by Fern Ostrowick
If you’re a travel junkie, you have a sightseeing bucket list. If you don’t like to travel, you won’t have a list, but you need psychological help. Seven years ago my husband and I were privileged enough to start on our own bucket list. Having never been out of the country, the travel bug hit us hard and so sickened were we by it, we saved up furiously for a self-drive trip across the UK.
First overseas trip – tick. Visit Shakespeare’s birthplace – tick. Scottish highlands country hotel stay – tick! As the trip drew near, my anticipation increased, excited about driving through the English countryside and getting goose bumps thinking about touching stone walls of ancient castles and cathedrals where so much history had been played out.
I had also been feverishly praying for snow, another item on my list I hoped to tick off. Then, a few days before our departure date, heavy snowfall descended across the United Kingdom – their coldest winter in decades. Synchronized serendipity, it was as if God himself had decreed that it arrive just in time for a White Christmas! After an agonising snow-delayed connecting flight we arrived in Edinburgh, rushing outside to romp in the snow with childlike abandon. These sun-drunk South Africans, sans the necessary skills, then had to face a long perilous drive on winding snow-slicked Scottish country roads to get to our highland retreat – in the dead of the night. Without streetlights we could see only a few meters ahead with our car sliding all over the road. Having shared driving duty, we arrived at the hotel hours later, exhausted, nerves on edge and thankful just to have our vehicle and limbs intact.
Christmas Day dawned full of snowy wonder. We spent the morning, knee deep in snow, savouring the novelty and taking in the beauty of the picture perfect white-washed village. The other hotel guests stayed indoors, giving us sidelong glances that suggested we had completely lost our minds. Traveling with a weak Rand and on a tight budget we turned over every pence before spending it, but at Christmas lunch I convinced my beau that I was desperate for a glass of wine. It was Christmas after all, I was already tipsy on the free punch and we had cause to celebrate our incredible experience so far. At this stage we were brand new wine aficionados – our love of box wine striking evidence of our novice status in the vinous realm. Scanning the menu, my heart fluttered. Every item cost the equivalent of a third world nation’s GDP when converted into Rand and was going to severely eat into our spending money. After much deliberation, I settled on more “reasonably” priced glass of house wine, reasoning that our close proximity to mainland Europe guaranteed us a half decent French or perhaps even Spanish or Portuguese wine – another first for us.
As I placed our order, I could not stop my mounting trepidation. Each glass of red wine was going to cost us more than a few bottles of wine would at home. This was a lavish extravagance.
Surrounded by reserved Englishmen on their Scottish vacation, quietly conversing at their tables, I was attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to look ultra-suave and sophisticated. I swirled my glass, spilling wine all over myself in the process and sniffed the wine in the most scholarly fashion I could muster. I couldn’t dare let on that I had no idea what I was doing. Eventually, thinking I must have swirled and sniffed enough, I took a little sip. My taste buds were delighted, performing a celebratory dance in my mouth. It was as if Bacchus himself had poured the wine into our glasses from Mount Olympus’ cellar. We continued swirling and tasting – continuing to enthuse about how marvellous it was.
“Surely this must be a good vintage Château Lafite Rothschild,” I announced to my husband confidently. (This was the only French wine I knew.) We just had to know what this nectar from heaven was so we called our waiter over and requested to see the bottle. The young Eastern European man looked thoroughly put out, rolled his eyes derisively, sighed and then dragged himself off to the kitchen – muttering under his breath.
A few minutes later, he reappeared and rambled back to our table carrying the mystery bottle. He dutifully held it out for us to inspect as I leaned over eagerly to take a look. The label had an illustration of a piece of land jutting out into the ocean which looked strangely familiar. I read the text underneath, “Two Oceans Dry Red Wine/Droë Rooi Wyn – Wine of Origin, Cape of Good Hope, Republic of South Africa.” I had traveled half way around the world and spent a small fortune on a South African wine. Shamefacedly, I gulped down the rest of my wine in complete silence, ignoring my sniggering spouse.