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 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.
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 previous blog post, “Cruising the Douro River”, had quite a bit of detail, photo’s and video clips of our Viking River Cruise along Portugal’s beautiful Douro River Valley. At the end of that long blog post was a slideshow that captured the panoramic beauty we encountered on the journey. For those who enjoy viewing the photo’s, here is that slide show………
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.
It’s October 1st already, where has the year gone? As we prepare for our next trip (leaving Monday for Portugal), anticipating the experiences this new destination has to offer, we sometimes forget the beauty our local neighbor has to offer. This is especially true here in New England as we transition into October’s Fall foliage extravaganza.
For us, just driving to the store or through our town, a new color palette is revealed around every bend in the road. While we have been fortunate to have traveled many places both at home and abroad, seeing great sights, both natural and man-made, sometimes you overlook the beauty in your own back yard.
We would like to share some images of Fall here in our neighborhood. Most of these photo’s were taken within 5 miles of our home.
In this final post from our August 1 – 13, 2019 Montana vacation we will share the sights in and around Glacier National Park. We spent several days exploring the park and surrounding areas. The weather during our three days in the park area was clear and hot, but smoke from wild fires in Idaho and Washington did impact some of the photo opportunities.
Red Bus Tour
When we first planned this Montana trip several months ago we wanted to make sure we experienced the “Going to the Sun Road” but had some concerns about doing the drive ourselves. The person driving would need to concentrate on the challenging road and would miss out on the scenery.
In our research we found out about the Red Bus Tours that operate in the National Park. They offer several tour options, one a 4-5 hour tour and another all day tour. We opted for the 4-5 hour tour that goes up the “Going to the Sun Road” as far as Logan Pass, then returns. We made reservations online well in advance of our trip (reservations are highly recommended). These tours are narrated by knowledgeable drivers who provide both factual information plus many entertaining stories along the way. The drivers make many photo stops along the route and these buses have reserved parking at some critical stops, which avoids the crowded private vehicle parking areas. Our 4-5 hour tour was $64 per person and we felt it was money well spent.
Our tour started about 9:15am from the Apgar Visitor Center. The parking lot at Apgar Visitor’s Center fills up fast, so getting there early will assure a spot and not risk missing your tour time.
The Tour Route
The tour buses are restored, 1930’s vintage White motor coaches serving park visitors for 80 plus years. I ended up sitting in the front passenger seat, so had the opportunity to shoot some video along the way. The following is a compilation of clips from the bus tour.
The drive from Missoula to Columbia Falls would typically be about 2 hrs and 40 mins, with no stops. But along the way we stopped at two attractions. The first was the National Bison Range and then the Miracle of America Museum in Polson.
The drive took us along the east shore of Flathead Lake. Flathead Lake is the largest natural fresh water lake west of the Mississippi. The lake, surrounded by mountains, is glacier fed, so the waters have that turquoise color, just beautiful. Driving along there were many roadside stands selling fresh Flathead Lake cherries. We didn’t realize there were cherry orchards all around the area, apparently the micro-climate around the lake supports the growth of cherries. We stumbled into cherry season, so we bought a bag and they were big and delicious. It was also Huckleberry season and everywhere we went there were farm stands, shops and local establishments selling everything huckleberry. Huckleberry jams, huckleberry pastries, huckleberry flavored beers, even huckleberry martinis. We bought some jams along the way and that was our breakfast treat with toast or English muffins. Huckleberries are similar to blueberries, but maybe a bit more tart.
Bison National Range
Our first stop was at the National Bison Range in Charlo, MT. This is a National Wildlife Reserve that provides sanctuary for the American Bison. We arrived early, around 8am, so the visitors center was not open (opens at 9am). There is a $5 entrance fee (per vehicle), but our America The Beautiful Senior Pass is honored at this site. A quick note about the America The Beautiful pass, we purchase our Senior Pass a few years ago, $80 life pass, and it is honored at most National Park and other Federal recreational areas.
There are several driving trails through the reserve and we chose to take long loop road which is 19 miles long. This is a one-way, single lane gravel road that winds up the mountain with steep grades, lots of switchback curves and no guard rails. The first half of this road climbs up a mountain area reaching a summit at about 4800ft where there is a rest stop with portable toilets. The road continues down the other side with some very steep curves until it reaches an open range area, eventually returning to the starting point near the visitors center.
When we first started up the road, we saw another vehicle ahead of us stopped, then moving very slowly. We were a bit concerned about being stuck behind someone who seemed not in a hurry, with no way to pass. When we got closer, we saw the problem, a big, old, bull Bison was in the middle of the road walking at a very slow pace. We were stuck behind this beast for at least 20-minutes until an opening at a curve allowed enough room to rush past this big guy.
Stuck Behind a Bison
Along the road going toward the summit we saw a few solitary bull Bison’s as well as several Mule Deer. Once we came down the other side of the mountain onto the flat range area, we ran into quite a few Pronghorn Antelope as well as several herds of Bison.
Pronghorn Antelope Crossing
Miracle of America Museum
In the town of Polson, on the southern end of Flathead Lake we stopped at the “Miracle of America Museum“. This eclectic museum seems to have just about everything you can imagine. There is a large indoor space housing early native American artifacts, antique fashions and clothing, old toys, a collection of vintage Harley’s and Indian bikes and loads of military memorabilia from the Civil War up to the War on Terror.
The outside space is huge, I don’t know how many acres. You can find old cars and trucks, fire engines, tracked and wheeled military vehicles, signage from famous old America companies and brands, jet craft fuselages, a Huey helicopter, old farm equipment, even a tugboat, it goes on and on!
This place is crazy fun, but also interesting and informative, it represents the products of American ingenuity and industry of the last couple of hundred years. If you are familiar with the TV series American Pickers, this place would be a picker’s heaven.
We rented an AirBnB for the week that was located in the historical downtown section of Columbia Falls. This location was convenient to the Glacier National Park sites. The AirBnB had excellent accommodations for the three of us, with 2-bedrooms, 2-bathrooms, and a large open concept kitchen, dining and living space. The location was in the same block as several bars and restaurants and a cool bakery-coffee shop. The Gunsight Saloon, a block and a half across the street is a fun, local bar and restaurant.
Our AirBnB was clean, comfortable and well stocked. The hosts, Kim and David provided a complimentary bottle of Montana red wine as a welcome gift. If you’re interested you can check out this AirBnB by linking here to their listing.
This year our August vacation was to Northwest Montana. Our visit would include the towns of Missoula, Whitefish and Columbia Falls, touring Glacier National Park, the Bitterroot Mountain area and the Bison National Range.
Kathie and I met up with our daughter Jen, who flew in from DC. So this was a family vacation and during the week we celebrated both Kathie and Jen’s birthdays.
Our visit was during the first 2-weeks of August. The weather was good overall, albiet hot during the days (mid 90’s). At the very end of our visit there were some severe thunderstorms, but these didn’t interupt our plans in any significant way.
This “Part 1” blog will focus on our visit to the Missoula area. A “Part 2” will continue with our visit to Glacier National Park and the surrounding areas.
Arriving in Missoula, we spent the first weekend there. Missoula is a fun town, home to the University of Montana. We explored the Saturday Street Market and Farmer’s Market, which were very popular and lively.
The Missoula downtown has some interesting late 19th – early 20th Century building architecture, great area for walking and exploring.
Flying to Missoula
We flew United from Boston to Denver connecting with a United Express flight to Missoula, about a 2 hours flight from Denver. The window seat view flying into Missoula on a clear day is breathtaking as you follow the valley between mountains on final approach.
Walking around Missoula
Enjoying the street scenes and the riverfront area. This is Lewis and Clark country.
Saturday Morning Markets
Saturdays in Missoula feature an arts & crafts People’s Market on E. Pine St (closed to vehicle traffic) and a large Farmer’s Market on the riverfront next to Caras Park.
Food & Drink
Missoula offers plenty of food and drink options. There are many gourmet coffee shops and very good micro-breweries. The dining choices vary quite a bit from casual to upscale.
The Bayern Brewery was a real treat, serving excellent Bavarian style micro-brew beers and authentic German comfort food. The pilsner draft with a large, home made pretzel, bratwurst and warm German potato salad really hit the spot.
Our dinner choices included:
Plonk, a comfortable wine bar atmosphere featuring a wide selection of wines and a small plate menu ideal for sharing.
The Pearl Cafe, a French inspired menu with local ingredients. A very warm, cozy place and we had an excellent server, making it a very pleasant experience. My first Bison tenderloin experience, yum! Reservations are highly recommended.
On the site of Fort Missoula, originally established in the 1870’s during the Indian Wars. The fort served as a US Army training base during WW1, then a Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camp in the 1930’s. During WW2 it was an Alien Detection Center housing Italian, German and Japanese foreign nationals and resident aliens.
Located outside Missoula, it was a few minutes from our hotel. Very interesting and informative, dedicated to the conservation of Elk herds. The exhibition area has life-like dioramas depicting Rocky Mountain wildlife in a natural habitat.
Garnet Ghost Town is about a 1-hour drive east of Missoula. The town is an abandoned gold mining site with preserved buildings and structures. There are volunteer guides on-site who provide historical information and stories.