More cruising adventures

By Ruth Patchett rpweib1@gmail.com
Posted 1/20/20

A 60 percent Christmas is much easier to put away than a 100 percent Christmas. The decorations are put away, and it did not take nearly as long this year.

My son was thrilled when I said we were …

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More cruising adventures

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A 60 percent Christmas is much easier to put away than a 100 percent Christmas. The decorations are put away, and it did not take nearly as long this year.

My son was thrilled when I said we were having a 60 percent Christmas as he thinks Christmas should be simple. In fact, the only thing he wanted for Christmas was for me to get voicemail on my phone. I did that, and he was happy.

My 60 percent Christmas was a result of the wonderful 25-day trip we took beforehand, which included our 22-day Viking cruise.  Because we returned home so late I had no time to put up all the decorations I would normally do, shop and do some special baking so I just put up a few very special ones.

In late December, I wrote about the La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona, which had such an impact on me. Though not nearly as important as the spiritual experience of the church, the rest of the trip also impacted me and I hope to share a few more thoughts. Travel, especially to a new place, always opens one’s mind to new knowledge.

When we reached Casablanca, Morocco, on the fifth day of our cruise we went into port for an important mission. Our daughter-in-law requested a lamp and even sent pictures of what she desired. Shopping at the huge bazaar in Casablanca turned out to be an interesting experience.

Tom had a picture on his iPad and showed it to the owner of the first lamp shop we went to, but the lamp we wanted was not available. We wandered on looking for other lamp shops and after a minute or two noticed a man following us.

He said, “I will find you a lamp.” We tried to say no, but could not get him to leave.

Perhaps it was a good thing as this bazaar was like going through a corn maze. Twists and turns everywhere, it would have been easy to get lost. Eventually, he led us out of the bazaar, and we went to a shop in the plaza close to our bus pickup. The man still did not leave.

We knew he expected a gratuity for his help and as we only had a credit card with us, we made a deal with the lamp shop owner to give the man a gratuity, when we finally found the lamp we wanted. The lesson learned is to always have American dollars for tips, even if that is not the currency of the country.  Everyone takes American dollars.

After leaving Casablanca, we spent three days at sea before another stop in Africa. I only heard one person say the cruise had too many days at sea. There were 12 sea days, and I loved each one. The main reason was each day at sea, we took lessons on playing mahjong. I played a computer game of mahjong years ago and bought the actual tile game but had never taken it out of the box and could not remember if we gave the game away to a garage sale.

Two ladies from Florida, Karen and

Maureen, were our instructors and we enjoyed it very much.

Several people joined us each day, and we learned mahjong is the game to play in Florida.  Bridge lessons were going on at this time and bridge was also played in the afternoon, but we loved mahjong. We played the American version, and learned there is also a Chinese version.

My only problem is I need to find other people who play or want to learn, as it takes four to play. I mentioned this to Barb, a newly retired person from Chicago, and she said there is an excellent app that connects with clubs and activities. Apparently, she lost her social network after she moved into the city and ceased working.  I told her I needed an app for an extra day in my week.   

Sea days were not just mahjong. We had plenty of time for professional lectures, trips to the spa, getting our exercise walking around the deck and enjoying music played by talented musicians. Maureen and Karen our mahjong instructors also became good friends along with their husbands Rick and Steve.

Rick and Steve had no interest whatsoever in the game but had remarkable stories to tell. We had Thanksgiving dinner with them and shared a couple of Tours by Locals when we reached land.

We taught them something also, as one of ladies was asking about windmills and was under the impression a windmill needed an electric motor to turn it. Neither couple was familiar with Illinois farm operations. We explained to them the cornfields they see are not sweet corn. Their backgrounds were large cities, one couple was New York City and the other had spent most of their life in large cities as well.

We were not impressed with Dakar, Senegal, in Africa, and think we made the wise decision to just step off the ship and come back on. Both of us decided we did not need any strange germs as was mentioned in the shore talk before arrival. We stayed aboard and basically had the ship to ourselves. Food was still served and anything one wanted was still available. It was just like having a private 900-foot yacht.

Brazil had two stops with one in Recife, a northern Brazilian city of about 3 million, and the other was Rio de Janeiro. While in Rio, we did the Christ the Redeemer tour and Sugar Loaf Mountain. It was scenic but due to heavy fog not as picturesque as one wants.

Traffic was heavy but as we were on a bus tour from the ship it was OK that we were running late to get back. I did not want to miss the last stop, which was a luncheon at a traditional Brazilian barbecue restaurant.

The meat was excellent and served at the table with a waiter slicing cuts from long skewers. Diners wanting more of a special cut held up a green-sided coaster. The red side of the coaster signaled one did not wish that cut of meat or was sated. Meat can easily get stuck in one’s teeth and they even had dental floss devices in the restrooms. I’d never seen that before.

Starting in Barcelona was perfect and ending the trip in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, turned out to be an ideal way to end a super cruise. Many people spend time in Florida to get away from the winter cold but I think I would prefer traveling several hundred miles more to Montevideo and be quite content.

It was a beautiful day to enjoy a beautiful city and the weather could not have been more perfect. Eight of us did our own private tour and Gabriela, our guide was well informed about the city. He talked about politics and a recent election where the country had now gone conservative. This was a change he welcomed because he thought the country was going too socialist and feared it might go the route of Venezuela.

We enjoyed the opportunity to ask many questions as we drove along a beautiful shoreline. He also intimated that real estate was cheap and a beach view was not too pricey. At the delicious bistro where we ate lunch he pointed out the saltshaker on the table and said that was illegal. Apparently in Uruguay, because they eat so much red meat it has caused heart issues, and they have outlawed saltshakers on the table unless one requests it.

Our last stop was in Buenos Aires, a place I have been interested in since grade school when I read about the Argentinean Independence Day being on my birthday. The Gauchos always fascinated me riding on their horses in the Pampas, but we did not have time to spend in the countryside. The city of Buenos Aires was a beautiful place to tour.

Unlike Rio where the roadways were cramped and close together, Buenos Aires had wide boulevards with ample space. Our first tour stop was the La Recoleta Cemetery where the tomb of Eva Person is. It is also the cemetery of many prominent Argentineans and the mausoleums were quite ornate.

The tour featured Plaza de Mayo where the major public buildings of the city are located, including the rose-colored Presidential Palace and the cathedral where Pope Francis served as a cardinal in that city.

Buenos Aires is home to the tango and the last night on board, passengers were feted to not only an excellent cookout of Argentinean grass fed beef but also a tango performance that was unbelievable. The tango performers were in exact harmony with one another and the costuming can only be described as exotic, though some might say erotic.

Don’t let anyone ever claim that grass fed beef is not good.  In the past, I was told that grain fed is much better, but whatever the grass is in Argentina the beef that is raised there is superb. At the airport before starting our 10-hour flight home, we tried a McDonald’s quarter-pounder just to see if it was different, and it was. We thought the flavor was better than those served in American McDonald’s.

My Christmas may have been 60 percent (not really) but my trip was 110 percent. My motto now is: Travel while you can and sit and enjoy the memories when you are no longer able.

By the way, I found my mahjong game when I got home so if anyone wants to play, email me please and I will try to teach those interested. Some may like it as much as I do.