Jay's 50th Birthday Surprise

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This story starts in mid-December with Nicole & Jay living in Israel. They were supposed to visit Thailand during December to celebrate Jay's birthday ... but the trip was cancelled because the Bangkok airport was closed by protesters.  They were sad that their 3-week vacation was cancelled ...
... but Nicole had some other plans brewing!

Sunday, December 14th

Our fridge was getting low on food, so we agreed to make a shopping run in the afternoon.  After breakfast I worked on projects and at 2pm I asked Nicole when she wanted to go shopping.  She had been working on a shopping list, and she asked me to give it a review ... it read:

You have 2 hours to pack enough items for a 6-day trip; include:
- A pair of dressy long pants, a few pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and a swim suit
- Your golf affiliation card and any apparel you need for golfing 
- Your second passport

After a bit of confusion, I realized that she had pulled a good surprise on me. 
I numbly began to arrange a suitcase of stuff for a trip to ???

I reviewed the packing list again and tried to figure out where we might be going. It was obvious we were heading someplace warm that has golf courses ... but many places offer that.  

The major clue had to be "take your second passport".  This meant we were going to an Arab country which wouldn't accept my normal passport, since it has an entry stamp from Israel.

The Arab countries of Egypt, Turkey and Jordan have diplomatic relations with Israel and wouldn't care about stamps.

The only remaining 'safe' Arab countries include Dubai, Bahrain or Qatar ... one of which was our logical destination! 

Our friend Sandra gave us a ride to the airport; she laughed at me the whole way, but offered no destination info. As we checked in I still couldn't get any clues.  We were flying on El Al, the Israeli Airline, and everything on their displays was in Hebrew ... dang!

The security people X-rayed our luggage.  They asked Nicole to open up her suitcase so they could see an 'item of interest' ... a thick book.  As the guy produced the book, I recognized the cover and immediately knew where we were going ... not what I had expected!

For most of you that don't recognize the book ... it's a "wine guide" covering South African vineyards ... which meant we were going back to visit one of our favorite places in the world ... Cape Town!

The clue of "taking another passport" was just to confuse me!

We lived in South Africa from 2001-04 and it still ranks as a top retirement possibility ... some day! 

Anyway, we boarded the flight and took off for Johannesburg, which was a 9-hour night flight.

The most interesting thing about our route was that El Al couldn't fly in the air space above an Arab country.  This meant that we had to fly along the Red Sea and enter the African continent over Ethiopia and then Kenya.

We arrived into Jo-burg as the sun came up on Monday, December 15th.  We then took a domestic flight to Cape Town ... landing in the mid-afternoon. 

After landing we made the familiar trip to Avis for our rental car.  Normally there would be no cars available at this time of year ... but due to the economic crisis, many cars were available.

Our vacation centered around the general Cape Town area, which is shown to the right.

We spent most our time at the Waterfront, where Nicole had arranged our lodging.

We also visited beaches, toured wineries, hung out in the City Center, saw views from Signal Hill and played a round of golf ... 

... as you shall see below!

The Waterfront is Cape Town's most important tourism site. It combines an industrial port, fishing port, cruise ship dock and pleasure boat marina together into a unique blend.

To support the many tourists, there is a large mall and many other shops & restaurants. 

There are a few hotels and a relatively new place called the Waterfront Village.  The village consists of about 20 buildings, each contain luxury apartments.

They were just beginning to build the village when we lived here a few years ago ... and that's why Nicole made it a special point to stay there on this trip.

The picture above is taken from Signal Hill; the Waterfront area is in the center.  Green Point is to the left and the industrial port is to the right.  Across the bay is the 'Table View' beach.

Nicole rented an apartment in the Waterfront Village; our building is somewhere near the center of the picture to the right.  There was still quite a bit of construction going on, with the goal of having everything completed by early next year.


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The apartment had a combined living/dining room, full kitchen and big bedroom; plenty of space for us! The balcony was at ground level and looked upon the water canal; there was plenty of security too!

We walked to the mall area for dinner and to see what had changed in the past few years.  Looking back we could see 'The Village', backed by a nice view of Table Mountain (left) and Signal Hill (right).

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Nicole always enjoyed the sea lions and we were happy to see they were still around ... making funny noises and stinking up the place!

To the right is the result of our initial shopping expedition ... the wines in South Africa taste great and are a good value.  The total cost for 11 bottles (including Amarula) came to only $60 !

We enjoyed a bottle of wine while we documented the many things we wanted to see or do during this trip.  The next morning our vacation kicked into high gear!


***  Tuesday, December 16  -  Jay's Birthday!  ***   

We assessed the weather and I decided that I'd like to spend my 'special day' at the beach ... it was supposed to be a glorious day!

We ventured through traffic and got to Clifton Beach ... the upper beach in the image to the right.

The Clifton area is one of the richest places in South Africa ... boasting multi-million $$ condos and beach-front cottages.

Behind the beach rises Lion's Head ... which is a steep, barren mountain that has lots of hiking trails. What a wonderful place to sit back and relax at!

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We set up camp and proceeded to 'chill out'.  The beach was crowded, as the school holidays had begun.  The only problem occurred when we got into trouble with the police, as we didn't realize alcohol was no longer allowed on the beach ... one bottle of wine had to be poured out  :(

After baking ourselves during the afternoon, we had dinner at a favorite place of ours called La Med.  We enjoyed a great sunset ... but you will have to trust me on that, as the camera battery died on me!

***  Wednesday, December 17  ***  

This day began with a drive to the Constantia area to buy tickets for an outdoor concert on Sunday. We also visited a golf course, a winery and shopped at Jay's favorite sports mega-store.

We then went out to Helderberg, a wine region we had visited many times over the years.  

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The wine country is South Africa is breath-takingly beautiful ... and only 30 minutes from Cape Town!

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The climate is this part of the country is hot/dry during the day and cool at night; perfect for grapes!

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The vineyards are quite big and employ many people. There are so many people looking for work that wages are low, which allows them to produce low-cost wines.  New "black-empowerment laws" help motivate workers by giving them an equity share of the wine they produce; a win-win situation!


Overall, the working conditions in this area are not bad at all.
Can you tell why these 'workers' don't have to be paid?

They do a good job of scaring away the birds, and making the tourists laugh.


After visiting a few wineries we ended up in Stellenbosh at a place called Spiers.  This was also a favorite of ours ... not so much for the wine, but for the nice picnic area.

We walked around, fed the ducks and then took a much-needed nap in the lush grass.

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We decided to stay at the Spiers estate and eat dinner at Moyo's, which offers a unique African BBQ buffet under a big decorative tent.  The normal-type offerings of beef, chicken & fish was available ... but the treat was the ability to try local game ... springbok, warthog, buffalo, etc. - great stuff!

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The employees were dressed in traditional outfits and periodically performed skits and dances. 
The music, decorations and outdoorsy atmosphere made this a truly unique experience!

***  Thursday, December 18  ***

Today was another glorious day, so we decided to head out for another day of wine tasting.

This time we went north to Paarl and Wellington, where Nicole selected a few more vineyards for us to visit.

To us, the most unique of all South African wines comes from a winery named Diemersfontein.

The ground has a special mineral content, which gives their flagship wine (called pinotage) a unique smoky, chocolate flavor.

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The vineyard lands were well-maintained and the winery area was clad with flowers and trees.

18a-WineTasting10 After tasting, and purchasing a few bottles to take home, we walked around the estate.

The picnic area was set up with live music and a big braii (BBQ).

The South Africans really know how to live comfortably!


Using the "wine guide" that Nicole brought along, we drove along various roads and stopped at places that had either good wines or interesting estates. In total, there are over 200 wineries to choose from!  

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Fairview has a famous 'goat tower' and almost 750 goats.  Their wine center had already closed, but many of their unique goat-milk cheeses were available for us to sample; a nice tasty snack! 

18a-WineTasting54 After visiting Backsberg and Rothschild, we picked Seidelberg as our final stop ... which was known for having interesting pets.

Nicole immediately made friends with a big furry dog, which was actually bigger than she was!


The wine tasting was held in the cellar, where they stored all the wine that needed to age.

Most wine being made today is called 'new world' and is not stored in barrels for very long. For this reason it is priced lower, but needs to be consumed quicker ... no problem for us!

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This was the last wine tasting planned for this vacation, so we went outside to enjoy the fresh air and the view.  The Cape wine region is a blend of the best places in the world ... we love every aspect!

Nicole also commented how refreshing it was to be back where you get good service as the norm.  In South Africa, the workers seem to really care about your experience ... we cannot think of any place where the service wasn't top-notch.  Add in the high product quality and the low price ... South Africa is quite the value!


We decided to have dinner along the coast, which was quite a distance away. Luckily the highway system is quite good and it never takes too long to travel anywhere.

We drove to the Table View area, which is across the bay from Cape Town and the Waterfront.   

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It was very windy and the beach was deserted, except for the entertaining kite-surfers ... whew!

We got settled just in time for a toast to a great sunset over Signal Hill, which looked like a volcano ... wow, good timing!

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A puppy trying to catch up with mom; these people love dogs! The new stadium should be done in time for the 2010 World Cup. A close-up silhouette of the trees on top of Signal Hill.

The fog that is rolling over Table Mountain is quite common and is referred to as the "Tablecloth".
Our favorite ocean-side restaurant was fully-booked, so we returned to the Waterfront and enjoyed dinner there once again ... and Nicole got another chance to say hello to the sea lions!

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