Saturday, 14 January 2017

Wine Tasting in the Cape Winelands, South Africa

Pouring red wine

My relationship with wine is long but probably not overly complicated. In my student days I indulged a bit too enthusiastically in the boxed variety; glugging vinegar-y whites with the sole purpose of improving my dance moves. In the last few years I've discovered an appreciation of red wine, but my knowledge of what I like exactly is pretty limited. Essentially I know what I like when I try it, but it's kind of hit and miss. 

Fairview wine estate, south africa

The thing is, when I travel to a country I want to sample whatever produce it's famous for, and South Africa is known for its wine. Although in no way a connoisseur, I wanted to understand exactly what it is that I enjoy in a wine so I'm not blindly guessing next time I'm in a restaurant. Myself and a friend joined African Story Tours for a day exploring the vineyards of the Cape Winelands - starting only about 20 minutes from Cape Town.


Woman with giant bottle of wine

The two main areas in the region are Stellenbosch and Paarl, and we skimmed both in order to get a wide sampling opportunity. With four vineyards to cover, and each providing six wines to try, we started drinking at around 10.30am. Now don't get this confused with a lads-on-tour booze cruise; the emphasis is on enjoying quality and not on getting annihilated. Samples are not an entire glass and spitoons are provided if you'd rather swill and dispose. 

Glass of white wine

Outdoor sampling area at Fairview vineyard, south africa

We visited Anura Wine, Kanonkop, Backsberg and Fairview each varying in size and offering; all of them sat on estates that you could happily roam on a sunny afternoon. Although the staff at each vineyard (as well as our super friendly and enthusiastic guide James) were all clearly passionate about wine, the mood was never pretentious, as tourism is so paramount to these areas that being picky with clientele would be massively counter-productive. 

Anura Wines, South Arica

Kanonkop vineyard menu

Backsberg vineyard, south africa

Fairview vineyard, south africa

As well as sampling a few of the famous South African pinotage varieties, plus more well known bottles like cabernet sauvignon and shiraz, we also had a few different options. Two of my favourites were a MCC (SA fizz akin to champagne) and a brandy tasting - both at Backsberg.

Phrase about Pinotage

Backsberg MCC

The day finished at beautiful Fairview - one of the biggest vineyards in the region. It's home to some rather adorable goats, whose milk is used in the goats cheese which features in the awesome wine and cheese pairing menu on offer. 

White wine and goats cheese

Goats on Fairview vineyard

We didn't get to explore the town of Stellenbosch itself sadly, but having somebody drive you from vineyard to vineyard is definitely the way to do wine tasting! And anyway, it's cultural, right?!


Thursday, 12 January 2017

Three Places to Embrace Your Sweet Tooth in Sydney

Tella ball freakshakes from Foodcraft Espresso, Sydney

One of my overwhelming impressions of Sydney is how health conscious it is. Maybe it's because both times I've been I've stayed in Bondi which, although beautiful, has more places to eat avocado on rye than you can shake a stick at. One of my best friends is fellow foodie Phoebe, who is a model and lives in Sydney. She may have to maintain her figure for her job, but she still loves dessert more than anyone I know and we had plans for over-indulgences in both Tasmania and Melbourne whilst I was in Australia; but first we hit up her adopted home city for some sweet treats:

Muffins at Jackie's Cafe

Blueberry and ricotta muffin

Terraced houses in Paddington, Sydney

Street art in Paddington, Sydney

The impact of British colonialism is massively apparent in Sydney through its place names. Jackie's Cafe is located off Oxford Street in the city's area of Paddington and is tucked away next to quaint but obviously hideously expensive terraced houses, opposite independent boutiques and surrounded by fascinating book shops.

I ordered the infamous blueberry and ricotta muffin to go with my coffee, and despite having not caught up properly with Phoebe in almost a year, I had to stop talking to her for a moment when I started eating. The ricotta makes the muffin beautifully soft, and meant the butter on the side was surplus to requirements. It wasn't dry in the slightest, and the blueberries burst with each bite giving a tart sweetness. 

Freakshakes at Foodcraft Espresso

Foodcraft Espresso menu

Icebreaker shake freakshake

Woman drinking salted caramel freakshake

Woman with nutella and ice cream freakshake

Australia is the home of freakshakes. They originate in Canberra which wasn't on my itinerary for this trip, so I made it my mission to find one in Sydney and Foodcraft Espresso kept hitting the top of every search I made. We went for their famous Tella Ball shakes, a milkshake topped with a doughnut ball of Nutella and a straw stuck through the middle. 

Phoebe went for the salted caramel option which was sweet enough but I went one bigger and ordered the Icebaker Shake. This monster is a Nutella milkshake topped with an ice cream doughnut and praline cone. It's an unholy amount of calories and put me straight into a food coma but every bite was entirely worth the inevitable future dental bills I'll now be incurring.

Doughnuts at Doughnut Time

Doughnut Time shop, Bondi

Doughnut Time store front, Bondi

Doughnut Time box

Doughnut Time jam doughnut

This cute little hole-in-the-wall a stone's throw from Bondi Beach is part of a chain of stores throughout Australia. Their weekly changing menu at Doughnut Time ensures there's always something new to try and they also provide a number of vegan options as well. I went for a classic jam variety because I think it always shows the true quality of a doughnut store without it hiding under sprinkles and toppings. It was literally jam-packed; the filling squirting all down my front from the first bite. I inhaled it whilst sat on the beach, soaking up sugar and sunshine simultaneously. What a treat.


Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The Islands of Hong Kong: a Photo Diary

Having been to Hong Kong in 2014, this time around I wanted to see more of the lesser explored areas that I hadn't taken advantage of previously. Sadly both times I've visited I haven't had great weather so I haven't been able to really make the most of the islands around Hong Kong, except for Lantau - the home of the giant seated Buddha that I fell in love with one my first trip.

Most recently I went to Peng Chau and Cheung Chau. They are enormous islands with loads to do but I really just went to wander and take in the sights and smells of somewhere new because even basic everyday life in Asia looks and feels different to home. These islands are predominantly residential and it's always interesting to just experience a community rather than go full-out tourist.There isn't much explicitly to do on either one, but this photo diary should give you an insight into what you'd get from a day trip to each island:

Peng Chau has an area of just 0.99 square kilometres and the main mode of transportation is bicycle. I went over with an old school friend who happened to be in HK at the same time as me, and he showed me around the island as his parents live there. You can see from the photos how peaceful it is.

Temple on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Colourful apartment blocks on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Tree lined walkway on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Colourful apartment blocks on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Fishing boats at sea from Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Rickshaws on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Fishing boats on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Apartment blocks on Peng Chau island, Hong Kong

Cheung Chau on the other hand is bigger (although still only 10km square) and draws in more day trippers due to its beaches and seafood restaurants. There's a few temples, because it is Asia after all, and like Peng Chau there are no cars because the roads are so narrow. It is extremely cute.

Fishing boats off Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

Welcome to Cheung Chau sign

Cheung Chau pig raising co-operative society

Fishing boats on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

Pak Tai temple on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

Looking onto shops promenade from Pak Tai temple on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

Corrugated iron houses on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

People on shopping street on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

Beach on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong

I'm heading back to Hong Kong around October time for a few days on the way back from Japan and as the weather is better then, I'm hoping I'll be able to make the most of the islands and beaches!

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