≡ Menu

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 or stop when we can get internet access on our T-Mobile hub. Our most recent trip is below and previous trips can be accessed using the specific links. So here is a quick snapshot of our two month cruise around South America on Cunard’s Queen Victoria. The most recent port is at the top, so the trip is in reverse if you view it top to bottom.

Previous trips:

Free wine on a river cruise: what you need to know
Amsterdam to Budapest river trip.
Four and a half month cruse around the world on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2.
Selecting wine on the Cunard Queen Mary 2, or How to find the best value wine on a Cunard cruise.


South America Trip

Fort Lauderdale, Florida – San Juan, Puerto Rico

All the planned ports on this trip

When we left the port at Ft. Lauderdale we were still on California time and used to the clear blue sky we’ve come to expect every day in Agoura Hills. As the sun set we left Fort Lauderdale in route to our first port, San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the two sea days Queen Victoria sailed within eyesight of Cuba’s North coast than proceeded by the island of Hispaniola that’s home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. The weather was cloudy, temperatures mild and each day grew more humid. This was our first trip on the Queen Victoria, the smallest of the three Cunard ships and the passengers were primarily British. What we immediately noticed was the density of people in the public rooms is substantially less than we have experienced on the larger Queen Elizabeth or Queen Mary. This made for a much more relaxed and quiet travel experience.

We’ve never been to Puerto Rico before and had very few expectations for this visit. The ship docked within easy walking distance of the “Old San Juan” area so we simply meandered around looking at the sights and taking in local shops. Our first surprise was how clean and colorful everything was. Houses were simply delightful, streets were narrow and had old world cobble stone charm and at every intersection another interesting street would appear along with a continuing medley of Caribbean music.

Colorful houses that were loaded with character

Typical alley street

Modern San Juan from the ship

From the ship we could see the modern city with its sparkling white buildings along the waterfront. We were told the best beaches in Puerto Rico were in this area and the broad sandy beaches were lined with new high-rise hotels. From the ship it was an easy walk to Fort El Morro, the 16th century fortress that guards the entrance to the harbor From there we walked along the linked fortifications just above the sea to Fort San Cristobal on the other side of the walled city. We didn’t fine any wine shops, but since Puerto Rico is the world’s leading rum producer we did buy a locally made sample.

Wall graffiti, we could only guess at the meaning

A guard house on the cannon platform

Professional wall painters doing their thing

As we left San Yuan harbor we both commented that our first port turned out to be far more charming than we expected. It was a delightful visit to a new place. Now we’re off for one sea day meandering by Caribbean islands to the port of Bridgetown, Barbados.

January 24, 2020


 

 

 

 

San Juan, Puerto Roco – Bridgetown, Bardados

Bridgetown harbor from the ship

After a very leisurely sea day we arrived in Bridgetown bright and early on Sunday morning. There were several other cruise ships in the harbor with us; however everything but the arrival terminal was closed because it was Sunday. We walked into town (about a mile) along a very nice pedestrian path that ran along the shore and had a wonderful sea breeze blowing off the water. The only thing we found open was a very crowded restaurant/bar that overlooked the small harbor. Rather than wait for a table we walked around the downtown and went back to the ship for lunch.

The liveliest spot in Bridgetown

Our next stop is Manaus, Brazil. It’s located about a thousand miles up the Amazon River so we have four sea days to get there…although most of that time is spent trudging up the river, so were looking forward to some interesting travel time.

January 26, 2020


 

Bridgetown, Barbados – Manaus, Brazil

The muddy color of the amazon river

On our four sea days to Manaus it took almost two days to sail by Venezuela, Guyiana, Suriname and French Guyana, than as we approached the Amazon Delta the color of the water went from clear blue-green to brownish-red in color. It was tropical hot, in the 80’s, steamy humid with calm seas. Even after a day and a night traveling up the Amazon we still could only see the shore on one side of the ship…the word BIG does not even come close to describing the size of the Amazon River.

Almost all the sights in Manaus were within easy walking distance of the harbor. We first visited the famous opera house. Built in 1896 during the rubber boom when Manaus was known as the “Paris of the tropics”. It’s really an impressive architectural structure from the outside, but when we went in the opulent grandeur really shined. We took a short tour inside the building and were also very fortunate to attend a performance of the Amazonas String Orchestra that night.

The Manaus Opera House

The 701 seat interior

We also had a quick look at one of the original Manaus private residences that today has been transformed into the Rio Negro Palace Culture Center that’s used for musical recitals, dance and theater programs. Next we visited the Adolpho Lisboa Municipal Market that’s an iron Art Nouveau structure built in 1880 and today houses shops selling all kinds of local food and craft products from the Amazon region. Last we visited the Indian Museum that was filled with all kinds of artifacts that were used by the original Amazon people.

Rio Negro Palace Culture Center

A colorful market shop

Typical Manaus electric pole

Manaus was one of the first cities in the world to have electricity, even before New York and Paris; however, the condition of the current electric system looks original and rather unkempt.

We had a very nice wine pairing lunch that compared four Chardonnay and four Pinot Noir wines from different locations around the world. Delicious, fun and very informative.

We’re now off on a one day sail to Santarem, Brazil that’s about 500 miles from the mouth of the Amazon.

February 1, 2020


Manaus, Brazil – Santarem, Brazil

Collecting natural rubber from trees

The ship really flew downstream and after our quick one day sail we arrived in the city of Santarem. It’s a port city right on the banks of the Amazon with a population of 300,000 and an economy based on lumber extraction, fishing, agriculture and mining . The city is located on an expanse of river that is 15 miles wide where the Amazon and the Tapajos rivers meet. Since it was Sunday and somewhat third-world we signed up to take a ship organized visit to an Amazon forest community about an hour out of the city. Although it’s a very minor activity we saw people collecting rubber from trees that were planted by Henry Ford when he tried to develop his own rubber plantation to make tires for his cars. Although Ford’s venture was not successful the trees he had planted are still growing in the reclaimed forest. In addition, people in this community were also harvest all kinds of fruits and nuts that we saw growing as we walked along forest paths.

Some of the tropical fruits being harvested

Shellacked Piranha for sale on the dock

A termite colony high in the trees so the ant eaters couldn't get to it

Although Santarem was not a tourist mecca it did have lots of very interesting things to see if your interested in the Amazon rain forest. Because the economy is built around resource extraction and very little resource management, the landscape looks very used. Areas of forest have been cleared to grow soy beans and the mining industry, like everywhere else in the world, is not known for cleaning up it’s mess after the minerals are removed. When we spent a few weeks in the Peruvian Amazon jungle 30-years ago they were cutting giant mahogany trees, but little else was disturbed. Here outside of Santarem it has a very different look. Even with all this said, we both commented that we’re glad we visited Santarem as it gave us real insight into Brazil’s environmental problems as it grows and makes it’s way into the 21-century.

On the evening of our sea day we had a fantastic wine pairing dinner, OUTSTANDING food, GOOD wines…but, the wine was not up to any of the ones we brought aboard in Fort Lauderdale!!!

We’re now off for three sea days and the port of Salvador, Brazil, a port city on the Atlantic coast.

February 2, 2020


Santarem, Brazil – Salvador, Brazil

The city of Salvador from the dock

We left Santarem with a cast-off party as the sun set and Victoria began sailing through the muddy waters of toward the Amazon delta. The sea day weather was tropical…air and water temperature in the high 80’s with partly cloudy sky and occasional heavy wind and rain.

We did have two fun wine tasting events during these sea days. One included an assortment of South African wines made from classical grape varieties that were all surprisingly good. The other served ten different wines produced all over the world that was a real hodgepodge and a little difficult to make anything out of it, other than pick one or two that we liked best. These wines were served with excellent cheese and appetizers and had unlimited pours so we could go back and try the ones we liked. We also did a little side-by-side Sauternes tasting ourselves. Cunard was serving the “house” Sauternes (Chateau Petit Vedrines) at a special price ($6.95/glass) so we gave it a try one night. We liked it, but I noticed the ship also had Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes by the glass. We simply couldn’t resist ordering a glass of each and doing a side-by-side tasting with an apple tart for dessert. We told the sommelier not to identify them so we could drink them blind, but it was obvious which was which just from the color in the glass. And, as expected there was a DRAMATIC difference. We love Chateau d’Yquem and our side-by-side tasting really showed the difference between it and a “garden variety” Sauternes. In a word we described the Chateau Petit Vedrines as simply ephemeral!!!

Typical square in the upper section of Salvador

Old fashion colorful dress of the shopkeepers

Because all the interesting sights were in the upper historic city or Cidade Alta, Cunard ran shuttle buses directly from the ship to the center of the upper city and we spent the better part of the day strolling along the cobbled streets that were lined with Baroque buildings.

Fresh coconut water is the drink of the locals

Police were very visible everywhere we went

A small slide street or entrance to a large private house

Every street was lined with small stalls selling goods to the locals

An artist view of the city

Although this colorful view of the city may be only in the artists eyes, Salvador was a very interesting and fun city to visit. It was founded in 1549, became the center of the slave trade in South America and you can still feel the pulsating strength and richness of the Afro-Brazilian roots. As we wondered the streets lined with 17th and 18th century architecture we could hear different groups of drummers pounding out rhythms at every turn.

We’re now off for one sea day then a two day visit to Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, about a 750 mile sail.

February 7, 2020


Salvador, Brazil – Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Rio De Janeiro from the ship

We’ve been traveling south of the equator, yet as we sail along it appears to be getting warmer and more tropical, not colder. The sea is almost glassy smooth, both air and water temperatures in the mid-80’s with partly cloudy sky. It makes for very lazy sailing and only the most sun-starved Brit’s are out basking on the deck.

From what the Cunard tour staff told us there were two things not to miss when in Rio, Corcovado Mountain with the statue of Christ the Redeemer on top and Copacabana Beach. In addition we booked a tour to Petropolis that was about an hour out of the city, but it was canceled because the palace was closed on Monday. The Rio itself was quite striking with its high density of white high rise buildings and proximity between water and mountains.

The historical train station where the cog railroad leaves for the top of Corcovado

The spectacular view of Sugar Loaf Mountain and the city from Corcovado

We were in Rio on a weekend so getting around the streets was easy, but all the locals were with us at all the sights. The beach was literally filled beyond capacity…the locals take several coolers on hand trucks and set up a beach camp site for the day. We saw both Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and although I looked carefully I sure didn’t see the “girl from Ipanema” anywhere in the crowd!!!

Copacabana Beach with with the crowds

Apartment buildings around the lagoon

The almost 13 story Christ the Redeemer is very impressive up close or from anywhere in the city

Rio is a city of five million people and from what we knew about it we expected a wonderful port city that was comparable to Cape town or Sidney. However, it was large and commercial like most of the other major ports around the world. And the tour guides were right, seeing the beach was a true spectacle (but, we wouldn’t want to join the crowds for any sunbathing) and Corcovado Mountain was very special. From the cog railroad ride up the hill to the unbelievable views of the city beneath it was simply memorable. However, even with the city filled with history since 1502 (e.g., sugar cane and its slavery, gold, diamonds and coffee exports, the capitol of Portugal when Napoleon invaded and the capitol of Brazil until it moved to Brasilia in 1960) it didn’t have the endearing attraction most European cities provide for us.

We’re now off for two sea days and the port of Montevideo, Uruguay.

February 10, 2020


Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – Montevideo, Uruguay

Montevideo from the ship

Our two sea days to Montevideo were very quiet…several port talks, afternoon concerts and interesting lectures. Most remarkable item was one day out of Rio both the temperature and humidity completely turned around…were out of the tropics. The sea temperature was still 85 degrees F., but it was really just like Southern California weather to us.

Neither of us knew much about Uruguay, so our expectations were set very low. However ,we arrived on a clear sunny morning and sailing into the Montevideo harbor was nothing short of inspirational. With the sun to our backs and low rolling landscape with white buildings it was simply perfect. It’s really quite a low density city and sailing in you could see the close buildings in the city center and how quickly the density spread out. Again, not knowing about Uruguay we signed up to take a morning tour of the city, than about a 45-minute ride on a highway out into the Pampas countryside to the Famila Deicas Winery, the largest in Uruguay.

One of the nice pedestrian streets

A traffic circle where no one was rushing

Our morning city tour took us through the downtown that was clean with wide tree lined streets and no traffic congestion!!! Business people were going to work in casual dress and it was just a relaxed Thursday morning in Montevideo and we both said WOW!!! I was really taken back with all the old buildings covered with French balconies, it was perfect Spanish colonial architecture.

Tons and tons of Tannat grapes

Tannat grapes just about ready for harvest

The rainfall is more than Southern California and there were stands of trees and expansive grass lands. It’s an agricultural economy and we saw lots of cattle along with grapes and other fruit orchards. When we arrived at the Familia Deicas Winery, (see our wine tasting) formally the historic Janico Vineyard. it was surprising to see such an expanse of vineyards. We had a complete tour of the winery operation starting with rows and rows of Tannat grapes that were just about to be harvested. We saw them pressing grapes (by the ton) and then saw the original barrel cellar. Than we had a real treat…a sit-down wine tasting with lots of cheese, fresh bread and meats. We were served generous pours of five wines then you could taste any wines they produced and buy what met your fancy. The wines were GREAT and needless to say we bought all we could carry…nothing new!!!

As we sailed out of Montevideo we both said it was a Fabulous city, country and visit. In all honesty our tour guide was spectacular and she gave us lots of political, economic, cultural and historical information about both Montevideo and Uruguay. When you know practically nothing about the place your visiting, good information really helps you to understand and know it quickly. We would rate Montevideo VERY HIGH and would say Uruguay is a real sleeper, we really don’t know how such a wonderful country stays so hidden.

We’re now off for an overnight sail and two days in Buenos Aires. The sail tonight takes us across the mouth of the Rio de la Plata River…Montevideo is on the north side and Buenos Aires a little further up the river on the south.

February 13, 2020


Montevideo, Uruguay – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sailing into Buenos Aires

Our overnight sail to Buenos Aires very was quick and quiet, but the entrance to the port was SPECTACULAR with the rising sun to our back. Unfortunately we docked at a large container port and the view of the modern white buildings of the city was covered. Although we had two days in port, we had plans to visit a “dude ranch” type of Gaucho party the first day, visit the city parks and shopping the second day than off to a gala party that Cunard had for all the Round South America travelers. All of which were very pleasant and the sort of the experience we expected in Rio.

The first day we went to the Gaucho party at an ranch that was about a one hour drive outside of the city. There was a gaucho horseback riding show than horseback riding for the guests (who wanted to ride). We wondered the grounds and found a fantastic garden intertwined with all the buildings of the hacienda. Than our hosts tried to stuff us!!!! They served bottomless Argentine wine and grilled meats until everybody cried uncle all while the gauchos danced on the tables.

Vine covered buildings at the hacienda

A Mediterranean look at the hacienda

A modern gaucho

Gaucho dancing on the tables

Our quick visit to the city was also a great experience. We had a good time comparing prices of items we buy at home, but the biggest surprise was how different some items were, both higher and lower. This is a city of 3.2 million people, yet it has a very low density feel. The streets were not congested and the numbers of the people on the shopping streets appeared very sparse to us…maybe were gettibg used to Califonia crowds.

Pedestrian shopping street

Large park at the end of the shopping street

Our view of Buenos Aires from the ship


Although our view from the ship left much to be desired, it was a really special port. The city was one of the cleanest, most modern and friendliest we have visited in South America. There was building construction going on everywhere you looked and it was clearly a very vibrant world class city. We give it a thumbs up and recommend everyone sailing the East coast of South America have a visit.

We’re now off for a two day sail to Puerto Madryn, Argentina and a visit to the largest Magellan penguin rookery in the world.

February 15, 2020


Buenos Aires, Argentina – Puerto Madryn

Puerto Madryn from the ship

The southwestern sail to Puerto Madryn became more overcast every day with the air and water temperatures dropping into the mid-60’s. Without question each day looks more and more like winter. Puerto Madryn is a small city of about 70,000 people that’s nestled into the very protected harbor on the Gulf of Neuevo. There is a large fishing fleet here, but the main attraction is seeing the birds, whales, penguins and sea lions. We signed up for a trip to the Punta Tombo Penguin Reserve…the largest Magellan Penguin rookery in the world.

Puerto Madryn was quite compact and it only took about 10 minutes to reach the edge of the city and it went from urban to primitive wild in less than a 30-seconds. The climate is VERY dry and the landscape looks like central Wyoming with a sagebrush looking plant covering the ground. We went South for two and a half hours without seeing much human disturbance and the only life was occasional alpaca-like Guanacos and ostrich-like Darwin’s Reas. The penguin reserve had a gravel and boardwalk trail two or three miles from the shore that wondered through the rookery. Seeing the penguins was nothing like we envisioned. They nest in holes under the bushes or in the bear ground..

Typical Puerto Madryn street

The landscape outside the city

sleeping while standing

A pair at their nest

Standing room only at the beach

Like ducks their more at home in the water

One of the 2,000,000 penguins that nest on the reserve


Seeing the penguins was a memorable experience and watching them walk over a mile from the water to their nests was quite endearing. Everyone likes to see animals in their natural habitat and in this case watching the penguins, guanacos and reas all in the same area was very special. The penguins having no fear of humans also made the experience unique.

We’re now off for a two day sail to Ushuaia, Argentina via Cape Horn and the Beagle Channel.

February 18, 2020


Puerto Madryn – Ushuaia, Argentina

The notorious Cape Horn and its lighthouse

The sail to Ushuaia turned out to be quite eventful. The clouds got heavier, and both the air and water temperature drooped well into the 50’s. The second day we had gale force wines from the south that slowed our progress. By the time we arrived at Cape Horn the winds had died down and we were able to come right up to the Cape Horn lighthouse…the very spot where countless ships have been lost or had to turn back because of the fierce winds and sea. In our case the sky was very ominous, but the wind and sea were calm.

Ushuaia has a population of about 45,000 with fishing being the primary economic base. Recently it has become known as tourist jumping off point for eco-tourism in the antarctic (seeing the ice melt must be a tourist attraction) and watching wildlife (e.g., penguins and sea lions) in the Beagle Channel. The eclectic architecture of the city is really fascinating and includes imported Swedish kit houses, old wooden houses covered with corrugated metal, and modern poured concrete structures. Since we had just come from seeing the penguins we decided to just take a stroll around the main streets of Ushuaia.

Ushuaia from the ship

The primary shopping street

Queen Victoria in the Ushuaia harbor


We enjoyed just wondering around the city streets and seeing how life goes on in this very remote part of the world. And were happy to report that here as in both California and North Carolina getting the kids ready to go back to school includes a Disney book bag!!!

Now we’re off for a one day sail that begins in the Beagle Channel than turns North to Punta Arenas, Chile.

February 21, 2020


Ushuaia, Argentina – Punta Arenas, Chile

Punta Arenas from the ship at anchor

We sailed out of the narrow Beagle Channel and along the coast within sight of land for almost a day, than into the Magellan Straits and the port of Punta Arenas. It was mostly sunny with 15-20 knots of wind, but the temperature was in the low 50’s. Punta Arenas overlooks the Strait of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego…the most southern point of land before you reach Antarctica. The city had its hay day around the turn of the century when it was the principal coal and supply port for ships rounding the Horn. It was one of the busiest ports in the world until the Panama Canal was built in 1914.

Queen Victoria anchored out and used the life boats to tender passengers into the city. We didn’t like any of the Cunard tours in Punta Arenas so we took a tender into the town and walked around. Since it was Sunday many shops were closed and it was 51 degrees and drizzling so it wasn’t the best conditions for a pleasant walk!!! However the French and Italian neoclassical architecture of the mansions around the square were in pristine condition and really showed off the city’s grand days. The city square was also unique with its numerous period Cedrus Dedora trees.

One of the main streets along the central square

Locals selling handy crafts on the square

Palacio Montes, now a city building

A residence that's now a Magellan museum

The tenders coming and going


Except for the light rain we enjoyed just wondering around Punta Arenas main streets. It was a very clean city, the architecture was fantastic and we enjoyed our quick visit. Coming back on the tender we both commented that even though Punta Arenas is a city of about 150,000 people, it’s probably the most remote place we have ever visited.

Now we’re off for three sea days to Puerto Montt, Chile, with a sail-by of the Amalia Glacier and the Pio X Glacier on the way.

February 23, 2020


Punta Arenas, Chile – Puerto Montt, Chile

Puerto Montt from the anchored ship

Leaving Punta Arenas we sailed out through the Magellan Straits into the Pacific and turned North for a one day sail to Amalia Glacier followed by second sea day to the PIO XI Glacier. All three of the sea days to Puerto Montt the had overcast weather with occasional showers, but the temperature was in the mid 40’s at the glaciers and in the high 50’s at Puerto Montt.

Our two stops at the glaciers were very interesting and revealing. Neither glacier was calving, but the giant POI XI had a face that was rounded, smooth and obviously melting faster than the one meter/day it was flowing. Vicky’s comment was that it looked like a dying beached whale. At both sites the weather was drizzly and foggy (as it is almost every day in this part of the world) so we couldn’t see the snow-capped mountains in the background or huge ice field that’s the source of both these and 47 other glaciers.

One kilometer wide Amalia Glacier

Still calving Amalia Glacier

Six Kilometer wide POI XI Glacier

Smooth POI XI that's melting faster than it's moving

Now were sailing out of the fjord and back into the Pacific for another sea day to Puerto Montt.

After anchoring in Puerto Montt the captain announced that a tender (lifeboat) was in the water and testing to see if it was going to be possible to tender the passengers ashore with the 25-35 knot winds we were experiencing now. Very soon after he announced we would not be going ashore and were starting our sail to the next port of San Antonio, Chile. Puerto Montt is known for it fresh salmon and we were very disappointed that we couldn’t have a delicious salmon lunch with a fine Chilean wine while ashore, but it was just not to be this trip and we sure can’t see another trip around the Horn to get back to Puerto Montt!!!

The sun is coming out now and we’re off for a one sea day sail (that’s going to take us two days) to the port of San Antonio, Chile.

February 27, 2020