Friday, February 20, 2009

More pix posted

It's currently raining and thunderstorming in Buenos Aires (putting a bit of a damper...and adding an element of our original plan of picking up a sandwich and heading to Parque 3 de Febrero). Oh well, I guess we'll have to have lunch at Las Cholas again. Hahahahahahahaha!

Anyway, since the weather outside is frightful, I got a boatload of J's photos posted to our Flickr page. They won't all show up in the slideshow on this page, so click on the link below the slideshow to access Flicker, por favor. Gracias!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Too darn hot

It has been sweltering in Buenos Aires the last two days (i.e. low 90s and humid). Yesterday, we overdid it a bit, tooling around Recoleta seeing the cemetery and visiting a far-flung list of shops without finding anything worth buying. (We did have a nice lunch at Buller's Pub, which brews its own beer. We enjoyed their Hefeweizen along with a tasty, thin-and-crispy-crusted tomato and garlic pizza and a passable Caesar salad.)

Having just discovered the joys of train travel in Buenos Aires (faster and less sweaty), we headed to the main train station in the Retiro neighborhood to ogle the architecture...

...and catch a ride back to our 'hood.

Added bonus: cost us less than 30 cents each to ride. 

Today, we bucked up and hopped on the commuter train to the nearby neighborhood of Nunez to visit River Plate stadium to buy futbol jerseys. The stadium is not only home to one of the best futbol teams in Buenos Aires, but is also a major concert venue. Madonna recently played five sold-out concerts here, and U2 filmed "U23D" here.

Since the stadium was between two train stations, we chose to walk to the Belgrano station for our trip home. This unexpectedly took us through Buenos Aires' Chinatown, a nice treat. We picked up a parasol and some paper lanterns for next to nothing.

Still riding on a Las Cholas high, we headed there for lunch today. We shared a choripan (chorizo sausauge sandwich), a tamale and a humita (kind of a cheesy, corn-bready thing wrapped up like a tamale) two bottles of mineral water and a large bottle of Quilmes for $18 total.

We hit some of neighborhood shops, stopped at Persicco for ice cream (tiramisu and mousse de chocolate) and espresso, then did the unthinkable...went to the neighborhood mall. In our defense, its air conditioning is better than the ours. So today, we did not hate malls.

Return to the dead zone

We finally made it to the famous Recoleta cemetary Wednesday. While it was certainly more spectacular, in that it contains more massive statuary and more famous people, such as generals and former presidents, we decided we preferred the lesser-known cemetery in La Chacarita.

We expected Recoleta to be touristy, but were still a little surprised by the horde of people (mostly English-speaking) making their way toward Eva Peron's tomb. We followed along, took a few photos, then moved far away from the mass of humanity to explore on our own.

We found similar states of decay among some tombs of Recoleta as we did in La Chacarita. It was shocking that we could just reach out and touch some of the caskets (we didn't, however). La Chacarita had a friendlier feel, with it's wider "avenues" (tree-lined in many cases) and beautiful, garden-like "regular" cemetery area.

Goin' to the 'burbs

On Tuesday we took the commuter train (as opposed to the nicer tourist train) to Tigre, a suburb about 45 minutes north of Buenos Aires. The tickets cost a few pesos each, so it was an inexpensive way to pass the time.

The experience was pleasant, but not something we would repeat in a future visit. We opted not to take a boat tour of the delta area, which is a big tourist draw. Instead, we roamed the shops, which tended to be heavy on items made in Indonesia. We saw many an item that would be right at home in Pier One or Cost Plus World Market. We did buy a wooden platter, similar to the ones used in almost every parilla restaurant worth it's salt, and three horse shoes.

The most interesting part of the trip was the view out the (unfortunately murky) train windows. We stopped in several suburbs that had lovely houses and cafes. Worth exploring on a future trip, we think.

Side note: We were amused (well, sort of) on the return trip by a North American father and young adult son. The father was a self-described "clay-court [tennis] specialist" who obviously also was his son's coach. Their trip was clearly tennis-related, and the father berated his son horribly for most of the trip. I can't repeat some of the names this man called his son. (I was tempted to ask the jerk if he had ever heard of the Menendez brothers, which would have had the side benefit of cluing his oblivious self to the fact that yes, other people on this train do speak English.) We could created a drinking game by tipping a glass every time he said "you have to hit the ball over the net 1,000 percent." Ironically, we've noticed several clay-court tennis matches on TV here. Apparently it's big in these parts.

Shopping mecca

All in all, our early shopping experiences in Buenos Aires were quite disappointing. That's mostly because we hit too many malls and run-of-the-mill retail shopping areas (such as Santa Fe Ave.) right off the bat. We felt like we could have been in any large city in the United States. Add in the difficulty of shopping with a language barrier, and what's the point?

Then came our first weekend in BsAs, and we finally found what we were looking for. On Saturday, we walked to nearby Palermo Veijo, the oldest and prettiest part of the sprawling Palermo neighborhood. On weekends, a bustling market sets up in and around Plaza Serrano, with artisans selling all manner of handmade items. In addition, several of the bars around the plaza offer up their floor space to small-scale's easy to become overwhelmed by the racks and racks of cute clothing (mostly for women, but some for men, too). We did some extra wandering around the neighborhood, finding shop after shop that was much more interesting and unique than anything we'd seen in busier commercial districts.

On Sunday, we had a very different, yet complementary, shopping experience. The San Telmo street fair is a sprawling affair that centers itself in Plaza Dorrego, but spreads far and wide in all directions, mostly up and down Ave. Defensa. While there were many booths operated by artisans selling their own goods, the main reason to come to San Telmo on a Sunday is to shop for antiques and other used items. I can't even begin to estimate how many complete sets of silverware we saw for sale. And jewelry...if we come back next year, that's what I'm shopping for (this year was more about the leather). 

One of our target items at San Telmo was old seltzer bottles. Of course, the one J zeroed in on was the most expensive, at 215 pesos (about $60 US). It was from the 1920s, it was blue, the glass had a beautiful pattern, and the metal top piece was from the same manufacturer as the rest of the bottle. All those factors make the pesos add up. It was absolutely beautiful, but we instead chose two less expensive ones (one from the 1950s, one from the 1960s, which we got for 100 pesos total.

The San Telmo fair is about more than just shopping. Street musicians and performers were everywhere. 

We plan to dodge Saturday's forecasted thundershowers to return to Palermo Veijo, and arrange our packing schedule so that we can hit San Telmo before we begin our arduous plane trip back home on Sunday (need we mention that we are NOT looking forward to another 11-hour flight? Oh, well.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Third time's a charm

Tonight we ate at our favorite restaurant, Las Cholas, for the third time. This restaurant continues to blow all other restaurants out of the water, for it's combination of good quality, low prices, great service and vibrant atmosphere.

Tonight, we started with a tamale appetizer. It was big but not too big, filled with small chunks of spicy beef, onions, peppers and cilantro.

Then came the main event. We split the bife de Las Cholas, which was at huge sirloin (chorizo) steak served with fries, grilled provolone (OMG! So delicious!), onions and peppers, pureed winter squash and a fried egg (!). Steak was rare and juicy and perfect.

All of that, along with two bottles of sparkling mineral water, a bottle of one of the most expensive bottles of wine on the menu, and two espressos came to a hair shy of $30 US. Crazy, just crazy. It still blows my mind. So does the fact that when we left the restaurant at 10:15 p.m., there was a massive crowd of people standing around waiting for a table. I'm surprised that no one got into a fight over our prime sidewalk table. There are definite benefits to arriving by 8:45!

This one's for McTyre

In between the spotty rain showers on Monday (nothing like the torrential downpour of a week ago, thank goodness), we took our 15 peso umbrella (purchased from a strolling vendor on Ave. Florida downtown, where we were caught...again...when the drops started to fall) and walked over to the Hipodromo about a mile from our apartment.

Ladies and gentlemen...the Hipodromo is no Emerald Downs.

Monday's event, the Handicap La Maltrecha, was clearly not a major horse race, judging by the size of the crowd, which made it easier for us to stroll around this magnificent piece of architecture. We'll post more photos on our Flickr page when we get a chance...totally worth a look, because the building and grounds are stunning. So stunning that they are on the country's historical register and a national monument. Which apparently means (so we've read) that we weren't allowed to take photos (the place is private property, too, which plays into it). So we didn't take a lot, and tried to be discreet.

The racetrack is huge, which is a bit of a disadvantage when you really want to just lay eyes on some gorgeous horseflesh. We placed one bet each on the 6th race, J on number 8 (Bob Ricardo) to win (he came in third) and C on number 16 (Shadow Magic) to win (no comment). Minimum bet was 1 peso. We bet 2 pesos each, which meant we went home a whopping $1.16 poorer. I'm not sure we can handle that kind of financial devastation ;-)

Speaking of financial devastation, we took a brief walkabout in the massive casino underneath the Hipodromo. Acres of slot and video poker machines. Makes some Vegas casinos look puny. We didn't play, mostly because we couldn't figure out where to buy the cards to stick in the machines, thanks to our limited Spanish skills. Probably just as well.