Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 5 – Japan

After my blog on JeJu Island, my Silverado Oaks friend, Sharon, wrote to tell me that Lisa See has a new book out called “The Island of Sea Women”, so I am reading that now.  Haven’t got far enough in to tell you if it’s any good, but it sure is the same island.

On April 9, we docked in Kobe All we did on the first day was go out to shop.  It was pretty good shopping, though, and a nice city to walk around.

Dinner at 7:00 at Qsine was a lot of fun.  In the end there were 21 of us.  We sat around a huge oval table, with an upside down chandelier emanating from the middle of it.  The rest of the chandeliers in the room were upside down table lamps, hanging from the ceiling.  We didn’t know what to expect.

For menus, we all got tablets, on which we were to tick off anything and everything that appealed at all.  There was quite a variety and we ended up with most of it.  It represented the best tidbits from all the cuisines of the world and ranged from healthy veggies, of which we ordered few, to the deepest of deep fries, of which we ordered plenty.  We all waddled out of there, very glad to have tried it, and glad to have had dinner together.  It’s a very good group.

The second day in Kobe, April 10, I had a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon delivered to my stateroom, because we had a 6:15 am call to meet our tour to Kyoto.  We met our tour guide, Mickey, and he led us to Kobe Station for the Skinkasen, the Bullet Train to Kyoto.  It had started to sprinkle but the rain didn’t really come into its own, until we were on the bus to the shrine.  We all got out and started climbing the hill.  Steve quit pretty quickly.  The weather was foul, cold and wet.  It was slippery underfoot and the roadway was angled straight up.  He announced that his plan was to go back to the bus.  I went another five minutes or so and chickened out, too.  I was starting to feel chilled and I didn’t see any point in getting the flu over this.  I shopped my way back to the bus, arriving with some mystery hard candies and a box of chocolate Daifuku.  They are rice balls, similar to the contents of sesame balls. These were filled with a chocolate cream and dusted with cocoa.  Steve and I had a couple on the bus.  They weren’t all that good for the price paid.  Next Trish, who was still coughing from the cold she had picked up in Beijing, got back on.  A few more people did the same.

It was raining even harder at the next stop, which was the Golden Pavilion. Steve and I didn’t even get off.  I wasn’t feeling any too great.  We were soon joined by a few more chickens, while the die-hards had some perfectly miserable touring.  I had been to these sites in 2007, under much better conditions and had decided that was how I was going to remember them.  The Golden Pavilion doesn’t shine in the sun when it’s pouring.

Trish felt awful and announced she wasn’t even coming to dinner.  Steve and I went, but I declined a large table, as I had started to cough and didn’t want to infect anyone else.  I figured Steve was immune, as he had been living with five days of Trish coughing, already.  I was running a fever by this time and barely had the energy to eat.  I had two cheese soufflés, as about the easiest thing on the menu.  They were good, too.  I didn’t even have the energy to go to the show.

I dosed myself up with Mucinex and Advil “Cold and Flu” and went to bed.  I didn’t sleep, though.  I just lay there waiting for the medical center to open at 8:00 am.  The fever broke and I started feeling a little better around 4:30 am, but not so well that I wasn’t the first person at the med center’s door.  It was April 11, and we were now docked in Shimizu, the port for Mt. Fuji. My preliminary check exposed the remains of the fever and I allowed that it had started at dinner and had been worse until early this morning.  They took a nasal swab, which is a nasty procedure, and it came out positive for flu.  Ships do not mess around with contagious diseases.  I got a double dose of nebulizer,

20190411-01IsolationSmallera dozen Tamiflus, a bottle of cough syrup and a mask.  I was told to put the mask on, go to my room, and stay there, except to come back at 5:30pm for more nebulizing.  I felt like crap, so I didn’t resist.

I called Trish and told her what I had, and that I would be in isolation for 48 hours.  She brought me a couple of croissants, and I ordered hot water, lemon and honey from room service.  Trish took herself to the Medical Center.  The good news for her was that by now, she had shaken off the bug, but the bad news was that she had bronchitis, which at least they treated.  We’ll both be claiming on our insurance this time.

I slept for a couple of hours, finished writing my Farewell Letters and got the Event Coordinator, to print them.  I signed them and collated them with the comments cards and called her again.  The Conrad hotel had given me a couple of Pandas, and I gave her one, with which she was well pleased.  The little bear had a little pink Chinese jacket on and really was cute.  The letters went out and I went to bed.

The next day we docked in Yokohama, Japan, but I wasn’t going anywhere.  Trish called to offer breakfast delivery, but I was happy enough with room service.  A few passengers called to thank me personally, while I was packing.  I had the drawing among those who had filled in their comment cards and had the money transferred to the winners’ cabin.  Then I called them and told them the good news.  They had more kind words for all of us.  I still wasn’t feeling great, so I went to bed early.

We got off in Yokohama, Japan on April 13.  Disembarkation was smooth and efficient.  So efficient that our Hotel Okura car wasn’t there waiting for us.  It showed up in about twenty minutes, but not before I had called the concierge to chase it for us.  We had a great view of Mt. Fuji, from the van on the way into Tokyo.

We dropped Scott, Roz and Donna off at The New Otani, and checked in to the Okura.  Our rooms weren’t ready, so I spent an hour and a half with the concierge, putting Metro stops to our plan.  I asked her about City Tours, HOHO buses, and any other suggestions she might have but she said our plan was excellent as it was.  She had never seen anyone come in with a better one.  Kudos to Linda and Bev and Oki.  Anyone visiting Tokyo is welcome to a copy of the plan.  Just ask.

We got our rooms around 12:30 pm, got settled, and went out around four.  By the time we found and negotiated the subway, and got to Shinjuku, they had closed the park for the night.  Who knew that would happen?

We walked along the edge of the park and could tell it was a really nice one.  It had been especially recommended for its abundance of cherry blossoms.  Alas, we had arrived at the very end of Cherry Blossom season for this year, so we didn’t miss much.

At the other end of the park, Shinjuku starts in earnest.  It reminded me a lot of Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, around the Excelsior Hotel.  It is a warren of shopping streets, selling everything under the sun and moon.  It didn’t look like it was going to close anytime soon, so we thought we’d find a restaurant and shop after dinner.

There were restaurants in just about every building, on different floors, with pictures of the food down at street level.  It was soon obvious to us that every restaurant specialized.  Since cooked meat was our common denominator, we looked for a place that specialized in it and had an English menu.  We had seen just enough descriptions in English to know we needed one.  That is to say, Steve and Trish did.  Everyone who knows me knows I don’t care what part of the animal my food comes from, as long as it isn’t a plant.

The place we picked was very small, but it was spotlessly clean and was cooking everything right in front of us.  For our main meal, we picked the “Blucky Set” which was beef sirloin, along with miso soup and rice.  We added some chicken legs and one order of beef tongue, to try it.  No entrails.  The beef tongue was just fine, as was the rest of it.  We were very happy with our choice and it cost about $50 for the three of us.  We thought eating in Japan was going to be expensive and here we were nicely sated for under $20 apiece.

There was a Drug Store across the street and Trish needed something.  I found myself singing along with the Japanese words to Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Only I was singing “John Brown’s body” and “Jesus saves His money at the Bank of Montreal”.  I bought another watch, a real Casio, this time.  I showed them my $15 fake FitBit, which amazed them, but they were selling “real thing”.  I wish I had bought more of the $15 ones, but I had to try one first and by the time I knew I liked it, the ship had sailed from Beijing.

With only some difficulty, solved by the Okura’s free cell phone, we found a Metro station and got ourselves home.

The next day, April 14, was Sunday, the day Ginza St. is closed to traffic.  We had the hotel’s big breakfast to eat, or we might have been lining up at the best lunch places, with the rest of Tokyo.  But we can now say we have strolled The Ginza on a Sunday and we have some nice paper goods as souvenirs and presents.

Trish and I were still recovering, and Steve is Steve, so we were happy to go back to the hotel for a nap and an hour of exercise before dinner.  The concierge had told us about a dining building, just a five-minute walk down from the hotel.  We decided to explore it.  There we found a restaurant specializing in tempura.  Everybody’s a specialist.  This does not bode well for my getting sushi, as neither of the other two will touch it.  I like tempura a lot, though, so this was fine.

It was a strange new concept in restaurant dining.  You order from a vending machine and put your money in it.  The food doesn’t come out of it, thank God.  You get tickets, for shrimp tempura, set meals, beer, wine, etc.  The tickets, you take to your seat at the counter, from which you watch your food being prepared to order.  It was fresh, piping hot and delicious.  And it was another fifty bucks for three.  You can’t beat it.

Monday was our most ambitious day.  We took the Metro again, as we have every day, only this time we went all the way to Asakusa.  There we visited the shrine and its surrounding shopping streets.  When we were tired, we boarded a waterbus and took it back downtown to Hamarikyu Gardens.  The gardens are beautiful and there were a few cherry trees still hanging on to their blossoms.  That’s Trish on the far right.

20190415-17TokyoHamarikyuGardensTrishSmallerAfter the obligatory nap, we were back on the Metro, bound for Roppongi, just one stop from the Okura, where the local night life is.  The Hotel Okura, you see, is in amongst all the Embassies, and is quiet as can be.  We wanted a bit more action.  And we found it.  And we found a restaurant that advertised both sushi and iron fried meats.  We ended up in our own little tatami room, with a huge office party in the room next to us.  We didn’t mind the noise.  It was happy noise.  We ordered by pressing on a reverse pager.  Someone always came and got us what we wanted.

There was so little sushi on the menu, that I was afraid to touch it after all. We had a very nice meal, a little more upscale and it cost a whole hundred bucks for the three of us.  Who would have thunk it?

I should have gone to the bathroom before we got back into the metro.  By the time we got home, which involved a sprint straight up hill, I was desperate.  My back teeth were floating and so was my brain.  I sat down so fast I forgot to take my phone out of my back pocket.  When I got up, it did a back flip, right into the toilet, with my hand following it down, but not fast enough.

I took it apart immediately, as far as I could get it, wiped every minuscule drop I saw and plugged it in.  But it was dead.  I left it there and went to join Steve and Trish in our rooftop bar on 12.  Only they weren’t in the bar.  They were outside the bar, having been denied access, because they didn’t have a reservation.  Who ever heard of needing a reservation to have a drink in a bar?  I pulled my card key out and went back to the desk for another try.  When you lead with evidence that you are a resident, a hotel cannot really refuse you, and they didn’t.  It was very odd, though.  I was led though the Chinese restaurant, past the kitchen and bathrooms, and through the smoking bar, to an elevator which led to the non-smoking bar.  Then I went back, thorough all that to pick up Steve and Trish.  The non-smoking bar was very small, but it wasn’t full, and they had no problem serving us, or charging us, either.  It was as much as dinner.  But it was time for us to have a nightcap.

Tuesday, Steve figured he had dragged himself around Tokyo all he wanted to, so he sent us girls off on our own.  We hadn’t seen the Imperial Palace or the Meiji Shrine yet, so we were batting clean-up.  We spent a lot of time and about 10,000 steps trying to find the Imperial Palace.  When we did, we wished we hadn’t wasted the time.  Mind you we did walk through a beautiful and very large park, and we also did a lot of walking the streets around the government buildings.  We popped down the nearest Metro and found our way to the Meiji Shine.  That was at the end of another very beautiful park and by the time we had been there and back to the Metro station, I could barely walk.  There went the shopping trip.  Sorry, Trish, but from the twinges in my bad knee, after an hour’s rest, I know I was on the verge of causing myself some big trouble.  That rebuilt knee almost never hurts, but when it does, the pain is sudden and acute.  I got just enough to know I didn’t want any more.

I had worked with the concierge to find a better restaurant that would have sushi, tempura, seared meats and all.  She came up with Gonpatchi, a ten buck cab away.  We were ready to be spoiled a little.  We even dressed up.  Gonpatchi turned out to be what I used to call “an expat restaurant.”  There you’ll find every nation on the globe among both the patrons and the staff.  The sushi was good, because their 3rd floor was a sushi restaurant.  They did the frying on the ground floor and the second floor was a balcony overlooking it.  We were seated on the ground floor and our waiter was Gabriel.  I think he was from Spain, but it might have been Italy, or the USA.  The waiters hollered at each other, and the chefs, from all around the restaurant.  It wasn’t quiet and serene, but the food was great.  I had the best maguro I have ever had, in a restaurant, in my life, there.  Maguro is raw tuna.  It’s not even the fatty kind which is three times the price.  I prefer it lean.  I’m a cheap date, as far as sushi goes.

And we have been home for almost three weeks, and that’s how long it has taken me to get this out.

My next cruises are:

August:  August 4 – 18 –  HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland

And its sequal August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Iceland, Greenland  http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland

Christmas: December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong –  http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV

Holland America just sent me an email that these cruises are now on sale.  Want to come?  Just call or email me.

I am also in the process of bidding for my 2020 assignments.  Call or email me if you want to influence my choices. 

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 4 – JeJu Island

I am remiss.  I forgot the commercial.  My next cruises are:

August:  August 4 – 18 –  HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland

And its sequel August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Iceland, Greenland, Fjords  http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland

Christmas: December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong –  http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV

Holland America just sent me an email that these cruises are now on sale.  Want to come?  Just call or email me.

After my blog on Beijing, my HAL World Cruise friend, Dee, wrote to tell about Chinese potty training in 2010 when she was there.  I am happy to report that “split pants” are still in fashion and that, we, too, saw them in Tienanmen Square.  They are very ingenious.  They just separate down the middle when the child squats.  Most of the ones we saw, had diapers under them, which kind of defeats the purpose, though.

Back to where I left off.  The next day, April 6, was a much needed sea day.  I followed up with Igusti, the Specialty Restaurant Manager, re the half-priced meal Pedro had told me our group could get at Qsine.  We decided on 7:00 pm on April 9, first night in Kobe.  Then I went to the Internet for a weather report for tomorrow, our shore excursion day.  The forecast was partly cloudy with a high of 64, good enough.

I worked the desk in the morning and the ship had a ‘round the world wine tour at 2:00 pm.  I had floated it to the group at $5.- off, and only got one couple.  The three of us went.  They had set up tasting tables representing the wines of six countries, a red and a white from each.  The “countries” were, France, Italy, Australia-New Zealand, South America, the USA and Spain.  I liked the Italian Pinot Grigio and Washington State’s H3 Cabernet Sauvignon best.  I think I might be able to get H3 at home.  It stands for Horse Hills Haven, as I recall.  Six tastes are a good few, and I had to have a nap before dinner.

Not that there was much time for it.  There were a couple of calls to return when I got back and I printed name tags, and a couple of up-to-date manifests, and worked on a guest accommodation problem.

We had dinner in the dining room again, with some very nice people.  I have to learn to stop talking with my hands.  I managed to knock over a glass of red and it made quite the splash.  Sometimes I really get into my tales.   It was only my second glass of wine, and it was still full, which didn’t help.  The show was Elysium, a production show I had seen a few months before on the Eclipse.  It was totally different, and I didn’t understand either of them.

The next day, April 7, we docked on JeJu Island, South Korea. Everyone was in the Rendez-vous Lounge and tagged by 8:30 am, the meeting time for our Distinctive Voyages shore excursion.  Our number was called and I led the group through customs and out to meet our bus.  Our guide’s name was Jung A Kang, but luckily, she goes by “Stacy” which was a lot easier for us.  The first thing she said to enjoy was the last day of cherry blossoms.  The season was a bit early this year, and there was a storm coming, which would knock them all down for sure.

JeJu Island is now a province of South Korea.  It is famous for its women divers.  Stacy pointed some out to us.  They are a dying breed.  Some of them are over 80 and still diving for fish every morning.  The youngest ones are in their 70s.  The new generation just won’t do work that’s that hard.  It was a lovely drive over to the west side, where the Hallim lava tunnels are.

There’s more to Hallim Park than the lava caves.  It’s also home to a folk village, some beautiful gardens, a quaint stone children’s cemetery and a bird park.

20190407-01JeJuIslandKoreaHallimParkChildrenSmaller

The cherry blossoms made a spectacular exit and I got this great picture of one of my couples:

20190407-21JeJuIslandKoreaLenni&PaulRosenfeldSmaller

The Hallim caves are also known as Two Dragons caves.  So we got an education on Eastern and Western dragons.  Our western dragons are warriors.  They fly and fight and scare people.   Eastern dragons have no wings, but still can fly.  They’re helpful creatures and make wishes come true.  JeJu Island’s history goes back 5,000 years.  It was independent for 3,000 of them.  Before the Josan dynasty, it was used as a place of exile.  It’s only since the 1960s that it has become a place of tourism, which brings in 60% of its income. The rest is fishing and tangerines.  The tangerines are very good.  I bought a bag and distributed it on the bus.  They were sweet and juicy, and one bag was just the right amount.  Someone there must have figured that out.

The tourist attractions include teddy bear museums, Hello Kitty museums, coffee and tea places, karaoke bars, etc.  We went to a green tea museum and had some green tea ice cream.  It’s an acquired taste.  All in all, it was a very good tour.  I didn’t hear a single bad thing about it.

I liked having the shore excursion in the middle of the cruise.  It gave me a chance to use it to plug another event, dinner at Qsine.  Nineteen people signed up, which is a personal record for an event that had to be paid for.

We had dinner in Blu that night and went to the show at 7:00pm.  It was Empower, one of these three divas shows, and I didn’t like it much.  I must be getting old, when I don’t recognize the music, if rarely manages to engage me.

We had another sea day on April 8, and I was pleased to report to Igusti that I had 19 people for dinner in Qsine tomorrow.  A couple of people stopped the desk by to say they had a five-hour layover at Narita and wondered if they could do anything in Tokyo in that amount of time.  As it’s an hour and a half each way, I had to discourage him.

We had dinner at 7, and went to the 9PM show.  It was Nik Page, who had followed Colm Wilkinson as Jean Valjean, in London’s West End.  He was very good.

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 3 – Beijing

On April 2, we were back at sea, on the way to Beijimg. Only one couple came to the desk, the Silversteins. They liked my idea of the “World Wine Tour” on board, for a discount for our group. I signed them up. Then I got out a letter about that and our Shore Excursion, emailed Claire the count and request for my not too handicapped guests to come along. I also picked up two more waivers that had been handed to the Front Desk, called the two cabins I hadn’t heard back from and got one of them. I went to the gym, had dinner with some new friends, saw the show, Andrew Derbyshire, just OK, packed for Beijing and called it a night.

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, we docked at Tienjen, port for Beijing. The Conrad Beijing picked us up in a 19-seated van. I have learned to ask for a big enough vehicle. We don’t look like swells, but we are very comfortable. We had a nice surprise waiting for us at the hotel, a lovely room upgrade. We got promoted to the 23rd floor and the view is outstanding.

By the time we were settled, it was time to meet our A & K guide, Juliet Yu. As expected in Beijing, she wasn’t as open as Mira and she made a point of telling us how much everyone still loves Mao. When his mausoleum is open, the lineup is hundreds of people. He’s preserved in a glass casket. You can still see his face. I’m glad it was closed. I wouldn’t line up for that. Tiananmen Square is the largest in the world. Juliet said we would hear “largest” from her a lot, and we did. You start at the South end of the square and walk through to and through The Forbidden City. We walked about four miles from one end to the other. Tiananmen Square is just a huge gathering place. It can hold a million people standing up. I’m glad they weren’t all there today. We could do it at a comfortable pace. We walked the length of it and Juliet took our picture with the enormous painting of Mao in the background. They change this picture every year, so it is always fresh.

20190403-05BeijingRozBurroughsScottCobbDonnaHolladayTrish&SteveHarroldHelenSmall

Then we crossed the street underground and came up in The Forbidden City, the largest palace in the world. The outer part is the worldly area, where people could come to do business with the Emperor, only male people, mind you. The middle part is home to family members and the inner part is off limits to all but the Emperor, his wives and concubines and the palace eunuchs. Of course, all of this is guarded by the largest bronze lions in China.

Even though we stopped to rest a number of times in the seats provided for the purpose, we were all pretty bushed at the end of the experiment. Steve and Trish went straight into the hotel restaurant, with the idea of eating and crashing. Scott decided to skip dinner and Roz, Donna and I opted for a bath and a cheap restaurant on the street. Juliet said there was one just around the corner, called Yu Yue, where I had had the best 2-minute pancake at the beginning of the tour.

We reconvened at 7:00 pm and went to talk to the concierge. After reconfirming Juliet’s directions, and discussing how we were going to order, Jack Bao, our fabulous concierge, walked us to the restaurant himself, and ordered for us. No one has ever served me that well before, and I travel a lot. Gold stars for Jack. What made it more remarkable is that he wouldn’t let us tip him, not when we made the plan, nor when he left us happy at the restaurant, nor later. And, believe me, I tried. I’ll make sure his manager finds out. Dinner, by the way was delicious. We ended up eating it alone in a back room, through the kitchen and washing up area. The restaurant itself was way too smoky for our tastes. We have been spoiled since smoking was outlawed in North American establishments, probably 40 years ago. We walked back to the hotel, thanked Jack again, tried to tip him, again, had a nightcap in the bar, and went to bed.

I decided to skip the Great Wall the next day, as I have seen it, and I wanted to write my blog. My room on the 23rd floor of the Conrad was spacious, had a large comfortable desk and chair, and a lovely view of the city. After a delicious breakfast of fresh orange juice and Eggs Benedict, I settled in to write. After about three hours, I broke and went to the gym. I had it to myself, with about three attendants. Workout done I went back to work for three more hours. You don’t think this thing writes itself, do you?

The rest of the group had a wonderful time at The Great Wall and in pedicabs through the Hutongs. Juliet, out A & K guide, still lives in one of these alley houses, just the way Mira described hers in Shanghai. Juliet and her husband, however, come from a small town outside Beijing and plan to go back there, after they have made enough money.

Steve, Trish and I had dinner at Da Dong Duck, the most famous Peking duck chain. It was all it should have been, just delicious. They took a credit card, but wouldn’t call a taxi for us, so I called the Conrad concierge and had him do it. On our way out, we met Harald, the General Manager of the Conrad. He’s absolutely charming and knows Thomas, the GM in Hong Kong, who treated us all so well in March. I took the opportunity to commend Jack, the concierge and his Front Desk and Guest Relations Managers, all of whom have been very wonderful to us. We had a nightcap in the Lobby Lounge and off to sleep.

On the morning of April 5, we checked out without incident and had the Conrad’s wonderful breakfast again. Harald stopped by our table and gave us a few pointers on bargaining at the Pearl Market. We were not to pay more than 20% of the asking price. Even I couldn’t go that low, so I probably paid 40% of asking, but we got cashmere shawls, black baroque pearls and I got a $15 FitBit knock-off that syncs to my phone, just like a real one. I should have bought more of those. I probably won’t see that price in Japan. It took about three hours again, to get to the ship. We had the same driver as on the way in. He never wants to take the tip, but then his eyes light up and he takes it happily. I guess we are ruining China, too, now.

We saw the show before dinner. It was Steve Carte and a bit silly.

 

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 2 – Shanghai and Seoul

On March 29, our last full day in Shanghai, five out of six of us had decided on staying in the city to do all we could with Mira, instead of 5 to 6 hours on the bus. Scott assured us he would be fine going to Suzhou on a train.

We met Mira around nine and were soon off to the Jewish ghetto. Shanghai is very special to the Jewish people. The Japanese occupation, which lasted 26 years, ending with Hiroshima, was good for them, if no one else. Hitler offered the Japanese money to cooperate with his final solution by rounding up the Jews for extermination, and they didn’t take it. The Jewish community in Shanghai was still intact in 1945. Then came the civil war, which Mao won in 1949. Most of the Jews left between 1945 and 1949, bound for the USA and Israel, mostly. There are a few businessmen left, and some nice preserved buildings in the Ghetto. Michael Blumenthal and Peter Max lived here as young men.

Right in the heart of it is Hounshan Park, where there is Tai Chi and ballroom dancing in the morning. Trish and Roz joined in. We also found the Museum and Ohel Moshe synagogue very interesting.20190329-03ShanghaiHounshanParkRozTrishSmaller

After that we visited the Jade Buddha Temple, and got an education on Buddhism from Mira, who is one. So, we now know about the hierarchy: Buddha, Bodhisattva, attvas, humans, animals, evil spirits. We saw the four guardians N, S, E and W, and it was interesting how the Northern guardian looked Caucasian, the Eastern, Oriental, etc. Hitler got the swastika here. He just turned the Buddhist symbol around. Not too creative, that.

Then we went to the Shanghai Museum for an hour. It’s excellent, too. We ended up in Tian Xi Fang, a local market, where there was street food and souvenirs. I could have spent more time there, but we were done.

 

We had dinner at Shanghai Grandmother, and it was great. It cost about $10 for five of us! The place was packed and you couldn’t reserve, but they found us a table and fed us royally, 70 Fuzhou Road, Huangpu District, near The Bund, walking distance from the Hyatt.

On March 30, boarding day, we had a free morning and I was planning on using it to blog, but I had to take care of our car arrangements. I had been charged for a car for 6 on the way in, which explains why the second car had never arrived. There were two problems with this. Scott, Roz and Donna might have fit in cozily, but they would have had to leave all their luggage at the airport, which I doubted they would have done. I managed to get the charge reduced to that of an ordinary car for the three of us, who actually used it. I had already asked for something larger to get us to the port and I reconfirmed and paid for that. It was a very long checkout.

The mini-van we got was fine, though. It got us to the port and we boarded the ship pretty seamlessly. It took me until after six to get my face-to-face with the Event Manager, but she was worth it when I got her. Gabriela Bevilaqua is wonderful. I love working with her. We sorted everything out, made the welcome broadcast, and got the letters printed by about 8:00pm. Trish and Steve helped me get them ready for distribution. Then we went to dinner and Trish ran them around the ship, while Steve and I had dessert. Good lass, herself.

The next day we were at sea and I was at the DV hospitality desk. It’s in a very busy area, with a Portuguese group and a Swedish group. There’s an Israeli group on the other side. Gabriela has her hands full. It was plenty busy, with guests coming in to meet me and hand in their waivers to take our tour. It’s very interesting. By the end of office hours, I had waivers from all but one of the staterooms on the highest floors. I think there’s a message there. I went to the gym and spent the rest of the day doing paperwork on the computer and getting ready for the cocktail party.

The cocktail party itself went very well, with 26 people attending, and most of them bringing in their waivers. I had time to get them all to introduce themselves and was rewarded when a few of them got up to join others with whom they had things in common. We had a late dinner in the dining room and fell into bed.

April 1, we docked in Incheon, port for Seoul, Korea. We had to do a face-to-face customs clearance before we could get out and meet our guide, but we were able to keep in WhatsApp contact while he collected some of the people and I waited outside customs. Rob is an outstanding guide. He was born in Korea but taken to the US as a child. He spent about 15 years there, before returning to North Korea in 2008. He was a bond trader for Merrill Lynch at the time. He only went as a tourist but got hired by the company that was guiding his group around, doubtless for his flawless English, curious mind, and outgoing personality. When it got too hot for comfort in the North, he moved to South Korea and started his tour business. He has a Korean wife and a couple of young kids, a boy and a girl. They are talking about moving to the States to educate them.

Like China, and Hong Kong, Korea was occupied by the Japanese for 36 years, ending with Hiroshima. Then the North and South Koreans had a civil war, ending in the early 50s, with an armistice. Nobody won, because the US stepped in on one side and China on the other. It’s sad, but South Korea is thriving, with companies like Samsung, Hyundai, LG, etc. bringing in big money. Koreans don’t buy Japanese cars. The Lexuses you see are American made. Speaking of cars, they are all black, white or grey, with very few exceptions. No one wants to express their individuality, if it might affect resale value.

Samsung is into everything here. You can go from birth to death, hardly dealing with anyone else. They have hospitals, food conglomerates, housing, cars, hotels, restaurants, clothing factories, undertakers and God knows what else.

South Korea is the second most homogenous country in the world, after North Korea.

We tried to go to the National Museum, which the Internet had told me was open, but it turned out that only the children’s museum was open, so we went to the Folk Museum instead and it was swell. We saw a lot of people there in traditional Korean costume. That started about five years ago and it will get you into the Palace Museum, where we are going next, for free. There are now rental shops near the major museums. I asked this one if I could take her picture and look at what I got.20190401-05SeoulTouristPosingPlayfulSmall

We learned about the Joseon dynasty, one of whose enlightened emperors simplified Chinese script so his people would not have to learn 26K characters. We had a terrific Korean lunch just off Insadon, where there was a bit of shopping, and on to the Gyeongbokgung Palace for the changing of the guard at 2:00 pm. There were a lot of traditional costumes there, on blonds and Muslims, as well as Chinese and Koreans. It was fun.

Then we went to the Kwang Jang Market, the kind of market I like, with street food and everything under the sun on sale, if you can find it. Rob thought we should try live octopus. It’s all about texture. It hangs on to your teeth. We were much happier with crullers, deep fried and served fresh out of the wok.

On the way back Rob talked about living in both the US and South Korea. He actually feels freer here. There’s no street crime. There are cameras everywhere, and all taxis and buses have black boxes, recording everything. The culture is all about saving face, so no one will disgrace his family by mugging someone, for example. Interesting theory. Think about it.

Before 1980, Koreans couldn’t leave the country, but now there is more outbound tourism than inbound. He got us back to the ship on time and we went to the show, which was the Sons of Soul, a Motown group. They were just fine, and so was dinner afterwards.

 

Shanghai to Tokyo – Part 1 – Shanghai

March 25, 2019, here we go. This promises to be a lot of fun. The itinerary is exciting, I like the ship, and I have a little group of six of my own and a Distinctive Voyages Group of 47. We’re going on the Celebrity Millennium, freshly refurbished. It doesn’t sail until March 30, which gives the six of us three days in Shanghai to soak up the culture and the food before we join the ship, and the larger group.

I have Steve and Trish Harrold with me, old friends from Montreal, who now live in Fountaingrove Lodge, too. I used to work with Steve at IBM. That’s how long we go back. He and Trish spent a lot of years in Silicon Valley, Florida, and the U.K. but we always kept in touch and visited each other. They’re the people who came to sit Sylly P in 2015 and ended up with me occupying the guest bedroom, and its adjustable bed, healing my broken pelvis. This was a bad deal for them, but it worked for me, and they were good sports about it. We’ll be joined by Scott, whom I met on a cruise a dozen years ago, and who got me into the travel business. Scott’s bringing a couple of his old school friends, Roz and Donna, so it should be a good little group.

We crossed the international date line and got in a half-hour early, on March 26. It was a nice flight. Thank you United. Economy Plus helped a lot. Steve and Trish had 21 A & C and no one showed up to claim the middle seat. I love it when that works, and it does, about ¾ of the time in Economy Plus. I sat with a couple of nice Chinese businessmen, in the seat behind. We were all fine.

We got through customs and collected our baggage, without event. We were staying in the Hyatt on the Bund. Our hotel greeter was where he was supposed to be, and our Benz van was just fine. The three from Seattle came in around the same time, but to a different terminal. They queried the “World of Hyatt” sign holder like we did, but he didn’t have them down, and they ended up having to take a taxi. It was the hotel’s error, and at least they didn’t get charged.

Steve Trish and I had a lovely drink on the 32nd floor overlooking the old Bund, with its early 20th century “skyscrapers”. 20190326-01HyattBundVueSmallerThey look short now, especially from the 32nd floor, but they are still gorgeous, all lit up. I was worried about the others, so I went down to the lobby to check and met them. They had just checked in.

The morning of the 27th was free for our brains to catch up with our bodies. I went to the gym, then spent some time with Tyronne, the Concierge, sorting out a lot of things. You can’t beat a good hotel concierge, especially when you are town where you can’t speak the language, nor read the signs.

Our guide, Mira, was there well before one. First, she took us on a little Bund walk, to get us oriented. The Peace Hotel is now a Fairmont and has been beautifully refurbished. The old Jazz Club is still there, though, and Roz made a mental note that she’d like to see it in action. We also went into the HSBC headquarters, whose own make-over, revealed fabulous ceiling frescos. Someone had painted over them in the forties, and the Red Guard missed them, when they were purging all foreign culture. A painter discovered them when prepping the surface for a re-paint. It turned out to be a restoration, instead. They are beautiful and a piece of history.

On the way to the Old Town, Mira talked about life in Shanghai. She was brought up in one of the old alley houses, and showed us the last downtown ones, soon to be demolished. A family lived in one room, of course, there was only one child, but still. Everything else was communal. Water and fire for cooking were down on the street. Chamber pots got emptied there in the morning. When the government started building high rise condos, you got a free one in exchange for your alley house room. Mira was delighted. She was a teenager at the time and finally had her own space. They had a toilet and kitchen, too, all of this in 500 square feet. Eventually her parents sold it and moved to the suburbs.

Parents interfere heavily in matters of the heart, here. If you have a daughter, and those are rare, what matters is that she marries a man who has a condo. There’s a marriage market in a park on Saturdays, where the parents negotiate with each other. Mira has two sons and has already started to save for this.

Two sons, you ask? It’s a new rule. You can have two children, if both parents are only children. There was some high drama in her house, when she got pregnant for the second time, thinking she was an only child, and found out her father had another. He had been long divorced from her mother, but the paperwork found him. Lucky for her, the law changed, just in time, and all is well. It could have meant a fine of three years salary, from both her and her husband.

On to the Old Town and Yu Yuan garden, a 16th century Ming Dynasty private garden and residence. It’s an oasis of tranquility, with the essential elements of a Chinese garden – pavilions, water, vegetation, rock formations, and bridges. The Old Town refers to the original Chinese city that flourished in the Ming dynasty. We enjoyed a tea tasting at one of local teahouses in Old Town. During the Tea Ceremony, Mira told us that this was grave sweeping week, and there was more than the usual traffic on the roads. That meant our trip to Suzhou would take at least a half hour longer, each way, maybe an hour, and it was a two-hour drive at the best of times. Since we were going to a water town tomorrow, she thought she could give us a better day in we stayed in Shanghai. We said we would discuss and give her an answer tomorrow. I couldn’t resist this sign on the inside door of the loo. 20190327-11ShanghaiYuGardenTeaHouseLooSmaller
It’s the usual sensitive plumbing notice, but it took me a while to figure that out.

It had started to rain, but we pushed on to the French Concession, the district ceded to the French following the Sino-British Opium War in 1842. Many of Shanghai’s most beautiful residences were created in the French Concession when Shanghai was known as the “Venice of the East”. Alas, it’s very large and we were far away from my doctor’s school, St Jeanne d’Arc. I hear it’s still there, though. We did visit the Arts and Crafts Museum, housed in a Mansion in the French Concession, called The White House. It was very well done, with old and new exhibits, including a sculpture that really wasn’t there. It was all done with light and mirrors, and a tiny motor.

We finished off in Xaofandi, which is a new section filled with restaurant chains. The ones we had heard off, which started in China were Ye Shanghai, and Maxim’s, which I know from Hong Kong, and Din Tai Fong, which the Seattle contingent knew, because its first foray outside China was there.

We were still tired from the sleepless flight, so we just ate at Xindalu in the Hyatt. The food was great, but the ordering was a real process. Every so often someone brought in a concierge to help, as no one in the restaurant spoke English.

On the morning of the 28th, we had another fabulous breakfast at the Hyatt’s buffet of Western and Oriental delights. That sets us up, so we don’t waste touring time on lunch. We were off to the picturesque suburb of Zhujiajiao. located just 45 minutes west of central Shanghai, This ancient river town seems worlds apart. Stone bridges arch over bubbling, but filthy waterways flowing from the Dianshan Lake. Willow trees shade the riverbanks, flanked on either side by thousands of carefully preserved buildings, homes and courtyards, all constructed during the Qing and Ming Dynasties. A lot of them have been turned into Tea Rooms, as the whole thing is now a tourist town. Trish and I were delighted to find one of our favorites, a fish spa. We skipped the post office, soy sauce factory, rice commissary, and traditional Chinese herbal pharmacy, in favor of twenty minutes of tickly bliss as the fishies gave us a pedicure.

Then we took a nice ride through the town on a wobbly sampan that you would not have wanted to tip over. It was very interesting, lovely and peaceful, as long as you didn’t look at the filthy water itself and kept your imagination reined in. I particularly liked the wooden cages for the air conditioners.20190328-28ZhujiajiaoACboxesSmall

Mira’s patter on the way in and out was easily the best part. We learned about barber shops that don’t cut hair, but rather are whore houses, how the people view the Officials, how they view foreign official visitors and how those relate to the Chinese officials. The new face of Communism is turning right. The old joke is that if you put Clinton, Yeltsin and Deng Xiaoping in a car, Clinton would turn right, Yeltsin left, and Deng would turn on the left turn signal and turn right.

Chinese people do not vote. Only party officials vote. Her husband joined the party as a student, hoping for better jobs. You get them, but you also have to do a lot of homework to stay on top. You have apps to log in to, learn and be examined. It’s a lot of work. Her husband is a “Shanghai Boy”. Shanghai makes the best husbands and the worst wives. Shanghai Boys are easy going and let the women run the households. They do a lot of the housework and take care of the kids. The wives manage the money. They say the Shanghai Boy is the meat in the sandwich, between wife and mom. Many Shanghai girls are very choosy, looking for the perfect man. Trouble is, the perfect man won’t put up with them.

TV is censored. You never see a negative story about a Chinese party official. They shut down the factories when they have Foreign dignitaries visiting, so they never see the pollution. We do, though. They don’t get vacation, just extra days around festivals, so the traffic is always a mess when you are off work.

We had dinner at Imperial Treasure, 4/F in the YiFung Mall, just up the street from the Waldorf on the Bund. The prices were high, but it was exquisite, very elegant, perfectly prepared food, beautifully served. Including a bottle of Chinese Chandon Brut, it was cheaper than the hotel dining room.

Steve and Trish took a cab home, while Roz, Donna and I went to the Peace Hotel for the Jazz. We got there about nine and were treated to the warm up band, meaning the really old farts. 20190328-31ShanghaiPeaceHotelJazzSmallerThey were good, although sometimes it was “Guess this tune” or “Guess what language she’s singing in”. Around ten, they swapped these guys for a better lot and it really started to swing around eleven, by which time, the bar stools were killing us, and we had an early call in the morning. Not even I had drunk my way through the 300 Yuan ($45) minimum.

 

Travel with me – pick one of THREE

Come sail with me in 2019.  As I run for daylight to get on a plane to Shanghai a week from tomorrow, I have bid for and got, three lovely cruises to see out the rest of 2019.  I have kept as many of you in mind as I can, and I must have done it right, because I have a very firm nibble on my Christmas cruise, already.  Booking it prompted me to get this out in a hurry, today.  I am giving you links to Holland America and Seabourn’s sites, but please don’t click through to buy.  If you want to travel with me, you have to buy it from me.  It’s the same price and I chase all the sales and such that happen after you buy, so you always get the best deal.  Because these are all Distinctive Voyages, there’s a free cocktail party and a free shore excursion on each of them.  The Holland America cruises are very affordable, Seabourn, not so much, oh but what you get.  Read on.

What I have:

August 4 – 18 –  HAL Rotterdam – Scottish Highlands – they call it.  It’s quite a bit more:Aug4Scottish

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/2019HALRotterdamScotland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll be flying into Amsterdam early, so we can play there, and parsing the Itinerary for shore excursions.  If I have 6 people coming, I’ll be getting us some A & K offerings, too.

August 18 – Sept 7 – HAL Rotterdam – Icelandic Fjords and Greenland ExplorerAug18Iceland

Here’s the link – – http://tinyurl.com/HALRotterdamIceland  Traveling with me on Holland America is extra special, because I am a 5-star Mariner and have some perks I can share.  I’ll already be on the ship, and have been to two of the ports, by the time you get there.  I’ll know a lot about what to do ashore.  If I have 6 people coming, I’ll be getting us some A & K shore excursions, too.

 

Following that, I’ll be in Montreal for a week or three, probably three.  Then I‘ll stay put until mid-December, when I get the cherry on the sundae.  It might just be your cherry, too.

December 21 – Jan 4 – Seabourn Ovation – “Thailand and Viet Nam” – Singapore to Hong Kong

Dec21eabournAsia

Here’s the link:   http://tinyurl.com/SeabournDV – “Holiday Thailand and Viet Nam – Singapore to Hong Kong.  I don’t need A & K in either Singapore or Hong Kong.  I have friends, instead.  I lived in Hong Kong for 5 years and have been to Singapore multiple times.  I’ll be your tour guide.

The Ovation is Seabourn’s newest ship, launched in 2018.  It carries 604 passengers, about the same size, and price, as SilverSea.  It’s an all verandah ship.  Balcony categories are V1 to V6 in ascending order of location preference.  All cabins are 300 sq. Ft.  V2 gets you midships on Deck 5.  And it’s a premium, all-inclusive line.  It’s all here https://www.seabourn.com/en_US/seabourn-difference.html The only things you can pay for are shore excursions and shop purchases.   I’ll be teeing up three days before in Singapore and three days after in Hong Kong, just for my own clients.  I’ll get us in to some private clubs, the RHKYC for sure, probably the horse races, etc.

Attention Canadians: (with those sad dollars that I have too many of, myself.  Take heart but act fast.)

I just booked the Seabourn for Canadian clients, in Canadian dollars, because the Canadian dollar price was better than the XE.com conversion to the tune of $1,561 CAD, for two people.  You just might want to grab that before Seabourn changes its mind. That, they can do at any moment.  Holland America and Seabourn are both owned by Carnival, so this currency play for Canadians likely applies to their cruises, too, just on a smaller scale.

 

And there you have it. If you’re coming, I’d appreciate a CALL this week, or email thereafter.  I can book you in from wherever I am in the world, but, of course, it’s easiest from right here in my office.  I’ll be back April 17, to finalize all the details, and do my taxes, sigh, before we’re off.

Christmas in Montevideo – Part 6 – The Chilean Wine Tour and a DEAL

It was an uneventful debark in San Antonio, Chile.  This cruise was unique in its composition, including so many family groups on holiday, but it was a lot of fun.  And we six are glad to be “just us” again.

I had put a lot of research into our Chilean wine tour, as it was the only part of the cruise that was new to me, and you all know I like wine and wine touring.  I started working on it, back in September, when I didn’t know who would be coming with me.  I sent requests for proposal to 6 or 7 tour suppliers, including A & K, whom I use a lot, HecTours, whom I have used before in Chile, UPSCAPE, whom I got both from the Internet and from Donna and Joe Aita, Napa Oenophile friends, who had done this in 2006, and two or three more tour companies, from the Internet.  The one who called me first, sounded very sincere and capable, but he wanted $295, just to propose to me.  The others did it for free.  More better. And we couldn’t have chosen better.

We picked UPSCAPE for the professionalism of one Gianina Lillo, their interface to me, and the recommendation of the Aitas.  Their bid was high, but it was unfailingly professional, and they were happy to adjust to suit our needs.  Even after I had signed on the dotted line, expressing doubts that our guide might not know enough about wine for this group, they switched him out.  I am sure he was a great guide, but I had not seen one word about wine experience in his background.  Gianina got me, and we got Fanor Velasco.  It was like having Dick Wallingford and Tony Kilgallin, rolled into one.  Fanor was retired after thirty years of representing Chilean wines to the rest of the world.  He had dealt with the SAQ in Quebec, and every other Liquor Board in Canada, most of the US importers, multiple countries in Europe and Asia.  Pretty much a dream career.  He had stories to fill in the long bus rides, and he wasn’t on the clock.  We ran over every day.  Thank God, our long suffering driver, Marcelo Pottstock, was up for that, too.  They both knew how to fill their days with their devices, and, in the case of Marcelo, some good naps.

They met us in the San Antonio Port on Sunday Jan 6, at 9:30 am.  God knows how long they had been waiting.  Cruise ships disgorge their load of passengers, as best they can.  Our first stop wasn’t far away.  It was Casa Marin, a family-owned winery in Chile’s San Antonio Valley.  It is Chile’s most coastal vineyard, located just four kilometers from the Pacific shoreline. Founded in 2000 by Chile’s first female vineyard owner, Maria Luz Marin, Casa Marin has been described as one of the “most daring and innovative” vineyards in the country. In addition to the more commonly found whites, they also grow Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Sauvignon Gris, in an area with a unique terroir, highly mineral and with very cool nighttime temperatures. Casa Marin’s outstanding wines have received many awards, and for many years it was one of the Top 100 Wineries in the World by Wine & Spirits magazine.  It’s a lot like Delia Viader’s story and I can’t wait to bring her the brochure and see if she knows Maria Luz.  She must.

We were blown away by the Sauvignon Gris, which none of us had even heard of before.  We were also blown away by the view, the art, and the lunch, which was substantial, soignée, and delicious.  It sure was starting well.  We were already falling behind, and Fanor was patiently waiting:20190106-10SanAntonioChileCasaMarinFanorVelasco

It was a longer drive to Matetic, in the Casablanca Valley, where we would have a Private Tour & Tasting, dinner, and stay the night at La Casona Matetic .  Matetic is a 27-year old winery, and very modern in concept.  It’s built into the side of the mountain and they take advantage of gravity to be kind to the grapes, during the process.  The vineyards are all biodynamic, too, of course.  Our tasting was wonderful, and view full. The views here are truly extraordinary.  We have some pretty nice ones in Napa and Sonoma, but Chile is far more spectacular, because of the mountains, which are a lot more so than ours.

Our lodgings were a treat, too.  La Casona Matetic, started as a typical Chilean colonial building, with ten suites around a quadrangle, filled with spectacular gardens.  Our rooms were old style luxurious.  Andrea even had a bath in our claw footed tub.  Our dinner was superb, and included, as was breakfast.  We could easily have stayed there another couple of days.

On Monday Jan 7, Fanor and Marcelo, picked us, and our luggage, up, after a full breakfast at the Casona.  On the way, Fanor asked us if we knew what a “symposium” was, and we gave the usual academic and corporate answers.  What it really meant, in the time of the ancient Greeks, was a “meeting to drink wine”. That suited us even better.  Our morning “Private Grand Vin Tour & Tasting” was exactly that.  The winery was Villard Wines, one of the Casablanca Valley’s premium boutique wineries. It was founded in 1989 by Thierry Villard, and is still run by this French-Chilean family, which prides itself on making traditional, elegant wines.  Thierry met his Chilean wife, Paulina, in Australia.  We met her, too, she was planting flowers in half-barrels on the terrace.  Their story is fun and it’s at http://www.villard.cl/about/ , where you can also see why Thierry knows Fanor, so well.  They were in the same business, at the same time. 20190107-05CasablancaVillardThierryVillardFanorSmallest

With mineral rich terroir cooled by Pacific breezes, Villard is known for its whites, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.  Both of its Pinot Noirs score high, too, including two 95-point scores from James Suckling.  This is another very modern winery, gravity fed and bio-dynamic. They planted Carménère because it was not sensitive to phylloxera, and then they had to learn how to vinify it.  One of the things they learned is that it needs a much longer hang time to make excellent wine.  While we were touring, founder Thierry Villard appeared from his coastal property and he sat down with us.

Thierry was a wealth of information.  We learned how they started, how they make wine, and how they deal with the rabbit population, which is their biggest problem.  Like the deer in Napa, they often make it to the farmworkers’ dinner tables.  Speaking of which, we had a nice table set with bottles and glasses, but Andrea found something even more comfortable:

20190107-03CasablancaVillardAndreaSmallest

That mood lasted until she realized she couldn’t take a picture, because she didn’t have her cell phone.  She had left it at Casa Matetic.  Too many phone calls later, we had to give up on it, and she’s still in Mexico with Elvon’s flip phone.

Even that couldn’t spoil this perfect day.  Our next stop was Kingston Family Vineyards, still in the Casablanca Valley and even more spectacular, as to view.  We were scheduled for a Premium Tour & Tasting with a 4-course lunch.  Our guide was Tommy, a sweet, very preppy, guy, who was probably a family member, or the son of a very close friend.  He had just graduated from an Ivy League University, Princeton, I think, and was going to be an engineer.  But, meanwhile, he was seeing the world and learning the wine business.

The reason I suspect him of being a relative, is that in the early 1900s, Carl John Kingston left his home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan looking for gold in Chile.  He ended up with this property, a cattle ranch.  Tommy grew up in Grosse Pointe, MI, and I know where that is, because my Uncle Joe raised his family there.  Tommy knew their address well.  The cattle ranch spans 8,000 acres, only 350 of which are planted in grapes.  They need the rest for water rights.  That is an even bigger problem that Bugs’ relatives.

Since its first vintage in 2003, Kingston has been turning heads with its small production of Pinot Noir, Syrah, and Sauvignon Blanc. While coastal Casablanca is known for its white wines, Kingston is pioneering the production of cool-climate, artisan-style reds. Wines from the 350-acre family ranch are handcrafted and bottled on site. Wine Spectator commended Kingston for “bringing diversity and excitement to Chile” and Wine Enthusiast heralded the vineyard as the “Sommelier’s’ New Chilean Favorite.”

Kingston’s winery and view are even more spectacular than the other three we had visited.  Wow.  Their story is interesting, too.  Check out https://www.kingstonvineyards.com/About/History

20190107-11CasablancaKingstonEllenJPRosiePatrickHelenAndreaSmallest

Our tasting table again took advantage of the fine view and weather.  The view is reflected in the windows behind us, and we’re showing a lot of smiles. There were little nibbles to go with the wines.  My favorite was Lafête’s Chocolate Truffle.  I vowed to find them in Santiago, and I did.  I have four left a month later.  I took another note during the tasting that said “Share the Fly” and I have no idea why I took it.  To quote a Frog’s Leap bottle “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.”  Lunch was fabulous and served at the same table with a view.  I took pictures of the food, but there are four in this blog, already, which is quite enough.  It was a four course lunch, too.

It must have been after seven when we got to our hotel in Santiago.  It was Cumbres Lastarria.  Nothing too fancy, but not shabby either, and beautifully situated right smack in the center of downtown.  It didn’t make the traffic easy for Marcelo, but the walking was nice for us. There were restaurants everywhere, not that we were hungry, after Kingston’s spectacular lunch.  We had a short nap and Rosie, Patrick and I had a few terrible greasy tapas at the hotel bar.  Live and learn.  It didn’t matter.

Tuesday, Jan 8, breakfast was a much nicer affair, and was even nicer the next day, after we discovered the eggs to order station.  Never mind.  It was enough and we were meeting Fanor and Marcelo at 9:30 am, again.  This time we were having a Full Day in the Maipo Valley.  A gentleman(?!) relieving himself on the side of the highway, with five lanes of traffic at a crawl got us going and the next thing you knew, we were all sharing pissing stories.  No, I am not going to share.  I don’t know all of you as well as I know these people.

It was a much different day than the day before, which was fine with us.  – PEREZ CRUZ is the contraction of the names Pablo Perez and Marian Cruz.  The couple bought the winery in 1968.

The first thing visitors notice about this family-owned winery in the Maipo Alto valley, is the swooping wooden architecture of the 3-million liter capacity bodega. The structure was designed by the local architect José Cruz Ovalle and uses its openness to promote good air circulation in this breezy part of the valley, so to keep ideal winemaking temperatures. Pérez Cruz has a large estate of 140 hectares of vines, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Carménère, Merlot, Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot, and they produce and barrel their award-winning wines onsite.

It started with a tasting in a cramped, crowded tasting room.  Maybe that was because we were late.  Our guide was Clement Espinoza, son of the famous Chilean winemaker, Alvaro Espinoza, the father of bio-dynamics, as applied to winemaking.  He googles well.  His son is still young, but, once he got over himself, we got some good information from him, and a nice winery tour.  It’s very modern, including its vineyard management.  They use drones to monitor the health of the vines.  Again, the facility was extraordinary, and the wines were good.  We have seen a lot of cement eggs this trip.  For many wines, they can effectively replace wooden barrels.  The world is running out of barrel oak, now.  First it was corks…

Again, we were late for Lunch at Doña Paula Restaurant, at the Santa Rita Winery.  Founded in 1880, Santa Rita is one of the Maipo Valley’s oldest wineries and one of the most popular Chilean wineries in the international market. We weren’t here for the wine, though.  We were here for the historical building and its restaurant.  In this case, the restaurant was right in the colonial mansion, and served in the colonial style.  It was excellent and we loved the old-fashioned service.  It was just perfect.

Our afternoon tour was to Alvaro Espinoza’s own winery, ANTIYAL. And our guide was Clement, again.  This is his family’s winery.  One of Chile’s best boutique wineries, Antiyal, which means in the indigenous language “children of the sun,” is the private vineyard of Chile’s most celebrated oenologist and leader in organic viniculture, Álvaro Espinoza. Together with his wife, Mariana Ashton, Espinoza makes two different wines, Antiyal (7,000 bottles) and Kuyen (12,000 bottles). They cultivate the land according to biodynamic principles which they believe imbues the wine with a better sense of place, and with the hopes of leaving the land in better condition than when they started farming it. They use little irrigation, hands-on canopy management, and lots of care to manage their harvests by hand. Espinoza was proclaimed one of the world’s best winemakers in 2015 by Decanter magazine. Their wines are exported to multiple international markets.

This is much more modest winery.  Clement shared that the reason Perez Cruz is so spectacular, is because its owners also own Chile’s Energy Company.  Alvaro just makes his wine out there in the vineyards.  We sat talking about viticulture, on the roof of the winery, on plastic chairs that had seen better days.  The sun went down over the mountains, and we were very happy.

We got back to Cumbres Lastarria late again, and the Morneaus retired.  Patrick, Rosie, Andrea and I drank the welcome Piso Sour, provided by the hotel, and went out to walk the streets for some simple fare.  Once again, we were stuffed from lunch.  We found Il Fournil, a block away, and had Onion Soup and salad, and I vaguely remember some nice dessert, like profiteroles.  Then it was off to pack and to bed.

By the time Andrea and I got up for breakfast on the 9th, the others were at the airport for an early flight to Toronto, and on to Montreal.  Breakfast was better, as we had figured out how to get eggs to order, and they were very nice.  I finally got to work out at the gym, while Andrea collected her copious belongings into her ample baggage and got ready for her afternoon flight to Mexico, where she will be until Valentine’s Day.

I spent the afternoon walking the streets.  The artisan market was disappointing, as is now the way.  I got some Japanese souvenirs and quite a lot of Lafête’s Chocolate Truffles and dark chocolate squares.  I stopped at a sidewalk café for an empanada and some people watching.  The people are mostly in shape, and simply dressed, except for the ones who work the financial occupations.  There are street dogs and purebreds.  It’s just another big city, but it felt good.

I flew all night, and I was tired when I started, which is why you’re just getting this diary now.  Eric met me at SFO and brought me home at last, where “We’re all here, because we’re not all there”, to quote Nubar Shabazian, Inmate.

NEWS FLASH – This is close to half-price.  A DEAL!!

Lookee, lookee – My next cruise just went on sale, today (Saturday, February 9).  I have been watching for this.  Get away from April!  Here’s the itinerary:  https://tinyurl.com/ShanghaiTokyoOnSale2019   California residents are looking at $1999ppdo for a verandah.  I’m scripting a pretty good land itinerary, too:  3 days in each of Shanghai, Beijing and Tokyo, private tour in Seoul, etc. Steve and Trish Harrold are coming.  How about you?

Don’t click and buy at Celebrity’s site, though.  You have to buy it from ME, to be in my group and get all of the above, plus the free cocktail party and free shore excursion in one of the ports, still TBD.  Call or text me to get my attention.  I’ll be out in Napa on Sunday.

 

Christmas in Montevideo – Part 5 – last days onboard

Humble apologies for the month’s delay.  A lot happened in the last days on the ship and the days in Chile, afterward.  Then there’s always re-entry and I came back to a pretty busy travel business that needed me.  I’m not complaining, and here are the last days on the ship.  Chilean Wine Tour next and after that, a weekend in Napa.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 30, 2018, we were at sea, going around Cape Horn, and very lucky with the weather.  Today’s desk hours were pretty quiet but my email was lovely.  Pat and Mike liked Holland America so well that they bought a Panama Canal cruise for next Christmas.  It’s on the Amsterdam, my favorite ship, so I asked DV to save it or me, should it become a Distinctive Voyage.  Cross fingers.  I gave the envelopes with the cocktail party tips to Wendy to distribute, and I know she did, because I got a thank you.

One of my people came by and took a copy of my latest newsletter, claiming none of them had received the information.  Three cabins, really?  That I hand delivered myself, really? I get tired of all this pitching of my hard work, and ignoring of my phone calls.  My rolling office contained four postcards from the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.  I thought they were odd enough in this context to get a look.  I wrote, “This is silly, but so is ignoring me.  I have a FREE tour for you in Puerto Montt, a gift from your travel agent.  Call me at 3159 to hear about and collect it.”

It worked and now there are 68 people coming on tour, 69, if my wheelchair lady makes it.  A guest I had never heard from called me wondering why her parents had never received anything.  She had thrown out all she got, as had her sister.  This, by the way, is a different three cabin group from the one in the previous paragraph.  I explained that receiving our amenities depended on the travel agent you used.  She swore that all three cabins had been booked at the same time, by the same travel agency.  Since I had to turn in the count tomorrow, I decided to believe her, and had the whole six of them sign the waivers.

We tried the Spa Café for lunch and it was pretty good.  They had a lot of salads, but I had a spicy udon bowl, a carrot and ginger soup, and a delicious muesli cookie.

Around 4 pm, Andrea and I went up to the Sky Lounge to have a glass of champagne at “The End of the World”.  We met up with Patrick and Rosie, and it turned out to be a floating photo safari.  Patrick takes some wonderful photos.  I got this one of the lighthouse at the end of the world:

20181230-01CapeHornLighthhouseSmaller

Another nice dinner in the dining room, another bottle of good wine, another decent show, and a great night’s sleep.

On New Year’s Eve, we docked in Ushuaia, Argentina, the last town before the end of the world. We went ashore.  We were on a mission, here, to get rid of all the Argentine pesos.  We had so much trouble getting them in Buenos Aires, that we had all stocked up.  It wasn’t made any easier by the fact that it was New Year’s Eve.  Most of the shops were open, though, and we managed to spend most of the money on clothing.

I met Jorge and Javier on their way into town, when I was going back.  He owned up to the deception about the champagne and I thanked him profusely.  It was a good thing, too, as that night, in the Dining Room, the sommelier wanted to tell us we were on our second bottle of our second package, when it was, indeed, our first.

The Hotel Director had given me a bottle of prosecco on boarding day, and I brought it to dinner, too, for the six of us to share.  We toasted Paul and Elvon with it.  We had eaten late so it wasn’t too long to midnight.  I volunteered to go down to Deck 3 and save seats at the foot of the staircase.  Ha! There were no seats.  They had made every one of them disappear on both the third and fourth decks, to get more people in.  I managed to stake a claim to two corners of a lamp pedestal, that was immovable.  We took turns perching there, never letting them go.  At midnight, they became little tables for the free champers.  Patrick is sure it was very low alcohol, because he had three glasses of it, on top of three glasses of the real thing at dinner, and never felt a thing.  That actually would have been pretty smart of the ship.

There’s some amazing soundproofing on here, too.  Our cabin is the first one down the hall from the party, which went on for quite a while, after Andrea and I retired, around one am.  We closed our door and never heard a thing,

New Year’s day, 2019, was an ordinary sea day and I was back at the desk.  It’s no hardship to sit there, as I can always read my email, log and blog, while being available to my 80 cruisers.  Distinctive Voyages had written me that we had to verify eligibility of the parents who had not been included.  I duly got their booking number from Guest Relations.  At that point, I finally wised up and had a look at the “Do Not Include” tab in the Excel workbook, and there they were.  I wrote DV, explained, and told them I can suck up the price of their tour, and will be paying the tour company, myself.

More of the wheelchair lady’s family members stopped by the desk, to make another plea to get their mother on tour.  I spoke to Wendy again and found out that the rule was that she had to go down the stairs to the tender on her own steam.  She had chickened out the last time, when it was just a bit rough.  I spoke to the wheelchair lady again that day, in the presence of about three family members.  She will still be afraid, if it is even a bit rough on the 4th. I don’t blame her.  I have been on ships where there have been tender accidents.

I worked on a newsletter to go out on the 2nd with our tour meeting place, bus assignments, etc.  I have enough Spanish speaking people (27) to warrant a bilingual bus.  Then I went to the gym, as I do most days, and worked on my log and blog in the Oceanview Café.  If was a bad choice.  I ended up eating again.

Of course, we still had the oinking big dinner in the dining room.  They have been especially good lately.  Tonight was lamb shank.  The entertainer was Amy Lee on violin, and she was good.  We are tired of screaming singers.  Then Ellen, Andrea and I went up to the ABBA tribute party in the Sky Lounge.  No conflict there.  ABBA didn’t scream, they actually sang.

Wednesday, January 2, was listed in the Itinerary as “Straits of Magellan”. That’s just a fancy name for another sea day.  The Straits can be rough, though, and we were privileged that they weren’t for us.  It was overcast and the Internet was iffy, but the scenery was beautiful, even in the mist.

One of my guests came and took a picture of our detailed itinerary in Puerto Montt.  He had a friend to meet in Puerto Varas.  Then we delivered the newsletter about the tour.

Thursday, January 3, was billed as “Chilean Fjords”.  That’s another fancy name for another sea day.  I had office hours.  Our shore excursion tomorrow, leaves at 8:30 am rom shore, in a tender port.  Wendy, the Event Coordinator, came to tell me that we cannot get a tender of our own.  I will have to show up at 7:00 am to collect 69 tender tickets.  Then I will go to our meeting point and distribute them.  At 7:45 we will move out of the meeting place to the designated tender boarding place.  There we will probably end up on two tenders and have to re-assemble on shore to process through the terminal building to the buses.  Luckily I have trusted people to help, but it will probably give me nightmares, anyway.

To minimize the trouble, I put out a clarifying broadcast.  I was also in a spot of trouble for having teed up a Spanish bus.  It was a unique situation, because of all the Spanish-speaking families aboard.  The only non-Spanish speakers on the bus were my own clients, Patrick and Rosie, who agreed to be bus monitors in exchange for an exceptional bottle of wine. The bus will be full of bilingual people to translate for them, if the need should arise, and they are both ex-school teachers, who make the best bus monitors.  Andrea Terni, my co-host, speaks passable Spanish.

I delivered one more letter, too, just to make sure everyone got the message and would be in the right place at the right time for the tour.

Finally, on Friday, it was time for our tour in Puerto Montt.  The group was prompt in getting to Celebrity Central, and we were able to move out and get into the tender line, together and on time.  Wendy was there, acknowledged us and did her level best to get us into the tender line in a group.  It was a very slow line and people had to leave to go to the bathroom, etc. Net, we ended up on two tenders and had to wait in the terminal for the second.

Our shore excursion suppliers were there for us, and waited with us.  Our people were sweet and patient, and soon it came together.  This area of Chile was originally settled by Germans, but eventually became Spanish, like most of South America.  It’s just joining the rest of the world, as to things like owning cars and pets.  These things just happened in the last ten or twenty years.  Before that, they rode horses, and the dogs stayed outside, year round.  There are still a lot of street dogs, but they don’t fight and they grow long thick coats for the winter.  I have a couple of pictures.

All of this, and a lot more, we learned from Carlos, our guide, as we drove through Puerto Montt, on the way to Puerto Varas.  He was excellent, teaches IT, during the school year, and supports other IT teachers.  The Internet is changing the people’s lives, too.  They now buy a lot of goods, both from Amazon, but also from Alibaba, the Chinese equivalent.  It’s just as close, and often cheaper, to have things shipped to them from China.

Puerto Varas is a nice little town, with a main square ringed by restaurants and pastry shops, and a nice handicraft market, probably the best I saw in Chile.  These markets are starting to look all the same to me.  There aren’t nearly as many real handicrafts, actually made in the country, as there were, even a decade ago.  The fault lies with our own industry.  Too much demand, not enough supply.  The real stuff gets replaced with goods mass produced in China and they are all the same.

Our next stop was Frutillar, a preserved German village, where we could tour the blacksmith’s house, museum, library, more cottages, and the rich man’s house on the hill, of course.  It was very pretty and peaceful.  This is Andrea, from a window of the house on the hill.20190104-13FrutillarGermanVillageAndreaSmaller

There was a functioning pastry shop, that a number of people used for a mid-morning snack.  It had nice things, including a jam cake that brought me back to my childhood, when my mother and my aunt Annie used to make it.  I still have the recipe; one day I’ll make another.  It’s more expensive to make, than to buy, but it’s wonderful.

We returned to Puerto Montt, and its handicrafts market, which was a little disappointing, but we have come to expect that, for the reasons noted above.  Some people left the bus to make their own way back to the pier, as we were close.

I printed, and Andrea and I collated the farewell letter and comments cards, and delivered them.  Then we met Patrick and Rosie for sail away, which was lovely, as was dinner, with them and the Morneaus.  We are family now.

Saturday, January 5, was our last day aboard and a sea day, which you need before disembarkation, to pack and sort yourself out.  I met a number of my people at breakfast in the buffet.  They were all delighted with the tour and thanked me very much.  The long wait to get off the ship had been forgotten.

I had office hours at ten.  A lot of people came by to thank me and say it was a lot of fun.  The people I paid for stopped by to thank me for taking them on the tour.  They still do not understand why they were not included when their children were.  Guess who was paying?  The mother loves the program and wants to be included every time.  She took a look at our brochure and wants one to help her pick her next cruise.  I told her she needed to have a conversation with her travel agent about how this happened and that it should never happen again.  Her agent can also order a DV brochure for her.  She’s a lovely lady.  I am not a bit sorry I paid for her to join the tour.

More people brought in their Comments Cards, all smiles and compliments.  I left the desk around noon and went to pack.  That done, I went up to the Aqua Spa Café to log and blog.  I have been using this quiet place, for this purpose, all week, but today was different.  It was full of Mexican families playing games like Mah Jong.  Now, when the Chinese play Mah Jong, all you hear is the clacking of the tiles.  When Mexican families play it, it’s a lot more interactive, and a lot louder.  Oh, well, they were having fun and I decided I didn’t feel like working on the last day, either.

I checked our envelope at the Front Desk just before six, and went upstairs to the Sky Lounge to meet my people and draw for the $25 SBC.  Then we went to dinner and off to bed.  We had a wine tour starting in San Antonio tomorrow.

 

Christmas in Montevideo – Part 4

This picture is carried over from Christmas Day, as even I thought it might not be appropriate then:20181225-01MOntevideoPotShopSmaller

The Pot Shop was open, too, and that plant on the left was alive and growing, in its window.

Thursday, December 27, was a sea day, and I had a good few people at the desk.  I was glad to see Daniela and Ventura del Rio, as they are part of the group of 28, within our group, and were very helpful in sorting out the names.  Spanish names can be very long, as they give great reverence to their ancestors.  It’s a lovely custom, but it makes keeping a manifest a lot harder.

Six cabins needed duplicate folders.  I swear they throw them out and then claim they never saw them.  Some of them admit that when they get the second one.  I always have one handicap problem, too.  This time it is the matriarch of a group of eighteen.  The ship had refused to take her on the tender in Punta del Este.  She is in a wheelchair, but can climb stairs, etc.  Her kids, of which there are five, were worried that she would not be able to do our shore excursion because Puerto Montt is a tender port, too.  This isn’t over.

Jorge, our friend from the helipad, had called back and we six were going to dinner in Luminae, with him, Javier and Julius.  We had to eat early, though, which was fine with us, as we wanted to see the show.  Dinner was excellent, both food and conversation.  Luminae, the Suites’ dining room, is a little more soignée than the main Dining Room, and they have the best staff on the ship.  The sommelier stopped the “who gets to pay for the champers” fight, that I was having with Jorge, by faking me into thinking that I had.  She took my card and gave me a receipt, but a couple of nights later, there was a bottle left in our 7-bottle package, when it should have been done.

Then the whole staff outdid itself when a family with about eight unruly kids came in and they fed them and got them out in twenty minutes flat.  They were a long twenty minutes, mind you.  You don’t see such badly behaved kids in the main dining room, either.  I’m guessing the parents don’t feel quite as entitled, there.

The show was called “Topper” and it was very clever.  Too bad I fell asleep during the acrobats, as they are my favorite part.

Finally, it was Friday, December 28, time for our penguin tour in Puerto Madryn.  We were all keen on walking among the Magellan penguins of Punta Tombo, so I had booked a private tour with Edgardo of “Tour Guide Ushiaia”.  It got off 45 minutes late, when Andrea went ahead to find the Guide, while I waited for the last couple.  She managed to walk past four people she knew well, and a guy with a large sign saying “Helen Megan Group”, to get all the way to the port entrance.  When she didn’t come back to me to say she had found the guy with the sign, and I had waited long enough, I went back on board to verify that she was still off.  Then I went up to where the sign was, and we all waited again.  We only found her, at the port entrance, when we had decided to give up and go without her.

As we were leaving town, I noted the housing was pretty bleak, but there were a number of people walking good purebred dogs.  That sort of thing always interests me.  I guess they are a minor status symbol.  We skirted a town called “Trelew”, which is a Welsh name.  Imagine them being the first settlers. They arrived in 1865.

We made up some of the lost time by buying a sandwich lunch at a gas station, and eating it on the bus.  It was actually pretty good, Sorrento ham and cheese.  The scenery on the long bus ride was pretty bleak, punctuated by guanaco, a type of llama.  There are also rodent deer, called caviamara, but we never saw any.

We sure saw a lot of penguins, though.  They’re very lovable, but quite scrappy.  The males spend a lot of time standing erect and screaming “This land is MY Land”.  We saw a very nasty fight over a great nesting spot, under the footbridge.  I was mystified, because the chicks were born over a month ago, and the penguins would migrate to Brazil in April, to return again next year.  They would doubtless have to fight for it all over again.

This little guy thought Patrick’s shoes were other penguins and he came in to challenge them.  Patrick got a very lucky shot that looks like he is holding the screaming penguin.  He wasn’t:20181228-33PuntaTomboPenguinonPatrickSmaller

The weather was wonderful, in the high seventies.  I wondered why it wasn’t much colder, like Alaska is in summer.  Our guide had the explanation.  It has to do with the shape of the continents.  South America tapers to a point, so the oceans keep it a lot warmer than North America, where the land mass at Alaska’s level is about five thousand miles wide.

It was the kind of day to toast, and we have a new one.  It’s “Pura Vida” and Central and South Americans use it for everything.

We were back at sea on Saturday, December 29.  Our desk hours competed with the ship’s Bridge and Kitchen tours and not a soul came.  Finally, I got around to logging and blogging.  With any luck I won’t still be doing it two weeks after the cruise, which happens.  The six of us had another very nice dinner in the dining room and went to another production show, called “Amade”.  We couldn’t figure out the connection to Mozart, mind you.

Christmas in Montevideo – Part 3

Christmas Eve, Monday, December 24, 2018

It doesn’t feel like Christmas Eve when you’re working all day, but it sure kept us out of trouble.  We were docked in Buenos Aires for most of the day, but at the container port, so going ashore wasn’t attractive to anyone except Rosie and Patrick.  They had left their phone in their room at The Brick and sort of wanted it back.  Wendy, the Event Manager, was off the ship, too, which wasn’t so good for me, because my DV broadcast had not gone out last night.  I duly recorded another one, changing “tomorrow” to “today”.  Unfortunately, when Wendy came back, she blasted out the first, rather than the second, so I had to record a third, apologizing for the first, and stressing that the cocktail party was tonight.  Yup, Christmas Eve.

One group leader, a travel agent, no less, had called in the morning to complain that no one in her group had received anything from Distinctive Voyages.  I said I would wait while she looked outside her door.  Sure enough she was calling me on suppertime news, and we had delivered after dinner.  They had their packets.

I met with every department I needed to and wrote my cocktail party speech.

Thirty-three people came to the cocktail party, which was good, considering we were competing with “Carols with the Captain” and our group of 18 must have had their own event planned, as not one of them came.  Neither our group of eight didn’t come, either, nor did our other group of six.  That accounts for most of them. Groups within the DV group change the dynamic.  My group of six was there, of course, and Patrick took the pictures for me.

It was a nice party, and it was nice to connect with these good people.  I wish our shore excursion were coming earlier in the cruise, it will be almost over before we see them again.  We hit the rush in the dining room, so dinner was a late affair, and we missed the show, but we like each other’s company and all was well.

Christmas in Montevideo

The six of us, Rosie, Patrick, JP, Ellen, Andrea and I, met for breakfast on the aft deck, outside the Oceanview Bar, happy that it was warm enough to do so.  Then we went out in Montevideo.  We shopped our way to the cathedral, getting there in time to catch the last half of the noon mass.  Both the cathedral itself and the service were beautiful.  The familiar hymns are nice to hear in their intended setting. When the mass was over, we toured the church, like the tourists we are.  The cardinal was giving an interview on the front steps.  There was a little market in the square in front of the cathedral, but most shops and restaurants were closed.

Patrick had struck up a friendship with the chef at one restaurant that was open, El Cuatro Equadorio.  The cuisine was very local, consisting of foods grilled with the heat coming from the top of the oven, circulating by convection.  We wanted to try it.  As in the church, we were the only tourists, and it did not get us favored treatment.  Quite the contrary.  This was a locals’ place and the locals got served first on Christmas Day.  When our two enormous Stellas came in their ice bucket, we fell on them with great joy and ordered a third.  It was pretty hot by that time and Ellen and I decided to cool our hands on the ice bucket.  JP was having none of it.  He told us to stop warming the beer.  The food finally came and it was pretty tough and disappointing, but we ate with the citizens of Montevideo, and that was super.  At one point they ran out of big ice buckets and we found ourselves with one bottle in a double, when the next table had two bottles in a single, which just didn’t fit.  We offered to switch and got the short end of the stick when they kept all the ice.

And that was Christmas, topped off with a turkey dinner in the main dining room, and The Eclipse Holiday Show.  On these big ships, not only are the production shows all singing and all dancing, they’re all Cirque du Soleil, too.  Those acrobat schools in Montreal are sending talent all over the world, at sea.  The stage, slings and cables, are all there, and our acrobats are good.  They are the best part of the show, really.

Boxing Day, December 26, 2018, in Punta del Este, Uruguay

I stayed aboard, wrote and delivered a newsletter, while Andrea went to the beach and everyone else toured the town.  It was a tender port and I was happier working than waiting around for little boats. Patrick got a great souvenir picture, though.

20181226-03PuntadelEste

The newsletter wasn’t optional, if I was to find 60 people who wanted to spend New Year’s Eve with us.

Andrea and I were invited to the Helipad for Sail-Away.  I tried to beg my own clients in, but it was strictly for VIPs. As far as we could gather, that meant Suite Guests, and, well, us.  It turned out well, though, we made some nice friends, Jorge and Javier, from Miami.  Jorge used to be a travel agent and he was convinced the we needed to experience Luminae, and bring my clients.  He was sure they would be buying suites from now on, if they had that experience.  These are my Montreal clients.  They’re gourmets, spoiled with Montreal’s fine food, not to mention what they make themselves.  The Michael’s Club concierge was there and she told us how to go about it.  We could be guests of Jorge’s for $30 per person.  That would work for us.  We were delighted and so were Rosie, Patrick, JP and Ellen, when we told them at dinner.

The show was Charyn Cannon, a blues singer, and she was good.