Friday, April 17, 2009

The land of excess - Buenos Aires, Argentina


Destination: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Times we took the: Boat/Ferry - 0 Bus/Minivan - 1 Train/Subway - 3 taxi/car - 2

Where we stayed: Our own apartment in Recoleta! $50/night

Favorite Restaurant: It's hard to get a bad meal in Buenos Aires...our favorite restaurant was La Cabrera in Palermo. Imagine ordering a chorizo and getting one 3X normal size and then a steak and getting 4 (that's right, 4) filet mignons along with 13 (yes, 13) side dishes along with a bottle of good wine (Las Leonas malbec cab blend - yummy!) for less than $50!!! Our favorite local place in Recoleta was Rodi's for the laid back local atmosphere and great food!

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Best of: Argentinean meat will blow your mind!

Worst of: Renting an apartment didn't go as smoothly as we had hoped.

We arrived back in Buenos Aires after a long 27 hour bus ride from Esquel. On a side note, the buses almost always leave on time, but never arrive at the time stated. Always allow at least another hour, sometimes two or three. When we finally arrived we headed over to Recoleta to check into our apartment for the week! Naturally it couldn't go smoothly, we waited for our apartment representative to meet us for over an hour before we finally called him and found out that we had to switch apartments as the Internet wasn't working in our original one. Gee, it would have been nice if he would have met us as agreed and told us that to begin with. But the second apartment was only two blocks away so we grabbed our stuff and headed over to our new apartment. The apartment ended up being a much better value than a hotel. The hostel we stayed at for our first night in BA before the cruise was significantly more, the apartment was $50 and in Recoleta, which is the nicest neighborhood in the city. Not only that, we were very centrally located. In minutes we could walk to Recoleta cemetery as well as dozens of restaurants and coffee shops.

After settling into our apartment we headed over to Plaza San Martin to meet our tour group ( BA Free Tours is a great concept, you don't need a reservation you just show up at the designated location for a walking tour. When it's over you tip the guide what you felt it was worth. We're not tour people but we really felt like the two tours from this company were definitely worth taking! They provided a lot of insight into the history and mindset of Portenos (people that live in BA) and were a great introduction to the city. They also let us in on little known facts like if you live in Buenos Aires and have good health insurance you are automatically eligible for one plastic surgery per year for free! No wonder they are all so good looking! They also told us that many businessmen come to Buenos Aires and stay on the same corner for their whole trip. The most expensive hotel , the Alvear Palace, is there at $700-$800 per night which is next to the most expensive restaurant. These are located across the street from the most expensive strip club. No worries though, Cartier was right on the next corner so they could pick the wife up something nice before heading home!

The first tour covered the neighborhoods of Retiro and Recoleta. It started in Plaza San Martin (one of Argentina's many war heroes) and covered some of the history of the country delving into the Malvinas wars (or Falkland Islands) and then showcasing the many palaces and other architecturally lovely buildings in Recoleta. The bears are a temporary exhibition in Plaza San Martin that are on tour promoting peace, love and respect for all. Nearly all countries are represented with one noticeable exception - Canada. Apparently they don't care about world peace enough to have an artist paint a bear!

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The next day we took the other free tour from BA Free Tours, this one included the main historical sights of the city, including the government building, the pink house (or Casa Rosada, their version of the white house) and the Obelisko. The pink house is famous for simply being pink, but it was made infamous with Evita's stirring speeches given from its front balcony to thousands of adoring fans. Today it houses another famous woman in Argentina, Cristina Kirchner, the current President. She, however, is not exactly popular at the moment and her taking the helicopter to and from work TWICE a day instead of driving 15 minutes each way (have to take that siesta break you know!) does not help her status with the average Joe. In front of the Pink house is the heart of the city - Plaza de Mayo. The plaza is the sight of nearly all protests, the most famous of them being the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Mothers who lost their children, either dead or missing, during the dictatorship years of the 70's (or the Dirty War as it is known) march around the square with pictures of their missing children in hopes that one day they will find out what happened to them.

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After the tour we headed back to our neighborhood to visit Recoleta Cemetary, resting place of the city's wealthiest and important individuals including Eva Peron, aka Evita. Most of the important generals, businessmen and anybody who was somebody is buried here. It's like a little town with all the crypts ornately designed and decorated as the final homes of the elite. Another quirky thing about Buenos Aires, is all the dogs, and I don't mean strays. The Porteno's love their dogs. Particularly in the Recoleta, Retiro and Palermo areas, i.e. the middle and upper class neighborhoods, there are no shortage of dog walkers. These professionals can have up to a dozen dogs all strapped to their waists strolling the neighborhoods with Ipods in the ear and bags in hand! Sadly, they sometimes fail in the cleaning duty so watching your step is a must when wandering these streets.

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The next morning we took the train over to Palermo. Palermo is one of the largest Burroughs and is really broken down into several parts: Old, Soho and Hollywood. It's where the majority of the middle class live and is filled with loads of parks. Aside from the parks, all the streets are lined with trees giving it a quieter and softer feel than the rest of BA. We spent the morning wandering through the botanical gardens. Not sure what to make of the sculpture of the kids nursing on the wolf (pic below)'s a copy no less, of the real one also in Buenos Aires. We must admit that the Botanical Gardens were lacking a little, but they were free so hey, can't complain on the price. After the park, we went through the Evita museum. Having never seen the movie, we had very little knowledge of this remarkable woman. We were shocked to find out she accomplished so much in so little time. She died of Ovarian Cancer at 33. But before departing, she championed the women's right to vote and started a lot of charitable works campaigns. After lunch we wandered through the Japanese gardens which were very calm and serene, not to mention lovely. Our last stop in Palermo was the flower. Its pedals actually work like a real flower, opening in the daylight and closing at night.

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Waiting until the last minute as usual we spent most of the next morning at the LAN offices rearranging our tickets for the remainder of our time in South America. After spending hours at the office we were told to come back the next day...grrr! We had enough time left in the day to head to La Boca, the tango neighborhood! It's the most colorful neighborhood in BA and is home to most of the city's artists. It's also one of the most poor areas so staying within the tourist area is recommended, even during the day. It's very touristy, and we found it a little over the top, but in a fun way.

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We were so excited to go to La Cabrera and to the Esquina Carlos Gardel (tango Show) that we giddily took these joking photos with chorizo (chorizo y pan, bread and sausage is a popular snack in Argentina), wine & agua con gas and then promptly walked out the door without our camera! So, sorry, we don't have any tango photos but we did have an excellent time at the show! We would recommend going for the show only and not for dinner (our dinner at La Cabrera was much better looking than what we saw at the show and about the same price even including a nice bottle of wine)! The tickets were pricey at 200 pesos ($60) but the show was excellent and well worth it!

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We spent more quality time at LAN getting our flights sorted out and then jumped the metro over to San Telmo the next day. San Telmo is the tango district. There are several places where they teach Tango, and one can witness street performers any day of the week. We were really disappointed to miss the Sunday market which everyone says is fantastic, with lots of performers, but we enjoyed our stroll through the neighborhood any ways. There isn't much to see, it's really more of a place to be with artists and street vendors plying their wares on the main square. We did stop at a hole in the wall type pizza place (can't remember the name but it's a couple of doors down from El Desnivel) to try the faina (chick pea polenta) on top of a slice of pizza with muscat wine; we highly recommend it! If you want to practice the basic 8 steps of tango they have them painted right on the sidewalk and we think they were filming a student type movie in the last photo, but we cannot confirm that statement.

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That evening we headed to Iguazu Falls, next posting, and then returned the next day to Buenos Aires. We returned to spend one more day, this time staying in Palermo Soho. We didn't do much, just caught up on our email and weblog and strolled around for a bit. The area is a ghost town during the day with everyone at work and most of the shops closed due to that fact. We enjoyed one final amazing BA meal of steak & wine, once again at La Cabrera and this time within walking distance. Our one glitch is that the place we stayed at lost our laundry and could not retrieve it before we had to leave...

With our tickets sorted out, we headed for Ecuador the next morning, three Kilos shy of a full load.

To see more photos from Buenos Aires please click here!

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Glad you enjoyed BA! What a great city.