Saturday, April 20, 2024

Buenos Aires opera house has world's greatest acoustics, ornate interior



Teatro Colón: grand reminder of city's stately, opulent past
Above, Bruce Keller, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and Rolando Ossowski pose in casual afternoon touring clothes. 

If they were at the great theater for a night at the opera, they would be in black tie, befitting a world class opera house.




IT'S HOSTED the greats of the world of opera. Its acoustics are the best on the planet.
The majestic Teatro Colon holds a sentimental place in the hearts of the people of Buenos Aires, and opera buffs around the world.
The Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires has breathtaking design,
box seats, a horseshoe shaped house and special seats.

opera house in Argentina's capital city, is considered by many to be the world's grandest opera house not only for its fabulous acoustics but for the spectacle and grandeur of its interior.
We toured this wondrous place with our friend, Rolando Ossowski, an opera devotee who grew up in Buenos Aires and attended performances.
A guide offers visitors a unique small-group
tour of the opera house, with its stunning
works of art, all beautifully preserved.
He arranged a rewarding visit to magnificent place, adding colorful detail to the guide's commentary as we learned of the theater's interesting and complicated history. It dates back more than a century, to a grander time.
Entering this grandiose space, we were in awe of its European-style décor. Our guide walked us up the Italian-marble staircases, past stunning mosaics, beneath French stained glass and under a gleaming grand chandelier where we posed for photos. The theater's roster of performers features dozens of world-class artists, including Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Plácido Domingo, Enrico Caruso, Claudia Muzio, Maria Callas, Regine Crespin, Birgit Nilsson and the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti.
THE ORIGINAL Teatro Colón operated from 1857 to1888 before being demolished as the city outgrew it. The new theater was designed by Francesco Tamburini with plans for a gala opening in 1892. But misfortune and controversy plagued the project. Tamburini died.  So did the next architect. Rolando added that tastes changed and money ran out. Eventually, the present theater opened on May 25, 1908, with Giuseppe Verdi's "Aïda." It was closed for restoration in 2006, reopening in 2010 to celebrate its 102nd birthday and Argentina's bicentennial.

Meticulous detail at every
turn awaits the tourist.
Our small tour group was in awe during a
delightful tour of one of the world's most
famous and grandest opera houses. 
WE WERE determined to include the opera house in our Buenos Aires visit, even though there is an enormous amount of other things to do and places to visit.  For us -- lifelong music fans -- our time in Argentina’s capital city wouldn't have been complete without the afternoon we spent with Rolando in this historic building.
Our opera buff friend Rolando concurred with the guide that the theater does indeed have the world's best acoustics. Pavarotti, a perennial favorite here, joked that "the theatre has the greatest defect: its acoustics are perfect," meaning that any small mistake -- a delayed delivery, faux pas with a lyric or,  heaven forbid, a worse mistake -- would be heard by the audience and likely reported by critics.
Stained glass is 
imported from Europe.
IN OUR SMALL group, a professional singer surprised and delighted us all, offering a few measures of a familiar aria. Instant applause and tears. Indeed, grand acoustics. But the building's artistic value is of equal importance.
Guided tours are kept small to give
tourists an opportunity to enjoy, ask
questions and soak up the beauty.
Among details we noted: 
*The central chandelier weighs over 100 kilos. 
*Every piece of material for the theater's construction was imported from Europe.
* The auditorium is horseshoe-shaped, has 2,487 seats (slightly more than the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London). It's shape makes for fabulous sound.
* Ticket prices offer "something for everyone," from standing room admission sold from $6 to $70 and more for better seats.
* The stage is 20 meters wide, 15 meters high and 20 meters deep.
* The combination of its perfectly engineered curves, and specially selected interiors create the remarkable acoustics. 
Magnificently positioned on an entire city block,
Teatro Colon is an imposing landmark in Buenos Aires.
Of special note are the horse-hair seat cushions, which supposedly enhance sound as well. (Who knew?)

More info: Guided tours in English cost 10,000 Argentine pesos (about $15)  daily at 11 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. Colón Theater is open every day of the year, except select holidays. Visit from February through December to catch one of the theater's spectacular ballets or operas.

The world's largest rotating tram gives tourists and locals alike a bird's eye
  view of the spectacular wilderness of Chino Canyon and below, Palm Springs
: As summer comes to the Coachella Valley, savvy tourists and locals alike take a trip up the mountain to the Palm Springs Aerial  Tramway. It is the largest rotating aerial tramway in the world and a huge tourist attraction in California. The tram and its construction in rugged terrain are an engineering marvel.  It opened in September 1963 as a way of getting from the floor of the Coachella Valley to near the top of San Jacinto Peak and was constructed in the Chino Canyon wilderness, a refuge for birds and wildlife and popular with naturalists. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on nature, travel, performance, family and more. Please share the link:  

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Mate magic: Uruguay's national drink infuses energy, ritual, tradition

Our lovely Uruguayan guide, Paulo, takes a mate break at one of our stops.




The popularity of mate is evident on the streets and
in shop windows, where mugs are sold as souvenirs.

YOU SEE the tell tale thermos everywhere.  In the bus, the taxi, the train, the airplane. Next to it, the mate cup, sometimes with a strainer, often with a straw for communal consumption.

Yerba mate (pronounced mah-tay) is the national drink of Uruguay and a popular beverage in other parts of South America.  Most agree that Uruguay has the corner on "mate madness." For in Uruguay, it is as important as water or mother's milk. Mate is deeply engrained in the culture.

This gives a close-up view of the mate leaves
and the cup into which the hot water is poured.
The straw is shared by the drinkers.

YERBE MATE, also known as mate, is an herbal tea, a traditional drink in Latin and South America. It's made by steeping dried leaves from the yerba mate plant in hot water. While most consumers prefer it hot, Yerba mate can also be served cold with ice and lemon, sometimes honey.
Mate was first consumed by the indigenous Guaraní who live in what is now Paraguay, southeastern Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Uruguay.  It was also enjoyed by the Tupí people who lived in neighboring areas.
We found mate mugs and thermoses  
everywhere in Uruguayan shops.
SO FASCINATED were we by the phenomenon of mate that we interviewed tour guides, shop owners and other locals to gain a better understanding of the country's intense love affair with this seemingly addictive drink.
The comments included the following:
"It's part of our heritage. We do it as a social thing, when we meet and old friend or family member."
"It's how we start the day.  We drink it all day, until late afternoon.  Then we taper off because it can keep a person awake."
"It's better than food for me.  I fill my thermos in the morning and drink mate all day while directing tours on the bus. I don't need to eat until evening."
"I need mate to keep me going.  I keep the cup by my bed
A Shutterstock photo of a couple drinking mate.
The ritual can replace cocktail hour in Uruguay.


so all I have to do in the morning is go to the stove and heat the kettle."
Mate by the sea, anyone?
This mate mug and a thermos of hot
water were our tour bus guide's.
IT SEEMED to us that the people we watched over a period of hours were getting a bit "high" on the stuff.  Not slurring their words or acting silly, as people sometimes do under the influence of alcohol.  No, this "buzz" was similar to the coffee buzz I get from too much java.
(My husband says, "You don't need coffee.  You ARE coffee." Perhaps he's right.)
WHATEVER THE reason, mate has a huge following, mostly in Uruguay, but also in more rural parts of Argentina, where it is equally revered and widely used and enjoyed. Statistics show that mate users drink as much as three liters a day -- an amazing amount. 
And while Uruguayans consume more mate per person than in any other country, Argentina is the largest producer of mate.  Uruguayans insist their mate is more pure, and claim they make it into a finer powder, free of stems. 
The competition over mate may be somewhat like the friendly tango war over which country invented it.
A young man fills his mate
cup from the ever present
thermos, at a picnic area.

On a healthy note:  the antioxidants in yerba mate protect against heart disease. Remember that green tea, which is rich in antioxidants, can't even do this, and coffee is often linked to heart disease. This benefit of heart health is unique to yerba mate, fans claim.
Depending on how much you consume, our guide said, "It can feel very trippy. The caffeine in it can really give you a buzz....."

Bruce Keller, Christene "Cookie" Meyers and
host Orlando Ossowski in the grand Teatro Colon.
It is a Buenos Aires treasure, considered the
finest in the world for its fabulous acoustics.

Opera at its finest is heard on many of the world's great stages. Opera aficionados insist, however, that one opera house in the world soars above all others for its acoustic excellence. It is Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, a national treasure. Remember to explore, learn and live and check out our weekly adventures at

Thursday, April 4, 2024

On the passionate tango trail with magnificent dancers, musicians


Tango began in brothels and tawdry dance halls to become a much admired and very popular
dance form, known for its fabulous dancers and always a core of first-rate musicians accompanying.



These dancers headlined a show at
El Milongon in Montevideo.


Tango excellence depends on quick, precise moves, as at
Michelangelo Legend in Buenos Aires, known for its
fabulous dancers and the city's best musicians.

THIS WEEK, we offer a photo essay on the artful dance of tango.  We took several hundred tango photos during seven recent performances in Argentina, Uruguay and on our ship, Celebrity Solstice. With so many good ones,  we decided "more is more." We hope you'll enjoy.
TANGO IS one of the most influential and famous dances of modern history, originating from the brothels and streets of 18th century Buenos Aires in Argentina and Montevideo in Uruguay. Both countries claim to have invented this favorite dance of European immigrants. Historians believe that tango evolved in the late 19th Century -- around 1880 -- in African-Argentine dance venues,

This tango show was part of an evening celebrating tango's
Golden Age, in Buenos Aires at Tango Porteno. 

expanding to other venues where dancing also took place: bars, eateries and dance halls.
 In Buenos Aires, tango shows the influence of Spain's national dance, flamenco.  In Uruguay it blends African and Cuban influences, is less formal and invites audience participation at show's end. We saw the sensual, speedy milonga and habanera merging with tango in Uruguay. Some considered it a disreputable dance but it survives and is well loved today.
TANGO EVOLVED. By the early 1900s it was socially acceptable.
Tango's moves are fluid and
graceful, a kind of ballet. 
The first documented tango music was published in 1910; by 1915, tango was the craze in fashionable European circles.
Street dancers perform lovely tango for tips in Punta Tombo,
on Argentina's central coast. It's serious business here.

Its popularity was evolving from the working classes to a dance form celebrated throughout the world, known both for its fine dancers and expert musicians. It has influenced the creation 
of many modern styles.
Tango shows often
feature other dances,
evolved from Africa.


Early tango was spirited and lively, but by 1920 the music and lyrics had become intensely melancholy.
Tango steps evolved from early exuberance to smoother but still energetic ballroom steps and tempos.
MANY RECOGNIZE "Le Grand Tango," a spirited piece for cello and piano by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. The work expresses the vibrancy of nuevo tango --new tango -- a melding of modern tango trends with a nod to 18th
Strings, including cello, are
also integral to tango music.
century tango in Buenos Aires and 
The mellow squeeze box, called
the bandoneon, is essential to tango.

Tango has evolved from the favorite dance of  European immigrants, former slaves, working and lower classes of people to an art form beloved by all classes. Its quick rise in popularity enabled this famous dance to expand out of South America, to Europe, North America and the rest of the world. 
Fast, sexy footwork and quick, precise movements
 are tango hallmarks, here at Michelangelo.
One is reminded of Barcelona's flamenco,
because tango is influenced by that dance.
With its rich history, variety of styles, and undisputed appeal, tango remains one of the most popular dances in the world.
Keller and Cookie pose
beside a tango tableau at
 a Montevideo tango show.

So who "invented" tango? The "credit war" continues in good natured fashion. Carlos Gardel (French born in 1890 as Charles Romuald Gardès) lived in both Argentina and Uruguay.  Both countries claim this influential interpreter of their favorite dance form. 

Our tour guide had an authentic pumpkin gourd cup for her mate, and
a thermos of very hot water to refill the cup as she and the driver sipped.
It's okay to share a straw, she said, and they did as we toured.
: Another tradition  -- mostly in  Uruguay -- is the constant consumption of a bitter tea, Yerba mate, also known as mate. The herbal drink is served in a mug, with hot water from an accompanying thermos. While it's a traditional drink in Latin and South America, it is most popular in Uruguay, where it is carried around by nearly everyone in two containers -- the cup with a bag of  the herbal tea ready to mix, and a thermos of hot water to keep the buzz going. The mate is made by steeping dried leaves from the yerba mate plant in the hot water.  It is left to steep and can be served cold or hot. We were fascinated by the proliferation of the mate cup and thermos on tours, in parks, on streets and in  airports and ferry stations. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on the arts, culture, performance, nature, family and more.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Colonia's charms attract international visitors to quaint historic town


Plaza de toros Real de San Carlos, the bullring in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, was built in 1909 but soon closed after prohibition of bull fighting in 1912. After a century of abandonment, it was restored in 2021, transformed into a cultural center.



VISITORS FROM                     


 Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento is one of the graceful
reminders of the long and colorful history of Colonia.



NOW A QUAINT little tourist town in southwestern Uruguay, Colonia del Sacramento has a rich and stormy history. Like many contemporary cities, one wouldn't envision war and conflict from its peaceful present facade.
Located on the vast expanses of  Rio de la Plata, Colonia faces Buenos Aires, Argentina, and is one of Uruguay's most visited and oldest towns.
It's also a popular weekend getaway for wealthy and middle-class Argentines, known as "porteños " or people of the port because so many arrived by boat.
The streets of Colonia reall an earlier time. Little shops,
eateries and old stone buildings remind of long ago.
WE FOUND two convenient ways to reach Colonia: by bus from Montevideo or by boat from Buenos Aires. Through the centuries, legions of settlers and explorers have arrived by the murky brown waters of the huge river. The quickest and easiest way is still by water, with two ferry companies operating from Buenos Aires, a pleasant 75 minute ride in one of the comfortable, frequent ships.  The bus trip from Montevideo is longer -- about two hours -- with mostly farmland and prairie out the window and not as comfortable as the ferry. These ferries are unlike others we've used in Europe or Asia. They're huge little cities, with several classes of seats (we chose the Buquebus mid-priced option.) The comfy seats recline, there's an enormous duty free shop on board and a variety of snack and beverage options.
Colonia's lighthouse dates to 1850. 

Arriving in the town, population 27,000, is a relaxing change from busy Buenos Aires.
Its historic quarter is a Unesco World Heritage Site. But besides historic buildings attracting tourism, today's  Colonia produces textiles. It also boasts a free trade zone, a busy polytechnic center and government buildings.

WHILE THE Portuguese established Colonia in 1680, it has been heavily disputed and many times brought under siege as Spain desired it, too.  Spain took the city twice -- in 1681 and 1705, claiming the area based on the Treaty of Tordesillas. But the Spanish returned it to the Portuguese by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. The Spanish-Portuguese war lasted two brutal years from 1735-37, but failed. The dispute's long history stems from Colonia's river location which is still attracting explorers and investors. Uruguay has launched plans to create its version of Silicon Valley
in Colonia. ''Colonia Ala Este'' is designed by U.S. investors to attract Argentine immigrants
Colonia's pastels, stone and stucco make it an attractive
stop for tourists, who can easily spend a day or two.
who wish to escape the challenging economy in their country. The goal is to double the population -- to 60,000 people. With an initial investment of more than US$100 million, plans are to build a sustainable city open to the community to generate a hub for the knowledge- economy industry.  The designated 500-hectare site  includes forests and seven kilometers of coastline with lovely beaches including Calabrés and Fernando.
ANOTHER SIGN of growth is the impressive Plaza de Toros Real de San Carlos, a former bullring now reinvented. Built in 1909, the ring was shortly closed after prohibition of bull fighting in 1912. In 2021, after a century of abandonment, it was beautifully restored and transformed into a cultural center for musical and sports.
Colonia is a pleasant place for a stroll, with its
cobblestone, attractive architecture and great bridge. 

Colonia is truly Uruguay's shining star, a pretty little "cash cow" without being corny. It's welcoming and safe, with history at every turn, beautiful little shops and terrific dining at half the price of Buenos Aires, which we also love. We found it a pleasant complement to the bustle of the city.

We dined on tasty fish,
chicken and salad with
a river view in one of
Colonia's many eateries.

Colonia is popular with tourists from South America
and beyond, but particularly Buenos Aires and the U.S.
Colonia is a popular getaway for both Argentines and international travelers  enjoyed a day in the picturesque town where we
The drive to Colonia
offers this landscape.

strolled around low houses and quiet squares, developed centuries ago.


Tango relies on quick movement, sexy poses and agile
dancers, always backed by expert musicians.

UP NEXT: Tango, that seductive, sexy, passionate dance of Argentina and Uruguay, originated in the bordello.  It was once a dance practiced only by prostitutes, pimps and those considered "low life" by the aristocracy.  Now it is a major tourist attraction and respected artform. It is also expensive, if you frequent the clubs. But there are ways to see tango without paying through the nose.  Buskers often tango for tips, and if you're on a cruise in that part of the world, you'll have tango as part of the cruise fare. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch  us weekly for a fresh spin on performance, travel, nature, family and more: 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

End of the world in Ushuaia with wondrous birds, parks and more

Cormorants abound off the tip of South America, with a motor boat trip from Ushuaia.
From a distance they resemble penguins, which are found nearby near "the end of the world." 

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers are delighted
to be on the penguin trail, motoring out of Ushuaia, Argentina.




A giant southern sea lion sits surrounded by his harem and
young pups, while cormorants stand sentinel in the distance.

Fishing and pleasure boats can be found in the
Ushuaia harbor, at the end of the continent

was electric.  We could feel the excitement in our small touring boat, a comfy catamaran which took us from the cruise port terminal in Ushuaia toward Isla de Los Pajaros, or Bird Island. We were looking for penguins and cormorants.
Bruce Keller and Christene
"Cookie" Meyers in Ushuaia
on an outing from Celebrity.

We two sipped tea while others ordered red wine. Together we cruised the Beagle Channel and approached the island, covered with cormorants and seals. The birds fooled us at first, because they resemble penguins from a distance. But as we came closer we could see their  orange feet and large impressive wings.  Definitely not penguins. But beautiful cormorants. Penguins would come a bit later. The cormorants  are noisy, demanding critters -- fun to watch as they spread their wings, dive to feed their young, ever keeping one another in line.
WE KNEW we were in for a treat leaving windy, wild and sometimes wet Ushuaia, located at the tip of Argentina and a busy port city for Antarctica
The charm of Magellenic penguins is obvious from
the first encounter. They are captivatingly cute.

cruises. It holds the title as the southernmost town on the American continent and in the world.
Isla de los Pájaros is a rock sticking out of the Beagle Channel, several miles offshore from Ushuaia. It gets its name because it’s home to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birds.

El Fin del Mundo -- the end of the world -- beckoned
Cookie and Keller on an adventure to view wildlife.
THE PEOPLE of Ushuaia welcome the sun because they don't always have it in their windswept town, perched on a steep hill and surrounded by the Martial Mountains and the Beagle Channel. It's the gateway to our tour to several islands, including  Isla Yécapasela, known as “Penguin Island” for its penguin colonies of mostly Magellenic penguins and a beautiful park, Tierra del Fuego National Park, where we also stopped.
It is closer to the Antarctic Peninsula than to Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires, where our adventure began on a cruise five days earlier.
MANY PEOPLE never consider a trip to this remote part of the world, but we've been many places -- including an earlier trip to this part of the planet -- and we love it.  We prepared for the dips in temperature -- from 90 degrees F in Buenos Aires, to below freezing in the Antarctic.
 I grew up in Montana, and was excited to return to this part of the subantarctic forest, with its tundra, glaciers and gorgeous coastline.
The Magellanic penguin can be recognized by his
beautiful curved markings and pink around his eyes.

Tierra del Fuego also offers jagged peaks, a thick beech forest, and a wild array of animals — including a relative of the camel, the graceful guanaco with its coveted fur.
Whether you're cruising or visiting on your own, Ushuaia is a fascinating place.
Its classic birding spots besides the islands we visited include its famous landfill where the caracara vulture abounds, the ski-lift area at the Martial Glacier, the national park, and Garibaldi Pass to the north of the city.
My birding cousin Betty would have loved our outing.  "The more remote the better," was her motto.  Remote, Ushuaia is.  And wondrous.

An accomplished cast presents a polished production
of  "Tartuffe," Moliere's masterful satire. Director
Richard Baird works magic in this satirical comedy.
                                                          --photo by Aaron Rumley
A first-rate production of "Tartuffe," Moliere's satirical comedy on religious hypocrisy, is selling out in San Diego. The work, at always inventive North Coast Repertory Theatre, features Richard Baird's imaginative direction.  His impeccable actor's timing shines on the other side of the footlights in this timely 17th Century romp. It's brilliantly acted with belly laughs aplenty as the fraud Tartuffe worms his way into a wealthy French home, fooling the lord of the manor and his mother, but not every member of the household. The production is a breakneck ride of wit, wigs and naughty merriment. Poet Richard Wilbur's translation preserves the playwright's delightful rhyming couplets and double entendres. Baird and his virtuoso cast deliver Moliere in all his bawdy brilliance.  Through April 7. 858 481-1055.    
Colonia in Uruguay, is known for its historic quarter
and beautiful Portuguese and Spanish buildings. Many
museums sport gorgeous ceramic tiles, a Colonia specialty

UP NEXT: Colonia in southwestern Uruguay, by the Río de la Plata, faces Buenos Aires, Argentina and is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. We found it charming and inviting, not as "touristy" as we'd expected. The lovely village is the departmental capital,  Colonia del Sacramento, known for its cobbled historic quarter and colonial Portuguese and Spanish buildings. Many museums are also on view, including the Museo del Azulejo, filled with ceramic tiles. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, performance, family and more: