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Cape Town and the Cape Winelands

Cape Town and the Cape Winelands

via Emirates A380 First Class

March 2015

Cape Town and the Winelands have long been on our travel bucket list.  We loved our first visit to South Africa 18 months ago when we went on an amazing 6 day safari.  

Last fall, when Emirates announced A380 service to SFO, DFW and IAH, they were generous about releasing 2 awards seats well into 2015.
And despite the seats not being visible or bookable on AS.com, good Alaska partner award agents were able to use the "old system" to find and book seats that were visible on ExpertFlyer.  So SFO-DXB it is, connecting to DXB-CPT.  Finding even one award seat on the return was not quite as easy and two is virtually impossible especially at this time of the year.   But, with reasonable Emirates First Class fares from CPT not much more than buying Alaska miles, I just bought F tickets for our return.

Here is the line-up for the next week:

• United First Class Denver-San Francisco
• Lunch at Boulevard (or Yankee Pier)
• The Emirates Lounge at SFO
• Emirates First Class A380 SFO-DXB
• Dubai International Hotel at DXB Terminal B
• Emirates First Class Lounge at DXB
• Emirates First Class 77W DXB-CPT
• La Residence Franschhoek
• The Winelands: Franschhoek and Stellenbosch
• The One&Only Cape Town
• Cape Town
• Lounge at CPT
• Emirates First Class 77W CPT-DXB
• Emirates First Class A380 DXB-JFK
• Delta Sky Club at JFK
• Delta First Class JFK-MSP-DEN

Our recent experiences with United have been terrible.  Nothing is ever on time.   And today is no different.   Despite Flight Status showing "On Schedule", United's "Where is this plane coming from?" tells the truth.

We arrived at DIA just before 9AM.  More progress on the new Westin, scheduled to open in the fall.

OK, PreCheck accessibility is getting way out of hand.

Fortunately, we have CLEAR we jumped the PreCheck queue using the empty CLEAR lane.  On the train, Mrs. SFO again decided she knew best and insisted we bypass the Concourse A Admirals Club (she had previously declared it "the crap lounge") and go to the United Club East.  

Yikes, what a crowded dump this place is, with no sign of the advertised food improvements.   

 

And obnoxious yappers oblivious to the world around them.  

And an asinine Wifi log-in system that requires you to pick one of 4 ways to log in, the last of which requires you to walk around the club and find the current password.

This place was so bad that Mrs. SFO opined that "this is the real crap lounge".

With a gate change to the west side of the concourse, we headed out at T-30.   Gate 20 and the now familiar chaotic United gate lice/boarding drill.

And yet a further delay.

LOL, this is the line for Group 1.  Consistent with its crap First Class product, no priority boarding for First Class here.  Just join the line behind GS, 1K and groupies heading back to Y.

 

Denver-San Francisco
United 1747
Pm CO 737-900
10:07A-12:00P (sked)
11:15A-12:55P (actual)
March 16, 2015
Seats 3AB

The good news:  WiFi.

The bad news: It didn't work today.

Pleasant FAs offered open bar pre-departure drinks.  Despite the door being closed, annoyed captain came on the PA to announce that "we ready to go but we are still waiting on the company for our final weigh and balance data.  So you folks know as much as we do at this point".  At this point, we realize that we are running out of time to go into the city and that lunch at our favorite SF restaurant, Boulevard, is not going to happen.   

Another 10 minutes and we finally push and are on our way.  

As this was a "lunch" flight, we took two for the photo op.  Wow, this is the  improved United catering?  Scary. Both the chicken salad and roast beef sandwich were horrible. Mrs. SFO opined that her "chicken" was not real chicken.  

Both my quinoa and processed roast beef sandwich were gross and inedible.

On the other hand, the chocolate chip cookies were excellent, as was the Sees Candies sampler that we purchased in terminal.

 

We touched down at SFO at 12:40P and pulled into the gate 5 minutes later, and headed for Yankee Pier for lunch before the EK counters opened 3 hours before departure.

After Yankee Pier, we headed to the International Terminal with a first stop at the CBP office to retake Mrs. SFO's fingerprints, which Global Entry kiosks were having trouble reading.  Then outside for some fresh humidity, a rare commodity in mile high Denver.

And check in at a real airline.  :)

With no PreCheck in the International Terminal, we used CLEAR.  CLEAR at SFO is wonderful as the CLEAR agent escorts you to the front of the line at the scanning conveyor.  OK, you still have to get undressed but it's still better than waiting.  And to the lovely Emirates Lounge conveniently located on the concourse level, not squirreled away upstairs and far away like most of the other lounges here. 

Very pleasant and comfy lounge, looking pretty much like most every other Emirates outstation lounge.

 
 

 

And a smaller bar in the main lounge area.

At around T-45, we headed out for the short walk to Gate A9, where boarding was just about to start.  

San Francisco-Dubai
Emirates EK 226
A380-800
4:45P-7:35P +1 (sked)
4:45P-6:45P +1 (actual)
March 16, 2015
First Class Suites 2K and 3K

Even though there were only 5 other First Class passengers and a Gate Agent acknowledged our First Class boarding passes, we all queued in the same line with Business Class and EK elites.  Not so premium.

Once on board though, we were each personally escorted to our suites, 2K and 3K.

We typically choose the middle two seats but wanted to try the brighter and more spacious window seats this time.

A happy Mrs. SFO with thoughts of United but a distant memory.

Pre-departure champagne. But no Dom on ground.

OK, that's a long way!

Arabic coffee and dates.

On time departure and only 15 hours today.

Nice views of the city as we depart 28R.

And our old Marina neighborhood.

After take-off, my usual G&T.

And today's menu starting with the bar. 

And the menu menu.

Time for a glass of Dom.

Showtime.

Caviar to start.

And a very nice fresh garden salad.

With a glass of the pleasant 2010 Mount Eden Chardonnay.

Thai-style marinated beef starter, served on a bed of sesame-seasoned egg noodles accompanied by mango and papaya salsa.

And the 2012 Paul Hobbs Pinot.

For my main, the Nilgiri chicken cooked in a rich coriander and mint-flavoured spiced curry sauce served with palak paneer and basmati rice.

For dessert, the delicious wild berry and vanilla cinnamon crisp with fresh berry coulis. And my own cool mini-tube bottle of the wonderful 2002 Chateau Girard Sauternes.

After dinner and another movie, time to visit the fabulous A380 lavs.  Pics from a previous flight.

Another great feature of the A380 is the Business Class lounge.  Again, pics from previous flights.

 

And the mini-F bar at the front of the cabin in between the two lavs.

With only 7 pax, I asked our FA to make up my bed in 4K, where I slept solidly for 5 hours.   Mrs. SFO slept for 8 hours.  

About 90 minutes out, French Toast for breakfast.

Today's route was directly over the pole.

And 15 hours after take-off, a beautifully smooth landing at DXB.

Since we had at least 8 hours between flights, I booked a room at the Dubai International Hotel so that we could relax, nap and refresh. The hotel has at least three locations each of which are a short elevator ride about the concourse and on the secured side.   

I had booked a room in the Concourse B location, guessing that our DXB-CPT would be departing from B.  As we deplaned in Terminal A, I figured that we'd just follow signs to B and the hotel.  But lo and behold, a DIH staffer holding a signboard with our name met us as we walked off the jet bridge.  He escorted us thru A to security, the inter-terminal train, thru Concourse B to the hotel, which is located on Level 5, one level about the Level 4 Lounges.

Not spacious or luxurious but certainly comfortable for a short stay.   Best of all, without having the clear customs and immigration or re-clear security.  And at a reasonable price of AED600 ($175) all in.  

The rate included fresh fruit and bottle water. 
 

 

We checked in, dropped our bags, refreshed up and headed down one level to the Emirates First Class Lounge.  It's the old FLC but still very nice and with a wonderful staff.  

And for the grandkids next time.  ;)

 

The smoking section of the lounge.

Food options are by menu or buffet, available 24 hours a day.  We opted for the buffet tonight.   Amazing food options. 

After our meal, we headed down one level to the main concourse to explore. Like the Terminal and concourse itself, everything is open 24 hours a day.

We went up to our room for a little sleep and shower.  And returned at 2AM where the place was a busy as at 8PM.

After Mrs. SFO got her Starbucks fix, we headed back up to the FCL for breakfast.

At around T-55, we headed headed down to the concourse and the walk to B-3.
Not sure if it was the First Class tags but a courtesy cart stopped and the driver asked if we wanted a ride to our gate.  Thank you very much.

Dubai-Cape Town
Emirates EK 772
777-300ER
4:00A-11:40A
March 18, 2015
Seats 2EF

Gate B-3 turned out to be a bus gate and we were asked to wait for the First Class bus.  Turns out there are three buses for bus gate flights:  The regular bus (standing room only), the Business Class bus (2-2 seating) and the First Class bus. 

OK, this is one seriously nice bus!

About 7 minutes of driving around the airport and we arrived at gate C-21.

A long climb to the plane.

But worth it.

More Arabic coffee and dates.

Tonight's limited menu given the 4:00AM departure time.

But nice wine list including Dom.

Since we had just eaten breakfast, we passed on a meal and went alcohol-free... for a while. 

And watched a movie (Nightcrawler) while the rest of the plane slept.

Then had a late snack of Swiss meat balls with tagliatelle, tomatoes and basil. Nothing special but it took the edge of any hunger.

Then to sleep for 3 or so hours, only to be awakened by the sounds of some talking on his cell phone. Seriously. This ridiculous yap yapping went on for close to an hour. Apparently, such boorish behavior is now allowed on EK flights. The moron in 1F.  

Almost there.

We touched down right on schedule at just after 11:30A local time.

Arrival was a breeze. Fortunately, we arrived at a real gate and no a tarmac position like so many other airlines we saw.  

Passport control was easy as we were the only international flight arriving late morning.

We met our guide/driver Dave just outside customs and headed outside for the hour drive to Franschhoek.

So cool to pass the set of "Black Sails" which is being filmed in Cape Town.

The picturesque drive to the Winelands.

And the lovely Yountville-like town of Franscchoek.

To tony La Residence, our home for the next two days.

Cuter than Bambi springbok, which is everywhere on the menu here.

Gorgeous grounds and hotel.

La Residence
Frankschoek, South Africa

 

 

[B]La Residence
Franschhoek, South Africa[/B]

Our Suite 9, the Armani Suite.

The spectacular view from our suite.

We both lay down to try to a power nap before we headed out to dinner.  However, about 20 minutes later, a worker bee decided to rev up his humongous and loud hedge trimmer.  LOL.

Off to the pool for some peace and quiet... and gorgeous scenery.

Back at our suite.  Dinner!

And an amazing sunset.

For dinner tonight, we had a reservation at Foliage, one of Franschhoek's hot new restaurants.  Celebrated chef/owner Chris Erasmus opened his own place only 6 months ago.  In a word:  Spectacular.

Chris is into foraging and his dishes feature fresh local ingredients with some amazing, indeed orgasmic taste combinations.   

Tonight's wonderful menu.

We both started with the amazing Curry-seared yellowfin tuna, basil and lime crushed potatoes, warm chili and tomato vinaigrette.

 

As Chris is still waiting for his liquor permit, we BYOB'd from the hotel.  I selected the 2014 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay from nearby Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.  One of the most incredible Chardonnays from anywhere in the past year.  

Mrs. SFO's pan fried smoked cauliflower, watermelon glaze, beets and cashews was divine.

My slow roasted pasture fed pork belly, dandelion and pumpkin seed crushed potatoes, mushroom purée and wilted wild greens was fabulous.

And finally dessert. O-M-G.  

Honey roasted peaches, walnut frangipane, mint bouchu panna cotta, almond and white chocolate velouté was to die for.

As was the Caramelia délice, salted peanut butter, macerated strawberries and honey comb.

This was one of the best meals of the year.  But the most shocking part of this was the price, thanks to the strength of the USD and/or weakness of the Rand.  
Excluding wine and tip, our amazing meal cost a grand total of 623 ZAR which converted to US$51.70.  Simply unbelievable.

We woke to glorious skies on our first morning in Franschhoek.

A lovely setting for breakfast.

\

After breakfast, off for our first full day in the Winelands.

To our first stop of the day, Waterford Estate.

A brief meet and greet with noted winemaker Kevin Arnold, who then went back to work tasting the product of the new harvest.

A quick visit to lovely Stellenbosch.

Lunch was at celebrated Tokara.

Simply idyllic lunch setting.

Mrs. SFO started with the amazing gazpacho.

While my starter was a delicious local fish, kingklip.

For the main, Mrs. SFO had the delicious pork belly.

While I took one for the team and tried the springbok.   It was a little too gamey for me but the presentation and sides were wonderful.

After lunch, we headed back thru Stellenbosch to venerable Kanonkop.

And finally nap time back at La Residence before we head our for dinner at The Tasting Room.

For dinner tonight, we are off for a gastro experience at the restaurant named "Best in Africa" and one of San Pellegrino's Top 50 restaurants in the world.  Kudos to La Residence staff who worked the wait list and got us in tonight! 

Dutch-born chef Margo Janse prepares a 9 course African-inspired menu which can apparently change each day. Janse is immensely talented and heavy into presentation and showmanship. The result is a visual and gastro treat that is unlike anything we have ever experienced. As if preparing one 9 course menu like this is hard enough, she actually prepares two as there is a different one for both man and woman. It borders on the insane.

Tonight's first amuse-bouche including foie gras wafers.

The second amuse-bouche was an amazing onion chip with "black pepper" or "cocaine" as one of the wait staff joked.

Delicious corn bread in a very creative presentation.

In an attempt to rein in the drinking, we declined the wine pairing and ordered a single bottle of wine, a delicious 2013 Ataraxia from the same Hemel-en Aarde valley as last night's Hamilton Russell. 

The first official course was "Eugenia, pistachio and fig" with a showtime presentation including frozen eugenia powder.

Next, Mrs. SFO had the Tomato Confit and potatotumble wood, buchu.

While I had "broccoli, broccoli, broccoli".

Next, we both had the delicious Octopus, radish, cucumber, sorrel nori.

Margot's humor with a glass of unfiltered Bandito. Fun label.

Next, Mrs. SFO had the lovely salmon trout, red cabbage, spansek.

While I was stuck with the "Paternoster", salted farmed kabeljou, black mussel, charcoal. Prepared souvide. Yikes. Not my cup of tea.

Mrs. SFO had the Joostenberg vlatke duck in salt, boere kinders, buckwheat, kapokbos.

While I enjoyed the Paradyskloof quail's nest, buffalo yoghurt, braised seeds.

At this point, I joked that I'm sure that "game is coming really soon". To which Mrs. SFO stated "I ain't eatin' no skippy-doo". Next up for me was a Baleni salt and kapokbos peach, peached roasted in a salt crust

Which then became part of the confit pig with mung bean, sunflower, artichoke petals and fynbos caramel. Where does she come up with these??

Naturally, Mrs. SFO was promptly served "skippy-doo" and the rather strong version. LOL. Her mushroom and cocoa nib eland, brinjal, parsnip, sorghum. I was forced to trade plates. Happy wife, happy life.

And finally, our cheese courses. Dalewood languedoc custard, vinegar flings, leeks.

And "Udderly delicious caciotta", quince, fermented turnip, smoked honey.

Dessert including the incredible "Snow globe", num num, ginger, coco pops.

And the amazing Baobab, coconut, honeybrush, caramel.

And a second or third dessert.

What a amazing show, delicious food and some of the most creative, spectacular and indeed insane presentations and combinations I have ever tasted. But this is not a restaurant where you go back on a regular basis. It is an over the top once in a lifetime experience. But worth the experience if you are in the Cape Winelands.

At the end of the evening, we were presented with our menus documenting what we had just experienced. Simply wow. And all for roughly $90 per person including wine. 
 

We checked out and departed La Residence mid-morning and first headed to nearby Victor Verster Prison.
This is where Nelson Mandela spent his final years of incarceration before being released in February 1990, making his famous walk to freedom.

And then back to and thru Stellenbosch.

Construction stop with worker who doubled as a comedian once he saw the camera.

He then came up to us to make sure that he looked good in the photos.  
And finally down a picturesque road toward a number of wineries including Rust en Vrede.

Rust en Vrede is situated on a beautiful property. In addition to wonderful wines, its claim to fame is another restaurant in the Top 10 in South Africa.

The restaurant is not open for lunch, but the kitchen prepares a Winemakers Lunch featuring either steak or salmon. Check out those prices.

You can eat either outside...

Or inside, where we chose to eat today.

O.M.G. 

One of the best steaks in a long time, 12 ounces and perfectly prepared.

And the tab. Steak and glass of wonderful Syrah for only $16. Wow.

Current Waterford winemaker Kevin Arnold worked for Rust en Vrede years ago and won many awards for the winery.

After that wonderful lunch, back on the road for the 45 minute drive to Cape Town. With some interesting and whimisical sights along the way.

Table Mountain from the back side.

And one of the many "informal housing" settlements that dot the outskirts of the Cape Town. There are hundreds of thousands of shacks that house people that have come from rural areas of South Africa and neighboring countries in hopes of a better life.

And finally to the celebrated Waterfront.

And our home for the next three nights.