Sunday, October 15, 2017

2017 Iberia



Iberia describes the peninsula that includes the countries of Spain and Portugal, as well as Andorra, Gibraltar and a small section of France. The term isn’t used as often now as in the past, but it’s appropriate for this trip of ours in which we explored much of Spain and Portugal.

I have been to both countries previously, on business trips, but this time it would be for fun, and it would also be along with my Lady Adventurer wife, Debbie.


Madrid

It was hit the ground running as we arrived. The flights went well, we found our ride, and we were able to get checked into the hotel even though it was still morning. All this enabled our plan to visit the Prado to materialize.

The Prado is one of the great art museums in the world. We walked through Retiro Park to get there. Fellow Trafalgar travelers Don and Clara, whom we’d met at the airport, came with us. Retiro itself was interesting. It’s a large, well-manicured city park that was full of people of all sorts on a Saturday afternoon. It must be the thing to do for local families. I would run here the next morning.

The Prado lived up to its reputation. Of course we didn’t have as much time as necessary to do it justice, but we saw wonderful European paintings from the 15th through the 19th centuries. We especially liked those of Goya and Velazquez.

The food in Madrid was great, and it would get even get better as this Spain leg went on. Tapas galore.

And faithful readers of these posts will attest to my consistent concern about this matter. I apologize for the repetition, but it simply must be said once again. As much as I love Europe, and especially Europeans, why in the world can’t they build a shower that doesn’t make the bathroom floor completely wet? And please explain why coffee isn’t available early in the morning – when it’s needed? Needed badly? Okay, enough complaining. Back to fun stuff.


Toledo

Toledo

This medieval walled city is about an hour from Madrid. We went as a day trip. The old town is located on a high hill. We took six escalators to get to the top. It’s a good thing we had a guide to lead us through, since the streets, walkways and alleys were a jumbled, confusing tangle.

It was a fun walkabout. And yes, there was a reference to Toledo, Ohio. We actually found a street by that name.

Yes it's Toledo, but which one?

Cordoba

The Mezquita, the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, is fairly fantastical. It was built in the eighth century as a mosque. This is notable because it was only a very short time after Islam became a religion. It started out large enough to hold 5,000 worshipers, but was soon expanded enough to hold 20,000. Hundreds of years later, as the Christians pushed the Moors out, they converted the huge building to a cathedral.

One amazing aspect of this is that those early Christians who were generally not known for their consideration of other cultural institutions, chose to convert the building rather than raze it completely. They were evidently as impressed with the structure as everyone is these days.

And it is definitely impressive. The cathedral part shows of a plethora of architectural styles, as things changed over the centuries. Parts of the mosque were mostly left alone. There are hundreds of marble pillars everywhere. Our local guide made us as impressed as she was.


Sevilla

Sevilla Plaza Espana




According to Rick Steves, “Flamboyant Sevilla thrums with flamenco music, sizzles in the summer heat, and pulses with the passion of Don Juan and Carmen… Sevilla has soul. It’s a wonderful-to-be-alive kind of place.” I couldn’t agree more.

On our way to Sevilla, we stopped at Pueto Lapice. This was a famous haunt of Don Quixote, the Man of La Mancha. And they sure let you know about it with various statues and other various figures and figurines about the village.

Once within Sevilla for good, we did the tapas thing once again, but this time it was with the group, and of gourmet quality. We walked around the old town a lot, and saw the various sights. One highlight was their famous cathedral. It’s where Christopher Columbus is buried. Well not quite. For one thing, there was some controversy about whether it’s really him, but it appears that there’s now DNA proof of that. The other thing is that he’s not exactly in the ground, but hoisted up above by some big templar-esque statues.

The Trafalgar ‘Be My Guest’ dinner was definitely another of the highlights of the trip. Tour Director Jay Mathieson arranged for a visit and dinner at Basilippo, a family olive farm and world-class olive oil processing facility. We learned a lot about olive oil and had a great dinner. The best part was listening to the proprietor speak so passionately about his craft.
Olive Oil Farm

Olive Oil Farm
Ole! Yet another highlight came an hour or so later, at the El Patio Flamenco show. I am probably not the first to say this, but you can quote me just the same. If you haven’t seen flamenco, you haven’t been to Spain. It was passionate, fiery and fun. There were ole’s galore throughout the night.


Granada

It was fun walking around this medieval town with our Australian friends Ian, Marg, Barry and Rhonda. We did the tapas thing once again; this is one of the last places where you can get a free tapa when you order a drink. Most importantly, we learned a new term: ‘chock-a-block’, meaning, crammed full of people or things. And this small town is certainly choc-a-block with people, cars, squares and more people.

Granada is really all about the Alhambra. Another medieval icon, this thousand year-old Moorish palace and fortress complex is huge, and mostly preserved. The intricate work on the ceilings and walls is fantastic, but the most impressive part was the gardens. There were acres and acres of flowers, manicured hedges and fountains. As much as we enjoyed this attraction, we were upset when we later learned that one of our fellow travelers was pick-pocketed for about 2,000 Euros.


Gaudix and Valencia

En route to Valencia, we drove the scenic coastal road, and made a stop in Gaudix. Gaudix is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the home of cave-dwelling troglodytes. We got to visit one such family, walking through several rooms of their underground home. It was all pretty cool.

Valencia is the home of oranges, paella, El Cid and the famous tomato food fight. It’s also the location of the ultra-modern complex known as the City Arts and Sciences. Recently completed, this group of museums and exposition centers are dazzling to the eye. And the scale is huge. Lady Adventurer pointed out that a row of large ceramic fixtures – really just a design of some kind – looked like a bunch of urinals for giants.
Valencia (1)

Valencia (2) - for giants



We had some horchata, which is Spanish tigernut milk. It tasted like a cross between almond milk and potato juice, but was very sweet. Another drink, sangria, is big here, as it was in Granada and Sevilla. The Spaniards don’t drink our variety, but so many tourists do, that it’s very common. The locals drink a version made with only the red wine, fruit and lemon soda, called tinto de verano. We tried some of that as well. Not bad.

The truly authentic Valencia paella also wasn’t bad, but there’s no seafood involved; just chicken, rabbit and snails. The one we tried omitted the rabbit and snails. We still want to try seafood paella, but Debbie still insists that my version is best, no matter what.

Whilst traipsing through the old town area (Valencia is over 1,000 years old), Lady Adventurer tripped over some uneven bricks and hurt her knee. She was in pain afterwards. I joked that she hadn’t had enough sangria, but she wasn’t in a laughing mood.
Lady Adventurer just before the fall


PeƱiscola, Barcelona and Montserrat

Peniscola, where El Cid Beach Scene was filmed




Along the way from Valencia to Barcelona, we stopped in scenic PeƱiscola (Lady Adventurer was the only one I know of who joked about the name) for lunch as well as a walk along the Mediterranean beach and up to the ancient castle of the 'Spanish Pope', used in the film El Cid.

We were fortunate that the Lady Adventurer’s injured knee was a little better. She could get around without too much pain, although stairs were a problem. There weren’t too many of those, as we drove, and then walked around Barcelona.

The streets and walkways were filled with people. Some were normal tourists like us, but many were in town because of the upcoming (in just two days) Catalan referendum for independence. There were hundreds of tractors clogging everything up. It seems that the farmers, along with the vast majority of other Catalans, wanted to protest, and lobby in favor of a yes vote. Catalan independence flags were everywhere, including on the tractors.
Tractors and Flags in independent-minded Barcelona


Sagrada Familia (1)
The primary sight to see in Barcelona is the Gaudi masterpiece, Sagrada Familia. We saw the outside one day, and the inside the next. Well over 130 years in the making thus far, this fantastical church with its spires and mixture of styles, will not be done for years to come; they say ten more, but by the looks of it, I have my doubts. In any case, it must be seen to be believed. And it begs the question (about Gaudi, and the other architects that came before and after): what were they thinking?
Sagrada Familia (2) - notice the hang-gliding Jesus

Montserrat is a monastery and small village built into a mountain that is so jagged, it looks as though it too was designed by Gaudi. We saw the clouds below us; all the views were spectacular.

Montserrat
We had our final farewell dinner in Barcelona. Time to say goodbye to all our new friends, our fellow travelers for the past nine days. It was a good group; we all seemed to enjoy each others company immensely. And Jay had been wonderful as well. We’ll miss them all.

But now it was time to head to Lisbon. As we departed the hotel on Sunday morning, October 1st, the Catalans were massing to vote across the street. The national government was trying to prevent the voting entirely, so we were wondering how this would turn out.
Our Spanish Wonder Group


Lisbon

As mentioned, I’d been here before, and I’d seen some of these same sights, but I wanted to have the Lady Adventurer join the fun. The really good news is that we will be spending a great deal of time in this lovely city: three nights on our own at the Marriott, then two at the Turim Marques at the beginning of the Trafalgar tour, and finally one night at the Turim Avenida Avenida Liberdade as we return before departing back to the States.
Moorish Castle in Sintra, near Lisbon

Lady Adventurer and I did indeed go on an adventure. It was planes, trains and automobiles, without the planes and automobiles, but with autobuses. The goal? A grand tour of and around Sintra, Cabo da Roca and Cascais, all on public transportation, for a low 15 euros each. We walked to the train station and rode out to Sintra, where we picked up the crowded 434 bus that travels the area, picking up and dropping off people from all the attractions. And there are some pretty great attractions there; the scenery from the 1,000 year old Moorish Castle and the Disney-esque Pena palace is spectacular. Even with the bus transportation, there were huge hills to climb to get to some of these places. Too bad we didn’t have time for all of the palaces and castles. Next it was the 403 bus over to Cabo da Roca, the easternmost tip of Europe. The sea cliffs there are stunning. After that it was back on the next 403 bus to Cascais. Cascais is a very old-fashioned beach town for the rich and famous. It’s cool, even though a bit long in the tooth. Now it was time to get on a train to take us back to Lisbon. This train was hot – not at all comfortable like the one out to Sintra in the morning. As we arrived, we couldn’t find a taxi, so I had the bright idea to take the metro back to the Marriott. Normally a good idea (because they’re fast and efficient), it didn’t work out so well this time, because we had an extremely long walk after getting off at the wrong station. Lady Adventurer wound up with a record number of steps for the day.

Pena Palace in Sintra

Cabo da Roca


Did I mention that it’s been hot in Lisbon? 31 to 33 every day. It’s also dry; not humid, but if you’re in the sun for any length of time, you feel it. Especially when you’re setting step records.

We took it a little easier after that long day in and around Sintra. Yet we did see about all there is to see in Lisbon:
- We followed Rick Steves’ suggested walking tour of the Bairro Alto neighborhood, starting with a ride on a funicular. We explored the Baixa area (the main square) a little as well, and had some good seafood at a tiny authentic restaurant. I know it was authentic, because they were tying bibs on the locals who talked in.
- We explored the Parque das Nacoes, the ultra modern part of Lisbon. Built for the 1998 World Expo that celebrated the 500th anniversary of Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, this is also where I used to work during my previous visits. The park is built along the wide bay section of the Tagus River; the architecture, scale and size of everything is surreal.
- We did the Alfama thing, which is to say we got lost in the tangle of streets just below the picturesque hilltop castle in Lisbon. Had a nice lunch up there, and then worked our way down to the Fado Museum. Earlier, I mentioned that you haven’t seen Spain until you’ve experienced Flamenco. The same can be said for Portugal and Fado. But Fado isn’t a dance, it’s soulful singing, mostly by women accompanied by men with Spanish guitars. We didn’t get our dose of Fado late at night in a bar like you’re supposed to; but the museum visit was the next best thing.
- We saw the sights in Belem: the Monastery of Jeronimos with its Manueline Architecture, the Tower of Belem, the Monument to the Discoveries; not to mention the Golden-Gateish 25th of April Bridge and the huge Rio-esque statue of Christ that sits across the river. On top of all that, there was a 10K race starting and finishing just in front of the monastery for us to try to get around. Too bad I missed it.

One more thought about the Lisbon I love. The Marriott not in the best location, but it is, by my own estimation, 100,000,000 times better than any of the hotels Trafalgar gives us on their tours. Those are okay, but they’re not Marriotts.

Alfama in Lisbon

The Algarve

Algarve - Armacao de Pera lunc





The Algarve is the huge beach area of Portugal. It makes up the 100-mile southern coast of the country, and it’s where all the Europeans go to hit the beach these days. It’s very Mediterranean-like in many ways, although technically it’s on the Atlantic Ocean.

On our way down from Lisbon, we drove along the scenic coast, stopped at Setubal to see their market (it was just a bunch of fish), and also at a Lusitano stud ranch (Solar do Monte Negro), where we had our ‘Be My Guest’ Lunch. Lady Adventurer and I are not horse people, but it was good to hear of the passion these folks put into their avocation. The family has run the ranch for over 300 years, but there was an interruption as the property was confiscated during a communist revolution in 1974. They were able to buy it all back a few years later, and they’re still looking for the remains of the breeding stock, which had been distributed around the country. The traditional chicken and other food they served in their country home was very good.

We stayed at a beach town called Armacao de Pera. It’s about in the middle of the Algarve, and the Holiday Inn sure is nice. After all the on-the-go touring, it felt good to relax, if only for a short while.
Western Algarve area

The western end of the Algarve, including the southwest corner of Portugal, Cape St. Vincent and Lagos, is all pretty spectacular. The eastern side, including the walled city of Faro, was nice as well. The Chapel of St. Lawrence in Almansil with its mosaic walls made up of thousands of blue tiles was an unexpected highlight.
Algarve town of Faro


Chapel of St. Lawrence in Almansil


We started to get to know our fellow travelers, once again. They’re mostly the same type: folks mostly our age (that is to say old people), just finding their way through life. **That phrase, just an old person finding his/her way through life, was conceived by Lady Adventurer to describe someone who had initially irritated her, before she thought better of it. It’s now become our mantra to describe anyone and everyone.
Lunch in the Algarve with our friends Jan and Paula (not the old people!)


Evora

This is a nice, medieval walled city with a cathedral, white-washed buildings, squares and lots of cobblestones. After driving up here and touring the city (and seeing the chapel of the bones, in which the interior walls were entirely covered with bones, and was pretty cool), we did what anyone else would do in the same situation: take an optional tour to a different medieval walled city with a cathedral, white-washed buildings, squares and lots of cobblestones.
Monsaraz - check out the guy with his olive oil
Monsaraz

This option took us to Monsaraz, which is ‘deep in the Alentejo area’. This particular medieval walled city with a cathedral, white-washed buildings, squares and lots of cobblestones was outstanding, and very much worth the trip. Monsaraz is a hilltop town with 50 residents, and the whitewashed buildings with a 360 degree panoramic view was sublime. This was yet another highlight of this entire trip.

Another memorable moment came the following morning when I got very badly lost during my run. But you will need to read my running blog to hear more about that one.


Viseu

On the way between Evora and Viseu, we stopped in Castello de Vide, in order to walk around this charming hilltop medieval walled city with a cathedral, white-washed buildings, squares and lots of cobblestones. We also stopped at an ancient Roman artifact: the bones of a 2000-year-old block building. Lady Adventurer would like to buy it and then flip it.

The wine and food pairing dinner at a charming Insua Manor, an old manor house, was great. We’ve been enjoying the company of several of our traveling companions, including some Americans with much in common, Jan Simpson and Paula Touhey, and several Canadians (Keith, Tacey, Gary and Jill, to name a few) and Aussies.
Insua Manor

Insua Manor Dinner - that was a pretty big table

And have I mentioned the heat in Portugal? I suppose I have, but I’ll do it again. We’ve been here for ten days now, and it’s been 30 or slightly above for each and every one of them. And there’s never a cloud in the sky. They have been experiencing a severe drought, and the landscape shows it. Now that we’re in the north, there’s some hope that things will cool just a bit.

Porto and the Douro Valley

Douro Valley

We drove through the Douro Valley on the way up to Porto. And what a drive that is. This has to be the most scenic wine country in the world. It’s where they make port and other wines. The terracing is nearly unbelievable. It’s hard to imagine how they get to all those places to pick the grapes.

The beachside dinner, walking tour and on our own time in the thriving river and port town of Porto were great. We tasted some fancy port wine, had a nice lunch and rode the funicular on the way back from town.

The Douro river cruise was slightly disappointing (crowded and didn’t go real far), but the second dinner on the brightly lit-up river was really great.
Porto

Porto


The Road to Fatima

On the way from Porto to the Fatima area, there were several stops of interest:
- The historic and scenic university city of Coimbra
- The convent home and castle of the Knights of Templar in Tomar (they were quite prosperous and powerful, until ultimately double-crossed, hunted down and killed by the king of France)
- The monastery at Batalha, which celebrates Portugal’s nationhood and independence from Spain

We stayed at the Eurostars Oasis Plaza Hotel in Figueira da Foz. This is important enough to mention because:
a) it was a last-minute substitution, since we weren’t able to stay in super-crowded Fatima
b) it was on the beach… a beach that we never saw, since it was dark when we arrived, and dark when we left
c) it was by far the nicest hotel – they were supposed to be four and five star, but this was the only real five star



Fatima and Beyond

The date was Friday, October 13, 2017. Fatima was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the date of the third appearance of the Virgin Mary to the three shepherd children. And we were there. There were a few other people to commemorate the occasion as well. Oh, did I say a few? I meant a few million. Really. The funny thing is that I was here on May 13, 2007, the 90th anniversary of the date of the first appearance. That was also a crowded occasion.

There were a few folks in Fatima
The Lady Adventurer and I, along with Jan, Paula, Keith, Tacey, Gary and Jill, did our best to navigate around and through the throngs. We wound up spending the time with coffee, sandwiches and beer at a couple cafes.


On to Lisbon

After that memorable stop in Fatima, we made a couple more stops: hilltop Nasarre overlooking the beach town, and also most-scenic-of-all walled city of Obidos. Both were great. In fact, we would have been happy to spend a whole lot more time in Obidos.
Nazarre

Obidos

We finally made it back to Lisbon. Said goodbye to all our friends, as well as to our great Travel Director, Alex, at the farewell dinner.
Our Portugal Group

A few thoughts and lessons learnt:

1) Group tours have their advantages and disadvantages. Wake-up call at 6:30; Breakfast and bags out at 7:00; bus departs at 8:00; comfort and coffee stop at 9:30; sightseeing with local specialist at 11; and so on. That kind of strict timeline discipline allows everyone to stick to a tight schedule, and to see so very much. And you simply could not see and do all this stuff on your own in these time frames. Some things, like the Alhambra, could hardly be done individually at all. Still, this kind of life does wear one down. Trafalgar (and Cosmos, for that matter) is a good bargain, all things considered.
2) A little kindness, consideration and concern for others goes a long way. This is true regarding the fellow tour group members as well as with communication and transactions with locals. The other travelers are like family, only more so. Some can irritate the heck out of you, but when you understand that you absolutely have to get along with them for the whole trip, you wind up cutting some slack. It takes some extra effort to be more kind than usual. But the rewards all around make it worthwhile. A smile goes a real long way.
3) As Mark Twain - and I - like to say, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

For information about my running adventures in Iberia, see my running blog.
For more photos, see the whole bunch.

Friday, January 6, 2017

2016-2017 South America Cruise

Here is our tail of our dream cruise around part of South America. It’s our greatest vacation… since the last one. Truly, it’s one that we had very much been looking forward to for a very long time. As with all our travels, the anticipation has been every bit as enjoyable as the trip itself. And also as with all travel, the joy is in the journey.

In the case of the Oceania Marina 17-day cruise from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Valparaiso, Chile, the entire itinerary is, of course, the journey.

Our Itinerary
But getting to Buenos Aires was long and arduous. Nothing went completely wrong; we made all connections, and managed to successfully make it through customs and immigration, claim our luggage, obtain cash, book a taxi, arrive at the ship, etc. But every step also afforded problems and especially delays; it was death by a thousand delays. For just two examples, we had to wait an hour to get off the plane in Buenos Aires because there was a transportation workers strike, forcing us to wait for a bus to take us to the terminal. And after we prepaid for a taxi, we had to wait nearly another hour before one actually arrived. Trials and tribulations. Joy in the journey.


Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires is a huge and wonderful city, but the port area where we're parked is awful. It's all big-time stacks of shipping containers being loaded, unloaded and moved around. It's impossible to simply get off the boat and walk anywhere; one must take a bus about a mile through the maze of shipping stuff, over to the terminal. Once we did that, we walked five miles and saw lots of neat stuff.

Plaza San Martin was a very pretty and well-shaded park. The shade was appreciated in the summer-solstice heat (it was December 20). The Retiro area was extremely busy and bustling, with buses and people everywhere. Plaza de Mayo was the coolest, and most historical, square of all. There is always something political going on there, and we saw some people getting ready to protest something or other.

Calle Florida is the main shopping district; it’s about a mile and a half of shop after shop with no traffic except for a few cross streets. It was great for people watching, and a great cultural experience. Cultural experiences are only just starting.


Montevideo, Uruguay

If you want tourists to think well of your country or region, you can’t do much better than to take them to a winery. Yes, the Lady Adventurer and I were duly impressed with Uruguay. Actually, from what the local tour guide said and showed us of the capital city, Montevideo and it’s surrounding area, we were already experiencing positive vibes. But the wine helped as well.

Montevideo is a much toned-down version of Buenos Aires. It’s still a big city, with 1.3 million personas, but it’s not what you’d call huge. The word, ‘Manageable’, comes to mind.

After stopping at the main square and some monuments in Montevideo, we went to the Juanico Winery, where we spent most of the day. The Uruguayan food (barbecued meat, of course) and wine were excellent. Happy thoughts. And Happy Summer Solstice!!

Juanico Winery

Juanico Winery

Tango




Punto del Este, Uruguay

You say you would like to go to the southernmost point in Uruguay? Uruguay’s garden spot? The place where the rich and famous Uruguayans (not to mention Brazilians and Argentinians) go and spend their holidays? The Miami/Vegas (rolled into one) of Uruguay? You’re talking about Punto del Este. It is truly a pleasant resort beach town, with more than its share of casinos and beaches. They seem proud that President-elect Donald Trump is building a tower. The Lady Adventurer and I were able to experience some of the sights and attractions as we walked a couple miles back to the ship after “experiencing nature.”

The Experience Nature excursion was better than expected. After seeing some of the highlights of the city, we drove about an hour to Indegina, a private nature reserve. Our guides led us through the woodlands, pampas and wetlands to view the rheas, capybaras and other wildlife. Afterwards they treated us to empanadas, kuchen and local herbal tea.
A capybara up close



Puerto Madryn, Argentina

The main reason to travel to Puerto Madryn is to use it as a base for the wildlife viewing areas of Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo. We chose to spend the day at Peninsula Valdes.

It was a long two-plus hour bus ride, about half of which was on bumpy, dusty dirt roads. And the scenery was as unremarkable as it could be. I’ll try to make a remark anyway. It was flat, dry and very boring. The vegetation was entirely scrub. There were almost no homes or habitation of any kind. We were informed that the land was mostly used for sheep ranching.

But the goal was to view the wildlife, and view it we did. We spotted several guanacos, some with little ones, as we approached the sea. Then we got to see the sea lions and elephant seals on the beach. Only the male sea lions were around; we got to see a couple of them fighting over some turf. The elephant seals co-mingled with them, but those animals were of the younger variety.

Fighting male sea lions



A few hairy armadillos, hares and lizards later, we came to the penguin beach. These were Magellanic penguins, and there were tens of thousands of them on the beach and a little inland. We could walk right up to them, even touch them, if we wanted. The walking trail weaved in and out of their nests, and they often walked right in front of us to get across. They were every bit as cute and friendly as advertised especially the chicks.

Debbie and her penguin friends

Thousands of magellenic penguins

At Sea Onboard the Oceania Marina

Six days of our 17-day voyage are at sea. they’re nicely scattered between the various ports of call, and they included Christmas Day and New Year’s eve. Spending Christmas Day on a cruise ship, away from home and family was surreal. Everyone, crew and passengers alike, was super nice, wishing everybody they bumped into a Merry Christmas. We had the Grand Brunch Buffet in the Grand Dining Room, and later went to Jacques’, the specialty restaurant dedicated/devoted to Jacques Pepin, where we dined for three hours with some newly made friends, all from Canada. The enrichment lecture was about the 1982 Falkland Islands war. We saw Santa handing out gifts to the few boys and girls onboard. And were able to stay up, for the first time, for the show – the string quartet playing Christmas music.

Christmas on the Marina


Yes, life onboard the Oceania Marina is pretty darn good. The food and service are outstanding, even for a premium ocean cruise. Of course we pick our cruises based on the itinerary first. But such world class luxury at a decent price is nice as well. We will keep coming back to Oceania.


Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Do you remember the 1982 Falkland Islands war? Neither did I, at least until I was reminded about it from our enrichment speaker, Terry Bishop. It came back to me how Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher would not accept Argentina’s attempt to take over the Islands. The Argentinians felt that the Islands (they call them the Malvinas) belonged to them based on their location, but the British had claimed them first, and also had a small settlement there. The war was limited to the Islands’ vicinity, and the British prevailed.
Falkland Islands

Falkland Islands

The settlement is larger now, but it’s still quite small. The windswept Islands are beautiful in a stark sort of way. Most of the visitors are interested in the history or the Islands’ penguin colonies. The Lady Adventurer and I decided not to venture far, since we’d recently gotten cozy with several thousand of the short tuxedo waddlers. On a cold, blustery day, we saw the old cemetery, the Anglican church (southernmost in the world), and walked to a couple war memorials (the Islands played a part in World Wars I and II as well). Our greatest impression, however, is that the British want you to be completely sure to understand to whom the Islands belong. Period.

Sailing out and then west of the Falklands turned out to be interesting. The swells were as swell as swells can be, and we were rocked to sleep forthwith.


Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia, Argentina at 4:00 AM. It's the southernmost city in the world.


I began the day at 5:00 AM with a run through the city – the southernmost in the world – to try to find Glacier Martial. The city isn’t that big, but I didn’t know where I was going, so it took a while to avoid the wild dogs and eventually get my bearings. But by the time I got close to the glacier, it was time to head back. It was okay; I’d seen glaciers before. Besides, we had a hike to do.

The Lady Adventurer got her fall out of the way very early on during the hike. Luckily, it was on a peat bog, so it was like falling down onto a sponge. In fact, a decent portion of the hike was through this bog. It was quite bouncy and fun. We later climbed several hundred feet, ascending the foothills of the nearby mountains. We returned through a forest that hadn’t yet been destroyed by the invasive beavers that we stupidly introduced several decades ago.

Our hike
We had been given boots, so bringing wet, dirty shoes back to the ship would not be a problem. Having the boots sucked off our feet in some of the thicker mud was a concern, but we managed.

Our guide was very good at pointing out the terrain and general geography of Tierra del Fuego. But he set the pace a bit too speedy for the majority of us hikers. Lady Adventurer and I (barely) managed to keep up, but many did not. I enjoyed the hike, but it would have been better for all, had we moved slower and occasionally stopped to smell the peat bog.

Sailing out of Ushuaia, back through the Beagle Channel, and then up into the Strait of Magellan was pretty amazing. We saw glaciers, snow-capped peaks and waterfalls.

We made it!

Punta Arenas, Chile

Although Punta Arenas appears to be just around the corner from Ushuaia, it took quite a while to get there. There were plenty of islands, channels and straits to go around and through.

Today’s adventure would be … wait for it … another hike! From Punta Arenas, they drove us up to a ski resort, where we got on a rickety chair lift to the top. Then we hiked back down the mountain. It was cold, windy and sleeting at first, but we warmed up as we got moving. The sun helped by coming out as well. We could often catch views of far-off scenery, like Punta Arenas and the Strait of Magellan in the distance.

Punta Arenas hike, looking down on the city


Even though it was downhill, it was still technical, muddy and difficult. But not as difficult as yesterday’s hike.


Chilean Fjords, Chile

For the next two days, we cruised in and out of the fjords of Chile. There were at least two very spectacular scenes: (spectacular scene one) – The Amalla Glacier was really cool. It looked like the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska. (spectacular scene two) – THE most intense rainbow anyone has ever seen. It was right after the glacier, and the weather was gloomy… except for a seemingly small area that was lit by some rare rays of sun. That’s where the double rainbow was. Every time we thought it was done, it changed its mind and became more intense again. It looked almost solid.
Amalla Glacier

Rainbow!



Puerto Chacabuco, Chile

These Chilean fjords are not to be trifled with. Puerto Chacabuco is in the middle of one, and it’s a spectacular setting. What? You’ve never heard of Puerto Chacabuco? It’s near Puerto Aysen. So now you know. We hadn’t heard of it either (it sounds like a Star Wars character), but we will remember it now.

Lady Adventurer and I went on a Patagonia Nature in Depth tour. It certainly was. We walked a couple miles in a couple hours on a wooded trail alongside a river, until we came to a good-sized waterfall.

Nature Hike and Falls

BBQ in Chacabuko

Flowers by the lake



After the hike, we had a ‘typical Patagonian barbeque’ (lamb, and a lot of it), along with some typical Pategonian dancing. The appetizer was empenadas. Empenadas are pastry dough pockets filled with meat, cheese, spinach, etc., and then deep-fried. These particular ones, however, appeared to be filled with air. Debbie said she detected a small amount of cheese, but that was hardly noticeable. Everyone at our table laughed when I called them ‘empty-nadas’.

It was all great, but I couldn’t help thinking that they make some of this ‘typical’ stuff up. This part of the world is extremely sparsely populated, and the indigenous people were wiped out entirely. I wonder whether the European settlers even have any ‘typical’ dancing, but for the occasional bunch of cruise ship passengers that come through.

Okay, I’ll turn the cynicism back off. At least for a while.

Port Chacabuco

Puerto Montt, Chile

It wasn’t one of the smartest things Lady Adventurer and I have done. In fact, and I don’t say this lightly, it was downright stupid.

Debbie and I were halfway up Vulcan Osorno, a quarter-mile or so along the lava path that curved up and around the side of the mountain, when we discovered that we wouldn’t be able to get back. We almost couldn’t even stand up.

It didn't seem so bad going up the mountain with the wind at our back
To say the wind was strong would be a severe understatement. Hurricane-force sounds more like it. The thing was, it was at our backs going up, so it pushed us along, and all we had to do was to try and stay on our feet. It was when we tried to stop and then turn that we got into trouble. Not that there weren’t any clues around. Clues like people falling, and/or trying to get back down by holding onto one another in groups of three or more.


Trying (very hard) to turn around and come back down


But Lady Adventurer held onto me, and we did eventually get back. Somehow. Otherwise, as you may surmise, this account would not have gotten written.

This was part of an all-day excursion from Puerto Montt. We also saw Petrohue Falls and walked around normally scenic Puerto Varas during a deluge. Vulcan Osorno itself looks a little like Mount Fuji. We’d caught a glimpse of it from the falls, but clouds were moving in. Those clouds should have been another clue that walking up there wouldn’t be totally smart.


Valparaiso and Santiago, Chile

Valparaiso
The Marina docked at Valparaiso, for the termination of our cruise. We did not have to disembark until the next day, however, so we booked a tour of Santiago, the capital of Chile, which is two hours away. It was a long day, but we saw some interesting squares and plenty of statues, while taking in the country’s history. The recent reign of dictator Pinochet was especially interesting. Unfortunately, the nearby Andes Mountains were not visible due to the heavy smog.

Our flight was the next day. But wait a minute. They were booting us off the boat at 8:00 AM, but our flight wasn’t until 11:30 PM. To fill the time we booked … wait for it … another tour! This one would take us to see more of Valparaiso, nearby Vina del Mar, and some of the same parts of Santiago as the previous day. More smog, and more cultural experiences.
Vina del Mar, near Valparaiso


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And that’s it. For an account of my running during this vacation, please see my running blog post, Running and Cruise Ships Don’t Mix.

Also check out this link to even more of our photos.