Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Susan Boyle - You Go Girl!

Once in awhile a really talented person gets their fifteen minutes of fame. And with the planet now so instantly connected, it often leads to bigger and better things. It’s especially gratifying when someone deserving, who has long been overlooked, attains worldwide renown.

I’m speaking, of course, of the strange case of Susan Boyle who, only this month, managed to become a global icon in a very short time. Thanks in a great part to the phenomenon known as U-tube. Already she has well over 600,000 fans on Facebook. (Including me) Of course she’s not yet a senior, but still how Miss Boyle, now 47, escaped being discovered all these years is a puzzlement. She has one of the richest voices I’ve ever heard and her rendition of “Cry Me a River” has to be just about one of the best ever. It was even more delightful to watch her performance in front of Simon Cowell who usually is the very essence of cynicism. To see his facial expression change from mockery to amazement did my heart a world of good.

Susan Boyle, you go girl. I hope you win top prize, sing for the Queen and go on to have a marvellous career. You’re definitely a wonderful example to the rest of us older folks to never give up in going after our goals.

And now back to Betty’s travelblog.
Our second day of wine tasting took us north to the Aconcagua Valley. This is an area of cool, rainy winters; hot, dry summers and moist Pacific breezes. We were told irrigation is necessary for the wonderful growth we could see around us. Snowmelt from the soaring Andes flows into the river system and is diverted to canals that surround the valley. The result? Everywhere orchards and vineyards climb the slopes of the sere foothills.

We again visited three wineries in the valley and had lunch in another delightful hacienda style resort—a lovely spot where wealthy citizens from Santiago come for a weekend get-away.
Our final winery was the renowned Vina Errazuriz founded in 1870 by Don Maximiano Errazuriz, a son of one of Chile’s most prestigious 18th century families. Today, his descendant, Eduardo Chadwick is the sixth generation to be involved in the business. We spent two hours at this premium winery, climbing first to the top of their hillside vineyard overlooking the breathtaking panoramic view of much of the valley. After touring the beautiful gardens, we ventured into the coolness of the century old cellar. Here their finest wines are aged. We tasted three of their award winning appellations and declared their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon one of our favorite red wines ever. Feeling very happy with our two days on the Chilean wine trail, we returned to Santiago for an evening of fine dining and folkloric dancing at one of the cities’ fine restaurants.

Our five nights in Santiago were spent at the charming Plaza San Francisco, a boutique hotel in the centre of town. The king sized room was furnished in beautiful Spanish modern furniture and the elegant, marble bathroom was spotlessly clean. Given four stars by both Fodders and Travelocity, I can highly recommend it.

And I definitely recommend a visit to this amazing country at the bottom of the world.
(Coming soon: Buenos Aires, Argentina.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Day of Wine and Roses

First the roses: Congratulations to the Amazon top one hundred semi-finalists in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards.
I've got a lot of reading to do. Only three of the excerpts I reviewed made the cut, even though I felt my choices all deserved either 4 or 5 stars and I would definitely want to read the full manuscript. However, this all leads me to believe that subjectivity plays a very important part in what gets picked for publication. In other words, there are probably thousands of very good manuscripts out there that are never in print and thus never read by the masses.

Now back to my ongoing travelblog of our South American tour.

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Whether it’s the thirst quenching embrace of a chilled Riesling on a hot summer’s day, or the mellowed, fruity taste of a fine cabernet with dinner: as the Psalmist once stated, “wine makes the heart rejoice.” Even John Milton, that puritan poet of the 17th century affirms,” Wine; one sip of this will bathe the drooping spirits in delight beyond the bliss of dreams. Be wise and taste.”

Since both my husband and I are lovers of the grape, when I realized we would be spending several days in Chile’s central valley, I knew we simply had to schedule some tasting tours at a few of the countries great wineries.

Our tour company sent around the perfect guide for us—a transplanted wine affection ado from the province of Alberta, Canada. He arrived as a tourist in Santiago about ten years ago; fell in love with a Spanish beauty with whom he has a daughter; and has studied viniculture ever since. The two days we spent with him learning about the art of wine were fantastic.

On the first day we headed south to the Maipo Valley, a lovely spot reminiscent of California’s Napa Valley. Fruit orchards, vegetable patches and, of course, miles of vineyards line the winding two lane roads that etch the valley. Our first winery, the Perez Cruz family’s beautiful estate, was situated in the Alto (high) Maipo region. Here we sampled their Gold winning Limited Edition Syrah Reserve 2004. Red wine doesn’t come much better than this. Their new ultra modern storage area was outstanding and an eye opener as to how far wine making has come in this country.

We then headed to a small, private museum of wine where the owner showed us some of the original primitive methods used by the early Spaniards. Fascinating to be able to see the difference one hundred years has made to this art. The history lesson over, our tour guide took us for lunch to the perfect spot in keeping with the mood of the early settlers—an 18th century hacienda built in rambling ranchero style. Here, while we waited for our meal of mouth-watering wild salmon from cold South Pacific waters, we sat on a cool veranda and drank delicious pisco sours made with Chilean Pisco Brandy, egg whites, lemon juice and sugar. By now, we were beginning to wonder if our livers could keep up to all this, but didn’t feel like hurting our hosts’ feelings by refusing.

One final winery visit in the afternoon and then we were whisked back to Santiago and our comfortable city center hotel for the evening. Needless to say we slept very well that night.

(Next time – our final days in Santiago)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Following HIstory

The final part of our trip around the bottom of South American began as we disembarked the “Golden Princess” in the seaport city of Valpraiso. It’s an interesting old place established around 1536 by Spanish explorers. From the harbour, Valpraiso (see picture) stretches up the side of a hill but fortunately there is an ancient funicular to convey you to the top. We took the slow ride up for an excellent bird’s eye view of the old town, the bustling harbour and the blue Pacific stretching to the west.

After a tasty, typical Chilean meal in an intimate restaurant tucked away in a dubious side street, we headed to the beach resort town of Vina Del Mar. I found it in some ways reminiscent of the hotel strips along Waikiki Beach. I would have definitely liked to have stayed a little longer in the area just to see the Easter Island museum (see picture) and the town’s famous floral clock. But time was limited, so we were soon on our way inland to the capitol city of Santiago.

Even though we knew a little about the city from family and friends who have lived there, its cosmopolitan flavour came as a complete surprise. Of course, as in most Latin American cities, there are areas of great poverty; still as a welcoming tourist destination it ranks high. The downtown area boasts both beautiful modern skyscrapers and 17th century Spanish architecture. For a start, I recommend a visit to Cerro San Cristobel Park where, once again, you ascend a steep hill in an old fashioned funicular railway. (pictured) At the top you can get a wonderful vista of the entire city with its backdrop of the Andes Mountain chain. The park also contains a zoo and a Japanese style garden.

One of the ways to see the buildings and get a sense of the history of Chile is to take one of the many walking tours that are offered. The tour we took was tailor made for us as one of our very good friends here in Canada is the great grandson of Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna, an important early Chilean politician and journalist. We wanted to visit both the Vicuna Mackenna museum and the small park which contains a mausoleum where his mummified remains are kept. Being friends, of Jean Claude Vicuna, we were treated like royalty by both our tour guide and the museum’s curator. Of course, there are other fine museums in the city with many artefacts of early Chilean history.

In our next instalment we are driven into some of the wonderful productive valleys of Central Chile and visit their local wineries. I love wine and I think it is one of the great gifts given to us by our Creator. Even the Bible promotes the judicious use of red wine which is now known for its many health benefits.

This week, wine becomes even more important as Christians around the world observe the last supper and the death of Jesus. Wine is significant to this occasion as red wine symbolizes the poured out blood of Christ and the great sacrifice he made when he laid down his life in our behalf. I don’t often get religious in this blog, but this is definitely an important week to my family as well as to many seniors I know. So please make allowances.