A Travellerspoint blog


Setting Foot in South America: Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires was first established as Ciudad de Nuestra Senora Santa Maria del Buen Ayre (literally "City of Our Lady Saint Mag of the Fair Winds") on February 2, 1536 by a Spanish expedition under Pedro de Mendoza.

We arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, at about 9:30 a.m. We zipped through Customs and went to get our checked bags — and they were there! Yeah, we don't have to wear the same undies for a month! After that we found a cab and took the long ride into this huge city. We drove past lots and lots of poverty stricken high rise tenements; on the other hand, it is green and beautiful with spring foliage. Many trees are not the varieties seen where we live.
Our hotel let us check in at 11, so we got to have a nice hot shower and change clothes. Mid 60 degree F. and just beautiful. And Susie's preferred members card got us an upgrade to a room with a view of the harbor!

Speaking of the harbor, we headed over to get ferry tickets so we can go to Uruguay on Monday...but after a 1 hour wait in line, we were surprised that we needed our passports which were safely stashed in our hotel room safe a few blocks away. So to make a long story short (and it would be long story...), we headed out on our first walking tour of the city. The Plaza San Martin was our destination. First we had lunch in the Plaza Grill, where politicians and presidents go to eat and talk politics. We may have been a tad underdressed, but so were the other 3 people in the place. (Saturday afternoon is apparently a slow day there.)
IMG_2465.jpgThen we viewed the statues and monuments in the Plaza; there is an impressive memorial to the soldiers who died in the Falklands War in the 1980's.
Time for refreshments, so we stopped in Cafe Retiro in the old train station. John had an interesting experience at the men's room; apparently one pays for toilet paper here in public restrooms and someone has to unlock the stall for you.
Next, we went back and got our ferry tickets (end of the long untold story...). That was cause for celebration, so we headed to Cafe Madeleine for some empanadas and glass of Argentinean wine.

After that, we freshened up at our room and headed for dinner. We found a delightful Thai place called Empire. Stuffed, we returned for an early tuck in!

Posted by jeburns55 18:02 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

A Quiet Sunday in the Southern Hemisphere

Buenos Aires is most definitely a city for lovers. Evegrvhere we have observed couples of all ages holding hands while walking sitting on benches in each others arms, and kissing at the bus stop, the park, restaurants...everywhere!

Sunday is a day of rest — unless you are John and Susie on vacation. We were up before 7 a.m. (Why? We could have slept until 9:00...)

Breakfast is part of the deal here, and it was good: 0J, coffee, many versions of croissants and sweet rolls, fruit, and ham and cheese. Then it was off on another walking tour; this time down Calle Florida, a street known as the place you can shop 'til you drop. Nothing is open on Sunday morning, so we viewed a lot of beautiful buildings from the 18th and 19th century. We bopped down to the Plaza de Mayo, a historical place where Buenos Aires was born. A large monument to May 25, 1810 is in the center, dedicating the independence of Argentina. Facing that is the Casa Rosada — that is, the Presidential Palace (it's pink, no kidding) where Eva Peron spoke to the people (and where Madonna sang, "Don't cry for me, Argentina" in the musical movie).
By 11:00, we were at Metropolitan Cathedral for Mass. We had some idea of when they said the Lord's Prayer and that was about it, but what a glorious cathedral!
After Mass, we stepped across the street to tour the Palicio de Gobiemo (formerly where the mayor works) and the Casa de Cultura (once the home of La Prensa, the grand Argentinean newspaper). An English-speaking guide was nice enough to take both of us through a guided tour of both buildings and answer all of our questions.
Lunch was at the wood accented Cafe Tortoni, the city's oldest cafe built in 1858. Then we dropped down to the subway (the "Subte") to take the A line down to the Plaza del Congresso. The subway was built in 1913 and they still use the original wooden-framed, wooden-benched cars! At the next plaza, we viewed the most imposing building in Buenos Aires where the national congress meets. Next to it was a park, a fountain, a large monument with statues.. .the entire area meets the requirements for a notable stop.
The Subte took us back toward our starting point, but we got off at the Peru stop. This is where we took a few minutes to visit an old monastery (the tour was in Spanish, so we didn't take in the entire thing) and the Cabildo, the original seat of city government that was built in 1751.

By that time, we were hot and dry (it got up to the mid 80's) and happily the Cafe Gran Victoria was right outside the Cabildo. After a refreshment — I sampled my first Argentinean beer — we walked back the way we came. Calle Florida was teaming with shoppers and many local crafts were laid out on the street. We were also entertained by musicians, human statues (who are these people who cover themselves with metallic paint?), and tango dancers.
The last stop was the Ii Gran Caffe. We split some bruschetta (the tomato topped bread was good, the anchovy and eggplant...not so good) and a proscuitto ham and mozzarella pizza. That was enough to get us back to the hotel for a hot bath, an ice cream, and bed.

Posted by jeburns55 19:03 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

New Hotel, Same City

Buenos Aires, Argentina

This morning, we packed our bags, at breakfast, and checked out of the Holiday Inn Express. A short taxi ride delivered us to the Hotel Emperador where we could meet with our Vantage Tour group. Since we arrived at 8:00 a.m. and they weren't due to get there until 11:00, we left our bags at the hotel and went for a nice walking tour.
Our "old neighborhood" was the Centro area; now we are in Recoleta. This is a step up in the world of Buenos Aires. About five blocks from our front door, we got to Posadas and Alvear Avenues which are the Buenos Aires equivalent of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Lots of really expensive stores, huge hotels, people in the latest designer fashions — and dozens of dog walkers. Besides stores and hotels, we saw several inviting little parks built around monuments and some foreign embassies (Brazil and France have beautiful, old restored mansions).
Somewhere along the way, we rested and had an espresso coffee. One of the nice things that nearly every coffee house and restaurant does is to give you a little "treat" for free; with our coffee, they brought a little dish with four pastry balls for each of us. Last night at dinner (and the night before), we were served an empanada (hot, meat-stuffed pastry) as soon as we sat down. No charge.
Revitalized with caffeine, we headed for the big stop of the day — Recoleta Cemetery. This is a well-known cemetery for two reasons: one, it is filled with above ground mausoleums that are very elaborate (much like in New Orleans, only more so!); the second reason is that Evita (Eva) Peron is interred there and her grave is a shrine of sorts. We saw too many wonderful statues to photograph. Everything is so well-kept and well- designed.

Our sightseeing done, we walked back to the hotel, checked into our room, and met up with our group. There was an orientation, some questions and answers, and instructions to meet at 4 p.m. if we wanted to go on a bus tour of the city. We met a group of four people from Roseau, Minnesota (one of them is younger than us — she's with her grandmother...otherwise, most folks are quite a bit older than we are...). We also met a foursome from near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
IMG_2734.jpg IMG_2739.jpg
Lunch was at a nearby Italian restaurant (many "Portos," as Buenos Aires residents call themselves, have Italian backgrounds). Once we got back, we napped for a bit and then got on the bus. We drove through several areas that were new to us, and then we stopped at...Recoleta Cemetery! Ah, well, there is a lot to see there, including a lovely chapel next door. Back on the bus and to our last stop: La Boca neighborhood. This is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires. "Boca" means "mouth" and this is where the first port was located; I guess cargo goes into the port like food goes in a mouth? Anyway, many of the homes are colorful old buildings made from corrugated metal, leftover scrap from the wharves that sailors used to put up places to live. And tradition says that they used any leftover paint from the ships, which accounts for the mish-mash of color. Very unique.
Upon our return, the two of us found another Italian place a block away, ate dinner, and now we're ready to curl up and dream about tomorrow...

Posted by jeburns55 21:05 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Let's Tango!

Tango is a social dance and a musical genre that originated in Argentina and Uruguay.

Another day with no "down time." We were up and out after breakfast to head to the Tigre delta, just north of Buenos Aires. Our bus left at the height of morning rush hour, so the 18 mile drive took about an hour. That meant we needed to take a "technical" stop halfway (because there was no biffy on the bus). Just to make that stop more interesting, we parked in front of an ice cream parlor. Well, people often say you shouldn't drink before noon, but no one said you can't have some chocolate chip gelato! So we did.
Once we got to the town of Tigre, we were loaded on to a long, wooden passenger boat. The Tigre delta* is composed of many small islands formed by the silt deposited where the Parana River enters the Rio de la Plata. It is a haven for city people to build their weekend "cabins." A large number of people actually live there all year round as well, which accounts for the river taxis, river school buses, a river postal office, and even a floating river grocery store! We cruised past many homes — large and small, the elementary and high schools, an amusement park, and bars and restaurants.
Included in our trip was lunch at the Gato Blanco ("White Cat"). We sat on the veranda with the folks from Wisconsin (all of them are presently warm and accounted for...) and we had a nice chat. For you Irish Fest goers, one couple has a daughter who dances with a Milwaukee dance school.
On the return trip, some of our group got off the bus downtown to shop at 3 pm.
We, on the other hand, continued back to our room for a bit of a nap. ..because at 5 pm we jumped back on the bus and headed for El Viejo Almacen for TANGO. The shows here involve traditional Argentine-style tango Before we watched, we had to learn — so everyone had a 1 hour tango lesson (champagne was served for those who needed some liquid courage). Then we walked across the street for a 3 course dinner at the restaurant. After dinner, it was back to the dance hall to watch a 2 hour show of dancing, Latin and South American music, and tango ballads. It was long day... enough to tire us out and send us directly to bed upon our return.
We have to rest up for tomorrow!

  • More on the Tigre Delta: The Parana River delta is a 14,000 square kilometer area where thousands of islands and inlets, water channels, rivers and backwaters form a sub-tropical wonderland about twenty miles northeast of Buenos Aires. The Parana is South America's second longest river, after the Amazon. It originates in southeastern Brazil at Paraiba and Grande Rivers, flows 1,600 miles (2,570 km) through Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and when it joins the Uruguay River to form Rio de la Plata estuary, the delta region is known as Tigre. Long before explorers and settlers came into the delta region, the Yaguarete, the American jaguar or tiger, tigre made this area its habitat. Along with mosquitoes, birds, fish, and abundant vegetation, the Yaguarete was a common sight. It attacked humans and cattle and was rightly feared. Now almost extinct, the yaguarete is a national treasure and gives its fierce name and reputation to an area now famous for rest and relaxation.

Posted by jeburns55 22:06 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Head 'em Up, Move 'em Out: Beyond Buenos Aires

An estancia is an Argentinean ranch. These ranches are usually several thousand acres. Gauchos are Argentine cowboys. The horse is the gaucho's most prized possession; we were told that a gaucho would rather share his wife than his horse!

Our guide Susanna rounded up about 50 of our group this morning at 9 a.m. and herded us onto a bus for a long ride out of town. We headed into the pampas ("plains") about 146 km (79 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires to a large estancia (ranch). On the way, we listened to tour leader Sylvia tell us about the politics, culture, economy, and agriculture of Argentina. As we listened, the city turned to suburbs and then to large flat fields. Much like western Iowa and Minnesota, soybeans and corn are planted in long straight rows; cattle dot the pastures; and herds of horses graze on the horizon.
The estancia we visited is owned and operated by a wonderful couple who raise crops, beef (Herefords and Aberdeen Angus) and...polo ponies! We were welcomed at the front gate by a group of five gauchos bearing the Argentine and US flags. Our host Poncho is a retired lawyer. He and his wife hosted a greeting party in the back yard with fine Argentine wines, beers, sodas and fresh baked hot empanadas. Once we were refreshed, Poncho walked us to a covered set of bleachers near the polo grounds where we watched "The Gaucho Games." The five riders competed in a series of four games. The first was a race against time, riding around a series of poles; the second was to catch a small ring (the size of a wedding ring) on a pointed stick while galloping on their horses at full speed; third was to throw a bolo (three rawhide ropes with leather covered stones tied at the ends that are thrown around the legs of running cattle to catch them — the Argentine lasso); and, finally, there was a regular horse race. The winner of two out of the four competitions was Julio Ford, 4th generation Irish-Argentinean! The title of "most elegant" gaucho went to a 78 year old cowboy.
The games were over, and it was time to eat. We were set in a nice air conditioned room and served a multi-course pafilla (barbeque). Each table was set with two kinds of green salads, cold cubed boiled potatoes with parsley, and bread. Then the parade of meat began. Our first serving was a small thick link of sausage. Next were pork ribs. Next, we had chicken. The fourth serving was flank steak and the final course was tenderloin. Poncho challenged us to cut it with our fork: "If you cannot, I will send the cook into the fire!" The cook was safe; the meat was most tender. After all that, were we filled up? Yes, but no matter because to top off our meal, we were all given ice cream and strawberries.
All of us now full and satisfied, it was time for more entertainment. Two gentlemen — one on guitar and the other on accordion, violin, or flute — played music while a very young couple demonstrated a variety of dances. At one point, Susie was asked to waltz and later John was invited to join a group doing...something like a ceili dance.

After the dancing, we said our good-byes to our host and hostess and boarded the bus. Sylvia said her experience has been that everyone nods off on the way back.. .and, true to form, we did! That nap will come in handy, because we will rise at 3:45 a.m. tomorrow morning to get to the airport and fly to Ushuaia in Terra del Fuego, Patagonia, Argentina.

Tomorrow night at this time, we will be sailing for Antarctica...at the end of the earth.

Posted by jeburns55 23:07 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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