Day 5: Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego

Buenas tardes from the almost the bottom of the world. Today we anchored in Ushuaia, Argentina – the lowest point in South America. We were supposed to have docked early this morning, but wind conditions prevented that from happening.

Speaking of which, the Captain’s Announcement just came through to the entire ship literally this minute! Change in plans – when we depart Ushuaia later early this evening, we will not pass by Cape Horn on our way to Antarctica as originally planned. The reason? The pilot boats refuse to get off the ship there due to the bad weather forecast that has been predicted! Instead we will head directly towards Antarctica. (Remember my last post about “the Drake Lake” vs. “the Drake Shake”? Looks like we’re going to get the latter.) The seas should turn rough around midnight. Winds up to 30 MPH and wave heights up to 14 feet. Let the games begin!!

Ahem – as I was saying – we had a marvelous day traveling to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, which I described in my last post. Let me share with you some of the photos I took today:

Ushuaia Sunrise - 01
Sunrise in Ushuaia at 6:00 AM today as seen from our cabin

Ushuaia On Deck
AAC CPA on deck a few minutes later – it’s cold out there!

Ushuaia Sunrise - 02
Portside view

Symphony from Harbor
The beautiful Crystal Symphony as seen from the pier

Post Office - 01
1st stop inside the park: the world’s southern-most post office

Post Office - 02
Postcards for sale at the post office

Lake Shot - Panoramic
Panoramic photo lakeside

Visitor Center
AAC CPA at the Alakush Visitor’s Center

Roca Lake
Another lakeside view – note the beautiful snowcapped mountains

Condor Hill - AAC - 01
AAC CPA with Condor Hill in the background

Lowest Sign - AAC
Lapataia Bay – AAC CPA is at the lowest point at the end of Route 3

Lapataia Bay
Lapataia Bay

That’s all for now, kids. Time for us to batten down the hatches and get ready for our roller coast ride to Antarctica.

Remember: we’ll probably be out of internet range for the next 4 days or so. When I return, I hope to have lots of adventures to share with you.

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Still On the High Seas: Tierra del Fuego and the Drake Passage

Greetings and salutations from the beautiful Crystal Symphony. Thought I’d say “hello” and tell you a little bit about what’s in store for us over the next few days.

Before I do, however, here are a few pix from the past couple of days:

AAC - 1st formal night
AAC CPA on our 1st formal night

Family Negronis
Family Negronis in Palm Court (the 4th glass is MINE!)

Formal Shoes
Formal shoes on formal night

At Home Negronis
Our butler, Raja, delivers yummies to us each evening; I make the Negronis

Boys
Pre-dinner entertainment: The Virginia Gentlemen from UVA

Captains Invite
Look where we’re going tonight before dinner

It’s our 3rd consecutive day at sea – a very lazy afternoon – and tomorrow we arrive at our first port: Ushuaia, which will be our portal to Tierra del Fuego which, in Spanish, means “Land of Fire”. It was named by Ferdinand Magellan who, when passing by in 1520, saw a number of fires burning on the coastline.

Tierra del Fuego Pic - 01

Tierra del Fuego is an archipelago at the southern most tip of South America, including Cape Horn, and is divided between Chile on the east and Argentina on the west, but the entirety is governed by the latter country.

The earliest known civilization dates back to 8,000 BC.

Our excursion on Sunday morning will take us from the port town of Ushuaia to Tierra del Fuego National Park, about 10 miles away. This enormous park – measuring over 155,600 acres – has one of the most beautiful cold forests in the world. As we are at the southern-most tip of South America, we can expect to see many areas of the forest blanketed with snow.

We will also witness and admire the flora and fauna of extreme south Patagonia.

Part of our excursion will take us to Roca Lake, from where we will be able to see Condor Hill, the natural border with Chile.

Lapataia Bay, considered one of the most stunning sights on the island, will be included in our itinerary.

Throughout our journey, it would not be unusual to see wildlife.

We are advised to wear layered clothing, as the daytime temperature will be in the mid to high 40s.

When we depart Ushuaia on Sunday evening, our real adventure will begin: crossing the notorious Drake Passage on our way to Antarctica. I used that adjective intentionally, as you never know what you’re going to get whilst in the passage. It can be relatively calm, or you can be in for one heck of a ride.

Drake - Map

Apparently, we can expect one of two things: “the Drake Lake” or “the Drake Shake”. Which would you prefer?

Drake - 02
The Drake Lake?

Drake - 03
Or the Drake Shake?

(We have friends, traveling on an expedition vessel, who attempted to cross the passage 3 times, but we unable to complete the journey to Antarctica and were turned back because of the rough waters.)

We’re pretty good sailors – don’t generally get seasick nor miss meals – but can admit to being a bit intimidated by crossing the passage not once, but twice over the next few days.

So why all the hubbub? Apparently, this body of water marks the convergence of the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans. The potential (probable?) turbulence is attributed to the passage’s geographic position between the cool conditions of the southernmost part of South America and the frigid regions of Antarctica. Another contributory factor is due to the volume of water traveling through the passage, about 600 times the flow of the Amazon River!!

Anyway, it’s going to be a once (twice, actually) in a lifetime experience regardless of what happens.

Don’t forget that, due to our position, we may lose Internet reception for a few days, particularly once we enter the Drake Passage and throughout our visit to Antarctica.

Don’t worry – we’ll be just fine, and I’ll report back to you once we’re back in range.

 

1st Full Day at Sea

Good afternoon and greetings from the beautiful Crystal Symphony somewhere between Buenos Aires and Ushuaia! Today is the first of 3 consecutive sea days before arriving at our first port.

It’s been a warm and sunny day, but every day will get cooler and cooler as we approach Ushuaia (which will be in the high 40s) and then on to Antarctica (where, if we’re lucky, the 30s).

S24381A

I want to share 2 pieces of information with you:

  1. We’re having an amazing time so far; and
  2. Due to the route south to Antarctica, we may (probably will?) lose internet contact from January 18 – January 21. Don’t worry – we’ll be just fine!

In the meantime, here’s a look at our Penthouse Suite on deck 10:

Crystal Penthouse Suite

And here are a few images from our 1st 30 hours on board:

2016-01-Sunset Moon
1st sunset: note the sliver moon in the upper right

2016-01-Breakfast
AAC CPA’s 1st breakfast on Lido Deck

2016-01-Cappuccino
And his 1st cappuccino at the Bistro on Deck 6

2016-01-view
View from our private verandah earlier today – nice and warm, but not for long!!

Tonight’s the 1st formal night, so I have to start getting ready and into my penguin suit, which seems somehow appropriate for a trip to Antarctica, right?

That’s all for now!!

Buenos Aires: Embarkation Day

Here it is, gentle readers. On this amazingly beautiful and sunny day, two years after booking this cruise, embarkation day is at last here.

For those of us who have – or will – take a cruise or make a crossing (remember?), is there anything as exciting as pulling up to the cruise terminal, handing your luggage over to your trusted porter and walking over the gangplank onto your ship (in this case, the beautiful Crystal Symphony)?

This will be a very quick post today, as embarkation day is filled with getting settled in, greeting your fellow passengers, surprise reunions with passengers with whom you’ve sailed before, reacquainting yourself with the crew and the vessel. 

Although we’re boarding at around noon, we don’t set sail until 5:00 PM.

Here’s a shot of our finally packed luggage before we checked out of our hotel – peace has been restored!!!

2016-01-13 10.28.39
Miraculously, we got everything back into the suitcases!

More to follow soon.

Buenos Aires – Day Five

Well, here it is: our last day in town. Our chariot – a/k/a Crystal Symphony – awaits and we will board her tomorrow for a 14-day cruise that will take us to Antarctica and other unusual places. This is the first trip that AAC CPA and I have taken in many years where every place we visit will be for the 1st time. Exciting, right?

Crystal at Harbor
The beautiful Crystal Symphony, as seen from our hotel room

So our plan today was an easy one: We paid a visit to Templo Libertad, just a block away from Teatro Colon. Adjacent to the synagogue is the small Jewish History Museum. The best day to visit the synagogue is on Tuesdays, beginning at 11:00 AM. Due to security, a passport is required and the entry fee is 140 ARS, about $10.00.

The design of the synagogue, which opened in 1932, is heavily influenced by Roman and Byzantine architecture. It is home to the Congregación Israelita de la República de Argentina (or CIRA).

On the way to the synagogue, we made a return visit to Teatro Colon, just because it’s such a beautiful building. And it was there that we had a surprise reunion with two friends who are going to be on the cruise with us. Here’s AAC CPA’s surprised reaction when he saw them (with Leslie and Ron in the background).

AAC - BA
AAC CPA surprised by our Crystal sailing buddies

Here are a few photographs of the synagogue:

Libertad Synagogue Gates
Templo Libertad 

Libertad Synagogue
Templo Libertad gate detail, showing the 12 tribes of Israel

Libertad Overhead Entrance
No, that’s not the Vulcan salute!!

Libertad Sanctuary Entrance
Entrance to the sanctuary

Libertad Sanctuary - 01
Inside the sanctuary

Libertad Sanctuary - 02
A closer look at the “bimah”

Museum Typewriter
It’s an old typewriter with Hebrew letters found inside the museum

TRAVEL TIP: Templo Libertad

This afternoon was quite lazy and we began the arduous task of repacking. I don’t know why it should be difficult, since we’re not adding anything to what we brought from New York but, somehow, it’s very challenging and fraught with peril and emotional outbursts. Perhaps you’ve also had that experience, too?

2016-01-12 18.46.22
Is repacking more stressful than packing?

Tonight, for our grand farewell to Buenos Aires, we’re staying in and starting our evening at Vinoteca, which offers an extensive selection of wine tastings, particularly of the Malbecs we’ve been enjoying while in town. There’s also the option of sampling a selection of artisanal cheeses while you’re sipping the wines you’ve chosen. From there, we’ll have dinner at the elegant Duhau Restaurante, the gourmet restaurant at the hotel.

Park Hyatt Vinoteca
Vinoteca at the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt

Park Hyatt Duhau Restaurante
Duhau Restaurante

11:00 Update: We had a great meal, preceded by an amazing wine and cheese tasting at Vinoteca. We sampled 8 different wines: 4 red and 4 white, and 7 different cheeses, all of which were home grown. The dinner at Duhau was excellent and each dish was beautifully presented, as was the service. 

A DESSERT
Desserts at Duhau – A sweet end to a perfect meal

CUISINE TIP: Duhau Restaurante and Vinoteca

A PALACE
Another part of the hotel – just ‘cuz

PS. Internet reception aboard ships can be notoriously terrible, so you may not hear from me for awhile. Not to worry – I’ll keep in touch as best I can.

Buenos Aires – Day Four

Culture, culture, culture! Today was about visiting one of the world’s preeminent opera houses, the magnificent Teatro Colon. It’s an easy 20 minute stroll from our hotel, the Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt hotel, along Avenue Libertad.

The original theatre dates back to 1857 but, within 30 years, it became clear that a new theatre was needed and, following a 20-year period, the new theatre made its debut in 1908, with a performance of Verdi’s Aida.

Considered one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and with perfect acoustics, all of the great singers from Maria Callas to Luciano Pavarotti performed there well into the 1980s, after which the theatre fell into disrepair. In order to return the opera house to its former glory, a complete restoration was undertaken from 2006 – 2010.

Speaking of Pavarotti, the great tenor feared performing at Teatro Colon because – he said – the acoustics were so excellent that any mistake on his part would be clearly heard by the audience. No place to run, no place to hide. Talk about performance anxiety!

Guided tours in English are available during the day, and more information can be found at the opera house’s website. If you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires, it should not be missed. Even better, if you’re visiting from February through November, it’s possible to see an opera or ballet performance there.

Teatro Exterior - 01
Entrance to the magnificent Teatro Colon

Teatro Foyer
Staircase in the foyer

Teatro Stairway
Stairway detail

Teatro - Leslie & AAC - 02
Leslie and AAC CPA admire the sights

Teatro Golden Hall - 01
The Golden Hall

Teatro Venus & Cupid
Statue of the Secret: What is Cupid whispering to Venus?

Teatro Auditorium
Inside the auditorium 

Teatro Auditorium Ceiling
Auditorium ceiling as seen from the President’s box

Callas Buenos Aires Turandot
Archival photo of Maria Callas as Turandot at Teatro Colon, 1949

CULTURE TIP: Teatro Colon

Following this excellent tour, we returned to the hotel, had a spot of lunch and relaxed for a few hours on the beautiful hotel grounds. It was a perfect summer day, warm but not too much and with very low humidity.

Lunch
That’s a yummy cold tomato and cucumber soup with langoustines

Tonight’s dinner was at the excellent Don Julio in the Palermo district. Unlike last night’s disappointing experience at La Cabrera, we could not have asked for a more delightful meal. The service was impeccable and the food was delicious. Once again, we split several cuts of beef and pork with various side dishes and shared the inevitable bottle of Malbec.

Don Julio
Inside Don Julio

2016-01-11 21.24.05
Carnivores delight at Don Julio

(See all the wine bottles going up to the ceiling? Customers write notes on the bottle labels.)

I haven’t yet mentioned it but, for those of us who are used to eating out in New York or in San Francisco, the price of dining in Buenos Aires is a great bargain. Tonight’s meal, which included 2 appetizers, 3 different cuts of beef, 2 side dishes, 1 dessert and the Malbec worked out to about worked out to about $47 per person. In the States, we’d easily be spending more than twice that amount.

CUISINE TIP: Don Julio

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow will be our last full day in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires – Day Three

So it was a rainy day in Buenos Aires. Good time to visit a cemetery, right?

Our intrepid guide, Pedro picked us up at the appointed hour for a stroll towards the Recoleta area, a mostly residential neighborhood but noted mostly for the famous Recoleta Cemetery.

Group Pic
Pedro, AAC CPA, Leslie & Ron go on the town

On the walk over, we stopped in at the Café Biela, which is frequented by locals and natives alike and, in 1999, was declared to be a Place of Cultural Interest by the city of Buenos Aires. Just inside the entrance is sculptural art of two very famous Argentine writers, Adolfo Bioy Casares and his buddy, Jorge Luis Borges, both of whom frequented the café.

Cafe Biela
Casares and Borges at table #1

Just across from the café is this enormous rubber tree, hundreds of years old. To keep it from collapsing, low-hanging branches have been propped up as in this photograph:

Plaza Francia Gum Tree
That’s one big rubber tree!

Continuing along, we approached the 2nd oldest church in Buenos Aires, Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar, dating back to 1732. As Sunday mass was underway, we didn’t go inside to take a look around, but it’s pretty impressive from the outside.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Pilar

Just down the street is the entrance to Recoleta Cemetery. There are many notables buried there, but one towers above them all. On the way to that mausoleum, however, we noticed this very interesting deco artwork:

Deco Mausoleum

And then, there it was:

Familia Duarte

Familia Duarte - 02

It was raining pretty steadily when we arrived at the Duarte mausoleum. Pedro was full of information about the many travels of the remains of Eva Duarte Peron from her death in 1952 until her final resting place in this cemetery, over 20 years later.

After strolling through the cemetery a bit more, we went across the street and up to the top floor of a nearby building where I was able to take this overhead shot of the cemetery:

Recolete from Above

TRAVEL TIP: Recoleta Cemetery

By then it was time for lunch and we strolled to a local restaurant for some empanadas. Along the way, we saw this placard at the Hotel Meliá Recoleta Plaza:

Evita at Melia Recoleta Plaza
That girl is EVERYWHERE!

By the time lunch was over, it was raining pretty steadily, so we decided to cab it over to La Boca, another neighborhood wherein Italian immigrants (particularly from Genoa) settled. It was a very poor neighborhood and its residents lived in abject poverty. Today it is of interest to tourists because of its colorful houses some of which are adorned with art, as well as restaurants and tango clubs. As we walked through, we saw couples dancing the tango on slightly raised stages at several of the restaurants on the Caminito, the main street of La Boca. Outside of this small tourist area, the neighborhood is still one of poverty.

La Boca

La Boca Polo Eva Tango
Three Argentine Passions: Polo, Evita and Tango

La Boca Tango Frieze
Frieze in honor of the Tango

La Boca - Tango Demo
Live Tango on a Rainy Sunday Afternoon

La Boca - Dog Day Afternoon
Dog Day Afternoon at La Boca

Pedro escorted us back to the hotel and we thanked him for the 2 days we spent together while he showed us his city. Again, if you’re planning a trip to Buenos Aires and want a personal tour of the city, Pedro is the guy for you.

TRAVEL TIP: About Pedro

Then it was time for some relaxation before heading out for dinner.

While I was having some down time, I checked my wallet to make sure I had enough pesos for the evening, and look what popped out:

Eva Pesos
And there she is again!

Tonight we dined at La Cabrera Norte, another restaurant notable for its beef and large portions. While the food was delicious, the service was problematic.

When we arrived for our reservation at about 8:30, the restaurant was practically empty. But, within 15 minutes, the place had filled up. Our waiter presented us with menus and some “tasties” to get us started, and we ordered an excellent bottle of wine – Angelica Zapata Malbec 2011 – as we checked out the menu. As we did at Fervor 2 nights earlier, we decided to share a couple of first courses, followed by several cuts of excellent Argentine meat and sides.

So far, so good.

The first course arrived after a few minutes and all was well. But a few minutes later while we were in the middle of enjoying our food, platters of beef and pork and papas fritas and other side dishes arrived. There wasn’t even room on the table for everything, not to mention that the plates from our first course weren’t replaced by fresh ones. While it’s not as if we were confronted with an earthquake or hurricane or being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, it did put a big dent in the evening.

We soldiered on, however, and kept eating and eating and eating and, again, the beef and pork were delicious. The Argentines really know how to treat their meats.

What’s interesting is that we arrived at 8:30 and by 9:25 we had completed our entrée, setting a record for the quickest meal of the trip.

However, by the time we ordered and shared a dessert and departed the restaurant, another hour had gone by.

So, maybe it was just an off-night with lousy pacing of the meal. Or maybe that’s the experience of dining at La Cabrera. We noticed that the tables were being turned over with great frequency, so who knows?

I can tell you with certainty that, after the amazingly good service at both Fervor and I Latina, the service at La Cabrera was several notches lower.

And thus concluded our 3rd day in BA.