As we cruised south along the Clilean coast, our first port of call was Puerto Montt in what’s called Chile’s lakes region. Since there was no large dock facilities, we anchored in the harbor and used the ship’s tender boats to get ashore.
The lakes region is a popular hiking and adventure area of Chile and most of our cruise’s optional excursions were focused on high activity. There were demanding hiking tours, white water rafting and horseback riding. We decided to do the included excursion, a coach tour of the town and a visit to the small town of Puerto Varas on the shore of Lake Llanquihue, one of Chile’s largest lakes.
Puerto Varas is a resort town that has summer activities such as boating, hiking, and water sports. There is also a winter influx because of skiing in nearby mountains.
We had an hour of free time to wander the town. The lakefront park and walkway offered some stunning views with two volcanoes in the background. The cone shaped Mt. Osorno looks very much like Japan’s Mt. Fuji.
There was a small artisan center where local handcrafted goods could be purchased. In this part of Chile many German immigrants settled in the mid 19th Century, so many of the buildings, homes and gardens maintain a German look. The local food still retains quite a bit of German influence as well.
After a few hours ashore we returned to the ship and our ship departed late afternoon to cruise south through the inner passage and Fjords, next stop, Amalia Glacier.
Amalia Glacier and beyond
Sailing south from Puerto Montt, we left the protection of the inland channel and headed out into the open Pacific. A gale force westerly wind greeted us with its accompanying 15-20ft waves which gave us a bit of a rough ride for the rest of the afternoon and overnight, but we were treated to another beautiful Pacific sunset.
The next morning we entered the shelter of another inland passage as we headed to the Amalia Glacier. This area reminds us so much of Alaska waters. The waterway is surrounded by big snow covered mountains with deep U- shaped glacial valleys and the occasional mountain Glacier. As we cruised deeper into the bay, the Amalia Glacier came into view. The Captain was able to maneuver the ship within a mile of the glacier and we hovered there for about an hour giving everyone a great view.
Leaving the glacier behind, we headed for our next destinations; Magellan Strait, Punta Arenas, Ushuaia Argentina and then around Cape Horn into the Atlantic Ocean.
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.