Tuesday, February 21, 2017

20th February 2017 - Cuverville Island and Neko Harbour

This morning we were meant to be visiting Orne Harbour however the expedition team decided the conditions were too dangerous for the passengers to land.

Instead we were taken on a Zodiac cruise around Cuverville Island. There were plenty of crab eater seals on view either resting on a mini-iceberg or playing in the water. Only one seal seemed slightly bothered by our presence so our Zodiac pilot gave that seal a wide berth.   By the way the following photo of a couple of other crab eater seals was taken with an ordinary little camera, we really were that close.

The ice formations are spectacular.  There is white, blue and green ice. The blue and white ice are down to differing structures, the blue ice acting as a prism for the light.  My following photo shows streaks of the blue ice in the white ice.

Our Zodiac pilot picked up some blue ice from the water but in this amount it didn't look very blue. The green ice is such because of the moss growing on it.

In the afternoon we went to Neko Harbour and the Zodiacs took us ashore. I found it very difficult to manoeuvre over the rocks leading to the path up to the Gentoo penguins. At one point, after nearly falling twice, I found a rock to sit on while I decided what to do next. A kind member of the crew helped me to walk across to one of the areas where the penguins were. I sat on another rock and watched what was going.  As usual the penguins didn't obey the rule the humans have of staying 15 feet apart.

Today was extra special in that it was the first day Ruth and I stood on the Antarctic mainland.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

18th February 2017 - Drake's passage

At our morning briefing we were told that we have entered Antarctica waters.  This briefing was to tell us the rules about landing on Antarctica.  We also had instructions on how to use the Zodiac dinghies which will be taking us to shore.

Afterwards Ruth and I went up on deck to see if there were any birds about.  Birds often follow the ship because this way they get an easier life by being able to glide in the air currents created by the ship.  Another benefit for the birds is the amount of fish the ship's passage brings to the surface.

Now you have a chance to play 'spot the birds' in the following picture.

The next wildlife we encountered were much easier to spot.  They were using one of the two hot tubs at the stern of the ship.

After lunch land appeared in the distance which we have been told is the South Shetland Islands.  Our itinerary isn't fixed however we may visit the South Shetland Islands later in our trip.

Late this afternoon we saw some humpback whales following the ship.  They even stayed around until we were having pre-dinner drinks in one of the lounges.

Ruth has far more spectacular pictures of the whales but I do not have the knack of catching the whales at their photogenic best.

Finally we had our first view of the Antarctic mainland.  It is unbelievable that at some point tomorrow we will be setting our feet on the Antarctic continent.

When I was a child I had a goal of visiting every country in the world.  I soon realised this was impossible for a number of reasons and modified my goal to visiting every continent.  Tomorrow I shall set foot on my final continent.

Friday, February 17, 2017

17th February 2017 - Drake's passage

The Silver Explorer is currently passing through Drake's passage on the way to Antarctica.  Drake's passage is notorious for being rough but this crossing is a 2 to 3 in terms of roughness compared to a frequent 10.  In fact the crew have told us this is the calmest crossing they have had all season.  Ruth and I had already noticed that all the tables and chairs in the dining room have been chained down.

Neither Ruth nor I have ever been seasick before but we do not want this trip to be the first time.  We are therefore wearing anti-seasickness patches as modelled by yours truly below.  Many of the other passengers are similarly marked.

The next photo shows the room where we go for lectures.  There have been a number of lectures today, some on wildlife and some on the history of Antarctica.  It is also possible to watch the lectures on the televisions in our cabins.

Tonight we had the Captain's cocktail party in the lecture room.  Yet another drink was pressed into my hand on entering the lecture theatre.

The captain (far right) introduced himself to us and then we met some of his crew.  We then proceeded to one of the two formal dinners on board ship.  There is so much good food available that I am working hard to ration myself.

We have been told there is approximately a 1:1 ratio of passengers on board ship.

16th February 2017 - Ushuaia and the Silver Explorer

Today we had to get up at 4am to be taken to the airport for our flight to Ushuaia in Patagonia.

On arrival in Ushuaia we were taken for lunch then had an opportunity to walk around and take pictures.  The Andes end in Ushuaia so the views were spectacular,  I have included a photo of Ushuaia surrounded  by the Andes but it doesn't really do the scenery justice.

Finally we boarded our ship the Silver Explorer which is going to take us to Antarctica.  We were greeted with a glass of champagne and shown to our cabin.  I was surprised to find a load of 'Happy Birthday' balloons stuck to the ceiling of the cabin and a bottle of fizz in an ice bucket on the table.

The cabin is very comfortable especially the beds.  Having beds on board ship is a novelty after having bunks on sea trips as a child.

Our first activity was to go to the muster station (actually the lecture theatre) to be taught the emergency drill. 

Soon afterwards everyone gathered on the rear deck for drinks to watch the ship depart from Argentina.

We then assembled in the lecture theatre to meet the key personnel for the expedition.  A cocktail was given to us on entering the lecture theatre.   There was a wide range of scientists introduced especially those knowledgeable in the wildlife we may meet on our cruise.  I have also identified some staff that may advise me best how to make the most out of the expeditions considering my limitations.

Dinner was excellent.  I was brought a birthday cake to music as my dessert.  Sadly I couldn't finish it as it was both too large and too rich.

Ruth and I then returned to our cabin to finish unpacking and make a start on the fizz.

The sea is relatively calm especially since we are going through the notorious Drake's passage.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it stays like this.

15th January 2017 Buenos Aires

Today Ruth and I decided it was time to do some serious sightseeing.

We started off by having iced coffee and churros for breakfast at Cafe Tortoni which is the oldest coffe shop in Buenoes Aires with some stained glass ceilings.

The iced coffee was really special with dulce de leche round the top of the glass.  Ruth an I decided not to estimate the calories in the drink.

Our next stop was the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral which is the main Catholic church in Buenos Aires.  It is a beautiful Cathedral on the Plaza de Mayo and the church home of Pope Francis.

After that we walked round the Plaza de Mayo which is the scene of many historic events including Eva Peron's speeches.  We also found the nearby Columbus park which is the one place I remember from my visit to Buenos Aires in 1965.  My only other significant memory of the 1965 trip was when our liner ran aground in the River Plate.

Ruth and my next stop was the San Telmo area where outdoor tango dancing takes place in the Plaza Dorrego.  As an avid fan of Strictly Come Dancing it was fantastic to see real Argentinian tango in Buenos Aires.

Our last stop was the Cementerio de la Recoleta.  This is an amazing cemetery with spectacular mausoleums.  Of particular interest was the family mausoleum of Eva Peron which was decorated with flowers.  I was surprised how close all the mausoleums were to one another.

Ruth and I then spent the rest of the day getting reading for our 4am start the following day.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

14th February 2017 Buenos Aires

Ruth and I were met at Buenos Aires by a representative from our tour company.  She took us to the Park Tower Hotel where we would be staying for the next two nights.  Ruth and I were pretty shattered after our journey so we started our stay with a shower and a nap.

A favourite dining out experience in Argentina is to go to a parilla which is an Argentinian steakhouse with excellent beef.  Ruth and I went to a parilla called Cabanas las Lilas for dinner.  This was situated on the waterfront. 

Ruth and I shared the most delicious rib eye steak together with half a bottle of Malbec Riserva.

We just about found room to follow the beef by crepes with dulche de leche.  Dulche de leche is a sweet caramel sauce that finds a home anywhere sweet in Argentina. 

Okay, today is all about food but I promise to do better tomorrow.

13th February 2017 - En route from Montreal to Buenos Aires

Monday the 13th February was interesting to say the least.

Andy made good time taking us to Montreal to catch our first flight of the day which was from Montreal to John F. Kennedy airport in New York.  We were then going to connect with a second flight to Buenos Aires.  Unfortunately we found our flight to JFK airport has been cancelled.  Thankfully we had set off early for Montreal because of the snowy weather.  We managed to book ourselves on a delayed flight to JFK airport that was leaving at the same time as our original flight.  Thankfully Andy stayed around until everything was sorted.  The rebooking of flights was far from simple as we had been bumped onto flights on the 14th February which was the day after we intended to travel to Buenos Aires.    The big issue seemed to be getting us back onto the 13th of February Buenos Aires flight.  We spent at least an hour waiting for the check-in assistant to sort everything out.  At least I managed to get us seating with extra leg room on this flight.

As we were boarding the Montreal to JFK flight I had a shock when the flight attendant just went "over there" gesturing to my cabin bag.  To say she was rude was an understatement.  In blind panic I pulled a carrier bag out of my handbag to put my PC and critical medication in.  Even my camera was left in the ex-cabin bag.  I have never come across valet loading of cabin baggage before.  The flight went from bad to worse when Ruth and I found there wasn't any water in the toilets to wash one's hands.  All American Eagle had provided was some wipes.  I was relieved to get off the plane and be reunited with my cabin bag.  By this time Ruth and I were exhausted and pretty stressed out.

One thing I will give JFK credit for is that my wheelchair was there ready to meet the plane and with my name on a clear sign.  The wheelchair was most welcome as it was a very long way from the gate where we landed to the gate where we were to take off from Buenos Aires.  Boarding the Buenos Aires flight went smoothly and I retained possession of my cabin bag.  We received the treatment expected of a major airline.  Ruth and I picked up after a hot meal and knowing we were on schedule for being picked up by our tour company in Buenos Aires.  We even managed to starting to write a draft of this edition of our blog.  The only downside was that no wheelchair was waiting for me when we arrived at Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires immigration was problem free but it took us quite a wait for our baggage.

Hopefully my next blog will be back to happier times and pretty pictures.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

12th February 2017 - My 60th birthday

Today was my 60th birthday so we headed off to a ski lodge called Chateau Montebello in Quebec province.  It was quite a way to go especially since we had to follow a detour due to an accident.

We had a lovely meal while watching the show fall through the window of the restaurant.  The brunch offered was extensive to say the least.  I even had some freshly carved bison.

The Chateau Montebello restaurant kindly gave me a special dessert as it was my birthday.

On the way back the snow was really coming down and we passed another couple of accidents; my picture does not do the fall of snow justice.  I felt sorry for Andy having to drive in the bad weather even if it is normal for this area of Canada.

In the evening Ruth and I broke off our packing to sample my chocolate birthday cake (what other sort is there) and have some champagne.

I doubt there will be any blog entry tomorrow as Ruth and I are flying from Montreal overnight to Buenos Aires.  Andy is taking us to the airport.  We are all hoping the roads are passable.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

11th February 2017 Ottawa

Snow had fallen overnight so Andy had to start the day by snowploughing the drive.

This afternoon Andy took me to the Winterlude Snow Kingdom event at Jacques-Cartier Park in Gatineau across in Quebec province.  There were some splendid snow sculptures, see below.  The snow sculptures were much bigger than I had imagined them to be.

The children were having great fun on snow slides which made me wish I was a little fitter so that I could take part. There was also a zip line which was tempting however the queue was 90 minutes long and it was too cold to stand still in that temperature.  In fact it was so cold my glasses kept steaming up.

This year is the 150th anniversary of Canada.  Andy took this photo of me standing in front of a snow sculpture celebrating the anniversary.

Friday, February 10, 2017

10th February 2017 Ottawa

I am spending from the 5th February to the 6th March in Ottawa with my friends Andy, Ruth and Dariel in order to celebrate my 60th birthday.  Just after my birthday Ruth and I are going on a big adventure, more information will follow in future blogs.

It is seriously cold here, today was -17 degrees Celsius with a wind chill factor of -25 degrees Celsius.  Most of the time this is fine but when the wind chill gets you then you know about it.

Today Ruth and I went downtown.  The following picture shows people skating on the Rideau Canal.  Hand-made Beavertail pastries, a uniquely Canadian tradition,  are served up in kiosks on the canal but can be bought elsewhere during the rest of the year.

Afterwards Ruth and I went to see the ice sculptures.  I would have loved to see the sculptors carving the ice statues as some of them were very intricate.  A couple of pictures office sculptures follow.

I was thrilled to get a few halfway decent photos as I have been getting medical help to control a tremor.

After we had visited the ice sculptures Ruth and I went to the Lord Elgin Hotel to warm up with a coffee.  We picked this particular venue because my mother and I had spent a night at the Lord Elgin in September 1987.

Ruth and I ended up our trip with lunch in the Byward Market area.  We both had savoury crepes which I followed by cheesecake.  Ruth had a quite spectacular individual chocolate fondue.

This afternoon Andy took me to Canada Computers to get a connector that enables me to use my ancient mouse with my laptop.

Well this is all for tonight folks.