South America – Summer 2008 – Part Two

4 01 2009

June 14, 2008

We have been in Buenos Aires since late Wednesday night.  We just made our connection in Santiago (yes, we ran) and arrived in Buenos Aires around midnight.  We had arranged for a driver to pick us up and take us to our hotel and we managed to find him without too much trouble.  After the 30 minute or so drive from the airport we arrived at the Hotel Costa Rica in the Palermo neighborhood.  The hotel is growing on us, although the room is tiny (Chris’s first observation was that it was “like a jail cell”) and the shared bathroom doors (outside across the cold terrace) do not close all the way.  It is very cute…a little hip and trendy in its minimal style.  The neighborhood is great, and the owner (originally from Paris) and staff are extremely helpful and very friendly.  

This is the bar in the lobby.

hotel costa rica lobby

This is just outside the door of our first room (top floor).

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We spent Thursday morning walking around.  We started out at the Plaza de Mayo.

plaza de mayo 1

signs in plaza de mayo

…walked around the Casa Rosada…

casa rosada

…the Basilica de San Francisco…

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…and the Cabildo.

cabildo

We took a cab over to la Boca (a neighborhood in the south eastern part of town and the home of the Boca Juniors) and had lunch at El Obrero.  This is my first meal in Buenos Aires so, of course, I have a steak and papas fritas.  Chris had pasta with tomato sauce.  We had a bottle of Malbec (the first of many this trip).  Photographs of Diego Meradona and Boca players cover almost every inch of the walls.  The old men that bring us our food and wine are great — in fact, I only described generally what Chris was thinking he’d like to eat and he assured me he’s bring something delicious. 

After lunch we walk around the Puerto Madero.  This is a very different looking part of town — it is new and modern — very urban — right along the Rio de la Plata.  This is a photo of the Puente de la Mujer (“Woman’s Bridge”) connecting the east and west docks of the Puerto Madero.

puerto madero

boat in puerto madero

boats in puerto madero 

For dinner Thursday night, we head to La Cabrera in the Palermo.  This place was wonderful.  Although the wait was long and cold (about 1.5 hours outside) they gave us champagne and soup while we waited, chatting, on a bench, watching people stroll by.  Once we were seated, the madness began.  We started with the chorizo criollo and chimichurri– two links of delicious grilled sausage served with a fabulous, tangy chimichurri.  Chris ordered the ojo de bife(also the first of many on this trip).  It was huge.  It had to be at least 36 ounces…it was two inches thick and as big as your face, cooked medium rare.  It was so extremely good…and served with about 25 little bowls of sides (which Chris barely touched he was so full, yet bent on eating as much of the steak as possible).  The steak was actually served on its own side table.  I ordered raviolis stuffed with ham and cheese in a tomato sauce.  And, of course, we shared a bottle of Malbec.  Neither of us could really remember ever being so full.  We strolled very slowly home through the cold.

This is the meat on its little table.

ojo de bife

 

And some of the sides with a glimpse at my raviolis…

sides

This was just the beginning of our meat, pasta, and Malbec journey…

On Friday we tried to go to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, but there were no seats on Buquebus — the ferry that takes you across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay — any time this whole week.  So, we finally found Colonia Express, the “other” carrier (after walking all over the port area at least twice before realizing that was not where it was, then all over downtown looking for the “office”) and are going on Monday.  We had empanadas for lunch and then retired for a nap (yay!).  That night, we ate pizza with cheese and anchovies in the San Telmo neighborhood and saw a tango show at El Viejo Almacen.  I was very impressed with the dancing, even though it was touristy.  This night it was filled with mostly Portuguese travelers.  We shared a small table right off the stage with an old man from Costa Rica who was traveling by himself…and I felt so bad for him when he kept trying to take photos but his camera wouldn’t work…just kept making that film-rewinding sound.  

Here are my artsy shots of the dancers.

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tango 2

tango 3

tango 4

 

Today (Saturday) we walked all over the Botanical Gardens, the Japanese Gardens, the grounds surrounding the zoo, the Parque Tres de Febrero, and more.  The Jardin Botanico may be my favorite — it is filled with cats.  I am, of course, obliged to shoot a few of them.  This is what cats look like in Argentina.

cats 1

cats 2

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They are very friendly.

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Just a couple of shots from the gardens…

gardens 1

gardens 2

June 15, 2008

Yesterday we wandered through the Recoleta Cemetery.  It’s like a neighborhood of tombs for families made from marble, granite, stone…inside some you could see coffins sitting on shelves.  In others you could see stairways leading deep underground.  Many of them had fresh flowers and treasured items inside, along with chairs for family visits.  Really very beautiful…and a little on the creepy side.

outside the recoleta

recoleta 1

recoleta 2

recoleta 3

The cats in the cemetery are a little scruffier and dirtier than those in the garden…fitting for a cemetery cat, don’t you think?

recoleta cat 2

And then I HAD to photograph this one…it was really cold and windy but this guy found a nice patch of sun.

recoleta cat 1

After wandering about the Recoleta Cemetery for a while, we walked through the arts and crafts market nearby.  It was really cool, but Chris has learned yet again that I am just not a shopper, at least not when it comes to haggling.  Haggling is not my forte.

After perusing the stalls for a while, we then walked around the Teatro Colon which was closed due to renovations.  The building is beautiful, though, and we read that it is one of the world’s best opera houses.  After snacking on a few empanadas and a Cerveza Quilmes, we headed back to the hotel for…that’s right…a nap before dinner.

That evening we walked around the Palermo before dinner, then headed over to the Puerto Madero to try out a restaurant on the recommendation of a friend.  There was a massive demonstration taking place in the Plaza de Mayo related to new taxes imposed on farmers and ranchers – and the farmers imposed another strike, though this time they agreed to continue shipments of milk and perishable foods.  A national day of protest is also in the works.  Things seemed a bit chaotic as we tried to make our way in a cab across town, and the taxi driver had the radio turned up loud listening to the news…he kept saying something to me about la situacion del pais (though at the time I was not exactly clear on just what was the situation of the country!).  At this point, we are starting to understand why throughout the day we kept seeing people emerging from buildings banging on pots, pans, anything that could make noise, really…and how cars seemed to be honking a lot more than normal.

Though we did not eat at the recommended restaurant (it was really expensive, and the thing we loved most about eating in Buenos Aires was the ability to eat a huge, fantastic meal and spend very little) we found a nearby spot that was fine, and had a lovely view across the port.  We found another place afterwards for coffee and dessert (and every TV had live coverage of the Plaza de Mayo, the president’s husband, or farmers) and made it back to our hotel with no problems.  Wednesday, however (the national day of protest) we are to fly back to Buenos Aires from Puerto Iguazu.  What might that mean?

Today we walked around the antiques and arts and crafts market in the San Telmo.

san telmo 1

san telmo 2

San Telmo is a very lively neighborhood…lots of people walking around.  Of course, I hardly bought anything.  This evening we’re going to try to watch a big futbol match — Argentina v. Ecuador.

June 18, 2008

Today is Wednesday.

On Sunday we found a great spot to watch the Argentina v. Ecuador match — we found a restaurant near the Recoleta cemetery (Cafe Monaco or something like that) and they didn’t mind if we sat there all day for all of the big matches, and they had a big screen set up right in the dining room.  First, we saw Brasil lose to Paraguay (a couple of girls at the table next to us were from Paraguay and they were so excited at the big win) and then we watched Argentina v. Ecuador, which ended in a 1-1 draw (Argentina scored the tying goal very late in the game…within the last 5 minutes, I think).  It was very fun.  And we ate a lot.  We first ordered a huge salad, then empanadas, then a big plate with various meats and cheeses, enjoyed a bottle of Malbec, then two caipirinhas, and cafes con leche y alfajores to end the evening. 

The next day – Monday – we took the Colonia Express ferry to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay.  We had to get up really early (really early meaning we were walking around looking for coffee at 7am — and we couldn’t find any).  We even decided we’d break down and walk over to the McCafe, but it was not even open yet!  We finally found a cafe with a gruff old proprietor, had a quick cup, then set off to find a taxi to take us to the port.

The boat ride took about an hour and several people got sick — the attendants starting handing out little bags to sick people.  I managed to hold it together with a lot of concentration and staring out at the sky.  Colonia was very cute with its colorful buildings and cobblestone streets.

colonia 1

colonia 2

The historic section of Colonia del Sacramento is a World Heritage Site, built by the Portuguese in the 17th century.

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colonia 4

However, this day it was also extremely cold and extremely windy. 

colonia 5

We walked all over and felt as if we’d seen the “sights” (at least according to our guidebook) and that took about an hour.  At this point it was about 9 or 10 in the morning.  Restaurants are not yet open and we did not see any coffee shops.  So, we just kept walking around trying to avoid the two dogs that kept following us and barking loudly (it got old), trying to keep warm.  Chris learned a trick from Bear Grylls about keeping keeping warm.

colonia 6

The little museums in the town just did not really sound that interesting to us.  A musem of documents?  A museum of tile?  I actually wanted to go to the museum of tile thinking I’d see tiled walls or pieces of walls…but I peeked inside and saw a few individual tiles in glass cases.  Okay, if I were a tile nut this might be interesting to me.  Or if it were free maybe I’d go in to get a warm.  Not so much.

So, we kept wandering until the restaurants opened for lunch.  We managed to spend about two hours at la Pulperia de los Faroles.  Chris had a big warm rice bowl with seafood and saffron.  I had a creamy tomato soup followed by raviolis with pesto.  We shared a bottle of red from Uruguay then coffees.  After lunch, we still had a few hours to kill before the ferry would take us back to Buenos Aires, so we walked further into the town to see what that was all about.  We found an internet cafe and decided to stop in.  This is where we learned that Tim Russert had died.  I’m still so very sad about that.

We got back to Buenos Aires around 6, cleaned up, then tried to find a place for dinner — the restaurant we were looking for was no longer there (we were somewhere in the Palermo) but the place in its stead – Miranda – was pretty good.  Chris loved it.  We got a huge salad with grilled vegetables, a plate of cintas (homemade fettuccine) with cream and mushrooms, and another ojo de bife.  And Malbec.

Yesterday (June 17th) we got up even earlier than the day before to catch a flight on Aerolineas Argentinas to Puerto Iguazu.  We sat on the plane on the runway for an hour before taking off.  As usual, Chris slept while I just sat there getting annoyed at the man sitting next to me who kep shifting in his seat and sighing loudly.  We finally took off and the flight was fine.  Once we got to Puerto Iguazu, we met our driver who took us the 13 or so km to the hotel — Posada la Sorgente.

We dropped our stuff off in the hotel and headed straight to the bus station to catch the local bus to Iguazu National Park.  Though the bus station was very confusing for some reason, I finally secured us two bus tickets for about 8 pesos round trip per person. 

Once in the park, we took the train to the trailheads.  We had to wait a few minutes for the train…

iguazu 1

We did the lower circuit first.  Really, all I can say about the falls is that they are truly awesome.  It is an overused word, but it’s the right one.

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You could take one of the catwalks over to the bottom of some of the falls.  It was amazing — the roar of the falls was deafening and you got soaked from all the spray.  It was almost like being in a downpour.  And no, I’m not trying to pose with this guy.  I have no idea who he is or why I chose to stand by him.

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Chris and a woman next to him seem to get pushed forward by the force of the falls.

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This is us after getting soaked by the falls.

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My one wildlife siting in the park — a coati

coati

From the upper circuit we could take in the views from on top of the falls.  After the upper circuit, we took another little train to La Garganta — the biggest falls in the park.  These falls are breathtaking.  We take the catwalk from the trailhead to get to the top of the falls…

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…along the way I spot my favorite sign of the trip…

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…almost there…

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…and then we’re at the falls.  The mist rising from the crashing falls rises up to 500 feet and we are getting completely soaked.  It is actually difficult to see through all the spray.  Truly breathtaking.

iguazu 9

iguazu 10

We caught a very, very crowded local bus back to town, napped (of course), then went to dinner at El Quincho del Tio Amorado.  We ordered a bottle of Malbec, and I had a piece of morcilla (blood sausage), chorizo, and a hunk of rib meat with a chunky and vinegar-y chimichurri, fries, and flan with coffee.  Chris had surubi fried in a butter and caper sauce and an apple pancake that tasted like candy, withcoffee.  The meat was the highlight of this meal.  The restaurant had a sort of courtyard in front you had to walk through to go inside, and you passed right by the enormous parilla covered with all sorts of cuts of meat.  Yum.  There was even entertainment at the restaurant — a singer with a pretty decent voice.  Chris clapped loudly for him after each song…which I guess led him to believe we’d be up for buying one of his CDs.  He came by during one of his breaks and talked with us for a while.  We did not buy a CD but we did enjoy talking with him and we told him how great his singing was.  At one point he asked me if I learned to speak Spanish by studying in Buenos AiresAwww….

Back at the hotel we were excited to be able to climb into bed with full bellies and catch Game 6 of the NBA finals.  We both fell asleep at halftime, but awoke in time to see the Celtics celebrating their victory over the Lakers.

The next morning we ate breakfast at the hotel, packed up, and laid around reading until we had to check out, then walked around the town.  No doubt, it seemed like a pretty crappy town.  But we did have a pretty decent lunch.  I had a chicken soup with corn dumplings and a tarta; Chris had something that reminded me of a Spanish tortilla with a fried root (yucca?) on top.  We both had fresh juice.  Afterwards, we headed back to the airport to find our flight cancelled (Aerolineas Argentinas strikes again!) but they moved us to a LAN flight that left five minutes later and was right on time.  I love LAN — they give you alfajores on the flight….  Once back, we caught a taxi at the airport (after I got into it with a shadow cab driver for telling us he’d take us to the hotel for 30 pesos…I don’t think so).  Our Radio taxi driver was great (and it cost 14 pesos)…he loved the NBA and we talked about the game last night.  He cracked us up when he started shaking his head in mock disappointment saying “pobre Kobe Bryant….” (he he he…indeed).  He also said “Kevin Garnett tiene manos calientes!!”  I had to agree.

Now we are back at the Hotel Costa Rica, in a “fancy” room with a real king bed (not two twins pushed together) and a bathroom in the room!  It’s one of those shower right there next to the toilet, everything gets wet, types, but it is so nice not to have to go outside…especially since the weather is turning colder, wetter, and windier.  Actually, we have really grown to love this hotel.  It feels like home now.  We’re going to try to catch the big Argentina v. Brasil futbol match tonight.  I keep seeing signs at restaurants saying they’ll have the game on…it’s kind of exciting!

June 20, 2008 — my last entry

We watched the Argentina v. Brasil match at this great little parilla in the Palermo called Minga.  We passed by it earlier in the evening and I went inside and reserved a table with a great view of the huge screen.  We had empanadas de carne and grilled sweetbreads with chimichurri and a mojito to start.  We had another ojo de bife, a broiled spinach and cheese dish, and a bottle of Malbec.  For dessert, we ordered the volcan de chocolate with a glass of a different Malbec our waiter said is his favorite to drink with chocolate.  The manager also sent us over the chocolate torta to enjoy as well.  Delicious.

The next day, Chris started coming down with a cold…I’m pretty sure he had a fever all day, but we still went ahead with the empanada quest we had planned the day before.  The rainy and cold weather were a bit of a pain, but we still had a good day.  We had dinner in the neighborhood (see what I mean about the Hotel Costa Rica feeling like home?) at Till.  We had passed by it at least twice every day but never stopped in until now.  It was great — I had fresh pasta and a fishbowl-sized glass of wine (this would normally be a good thing, but I am a slow drinker and Chris, who was still not feeling well, was in no mood to lounge over dinner unfortunately).

Friday, June 20th, is our last day in Buenos Aires.  Luckily, Chris is feeling much better.  We woke up and packed up and headed for breakfast at a cafe near the subte for Scalabrini Ortiz.  Very enjoyable, until parts of the ceiling started crumbling and falling all over our table and into our food due to the workers above (who just earlier were causing fire to shoot off the roof onto the heads of passers-by…which we found mildly amusing).  We moved to a different table and they just turned the chairs onto the table…I love South America.

After breakfast we walked to the Malba – contemporary (mostly) Latin American art…some of it very odd and mildly disturbing.  Lots of art that incorporated sounds, TVs, machines…all in a very cool building.  Then we went to the design museum in an old French revival-style mansion (name escapes me at the moment).  We got there a little too early and had to wait outside but we had company.

bs as

We ate lunch at a place in the Recoleta called Juana M.  It was great.  The entrance was located down some steps through a very nondescript door, but once inside, you find yourself in a huge (long), modern, industrial space with very cool decor.  It had a fantastic salad bar (this may have been our first salad in Buenos Aires) with too many great options to remember.  We shared another ojo de bife (how many does this make??) and the noquis con salsa rosa, red wine, and chocolate ice cream.  This was a great find, and the people were incredibly friendly.

After lunch, we walked back to the Hotel Costa Rica for the last time, gathered our stuff, and waited for the taxi to pick us up and take us to the airport…

waiting to leave

The taxi arrives, and I promptly leave my wrap in the hotel lobby…  Oh well.  The way I see it, I’ve left a piece of myself in Argentina.  And the black gloves…I left those in a taxi….

It’s total chaos at the airport.  Our flight is delayed, so we watched The Life Aquatic on Chris’s PSP in the gate area.  What a great movie…  After we finished the movie an airport security guy came over to us and told us to line up for a security check (even though we had already gone through security).  We’re are even a little dubious (is this guy official??).  However, he comes back and tells us again to line up, so we start walking in the direction he was pointing and find a huge line of people.  We join the line.  Then, our gate changed, so we all had to move to a different gate and line up yet again.  Once we make it to the front of the line, we have our bags searched and they ask us a bunch of questions…and then we’re held in a roped-off area (basically, they took a rope and strung it around a bunch of seats and told us to stay inside).  There’s a coke machine inside the roped-off area and I’m really thirsty, but when I go to buy a soda, this guy yells at me — NO!

I think our plane is set to take off in about 50 minutes…it’s after 11:30 at night, and we’re about to have to say goodbye to South America…for the time being.

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