Sunday, August 12, 2007

Taking Table Mountain by Storm

Well, today is our last day in Cape Town and South Africa. While we're both ready to get home (and wish we didn't have two more nights away, one on the plane and one in London), we have really been charmed by Cape Town and its environs.

Our favorite, and I wouldn't have expected this, was wine country. We went up to Stellenbosch for just one night, but got very lucky with the weather. Stellenbosch has 180 wineries and is only a 45 minute drive from the very center of Cape Town. What an amenity for people who live here! Our cozy little boutique hotel in town ran us a princely $90, breakfast included. The wine tastings were really fun, and Meghan and I found that we like the relaxed pace of sitting over a quarter glass of wine, picking it apart, figuring out the flavors and characteristics and just talking. We bought a wine-tasting guide and marveled over the vocabulary that the industry has chosen for itself (quaffable pencil shavings!). We started at Boschendal, famed more for its scenery than its wine. We had a pleasant tasting with local cheeses, then had lunch at the cafe. I had a bobotie that was really top notch. Mostly, we just soaked in the natural beauty of a glorious day in beautiful country. Saw a malachite sunbird, managed to identify the chirping crowd that followed us around as swee waxbills (!). Just slowed way, way down. And it's not like we were super-stressed to begin with.

Then, we tried and failed to go to tastings at a couple of other vineyards like Tokai and Thelema, but they were closed as last Thursday was a public holiday. Women's Day as it turned out. We ended up making it to Rustenberg at closing time, but they let us in after some deliberation. The hospitality, wine, and setting were all top notch. Their Brampton cabernet sauvignon is probably one of the best deals around.

We had dinner in Stellenbosch at a place called Fishmonger, which came highly recommended and didn't disappoint. Really great food and service. I'm not ready to take back my slandering of South African restaurants from a few posts ago, but this was a very good experience. The seafood here is really fantastic and reasonably priced. With one exception: prawns. South Africans seem enthralled with prawns, the bigger the better, but compared to the quality of the calamari or fish down here, the prawns/shrimp seem overpriced and are often overcooked. The problem, I think, is that South Africans can't afford their own prawns and lobsters. We have frozen South African lobster tail freely available in the States, and I've heard that a lot of the best seafood goes straight to Japan, so globalization has forced your average South African to compete with everyone from a Minnesota family to a Tokyo businessman for the bounty of their own seas. I've always thought of shrimp and lobster as overrated anyway. At Fishmonger, my favorite dish was the squid heads sauteed in butter. Delish.

At the end of a trip this long, your reserves of wonderment are pretty low. We had an idyllic couple of days in wine country, and if we were still harried New Yorkers as we'll soon be again, we would've tried to extend our time there at all costs. But we're tired of travel and just want to be in one place for a while, have what we do one day impact upon the next day, be with our friends, be in our own space.

Yesterday, we climbed Table Mountain, an unremitting slog of 700 meters to the top, and a cable car down. It was beautiful, though. The cableway had been closed due to wind for a few weeks and so the top was a madhouse, but we're glad to have done it.

Overall, Cape Town has been a real eye-opener for us. It's far more integrated, far more safe, and at least as beautiful as any other place we've been in South Africa. We're very grateful to our friend Elaine for the use of her apartment in Sea Point, a part of town where you can relax and walk around and just generally feel human for a bit. We're a bit bummed that our trip to Robben Island got cancelled due to high seas, but we've seen enough to keep us dreaming about South Africa for a long, long time... and we have to save something for next time, don't we.

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