A travelogue of our first trip to Buenos Aires


January 9 - A Weekday in San Telmo

Picture of the Day

Generally, the phrase San Telmo is accompanied by the word fair, which is a big event held on the weekends (see this previous post). It was so crowded when we went on Sunday that I couldn't really think about taking pictures. So on Friday, my last day in BsAs, I decided to take my camera and head down there. Plus I was thinking that if I ran across a vendor selling some seltzer bottles (like in the photo above), I might buy one to take home.

Subte D line again to Plaza de Mayo. The subte in BsAs reminds me of MARTA in Atlanta; it's a nice enough system but it doesn't go too many places. The light was brilliant coming up out of the station and onto the crowded Plaza de Mayo. It was packed with office workers and tourists, who were easy enough to tell apart. Crowded places like this were the only places in Buenos Aires that made me uncomfortable, given the reports of muggings in touristy areas. I moved quickly through the Plaza, keeping my New York face on.

I went down Defensa toward Plaza Dorrega, just wandering, watching the light on the old two-story buildings. This used to be a very nice neighborhood but a cholera epidemic in the early 20th century emptied the houses out when all the rich folks moved to higher ground. Then it fell into disrepair, the old houses carved up into tenements. Apparently it was just ignored for decades, so the old colonial-style buildings, shabby as they are, remained unchanged on the exterior. Lots of big windows, crumbling exterior detail, odd paint colors and very interesting stuff to see through the windows.

The sidewalks in San Telmo are quite narrow, in some places too narrow for two people to pass. Antique shops crowd Defensa, making for nice but sometimes awkward window shopping. Plaza Dorrega during a weekday was very different from the weekend. At noon, the Plaza was just beginning to come to life, with the various restaurants around the plaza setting out their signs advertising their lunch specials, and a few vendors laying out their wares on the sidewalk. I found a table under a tree and had a coffee, just watching the people around me. It was quiet and sunny and very pleasant.

But I wasn't successful in finding a seltzer bottle, and the Museo de Arte Moderno was closed for refurbishment, so I caught a cab back to the apartment to pack for my trip home that evening. I ran out for one last dulce de leche ice cream, then caught another cab to the airport, watching the city recede through the back window of the taxi.


January 8 - Cats and Dog Poop in Palermo

Picture of the Day

I was my own on Thursday, January 8, and the day started very early indeed. Craig had a 9am flight from Ezeiza International Airport to Ushuaia so we were up at 5:30am. I packed him into a cab and waved goodbye as he in his radio taxi headed off at 6:15am. Then I went back to bed.

Later that morning, I considered my options. Traveling alone is a very different proposition than traveling with someone. The traveler is forced to pay attention, to make all the decisions and to manage all conversations in all languages. There are no distractions, no one to share observations with, no one to turn to for assistance. But... one's time is one's own, one is forced to experience a place and best of all, one doesn't have to compromise! I'd say that's a right fair trade off.

I wanted to take photographs with my Holga. I like the flat light in the middle of the day; it works well for the camera. So I took myself to lunch at El Sanjuanino (empanadas - cheese, spicy meat and veggie - YUM) and ran a few errands (bank, Staples, etc.), then I got on the subte to Palermo.

Time Out Buenos Aires was a great guide for BsAs, and one of my favorite parts was the walking tours in the book. I found one for the parks of Palermo, starting and ending at Plaza Italia. That was just a few stops up on the D line, so off I went.

Generally, the walk went through the parks in the northern part of the Palermo neighborhood, starting with the Jardin Botánico Carlos Thays. This is a lovely little park with fountains, benches, small little gardens... and dozens and dozens of cats! Everywhere! Since it was mid-afternoon, sunny and hot, they were lazing around, dozing and not moving too fast. None were mangy or diseased, although none looked particularly well-fed, understandable given the competition. They kept an eye on humans but didn't look overly perturbed by them. I saw a sign asking visitors not to feed them and I didn't see anyone feeding them, but the cats definitely were checking out people's hands, when they weren't snoozing. I was impressed by how clean the park was and generally well-maintained, with the exception of the occasional broken bench. It's a great place to have a rest and people watch.

I left that little bit of paradise and headed up Av. Republica de la Indie, past the zoo on the left. On the right I was passing Palermo Chico, apparently a very exclusive neighborhood. It was definitely quiet and the buildings were all in the good shape, but there was an amazing amount of dog poop on the sidewalks, worse than I've seen anywhere else in BsAs. I will say I was on the sidewalk next to the zoo and opposite all the apartment entrances, so maybe all those rich people considered the zoo sidewalk fair game for their dogs? I finally crossed over; it was just too much to deal with.

I crossed the Av del Libertador and headed for the Japanese Gardens. To get there, I had to cross through Parque Tres de Febrero, a really nice little wooded area. It was spotless; I didn't see a piece of trash anywhere. No benches or paved pathways either, but lots of shaded grass. There were teenagers, sitting around in packs, smoking and giggling and generally enjoying themselves.
It was irresistible so I had a quick lie-down and gazed up through the leaves.

By the time I got to the Japanese Garden, it had closed (at 6pm) so I caught a cab home; I was definitely getting too much sun! It was my last dinner in BsAs, and I wanted some steak. I asked a few locals where I could get a good lomo (filet) with some provoleto, my new favorite dish of grilled cheese, and decided to go to Don Julio in Palermo. I didn't show up until 9:15, but there was a table available outside and I took it. A waiter speaking English materialized, which was both helpful and a teeny bit disappointing; working through the language is half the fun.

As planned, I had the provoleta, and a lomo with a green salad, along with a glass of Malbec (of course). I took my time, which is easy to do in BsAs. It seems that if you're sitting at a table, you pretty much own it, and the waiters don't give you the eye to make you leave. By 10:15, there were a half dozen people waiting for tables and the staff were bringing two-tops outside and putting them into odd corners to seat people. By 10:45, I was out of there, walking home in the warmish evening, too stuffed to even get an ice cream!


January 11 - Flip Flops to Snow Shoes

Picture of the Day

Thanks for all the emails, yes I made it home fine. It's a haul from Buenos Aires to the Boston suburbs - 24 hours door-to-door - but both flights were on-time and uneventful. I saw Craig off to Ushuaia and his Antarctic adventure early Thursday morning, and his ship steamed out of port on Saturday afternoon. I probably won't communicate with him again until the 23rd; calls via satellite phone are USD3.00 per minute, and emails cost USD1.00 per kilobyte.

A bit of culture shock coming home. Friday afternoon I was having my last dulce de leche ice cream in 95-degree sunshine, then Saturday afternoon I was navigating the ice on my driveway, and today - after 6 inches of snow overnight - I was raking the roof and shoveling snow (in the interest of full disclosure, the above photo was taken in December, but frankly raking snow off one's roof looks the same no matter when it happens). I just wonder how long it will take for my tan to fade.

I'll post tonight about the parks in Palermo, San Telmo on a weekday, and final observations about BsAs. I have laundry to do first!


January 8 - 9 Offline in South America

Picture of the Day

I'm going to take a break from posting on Thursday and Friday January 8-9 for the simple reason that I won't have a computer (and I'm not paying internet cafe access fees here in BsAs).

Craig is heading down to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina early Thursday morning. He'll spend two days there, then board an expedition ship on Saturday to participate in a floating photography workshop in the waters around Antarctica, and he's taking his MacBook with him.

Here's his ship...

Nifty, hm? I however will stay in BsAs until Friday night when I'll catch a night flight to Boston via Atlanta. I'll post a best-of list over the weekend.

Craig won't have access while at sea, but I think I've convinced him to write short posts to Word and edit some photos suitable for Blogger to post when he returns (not until January 25th, sorry). If you'd like to see that, post a comment voicing your support. If he doesn't think anyone's interested, he won't do it!

So I'll sign off for a couple of days. If any of my TripAdvisor forum friends in BsAs would like to meet up, email me at valyn.perini@gmail.com, and I'll pick it up on my phone. I'll be around until Friday 6pm local time.

January 7 - Sunburnt in Puerto Madero

Picture of the Day

Port revitalization projects generally don't get me going, but I'd read enough about Puerto Madero that made me think it was someplace I should see. In retrospect, I don't know why I thought that. I've been to London dozens of times since Docklands was developed and I've never been, and still don't feel the need to go see it.

But anyway, we went. BsAs can be a claustrophic place (especially in the heat), and the thought of an open horizon was pretty attractive. Plus it wasn't quite so hot today (right at 90 F), and I figured it would be a nice place to go to lunch and take some photos.

We took the opportunity to ride the subte, BsAs' subway. We're right around the corner from the Agüero station on the D line, and that line (like all of them) originates/terminates at Plaza de Mayo, the main central plaza of BsAs. Mostly we've been walking because our apartment is so centrally located, and sometimes taking a taxi in the evening. But from the west side of Barrio Norte to Puerto Madero is a haul, so the subte it was.

It's dirt cheap (at 90 centavos, less than USD.30 per ride), an absolute deal when compared to Boston or Atlanta or London or just about anywhere else. The trains were clean, they ran often, and the system uses the refillable magnetic cards you swipe to enter. We rode both the D line and the original subte line, the A that still has its wooden cars. Craig surreptitiously (just in case the policia didn't like it) took some photos.

The D line (Agüero station)

The A line with the old wooden cars (quaint but hot!) at the Peru station

After an uneventful ride into town, we exited onto the Plaza de Mayo, a big open plaza ringed by important buildings - the glowing red sandstone Casa Rosado (the presidential palace but no longer the presidential residence), the Catedral Metropolitana, the sixth cathedral on this site since BsAs was founded, the Cabildo, the headquarters of the city council for several hundred years - all anchored by the Pirámade de Mayo, more an obelisk than a pyramid, in the center of the Plaza (for you Evita fans out there, this is where the shirtless ones massed and demanded her husband - oh right, she had one - be released from prison).

We skirted the Plaza and headed east for the port, no small task given the several very wide roads that run between Plaza de Mayo and Puerto Madero. We made it, and strolled down the broad walk the runs alongside the canal between the mainland and portside. It was nice - sunny but breezy without much humidity. There's not much greenery out there, but lots of open space. Lots of cranes too, rising out of big holes in the ground or attached to half-built skyscrapers. I understand after the peso was devalued in 2003 that buying property in BsAs was a deal for Euro- and dollar-holders, so lots of money was sunk into Puerto Madero to meet the condo/apartment demand. I also understand that Puerto Madero is for people who like to sit on couches on restaurant terraces until the sun comes up, live in brand new high-rises and shop at upscale stores, but I wonder what's going to happen now that the worldwide economy is suffering? The peso is still cheap but not like it used to be and credit is hard to get everywhere.

Some images of Puerto Madero (along with the picture of the day, above):

Anyway, we strolled until we got to DF, a Mexican place that had been recommended. If La Biela was our first average meal, this was our first below-average meal. I was prepared for non-US Mexican (after all, we're not in the US) but I was not prepared for a chicken mole casserole that tasted like it had a shortbread crust - I've eaten chocolate cookies that were less sweet. But we got through it, and will console ourselves by revisiting El Sanjuanino tonight for dinner (see January 2 post).

Our adventure of the day - a taxi driver who heard Callao when we said Gallo. His advice to us, after going about 10 blocks in the wrong direction then looking at the map we gave him, was to write our destination down and hand it to the driver. Probably worth doing, next time!

January 6 - Living in an Oven

Picture of the Day:

First off, we'd like to say that we know we're lucky to have the wherewithal to escape, however briefly, the current snow and ice in the US northeast, but holy cow it was hot here on Tuesday, January 6! Thankfully the humidity was not too high, but it was 95 F with a hot wind blowing. Not the best day to wander the streets of a sultry city in the southern hemisphere, but a pretty good one to be a footloose tourist.

We had to change our normal routine and get up in time to get out of the apartment so the cleaner could come in (there's that lucky part again). I left a badly translated written request for Josefina to do our laundry too (she probably laughed at it but she did the laundry), and we headed out early so I could shoot at the Recoleta cemetery with my beloved Holga. [A note about our photography - we are both committed amateur photographers, but Craig shoots mostly digital so all the photos on this blog were taken with one of his digital cameras. I shoot film with a Holga, a cheap plastic camera, which means I can't post any shots of mine because I have to wait to get home to process the film.]

Shooting a cemetery with a Holga is practically a cliché but the Recoleta cemetery is unique in its overwhelming-ness (is that a word?). We knew it was going to be hot so we got there early and it was great - still cool (sort of) and on a Tuesday morning in January, practically empty of people. We had a map but we never looked at it; we just wandered, avoiding the few living humans (and Evita's grave), preferring the quiet company of the dead in shaded corners, looking for interesting sculptures or mausoleum construction, sitting on benches or steps, trying not to think about how all the feral cats survive there.

Recoleta cemetery is a place that definitely rewards those who look to the sky...

I loved the light on this statue.

It was interesting the decisions that have been made by families about both the ornamentation and the materials of their mausoleum. Some of the biggest and most ornate were constructed of soft stone that has not stood well the test of time, perhaps an indication of ego over intellect, but there were some really beautiful statuary that kept their integrity, generally made of marble or granite or perhaps some hard indigenous material.

Mausolea at the Recoleta cemetery go from the sublime...

... to the piteous.

Some of them were beautifully kept up, even when the most recent occupant of the mausoleum died decades ago, and some had obviously been abandoned. I suppose everyone believes their descendants will care enough about them to honor their memories as well as physically honor their remains, but it doesn't always happen that way. Wandering between Recoleta cemetery's ornate and expensive remembrances and forlorn and forgotten ones got us pondering ideas one normally doesn't on vacation.

But the rising heat chased us out of our heads and out of the cemetery and into our first average meal. La Biela is a cafe on Quintana at Ortiz in Recoleta, about a block away from the cemetery's main entrance, with a huge outdoor terrace under a beautiful old gum tree. There were lots of what looked like BsAs ladies-who-lunch sitting at the tables with demi-tasse cups in front them them, chatting away. We found ourselves a shady table and ordered cold drinks and just sat to cool off. After awhile, we decided to stay for lunch. The food wasn't bad - it was just ordinary. Cold proscuitto and cheese on pita, with what I thought were pretty good french fries but Craig didn't agree.

For those of you who've been asking what we look like, here we are at our table at La Biela:

(Luigi, we have a picture of Craig shot especially for you on its way to your email).

After we cooled down a bit, we decided it was the perfect day for a museum, so we went to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes which wasn't far away. We understood they had a photography exhibit up, and were interested to see what was in their collection. The photography collection was small and, as expected, consisted mostly of Argentinian photographers, although there were a few non-Argentinians including Kertész, a Hungarian and one of our favorites. The subject matter of the Argentinian photographers was of historical events in Argentina - the mother's marches, campaigns, parades, etc. There wasn't much in the way of the photographers' individual oeuvres, and we found that a bit disappointing.

But the most disappointing part of the photography exhibit is that it was hidden on the top floor of the museum, up a poky staircase with no signage, and it was HOT up there so of course it was empty. At this museum at least, photography doesn't get much respect.

And to end the day? Italian, of course, in honor of all the Italian immigrants in BsAs. After some research, we decided to go to Filo in Microcentro, just near Florida. We were early again (for Buenos Aires) and at first were a bit put-off by the life-size mannequin near the bar wearing a negligée (top only), arranged in a very suggestive position. Plus the neighborhood was a bit different than what we had been used to Barrio Norte/Recoleta (especially the strip club next door advertising pole dancing and 'affairs'), but we soldiered on, having faith in our research and references. And boy, were we rewarded!

The menu was in both Spanish and Italian, but with the help of the Saltshaker food dictionary (an absolute must for any foodies coming to BsAs even though it's too big to put in a pocket) and our patient waitress, we had a great dinner. We started with a sort of stacked salad of arugula, tomatoes and brie on piadina, an Italian flatbread, with olive oil and herbs. Craig had ricotta gnocchi with a meat sauce and emiliano cheese - I can't find a translation but I'm pretty sure it's a hard salty cheese. Whatever, it was super. The gnocchi were soft and puffy (not potato) and the sauce was satisfying. I had ravioli with butternut squash, sage and parmesan. This was excellent - the pasta had the right feel to it, the squash was not overcooked, and there was lots of sage (one of my favorites). But it wasn't what I ordered - I ordered ravioli with a meat, mushroom and tomato sauce, and the waitress repeated it back to me. But she didn't speak English and I wasn't interested in going through a laborious back-and-forth when I had something in front of me that smelled great! And it was all accompanied by a Gascon malbec rosé.

We thought about taking a stroll down Calle Florida but decided we didn't want to and cabbed it home and to bed, dreaming about another great day in Buenos Aires.


January 5 - Art

Picture of the day:

Art is a big part of our lives, and we were lucky enough in this apartment rental to have a landlord who's a Buenos Aires-based artist. Her name is Silvana Lacarra, and her studio is actually above the rental apartment. The apartment itself acts as an extension of a gallery, with her work hung on the walls, art books in the office and intuitively pleasing placement of interesting things around the apartment (see the picture of the day above, and a few below).

Interesting aperitif glasses....

Great stained-glass interior doorway...

Re-purposed shoe-stretcher (used for a door stop).

Below is some of Silvana's work; there are nine of these pieces in various colors hung in rooms around the apartment. She works in formica and wood; these are two to three feet in diameter. I quite like them; circles have always appealed to me.

Some previous work by Silvana, also in the apartment...

In keeping with the art theme of today's posting, we went to MALBA, the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires.

It was quite hot today, in the low 90s F, but not much humidity. The neighborhood around MALBA is very green (and very wealthy we're guessing), so it was a visual relief from the typical cityscape of BsAs to walk to the museum.

Ivy-covered houses...

An interesting facade...

We lunched late in the museum's restaurant Café des Arts, which was both convenient and good. Another menu in English with a non-English speaking server, so lots of pointing and polite conversation. I've figured out that saying 'entiendo' (I understand) is helpful for both me and the server. Craig had a very nice steak sandwich (I guess he didn't get enough steak last night) and I had a tartine with a tapenade of olives and eggplant. The side salad with each dish was welcome indeed!

Rose for lunch (what else in mid-summer in BsAs?), overlooking the park at MALBA!

After lunch, we toured the museum, and found the items from their permanent collection of Latin American artwork from the last century quite impressive.

I was especially taken with Xul Solar's work (here's an English bio, and here's the Spanish one from his museum in BsAs). My favorite in their collection of his work was called 'Cintas' (ribbons), painted in 1924. I've searched but I can't find a version of it online; you'll just have to take my word for it that it was a lovely Surrealist watercolor. There's a museum here in Buenos Aires that's devoted to his work, and conveniently, it's only about two blocks away from our apartment, and is on our list of places to go before we leave.

Another big hit for me was the work of Julio Le Parc, especially his Formes en contorsions sur trame. It was in motion, with small motors turning little arms that moved circles made of aluminum strips. Mesmerizing, and being married to an engineer, I wondered if there was a way we could re-create it on a smaller scale (given that it's about eight feet across). Craig the engineer said he'll think about it.

After a warm walk back to the apartment (with a stop for grocery basics - rose, water!), we decided to picnic in for dinner, for a change from eating out. A nice, relaxing evening after a wonderful, visually stimulating day!


January 4 - San Telmo Feria and a Parrilla

Craig's picture of the day

So our new normal is to sleep in, and that's what we did again on Sunday January 4. It was hot (about 90 F), so we put on some sunscreen and headed out.

It's the quietest BsAs has been since we arrived. There was some traffic noise from Av Sante Fe, the big thoroughfare two blocks north of us, but our little street was lifeless in the early afternoon.

Still, hailing a cab was no problem. The black-and-yellow radio taxis are everywhere, and as we were locking our apartment door, one came down the street. I hailed it, New York-style, and we hopped in. We asked the driver to take us to Plaza Dorrego in the San Telmo neighborhood so we could visit the big market that takes place there on the weekends. It's a combo of arts, antiques, junk and performing artists and it's a Buenos Aires must-see, according to all the guides, blogs, etc. We're generally not market goers at home, but when in Rome...

It was definitely crowded but not suffocatingly so. I'm guessing it's because all the locals are at the beach, and lots of people aren't traveling like they used to due to the economy; I have not found BsAs to be overly-crowded in this supposed high season. New York over Christmas, Washington DC in June, Provincetown in the fall, now these are crowded with wall-to-wall people, full restaurants and packed stores.

A side street near the market...

There was, as expected, lots of leather and gaucho-related goods, like hats, purses, stirrups, and even saddles. There were also lots of antiques (and I use that term loosely) glassware, china and seltzer bottles (see Craig's pic of the day up top). I love the blue and green of those old bottles, but I like my souvenirs to be functional, and not just gather dust on a shelf. I'll have to think more about these. I'd need some CO2 cartridges to make the fizz but I'd also need a functioning bottle to put the cartridges in.

Summer hats...

We needed to get out of the heat and get off our feet, so we ducked into Bar Dorrego, right on the plaza, for some refreshment. I like the bars here - it's first-come, first-served for tables, and there was a great table for two right by the door, so I grabbed it and a waiter showed up in a bit.

It was great people-watching, both in the bar and outside in the square. We saw, for the first time, a lot of Americans, but generally there were more Spanish-speakers than anyone else. After beer and peanuts, we were ready to get back out in it.

Cold cervesa and peanuts - a great snack!

No old neighborhood in BsAs is complete without its old church, and San Telmo is no different. This is a shot of one of the towers of Iglesia Nuestra Señora de Belén.

We caught another cab home and lazed around in the early evening. We had unwisely skipped lunch (it seemed too hot to eat at the time), so driven by our stomachs, we decided to try an Argentinian steakhouse, a parrilla. Our landlord recommended Don Julio in the Palermo neighborhood, so we thought we'd try it. We showed up for dinner early (for BsAs); restaurants here generally begin serving at 8pm (no 6pm early-bird specials!), but don't really get going until after 9pm. Sure enough, we were the first people in the restaurant at 8:15pm, and by 9pm, there were three other tables occupied, all by tourists. Oh well, we were hungry!

The waiter brought us an English-language menu but spoke no English, so we did a lot of pointing. Here's what we had:

Provoleta - grilled provolone cheese with basil. This is my absolute new favorite food! What's not to like?
An arugula, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Asado de tira - a half order of ribs, cut cross-wise
Asado mariposa - a big honking sirloin, butterflied
Chorizo sausage - it doesn't taste this good in Boston!
Shoestring potatoes

All accompanied by a Malbec of course, the red wine of Argentina (the only white wine this place had was champagne). We drank a 2006 Trivento Golden Reserve and it was a great accompaniment to the steaks.

We staggered out of the restaurant (now nearly full) and decided to walk home, maybe 20 blocks or so. It was 10:00 and still light out, and we knew more or less where we were going. About halfway home, we crossed Plaza Guemes, a large plaza with a larger church anchoring one end - the Basilica del Espíritu Santo. More importantly (at that particular time), there was an ice cream place next door! I had my second dulce de leche ice cream and Craig had fruitilla (strawberry). They don't mess around with ice cream here - the portions are huge. We keep ordering smaller and smaller cones, but the servers just pile the ice cream on. But we did our best to finish off our servings, providing us a sugar-burst for the final several blocks to home. We retired to our terrace to enjoy the night breeze before turning in.

From the terrace recliner...

Saturday January 3 - Dinner at Casa Saltshaker

In our research about Buenos Aires, much has been made of the cuisine of the city, and we compiled quite a list of restaurants to try, including a place called Casa Saltshaker.

Casa Saltshaker is a supper club, that is, a 'private' restaurant run out of someone's house. In the States they're illegal (in BsAs too I think [see the chef's comment below]) - any place preparing food in exchange for money is generally subject to kitchen/food inspection, employment law, etc., - but they exist, especially on the west coast and around New York. There used to be one in Boston and we got on the reservation list (I had to be vouched for before they would take my reservation), but then they stopped serving, and I was disappointed we didn't get the opportunity to try it.

So when I heard about Casa Saltshaker in BsAs, I jumped at the chance. I emailed the proprietors (the host is Argentinian Peruvian and the chef is American) and got on the waitlist for dinner on Saturday January 3. They had someone cancel so we got in.

Going to a stranger's house for dinner with a bunch of people one doesn't know is an odd sensation. There were ten of us for dinner, with the chef, the host and a helper in the ordinary kitchen of an ordinary apartment in an ordinary neighborhood. You had to be social (not at all hard for me) because when you walk through the door you're handed a drink and are immediately surrounded by your dinner companions.

After some cocktail chatter, we sat down at the table. Everyone around the table was a native English speaker - eight Americans, a Brit and an Irish woman. This is vacation season for the locals - they're all at the beach because schools are out for the summer - so this time of year, Casa Saltshaker generally serves tourists. I was hoping to meet some natives, but maybe next time. Ages ranged from twenty-something to seventy-something; all were well-traveled and interesting people. Most had had friends refer them, and others (like us) found the place through online references (I found them through TripAdvisor).

The chef talked us through each of the courses, and I've listed them here, along with my translations (Dan, if I've gotten anything wrong, feel free to comment!). Each dinner has a theme, generally based on some historical occurrence that takes place around the date of the dinner, and the theme of our dinner was the Teapot Dome scandal, a land grab scandal that took place in the US midwest under the Harding administration in the 20s. For the dinner, every course had tea (the tea name is in quotations in the list below) in the dish, generally not used as a sauce but as a spice.

Ensalada de Arvejas y Espinaca "Menta Primavera"
Salad of Fresh Peas and Spinach with vinaigrette that included a mint tea
Wine - Trapiche Extra Brut

Sopa de Papas "Calma"
Cold potato soup that included some type of calming tea (probably chamomile but I didn't ask)
Wine - Gascon Viognier

Langanelli con Polo "Mercado de la India"
Pasta with Chicken with Indian-spiced tea
Wine - Gascon Rosado

Salmon "Alma China" y Polenta
Salmon with Polenta flavored with a tea that was really good but defies description, sorry
Wine - Alfredo Roca Pinot Noir

Tartita de Duraznos "Rooibos"
Fresh Peach Tart with a Shortbread Crust with an African tea that I swear smelled like cake
Wine - San Felipe Tardio

It was all excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.


Saturday January 3 - Recoleta and the Feria

Craig's picture of the day...

What a blessed thing to sleep in! Gets rid of the jet lag, keeps the energy up, and is absolutely required on vacation. So that's what we did this morning, and I have to confess we didn't rise until 10:30am.

We made some coffee (always an adventure on the first morning in a new rental apartment with an unfamiliar coffee maker), heated up some pastry and set about getting the blog in order. I love to blog but it can be such a time-sink.

We finally set out in the early afternoon for the Feria Plaza Francia, also known as the Recoleta hippy fair. It's really a big market just outside the walls of Cementerio de la Recoleta (more about that later).

I'm not sure why it's called the hippy fair. There were lots of leather stalls (we are in Argentina after all), lots of crocheted goods and the occasional incense seller, but there was also jewelry, clothing and art. We bought some funky carved crayons for me. After all that browsing and shopping, we needed to eat so we bought some lunch from the local vendors and picnicked.

This was just yummy! Called a pan rellano casero (literally bread stuffed homemade), it's like a calzone in that various ingredients are baked inside the bread. This one had cheese, tomatoes and spices, and it was just great. We were hungry enough that we tore into it before we remembered to take the photo (and this was our second!).

Fortified by lunch, we braved the crowds and the heat to wander in the cemetery. I won't go through the description of the place (click here to read more from Wikipedia), but I will say it's definitely unique. We've been into some crowded and ornate cemeteries before (Montreal and Paris come to mind) but I've never seen anything like this for just the sheer number of mausolea side by side, marching down little avenues and alleyways. We took some photos but this is one of those places that even the best photography won't be able to do it justice.

All types of cemetery art - angels, logs, saints, busts...

... a tenement for the departed.

We noticed a few things - generally each mausoleum has some wrought iron doors with glass or plexiglass in them so you can look in and see how the family of the deceased has 'decorated' - usually a photo of the deceased, some flowers, a vase. But what really caught our attention was the fact that the caskets were visible in the lower portion of each mausoleum - just right there! Fascinating.

So after that, we needed to get our first fix of BsAs' famous dulce de leche, so we went to a Freddo's just near the cemetary (Freddo's is a chain in BsAs that serves ice cream, coffee and pastries). Craig had vanilla and strawberry, and the flavors were very sweet, too sweet for me, but the dulce de leche ice cream was perfect.

An observation about language - while we speak enough Spanish to be polite, we are certainly far from proficient speakers, and employees in most small shops and stores here don't speak English. But so far we haven't had any problems. We do a lot of pointing, say please and thank you in Spanish, and pay attention to context so we can make an educated guess at both what's being said to us and what's expected of us. Most people here have been patient and pleasant because I'm guessing they see we're making an effort.

Tonight, dinner in a private house with 10 people we don't know! More about that tomorrow.


Friday January 2 - Arrival and Recovery

Craig's picture of the day

We set out from Boston about 11am on New Year's Day to head to the airport. It was a brisk 14 degrees F, clear and sunny. We left all our winter clothes (gloves, scarves, coats) in the car and made a dash for the airport terminal; no need for gloves in Buenos Aires! (Only Craig packed lots of winter gear for his sojourn to Antarctica.)

The flight to Atlanta and the connecting flight to Buenos Aires (BsAs) were both uneventful. The flight to BsAs was half full, so we had a bit of room to stretch out during the 10-hour flight.

Our first view of Argentina

At the airport in BsAs, we collected our luggage and waited for Daniel the driver to pick us up. The drive into the city was a quiet one, as Daniel spoke very little English and we speak very little Spanish. But he knew where to take us, and when we arrived at our apartment, he called the agency to let them know we were there.

Our apartment is near the intersection of Charcas and Gallo, in the Barrio Norte section of BsAs. I can't really characterize the neighborhood as I'm not familiar with the city, but it's sandwiched between the more well-known neighborhoods of La Recoleta and Palermo.

The apartment is big, with a large living room/dining room/kitchen, along with a bedroom, a dressing room and an office. There's a balcony looking over the street and a HUGE terrace on the roof (one flight up). All that plus wi-fi!

Our apartment living room...

...kitchen area...

...living room windows with wonderful light...

...door to street balcony...

...view from balcony...

...and the roof terrace.

After a nap and a shower, we headed out for lunch, strolling down Avenida Sante Fe, a popular shopping street in the city. Using info from the TripAdvisor BsAs forum and a few other sources, we had lunch at El Cuartito. Pizza with ham, mozzarella and red peppers, garnished with whole green olives. Really good, especially since we were starving!

Then we ran some errands. Here's a question - why don't the English and the Argentinians use wash cloths? There are none in our apartment, and we couldn't find any to buy in the two stores we stopped in. We had to go to the grocery to get some coffee, milk, wine, etc., so we found a shower sponge. That will have to do, but really, what's the deal with wash cloths?

Mid-afternoon cafe break.

At dusk, we had a glass of rose on our roof terrace, then went to a restaurant about two blocks from us called El Sanjuanino. We had our first empanadas, then we shared locro, a provincial corn-based stew with corn, beans, sausage, tripe and pigs feet, and matambre arrollado, flank or skirt steak pounded thin (or butterflied), grilled then rolled up with various ingredients. To serve it, they cut slices of the meat, then top the slice with a spicy tomato sauce. It was great!

We were the only Americans in the restaurant, and had researched the menu before we got there, but we were still diving into the food dictionary we brought to clarify certain words on the Spanish-only menu (our waiter didn't speak any English either). We were trying to be discreet, but a woman from the next table came over to us and asked if we needed any assistance - really nice of her. She was a local, but spoke perfect English and said she was pleased to see foreigners trying local places. She approved of our menu selections, and was actually impressed we were trying the locro, given how provincial a dish it is (especially the pigs feet part!). It was a happy way to end a great meal!


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Eight Days in Buenos Aires by Valyn Perini is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.