Ile Royale, French Guiana: Following two days sailing from Parintins, Brazil, we arrived at the Iles du Salut, Salvation Islands, a cluster of small Devil's Island - from Ile Royaleislands approximately seven miles off the coast of French Guiana. There are three islands in the group: Ile du Diable, Devil’s Island; Ile Royale, Royale Island; and Ile Saint Joseph, Saint Joseph Island.

For 100 years, these three islands formed the infamous penal colony of Cayenne, commonly known as Devil’s Island. Reserved for the worst criminals of France, it was notorious both for the staff’s harsh treatment of detainees and the tropical climate and diseases that contributed to high mortality. The prison system had a death rate of 75 percent until it was finally closed in 1953 (Pictured: Ile du Diable).

Devil's Island - Prison CourtyardIle Royale was the reception center for the general prisoner population. Ile Saint Joseph was the reclusion, where inmates were sent to be punished by solitary confinement. Ile du Diable, Devil’s Island, was reserved for the exile of French political prisoners.

The horrors of the penal settlement were publicized during the Dreyfus affair, when French army captain Alfred Dreyfus was unjustly convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island on January 5 1895. In 1938, abuses were Devil's Island - Hospitalonce again laid bare by the penal system’s most famous escapee, René Belbenoît, in his shocking memoir The Dry Guillotine: Fifteen Years Among the Living Dead. And in 1969, Devil’s Island once again came to our attention with Henri Charrière’s bestselling book, Papillon, later to be made into an extremely popular film with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.

Devil’s Island itself is, of course, no longer accessible to the public. There are simply no docking facilities; and the cable car system that provided access has long since ceased to function. The closest you can get is an off shore view from a charter boat. Most cruise passengers are transported via ship’s tender – as we were – to Ile Royale. Pathways allow visitors to circle the island and to wander among the ruins of prison cells and administrative buildings.

As noted above, Ile Royale housed the colony’s administrative center and the wardens’ accommodations. The complex was virtually a self-contained Devil's Island - Churchcommunity with houses, offices, a hospital, bakery, butcher shop, and church. A restoration program has been quite successful in recovering some of the buildings, one of which now houses a small museum. There is also a hotel, the Auberge Iles du Salut, which provides modest tourist facilities (Pictured Above: Church, Hospital, Prison Courtyard).

NOTE: If you would like to know more about the Dreyfus affair mentioned above, I would highly recommend An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris. A brilliant work of historical fiction.

Bridgetown, Barbados: An island country in the western area of the North Atlantic, Barbados is located 62 Barbados - Great Signmiles east of the Windward Islands and the Caribbean Sea, and approximately 104 miles east of the islands of Saint Vincent and the Grenadine (our next port of call). The island has an area of about 267 miles. It’s capital and largest city is Bridgetown; its official language is English. As of 2008, Barbados had a population of 284,000 people; approximately 80,000 live in and around Bridgetown.

The earliest inhabitants of the island were Native Americans. Barbados was first visited by the Spanish in the Barbados - Bridgetownlate 1400s to early 1500s. It first was on a Spanish map in 1511. The native Arawaks (a peaceful farming tribe that dates back to prehistoric times. They lived throughout the Caribbean and in parts of South America) may have fled or been enslaved. The Portuguese visited in 1536. The first English ship, the Olive Blossom, arrived in 1624, claiming that the island belonged to the British king James I. Two years later the first permanent settlers arrived from England. Slaves from Africa were sent to the island to work on the sugar plantations.

Barbados has been an independent country since November of 1966. Elizabeth II, Queen of Barbados was the Barbados - Bridgetown Tree-linedhead of state. The Queen was represented locally by the Governor-General. The Prime Minister was the local head of the government. On November 30, 2021, the monarchy and the office of governor-general were abolished and the country became a republic with the President of Barbados becoming the head of state.

Since we only had one day in Barbados, we decided on an excursion that would acquaint us with the highlights Gun Hill - Path to Signal Stationof the island. Our first stop was Gun Hill Signal Station. Located in the parish of St. George, its history dates back to 1697 when it was named as one of the four points where guns could be placed in the event of an invasion. In 1818, it became part of a series of signal stations that sighted ships approaching Barbados and signaled to each other, advising as to the type of vessel and whether it could be friend or foe. A chart in the signal tower clearly demonstrated how detailed information could be relayed with the use of several flags. These signal stations were also used to warn of slave rebellions on the island.

Gun Hill - The ViewAfter the decline of the signal stations, the Gun Hill buildings fell into disrepair. These included the station with its prominent tower, a kitchen, magazine, sentry box and ruined barracks. Fortunately, in 1981, the Barbados National Trust leased the station from the government and, with the help of a government grant, restored it to its former glory. The facility now houses a collection of military memorabilia and a small restaurant.

Gun Hill - Lion CarvingWith its beautiful landscaped gardens and magnificent & captivating views of the island, Gun Hill has become not only an important tourist attraction, but also a venue for weddings and other important social events. An added attraction is the magnificent lion statue, carved out of a single piece of rock in 1868, by an office at the signal station.

Our next stop was a brief “photo opp” at the beach. Yes, Barbados has many beautiful beaches, but Barbados - Beach SceneBathsheba Beach is quite unique. Situated on the island’s east coast, its picturesque setting is, indeed, a rustic & rocky photographer’s paradise… My photo doesn’t quite do justice to the beach’s dramatic rock formations, but I just couldn’t resist this incredibly great shot.

… And for surfer’s, there’s Bathsheba’s famous Soup Bowl. Named after the area’s foamy water, the Soup Bowl is well-known as a site for international surfing competitions… But don’t even think about swimming here. Because of the rough waters & rock formations… and the extremely strong undercurrents, it simply is not safe. Fly a kite, enjoy a beach picnic, and take a few photographs… but, whatever you do, stay out of the water.

Located in the village of Bathsheba in the parish of Saint Joseph, Andromeda Botanic Gardens is an eight-acre Barbados - Andromeda Gardensorganic botanical garden created by horticulturalist Iris Bannochie, a native Barbadian and self-taught scientist. Named for the Greek mythological figure of Andromeda, it has been described by a Royal Horticultural Society judge as “one of the most unique and outstanding gardens in the world.” Comprised of twenty connected gardens, the variety of plants is extraordinary. There are over five hundred plant species, including over one hundred species of trees.

Andromeda Botanic Gardens was first opened to the public during a fund-raising event hosted by the Barbados - Andromeda Gardens 2Barbados Horticultural Society in the 1970s. It has remained open by paid admission since that time (admission is free for residents of Barbados). Bequeathed to the Barbados National Trust upon the death of Ms. Bannochie in 1988, it is currently leased to Passiflora Ltd. The company is responsible for the garden’s management and development and is a registered training provider and assessment center, offering a range of horticultural courses. The new Ethnobotanical Garden is the centerpiece of Andromeda’s mandate to conserve local flora. Created in June 2022 on 2 acres of land at Andromeda, the new garden is a community space and a celebration of local plants, how people in Barbados use plants (contemporary & historical), and local wildlife.

One additional note… After expending a significant amount of time & energy becoming acquainted with the local Eastside Kitchen Cafe 4flora and fauna, I would be very much amiss if I failed to suggest that, at this point, a bit of restorative refreshment might be very much in order. So, permit me to suggest the Eastside Kitchen Café as the perfect spot to seek out a suitable restorative. For while independently owned, it also happens to be conveniently located on the grounds of Andromeda Botanic Gardens. The Eastside Kitchen Cafe 3Eastside offers up numerous forms of pleasurable liquid libations – Whisky Sour, G&T, Real Fruit Daiquiri, Pina Colada, Margarita, Mint Mojito, Beer, Wine; as well as a host of natural juices and other nonalcoholic beverages – “when in Rome,” as they say… In Barbados, rum is clearly the name of the game. Go with either the Rum Punch or Rum Sour and you won’t be disappointed.

And the food is quite good as well. Perched on Andromeda’s open porch, it may not look like much, but Chef Eastside Kitchen Cafe 1Dwayne and his wife, Joanne, do a marvelous job of preparing a host of local ingredients – such as fish, octopus, chicken, and vegetables – with a loving care that belies their simple surroundings. You may begin, for example, with the Homemade Hummus and move on to such entrées as Whole Local Lobster, Fried or Grilled Octopus, Shrimp Linguine, and a perfectly seasoned Barracuda Sandwich.

Reviews of Eastside Kitchen Café on social media have been overwhelmingly positive. Another plus is that you may access the restaurant without actually visiting Andromeda Gardens, although I would strongly encourage you to do so.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Two Wines at Random

by artfuldiner on June 13, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Wine

There is no one in the wine world quite like Charles Smith… For the former manager of the rock band Raveonettes, it all began over 20 years ago. With almost nothing in his pocket, he found a way to produce his first vintage, 330 cases of 1999 K Syrah, and sell them out of the back of his Astro van… And the rest, as they say, is history.

In the two plus decades since, Charles Smith has left his undeniable mark on the wine industry in general and the state of Washington in particular. He Smith, Charles, Winemakerdeveloped (and later sold) iconic brands such has House Wine and Charles Smith Wines, producing such smash hits as Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Boom Boom Syrah, and Velvet Devil Merlot. His recognition awards speak for themselves: Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year, 2008; Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year, 2009; Wine Enthusiast Winemaker of the Year, 2014; placed #2 and #13 on the Wine Spectator Top 100 List, 2017. In 2006, he created Royal City Syrah, a cult-favorite, that made him one of only four Washington winemakers to ear a 100-point score. His current enterprise, House of Smith in Seattle, Washington, is the largest urban winery on the West Coast and includes such brands as K Vintners, Substance, ViNO, CasaSmith, SIXTO, B.Leighton, and Golden West.

It is Mr. Smith’s 2019 SIXTO Uncovered Chardonnay that recently grabbed my attention. Inspired by the Sixto Chard 2019story of musician Sixto Rodriguez, the Detroit musician whose late-career resurgence is depicted in the Oscar-winning documentary “Searching for Sugar Man,” SIXTO became the resurgence chardonnay project of winemaker Charles Smith and VP of Winemaking & Viticulture Brennon Leighton, who released their first vintage in 2014. The brand consists of four distinguished wines: three single vineyards (Frenchman Hills, Moxee, and Roza Hills Chardonnay) and one cuvée of all three vineyards (Uncovered Chardonnay).

The 2019 SIXTO Uncovered Chardonnay is, indeed, a beautiful wine, although – fans of rich, creamy chards, please take note – not particularly oaky. It is, as wine writer James Suckling noted, “extremely articulate and graceful on the palate.” I freely confess that I loved this wine (my dining partner, who prefers chards with a bit more heft, was somewhat less enthusiastic), but Suckling’s whopping 96-point review was, in my humble opinion, a tad exaggerated (Jeff Dunnuck’s 92 and Robert Parker’s 90 seemed infinitely more accurate).

Be that as it may… a lovely wine and highly recommended. Retails around the $40.00 mark; currently $24.99 at Pennsylvania State Stores.

2021 Lodi Ave Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon… This was another wine purchased strictly on a whim – or, perhaps, a recommendation of my friend Ethan. In any event, it is incredibly interesting – and reasonably priced – domestic (Lodi, California) cabernet.

Lodi, Calif VineyardLocated 90 miles east of San Francisco, sandwiched between Sacramento in the north and Stockton in the south, Lodi was once known for supplying low-cost grapes that eventually found their way into North Coast chardonnays, cabernets, zinfandels, and viogniers.

The eponymous viticultural area that surrounds the town of Lodi is a historically rich farming region. The vineyards here benefit from moderate summers; and some of the vines are over 100 years old, like the so-called Mother Vine, originally planted at Concannon Vineyard in 1893.

Today, Lodi is known for its spicy zinfandel wines, notably from Ravenwood and Laurel Glen, which have boosted its presence in markets around the United States. Other grapes, such as cabernet sauvignon, for example, can also be found at exceedingly reasonable price points. Interestingly enough, 80 percent of cabernet planted in California, stems from the original Concannon clones.

Lodi Ave Cellars is one of nearly 40 brands in Scotto Cellars oenological stable. Scotto is family owned and operated by 5th generation siblings Anthony, Natalie, Paul, and Michael Scotto. Their winery is the 42nd largest in California by volume; and the 2023 harvest was the family’s 60th. Their Lodi Ave Cellars Cab 2021wineries are located in Nap, Lodi (4), and the Sierra Foothills of Amador County, each with their own grape sources and winemakers. Their brands have earned more than seventy Best Buy/Best of Class/90+Point ratings in the past several years.

The 2021 Lodi Ave Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon noted above is certainly positive proof that Lodi’s moderate Mediterranean climate brings out the very best in cabernet. The dark fruit flavors are exceptionally rich, the aromas generous, the tannins mild and well-ripened. And, unlike many high-powered California cabs, this medium-bodied beauty is as smooth as silk on the palate, aided and abetted by an intriguing touch of sweetness.

The best part, however, is obviously the incredible retail price: $16.00… Absolutely unbelievable for a California cab! But I’ll go you one better… When I purchased it recently in a PA State Store, it was on sale for a paltry $8.99. Hopefully that price will hold until you get around to snaring a few bottles.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Salvador de Bahia: Salvador is a Brazilian municipality and also the capital city of the state of Bahia, situated in the northeast region of the country. The Salvador de Bahia - Basilicacity is recognized locally and internationally for the quality of its cuisine, music, and architecture. Brazil is the most African of all South American countries; and this is clearly observed in many of the Salvador’s cultural aspects. As the first capital of Colonial Brazil, the city is one of the oldest in the Americas. Its foundation in 1549 took place as a result of the implementation of the General Government of Brazil by the Portuguese Empire. The historic center of Salvador is known for its colonial architecture, with historical monuments dating from the 17th century to the beginning of the 20th century; and it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985 (Pictured: Church of Our Lord of Bonfim, the most famous of the Catholic churches of Salvador, built in the 18th century).

With more than 2.9 million inhabitants as of 2020, Salvador is the third most populous municipality in Brazil, and the ninth largest Latin American city. It is also a bustling port, economic hub of the state, and administrative & tourist center. The city is also the headquarters of important regional, national, and international companies. In addition to companies, the city hosts or has hosted many cultural, political, educational, sports events and organizations.

And, as Seth Kugel notes in his 2019 New York Times Article “36 Hours in Salvador, Brazil,” the city also boasts its own decidedly energetic take on Carnival: “Well, let’s just say Rio’s version looks like teatime at Buckingham Palace by comparison.” He then goes on to elucidate: “Alas, crime rates mean not every stretch of town can be explored at will, but dirt-cheap ride-share services make it easy to get around safely.”

An understatement, indeed… Before the shore excursion to Salvador, all passengers received explicit warnings that the city was downright dangerous for tourists. Just how dangerous…? All were cautioned to carry a minimum of cash and not to wear any type of jewelry, including wrist watches. I think that speaks for itself.

And, to be perfectly honest, apart from a couple of 18th century churches, like the one pictured above, there was nothing much of particular interest.  One Salvador de Bahia - Saints on Lakenotable exception was a lake containing floats that symbolized Orixás, spirits or ancestors that have been deified in the Umbanda and Candomblé religions (pictured). Both religions exist only in Brazil, but they have their foundation in different African religions and beliefs. They were created by Africans who were enslaved and forced to come to Brazil.

Actually, the highlight of our visit here was gastronomic rather than historic in nature: a refreshing stop at Le Glacier Laporte, a charming little ice cream parlor replete with a picturesque outside scattering of coffee Salvador de Bahia - Le Glacier Laportertables and sunshades. Famous for its utilization of fresh local fruit in all its homemade ice creams, sorbets, and juices, it has become an “absolute must” destination for locals and tourists alike. Frenchman Georges Laporte is the artisan behind the classy ice cream emporium and may often be seen scooping away behind the counter, offering sage advice on choosing between the many delicious flavors he has to offer. I just know that my traveling companion’s Strawberry Sorbet and my Caraíba Ice Cream (acerola cherry, ginger and lime) were the best we have sampled anywhere in the world. By the way, Le Glacier Laporte has received excellent reviews in both Yelp and Triadvisor and is mentioned prominently in the New York Times article “36 Hours in Salvador, Brazil” noted above.

Fortaleza: Known for its beautiful beaches that attract tourists and rich locals, Fortaleza (Portuguese for Fortaleza - Beachfront“Fortress”) is the capital of the northeastern Brazilian state of Ceará. It is Brazil’s fourth largest city, having surpassed Salvador in the 2023 census, with a population of slightly over 2.7 million. It is also the core of the Fortaleza metropolitan area, which is home to slightly over 4.1 million people. Fortaleza is an important industrial and commercial center. And, according to the Ministry of Tourism, it is the fourth most visited city and tourist destination in the country.

According to the 2022 census, there were 2,428,708 people residing in the city of Fortaleza. 60% were multi-racial; 32.7% were White; 7% were Black; 0.1% were Asian; and 0.1% were Amerindian.

In 2010, the city of Fortaleza was the 5th most populous city proper in Brazil after Säo Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Brasilia. The city had 433,942 opposite-sex couples and 1,559 same-sex couples. The population of Fortaleza was 53.2% female and 46.8% male. 67.88% of the population was Roman Catholic; 21.35% was Protestant; 1.29% represented Spiritism; and 6.65% had no region at all. Other religions, such as Umbanda, Candomblé, other Afro-Fortaleza - Metropolitan Cathedral of FortalezaBrazilian religions, Spiritualism, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Island, other Eastern religions, Esotericism and other Christian churches such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints had a smaller number of adherents.

All this, of course, is mildly interesting. However, the day before our excursion, the ship’s Destination Speaker gave fair warning that there would not be much to see here… and he was absolutely correct. We visited the huge Metropolitan Roman Catholic Cathedral (pictured), spent time in yet another public market, and then went for a brief walk in a local park. Luxurious high-rises stood next to terrible slums; and many of the streets were littered with garbage. Definitely not the most edifying of afternoons.

 Santarém: A small city (294,580 pop.) in the Brazilian state of Pará, Santarém is located at the confluence of the Amazon and Tapajós rivers, some 500 miles from the two largest cities in the Brazilian Amazon: Manaus, upriver in the state of Amazonas; and the Pará state capital, Belém, located downriver at the mouth of the Amazon on the Atlantic Ocean. The city was founded by Portuguese colonists in 1661 and is one of the oldest cities in the Brazilian Amazon.

Because of the crystal-clear waters of the Tapajós River, Santarém has more than 62 miles of natural beaches, such as those of the village of Alter do Chäo, which has come to be known as the “Caribbean in Brazil.” Ranked by The Guardian as the most beautiful in Brazil, it is also home to Sairé, one of the most popular folklore festivals of the region, which is held annually in September. Santarém is an important regional market center in the lower Amazon. Its regional economy is based on agriculture, cattle and mining. The city has seen numerous “cycles” of development dominated Santarem -Maica Lake by Boat 3by various economic activities, including rubber extraction (during last century), coffee production, and gold mining. Most recently, there has been significant growth in soybean plantations.

Since there really was not a great deal to see in Santarém, we opted for an excursion that would take us Exploring Maica by Boat. A good deal less than luxurious, I must say… The boats were quite small (pictured) and not particularly comfortable (or clean), as we actually sat on rather dilapidated lawn chairs during the entire cruise. The one compensation was that there was actually a restroom – however rough & rustic – on board.

Our first brief stop on the way to Maica Lake was to observe the phenomenon called the Meeting of Waters Santarem -Maica Lake by Boat 2– the intriguing confluence of the waters of Amazon River and one of its tributaries – (more on that when we reach Manaus). We then continued our journey through the muddy waters… taking in the primeval flora & fauna… the exotic birds… a variety of lizards… an occasional pink dolphin… a lazy tree sloth…and the rundown shacks along the shoreline…

… And passengers were encouraged to drop a line in the river and fish for piranha. However, only one woman in our party actually hooked one. Nasty little creatures… Or, as Oscar Wilde would have put it: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.”

Manaus: Located near the confluence of the Negro and Amazon rivers in the heart of the Amazon Rain Forest, Manaus - Skyline 2Manaus is the capital and largest city (2,219,580 pop.) of the Brazilian state of Amazonas. It is also home to the National Institute of Amazonian Research, the most important center for scientific studies in the Amazon region. It has a free port and an international airport. It manufactures electronics, chemical products and soap, and exports Brazil nuts, rubber, jute, and rosewood oil. The city boasts a cathedral, opera house, zoological and botanical gardens, an eco-park, and regional and native people’s museums (Pictured: Manaus skyline with prominent dome of the Opera House).

Manaus was at the center of the Amazon rubber boom during the late 19th century. For a period of time, Manaus - St Sebastian Squareaccording to David Grann in his book The Lost City of Z, it was “one of the gaudiest cities in the world.” As historian Robin Furneaux noted: “No extravagance however absurd, deterred” the rubber barons. However, when the seeds of the rubber tree were smuggled out of the Amazon region to be cultivated on plantations in Southeast Asia, Brazil and Peru lost their monopoly on the product. The rubber boom ended abruptly, many people left its major cities, and Manaus fell into poverty (Pictured: St. Sebastian Square).

Our excursion, “Manaus’ Golden Era,” began with a stop at the Mercado Publico (public market). But… trust Manaus - Palacio Rio Negrome, if you’ve seen one market, you’ve pretty much seen them all. If I never set eyes on another public market, it will be far too soon. This was followed by a drive-by (since we were not allowed inside) of the Palácio Rio Negro (pictured), the former seat of government, now residence of governor of Amazonas. The stately mansion was originally built at the behest of German entrepreneur Karl Waldemar Scholz, one of the so-called “rubber barons.”

Then, of course, came the center of attraction: the Grand Opera House. Replete with domes and gilded balconies, utilizing European marble, glass, and crystal, it was constructed during the aforementioned “rubber boom” at the cost of ten million dollars. But, in one season, half the members of a visiting opera company died Manaus - Opera House Interiorof yellow fever. The opera house was closed for most of the 20th century. However, it was used in scenes of the Werner Herzog film Fitzcarraldo (1982). After a hiatus of almost 90 years, it reopened to produce live opera in 1997 and is now attracting performers from all over the world.

As part of our excursion, we visited the building in the afternoon. But then we were privileged to return in the evening for A Magia da Música, a special concert of vibrant, rich, and captivating Brazilian music.

The following day, we traveled by boat to another “must-see” attraction that Manaus has to offer: the famous Manaus - Meeting of WatersMeeting of Waters. This is the confluence of the dark water of the Rio Negro and the light sandy water of the Amazon, referred to as the Solimöes River in Brazil upriver of the confluence. For approximately 3.7 miles the waters of the two rivers run side by wide without mixing. This phenomenon is due to the differences in temperature, speed, and number of dissolved sediments in the waters of the two rivers. The Rio Negro flows at 1.2 mph at a temperature 82 degrees, while the Rio Solimöes flows between 2.5 – 3.7 mph at a temperature of 72 degrees. The light-colored water is rich with sediment from the Andes Mountains, whereas the black water, running from the Colombian hills and interior jungles is nearly sediment-free and colored by decayed leaf and plant matter. Smaller -scale meeting of waters of the Amazon also occurs in Santarém, Brazil (noted above) and Iquitos, Peru.

From there we cruised on to what would colloquially be referred to as a pit stop. A rather shabby combination of restaurant/docking facility (after using the restroom, I would definitely not want to dine here), where we transferred to large, motorized canoe-like craft for a journey through a series of tributaries and shallow lakes to observe exotic birds in their natural habitat as well as an intriguing variety of flora and fauna. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of a Manaus - Giant Water Liliescaiman, perhaps, or a giant otter; but neither, apparently, felt up to putting in a guest appearance. In their absence, the Victoria Amazonica, giant water lilies (pictured), stirred up the most interest. The largest member of the water lily family (Nymphaeacae), they are, indeed, the most striking of all the Amazon’s aquatic plants.

The giant water lily has extremely large, round leaves with upturned rims that can measure up to almost 10 feet in diameter. They are supported by a ribbed undersurface and are anchored to a submerged stalk, which can grow up to 26 feet in length and imbeds itself in the mud at the bottom of lakes or rivers. The leaves of Victoria Amazonica first appear as spiny structures and then begin to expand at by as much as 20 inches per day. The waxy upper surface of the leaf possesses water repellent properties; the underside is protected from fish by a series of sharp spines. Air is trapped between the structural ribs on the underside of the leaf keeping the plant afloat.

These giant water lilies are also remarkable for the flowers they produce, which last just 48 hours and only emerge at night. When they first emerge, the flowers are white; on the second night, they take on a red-purple hue. The flowers alone can measure up to almost 16 inches in diameter.

Parintins: The Festival Folclórico de Parintins or Festival do Boi-Bumbá is a popular annual celebration during three days in late June. It is one Parintins - Boi Bumba 1of the largest annual festivals in Brazil, as only the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador draw more participants.

The festival celebrates a local legend about a resurrected ox. It is also a competition of two teams, Gararitido and Caprichoso, who complete in extended retellings of the story, each attempting to outdo the other with flamboyant dances, singing, and parade floats. Each nightly performance is based upon local Amazonian folklore and indigenous culture but also incorporates contemporary Brazilian rhythms and themes. The location of the festival is called the “Bumbódromo,” which will accommodate an audience of 35,000.

Boi-Bumbá is celebrated annually during the last weekend of June. However, somehow Silversea arranged to Parintins - Boi Bumba 2have a special abbreviated version of the festival performed just for the passengers of our cruise ship. It was, in a word, spectacular!

Interestingly enough, despite the importance of this celebration to the Amazonas region of Brazil, this festival was not widely known in other parts of the country until the musical group Carrapicho released the hit Tic Tic Tac – Bate forte o tambor in 1996. The Parintins Folklore Festival was also responsible for the release of other songs that became known in Brazil, such as Vermelho and Parintins Para o Mundo Ver, among others.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



WORLD FAMOUS CARNIVAL: Even under normal circumstances, Rio is a vibrant, exciting city… During Carnival, however, it is something else again. Rio CarnivalTaking place over the week prior to the beginning of Lent, the world-famous Carnival features colorful parades, parties, and a host of open-air performances. Each year millions of Brazilians and tourists from around the world observe/participate in this extraordinary happening. The center of attraction is the 90,000 seat Sambadrome, where spectators watch a procession of samba schools parading before judges. Each group passes-by to the sound of distinctive Brazilian samba and drumming, dressed in colorful costumes on immense floats, all based upon different themes (pictured). Each night the spectacle goes on until dawn and into the next morning. In addition to the parades in the Sambadrome, there are many free blocos, which occur throughout the day in the streets of the city. Needless to say, this makes traveling in Rio exceedingly difficult, as one never quite knows where or when one of these impromptu blocos may pop up, bringing vehicular traffic to a screeching halt.

Fortunately, as part of a package with Silversea, passengers were booked into the Hilton Barra Rio de Janeiro for several nights prior to embarking on our Rio Copacapano Beachcruise. The hotel itself was rather generic, but it was located in a quiet, upscale neighborhood a safe distance from the madding crowds, for which we were extremely thankful. In addition, our guides were quite familiar with the exigencies of Carnival, and thus were able to maximize our enjoyment of the sights while minimizing any possible discomfort (pictured: the famous Copacabana Beach).

 SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN: Pão de AçúcarSugarloaf Mountain – is a breathtaking peak at the mouth Rio Sugar Loafof Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising 1,299 feet above the harbor, the peak is named for its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar. The mountain is protected by the Sugarloaf Mountain and Urca Hill Natural Monument, created in 2006. This, in turn, became part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. The name Sugarloaf first appeared in the 16th century via the Portuguese, when blocks of sugar were placed in clay conical molds in order to be transported on ships. The form of the mountain peak reminded them of the resulting “sugarloaf” shape; and the nickname has since been extended to be a general descriptor for similar rock formations.

The Sugarloaf Cable Car, envisioned by engineer Augusto Ferreira Ramos in 1908, was opened on October 27, 1912, the first section running from Praia Vermelha to Morro da Urca at an altitude of 722 feet; from there, the second section rises to the summit of 1,299 feet on Sugarloaf Mountain. The first cable Rio Sugar Loaf Cable Car 1cars were coated wood and were used for 60 years. In 1972, a second cable was added, as well as new cabins, expanding the capacity from 22 to 75 (eventually reduced to 65 to increase the comfort level).

In 1979, the cable car was one of the prominent settings for the James Bond film Moonraker, in which British secret agent James Bond (Roger Moore) battles his nemesis Jaws (Richard Kiel) in the middle of the tramway. During the filming, stuntman Richard Graydon slipped and narrowly avoided falling to his death. And for those who have actually viewed the movie, that interesting scene in which Jaws bites into the steel tramway cable with his teeth… the cable was actually made of licorice 😊.

CHRIST THE REDEEMER: Located at the summit of Mount Corcovado, this colossal statue of Jesus Christ Rio Christ 3– 98 feet tall, set on a square stone pedestal base 26 feet high, its horizontally outstretched arms spanning 92 feet – has become emblematic of both the city of Rio de Janeiro and the entire nation of Brazil. Constructed of reinforced concrete overlaid with a mosaic of thousands of triangular soapstone tiles, it is also the largest Art Deco-style sculpture in the world.

In 1921, the Romann Catholic archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro proposed that a statue of Christ be built on the 2,310-foot summit of Mount Corcovado, which, because of its height, would make it visible from anywhere in Rio. Citizens petitioned President Epitácio Pessoa to allow the construction. Permission was subsequently granted and the foundation stone of the base was ceremonially laid on April 4, 1922, although the monument’s final design had yet to be chosen.

A competition was held to find a designer, and Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa was chosen on the basis of his sketches depicting the figure of Christ holding a cross in his right hand and the world in his left. However, in collaboration with Brazilian artist Carlos Oswald, Silva Costa later amended his plan; and it was Oswald who has been credited with the idea of the figure standing with arms spread wide. French sculptor Paul Landowski, who collaborated with Silva Costa on the final design, has been credited as the primary designer of the figure’s head and hands. Funds were raised privately, principally by the church; and, under Silva Costa’s supervision, construction began in 1926 and continued for five years. Following its completion, the statue was formally dedicated on October 12, 1931.

During the ensuing years, of course, it has undergone periodic repairs and renovations. In 1980, for example, it underwent a thorough cleaning in Rio Christ 2preparation for the visit of Pope John Paul II; and in 2010, the entire statue was repaired and refurbished. However, if you are contemplating a visit, the most relevant renovation took place in 2002 when escalators and panoramic elevators were added to the facilities. Previously, in order to reach the statue itself, tourists had to climb more than 200 steps as the last stage of their pilgrimage. The escalators (pictured) improved this situation dramatically.

As you will note from the first photograph of the statue above, the weather – both cloudy & foggy with intermittent rain – was a good deal less than cooperative the day of our visit… But somehow this seemed infinitely more appropriate than bright sunlight, as the general gloominess only added to the mysteriously irresistible aura of the site. “Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery) is how philosopher/theologian Rudolf Otto would have described the scene.

The only downside to this mysteriously irresistible dark & dreary aura was that the beautiful view of the city below Rio Christ 4was almost totally obscured. Which, of course, was a major letdown. However, this photograph should give readers some idea, not only of the utter grandeur of the view, but also of the grandeur & immensity of the statue itself.  Regardless of your religious/spiritual preferences, a visit to Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer is an incomparably illuminating experience.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Aubergine Restaurant

39 Barnet Street


Cape Town, South Africa

Visited during a recent cruise from Dubai, UAE, to Cape Town, South Africa

During the past few years, it has been my distinct privilege to dine at – and review – several outstanding restaurants in the Cape Town area of South Africa. Stellar establishments such as Tokara, Fyn, La Petite Colombe, Chefs Warehouse, Salsify at the Round House, and Helena’s Restaurant (Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa) are, of course, at the head of this sensual sybaritic safari.

… But I have also encountered a host of decidedly humble eateries – Basic Bistro (Stellenbosch) and Foodbarn Café and Tapas come immediately to mind – that, while serving up more casual cuisine, do so with both proficiency and panache.

And then there’s Aubergine. Of all the restaurants I have visited in South Africa, this was, without doubt, the most anomalous… On the one hand, Fodor and Frommer simply gushed all over it. Cape Town Magazine called it “Fine dining in one of Cape Town’s most iconic eateries.” And the culinary coup de Cape Town - Aubergine 50 Bestgrâce – at least literarily speaking – was delivered by Discovery, which included it as one of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: “Opened in 1996, it’s the magnum opus of chef-owner German chef Harald Bresselschmidt, who cut his teeth at the likes of London’s Savoy. Rooted in classic technique, his menu is a love letter to South Africa’s natural larder. But where things get interesting is how he artfully marries international flavour within such framework. The result is a colourful cuisine – fed by two organic kitchen gardens – running from à la carte and summer small-plate lunches to an ‘East Meets West’ degustation menu.”

On the other hand, the social media changes this glowing picture somewhat, as there are just enough dissenting opinions to give one pause. The real barn burner, however, is a review by Daisy Jones in “Despite the plaudits, despite the showcasing of local ingredients our food was generally Cape Tow - Aubergine Exteriorordinary, and in the case of my main course, downright awful…. What was awful? My ‘Cape Sea Harvest’ main, featuring monkfish, was a fright. The dish was described as “line fish set on a ragout of broad beans and artichokes with crayfish bisque spinach and grilled octopus”… Monk is rich and sweet… It’s also impressive on the plate with its tail so similar in colour, texture and girth

to a crayfish tail. I was eager to see what Bresselschmidt would do with local monk tail – and as eager as a little girl at Christmas to see the plating…

“What arrived was light green slop in a bowl with two chunks – not a single tail; two chunks! – of tail dumped on top. Crowning the chunks were some leaves Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Chef Harald Bresselschmidtof wilted spinach like a flat hat caught in the rain. The octopus was like takkie rubber; literally unchewable. The monkfish was watery and tasteless. It didn’t even hold together. It wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t rich. The ragout was gloopy, like a confused pasta sauce.”

And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call the food “awful,” it was, however, significantly less than stellar… as was our entire luncheon experience. As noted above, I have been fortunate enough to dine in several of Cape Town’s most illustrious restaurants; and, based upon my own experiences, Aubergine is simply not in the same league. From the Rabbit’s Finest to the Springbok Pie to the Beef Brisket and Sweetbreads, nothing quite measured up to the hype. No matter what the dish, it was the bland leading the bland – flavor was conspicuous by its absence. And I didn’t find the presentations particularly attractive either. Oh, the pictures on their website look beautiful… but up close and personal they lost a good deal of their photogenic luster.

… But, as well as the food, there were a number of other issues… The service, for instance. It was just okay. Generic at best. Nothing special. And hardly commensurate with the restaurant’s description of itself as a “fine dining” establishment. Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Interior 2Then there’s the ambience – or lack thereof. “Zero,” as one reviewer on social media put it. And while I wouldn’t go quite that far, I must admit that the restaurant’s stark interior, which looked infinitely more attractive in photographs than in person, left me rather cold. And, by way of contrast, since weather on the day of our visit was quite warm, the door to the alfresco courtyard remained open, which let in a slight breeze – as well as a host of flies… At times, it seemed we spent more time swatting than eating.

If the food had been up to snuff, there is no doubt in my mind that these minor faux pas would easily have been overlooked and/or forgiven. And, interestingly enough, the harshest criticisms of the cuisine came from those who were most enchanted by the wine, as Chef Bresselschmidt is not only famous for his wine list, but also for his attitude toward wine in general. Unfortunately, not even my incredibly succulent glass of Pinotage was capable of snatching oenological victory from the jaws of gastronomic defeat.

The bottom line…? As one reviewer put it: “The entire experience was weird.” I couldn’t agree more.

 Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Armani Lounge

Armani Hotel Dubai

1 Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Boulevard

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Visited during a recent cruise from Dubai, UAE, to Cape Town, South Africa

Exclusively occupying eleven floors of the Burj Khalifa, the striking centerpiece of Dubai’s spectacular downtown, the Armani Hotel is very much a world Dubai - Armani Hotel - Entranceunto itself. A distinctive combination of creative Italian design and signature Arabian hospitality, it simply marches to the beat of a uniquely elegant and sophisticated drummer. Not only does it provide its own grand entrance to the world’s tallest structure, it also favors its guests with private & direct access to the Dubai Mall, the world’s largest and most visited shopping & entertainment destination.

As readers would undoubtedly surmise, the Armani Hotel Dubai provides its patrons with a number of Dubai - Armani Lounge 2gastronomic possibilities. The Armani Lounge, however, is particularly recommended. Located on the lobby floor of the hotel, this cozy enclave brings a casual yet decidedly cultivated air to all-day dining. The à la carte menu – international fare with Italian flair – is available from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. and includes a classy selection of snacks, appetizers, soups, sandwiches, pizza, main courses, and desserts. Snacks, for example, present such diverse epicurean options as Brie Croquette kissed with balsamic dressing; Lobster Arrancini with lemon zest mayo; Tempura Shrimp; Satay, chicken skewers with a peanut dipping sauce; and Loaded Baked Potato with red capsicum, turkey bacon, and cheddar cheese.

Of special interest are the Hot & Cold Mezze Samplers, offering up a slew of local favorites. To start things off, my dining companion ordered the Cold Mezze (Hummus, Tabbouleh, Babaganoush, etc.), while I chose the Hot Items (Lamb Kebbeh, Shrimp Roll, Chicken Musakkan, etc.) so we could both enjoy a bit of each. We then shared a single entrée – Beef Lasagna with Aged Parmesan Fondue – as our main course. Excellent all around.

Armani Lounge is also well-known for its first-class afternoon tea, which is served from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. You begin by sampling such delicacies as Dubai - Armani Lounge - Afternoon TeaAtlantic Royal Smoked Salmon with lime dill cream fraiche with whole wheat roulade and Venice caviar; Main Lobster Remoulade; Truffle Egg Sandwich on brioche; Mint Cucumber with cream cheese finger on tramezzini bread; and Caprese, mini mozzarella with cherry tomatoes & pesto on English muffin… And then moving on to the likes of Vanilla & Chocolate Marble Cake; Banana Walnut Cake; Traditional English Fruitcake; and a selection of Freshly Baked Scones served with homemade lemon curd, raspberry preserve, and clotted cream… Finally concluding with sweets such as Seasonal Fruit Tartlet with vanilla diplomate (pastry cream); Hazelnut Plaisir with milk chocolate Chantilly; and The Armani: white chocolate cheesecake.

Two additional notes… First of all, I should add that I would certainly be remiss if I failed to mention that liquid libations at Armani Lounge are particularly well-prepared. My companion’s Cosmo was positively up to the Dubai - Fountain Showmark; and my Negroni was – absolutely, bar none, without exception – the finest rendition of this cocktail it has ever been my pleasure to ingest.

Secondly, the views of the Dubai Fountain and downtown Dubai are nothing short of spectacular… especially the nightly Dubai Fountain show (pictured), which is worth the price of admission.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Mother Nature had been extremely kind to us on this trip. Nothing but sunshine and lots of it… Until we reached the Seychelles, that is. The Republic of Seychelles - Mahethe Seychelles is an archipelago of 115 islands situated in the Indian Ocean just off the coast of east Africa. With a territory of 177 square miles and a population of 92,000 it is the smallest African country. It boasts numerous beautiful beaches, coral reefs, and nature reserves, as well as rare animals. Mahé, is also home to Victoria, the capital (pictured: Mahé Island, sans rain).

We were scheduled to dock at La Digue, but rough seas and high winds prevented this… So, the ship continued on to Praslin, where almost all shore excursions were cancelled because of heavy rain. The following day, the ship moved on to Mahé… and still more rain. In other words, the Seychelles were rained out. Evidently, Mother Nature has her own mysterious ways!

Zanzibar, Tanzania: Zanzibar is an insular, semi-autonomous region, which united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania. It is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 16-31 miles off the coast of the African mainland, consisting of many small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island, referred to informally as Zanzibar); and Pemba Island. The capital is Zanzibar City located on the island of Unguja. Its historic center Stone Town is a World Heritage Site.

Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania: Situated on a promontory that juts out into the Indian Ocean from the western side of Unguja Island, Stone Town Zanzibar - Stone Town Ariel Viewof Zanzibar is supposedly the typical example of a Swahili trading town. Evidently it was the type of community that first developed on the east coast of Africa, expanded under Arab, Indian, and European influences, yet still managed to retain the indigenous elements that were unique to this particular region (pictured: Stone Town aerial view).

The buildings of Stone Town clearly reflect these unique elements, which have brought together and homogenized disparate cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe. The major buildings date from the 18th and 19 centuries and are principally constructed of ragstone and mangrove timber, set in a thick lime mortar and then plastered and lime-washed. These two-story structures with long narrow rooms tend to be arranged around an open courtyard that is reached through a narrow corridor. Externally, houses are distinguished by elaborately carved double “Zanzibar” doors, others by wide verandahs and/or richly decorated interiors. Other buildings include simple ground floor Swahili houses and narrow façade Indian shops along so-called “bazaar” streets constructed around a commercial space.

Our excursion began with Stone Town’s oldest monument, the Old Fort, also known as the Arab Fort. Built by the Omani Arabs after expelling the Zanzibar - Stone Town Old FortPortuguese in 1699, it was subsequently used as a garrison and prison in the 19th century, and as a terminal of the Zanzibar railways from 1905 – 1928. A new guardhouse was built in 1947 and used as the ladies’ club; and an amphitheater was added in the 1990s. It is now the headquarters of the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

The fort is essentially a square of imposing stone walls that protect an inner courtyard, which houses the remains of a Portuguese church, the site upon which the fort was constructed. The fort is located on the main seafront, adjacent to another landmark building, the House of Wonders, the former palace of the Sultan of Zanzibar.

Of infinitely more interest is the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church. This landmark historic church Zanzibal - Stone Town Anglican Cathedral of Christ Churchbelongs to the Anglican Church of Tanzania and is one of the most prominent examples of early Christian architecture in East Africa. Built in seven years, based upon the vision of Edward Steere, third Anglican bishop of Zanzibar, who actively contributed to its design, it opened its doors on Christmas 1879. Occupying a large space in the center of the old town where the largest slave market had been located, the cathedral was actually constructed to celebrate the end of slavery.

The altar was placed in the exact position where the main “whipping post” of the market had been located. And, Zanzibar - Stone Town Slve Market Memorialin the adjoining square, there is a monument to the former slaves – several human figures in chains emerging from a pit – as well as a museum on slavery.

Edward Steere died before the cathedral was completed and was buried behind the altar. Inside the church there is a cross that was made of wood from the tree that grows in the place were David Livingstone’s heart was buried in Chitambo, Zambia, Africa (David Livingstone was a Scottish physician, Christian missionary, and avowed abolitionist; his remains are buried in Westminster Abbey).

For rock fans, Stone Town also has significant meaning, as it is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, the lead vocalist and pianist of the rock band Queen. It is Zanzibar - Freddie Mercury Museum 2also home to the Freddie Mercury Museum, which pays tribute to its native son and is located in the very house where Mercury and his family resided until they moved to England in 1963. Born Farrokh Bulsara in 1946 to Parsi-Indian parents, he is regarded as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock music, known for his flamboyant stage presence and four-octave vocal range. Having studied and written music for years, he formed Queen in 1970 with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. He wrote numerous hits for Queen, including Killer Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody to Love, We Are the Champions Don’t Stop Me Now, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Mercury continued to record with Queen and was posthumously featured on their final album Made in Heaven in 1995. In 1991 he died from complications of the disease at the age of 45. His career with Queen was dramatized in the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Nosy Be, Madagascar: Nosy Be is an island located off the northwest coast of Madagascar. Because of its unique blend of flora & fauna, fascinating wildlife, and rich cultures, it has become a special destination for tourists from all over the world. Of particular interest are the lemurs. Yes… those adorable arboreal primates with enormous eyes, soft fur, and long curling tails. They are both charismatic and exceedingly friendly. They are also incredibly mischievous, especially if you happen to have to have fruit in your hands… as they have been known to jump out of the trees and snatch it from you.

Our land excursion, however, was scheduled to take us to explore a tiny native village; and, just beyond, an enormous sacred banyan tree planted by the Nosy Be - Sacred Banyan TreeQueen of the Sakalava tribe in 1836 (pictured: the tree we never got to see).

Unfortunately, there were several problems along the way. First of all, the traffic was horrendous. Simply getting through a small town proved to be a nightmare. Stop and go… mostly STOP. And then, we were off onto the backroads on our way to the village; which, still suffering the effects of a recent devastating monsoon, were horrendously muddy. Our minibus did a great deal of slipping & sliding and nearly became stuck on several occasions.

We passed several other minibuses bound for the same location that had turned around because of the condition of the roads… Our driver, however – young & eager – pushed on. Finally, after nearly becoming stuck once again, a representative of Silversea who was accompanying us called a halt. She asked the driver to stop, a vote was taken and, thankfully, an overwhelming majority voted to turn around and return to the ship. The thought of languishing for hours in the wilderness, awaiting the arrival of a rescue vehicle, had not been a pleasant one.

Richards Bay, South Africa: The port areas where cruise ships dock tend to vary greatly. However, as a general rule, Richard Bay SA - Coal Pilebased upon my own personal experience, they are not terribly attractive… and then there’s Richards Bay. I won’t bore you with the gory details. Let me simply say that the port here was significantly less than picturesque, as there were two huge mountains of black coal decorating the landscape, A hefty wind had kicked up, so coal dust was everywhere. So much so that those exiting the ship were required to wear face masks. The scene resembled some eerie apocalyptic wasteland.

Given the poisonous atmosphere, we weren’t particularly anxious to hang around on the dock any longer than necessary… The drive to our shore destination – the Saint Lucia Wetlands Park, a UNESCO World Richards Bay - St. Lucia Wetlands ParkHeritage Site housing hippos and crocodiles – was a little over an hour away and a very pleasant drive through the countryside.

By the way, I’m sure you would enjoy having a look at Travels with V and Steve, a video that is a wonderful introduction to this particular adventure at Hippo Haven – – and a right-on-the-money synopsis of what we personally experienced and what you can expect should you decide to pay a visit. As the video suggested, several families of hippos were much in evidence… but not a croc in sight.

The ancient Greeks gave the name hippopotamus to this barrel-shaped animal they saw in wilds of Africa. The English language, using the Latin spelling Richards Bay SA - Hippo Havenhippopotamus, has kept the name, which is a combination of the Greek words hippos, meaning “horse” and potamos, meaning “river” or “stream.” And “river” is certainly the right name for an animal that spends most of its time in the water and whose eyes, ears, and nostrils are placed so that the it can see, hear, and breathe even if most of its head is underwater (please note photo above).

Tala Private Game Preserve, Durban, South Africa: After docking in Durban, South Africa, it was an Durban SA - Tala Game Preservehour+ drive through the ruggedly beautiful countryside before reaching the Tala Private Game Reserve.

Once we arrived, we chugged around in a 4 x 4 with an excellent driver/guide who knew precisely where to look for the animals. Hence, we got up-close and personal with a variety of zebras, rhinos, and giraffes, etc. I should add that the rhinos have their horns removed at a very early age to protect them from poachers, who would kill them for their horns… We also spotted a hippo luxuriating in the pond and an ostrich on his merry way.

Durban DA - Tala Game Preserve 2The wonderful thing about this preserve is that there are no lions or leopards here, so the other animals feel perfectly safe and can roam at will. So much so, that they seem to be totally unafraid of humans. In several instances, the animals were so close to our 4 x 4 that we could practically reach out and pet them. An incredible experience.

Cape Town, South Africa: Draped across a magnificently alluring coastline Cape Town - Table Mountainpresided over by the Olympus-like grandeur of Table Mountain, there is absolutely no question that Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. And, although I’ve visited South Africa’s Mother City on several occasions, its spectacular mountain scenery, relaxed ocean charm, and sense of living history never fail to both arouse awareness and stimulate curiosity.

On this particular occasion, prior to catching our evening flight home, we had Samson 2 - Jorumarranged a full day Cape Town tour through the Guiltedge Travel Group, which we had utilized on previous occasions and had always been more than pleased with the results…

… And our current excursion proved to be no exception. After disembarking at 9:15 a.m., we were met by our driver/guide, Samson – an old friend we had specifically requested – who now preferred to be addressed by his given name, Jorum (pictured).

Klein Constantia Wine Estate, Cape Town, South Africa:  Described as one of the world’s most beautiful wine Klein Constantia - Vineyardsestates, Klein Constantia is situated in the midst of ancient trees and lush greenery in picturesque foothills, offering superb views across the Constantia Valley and False Bay.

The history of the estate dates to 1685, when the Dutch East India Company granted a huge tract of land to their commander, Simon van der Stel. By the time of his promotion to governor in 1691, Van der Stel had already planted 10,000 vines, harvesting his first vintage in 1692.

Currently owned by Czech-American investor Zdenêk Bakala, UK businessman Charles Harman, Bordeaux wine personalities Bruno Prats & Hubert Boüard, and vice-chairman Hans Astrom, they are determined to see Klein Constantia live up to its mythical reputation: “We are privileged to be custodians of one of the most historic properties in the Cape and regard the preservation of this heritage as a serious responsibility.”

Interestingly enough, Klein Constantia has had only three winemakers since the farm was revived in the 1980s: Ross Gower, Adam Mason and Matthew Klein Constantia - Entrance 2Day. Matthew grew up in Johannesburg; but, because of his interest in winemaking, he relocated to the Cape to pursue an education in this field. After graduating from Stellenbosch University with a bachelor of science degree in viticulture and oenology, his resume included work at various local and international estates, from Meerlust Estate in Stellenbosch to Chateau Belefont-Belcier in St. Emilion, Elderton Estate in the Barossa Valley, and Dancing Hares Estate in the Napa Valley.

Returning to South Africa in 2008, under the guidance of Adam Mason, he took on the role of assistant winemaker at Klein Constantia. In 2012, he became the estate’s head winemaker, working closely with viticulturist Craig Harris to produce wines that showcase the estate’s unique terroir.

Klein Constantia - Red BlendWe tasted a number of intriguing wines here, all of which were worthy of consideration. There were, however, several standouts. The Sauvignon Blanc, for example, had its own unique charm. It was bright & light as a feather in the glass, the aromas were scintillatingly subtle, and the palate was… well, yes… brisk & lively with a delightfully citrusy touch. This was, indeed, as the estate noted, “an elevated expression of Sauvignon Blanc.” The Chardonnay was equally up to the mark. Full-bodied and elegantly structured, yet with an enticing backbone of acidity. My favorite of the tasting, however, was the Estate Red. A blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon, 28% Malbec, and 3% Petit Verdot, it was deep ruby red in color, bursting with red fruit aromas, and powerful yet elegant on the palate with a long lingering finish.

All that being said, however, the estate’s claim to fame is its incomparable Vin de Constance, one of the world’s most iconic sweet wines. Just Klein Constantia - Vin de Constancrhow iconic…? Vin de Constance was requested by Napoleon Bonaparte on his deathbed, having shunned all other sustenance. It was imported by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette; and Queen Victoria drank it every night before bed to help her sleep. Need I say more?!

Klein Constantia wines are well worth seeking out. Unfortunately, they are neither available through Pennsylvania State Stores nor Total Wine in Claymont, Delaware (they are, however, available in other Total Wine retail outlets). But the good news is that they may be easily purchased through various sources online, including Cape Ardor Boutique Wines. All are quite reasonably priced, with the exception of the Vin de Constance, which hovers in the $100.00 range.

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa: Situated at the foot of Signal Hill, and formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Cape Town - Bo-KaapCape Town’s Bo-Kaap neighborhood is known for its narrow cobblestone streets lined with colorful houses. Its origins date back to the 1760s when numerous huurhuisjes (rental houses) were built and leased to slaves by Dutch colonists. These slaves, who came to be known as Cape Malays, were brought from Malaysia, Indonesia, and various African countries to work in the Cape.

The houses here are a mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture. The choice of color is attributed to the fact that while on lease, all the houses had to be white! When this rule was lifted, and the slaves were allowed to buy the properties, all the houses were painted bright colors by their owners as an expression of their freedom.

Many of the families in the Bo-Kaap have lived here for generations. Today, the community is a significant part of Cape Town’s cultural heritage. And it has Cape Town - Auwal Mosquebeen suggested that the residents here no longer refer to themselves as Cape Malay, but as South African Muslims, as the first established Muslim Mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque (pictured), is also found in Bo-Kaap. And part of the fun of visiting this area of the city is exploring the Islamic kramats (shrines), mosques, food & craft markets, and the fabulous flavors of delectable Cape Malay cookery.

Aubergine Restaurant, Cape Town, South Africa: Following our excursion through Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Interiorneighborhood, we set out for our lunch reservation at the Aubergine Restaurant. Comfortably ensconced in a transformed 1830s house located in Gardens, one of the oldest parts of the city, reviews consistently rate it among the finest of Cape Town’s fine dining establishments.

Indeed, for almost three decades, German-born chef-proprietor Harald Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Chef Harald BresselschmidtBresselschmidt has been turning out a mind-boggling, palate-pleasing array of East-meets-West cuisine infused with local ingredients that has kept his loyal clientele oohing and ahhing and has placed him on numerous Top Tens and Readers’ Favorites lists.

 Fodor’s, for instance, simply gushes all over: “Seafood options are usually excellent, and meat dishes like an ostrich fillet with sweetbread and marrow dumplings richly subline.”

Frommer followed suit with three big stars: “Gourmands form an orderly queue… He’s a chef schooled in the classics (East and West), yet his love of innovation is compulsive; some call him avant-garde (how about springbok medallions with foie gras?), but he also takes great care with the most simple-sounding dishes such as his signature aubergine soufflé or slow-roasted wild boar.”

So as not to be outdone, Cape Town Magazine proceeded to canonize Aubergine as something of a city icon, going absolutely gaga over the restaurant’s homespun elegant décor and contemporary fine art paintings, before even uttering a hint with regard to the quality of the cuisine.

Once you check out the social media, however, the picture changes somewhat… Oh, there are the usual canned upbeat epithets, but… there are also just Cape Town - Aubergine Restaurant Artwork 2enough dissenting opinions to give one pause. Then couple this with a rather interesting review by Daisy Jones in “Despite the plaudits, despite the showcasing of local ingredients, our food was generally ordinary, and in the case of my main course, downright awful.”

And while I wouldn’t go so far as to call the food “awful,” the entire experience here was significantly less than memorable. I have visited (and reviewed) quite a number of restaurants in the Cape Town area; and I can truthfully say that Aubergine rates near the bottom of the barrel… However, I will be posting a complete critique of this restaurant in the very near future.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Upon our arrival in Mumbai, India, we were immediately whisked away to the airport where we began what Silversea referred to as their Mid Voyage Land Adventure, highlights of which included visits to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Agra Fort and the majestic Taj Mahal. This involved an excursion of four days/three nights, an Air India flight to Delhi, overnight stays in the posh Oberoi New Delhi & Oberoi Amarvilas hotels, and return flight to Cochin where we would once again reboard our cruise ship.

Gurdwara Sri Bangla Sahib, Delhi, India: One of the most prominent Sikh gurdwaras, Sikh house of worship, in Delhi. Situated near Delhi - Sikh TempleConnaught Place, it is instantly recognizable by its distinctive golden dome.

The grounds include the Gurdwara, a kitchen, a large holy pond, a school, and an art gallery. As with all Sikh Gurdwaras, the concept of langar is practiced. All people, regardless of race or religion may eat in the Gurdwara kitchen. The food is prepared by gursikhs who work there and also by volunteers.

When entering the temple, visitors are requested to cover their hair and remove their shoes. Head scarves and shoe-minding service can be found inside the compound and are available free of charge.

Agra, India: Agra is a city on the banks of the Yamuna River in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It Agra Cityis located 140 miles south-east of Delhi, the national capital. With a population of roughly 1.6 million, Agra is the fourth-most populous city in Uttar Pradesh and the twenty-third most populous city in India.

Agra’s notable historical period began during the reign of Sikandar Lodi; however, the golden age of the city began with the Mughals. Babur, who reigned from 1526-30. The founder of the Mughal dynasty, he acquired Agra after defeating the Lodhis and the Tomaras of Gwalior in the first battle of Panipat in 1526. Agra remained the capital of the Mughal Empire until 1658, when Aurangzeb shifted the entire court to Delhi.

Under Mughal rule, Agra became a center for learning, arts, commerce, and religion, and saw the construction of the Agra Fort, the Tomb of Agra - Tomb of AkbarAkbar (pictured: The mausoleum of the third and greatest Mughal emperor Akbar; built in 1605-1613 by his son, Jahangir), and the Taj Mahal, constructed between 1632 and 1648 by Shah Jahan in remembrance of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

With the decline of the Mughal empire in the late 18th century, the city fell successively, first to Marathas and later to the East India Company. After independence, Agra developed into a manufacturing center with a booming tourism industry. It is now included on the Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit, along with Delhi and Jaipur.

Agra Fort, Agra, India: The massive 16th-century structure is Agra’s second-most important attraction after the Taj Mahal. The fort’s Agra - Red Fortapproximately1.5-mile-long red sandstone walls contained the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. Mughal emperor Humayun was crowned here. It was later renovated by the Mughal emperor Akbar from 1565; and the present-day structure was completed in 1573. It served as the main residence of the rulers of the Mughal dynasty until the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi.

Before being captured by the British, the last Indian rulers to have occupied it were the Marathas. In 1983 the Agra Fort was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A city within a city, it is comprised of fairy-tale palaces, audience halls, and two beautiful mosques.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India: The Taj Mahal (lit. “Crown of the Palace”) is an ivory-white marble mausoleum on the right bank of the Yamuna River. Taj Mahal ComplexIt was commissioned in 1631 by Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor (r. 1628-1658) to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died on June 17th of that year, giving birth to their 14th child. It also houses the tomb of Shah Jahan himself. The tomb is the centerpiece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque, a guest house, and is set in formal gardens enclosed on three sides by a crenellated wall (a wall containing battlements).

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. It is believed that over 1000 elephants were used to transport building materials. Some 22,000 laborers, painters, embroidery Taj Mahalartists and stonecutters were used. The translucent white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan; the jasper from the Punjab region; jade & crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet, the lapis lazuli (a deep blue metamorphic rock used as a semi-precious stone) from Afghanistan, the sapphire from Sri Lanka, and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Construction of the mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643, but work continued on other phases of the project for another 10 years. It is believed that the Taj Mahal complex was completed in its entirety in 1653 at a cost estimated at the time to be around 32 million rupees, which today would be approximately 70 billion rupees (about 915 million in U.S. dollars).

The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art Taj Mahal - and outlying buildings from across the riverin India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.” It is regarded by many as the pinnacle of Mughal architecture. However, due to the global attention that it has received, and the millions of visitors it attracts, the Taj Mahal has become a prominent image that is associated with India… but even more than this, a symbol of India itself, as well as one of the new Seven Wonders of the World (pictured: view of the Taj Mahal and outlying buildings from across the Yamuna River).

All that being said, however… as I quickly discovered, the more one learns about the Taj Mahal, the more one realizes there is so much more one does not know. Scholarly articles and essays abound…ditto myths, legends, deep dark mysterious secrets, and a superfluous sprinkling of crackpot theorists. And sometimes it is difficult – if not downright impossible – to separate fact from fantasy.

For example, the most famous myth – undoubtedly false – describes in rather horrific detail the mutilations and dismemberments that were inflicted upon those associated with the construction of the tomb. In order to ensure that no one could recreate the beauty of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan supposedly severed the hands and gouged out the eyes of the artisans and craftsmen. Despite the prevalence of this rather gruesome tale, historians have found absolutely no evidence to support the story.

Another longstanding myth – and certainly one of the most fascinating – holds that Shah Jahan planned another mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Yamuna River. The story had its roots in the fanciful writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, a European traveler who visited Agra in Taj Mahal - Myth of the Black Taj Mahal1665. He maintained that Shah Jahan had begun the construction of his own tomb on the opposite side of the river, but that Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, overthrew him before the Black Taj Mahal could be built. Local legends also add that Shah Jahan intended to connect the two tombs with a bridge across the Yamuna River, possibly made of silver.

Research has shown that Shah Jahan asked his architects to modify the Mahtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden) built by his great-grandfather emperor Babar, to incorporate it within the Taj Mahal complex. It has been suggested that this was to be the site of the second Taj. It has also been pointed out that while the Taj Mahal was built in perfect symmetry, Shah Jahan’s cenotaph (a monument to someone buried elsewhere… more on that below) appears to be the exception. It is irregularly positioned in the burial chamber, while Mumtaz Mahal’s cenotaph lies at the center. It is also much larger in comparison to Mumtaz Mahal’s and almost appears to be an afterthought. Is it possible that Shah Jahan never intended to be buried along with his wife?

The evidence noted above may seem perfectly plausible… However, historians have dismissed the idea of a second Taj because, except for Tavernier, there is no reference to it in the other contemporary accounts of the time. Archaeological excavations of the area have also not found any trace of the construction of such a building. And while ruins of black marble were found in the Mahtab Bagh, further research led to the conclusion that they were white stones that had discolored over the years.

Whether the story is fact or fiction is, to me at least, a moot point. Having personally visited the Taj Mahal, I can assure you that the mere mental image of two such magnificent structures facing each other on either side of the Yamuna River is enough to set fire to anyone’s imagination.

On the other hand, the fact that the architects and craftsmen of the Taj Mahal were masters of proportion and optical illusion is beyond question. When one first approaches the main gate that frames the Taj, for example, the monument appears incredibly large and close… but as one gets closer, it shrinks in size – exactly the opposite of what one would expect. In addition, although the minarets surrounding the tomb appear to be perfectly straight and upright, in reality, they actually lean outward, serving both form and function. Not only do these pillars provide an aesthetic balance, but they would also crumble away from the main crypt in the case of a natural disaster such as an earthquake.

Taj Mahal - Interior ArchwaysAs awe-inspiring as the exterior may be, the interior ornamentation is equally impressive. As you enter, you observe a large octagonal-shaped structure with a dome at the top. The interiors are stunning, amazingly beautiful, yet beguilingly subtle. The basic elements of the structure are Persian. The floor is vast, echoing the slightest sound, while a series of breath-taking arches are embellished with exquisite calligraphy.

The main chamber, the tomb, is the central focus of the entire complex of the Taj Mahal. The tomb is an octagonal shaped room that was built in such a way that any face can be used as an entry, although only the south garden face is used. The walls are 25 meters high (approximately 82 feet). They contain Taj Mahal - Tombeight arches, four on the lower portion of the walls, four on the upper. The four top arches form balconies – viewing areas – each containing a jali or screening carved from marble in the shape of vines, fruits, and flowers.

Since Muslim tradition does not permit the elaborate decoration of graves, what visitors see, therefore, are cenotaphs. That is, monuments to those buried elsewhere. In this instance, the bodies of Shah Jahan and Mumtaj Mahal were laid to rest in a relatively plain crypt just below the main chamber, which is inaccessible to the public.

One final word… If you plan to visit the Taj Mahal ­– which should definitely be on your bucket list – be sure to leave plenty of time, as the Taj is a creature of many moods. In the morning light, it is white as the driven snow; in the evening, it takes on a golden hue; and in the moonlight, it is irresistibly romantic.

Old Delhi, India: We began with a brief visit to the Jama Masjid Mosque, one of the largest in India. Built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan Delhi - Jama Masjid Mosque 2between 1650 and 1656, it was constructed by approximately 5,000 workers. The workforce was diverse, consisting of Indians, Arabs, Persians, Turks, and Europeans. The project was supervised by Sadullah Khan, the wazir (prime minister) during Shah Jahan’s reign, and Fazil Khan, the comptroller of Shah Jahan’s household. The cost of the construction at the time was one million rupees. The mosque was inaugurated on July 23, 1656, by Syed Abdul Ghafoor Shah Bukhari from Bukhara, Uzbekistan, who had been invited by Shah Jahan to be the Shahi Imam (Royal Imam) of the mosque. The Jama Masjid was one of the last monuments built under Shah Jahan. After it’s completion, it served as the royal mosque of the emperors until the end of the Mughal period.

Leaving the mosque, we set out, via bicycle rickshaw, to explore the sights and sounds of Old Delhi. Delhi - Chandni Chowk 1This is what is commonly called the Chandni ‘Chowk, historic buildings that were once home to prominent families of days-gone-by. Today, however, this district is one of the country’s best-known wholesale markets for textiles, electronic goods, and watches. Its narrow, winding side streets are also home to shops overflowing with spices, jewelry, books, hardware, brilliantly-dyed fabrics, and vendors hawking a variety of foods prepared on the spot… Awash with tsunamis of bustling humanity, the crowded streets conjured up nightmarish visions described in the oft-quoted opening sentences of American biologist Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (see photograph).

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Following our five-night stay at Raffles the Palm in Dubai, UAE, we checked out of our hotel and were transported to Port Rashid where we boarded Silversea’s Silver Spirit for a 33-day cruise that would take us from Dubai to Cape Town, South Africa.

Because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, I must admit that we were more than a little concerned about traveling in this region. However, Silversea clearly communicated to passengers that there was no cause for worry, as every possible precaution had been taken to insure their safety. And they were absolutely correct, as we felt totally secure throughout our entire voyage.

 Desert Dune Ride, Abu Dhabi, UAE: Since we had already explored a good bit of Abu Dhabi during our pre-cruise excursion – including the world-famous Sheikh Zayed Mosque, as well as a very brief visit to an outpost of the Louvre Museum – we decided to do something totally Abu Dhabi Dune Ride 4different in nature: a hair-raising dune ride through a portion of the Al Sahara Desert.

And hair-raising it was… but great fun. This is, without doubt, as close as you can get to a roller coaster ride on terra-firma (and I love roller coasters). There were times when I was certain that our vehicle would turn over on its side… but, luckily, that never took place, as the drivers were extremely adept at negotiating our rousing passage through the dunes. Fortunately, we were not in an open vehicle, as all concerned would undoubtedly have been completely covered in sand.

World Trade Center, Al Manama, Bahrain: Al Manama, the capital of Bahrain, is as old as it is new. Here you discover remains of a 16th-century trade route port juxtaposed with steel and glass skyscrapers that line the streets of the busy financial district.  The most striking of these, of course, is the Bahrain - World Trade Centerincredible World Trade Center, a 787 ft, 50-floor twin tower complex that houses both a five-star hotel and a luxury shopping mall, among its other intriguing attributes.

Designed by Atkins, a multi-national architectural firm, construction of the towers was completed in 2008. It is the first skyscraper in the world to integrate wind turbines into its design, which were developed, built, and installed by the Danish company Norwin A/S.

The two towers are linked via three skybridges, each holding a 225-kW wind turbine. Each turbine is aligned north, the direction from which air blows in from the Persian Gulf. The sail-shaped buildings on either side are designed to funnel wind through the gap to provide accelerated wind passing through the turbines. This significantly increases their potential to generate electricity.

The wind turbines are expected to provide 11% to 15% of the towers’ total power consumption, which is equivalent to providing the lighting for about 300 homes, 258 hospitals, 17 industrial plants, and 33 car engines. On an average day, they are expected to operate 50% of the time.

 Al-Fateh Mosque, Al Manama, Bahrain: At one time, the Al-Fateh Mosque, also known as the Al-Fateh Islamic Center, was one of the Bahrain - Al Fateh Mosquelargest mosques in the world, having the capacity to accommodate over 7,000 worshippers at a time. The mosque was built by the late Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa in1987 and was named after Ahmed Al Fateh. In 2006, Al-Fateh became the site of the National Library of Bahrain.

The mosque is located next to the Al-Fateh Highway in Juffair, a suburb of Manama. The huge dome on top of the mosque was constructed entirely of fiberglass. Weighing over 60 tons, it was originally the world’s largest fiberglass dome. The marble used in the floors is Italian and the chandelier was from Bahrain - Al Fateh Mosque Interior 2Austria. The doors were made of teak wood from India. Throughout the mosque is Kufic calligraphy.

The library of Ahmed Al-Fateh Islamic Center contains approximately 7,000 books, several as old as 100 years or more. These include copies of the books of the teachings of the prophet Muhammad, or what is referred to as the books of Hadith, the Global Arabic Encyclopedia, the Encyclopedia of Islamic Jurisprudence, Al-Azhar Journals, which have been printed more than a hundred years ago, as well as numerous magazines and periodicals.

I liked Al-Fateh infinitely more than the aforementioned mosque in my first article – Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi – which gave the impression of being constructed strictly for tourists. Al-Fateh just had a much warmer atmosphere… And as we tiptoed our way through its precincts in our stocking feet, there was an instructional class going on, which only added to the feeling of intimacy. Definitely worth a visit.  

King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia: Also known as Ithra, this is, without doubt, modern architecture in Saudi Arabia - Center for World Culture 2extremis. Whether observed from a distance, or up close and personal, the structure is equally mind-boggling. The building covers some 80,000 square meters, its intriguing shape inspired by the internal structural shape of oil-bearing rock formations. The Norwegian architectural firm Snohetta designed the building and Buro Happold, a UK professional services firm, was in charge of the engineering design. It was built and is operated by Saudi Aramco, and was inaugurated by King Salman bin Abdulaziz on December 1, 2016. The Center is located where the first commercial Saudi oilfield was discovered in March 1938.

And the building’s interior is equally striking. The interior levels are arranged thematically to suggest a progression through time. Areas dealing with the past are at the lowest levels, while the present is represented on the ground floor. The higher levels are mainly situated in the building’s Knowledge Tower, to indicate that the knowledge communicated in the tower’s teaching rooms will equip citizens for the future.

The Center’s facilities are, indeed, impressive. The Museum is situated on four levels and is arranged thematically into four galleries: contemporary art, Saudi heritage, Islamic civilization, and natural history and human ecology. The contemporary art, heritage, and Islamic civilization galleries have non-permanent displays and change their exhibitions on a regular basis. From 2018 to 2020, for example, the Islamic civilization gallery hosted an exhibition of Islamic art in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Saudi Arabia - Center for World Culture 3The Center’s Great Hall (pictured) is the dedicated area for short-term exhibitions. It has hosted an exhibition of original paintings by Norwegian Expressionist artist Edvard Munch, as well as an exhibition of manuscripts by Leonardo da Vinci.

Other facilities include the Ithra Cinema, which is one of the first to be operational in Saudi Arabia. It Saudi Arabia - Center for World Culture Librarydisplays a mix of movies, including popular international features, documentaries, and independent productions. The Ithra Library (pictured) is one of the largest and modern in the region. It is designed to host about 500,000 texts, as well as a variety of digital resources, and also hosts workshops, lectures, and book clubs. In addition to  performances, the Ithra Theater also organizes events intended to develop theater in Saudi Arabia, displays local & international plays, and offers theatrical training workshops. The Energy Exhibit offers visitors an ever-popular introduction to the oil industry, including renewables, ecology, and technology.

Time magazine listed the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture as one of the world’s top 100 places to visit; and it attracted one million visitors in 2019. If you are planning a sojourn to the Saudi Arabia, the Center is definitely a must-see.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman: In 1992, or so the story goes, the then Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said al Said, decided that his country should have a grand mosque…. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Oman - Sultan Qaboos Grand MosqueThe grand mosque was inaugurated by the Sultan himself on May 4, 2001, as a gift to the nation to celebrate his third decade in power. His policies found favor with many, as his enlightened leadership spearheaded Oman toward becoming a modern state while still preserving age-old traditions of the Islamic way of life.

An architecture competition took place in 1993 to select the best design for the mosque. Once the winner was determined, the mosque took six years and seven months to build. Featuring a combination of Islamic, Middle Eastern, and Omani architectural styles, it was constructed utilizing 30,000 tons of pink sandstone imported from India, as well as local granite and white marble. Five minarets were built around the periphery. The main minaret, 300-feet in height, and the four flanking minarets, 149-feet, are the mosque’s chief exterior features.

The mosque is Oman’s largest with a capacity for 20,000 worshippers: 6,500 in the main musalla prayer hall, 750 in the women’s musalla, and an additional 8,000 in the outer paved grounds, interior courtyard, and along the passageways.

The enormous Italian-manufactured 24-carat gold-plated chandelier, once the world’s largest, weighs 8.5 tons, is trimmed with 600,000 Swarovski Oman - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque Carpetcrystals, contains 1,122 halogen bulbs, and also includes a dimming system and a staircase for maintenance within the chandelier. Thirty-four smaller chandeliers of the same design are hung in other parts of the building.

Equally magnificent is the hand-loomed carpet (pictured) that covers the floor of the prayer hall. Containing 1.7 million knots, 28 natural vegetable dyes, and weighing 21 tons, it brings together the classical Persian Tabriz, Kashan, and Isfahan design traditions, and took four years to produce. The carpet measures 230 by 200 feet and covers the 46,750 square feet area of the prayer hall.

Oman - Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque LibraryThe double-story library is a striking cultural representative of Oman’s contemporary renaissance inspired by the late Sultan. It contains more than 23,342 books on the topics of Islamic culture, natural science, fine arts, philosophy, and psychology within its six departments, including a children’s section. The collection of predominantly Arabic and English titles grows larger each year.

Another must-see during your journey to the Middle East.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Although our cruise from Dubai – Cape Town began officially on Saturday, November 25th, we arrived in Dubai late in the evening of November 20th to participate in a Silversea sponsored Pre-Cruise Excursion. This included five nights and four days of sightseeing in and around the Dubai area. And, if memory serves me correctly, there were only a total of fourteen (14) people, plus our guide, which made for an infinitely more personal and intimate experience than the usual busloads.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: To call Dubai a land of extravagance would, of course, be a gross understatement. To think that in just a quarter of a Dubai - Skylinecentury, the city has gone from being a sandy desert to becoming one of the top five cities in the world with the most buildings over 100 meters (328 feet) tall is absolutely awe-inspiring. In 2008 alone, forty-one of these incredible skyscrapers rose from the ground.

Proof of the country’s daunting financial health is the abundance of luxury cars. It is rumored that the local pound is stocked with abandoned luxury vehicles; and even the police drive supercars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis… including an Aston Martin One-77 with a list price of a whopping 1.79 million dollars.

But even more important than the extravagance of the car itself is the license plate… The fewer the numbers, the more important is the driver. Just a few years ago, the number plate “1” was auctioned off for a cool 14.5 million dollars.

Yet another measure of Dubai’s immoderation…? Here you can find ATMs, not for banknotes but for gold. And it is certainly no coincidence that 40% of the world’s gold market passes through the city’s precincts.

Raffles the Palm, Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Located on the West Crescent Palm Jumeirah, Raffles the Palm is a 5-star hotel with beautiful pyramid-shaped architecture, tropical gardens, and one of the most stunning beachfront properties in Dubai. Our home away from home for five nights, it is Dubai - Raffles the Palmdefinitely worth a visit in its own right.

Raffles the Palm, of course, is constructed on one of Dubai’s human-made archipelagos – Palm Jumeirah – with others at various stages of development. These islands are made through a kind of “land reclamation,” a process that involves dredging sand from the Persian and Arabian Gulf’s floors. The sand is then sprayed and “vibro-compacted” into shape using GPS technology for precision and is surrounded by millions of tons of rock for protection.

The process is labor intensive… and expensive, which is why many of Dubai’s artificial islands have yet to be completed. And, as you would undoubtedly surmise, construction of the Palm Islands has had a significant impact on the environment, resulting in changes in area wildlife, coastal erosion, alongshore sediment transport, and wave patterns.

As a result of dredging and redepositing of sand for the construction of the islands, the crystalline waters of the Persian Gulf at Dubai have become severely clouded with silt. Construction has damaged the marine habitat, burying coral reefs, oyster beds, and subterranean fields of seagrass, which threatens local Dubai - Palm Islandsmarine species and other species dependent on them for food.

These environmental disturbances have attracted the attention of environmental groups such as Greenpeace. In 2006 the World Wildlife Fund announced that “(The) UAE’s human pressure on global ecosystems (its ecological footprint) is the highest in the world. The country is supposedly at present five times more unsustainable than any other country.” It also mentioned that the construction from the start-up date had caused many visible ecological and environmental changes that threatened the future.

Palm Jumeirah was built entirely from sand and rocks; no concrete or steel was used to build the island. And one of the risks of such a tremendous undertaking, as well as the above-mentioned environmental issues, is the very real possibility of sinking. Is Raffles the Palm destined one day to disappear beneath the waves…? Only time will tell.

Dubai Polo & Equestrian Club: This is quite a beautiful facility; and our guide at the Club, a woman from New Zealand – who is the CEO and chief Dubai - Polo Equesttrian Clubtrainer – was both charming and informative. She gave us a quick glimpse of horses in general, their different breeds – polo ponies, thoroughbreds, Arabian – and their specialties and needs, as well as the equipment utilized. She guided us through the Club House, polo pitches, equestrian training facilities, and the stable, where we had opportunity to get up close & personal with the horses.

Following our tour of the stables, we enjoyed a first-class lunch at outdoor tables overlooking the exercise track. My chicken breast sandwich was excellent… ditto my traveling companion’s lobster roll. Dessert was a shared rich chocolate cake garnished with vanilla ice cream. And, seemingly like everything else in Dubai, portions were prodigious.

Al Sahara Desert Dining Experience: After a few hours of relaxation at our hotel, our group set out again on what was billed as a Dubai Dinner Safari. To quote the description: “As a perfect end to the day, you’ll be presented with a luxury 5-star banquet dinner. To accompany your dinner, you’ll Dubai - Al Sahara Belly Dancerhave the opportunity to see a live belly-dancing show, a spectacular fire show, and various other entertainment that is traditional in Dubai and the surrounding region. Sit back and relax, watching the sun set softly over the desert horizon, and reflect on a day well spent.”

… Well… yes, and no. The entertainment was outstanding. The belly-dancing was great and the fire show quite spectacular, indeed. But, in my opinion, the food was just so-so. It was an outdoor buffet… and you had to walk a goodly distance from where you were seated to adorn your plate.

In addition, we didn’t exactly “watch the sun set softly over the desert horizon.” The Dubai traffic is, in a word, formidable. And since our travel time was infinitely longer than expected, it was quite dark by the time we eventually arrived at our desert destination.

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi: Located in Abu Dhabi, Capital of the United Arab Emirates, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques and a massive architectural work of art that intentionally blends different Islamic architectural schools. It features 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24-carat-gold gilded Abu Dhabi - Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosquechandeliers, and the world’s largest hand-knotted carpet. The main prayer hall is dominated by one of the world’s largest chandeliers. The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan built this mosque to convey historic consequence and to embody the Islamic message of peace, tolerance, and diversity. He intended that the Grand Mosque be a living reference of modern Islamic architecture that links the past with the present and creates a place of Islamic science and learning that would reflect genuine Islamic values. Constructed at a cost of 1.4 billion dollars, it is capable of accommodating 141,000 worshippers.

To enter the mosque, you must take an escalator down to an underground mall that is filled with souvenir shops and a plethoric variety of retail stores & restaurants. I doubt that I have ever seen a more commercialized religious enterprise. Having run the gauntlet, you are confronted with a type of staging area, where you are scrutinized with regard to proper attire. Shorts and otherwise bare skin are strictly prohibited… ditto transparent & tight-fitting garments; and women must cover their heads with a scarf or shawl.

Burj Khalifa, Dubai: The Burj Khalifa (originally known as the Burj Dubai prior to its inauguration) is indisputably the world’s tallest structure. With Dubai - Burj Khalifaa total height of 2,722 feet, or just over half a mile, it has been the tallest structure and building in the world since 2009, supplanting Taipei 101, the previous holder of the status.

The construction began in 2004, with the exterior completed five years later on October 1, 2009. It officially opened on January 4, 2010.  The building was designed by a team led by Adrian Smith of Skidmore Owings & Merrill, the firm that designed the Sears Tower in Chicago, a previous record-holder for the world’s tallest building.

 Burj Khalifa was designed to be the centerpiece of a large-scale development to include 30,000 homes, nine Dubai - View from top of Burjhotels, 7.4 acres of parkland, 19 skyscrapers, the Dubai Mall, and the 30-acre artificial Burj Khalifa Lake.

The Burj contains luxury homes, global companies, and the swanky Armani Hotel. Only the 124th, 125th, and 148th floors are open to the public. And as you can well imagine, the view – especially from the 148th floor – is truly spectacular. (pictured).

 Final Evening of the Pre-Cruise Excursion: This, of course, should have been the highlight of our pre-cruise junket. Instead, it turned out to be something of a mixed bag,

The evening started out well enough, as we attended an intriguing rendition of Cirque du Soleil’s Water Stage at the La Perle Theater in the Hilton Hotel. Following the performance, we went upstairs to the Babiole Restaurant for our 8:00 p.m. dinner reservation – and this is where the anomalies Dubai - Babiole Restaurant Viewbegan to pop up.

The food wasn’t bad at all – my Burrata and my traveling companion’s Beef Carpaccio, for example, made excellent starters… ditto her main course of Seafood Risotto… and other members of the party seemed more than satisfied with entrées such as Wild Mushroom Ghocchi and Chicken Milanese – unfortunately, there were a number of other contributing factors. My entrée, for instance, was simply MIA, missing in action. I had ordered the Baked Salmon with quinoa and olive crust. What appeared, however, was the Risotto. I informed the server of the mistake, and he promptly returned it to the kitchen. And I waited… and waited… and waited. By the time the salmon finally materialized, everyone else had completely finished their entrées, so I simply handed it back to the waiter and we all moved on to dessert.

Then, of course, there was the noise issue… Instead of being seated in the restaurant’s cozy dining room, which, at the time of our arrival, was completely devoid of human habitation, our party of fourteen was plopped down at a large table in the bustling bar area. And while the view was spectacular (pictured Dubai - Babiole Restaurantabove), there was a speaker situated almost directly above our heads; and, as the evening wore on, the piped-in music became louder and louder. Carrying on a reasonably intelligent conversation became completely impossible.

Complaints were made. The restaurant manager wasn’t exactly helpful, simply noting that this was “Ladies’ Night” (I mean, there were all of three unescorted ladies seated at the bar), that the music was always loud on such occasions, and that a representative of our group had been informed of this fact at the time our reservation was originally made.

Neither a particularly satisfactory conclusion to a highly-anticipated pre-cruise excursion, nor a very auspicious prelude to what proved to be a very enjoyable and illuminating cruising experience.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!