Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

Iceland is volcanically and geologically active, and the main reason tourism has boomed over the past years. Despite its name, Iceland sits entirely south of the Arctic Circle, and its climate is heavily-regulated by the warm North Atlantic Current. Even with its subarctic weather, Iceland has distinct seasons and an abundance of flora and fauna.

 

 

The most popular tourist activity is the Golden Circle route. This approximately 300 km route hits three of the main geological attractions easily accessible from Reykjavik during half-day tours.

 

The first stop along the route is the Thingvellir National Park. The park is home to glacier-formed lakes and the visible rift between the North American and European tectonic plates. Tourist can dive the lake, hike along the rift, and view glorious waterfalls and running streams.

 

 

The second stop along the route is the Geysir geothermal area. As the name suggests, this geothermal active area is home to both the Geysir and Strokkor geysers. The Strokker geyer is the more reliable of the two and erupts every 6-10 minutes to approximately 50-60 ft. This area is also the most developed with a hotel, restaurants, and gift shops.

 

 

The third (and usually last) stop during a half-day tour is the Gullfoss Waterfall. Feed by the southern flow of the Hívíta River, this massive waterfall has viewing platforms both along the canyon edge and from river-level. The water is always cold, so be prepared for icy mist and slippery footpaths.

 

 

Rather than make our way directly back to Reykjavik, we opted to drive the full circle and make our way back to KEF. With an early morning flight back to FRA, we chose to stay at the Aurora Airport Hotel, a quick five-minute walk from the terminal building. A very simple hotel with minimal amenities, saving ourselves the very early morning drive on our day of departure was the smart option.

 

By continuing on the route, we were able to visit the Kerid Crater. This intact caldera formed by a volcanic eruption over 3000 years ago is full of water and lined with red volcanic rock. The crater serves as a very dramatic back drop, and we even saw a young couple having what looked like engagement photos taken along the edge.

 

 

As mentioned, the Golden Circle route is immensely popular, so the two-lane road can often experience traffic jams due to tour busses and campers driving slower than the posted speed limit. Luckily, during our Sunday visit along the route, traffic was minimal. Again, most tours drive from Reykjavik to the Gullfoss Waterfall and back to the capital, so traffic is heaviest along that route. Mobile phone coverage (LTE and 3G) was pretty good along the entire route.

 

 

In sum, a visit to Iceland has been on our European bucket list since 2013, and we’re very glad to have finally completed the trip. Whether based in North America or in Europe, Iceland is along your flight path as you traverse the Atlantic. I encourage you to visit (preferably in the off-season to capture some flight and hotel deals) as Iceland offers a lot on both short and long visits.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | One Comment

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

The Avis counter reminded us multiple times to observe the posted speed limit during our stay. Icelandic police are unforgiving to speeding tourists especially during the 45-minute journey from KEF into Reykjavik. Without incident, we made our way into downtown Reykjavik (thanks, WAZE!) and to 101 Hotel, a Member of the Design Hotels (a Marriott brand).

 

 

The quirky, boutique nature of the Design Hotel made our stay in downtown Reykjavik a very walkable one. Located near old town and the marina, 101 Hotel offered great amenities (a full-spa and whirlpool; wifi; and continental breakfast) but no dedicated parking. We found street parking for our stay. Of note, hotels are not cheap, but before the summer rush, they are reasonable. The 101 Hotel room rate was $250/night. By late May, the rate would increase to $420+/night.

 

The room was small but comfy, and the décor was slightly weird but in an arty way. We kept the windows open to breathe in some fresh air and enjoy the city sounds. Our room faced a park and the amazing Harpa Concert Hall.

 

 

From the 101 Hotel, we were able to walk everywhere to visit some key landmarks and take some nice pictures. We wandered the charming streets of downtown and old town, enjoyed a Thai dinner (it was NOT spicy at all!) and some good after-dinner baked goods. Reykjavik is full of coffee shops and bookstore. It reminded us of Portland, Oregon with everyone in big sweaters and wool hats.

On Saturday, we booked a whale watching tour. We opted for a luxury three-hour tour aboard a converted yacht with a full snack bar. Another option was to ride a speed boat and chase down whale sightings. Even though it was April, the weather was still quite cold and rainy on the water, so speed boating around the coast was not an option for us. The guide and the crew were very nice as was the boat. Sadly, we didn’t see any whales, but we did see puffins who were migrating back north for the summer. The puffins fly fast and low along the water alternating between landing on rocky outcrops and the water.

Reykjavik has a lot of bars and pubs read-made for live music and good times with friends. With the daylight still visible at 10:30pm, the city remains lively for both young and old. Another plus to the rise in tourism is the popularity of pop-up restaurants. Pop-up restaurants are food truck-like establishments with small and concentrated menus. We found Ramen Momo, the first ramen house in Iceland. Made up of one long counter and a small kitchen, the staff prepared some outrageously good ramen. Again, even when asked for, spiciness does not seem part of the Icelandic palate. Still, the ramen was fresh and full of flavor.

 

Opened in May 2011, the Harpa Concert and Convention Center is a massive structure designed by a Danish architectural firm. The 28000 square meter facility houses one large concert hall and three smaller venues and is the center of culture in Iceland. The windows are geometric-shaped octagon, hexagon, and pentagon glass panels in hues of greens, blues, and oranges. As the outer wall leans outward from its base, when inside, one gets the sensation of tipping over as you enjoy the views from the upper floors.

 

In sum, Reykjavik has a lot to offer. Staying in the city center is the best way to sample the city without having to drive. The city center is slightly hilly but relatively small. If you plan a shoulder season visit, you’ll likely find the best hotel and tour deals.

 

 

Next, Part 4: Waterfalls, geysers, and moonscapes…

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

Iceland is approximately a three-hour flight from continental Europe. From FRA, the non-stop choices are Lufthansa (LH) or Icelandair (FI). If you recall my ALL HANDS post on the most useful airline status in Europe (Star Alliance Gold via United Airlines Gold), flying LH FRA to KEF is where I started my search, but it’s not where I landed.

 

 

In May 2018, Joey and I were in the Iberia Premium Lounge Velázquez at the Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) Terminal 4S finishing up an amazing Memorial Day weekend in the Spanish capital when I started thinking about spring 2019 travel. At end of 2017, I refocused our loyalty toward Alaska Airlines. With its diverse partners and incredibly generous accrual bonuses, the Alaska Mileage Plan frequent flyer program is my favorite program.

 

 

While I’m still a fan of United Airlines, the Icelandair and Alaska partnership offered an outsized accrual opportunity. With an Icelandair Saga Class “A” fare (discount business class), I could earn 125% elite and redeemable miles within the Mileage Plan program based on FRA-KEF-FRA number of miles flown. With my Alaska MVP Gold status, I’d earn an additional 100% redeemable mile bonus. So, I was looking at a hefty haul of Alaska miles for the trip.

 

In the Iberia Lounge, I used Google Flights to search dates in April and May 2019 for a long-weekend with a reasonable FI Saga Class fare. For $600 each ticket, I purchased two roundtrips from FRA-KEF, Friday to Monday. The total trip was 2758 miles, so with bonuses, I earned 6206 redeemable miles in Mileage Plan. I also earned 3448 elite miles toward maintaining Mileage Plan MVP status. If the numbers are losing you, for me and many in the points and miles world, the travel experience is the journey, the destination, and the math!

 

If you’ve flown a U.S. carrier in their domestic First Class, Saga Class offers essentially the same large recliner seat. Included with Saga Class is lounge access (in FRA, it’s the Air France Lounge in Terminal 2; in KEF, it’s the fantastic Saga Lounge). We were offered lunch on the flight to KEF and breakfast on the return, and we could pre-order our meals via Icelandair’s website before the flight. I highly recommend this as it offers more options than the plane’s menu. I had the beef loin; it was delicious.

 

 

Saga Class also came with Icelandair-branded noise-cancelling headphones to enjoy with the seatback entertainment. I’m not an audiophile by any means, so I’m not as particular about headphones as some. Still, the headphones were great for the ride, and noise-cancelling enough for watching BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, BOB’S BURGER and FRESH OFF THE BOAT episodes.

 

 

Like most European airports, KEF has both Schengen and non-Schengen zones. From Germany, we landed in the Schengen area, so no immigration was required. The Saga Lounge (the only one in the airport) is in the Schengen area between the A and C gates but very close to the non-Schengen border control gates. If you have access to the Saga Lounge, I highly encourage you to visit, and if flying to a non-Schengen destination, give yourself enough time to reach your gate after the border.

 

 

Duty Free is extremely popular at KEF. Lots of people were stocking up on wine, beer, and spirits after baggage claim. We rented a car for our stay. The Avis counter line was about 40 people. Luckily, our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card confers Avis Preferred status, so we skipped to the front of the line and departed the airport with minimal delays. With no checked luggage, I’d estimate 20-25 minutes from landing to reaching and starting our rental car.

 

In sum, Icelandair was a great way to get from Germany to Iceland. Without WOW, Icelandair has an almost complete monopoly on airfare and facilities at KEF. Deals through other European and U.S. carriers can be found, but you have to be extra patient and flexible to find them. All and all, FI’s big recliners and Saga Class service was a great way to start our Iceland adventure.

 

 

Next, Part 3: Reykjavik and (almost) midnight sun…

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This four-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to Iceland. Iceland is full of amazing wonders: waterfalls, geysers, wildlife, and fresh air. Over the past five years, Iceland has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists. In turn, Iceland’s tourism infrastructure has risen to the challenge to accommodate that influx with new hotels, bars, restaurants, and a fantastic airport. I recommend a visit, but more than most places, seasonal differences in airfare, room rates, activities, and crowds prevail. Definitely do your research.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to Iceland.

 

 

While Iceland has, for many years, been a top destination for whale and Northern Lights watching, getting to the small North Atlantic island nation proved expensive. In 2012, WOW Airlines changed all that. This “ultra low cost carrier” provided incredibly cheap airfares from the U.S. and Europe to Keflavik International Airport (KEF), the main airport for Iceland. Suddenly, both WOW and Icelandair (the national flag carrier) began offering “stop over” service: the ability to connect between North American and Europe with a multi-day stop in Iceland at no additional cost. This strategy was the catalyst to jumpstart Iceland’s tourism boom.

 

 

Many argued the WOW and Icelandair rivalry and “price war” grew too fast and saturated the island (pop. 358,000 in 2019) with too many tourists too quickly. In 2010, KEF tracked just over 2 million passengers in and out of the airport. By 2018, that figure was almost 10 million. This in an unprecedented number of non-locals looking for hotel rooms, dinner spots, souvenirs, and tours. Plus, once outside of Reykjavik, the capital and largest city, roads become two-lane and prone to overcrowding due to tour busses and campers heading to geological hotspots.

 

As previously mentioned, I’ve been in stationed in Germany since July 2013. Iceland has been on and off my travel calendar many times. The first couple of false starts in planning were likely due to too much written about how, frankly, crowded and “hipster” the location was. Reportedly, the initial flood of tourists were eco-tourists bringing with them shaggy beards, craft cocktail recipes, veganism, and traffic. Not entirely fair, I know, but nonetheless, I delayed visiting until 2019.

 

WOW Airlines ceased operations in March 2019. As many in the tourism industry predicted, WOW was stretched too thin with its ever-expanding network and lack of new capital investment. The airline’s demise is definitely a speed bump to Iceland’s tourism. However, every cloud has a silver lining as WOW’s demise in March 2019 decreased the number of tourist during our April 2019—likely to be felt for at least a year.

 

 

In sum, I’m happy a trip to Iceland finally landed on our travel schedule, and I’m excited to share the experience.

 

Next, Part 2: The “Saga” begins…

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

ALL HANDS: Mandatory Fun (Travel Inspiration Edition).

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: Anything can inspire you to travel. Whether it be price, a movie, schedule, or word-of-month, traveling is about having a great adventure and an enjoyable time on your terms and no one else’s.

 

Today’s ALL HANDS focuses on how to inspire yourself to travel.

 

I recently asked a millennial friend of mine what inspires him to travel. He was quick to say, “Price!” While he’s a no-fear, no-holds-bar traveler, he lets price dictate where he goes and for how long he stays. Over the past year, he’s been exploring Eastern Europe since it’s both incredibly affordable and diverse. With price as his guide, he looks for hiking, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and cultural opportunities within his means. He purposely budgets a set amount each month for travel and commits to it. After each trip, he’s inspired to keep traveling within his allocated funds and to never miss an adventure.

 

Another friend of mine (father, married, two young sons) coordinates his travel around his and his wife’s work schedule, and, most importantly, the sons’ school schedules. Here, “time” is what primarily drives his travel inspiration. While the school year is filled with hockey practice, science projects, and, of course, work, Spring and Summer Breaks are packed with family travel. Whether it’s a trip to an amusement or water park or a visit to Orlando, he and his family don’t let the crowds or price (within reason, of course) deter them. They have the drive and energy to travel during these times, so they buckle down and get moving.

 

For me, I take a more comprehensive approach to travel. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the amazing locations I saw in movies and tv shows. Whether it was James Bond visiting a underground baccarat game in Shanghai or a nature show tracking kangaroos in the Australian bush, the world always seemed so big and out-of-reach. Still, I knew I had to see it.

 

As a young adult, thanks to the US Air Force, I was stationed both in Guam and Italy, so those locations were ideal for jump-starting travel adventures. Back then, commensurate with budget and energy level, I got a taste of Asia-Pacific and European destinations. I visited Australia, Japan, and many European capitals.

 

Now, as a married and not-so-young (ha!) adult, my travel inspiration is sparked from a myriad of people and places. It was a work colleague who, while at his going away, talked about South African wine country and Table Mountain which got that trip moving. It was a prolific travel blogger writing about a mileage redemption sweet spot on Thai Airways Royal First between BKK and SYD which pushed me to book an Australian and a New Zealand trip. It was an interior designer posting on social media about his favorite refreshed hotel club lounge at the Le Meridien Kuala Lumpur which put the Malaysian capital on my calendar. It was an article in an inflight magazine highlighting Easter Island’s airport as the most remote in the world which started my planning on how to get there.

 

In sum, let anything and everything inspire you to travel. Get out there and have an adventure.

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF, Ret.

“Let’s Travel Farther, Together!”

 

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

 

Posted by glenn | No Comments

AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 6…the end)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 

Part 6: Waddles and Waves.

 

South Africa offers so much for wildlife, food, wine, and culture tourists. And while an African safari is still on our bucket list, nothing compares to the colony of comical African Penguins at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. This unique, land-based colony houses almost 3,000 penguins who live and swim and hunt off the beach. For a $5 conservation fee, visitors can walk on raised platforms to the beach to watch the birds swim and goofily waddle their way onto the warm sand.

 

 

Once you enter the reserve, I recommend you turn right and walk on the platform that winds through the penguins’ habitat before it reaches to the beach. On this walk, you can see penguins sleeping in old metal milk pitchers, rubber tires, and plastic tubs. If you’re lucky, you may even see some baby penguins who have yet to molt their gray fluffy feathers for the slicker, water-proof black and white ones.

 

 

As the penguins are natural performers, they put on quite a show for the onlookers. Even though they are used to people, warning signs are everywhere advising you to not touch the birds since if threatened they will impale curious hands with their razor-sharp beaks. Parking around the reserve is tough, but patience—as well as tip money for the locals holding parking spots for you—is essential.

 

Before the Suez Canal, merchant and war ships used to traverse the ironically named and extremely dangerous Cape of Good Hope at the southwestern tip of Africa. Today, Cape Point is national park on which sits an old lighthouse with views of False Bay and the southern Atlantic Ocean.

 

 

Take the funicular up to the base of the lighthouse, then make the hike up to the top for some more amazing views. Roundtrip tickets can be bought on site for $5.50 or buy a one way and hike down. The Two Oceans Restaurant has a deck overlooking False Bay and has amazing sea food. Should the wind become too strong or the baboons too brave, deck eaters will be asked to move inside. Cape Point is a top tourist site, so reservations should be made at the Two Oceans to guarantee you scenic lunch spot.

 

 

A short drive from Cape Point is the official Cape of Good Hope. While it doesn’t have a gift shop or any facilities to speak of, a large sign announces its significance. In my experience, tourists tend to be courteous enough to cycle through quickly for the requisite photo.

 

 

In sum, we had a blast during our time in the Western Province. For us, the region remains one of our most cherished vacation spots. We hope to return to South Africa to explore the Garden Route along the southern coast and Kruger National Park for a safari. Until then, we will continue to enjoy South African wines and try to be as joyful and self-possessed as our friends on Boulders Beach.

 

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 5)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 

Part 5: Trees and Tables.

 

Previously, in Part 1, I noted how after our pricy Oslo trip we wanted to return to South Africa and focus on food and wine. To make the trip even more memorable, we invited our good friend, David, a long-time traveler and lover of wine. While he’d visited much of Europe, a visit to the southern tip of Africa had only ever been aspirational. I redeemed 80,000 United Airlines MileagePlus miles for a roundtrip Economy ticket on LH from PHL to FRA to CPT. I built in an overnight stop in FRA to allow David a recovery day and night in Stuttgart on the front end.

 

 

Departing the Winelands—again, on the UK side of the road—we drove to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. With an entrance fee of $5, Kirstenbosch features flora common to South Africa, open fields, a fragrance garden, and trails leading up into Table Mountain National Park. Here, we enjoyed amazing views of the park and southeastern Cape Town.

 

 

The dinosaur sculptures were a definite highlight which were placed just off the footpaths. The treetop canopy walkway is suspended 12-15 feet above the ground offering spectacular and picturesque views. With the African winter sun warming the garden’s hills, Kirstenbosch proved to be the perfect start to our day and built up our appetite for the first wine estate stop of the day.

 

 

Founded in 1685, Groot Constantia is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The estate houses two restaurants, a museum, an historic manor house, and relics dedicated to the estate’s first wine makers of Groot Constantia Grand Constance, South Africa’s oldest wine. We lunched at Jonkershuis Restaurant where the waiter recommended the Classic Cape Malay spread.

 

 

Unique to the Western Province, Cape Malay cuisine is a fusion of Malaysian, Indonesian, and East African food cultures. Cape Malay cooking blends cumin, coriander, star anise, turmeric, and other spices to create hearty and aromatic dishes perfect for outdoor winter dining.

 

 

We feasted on lamb, minced beef, caramelized pumpkin, and for dessert, a chocolate and espresso crumb cake accented with vanilla ice cream. With generous pours of the Grand Constance, an amber-colored blend of red and white Muscat, Groot Constantia provided the push we needed to tackle our next wondrous experience.

 

In 2007, the New 7 Wonders Foundation launched a global campaign to find the “New7Wonders of Nature.” When voting ended in 2011, Table Mountain was declared one of the “Wonders.” Situated in its own national park, the flat-topped mountain overlooks Cape Town to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and False Bay to the southeast.

 

 

The rotating Table Mountain Cable Car is the best way to visit the top. I highly encourage you to buy your tickets online before you arrive rather than on-site. The afternoon ticket (1300 to sunset) offers fewer crowds. With its rotating floor, the cable car offers 360º views as it climbs to the summit. Once you’re at the top, you can hike one of three trails offering mind-blowing views of the city and the ocean.

 

 

In sum, venturing outside the Winelands proved to be a very successful daytrip. From our prehistoric walks at Kirstenbosch to riding the cable car up to the out-of-this-world views from atop Table Mountain, greater Cape Town offers much for those looking to experience the outdoors.

 

Next, Part 6 (the finale): Formal beach wear!

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 5)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 

Part 5: Trees and Tables.

 

Previously, in Part 1, I noted how after our pricy Oslo trip we wanted to return to South Africa and focus on food and wine. To make the trip even more memorable, we invited our good friend, David, a long-time traveler and lover of wine. While he’d visited much of Europe, a visit to the southern tip of Africa had only ever been aspirational. I redeemed 80,000 United Airlines MileagePlus miles for a roundtrip Economy ticket on LH from PHL to FRA to CPT. I built in an overnight stop in FRA to allow David a recovery day and night in Stuttgart on the front end.

 

[picture 1]

 

Departing the Winelands—again, on the UK side of the road—we drove to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. With an entrance fee of $5, Kirstenbosch features flora common to South Africa, open fields, a fragrance garden, and trails leading up into Table Mountain National Park. Here, we enjoyed amazing views of the park and southeastern Cape Town.

 

[picture 2]

 

The dinosaur sculptures were a definite highlight which were placed just off the footpaths. The treetop canopy walkway is suspended 12-15 feet above the ground offering spectacular and picturesque views. With the African winter sun warming the garden’s hills, Kirstenbosch proved to be the perfect start to our day and built up our appetite for the first wine estate stop of the day.

 

[picture 3]

[picture 4]

 

Founded in 1685, Groot Constantia is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The estate houses two restaurants, a museum, an historic manor house, and relics dedicated to the estate’s first wine makers of Groot Constantia Grand Constance, South Africa’s oldest wine. We lunched at Jonkershuis Restaurant where the waiter recommended the Classic Cape Malay spread.

 

[picture 5]

 

Unique to the Western Province, Cape Malay cuisine is a fusion of Malaysian, Indonesian, and East African food cultures. Cape Malay cooking blends cumin, coriander, star anise, turmeric, and other spices to create hearty and aromatic dishes perfect for outdoor winter dining.

 

[picture 6]

 

We feasted on lamb, minced beef, caramelized pumpkin, and for dessert, a chocolate and espresso crumb cake accented with vanilla ice cream. With generous pours of the Grand Constance, an amber-colored blend of red and white Muscat, Groot Constantia provided the push we needed to tackle our next wondrous experience.

 

In 2007, the New 7 Wonders Foundation launched a global campaign to find the “New7Wonders of Nature.” When voting ended in 2011, Table Mountain was declared one of the “Wonders.” Situated in its own national park, the flat-topped mountain overlooks Cape Town to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and False Bay to the southeast.

 

[picture 7]

 

The rotating Table Mountain Cable Car is the best way to visit the top. I highly encourage you to buy your tickets online before you arrive rather than on-site. The afternoon ticket (1300 to sunset) offers fewer crowds. With its rotating floor, the cable car offers 360º views as it climbs to the summit. Once you’re at the top, you can hike one of three trails offering mind-blowing views of the city and the ocean.

 

[picture 8]

[picture 9]

 

In sum, venturing outside the Winelands proved to be a very successful daytrip. From our prehistoric walks at Kirstenbosch to riding the cable car up to the out-of-this-world views from atop Table Mountain, greater Cape Town offers much for those looking to experience the outdoors.

 

Next, Part 6 (the finale): Formal beach wear!

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 5)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 

Part 5: Trees and Tables.

 

Previously, in Part 1, I noted how after our pricy Oslo trip we wanted to return to South Africa and focus on food and wine. To make the trip even more memorable, we invited our good friend, David, a long-time traveler and lover of wine. While he’d visited much of Europe, a visit to the southern tip of Africa had only ever been aspirational. I redeemed 80,000 United Airlines MileagePlus miles for a roundtrip Economy ticket on LH from PHL to FRA to CPT. I built in an overnight stop in FRA to allow David a recovery day and night in Stuttgart on the front end.

 

[picture 1]

 

Departing the Winelands—again, on the UK side of the road—we drove to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. With an entrance fee of $5, Kirstenbosch features flora common to South Africa, open fields, a fragrance garden, and trails leading up into Table Mountain National Park. Here, we enjoyed amazing views of the park and southeastern Cape Town.

 

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The dinosaur sculptures were a definite highlight which were placed just off the footpaths. The treetop canopy walkway is suspended 12-15 feet above the ground offering spectacular and picturesque views. With the African winter sun warming the garden’s hills, Kirstenbosch proved to be the perfect start to our day and built up our appetite for the first wine estate stop of the day.

 

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Founded in 1685, Groot Constantia is the oldest wine estate in South Africa. The estate houses two restaurants, a museum, an historic manor house, and relics dedicated to the estate’s first wine makers of Groot Constantia Grand Constance, South Africa’s oldest wine. We lunched at Jonkershuis Restaurant where the waiter recommended the Classic Cape Malay spread.

 

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Unique to the Western Province, Cape Malay cuisine is a fusion of Malaysian, Indonesian, and East African food cultures. Cape Malay cooking blends cumin, coriander, star anise, turmeric, and other spices to create hearty and aromatic dishes perfect for outdoor winter dining.

 

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We feasted on lamb, minced beef, caramelized pumpkin, and for dessert, a chocolate and espresso crumb cake accented with vanilla ice cream. With generous pours of the Grand Constance, an amber-colored blend of red and white Muscat, Groot Constantia provided the push we needed to tackle our next wondrous experience.

 

In 2007, the New 7 Wonders Foundation launched a global campaign to find the “New7Wonders of Nature.” When voting ended in 2011, Table Mountain was declared one of the “Wonders.” Situated in its own national park, the flat-topped mountain overlooks Cape Town to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and False Bay to the southeast.

 

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The rotating Table Mountain Cable Car is the best way to visit the top. I highly encourage you to buy your tickets online before you arrive rather than on-site. The afternoon ticket (1300 to sunset) offers fewer crowds. With its rotating floor, the cable car offers 360º views as it climbs to the summit. Once you’re at the top, you can hike one of three trails offering mind-blowing views of the city and the ocean.

 

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In sum, venturing outside the Winelands proved to be a very successful daytrip. From our prehistoric walks at Kirstenbosch to riding the cable car up to the out-of-this-world views from atop Table Mountain, greater Cape Town offers much for those looking to experience the outdoors.

 

Next, Part 6 (the finale): Formal beach wear!

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

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AAR:  The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 4)

 

Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 

BLUF:  This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany.  This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food.  While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers.  It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 

Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 

Part 4:  Fancy feast.

 

 

One evening, after our wine estate hopping, our Ashbourne House host booked us a table at one of the city’s most exclusive eateries, Le Bon Vivant.  Here, Chef Pierre and his team served up venison loin and potato croquettes as a main and a decadent petite apple-ginger soufflé for dessert.  A rich and vibrant meal to end the day.

 

Franschhoek is peppered with amazing bistros like Beleef, a warm and friendly establishment featuring the Black Elephant Wine label and specializing in the localvore cuisine movement, and Col’Cacchio, a regional pizza house chain serving up gourmet and traditional thin crust pizza.  We enjoyed coffee and tea at the city’s charming cafés like The Village Tart (try the carrot cake!) and Sacred Ground, an artisan bakery featuring coffee from Bean There, a Cape Town-based specialty roaster.  Sacred Ground’s coffee and baked good were outstanding!

 

 

The highlight of our Franschhoek eating adventure, though, was Foliage.  Featuring some of the most elaborate and artistic plating I’ve ever seen, Chef Chris Erasmus is at the forefront of the “field-to-fork” food movement. 

 

 

His food preparation ethos centers on ingredients foraged from the surrounding hills to include mushrooms, edible flowers, grasses, nuts, and berries.  “From the forest floor” bravely proclaims the menu.  And while the food was indeed amazing, the odd twig and crunchy nut (maybe?) did test our eating fearlessness.

 

In sum, the Western Cape’s food scene is top shelf. Your day drinking will prime your taste buds for delicious evening meals from pioneering chefs.  As American humorist Erma Bombeck aptly stated, “I’m not a glutton…I’m an explorer of food.”

 

 

Next, Part 5:  Daytripping!

 

Happy Travels!

 

Vr,

Albert

 

Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

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AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 3)
Greetings, Fellow Travelers!
BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to
South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost
exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside
Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned
and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better
mountain views than Germany.
Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.
Part 3: Tip it!

Food and wine (and sometimes beer), are why I put so much effort into hunting for great
travel deals at exciting destinations. Franschhoek sits at the heart of South African wine
country. From here, in less than a two-hour drive, you can reach upwards of 30
amazing wine estates and tasting rooms. Estates do charge for tastings, and while this
may be different from European and California estates, paying does keep the riff-raff
out!

We began our first full day on the Franschhoek Wine Tram. The tram is a combination
of rail and truck transport with the ability to hop-on and hop-off at eight different wine
estates throughout the day. We, however, chose the “Curated Wine Experience”—a
half day tour, tasting, vineyard walk, and three course lunch at a wine estate with two
additional wine estate tastings to round out the day.

Our short rail ride took us to the Rickety Bridge Winery. Here, we sat for a vintner-
hosted wine tasting and three-course lunch. With the assistance of an aroma wheel, we
rookie oenophiles testified to our assessments: “violets with suggestions of cabbage
and butterscotch” and “cedar with clues of tar and baker’s yeast.” It was, obviously, a
tasty and tipsy way to spend the lunch hour. We concluded our Rickety Bridge stay with
a walk through the vineyards where we learned roses are used by wine makers as early
warning systems to announce the presence of harmful diseases and parasites.
[

Over the next few days, we ventured to amazing estates to partake in lovely wines and
inventive cooking.
– Babylonstoren – a pergola-framed garden walk and elegant farm-to-table lunch

– La Petite Ferme – perfect for a meal as it sits atop a hill overlooking the valley

– DeMorgenzon – a Stellenbosch estate home to award winning wine blends
– Lynx Wines – a small but bold estate where the winemaker joined us for a private
tasting featuring his celebrated Viognier and Grenache
– Leeu Estates – an Indian telecommunications millionaire’s wine estate with a lux
dining room and private cellar

– Jordan Wine Estate – a Stellenbosch estate recently honored in wine master Tim
Atkin’s 2018 South Africa Special Report with eight high scoring wines

– Tokara – with roaming peacocks and a topiary garden walk, the estate offers
amazing views of the mountains surrounding Franschhoek and Stellenbosch

In sum, during our wine touring as we found our “must-have” bottles, we ordered them
by the case from the estates. All the South African vintners we visited had distribution
centers in Europe, and many of those centers were in Germany. Placing our orders in
South Africa offered us incredible prices, and by having them shipped from within
Europe to Stuttgart, we paid little in shipping. Then, we drank some more.

Next, Part 4: “Food, glorious food!”

Happy Travels!
Vr,
Albert
Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

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AAR: The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 2)
Greetings, Fellow Travelers!
BLUF: This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to
South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany. This trip focused almost
exclusively on wine and food. While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside
Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned
and novice wine drinkers. It’s much more affordable than France and has better
mountain views than Germany.
Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.
Part 2: Guest Haus.
We arrived CPT mid-morning, and after immigration, we headed to the car rental
station, located outside the main terminal but still within walking distance. South Africa
drives on the UK side of the road, so with those mental adjustments made, we tossed
our luggage in the SUV and hit the road.

Located about 45 miles from CPT, Franschhoek is at the heart South Africa’s wine
valley. While Stellenbosch is more well-known as a wine destination, “French Corner”
maintains its small village feel with walkable streets, amazing restaurants, and a
dedicated hop-on hop-off wine tram. If you are deciding where to stay in the Winelands,
my #1 recommendation is to stay in Franschhoek!

For our stay in Franschhoek, I chose the Ashbourne House Bed and Breakfast, a
property just down the road from the Protea Franschhoek, run by a young German
couple. I secured our seven nights with breakfast at $124/night. The property only ever
had three or fewer of its eight rooms occupied during our stay, so it felt like we had the
place to ourselves at breakfast and throughout the evening.
I booked the “Upper Deck” room set in the eaves of the house. The room had a private
wooden deck overlooking the garden and had a mountain view. The large room had a
king size bed, a couch, a wardrobe, and small flat screen tv. A refrigerator was also
included, perfect for chilling our wine purchases. The en suite bathroom had heated
floors and a marble shower. Wi-Fi was provided free of charge.

Every morning, we had breakfast in the main dining room which consisted of a
sideboard continental buffet with cold meats, cheeses, freshly pressed juices, seasonal

fruit, yogurt, and homemade granola. Also available were made-to-order eggs and
waffles along with tea and coffee. On the first evening of our stay, the host welcomed
us in the salon with a wine tasting and offered his insights to local restaurants and wine
estates. The host also offered to book any reservations we required. The Ashbourne
House was an amazingly warm and hospitable property. I highly recommend it.
The Ashbourne House was also a five-minute walk from Huguenot Road, the city’s main
street. On Huguenot Road, you can find many high-caliber restaurants and cafés as
well as clothing and souvenir shops. In fact, we found an amazing ostrich egg shell
platter from AVOOVA, a small African artisan shop off Huguenot Square.


In sum, with our stay at the very charming Ashbourne House—in our amazing room and
with the courteous, helpful staff—we were primed to start our South African wine
adventure.

Next, Part 3: The Reason We Go Anywhere!
Happy Travels!

Vr,
Albert
Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)
Follow my travels on Instagram: @albert_traveler

Posted by glenn | No Comments

 AAR:  The Western Cape, South Africa, June 2017 (Part 1)

 Greetings, Fellow Travelers!

 BLUF:  This six-part AAR covers the journey, the destination, and activities of our trip to South Africa (our second!) while stationed in Germany.  This trip focused almost exclusively on wine and food.  While far from almost everywhere, the Winelands outside Cape Town have one of the largest concentration of wine estates for both seasoned and novice wine drinkers.  It’s much more affordable than France and has better mountain views than Germany.

 Today’s AAR takes us to the Western Province of the Republic of South Africa.

 Part 1:  Getting there.

 When stationed in Europe, quick one-to-two hour flights on low cost carriers (LCCs) are the bread and butter of seeing European hotspots.  A weekend excursion to London, Paris, or Berlin cost little in both time and money.  However, another benefit of European living is the ability to fly due south into Africa and remain, relatively speaking, in the same time zone.  This means no jet lag and no delays to starting your adventure.

 Even though this AAR takes us back to 2017, the trip’s inspiration reaches back into summer 2016 and our trip to Oslo, Norway.  Briefly, Oslo is a great city—lots to see and do in the summer.  However, inarguably, Norway is the most expensive country we’ve ever visited.  Restaurants, tourist sites, the exchange rate of the Krone against the USD and EUR, and the overall cost of living are NOT in your favor.  Still, it was a great trip.

 When we got home, I turned to my travel partner, Joey, and said, “We need to go back to South Africa to save some money!”  That’s right, fellow travelers, in my twisted, frequent traveler mind, the best way to counter the high cost of traipsing around Norway is to book another trip and head south…to Africa!

 For the journey to Cape Town, Lufthansa (LH) provided the best routes.  Out of Stuttgart, LH offers two options:  1) flights to FRA and MUC or 2) Deutsche Bahn (DB) trains from the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to the FRA Fernbahnhof (long-distance train station).  From the LH site, I booked a roundtrip from ZWS (“airport” code for Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof) to FRA and onward to CPT.  Of note, I almost always purchase my tickets directly from airlines rather than online travel agencies (OTAs)—coming soon, a TTP on this very subject!

 

While I could’ve booked the FRA-CPT flights and DB trains separately, buying the full itinerary was slightly cheaper.  The 1h:17m train rides were on a DB ICE train in First Class, complete with roving train attendants taking drink orders.  The direct, 12-hour flights were in LH A340-300 Business Class.  Total price for the full ticket:  $2200/per person—coming soon, an ALL HANDS on when I buy and when I use miles!

 After passport control and security, we headed to the LH Senator Lounge in the Z Gates.  We accessed the Senator Lounge with our Star Alliance Gold status derived from our United Airlines 1K status.  As mentioned, our long-haul flights were in Business Class on a 2-2-2 configured A340.  We selected 4D and 4G in the center section as we prefer to be closer to the front for faster drink and meal service.

 The entertainment system has plenty of content for our 12-hour flight, and screens were large and moved out and inward for better viewing.  LH also provides good-enough noise-cancelling headphones.  Both flights in and out of CPT were overnight flights, so the A340 was our hotel. 

In sum, LH Business Class is very comfortable, and the catering is pretty good, too.  It’s a very comfortable place to spend 12-hours on a plane.  Soon, we would make our way to the Winelands and the city of Franschhoek.

 Next, Part 2:  Beds and Breakfasts.

 Happy Travels!

 Vr,

Albert

 Albert Guerrero, USAF (ret.)

Follow my travels on Instagram:  @albert_traveler

 

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