Thursday, January 27, 2011

Our Brazilian Adventure on the Azamara Journey

Steve & Colleen with Captain Karlsson
 It was a joy to sail on Azamara Club Cruises’ Azamara Journey on a repositioning cruise from Santos, Brazil to Miami. Over the course of our 18-day cruise, the crew began to feel like family. The captain, Leif Karlsson, was very personable and spent a lot of time talking to Steve and me about his favorite cruises as we concluded our tour of the bridge. Captain Karlsson’s favorite cruise was to Antaractica because it was challenging to navigate through the ice and the scenery was stunning. Our Hotel Director, Niyazi Korkmaz, had a cocktail with us one evening to give us some tips about Istanbul. Our favorite server at the Cova Café was a young Brazilian woman who was on her first cruise and first job at sea; although her English was excellent, she enjoyed relieving a little stress by talking to me in Portuguese. The harpist was a woman from Austin, Texas who was working on board along with her husband, who managed the Internet Café. According to her, they shared a room that was a quarter of the size of my balcony stateroom and it wasn’t large!

View of Rio from Corcovado Mountain
 The 694-passenger Azamara Journey was a gem and so was the destination. I lived in Rio de Janeiro from June 1976 to June 1977 and returned in 1992. However, this time I was cruising with my husband, Steve who had never been to Brazil. He just couldn’t believe how beautiful Rio is. I must agree that the views of the city from Corcovado Mountain and Pão de Açúcar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) are some of the most spectacular in the world.

 One of the options we took advantage of in Rio was the escorted tour by H. Stern, a prominent jeweler based in Rio de Janeiro with 130 retail stores all over the world. H. Stern provided us with a private car, driver and English speaking guide for the two days we were there and it didn’t cost us a thing. Our only obligation was to tour the jewelry factory, which was fascinating. Under the watchful eye of my dear husband, I was dragged out of the factory before I could buy anything. Much to my chagrin, I left a pair of beautiful earrings with a rainbow of sparkling Brazilian gemstones on the counter.

Our next port of call was Paratí, Brazil, a picturesque colonial Brazilian town with a lot of architecturally interesting buildings. We decided to walk into town. It was hot and humid and I introduced Steve to the strong, fruity flavors of Brazilian ice cream. I also managed to buy myself a hand-painted, one-of-a-kind skirt with a distinctive Brazilian flair. Thank God we visited this little town in the morning because on the way back in the tender, a tremendous downpour began.
Streets of Salvador
 Our next ports of call were Ilhéus and Salvador da Bahia, where the heat was stifling. In Ilhéus, we decided to hire a private taxi to show us around. The driver was Brazilian and didn’t speak English but my Portuguese was apparently good enough. In Salvador da Bahia, the H. Stern bus took us into town which we explored on our own. Since I remember enjoying the distinctive Bahian cuisine that features palm oil, pepper sauces, dried shrimp, soft-shell crab stew and coconut milk, I insisted that we go to a traditional restaurant for lunch to savor it. Salvador da Bahia is very different from any other region in Brazil. Nearly 80% of the population is of African descent and the religion is distinctly different from Catholicism. Perhaps it could be compared loosely to New Orleans.

Sometimes I feel like I left some of my heart in Brazil when I left in 1977. Although I don’t know my way around Rio like I once did and my Portuguese is a little rusty, the warmth and gracious hospitality of the Cariocas (residents of Rio) made me feel right at home.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Venice – One of the World’s Most Romantic Settings

A couple of years ago, I was one of 20 Cruise Holidays franchisees to participate in the Cruise Holidays President’s Circle cruise, which was a seven-day Mediterranean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Splendour of the Seas that departed from Venice.   If you’re taking a cruise that begins and/or ends in Venice, do yourself a favor and spend a few days exploring its fascinating sites. I guarantee that you will experience at least one of the following:

1. You will get lost while wandering through the rich labyrinths that are part of the magic of Venice
2. You will fall in love all over again
3. You will wish you had more time to play in Venice
A few words of advice about staying in Venice: Stay as close to the heart of Venice in the vicinity of St. Mark’s Square as you can afford. Transportation in and around Venice can be very expensive and besides, if you’re only in Venice for a few days you don’t want to waste precious time traveling to the major sites such as St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) and the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale).

On all of our trips, Steve is the designated photographer and in Venice he remarked that all you need to do to take a great picture is to aim the camera at just about anything because Venice is so incredibly picturesque. My favorite memory was the gondola ride with the young Italian on board singing O Sole Mio with his heart in his hands. Just for the record, I was with Steve in the gondola.