Thursday, March 19, 2015

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

Buenos Aires March 19-25, 2015

Travel Day (Thursday/Friday)
It is not about the destination, it is about the journey. This journey was quite long; longer maybe than it needed to be due to our desire to travel in style!

The destination of Buenos Aires had been chosen for us by our Argentinean friend, Eddie. He found a small boutique hotel (Casa Las Cañitas) with 9 rooms and reserved all of them. So, 19 of us would be traveling. Shortly before the trip though, Eddie's wife became gravely ill. It started to look like the trip would be cancelled, but at the last minute, she turned the corner and started to improve, at least enough so that Eddie felt comfortable leaving her to come on the trip.

A number of the bunch would be traveling stand by so we did a lot of research on alternate routes that would get us to our destination in business class. We finally settled on a route through Sao Paulo, Brazil. What we forgot to research, was the need for a Brazilian visa. By the time we realized we might need one, it was too late to apply. A transit visa, however, is not required if the passenger holds a "confirmed" onward ticket and does not leave the transit area, but we were planning to stand by from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires. We consulted with our friend, David who is an expert in the use of points and miles. He found us an option to use frequent flyer miles to get from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires. This satisfied the confirmed onward ticket requirement so we were good to go.

Eddie, Dave, Jackie, Tammy and Chris had left a few days ahead and spent some time in Mendoza, while Sandy & Zaine visited Iguazu Falls.  We, along with the rest of the group, planned to go directly to Buenos Aires.  John, Susan, Russell, Pat and Steve were going to stand by for the Thursday night Buenos Aires flight along with Kirsten and John (who had confirmed tickets). Brad and Lina would come Friday night.

John, Susan and Russell were originating in Jacksonville and got bumped off of the first flight they tried for. The next flight got them to Atlanta in time, but made for a tight connection. (Kudos to Pat for being a good Samaritan and informing the gate agent of the situation so they would be cleared on the flight appropriately).

While we were waiting at the gate for the Sao Paulo flight, we sent a text message to Kirsten and John to make sure they had made it to the Buenos Aires gate. They responded that they had arrived at the airport only to discover that Kirsten's passport was expired! They said not to worry though, they had a plan to get an expedited passport and be on the flight the next day. 

We were cleared to Sao Paulo and were delighted to get those nice lie-flat seats so that after the meal we could get a good night's sleep. I tried to watch the critically acclaimed movie, Birdman, but it didn't hold my interest.


We landed early which only gave us a longer layover in the transit area. 5 hours to be exact. There is a duty free shop, a Starbucks, a jewelry store, a money exchange and some airline lounges in the transit area. We tried to personality our way into the GOL lounge but we were apparently a little shy of the required personality (or documentation) so we found a bench near the gate to wait.

Our 2.5 hour flight on an Austral Embraer 190 was uneventful. We got a great view of Sao Paulo when the pilot dipped the wing on our way out of the city. It is a much bigger city than we realized.


We flew into the local airport Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) rather than the big international Ezeiza airport (EZE). After passing through immigration and customs, we found the LAN airline desk and checked on a return flight possibility. We weren't sure if we could go back through Brazil, but Santiago, Chile was an option.

After so much sitting and waiting, we were ready for some exercise so we walked the 5km from the airport to the hotel. The longest part of the walk was getting around the end of the runway.

We walked past the polo fields and a beautiful park. We passed several street vendors selling delicious smelling grilled meats.


We found our hotel with no problem thanks to the wonderful GPS technology of the smart phone and the unlimited data provided by our cellphone carrier, T-Mobile.

Our friend Pat greeted us at the hotel and showed us to our room. We had Room 1, the smallest of the rooms at the hotel.  There was enough room to stand on each side of the bed and we had a decent sized bathroom, a small closet and an alcove for the TV.  The room had a door that adjoined Room 2.  The room and bath were very clean, came with a hair dryer, shampoo & shower gel. There were power outlets for US plugs beside the bed, although the power was 220V.

We unpacked, changed clothes and joined Pat upstairs for a glass of wine.  The rest of the gang had gone to Plaza de Mayo.  We decided to forego the cab ride and instead headed out for a snack with Pat and Steve at Campo Bravo around the corner from the hotel. 


A basket of bread with some delicious creamy pimento cheese tided us over while we studied the menu. We ordered empanadas, cheese, meat skewers and sausage. Just as we were finishing, we were joined by Eddie, John, Susan and Russell.



We walked over to Antares for happy hour where we were joined by Dave, Jackie, Tammy and Chris. 


After a few drinks there, we made our way to Van Koning for more drinks and snacks. We got the best seats in the house, a corner booth which was great for people watching. There was some sort of bachelor/bachelorette party going on.


For dinner, we shared an assortment of meats, cheeses, fruits and breads.


We made it a fairly early night (by Argentina standards) and were back at the hotel around 11PM.

Saturday (Day 2)
We all awoke at different times and spread ourselves around the lobby/dining area of our adorable little boutique hotel.  After getting a lesson on how to use the coffee machine, we enjoyed coffee and breakfast of OJ, scrambled eggs, bread, yogurt and fruit. 

 

(Oh, and maybe a little hair-of-the-dog for some.)


Brad and Lina arrived on schedule along with our wayward travelers, Kirsten and John.  We celebrated the new passport and their good fortune at having resolved the issue so quickly.


After breakfast it was time to take care of some financial matters.  Argentina has what is known as a "Blue Market" exchange rate. The official exchange rate was about 8 pesos to the dollar but on the Blue Market, the rate is about 12 pesos to the dollar. A Blue Market money exchanger had come to the house on Friday before some of us arrived with our U.S. dollars so everyone exchanged as much money as they could so the rest of us could reap the benefit of the better exchange rate.  We got busy swapping our US dollars for the pesos that our friends had bought.




There was a lot of inertia among our group of 18 so it took us awhile to get going. Several folks ran in and out grabbing jackets, backpacks and things before we finally struck out for the Malba Museum. The weather was perfect and it was a beautiful walk past the park with its greenery, lake and fountains.




Our walk took us past the imposing statue of José Maria Cornelio Figueroa Alcorta (President of Argentina from 1906-1910) on horseback.



A juggler performed in the crosswalk while the drivers waited for the light to change.




We checked our backpacks and water bottles and bought our tickets to the Malba Museum.  We started our tour of the museum on the second floor where there was a perplexing temporary exhibition called the "Infinite Experience".

The exhibition consisted of 5 rooms with bizarre representations of what was supposedly live art.  The first room appeared to be in the process of being painted, but upon inspection, there was no actual paint on the rollers.


The next room was empty except for a man in the corner typing on a computer and a large screen displaying what he was typing.  When we entered the room, he typed:

Are they traveling as a group?

Yes, they are.
It is impossible to tell if there is a tourist guide with them or not.
Nobody seems to be the leader of the pack.
No, nobody is guiding them.
They laugh.

The "display" in the next room was called "Clockwork" and consisted of a white-walled room and a man writing times and names on the wall.  He asked me what time it was and then wrote the time and my name on the wall except he misspelled it.  He wrote BG instead of BJ.


The next display was of a broken plastic chair like the ones we threw away after a storm at our beach house. Who knew this was art?




Then we entered a room with various items suspended by strings which were tied to various body parts of a man who seemed to be controlling them with small movements. I didn't realize until after I took the picture that one of the strings was tied to his private area. (I have blurred this part of the picture so you can stop studying it so closely).




A round room was filled with a line of people pretending to be a revolving door.  We had to wait for them to turn slowly so we could exit the room.




The rest of the museum was more of what I would consider traditional art.








We left the museum, passing the big steel flower, Floralis Generica on our way to Recoleta. The flower, architected by Buenos Aires born Eduardo Catalano, opens during the day and closes at night.

When we entered the Recoleta area, we saw lots of booths with jewelry, arts, crafts and leather items, but we were distracted by the smell of grilled meat!




We sat on the sidewalk and ate a delicious Chorípan (chorizo sausage on a french bread roll with pepper sauce). We shared some of our breadcrumbs with the pigeons and an occasional parakeet.

After our lunch, we spent several hours perusing the booths looking for bargains.  There were some beautiful leather purses and sandals.


Jewelry was another popular item.  Rodocrosita, the national stone of Argentina, was the most popular but there were a number of other stones and composites for sale.  The prices were very reasonable.  I got a rodocrosita necklace and earrings in a silver setting for around $40 USD.


Those people who had skipped the sidewalk sausage had a leisurely lunch at La Biela under the huge spreading ficus tree while the rest of us continued our shopping spree.



We finished our afternoon with a tour of the cemetery behind Nuestra Señora del Pilar Church.

There were a lot of elaborate mausoleums and vaults. It was built in 1822 as the city's first public cemetery. It was not until the late 19th century that wealthy families settled in the area and began to bury their dead, including political leaders, presidents of Argentina, writers, Nobel Prize winners, sportsmen and businessmen.


I stopped in front of the tomb of Rufina Cambaceres and listened to a tour guide recount the story of the young woman who was buried alive in the early 1900s. They believe she had suffered a coma. A few days after her burial, workers heard screams from the tomb. When it was opened, there were scratches on her face and on the coffin from her attempts to escape.


The biggest crowd was gathered around the tomb of María Eva (Evita) Duarte de Perón, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón and First Lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952.


Eddie wanted us to live life like the Argentinians so after relaxing at home for a bit, we didn't leave for happy hour until 9:30PM!  Happy Hour was at Post Street Bar with its graffiti covered walls.  The bar can be difficult to locate using the street address on their website.  The address is really Thames 1285, but it is easier to just tell the cab driver the cross street (Nicaragua). There is no sign, so just look for all of the graffiti.







Not everyone could hang with us after happy hour so the group dwindled to only eight of us who were man enough to go out to dinner at 12:30AM.  This actually worked out very well since we would have had trouble getting all of us seated at the same restaurant anyway.  We were very lucky that all 8 of us got seated at La Cabrera, one of Eddie's favorite restaurants. We had to split into two tables of four. Our table ordered two HUGE steaks which came with a bunch of little cups of various vegetables.  We also had some grilled cheese and a couple of salads to split.  With wine, the bill for the four of us came to about $1500 pesos (about $125 USD). Compare that to the same meal at any good steak restaurant in the US!


It was almost 2AM by the time we finished dinner!  We were so proud of ourselves for living life like the Argentinians!

Sunday (Day 3)
Breakfast started understandably late, around noon.  We enjoyed coffee in the sunny back garden of the hotel.



The plan for the day was to meet at La Brigada for lunch and then explore the antique market at San Telmo.  Part of the group was planning to go to a soccer game so they got tied up trying to buy tickets on the internet. Pat, Steve, Tony and I went ahead and left for La Brigada in a cab.  We ran into the same problem we had with the Post Bar.  The address we gave the cabbie was about 2km from the restaurant, but we had already gotten out so we walked the rest of the way. We passed some interesting graffiti.


We found the restaurant but the gang had yet to arrive so we did a little shopping at the antique market. It didn't take long for us to decide it was too crowded and look for a place to sit and relax.  We found El GOL de San Telmo and had a light lunch. We noticed a crowd forming across the street for pictures with some cartoon characters from the Mafalda comic strip.


We hooked up with Sandy, Zaine, John and Kirsten. Tony headed back to the hotel. Pat and Steve wanted to do more shopping so I joined the others across the river at Lupita Mexican Bar.  Food and drink along the river was the most expensive we found on the trip, but the beautiful sunny outside tables and the view of the river made it worth the extra pesos.

Eddie had told us to meet for sunset at the Tango Bridge. We asked our waiter for directions and he told us it was four bridges away.  Thankfully, we didn't trust him so we sent a text message to Tony and he told us that Tango Bridge was a nickname for Puente de la Mujer, the bridge we were sitting next to!


There was a beautiful 3 masted sail boat docked next to the bridge.


We found Eddie and a few others at De La Fragata Resto Bar. We enjoyed a tower of beer and some empanadas before heading back to the hotel.

I shared a cab with Kirsten and John. John was in the front seat.  Kirsten and I were in the back seat singing along with the radio when the cab driver pulled over and opened John's door.  We thought he was asking us to get out, but after some gesturing and jabbering in Spanish, we finally figured out that John was sitting on the driver's glasses.

Some of us had an "early" dinner by Argentinian standards, arriving at Morelia restaurant around the corner from our hotel at 10:40PM.  We had a variety of pizza and pastas.  When we got back to the hotel after midnight, everyone had gone to bed, but left a surprise birthday spread for Zaine.


Monday (Day 4)
I awoke with a start when I realized it was 5 minutes til 9!  We had agreed we would leave the house at 9:30AM so we could take a train to Tigre and get a boat to take us to Gato Blanco Restaurante for lunch. I downed a quick cup of coffee and made it out the door with the rest of the group. We split into 4 taxis. I traveled with John, Susan and Russell.  We were the last to make it to the train station but got there in plenty of time.


We weren't able to get a seat on the train but I had a place to stand next to a door so I could get some fresh air. It wasn't too bad until we made a few stops and hundreds, if not thousands of people crowded on!  At least 5 people infiltrated my personal space at the same time!

When we got to the bus-boat station, Eddie was able to negotiate a private boat for us.  We were thrilled after the crowded train ride!  We waited at the station cafe for a bus that would take us to our boat. We played a few hands of 99 while we waited.


There was an English Commentary on the boat but it was difficult to hear/understand. We were content to look at the sights along the way.






After about an hour on the boat, we arrived at the restaurant.




We had a great table on the deck where we could enjoy the beautiful scenery and commune with nature.  The only problem with nature is sometimes it can get messy!  A bird pooped on me 3 times during the meal.  Thankfully I was seated next to Susan who was gracious enough to help me get cleaned up!





The kitchen was typically Argentinian with its large open grill where they prepared typically large portions of beef.



The boat was waiting for us after lunch. On the ride back, we tried to play a game of 99 on the console over the motor but one of the cards slid down into the crack and lodged on top of the motor. The first mate looked understandably concerned when we opened the top of the motor and retrieved our card!

Back on dry land, there was another shopping opportunity at Paseo Delta. There was a huge crowd.  Some of us were all-shopped-out so we found a great people-watching spot at a table upstairs overlooking the shopping street.


Just as we were getting ready to leave, we heard drums and looked around to see a parade forming.  I'm not sure what Mr. Urribarri's political platform is, but I think he advocates scantily clad dancers.




The trip home on the train was even more crowded than the trip there, if that is possible.  We made a connection to another train that wasn't nearly as crowded. By the time we got home, I was exhausted and went straight to bed. No late night Argentinean dinner for me!  I heard the rest of the gang partied on the roof without me.

Tuesday (Day 5)
After breakfast, we noticed the resident turtle, Ballentina roaming around the garden in an agitated manner (well, as agitated as a turtle can get).  The hotel owner said she was looking for her mate, Rodolfo.  We went on a man-hunt for Rodolfo and someone finally found him behind the hot tub.  Reunited, they happily enjoyed some slices of apple together.


Part of the group was planning a trip to Uruguay the following day, so while they were absorbed with buying their tickets, Tony, Pat, Steve and I jumped on the subway (Subte) headed for La Boca. We decided we could take the green line to Catedral and then walk along the river toward La Boca. Our route took us through some pretty sketchy areas and we almost aborted the mission a couple of times, remembering that the guidebooks had told us to stick to the touristy sections.  We finally made it to La Boca though and we were so glad we had soldiered on.  It was a very colorful and fun area. 

We stopped at the first outside table we saw at Bar La Perla de La Boca. We had a great lunch and were happy to rest our feet after the long walk.



While we were having lunch, a couple of guys brought some animals by and we watched folks perch their children on the animals for photos.




We enjoyed wandering through the streets looking at the colorful buildings.






We paused to watch tango dancers in front of several places entertaining restaurant patrons.


After a little shopping, we decided it was time to head back to the hotel.  We decided to take a taxi back to the Subte station this time and avoid the long possibly dangerous walk.
When we got back to the hotel, we found Ballentina in mid-labor!  She had already deposited two eggs a hole she had dug the previous day.


We were able to capture the third egg being delivered on video!


We had an evening party in the grill-room behind our hotel and then had dinner at the Italian restaurant again.


Wednesday (Day 6) Travel Day
We had originally planned to come home on Friday, but decided after checking flights that we would be better off coming home earlier.  Besides, we had decided that we love Argentina and will come back so we wanted to leave a few things to do next time.

Most of the rest of the crew were doing a day trip to Uruguay on Wednesday so we said our goodbyes when they left. A little while later we got a text message from Eddie saying that he had left his passport in the safe in his room. He was hurrying back to the hotel in a cab as he texted us. We found his passport and threw it in the cab window as he passed by on his way back to the port.

We decided to try the route through Brazil again so we bought tickets with Frequent Flyer points on  GOL to Sao Paulo. Monica, the hotel owner, arranged a car to take us back to the airport at 1:45PM.

We had time to go to Campo Bravo one last time for lunch before heading to the airport.

The trip home was uneventful. We were a little concerned about whether we would be allowed to fly to Brazil without a confirmed ticket from Brazil to the U.S. but the GOL agent looked at our stand-by boarding cards, made a phone call and then gave us GOL boarding passes.  We cleared passport control in Buenos Aires.

Once in Sao Paulo, we just had to pass through a security checkpoint to get to the Atlanta gate in the same terminal.  We were cleared in Business Class (now known as Delta One)!


It was an amazing trip and one we plan to repeat with Terri as soon as she feels up to it.  Thanks ever so much to Eddie for being the best tour guide ever and to our travel companions for being so much fun!

Until next time...

BJ (and Tony)

To view our other travels, please visit www.bjandtony.com

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