting one though, and is one that has a scary amount of the complete and utter unknown. For the first time in my life, I’m starting a year and not having any ideas or plans on how it will end and whilst there is so much opportunity, it’s also a little scary. Despite still not knowing fully when I’ll be boarding a homeward flight, the night time brain panics have begun to sprout their little ugly heads, tapping on my temples whispering ‘you need to find a job soon, you won’t have any money left, you need to find a job soon etc etc’. Sometimes I can flick them away, turn over and fall into a peaceful slumber and sometimes I remain awake for half of the night wondering exactly what I’ll be doing five years from now, chronically unemployed and homeless. Swings and roundabouts, hey? 

For the next few months however, there is, for once on this trip, a plan in place and even better than that, one that will most certainly be stuck too. (Stop laughing, it actually will this time - I SAID STOP IT.) At the beginning of my year away, Cape Town stole my heart and despite being lucky enough to travel to a number of other places across the world, now where even came close. After a shocker of a time with the Working Holiday Visa in Australia, flights were tipsily booked to Nairobi because well, I’m here for a good time, not a long time and if following my heart and taking a leap of faith into the unknown meant I’d be arriving home a few weeks, or months earlier, then so be it. 

That flight booking to Nairobi was done with the intention of coming back to Cape Town, where I am as I write this post. We didn’t know how long we’d be staying - we didn’t know much at all actually - but we did know that it’s where we wanted to be, it’s where we simply had to come back. Whilst hammering Google on how the flipping flip you can travel around and save or make money, we came across Workaway, a work exchange website which allows people to find hostels, charities and other organisations all over the world who need their skills, expertise and hard work in exchange for accommodation and sometimes, food. This is how we found our next endeavour and the dream of spending my last few months travelling in Cape Town became a reality.

YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY. 

To have the opportunity to be able to begin and end one of the best periods of my life so far in a place that I absolutely love is a huge privilege. I may not develop any kind of tan whatsoever despite being here in the height of their summer, I may not lose any of my ‘holiday weight’ that I’ve been pretending is holiday weight for the last eight months but is actually wine-and-fried-chicken-five-nights-a-week weight but spending three months in my favourite city in the world, having the time of my life sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. 

Here’s to living life in the now and remembering that things always work out in the end. As my beloved grandma has always said to me, ‘there’s always a way round it’. 

What do you have planned for 2017? Stay tuned for a heap of posts on all things Cape Town!


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