Thursday, February 19, 2009

Our Honeymoon in South Africa!! PART ONE

Part One - Feb 4 to Feb 9
Cape Wine Country, De Kelders (Shark Diving), & Cape Town (Sky Diving)

Theme for this portion of the honeymoon - amazing food and wine, lots of relaxation, and some highlights of pure adrenaline!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

We arrived in Cape Town this morning after an 11 1/2 hour flight from Frankfurt (and an hour flight prior to that from Luxembourg).

Photo: one of our first glimpses of the South African landscape

When we arrived, we were greeted by our driver, Roger, who's African name was something like (kiss)-oh-(click)-nee-see. We drove about an hour through the beautiful cape wine country to the small town of Franschhoek, where we are staying for our first three nights. We are staying at a fabulous inn called Le Quartier Francais.

Photos: Le Quartier Francais - the view from the front patio

Because we are on our honeymoon and booked our trip through Phoebe Weinberg, we were upgraded to a the pool suite with its own private patio and plunge pool!

The suite is amazing, with a self-service, complimentary bar in the living room, two full bathrooms with heated towel racks, a fireplace, a private front patio, and a private back patio and pool. There is even an adorable children's loft upstairs.

When we got to Le Quartier Francais earlier today, we were greeted by a very friendly staff, including a woman named Bonita, who showed us the hotel and our suite. We each had a drink (Martin a whiskey and myself a gin & tonic) while we soaked up our new digs.

Photo: enjoying my g & t by the pool

We had lunch at the hotel's restaurant (one of the 2), Ici. Lunch was great & the weather was so perfect, a nice change from Luxembourg. We ate outside and enjoyed the beautiful flowers and cool breeze. We were both just oozing with happiness!

Photos: Lunch at Ici












After lunch, Martin wanted to take a nap, so we walked all of 50 feet back to our room, and he immediately lie down and fell asleep. I wasn't quite as tired (so I thought), so I fixed myself another gin & tonic, grabbed my book, and went outside to soak up the sun by our little pool. I only got through a couple of pages before I passed out too. I woke up a few times to a breeze so strong that I thought the large umbrella hovering over me might blow over. But it never wavered, anchored down by a large disc of concrete.

Finally as the sun started to go down (around 5:30pm, maybe 6), I went inside with intentions of waking Martin up, but I lay down next to him in the warm bed in the cool, air-conditioned room, & before I knew it, I was back asleep. We woke up around 7pm & showered & got ready for dinner at 8pm at a restaurant called Reuben's, which was just across the street from the hotel.

Dinner was great - fig salad, goat cheese ravioli, ostrich steak, and a wonderful red South African wine with rich mocha flavors - Diemersfontein's 2008 Pinotage from Wellington, SA. We finished off the meal with olive oil cake and olive oil ice cream (a first for both of us), as well as a chocolate tart with molten center & berries. Decaf cappuccino for Martin & an espresso for me.

I apologize to those reading this who aren't foodies - our meals, especially in the wine country, were so delicious that I can't help but make special note of them!

Photo: Martin enjoying his fig salad

We got back to our room after dinner & our bed was remade & there was a gift on the table in the living room for us, a heart made with thick metal wire and accented with red crystals, with a note reading "Happy Honeymoon." They had already given us a book on South African wines and a nice sommelier's corkscrew! There was also a post-it note on the bathroom mirror with the note "Sweet Dreams". This place leaves nothing unthought-of - so far the staff has been amazingly helpful & gracious, and all these little touches, as well as being upgraded, have put Le Quartier Francais as (to-date), the nicest place Martin or I was every stayed.

On a side note, it's been nice to be able to speak English freely today & not have to carefully choose words or attempt my lame French.

Quote of the day: "Living in the Lapdance of Luxury"

Thursday, February 5, 2009

We woke up around 9am, had a great breakfast at the hotel restaurant - sticky buns, fruit salad in a passionfruit base, papaya juice, & two cappuccinos. Then we walked around the town of Franschhoek & explored the shops - clothes, books, African crafts, & ostrich purses... We bought a few little souvenirs, but not much.

Photo: shopping in Franschhoek

Photo: a nice photo Martin took of the Dutch Reformed Church (built in 1847),
which is in the center of Franschhoek

We had an amazing lunch at La Petite Ferme - a winery just up the hill from Franschhoek. When we arrived, they asked us if we'd like to have a drink on the lawn. Definitely! As we were drinking our drinks outside and enjoying the beautiful scenery of the vineyards and Franschhoek, the waitstaff took our food order.

Photo: the back of La Petite Ferme, as viewed from the lawn

  Photo: the view from the lawn

A little while later, they came and got us and told us our food was ready. We walked in and were seated and within a few minutes, we got our food! It was a great way of running a restaurant, we thought!

Photo: Martin at our table in La Petite Ferme

Photo: the view from our table

Martin had the cranberry-brie encrusted beef filet, which he is still talking about.

With his dinner, he had a glass of their award-winning Merlot, which we ended up buying two bottles of because it was so delicious. I had the Mediterranean style calamari (grilled with curry flavor, which I don't usually like much, but this was subtle enough for me and was exceptional).

The meal was wonderful, but I admit I ate too much and was painfully full & very sleepy by the end of the meal. After lunch we came back to our suite and took another nap. We got up and eventually headed off to yet another amazing meal at Bread and Wine, a restaurant at the Môreson winery. Fortunately I had enough of an appetite to enjoy it!

Photo: the sunset when we arrived at Bread and Wine

Martin had a buffalo mozzarella terrine with pressed artichokes and basil, followed by a small portion of the risotto of truffle & asparagus, and I had the duck breast with beet root & celery & chocolate oil. We shared the chocolate tart for dessert. Dinner was fantastic!

Photo: risotto on left, duck breast on right (low light, so the pics aren't great)

The amazing part is that meals here, even at the nicest of restaurants, are very reasonable. You can stay well under $100 USD for 2 people, and both have appetizers, entrees, desserts, and wine.

Friday, February 6, 2009 - Wine Tour

Today Martin got up early and went for a run (very impressive!). We had breakfast delivered to our room to eat on our patio. It was very nice and relaxing (and of course, yummy!).

Photo: my favorite parts of every breakfast at Le Quartier
sticky buns and cappuccino!

After breakfast we had a chauffeur pick us up to take us on a half-day wine tour. We originally wanted to rent a car for the day, but there were no cars available, only cars that came with a chauffeur. Well, we thought, at least this way Martin won't have to spit at the wineries! =)

Our driver's name was Monet and he turned out to be a really interesting, friendly guy. We first went to a chocolate factory and saw how they made the chocolates from the liquid chocolate. It was surprisingly interesting and (not surprisingly) tasty!

Photo: the chocolatier showing us how they make filled chocolates

From there, we visited the Chamonix winery near Franschhoek (the French Huguenot settlers named their farms after regions in France), ...

...where we had a tour of the cellars...

Photos: the entrance to the cellars at Chamonix & the tour of the cellars

...and met the two resident dogs - a jack russell and a basset hound.

Photos: our cellar tour guide, who's name I have unfortunately forgotten
and the 2 resident pups, who's names I also have forgotten!

During the tour, our guide mentioned that the winery has 2 full-time employees who's only job is to keep the baboons out of the grapes! We thought that was hilarious.

We tasted the wines and chatted with Monet for a while, and enjoyed the perfect weather.

After Chamonix, we went to the Dieux Donne winery, which had a nice view but was otherwise rather uneventful.

Photo: at the Dieux Donne winery

Photo: view from the Dieux Donne winery

Photo: our driver, Monet, in the Dieux Donne winery tasting room

We really wanted to visit the Diemersfontein winery, home to the awesome mocha-tasting 2008 Pinotage we had with dinner at Reuben's the other night. So from Franschhoek, we drove to Wellington to Diemersfontein.

We again relished the 2008 Pinotage & bought two bottles plus a bottle for our driver to take home to his wife. He claimed not to like wine, but when we had him try the pinotage, he loved it!

As a wedding gift, after we told Monet it was our honeymoon, he offered to take us to the Spier winery, where he had once petted a cheetah. By the time we got there, it was getting a little late, so we only had time to visit the Cheetah Outreach Area, where we saw two cheetahs in separate large gated areas.

Photos: LEFT- one of the two cheetahs we saw and his handler
RIGHT- a kid and his father petting the cheetah

When we told one of the workers that we have 2 savannah cats (one of which is half serval), they offered to take us behind the scenes to meet their resident serval, Baggins. He wasn't a very friendly serval, but we got to watch him eat. He was quite beautiful.

Photo: Baggins the serval
Photo: our cat, Max (on top), who is half serval - you can see the similarity

We also met some of their sheep, a few dogs, and a jackal and a caracal living together in perfect harmony. Normally these 2 would be competitive if in the wild, but they had been raised together and played together like they were littermates.

Photo: the jackal and the caracal in one pen

After Spier, we were driven back to Le Quartier Francais and dropped off. We had a couple of hours before our big dinner at the Tasting Room, so Martin took a nap, and I took a warm bath. At 8pm, we walked to the Tasting Room (right next to Ici).

Photo: the dining room in the Tasting Room

Photo: the (optional) 8-course prix fixe menu

We decided we had to go all out and do the prix fixe, 8-course meal, this being one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and that menu giving us a wide variety of items to try. In addition to the 8-courses, we also received 2 small dishes complimentary of the chef & pastry chef. We got a different wine with each course, and we also got two glasses of champagne from Le Quartier Francais as yet another honeymoon gift! What a wonderful, wonderful meal, but MAN was my stomach hurting by the end from pure and simple gluttony!!

Some pics of the dishes we had (yes, we were those people, taking pictures of our food in a really nice restaurant...):

Lemon poached crayfish tail, Squid ink marshmallow...

...Franshhoek salmon trout tartare, avocado, beetroot, pineapple and ginger "air"...

...Foie gras and chocolate "nougat"; peanut butter and jelly on toast...

...whipped gorgonzola, vanilla sable, preserved fig, truffled sabayon...

...roasted wildebeest loin, aubergine souffle, celeriac, tomato...

...lime tart, pine nut mousse fruit salad gel, strawberry sorbet...

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Woke up leisurely, finished packing, grabbed a quick breakfast, paid our bill, and we were off on a 2.5 hr drive to De Kelders.

Photo: taken on the drive to De Kelder - a view from the pass looking down on to Franschheok

We are staying at the Cliff Lodge, which has a stunning view of the water...

Photo: Niko, the manager, showing us around the Cliff Lodge

Photo: the living room in the Cliff Lodge

Photo: view from the living room

It was really hot today, and Martin wasn't feeling well, so he rested a lot, and I sat in the plunge pool and wrote in this journal and read a few pages in my book, enjoying the magnificent view overlooking the ocean. When Martin got up, we went for a walk.

Photo: the Cliff Lodge (the house on the right) - taken while on our walk

Photos: some photos taken on our walk

It was so hot that we came back rather quickly, and I jumped in the pool to cool off. We played cards on the upper deck for a couple of hours, and I saw a seal briefly but by the time I gave the binoculars to Martin, the seal was gone.

Photo: one of the two resident Irish Setters enjoying the scenery

We walked to dinner at the only restaurant in this tiny town, which really is more like a neighborhood than a town. We weren't expecting much, but the food was great! They had fresh-baked yummy bread with olive oil, and we shared an appetizer of springbok carpaccio - so delicious! It was served over flavorful rocket lettuce with tomatoes, olive oil, and pepper. Martin took it easy on his stomach with penne & fresh tomato sauce & ricotta, and I had lemon & garlic prawns served with rice, which was FANTASTIC! We walked home in a light rain. we forgot to bring a flashlight, but we made it home by the light of the lightning all around us!

Sunday, February 8, 2009 - Shark Diving!

We woke up very early to get picked up around 7am for our shark diving adventure. We were shuttled about 10 minutes from the Cliff Lodge to the town of Gansbaai, near Dyer Island, which clearly revolves around its shark diving & whale watching businesses.

Photo: some of the shark diving boats at Gansbaai
- there are 7 shark diving companies that operate out of Gansbaai

We got signed in and had a quick breakfast while our marine biologist guide, Molly, gave a quick intro. Then got our life jackets, got lubed up with sunscreen,...

Photo: Martin hates this photo of him putting on sunscreen, but I think it's hilarious =)

...and walked down to the water to board our boat.

There were about 20 people onboard, including the crew. Apparently February is the slowest time for shark diving, while May - September are the most active (mental note!). We weren't sure if we would see anything at all, but we were hoping for the best. Our boat was pushed out into the water with a tractor, and we went out to sea from Gansbaai.

Photo: the boat that pushed out to sea right before us

Photo: leaving Gansbaai - shark diving cage in tow

Once we were out quite a ways from shore, the crew began to prepare the chum & get the cage into the water.

Photo: the crew put the cage into the water
and attached it to the side of the boat

The chum line had two big grouper heads hooked onto it, and the chum line came from a big garbage barrel of fish guts mashed with water. Yummy...

Photo: one of the grouper heads for the bait line

Photo: the grouper-head bait line

We waited for about 30 minutes or so, as the fog on the water slowly lifted so we could see the land around us including the edge of Gansbaai, as well as Dyer Island off in the distance.

We sat on the top deck of the boat and waited. After that initial 30 minutes or so, the crew spotted the first great white shark. The shark made a couple of deliberate lunges for the grouper heads, circling the boat slowly between passes. There was also a decoy on a rope that looked like a swimming penguin, but this particular shark was more interested in the grouper heads.

Photo: the first shark breached the water in a lunge for the bait line

The first shark came back a few times, and after the second pass, we had the first six divers in the cage, which was connected to the side of the boat.

The water was really murky with visibility of about a meter and a half or two meters, but no more. So as the shark passed by a couple more times, and Molly and the crew yelled "down down down" to the divers each time, they all went under water but could not see a thing.

When you are in the cage (with this company at least), you don't use scuba gear or even snorkels - you just hold your breath for the brief seconds as the shark passes by the cage.

After this shark had been gone a few minutes, Martin and I went to put our 7mm wetsuits on.

Photo: giving out our wetsuits

After we had our wetsuits on, we waited for another shark to come...

Photo: Martin on top deck, and Molly, our guide

...and we waited...

Photo: swarms of gulls trying to pick chunks out of the chum line behind the boat

...and we waited...

After about an hour break of not seeing any sharks, we finally saw a smaller shark come by. As soon as this shark came by, the second group of six divers got into the cage.

Photo: the second, smaller shark

Again, they were unable to see anything under water as the shark passed the cage one or two more times. Shortly after this smaller shark got bored and swam off, a larger shark came by. This guy stayed around a little longer and made quite a few passes near the boat and cage.

Some videos of this last shark:

This (the last video above) was the closest the shark swam to the cage up to this point, but when we asked the divers if they'd seen anything, only one guy replied, "I saw a tail."

Finally, he passed even closer, and the 2nd group of divers in the cage got a decent look as he passed the cage.

After the 2nd group of divers got this good look at the shark, which turned out to be the only good look anyone got from the cage all day, they got out of the cage & the final six divers, including Martin & myself, got into the cage.

Photo: I hate this picture, but oh well... taking one for the team (and in exchange for putting up Martin's sunblock 'lubing up' picture). Anyway, this is just before getting in the cage...

Video: me getting in the freezing ass cold water (14 Celsius I think it was?)

The water was so cold I could barely stand holding my hands underwater. The big shark passed by when we were in the cage, and from the cage, heads still above water, we could only see his dorsal fin jutting out of the water about 2 meters away from us. We immediately went under water, but even that close, we could not see any sign of him when we were underwater.

He passed by again shortly after that, and we all went under when we heard the "down down down" yells of the crew, and I was just able to make out his tail as he swam passed. Martin was taking pictures and and that video of me getting into the cage, and the shark's two passes occurred right after I got in. By the time Martin got into the cage, the shark was gone.

We waited another 10 minutes or so, freezing and shaking in the water, then Molly decided to call it a day on the sharks and go have a look at Dyer Island and the huge population of cape fur seals that live on the nearby rock "island" called Geyser Rock (pronounced 'geezer'). We got out of the cage (I was not sorry to get out of that water, believe me).

The crew got the cage back up onto the boat...

...and we took off toward Dyer Island.

Photo: the research station on Dyer Island

We boated through the channel called "shark alley" which runs between Geyser Rock & Dyer Island. We watched the baby seals learning to swim and listened to the cacophony of barks from the thousands and thousands of seals.

On Dyer Island there is a huge colony of African penguins, which we didn't get a good look at, but we could see them in the distance, spotting the island by the thousands. We did see two penguins swimming as we were approaching shark alley. After our trip through "shark alley," we headed pretty much straight back to the dock at Gansbaai.

Photo: a neighborhood in Gansbaai - looks fake, doesn't it?

We were dropped back off at the Cliff Lodge to get our bags and wait for our next shuttle to take us to Cape Town.

The shuttle ride took about 2 hours and we slept a good portion of it. Our driver dropped us at our hotel, the Bay Hotel in Camps Bay, which would be our home for the next two nights.

Photo: view of the pool from our room

We got checked in, dropped off our bags, and immediately took a cab ride up to the cable car station at Table Mountain. We bought our tickets and rode up at about 4:30pm.

Photo: view of Lion's Head on the way up Table Mountain

Photo: the top of the cable car line and cliff sides of Table Mountain

Photo: Martin enjoying the ride

Photo: me taking pictures of Cape Town from the cable car

The view was great of Cape Town, but a lot of the surrounding area was covered by low cloud cover from the recent very hot days they were having in Cape Town before we arrived. We walked all around the top of Table Mountain and took lots of pictures,...

Photo: Cape Town in all its glory

Photo: looking around Cape Town with the binos

Photo: watching birds on the far cliffs

Photo: Martin with a sea of clouds behind him

Photo: ... and Cape Town emerging from the sea of clouds

Photo: a cool-looking rock I thought looked like a face

Photo: lion's peak emerging through the "tablecloth"

...then took the cable car back down to the base,...

...caught another taxi, and went back to the hotel.

When we got back to the room from Table Mountain, the hotel had left us rose petals on the bed, a bottle of sparkling wine and two huge pieces of chocolate cake surrounded by slices of kiwis and apples. A nice gesture for our honeymoon!

We made reservations at a restaurant recommended by Martin's co-worker, Attila, and his wife, who currently live in Cape Town. The restaurant was called Paranga and was conveniently located right next to the hotel. Dinner was good, the steaks especially, and we went to bed happy and full.

Monday, February 9, 2009 - Sky Diving!

We woke up very early again and had breakfast around 7:30am to meet our skydiving driver at 8am. We were in the lobby at 8... 8:05... 8:10... no driver. So at 8:15, we asked the front desk to call the company that had booked it for us, and after some back and forth, they called back and said someone would pick us up at 9:30am. We're not sure exactly what happened, but we went back to bed for an hour and came back down at 9:30am, and at 9:40am, the driver finally showed up.

We hopped in the van, went by their main office (Cape Town Adventures or something like that) to pick up one other guy who was going sandboarding, and headed out of town. We picked up two more people along the way who were also going sandboarding, and the driver got a bit lost on the way to pick them up. We finally got dropped off at "Sky Dive Cape Town", out in the middle of nowhwere!

When we went in, they had us sign some forms that included our next of kin, then we sort of sat around for a while before the owner finally called us over. He told us we would have to go on separate planes, and since we had already had a rocky morning and had been sitting around while no one even acknowledged us, I started to feel very frustrated. Martin told him we were on our honeymoon in hopes he would change his mind, and he said "we'll see what we can do."

We went outside and got a burger, chips, and coke because we knew we were going to be stuck there for a while as the rest of our vanload was sandboarding. The owner was outside and told us another jumper was en route, and we would be able to jump together afterall. We wandered around for another half hour or so.

Photo: Martin waiting in the hangar

I walked around back to explore, and when I came back into the hangar, I saw Martin getting strapped into his harness. He was being strapped up by his tandem jumper, Paul. Finally!!

Photo: Martin all harnessed-up, and Paul kneeling on the right

Another older man (maybe 70?) was also there to jump with us. I can't remember his name - we think he was maybe Polish or Austrian. He was a really nice, smiley guy, and was there to do a birthday jump!

Very cool =)

Photo: me getting all harnessed-up by Paul

Photo: our tinfoil plane... ;) j/k

The plane landed out back, and after our harnesses were secure, we walked out to meet it, my tandem jumper still nowhere in sight, but by this time, at least I knew I had one. His name was Jules (Julian), and he had just jumped and landed and should be out any second. We waited a minute or so, the plane ready to go on the runway, and Jules finally came running out toward the plane. He was probably mid 30's, with long blond dreadlocks and a white jumpsuit.

Our older friend and Martin were both in the plane sitting back between the legs of their tandem jumpers. Jules jumped in the back facing forward, and I got in after Jules and sat against Martin's legs facing backwards toward Jules. The plane quickly took off after Jules shut the sliding plexiglass "door" - which open and shut like the front of a roll-top desk or a bread box. The door didn't lock or anything, just stayed down by magic if you ask me, and it was a little intimidating to be sitting right next to it!

We climbed and climbed, 1000 feet, 2000, 3000.... climbing slowly, it seemed to take forever (probably around 15 or 20 minutes), and finally we reached our jumping elevation of 9000 feet. Martin sat on Paul's lap to get hooked together, and our old friend did the same with his tandem jumper. When there was a little more room then, I got on my knees and turned around to sit on Jules' lap. He hooked four hooks on his harness to four loops on mine, and then it was time... I have been looking forward to sky diving for so long, that I didn't think I would be very nervous, but my heart was pounding with fear and excitement as he rolled up the door.

Of course it got extremely loud in the plane, and Jules shouted for me to put my feet outside. I stuck one leg out and my shoe jiggled so hard that I thought it was going to fall off! By instinct, I yanked my foot back inside. I then slowly put my foot back out in the prop stream, and when I was confident my shoe wasn't going to fall off, I stuck my other foot outside as well. I was sitting on the edge of the doorway, both legs out, waiting with anticipation to fall out! Julian leaned forward once and I thought we were going, but I think he was just getting situated. I was not looking back toward him; I just remember watching the propeller spin and waiting... Finally we leaned forward again and we were out of the plane!

I felt my heart go into my stomach as we tumbled forward. We somersaulted once, which I was not expecting, and I remember seeing the plane again briefly before spinning around to face the ground again. Jules put his arms out to stabilize us and told me to put my arms out as well. What a feeling! Terrifying and liberating at the same time!

My mouth was open from screaming my head off, and I felt it quickly dry out in the free fall. The free fall lasted about 30 seconds and once I calmed down, I was able to lift my head a little to see Table Mountain and Cape Town. For the most part, though, I just remember looking down at the ground and at the nearby ocean.

After the awesome free fall, Jules warned me that he was going to open the chute. There was a jerk and we were suddenly vertical to the ground. He took off my goggles and said "Welcome to the world without an airplane!" We looked up and saw our old Polish friend's chute open, and after a few more seconds, we saw Martin's chute open as well. I wasn't really thinking about the dangerous part of it until we were watching for Martin's chute, so it was a relief when we saw it open!

But Jules wasn't done with me yet! He asked me if I like roller coasters, and when I answered "yes!", he told me to grab the handles for the parachute. He pulled the handle in my right hand down hard and we sharply turned right and started corkscrewing fast. Martin said my legs were parallel to the ground! Then he pulled both handles down gently to stabilize and slow down. Then he pulled the left handle and we corkscrewed left so fast I thought we were going to go upside down! It was so scary, but we corkscrewed a few more times on the way down, and I screamed my head off every time!

Eventually we came close to the landing zone and Jules told me to lift my knees and as we landed, to stand up.

Video: this isn't either of us, but for the sake of the blog, let's pretend it is...

Photos: these pics are actually Jules landing on his next jump AFTER ours... Unfortunately we didn't end up getting any pictures or videos of our own jumps or landings... it's a long story, and this one's already been long enough...

WOW, we did it! We unclipped our harnesses, and I waited on the side of the drop zone for Martin to land, as Jules scurried off to the next jump. I greeted Martin with a big hug and kiss and we both had permagrin!

Photo: the plane getting manually gassed up

 Video: I had permagrin, but I hate being on video... I'll let Martin tell the story!

1 comment:

Pat Buhr said...

WOW! I just had time to site down and enjoy your blog. Thank you so much for taking so much time. It is wonderful. I had looked at Martin's pictures but really couldn't tell much about your trip without titles. Obviously a superb adventure. Can't wait to see the rest of the trip!