Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Wednesday, February 20, 2019
Thursday, February 14, 2019
Cruising is a popular way to travel. From high-end boutique-type vessels to mass market mega-ships (think Carnival), the more money spent the more pampering one receives (or should receive).
Should you vacation aboard a ship?
10 pros to cruising:
- Escape from ‘real life’. Away from home, surrounded by water, a calming influence (no mention of storms and rough seas allowed), enjoy the scenery (or lack of it) without the phone ringing, laundry waiting, meetings to attend, work beckoning, meals to prepare, errands to run. You are electronically cut off from the world (unless paying to connect).
- Food, glorious food! Available all day, usually 24 hours a day. Dining rooms, an extensive buffet, coffee cafe, pizza bar, ice cream stand - most ships offer a variety of venues. And best of all, someone else shops, prepares, cooks, serves, and cleans up.
- Learn a new skill, play games, exercise, attend educational lectures…or not. You can be busy all the time, or do nothing. All day. Your choice.
- Someone else cleans your room (including the bathroom!) and makes the bed. Everyday. Clean linens magically appear!
- Unpack once. Visit different places without packing, unpacking, packing again. Easy travel!
- Cruises can be all-inclusive - if you are very, very, VERY careful. The ship runs a tab on extras. Flash your room key card and you are charged. No cash required.
- Meet new people and be social. Or not. Your choice.
- Most cruise ships offer a variety of entertainment day and night, not quite Broadway quality, but entertaining and part of an all-inclusive package.
- Shore excursions offered by cruise lines use reliable pre-selected vendors. Or explore on your own.
- Like to shop? Lots of opportunities aboard ship and in ports.
10 cons to cruising:
- Rooms can be small, with little storage space.
- If not careful you will be nickel and dimed with extras - alcoholic beverages, specialty coffees and sodas, excursions, restaurants, room service, laundry service, tips, internet…read carefully what IS and IS NOT included in a cruise package.
- Food quality and menu selections vary, but after a while the same menu seems uninteresting.
- If traveling with children, check out the ship’s children's programs and amenities. Kids get bored, and laments of, “there’s nothing to do…” could dampen your vacation.
- Sea days can get monotonous.
- Not enough time to explore port destinations, usually arriving early a.m. and leaving late afternoon or evening.
- Lines and crowds. There may be lines for the dining room and shows, getting on and off the ship, at port attractions. But popular tourist places are often crowded, a frustration of traveling on the beaten path, especially during tourist season.
- Excursions book quickly. To avoid disappointment book pre-cruise. And shore excursions are not cheap. But there are local alternatives or you can tour on your own. DO YOUR HOMEWORK!
- The power of suggestion. Cruise ships are masters of the entertaining ‘hook’, getting you to spend $$$ on everything from spa services to shopping (especially jewelry), photos, art work, souvenirs, etc.
- Bad weather. But weather can cloud any vacation, anywhere.
A recommendation if considering a cruise. Read reviews before booking for insight into a particular cruise line, ship and itinerary.
Thursday, February 7, 2019
Walking block after block amidst a concrete jungle resulted in our group of four struggling to keep up with our tour guide, who was used to the stultifying heat. We had no time to acclimate and found ourselves hot, exhausted and thirsty, despite regular water breaks. But we persevered through packed subway cars, crowded sidewalks, heavy security at a couple of museums, and architectural gems, not all air-conditioned. Our guide spoke English but was not easy to understand.
The next day we had a guide who was born and raised in England. He arrived in Argentina 15 years ago, met his future wife…and the rest is history. I understood him perfectly.
Eager to rest weary legs and feed hungry stomachs after a day touring, we discovered a cafe perfect for a late lunch. We rated the food delicious, but service rated less than optimum. Tipping is optional, 5%-10% recommended, but we decided our waiter deserved nada - nothing. As we got up to leave the waiter raced over waving the bill and in Spanglish panted, “Tip not included. Did not leave tip.” So we threw a few pesos on the table, not wanting to earn a reputation as ugly, cheap Americans.
We finished lunch with ice cream from a kiosk adjacent to the restaurant. Next door was a chocolate shop, across the street a candy store, and next to that a coffee cafe. What a great city!
Two days touring Buenos Aires immersed us in the history and culture of Argentina. During the country’s golden age, the late 19th century and the 20th century up to the Depression, the government sent architects to Europe to study, return home and build a great city. The result - palatial structures, wide, tree-lined boulevards, public parks and open spaces scattered throughout the city, cafes with al fresco seating, an atmosphere conducive to spending time outdoors - the Paris of South America.
None of us studied much South American history in school. We remember reading about events which occurred during our lifetime, including the bombings of the Israeli Embassy in 1992, which killed 21 people, and the Jewish Federation building in 1994 that killed over 80 - people working in the building, folks on the street, a Catholic priest in a church next to the bombed building. We toured a memorial to the slain.
We visited another memorial, modeled after the Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., to the Desaparacidos - men and women who disappeared during the country’s dictatorship, approx. 1976-1983. Military death squads grabbed people from their homes or off the street. The individuals were never heard from again. Most were between the ages of 18-26, and some were pregnant. Once the babies were born, the military killed the women and placed the infants for adoption. Today, with the help of DNA testing, Argentina is attempting to unite the children (now adults) with relatives of birth parents. So far, of the estimated 500 adopted babies, 125 have been identified.
I am not a fan of cemeteries, but Buenos Aires is home to one of the world’s most unique resting places. Recoleta Cemetery contains over 6,400 family mausoleums housing over 85,000 individuals. Each mausoleum extends two or three floors underground. If a mausoleum runs out of room old remains are removed, cremated, and returned, freeing space for future generations. Among the cemetery’s permanent residents is Eva Peron. Thanks to Madonna and the movie Evita, Eva’s final resting place is a popular tourist attraction.
We lingered over coffee at an outdoor cafe, observed locals and tourists, visited sculptures and monuments in manicured parks, walked through neighborhoods and street markets, savored late night dinners and local cuisine, attempted to communicate in rudimentary Spanish, and learned about Argentina‘s history and current economic situation - inflation near 50 percent in the last year.
Our time in Buenos Aires ended too soon, but it was time to travel on…
Note: No pictures due to uncooperative wifi.
Friday, February 1, 2019
The flight was long but thankfully uneventful. Two meals served, both inedible. I passed the hours reading River of Doubt by Candice Millard, about Theodore Roosevelt’s expedition to the Amazon jungle over a century ago. I thought it a good introduction to South America, although I would not be visiting Brazil.
The one hour ride from the airport to Buenos Aires provided a first glimpse of Argentina. It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere, and the humidity can be stifling. Air-conditioning recommended! Avenidas - boulevards - encompassing at least three lanes in each direction, many with wide medians separating car, bus, and/or trolley lanes, criss-cross the city. Parks dot the cityscape. European-style palaces compete with apartment houses and business buildings which date from over 150 years ago to recently completed. Many of the palaces, originally built by wealthy Argentine families, have been converted into government offices.
Hub and I arrived at our hotel 9:00 PM, tired and hungry. First stop: the hotel dining room. And there to meet us were our Las Vegas friends, Denny and Kathe, joining us on this trip.
The following evening we have 8:30 dinner reservations. Late by our standards, but Argentina’s Spanish culture dictates late dining. This is Denny’s second trip to Buenos Aires, and we are meeting a friend he met on his previous trip.
Our taxi turns off the main boulevard into a side street and pulls up to the restaurant. We stare out the window. It takes a few seconds to realize what is wrong - the street is black. No light. Not in the restaurant, not on the street, not in surrounding buildings.
We reluctantly send the taxi away and wait for our host Alberto. He will know what to do - he’s a local!
The restaurant is closed - no electricity, therefore no lights - so we wait on the sidewalk. After a few minutes we are suddenly bathed in brightness - the lights are back on! The restaurant opens, we enter, and our host arrives.
We leave most of the ordering to Alberto and soon appetizers appear. Over the years I have learned that sometimes it is best not to ask questions - ignorance can be bliss. One of the plates turned out to be sweetbreads - innards folks ate when an entire animal was consumed. Nowadays we can be more picky. Heart, brains, kidney…I take a couple of bites to be polite. I know what I eat throughout the rest of the meal. Fish, potatoes…the men savor thick, juicy steaks, an Argentine specialty.
We sip coffee and engage in conversation with our host, although we must lean forward and concentrate as he talks low and his accent is at times difficult to understand. Suddenly the waiter approaches and starts talking excitedly in Spanish - only our host understands - and points to the floor. We look down. Water gushes under our feet in a relentless stream soon covering the entire first floor of the restaurant.
Time to evacuate. We grab our things and quickly make our way to the front of the restaurant, the bar area, a couple of steps higher than the main floor.
The restaurant front windows offer another surprise - a torrential rainstorm greets us. People crowding around the bar take off their shoes, unfurl umbrellas, and run into cars and cabs.
Our genial host offers to drive us back to the hotel. I take off my shoes, walk through a puddle up to my ankles and jump in the car.
Torrential rains. Temporary loss of electricity. Heat and humidity. Palatial buildings. Beautiful parks. Variety of food, most familiar, including French fries and good strong coffee. Avenidas modeled after the Champs Elysee in Paris.
First impressions of Buenos Aires.