Mentioning How Much So Many of Us Must Appreciate Montevideo

Published: January 30th 2013
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When we awoke we were in the brackish waters approaching Montevideo, Uruguay. We had a 9:15 AM muster call in the Showroom, the same as two days earlier. We had a city sightseeing tour followed by a wine tasting and barbeque lunch before returning to the ship for another early departure. “Early In, Early Out” the captain had said. So again we went to the Lido for breakfast. French toast was good enough at that last port of call, and I thought I’d have the same today, as did Sharon.

The Showroom was packed with earlier tours. We were still awaiting clearance from the local officials to disembark. They finally called our group “Blue Number Ten”. Sharon noted that we finally get the blue stickers (her favorite color). We’d been getting nothing but the red stickers that are really orange. There was a bit of congestion in the stairways, with all of the groups ahead of us, and non-tour people also trying to get ashore. But it moved quickly, and we walked straight off of Deck Three to the pier with a very short and level gangplank. Our bus was directly in front of us and we gave up our tour ticket and boarded the bus. Sharon decided to try our luck on the left side of the bus for a change; she had been getting roasted by the sun on our previous tours.

Our tour guide began by telling us how much we are going to appreciate Montevideo. Uruguay is a country with 3.2 million people, about half of whom live in Montevideo. It is a bustling port city with a natural harbor. The captain had said that the Veendam would be moving very slowly in the waters near Montevideo because in places there is just two feet of clearance under the keel. The guide then said that we should look to the left to appreciate the bronze statue in the square, and that we should appreciate the park. When she said, “Now appreciate the government building ahead of you” I knew that it was going to be “one of those tours”. On a previous tour a stop on Prince Edward Island found us with a tour guide who could help but say “for sure” every other sentence. On this tour she was going to appreciate us to death. For me, it seemed even worse, because with her very harsh bordering on shrill voice, and heavily Latin-accented cadence, I had to hang on every word to try and follow what she was saying, that the “appreciates” were like fingernails scraping across a blackboard. The old city had been a fortress, and had three gates. We drove by an imposing archway that we discovered was one of those three gates, and the only one remaining today. And we appreciated it! The yellowing grass was reminiscent of the drought years in California. Festival is starting soon (in February). Sharon and I have Fish Fries to look forward to when we get back to Springboro, Ohio. Here, in Montevideo, school kids are on their summer recess. School runs from March to December. On early Spanish navigation maps Montevideo was indicated by the Number Six Hill direction East to West. The national tree is the cibo, and she pointed one out to us so that we could appreciate the red flower. We drove by many beaches along the shoreline from the cruise ship. The beaches contain stretches of white sand gently sloping into the water. Ever quarter mile or so there would be a rock outcropping reaching out into the water, and then on the other side the beach would resume. The water was very gentle, as I imagine it must be 90 miles upriver from the Atlantic and being as shallow as it is. Many people were on the beach sunning, and still others in the water enjoy the cool on this relatively warm summer day. On the opposite end of the bay, facing back to the city and the cruise ship in the far off distance, we stopped for our first chance to stretch and take pictures. A man was selling freshly roasted peanuts for the sidewalk and his push cart roster with smoke steaming from the stack at the top. We parked beneath a large sycamore tree, and our guide told us the Uruguay is the country of the painted bird. Upon leaving the bus we encountered squawking overhead, not a sound Sharon enjoys anymore, after her run-in with the seagull in Valparaiso. A greenish yellow streak flashed by, wings flapping, just in front of us. We’d obviously disturbed them parking so close to the tree. Their large nest could be spotted in the branches above, and no doubt this is why the bus stops here, for us to appreciate the green parrot. And we did get pictures. When we got back into the bus the guide made it a point to ask every person individually, “Are you appreciating Montevideo?” And as the bus pulled back into traffic, she was beaming, resuming her monologue with, “I’m so happy everyone is appreciating Montevideo…”

Our tour guide was clearly proud of the Uruguayan democracy, and told us of how their political system had four major political parties, two conservative, one center and the current party in power which she started to call centrist, but I gathered was the most liberal of the bunch. Elections for president are every 5 years, and a president may not be the president for two consecutive terms. Everyone 18 years of age and older must vote when it’s election time (or face a hefty fine). Interesting concept. She talked about how 6% of her salary goes towards health care, for herself and her two small children. They have a heavy graduated income tax (the more you make, they higher bracket you’re in). I believe she said that she was paying 30% per year in income tax, on top of the 20% Value Added Tax (VAT) that is paid on all purchases. We had wound through traffic and arrived at a famous bronze statue in a park of an early settler and an ox-drawn cart. Sharon lamented, that on her previous trip to Montevideo, she had been unable to get a picture of an oxcart in the city streets of Montevideo; although, she did see them, just not in time to react and take a picture from the bus. So far, this was her plight today as well. After a short ten minute stop, we were back on the bus, and now headed for the Bozza winery, winding through streets the guide termed a short cut (yes… that we would appreciate).

The winery was on a rambling estate of buildings. Nearby we could see the vineyards. One of the buildings appeared to have a patio and a long table appeared set for dining and wine tasting. There was some confusion as to where the Blue-10 group and Blue-11 group should be assembling, probably because the Blue-11 bus got here first, and I’m just wondering if that is because of the short cut that we appreciated so much. After some animated discussion between the Blue-11 tour guide and the winery guide who wound up escorting us around the estate, they finally got things sorted out to everyone’s satisfaction. Evidently Uruguayans, like Italians, can get quite animated with their hands when they talk. Once we had gathered with the handsome young winery guide with chiseled features, and a striking straw hat, he said, “Aiya… How you say, Is Monday.” And Sharon shot me a knowing look, as I know the special place in her heart for the torments she goes through at work on Mondays. In this country too, such things could only happen on a Monday! He told of the hard work that went into making wines here, everything is done by hand, and as he would say, with love. We had a brief visit in one of the out building, a barn sized garage that housed perhaps twenty cars and forty motorcycles and even a Vespa. Many of the cars were Ford Model-T’s. And all of them are kept in running order for the 54-year old owner of the Bozza winery. He is evidently quite the entrepreneur, and doesn’t have the time to drive these cars as much as he would like to, but he was off working on starting another winery.

We went over to the cellar where they process the grapes. Not only are the grapes picked by hand, but they are sorted, checked, and processed in a completely manual process. This limits how much wine the winery can produce, but it maintains the quality. He explained that in a bad year, you maintain the quality by reducing how much wine is made. The winery limits export of the wine to 50% of the production to the United States, and the rest is exported to consumers around the world, including Japan, China and the United Emirates. In addition to producing a Chardonnay type wine, and a rose, and a merlot, the Bozza winery is best known for its Tannat variety. The current owner’s father brought this variety from his hometown in Italy, and despite the fact the conditions under which it is grown here differed vastly from those in the old country, they had through patience, and dedication, and perseverance and most importantly… love, managed to produce a premium quality wine.

We then went over to the reception building, where the tables were first seen on the patio. Blue-11 people were outside having their lunch and drinking wine. We went inside, and made our way to a corner table near a much appreciated floor air conditioning vent. We sat at a round table for ten people, each place set including four smaller wine glasses, already partially filled with the Chardonnay, Rose, Merlot and Tannat, plus a large water glass, and a very large empty wine glass. Three overflowing baskets of bread were already on the table when we sat down. They brought out three bowls of a fried provelone dish with tomato and onion and perhaps bread in it, and people began scoping servings on to their plate. Sharon wasn’t real pleased when she saw the cheese. Then they brought out three bowls of grilled kielbasa-style sausages already sliced up. And Sharon wasn’t real happy with these either. As the server was trying to set the third bowl down, I made room for her by moving the bread basket. Unfortunately, as I did this I bumped Sharon’s water glass, and I hadn’t even had a sip of wine yet! Sharon wasn’t too pleased with me now, and this was really turning into one of those tours. Sharon managed to catch the long stemmed water glass, but not before the full contents had spilled into her lap. The lady in charge of the restaurant then came over to me, reaching for my wine glass with the Tannat in it, and explained in the most charmingly accented English, that there would be no more wine for me. I looked very regretful, and muttered that I’d yet to try this wonderful wine, and we laughed. But Sharon wasn’t laughing. I had a couple helpings of the cheese appetizer and of the sausage as well, and managed to finish all of my wine, and was working on Sharon’s wine. They wine steward came by and filled everyone’s jumbo wine glass with a full glass of the premium Tannat (e.g. the good stuff). Sorry, a little “good” humor there. That’s when the pan-fried potatoes with onion showed up, followed shortly by a mixed vegetable dish. The couple next to me on my right we had learned during the introductions, was from Austria, specifically Vienna. I repeated the town’s name, “Ach, Wien”. He smiled, hearing the correct German pronunciation. I now offered him the potatoes, saying “Kartoffeln, mit Zwiebel.” And we chatted a bit about where I learned German, and my having lived in Germany. Sharon did eat more than one helping of potatoes and they were quite good. Out came the barbequed lamb chops, but they were very crispy and very well cooked. The only real way to eat these, were to pick them up and chew the scraps that were there off the bone. It was tasty, but chewy. Then they brought out a delicious slice that appeared to be from a London broil. That was excellent, as was the premium Tannat that they continued to refill. I told Sharon to offer the couple next to her, the glass of her white wine, since I wasn’t going to drink it, and I’d heard them mention earlier that they liked the white wine the best. They accepted, with much appreciation, which seems to be the theme for this day. Sharon was complaining that her jeans were not drying, but I’m hoping that we’ll both look back on this someday and laugh. I do get the distinct feeling that day won’t be today.

After our lunch, we went outside, and Sharon found a shady spot to sit down while I took the camera and took some pictures. We got back in the bus, and it was interesting today to be returning from a tour and not be rushing up to the Lido to get a hamburger. Tonight in fact, is the chef’s international extravaganza, featuring dishes from around the world and culminating with HAL’s famous baked Alaska.

We had arranged earlier in the cruise to dine with Ruth tonight at the Pinnacle, and Sharon prefers the baked Alaska there because it’s made with Cherry Garcia ice cream (somehow at the International Dinner she always winds up with a piece containing only strawberry ice cream, which she doesn’t like). After we ordered, they brought us a complimentary appetizer composed of one fried mushroom ravioli in marinara sauce. I wound up with three, because Sharon wouldn’t eat this of course, and Ruth offered me hers as well. And I guess we found out what happened to the mushrooms, because when I had ordered the sautéed mushrooms, I was told that they were all out of mushrooms. I ordered the spicy chicken soup in coconut milk with lemon grass. I wasn’t sure what I was going to get when I ordered this, but it was something different for me, and I prefer to try new things. I think it may have become my favorite soup on this cruise. Sharon ordered the Caesar’s Salad for me, and it was great, with a homemade dressing, made right at the table, and Sharon was asked (if I) wanted anchovies mixed in the dressing. I did, of course, it wouldn’t be an authentic Caesar’s Salad, without this. I also ordered the jumbo shrimp cocktail, but forgot to ask for extra sauce when I ordered. They brought some to the table, because what came with the 4 jumbo shrimps wouldn’t have been enough for me to eat one! The shrimp was great. I ordered the larger filet mignon, while Sharon ordered the smaller one. Again they were prepared perfectly. We both had the whipped potato. Ruth had the boneless rib-eye steak, and she said she thinks that is her favorite steak at the Pinnacle. This was her third visit at the Pinnacle this cruise; as a 5-star cruiser with HAL she gets two free meals at the Pinnacle. We convinced Ruth to order the chocolate soufflé, and when it came, she agreed with us that it was pretty darn delicious. It was the first time she’d ever ordered this dessert. Sharon of course, loved her Baked Alaska, which was served flaming at our table. She also had more than a taste of my soufflé!


31st January 2013

John and Sharon thanks for all the blogs, have enjoyed reading all that you both have being doing. Have a safe trip home and hope to hear from you when you are back in good ole cold Ohio! Janet

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