Tag Archives: 2013

Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, the Azores: and then (finally) home!

It was a relatively short ‘hop’ from Faial to Sao Miguel, the largest of the islands in the Azores Archipelago, which was accomplished overnight, so we arrived early in the morning of Saturday 9th February. This is prime dolphin and whale-watching territory, but unfortunately we didn’t see any. A few people who happened to be stood on the fore deck as we approached the island did manage to sight a school of dolphins as they passed in front of the bow – but I wasn’t one of them. Drat!

Sao Miguel is the largest and most populated of the nine islands that make up the Azores. Also known as the “Green Island”, Sao Miguel is home to the Presidency of the Autonomous Region of the Azores. We docked at the cosmopolitan town of Ponta Delgada, a delightful town with grand monuments, ancient architecture, cobble-stone streets, mingled with a modern marina, lively bars and ocean-front cafe’s that together create a wonderful atmosphere.

We were booked on an organised tour to see the Sete Cidades Crater Lake, with some cheese and wine tasting thrown in (not literally!). The Crater Lake was magnificent to behold, and in terms of visual impact, possibly the highlight of the holiday. We passed meadows bordered by hydrangeas (though not yet in bloom) before ascending the main crater, some 1,900 ft above sea level. The crater has a circumference of 8 miles, and holds two lakes, one blue and one green, connected by a narrow road bridge. On the shores of the Blue Lake is the village of Sete Cidades (Seven Cities), and the village and lakes are surrounded by the dark forest-covered walls of the Caldeira.

Words cannot convey the beauty of this whole region, which has many walking trails for the determined rambler. I was quite reminded of our own Lake District, where we make an annual pilgrimage every June, but in some respects the scenery here was even more stunning. Add to this the fact that the annual temperature range is a very temperate 15C to 28C, i.e. no ice snow or frost, and you have an almost perfect environment for wildlife to flourish.

We also visited the Santiago Lake, inaccessibly situated at the bottom of an extinct crater before heading back to Ponta Delgarda to sample some of the local cheeses and wines.

The afternoon was taken up with exploring the ancient city of Ponta Delgarda, but unfortunately – and despite it being a Saturday – most of the shops and churches were closed. However, we made the most of wandering the cobbled streets and sampling the beer and custard creams on offer at the sidewalk cafes, and did the archetypical tourist thing and had a tour of the town in a horse-drawn carriage. We did manage to get to see the inside of one of the churches – St Peter’s, (Sao Pedro) which features many statues from 16th through 18th centuries and is home to the famous Carvalho painting of the Pentecost.

A truly wonderful day was rounded off by a sea-food dinner at one of the Marina restaurants ( O Marineiro, www.omarineiro.com) with some fellow passengers (and now friends) who we’ve spent the past six weeks with sharing bread and gossip on table 26 in the Marco Polo’s Waldorf Restaurant. The dinner party consisted of Brian, Bridgit, Dermot, Margaret, Dale and Jo (and wife – Lynda), and if any of you ever get around to reading this blog post – thanks to all of you for your company these past few weeks. And don’t worry – whatever happened on the Marco Polo stays on the Marco Polo!

So, this is our last port of call on this epic journey to the Amazon, the West Indies and the Azores. We now have another four days at sea before getting back to our starting point in Tilbury. By that time we will have spent 42 days having the holiday of a lifetime, and with many very happy memories and some truly incredible sights to reflect on. A final word of thanks to all of the staff and crew of the Marco Polo, who made this journey possible, and looked after us every step of the way. And now – to good ol’ Blighty!

The Blue and Green Lakes

The Blue and Green Lakes

 

Caldeira (crater) with the Blue and Green Lakes
Caldeira (crater) with the Blue and Green Lakes

 

City Gates in Ponta Delgarda
City Gates in Ponta Delgarda

 

The horses that pulled the carriage that took us on a tour of Ponta Delgarda
The horses that pulled the carriage that took us on a tour of Ponta Delgarda

 

Last supper ashore with friends
Last supper ashore with friends

Horta, Faial Island, the Azores

We arrived at Horta, capital of Faial Island in the Azores on the afternoon of Friday, 8th February, after five days at sea, crossing a fairly benign Atlantic from Barbados. Faial is one of the nine islands that make up the Archipelago of the Azores. The marina is a primary stop for yachts crossing the Atlantic, and its walls, and walkways are covered in paintings created by visitors who noted the names of their vessels, crews, and the years they visited. Peter Cafe Sport across from the marina houses the island’s scrimshaw museum; a collection of hundreds of pieces of Scrimshaw work carved on whale tooth and jawbone.

Mark Twain visited Horta in June 1867, near the beginning of a long excursion to Jerusalem. He described his visit, with acerbic commentary on the people and culture of Horta, in “The Innocents Abroad”. Similarly, Joshua Slocum, sailing the Spray, stopped in Horta on the first leg of his solo circumnavigation, which he chronicled in his 1899 book “Sailing Alone Around the World.”

We only had half a day at Faial, so were a bit limited on the extent to which we could explore the island and the city of Horta. We had arranged to go on the “Capelinhos Volcano” guided tour, which took us to the vast volcanic crater known as ‘Caldeira’, over a mile in diameter and 1,200ft deep. Unfortunately there was a mist swirling around the high ground which prevented a clear view inside the crater, but spectacular nevertheless.

We passed the villages of Ribeira Funda, Praia do Norte and Norte Peqeno on the way to getting a view of Capelinhos, about 1km from the coast, an extinct volcano which rose from the sea in 1957. During the eruption the volcano added a whole new part to the island, burying fields and houses with ash and lava. The remains of the half-buried lighthouse can still be seen.

The whole island is filled with hydrangeas, which border both sides of many of the roads. We had to imagine the blaze of colour this would produce because, unfortunately they were not in flower during this part of the season. The island has been called the “Blue Island” due to the burst of colour from the hydrangeas.

A very beautiful island, which we’d like to visit again one day as part of a more extended holiday.

Our next – and final – port of call is Ponta Delgarda on the island of Sao Miguel, where we arrive tomorrow, Saturday 9th February.

Caldeira Volcano Crater
Caldeira Volcano Crater

 

Horta Harbour
Horta Harbour

 

Marco Polo and sea wall in foreground with pictures and messages from previous sea-farers
Marco Polo and sea wall in foreground with pictures and messages from previous sea-farers

 

The old lighthouse, half-buried in lava.
The old lighthouse, half-buried in lava.

Bridgetown, Barbados – and farewell to the West Indies!

We arrived in Bridgetown, Barbados on Saturday 2nd February. This is our last port of call in the West Indies before starting our homeward leg across the vast Atlantic. After Barbados we can look forward to (!) five days at sea before arriving at Horta in the Azores.

Known for its beaches and cricket, Barbados is one of the mots popular islands in the West Indies. British influence is everywhere, from place names to Anglican Parish Churches. The legal and political system is very much based on that of Britain; judges wear robes and wigs, cricket is a national passion, they drive on the correct (left) side of the road, and the epithet “Little England” is often used.

The Portuguese came to Barbados en route to Brazil and named it “Los Barbados” (bearded-ones) after the island’s fig trees, which have a beard-like appearance. The first English settlers arrived in 1627 and within a few years much of the land had been deforested to make way for tobacco and cotton pltantations. Sugar cane was introduced and a market for slaves who came from Afica.

After slavery was abolished in 1834, many of the new citizens of Barbados took advantage of the excellent education system. Barbados remained a British colony until 1961, gaining full independence in 1966.

Bridgetown is the capital, and home of the Kensington Oval, which was the venue for the 2007 Cricket World Cup final. South of the city is the historic Garrison area, where the British once maintained the Caribbean military headquarters. This is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Outside the main entrance to the cruise terminal is a village made up of historic chattel houses (colourful movable houses which were standard housing for plantation workers after emancipation). These small, brightly painted houses are now filled with art, handicrafts and souvenirs.

We decided to go on the “Discover Barbados” tour, which took in the Highland Adventure Centre, at an elevation of over 1000ft, overlooking the Atlantic. We then descended to the East Coast with its rugged landscape and pounding Atlantic surf to reach Bathsheba – a popular beach resort. We then headed to St John’s Church, situated on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic. The original church was built in 1660, but mostly destroyed by a hurricane in 1831. The present church was rebuilt in 1836. A feature of the church was the pulpit, which was made of six different types of wood: Ebony, Locust, Mahogany, Manchineel, Oak and Pine. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

And so we finally departed the West Indies on the evening of Saturday 2nd February. Strangely enough, our cruise director thought a themed evening of County & Western music was most apt for our last evening in the Caribbean. Surreal or what?!

We now have five days at sea to look forward to before reaching Horta in the Azores. Homeward bound!

East Coast of Barbados showing the Atlantic Ocean
East Coast of Barbados showing the Atlantic Ocean

 

 Bathsheba, Barbados

 Bathsheba, Barbados

 

Chattel House
Chattel House

Castries, St Lucia, West Indies.

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We arrived at St Lucia in the morning of Friday 1st February after an overnight cruise from St Vincent.

 

One of the Windward Islands, it was named after Saint Lucy of Syracuse by the French, the first European colonisers. They signed a treaty with the native Carib people in 1660. England took control of the island from 1663 to 1667; in ensuing years, it was at war with France 14 times and rule of the island changed frequently (it was seven times each ruled by the French and British). In 1814, the British took definitive control of the island. Because it switched so often between British and French control, Saint Lucia was also known as the “Helen of the West Indies”.

 

St Lucia is probably best know for it’s dramatic twin peaks – the Pitons – which rise to 2000ft, sheltering magnificent rain forests and orchards of banana, coconut, mango and papaya trees. With an area of 240 sq miles, St Lucia is the second largest of the Winward Islands.

 

St Lucians drive on the left and have a passion for cricket. Although English is the official language, French Creole patois is widely spoken by the locals.

 

We visited St Lucia last year on the Royal Clipper, that time visiting Soufrière, the islands oldest town and backdrop to the volcanic cone-shaped Pitons. This time we docked at Castries, the islands capital. We were somewhat disappointed to learn that our planned snorkelling trip on a catamaran had been cancelled, supposedly due to a mechanical failure on the catamaran, but suspicions arose that the tour had been hijacked by one of the three large cruise ships that were also docked at Castries. We therefore had to make hasty arrangements for an alternative, and opted for the 4×4 Jeep & Waterfall Safari.

 

Our morning was taken up with shopping at the Castries Art & Craft Market for spices, hot pepper sauce and the compulsory fridge magnets for everyone at home.

 

The jeep safari in the afternoon took us to Morne Fortune for a panoramic view of Castries before descending to Cul de Sac Valley and the community of Belair for a brief stop to sample some locally grown fruits. We continued to Sarrot Hill, passing through quaint villages and communities, and arriving at Dennery for spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean. Finally, we went to Micloud and the Latille Waterfall, which was situated in a tranquil organic fruit, herbal and flower garden, run by a local Rastafarian who had made the garden’s his life’s work. An interesting character.

 

We sailed from St Lucia the same evening on our way to our final stop in the West Indies – Barbados. A slight touch of nostalgia as we left the harbour, seeing the 4-masted Royal Clipper all lit up. This time last year we were recently embarked on this for a 7-day cruise around the islands – that was most definitely a 5-star experience!

 

Castries Harbour
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Our 4×4 Jeep Safari
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Latille Waterfall
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Local Rastafarian – the man developed the organic gardens,
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Kingstown, St Vincent, the Grenadines

We arrived at Kingstown, St Vincent early in the morning of Thursday, 31st January after an overnight cruise from St George’s, Granada. The island is the largest of the Grenadines, technically part of the Winward Islands, which are themselves part of the Lesser Antilles. 

The island was originally named Hairouna (“The Land of the Blessed”) by the native Caribs. The Caribs aggressively prevented European settlement on St Vincent until 1719. Prior to this, formerly enslaved Africans, who had either been shipwrecked or who had escaped from Barbados, Saint Lucia and Grenada and sought refuge in mainland Saint Vincent, intermarried with the Caribs and became known as Garifuna or Black Caribs. Following the Seven Years War, marked in 1763 by the Treaty of Paris, Britain was granted control of St Vincent. St Vincent gained independence in 1979. 

The northern third of the island consists of an enormous and active volcano, La Soufrière, which erupted in 1902 killing 2,000 people. Much farmland was damaged, and the economy deteriorated. In April 1979, La Soufrière erupted again. Although no one was killed, thousands were evacuated, and again there was extensive agricultural damage. The main export is bananas and the main industry is tourism.

 

Kingstown is the capital and is a bustling hub of activity, with many craft shops, and vibrant fruit & veg and fish markets. Located on the northern outskirts are the Botanical Gardens, founded in 1763 and the oldest of their kind in the Western Hemisphere. We walked the one mile or so to the gardens, but there are plenty of taxis around all offering lifts to the gardens. Apart from the many varieties of trees, flowers and shrubs, the gardens have a sanctuary for the rare St Vincent Parrot (Amazona Guildingi), which is the island’s national bird. We had some fun answering the parrots’ calls of “hello” and “good morning”. I couldn’t coax any other words from them, but I’m sure they knew more. We also spotted – albeit very briefly – a mongoose as it scurried across our path. These were introduced to the island to control the snakes, but are now considered pests because of the damage they do to the agriculture.

 

From the gardens we took a taxi ride to Fort Charlotte, six hundred feet up on the hill outside Kingstown. This was a 19th century British battlement that once housed 600 troops and a battery of 30 cannons, mostly pointed inland for defence against the Caribs. The Fort is named after King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte. A section of the Fort is off-limits as it is still used today as a women’s prison, housing between 6 and 12 residents at any one time. The death penalty is still retained on St Vincent and the gallows are located close to the Fort.

 

The other noteworthy site for tourists is the St George’s Anglcan Cathedral on Grenville Street, with its exquisite stained glass. The Cathedral is famous for its Red Angel window, commissioned by Queen Victoria in memory of her first grandson, the Duke of Clarence. However, she rejected the window because the angel was dressed in red, not white as she had requested, and so years later the window was brought to St Vincent and displayed in this Cathedral.

 

Once again, we only had the one day to do our exploring of St Vincent. Our ship sailed the same evening for our next destination, St Lucia.

 

View of Kingstown, St Vincent from Fort Charlotte.
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Me at the Botanical Gardens
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Lynda at the Botanical Gardens
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Lynda on the Hibiscus walk, Botanical Gardens

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Granada, “Spice of the Caribbean”, and spicy gossip!

Continuing my travelogue of our epic cruise from Tilbury, to the Amazon, the West Indies and the Azores (and ultimately back to Tilbury).

I should be writing about our experience in Granada, where we arrived on the morning of Wednesday 30th January after two days at sea from our previous stop, Ile du Salut. But before I describe our visit to Granada, I thought I should say something about the growing number of incidents that have spiced up our days (excuse pun) on board our cruise ship, the Marco Polo. I guess one should expect a few issues and problems when over 700 passengers are confined together in a fairly limited space for a period of 6 weeks, but even I’ve been surprised by some of the things that I’ve seen or heard. I should perhaps note there is a degree of hearsay and anecdotal “evidence” in what follows, with occasional circumstantial evidence that might give credence to some of the gossip.

The first incident relates to the ship’s doctor. People on cruises fall ill, as a result of either a pre-existing condition or as a reaction to the food, or sea-sickness or whatever. We also have a fairly ‘aged’ demographic on board, so the doctor has been kept fairly busy. It takes a while before you see a trend, but I noticed after a couple of weeks into the cruise that there were a growing number of passengers walking around with bandages on their arms. This was followed by stories of medical bills running into several thousand pounds. A visit to the doctor (it is alleged) would result in a charge of £400 before any treatment. The standard treatment seems to be anti-biotics, invariably delivered intravenously (hence the bandages on the arms), which would then rack-up costs of over £1000 per day. One passenger (it is alleged) had a medical bill of over £7000. There was speculation that a letter had been written to the Daily Telegraph by a passenger describing one such case – though I have not so far been able to locate this letter. A number of passengers have corroborated the high medical bills, which has caused some consternation about the perils of falling ill, and what precisely is covered by travel insurance. Suffice to say, I move around the ship very carefully – can’t afford to have an accident!

We’ve seen one passenger leave the ship semi-concious on a stretcher – without returning. Goodness knows what their medical bill looks like – or maybe they saw it and hence the stretcher!

Then there was the arrest and detention of a passenger during our stay in the Amazon, specifically our stop at Manaus. For anyone familiar with cruising, you will know that all passports are given up to the ship’s administration, who liaise with the appropriate immigration authorities for each of the countries visited. We had Brazilian immigration staff permanently on board throughout our stay in the Amazon, and they found “a person of interest” to them during their audit of the passports. The said person (a lady) was detained as soon as she set foot ashore – allegedly on a fraud charge – and she hasn’t been seen since. 

There was some speculation about the removal of a passenger following our visit to Boca da Valeria on the grounds of suspected pedophilia. However, there’s no real evidence to support this.

There has been more than one fracas in the dining areas, one of which I personally witnessed where two men squared up to each other about who had the rights of ownership of a particular table. It was just handbags at 10 paces, but possibly indicative of the increasingly fractious nature of some people now that we’re 4 weeks into the cruise. Will there be an actual physical assault before the cruise is over? Watch this space!

And then there are the seemingly growing number of passengers who will complain about everything and anything – the music is too loud/not loud enough/don’t want a radio/want a radio, it’s too hot/too cold/too wet etc. One lady complained of poor service in the restaurant because the waiter hadn’t cut her food up for her. It takes all sorts.

Anyway, about Granada. Granada the largest island in the Grenadines; smaller islands are Carriacou, Petit Martinique, Ronde Island, Caille Island, Diamond Island, Large Island, Saline Island, and Frigate Island. Sighted by Columbus in 1498 (though he didn’t actually make land) and named by Spanish sailors after the city of Granada in Andalucia, the island remained uncolonised for over 150 years. The island changed hands between the British and the French until 1783, after which it remained British. 

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The islands are of volcanic origin with extremely rich soil. Grenada’s interior is very mountainous with Mount St. Catherine being the highest at 840 m. It is a leading producer of several different spices. Cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, orange/citrus peels and especially nutmeg, providing 20% of the world supply, are all major exports. The nutmeg on the nation’s flag represents the economic crop of Grenada; the nation is the world’s second largest producer of nutmeg (after Indonesia).

The culture is a fusion of Africa, East Indian, French and British practices. They drive on the left (as all ‘proper’ countries do) and their national sport is cricket.

The capital is St George’s, which has a very picturesque harbour and lots of colonial architecture, such as the Georgian York House (the Houses of Parliament). Only two miles to the south of St George’s is the beautiful Grand Anse Beach, a stunning stretch of immaculate white sand. 

We took advantage of the “Rhum Runner”, a sort of motorised platform complete with steel band and bar serving bottomless rum punch. This did a cruise around St George’s harbour before heading out past Grand Anse Beach on the way to Mourne Rouge beach. We had about 1.5 hours to swim and snorkel at the beach, with the staff of Rhum Runner continuing to serve us with lashings of rum punch. On the return journey the party continued with a limbo dance challenge and dancing to the steel band. Yes, we had a good time, and it’s a pity we couldn’t have stayed longer in Granada, but our ship has a schedule and we sailed at 10pm to our next destination – Kingstown, St Vincent.

St George’s Harbour, Granada
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St George’s Harbour, Granada
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Limbo dancing on the Rhum Runner
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Lynda joins the steel band!
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Iles du Salut, French Guiana (Devil’s Island..and Papillon has gone!)

We made a brief (half-day) stop at the Iles du Salut on Monday 28th January.The Îles du Salut (in English: Islands of Health, so called because the missionaries went there to escape plague on the mainland) are a group of small islands of volcanic origin about 11 km off the coast of French Guiana in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Île du Diable, the most famous due to the political imprisonment there of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, is better known to many people as Devil’s Island. The islands were part of a penal colony from 1852 onwards for only the worst criminals of France. The main part of the penal colony was a labour camp stretched along the border with Dutch Guiana, which today is Surinam. 

Île Royale was for the general population of the worst criminals of the penal colony to roam about in moderate freedom due to the difficulty of escape from the island. 

Île Saint-Joseph was for the worst of those criminals to be punished in solitary confinement in silence and for extra punishment in darkness of the worst of the worst criminals of the penal colony. 

Île du Diable was for political prisoners including the aforementioned Captain Alfred Dreyfus.This penal colony for the very worst criminals of France was controversial for it had a reputation for harshness and brutality. Prisoner upon prisoner violence was common, tropical diseases would kill many others, and a small core of broken survivors would return to France to tell how horrible it was and scare other potential criminals straight. This system was gradually phased out and has been completely shut down since 1953. Nowadays the islands are a popular tourist destination. The islands were featured in the novel by Henri Charrière, Papillon, which was also made into a film, starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman. 

While the prison system was in use (1852–1953) inmates included political prisoners (such as 239 republicans who opposed Napoleon III’s coup d’état in 1851) and the most hardened of thieves and murderers. The vast majority of the more than 80,000 prisoners sent to the Devil’s Island Prison System never made it back to France. Many died due to disease and harsh conditions. Sanitary systems were limited, and the region was mosquito-infested, with endemic tropical diseases. The only exit from the island prisons was by water, and few convicts escaped.

Near the cells was a place for the guillotine for particularly recalcitrant prisoners; when it was used, all prisoners were forced to watch. Head of the executed prisoners were kept on display until the 1960’s.

On 30 May 1854, France passed a new law of forced residency; it required convicts to stay in French Guiana after completion of sentence for a time equal to their forced labour time. If the original sentence exceeded eight years they were forced to stay as residents for the remainder of their lives and were provided land to settle on. 

In 1938 the penal system was strongly criticised in Rene Belbenoit’s book Dry Guillotine. Shortly after the release of Belbenoit’s book, which aroused public outrage about the conditions, the French government announced plans to close the prisons. The outbreak of World War II delayed this operation but, from 1946 until 1953, one by one the prisons were closed. 

In 1965 the French government transferred the responsibility for most of the islands to its newly founded Guiana Space Centre. The islands are under the trajectory of the space rockets launched from the Centre eastward, toward the sea (to geostationary orbit). They must be evacuated during each launch. The islands host a variety of measurement apparatus for space launches.

Next stop on our epic journey – Grenada in the Southern Grenadines, West Indies.

(Some material sourced from Wikipedia)

Devil’s Island viewed from Iles Royale 

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Solitary Confinement Cell Block
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Lynda in Solitary Confinement Cell (peace at last!)
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An Agouti
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Manaus – heart of the Amazon

We arrived at Manaus on Monday 21st January. Manaus is the capital of the state of Amazonas. It is situated at the confluence of the Negro and Solimões rivers. It is the most populous city of Amazonas,and is a popular ecotourist destination. Manaus belongs to mesoregion Center Amazonense and microregion Manaus. It is located in northern Brazil, 1,203 miles from the federal capital, Brasília and almost 1000 miles from the Atlantic.

The city was founded in 1669 as the Fort of São José do Rio Negro. It was elevated to a town in 1832 with the name of “Manaus”, which means “mother of the gods” in tribute to the indigenous nation of Manaós, and legally transformed into a city on October 24 of 1848 with the name of Cidade da Barra do Rio Negro, Portuguese for “The City of the Margins of Black River”. Only on September 4 of 1856 did it revert to its current name.

The population in 2012 was 1.85 million people; it is the most populous city in North Region and seventh most populous city of Brazil. Manaus alone represents 10.89% of the population of the whole of Northern Brazil and 49.9% of the population of the Amazon.

Manaus was at the centre of the Amazon region’s rubber boom during the late 19th century. For a time, it was “one of the gaudiest cities of the world”One historian has written, “No extravagance, however absurd, deterred” the rubber barons. “If one rubber baron bought a vast yacht, another would install a tame lion in his villa, and a third would water his horse on champagne.”
The city’s most famous monument is the opulent, world-renowned Opera House (Teatro Amazonas). It is a focal point of the city and is built entirely of bricks, tiles and materials brought piece by piece from Europe. The construction started in 1881 and took 15 years to build at a cost of $10 million. Behind the neoclassical facade, the interior columns and bannisters are of English cast iron, the stage curtains were painted in France, where the chandeliers and mirrors also came from; the marble originates from Italy and the porecain from Venice. Paintings include works from Capranesi and De Angelis. The green, yellow, red and blue doem is made up of tiles imported from Alsace, France. The driveway was paved with rubber to prevent the sounds of carriage wheels spoiling performances. Caruso sang here and Anna Pavlova danced.

Visitors can have a guided tour of the Opera House for 10 Real per person, which I thought was very good value.

Overlooking the docks is the old Customs House, prefabricated in Liverpool and shipped here over a century ago. The tower once acted as a lighthouse guiding vessels in at night.

This was one of the few ports where we were docked overnight, which enabled many of the crew to sample the nightlife (there were quite a few pasty-looking faces and red eyes the following day!). We were on an organised tour “Discover the Amazon” on our second day. This included a boat ride to the ‘Meeting of the Waters”, where the black waters of the Negro River meet the brown waters of the Solimoes River, flowing side by side without mixing for about 6 miles. This natural phenomenon is caused by the confluence of the Negro River’s dark water and the Solimões River’s muddy brown water that come together to form the Amazonas River. The waters don’t mix because of the great difference between the water temperatures and current speeds.

Our tour also took in an exploration of some of the small tributaries and lakes, and a visit to the Terra Nova Caboclo’s Village, where we were able to see examples of floating houses, giant water lilies and a wide variety of indigenous birds. This is where I also spotted not one but two of the rare black cayman, the largest of the species, which can grow to over 3 metres.

The Opera House
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Manaus Waterfront
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Meeting of the Waters
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Black Cayman
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Floating Houses, Terra Nova Caboclo’s Village
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Next ports of call – Parintins and the Boi Bumba carnival. A real taste of what Brazilians do best – dressing up in exotic costumes, dancing and having fun!

First Stop: Amsterdam


From Evernote:

First Stop: Amsterdam

Our first day at sea was mainly taken up with unloading the suitcases (4 of them) into the limited storage space available in the cabin, undergoing a fairly protracted but thorough lifeboat drill (lifeboat 8 now indelibly imprinted on my brain), finding our way around the ship, and meeting our fellow travellers. Oh yes, and discovering where we eat and what times (most important!).

Actually, the cabin space is not too bad, and under normal circumstances the storage would be adequate, but packing for a 42-day cruise was a challenge – more so for Lynda (wife) than me, since this meant 42 x 2 changes of outfit (1 x daytime + 1 x evening), and of course shoes and bag have to match each outfit. Fortunately I could "donate" some of my allotted space since 2 shirts, 2 T-shirts and a pair of shoes don’t take up much space (I am joking, of course!).

The lifeboat drill was an interesting experience. Carried out in a calm and controlled environment, I wondered how many would actually survive if there were no lights, a smokey atmosphere and decks at a 15 degree angle. One gentleman spent the entire time we were assembled grappling with his lifebelt, and I’m not quite sure if he managed to sort it out by the time we finished, about 45 minutes later. I felt I was sometimes sub-conciously identifying the weak and the frail who might be the unwitting obstacles in a real emergency – but then again I’d hope if it came down to it I would help my fellow man (or woman) if they were having difficulties. 

The evening dinner went without incident, other than trying to remember the names of the guests on our table (Brian, Bridget, Dermot, Margaret, Jo, Dale, Lynda)…I think. I’m pretty sure about Lynda though, she’s my wife! Once minor coincidence, Brian was ex Royal Navy (like me), and was a Weapons Electrical Artificer (like me). We shared a few old sea-dog stories and I’m sure we’ll bore our fellow guests with lots more before the week is out. 

Pictured below, some of the artistic melon designs that randomly appear on the buffet table.

And so we arrived at Amsterdam at about 7.30am on Friday 5th January, having navigated the 19-mile canal that connects Amsterdam with the English Channel. We went ashore about 9.30am and walked the 10 minutes or so to Central Station, where I bought 2 x 24-hour tram tickets (7.5 Euros each), thinking we’d be hopping on and off trams all day. In reality, we mostly walked, taking in the sights and the wonderful architecture of the old 3-4 story houses. I’ve been to Amsterdam a few times previously, so I was able to fairly easily navigate our way to the famous (infamous?) "Rosse Buurt", otherwise know as De Wallen or more pupularaliy known as the red light district. This is a designated area for legalised prostitution and consists of a network of roads and alleys containing several hundred small, one-room apartments rented by sex workers who offer their services from behind a window or glass door, typically illuminated with red lights.

An interesting experience for Lynda, and a re-awekinging of some dimly forgotten experiences for me! Actually, at this time of day (about 11am) it was a very safe and sedate experience with only some of the more "experienced" (or desperate) wares on show behind their illuminitated windows.

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After a coffee (a normal one, not one from the many "Bruine Kroeg" (brown coffee) houses with their non-coffee-like aromas escaping from their open doorways), we thought we’d follow the usual tourist trail Anne Frank’s house. I’ve never been there before, despite my previous visits to Amsterdam, so was looking for a fairly old, pre-wartime house with one of those blue signs on the outside stating "Anne Frank lived here". In reality, what we found was a large, modern all-glass building with a queue of people snaking from it for a good 200 metres. I assume some of the original house might be in there somewhere, but unless I was prepared to wait about 6 hours in the queue I’ll never know for sure!

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Our next stop was the Riksmuseum (or State) Museum. This gave us an excuse to use the tram tickets, since it’s a a fair walk beyond the city centre to Museimplein (Museum Square). All of the most important museums are located at Museimplein, including the Van Gogh and Stedelijk museums. The Rijksmuseum possesses the largest and most important collection of classical Dutch art. Its collection consists of nearly one million objects.The artist most associated with Amsterdam is Rembrandt, whose work, and the work of his pupils, is displayed in the Rijksmuseum. Rembrandt’s masterpiece De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch) is one of top pieces of art of the museum. It also houses paintings from artists like Van der Helst, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Ferdinand Bol, Albert Cuyp, Jacob van Ruisdael and Paulus Potter. Aside from paintings, the collection consists of a large variety of decorative art. This ranges from Delftware to giant dollhouses from the 17th century.

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Having immersed ourselves in Dutch culture for over 2 hours, it was time to make our way back to the ship. A tram back to Centraal, and then a 10 minute walk along the harbour

Next stop, Lisbon, where we arrive on Tuesday 8th January via the Bay of Biscay, where we’re hoping (by all accounts) to see some dolphins and fin whales on their migratory path. Let’s hope the weather is calm!

 

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Creating a travel guide from Wikipedia

A much-overlooked but useful feature of Wikipedia is the “Create A BooK” tool. This enables you to source useful reference information from Wikipedia’s pages into your own personalised book, that you can either download for a free as a PDF or in open document format.

Alternativley for a small charge, you can have it professionally typeset and bound. Why would you want to do this you may ask? Well, for me it was the desire to have my own personalised reference guide for the places I am visiting on my trip (cruise) to the Amazon and West Indies.

For my guide I’ve sourced information about the places I’m visiting, the indigenous peoples, the animals and wildlife, the climate, the languages and much more. All neatly indexed and collated with photos, text and hyperlinks. If travel is not your thing, you could maybe create a book about your favourite music, composer or a specific professional interest. If you’d like to give it a go, read on. 

How to Create A Book Using Wikipedia

(Adapted from an original article in MakeUseof)

Search, browse and navigate to the Wikipedia article of your choice. On the left hand side, near the bottom is the create a book menu. It includes two items – Add wiki page and Books help.

Start adding the pages to your book by clicking the Add wiki page link on the relevant Wikipedia pages you want to include. The number of pages in the book gets automatically updated in the menu on the left. Two additional menu items ““ Show book (with a page counter) and Clear book appear in the menu.

You can also add an entire category within which the relevant page falls with just a single click. You can find the category hierarchy at the end of the article page.

Add The Title Of Your Book

 

With all pages added, click the Show book button to review your book. Here it is possible to add a book title (and a subtitle) and change the ordering of the wiki pages of the book through drag and drop. Unwanted pages can be dumped by a simple click of the “dustbin” icon. New chapters can be included using the Create chapter link.

Many advanced functions like adding a particular revision or saving a book and improving the layout can be achieved through a combination of advanced functions. The Help page details those steps.

Download Or Order A Printed Copy

Voila! You have just “written” your first book with the help of Wikipedia. Now, the finished book can be downloaded in PDF or OpenDocument format or ordered as a bound book. To download in the format of your choice, select the format from the dropdown and click theDownload button. To order the book as a bound book, click the Order book from PediaPressbutton.

Wikipedia’s built-in rendering engine assembles the pages, grabs the images and parses them before they are passed on to the user in the final downloadable format. In its final format my 469 wikipedia pages transformed into a 95MB file downloaded as a 275 page PDF book. The end result was good, with neat alignments of photos and text.

If you take the PediaPress option as I have done, you’ll pay for typesetting, layout and binding. Cost will depend on whether you want colour (I did) or black and white, and if you want a hard or paperback cover.  I was pleased with the end result (see photo) and will be using this as my everyday companion during this holiday.