Soaking up the Atmosphere at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

One of the nice things about the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, at the Yas Marina Circuit, is that you can buy tickets which cover a wide range of events.  We got a package that covered the 4 days starting with the Pit Lane Walk which meant we could see the cars up close.

After the Pit Lane Walk we headed for the beer garden for a drink and to enjoy the atmosphere.  We managed to find some food although being late in the day our choices were somewhat limited.  Still there was a really good atmosphere with everyone enjoying themselves.  At some point some of the drivers were signing autographs.

Chilling at the Yas Marina Circuit
Driver Autograph signing

Every evening there is an after race concert starting with Post Malone.  So after eating we headed back to the bus stop to catch a bus to the Du Arena.  We did stopping to get some photos with formula 2 cars.  We got to the Arean there shortly after 6 pm when the gates opened so while the stadium was starting to fill we had to wait till 8 pm for the concert to start.  The first part was a DJ.  I guess we were showing our age because we decided it was way too loud and it was not worth waiting for Post Malone so we left.  Nonetheless the concert was very popular and I’m sure most people would have enjoyed it.

Grand Prix Concert at the Du Arena

On Friday we decided not to attend the F1 Grand Prix.  It was mostly practice races and we were not very interested in the after race concert.  IT Guy had some work to complete and I wanted to catch up on my sleep.  It turns out this was a good choice because security decided to close the gates early and so there were riots with people pushing and shoving so the gates were reopened.  I gather this kind of behavior in the UAE because the authorities are quick to clamp down on any trouble.

On Saturday we had planned to attend the qualifying race but we ended up watching IT Guy’s cricket team.  Then we headed for Abu Dhabi and it seems like everyone was in the Grand Prix spirit with a lot of fast cars and also crazy drivers with aspirations to drive racing cars.  We arrived in time for some Formula 2 racing.  I found it a nice warm up for the Grand Prix because it was a chance to get an idea of what it would be like watching fast cars go round the Yas Marina Circuit.  We quickly learned that there was a good view of one of the corners which was a good spot for overtaking so it was interesting to see which car would come out of the corner first.

Then we headed for the concert area.  Sam Smith was performing and IT Guy was very keen to watch him live.  I enjoyed the concert but I think IT Guy was a bit disappointed because he did not perform all of his best songs and did a lot of talking.

Overall I enjoyed the Grand Prix concerts and the atmosphere.  Even if you are not interested in watching the F1 racing there is still a lot to do and it can be lots of fun.

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Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – Pit Lane Walk

One of the nice things about the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi is that you can buy tickets that cover 4 days of activities starting on the Thursday.  The main activity on Thursday is a Pit Lane Walk.

We were staying in Dubai so we drove to Abu Dhabi in the early afternoon which is about an hour’s drive.  The tickets included parking in car park W.  Typically we only decided to check which car park we were in as we drove past the turn-off for our car park.  Naturally this meant we ended up going the long way round.  We then managed to drive in the bus entrance and had to do a slightly dodgy stunt to park. Clearly we weren’t the only ones because when we returned later they had put extra cones out.

Thursday being relatively quiet there was a long line of buses ready to take passengers so we hopped on the first bus and were soon on our way.  From there it was about a 10-15 min walk to get to the pit lane so by the time we arrived we only had an hour to look at the cars.

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It was great because you could watch the guys working on the cars.  We got really close to the cars and with a good zoom lens it was possible to get detailed picture of the fins.  They are developed by the aerodynamics team to create downforce.  The front wing is really important because it affects the airflow for the rest of the car.

Grand Prix Pit Lane

It was very interesting watching the guys getting the cars ready.  When we walked past the Red Bull team they were busy sorting out the suspension on the car.  With most things looking very high tech it was rather amusing to see this process involved a hammer and guys sitting on the car.

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Of course one of the most famous teams is Ferrari with the biggest fan base.  So crowds were biggest in this area.

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One of the key part of the preparation is to get technical approval of.  Every so often a team would push their cars past us so then we really were very close.  We were so focused on watching the guys working on the cars that I was a bit slow getting a decent photo.

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This is the Haas team taking their car for inspection.  Interestingly in the middle of the season the inspection found that leading edges in the middle of the car exceeded requirements by a few millimeters.  This was enough for them to have points deducted.  Fortunately this time it seems they did not have any issues.

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The Williams team were making the most of a brief rest while they waited for the inspection.

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I think it really does make things more interesting when you can see a bit of the background activity and see the cars close up.  So I really like the way the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix provides tickets for a Pit Lane Walk

Paarl and Franshoek

We woke in Tulbagh to find that it had rained a lot in the night.  A pity because there are a few nice hiking routes in the area.  Still like most people in Cape Town I am not going to complain about rain.  We had seen a place in town advertising wine tasting so we decided to head there.  Sticking with the theme from the day before it was closed.

So we decided to head on our way.  Tulbagh is in a valley with a small pass to cross back over the mountain range we had crossed the day before.  Then it was a long straight road with the mountains on the left as we headed through Wellington and into Paarl.  And no, we didn’t feel the need to go to Paarl Mall again.

Instead we decided to head for the Spice Route which has a lot of craft places.  The things to do include wine tasting, spirit tasting, craft beer tasting and chocolate tasting.  We headed for the Barley and Biltong Emporium which I hadn’t been to before.  A great choice for a winters day because there was a fire burning and a spectacular view from the window (I never thought to take any photos.  I will blame the gin from the day before).  IT Guy ordered a platter of biltong and cheese, and some beer.  Biltong is a South African form of dried meat a bit like beef jerky but I believe much tastier.  We also visited the craft chocolate place.

Then we drove to Franshoek which can be translated as a French corner because this is where the French Huguenots settled after escaping persecution for their Protestant beliefs.  These days there is even a Bastille Day festival.  Franshoek is a very pretty town with lots of restaurants and wineries however large parts are very posh and pretentious.

We parked on the main street and went looking for some cake and coffee.  I picked a place based on the fact they claimed to have a chocolate mouse cake only they had sold out.  I had the baked cheesecake but it was a bit dry and heavy so I was rather disappointed.

After cake we continued walking down the high street and then decided to return on the back roads.  Part of the way back IT Guy noticed water running down one of the gutters.  We were curious because it had not rained so we decided to follow the water.  A little further up we noticed a lot of algae growing in the gutter suggesting a constant stream of water.  We followed the water back to the main road at which point the water disappeared underground and we could not follow it any further,  Perhaps someone reading this knows more about the origin of the water.

Then we headed for our guest house for the night.  It had a really nice balcony so we were able to sit outside with a glass of wine enjoying the view.  Then when it got dark we headed inside to watch a movie.  Afterwards we headed back into town for a quick, light meal although we didn’t pick the best restaurant for that.  Still we had a very nice day.

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Breakfast, Gin and Classic Cars

On Saturday we decided to head to one of the local wine farms for breakfast.  There was a time when the main thing to do at the wine farms was wine-tasting but these days there is a lot more going on.  This particular wine farm includes a Big Cat Sanctuary, a petting zoo and two restaurants.

The restaurant we chose has tables outside overlooking the gardens.  The children in our group had fun running in the gardens and exploring although they were happier with a grown-up nearby, which gave me a change to get some photos.

The place offers a good choice of breakfast options, more than just posh versions of an English or a Continental breakfast.  Most of us had the Eggs Benedict which was very tasty, when it finally arrived.  While the food was good there is room for improvement with the service.

Eggs benedict for breakfast

After breakfast we decided to have cake.  Once again, I went for a chocolate cake.  I do have a particular weakness for chocolate cake even though most places struggle to make a nice moist version.  I would say this chocolate cake was very average.  I’m glad we decided to share because I could not have eaten a whole slice on my own.  The raspberry coulis on the baked cheesecake was very tasty.

Given the slow service it was getting rather late by the time we had finished eating.  Of course it was not the sort of place where people expect to rush and we took turns walking round the gardens.  We even watched part of a wedding and they certainly have a good wedding venue.

Wedding venue

Then time for some gin.  The gin bar offers a wide range of local craft gins and is in the classic cars showroom.  They have a range of jaguars which can be rented.  I have seen pictures of people drinking gin at the table, I wonder how you make that happen.

Classic cars jaguar

You can choose to have a single glass of gin or do one of their tastings.  They have a wide range of South African craft gins to choose from.  I’m not sure how I feel about being told they were impressed with my knowledge of craft gin.  In a gin tasting you start by trying the gin neat.  At this point I found the gins too strong and could only taste a slight difference in the spicy gin.  Then they add garnish to bring out the flavour except they still tasted pretty much the same to me.  Maybe because two of the gins were very similar.  After adding tonic water and ice the drinks tasted much better. I found the pomegranate gin a bit strange because of the combination of sweet and sharp flavours.    In the end I bought a bottle of the naartjie (applies to tangerines, mandarins and satsumas) gin because I thought it was nice and refreshing for the summer.

South African craft gin

I am looking forward to another chance to visit this wine farm.

Worcester, Ceres and Tulbagh

The morning after the chocolate festival we woke early.  We had been warned the night before that the power would be off for most of the day.  Typically just after it went off IT Guy realised his phone had not charged.  I felt bad because if I had known I would have put his phone on charge after mine was done.   

We headed to a nearby wine farm for breakfast.  Officially they had power because of solar panels but we could hear a generator running.  We had a nice cooked breakfast and booked a hotel for that night.  After breakfast we once again headed for Paarl Mall to get an in-car charger.  I have never felt the need for one.  Given that IT Guy’s phone often runs out of power at awkward times it did get me wondering if one reason guys need lots of gadgets, is because they are less organised.     

After shopping we got on the main road (N1) heading out of town and it wasn’t long before we reached the Huguenot Tunnel.  The Huguenot Tunnel goes through the Du Toitskloof Mountains and is 4 km in length.  It feels like a whole new world when you emerge from the other side.  More remote and chilled.

We headed for the town of Worcester which a farming town.  By this point I was getting tired and was hoping to find a nice coffee shop for a drink and to stretch my legs.  Of course being a Sunday virtually everywhere was closed.  Then I remembered the Karoo National Gardens on the outskirts of Worcester.  We got there to find the restaurant was closed and that there was a charge to get in.

Fortunately IT Guy had spotted a golf club on the way and suggested we stop there.  It is not somewhere I would have thought of but I figured it was worth a try.  It worked out really well because there were some lovely views, the the people were friendly and welcoming, and it was fun watching a people on the golf course. 

A view of the golf course in Worcester
Worcester Golf Course

We then headed for Ceres.  It is a lovely drive with beautiful scenery and mountains.  I had hoped to stop at a winery for some wine-tasting and maybe some food but of course they were all closed, such a contrast to the other side of the mountain.  In the end we stopped for lunch next to a place that does ziplining.  The zipline consists of 8 slides totaling 1.4 km down a mountain valley so the views are spectacular.  It was great to learn that IT Guy also enjoys this sort of thing.      

A view of the valley from the Ceres Zipline
Ceres Zipline

Then we headed for Tulbagh and our hotel for the night.  We have decided this was our favorite hotel so far.  We spent a few hours in the bar because they were showing the England cricket game that IT Guy had been following.  Fortunately for me the bar also stocked 19 different craft gins.  The food was also very tasty.  Chilling out in the hotel bar made a nice end to the day.

A glass of gin in the hotel bar in Tulbagh

Lunch in Stellenbosch

I have found a very nice spot for lunch in Stellenbosch.  There are a lot of good restaurants and coffee shops in the touristy part of town but I do like the option of going to a restaurant in the botanical gardens.

The restaurant is called the Katjiepiering and is named after one South Africa’s oldest garden plants.  An example of the species, Gardenia jasminoides can be found growing in pots near the door.  As an English speaker I am more familiar with the name Gardenia for this plant and only recently learnt that the Afrikaans name is Katjiepiering.  This plant is also native to parts of Asia and the Afrikaans name was derived from the Malay name “Kachapirang” or “Catshopiri”.  The Afrikaans culture and language has many Malay influences as a result of slaves that were brought over from Indonesia by the Dutch.

A picture of a Katjiepiering or Gardenia in a pot

The restaurant has a very nice setting in the Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden.  One of these days I will make time to explore more of the garden than just the path to the restaurant.  The Botanical Garden looks very very interesting and is of course a great place to learn a bit more about some of South Africa’s local plants.

Botanical garden

When the weather is good you can sit outside in the shade which includes an old gum tree and umbrellas.  When the weather is bad there is a small seating area indoors.

The Katjiepiering

The food is good and reasonably priced for what you get.  I think the portion sizes are good for a light lunch which is what you want when the weather is good.  When I visited a few days ago it very hot.  It has been for a few days now.  It seems like Cape Town went from winter to summer in about 2 weeks.  I’m sure that within a month we went from using the gas heater to swimming outdoors.  The temperature change has been quite a shock because it is not normally so hot in October.

Anyway because of the heat I decided to have the Cajun Chicken salad which was very tasty.  The cajun spices balance nicely with lettuce and cucumber.  I found it a little too spicy but then I’m not very good with hot food so I thing most people will be happy with level of spiciness for a salad.  Having had a salad I was feeling virtuous and decided that it would be OK to finish the meal off with some chocolate cake.

So I think the Katjiepiering is a good place for lunch in Stellenbosch and if you have time you can take a bit of time to enjoy the Botanical Garden.

 

 

 

The Chocolate Festival

Of course with so little notice of IT Guy’s arrival we did not have much time to make plans.

The first morning of his visit I needed to take care of a few work things before making some plans for his visit.  He was keen the Chocolate Festival in Stellenbosch and I found a Jazz Festival the following day so I suggested we spend a few days in the area. Normally I would aim to go to an event like the Chocolate festival when it opened but by the time we were ready to leave it was too late for that.  There there was a long queue to get into wine farm where the festival was being held.  I think we queued for about 20 mins to get parked.

Which of course meant that there were crowds everywhere including for the food vans as it was lunchtime when we arrived.  We headed for the building which housed the chocolate festival and after a bit of pushing and shoving we managed to get some chocolate covered strawberries from the fountain.  Then I had a cheese platter, it was very tasty but I would have liked more bread or crackers.  IT Guy had opted for a pie when we stopped for petrol, which seemed a bit wrong to me. Typical of many of these things there was not enough seating so we had to eat standing up.

We found a stand doing very nice gin cocktails based on various flavors of tonic.  There didn’t seem to be enough choice of chocolate to justify the title but maybe this was because I was already familiar with most of the brands (maybe I shouldn’t admit that) although I did find a very nice chocolate spread (without nuts) and some tasty chocolate.  So I ended up back at the chocolate fountain for a waffle.  Then we got some drinks and IT Guy found a table because the placed had started to empty a bit.  We sat for a while enjoying each other’s company, the good weather and the atmosphere.

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Our guest house was only about 10 mins away so we stopped there briefly to check in and they recommended Paarl Mall for some food.  After snacking on various things we were definitely in need of a decent meal.

It was lovely day and while this kind of festival can get a bit expensive I the weather and the atmosphere made for a very nice day.