BUENOS AIRES (ARGENTINE) & URUGUARY - Nov 12-22, 2010
AA flight takes off 2 hours later shortly after midnight. (Our flight had a mechanical problem, so we had to wait for another flight coming in from London to take over our route.) Since we were on a red-eye, by my basic travel principle, we booked coach class.
The flight was completely full and we were seated in the mid section row.
We contorted our ever growing bodies trying to fit into the space made for munchkins.
I reminisced the days when we were able to fly anywhere in business class free of charge.
Arrive in Buenos Aires 2 hrs late. We had to pay $140(USD) for Sue being an American passport holder at Immigration. (Nothing for a Japanese passport holder)
I didn’t know the reason for this charge. I hope U.S. Immigration is charging at least the same amount to the Argentinean tourists coming to the U.S.
We meet our young guide, Juan and take off for the city SS. The city is empty being Saturday, and we do a rather un-eventful SS. I was surprised that the city of Buenos Aires is not as enticing as I expected it to be. It is a clean modern city with beautiful Jacaranda trees with purple flower everywhere. But it does not have the magic charm some other cities have in Latin America, like Havana or Rio or even Santiago Chile.
This city looked like one of the cities in Europe instead of in South America.
And aside from the architecture, people here all looked like Europeans.
I assumed that Spanish Conquistador killed all the natives when they got here.
We check into our apartment at 5pm.
This is the first time we tried an apartment stay (instead of a hotel) on our trip.
Our place was located in the old section of town called San Telmo nearby Plaza Dorrego where they have a huge market on Sunday. There is a front desk with English speaking staff for 24 hrs. Our apartment is a comfortable duplex with 2 baths, kitchen, balcony and all the basic supplies. (ie, soap, toilet paper, dishes, towels, TV, toaster etc., …)
We really like this place.
Since we were not tired and we wanted to adjust to the local time, (2 hrs ahead of NY time) we decide to go to one of the restaurants we wanted to visit on this trip.
“The Brigada” was located 3 blocks from our apartment and was featured on the TV show, “Bizarre Food”. We arrive at this restaurant at the opening time of 8pm, and we seated among colorful displays of local items which included large amounts of soccer related mementos and the pictures. We like the atmosphere, but unfortunately, the food was a total disappointment. TV show host told us that their steak melted in his mouth and is the best steak he ever had. But, the steaks we had were tough & flavorless and a bit gamey. The only memorable dish we had was Llama Carpaccio appetizer. It didn’t taste much different from beef Carpaccio, but this being the first Llama meat we ever had, we enjoyed the experience.
Sunday is Feria day (Street market day) in BA. So, we leave our place in the morning with the intention of covering as many Ferias as possible in one day.
We begin by walking to the nearby San Telmo antique market where it seemed all the tourists in BA were gathered to walk around the narrow paths among various street venders who sell junk of all kinds. Most of the venders were very old people, and strangely, everyone was dressed in some God-awful costumes. They were dressed as pirates, devils, mermaids, moving trees etc., After taking a picture of a 70 years old man & woman dressed as Spiderman & Wonder woman, we left this market.
We took a taxi to the outside of town for about 20 minutes to visit “Feria de Mataderos” (Goucho market). This place seemed less touristy but the things they sold seemed pretty much the same. We stopped at a corner restaurant for lunch and ordered a special dish of sizzling mixed meat on a portable grill. (It seemed like this was their special because everyone was ordering the same dish.) On the grill, there were several different types of meat including some animal parts probably illegal to be sold in the U.S. We enjoy this artery clogging greasy meal with a big bottle of Quilmes beer.
After lunch, we see a bit of a Goucho show on the street stage, and we take a taxi back to the city to visit Recoleta market. We were here yesterday when we visited Recoleta Cemetery, but did not have much of time to walk around the surrounding area. It was relaxed place where people were sitting on the grass waiting for the band to finish setting up the stage. After walking through the market, we find a small modern museum across the street. We stop by to view some local modern art.
Afterward, we take a taxi to “La Boca” district. On the way to La Boca, we pass by a memorial site underneath the newly constructed highway where they discovered numerous bodies of missing men from the era of oppressive military junta.
There were scars of this dark chapter in recent Argentinean history all around the city.
We arrive at the busy streets of “La Boca” in the late afternoon. This district has a Feria everyday, and we were here yesterday, but we wanted to spend a bit more time exploring this popular super touristy area. There are restaurants on both sides of the alley with tiny stages where Tango dancers performed. After walking around taking pictures, checking some gift shops, we took a taxi back to our apartment.
At night, we walk around our neighborhood & find a small restaurant where they had an English menu. I ordered fried fish & Sue ordered Chicken with Italian pasta. Sue leaves most of her pasta untouched and tells me that it is one of the worst foods she has ever eaten.
This was a day for Tigre tour in the Delta region. We wake up a bit late and rush to the gathering spot of Intercontinental Hotel by taxi at 9am.
The tour was conducted by a young tour guide named Laura. We drive about 1 hour north to the town of Tigre, hop on a motor boat that goes around the narrow canal seeing residential houses on both sides. After about 1 hour boat ride on this busy muddy river, we drive to a railway station to take a short ride on a local train. And that was the whole tour. I didn’t really learn anything about Tigre or about the people who live on the river (This is mainly because we were on the outside deck where we couldn’t hear anything our guide was saying during the cruise), or about the train we rode. But it was relaxing and a mildly entertaining tour.
Upon returning to BA, we decide to walk around the busy commercial area of Florida street to see the local shopping scene. We enter a small restaurant and have a lunch.
Sue eats dry and salty empanada while I have tough & gamey hamburger. We have been pretty un-impressed with Argentinean cuisine so far.
We arrive back to our apartment, and while Sue takes afternoon nap, I go out for a walk.
As I was walking down the street, I heard fast approaching steps from behind me, and then a young girl runs by me. I didn’t get to see her face because she was going so fast, but I could see that she had a very shapely body & really tight jogging pants. As she passed other pedestrians, I see a couple of guys in front of me take turns to look at her behind. There was a tiny coffee shop counter, and when she passes by it, an old man stands up from his chair with a coffee cup in his hand to turn and look at her behind. I guessed that she must be a very pretty girl to make an old man jump on their seat like that.
As she started to turn the next street corner, she passed a young dad with a little boy coming from other direction. When she passed them, the dad & boy both made 180 degree turn to look at her.
At night, we took a taxi to the port district of Puerto Madero, and visited Faena hotel which was highly recommended by Sue’s friend for their tango show.
When I asked my apartment desk staff about their show, I was told that it is ridiculously over-priced, and the show quality is no better than anywhere else. When we arrived at this rather small hotel, and walked through the big glass door opened by a young greeting female staff, we saw a long empty corridor lighted with shocking red light stretched straight toward the other end. It is more like an entrance for a high class night club than a hotel.
We ask the girl standing at the entrance desk about the Tango show and are told that it is $155 (USD) without a meal. Other clubs prices are somewhere $25 ~ $60 (USD).
So, I tell her that we would like to just look around their lobby and have a drink in their swanky lounge.
We find a small table behind a piano in the lounge where several guests are quietly chatting over drinks. Sue finds a Lechee nut martini on the cocktail menu and orders one.
When she takes a sip of it, her face wrinkles like she just bit a sour old lemon.
She says it is undrinkable and seeing her reaction, I decide not to even taste it.
We leave the hotel and take a leisurely walk to a nearby seafood restaurant recommended by our apartment staff. Puerto Madero is a new district by the water with many elegant restaurants and shops. Although it was a windy night, we enjoy this walk along the quiet riverside where docked boats and sidewalk rails sparkled with illuminations.
When we arrive in our rather empty restaurant, we are seated right away, and the waiter brings 2 glasses of complimentary champagne. This brings our hopes up that we might have the first great dinner in BA, but unfortunately, it was not the case.
Sue ordered shrimp soup which was served cold and very fishy tasting. I ordered a dish of Octopus & shrimp wrapped in chicken served with mango sauce.
It was unique dish but it was not good. We still felt like we have not found good Argentinean cuisine, yet.
This is another Tour day for Goucho Ranch. We meet our guide Laura at 9am and take off to the north on a small bus with 10 other tourists from various countries. Sue be-friends a Canadian girl named Patricia. (She was in Tigre Tour yesterday, too)
We arrive at the ranch in 1.5 hrs and were greeted by a friendly host named Manuel with drinks, empanada, and home made salami. This empanada was juicy and tasty, and we think that this is the first good food we had since we came to this country.
The rest of afternoon, we ride a horse carriage, eat BBQ lunch, watch folk lore show, and Goucho horsemen show. It was fun and relaxing and very touristy as we expected.
We return to the city about an hour later than scheduled time due to a little police stop on the way back.
Since we had so much meat for lunch, we decide to have a seafood dinner.
We end up in a small not so clean Peruvian restaurant near our apartment, and order our usual Peruvian favorites of Ceviche, Jalea (Fried seafood over salad), and steak (we couldn’t find the other sea food dish that we like.) We finish the dinner wondering if the ceviche we ate would keep us wake all night in the bathroom.
Luckily, we were fine later.
After the dinner, we go to “La Ventana Club” for the live tango show.
The show was what we expected. It’s a mix of Tango dancing, Folk music, Goucho Boleadoras (3 rocks in leather on rope) performance, and overly affected male / female singing. We enjoy the touristy formula show with a bottle of red wine and return home at mid-night. Upon, returning to our apartment, Sue finds that she left her eye-glasses in the taxi. What a bummer…
Since we had the next 2 days free to explore BA by ourselves, we decided to start by visiting some of the art museums and some famous eateries.
We take taxi to the Alvear Palace hotel in Recoleta area to have brunch.
As we walk in to this miniature version of NY’s old palace hotel, we are bombarded by an over-whelming smell of perfume. It was a kind of perfume that very old ladies use.
Something like Taboo or Channel #5 which has such an intense massive content of alcohol, you can’t wear it while driving a car. Realizing that it will cause Sue to get a headache any second, we leave the place quickly and walk to the famous café, La Biela nearby the hotel. After lunch of steak sandwich on french bread, we visit MNBA (National museum), Teatro Colon (Not open for tour) and Confiteria Ideal to view people tango dancing in the afternoon.
We order beer & coffee in the grand saloon of Confiteria while we wait for the dance to start in the up-stair dance hall. But when it does, we realize that it is really for very old amateur couples enjoying afternoon dance. (There is nothing wrong with it. It’s just that it looked too intimate for tourists & we weren’t sure if it’s worth 20 pesos admissions.)
So, we leave the place and Sue takes a taxi back to the apartment to rest for the afternoon while I explore more of the local art scenes.
I walk about 12 blocks to “Museo de Arte Hispanoamericano” where it shows historical artifacts. After finishing this museum, I ask the entrance desk clerk about MALBA (Modern museum). She takes out a museum directory to look for it, and tells me to take Colectivo (public bus). Reading somewhere that MALBA is very near here, I ignore her advice & start to walk toward a big avenue.
I find MALBA eventually after walking about 30 blocks misled by directions given by local parking attendants, policemen, tourists etc., along the way.
I read in one website that you must visit MALBA to see the current art scene in Argentina. Many works were done by the same artists we saw at MNBA this morning, and none of the works looked particularly unique or interesting.
They were just variations of famous American / European artists. I was hoping to see
works of Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, but there was only one painting of hers.
After spending 30 minutes there, I take a taxi back to San Telmo. I stop at a small gallery nearby our apartment to see more very uninteresting work, and return to our nest with bottles of wine & snack items.
At night, we take 1.5 hrs Tango lesson in the school next door. We both enjoy it a lot and look forward to the additional lessons during our stay.
After the lesson, we take a taxi to the oldest & the most famous Confiteria, Café Tortoni for a light dinner & Tango show. We order a small cheese pizza & “Chicken salad with tomato, artichoke heart, and boiled potato”. After the dinner, we go downstairs and see the Tango show which was a K-Mart version of La Ventana show. The only thing good about this show was the young Bandoneon (Small accordion) player. In the taxi, on the way home, we both confide to each other that we fell asleep during the show.
Sue wakes up sick. She thinks one of the salami pieces I brought back yesterday for a snack did it. So she decides to stay in the apartment while I go out for a walk.
I walk about 1 hour to La Boca area. On the way, I pass through a slum area by the train station where people live in cardboard shacks underneath the highway. A young mother was washing clothes in a plastic bucket while her kid sat on the ground and watched her.
There was a man sleeping on the ground and another man sitting on a box by him obviously high from alcohol or drugs just staring the space in front of him.
They didn’t seem to mind me passing by. So, I kept on walking toward La Boca.
When I arrive in La Boca, I find a restaurant and sit at a table on the street to have a steak lunch. There was a small stage where a young couple danced. They were very good and serious. (Especially the male dancer – he squeezed & wrinkled his brow as if he was a tormented lover dancing his last tango with his love / or had a killer case of constipation.)
I bought a pair of Tango dancer X’mas tree ornament for Sue in a gift shop, and visited Quinquela Martin Art Museum. (Quinquila Martin was a local artist of this district who painted famous street corner buildings / now the trade mark of La Boca, in bright colors using left-over paint from the ships.) This ex-residence / art museum was much better than I expected. Especially the colorful kitchen of the artist painted in pink, yellow, sky blue was fun & memorable.
Upon returning to our place, I find Sue in much better shape and hungry. So, we decide to take a taxi to Palermo area to have a dinner at “Oro y Candido” which was featured, again -- in TV’s “Bizarre Food”. The kitchen does not open until 8pm, so we wait until 7pm. Because of a traffic jam, and Palermo district being the other side of BA, it takes about 40 minutes to get there. I realize that we must abandon hope of returning to the tango class which begins at 9pm.
The food here was one of the most eccentric we have experienced anywhere before.
They had Wild boar, Ostrich, Alligator, Deer, Llama, Rabbit, White salmon etc., cooked in various manners. (Well, actually, we ate all of these meat before including Llama meat we had a few days ago in La Brigada. But they seemed to specialize the dishes using these eccentric meats.)
So we ordered a mixed plate of all and had an interesting feast. Although the taste of these meats was not the best we have had before, we certainly enjoyed the experience. The only minor complain was that we did not know what meat we were eating. Our waitress did not speak English. So, when she brought big plate of several meats, she pointed each meat & told us what it is in Spanish which of course did not help us at all.
We drank the wonderful complimentary glass of grappa after the dinner and take a taxi back to our place.
We have been using taxis to go all over the place on this trip. I was thinking of renting a car and driving around, but I changed my mind after consulting with a local travel agency.
After several days of riding taxis in this city, I was so glad that I did not rent a car.
This is the second worst & dangerous place in the world to drive around after Beijing. Where there are 3 lanes, 5 cars line up sideways. (3 in the lane, and 2 in between ON the lanes) The distance between cars is so close, you can practically touch the driver’s nose in the car next to you. I only saw one accident (after it happened) during our stay which seemed to me nothing but a miracle.
This was the only day that we had to wake up early on this trip (The Uruguay Tour), but our alarm clock did not work, so we jump out of the bed totally panicking at 7:15am.
We dash to the bathrooms (great to have 2 bathrooms) pack the backpack and get into the backseat of a taxi we reserved at 7:30am.
We arrive at the very busy harbor terminal to catch a ferryboat to the town of Colonia in Uruguay. This is a package tour organized by the ferry company and I was advised by the local travel agency not to expect much from this tour. I heard that there is nothing there to see or do in Uruguay from other sources, too. I believe I read somewhere “Uruguay – Don’t bother”. But I just wanted to see what is (or isn’t) in the peaceful country of Uruguay.
When we arrive at Colonia after 1 hr ferry ride, we were greeted by a pleasant Italian girl who gives us the tour of downtown Colonia. It is a peaceful small touristy town where you can completely run out of things to do in a few hours.
The story of Colonia is that Spain & Portugal kept switching the ownership of this little place. The Portuguese, who arrived in the place first were merchants & not soldiers, so when the military minded Spanish arrived, they bullied the Portuguese out and took over the place. But, since the place had no real significance, they agreed to return it to the Portugal whenever some political barter negotiations came about between them.
This change of ownership repeated a few times & it ended some few hundreds years ago when Spanish told the Portuguese to get out of the place or be killed. The Portuguese left.
After lunch, we walk around on the stone paved alleys taking pictures and poking our heads into the gift shops. After awhile, realizing how difficult to walk on the un-even stone pavements, we decide to rent a car (actually it is a golf cart) and go around the rest of this town. It takes a few minutes for me to familiarize myself with this clumsy vehicle, but we manage to visit the harbor, a market, a light house and few other spots of interest. We enjoy the ride and were glad we thought of renting this cart.
After returning the cart ($12 USD for 1 hr), we sit in a little restaurant and have Uruguay beer while we wait for the pick up to the Ferry boat terminal. After a little confusion due to the absence of an English speaking guide, we return to the harbor, go through the immigration and safely board the ferry. We arrive at BA at 5:30PM with a bag of duty free champagne and caviar for Sue’s birthday tomorrow. In spite of the long taxi line at the terminal, none of them are on duty and there was a long line of unhappy passengers.
Sensing that it will take quite sometime to get a taxi there, we join the herd of people walking away from the terminal to look for a taxi on the chaotic busy street.
After 10~15 min of walking around, we luckily find a taxi and we headed back to our apartment.
Although we were a bit exhausted, we decide to take another tango lesson next door at 7pm. We had a different elderly man as the teacher and we enjoyed learning additional steps. After the class, we walk to a nearby a Tango restaurant, “La Rosalia” for dinner.
The set up in this restaurant is quite different from the other tango show places. There is a small stage for the band, but the dancers are dancing on the floor among the tables.
Being that the place is quite empty, we get a table right in front of the stage.
They had an interesting Dinner menu. I particularly enjoyed the Sweetbread Quiche, and whiskey ice cream which was a scoop of ice cream floating in the generous shot of scotch.
The Tango show was the best we saw so far. The dancers were dancing so close to our table, we had to move our glasses a couple of times so that their extended arms would not knock them down. It was a very intimate show because of this closeness to the action & this was the first show where we could actually see the fancy foot work of the dancers.
We think this was one of the best nights we had since we came here, and walk back to our place happy with full stomach.
I wake up early and decide to take a walk around the neighborhood. Since this is Sue’s 52nd birthday, I look for a small gift and end up buying a pair of earrings in an antique shop.
Later for lunch, we decide to walk to the nearby Japanese restaurant. On the way, we meet a young American woman who got lost in the area. She was looking for Plaza Dorrego which is in the same direction we were going. So we walk together and we find out that she is from Chicago traveling alone. In a short conversation, we all agreed that Argentinean food mostly sucked.
When we reach the main street we say good bye to her and go to a surprisingly nice Japanese restaurant on the second floor.
Unfortunately, food was not as nice, but we welcomed this variation from our usual steak sandwich lunch. We watched Sumo on TV while we ate tasteless Ramen noodles and a Sushi plate. We learn that Yokozuna Hakuho failed to break a record of longest successive win in Japan.
After the lunch, we take a taxi to visit a weekend market in Palermo. The fair is not anything special and after walking around for awhile, we return to our place.
We were going to take tango lesson at 5pm, and since there was some time, we opened the champagne and a small jar of caviar and I give my gift of earrings to Sue.
We were about 10 minutes late to arrive at the class and we see that about 30 people are already dancing there. We join the class at the last row and start to follow the motion.
But Sue gives up immediately telling me that the moves they are making are too difficult for her (due to walking a lot + arthritis). She tells me to stay in the class while she sits and watch.
But we eventually agree to go back to our place. Since we had sometime to kill until our dinner reservation, we sit and watch TV while I polish off another bottle of wine.
We take a taxi to Puerto Modera and arrive at the famous “La Cabana La Lis” restaurant 15 minutes earlier than our reservation. When we sit down at our table, a large plate of appetizers arrives with various kinds of bread.
Because of drinking and eating caviar on toast earlier in the day, I feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount of food being served. We order a small bottle of wine, 2 salads & 2 steaks. After sharing a desert, we feel too full and too tired to go out anywhere else. (We would have gone for tango dancing 20 years ago, but being in the mature age of 50s, we tend to prefer a dull evening.) We take a taxi back to our place, and hang around on the couch for the remainder of the night.
11/21 (Sun) ~ 22 (Mon)
I wake up earlier than Sue as usual, and go out for a walk. When I return, I find Sue awake and doing her cross stitch. I was surprised to see her not being sick from the amount of wine & champagne she had last night. Since we were still full from last night’s dinner, we stop at nearby café and have 2 small empanadas & coffee for lunch before we re-visit San Telmo Sunday Fair.
There were no old folks dressed in costumes this time (we later find out that the last Sunday was a special costume contest day for the venders) and we realize that the whole Fair covers a much larger area than we thought a week before.
After we buy a nice small painting on the street from a young painter, Sue returns to our place to rest while I walk around some more.
Upon my return, we clean the apartment, pack our bags and check out.
We leave a bottle of un-opened red wine for a girl named Juliette at the front desk who has been very helpful. We tell her that we enjoyed our stay very much but we are glad that we are leaving today because of 20 or so screaming high school girls checking in on our floor this morning.
Upon arrival at the airport, the taxi driver tells us that a hundred peso bill we gave him is a forgery. Not being able to use it anywhere else, I decide to bring it home as a part of souvenir that all was not well with BA. (100 peso = 25 USD)
We have a light snack at the airport, buy some post cards and get ready for 10 hours of red-eye coach class flying. I thought about up-grading our return flight, but decide to stick to my principle of “coach class for red-eye”.
The flight takes off on time and arrives in JFK pretty much on time the next day. I try to call number at my garage to have them pick us up, but for some reason, they cannot hear me from the pay phones. Since neither of us had a cell phone, we take a taxi to the garage. NYC is warmer than we thought, but it is considerably colder than BA which was 81F when we left. Sue seems to enjoy the cooler temperature here.
We safely return home at 8:30am.