March 7, 2023, we had only one full day in London before we boarded the Viking Venus to start our Northern Lights cruise to Arctic Norway. Having visited London in the past, we had seen most of the typical tourist sites, but have never ridden on the London Eye. We had booked tickets several weeks before on Trip Advisor so we could bypass any long lines.
Late afternoon we walked from our hotel, Conrad St. James in Westminster to the Eye, about 20 minutes walk. It was cloudy and cold and had been raining and snow showers earlier. We got the The Eye at about 5:15pm and the sky was brightening, we had no wait, right on board our pod and away we went, about 30 minutes to go around and what views!
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.
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.
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.
Lisbon, Portugal’s capitol and largest city is bursting with culture, history and tourist attractions. The city is situated along the Tagus River very close to the Atlantic Ocean. This location by the sea is important to Lisbon’s rich history, the jumping off point for the Portuguese explorers in the Age of Discovery.
Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Western Europe, having its origins as an indigenous Celts settlement around 800BC, also as Phoenician and Greek trading posts in the same era. Then occupied by Carthaginians and eventually become part of the Roman Empire as the city of Olisipo. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Visigoth German tribes occupied much of the Iberian peninsular, including Portugal. The invasion and occupation by the Islamic Moors from North Africa in the 8th Century lasted about 4 centuries until they were ousted by Christian crusaders. The influence of the Moors is still very evident throughout Portugal in the beautiful ceramic tiles (azulejos) that adorn palaces, churches, public buildings, even homes.
In 1755 a massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated Lisbon and the surrounding areas. The Secretary of the State of Internal Affairs at that time, Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, popularly known as the Marquis of Pombal, lead the bebuilding efforts. Pombal employed new building codes and methods including earthquake-proof architectural design. Much of what you see in central Lisbon today are the results of this 18th Century rebuilding effort. A large monument at the Praça Marquês de Pombal square honors the Marquis of Pombal.
We spent the first two days and the last two days of our trip in Lisbon. This gave us enough free time to do some walking around. Lisbon is a hilly city with cobblestone sidewalks and streets, so walking can be a bit challenging for us older folks. Lots of stairs and steep streets will ramp up your FitBit numbers rather quickly. We found the public transit system in Lisbon to be excellent and very affordable. On our last full day we purchased a 24-hour Metro pass (about 6.00 Euros each) which covered subway, buses and the famous street trams.
Enjoying Aperol Spritz at a Praça do Comércio cafe
Some good Douro Valley red
Douro vinho tinto with jamon iberico
Making Pastel de Nata
Some visited sights
Rua de Plata walking street
Praça do Comércio
Cloister at Jerónimos Monastery
Cloister at Jerónimos Monastery
Cloister at Jerónimos Monastery
Beautiful architecture along Avenida da Liberdade
Scrulpture at St. George’s Castse grounds
Wine shop display
Peacocks at ST. George’s Castle
One of the interesting features of Lisbon is the extensive cobblestone paving of miles and miles of sidewalks. These cobblestones are small, irregular shaped and are hand fitted. On the sidewalk at the southeast corner of Praça dos Restauradores (Restaurant Square) there is a tribute of the pavers who build these extensive works of art.