Saturday, 31 January 2015

Day 23 - Friday 30th January 2015 - Punta Arenas

Day 23 - Friday 30th January 2015 - Punta Arenas

As we had already arrived in Punta Arenas the evening before, we got to lie in until 6.30 this morning! We had breakfast, put on/ packed all our warmest clothes (thermal underwear, waterproof trousers, thick coat, scarf, fleece hood, 2 pairs of gloves... and then headed to the theatre to wait for the call for our tour - the one I have been most eagerly awaiting since we booked the cruise - the Otway Sound Penguin Colony!!!!! (In the words of the promotional brochure: "do not fail to visit this colony, for penguins are one of life's greatest pleasures." - couldn't have put it better myself!)

The ship was anchored at sea in Punta Arenas so we had to get tender boats ashore. Tender boats are very similar to lifeboats - i.e. small, rocky and not very comfortable! Thankfully we were only just offshore here, so the boat ride only took about 10 minutes once everyone was on board. We then took our first steps onto Chilean land. To find that actually it was quite warm!!!

We went through the terminal where I had to fight hard to keep going with the group despite penguin pictures and souvenirs EVERYWHERE! We eventually came out the other side and boarded our coach. The drive to the penguin colony took about an hour and a half. The first part of the drive took us through the town along the sea front, viewing large gatherings of cormorants, statues, and the open air museum where you could view a replica of the Victoria which is the ship that Magellan sailed when he discovered the straits. The colony wasn't actually that far away (Otway Sound is on the other side of the southern peninsular where Punta Arenas is located) but most of the roads once we left town were uneven and rough and so the coach was doing about 20mph most of the way! The long drive gave us a chance to watch for wildlife, and we did see some beautiful birds, lots of hares, and some farm animals including some llama like ones, but I mainly used the drive for a little snooze!

Eventually we arrived at the entrance to the penguin colony. The birds are wild and come and go as they please but the land is private and maintained in order to benefit both the penguins and the tourists. There is a long wooden walkway stretching from the entrance in a loop all around the park, which you must stick to. The penguins can therefore choose how near they want to come to people. The path leads through grassland with lots of flowers (I was expecting ice and snow, but I guess we have come in the height of summer for Chile!) and there are penguin burrows scattered all around. The Penguins (for some reason my iPad automatically capitalises that word and I'm tired of correcting it, so from now on they will be Penguins!) can walk wherever they like within the complex, and the pedestrian walkway has numerous bridges which they can go under. There are also trenches in the ground which the Penguins could walk along - we would spot the clover wiggling above their heads before they emerged from the end! There were lots of butterflies flying round the area too and we nearly trod on a beautiful caterpillar at one point! As we walked around, a number of Penguins stopped close to the walkway to have a rest, have a look at us, or in one case to peck at each other's fleas! The main direction of travel however was towards the beach, which is also where the main viewing area was. When we got here there were Penguins everywhere, it was wonderful! They were swimming and playing in the sea, they were standing and squawking, and they were resting on the pebbles. I could have stayed there all day! JL however dragged me away to continue the walk around the park, where the path took us to 2 viewing towers where we could overlook the entire area, including the snow covered mountains in the distance. Wow. 

Once we had finished the walk, it was nearly time to go back to the coach :-( I decided to go back to the main viewing area one last time though, and I'm glad I did as there were even more Penguins there than when we had arrived! I really did have to go now though if I wanted to get the coach back, so I reluctantly dragged myself away, leaving me 2 minutes for the gift shop (probably a good idea I didn't have longer or I may be penniless by now!). We then got back on the coach ready for the long drive back to town.

When we arrived, we decided to have a little wander round the town before going back to the ship, so we used the map we had got to find the main square, Plaza de Armas, where there was a large handicrafts market (Penguins galore!), a pretty cathedral, and some buildings with very interesting architecture. Today there was a local band playing also. We walked to the centre of the square to see the statue of Magellan surrounded by other characters including a resting Indian whose big toe is supposed to bring good luck if you rub it! (This part of the statue was shiny unlike the rest!) We wandered back to the ship though the rest of the town and along the sea front - I have never seen so many penguin themed shops/ bar names/ pictures in my life! I could see myself living there! :-)

We only just caught the next tender back to the ship and noticed that the wind (and therefore the waves) had increased since the morning - when the boat reached the ship's entry point it crashed rather worryingly against the side!

Safely back on board we had a late lunch and then I spoke to my parents for a bit and relaxed in the cabin until my favourite time of the port days - afternoon tea! JL didn't come with me today as he went off to play table tennis, but I had a nice natter with a group of people while enjoying a warm scone and chocolate cream eclair!

As we'd had such a late lunch we didn't go to dinner until later, so before that we went to the Crows Nest to have a cocktail and watch the sailaway (which today just meant pulling up the anchor and steaming off!). We had dinner and then went to the theatre to see a guy called Jimmy James who is apparently a famous soul singer (I'd never heard of him but I enjoyed it!). Then off to bed to dream of Penguins!

Friday, 30 January 2015

Day 22 - Thursday 29th January 2015 - at sea (Magellan Straits)

Day 22 - Thursday 29th January 2015 - at sea (Magellan Straits)

When we woke up this morning it was decidedly cold! We wrapped up warm and went and did our mile around the decks anyway, and in fact when you were on the sunny side of the ship shielded from the wind it was very pleasant! I then went to stretch class while JL went to get a seat for his first speaker of the day, Ian Brown, who today was talking about money laundering following the Brinks Mat robbery. I went to line dancing then got the blog published quickly as we'd been warned that the internet signal can be intermittent in the Chilean fjords. 

After lunch JL went to see another speaker, who talked about royal state banquets, and to play table tennis, while I spent most of my time on deck (wrapped up warm!) as by this point we had entered the Magellan straits. This waterway at the southern tip of mainland Chile was discovered in 1520 by Ferdinand Magellan, who had left Portugal in search of a route to India (just a little out then!). It is thankfully much calmer than going round the most southern parts of South American land - Tierra del Fuego and Cape Horn. There was not much land to see at first, but lots of oil rigs - apparently this area is rich in both oil and natural gas. But the main reason I was up on deck (and later camped on my balcony) was what was swimming in the sea - first we saw some pods of tiny black and white porpoises jumping through the waters. And then I saw two little black heads poking up out of the water looking around - I zoomed in with my camera and sure enough... they were penguins!!! I spent the rest of the afternoon with my eyes glued to the water spotting lots more of both species. The photos were less successful however! It was wonderful!

We went to dinner and got a table by the window where I ignored JL and kept spotting more penguins swimming by - I have no idea what I ate during that meal! 

We then went to see the classical guitarist who tonight played a range of Latin American pieces, some Beatles tunes and a lovely Japanese piece. JL then went to see the evening's show in the theatre - the ventriloquist who was on the other night doing his second show. I skipped this one and instead settled down in the Crows Nest with a chocolate and banana mocktail, my camera, and a window seat! Unfortunately I didn't see any more penguins, but I did see a beautiful rainbow when we has a little shower, and watched the sunset as we arrived at our destination for the following day - Punta Arenas. We were anchoring at sea overnight just outside the town, ready to go exploring bright and early tomorrow!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Day 21 - Wednesday 28th January 2015 - at sea

Day 21 - Wednesday 28th January 2015 - at sea

Today we got up early as I planned to go running round the top deck now that the weather was cooling down a bit. I got myself all ready, we walked up there... and found the top deck was closed because it was too windy! Not amused! Instead JL went down to his favourite promenade deck, and I went to run on one of the machines in the gym until stretch class.

We had breakfast then I went line dancing (great fun in the rather wobbly ship!), and JL went to his ex-policeman speaker talking about the biggest robbery in UK history (the Heathrow gold bullion robbery). [JL:  it turns out this ex-copper (Ian Brown) is no ordinary copper.  After his talk on the great train robbery he moved on to the Kray brothers (he had a part in their capture) then to the Sweeney (he was a member of the squad) and the Heathrow gold bullion.  His boss told him: "find the gold" and he did.  An amazing story with a fair amount of luck.  His other task was to find MrX (Kenneth Noye) and he did that too.  He has four more talks, the last two on Noye and the infamous M25 road rage incident.]

After lunch it was laundry time, which I was dreading as we'd been told the laundry rooms would be closed for the next 4 days while we transit the Chilean fjords. Sure enough, the first laundry room was full, but luckily I found a free machine in the second one I tried, and within a couple of hours all was sorted. 

In the afternoon we went to the cinema together to see the film Captain Philips, a true story about a container ship which gets attacked by Somali pirates and the captain taken hostage. On our cruise in 2011 heading for the Red Sea we had to do a pirate drill, which we all laughed at at the time, but having seen this film I can see why even such large ships need to be prepared.

After the film I did a bit of exercise and was just finishing when an announcement came on the tannoy saying that a group of whales had been spotted ahead! I grabbed my camera and ran as fast as I could to the Crows Nest at the front of the ship where a group of people had already assembled. Sure enough, we saw maybe 10 different whales in small groups, blowing water out of their blowholes and flicking their tails in the air. It was magical :-)

Back in the cabin JL spotted another few whales from our balcony! I eventually dragged myself away to go to the restaurant for formal night, and another Marco Pierre White menu for JL (more lobster!). We went to the theatre at 8.30 to see the duo of violinists Elektra again, who played a different selection of classical and more modern pieces.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Day 20 - Tuesday 27th January 2015 - at sea

Day 20 - Tuesday 27th January 2015 - at sea

After the busy 2 days in Montevideo, today was a very lazy day! We started with walking the decks, making the most of the last of the warmth for a while now we were heading well away from the tropics! I then did stretch class while JL used the gym.

We had breakfast and while we were eating a lady suddenly called out 'I think I can see seals in the sea!' Everyone turned to look and then someone else said, 'no, it's a group of dolphins!' Followed by 'no, they are flying fish' Then someone else said 'I think they are penguins!' JL laughed, turned around to look and then said "she's right you know, they are penguins!" At this point I started jumping up and down in excitement! There were about 6 or 8 of them jumping out of the water as they swam along! Best breakfast ever! (Sadly they were too quick for me to get a photo though!)

I went to line dancing while JL went to use the pool for the last time before the weather gets too cold. We met for lunch and then I just chilled out in the room, writing the enormous Montevideo blog, scrutinising the bill which we had been given for the first sector of the cruise, checking I had enough money in my bank account to pay it (!), catching up on emails, and even having a video chat with a very special friend :-). JL meanwhile went to 2 lectures: Ian Brown talking about the real Sweeney (which is not the same as Sweeney Todd I discovered!) and then Colin Alderson talking again about his work with the royal family. He then went to play table tennis. 

We had an early dinner so we could watch the classical guitarist, who tonight played some more Beatles pieces, as well as Asturias by Albeniz, Cavatina from the Deer Hunter, some Brian Adams, some Simon and Garfunkel, some Sting, and my personal favourite - The Bare Necessities from The Jungle Book!!!

After this we went to the theatre to see the evening's show - a ventriloquist called Jimmy Tamley. I made sure I sat behind someone with a big head as talking dolls freak me out somewhat! From the bits I peeked out at though he seemed like a very talented guy, and the best bit was when he got 2 members of the audience up to become living puppets!

After the show we went back to the room and watched the port presentation about Punta Arenas (our next stop), and found out all about the excursion we are doing to see PENGUINS!!!

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Days 18 and 19 - Sunday 25th and Monday 26th January 2015 - Montevideo

Days 18 and 19 - Sunday 25th and Monday 26th January 2015 - Montevideo

Firstly apologies to anyone who has noticed the reduction in blog entries the past few days - we have been so busy that I've got rather behind! But I have a lazy afternoon ahead of me so I will endeavour to fill you in on the past 2 days which were both spent in Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

We got up at 6.00 on the Sunday to watch the beautiful sunrise and then the sail in to Montevideo. In fact I was on the balcony so early that I even saw the pilot enter the ship (via a very wobbly looking step ladder!) to help guide the captain into the dock. We could see lots of boats all around, as Montevideo is situated at one side of the enormous Rio de la Plata, with Buenos Aires in Argentina on the other side, and it is a popular route. As we approached the city we could see beaches, tall buildings, and the famous hill which apparently gave the city its name - legend has it that the first man to sail in to the city called out "Monte vide eu!" which mean "I can see a hill" in the old language! Another story says that it was the 6th hill as the sailors went from East to west down the river, and so they marked it in their records as 'Monte-VI-de-EO' meaning 'hill-6 (in Roman numerals)-from-East to west'. Whatever the truth is, it was a pretty hill with a fortress on top!

We stayed on deck for a while watching the captain squeeze the ship into the tight harbour, and then had breakfast before meeting in the theatre for the first day's tour - A Day in the Countryside. We set off at 9.00 starting with a quick city tour, visiting the main square in Montevideo 'Plaza de la Independenzia' which has a statue of Uruguay's national hero General Jose Gervasio Artigas who helped the country gain independence. It has pretty fountains and trees, and is surrounded by some interesting old buildings. We also stopped to take photos of the enormous and impressive Congress building with its intricately carved columns on the roof. 

From here we set of for a drive of about 45 minutes to the main focus of our visit - a traditional ranch called Estancia La Rabida. This is owned by a Uruguayan family who all live and work there (from the great grandmother who built the estate with her husband, down to the 5 year old great grandson). Once our coaches entered the first gate, we drove for another 15 minutes past fields full of corn and soya and cows, before reaching the centre of the ranch, as it is so huge - 3650 acres altogether! We were greeted by a number of the family on horseback waving large welcome flags! 

Right by the entrance was a horse with her newborn foal who we stopped to coo over, before heading to the main area where unlimited free drinks were being served. I had some lovely fresh lemonade with mint, while JL discovered the local Uruguyan wine. We had a little look at the animals who were roaming nearby - a number of horses and a few cows, and JL looked longingly at the enormous barbecue which had just started cooking! We soon climbed into trailers, sat down on bales of hay, and were taken on a tour of the ranch - it was gorgeous! On the way we past some of their 650 dairy cows, as well as many more fields of corn and even a wind farm with 9 turbines. 

The ride eventually stopped, and we got out and were led down a cobbled path to the beach by the river (it is so wide here that it is hard to tell if it is a river or still the sea - in fact even the guides seemed to disagree with each other over this!). A couple of the family members had accompanied us on their horses and happily rode them along the beach and into the sea. We were given another drink and some yummy biscuits filled with dulce de leche, and spent a bit of time taking photos and paddling. Then back onto the trailers for the leisurely ride back, this time past the main house with its traditional thatched roof and own swimming pool! Wow.

When we arrived back, lunch was ready. This was an absolute banquet - even I found plenty to eat! They started with trays of grilled sausage, vegetables and bread for people to nibble on. We then went into a barn where there were tables of salads and hard boiled eggs and pasta dishes set out - we collected what we wanted and then made our way to our seats - on hay bales! I was full by the end of this but most people (including JL of course!) then went back outside to collect as much meat as they wanted from the barbecue, and some vegetables which had been roasted in a traditional clay oven. Dessert was fresh strawberries - they were divine! :-)

Then came the bit I had been waiting for all day... They brought out one of the cows, and we got to try our hand at milking her! I have always wanted to milk a cow! I was however rubbish at it - it looks so easy but there is a definite knack to it. The owner filled up an entire glass of milk in the time it took me to get about 2 squirts! Then a load more people had a go, more or less successfully - the cow was very tolerant!

We were then taken on a short walk through some pretty herb gardens, to where the family had built a set of taps bringing up water from the freshwater aquifer which stretches under most of Uruguay and much of Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil. The lady was explaining that there is so much drinking water there that they can literally leave the taps on without worrying about it, and she did - it made me cringe!

When we got back they had harnessed up one of the horses with a cow skin at the end of 2 ropes and a new activity was offered (which we did not try as it looked terrifying!) - people would sit on the cow skin and hold on for dear life, while the horse cantered round the field and pulled them along! We also watched a beautiful juvenile horse being trained.

All too soon it was time to leave :-(. I have decided that I want to live on a farm one day! (Although it will be a farm which doesn't kill any of its animals!) We took the pleasant coach ride back to the city and got back to the ship just before 4.00.

We went for a wander along the dockside as we had spotted an Internet shop on the way in, so I used this to have a lovely Skype chat to my family, and JL had a leisurely look at his websites without me looking over his shoulder counting out the minutes! We then headed back to the ship for dinner (JL didn't eat much after his feast at lunchtime!) As it was Burn's Night, the menu was all in Scottish and in the middle of the meal we were stopped by a procession around the restaurant led by a bagpiper and a chef carrying a haggis, and then there was a recital of the famous Robert Burns poem.

In the evening at the theatre they had a local Uruguayan artist called Gaucho del Plata performing - he was a very amusing guy whose act mainly involved swinging small balls on the end of strings around! There were variations such as when he got a member of the audience up and knocked a flower out of his mouth with one of these spinning things, and another where he set fire to the strings! It was quite impressive! The only downside of the evening for me was I discovered that my hay bale at lunchtime must have had some sort of mites in it as my legs were covered in bites which had started itching like mad!!! I'm going off this farm idea...!

We went to bed on a non-moving ship for the first time since leaving Southampton and got a good night's sleep ready for a second day in Montevideo!

On the second day we had booked another excursion - Steam Train and Highlights. We boarded our coach at 9.30 and went on a quick tour of the city centre, seeing the same places as the start of yesterday's tour initially! The coach then dropped us off at the railway station where we boarded our steam train - built in 1954 and recently renovated by a local railway friends association. We had a half hour journey out of the city past rich and poor neighbourhoods until we got to the station of Peñarol. We had a bit of time to take photos of the train and say hello to the local school children who had come to see us, and then got back in our coach which had driven to meet us.

We then embarked on a 2 1/2 hour tour of the city by coach with a number of stops on the way. We saw the wealthy area close by the station with many mansions and beautiful town houses, and some incredible churches and cathedrals. We stopped at the La Diligencia sculpture which is a bronze statue in the middle of a pond of a stagecoach and horses representing the original settlers here. Sadly a lot of the bronze from the statue had been stolen over the years. The next stop was at the monument to the last Charruas Indians, who were the 5 last indigenous people from Uruguay (after the rest had been slaughtered by the settlers) who were then taken to Paris and put on display there where they later died :-(

We drove past some rose gardens, a famous obelisk, the national football stadium, and some more statues including La Carreta (the stage coach) - another bronze sculpture but this time alarmed and guarded round the clock! The final stop was at the monument to the Fallen Soldiers of the Navy which was a modern sculpture supposedly symbolising a starving man clinging on to the side of a ship. There were beautiful views from here back to the city, showing the beaches that line the coast - we then drove past these beaches, and also some lush green parks, before returning to the ship.

We had a spot of lunch and then headed back out in search of free wifi which we had heard was available at the tourist office. Unfortunately half the ship had the same idea, the place was heaving and no one could log on! So we had a wander round the dockside, including the outdoor exhibit of some old ship relics, the most famous being the anchor and the range finder from the Graf Spee (a German battleship whose captain had purposely sunk it in the river in 1939 rather than lose it to the British). We then had a look at some of the local shops, and I chose a lovely magnet. I opened my bag to get out my purse to pay... only to find I had left my purse on the ship! JL's patience ended there so we went back to the room together and then I left him to go to the pool while I went back out (with purse this time!) to get my magnet and buy and send a postcard. I made sure to be back in time for afternoon tea though - scrummy!

At 5.00 today they were doing a line dance sailaway, so I went down to the pool to join in with some of the dances we had done so far in the classes - it was good fun. By 6.00 everyone was back on board and the ship was ready to leave - we went up on deck to watch the sailaway which involved a very tight turn in the harbour in order to get out - once again I realised how little I would like to be a captain!

We went along to dinner shortly afterwards, and from there to the evening's show by the Headliners theatre group - a seventies montage called Blame it on the Boogie - there were some fab costumes and very cool dancing! I then went to another show by a duo called Elektra who are trained classical violinists. They performed an exciting show with some classical pieces and also some Irish fiddle tunes and some film music - amazing. What a wonderful 2 days!!! :-)

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Day 17 - Saturday 24th January 2015 - at sea

Day 17 - Saturday 24th January 2015 - at sea

We started the day by walking our mile and then I did stretch class while JL went on some of the gym machines. We had breakfast (where I was accosted by an elderly gentleman asking first if I was one of the dancers, then telling me I looked far too young to be married, and finally that he thought I must have discovered the secret of eternal life!!!) and then I went to line dancing. Today we learnt a dance called Rio (to commemorate yesterday's visit!) and were given notes for the dance to take away as homework! I think I have just about learned it now...

JL went to see one of his new favourite speakers, this time talking about the Krays. I decided to go to one of the talks this morning - a lady called Nikki Chapman (who is apparently on TV?!) - she was talking about her early career as a band promoter, working with Take That, The Spice Girls, and Phil Collins among others. It was quite interesting but would probably have meant more to me if I had any idea who she was (as most of the theatre seemed to!).

We had lunch and then JL went to another talk, about preparing for shooting parties at Sandringham, followed by a film (Divergent). Meanwhile I had a nap, and read my book on the balcony. The pool was still closed but the weather and sea were definitely getting calmer, thank goodness!

I made it to the afternoon abs class which was good fun, then we went for an early dinner as we had a busy evening ahead. At 7.15 was a concert by the new classical musician - this time a guitarist called Ben Kearsley. He played a range of music, including pieces by Bach, the Beatles, and Albeniz. It was wonderful and made me even more keen to relearn to play my guitar when I'm back in England!

The second show was the Headliners theatre group doing a show called We'll Meet Again, which as you can probably guess from the title was full of wartime and nostalgic songs, finishing with a bit of flag waving to Land of Hope and Glory - JL quietly grumbled to himself.

We then made our way to our THIRD show of the evening, which was the Paraguayan harpist Francisco Yglesia performing a longer show. He is quite a character and had everyone singing along (whether they wanted to or not!) to songs such as Guatanamera and O Sole Mio. 

At the end of all this I was exhausted so quickly got together our things for Montevideo tomorrow then collapsed in bed!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Day 16 - Friday 23rd January 2015 - at sea

Day 16 - Friday 23rd January 2015 - at sea

When we awoke it felt like the ship was back in the Bay of Biscay! It was lightly raining and we were rocking all over the place and the walls were creaking like mad! I still dragged JL out of bed and up to the top deck to do our laps, but it wasn't very pleasant in the wind and rain, so he went down to the lower (covered) promenade deck while I went to the gym early to use the stepper and bike before stretch class.  As we walked past the pool we had to dodge out of the way as the pitching of the ship was making the water splash dramatically all over the deck!

After breakfast I decided to brave line dancing, even though I could barely stand up, and sure enough it proved to be very interesting! Line dancing involves a lot of steps and it is very important to be aware of which foot your weight is on, but we were all over the place as the ship moved from side to side! It was good fun, even if I did end up rather dizzy!

I took salvage in the room while JL went to 2 different lectures - one by a man called Colin Alderson who used to work as a chef at Buckingham Palace and had lots of interesting stories; then another by Ian Brown, an ex-policeman who had worked for MI5, who talked about the story of the criminal Ronnie Biggs (great train robbery).

We had lunch and then I chilled out in the room while JL went to investigate the pool - unfortunately he found that they had emptied it! We watched a bit of TV including the end of 2 films which both make me cry - and I did, just from the ends! JL then suggested we go for a walk round the promenade deck so off we set. My plan was so go from here to the gym. But then as we were completing our second lap an announcement came on the tannoy telling us that there was a Chocoholics Buffet currently ongoing in one of the restaurants! All thoughts of the gym (and of finishing walking!) went out of my head and I deserted JL, rushed inside and headed straight for the chocolate! I took a number of photos of the beautiful cakes and desserts that had been made for the occasion, carefully chose the tastiest looking and settled down with a cup of tea for a delicious snack!

I went and read in the room for a bit with JL before dinner. Tonight's meal was a special 'Marco Pierre White' gala dinner, so JL was in heaven. I will post a photo of the menu on Facebook. (My Quorn was nice too!)

We didn't fancy the show this evening so we came back to the room to watch the port presentation on our next destination - Montevideo. I was exhausted so then had an early night, hoping that the ship would have stabilised a bit by the morning!

Friday, 23 January 2015

Day 15 - Thursday 22nd January 2015 - Rio de Janeiro

Day 15 - Thursday 22nd January 2015 - Rio de Janeiro

We got up at 6.00 today to watch the sail in to Rio and I'm so glad we did - it was incredible. We sailed into the bay past the famous Sugar Loaf mountain, and Corcovado mountain where we could just make out the Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance. We watched the sun rise in the bay and saw the 8 mile long Niteroi Bridge stretching off into the distance. We passed the airport which is a small area right by the sea (I would be terrified to land there!) and then headed into our docking area which was close to the city centre.

We had breakfast and then went to the theatre which was the meeting place for our tour that day - The Best of Rio.  We boarded our coach at 8.45 and set off for the full day tour. One of the first things our guide said was "the city is a mess at the moment!" - and we could see what he means! There is a lot of building and reconstruction work going on in preparation for the Olympics which are being held in Rio in August 2016. I had heard that there was some concern whether everything would be ready in time, and I can see why! The guide described the plans for developing the waterfront and various other parts of the town - it sounds very impressive. 

We drove through the downtown area, past old churches and past the new cathedral (which looks incredibly ugly from the outside - a huge grey concrete cone shape - but is incredible inside as the sun shines through the many stained glass windows - sadly we didn't have time to go inside). We passed by a number of attractive parks, and interesting buildings in various stages of reconstruction, before we arrived at our first stop - Sugar Loaf mountain. This is an intriguingly shaped land mass which can be accessed only by cable car. Each cable car carries 65 passengers, and had been renewed 3 years ago (this reassured me somewhat as I know the original cable car was made over 100 years ago!). As we were there early there wasn't much of a queue so we quickly got into the first cable car which takes you up to a lower mountain called Morro da Urca. The views from here were already amazing - over the harbour at Botafogo Bay with its many sailing boats, Flamengo Beach, and Corcovado mountain in the distance.  There was also a helipad where you could do helicopter tours over Rio, and some exhibits showing what the old cable cars used to look like (SOOOO glad they have changed them!). We got to see some planes landing and taking off also, and watched one miss his landing and have to do a sharp circle around before trying again - aaaagh! We had 10 minutes to take lots of pictures before joining the second cable car to the top of Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf). 

The journey only took a few minutes which I was grateful for as it made lots of weird squeaky sounds... And the views from the top were absolutely breathtaking. We could see for miles in every direction. We got our first view of the famous Copacabana Beach with its multitude of hotels, and another quaint little bay nearby. We saw the long Niteroi bridge in the distance, and the many hills and islets and skyscrapers everywhere. We watched some men doing some maintenance to some of the cables, which involved transporting ladders and other equipment up and down the mountain via small green wooden cable trucks - at one point I thought one of the workers was going to get in one but thankfully he didn't! There were lots of birds flying around the place (which I think were eagles...), and on the way back to the lower cable car station at the end we saw a family of tiny monkeys - they were unbelievably cute!

Once safely back at sea level, we picked up our coach again to take us on a scenic drive along the beach front - we passed Copacabana, then rounded the corner to see Ipanema [JL: I didn't see "the girl from Ipanema" but I saw her granddaughters on Ipanema beach; big waves, big girls with tiny intriguing bikinis; I would welcome them with open arms on deck 14 as long as Emma was in the gym...] and Leblon beaches and their surrounding areas - some of the most prestigious in the city. The weather was a bit grey so the beaches were not very crowded and the sea looked surprisingly choppy.  We eventually stopped at our next destination - lunch!

This was served in a restaurant which clearly caters regularly for large tour groups. We started with a buffet where luckily I found some plain salad and bread for me! They then brought some extra dishes to the table including some chips (woohoo!) and some baked banana. But the main part of the meal was still to come - in this restaurant you could have about 20 different types of meat! And the waiters came to serve it to you at your table on long skewers which they carved in front of you. People were given special tools to pull off their chosen chunks of meat. I spent a lot of time dodging my nose and eyes away from these revolting things but there wasn't really any escape for a vegetarian! Needless to say JL had a wonderful meal! The highlight of the meal for me was when the table next to us wanted some more lamb but the waiter didn't understand them so they all started baaing at him and pretending to be sheep! I think they eventually got what they wanted!

After we'd finished eating, JL and I took a walk outside to look at the nearby hills as on the way in I had spotted that there were a number of people hang gliding from the top! And sure enough we saw quite a number of them take off from the hill, circle round they sky for a while, fly over the busy road (eek!) and then land on the beach - amazing! There were also some beautiful orchids to look at in the restaurant's gardens and it was nice and warm after the freezing air conditioning inside. (Luckily the 42 degree temperatures we'd been warned about hadn't materialised, it was down to 37!)

The coach then collected us and we set off for our next destination. Before we had gone too far we stopped for a few minutes so we could take a few pictures at the local beach - the sand was  just as white and the sea was just as turquoise and warm as you would expect in Brazil!  We also got to admire the hand-laid black and white marbled paving which lines the beaches here. It was then back in the coach for the main journey. I had heard people say that the traffic in Rio is bad and that is an understatement. I have never sat in so many traffic jams! We were 20 minutes late getting to our destination, but that gave me time for a little snooze on the way!

Our destination was of course Corcovado (which means hunchback) mountain, the home of the enormous Christ the Redeemer statue. To access the mountain you can either walk up the 2310 feet, or do what most sane people do which is to take the 20 minute cogwheel train to the top. The trains are very sweet with seats facing both forward and backwards, and the journey is pleasant up the wooded hill, with various stops for local people which mainly seem to be used as stalls for bottled water for tourists! Some of the track was quite steep which made for a fun ride!

At the top of the track we could choose between a lift or stairs to get to the main platform - miraculously JL chose to come up the stairs with me! At the top we looked round in confusion as we couldn't see Jesus anywhere, and then we realised that was because it was so cloudy that he was completely hidden! We looked out over the view point and all we could see was cloud as well! We then heard a cry of amazement from the hundreds of people up there with us and suddenly Christ emerged out of the clouds as the wind cleared them away  - it was quite an entrance! Everyone started snapping away for about 30 seconds before the clouds re concealed the statue. This became the pattern of the time we were up there - it was mainly cloudy but as it was also quite windy the cloud would clear in patches and we would take these opportunities to view the enormous statue (125 feet high) and the incredible views all around the city. It made it a very exciting experience! And thanks to the cloud it was actually quite cool so none of my fears of getting sunstroke were justified. 

After about 45 minutes enjoying the views, it was time to catch the next train back down the mountain for a bit of souvenir shopping (the shop was just closing but decided to reopen when it saw the bus load of eager shoppers!), and then get the coach back to the ship. We took a different route back, and this time passed a huge favela (slum town) on a hill, with houses made from brick with satellite dishes and electricity! We also drove past the Sambodrome which is a tiered seating area for 140,000 people at Rio Carnival time (in February) - it stretched along the entire length of the long road! The area is used for schooling and other events the rest of the year. We also drove past the huge warehouse where they make the costumes and floats, and had a sneak peek at a couple through the window.

We eventually got back to the ship about 6.15pm, absolutely exhausted! I did a bit of postcard writing (don't forget to send your requests if you'd like one!), then we went to dinner. We headed to the theatre for the evening's show which was a very special one - as the ship didn't leave Rio until 11.00pm, they had got a local folkloric group to come on board to do the show - Brasillissimo. JL was a bit reluctant to come along expecting lots of handmade percussion instruments and not much else... This is indeed how it started (although I even enjoyed this bit as the drummers were very talented). But he soon perked up (as did all the men in the room) when the female Brazilian dancers came on! Let's just say their costumes did not require a lot of material to make!!! They took a break while some incredible male dancers/ acrobats came on the stage, and then came the finale where a number of dancers came on wearing the most incredible feathered and sequinned costumes I have ever seen! They did some dancing on stage, then the scantily dressed ladies came to join them and then started getting people from the audience to go up and dance with them. The elderly gentlemen who went up had a really good boogie! They then came and grabbed lots more people from the audience, did the conga up the aisles with them, led them all on to the stage where they all danced for a good 10 minutes - it was such great fun! (Luckily we were sat in the middle of a row so did NOT go up on stage!) A fantastic end to a fantastic day in Rio!

We had planned to stay up and watch the ship sail away at 11pm, but by this point it had started raining (first rain in Rio in 3 weeks!) and had got very windy, plus we were shattered, so after watching the lightning for a bit we decided to go to bed, and were woken briefly later as the ship sailed off into what was becoming a rather rocky stormy sea...

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Day 14 - Wednesday 21st January 2015 - at sea

Day 14 - Wednesday 21st January 2015 - at sea

You will be pleased to know that when I woke up this morning and looked nervously in the mirror, my cut from yesterday had NOT developed into the huge bump/ bruise I was fearing! In fact as long as I don't raise my eyebrows (which I do regularly in disapproval or horror at JL!) or lie on it, it barely even hurts now - phew! 

We are getting into a new routine in the mornings - walk and then stretch class for me, walk and then exercise in the gym for JL. It's working out well. Today we walked round the promenade deck (rather than the top deck) which JL prefers and I don't - I think this could be an ongoing battle!

We had breakfast then I went to line dancing. I found it amazingly hard after a day off - I just couldn't get my feet to move properly for the first half of the class! But I enjoyed it nonetheless.

JL went to his final drugs talk while I sat on the balcony in the sunshine to write the previous day's blog.

We had lunch and then had a lazy afternoon for once! JL shared his time between the pool (where he burnt his feet on the boiling hot decks and jumped on someone's sun lounger to save himself!), his favourite bar for reading, and a table tennis game. I decided to have a little snooze, which was great until I was woken by a workman who had arrived to look at our shower which was permanently pumping out boiling hot water! Still, the 45 minutes sleep that I did get was worth it as I managed to stay awake though all the evening's entertainment for once!

I then read my book in the cabin for a while (a rare treat as I'm usually so busy doing other things!) and then at 4.00ish went to brave the sunshine. Today there was no breeze at all so I literally felt like I was burning to death! I managed about 15 minutes sunbathing before seeking refuge in the pool where I did 30 (mini) lengths today! 

Back in the room I did some exercise then JL and I sat on the balcony together and read for a while with a cup of tea - the sun was by this point on the other side of the ship so it was pleasantly warm rather than scorching!

We had dinner and then went to see the last concert (sniff sniff) by the pianist Martin Jacoby. His shows really have been one of the highlights of the cruise, and this one was no exception. He replayed a number of pieces from his other shows including passenger requests. JL was pleased to have his own request played (a Chopin piece which was in the film The Pianist). I must look up his website as he sometimes plays in London.

From here we went to the theatre to see the Headliners group perform their latest show - Let's Face the Music and Dance. It was a compilation of dances and songs from the musicals over the years, with pieces by Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse, and a wonderful medley from West Side Story to finish. We had seen a very similar show on the Arcadia on our last cruise but it was still amazing - the dancers have so much energy and the costumes were fab. Plus lots of songs to sing along to!

We then came back to he room to get ready for Rio tomorrow - so excited!!!!! :-)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Day 13 - Tuesday 20th January 2015 - at sea

Day 13 - Tuesday 20th January 2015 - at sea

We started the day with our walking a mile round the decks but my goodness was it hot! JL then continued walking and went to the gym while I did stretch class. We went and had breakfast, then I was planning on going to line dancing as usual. However I decided to get out the bag of dirty washing ready for the afternoon's laundry (yay), and as I lent down to do so I somehow managed to whack my forehead on the hinge of the wardrobe! I screamed. JL was a very good first aider and got me a cold flannel to put on it, and then the box of plasters when it started bleeding. I took the largest one out of the packet, expecting the worst, but he laughed at me and chose the smallest possible one. When I was brave enough to actually look in the mirror, rather than the huge bump and gushing blood that I was expecting, there was just a tiny cut! But it hurt a lot more than that!! As I am such a wimp, and prone to fainting, I decided to give line dancing a miss and just start early writing the previous day's blog! JL went to find out about more drugs trafficking, then came back to check I was still alive!

By 11.00ish I had decided I was probably not going to bleed to death or faint, so I went down to the atrium to see the exhibition they had put on today called 'Aurora Uncovered'. There were lots of stalls giving information about the various departments of the ship, and crew members answering questions. I had a chat with some of the navigational team about their job - I'm not sure I'd like to do it - they have a 4 hour night shift, then 8 hours off, then a 4 hour day shift, then 8 hours off, so sleeping must be a nightmare! They all seemed to enjoy it though. They told me how their training involves learning morse code and semaphore and hand operated navigational equipment and the meanings of different distress flags (one of which means "my vessel is on fire and I am carrying explosive materials" - we joked that any rescue boat would probably speed off in the opposite direction if they saw this one!). But they said that in reality they have never needed to use any of these things as computers do all the work!

I also visited stalls by the house keeping team who were running a competition where passengers could try and beat the cabin stewards at making a bed (they couldn't!), and displaying their towel animals, the pastry chef who was making intricate roses out of icing, and the waiters who were doing napkin folding (my favourite!). I picked up a leaflet from the engineering team with various facts about the ship. I learnt that the water production plant can make 1280 tons of water a day, and that the ship consumes 330 litres of fuel per nautical mile (which if I've done my calculations correctly equates to about 0.014 miles per gallon! 

We met for lunch and then it was laundry time! Again it was problem free, until I got to the end and there was a queue for the irons - JL will just have to have slightly crumpled shirts! 

After that I made my second ever trip to the pool, and as the sun sets quite early in the time zone we are in, it was actually relatively cool with the sea breeze which was perfect for me and my wimpy skin! I swam 25 lengths of the pool (which sounds quite impressive until you learn that the pool is only about 8m long!). I then went to the gym to brave the unlabelled weights and do an exercise routine from the selection I had stored on my iPad before I left the UK. It was a good workout but had a number of exercises which involved standing on one leg - I don't think it was designed for wobbly cruise ships! Still, I did my best!

It was another formal night, but due to the big gash across my forehead I didn't bother getting particularly made up for it - tonight was definitely not a photo night!

We had an early dinner and then came back to the room to watch the port presentation about Rio. These presentations tend to be on at 10am which clashes with line dancing, so once we discovered they showed them on the TV too we gave up going to them live. Rio looks amazing - I'm very excited to be going there in a few days!

We had a bit of time before the evening's show so we went to one of the bars so I could have the mocktail of the day - Bananaberry Crush, with lots of blended strawberries and bananas - divine!

The show this evening was really two mini shows by two acts who will be doing longer shows later in the cruise. First was a Paraguyan chap called Francisco Yglesia who used to be in a group called Los Paraguayos - he played a Paraguayan harp and was accompanied by the orchestra playing some Latin American songs - it was interesting! He was followed by a group of British singers called Virtuosity who sang some songs from the musicals and other love songs.

We then went straight to bed, as we had to put the clocks forward an hour tonight (confusingly - it appears that although Recife and Rio are in theory in the same time zone, Rio has daylight savings time whereas Recife does not!) and I was going to miss that extra hour of sleep!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Day 12 - Monday 19th January 2015 - Recife, Brazil

Day 12 - Monday 19th January 2015 - Recife, Brazil

The sun rose very early this morning, so much to JL's disgust I got up at 6.00 to watch the sail in to Recife! It looked very impressive from a distance - lots of silver skyscrapers making an impressive skyline in the rising sun. We joined many other people on deck to watch the captain squeeze our ship into what looked like an impossibly small space between another ship and the end of the pier. I commented for the umpteenth time "I am so glad I'm not the captain of this ship", to which JL replied for the umpteenth time "and so say all of us!".

We had some breakfast and then met at 8.10 in the ship's theatre for our excursion this morning - 'Recife and Olinda'. We headed off the ship shortly after and thankfully got on an air conditioned bus, because even at 8.30am it was boiling hot out! The short rain shower which we had had earlier had completely gone. We met our guide, who was a French lady with 'interesting' English shall we say! JL and I were ok, because as we can speak French we were able to work out what she was trying to say even when she made up her own half English/ half French words, but some people were looking completely baffled! She gave us a very long talk about the history of Brazil, interspersed with instructions to the driver - she told us that he was from a village a long way away, had got up at midnight to drive to Recife through the night ready to do our tour this morning, and he didn't know the city at all. Luckily she said he did speak Portuguese, as sometimes she said she works with drivers where they can't understand each other at all! It all gave us great confidence in the morning ahead!  [JL:  our guide!  The standard of her English was two notches below beginner's level and it showed!  She kept inventing words when she was stuck which was every other word roughly.  "Here is a fabrique of biscottes...  There is an embottlement (traffic jam)...  Look!  This is manifestation! "  (She meant demonstration)...  And my favourite which came early in the day:"the Dutch came here for the showgirl".  What the hell!  Am I hallucinating?  Emma thinks she said "sugar" but we can't be sure.  By the end of the five hour tour my brain was scrambled.  I think a short sharp mugging would have been preferable...]

We drove along the sea front that we had seen from the ship, past the wind turbine which I had noticed (although she told us it didn't work because someone had stolen the motor!), past lots of colourful houses and buildings, to the village of Olinda, which is a UNESCO World heritage site. The village is set on a steep hill with narrow cobbled streets, so we had to transfer into minibuses for the journey to the top (they were not air conditioned so I was very glad I had brought my penguin fan with me!). The first site to visit was the Sao Bento monastery which I enjoyed for a number of reasons - it was very pretty inside with gold plated decorations, it had seats inside, and it was nice and cool! 

From here we got back into the minibuses and drove to an undercover market which had an exhibition of local sculpture and art work, lots of souvenirs for sale, and a group of young people doing a short cultural dance show - one of them dressed up in an enormous paper mâché costume which made him double in height, and the others wore brightly coloured carnival costumes. They did some clever acrobatic moves, and must have been exhausted due to the heat!

Across the road from here was another cathedral called the Alto da Se, which was again a nice cool retreat from the baking sun, and also had a lovely garden at the back with amazing views back to Recife. There were various statues in the garden, including one which Jean-Louis is sure is of Jesus holding a pétanque boule... I wasn't so sure!

We walked past another market square where I got my souvenir magnet for the bargain price of one US dollar, looked at all the brightly painted houses, shops, and art galleries, admired the view over the coast, smiled at the stray cats, and then got back in the minibuses to go back down the hill and rejoin our main coach (thankfully nice and cool as the outside temperature had now reached 32 degrees) which would take us back to Recife.

The guide then announced that we would be visiting Boa Viagem, a local beach. The coach didn't move though and then we heard the driver shout out what I imagine was the Portuguese equivalent of "well where's that then?!" We drove (with numerous shouted directions from the guide to the driver) through the city, amongst the skyscrapers (which up close turned out mainly to be blocks of flats, and many were either run down or had not finished being built), over several bridges (it appears that the part of Recife where our ship was docked is in fact an island), past numerous attractive colonial buildings, and eventually arrived at the beach. We were informed that we could get out and have a look around, but to be very careful as there are sharks in the sea - and sure enough there were signs all over the place warning of shark attacks - apparently there have been many recently by tiger and hammerhead sharks. I quickly paddled in the warm water but jumped out before I attracted any shark attention!

Back on the coach, we drove along the seafront past the most expensive neighbourhood in Recife, which neighbours one of the biggest favelas (slum areas), until we reached the main square Praca de Republica. We were due to get out here to take photos of various buildings and an ancient baobab tree, but there was a demonstration by a group of people [JL: no darling, it was a manifestation!] so the square was closed. Instead we went on to the final stop of the tour which is called the Casa de Cultura and is an old prison which has been converted into a shopping mall! It was fascinating as all the cells and bars and wooden stairs and walkways were still in place, but they had added lifts and turned each cell into a separate shop. On the outside there were clay models of heads with numbers next to them which I assume represents some of the former prisoners. A very interesting place. In the square outside we saw an old station which had been built by the British and kept as a monument even though the train line was now obsolete. 

From here we headed back to the ship, past some modern art work and more interesting buildings, then caught a shuttle bus back to the terminal. It was lovely to be back in air conditioning again! We had lunch then decided not to venture ashore again but instead went to the onboard cinema to see the film Dallas Buyers Club (very good if rather depressing).  After a quick catch up with my family, we went to the back of the ship for the sailaway party which this time was called the Great British Sailaway. We were handed Union Jacks on arrival and joined hundreds of other passengers in waving them while we loudly sang various British songs (from Land of Hope and Glory to Delilah by Tom Jones and 500 miles by the Proclaimers!) They also took a commemorative photo (which I'm sure we'll be able to buy!) of everyone crowding round the back terrace decks with their flags! 

We went from here to the Crows Nest to watch the sunset (with a mocktail for me!) and then watch the ship sail away from Recife, which looked beautiful at dusk,

We had dinner then went to see the evening's show - a lady called Giselle Summers who was singing various songs from the musicals. She was lovely but I struggled to keep my eyes open after our busy but very enjoyable day!

[JL : don't miss today's photo on Facebook of Jesus playing Pétanque !!!]