|Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 4
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It was only a short overnight cruise to Rio de Janeiro and we arrived within sight of the lights of Copacabana Beach just before 0600 with the lights on the Christ the Redeemer Statue above. We got some interesting pictures as dawn broke with the moon behind the sugarloaf and over the city as the sun first hit the downtown area. Queen Victoria berthed at Warehouse No 5 and shortly afterwards a Costa cruise ship arrived at No 4. We were spending two full days in Rio de Janeiro and there would be a changeover of passengers, and some crew.
Rio de Janeiro is a huge seaside city in Brazil which we had visited in 2003 on the QE2 and in 2017 on the Queen Victoria. It is famed for its Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, 38m Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado and for Sugarloaf Mountain, a granite peak with cable cars to its summit. The city is also known for its sprawling favelas (shanty towns). Its raucous Carnival festival, featuring parade floats, flamboyant costumes and samba dancers, is considered the world's largest. Fortunately Carnival does not start until later in February this year and there was no obvious evidence of preparation on the main streets.
Although this would be our third visit we had never spent time on the beaches and the first day was spent in the Copacabana area, using the complimentary shuttle bus to the Rio Othon Palace Hotel. The journey takes around 45 minutes each way, depending on local traffic, and passes through the historic town centre. There were glimpses of the Theatre Joao Caetano, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Lapa aqueduct. The aqueduct was built in 1724 to bring water down to the town from the hill of Santa Teresa. Along the top of the Lapa aqueducts is a track where the vintage yellow Bondinho de Santa Teresa trams run. The bus then passed along the beaches of Flamengo and Botafogo before reaching Copacabana at the statue of Princess Isabel, the daughter of Dom Pedro II, who signed the decree which abolished slavery in Brazil in 1888. The Rio Othon Palace Hotel is a large modern hotel on the beachfront and it was only a short walk to the The Museum of Image and Sound which has been under construction for many years. This modern building was sadly unfinished. It should contain the collection of Carmen Miranda, a famous singer and film star who lived in Rio from childhood and died in 1955. Continuing along the beach along the Portugese-style mosaic tiled promenade there were several sandcastle artists at work and numerous cafes and bars. The sand is so hot that paths have water sprinklers to keep them cool enough for bare feet hen one is walking to the sunbeds
The end of the beach, just before the road turns towards Ipanema, is the historic Copacabana Fort. It is still an active military base but is also a historical site with a museum, restaurant, shops and displays of past history and old military equipment. Entry was only 3Rls for seniors. After an introductory video the site was open for wandering and many people were sitting in the shade under the trees admiring the view of Copacabana beach. The museum was very interesting, with tableau depicting historic events, from the arrival of the Portuguese in 1502 and their meetings with the local Tupinamba to the colonisation with sugar plantations introduced in 1532 and the arrival of the first governor, Tome de Sousa, in Salvador in 1549. Rio de Janeiro was founded in 1565, and eventually made the new capital city in 1763. Much is also written about the revolt by junior military officers against the landed elite, from 1922 to 1926, which includes the famous 18 do Copacabana revolt. As well as the Museum there is also an extensive restored underground bunker with gun placements. The information was very well presented, the buildings were well cared for and everywhere there were young soldiers in uniform to watch that no-one explored beyond the marked limits. Unfortunately most of the information is only in Portuguese but it is still an excellent place to visit and we wished we had more time available. The Copacabana Beach is famous for its fine sand and facilities and there were some people swimming but there were concerns of water quality in recent years. It would be excellent to sunbathe but a risk for swimming and we only paddled at the edge of the water.
There were no duty free shops at the port but there were souvenir shops which were selling cheap Havaianas and at only 6US$ Pauline could not resist a bargain which was also a good souvenir. Brazil is famous as one of the largest manufacturers of shoes and footwear in the world and these are their most famous brand. In the evening we had the first of two marvelous sunsets before dinner followed by a show by a local Brazilian Group
The second day was an early start with a checkin time of 0715 in the Queen's Room for a full day tour which visited Corcovado and Sugar Loaf with lunch included. After our drive through Rio on the shuttle bus we already knew the route from the ship and recognised the Metropolitan cathedral, the Lapa aqueduct and then the beaches of Flamengo and Botafogo.
The Art Deco-style statue of Christ the Redeemer is Rio's most famous and enduring symbol, perched atop the 2,316 foot high hill of Corcovado. Our tour departed early and we arrived at the Cosme Velho train station in plenty of time for the 0840 train to the summit. Trains run every 20 minutes and in the early morning there were no queues. The Swiss-made funicular line through the rainforest was originally built in 1882 although the present train with its two carriages is much newer. The Tijuca Forest National Park, the largest urban expanse of tropical forest and mountains on the planet, passed quickly with glimpses down towards the town and stands of breadfruit trees rushed by close enough to almost touch. The line is single width with a passing place. At the summit there were already hundreds of people taking their selfies with the statue. The statue was designed by local architect Heitor da Silva Costa, constructed in France from reinforced concrete and covered with a limestone mosaic, and then installed. In October 2006, on the 75th anniversary of the statue's completion, Archbishop of Rio, Cardinal Eusebio Oscar Scheid, consecrated a chapel, named after Brazil's patron saint—Our Lady of the Apparition, under the statue, allowing Catholics to hold baptisms and weddings there. It was much better weather than in 2003 and we have too many pictures of the beaches and the town, including the port and the international airport beyond. There was an excellent view of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Feitas, the Jockey Club, and the famous beaches of Leblon and Ipanema, divided by the canal from the Lagoa and Jardim de Alah. As we were ready to depart the low clouds came up the hillside and we were pleased we had arrived early.
Lunch was at the Churrascaria Palace, opposite the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel, at Copacabana beach. We were early so there was a 15 minute stop at the beach for those who wished to walk on the sands or buy a drink. Then lunch was the typical large buffet followed by a steady procession of waiters carrying BBQ meats on skewers which were carved at table with large sharp knives. As always, we ate too much but fortunately the dessert was only fresh fruit and icecream. There were also three large round cheeses as extra temptation and we seemed to be the only people who had any interest in them. The Walk In Menu price was 139Rls plus dessert, drinks and tax which explains why our tour was so expensive. In addition tourist sites offered half price tickets or free entry for seniors , which the tours could not assume.
It is not far from Copacabana to the Sugarloaf Mountain, the Pao de Acugar. The cable car station is at Praia Vermelha and the Italian cable car, originally opened in 1912, makes the trip in two stages. The first is to the summit of Morro da Urca, just over 700 feet, where there are restaurants, shops and a theatre. There is a short walk to the second stage where a different cable car continues the remaining 600 feet to the summit. There is a cafe and pleasant walking below the viewpoints. Views in all directions are spectacular, towards the beaches of Copacabana with its Fort in the distance, the Morro do Leme, and the beaches of Botafogo and Flamengo. There was also an excellent view across to Corcovado where the statue was totally hidden from view until we started to descend at the end of the trip.
Finally, we hoped to stop at the modern Metropolitan cathedral at the end, as we had done in 2003, but the route back from Sugarloaf did not pass close enough nearby. It is a truncated cone standing 248 feet high and its interior is dominated by four magnificent stained glass windows each 197 feet. They represent the apostolic (yellow), catholic (blue) . ecclesiastical (green) and saintly (red) traditions. Building started in 1964 and it was inaugurated in 1976 for the 300th anniversary of the Diocese of Rio. There is a set of bells in an open tower outside.
Returning early there was time to walk along the restored warehouses to the Pier Maua where there is the striking white Museum of the Future we had seen on our arrival by ship. Outside was a model of a Brazilian satellite due to be launched in 2018 which tempted us to look inside. We expected to pay half price for entry but were told it was free for seniors. The displays are interesting and modern. The Museum closed at 1800 which was well before we were scheduled to depart. After buying cold cans of the local Brahma beer and then spending our final Reals in the port souvenir shop, we left Rio with a much better and positive opinion than on our first trip in 2003. We enjoyed our two days in the city and hope to visit again.
Our first visit to Montevideo was also in 2003 on the QE2, touring the city in the morning and then visiting the Juanico winery in the afternoon. When we visited in 2017 we decided to explore the city independently and are repeating the same walk again. Montevideo is Uruguay's capital and the port is just inside the estuary of the Rio de la Plata. The Bay is shallow and large ships have to use the dredged and buoyed channels. Buenos Aires is on the other side of the Bay and much further away from the Atlantic Ocean, again access is only by buoyed channel and supervised by pilots. Montevideo was founded in the 18th century by the Spanish, and over the years its citizens fought against the British, Spanish and Portuguese for independence, as well as neighbouring Argentineans and Brazilians. It is the most southern capital city of South America.
Montevideo's port is just next to the historic centre of the Ciudad Vieja at the southern tip of the city and you can walk from the ship into the heart of the old town in just a few minutes. Guide books about Montevideo and Uruguay are scarce so it was good to be given a brochure about the Old Town, including a walking tour to see the historic buildings and museums. The map marked the key public spaces : the Mercado del Puerto, the Plaza Zabala, the Plaza Constitution, the Peatonal Sarandi, the Peatonal Bacacay and the Plaza Independencia. The Mercado del Puerto had been a highlight of our previous visit and is a beautiful iron and glass port building from 1868 that has been restored with restaurants and stalls and several stores selling local handicrafts. There are more local craft stalls on the pavement outside. In the early morning the restaurants were just getting their BBQ fires ready for cooking. We have a painting of the building with its central clock but could not find the artist again. After changing some money at the Cambio near the Mercado we set off. As in 2017, it was too early to visit the Carnival Museum which is next to the Mercado del Puerto and shows Montevideo's 40-day celebration prior to Lent. The exhibits show the elaborate processions that fill the street and costumes and paper mache characters are on display.
Walking towards Sarandi,ones first impressions are of many nice old houses, some sadly left to decay, with shops on the ground floor. There are many pedestrian streets and it is possible to not share with a car from the start of the walking tour at the port until the end in the Plaza Independencia. The intention was to explore and not spend too much time inside buildings, unless the weather became too hot. An alternative option is the short walk over Sarandi and downhill to the promenade and beaches of the south side of the promontory.
Our walking tour starts along Sarandi then detours to the Plaza Zabala, just to the side. It is a pleasant park with a central statue dedicated to the Buenos Aires Governor Zabala who founded Montevideo in 1726 and established a Spanish fortress. Returning to Sarandi the shops improved and there was a nice wine shop - "Essencia Uruguay" which we visited in 2017. Prices for local Tannat wines started at 250 peso, around 8 US$, and good quality wines were between 300 and 600 pesos. Further along Sarandi, the Cathedral at the Plaza Constitucion is impossible to photograph from the park because of all the trees and foliage, but is interesting inside. The park has a flea market. At the other side of the park is the Municipal Building, the Cabildo, which had an interesting free museum about the port of Montevideo on the ground floor, in spanish. It was here that the Constitution was signed. Continuing along Sarandi it was not far to the only remaining Gate of the original Citadel which was part of an elaborate defence system in old Montevideo; this reproduction was built in 1959, on top of the original gate's stone base. It is one of five monuments which are original remains or reconstructions of the old wall that defended the city during the colonial period.
The Gate of the Citadel leads into the Plaza Independencia with at the centre Beneath the statue is the Mausoleo de Artigas where an honour guard keeps 24-hour vigil over Artigas' remains. On the corner of the square is Montevideo's Opera House, the Teatro Solis, and tours are available but not on Monday. The modern Presidential Palace and the Old Government House (Palacio Estevez) face the statue. The Old Government House is a museum of 18 rooms, which is free to visit, and has a complete and detailed exhibition of the Presidents of Uruguay with paintings and photos of the men who ruled Uruguay from the signing of the Constitution in 1830 to date. There are also personal objects: full dress uniforms, clothing, weapons, porcelain and vintage furniture. Photography is not allowed but there is a pamphlet in English. The building was opened as a museum in 1999.
It is however the famous Palacio Salvo that dominates the square, at 105 metres tall it was once the tallest building in South America. It is 115 metres in total including underground, with 31 floors divided between underground, a between floor, 10 full floors and 16 floors in the tower. The building was designed by Mario Palanti who also designed the Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires. The land was purchased by Jose Salvo who constructed the property between 1923 and 1928 as a luxury hotel with restaurant, theatre and hairdresser. It is now used for offices and as housing. Tours of the building are available and there is a combined ticket for 300 peso which includes entry to the Tango Museum and a small sample of Media&Media local white wine. After only a short wait we joined a tour in English. There was a short introduction while admiring the outside of the building. Then the lift went to the viewing platform on the 23rd floor in the tower to admire the views. The 10th floor is the floor where the staff lived, not the guests. It is the top floor of the main building and has a french-style mansard roof. The corridors here are simpler than the main hotel, with the corridor floors of ceramics and not granite. The central PS logo in the lobby is on all floors, at different angles. The windows in the offices here are small and round. There is a table in the guide's office which has books and tannat wine for sale. The 7th floor showed the typical guest areas although pairs of room have now been joined to make one unit. Lifts are outlined in fine marble and ceilings are Art Deco. The hotel had a restaurant and a ballroom and the stained glass wall of the restaurant has been preserved. The ballroom is divided into modern offices and it is difficult to glimpse the original decorations.
The Tango museum is on the ground floor and has information about the dancing of the different types of tango and the music of La Cumparsita written by G H Matos Rodriguez. An old wind-up gramophone played the tune from an original record and then a number of videos of tango from different countries were played. The shop next door had the free wine and sold souvenirs including CDs made in 2017 to celebrate 100 years of tango.
The main shopping street, Avenida 18 de Julio, starts at the Palacio Salvo, and continues beyond the Museum of the Gaucho, our final target for the walk. We had visited the Museum in 2017 but still walked past the entrance without seeing it because it is engulfed by a very modern Banco Republica. When we reached the Plaza de Cagancha we had walked too far but the square is interesting, with the Pedagogico Museum and the Ateneo de Montevideo theatre next door. On the opposite side of the square is the Tribunales and the Court of Justice.
The Museum of the Gaucho in the Heber-Jackson Palace is worth searching for. The building dates from 1896 and is in an area of many other interesting buildings of the same time. The house was acquired by Banco Republica in 1983 and has been restored to preserve the historical and architectural heritage. It is open on weekdays and entry is free. The first floor exhibition rooms had a display of photography and there is a permanent exhibition of banking and finance. The Gaucho Museum is on the second floor and although it was allowed to take photos it was very difficult because the collection is all behind thick glass. The gaucho art and silver collection is one of the most important collections in Uruguay and it is an extraordinary and beautiful collection of mates (drinking vessels), belts, waistbands, knives, spears, spurs and other tools essential to the work of the gaucho. (firstname.lastname@example.org). There are many other restored buildings in this area and throughout our route back, including the Casa de Rivera in Rincon which is now the Museo Historico Nacional. Fructuoso Rivera was the first President of Uruguay and this residence used to belong to him.
The return walk was quicker and there was plenty of time to visit the Esencia Uruguay shop for wine. The lady owner whom we remember well from 2017 has been taking English language classes and she helped us select some of the local Tannat wines to take back. We hope they will go back to the UK but there will be the temptation to pay $20 corkage and enjoy them during the voyage in the restaurant.
The next part continues at Buenos Aires in Argentina
|Copyright © Peter and Pauline Curtis
Content revised: 28th March, 2018