Georgina Cruz, a seasoned traveler and frequent Holland America Line guest, is on her sixth Grand World Voyage. Along the way she’ll be sharing her adventures, information about the ports she’s visiting and photos from shipboard experiences. Come along for the journey!
Gertrude Stein’s children’s book, “The World Is Round,” about a little girl’s adventures and friendships with dogs, rabbits, and lions and a quest to a mountain while she tries to find her place in a world “that was round, and you could go on it around and around” reminds my husband Humberto and me of a World Cruise. Like Rose, Stein’s little girl character (famous from Stein’s line, “a Rose is a Rose is a Rose,”) we are going around the world making friendships with the locals and finding adventures while seeing the sights and enhancing our understanding of our own place in the planet. Having been on five World Cruises and currently on our sixth – all aboard Holland America’s Amsterdam — we have begun to think of these voyages as a succession of “playgrounds” where passengers, like us, get to explore and have fun ashore while enjoying all the comforts and enrichment of the ship along the way.
And, oh, there are so many “playgrounds” on a World Cruise that it would take volumes to detail them all! On this Cruise Diary I will describe just a couple, with more to follow as our voyage progresses. Some that we thoroughly enjoyed were interludes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina, two of the early stops of the 2020 Grand World Voyage in January.
Rio de Janeiro, the “Cidade Marvilhosa” (Marvelous City, as Cariocas – Rio residents — call their city) is indeed a “playground” par excellence with all of its marvels. Its fabled beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema, its Sugar Loaf and Corcovado Mountains, its harbor with blue waters surrounded by green hills that seem to be doing a samba around Guanabara Bay are any traveler’s dream.
On past voyages, we have headed for Corcovado Mountain, in the Tijuca National Forest, with the city’s most beloved icon, its most famous “marvel,” the Christ the Redeemer Statue crowning the summit of the mount. The Amsterdam typically offers a tour that features points of interest of the city and gets to the statue via a 115-year-old cogwheel tram. After the tram, there are 200 steps to negotiate to get to the statue or visitors can opt for elevators or escalators.
“Cristo Redentor,” as locals call the Christ the Redeemer Statue, is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (along with the likes of Machu Picchu in Peru, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza in Mexico’s Yucatan, the Roman Colosseum, the Taj Mahal in India, and the “Rose City” of Petra in Jordan). In Art Deco style, it depicts Jesus Christ with outstretched arms as if to embrace and protect the city below. The statue’s arms stretch 92 feet wide, with the statue itself measuring 98 feet high not counting its 26-foot-high pedestal that houses a chapel in honor of the Lady of Aparecida, the patron saint of Brazil.
Created by French sculptor Landowski, the Christ the Redeemer Statue was built by Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa along with French engineer Albert Caquot. A Romanian sculptor, Gheorghe Leonida sculpted its face. Built of reinforced concrete and soapstone, the statue weighs 635 metric tons and it was constructed between 1922 and 1931. It is a symbol of Christianity, but whether one is religious or not, the 360-degree view of Rio from the statue’s platform from a height of 2,310 feet on a clear day is simply out of this world: Sugarloaf Mountain, beaches, high rises, upscale neighborhoods, favelas (shantytowns), the amazing city are all spread out below.
This voyage, since we had an overnight stay, we booked a room at the Rio de Janeiro Hilton Copacabana Beach and headed there. The hotel is across the street from Copacabana Beach, arguably Copacabana and Ipanema are the world’s most famous beaches – with spectacular views of mountains and hills including Two Brothers Mountains and Sugarloaf. We spent part of the day on Copacabana’s sands, sharing them with visitors and locals alike, and promenading on the beach’s famous black-and-white tiled sidewalks. We tasted caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail made with cachaca, lime and sugar) and feijoada (a bean stew with beef and pork) at restaurants on the beach. We tasted local appetizers including feijoada balls at the Hilton’s lounge and enjoyed the hotel’s rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the beach, comfortable seating and a bar to toast the sunset over Ipanema Beach.
On Amsterdam, before we got to, and while we were in Brazil, we had four Brazilian “ambassadors” who conducted enrichment programs including Portuguese lessons, talks about Rio and other Brazilian ports, samba classes and more.
In the dining room with HAL’s wonderful “Port to Table” program, we enjoyed culinary specialties including churrasco mixed grill with chimichurri sauce, bacalhau (cod) and other typical dishes. And there was a Brazil Samba Party in the Crow’s Nest and a Brazilian show in the Mainstage. And, of course, “Copacabana,” “The Girl from Ipanema” and other world-famous Brazilian tunes were often heard in the lounges.
Buenos Aires (meaning “good airs” in Spanish), the capital of Argentina, was another of our favorite “playgrounds” of the World Cruise so far. Located on the western shore of the Rio de la Plata (Plate River), 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, it is a very fine port of call with good sights, food and culture.
We headed right off the bat for one of the city’s major highlights on a HAL tour: the 9th of July Avenue, so called to honor Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. This avenue, a bit over a half-mile long, is often called “the world’s widest boulevard,” as it is 16 lanes wide in some places. It is crowned with an impressive obelisk at the intersection with Corrientes Avenue. The obelisk, erected in 1936, celebrated the 400th anniversary of the landing of conquistador Pedro de Mendoza. On 9th of July Avenue, another highlight is the Teatro Colon – named for Christopher Columbus and one of the world’s best and most elegant opera houses and a great source of pride for “porteños” (residents of the port) as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires call themselves. I attended a concert at the Colon during a previous visit and the acoustics are amazing!
Four blocks from the 9th of July obelisk is the Plaza de Mayo, to me the heart of Buenos Aires, with the Casa Rosada (Pink House, Argentina’s White House) from whose balcony President Juan Peron and Eva Peron (Evita) often addressed the multitudes of their followers in the early 1950s.
In the Plaza de Mayo, visitors also find the Metropolitan Cathedral and the Cabildo or City Hall, dating from the Spanish era and reconstructed in 1940. Just a few blocks from the Plaza de Mayo, on Avenida de Mayo, is Café Tortoni, one of Buenos Aires most traditional cafes, where some of the most popular treats include chocolate con churros (hot chocolate with a fried dough pastry), Viennese coffee, croissants, and a variety of sandwiches – “playground” treats while getting to know a destination! Next door to the Tortoni is the Museum of the Tango.
I try never to leave Buenos Aires without a visit to San Telmo or “Barrio Sur,” south of the Plaza de Mayo and our tour took us there and to the La Boca neighborhood, a quaint area at the mouth of the Riachuelo River. Buenos Aires’ oldest district founded by Italian immigrants, this is where the city’s first settlers lived and at present it is an artists’ colony, with many artists displaying their work on the street. Our tour stopped at picturesque Caminito Street, an area, famous from the tango, “Caminito,” that has wooden buildings painted in bright colors, many Italian restaurants and street entertainers including tango dancers. It was a wonderful, warm interlude on our way to amazing Antarctica!
Stay tuned for the next installment of this Cruise Diary: “World Cruise Playgrounds: At The Bottom Of The World.”