A walk to the cruise ship, farewell to Montréal, dinner in The Terrace grill, late room turndown, a long but excellent tour of Québec City and environs

On Monday, we slept in, thinking that breakfast was available until 11:00 at the hotel (we got there about 10:35). Oops – it closed at 10:30, but the great staff was very accommodating and we had coffee, juice and bagels. We grabbed our bags, checked out and walked to the pier, a first in 25 cruises. It was a short ten-minute walk and we were processed quickly and immediately got on the ship. Our stateroom is 7096, a concierge veranda on the port side, a few doors toward the stern from the aft elevators; we’re 99% certain this was our cabin on our first Regatta cruise in 2010. Our bags were already in the hallway, so time for “happy, tidy”; Steve set up his iPhone to do a funny fast-motion video of our bag-emptying. The cabin attendant, Nattalia, also came by and seemed at that time to be very efficient (a loose door handle on the bathroom door was fixed immediately).

Dinner Monday night was in the informal Terrace Grill – grilled lamp chops, pasta with an excellent marinara sauce, and great desserts. It was my birthday on Monday, but I didn’t want a fuss, so this worked out well. We were a bit tired, so we decided to head back to the room, read and retire early because of our full day planned in Québec City Tuesday. We got to the room a little after 8:00 pm and were quite surprised that the evening turndown service in our room had not been done. This was a first, as we have never been on a cruise where the room was still in “daytime mode” this late and never after dinner. The cover was still on the bed for emptying luggage, curtains were open and the bathroom had not been checked for towel usage. We waited and waited and finally about 8:40 I went into the hallway to see if our cabin attendant and her assistant were there. Nope….so I paged Nattalia ….no response. I was not very happy at this point and called guest services. Immediately after this call, Nattalia called back and we asked for the turndown service. She seemed flustered and offered up excuses, but they showed up right away. Apparently, Oceania has a new rule that you should put the “make up my room” card out on the door whenever you want service, in the morning or evening. This is not a good rule and will be a problem when you forget to put the stupid card out. Grrrrr… Oh, well, a first world problem again, but we also did pay a lot for the service, so there’s that consideration.

Ok, so after the late turndown we slept well and got up in plenty of time for our Tuesday excursion at 8:30 am, entitled “Grand Exploration of Québec”. When I booked this tour several months ago, it sounded comprehensive without being exhausting and was, in fact, advertised as appropriate for folks using wheelchairs and scooters. Our bus was not full, with about 25 total, which was quite nice. Right off the bat, however, the accessibility aspect of the trip was completely compromised when we did a forty-minute walking tour of old Quebec City, complete with some small, steep hills and lots of cobblestones and no place to sit while our excellent, but detail-oriented, guide stood for long periods and threw out facts and dates about many of the buildings in this historic area. We finally re-boarded the bus to our next stop, Montmorency Falls, located a short distance outside of town. This cataract is taller than Niagara Falls, although not nearly as wide, but it is impressive. There were two paths at the top of the falls, one that required quite a few stairs and another path that was supposedly easier to get to the falls. I envisioned a short walk behind the historic building, but we walked a fairly long distance before finally arriving at the suspension bridge above the falls. I saw many elderly people from our ship and the Ruby Princess (also in port) trying to hurry along this trail to see the falls. The view from the suspension bridge was not at all impressive, so Steve went down to a nearby lookout (52 steps each way) to grab some photos and we headed back.

So far, I was not a happy camper, believing that the easy-to-moderate rating of the tour was quite misleading. We boarded the bus again and had a short stop at the bottom of the Falls for the best scenic shots. Our nice guide assured me that the worst walking was over for the trip, but my back was starting to get stiff.

From the Falls, we crossed a bridge nearby over to Ile de Orléans, an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence seaway. This large island has been the home to farmers since the 1600s and it was very beautiful; the main crops are strawberries and real maple products and there are fruit orchards. We pulled up at an Inn on the west side of the island, facing Québec City, and had a lovely lunch. Steve and I both had the chicken with a mustard sauce, on a bed of mashed sweet potatoes. Our table mates were a mixed bag, with a nice couple from Georgia and a pair of grumps from California. After lunch we headed further east to St. Anne de Beaupré, a village that was home to an absolutely huge basilica that has been on the site since the 1600’s (the current incarnation was built in the late 1800’s and is still a work in progress). We entered the basilica and were quite impressed with the mosaics and intricate ceiling, but found it to be less spiritually moving than the exquisite Notre-Dame Basilica in Montréal. Again, lots of walking was involved inside and to get to the restrooms outside; we rejoined the group on the bus and headed back to Québec City for our last two stops.

The weather Tuesday varied from nearly pleasant to downright frigid, but at least it wasn’t raining. We had some sun early and during our stops outside of town, but when we returned to Québec City, it was overcast and a nasty, cold wind was blowing. Our next stop (a short one) was at the Plains of Abraham, the site of many battles between the French and British and even the fledging Americans, who invaded Canada during the Revolutionary War. My great-great-great-great-great Grandfather (I think I have enough greats) on my Dad’s mother’s side of the family emigrated from Germany to New York in 1754 and moved his family to Québec when the Revolutionary war started because he wanted to support the British, so he likely fought in some of those battles.

Our final stop of the tour was a 30-minute free time near Chateau Frontenac, in the upper “old town”. This famous landmark is only one of two tall buildings within the city wall of Québec City. We walked around for a while in the bitterly cold wind, but didn’t have enough time to really do anything. We boarded the bus one last tome and arrived back at the dock about 4:00 pm. Although the tour was physically challenging for me, we thought it was quite interesting and certainly gave us a good glimpse of the highlights of this beautiful and prosperous city. We would love to come back in warm weather! The people that live in Québec City (and Montréal for that matter) certainly must be able to enjoy winter, because they have snow on the ground from November to April.

Well, to my surprise (or not) when I checked my Virgin Pulse gizmo, I had over 11,000 steps Tuesday, which is a new record for steps in a day since I started tracking earlier this year. My back was not happy, but seemed to recover fairly quickly last night. We had a couple of glasses of wine at happy hour, ate a light dinner in the Terrace, and played evening trivia, getting the all-important Big O points towards cheesy shirts and hats. When we got back to the room, we had a pleasant surprise: We are invited to have dinner with the Chief Engineer on Friday! We keep thinking we had an officer dinner experience one other time, but we can’t remember which cruise. This will be fun!

Today, Wednesday, is a day at sea cruising the St. Lawrence seaway towards Nova Scotia. We can see land to the south (New Brunswick) but not to the north. It’s partly cloudy and very calm. Stay tuned!

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Tedious truck-filled drive to Montreal, nice little hotel, Dolcetto & Co bistro dinner, lovely carriage ride, gorgeous cathedral, nice people!

Yesterday, we headed out early from Toronto and decided to stop on the road for breakfast (skipping the very expensive fare at Trump Tower). We found our way out of town just fine, because it was Saturday.  There was still a lot of traffic, but at least it moved well. The main route between Toronto and Montreal is Highway 401, AKA “Autoroute des Héroes”. We drove for a while and finally exited in the suburbs to find breakfast.  Since Tim Horton’s are on virtually every street corner in Canada, we wanted to try one, but, alas, the exit we picked didn’t have one nearby, so we settled for McDonalds.

Our original plan was to take a detour and see the capital buildings in Ottawa, but we quickly realized how far we had to drive, so we scrapped that idea.  Driving almost non-stop, it took more than seven hours to get to Montréal, which is also plagued with the construction virus. The countryside was scenic, but not very interesting from a freeway perspective. Steve drove and we probably passed over 500 semi trucks, which was quite tedious for me, the nervous passenger, and we had the occasional moments of alarm for both of us when one truck would suddenly pull into the left lane as we were trying to pass it so it could go around a slower truck or car. We also came across the horrific aftermath of an accident that had just happened, with a vehicle upside down in the center ditch on top of a concrete culvert; many bystanders and rescue workers were desperately trying to free people trapped in the car. We were glad to get finally get rid of the rental  car in Downtown Montréal, especially after Neverlost likely suffered a apparent disabling stroke and let us get completely off the route near the end of the drive, and we found ourselves suddenly heading south towards the US before we realized what was going on and turned around and headed in the right direction.

We noticed something interesting in Quebec – all of the signs, company billboards, and even company names were in French, with absolutely no English translations allowed. For example, Kentucky Fried Chicken — KFC in most of the world — is PFK here (Poulet Frites Kentucky). In the rest of Canada, the bilingualism is accommodated with English and French versions of most information, but this compromise is apparently unacceptable to the Québécois.  This is an amazingly provincialist attitude, IMHO, and is one that we never encountered previously in other countries we have visited, including France.

After dropping the car off, we had a nice cab ride with a friendly driver to our hotel in Old Montréal. The subject turned to hockey.  Ironically, last night the Avalanche were in town to play the Canadiens. We actually considered going, but realized that we would not be very energetic after the drive so we didn’t try to get tickets.  Right before we turned in the car, we passed the Ritz Carlton hotel and saw a bunch of people standing outside with cameras.  We realized they were hockey fans, and we saw several Av’s jerseys along with old Quebec Nordiques gear, so the Av’s apparently stay in this luxurious hotel (nice!).

For the two nights in Montréal, we booked a small boutique hotel on Rue St. Paul in the heart of the old city.  The hotel, simply named Le Petit Hotel, is quite nice, with 28 rooms decorated in modern style tucked into an old building.  They provide continental breakfast and were quite helpful with restaurant recommendations.  We ended up crossing the street last night to an Italian Bistro named Dolcetto & Co and had a delightful dinner with delicious pizzettes and good Sicilian wine.  The  staff was quite nice and we ended up carrying a little extra corked wine with their permission back to the room, which apparently is a bozo no-no.

We had a very good night’s sleep, woke up late and had breakfast, and then set out to explore the area.  It was very chilly today, with mostly overcast skies (no rain), with temps probably not getting out of the 40’s (brrrr).  On Sundays, the gorgeous Notre-Dame Basilica, built in 1829, opens at 12:30 pm to the public; the church was a short walk from our hotel.  To kill time before the opening (since we were early), we hired a horse drawn carriage for an hour to see the sites.  Our guide was terrific and the beautiful grey Percheron mare (Cinderella) gamely dragged our big butts (or my big butt at least) through the streets of Montreal. This was so much fun!

After our carriage ride, we were dropped off right in front of the Basilica.  This large cathedral was intended to rival Notre Dame in Paris and we believe it is more spectacular.  We took dozens of pictures (Steve is working on uploading pictures, always a crapshoot with the idiotic WordPress application). Afterwards, we were ready for lunch and found a little bistro that looked very nice and seemed popular.  It turned out this place, Modavie, is very highly rated and one of the favorite jazz clubs in Montreal.  We split a lamb burger, which was superb and chatted with the extremely nice owner, Lorenzo. Two for two on restaurants!

To finish the afternoon, we walked further north on St. Paul into a pedestrian area. The scene abruptly changed from elegant bistros, boutique hotels and fine galleries to a couple of blocks of pure tourist cheesiness, with loud sports bars and crapola emporiums selling geegaws and Canadiens gear. We decided to go rest at the hotel for a while, then eat a light dinner.  Our original plans included dinner at Europea, one of the top restaurants in Montreal, but we preferred to play it by ear so we canceled the reservation.

Dinner tonight completed the Trifecta of great little restaurants in Montréal.  We walked a couple blocks south on St. Paul to eat at Barroca, a small wine bar that had good ratings.  We shared a small cheese plate and charcuterie platter and it was perfect!  We had a very nice day in Montreal and the people were just wonderful, all speaking perfect English. We can board Regatta tomorrow at noon and we are close enough to the pier that we will probably walk.

More tomorrow from the cruise ship!

 

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Some photos from Vieux Montréal

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Scary medicine issue, back to the USA (briefly), lunch at Horseshoe Falls, scenic back country drive, Toronto traffic nightmare, Elegant Trump Tower

Photo Oct 17, 12 09 46 PM

Friday morning we awoke to rain showers and low scudding clouds over Niagara Falls. We headed to breakfast at the buffet on the 13th floor of the Sheraton. I realized as we sat down that we forgot to restock the pill container I carry in my purse, so Steve ran back to the room to get four days worth of medications from our medicine bag. He takes three prescriptions, I take three (plus asthma meds) and we also have a few supplements. He came back with the pill container and said, “Well, you’re going to have a fun morning because you did not pack the prednisone”. I stared at him uncomprehendingly and had the same gut-wrenching reaction I had when he announced he had lost his wallet in London two years ago just before our 15-day cruise to Barcelona. Apparently, I packed two versions of one of his prescriptions (in two different bottles) in my haste to complete packing on Wednesday and left out the one medicine that I must not forget.

I take a low daily dose of prednisone for my Rheumatoid Arthritis, which keeps most symptoms at bay. It is not a medication that you can abruptly stop, especially after ten years. I immediately called our health care provider, Kaiser, and started a series of discussions on how I could get a modest supply to keep me through the trip. I luckily had cell service through AT&T because we were only about a mile across the Niagara River from New York. Unfortunately, they were unable to call in a prescription to any Canadian pharmacy, so we found a Walgreens in Niagara Falls, New York. In many ways, this missing medication discovery was made in the best place on the trip because we were so close to the US.

We checked out of the Sheraton and headed across the Rainbow/Peace Bridge (seems to be called both names), which was located right by our hotel. The line was very short at US Customs. We told the friendly guy (seriously, he was friendly) that we wanted to see the falls from the American side. He replied, in true New York style, “yeah, it’s just falling water”. We thought it best not to tell him we came across the border to get drugs :-).

Using our “Neverlost” GPS with its annoying, chirpy “nagivator”, we found the Walgreens in a rundown neighborhood near a hospital. They hadn’t put the prescription together yet, but we didn’t have to wait long and finally I had enough for thirty days. Thank the Lord this was resolved! So, to keep our promise to the US customs guy, we headed over to Goat Island to see Horseshoe Falls from the US side. Quite amazing to stand right next to the precipice and watch the river falling over a cliff…

Back to Canada again! The customs line on the bridge was pretty short and we went through quickly. We drove along the riverfront; the Canadian side of the falls is so impressive, with spectacular gardens and nice walkways. Now that the panic was out of the way, we decided to park at the big Visitor Centre and enjoyed great views of Horseshoe Falls. The Visitor’s Centre also has a nice restaurant (Elements) and we had a cup of soup and took in the scenes of people looking at the Falls, including someone flying a small quadracopter drone out over the drop.

Photo Oct 17, 1 06 23 PM

Well, now it was time to drive to Toronto. We asked our Neverlost guru to take us on back roads for a while and had a pleasant drive through farm country and small towns, although we left the recommended route twice without any warning from Neverlost. Alas, near Hamilton, we had to rejoin the Queen Elizabeth Way expressway. To our delight (initially), the traffic was moving very well. Too good to be true – as we got closer to Toronto, the traffic would come to a complete stop, then crawl slowly for kilometers and stop again. We realized that we were not going to get to see anything in Toronto and our 7:00 pm dinner reservation at “America” in the Trump Tower was looking like it was in jeopardy.

Finally, we turned down Adelaide Street in downtown Toronto, mere minutes (allegedly) from our hotel. Well, our annoying friend Neverlost really picked a winner with that street. Traffic was barely moving for blocks; the culprit was a big sidewalk and storm sewer replacement project that took this three-lane one-way street down to one narrow lane for several blocks. Finally, and almost drained of patience, we pulled into the Trump and checked in, but not without a last-minute detour down a side street due to the increasing imbecility of Neverlost.

The Trump Tower hotel was absolutely spectacular, but also quite expensive. We did an upgrade to a corner junior suite for a relatively modest fee and were dazzled by the beautiful decor of the room. Changing clothes quickly, we just made it to “America” on the 31st floor for our 7:00 pm reservation. Dinner was amazing; we both had the 8-oz filet, with Yukon gold mashed potatoes and a roasted Vidalia onion, plus delectable breads. We washed this down with a local Leaning Post Gamay, from the wine country near Niagara. The wine was a bit light, but it did stand up to the steak and it wasn’t over $100 a bottle, like most of the other wines that were offered. We slept well in the very comfortable bed and hit the road early to head to Montreal. It was very nice staying in the Trump Tower, but we regret not seeing anything unique in this city. Trump Tower is in the financial district and I challenge anyone to visit Toronto and look at the buildings visible from our hotel and tell me how the view differs from any other big city.

Stay tuned for stories about our drive to Montreal and our time in this Quebec metropolis before embarking on our cruise.

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Bye-bye to kittens, good flight, gross moment in the rental car, time slows down in Canada, glimpse of the famous falls, Hard Rock burger

We kissed our silly kittens goodbye early this morning and headed to the airport. For this trip, we are using Canopy parking, which is on Tower road north of Peña, and includes “indoor” parking under a high canopy roof at a reasonable rate. I looked at the cheap metal structure of the canopy roof and realized that a 30-inch snow or 80 mph wind would probably destroy it, but we will hope for mild weather while we’re gone.

We got to the airport, checked in, went through security fairly rapidly, and began the trek to seek out our regional United flight at gate B83, which is only 400 MILES east on the B-concourse (just kidding – it’s only about 150 MILES). DIA was jam packed today, which was perplexing, as it is not a business travel peak time of day or summer/winter travel season. We boarded our CRJ-700 regional jet, made in Canada you betcha, and enjoyed the smooth 2.5 hour flight. The seats were a bit small, with hard cushions, but time went by fast with the assistance of Monopoly, Scrabble and other games on our iPads and real Coke on ice.

Our flight arrived on-time in Toronto, after a dramatic circle over Downtown and Lake Ontario. We taxied to the gate, went through customs (so, why ARE you in Canada, eh?), got our bags and made the incredibly long hike to the rental car area, which was way out in the suburbs of the humongous parking garage. Glad I have my Virgin Pulse steps thingy. We had a long-standing reservation with Dollar rental car that was booked, oh, about eight months ago. Steve went up to the counter and I watched from the sidelines as he suddenly moved over to the adjacent Hertz counter. I sat there puzzled (and waited… and waited…) and he finally came back with keys to a Hertz car. Apparently, Dollar/Thrifty completely ran out of cars and Hertz took up the slack. We have a generic VW something or other (white color) but they tossed in the GPS, which has been very handy. So off to the car we head!

We found the VW Jetta (could have fooled me) and struggled for a bit to open the trunk. Finally, we were in! I went to the passenger side and opened the door, and grabbed the armrest, like any normal fool. My hand immediately slipped in some slimy stuff on the arm rest, which looked just like the amazing snot of an alien creature. OMG!! With the recent scary headlines about Ebola and Enterovirus 68 and other nasty diseases making their way into everyone’s nightmares, what fresh hell was this?? Fortunately, I had Lysol wipes, plus regular hand wipes in my purse. I went to work on the amazing expectorant pile (I’m not kidding) and then washed my hands at our quick pit stop at a McDonalds for about ten minutes (we stopped there to get some water for the drive).

We programmed our GPS for the shortest route to Niagara Falls, Ontario. Of course, after the delay at the rental car agency, we were smack in the middle of rush hour. Most of our route was on Queen Elizabeth Way, which moved at roughly the same speed as the dear octogenarian monarch. It seemed like the countdown on the “Neverlost” GPS would never get to zero, but finally we pulled into the Sheraton on the Falls.

We have a Falls view room, which is amazing! We are on the fourteenth floor and look at the American Falls across from our room (with the nearby Rainbow Bridge going into that no-man’s-land between countries), while the Horseshoe Falls are further to the west, to our right. We got some great photos, then went to dinner next door at the Hard Rock Cafe. We ordered small burgers and waited an interminable amount of time for them, finally ate, and are now at the bar in the Sheraton.

So tomorrow we will hopefully be on back roads to Toronto, spend a night at the Hairpiece Inn (Trump Tower) and then it’s off to Montreal Saturday. Stay tuned!

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Our next cruise adventure – close to home, but promising to be very interesting!

It has been over eight months since our Antarctica cruise on Celebrity Infinity. In the interim, we did two weekend trips, one to the Black Hills of South Dakota and a long weekend in Las Vegas at the splendid Mandarin Oriental hotel. We also lost our dear cat Ruby at the age of 19.5 years in early June and shortly after her passing we adopted two adorable black kittens who are now almost six months old. Our next long trip is almost here, which will be the first long trip away from the new kittens (Merry and Pippin).

On October 16, we fly from home to Toronto, Canada and pick up a rental car. Our first stop is at Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side), where we will spend one night at the Sheraton on the Falls. Neither of us has ever been to Niagara Falls so this will be fun. On October 17, we drive back to Toronto and spend one night at the posh Trump Tower (rated number one on TripAdvisor) and see a few sights in Toronto (hockey hall of fame, CN tower). The pre-cruise sightseeing continues on October 18, when we drive from Toronto to Montreal, hopefully with a short detour to Ottawa to see the Canadian capital. We will turn in the rental car when we get to Montreal and have two nights booked at Le Petit Hotel in Old Montreal (another highly touted hotel, albeit much smaller than the Trump Tower) and plan to spend Sunday, October 19, exploring the city of Montreal.

Our cruise begins on October 20 (my 59th birthday!) on Oceania Cruise Lines Regatta. Regatta is a sister ship to Nautica, the “R” ship we boarded in July, 2013, for the grand adventure with 10 days above the Arctic Circle. We cruised on Regatta in March, 2010 on a 12-day Caribbean sojourn, which was our first cruise on Oceania, and realized we really liked Oceania’s style and their amazing food. This upcoming 15-day cruise will be our fifth on this cruise line and our 25th overall. The “R” ships were built for Renaissance cruise lines, which went out of business, and these very cozy and lovely small ships (~700 passengers) ended up with Oceania, Regent, Azamara, and other cruise lines. We are in a concierge veranda (we think it is the same cabin we had on our cruise in 2010), which will be perfectly adequate. Oceania likes to name their cruises and we have used the names for some of the past trip categories, but we really don’t like the name of this cruise (“Radiant Retreats”), which sounds like it might be a tour of the Nevada Test Site.

The itinerary for this cruise is very unique. It is the last Canadian/New England fall foliage cruise of the season for Regatta and includes stops in Quebec City; Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia; Bar Harbor, Maine; Boston, Massachusetts; New York City (overnight); St. George, Bermuda (overnight); and Charleston, South Carolina, before ending in Miami on November 4. We have been to Boston and New York, but every other destination is new, although we drove past Charleston in 2011 on our Southern Comfort trip and we have been to locations further south in Maine. I started a roll call for the cruise on Cruise Critic, but it has had very light traffic, so we did not plan any independent tours with other folks. We are doing six ship tours and one private tour in Halifax, and plan some other activities on our own in New York, Bermuda and Charleston.

Itinerary Montreal to Miami October 2014

Itinerary Montreal to Miami October 2014

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Made it Home! Highlights and Lowlights

Our rebooked flight made it into Denver on time Monday. The Captain thought we would get some turbulence (oh, goodie), but that never panned out. We got our bags, hopped the shuttle to Wally Park and headed home on a beautiful day. Old girl Ruby was stunned to see us and began her usual post-trip hunger strike. We took a nap, showered, hit Big Bill’s for pizza (very busy with the holiday) and later I sunk into deep sleep in the comfy chairs in front of something on TV. We were back at work yesterday and I have finished my Tamiflu course (feel very good, other than a cough). Forgot to mention that Global Entry is money well-spent! We walked up to a kiosk in Houston, put on our passports, smiled for the camera, did four fingerprint scans, answered four questions and we were done! Whrrrr, buzz, click!!

Now, my usual trip round up:

Highlights:

1) Antarctica! The 7th continent is remote, daunting, inhospitable, cold, haunting and very beautiful. We are so glad we have seen it, as we are not sure we would do the journey again. The whole process of crossing the notorious Drake Passage and coming back makes this a very interesting and unpredictable trip. The ice bergs and their fantastic shapes and sizes are included here as part of the top highlight, because those ubiquitous chunks of ice define Antarctica’s challenge.
2) Wildlife: Sea lions, seals, whales, dolphins, guanacos, albatrosses, petrels, cormorants and most especially penguins were the center pieces of most of our cruise. We wish we had seen more types of penguins up close, but enjoyed seeing them in any circumstance. The waters off Deception Island in the South Shetland Islands were filled with Chinstrap Penguins and this was an enthralling moment I will never forget.
3) Ushuaia: This southernmost city in the world is in a very beautiful location and it is fascinating to see all of the expedition ships and ice breakers there. Circumnavigating Cape Horn is included here (not very interesting in general, except knowing that you were at the bottom of a continent).
4) Estancia La Mimosa: The estancia we visited on the last day of the trip was a wonderful place. We loved this little piece of heaven in the countryside north of BA. The gaucho show was a bonus and the food was fantastic.
5) Buenos Aires: Although the city is having some issues, we did enjoy seeing some of different areas of town and our dinner at I Latina was unforgettable. Recoleta cemetery was fascinating and La Boca is fun, although probably too touristy.
6) Service on Celebrity Infinity: This was the best service we have had on a cruise. The VIP treatment was a pleasant surprise and we loved the special ship tours.
7) Falkland Islands: Port Stanley is very charming and very British and the beaches in the area are filled with penguins.
8) Pampas Devils: The on-board show with four very talented Argentine performers was absolutely wonderful.
9) Valdes Peninsula: Although not very scenic, the wildlife sightings made this very interesting and the estancia was quite nice (food was merely ok).
10) Qsine: This was our best meal, hands down, on the ship and our second-best meal of the trip.

Lowlights:

1) Flu Jail: Getting quarantined for 48 hours was a very unpleasant surprise and it did affect my perceptions of the end of the trip. I am impressed with Tamiflu, however. We are sorry we missed our nice tour in Montevideo. We had a few other times on this trip where we both did not feel good and I also had asthma problems, even before the influenza.
2) Flights: Other than the amazing experience on the 787 from Denver to Houston, we had pretty unpleasant flights to and from Buenos Aires and got stuck in uncomfortable middle seats on our final flight to Denver. There were mechanical issues in both directions to/from BA (time to retire the 767s, United?), the lie-flat seating on those aircraft was quite uncomfortable, and we had the persistent turbulence for many hours of both long flights.
3) Aqua Class and our cabin: This was not worth the extra fare. The cabin was very standard and had a large overhang over the balcony (it did come in handy in Antarctica). We could hear people walking on the pool deck above or could hear them them dragging the deck chairs around and also heard band music on the rare nice days at the beginning and end of the cruise. Blu, the Aqua Class specialty restaurant, was very disappointing. In three meals there, I only had one thing I liked (strip steak) in all of the food ordered. Our small bathroom had a smell in it throughout the entire cruise that was either musty or smelled like urine. We told them about it but it never went away.
4) Fellow passengers: Other than the great folks on our Roll Call and a few nice folks we ran into in various places (we will keep in touch with some of them), this cruise matched the 2012 cruise on Marina for obnoxious passengers. Many people were pushy, rude, or genuinely clueless. I cannot count how many times someone or multiple someones had to race around me to get there first or step right in front of me. Most people never queued for the elevators. People on buses in the back immediately jumped up to get off first, oblivious to folks sitting closer to the door. Seeing people in the bars or casino while we were in Antarctica was mind-boggling. Why were they there? I hope that one woman saw her imaginary polar bears ;-).
5) The stress of the situation with Steve’s Dad: Although this turned out well, this did cause a lot of anxiety right before we left. It’s interesting to note that I made a comment to Steve a few weeks before we left that this trip did not capture my imagination as much as other trips and I was uncertain that we would even get to go (this was before the angioplasty procedure that Ed required). I am glad we went and saw Antarctica, but nine days at sea out of fourteen is too long, especially with the crowd we had and in closed conditions, obviously a contributor to my bout with the influenza.

Cruise #24 is in the books, a decidedly mixed affair. Celebrity was good (especially in customer service) but may not have crossed the barrier into “must cruise again”. We are claiming Argentina, Uruguay, Chile and Antarctica from this adventure. Being on the sea nearby or docked at the port is good enough for me.

Next up: In October, we have a 15-day cruise booked on Regatta (Oceania Cruise Lines) from Montreal to Miami. We like Oceania very much, but have read some alarming things on CC about declining standards of service. We hope for a good experience again.

Thanks for reading!

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A Wonderful Shore Excursion; Biding our Time at Ezeiza; Can’t Get Home Without more Problems

Sunday morning we disembarked around 7:20 and left our home for two weeks behind. I’m not sure I will miss that stateroom. Saturday night I did get the certification letter about a future cruise credit, but it only showed me being in Flu Jail for one day. I called up and asked for a correction showing two days and they provided it. Unfortunately it has to be used within one year, so we’re not sure what we’ll do (the actual credit amount is unknown at this time).

We both couldn’t sleep again last night. We were not anxious or agitated, just wired. I think this is a strange side effect of the Tamiflu, which so far shows no other side effects. I am impressed with how the drug rapidly improved my condition.

After disembarkation we had a day-long excursion booked called “The Best of Buenos Aires”. It sounded like a decent way to kill most of the day and we would get to the airport with only a few hours to kill until our flight at 10:30 pm. It started out with almost the same tour we had on February 1, after we arrived. We drove through some of the nice neighborhoods, then visited Plaza De Mayo near the Pink Palace and also stopped for a brief time in La Boca (the colorful slum neighborhood). We then headed out of the city to the north, to the Mimosa Estancia near the town of Pilar. After a ninety-minute bus ride, we turned down a short dirt road in the countryside and entered a magical place. Going through to old front gate, we were greeted by nice young people dressed in traditional costumes who handed us yummy beef empanadas and glasses of wine and had us sit near the garden and main house while they performed a couple of traditional gaucho dances. The estancia, built in the 1860’s, is still in the same family although they don’t do cattle ranching anymore, but instead now share the traditions of the gauchos plus some delicious food with tourists and local visitors.

The estancia was a little bit of paradise on Earth, with lots of friendly herding dogs running around, huge shade trees, and flowers everywhere. We walked behind the main house (you can’t enter, but can look in through open doors) and came across the horse paddock. They were offering carriage rides or horseback rides (we passed on both), but we did enjoy visiting with three horses. One horse was extremely friendly and I think he liked me when I talked in a low voice to him, telling him he was “muy bonito”.

Shortly, we entered a large barn-like structure, where they had many large tables set up for lunch. There was wine and water on the table and they brought pop in pitchers and liter-sized bottles of beer (Quilmes). Then the food started – holy cow! We had potato salad and greens with tomato, a wonderful sausage (choripan), beef barbecued over live oak, then chicken and lamb. This was accompanied by delicious bread baskets! Boy am I glad my appetite is back. The beef was fantastic and reminiscent of Santa Maria BBQ in the Central Coast of California. Then the entertainment started. One young man was the center of most of this, first playing a mean guitar with his father, then doing dueling gaucho dances with another young man, then whipping around those crazy bolos. There were other folklore dances performed with two young ladies participating, and of course group dancing. It was completely enchanting.

We had a nice dessert of ice cream and berries and then everyone filed outside for the gaucho horse competition (La Lanca). Each rider uses small sticks to try and snag a ring on a string hanging from a crossbar as they ride full-tilt. It they are successful, they present the rings to a lady of choice. We enjoyed this visit to the estancia and then said goodbye to my horsey friend and headed for the bus. What we thought would be a good time waster turned out to be one of the best days of the trip.

We arrived at Ezeiza International, south of the city, about 5:30, killed time until the United counter opened at 7:00 pm, checked in and made our way through the various obstacles to the gate area. We visited the Star Alliance Club , a bit of the distance from the gate, and boarded in what can only be described as true chaos,

We got on board and we left the gate early, but it was too good to be true, given the little nuances that have popped up around this trip. When they tried to start the starboard engine, they had a problem. We sat there for a while without Information as they mysteriously moved the plane back and forth, then they told us we had either a little problem or a bigger problem. The little problem would be the start motor and its replacement, which would take a “little while”. If the engine has a more serious problem, then who knows? There aren’t spare United 767 aircraft sitting here, unlike in Houston. The problem turned out to be the start motor, but they took almost three hours for the repair, blowing our connection in Houston. We finally took off at 1:45 am. Almost immediately the annoying turbulence started up and was persistent again throughout the night. We are now finally in Houston (thank God) and are booked on an 11:23 am flight to Denver. We are in middle seats in economy plus, so we will take it! One more wish, for us to no more misadventures with this trip in the last two segments!

My good, bad and ugly list from the trip will be up soon!

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Flowers and Montevideo

OK, not much to see in Montevideo since Barb was stuck in quarantine at that point, but we did take some photos of the bustling port and not-so-bustling skyline. The flowers? Those were from Anca, the wonderful VIP Guest Concierge, for Barb.

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Free at last, Free at last!

Well, I finally called guest services at 5:30 pm and they patched me through to Medical. I was expecting them to call but they told me to head straight down with the mask on. I had no temperature and was released from my quarantine.  She had the nerve to ask me if I still had a cough.  I told her I would have a cough for the next month and she frowned, but there nothing she can do at this point. I almost asked if they would let me just sit in the room on the next cruise (another one to Antarctica), with in and out privileges occasionally, if the cough could be cured to their satisfaction. I’m so glad that I have the last evening free to walk around the ship.

Next, we went to Guest Services.  The young lady behind the counter said there were no future cruise vouchers for the privilege of being stuck in quarantine, just because I had the temerity to go to Medical with what I thought was a run-of-the-mill cold/respiratory thing to get better cough medicine and ended up invoking their flu jail requirement. We pushed back and she had us talk to another representative who did indeed confirm that we would get a voucher.  If it is not in the room when we return to go to bed, we will go and ask again. I’m not looking for a free ride, but I do think that people will be more and more reluctant to report illnesses on board ships or at embarkation if the reward for doing this is losing part of your vacation with no appeal, having no alternative arrangement (e.g., wearing a mask outside your room), or a lack of at least modest compensation and acknowledgement that doing the right thing results in a forced penalty on the guest. Hmm, should have been a lawyer. Oh, and if I see one more woman walk out of a restroom on a cruise ship without washing her hands, I will be a bit more vocal about it.  I was extremely cautious on this cruise about hygiene, as usual, and still caught this crap.

Finally, we visited the nice staff in Michael’s Club, had some appetizers for dinner and each had a half-glass of wine.  In spite of the shipboard doctor’s admonishment that alcohol and Tamiflu do not mix, that interaction concern is not evident in the product insert or anywhere that we could find on line in any reputable medical source.  I think the concern is for stomach effects from the drug, but so far we are ok and take the doses with food. We will be prudent, but we plan to enjoy a wine at the Gaucho show tomorrow in Buenos Aires on our way to the airport and probably one glass on the flight to celebrate going home. We are now drinking tea in Cafe Al Bacio and have everything ready to go with our bags.

The final summary, with an overview of our day in BA and flights home, plus my highlights and lowlights from the trip will be posted soon!  Cruise #23 certainly has had its share of drama.

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