Saturday, March 15, 2014

Finally, a Note from the High Seas!

We had a technical malfunction that kept us from making any posts until now!  Now, I think we have a decent workaround that will cover us thru the rest of the trip!  YEAH!

Today is Day 1 of our 4 days at sea taking us across the Atlantic to Dakar, Senegal.  We went to a lecture this morning, had lunch followed by the obligatory ice cream… I added a little Godiva Chocolate liqueur to mine, Tom just added chocolate syrup to his!

Back to the cabin, we sat on the balcony for an hour or so, reading and watching the gulls diving for fish, until the hot equatorial sun came out of the shadows and started beating down on us.  We'll truly enjoy the next few days at sea!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

09 March 2014 - Touring in Rio

Sunday, March 9, 2014
We had one full day in Rio. We had booked a pre-cruise excursion that included picking us up at the airport and delivering us to the hotel. On the next day, there would be a morning tour and an afternoon that would include the two major attractions in Rio de Janeiro: the Christ the Redeemer statue at the top of Corcovado (Portuguese for Hunchback) Mountain, and, Sugar Loaf Mountain and it's two cable car ride to the top.  On the third day, we would be picked up after breakfast and delivered to the ship.

There were 14 of us.  Because of different arrival times, we were not all together for the airport pickup, however, on Sunday morning, we started out as 14.

Our first stop was at a beach along the Rio coast.  It wasn't listed on the planned itinerary so I don't recall the name.  Tom is on the far left in this picture.  Our tour guide Al, actually Alceides, is in the middle in the bright yellow t-shirt and vest over it.  At this point all of us are fairly close together.  Notice the sidewalk… very much like the one along the beach in Copacabana.

Wasn't sure why we stopped here, perhaps to watch the hang gliders.  Note the windsock.

We learned that folks took the gliders up to the top, or to a particular point on the adjacent mountain and leapt to their fate, hopefully a safe landing on the beach!  The one in this picture is just making its way down.

Two more enjoying the wind drafts… looks almost like a game of "chicken"!

Two on their way in, one in the sky and one in front of the windsock just in front of the lower portion of the mountain.

WHEEEE!  What an exciting ride… We did not have the time to do, nor did we want to spend the R$490, about $225 USD per person for the ride!

On the bus again, we head off toward Corcovada.  Note the bus is quite similar to the tour buses we have in the US.

       Beautiful beaches all along the route.

Rio's Carnaval was over on Tuesday night (Wednesday morning!) past… The "Winner's Parade" was on Saturday (yesterday) when we arrived.  Today is Sunday and, it appears at lease one of the revelers is still sleeping it off!

One of the earlier churches in Rio.  As we moved further north on the coast of Brazil, we would learn this style to be repeated in the early European settlements.

Finally arriving at the station of the train that would take us up the mountain to the top.  

We waited at the entrance while our guide went to get the tickets.  He handed them out to use and we headed through the gate and into the station.
The first station on the way up is the Old Cosme Station.

Our guide led us to the far end of the inside, perhaps original platform, where we could looked down and across the workshop where the cars were maintained and repaired.  It was a Sunday so no one was working there.

Inside the station, there were the obligatory refreshment and souvenir shops as well as a "posing booth" whereby tourists could take pictures looking out from a mock-up train window.  The number of flags hanging from the ceiling was amazing!  We guessed they represented the homeland of each of the people from all the countries that had visited here.

Finally into the boarding line, we looked out a window for our first glimpse of the "Christ the Redeemer" statue at the top of Corcovado.

Back in 2000, 14 years ago now as we cruised up the Targus River on our way to Lisbon, we had seen a like statue and at the time, we learned it to be a replica of the Brazil statue.  We would have thought the reverse.

The stations along the way as seen from inside the train.

The higher we got, the more the clouds!  Not much to see as we looked down through the cloudy/foggy clouds over Rio.

A little further up, a break in the clouds.

At the Paineiras Station on our way to the top of the mountain.  Some folks had driven up to this station to board the train to the top.  Little did they know, our train was FULL and they'd have to wait some more!

The Velho Paineiras Hotel in the process of being gutted and rebuilt with a modern eco-friendly hotel.  According to articles online, it is expected to be finished by the time of the 2014 World Soccer Final Match being held in Rio in July, just 4 months from now.  Something tells me, it doesn't have a prayer of being done… maybe by the 2016 Summer Olympics! 

Another old abandoned building, one from which all the wood has been removed, or perhaps eaten by termites.

Finally, at the top!  This map shows the extensive grounds surrounding the statue.

Once off the train, there is still a LOT of land to get to the base of the statue!
YIPPEE!  There is an elevator for the steepest portion!

And, now an escalator to help us with that last leg!  Fortunately, the escalator was working!

Truly an awesome sight regardless of your religious leanings.

Hordes of people in the area in front of the statue.  In the foreground is some 60+ lights to light the statue at night.  On the other side of the plaza is another bank of equal size.

The clouds had scattered and the views over the bay were beautiful to behold.  Note the round building toward the center left edge of the picture.  That is the stadium where the 2014 World Cut Final will be held in July.  Rio may likely be more crowded than it was for Carnaval!

A view of Sugar Loaf Mountain, the other iconic Rio attraction.  We were scheduled to go there in the afternoon.

As we were heading toward the route back down the mountain, we noticed a throng of people gathered near the foot of the statue.

There in the center was a young priest sprinkling the believers with "Holy Water".  I didn't notices if he was also collecting alms.

Time to head back down to the level at the top of the elevator.  At this point, the clouds had moved away and we were looking down on them… as the song says "I've seen the clouds from both sides now!"  The escalator down was in full stop mode so we trekked down the adjacent stairs.

Back at the train level, there was quite a line!  We guessed we've have to wait 20-40 minutes before getting on the next available train.

Finally, after some 30 minutes or so, we were in the station house looking back on the line formed behind us.

WHEEE!  Now on the train looking straight out at the station sign.  Soon, we'd be underway, headed down the mountain.

We wanted and purposely took seats on the side of the train where we could look down below rather than directly to the mountain on the other side.  The clouds had cleared or moved on and we could see the race track and the city below.

The day's plan called for us to be returned to the hotel after the Corcovado tour where we would have lunch on our own then picked up later in the afternoon for the tour of Sugar Loaf. The guide offered to take us to an Ipanema restaurant for lunch.  No one objected, well, perhaps, they just didn't speak up.  The first restaurant we went into, he decided we needed to go somewhere else because at the first one, there was not space for us to all sit together.  He picked one that wasn't crowded.  We soon learned why it wasn't crowded:  the main chefs had the day off and less than half the menu was available!

We eyed the buffet as we came in and decided that's what we would have.  It was R$45, about US$20, not expensive for such a spread.  However, we soon learned that was per trip to the table and chose something else.

After lunch,  I went to the restroom and Tom waited at the stairs for me to come back down.  We walked out of the restaurant expecting to find the rest of the group within a block of us.  They were nowhere to be found.  We walked the 8-10 blocks almost to Ipaname beach and couldn't find them.  Having no international phones and not knowing the language, we pondered what to do.

We then remembered we'd passed an H.Stern, yes, the world renown jeweler store front where there were a couple of gentlemen trying to encourage passerby's to look and perhaps come in to buy.  We knew that they almost always had folks that spoke English.

We walked back there and chatted with a young man who spoke perfect American English, perhaps was from the US.  He tried to find a phone number for the shore excursion company and, when he couldn't, he offered to have us taken back to our hotel on the company shuttle.  It turns out we were actually at the H.Stern factory!

On return to the hotel, where we had the phone number for Brazil Shore Excursions so I called them to report what had happened.  The woman there sincerely apologized and advised that the group would be by to pick us up in 10-15 minutes.  Tom chose not to go but I went downstairs to wait.  Some 30 minutes later, the bus arrived and I was off to Sugar Loaf with the rest of the group.  Yes, being as we had booked this through Regent, after we were on board the ship, it was reported to the Executive Concierge!

Getting ready to board the first of two cable cars to the top of the second mountain, the one known as Sugar Loaf.

Walking through the little jungle between the two cable cars, we came upon this little monkey.  He was a lot smaller than he looks in this picture, probable about the size of a squirrel.  The guide said it was a Marmoset but I read elsewhere that the monkeys that populate this area of Sugar Loaf are actually Sagui monkeys.  They are the same species and, I'm guessing easy to confuse.

As the sun set to the west, Corcovado and the Christ statue were silhouetted through the light clouds.  The yellow glow was intriguing.

At the top of Sugar Loaf, this somewhat abstract statue stands near the entrance to the cable car station.

One last look back across toward Corcovado as we head down the mountain and into the clouds.

Our souveniers of Rio now captured on "film" for posterity and so we won't need to carry them home!!

Posted 3/20/14

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Overnight Flight Dulles to Rio

Over the past 20-30 years we have, er uh, had(!), accumulated LOTS of airline miles, so, for this trip, we chose to use about half of them for a first class flight to Rio… WOW, what "trappin's"!  Regent Seven Seas Cruises includes airline flights to the cruise's port of origin port and back from the port of the destination.  We normally fly United (previously Continental) and just accumulated the points.  On this trip, our options were American through Miami, or American through Miami.  American not being our favorite airline and Miami being the airport we absolutely least want to be in, we chose to take a flight credit and book our own flights to Rio.  Overall, that saved a few dollars on the cruise!

We had two of the 4 bulkhead seats in the cabin, perfect seats, easy for each of us to get out to stretch a little.  Tom settled into the center aisle seat and I settled in across the aisle from him at the window seat.  Had we known that there was no head high "barrier" between the two center seats, we most likely would have chosen those.  Before we were off the ground in Dulles, a flight attendant offered cocktails and we being us, of course, accepted!
Once off the ground and at cruising altitude, we were given a menu describing the evening meal, and to select our main course from.  It was after midnight by now, however, we had eaten little since breakfast and were quite ready for a full meal.  First course was a very nice appetizer:  a shrimp tempura and a vegetable stuffed dumpling with an Asian barbecue sauce.  It never ceases to amaze me how the airline caterers can cook, and then keep warm without drying out, such delights!

Next up was a mushroom brie bisque.  It was extraordinary flavorful with quite a few oddly shaped specialty mushrooms in it.  Delicious!

Next up was a fresh salad with a choice of dressings.

For the main course, we had a choice of:  Grilled Pork Chop, Osso Buco-style breast of chicken, San Francisco-style Cioppino, or Spinach Cannelloni.  We both chose the pork chop!  It was served with a green peppercorn sauce, shiitake mushroom bread pudding, white asparagus and broccolini.  YUMMY!

Then time for dessert!  There was an International Cheese Selection, accompanied by grapes and crackers and served with port and Ice cream with a choice of toppings.  We both opted out of the cheese selection and went straight for the ice cream!  For mine, I chose whipped cream, strawberries and Amaretto accompanied by coffee and Bailey's Irish Cream.

After that delightful meal, we checked the flight map to find we were over the Caribbean, less than half way to our destination. The flight attendant turned our seats into flat beds, yes, ones even long enough for Tom! and we were soon off to sleep. Actually the "seats" made for a fairly good night's sleep!

Because it is the largest city in Brazil and the Southern Hemisphere, the seventh in the world in population and is also the business center of Brazil, we first stopped in São Paulo.

The pictures are from our landing there, the first semi- close-up view of Brazilian soil.

As we got closer, we noted the roads looked quite modern and that in Brazil, like in the US, vehicles drive on the righthand side of the street!!  We had no intentions of driving, however, it did make it easier when crossing a street!!
We did have to deplane for about an hour in São Paulo but stayed in the gate area.  The flight attendant had advised that our bags would be off-loaded and we would go through customs there.  FORTUNATELY, that was not the case!  When we got back on the flight, we noticed that the cabins had been completely cleaned and that for most of the passengers, it was their final destination.  Our cabin had been full and now, there were only three of us.

On arrival in Rio, we first went through immigration with no wait.  It was a speedy process as all our papers were in order.  From there, we claimed our checked bags and headed for customs.  They waved us through without even x-raying our bags!  The most expeditious foreign arrival process ever!

The Regent representative was there to meet us and take us to the hotel!!  A nice easy process!  Hope all days go as smoothly as this one!