March 11, 2023, just two days into our journey on the Viking Venus, we were treated to a breathtaking display of the Northern Lights as we sailed through the fjords towards Narvik. The shimmering green and purple hues of the aurora borealis left us speechless and in awe.
The next morning, we stepped off the ship into a winter wonderland, with snow-covered mountains and fjords stretching out before us. A panoramic bus tour of Narvik gave us a glimpse into the town’s history and culture, including a visit to the Narvik War Museum, where we learned about the town’s role in World War II and the Battle of Narvik. It was a sobering but fascinating experience, and we left with a newfound appreciation for the sacrifices made by those who fought for their country.
As we set sail once again, we couldn’t help but feel grateful for the chance to experience such natural beauty and learn more about Norway’s rich history and culture. Next stop Tromso Norway.
Our first sighting of the Northern Lights from the decks of the Viking Venus
The Pandemic has taken a toll on our travel blog. Nothing to report since our last article in early March about our final days in Buenos Aires.
I thought it would be appropriate on this Veteran’s Day/Remembrance Day to share some of my grandfather’s writings about his experiences in World War One. I am fortunate to have inherited a treasure trove of his typewritten, hand illustrated stories.
ARMISTICE NOVEMBER 11, 1918
The following stories were written by my Grandfather, David Lee Wetmore who served in the Royal Canadian Dragoons cavalry regiment during World War One. He enlisted in Canada at war’s outbreak in August 1914 and served in France and Belgium fighting in battles that included Somme, Ypres, and Cambria. He returned to Canada in 1919 with his war bride (my Grandmother) he met in England.
The stories that follow were from typewritten pages, illustrated with his hand drawn sketches. He wrote these (and many more) during the 1940’s and 1950’s from his recollections. While these stories were not dated, they are obviously written about the events surrounding the Armistice while he was in an unnamed Belgian village. The French phrases in each story are my grandfather’s attempt at written French.
I was fortunate to find the daily war diaries of the Royal Canadian Dragoons on the Library and Archives of Canada website and can now provide the historical context of my grandfather’s stories. From these diaries, here is the timeline of the days leading up to 11 November 1918.
Nov 7…. Left Baralle (France) at 07:30 arrived at Cuincy (France) at 13:00 very dull day – men billeted in ruins of village – horse in open
Nov 8-9…. Left Cuincy at 06:00 arrived Martinsart (Belgium) 10:00 – men in buildings and horses in open
Nov 10…. Left Martinsart at 09:30 arrived at Peronnes (Belgium) at 20:00 – Belgians very pleased to see us
Nov 11… Left Peronnes at 08:00 – “A” Squadron left Flank Guard to the Division – Regiment leading with ??? – Brigade halted at Tourpes (Belgium) at 10:40 – Cease Fire sounded at 11:00 – Everyone overjoyed but rather sorry not to be actually in touch with the Bosche at the time – returned Westward and spent the night at Haut-Trieux.
In My Grandfather’s Words
OU FAIRE VOUS MESS’URE? We were following up the German retreat. The vaunted power of the Kaiser’s army was badly diminished, and a corporal and four men had been known to bring in a whole regiment of German prisoners.
An old soldier by this time, I knew enough to carry an extra blanket rolled in my greatcoat, as the army’s slogan “one man, one blanket” was proving badly inadequate on these chilly nights. My right hand mate had crawled under the blankets with me and we had spent the night fairly comfortably, then getting up and underway again with the dawn in the morning.
But as we began to pass through the villages, more and more we were asked the question “Ou Faire vous Mes’sure. Le guerre finis”. About noon we were off saddled in a field while the officers attended a ‘pow-wow’. Idly we lay around, caught up on our sleep or played cards, expecting any moment to get the order to saddle up and move. After having been asked the question several times that morning, the liaison officer passes us and I asked him whether he had heard anything of what the villagers were talking about. He replied that there was a rumor to that effect, but that it was, as yet, unconfirmed.
TRUMPETER We were sitting around waiting for orders when the Colonel came rushing out of a gang of officers who had been ‘pow-wowing’ all the time we were in there, at a telephone station, roaring for a trumpeter. Thinking that we were about to move out we all started scrambling around for our gear, when the trumpeter instead of the ‘Boots and saddles’ that we had expected, sounded ‘Cease fire’.
We were all so fed up and disgusted that for a moment, nothing happened. Le guerre, indeed, was finis. But just for the moment, it didn’t register, there was no outbreak of cheering, no demonstration of any sort. We were just so eternally disgusted with everything that nothing mattered any more.
YOU HAVE DONE ENOUGH FOR BELGIUM When we stabled the horses that night the civilians came rushing into the stables. They would not allow us to do anything. “You have done enough for Belgium” they said “Belgium now does for you”. They seized the brushes, pails or whatever we might have in our hands as we were doing the necessary work of seeing our mounts taken care of, out of our hands. “Merci Dieu vive le Canadien” they said, and we were forced, much to the sergeant’s disgust to stand with our hands in our pockets while the civvies took care of our horses.
DANCING IN THE STREETS There was dancing in the streets of the Belgian village that night. We had scarcely eaten our supper when the local beauties, arrayed in their best, dragged us out “Allez: Allez le dance” they said. And we danced in the streets, where huge blazing fires had been lighted, until early dawn. Even the good priest had attended, though I don’t remember that he danced.
We could scarcely find it in our hearts to blame them. They had had their faces ground into the dirt by the arrogant German Soldiers for too many years now to let anything interfere with their pleasure. And they were a pleasure-loving people.
All night long, as we danced to the music of a local fiddler, doing his best, the village rang with cries of the villagers “Vive le Canadien” “Merci Dieu”. With a girl on each arm, dressed in the finest she had, we kept the celebration going until early morning, nor were the girls loath to stay as long as we would.
EVERY DAY IS WASHDAY The Belgian villagers just couldn’t do enough for us. Having a small washing I wanted done one morning, I approached the good lady of the house asking if I could get it done. “Oui, Mess’ure: she responded cheerfully. “When can I get it?” I asked “Tonight, mess’ure” she answered “But” I said “This is not washday” “Every day is washday, mess’ure” she said “If you have washing to be done”.
A Badly Frightened Man Shortly after the Armistice, we were following up the German retreat when we received word one afternoon that a German straggler was hiding in a barn a few miles away.
I was sent with a small detachment to bring him in and turn him over to the authorities.
When we reached the village, we found an excited mob of villagers milling around the door of a barn.
We went in and after a short search, found the man cowering behind stacked bales of hay at the back of the barn.
We took him out, formed a hollow square with the horses and placed him in the middle of it. He was the most badly frightened man that I have ever seen and well he might be. If those villagers, armed as they were, with pitchforks, axes, clubs, any weapon with which they could do damage (one woman had even brought along an iron ladle) had they ever got their hands on him, they would cheerfully have torn him limb from limb.
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.
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.
After two days in Lisbon our Viking Cruise itinerary had us heading to Porto where we would join our river cruise ship, the Viking Torgil. On the coach ride to Porto we stopped in Coimbra for a tour of the historic University of Coimbra, followed by some free time in the town and then a traditional Portuguese lunch at República da Saudade restaurant accompanied by Fado music. The university is the oldest in Portugal and one of the oldest, continuously operating universities in the world.
A video recap of our visit to Coimbra
Portugal’s second largest city, Porto holds a place of great traditional importance. The town lends its name to the port wine produced in the region and throughout the nation. Located along the Douro River, the city boasts picturesque neighborhoods, fashionable restaurants and cozy coffee shops. Like Lisbon, Porto has a rich past; its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A great walking city where you find narrow cobblestone streets brimming with romantic buildings spanning the centuries and a stunning Romanesque cathedral on a hilltop overlooking the river and city.
At the riverside, small barcos rabelos, boats once used to transport casks of wine, paint a charming scene. A major landmark on the river is the Ponte Luís I or Luís I Bridge. This iconic metal bridge, a true engineering marvel, built in 1886, connects Porto with Vila Nove de Gaia. The bridge has two levels, the lower level carries vehicle and pedestrian traffic while the high upper level is for street tram and pedestrian traffic. The upper level offers breathtaking panoramic views of the Douro, Porto and its surrounding areas.
Our ship, the Viking Torgil was docked across the river from Porto in Vila Nove de Gaia, where all the major Port makers have their warehouses. You see all the big names on these warehouses and tasting rooms such as; Sandeman, Taylor, Cockburn’s, Croft. The riverfront adjacent to our vessel is a very lively waterfront area with many restaurants, bars, shops and other attractions. A nearby cable car carries you up to the top of the hill where the upper level of the Luís I Bridge crosses over to Porto.
Some interesting facts about Porto:
Porto is one of Europe’s oldest cities, having been founded inBC as a Roman settlement.
With its six bridges that cross the Douro, Porto is known as the “City of Bridges”.
Two of Porto’s six bridges were designed by Gustave Eiffel before he began work on his famous namesake tower in Paris.
Porto is Portugal’s second largest city.
In 1996, the city’s historic center was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
The city is famous for its historic port wine trade, the center of which lies at Vila Nove de Gaia on the south bank of the Douro River.