Spring in Buenos Aires – Beautiful!

10 02 2012

Eray in Parque 3 de Febrero

One element of our Patagonian odyssey that has been consistently spectacular has been the weather! And these last two days in Buenos Aires are no exception. We have two consecutive clear days in the mid-80’s with low humidity.

I’m still getting the most of the breakfast buffet at Castelar Hotel! I ensure I get down there early and enjoy my favorite meal of the day. Saskia arrives, as do Elwin, Angelique, and others. Orange juice, fresh fruit, sausage and some scrambled eggs are something I’ve missed.

There are no plans for today. Tonight, we are all headed to the airport for mid-evening flights. So my usual crew of Angelique, Eray, Elwin and I look at the options and make plans. Christoff has departed for a few days visiting with acquaintances in Chile.

Eray is extending her time in Argentina, and she has arranged for lodging at Home Hotel, in the Palermo neighborhood. She says it’s really nice and encourages us to check it out for a late morning coffee or cool beverage. Sounds good! We also look at options and because it’s late spring, we decide to walk back through some of the beautifully designed parks in Buenos Aires.

We catch a taxi and head to the Home Hotel. The Palermo neighborhood is completely different from any we’ve seen. While it’s urban, it’s very residential. It’s quiet. There are cozy, European style and up and coming neighborhood restaurants and cafes. The Home Hotel is nestled in amongst all of this. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it. Once past the front counter, one walks through a tall atrium and into a rear area complete with patio, garden and pool.

We settled into some chairs out by the garden and ordered some cool drinks.

Angelique and I get a shot of ourselves out back…

It’s very contemporary and refreshingly relaxing. Some of teh guests had bathrobes supplied by the hotel. The menu actually had breakfasts with eggs!

It was tempting to stay there for hours. But we only had today. So, we departed to walk amongst the lovely parks and the blooming jacaranda trees.

Walking past the Centro Islamico, a large Mosque, we reached Parque 3 de Febrero. This is one of the famous parks designed by French architect Carlos Thays. His handiwork is everywhere as it is so familiarly European. Carlos Thays not only designed the parks but had trees and shrubs brought in from all over. Today, these parks and the flora he planted are testament to his genius. Portenos enjoy his creations each day.

We stroll through the greenery. There are lots of birds. Geese and swans ply the ponds. Gregarious parrots cackle above, perching next to their favorite nuts and seeds, which they consume with great pleasure.

Portenos make the most of the parks. Jogging, rollerblading, bicycling or walking, they are enjoying the open spaces.

There are rose gardens and so many flowering trees.

It seems to me that every tree is in bloom at once!

We are the lucky ones, we get to enjoy this.

 

In this video you get to hear the birds singing, see the flowers everywhere, and even catch some women with thermoses of Yerba Mate walking by. Not to mention my travel mates!

And below is one of the flowers on a magnolia tree. Really lush! Later in the day, our whole group gathered at a restaurant near the hotel to celebrate our time here. And to say our good-byes. We’ll be staying in touch. We had a memorable time in Argentina and Chile!

Gorgeous Magnolia Tree flowers.





Buenos Aires in Bloom…

8 02 2012

We depart Ushuaia for Buenos Aires in the evening. Aerolineas Argentinas has not recovered from the strike. Things are still backed up, and there is some confusion about which plane we are to board as now two are headed for Buenos Aires. Ours is an aging MD-80. There is an in-flight “meal,” but guess what? Opening my meal box, another dreaded ham and cheese sandwich is lurking inside. I cannot eat it, and give it away! In Buenos Aires, we’re staying at the Castelar Hotel again.

Morning dawns very warm and beautifully sunny. I scramble downstairs to the breakfast area. And what awaits is a breakfast feast for my eyes! The Castelar Hotel has a breakfast buffet with a much wider selection than most of our lodgings on this trip. Eggs, bacon, sausage, real orange juice, fresh fruit, all things I love in the morning! This day starts off nicely!

Today we’re going to explore Buenos Aires by bicycle and subway! There is a subway station right near our hotel. We pay our fare and wait for the next train. When it arrives, it sure is something! It’s positively ancient, a living fossil. I’d say right out of Victorian England! It’s outside is wooden, the inside is wooden, and the windows are open. Once inside, the doors clang shut – no warning whatsoever. It jerks forward, and is off to the next stop. Passengers are of many different niches. Professionals, blue collar workers and students.

We reach our stop, walk outside and into the warmth. It’s already over 70 degrees, headed to 85 degrees today. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Since we were here last time, the flowers, and flowering trees, have bloomed and are peaking! The avenues are lined with Jacaranda trees. These trees have beautiful purple flowers.

We walk the cobblestoned streets to the bicycle rental shop. Once there we perform the obligatory rental ritual and begin the process of adjusting the bikes for ourselves.

We’re to bike down by the Puerto Madero area, on the water, and then head to the Costanera Sur Nature Reserve.

The Costanera Sur Nature Reserve sits beyond Puerto Madero on the Rio De La Plata River.

A lot of adjustments have to be made…and I think it’s funny because most of us are Dutch, and the bikes have KLM Royal Dutch Airlines ads over the rear wheels!

We ride through the old section of town with narrow streets, and then have to cross the busy boulevard, over the canal and then to the reserve. The reserve has a number of trails which lead out to a view of the Rio de la Plata.

We see many Portenos enjoying the warmth and sun. Men jogging in Buenos Aires don’t wear t-shirts. They go shirt-less. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good idea. We reach the river and there is a 50-boat sailboat race going on.

So some folks have leisure time and money to spend in Buenos Aires!

There are some interesting creatures taking advantage of the refuge.

We see plenty of parrots. Green parrots are gregarious and noisy, as well as busy eating nuts in the trees!

Later on, we see some iguanas being heckled by birds. It looks like the iguanas were trying to steal eggs?

It was time to return the bikes. But it’s a Friday and now rush hour. Buenos Aires drivers are seriously aggressive, yet we’ve got to wind through many lanes and intersections. All I know is I want to stay behind Saskia, our leader, because she knows the route!

Many twists and turns later and with sweat beginning to run down my face, with all hands still safe, we make it back to the rental shop.

Tonight we see a tango show. I won’t go into too much detail, but while the dancers were athletic, gifted, and talented, the show was outdated and stale for my taste. I was impressed by the dancing, but everything else seemed like a put on.

After the show some of us went for a drink at a local restaurant. It was Portenos doing what they do. There was hardly a seat to be had, it was past midnight, and even children were in abundance! Late night festivities are a ritual!





Buenos Aires – First Impressions

1 12 2011

We had Sunday afternoon to ourselves to explore vibrant Buenos Aires, a city of 13 million situated on the muddy colored Rio de la Plata. Residents refer to themselves at Portenos, or “people of the port.”

It was a warm, sunny late spring day. Saskia gave us our roommate assignments and we settled in. My roommate was Christof, from Belgium, and I was thankful as he is a great traveling companion! During the journey he earned the moniker “Universal Translator,” as time after time, he could communicate on a number of linguistic levels. After making acquaintances, some of us agreed to meet in the Hotel Castelar lobby and head out.

Ivo, Rod, Eray, Elwyn, Angelique and Christof

Those of us that explored that first day would stick together the rest of the trip. We were myself (American), Elwin (Dutch), Eray (Turkish), Christof (Belgian), Angelique (Dutch), and Ivo (Dutch). All single. As a side note, aside from two not-married couples, the whole group was there as singles!

The one plan for the day was to meet for dinner to experience the famous Argentine beef. But for the afternoon, Saskia suggested a walk to a classic Beunos Aires barrio called San Telmo, to check out the Antiques Market.

The area around the hotel had me concerned at first, as did some of the area home to the older French-style government buildings. Signs of political unrest abounded. First story shops on the buildings were not just closed, but armored shutters protected them – and these were mostly splattered with graffiti. All the graffiti and lack of people gave it an apocalyptic feel. One place that was open was actually a political party action center.

I reassured myself it was Sunday. On Monday businesses would open.

First, we check out the nearby district, which is full of French style architecture and is home to government buildings. On the way we pass some kind of “Occupy Buenos Aires” on the Avenue 9 de Julio.

We see the Congress, Justice Ministry, Finance Ministry and the Casa Rosada, or “Pink House,” where heads of state used to live, and make speeches from the balconies. This area demonstrates clearly the ambitions of Buenos Aires a kind of Madrid or Paris in the new hemisphere.

Indeed, one cannot help but feel it is truly a Euro city in America.

The Plaza de Mayo is surrounded by government ministries, and at one end is the Pink House. The area surrounding is called microcentral.

Eva Peron would deliver her famous speeches from the balcony of the Pink House. It’s the official seat of the executive branch of government, though the president lives elsewhere. It is open for the public to tour.

We stepped inside but the wait to tour was too long, especially for an English guide.

Inside, the walls are covered with images of famous, or infamous, Argentine political figures such as Evita or Che Guevara.

"Don't cry for me Argentina!"

San Telmo is the oldest barrio in the city. In its early days the waterfront was not far from here. I felt like I was in Europe. Narrow, cobblestone streets are lined with southern European style buildings. First stories are usually cafes, antique shops or restaurants with apartments above. Not everything is in good shape – and there is a fair amount of graffiti. Yet it’s got a seasoned feel to it – definitely authentic, tons of character!

Sidewalks are challenging to negotiate anywhere in the city. They are not always smooth, and often riddled with gaps. You need to be looking down as well as forward!

I enjoyed these narrow, cobblestone streets. Tucked in amongst were various churches of varying levels of ornateness.

All along you see lovely European style apartments, but often some are in

bad need of repair. Soon we came to the antiques market. It seemed to stretch forever and I think it’s the busiest/biggest one I’ve ever seen. Although the shops in the buildings sold antiques, the vendors on the streets mostly didn’t offer much more than touristy or souvenir stuff. There were the few selling some old Argentine collectibles, though.

No matter, it was fun to people watch and take in the lovely neighborhood.

People were in a generally gregarious mood! One thing I noticed this first day was something I’d heard about. I’d heard Argentina was ethnically European. This was borne out by what I saw this day and elsewhere. Though everybody speaks Spanish, ethnicity showed the Italian, Welsh, Spanish, and general European roots. Lighter skinned, tall and lots of blonde and redheads! Argentina encouraged immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries and it shows.

TLC needed!

We stopped first for a refreshment at a coffee house inside an indoor food market. Later, we got a table at a cafe on the street near the antiques market. It was here we had our first experience with the Argentine ham and cheese sandwich. I didn’t get one, as I don’t eat ham and cheese. Little did I know this is some kind of national “dish”…we were to encounter it in virtually every corner of the country, it is even served on the airline! I distinctly recall Christof and Elwin remarking, “This bread is awfully dry, and it’s only got one piece of ham and one cheese?” We thought it must be the restaurant, little did we know that IS the way they eat them! I think one of them didn’t even finish theirs and offered it to me but I don’t eat ham & cheese. I ordered a dessert, but the waiter forgot about it. I just held off for the sure-to-be gigantasaourus dinner!

That evening we were to partake in an Argentine ritual – the bife de chorizo – served no earlier than 9:00 p.m. This is a grilled cut of beef, quite huge, most of the time. It does not come with sides. You must order your sides separately. Argentinians consume 56kg of beef per year per citizen. That’s a lot of red meat. And not just the steaks. They consume other parts of the cow as well. They say one reason the beef is so good is because the cows are raised “free,” meaning they roam the flat Pampas region and eat the pampas grass. Nuff said. How do they eat so much red meat and not have all kinds of cancers and diseases? Saskia said studies have shown that one other Argentine indulgence, Yerba Mate, may actually ward off the ills of the un-balanced diet. More on Yerba Mate later!

We sit down and are immediately confused by the menu. The beef comes in various cuts, all written down in Spanish. “Chorizo, Lomo, de ancho, de costilla.” Then there is the matter of how one wants it cooked, but of course the server can’t translate. This is where Saskia came to the rescue, as she knows all the local terms for these issues! When my meal comes the meat is so big, it overlaps my plate. A quarter of it was so raw as to be inedible. Truthfully, I did not find mine all that memorable, except for its size! At the end of the trip, I did have a heavenly steak, however! It was very interesting watching Portenos at the restaurant…passionate, talkative, all indulging in the late-night over eating experience.

A good meal in Argentina is best accompanied with in-country wine. The ubiquitous Argentinian beer, Quilmes, comes in several varieties, all forgettable (click for the Beer Advocate Reviews). For reasons unknown to me, imported Stella Artois seems to be present everywhere, but for this author, who’s become spoiled by the robust packed-with-flavor Pacific Northwest microbrews, it just cannot satisfy. So wine it would be. Argentinian wine is produced in the region of Mendoza, and it’s often Malbec or Malbec blends. It’s delicious, and super cheap! The grapes arrived from France in the 19th Century and spawned a burgeoning wine industry! We did not see Mendoza, but its wineries are certainly hot spots for many visits to Argentina! As an aside, the region is also boasts Aconcagua, at just under 23,000 feet; it’s South America’s tallest peak.