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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile....

Got myself one of those 2L cartons of white wine.  My, is it ever good!  The box says "Santa Rita".   I do all my shopping on foot, so the carton format makes a lot more sense for me than heavy glass bottles.

In Montreal, you can buy 4L cartons of wine in a supermarket for around $40 (so $20 for 2L or  about four times as expensive).  Looking at one of my grocery bills, the price for the 2L box was CLP 2790, minus a discount of CLP 300 - so CLP 2490.  This is about $5 Canadian.   
With all that wine production, I figured that Chile MUST be making brandy as well -
Each afternoon from the balcony....
Racing row boats are common here  -  see them every day, almost all day - from early morning to dusk.  Everything from single sculls to  eight man boats.
Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 18th...

We departed Budapest at about 10:00 pm.  Many buildings and bridges in Budapest are beautifully and dramatically lit at night.
In the morning, the Amasonata entered the largest lock on the cruise - there are 67 more locks before we arrive in Amsterdam.
Today’s excursion was a walking tour of Bratislava, which is the capital of Slovakia and the country’s largest city with a population of half a million.  The cityscape of Bratislava is characterized by medieval towers and grandiose 20th century buildings, but it  has undergone profound changes in a construction boom at the start of the 21st century.  Most historical buildings are concentrated in Old Town, which is the area covered by the walking tour. 

One of the narrowest houses in Europe is nearby.    Walking around the Old Town is pleasant and interesting because the town is clean and well maintained.  
For supper that night, about a half dozen single travelers, including myself, were invited to the Captain’s table.  The Captain and Cruise Manager were present, and we met in a private room in the corner of the main dining room.  For the appetizer, I had the goose liver with cooked figs; it was very tasty.  I also had Cream of lobster soup, halibut and cheesecake with strawberry caviar.  I sampled both the red and white wines, and they were exceptional.  The best wines that I have had on any river cruise were served on this cruise by AMA.  This was another exceptional meal!
That evening, there was a concert by a chamber music group called the Aphrodites.  It was comprised of one person on the piano, two with violins, one on cello, and a flutist - this was about an hour.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile....

In the 1960s, this area experienced a magnitude 9 earthquake.  Not much remained standing and there is always a risk of tsunami.

My first bike ride out of Valdivia, west to the coast.  Just a little two hour ride going south-west to Niebla at the entrance to the Bay of Valdivia, and then north along the Pacific coast to Los Molinos and the end of the pavement.

Quite challenging terrain, with the road going up and down all the time, including some very steep grades.

The nice surprise was near the end on the way back - a view of Volcan Villarica - which is quite a ways away to the north-east of Valdivia and NOT visible from the city.

The salt marsh just west of Valdivia.....

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 17th....

The Sofitel Hotel offered the advantage of being close to where the Amasonata was docked. Check out was 11 am, and check in to the ship was not before 4 pm.  The front desk said that the ship’s docking berth was not far from the hotel.  Since I had a lot of time, I walked towards the dock - this  was about a mile and a half stretch along the Danube on the Pest side where ships dock.  This was about a twenty minute walk - a dark cold morning -  it appeared like it might snow. 

I stopped at the ship and asked if I could check in before 4:00 - they said no but they would accept my bags at any time.  So I walked back to the Sofitel, waited in the hotel lobby until after 11:30, and then walked back and arrived at the ship before noon. After a light lunch at the ship (including two cappuccino), I walked to the famous Central Market.  It was only a couple of blocks from the ship and was in-doors and out of the cold. 

The Central Market Hall is the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest - the building was built in 1897, completely destroyed in WWII, and was restored through the 1990s. Stalls on the ground floor offer produce, meats, pastries, candies, spices and spirits. The Hungarians are very fond of goose liver, which can be purchased at the market as canned or fresh.  They also like pigs’ feet and snouts.  There seems to be more butcher stalls than any other type of business. 

 The upper floor has eateries and souvenirs, such as crystal, porcelain and embroideries.

The meals were outstanding on the ship, and the wines were likewise - unlimited servings of wine with lunch and dinner.  They were the best wines that I have had on any river cruise. For supper tonight, I had the following - Atlantic lobster appetizer, cream of potato soup,  roast prime beef - it was tender and delicious.  The chocolate dessert buffet was amazing; there were so many choices, mostly chocolate.  I had a flan and three levels of chocolate mousse in a large flute glass.

 Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (early November/15)....

Cormorants and sea lions at the fish market.

 The fish and produce market from the bridge.

The sea lions are quite noisy - I can hear them all the way to my apartment when I am on the balcony. 

It turns out that at the other end of the market, there is an opening in the fence.  Some of the sea lions are clever enough to figure out that if they get in there and crawl about 100m to the other side, they get to the fish!

And some of them are too lazy to crawl back after, so they jump up onto the main floor, crawl around the end of the fence and jump back into the river.

Who can resist those eyes.....

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Christmas cruise on the Danube River - Dec 16th....

Last year, we followed this cruiser to Bangkok/Myanmar -  he lives in Florida, and went on a Christmas cruise between Budapest and Amsterdam from  December 15 to January 2/2015.  In his own words, "The Christmas cruise was an excellent trip" and here is his blog.

I used air miles for the flight - business class over but the return was economy.  The cost of the cruise, with a single cabin, was American $5621.  During the layover in Amsterdam, I converted US dollars to Euros.  Because the Euro had been so weak versus the dollar, I expected to pay about $1.25 per Euro, but it was $1.4073.   However, I did not have to convert any more money during the rest of the trip and the amount which I converted turned out to be close to exact:

Departed Jacksonville at 2:30 pm, and then a two hour stop over at  Minneapolis/St. Paul.  The flight to Amsterdam was with KLM - Airbus A330-300.  The flight departed at 7:15 pm and arrived at Amsterdam at 10:30 am on December 16th.  This was about an 8 ½ hour flight. 

This is the first time that I have flown business class with a flat-bed seat and I felt like a pauper in the palace.  The food was excellent, including a welcoming glass of Champagne .  We also had an excellent personal entertainment system with a wide selection of movies, TV shows and computer capabilities.  This is the first trans-oceanic flight that I was sorry to see end.

The layover in Amsterdam was about 4 hours.  The KLM flight -  Boeing 737-800  - from Amsterdam to Budapest  was delayed leaving Amsterdam and did not arrive in Budapest until about 5:00 pm.  Again, I was in business class.

Since I was arriving a day early, my travel agent made arrangements for an airport pick-up and hotel through a company called Travel Bound.  I have used them twice before for airport pick-ups in Paris and Athens.   For this trip, my travel agent booked the airport pick-up and the same hotel (Sofitel, Budapest)  used by AMA Waterways for pre-extensions - all at a cheaper price than AMA’s.  The buffet breakfast was included.

I arrived at the Sofitel about 6:00 pm.  The Sofitel is a luxury hotel which was decorated for Christmas.  I skipped dinner and just turned in early.

Photos belong to Phil Bianco

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Jaro and his bike are now in Chile (late October/15)....

In late October, Jaro flew to Chile, and is staying in the town of Valdivia.  Here is his blog:

View from the balcony of my 4th floor apartment 

 The airline ticket was C$1307, plus oversize bike case (about $50), plus an exit row seat on the YYZ - SCL flight ($80, I think).
 There is a submarine outside my apartment
I was originally looking at going to the Canary Islands, but the long-term visa for Spanish territory is very expensive and they want a lot of documentation. Another big factor was the exchange rate - the Euro is still expensive, while Chilean Pesos has been losing against the Loonie.
Valdivia has a reputation as one of the nicest towns in southern Chile, and is a popular tourist destination. For me, the region as a whole makes cycling interesting.

For about the same monthly rent I paid in New Zealand for an unfurnished apartment, here I have a one bedroom fully-equipped place, including such things as an electric tea pot, microwave oven, dishes. There is also cable TV and Wifi.   In Solana Beach, CA, my unfurnished apartment rent was nearly double the rent here and it was not in such a nice  location  - prime waterfront with balcony. The kitchen is quite small, but well equipped. The cooktop has only two heat pads, so one needs to plan ahead a bit, but the oven is nice.

The living room is not big either, but the photo is a little misleading because of the horizontal-versus-vertical proportions - the ceiling is about 3m high!  Doors between the rooms also go up to the ceiling, which makes for unusually tall doors.  Same with the linen cupboards -  I can barely reach the top shelves and I am quite a bit taller than most Hispanics here in Valdivia. The weirdest part is the mirror in the bathroom, which also goes way up to the ceiling. Never seen anything quite like it. 
The balcony is quite long, so there is access from both the living room and the bedroom.

The Valdivia airport is about 30km from town, so I took a taxi.  No, did not rent a car - everything is manual transmission, and I had lots of other things to worry about - besides being tired, after the long trip.

Photos belong to Jaro Franta.