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Travels of a Wine Blogger

We are posting this “special” page of TastedOnline.com since so many of our friends have asked for more tales and photos about our travel adventures. So, if you have landed here by mistake or from a Google search just jump to the main site…TastedOnline.com. For those who want to follow our travel escapades we are going to post a short running commentary, along with photos, at each port when we can get internet access with our T-Moble hub. The most recent addition will always be at the top of the page and as the page gets long we will post on a new opening page. Go to the beginning of the world trip (bottom of the page)

See also our Amsterdam to Budapest river trip.

May 10th – Southampton, England to New York

Sailing over the Titanic and no icebergs in sight

The first few days at sea were cold with frequent showers, but after that we had partly sunny days with plenty of strong wind. In fact the wind was so strong and gusty we had trouble walking around the deck and at times simply couldn’t make it.

In the end this last leg of the trip was very pleasant and having friends aboard was an added treat. But, coming to our last port was sure a big disappointment. Our World Voyage adventure was far better than we ever imagined….and we can’t wait till the next one.

Many of the wines we had during our trip are posted on TastedOnling.Com. The ones we purchased from the ships wine list can be found using the keyword “Queen Mary 2” and those we purchased at wine stores in the major cities we visited (and paid the $20.00 corking fee) can be found using the keyword “World Cruise“. For us one of the most enjoyable parts of the trip was having so many different small producer wines from Spain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the Canary Islands and Madeira we could never buy in the United States. A fantastic trip and a great wine experience!!!

May 3rd – Funchal, Madeira, Portugal to Southampton, England.

The port of Southampton as the clouds cleared

Our three sea days to Southampton began with nice warm sunny weather the first day, cool with dense fog the second day and showers and cold the last day. Our arrival into Southampton was suppose to be a special Cunard event…all three ships (Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria) were returning from their 2015 world voyages and were going to meet off the Isle of Wright and sail into the harbor one behind the other. Unfortunately it was foggy and raining and was a pretty soggy event.

Our only planned activity in Southampton was to visit the customs office in the terminal to complete the paper work needed to get the European Union Value Added Tax back on the wine we purchased in Madeira. When we found the customs office there were lots of people who wanted to declare things before entering the UK and a red telephone that you were suppose to call to get an agent. When I called the agent I talked with was in Dover and he said there was no customs agents in Southampton who could help me and unless I had the proper form there was no way to apply to get the tax refund. So we learned another lesson and will correct it on our next trip. But, the humorous part of this was because there weren’t customs agents to process the people who had goods to declare they simply went through the “Nothing to Declare” exit and walked into the UK without having to go through customs!!!

As we left the dock Cunard again had all three ships sail out one behind the other and it did create quite a spectacle as an armata of small boats sailed out of the harbor with us and masses of people on the shore waved as we made our way down the Solent and into the English Channel.

The best part of the port was our friends from the U.S. came aboard and we anticipate six fun-filed sea days sailing to New York.

April 29th – Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain to Funchal, Madeira, Portugal .

The picturesque port of Funchal

Well our day in Madeira was everything we anticipated and MUCH more. Before we even left the ship we could see it was very unique and picturesque with the tiled roofed houses spread across the mountainside.

The tropical garden in the center of the city

A shuttle bus took us off the dock to the center of town and when we exited the bus we were standing next to a tropical garden in the middle of the city. After a very pleasant stroll through the garden I set my phone to find the D’Oliveira tasting room, a building constructed in 1619, where we could taste and buy a huge number of vintages of Madeira wines. The building is located on a narrow cobblestone street and stepping through the door is like going back in time. The tasting area is set among old barrels of aging wines, there is a heavy smell of wood and caramel in the air, and there are bottles stacked floor to ceiling of wines dating back to the mid 1800’s. We tasted the four classic Madeiras and looked over the list of wines we could purchase. Only because we were limited to what we could carry we made our selection with the oldest being the famous 1908 Boal. As we were getting our wines Louis D’Oliveira came in and chatted with us, and he could not have been a nicer host. After we talked he brought us glasses of the1908 Boal and honey cake to taste together…and my only comment is that it was truly out of this world.

Vicky getting photos for a KarensGardenTips.com post

The D'Oliveira office and tasting room

D'Oliveira's tasting room

Louis D'Oliveira telling us about his wines

After our tasting we found a quiet pedestrian street that was lined with tables and had a wonderful lunch of fresh fish and a Portuguese white wine. After a leisurely two hours we walked to the Blandy’s tasting room. It had a very nice setting off a courtyard, but once inside the ambiance quickly changed. It was filled with lots of tourists that had tasting tickets included with their tour. We ordered one of each of the four classic five year old Madeira wines (for 7.80 euros) that was a similar tasting to what we had in the morning (at the free D’Oliveira tasting). As we tasted the wines we each commented that none of them were as good as what we had at the D’Oliveira tasting room that morning, and they were all more expensive. So instead of buying more wines at Blandy’s we walked back to D’Oliveira’s and bought another bottle we could drink on the ship.

One of the many pedestrian streets

Even traditional streets used by cars were lined with trees

Blandy's sales counter

Blandy's tasting room

We had a very enjoyable and MEMORABLE day in Madeira, it was one of the highlights of our whole round-the-world adventure. Funchal was far better than we imagined with old world European character, French riviera affluent charm and delicious Madeira wines, all ingredients for perfect holidays. Just how good was it…well Vicky ferreted out and talked with a realtor, which says it all!!! Now we are off for three sea days and the port of Southampton, England where our friends Chuck and Sandy are going to join us for the crossing to New York…and they don’t know it, but help us drink up all the wonderful wines we have bought while traveling around the world.

April 28th – Walvis Bay, Namibia to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain .

During our seven sea days from Namibia to the Canary Islands we sailed along the west coast of Africa past Angola, Congo, Gabon where we slipped into the northern hemisphere, Sao Tome & Principe, Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco. And, as expected both the temperature and humidity grew as we came closer to the equator then gradually became more mild as we sailed north. The sea and winds were very calm and I understand why this part of the Atlantic Ocean is called the doldrums.

During the day our life on board the ship has become a pleasant routine…after breakfast we walk around the deck (four times, about 1.5 miles), write our posts and attend one or two morning lectures. We have a leisurely lunch (usually with a delicious Australian or South African wine), do another walk around the deck, catch an afternoon concert, than Vicky works on her cross stitch birth announcement project and it’s time to dress for dinner. The evening meal is always an event. We get the next days lunch and dinner menu every evening so we can decide what were going to have and then selected a bottle of wine from our private “cellar”. The whole pairing experience has turned out to be quite fun…each night we show up at dinner with a bottle and ask our sommelier and waiters to look at the bottle and guess what we are having for dinner. Than as we have our dinner Vicky and I try to guess what kind of wine the people at the neighboring tables are having just by looking at the color of the wine in their glasses.

The deck of the ship after Cape Town

Almost all the passengers left the ship in Cape Town and a new group came aboard. The notable change in nationality was the Australians went from 53% to only 14%, and the British went from 33% to 63%; the Americans stayed at the constant 4%. We went from having practically nobody in the deck chairs to having them full all day long, there was a big improvement in people following the dress code and the level of background noise reduced dramatically. Possibly the most interesting part of this is the way the ship responds to the change. We now have special theme lunches and additional cook-to-order food stations for breakfast in the buffet restaurant. Now we can’t wait to see what happens for the crossing from Southampton to New York where the British will drop to 33% and the Americans rise to 42% of the passengers.

The port of Las Palmas from the ship

Our Canary Island port day turned out to be very pleasant. We spent the whole day exploring the city looking for wine stores and leisurely taking in the sites. My internet research showed that the best selection of Canary Island wine was at the big department store that had a wine and gourmet food department. There was a limited number of local wines that cost more than a few dollars, so our selection process was simple…buy the most expensive ones (it just wouldn’t make since to pay $2.00 for the wine and $20 for the corking fee on the ship). As we returned back to the ship we passed a grocery store that the sommeliers told us had good wine so we dropped off our first load on the ship and returned to the grocery store…and it was a WOW experience. Not only did they carry Canary Island wine, they had hundreds of bottles of spanish wine, again at very low prices. But the best part of all was that they had some of our favorite Italian wines we buy at home… at about half the price they cost in North Carolina. So we loaded up all we could carry again…we were like two kids in the candy store!!!

Local transportation met us on the dock

A delicious sea food lunch with spanish wine

A very pleasant day in Las Palmas and tomorrow we’ll be in Madeira for the last “official” port on the 2015 world cruise. We’ve been looking forward to Madeira since we left New York so the excitement is growing.

April 20th – Cape Town, South Africa to Walvis Bay, Namibia. .

The Walvis Bay port from the ship

Our one sea day to Walvis Bay was very uneventful with very calm seas, pleasant sunny weather and a memorable oriental dinner with our English shipboard friends John and Marian (along with a New Zealand Gewurztraminer).

Our trip to the Namib Desert began right at the dock where the local guides equipped with Land Rovers picked us up. The town was quite small and in just a few minutes we were into the desert, and I use that word in a very literal way. Having less than 3/10″ of annual rainfall, it’s DRY. Vegetation is practically non-existent and there is just sand and a few rocks as far as you can see in all directions. Our first stop was Dune 7, which we were told was the highest sand dune in the world. After having an hilarious time climbing up the near vertical beach we set out to find the Palmato Gecko, a small critter that lives in burrows during the day and comes out at night to eat insects. We dug into the sand where the burrow entrance was clearly visible and about a foot down found one waiting for us. The gecko is well adapted for living in dry conditions, their skin is so thin that you can see the internal organs, but it can absorb moisture from condensation in the borrow or humidity in the air directly through their skin.

Sandy desert as far as you can see

Climbing on Dune 7

The entrance to a Gecko burrow

A Gecko with his transparent skin

Next we found Asorasaura Sand Diving Lizards which are small critters that dart about eating ants and other insects while trying to avoid being eaten by the Desert Sidewinders. In all it was a very interesting trip into the desert and we came away with a real appreciation for the delicate balance between life and death in an environment that’s devoid of rainfall.

A Sand Diving Lizard

The desert starts right at the high tide mark

The city of Walvis Bay didn’t have much to offer, but the trip into the desert made the port special and we really had a good time. Now were off for seven sea days and the port of Gran Canaria, Spain…and we hope some good Canary Island wines!!!

April 17th and 18th – Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, South Africa.

Cape Town as it came into sight at sunrise

Our two nights and one sea day to Cape Town were partly overcast, cold and we had 80 to 90 knot winds. This area must be where currents and wind run in opposite directions because the sea was very discombobulated and the massive Queen Mary 2 bounced and shook. As we sailed out of the Southern India Ocean around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Southern Atlantic Ocean it felt like we were practically home…even though we have another three weeks sailing in the Atlantic before we get to New York. The night before arriving in Cape Town we attended a fantastic wine dinner hosted by Jeanette Bruwer from the Springfield Winery located in the western cape of South Africa. She and her brother Abrie are 4th generation wine makers on the family estate. Not only was the food and wine exceptional, but the wine tasting of two white wines included three different vintages of the same wine…something we had never done with a side-by-side tasting; and a comparison of the same Cabernet that had been aged for years in a cellar and under the sea. This was a very unique tasting and when we get some sea days watch for a post on it.

Jeanette Bruwer describing her wines at the wine dinner

The city as we approached the Cape Town harbor

Our arrival into the Cape Town harbor was delayed because the Captain didn’t want to enter the narrow entrance through the breakwater until the wind subsided, so we docked about five hours late. But, the good part was we had a good look at the spectacular scenic city with Table Mountain behind it while whales swam by the ship . Because of the landing delay our plans to get out to the Stellenbosch wine area fell apart and we decided to go to the closer cape area vineyards instead. We jumped onto a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus that took us to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the cape wine area and a long drive around the back of Table Mountain and along the entire Cape Town coast.

The botanical garden spread across the mountainside

An unusual tree that was like a giant shrub

The botanical garden was outstanding and we hiked around for hours taking it all in. As expected, we only recognized a small number of the plants but the signage was great and we made lots of new friends. After a few hours in the garden we caught the bus and continued to the vineyard area. We had the choice of going to three vineyards but instead picked just the Beau Constantia Winery because the ship sommieliers said they had the best wines. And it was truly a WOW experience. The ambiance was outstanding, we sat in a comfortable lounge setting (not standing at a bar) and sampled wines looking out on their vineyard that encompassed an entire valley. The wines were good and ridiculously inexpensive. As soon as we have another sea day we’ll do a post on this tasting experience too. After our Vineyard visit we got back on the bus and spent another couple of hours driving along a narrow cliff road seeing the magnificent coast line. It was sort of a modern-day Amlfi Coast.

Each bonsai plant was on a cable leash so they didn't run away!!!

Our view while wine tasting

Our second day in Cape Town was much more relaxed. We did some shopping, ferreted out a good wine shop, stocked up on good South African wines and then spent a large part of the day just sitting in a waterfront restaurant eating seared tuna and the most expensive Chenin Blanc we could get…and it was a VERY MEMORABLE experience. Cape Town has really done a great job of developing its waterfront and it reminded me of the Fisherman’s Wharf area in San francisco…but with temperatures in the mid-70’s.

Cape Town Wharf area

Vicky taking notes on the Chenin Blanc at lunch

The wine shop in Cape Town

A small selection to pick from, but we bought a good sampling.

We had a very good time in Cape Town and it’s clearly one of those places that is on our list of Great Cities of the world to visit. We also found lots of very good wines at “give away” prices and sure don’t understand why they aren’t imported into the United States. Only one sea day and we’ll be in Namibia where we’re going to take a 4×4 vehicle trip into the Namib Desert in search of sidewinders.

April 15th – Durban to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Port Elizabeth harbor

Smooth sailing for our short trip to Port Elizabeth, warm with slightly overcast sky. Port Elizabeth is one of the largest cities in South Africa and is known as the “Detroit of Africa” because of the amount of car manufacturing that’s done here. Volkswagen has a large plant and must ship their cars abroad because the dock was lined with them.

Our day in port was somewhat of a disappointment from the sightseeing perspective. We had no expectations so it was just one of those experiences you mark up as “glad we did it, but will not be back to do it again”. The shuttle bus took us directly from the harbor to a Convention Center/Hotel/Casino complex that had a mini-mall full of things you wouldn’t take home if they gave them to you. After a good look around, and not any gambling, we came back to the ship and had a very nice lunch with a delicious bottle of Australian Arneis wine. Arneis is a grape from the Piedmont area of Italy that I would say is doing well in South Australia.

New cars waiting to be loaded on a ship

The Boardwalk convention center complex

We’re off for a short sail to Capetown and two days in port…we’re both like cats ready to leap for the really good South African wine when we find it!!!

April 13th – Port Louis, Mauritius to Durban, South Africa.

Durban from the deck of the ship

Our three sea days to Durban were very relaxing and we spent time in the library, walked around the deck after breakfast and lunch (three times around is 1.1 miles) and went to several interesting lectures describing the upcoming South African ports . As we rounded the south end of Madagascar it started to become more tropical again…the sea temperature was in the 80’s and the warm sunny days began to get a little humid.

The excursions in Durban were all focused on going to private game reserves and seeing the “big five”. Since we had experienced the “real thing” in Kenya a few years ago we decided to just go into the city and walk along the beach front. And what a pleasant sunrise it was. The beach was beautiful with a small dune, wide paved walk and a park-like strip between the sea and the city. Restaurants and small shops, selling all kinds of local things as well as renting surf boards, dive equipment and bicycles were scattered along the walk, so a stroll in the warm sun was very entertaining. We bought all kinds of neat little things that we hope will fit in our suitcases, then selected the restaurant that had the best view of the beach and spent all afternoon sipping South African wine and eating delicious local sea food.

The other side of the ship shows Durban's cargo port

Durban's beautiful wide beach

The delightful spot where we spent the afternoon

One of Durban's taxis that run along the beach walk

Our local seafood lunch

We really had a fun day in Durban and even thought the city may lack tourist destinations its beach front environment is simply wonderful. We now have one sea day to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

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