We had an early breakfast on January 26, because we had two dancing lessons today. We were supposed to have a table for two but someone from Washington, DC just barged in. The waiters were all scandalized so was the maitre ‘d. He even sent the headwaiter to find out if we were okay and we said we had to get over it and the lady who joinjed us was nice.

We joined the celebration of Australia’s National Day to commemorate the arrival of the first fleet into Sydney Cove in 1788. It is an official public holiday in all of Australia and is marked by Australian of the Year awards, the Order of Australia and an address from the Prime Minister.

Today is also a national day of celebration for India to commemorate the date when the Constitution of India came into force. January 26 was chosen to honour the memory of the Purna Swaraj declaration of independence in 1930.

After a little bit of work and rest, it was dress-up time again and we rushed through the dinner because we had a date with Captain Paul Wright. We told him we were confident we were in safe hands and he agreed. We had Singapore Sling that we couldn’t finish but we met two people from Germany who had a difficult time with the health care system in Florida. The show at 8:45 pm featured a pianist with eclectic taste from Chopin and great artists to Mac the Knife. Then we hit the dance floor and enjoyed a little bit of late-night.

We applied for a Dubai visa on January 27 and bought a tour. Line dancing was good and the people were just good at it and ended it with Gay March. We rushed to lunch and went to the library to return one book and borrow the secret but we couldn’t find it. The librarian named Christie said she would watch it for us. We then went to the Tango Lesson.

All day we cruised on the south westerly course that paralleled the Brazil coast and later the Uruguay coast. By the late evening and overnight, Queen Mary 2 began to close the coast into the Rio De La Plata which divides Uruguay and Argentina.

Preparing for MontevideoAs usual, we studied the Montevideo materials Queen Mary 2 provided us to get ready for our arrival in Montevideo. It starts with the Uruguayan proverb: “It is better to lose a minute in your life than to lose your life in a minute.”

Grace and fine manners still flourish in Uruguay which is amazing when they seem lost and forgotten in the modern world. The near-mythic gaucho (Uruguay cowboy) is a revered part of the nation’s rich social fabric and is among their cultural icons. Museu del Gaucho y de la Moneda is one of the most treasured national collections.

An early 18th century Buenos Aires governor named the place Montevideo (scenic mountain) where he established a fortress against the British, Portuguese and Danish pirates. There is a monument in Maurice de Zabala’s (Montevideo founder) honour at Plaza Zabala.

There is also a monument called Los Treinta y Tres (the 33) that honours General Juan Lavalleja and his 33 brave patriots who returned to Uruguay to expel the invading Brazilians in 1825. Along with this monument, visitors often say that the city is well-planned.

Ciudad Vieja (Old City) the port area, features 19th century remnants of the 19th and 20th century architecture. Plaza Constitution also known as Plaza Matriz is the capital’s oldest square and is the city ‘soul.’ Juan Ferrari’s (who received his first sculptural lessons at his father’s workshop) central sculpture is a tribute to the establishment of the city water system. Facing the square is Museu Gurvich which is dedicated to Lithuanian-born artist Jose Gurvich.

The main shopping street is Avenida 18 de Julio which honours Uruguay’s national Constitution Day. This leads from Plaza Independencia to Plaza Fabini. A statue on the square shows gauchos engaged in battle which is sculptor Jose Belloni‘s last big piece of work. There is also a free exhibition space for local artist beneath the square.

The Plaza Independencia is the city’s main square where Uruguay’s most revered monument is located. It is none other than the solemn statue of Liberator Jose Gervasio Artigas’(Uruguay’s national hero and the father of Uruguay, as he is sometimes known) black marble mausoleum. This revered hero called for armed insurgency when Brazil invaded in 1811 just three years after Uruguay declared independence. An honour guard patrols the tomb round the clock.

The avenue also continues to Plaza Cagancha, also known as Plaza Libertad where the Statue of Liberty and the main tourist office are located. It is a square in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital. Here it will be fun to have a pleasant stroll along ‘the (harbour front) Ramblas.’

South America’s tallest structure when Palacio Salvo was built in the 1920s, it is now a national treasure and is still the highest building in Uruguay. Teatro Solis is in honour of Juan Diaz de Solis (discoverer of Rio de la Plata) who led the first Spanish expedition ashore in 1516 but the natives were not pleased to see him and killed almost all of his party.

The ribbon of boho-chic enclaves along Maldonado coastline is popular among the Montevideo residents. Punta del Este (better known as Piriapolis founded by Francisco Piria, a 19th century developer) is closer to the city. There are fine beaches here and Piria’s former home (he built a castle for himself) is now a museum.

On the capital museums, the Museo Historico National is laid out among four restored homes near Plaza Zabala that belonged to 19th century military heroes. Displays recall national history amid personal effects and fine antiques.

The Museo del Gaucho y Moneda at Avenida 18 de Julio is one of most visited and reflects the national passion for the gaucho and the difficult lifestyle in the unforgiving country side. The display includes antique equipment and weapons.

The Museo de Bellas Artes also known as Juan M. Blanes (Did not start painting until he was in his 50s and is entirely self-taught) Museum is at Avenida Millan and is named after one of the famous painters in Uruguay. Blanes is known for his landscapes of Uruguay and Rio de la Plata. The displayed art dates from the nation’s beginnings to the present.

The Etchegaray family still lives in their ancestral home, one of the most beautifully preserved villas. It is decorated with painting and sculpture as well as a collection of antique personal articles. If you have time visit the UNESCO site at Colonia del Sacramento (about 99 miles from Montevideo) as well.

Practically Speaking - Currency: Uruguayan peso Shop: 8 am to 12:30 pm 2 pm - 7 pm Info: Ministereo de Turismo at the port or www.turismo.gub.uy PO: Misiones at Buenos Aires Browse: Avenidas San Jose, Sarandi, 18 de Julio, Casa Mario (provides complimentary shuttle) Transport: Black Taxis have a lighted Taxi sign on top Buy: Leather goods, woolens Beaches: Rambla, Maldonado

Arrival Information - The ship docked at the Port of Montevideo in Ciudad Vieja, 14 blocks from the city centre. Metered taxis were available at the port gate.

Montevideo, UruguayEarly in the morning on January 28, we entered the Rio De La Plata and the Canal De Acceso. So it was Bienvenidos a Montevideo, the capital, largest city and chief port of Uruguay. Ranked by Mercer Human Resource Consulting as the city with best quality of life in Latin America, it is a modern metropolis with a historical old town.

How did it get its name? There are two explanations and you can take your pick. One says it comes from the Portuguese phrase “Monte vide eu’ which means “I see a mountain“. The second one says the Spaniards recorded the location of the mountain in a map as “Monte VI De Este a Oeste” which means the sixth mountain from east to west.

Anyway, Montevideo has quite a few parks and notable monuments. We saw the 19th century Beaux Arts structures still standing up. We were impressed with the Plaza Independencia where the tour guide took us. It is the oldest square and considered the heart of the city. We looked at the clock and while it said 3:31 pm, we knew it was only 11:31 am at home in Toronto. That means we are now four hours ahead.

We had lunch at La Piazza after which we got ready to go to the Royal Court Theatre where we were supposed to meet our tour guide. We were also given the same safety pointers we were given in Rio last January 25 in order to be safe as well while in Montevideo.

Our tour guide was Silke while our driver was Jorge. Uruguay is the smallest city in South America. She pointed out the anchor used to calculate the distance and speed of the ship. It is supposed to be 30 meters higher and not enough space for the four workers on cycles with safety belts. It was a dangerous working place.

Officially known as the Oriental Republic of Uruguay, its only land border being Brazil. The Uruguay River (the river of painted birds) is to the west and it is close to Argentina. It is only 176,000 square meters, twice the size of Portugal. It has 3.5 million population compared to 1 million on a Shanghai Street.

Montevideo is the capital and more than 1 million live here. About 88% are of European descent. It was a Spanish colony founded in 1724 when Buenos Aires was 20 years old but the Uruguayan Spanish has been modified due to a large Italian immigrants. At first, people didn’t want to live here because of the fierce Indians who defended the place against the invaders.

The tour guide told us that Spain has a Spanish law called Law of Western India saying the new town has to be established properly. It should have a large square and meeting place. One part of the square was to represent religious power which is the cathedral.

The first town hall is founded in 1804 on a rocky peninsula on top of which there’s a pedestrian street where there are shops and restaurants. Crossing the peninsula on the right is a building with columns which is the first open theatre, 150 years old with red velvet seats and chandeliers with lovely wooden floors inside and outside.

Then we came to the largest square place called Independence. Part is used as government building and some used as parking space. Palacio Salvo was inaugurated in the 20’s with art deco style full of ornaments. It’s the emblem of the building, the first skyscraper in South America. Josephine Baker sang and danced there.

The red building is a 5-star Radisson Hotel. The money exchange is 20 Uruguay= $1 so ten pesos is 50 cents. It’s the latest in South America to be independent in 1825 and five years later they had the constitution. The main thoroughfare is the 18th of July Avenue.

Uruguay is not so good at caring for the buildings. Once they go bad, they knock them down and build another one to look good. They don’t have silver, gold, and oil and so Uruguay was poor but the first WW War made it rich from their export products of wool, meat and leather and so it was called the Switzerland of South America. Then Korea Crises came and stopped the economy.

For climate, they have the high summer because it’s a subtropical climate located 35 degrees latitude to the south, same as South Africa. There are four marked seasons. Average highs and lows in summer (January) in Montevideo are 28 and 17 °C (82.4 and 62.6 °F), respectively, with an absolute maximum of 43 °C (109.4 °F); And she’s right for it was 31 degrees C as we toured, but we had light winds and sunny clear skies.

Winter (July) average highs and lows in Montevideo are 14 and 6 °C (57.2 and 42.8 °F), respectively, although the high humidity makes the temperatures feel warmer; the lowest temperature registered in Montevideo is −4 °C (24.8 °F). They have no snow and their coastal line is 650 kilometres with 200 days of sunshine. Mostly there is no rain so they have to save water.

For the parliament, they also tried to use oak wood and teakwood from Africa and granite and marble in 52 colors found underground. Their constitution is based on the US and so is their flag with blue stripes and the sun on the top right hand space. They have this diagonal degree street constructed to get a good view of the parliament inaugurated in 1925 in Roman Greek architectural style which is a symbol for democracy and republic.

There are two flags in front. The left one is the flag of their national hero and the right one is the national flag. We went into the so-called Honour Vestibule made of granite and marble floor. To the right is a large painting of an 1811 party celebrating the national hero’s win for independence. He is the man with the poncho in the picture.

We noticed that 90% is covered with grassland. There’s the hill that protects the Harbour Bay. Here, we were told Montevideo is the North European Country of South America as we came to the hall. There are the two entrances one to the senate and the other to the representative chamber.

They fixed this building similar to the castle in Versailles. On top is a large mosaic painting they put together one inch square centimetre at a time. There’s the public library and the ceiling is of Byzantine style with the chandelier from Italy.

They don’t want to be just a province of Argentina. The first president is an elegant man who killed the Indians. There’s also the painting of the first battle against the Spaniards and Artigas won. His soldiers were the Indians with weapons of lances. There’s a book on display of the Declaration of Independence. And then going out we saw the display of the constitution.

Another important building is the glass one like the one in Dubai done by Carlos Ott who was born in Uruguay, resides in Canada and became famous when he won first prize in the 1983 among 744 architects. The building he built here is called the telecommunication tower.

People in Uruguay are completely digitized but cannot switch the electric light on in some parts. As for the economy, the harbour is most important but other than that, the country is an agricultural one which exports meat. They only have 3.3 million people but have 12 million cattle and 8.5 million sheep. They export beef, wool and leather.

They also export two million tons of rice to Brazil, corn, wheat and soya beans. Their export has increased in value by 20%. They also have eucalyptus which they used and need it for water, paper and cellulose industry, They export to France, Spain and Japan. The British helped build their railway system but now it’s broken and can use only part of it.

Then we came to another neighbourhood called El Prado where there are fruits and vegetables. In 1900 a great house was built, bought by Mr. Moon who owns the newspaper and banks. Sycamore trees provide shades. We stopped at the Stagecoach monument, behind which there’s a yellow blossoming tree.

The first inhabitants were the Indians, only 5000 or 6000 of them. They were hunters and fishermen and became soldiers of Artigas. After they won the war with the help of the Indians, Fructuoso Rivera, the first Uruguayan president, killed all the Indians known as the Salsipuedes Genocide in 1831.

Four survived and sold to the circus. Of all the survivors, only one escaped with the baby and that was Tacuabe. But we read the inscription on the Indian monument Indios Charruas / Tacaube/ General Jose Gervasio Artigas but the encyclopedia spells it as Tacuabe. Anyway, nowadays more than 40% of the population have Indian blood.

We were told to get under the shadow of the ombu tree. The ombu tree is a huge evergreen herb native to Pampa of South America. It has a canopy that looks like an umbrella. It spreads 12 to 15 meters and grows up to 12 to 18 meters, hence we were asked to get under the shade.

After the turn of the century, the French came and planted a rose garden. To the right is the Botanical Garden with oak and chestnut trees that are not natives to the place. They interchanged seeds with 200 botanical gardens all over the world.

We saw the French castle built in 1904 and bought by Catholic College. To the right is the residence of the current president who is a socialist. He tends to flowers like carnation and gladiolis. The president is Jose Molina but is known as Pepe.

He is an old revolutionary who ran the streets from 1960-1970. He shot his gun and got 15 years in jail. Amnesty law changed from military government to civil government in 1985. Pepe was elected and now he’s 76 years old and is a philosopher.

The tour guide spoke of the town mayor, women, communists, White party, Red party. Now 10% receive one warm meal a day. The famous avenue called Boulevard Artigas surrounds the interior of the town of palm trees from Canary Islands, part of the connection between Montevideo and Colonia del Sacramento 170 km to the west.

Montevideo is a peaceful country, second only to Canada. In 1987, they had the first visit of the flying pope. Now we see the British Obelisk. We also saw the residence of the US Ambassador. There is a public park soccer and the first world cup in 1930 monument for the world.

There were 75000 spectators within duct lagoon in the game between Uruguay 1st world cup in 1950 in Brazil for 225000 Brazilian fans. The game was between Brazil and Uruguay and Uruguay won and now is two times a world cup champion. There were 200 (not 100% sure of the number) suicides in Brazil as a result. At the last World Cup in Africa, Uruguay defeated Argentina and Brazil. It was glory for Uruguay.

Jose Belloni was born in Montevideo and studied in Rome. He was famous for his monuments. We saw the first one he did called La Carreta (The Carriage) which was a verse to the drivers of the ox-cart which were everywhere in the 19th century.

There was also a symbol monument showing Fructuoso Rivera, Uruguay’s first president who is believed to have killed the Charrua, the indigenous people of Southern South America. They were invited to a meeting but were ambushed and killed. Very few survived the massacre and four were taken to France.

To the east of Montevideo is where the wealthiest live. On the way there, we saw the university hospital to the right which was inaugurated in 1950. They have the national health security and old age security paid for from taxes of 23% of the wages which give people the right to be attended to health-wise, but the quality of the health care is not good so those who can afford get private health security.

The old age gets security pay. The average salary of the workers is $1000 a month but needs $1500 so families have to work hard. A mother for instance will work in the morning as a teacher for four hours and paid $280 a month and in the afternoon she will work as a cashier. The father works as a taxi driver and as an electrician or in the shopping mall. The average is $250 a month.

The national manager of a company gets $5000 to 6000 while the manager of international companies gets 40% more but Uruguayans are happy people. They have a steak a day and they go to the beach. Winter does not exist because people hide from the cold. There’s no heating in the apartment but they barbecue and drink whisky, their national drink brought by the Scottish and the English.

As for education, it is compulsory and children receive 15 years, six years of elementary education, four years of high school and two years of college preparatory. About 40% have bachelor degrees, 14% university and illiteracy is 2%. Jobs for universities: 1. Lawyers 2. Doctors although they are badly paid. 3. Football players or Dr. Kick. They export football players to earn 400 a month with no tax.

We saw the five-star hotel where there are 28 rooms. Prince Andrew, President Bush and Chavez stayed there. We also saw the residence of the ambassador from Argentina. There was a building that was at first a hotel but is now a monument. The two towers of the hotel would be opened in 2012.

When the water is brown, they call it chocolate. There are 220 km of shallow water and there’s no tide. The surf is only due to the wind. We saw the Plaza de la Armada Square which honours the seamen who drowned. There’s the monument called “fighting for surviving of drowning seamen.”

Here there are no hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunami. There’s soft breeze, a museum in 1920, cabaret, disco which is boring so they called el cabaret dela muerte. The other land is a cemetery. To the right is the eagle that commemorates the 1915 Armenian’s people escape to Uruguay.

The immigrants are the Armenians, Germans, Jewish, Mennonites That’s why they have a joke: The Mexicans descended from the Aztecs, the Peruvians from Incas and the Uruguayans from the boat. Lots go for 750 to 850 American dollars per square meter. What is sold at 850,000 one year would be 950,000 later. One hectare of land is $6000 and 8 years ago it was $300.

At the right is a 18-hole golf course by Mr. MacKenzie of Australia. At the left is the holocaust monuments. The big building to the right is Customs Union and then we saw the US Consulate. Back home at Queen Mary 2, we settled for the evening activities whereupon, the ship set on an easterly course to start the Great Circle Track out into the South Atlantic Ocean.

How the navigators chose the Great Circle Track as the course to follow was very well explained. Apparently there are two kinds of sailings: the Rhumb line which maintains constant true course used for short distances and the Great Circle for long Ocean passages because it is through this that probably finds the shortest distance between two points on earth.

We left early for the Illumination on January 29 to attend the Catholic mass. Then the capable Social Hostess, Gun, who had been showing us some line dancing moves, taught us the Gay Gordon Line Dance which is a social dance used to end every line dancing session. We were also taught the cha, cha, cha and a Latino style dance with African Fusion by the famous choreographer, Harold King. And Artsiom and Volha taught us ballroom dances every port day.

Overnight, we continued on the Great Circle track in the South Atlantic. By January 30, we crossed the Argentine Basin where the depths of the water beneath the keel was up to 5000 meters. Before breakfast, we went to mass again and then walked a bit for a mile on deck 7 before tackling the statement we received from the purser.

We had our lesson with Harold King with whom we had a talk about where to get the music. He said we can get it in Capetown but get Splendour on the Grass and Pink Martini. Then it was Jive Lesson with professional dancers Artsiom and Volha.

Through the day on January 31, we continued to cruise following the Easterly Great Circle track and started to pick up the Southern Ocean Current which usually runs at a rate of 0.5 to I.0 knot on easterly direction. We didn’t feel this as we indulged on three hours of dancing.

In preparation for our African sojourn, Queen Mary 2 made sure we knew the Southern African Agriculture Restrictions. Canines will be stationed at shore side, exit point and the tent to ensure compliance. We should not remove from the ship fresh fruits and vegetables, prepared meals, dairy products, meat of any kind and flowers, seeds or plants.

Also in preparation for our African stopover, we were advised to obtain South African Rands before arriving in Cape Town as there would be long lines when making money exchange there. Also, US dollars are not generally accepted in South Africa.

We learned what makes the flag of South Africa Fly. It was adopted at the start of the general election in 1994 on April 27 replacing the flag that has been used since 1928. The official South African government information says the flag is “a synopsis of principal elements of the country’s flag history and no universal symbolism should be attached to any of the colours.”

The only symbolism used in the flag is the “Y” shape which can be interpreted as “the convergence of diverse elements within South African society, taking the road ahead in unity.” Three of the colours - black, green and yellow - are found in the flag of the African National Congress. The other three - red, white, and blue are used in the modern flags of Netherlands and United Kingdom.

In his autobiography, South African president F.W. de Klerk, who proclaimed the new flag in 1994 said that chili red was chosen instead of plain red which Anglo-Africans would have preferred or orange which the African people would have preferred.

The flag was first commissioned as an interim flag only and was designed by State Herald Frederick Brownell. The choice of a new flag was part of the negotiation process started when Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

Nationwide public competitions were held in 1993 with over 7000 designs submitted to the National Symbol Council but no single flag drawing significant support. The current design was introduced as a last-minute interim measure just in time for the election. It had been well received and is now seen as an enduring symbol of the modern South African state.

Afterwards we were hungry and so had lunch, rested a bit afterwards, worked on the computer, and then went to the Marine Safety Open session where we saw the modern marine safety equipment close and met the ship’s Safety team. Then we got ready for the formal dinner. We could not miss it because our table mates said we were their anchor. After the dinner, we saw the live show on West Side, ate a fruit on deck 7 and called it a night.

After lunch on February 1, we passed by an isolated island called Tristan da Cunha, the most remote inhabited archipelago on earth (2816 km from the nearest land in South Africa and 3360 miles from South America). We approached this from the west and slowly rounded the north coast passing the town of Edinburgh off the starboard side.

This remote group of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean has 275 population. It was first inhabited in 1810 and during World War II, it was used as a top secret Royal Navy weather and radio station to monitor U Boats and German shipping movements in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Dinner was also good. But we enjoyed the show because it was about Dean Martin but of course it was a poor imitation of the Dean Martin Show we saw in Las Vegas many moons ago. It was fun walking around the ship and watching people in their finery, exhibiting a sense of style. We even saw one in a vintage dress shaped like the clothes from the 40s.

Cruising around the world takes a lot of days, 103 days in fact, and not having enough clothes would have been a problem had Queen Mary 2 not given us the privilege to use the launderettes but every privilege comes with responsibilities and for this we were reminded not to leave the clothes after the laundry or the drying cycle is over to give other people the chance to use the washing machines and dryers.

Anyway, we learned to be innovative. Evelyn’s one sleeveless floral silk dress for instance could be worn three ways. It was a beach casual with the right accessories of Fred Flare sunglasses and flats. It was cocktail dress with a lovely topper, a clutch and classy pumps and at the formal night, she added sparkly jewellery and heels and was good to go.

We learned what it meant when the wear was supposed to be formal (tuxedo for men and evening wear for the ladies), semi-formal (coat and tie for men and dress and pant suits for the ladies requiring a bit more polish) elegant casual (coat without the tie and dress and pant suits for the ladies).

We used the dry cleaning service the prices for which are about the same as those on land. QM2 is very well equipped in this regard and all the passengers had to do was cooperate and exercise common sense in the use of the laundry facilities.

Prior to the show, we talked to some people who we thought looked snobbish at first but opened up when we talked to them. So really one can’t judge a book by its cover. And it also is proof that if you give people a chance, you will see the good in everyone. We are glad to be subscribed to the dogma that people are good until they have proven themselves otherwise.

Throughout the day on February 2, we continued on the Easterly Great circle track and navigated the deep waters of the South Atlantic. The waters run as deep as 4000 to 5000 meters but it runs deeper in some places. It was at this time when we were told there is a Cunard blog at www.wearecunard.com

We wanted to visit the bridge but for security and operational reasons, they directed us to the bridge viewing area behind the bridge which is easily reached on deck 12, stairway A on the port side. It is open on sea days between 9 and 4 pm but sometimes it is closed due to operational reasons. Once there, video cameras, food and drinks are not allowed and visitors have to remain quiet.

By February 3, we were busy with Harold King showing us some dancing moves and the professional dancers teaching us the proper rumba steps. Line dancing was some sort of a rehearsal for the talent show. Despite all these, we didn’t miss the Groovy Choir at 1:30 pm which was well, groovy. Can’t help singing along what with Bee Gees and Bacharach.

Then there was the Challenge your sports directors. We were encouraged to take on and beat them at any of the sports on board like table tennis, deck quoits, shuffleboard, baggo, paddle tennis. They didn’t have badminton which is too bad because that’s the only one (except maybe a little golf because we play three times a week when on land) we have a little bit of an advantage due to the mentoring of the Canadian National Badminton Champion five years in a row, Michael Butler. And he only agreed to mentor us not only because he is our son-in-law but also he was sick of watching us play backyard badminton.

At 10 to 5, we went to G32 to meet with Miss Gun for some last minute instructions for the talent show. At this point, we checked if we were headed in the right direction and found we continued on the East North Easterly Great Circle course and slowly rounded to a more North Easterly course headed towards the coast of South Africa. We navigated our way and crossed the deep waters of the Cape Basin.

In preparation for Cape Town, we studied the materials Queen Mary 2 had for us starting with a quote from South African writer and feminist, Olive Schreiner from her book on Thoughts on South Africa. “If Nature here wishes to make a mountain, she runs a range of five hundred miles; if a plain, she levels eight; if a rock, she tilts five thousand feet of strata on end; our skies are higher and more intensely blue; our waves larger than others; our rivers fiercer: There is nothing measured, small nor petty in South Africa.”

Cape Province before 1994 was divided into three parts. The country has gone through a revolutionary change but is remarkably peaceful. Northern Cape Province is still the largest but it’s mostly desert. The infamous prison (adopted as a political prison in the 1960s) at the Robben Island is interesting but a chilling place to visit due to Cape Town’s dark history etched on the cell walls. The centerpiece is Nelson Mandela’s cell, a national shrine.

Sailors from Portugal ignored the cape but the Dutch saw the potential of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope for until the 19th century, the trip between Asia and Europe was difficult and dangerous. So the Dutch East India Company, represented by Jan van Riebeeck led an expedition to Table Bay in 1652.

Cape Town became a busy port but slowed down with cheap air travel and the opening of the Suez Canal. But it has come back with restaurants and smart shops. The Victorian history is carefully preserved like the City Hall (a pretty antique) that overlooks the Grand Parade.

Visitors will find the beaches, Wineland region and the relaxed Capetonians a stimulating complements to one of the world’s fast-changing cities, agreeable. Detailed information can be found at http://capetown.gopassport.com

Antonio de Saldanha, a Portuguese navigator, named Table Mountain in 1503. It is a protected monument, more than 3000 feet above sea level. A climate peculiarity causes clouds to settle on its peak and spread gently over the sides, making it look like a table cloth and that’s what they call it. It’s a stunning sight to behold, to say the least.

The Castle of Good Hope is still a military post and is Capetown’s central fortress. Built between 1666 and 1679, it is the oldest European structure in South Africa with the walls forming a perfect five-pointed star. The guards change at noon.

Groote Kerk (Great Church) is headquarters for the local Dutch Reform Church and is the oldest formal place of worship in South Africa. It began in 1678 (1665 in some other reference) and restored in the 19th century. One of the finest old buildings in the city is the Great Synagogue. Nearby is the Old Synagogue which is now a Jewish Museum.

Muslims are sometimes referred to as ‘Malay people’ and cobbled streets and fine pastel buildings line their traditional district. Political exiles and pioneers are honoured at the oldest cemetery, Tana-Baru, which was closed in 1882 when there was a smallpox epidemic. In 1886, authorities tried to close it under the Public Health Act but the Muslims revolted and Capetown was locked in tension.

The Bo-Kaap Museum is a furnished 1763 house of a wealthy Malay family.Bo Kaap.is hidden in central Cape Town where you will find this little treasure which is an attraction for many holidaymakers. It highlights the cultural contribution of early Muslim settlers who were skilled carpenters, tailors, and builders.

Company Gardens is Cape Town’s central Botanical Garden which is a remnant of the vegetable garden planted by Van Riebeeck to provision the ship. St. George’s Cathedral, the National Art Gallery, Parliament and the South African Museum are the landmarks around the restored city park.

The 1923 Urban Areas Act tried to isolate those of African heritage into discreet communities. The first failed so Langa (sun) District was set up. Gatherings were tightly controlled and visitors were not allowed. The citizens created a maverick community that is now the oldest in the city.

Practically Speaking - Currency: South African rand; Shop: 9 am to 5 pm; Saturdays 9am - 5 pm; Info: Koopmans de Wet Huis or www.tourismcapetown.co.za PO: Opposite District 6; Browse: V & A Waterfront, Canal Walk, Cavendish Square; Buy: African Art and CraftArrival Information - The ship docked at Eastern Mole, Table Bay Harbour, Southwest of Victoria and Albert Waterfront on the north side of Capetown. Taxis were available at the foreshore but tourist facilities were limited at the pier.

Simon van der Stel was founder of his namesake town whose birthday is a major local celebration. Also Dutchmen, van Riebeeck and party, transplanted grape vines from Europe and the cape became a wine region. They brought sophisticated vintner skills refining technique and producing excellent wines. They say that Napoleon Bonaparte begged for the sweet wines of Constantia while languishing in his St. Helene’s prison cell.

The historic estates in this area are examples of the flowery and light “Cape Dutch” style. The fertile valley of the Eerste (first) River is the wine region. There are other charming villages like Franschhoek, Tulbagh and Paarl near Stellenbosch (a visit here must include a local restaurant‘s meal). Close are Gordon’s Bay and the Strand with their lovely beaches.

The Winelands District around Stellenbosch is pretty. Traversing the region is the Route of the Four Passes including the dramatic crossing at Sir Lowry’s Pass, a mountain pass named after Governor Sir Lowry Cole. Atop the 1300-foot summit, one can see the False Bay to the west and in the north is the wine growing area.

Since February 3 is the start of the Chinese New Year, QM2 welcomed us to the Year of the Rabbit, which is 4709 on the Chinese Calendar. It is also known as the Spring Festival, which is not a religious event but the main festival nevertheless.

The Chinese use the Lunar calendar for their festivities so the date changes every year. The date matches the new moon (black moon) in either late January or February with celebration lasting for 15 days ending on the date of the full moon. Public holidays in China last for three days and this is the biggest celebration of the year.

It is celebrated in all places with significant Chinese population like Mainland China, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macau, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand and in all China towns all over the world. In Australia, United States and Canada (These three countries issue New Year’s themed stamps), although it is not a public holiday, many Chinese hold large celebrations.