Eradicating Wine Drinking Aliens in the Overberg

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The past week has been a whirlwind of adventures. The noise and dust from the road repairs to the flood damage in front of our little cottage has driven us out, over the mountain and down to the Southern most tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas. Dry and hot in summer and windswept and cold in winter. We are drawn here by a new wine area Elim, L’Agulhas. We rent a house in Pearly Beach. It overlooks a rugged coastline and the cold Atlantic. The days are long and filled with sunshine, perfect for slow ripening grapes. Also for walking the beach checking out the tidepools and finding treasures. Today the treasure is in the form of shells, in particular the intriguing  flat white spiral Ndoro. These are detached bottom sections of conus shells.  Used as currency in Zimbabwe since the 17th century they are still worn by spirit mediums and considered to bring fortune and longevity to those who find them. We visit Struisbaai, a color filled fishing village and watch the days catch of yellowtail ( Amberjack) being unloaded. It’s a busy place with fish being gutted on the boat ramp, clouds of noisy gulls and traders haggling over prices.  As each boat is offloaded small pickup trucks rush the fish to Cape Town restaurants. Prices are just under $10 for a large fish. We breakfast in a small padstall.  The food and service are excellent. Polite smiling people serve homemade breads and preserves with our morning eggs, bacon and boerwors. I had the kippers, Christina says no Smooches for me. The preserves here at the roadside stalls are simply fantastic. Green or brandied figs anyone? Fresh watermelon, orange skin confit and a host of others.  We are now near Bot River and are on our way back through Heaven and Earth wine route for more ‘research’!  Cheers…

NYE 2014

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New Years Eve in Amsterdam.

 

We woke to another chilly morning, but were spared the rain so we decided walking off some of our calories was in order.  First on our list was getting to the Rijksmuseum. We walked there briskly noting all the storefronts. En route to the museum and outside a bakery door a very long line of people stood patiently waiting.  Unusual we thought.  A little further down the street a young man balancing a tray of small paper cups full of hot chocolate approached us shyly.  “Would you like some hot chocolate and cookies? I made them myself.”   Of course we would and I fumbled for some coins. He smiled and hustled back to the waiting queue.  Payment was not required. We never asked he why he did this simple act of kindness.

Entry into the Museum was simple with almost no queuing. Unlike the lady waiting with us, who had tried to enter the museum on a day earlier; she and her husband had arrived at noon and waited for 3 hours in the cold. The museum was full to capacity and the museum staff were only allowing 100 people in every hour . We simply checked our coats and spent a happy two hours viewing the best that the museum had to offer. Rembrandt’s painting of  “ The Night Watch” was very crowded but we were able to get very close to all of his other paintings.

We left as the crowds arrived but prior to true congestion.

Retracing our steps back to the apartment we walked passed the bakery with it’s long line of customers. I asked a lady who was part of the crowd what the fuss was about , “Olibollies” she replied.  “This is where the Royal Family get their Olibollies, they’re the best in Holland.”  For those unfortunate mortals out there who have never experienced an Olibollie they are small fist size Dutch pastries deep fried,  sweet, raisin filled doughy treats that are similar to a doughnut, but different.  Amsterdamer’s usually eat them on New Years Day, serving them warm with a sprinkling of powered sugar. Danger warning, they are very addictive!

 

Toward midday we started hearing some pretty intense explosions…not huge but certainly louder than gunfire. It turns out that the Dutch like their fireworks. The law allows city residents to use fireworks from 10 am on New Years Eve to 2 am on New Years Day. That law didn’t work so well.  The fireworks started at about 10 am and were still going strong at seven am the following day.  At about 8pm I’m shattered, feeling the effect of jetlag, a power nap is in order. Christina is made of sterner stuff and after a glass of wine or two she braves the crowds and the cold and goes in search of beer.  She fights her way through a packed bar, orders a beer but on delivery is told,  cash only tonight …no cards. She elbows her way out and walks back to the apartment. I wake at 11.50 to a roar from the street below our apartment, a cacophony of yells, whoops, whistles, fireworks and the snarl of traffic whose drivers honked their horns from 11.30 pm  to four am. I watched as a man steps into the road and stops the traffic. He calmly places a very large box of mixed rockets in the very center of the road.  He lights the fuse and steps back onto the pavement. We are entertained by star bursts, bangs and flashes that explode just above roof level.  After sharing a bottle of Champagne we hang out of the window and try to capture the chaos on camera. At one am Christina heads to bed and I sit watching the New Year arrive on a night sky filled, with sky rocket bursts in every color, shape and form. The stink of the smoke and gunpowder and the sound of the various crackers and extreme cherry bombs went on continuously. All bloody night. The money spent on fireworks that night must have been be the total income of a large African Country.  For lack of a better phrase, It Was A Blast!

A blurry night out

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Despite the plethora of Dutch snacks,  a nice Pino Noir and comfortable flannel pajama’s, Christina got restless at about 7.30 pm.  “Let’s step out for a beer” she said. My alarm bells didn’t ring.  “Just one beer” she reiterated…”sure ,” I said, oh foolish man.   We found an Irish Pub where they poured a very respectable Guinness and a reasonable red wine.  Christina was looking for something with a little muscle something like a Martini, perhaps.  Christina approached the bartender, did they know how to mix a martini? Umm… that would be, not really.  So Christina talked them through the process. Do you have a cocktail shaker? In an Irish Pub? Umm…that would be no. Christina returns to our table with a very insipid drink, too little Vodka too much Vermouth not enough ice and not enough “bite”. Conversation ensues. This is Amsterdam. A very important city. We are in a tourist area full of Americans.  Why can’t they make Martinis here? Christina is clearly unhappy.  I will help ‘fix’ the problem. I add a double shot of Absolute vodka and some ice to her existing drink and stir gently. Yes! Christina is happy. The drink is very fine.  We have another two, very fine, very double drinks.  Christina is approaching the point of no return and suggests visiting a Dutch coffee shop. Who’s ubiquitous presence is made obvious by the strong aroma of  MJ. I know now that I’m in deep trouble. We pick a place off Van Rjin Square with loud techno-crap music and flashing purple neon lights that announces we are entering Club Smokey. Two more very double, very fine vodka’s and we need to get back home.  We are within stumbling distance but I have to distract Christina who is by now intent on visiting every dive bar we pass. We stop to listen to a harpist play. Christina thinks her playing is divine and wants to linger,  not me I’m freezing my ass off sitting on a cold granite bench in 36 degree weather. What was in store for NYE at this rate!?  We will post our crazy New Year’s night soon!  Ps. The draft horses pulling the trailer full of beer is headed to our apartment – yes!

Amsterdam!

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We are back in Amsterdam eating, drinking & trying to get in a bit of culture.  Today was much more about eating and drinking, but we promised ourselves to ‘culturized right proper like’ tomorrow.  We are headed to the Rijksmuseum via a canal boat as it is the safest means of travel at this point… the endless speedy cyclists, mopeds, vehicles & trams are ping-pong-processing in our brains like a pachinko machine.  Just when you think it’s safe to cross a street – blamo!  It’s kinda like Frogger on crack or at least level 38.

Riding the canals was beautiful.  It was wonderful to see older buildings still in place and noting when the were erected, most before America was firmly established.  The first stock market was formed in 1611 here – that’s amazing!  What’s even more amazing is that it’s still such a crap shoot, unless of course you’re Warren Buffet.

Some of the restaurants have come of age and are making delicious dishes.  We had a great dinner at Van Rijn last night and were delighted that everything that we ordered exceeded our expectations.  Steve chose the venison-freaking fantastic; it’s a shame we don’t see venison as much in the states.  I had a delicious oxtail consume with truffled ravioli, yes please!  We tried to order martinis after our meal aaaand that’s the only time Van Rijn missed the mark.  The place has a WALL of liquor so I just assumed we could order a classic cocktail.  Even getting an olive or a lemon twist sent the barmen on a futile scavenger hunt that ended in a glass with an abundance of sweet vermouth, a bit of gin and a scant twist of thread like lemon zest. A for effort! Tonight we are eating in at our apartment.  We have a fantastic view of the Amstel River and a plethora of snack foods, some of them classically Dutch.  We’ve just devoured half a smoked mackerel (packaged in it’s mandatory anti-stink cre-o-pack sack) and half a block of hard Oude Kaase with beautiful salty crystals and funky monkey turned butter kind of taste. Prost! Until tomorrow.