Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Terrific Tenerife

Santa Cruz de Tenerife: What a great place to wander around for a few hours. Sad to say, the Cape Verde Island look pretty dismal in comparison.

We frankly weren't expecting too much after other stops on transatlantic cruises but Tenerife is a clean and interesting city. There were no fewer than five cruise ships docked there today, Insignia being the smallest, but the city was large enough to absorb several thousand passengers.

Once we navigated the maze that was the temporary pedestrian walkway from the ships to the main plaza, we strolled up the Rambla, a pedestrian-only street that stretched all the way to the top of a hill in a half mile or so. We walked over to a large public market and will post some photos of the spectacular displays at the fish mongers.

We spent some time wandering through a large department store but finally concluded we could find more appealing birthday presents for grandkids back home.

Then it was back to the ship, after a stop for a cappuccino at one of the local restaurants.

It's another day at sea tomorrow, as we make our way to a stop at Valencia before disembarking at Barcelona.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

En Route To Tenerife, Canary Islands

If we stay on schedule, we'll dock tomorrow at the Port of Santa Cruz Cruise Pier, Tenerife, Canary Islands.

The Canary Islands aren't named after the little birds, but after the now-extinct dogs (Latin canem) that used to live there.

The ride has been a little bumpy over the past couple of days, with strong headwinds, but still quite tolerable. Earlier this afternoon on deck it was cool enough that some people were wearing sweaters. We involve ourselves in the daily games, which can include shuffleboard, table tennis, golf putting, and similar events. Although we'll earn enough "Big O" points to get ourselves a couple more hats, the main object is to have fun and meet nice people.

It continues to be a glorious cruise and we're really enjoying ourselves.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Porto Grande, Cape Verde Islands

After several days at sea, it's fun to step on dry land again, even land as bleak as Porto Grande, Cape Verde Islands. This is the second time we've stopped here on a cruise, and it seems little has changed. Now that we've stopped in at Morocco a couple of times on previous cruises, we're struck by the similarity of the terrain here.

We walked into the part of the town near the waterfront, strolled around, and then walked back to the ship. They have their own currency, the Cape Verde Escudos, worth a little over a penny each, but we didn't have to worry about exchanging money because all of the shops in our area were closed.

The Portuguese discovered this archipelago in the 1400s and settled the island, which is one reason the major local language is Portuguese, along with a Creole dialect. Enslaved Africans were brought here to work on plantations and the African influence is strong in the appearance of many of the local people.

We'll depart here later this evening for our next stop, a few hundred nautical miles away, the Canary Islands. As for Porto Grande, it's a nice place to visit after several days at sea.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

In The North Atlantic

We "gained" one hour so it's just after 7:00 a.m. Saturday on Insignia, as we head for our next port, Cape Verde.

The seas are smooth, the weather is perfect, and we continue to have a great time.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

In The Doldrums On Insignia

No, we don't mean we're "depressed." We're enjoying a fantastic time aboard Insignia. Captain Ressa announced today that we are in that area of the Atlantic known as the doldrums, an area in which wind-powered sailing ships wallowed while waiting for winds to move them.

For us, it means an area of smooth seas but also of sudden storms. We ourselves chatted with him this morning and he predicted that we would have largely smooth seas all the way to Barcelona. While that won't be as exciting as our first transatlantic a few years ago Barcelona to Miami, during which we sailed through a hurricane for 30 bumpy hours, we'll be quite happy to be "in the doldrums" for the entire cruise.

Tonight we've returned from our game of Team Trivia (no, we didn't win tonight but we've gained another "respectable" score) to see lightning and hear thunder. We're crossing the Equator officially at 6:28 p.m. local time, just a few minutes from now.

Bound For Europe On Insignia

We docked at Recife Brazil Tuesday night, and departed early Wednesday afternoon. Since this was our last stop in Brazil and the Southern Hemisphere, we went ashore and wandered around for a couple of hours.

The weather was hot and humid and we appreciated the ship's air conditioning when we returned. Our afternoon involved shuffleboard, golf putting, and team trivia, all organized by the cruise director and his friendly assistants.

Today (Thursday) we're scheduled to cross the Equator and officially enter the Northern Hemisphere around 8:00 p.m. (4:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time). Our next port is Cape Verde about three days away, and we're hoping for calm seas as we chug along at our usual 18 knots.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Salvador Brazil

We are sitting in a small square not far from the ship at one edge of the third largest city in Brazil. It is humid but not as hot as our last visit here.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Brief Stop At Montevideo Uruguay

We feel right at home back on Insignia. We have already run into a couple we met on another cruise, and we have previously sailed with the cruise director.

We´ve just taken a stroll around the old town of Montevideo Uruguay. It´s a charming area and, most important, the weather isn´t too hot for us.

Our next stop is Rio. Last night we ate in the steak house since there was space available for us. As much as we enjoyed our dinner out in Buenos Aires, we really prefer American Prime beef, and our strip loin was terrific.

Blogging, as they say, will be light, but we´ll try to keep in contact from time to time as we sail across the Atlantic.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Puerto Madero Hilton: A Trendy Area In Buenos Aires

This is the fourth time we've stayed at this property. We enjoy the Puerto Madero district.

We'd fallen in love with this hotel on our first stay in 2009, and were disappointed to see a decline in standards in 2010, perhaps caused in part by ongoing renovation of the Executive Lounge. We were delighted to find out that the hotel is back up to the level that we enjoyed on our first visit.

As we sat in the lounge, we could see Casa Rosada, the official presidential palace. We again saw the president's helicopter landing, as we have on previous visits.

After a glass of wine in the Lounge, we enjoyed wandering around the Puerto Madero neighborhood in the twilight, enjoying the views and the mood.

For dinner we again chose El Potrillo, the restaurant next door to the more famous Las Lilas.

We shared pork ribs and beef ribs. Argentina is a carnivorous place and we enjoyed ourselves.

Buenos Aires: Bueno

We enjoyed one last view of the Falls from our room this morning before checking out. Actually, it was a view of a large cloud of mist and we realized how lucky we were that the the views during our stay were so clear.

We left the Sheraton about 8:15 a.m. and arrived at the Aeropuerto Puerto Iguazú (IGR) in plenty of time. Security was a breeze, and our one hour and forty minute flight to Buenos Aires on an Aerolíneas Argentinas 737 was pleasant.

We landed at a city airport, Jorge Newbery (AEP), rather than EZE, and a short cab ride later we were arriving at the Buenos Aires Hilton.

Our room wasn't ready and the front desk offered us a complimentary glass of wine at the lobby wine bar while we waited. Why not?

We're currently readying ourselves to board Insignia tomorrow afternoon. Kathy is ironing clothes and Brian is getting in touch with Alex, our wine merchant and fellow FlyerTalker.

Kathy's business is pressing, but Brian's business is too.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Iguazu Falls: Garganto del Diablo From Our Deck

Kathy just spotted a monkey in a tree below our deck. She'll hang onto the camera and see if he comes out of hiding again. In the meantime, we've seen the Devil's Throat from our deck, and the hotel from the Devil's Throat.

The mist has lifted and we're enjoying our last views as afternoon turns to evening.

Iguazu Falls: Kathy's Favorite Birds and Butterflies

Iguazu Falls: Garganta del Diablo - The Devil's Throat

We squeezed ourselves sardine-like into the little train that runs up to the half-mile or more of ramps that lead out to the Garganto del Diablo, or Devil's Throat. (Doesn't it sound more ominous in Spanish?)

Although we happened to arrive at the same time as some large tour groups (fortunately the only large group we encountered here), we managed to walk out to the viewing platform and to shoot videos from each end.

Even one section of the falls is huge that we can stand in front of it without blocking the view.

Iguazu Falls: Our Wild And Wet Boat Ride

This morning we went for a ride in an inflatable boat like this one.

It was a short ride that started off with great views of the falls. Then we started dipping into the falls and it's easy to see the limitations of trying to use a camera sealed in a baggie...

Sheraton Iguazu Resort & Spa: A Splendid Stay

In the heat of mid-afternoon, we're relaxing in our suite after a day that's included a "Nautical Adventure" ride in a large inflatable that took us right under the edge of a couple of the falls in a genuine thrill ride.

Later we rode the little train up to the "Devil's Throat" station, and hiked out the ramps to an incredible view of this section of the falls. Photos will follow - lots of photos and maybe more video.

As for our lodging, it's well known that the Sheraton Iguazu Resort & Spa is the place to stay here, right inside the national park and a short walk to all of the trails. The rates are expensive, but it's a million-dollar location, and we have a million-dollar view from our deck.

The hotel is modern, we've found the food and drink to be more than adequate, including lunch yesterday and a very good buffet breakfast that's included in the room rate. The beds are firm and the air conditioning works exceptionally well. The pool is also a great spot to hang out and cool off.

Best of all, we find the employees here to be friendly and welcoming. This has been a great home-away-from home for us and we'll be sad to leave.

Still, Buenos Aires is beckoning us.

Those TSA X-Ray Scanners: Math Mistakes Or More Radiation?

The TSA is in full defensive P.R. mode because maintenance records of its full-body X-ray scanners, conducted by employees of the very company that manufactures them, indicated that some of the machines were releasing radiation levels ten times higher than expected.

You can read more here in USA Today.

From the article:

The TSA is responsible for the safety of its own X-ray devices. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said it does not routinely inspect airport X-ray machines because they are not considered medical devices. The TSA's airport scanners are exempt from state radiation inspections because they belong to a federal agency.

The official TSA bloggers claim here that everything will be just fine once those engineers, the ones responsible for the testing of the machines, are "retrained." Besides, there's radiation everywhere and ten times as much of it would still be perfectly safe.

So the engineers who conducted the tests allegedly made basic math mistakes and will be retrained. Reassured yet?

As David Rowell, The Travel Insider, writes here, "The most puzzling part of this is why a society with a massive aversion upon discovering even the slightest suggestion of lead, mercury and asbestos being present somewhere where people have lived safely healthily and happily for decades; will then voluntarily allow itself to be irradiated in an uncontrolled environment, particularly when the dose of radiation serves no good purpose in terms of detecting anything concealed on your person."

Reassured yet? We're not and we'll continue to "opt out."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sheraton Iguazu: An Appetizing Thank-You

A knock on our door around 6:00 p.m. - actually it was the doorbell - announced the arrival of a bottle of Moët & Chandon (non-vintage) extra brut on ice and a delightful selection of appetizers, sent along on behalf of the hotel's general manager as a thank-you for our patronage.

The appetizers included shrimp skewers with lime wedges, sun-dried tomatoes and fresh (buffalo?) mozzarella sandwiched between basil leaves, dried cured ham (Parma?) wrapped around puff-pastry sticks with balsamic vinagrette, and smoked salmon-wrapped hearts of palm, topped with shrimp.

It's a tough job but somebody has to do it.

Iguazu Falls: Video of One Viewpoint

Iguazu Falls: Seeing Is Believing

It was hot in the sun but there's a lot of shade on the Circuito Superior or Upper Trail. It wasn't terribly crowded either, but we still left our personal belongings in our room.

The views speak for themselves.

Sao Paulo To Iguazu

Our morning started early - we took a taxi to the airport at 5:00 a.m. - but our 90-minute flight to Iguazu (the Brazilian side) on a Tam A320 was perfectly fine, with some teasing views of water as we approached.

It's a small airport and worth a quick photo as we left.

We contracted with a taxi driver to drive us to the Sheraton via a view of the Brazilian side of the falls. It wasn't yet very warm and the bugs were on their siesta breaks.

Words really fail us, as do our photos, which can't possibly show the scope of these magnificent falls. Still, we'll keep snapping and trying.

With the help of our driver, it was relatively painless to pay the fees at the national park entrances on each side, and to cross the border, with stops both for Brazilian and Argentine officials.

We were upgraded to a suite with a view of the falls at the Sheraton, as a result of our current Platinum status. That's not hard to take at all.

This is one of those hotel-room views that we'll remember for a long time.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Settling In At The Sao Paulo Airport Marriott

What a pleasant surprise to board our 777 last night at IAD and discover it's one that's been reconfigured. We both enjoyed a good night's sleep despite a bumpy flight from time to time, waking up only as the flight attendants were announcing breakfast.

We were among the first off the plane. The immigration lines were short, and we didn't have to wait too long for the Marriott shuttle.

Checking in at a Brazilian property is fairly labor-intensive for the clerk. He collected both of our passports and filled out a government information form for each of us that we were reqired to sign. He was very friendly throughout, and it was a treat having our room ready at 11:00 a.m. It seems to be a much more pleasant property than we'd anticipated from some of the reviews, and our room is clean and spacious with free Internet.

There's apparently a pool here and we'll probably try it out later. We both feel a lot better than we deserve to after flying a little over 13,000 miles since Tuesday. Since we'll have to take a taxi to the airport tomorrow at 5:15 a.m. to check in for our 7:20 a.m. flight, relaxation is the order of the day.

Update... The pool was a great spot to hang out for a couple of hours, but the water was a little too cool for our tastes.