Our South America Trip Comes to an end in Buenos Aires
After nearly a month on our South American trip, we arrived in Buenos Aires from Colonia Uruguay early evening Monday February 17th. The ferry ride from Colonia was less than 2 hours, when we arrived at the ferry terminal it was pouring rain and we joined a long line of people waiting for taxis. We waited about 1.5 hours before we got a cab to our hotel, apparently getting a taxi in Buenos Aires on a rainy evening is very challenging.
We stayed at the Anselmo Buenos Aires, a Hilton Curio Collection hotel. This is a lovely property and we had a balcony room overlooking Plaza Dorrego. Plaza Dorrego is a very popular square in the San Telmo neighborhood, a quaint area with 19th Century buildings. The square is surrounded by cafe’s, bars, restaurants, antique shops and Tango clubs.
Since it was raining on our arrival at the Anselmo Hotel, we decided to stay in and had a light dinner at the hotel’s wine bar which feature Tapas style selections and, of course, good Malbec wine.
Tuesday morning was sunny and the forecast was for a warm, clear day. We walked from the hotel to the Plaza de Mayo, a little less than a mile. Along the way, we were taking in the splendid architecture of Buenos Aires. This city with its wide boulevards and neoclassical buildings reminds one of Paris. At Plaza de Mayo we took our obligatory pictures of the presidential residence, Casa Rosado.
To get an overview look at the city, we found our way to the Hop-on, Hop-off tourist bus stop and did the 2.5 hour loop. We did get off at “La Boca” district and spent an hour walking around, stopping for latte at a cafe to watch some Tango dancers. The colorful La Boca district is a very popular tourist attraction. When we got there it was a bit early so the crowds were not bad, but it didn’t take long before the cruise ship tours started arriving and the place became elbow to elbow. That was when we had seen enough and moved on.
By mid-afternoon we headed back to the hotel. At Plaza Dorrego, the nearby restaurants had tables set up under the plaza trees so we decided to get some lunch. A good asado (steak) was in order along with some Malbec. Tango dancers from the nearby clubs were performing right next to our table, so we enjoyed a long lunch immersed in the Argentine Tango experience. Quiet a classy way to end our day.
Time to go home
Our fight home was Wednesday evening. The hotel checkout time was Noon, so we had lots of time to kill before heading to Buenos Aires Int’l airport. Fortunately, the hotel offered a special private lounge area for checked-out guests awaiting late flights. This was a nice amenity, the lounge had a TV, coffee, water and other refreshments as well as comfortable chairs and tables. Since most international flights (to North America and Europe) leave late at night, this amenity is a great idea.
We were taking a LATAM flight from Buenos Aires to Lima Peru to connect with our United flight to Houston. All flights were on-time and we had a long layover in Houston before our final Boston flight, which was a good thing since Kathie had an issue with Global Entry and ended up in a long immigration line. Since we traveled United Polaris Class (Business), we were able to use the Polaris Lounge at Houston during the long layover. This lounge offers both a large buffet or à la carte dining along with very comfortable seating in a quiet, relaxing environment.
Home at last, but still buzzing about our amazing journey.
We got to Colonia around noon on Sunday February 16th after the 2.5 hour bus ride from Montevideo. It was a short cab ride from the bus terminal to our hotel, the Radisson and we were able to check-in right away. The Radisson is located on the water in the historic district and since this was a summer weekend in Uruguay, many families were staying at this hotel…. lots of kids!
We were hungry so decide to walk down to the area near the marina where there were many restaurants. All the restaurants had outdoor seating, but it was so hot and humid, we chose a place that had indoor “air conditioned” seating. It turned out the A/C was not very helpful, it was quite hot inside, but we powered through and had our Chivitos.
Because of the heat, we went back to the hotel to cool off and rest after lunch. Our plan was to go out to the waterfront later to watch the sunset.
While doing some Google research about Colonia long before our trip, one attraction that is mentioned by many is the beautiful sunsets. So we wanted to make sure we caught the sunset on our one and only night in Colonia.
The weather forecasts indicated that thunderstorms were approaching from the northwest and late afternoon we could see the big clouds building on the horizon over the Rio de la Plata. This probably would make the sunset more dramatic.
With camera and phones in hand, we headed to the riverfront and it seems that everyone else was doing the same thing. As it turned out, watching the sunset was a nightly ritual here in Colonia, and we were treated to a spectacular sight. The lighting was constantly changing as the sky started to glow a fiery red. The clouds enhanced the effect and the distant silhouette of Buenos Aires high-rises on the horizon added to the dramatic scene. At the point when the sun disappeared below the horizon, the onlookers broke out in applause. What a way to spend our last night in Uruguay!
Morning Walk Around Colonia
After that beautiful sunset, the skies were filled with brilliant lightning as the thunderstorms moved into the area. We decided to get back to the hotel for dinner so we wouldn’t get caught in any downpours. That night some heavy T-storms passed through the area.
The next day we went out for an early morning walk around the old town. It was still cloudy but the rains had stopped and it was very quiet and tranquil around town, it seemed we were the only people out and about.
We had the morning to ourselves, then checked out of the hotel early afternoon to get to the ferry terminal for our ferry to Buenos Aires. We left Colonia to spend our last two days in Buenos Aires. Our long amazing trip is coming to an end, stay tuned for our final Buenos Aires blog coming soon.
We arrived in Montevideo from Mendoza Argentina on February 13th, the 22nd day of our South American adventure. The first 21 days were with the Viking Ocean Cruise and Mendoza post-cruise extension, now we were “free-styling”, on our own for another week.
Why Montevideo? Back in the 1980’s Rick made many business trips to Uruguay and enjoyed the visits to Montevideo. The city had an interesting charm and culture and it’s fun to go back after all these years to see what changed and what stayed the same.
On our brief stop in Montevideo with the Viking Jupiter (our South America Cruise – Part 5 blog), we had a scheduled winery tour, so had very little free time to spend in Montevideo. Now we were on our own with several days to explore the city.
Then and Now
Montevideo has retained its charm and character. We stayed in the old town district, Ciudad Vieja, with its older colonial buildings as well as art deco architecture. This neighborhood, adjacent to the port, has several pedestrian-only streets that lead up to Plaza Independencia, the main square.
Most of the old town area hasn’t changed much since the last visit in the early 1980’s, but elsewhere there has certainly been big changes in Montevideo and Uruguay. Across the city, modern buildings can be seen and along the Rambla, a 13 mile long avenue that runs along the shoreline of the Rio e la Plate, high-rise apartments evoke a South Florida look.
Back in the 1980’s Uruguay was ruled by a military dictatorship. Anyone who spoke out against the government risked imprisonment or worse. Today Uruguay is a thriving democracy and Latin America’s most progressive country. Crime is very low, the standard of living is one of the best in South America. Uruguay has the highest literacy rate in Latin America, school is mandatory up to high school and the state run universities are free. Uruguay legalized the production, sale and consumption of cannabis.
Our hotel, the Don Boutique Hotel, located across the street from Mercado del Puerto or Port Market in the old town. This location was perfect as it was adjacent to one of the main pedestrian streets. We were able to walk to most old town attractions, restaurants and shops.
Our room was a front room on the second floor with a small balcony overlooking the street. Across the street was a small open air arena that was part of the Carnival Museum. Since this was in the middle of Carnival season (Mardi Gras), we had free (and loud) entertainment every night, so no early bedtime!
Apart from the late night entertainment, the Don Boutique Hotel was a nice place. The building is art-deco style, looks like it could be in South Beach. The roof-top bar was a great spot to enjoy a bottle of local Tannat wine while watching the sunset cast its golden glow over the city.
Sights & Sounds of Montevideo
Montevideo boasts the longest running Carnival celebrations which start in late January and goes on for 40 days. Local neighborhood dance and drum groups participate in various parades and events and we were fortunate that a couple of groups performed at the nearby Mercado del Puerto. The groups perform Candombe, a style of music and dance that immigrated to Uruguay with African slaves.
On Sunday February 16th, after a fun 3 days in Montevideo it was time to leave. Our next stop, Colonia del Sacramento, one of Uruguay’s oldest towns. We would stay in the cobble-stoned Barrio Histórico (historic quarter), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We got the last two seats (next to the toilet) on the 9:00AM bus to Colonia for the 2.5 hour ride. In our next post we will share the experiences in that historic town.
When we first booked our cruise early last year we decided to do an add-on post-cruise extension and the one we chose was called “Vineyards & Vistas of Mendoza”. This was billed as a 4-day excursion that included round-trip air from Buenos Aires to Mendoza as well as 3-nights in a luxury Mendoza hotel. One day of visiting several vineyards for tours and tastings the second day a scenic drive to the high Andes mountains. Our paperwork also stated that breakfasts were included as well as 2-lunches and 1 dinner. To our surprise we were treated to 3 dinners at 3 amazing Mendoza restaurants which we will discuss more below.
What made this trip so amazing was that we had such a small group, only 6 signed up, and we had two wonderful tour guides, Ailin (Eileen) and Estefan, who stayed with us the whole trip as well as a great driver, Horacio, with a very comfortable Mercedes mini-bus.
Our Hotel – The Diplomatic Hotel
The hotel accommodations were very good. The Diplomatic Hotel is rated as a 5-star hotel located in the downtown area of Mendoza, very convenient to restaurants and shopping. The hotel is nicely appointed with a very elegant lobby area. Our room was large and comfortable and we were on the 15th floor with a great view. Every evening at 7:00 PM the hotel offered free wine tasting in the lobby and each night the wines were from a different, local vineyard.
Our second day in Mendoza was scheduled for three winery tours along with lunch. We drove about 30-minutes outside town where miles and miles of vineyards line the roads. Both our tour guides Ailin and Estefan told us about the history and make-up of the Mendoza wine industry. Our guides are extremely knowledgeable about wine making and wine culture.
Casarena Bodega & Vineyards
Our first vineyard was the Casarena Bodega y Viñedos located about 26km from downtown Mendoza. This was a picturesque vineyard with the grapes about ready for harvest. We noted that all the vines were covered with wire or plastic mesh. We assumed that this was to prevent birds from getting at the grapes, but it was to protect the grapes and vines from hail, apparently Mendoza gets lots of thunderstorms.
Our tasting included Malbec, which was excellent, we also tried Cabernet Franc, a very good red wine as well. The tour of the underground cellars was interesting, they had racks of different vintages (bottles) that they use for quality control. They will occasionally sample the various aged vintages to make sure they are aging properly.
Caelum Winery is s smaller boutique winery in the Mendoza valley, its 145 acres mainly produce the red Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties, but they also offer a very nice Chardonnay as well as an interesting blush wine. The vineyard also produces pistachios from their small orchard.
Dominio del Plata Winery (Susana Balbo Wines)
Our third and final winery visit was to the Susana Balbo Winery. The winery has a restaurant called Osadía de Crear where we had a lunch that included wine pairings.
Susana Balbo is Argentina’s first women to receive a degree in enology (science and study of wine and wine-making) and has been a pioneering winemaker in Mendoza.
Andes Day Trip
On our second full day in Mendoza we were off at 7:30 AM from the hotel to start the long 3.5 – 4 hour drive. We would travel northwest on Highway 7 (road to Chile) along the Mendoza river valley as it climbed steadily through the foothills of the Andes. Our final destination was to drive up the old Uspallata Pass road to visit the famous Christ the Redeemer of the Andes monument which sits on the Argentine – Chile border at about 12,700-ft above sea level.
We had several stops along the way, the first stop was at a scenic overlook on Lake Potrerillos (man-made lake above Potrerillos hydro-electric dam). Our guides Ailin, Estefan and driver Horacio setup a small table and served us coffee and pastries with the scenic backdrop of Lake Potrerillos and surrounding mountains to enjoy.
A brief technical or “comfort” stop in the small town of Uspallata which is in a wide valley surrounded by larger, more rugged mountains leading to the high Andes.
Two additional stops before we reached our final destination. A stop at an observation point where we viewed Mount Aconcagua, at 22,837 ft., the highest mountain in the Americas and actually the highest outside of the Himalayas.
Another stop at Puente del Inca (Inca Bridge), a natural rock formation bridge at a mineral hot spring. The site is a bit touristy with many gift shops. The minerals from the hot springs have created colorful rock formations at the site. There is also an abandoned railroad station as well as ruins of a former hotel at the hot springs (hotel was demolished by an avalanche many years ago). The abandoned railroad station is part of a discontinued rail line that ran from Mendoza to Santiago Chile and much of the rail bed and infrastructure follows the Mendoza river and can be seen from Highway 7.
The drive to the top of Uspallata Pass was quite exciting. The dirt road has many sharp switchback curves as it winds its way up the the top. The road is barely wide enough for two vehicles, so it gets interesting when another car or bus is heading our way.
Our tour guide Estefan narrated the account of Argentina’s patriot, San Martin who led the Army of the Andes up this same pass to defeat Spanish forces in the early 19th Century and establish Argentina’s independence. Estefan is very passionate and knowledgeable about his country’s history and he likened San Martin to George Washington.
At the top we had time to explore, but it was extremely windy and a bit cold, so we huddled into one of the gift shops where Estefan had the vendors give us samples of some local drinks. It seemed both the cold drink and hot drink had some alcohol content, but don’t recall the local name of these drinks.
At this high altitude, we were a bit light headed and uncomfortable, so we didn’t stay too long before we started heading down to the base village where we would have lunch.
We got back down to the valley floor (a mere 7,000 ft above sea level) at the village of Las Cuevas where we had “hiker’s lunch” at Portezuelo del Viento, a hostel for backpackers and mountain climbers. The lunch was home cooked, Kathie had the chicken milanesa and I had the gnocchi. Of course, Malbec was the wine of choice.
Estefan introduced us to the owner, Juan Pablo Sarjanovich, who is a world class mountain climber, having climbed in the Himalayas and elsewhere. He is a guide who takes climbers up to nearby Mt. Aconcagua.
After this long day, we headed back to Mendoza and in the evening would have our farewell dinner.
Our tour itinerary included a group dinner each of the three nights we were in Mendoza. Our tour guides and Viking set up reservations at three premier restaurants of Mendoza.
On our first night in Mendoza our tour guides brought us to one of Mendoza’s best restaurants, Maria Antonieta for our welcome dinner. The restaurant was right next door to the Diplomatic Hotel, so a very quick walk to our table. This restaurant is owned by Chef Vanina Chimeno the wife and partner of Argentina’s most famous chef and restaurateur Francis Mallmann. Some may recognize Chef Mallmann who was featured on season 1 of the Netflix series Chef’s Table.
This restaurant is a small bistro with an open kitchen and apparently it is difficult to get reservations, but thanks to Viking we were able to get a table for eight for our group.
Sitting at the table next to us was a man and woman who had that “celebrity look”. Later our guides told us that the gentleman was “La Mona” a well known Argentine pop star. He and his wife were staying at the Diplomatic Hotel and we later saw lots of fans outside the hotel hoping for a glimpse or autograph.
We had a great meal at Maria Antonieta, most opting for the signature Rib Eye steak accompanied by an excellent Malbec. A great first night in Mendoza!
On our second night the group had dinner at Josefina Restó. This restaurant is on Avenue Arístides Villanueva, simply known as Aristides by the locals, and it is Mendoza’s main night life area. Plenty of restaurants and bars make this a lively neighborhood.
Another great choice, this restaurant is a large open space with floor to ceiling windows and we had a window table, taking in all the activity outside. The food was great and again we were served some excellent local wines.
On our last night in Mendoza a special farewell dinner was held at Azafran Restaurant, which was around the corner from our hotel. Our tour guides told us that they wanted this last dinner to be special and they did not disappoint.
The restaurant had a special wine cellar which was actually a large room in the front of the restaurant with a large window overlooking their side walk cafe area. The “cellar” had floor to ceiling wine racks and in the center of the room was a large round table where we would be seated for dinner. This room was cooled for the wine, so each chair had an alpaca shawl for those who were cold.
This was a great way to end our Viking cruise and tour. Everyone had an enjoyable time and we stayed very late (we had to get up for a 7am car to the airport). It was a bit sad to say goodbye to our travel companions, our waitress was kind to take a group picture to send us on our way.
After the farewell dinner we said goodbye to the rest of the group and our guide Estafan. While the others were scheduled to fly back to Buenos Aires Int’l airport at noon the next day for their trip home, we were to continue another week on our own with a visit to Uruguay. Our flight was earlier in the morning, so Ailin arranged a car to pick us up at 7am.
Ailin was waiting in the lobby at 7am to make sure we got off OK and we had a young man accompany us to the airport to help us check-in (part of Viking’s transfer service).
The main part of our trip, the Viking Ocean Cruise and post cruise excursion had ended, we were now heading to Montevideo Uruguay for some free style touring. Our flight to Montevideo was on time and the last phase of our long South American adventure was underway. Our next post will be about our Uruguay experiences.
After leaving Puerto Madryn Argentina, we had nearly two full days at sea before docking in Montevideo Uruguay. This would be our last several days of the cruise portion of our trip, where we will end and disembark in Buenos Aires.
One of the sea days on the way to Montevideo was pretty rough, with gale force winds that even peaked to hurricane force. The ride was a bit rough, but the ship’s stabilizing systems helped make it tolerable. The winds were so strong that all outside deck areas were closed.
We arrived in Montevideo on the morning of Feb 8, 2020. The dock is right in the old town section making it convenient for walking to town. We had a winery tour scheduled for the afternoon, so our morning was free which gave us a chance to walk around and explore.
For me this was a bit nostalgic since I spent quite a bit of time in Montevideo and Uruguay back in the 1980’s. At that time I was working for Raytheon and was the lead Project Engineer for a vessel traffic monitoring radar system we installed for the Uruguay Navy. I had spent many months in country and made many trips there back in the day.
Where we docked was adjacent to the main Navy headquarters building with its large glass dome cupola that still has a harbor surveillance radar spinning on top (not the one we installed years ago). I recall working on the very top of that cupola with its amazing view of the harbor and city.
Alongside the dock near our ship was a beautiful tall ship that was visiting Montevideo. The Russian tall ship Sedov is a 4-masted barque operated by Murmansk University and is a training ship.
As you leave the gated port facilities there is a monument with one of the anchors and a range-finder from the German pocket Battleship Graf Spee, which was scuttled off Montevideo in 1939. This was one of the first naval battles of World War 2 when Royal Navy warships damaged the Graf Spee in what would be called the Battle of the River Plate. The German Captain sought refuge in neutral Uruguay to do repairs and transfer his wounded for medical care. Under neutrality rules, the Graf Spee could only stay in Uruguay’s neutral waters for 72 hours. The Captain decided to scuttle the ship rather than steam out into the British ambush. Thousands lined the shores of Montevideo to watch the battleship blow up. Many artifacts were recovered over the years and many displayed at the Uruguay Naval museum.
The old town section of Montevideo (Ciudad Vieja) is a maze of narrow streets and old buildings. There are several pedestrian streets with plenty of souvenir shops and restaurants and it takes about 20 minutes to walk up to the main plaza, Plaza Independencia. Along the way are several smaller plazas, the main Cathedral and plenty of people drinking Mate.
Not far from the port entrance is the famous Mercado del Puerto (Port Market), with many Parrilla grills serving up steaks, sausages and other meat delights.
We spent about 2-hours wandering around before returning to the ship for our afternoon winery tour.
Juanico Vineyards & Winery
Our afternoon tour to the Juanico Winery was about a 40 minute coach ride outside Montevideo. We were with a group of about 30 other guests from our ship and a local tour guide (don’t remember his name). Our guide was great, he was very funny, but informative. Told us all about the current situation in Uruguay, the history and talked a lot about the local wines.
We learned that Uruguay is the most progressive country in South America with free education for all, a good healthcare system, very stable and safe society. Oh, and the only country in South America to legalize medicinal and recreational marijuana.
When we arrived at the vineyard a young woman from the vineyard took over the tour and we stopped first out in the vineyard to walk among the vines. Since it’s late summer in the Southern Hemisphere, harvest time is very soon, so the grapes were full and almost ready to pick. The predominant grape variety here is the Tannat grape. This is a very deep blue grape and the Tannat wines we would taste later were amazing.
After walking around the vineyard we were brought to the winery and cellars for a tour and then tasting. The grounds of this winery were very picturesque and the wines we tasted were top notch. We are now Tannat lovers! We still have our Mendoza Argentina cruise extension coming up in several days, so the Malbec is waiting!
We left Montevideo early evening for the overnight trip across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires where we would spend our last two days on Viking Jupiter. As we left Montevideo Harbor we passed many derelict boats, not sure what the story is there.
We will return to Montevideo in several days.
We docked in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning, February 9th at a main commercial port facility. We would stay on the ship overnight before disembarking to end the cruise portion of our trip.
Where we docked was in the middle of a big container terminal, so we had to use shuttle buses to get from the ship to the cruise terminal building. We had a full day excursion tour booked for Sunday which was a boat tour of the Paraná River Delta. It was about a 1 hour coach ride to the suburb called Tigre where we would board the excursion boat.
The Paraná River is the second longest river in South America (of course the Amazon is the longest) at about 3,000 miles long with its source in southern Brazil. The delta is a vast wetland area with endless channels and waterways, looking similar to the Mississippi delta in Louisiana.
The boat tour, about 1.5 hours, took us through several canals where there were large numbers of weekend cabins, cottages and even some substantial mansions, all built up on stilts because of the annual floods. It seems that every home had their own dock and many of these places can only be accessed by water, so lots of small boats.
On the return trip to the ship, we stopped at the city of San Isidro and visited the Cathedral there, a beautiful late 19th Century neogothic style building. Our tour guide walked us through the cathedral, but we stopped briefly inside because Mass was about to begin. The Plaza de San Isidro in front of the church hosts a long standing artisan market and there were many stalls with hand made apparel and jewelry.
Cruise Ends ☹
We had a nice dinner on our last night on board. Said good bye to our favorite service staff members, put the luggage out by 10pm, then went to bed for the last time in our comfy stateroom.
Overnight, another larger MSC cruise ship docked nearby and when it was our group’s turn to disembark in the morning, the cruise terminal was chaotic with a couple of thousand passengers trying to get their luggage through the security x-ray scanners.
Since we booked a cruise extension for three days in Mendoza, Viking arranged to fly us to Mendoza. Up until now, we didn’t know how many others would be on this excursion. We met up with the others who were going to Mendoza and there were two other couples for a total of six. Very small group! We were met outside the cruise terminal by our guide who took us to the local airport for our flight. Our guide Ailin (Eileen) would stay with us for the whole Mendoza trip and we would be joined by a second guide in Mendoza, Estefan. We will have a separate blog post about our Mendoza excursion which turned out to be one of the best post cruise excursions we have ever taken with several pleasant surprises.
We spent several days cruising the southern tip of South America with port stops in Punta Arenas Chile, Ushuaia Argentina, and then sailing around Cape Horn to enter the South Atlantic.
We spent a day in Punta Arenas and we opted for the included walking tour of the town. The ship was alongside the main dock which is in the center of town and our walking tour started right from the dock. We had an excellent local guide.
It was a bit disheartening to see the damage, graffiti and vandalism to buildings and monuments from the recent riots and unrest. The highlight of the tour was the walk up to a hilltop vista point (steep sidewalks and lots of steps) which offered a great view of the town with Magellan Strait in the background.
An overnight sail from Punta Arenas brought us back out through the Magellan Strait, then into the Beagle Channel for an early morning arrival in Ushuaia Argentina on January 31st.
Ushuaia Argentina is the worlds southern most city and it is a main departure point for Antarctic expeditions. The city is located on Tierra el Fuego and is known as the “End of the World”. It has colorful buildings and is surrounded by snow covered mountains which provide a very scenic backdrop.
We had a brief bus tour around the city and we spent the afternoon walking around the small downtown and along the waterfront. We found the Hard Rock Cafe, I suppose it would be the southern most Hard Rock Cafe in the world. At the recommendation of our tour director David, we visited the Laguna Negra chocolate shop. According to David it is one of the best chocolate shops in South America. We ended up buying a kilo of assorted chocolates and definitely agree with our tour director.
The port is very busy and the dock where we tied up was full of the smaller Antarctic Expedition cruise ships. We left late in the afternoon for the overnight sail to Cape Horn.
Rounding Cape Horn
We arrive at Cape Horn at around 8am on February 1st. Cape Horn is actually an island so after viewing the actual southern most point with the famous Cape Horn lighthouse, we sailed around the island and then headed northeast for our next destination, Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. As we sailed around Cape Horn, there were other smaller cruise ships sailing around the area. As we entered the Atlantic Ocean the winds and the seas picked up a bit so it was a bit rough for much of the day and overnight sail towards the Falklands.
We were looking forward to the visit to the Falklands. There were quite a few interesting shore excursions available and we chose two excursions that involved scenic drives and visits to penguin areas.
During the port briefing the night before our arrival we were told there was a possibility that high winds would prevent tender boat operations, thus cancelling the Falkland shore visits. The final decision would be made in the morning when we anchored, when the Captain could assess the conditions and forecasts.
In the morning, it appeared that the winds were favorable, so we were all at our departure assembly points waiting for our turn to board the tenders. The early tour groups actually got ashore but then the winds started picking up an the forecast was not good. The Captain decided to cancel all shore tours and recalled all who already made it ashore. Needless to say, there was a lot of disappointed passengers, but we totally respect the Captains decision. If several hundred passengers were ashore and could not be returned to the ship the whole remain cruise itinerary could have been jeopardized. In addition Port Stanley does not have hotel accommodations to handle that many people and they would have been housed in local school gyms or auditoriums.
So we left the Falklands for the two day sail to Puerto Madryn Argentina where we hope to see penguins.
It is the half way point of our South American Cruise. Nine more days to go as the sunsets on the first half of our voyage.
Our long-anticipated Viking Ocean Cruise, “South America & the Chilean Fjords”, has begun. We left home on January 22nd departing Boston to Houston where we connected with an overnight flight to Santiago Chile.
Our airline of choice is United since we have elite status and we were able to upgrade to “Polaris” Business class. The amenities with Polaris are great, they have a special Polaris Lounge at Houston which had hot food, free drinks and very comfortable surroundings. The lay-flat seats onboard the Boeing 767 allowed us to get some sleep on the 9 hour overnight flight, arriving about 10AM local time on Jan 23rd.
Our cruise scheduled arrival date was Jan 24th, but we chose to arrive one day early, so we stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel right outside the baggage claim section of Santiago Int’l Airport.
We chose to arrive one day early as a contingency. Since we live in New England we must expect that winter storms could screw up travel itineraries, so adding a “safety day” gives us some piece of mind. As it turned out, the same United flight the following day, with about 70 Viking passengers onboard, had to return to Houston after several hours because of mechanical problems. Those folks had to sleep in the airport and the flight finally departed after more than 14 hours delay. Those folks didn’t get to Chile and onboard the ship until after midnight, missing the first days activities.
The morning of the 24th we checked out of the Holiday Inn after a good night’s sleep, walked across the street to the baggage claim and met the Viking greeters who got us on our bus for the ride to the ship in Valparaiso. We got to our ship, the Viking Jupiter, at about Noon, our room wouldn’t be ready until 2pm.
Lunch with a Chilean Friend
This free time was an opportunity for me to meet up with an old friend and work colleague Luis Torres. I have known Luis since my days at Raytheon in the early 1980’s when his company did service work on our radar and navigation systems. Several trips to Chile in those old days where I got to know Luis. In recent years we reconnected on Facebook.
Luis invited me for lunch at the Club Naval (Chilean Navy Officers Club). In addition to his past service business, he is a retired Naval Officer. We had a great time reminiscing.
Checking into our Stateroom
We checked into our stateroom on the Viking Jupiter by late afternoon on the 24th. This day was Rick’s birthday, and waiting in our stateroom was a chocolate cake smothered in fresh strawberries and blueberries along with a bottle of champagne and happy birthday card. Nice touch Viking Cruises!
The staterooms on these new Viking Ocean Cruise ships are spacious and very comfortable. All rooms have verandas, no inside cabins. The bathrooms are roomy with a large shower. Also plenty of storage. There are several AC outlets, both US and Europe style along with quite a few USB charging ports on each bedstand and the desk. A mini- frig is stocked with soft drinks, Toberlone chocolate bars and assorted nut mixes, all free and restocked everyday. There is free WiFi throughout the ship, albiet, not super high speed, but adequate for email, web and social media. I hope to do a separate blog about the ship and life onboard.
Tour of Valparaiso and Casas del Bosque Winery
We had one additional day in Valparaiso before the ship left and on that day we had a Valparaiso city tour and a visit to a local winery for a tour and wine tasting.
If you have been following recent events in Chile you will know that public protests against economic and political issues turned into full blown riots and violence. We saw the results first hand during the city tour. Most downtown shops were still boarded up, some burnt out and destroyed. Lots of political graffiti covers once beautiful architecture and public monuments. It’s a shame to see this damage.
We then drove about 45 minutes outside Valparaiso to the Casablanca Valley wine district. There we toured the Casas del Busque vineyards, a local boutique winery.
Our tour guide, a very knowledgeable young woman, walked us around one of the Pinot Noir vineyards, then into the production area and finally an aging cellar where we tasted several wines.
We tasted 3 wines; a white (Chardonnay) which was very good and 2 reds. One red, I believe was a Merlot and the second a Carménère. The Carménère was excellent and our guide explained that this grape was an old variety originally introduced into France’s Bordeaux region by the Romans in ancient times. Spanish missionaries brought the plants to Chile in the 16th Century where they have flourished since. The Carménère was all but wiped out in France by phylloxera plague in the mid-19th Century, but Chile’s climate and soil are resistant to phylloxera, so this dark red grape and wine is still produced. We enjoyed this variety so much, we bought a bottle to enjoy later.
Sailing out of Valparaiso
We left Valparaiso late on the 25th for the start of our long and exciting cruise. As we left Valparaiso, we watched the busy activity around the port, and watched the Harbor Pilot wave goodbye from the Pilot Boat. As we sailed south on the Pacific a beautiful sunset ended our first cruise day.
Christmas time for me evokes many warm childhood memories. Decorating our family tree, shopping with mom in the big department stores all decked out with lights and displays, and of course, Santa Claus. I remember how excited we would get as Christmas day approach; the anticipation was palpable.
Many if not most of our Christmas traditions are deeply rooted in European culture. From the Christmas stories we read, Christmas TV shows and movies, Christmas music and Hallmark cards, all seem to depict those Dickensian or Currier & Ives themed scenes of a simpler time. What’s more traditional than the Christmas Market? These Christmas Markets date back to the Middle Ages celebrating the Advent season leading up to Christmas day.
What is it about European Christmas Markets that keeps drawing us back? When you walk the cobblestone streets of a European Christmas Market, usually located at the main Cathedral square or at centuries old town hall plazas, the past seems to come alive. Vendor chalets selling hand crafted ornaments, decorations or toys, plenty of local street food and the famous hot mulled wine (German Gluhwein or French Vin Chaud). For me this is magical, reinforcing the Christmas Spirit.
This years Christmas Market visit was to Brussels. Flying on the day after Thanksgiving, arriving for the opening weekend of Brussels’ Plaisirs D’hiver or Winter Wonders celebrations. The festivities are spread throughout the city and my hotel was in front of the main Christmas Market at Place Sainte-Catherineis.
The crowds were huge for the opening weekend with all ages; families with kids, young and older adults, lots of locals and tourists. Obviously a very popular place at Christmas time.
The Sights & Sounds of Brussels’ Christmas Markets
The main Christmas Market at Place Sainte-Catherineis with over 200 vendor chalets was located right across the street from my hotel, the Brussels Welcome Hotel. The hotel was quaint and quirky, with each room decorated in a different country decor. My room, the Cuba Room had a model of a ’57 Chevy convertible on the door (instead of a number), and the interior had cigar themed pictures and decorations plus a large wall mural of an old Havana building facade. The owners, Michel & Sophie and their staff were very friendly and helpful. They had their own chalet at the Christmas Market that featured oysters and champagne, that’s classy!
Speaking of the food, this Christmas Market had most of the typical fare; German bratwurst, pretzels, other comfort food, and of course, the Gluhwein. But there were some upscale selections as well, such as escargot, Russian caviar and vodka, along with the local favorites, fresh Mussels, Belgian chocolate and Belgian waffles. Fortunately there is a lot of walking at these Christmas Markets, so you can burn off those excess calories.
There were several other Christmas Markets within walking distance. Grand Place, the main city square, with its towering 17th Century city hall surrounded by the gold trimmed Guild Halls, featured a large Christmas Tree in the center of the square. Grand Place was the site of an amazing light and sound show, presented every evening (several showings each night), with colorful lights projected against the facades of the old buildings.
Grand Place Light & Sound Show video
After a week in Brussels it was time to go home. This was the last trip for our 2019 travel season. Another Christmas Market completed and awaiting the New Year for new and exciting travel adventures.
Our 1-Week Northern Arizona Vacation…. Nov 2-9, 2019
The last time we visited Northern Arizona was in November of 1973. I was in the Navy stationed on a nuclear submarine out of San Diego. After a grueling 9-month WestPac deployment, I took some R&R leave when Kathie and I visited Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Lake Powell and Las Vegas.
Fast forward 46 years and Grand Canyon was part of our recent visit, which was seven days (Nov 2-9). We spent the first four nights in Flagstaff and the final three nights in Sedona.
Our hotel in Flagstaff was the Residence Inn, which is a relatively new hotel located right in the historic downtown district. Walking distance to the many restaurants, cafes, pubs, micro-breweries and wine bars of Flagstaff.
We spent our last three days in the Sedona area. Our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express is actually in Oak Creek which is several miles outside Sedona proper.
The drive into Sedona on state route 179 from Interstate 17 offers an amazing welcoming view of the Sedona valley. The stunning red rock buttes rise up from the desert floor and in the late Fall sun, the lighting and colors are spectacular. Any visit to Sedona must include a drive up the the airport lookout area. This vantage point offers wide panoramas of Sedona and the surrounding area. It’s best to go there at sunset.
One of the attractions not too far from Sedona is the Verde Canyon Railroad, located in Clarksdale, about 40 minutes south of Sedona. This is a sightseeing excursion train that runs along the Verde River and goes through the deep, red rock canyons offering spectacular scenery. Since this was November, the cottonwood, aspen and sycamore trees were in full Fall colors, which added to the beauty of this area.
The actual river cruise portion of our trip started on Saturday, October 12, 2019. Our ship, the Viking Torgil, left from city of Vila Nova de Gaia near the mouth of the Douro River at Porto and traveled about 200km to Barca d’Alva at the Spanish border (of course then returning to Porto) and along the way, some of the most beautiful scenery unfolds around each bend of the river. Due to navigation regulations, ships can only transit the river during daylight, which is perfect for sightseeing. At night the ship is docked at small riverside towns and various shore excursions are scheduled around these stops.
The river winds through miles and miles of the valley where steep man-made hillside terraced vineyards rise up from the river’s edge. These terraces were built centuries ago and grapes are still picked by hand. Wine has been produced in the area for more than 2,000 years, but it was not until 1756 that the industry became organized and internationally recognized.
As the ship moves further upstream, the true story of the area’s wine country begins to unfold. Here, in the Alto Douro Wine Region, winding roads pattern the landscape, leading up to wonderfully lush vineyards. Gleaming white quintas, or wine estates, are visible and offer a glimpse of a traditional way of life that has existed for centuries.
Sightseeing along the Douro
Dams and Locks
The trip up to Barca d’Alva requires passing through five locks that are connected with large dams. The dams were build in the 1970’s-80’s for flood control and hydro-electric power. The lock systems allow larger vessel traffic to navigate the Douro and, of course, opened up the river cruise tourism industry. Each lock raises the vessel above the dam and the lock at Carrapatelo Lock Dam is one of the highest locks in the world at 35 meters. The ship also passes under many bridges, some are very low and there is very little clearance. The ship’s pilothouse can be hydraulically lowered, and all masts are lowered. It’s quite a thrill to be on the sundeck when passing under low bridges. At one particular bridge, the crew required everyone on the sundeck to remain seated.
Going through the Crestuma – Lever Dam/Lock, Carrapatelo Dam/Lock, low bridges and narrow, rocky passages.
A stop in the area’s largest riverside town, Regua which is an important transportation crossroads and where the steep hills and terraced vineyards begin to rise above the river. In nearby Vila Real is one of the region’s most elegant houses—Mateus Palace. This 18th-century baroque house and gardens, once belonging to local counts. The house’s interior is an extravagant display of period furnishings and decor while its gardens, among the finest in Portugal, feature a 115-foot-long tunnel carved from fragrant cedar trees. Today, the estate enjoys celebrity status: It is depicted on the labels of Mateus Rosé, though the wine is produced elsewhere.
A visit and tour of the Favaios’ wine cooperative, Adega Cooperativa de Favaios, provided incite into this area’s very famous wine, Moscatel de Favaios. Our visit coincided with the end of the harvests season, where we saw lots of activity. The tour was followed by a tasting of this Moscatel variety, which is nothing like that fortified “Muscatel” wine we may remember from our youth.
After the winery visit we did a walking tour of the small town of Favaios with visit to a famous family run bakery that produces the local “four corners bread”. The baker, Dona Manuela, a grandmother, has been featured in Viking Cruise’s promotional videos.
When the ship docked at Barca d’Alva we had a full day excursion over to Salamanca Spain for a walking tour of that city, visiting several interesting sights along with free time for lunch. The coach ride was about 2-hours.
We started our tour with a visit to the main indoor market, Mercado Central, where Viking had arranged a tasting of the local cured hams, cheeses, olives, and of course, some wine. There were a number of carnicerías (butcher shops) with the famous Jamon Iberico hanging on display. You see many grades of Jamon Iberico (acorn fed aged black pig leg), and some were priced as much as EU499! Several fish markets featured a variety of fresh seafood, but also had lots of salted cod, the local staple of the Iberian Peninsula. Then there were plenty of fruits and vegetables, bakeries and some specialty shops featuring Spain’s famous saffron. We did buy some saffron, it was expensive, but not as much as we would pay here at home. We will need to get out our favorite paella recipe!
Our walking tour with a local guide was interesting, but the weather didn’t cooperate, with rain showers turning into more steady rain fall. This was the first bad weather day we encountered on the cruise.
A visit to the Salamanca Cathedral gave us a chance to get out of the rain. There are two cathedrals, the Old Cathedral and New Cathedral. Back in the 16th Century it was decided that the original cathedral was too small, so a new, larger cathedral was needed. Originally it was planned to demolish the Old Cathedral, but then it was decided the New Cathedral would be build adjacent to the existing one.
The Old Cathedral is Romanesque, dating from the 12th century, and is famous for its ornate Gallo Tower. Its breathtaking 15th-century altarpiece features no less than 53 panels depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus Christ and Mary, topped by a presentation of the Final Judgment.
The New Cathedral was constructed between the 16th and 18th centuries in two styles: late Gothic and Baroque. Building began in 1513 and the cathedral was consecrated in 1733.
Brief video tour of Salamanca’s Central Market, New Cathedral and rainy walk around town.
This medieval hilltop town, a bastion of the country’s heritage, provides a glimpse into the Portugal of yesterday. Due to its location near the Spanish border, it has been the subject of many frontier battles over the centuries. However, the structures did little to deter the determined Spaniards and so these fortifications were constantly under assault, besieged and rebuilt. It is a testament to their strength that as many as 20 have survived as lasting reminders of a long and bloody period of dispute between the two nations. The castles’ architectural styles range from medieval to Gothic.
The region around Castelo Rorigo has many almond orchards and as we walked through the medieval streets, local vendors were offering samples of everything almond; candied almonds, savory almonds, almond liquers. We couldn’t leave with purchasing several packages of various almond treats.
We spent a morning in the town of Lemego, starting at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Remédios on a hill high above town. This is an important pilgrimage church with a staircase of 686 steps leading from the town below to the church. Landings on the stairway have statues and chapels and are adorned with beautiful blue tile mosaics. During the annual pilgrimage many penitents climb the steps on their knees. Needless to say, we didn’t walk the stairs.
With some free time in the town below we had our obligatory coffee with Pastel de Nata at a local coffee shop on the square. We also visited the Cathedral and the Lamego Museum. The museum is a must see, with an impressive collection of Portuguese and European paintings from the 16th to the late 18th centuries, plus pottery, sculptures, tapestries, and other artifacts dating back to Roman times.
What stood out on this trip was the amazingly beautiful scenery in the Douro Valley. It’s safe to say it is one of the most beautiful places we have visited so far in our world travels. Another thing that stands out is the friendliness of the Portuguese people. We have met some wonderful people and came away with new friends. This will not be our last trip to Portugal, must return!
This slide show illustrates the natural beauty of the Douro Valley, please enjoy.