I apololgize about the length of the report. I tried to keep it concise but detailed at the same time. Thank you for everybody on the board for all the direct or indirect advice I received. I did a big chunk of research on this board. If anybody wants to see my slideshows of the trip, please email and I'll send them to you. Please let me know if you have any questions about my trip.
Saturday July 4
We arrived in the morning around 10:00. We had Apartmentsba arrange a car to pick us up at the airport to take us to our apartment. We decided to do this for peace of mind. We were a little nervous about renting an apartment and we wanted to make sure the apartment agent was there as soon a we got there. And she was. She helped us with our bags and the whole check-in process went smoothly.
Our apartment was located on Las Heras and Junin--an excellent location only a couple blocks from the Recoleta Cemetery. The apartment itself was very stylish and had tall windows that let in plenty of natural light. We loved it. It was new our new home for the next two weeks.
Part of the reason we wanted to rent an apartment in Buenos Aires was so that we could better immerse ourselves in the city. So after check in, we walked around to get acclimated with the neighborhood. We found grocery stores, pharmacies, laundromats, and anything else we felt like we might need during our stay. Everything was no further than a block away.
We had an early dinner (especially by this city's schedule) and turned in because we were exhausted from our 14 hours of flying time. Sometime in the middle of the night, our next door neighbor decided to play a tribute of Michael Jackson songs that blared through our walls. Beat It, Smooth Criminal, Bad, you name it. It sounded like there was a disco club next door. Luckily, it ended after about an hour and I fell back to sleep. I prayed it wouldn't be a nightly thing and it wasn't.
Sunday July 5
The next day we went to the Recoleta Cemetery and the artist market, which was right outside the cemetery. The market is pretty extensive and a great place to pick up souvenirs because most of the work is authentic and very beautiful.
Just as extensive and even overwhelming is the Recoleta Cemetery. It's an amazing place where you can spend hours exploring and snapping pictures. Every tomb--even the crumbling ones--in this place has a unique story. Styles of the Dead and Famous. The architecture and design of each tomb is a photographers dream. It's really hard to take a bad picture at the cemetery. As I walked through the necropolis, I had the song Thriller stuck in my head from the previous night's Michael Jackson tribute. I kept imagining zombies emerging from the tombs and lining up for a choreographed dance sequence.
With our imagination flowing, we left the cemetery and went next door to the Recoleta Cultural Center, which was running a Star Wars exhibition. We are big fans of the movies so this was an unexpected treat. The idea that we were in Buenos Aires and looking at Star Wars movie props, costumes, and artifacts was very cool to us.
After the exhibit we looked around the rest of the Cultural Center and found many art galleries with beautiful paintings and sculptures. Art, dead people, and Star Wars–it was a great first full day in Buenos Aires.
Monday July 6
The next day started off with rain so we went to MALBA, el Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. I studied a little Latin Surrealism in college so it was a pleasure to see some of the displays of art at this museum. There was also an exhibit dedicated to a body of art called Schoolism, which my wife found very interesting because she’s a teacher. There’s also the coolest wood bench on the planet at the museum. I think it’s what a bench would look like if it started going through a black hole.
After the museum, the rain let up so we walked all around Palermo. Like Recoleta, the Palermo neighborhood south of the Parque 3 de Febrero is pretty upscale. We had lunch at a Parisian-style café and explored the Carlos Thays Botanic Gardens with its many cats. We then caught a taxi back to our apartment.
A word about taxis in Buenos Aires: We found them to be the quickest and most efficient way to get around the city. You can find an open taxi practically anywhere in the city within seconds. We did our research beforehand and knew to have enough small bills to pay fares, which the drivers always appreciated. I also found that the drivers we took were trustworthy and I don’t feel like we were ever taken for a ride. Return fares were always the same as our arrival. And we always used radio taxis. Outside the Buquebus Station in Puerto Madero, we had a taxi driver who didn’t work for the radio company offer to take us to Recoleta for 30 pesos. We knew it cost us 13 pesos with a radio taxi to get to the station earlier in the day. We took a radio taxi back to our apartment for, guess what, 13 pesos.
About the driving in Buenos Aires: Drivers don’t really use the lines on the road. They just kind of flow along in traffic squeezing through any opening that will get them by. I watched the traffic from our balcony at the apartment and noticed that at stop lights drivers will jockey for position when the light turns green, much like the start of a NASCAR race. Here in Seattle, pedestrians usually have the right of way when crossing traffic. Not so much in BA. Drivers will cut you off if you’re crossing the street and they’re turning left. It’s pretty scary when it’s a bus that cuts you off. Just be alert when crossing streets and avenues.
Tuesday July 7
As a way to continue our immersion into the city, we enrolled in an independent 4-day Spanish course from Andando Espanol. The first class met at Bar Britanica in San Telmo. Our class began at 2pm but we arrived early so that we could walk around and explore the area. San Telmo is a much grittier neighborhood than Recoleta or Palermo, but the old-style architecture and beautiful murals are what gives it character and charm. We were still glad we picked our apartment in Recoleta.
We had lunch at Bar Britanica before our teacher Victoria arrived. The classes at Andando Espanol are informal and we felt very comfortable in the restaurant setting. Our teacher was born and raised in Buenos Aires and is an art student at the University of Palermo. My Spanish is better than my wife’s but Victoria was able to adjust to both our levels. Part of the cool thing about these courses is that you get to hang with a true Porteno and try out your Spanish with them as well as learn new things about the language and culture.
After the restaurant, Victoria took us on public bus to the Omnibus station in Retiro. We did an assignment at the station, and then took the subte to Avenida de Mayo, where we concluded the day’s lesson. We appreciated the bus and subway rides and being part of the city’s hustle and bustle. But we knew we’d be sticking to taxis and walking to get around Buenos Aires. Our immersion only went so deep.
We hung around the plaza for a little while taking pictures of the beautiful government buildings. We took a taxi back to Recoleta, went grocery shopping, and cooked dinner at our apartment. Another wonderful day in the city.
Wednesday July 8
We met Victoria at Bar Cronico in Palermo Viejo for the day’s class. Once again, we arrived early so that we could walk around the neighborhood. We shopped at some cute boutique shops and stylish clothing stores. If you love to shop, this is the neighborhood you want to be in.
After an afternoon of productive learning with Victoria, we headed back to Recoleta to meet for the first time some Argentine friends we made through a group on Facebook. Andrea and Tony met us at our apartment and we went out to dinner at a pizza place in Recoleta Village. Andrea’s English was very good so we were able to communicate pretty well. The experience of making and being with new friends from Buenos Aires added so much depth to our vacation. Around midnight, we went to a nearby café and had crepes and coffee for dessert. We had a really good time with our Argentine friends.
Thursday July 9
Our teacher Victoria postponed class until Friday afternoon because she had a dentist appointment. We had a free day. It was a gorgeous sunny morning so we walked down to the Plaza Nacionnes Unidas to see the sculpture Floralis Generica. It was in full bloom and the blue sky in the background made for some awesome pictures. We walked across Avenida del Libertador to Evita’s memorial and strolled up the street to the brooding Biblioteca Nacional.
We took a taxi to the Parque 3 de Febrero and visited the Japanese gardens. Since it was the July 9th holiday, and because the weather was so nice, the garden was packed with families and couples, which killed any of the tranquil and zen-like setting the place should have had. We still had a nice time.
We walked back to our apartment to get ready to meet yet another friend we made on facebook. Leticia took us to Faena Hotel & Universe in Puerto Madero to have dinner. This hotel was impressive–modern, sleek, stylish, and very expensive to stay at. There were photographs in the hotel’s main hallway of the celebrities who have stayed there. After dinner, we walked to the Puente de la Mujer. If San Telmo is a little gritty, worn, and a place to find inexpensive lodging and dining, Puerto Madero is the complete opposite. It’s clean, safe, expensive, and maybe even a little sterile. And even though both neighborhoods are right next to each other, they are worlds apart.
Friday July 10
We went to Lorea Café in the Congreso district for our third Spanish class. Victoria was still feeling the affects on her tooth ailment so Titiana was our teacher for the day. Like Victoria, Titiana was kind and patient with us as we butchered the Spanish language to pieces. We later walked around the area and learned some of its history.
That night, we had our last Spanish class at the restaurant Cumana in Recoleta. We met Victoria there and had a lovely dinner. The empanadas were delicious and only 2 pesos each. The whole meal, which included entrees, beer, and wine, for the three of us only came to 101 pesos. Afterwards, Victoria took us to a coffee shop for these little milk drinks with a “tear” of coffee in them. I forget what they were called. At around midnight, we said our good-byes to Victoria and thanked her for being such a great teacher. We exchanged email addresses and told her to come visit us if she’s ever in our part of the world. We really hope she does.
Saturday July 11
A day of rest and choirs. We went to the store and picked up some necessities and had our clothes washed at a lavaderia. We did have a nice lunch at a restaurant called Clasica and Moderna on Callao Avenue. It used to be an old library or bookstore and it had the original bare-brick walls and stone floor. We took it easy the rest of the day because we knew the following week would be jammed packed.
Sunday July 12
We went to the Buquebus terminal in the morning to catch the fast ferry to Colonia. We had a little time before the boat departed so we walked to the Puente de la Mujer to take some day shots to go along with the evening pics we took a couple nights before. It was once again a beautiful sunny day without a cloud in the sky.
The immigration and boarding process went smoothly, as did the hour-long boat ride. Colonia del Sacramento is definitely a tourist town but its deep history and historic buildings keeps it from being tacky and cliched. It was a wonderful place to spend a gorgeous Sunday afternoon and it’s the contrast to Buenos Aires’ hustle and bustle. We picked up some good sea (river) glass on the town’s shore. We started collecting sea glass a few years ago and have some from our state of Washington, Vancouver B.C., Monterey, CA, New Zealand, Martha’s Vineyard, and now Uruguay. Very cool. We had fondue for lunch at this quirky restaurant called El Drugstore. We took some outstanding photos of the town and wished we had stayed a little longer–maybe overnight. We will explore Uruguay more on our next trip to Buenos Aires.
Monday-Wednesday July 13-15
We left early in the morning to Aerparque to catch our plane to Iguazu Falls. We usually stay away from chains (restaurants, hotels, etc.) but we decided to stay at the Sheraton inside the park. We did so because we wanted to maximize the amount of time we had at the park since we were only going to be there for two nights.
We got to the hotel and immediately went down to one of the trails at the falls. To be honest, my initial reaction with the park was pretty disappointing. The falls were beautiful but the slow hordes of tours clogging the trails really bothered me. We then went to one of the snack bars and ate some bland sandwiches until the bees drove us away from our table. It wasn’t a good start. So I decided to go back to our room at the hotel for an attitude adjustment and, after about an hour, hit the trails again. (I was so glad the hotel was close by).
The attitude readjustment worked because we had the best time for the rest of our trip in Iguazu. Going to Devil’s Throat was an awe-inspiring experience. The falls were the color of dulce de leche and they were almost at full force. On our way back to the hotel, we saw monkeys swinging from the trees. I was able to capture a picture of three monkeys in the same tree. Awesome!
The next day we booked a couple boat rides with a tour company at the hotel. One was a river ride and the other was a boat that gets near the base of the falls. The river ride enabled us to get close (maybe a little too close) to a family of caiman, who were laying on the riverbank. We rode with a bunch of college students from Australia. One of them was terrified of butterflies and would yell, “Get it off me! Get it off me!” as soon as one landed on him. I thought it was funny and ironic that somebody from Australia, which has some of the most dangerous and poisonous insects and reptiles on the planet, would be afraid of something as harmless a butterfly.
Afterwards, we took another boat ride to the falls. This was absolutely thrilling and we got so drenched. Earlier we were at the top of Devil’s Throat, now we were practically underneath it. There was a full rainbow out as well, which added to the already awesome experience. We went back to the hotel, changed into dry clothes (Once again, I’m glad our hotel was close by), and walked more of the trails until the park closed.
Even though the Sheraton at the park looked like a giant WWII bunker, it was a nice place to stay. The staff were kind and helpful and the view of the falls was priceless. But a word of warning: the dinner we had at the restaurant was awful. The pumpkin soup was chicken broth with pumpkin flavor and the risotto was salty, undercooked, and way too expensive. It was the kind of experience where you felt sorry for anybody who walked in the restaurant to have dinner after you.
There’s a restaurant near the entrance of the park that serves a great all-you-can-eat buffet for lunch. My advice would be to eat a big lunch there, and then get some appetizers for dinner at the bar of the hotel. That’s what we did on our second night.
We loved Iguazu Falls and it was one of the top highlights of our trip to Argentina. I also have to disagree with anybody who suggests only spending one night there. Sure, you could do all the activities at the falls in that time span, but why rush such a unique experience? Two nights is ideal.
Thursday July 16
The sounds of cascading waterfalls were replaced by the city noises of Buenos Aires. Today was an open day so we went back to the Recoleta Cemetery and got a free English tour. Our guide was a funny, bohemian, Argentine women with a British accent. We learned a few urban myths and some local gossip. After the tour, we headed to the Museo de Bellas Artes. It was closed the previous week because of the swine flu. The museum has an outstanding collection of Latin American artwork from all over the world. It was a very easy place to get lost in for two hours.
We had lunch at the Buller Brewing Company where we tried the beer sampler. Our favorite was the honey beer with 8.9% alcohol. We were feeling a pretty good buzz after lunch so we walked back to the apartment and relaxed for the rest of the day.
A word about the beer in Buenos Aires: if you’re a fan of microbrews, IPAs, or dark beers, get your fill before coming to Argentina. Quilmes, the Budweiser of Argentina, has a dark beer (Quilmes Negro) that tasted like a regular Quilmes and looked like it had dye in it to create the dark color. It also had the consistency of a Pepsi. Even all the beers at Buller Brewing tasted watered down.
Friday July 17
To continue our immersion into the Argentine culture, we took a culinary tour with Teresita, which we booked at www.try2cook.com. Buddha, Teresita’s driver/friend, picked us up at our place at around 9am. We picked up three more people and headed to Teresita’s home, which was about an hour outside the city.
The tour included a walk though her neighborhood market, butcher shop, and bakery, where she introduced us to the local fare. Afterwards we went back to her cozy and rustic home decorated with many Argentine artifacts. Teresita gave us a hands-on lesson on how to make empanadas, which we had during our first course along with humita en chala. Before that, we had a starter of pejerrey marinated with white wine and vinegar over homemade crostinis. For the main course, we were served Argentinian stuffed milanesa with manioc and creole salad. For dessert, flan con dulce de leche. Each course came with a glass of champagne or Argentine wine.
The company, food, and atmosphere was a complete delight. Teresita showed us around her beautiful backyard and garden and introduced us to her pet dog and chicken. Buddha, a very cool guy, took us back around 4pm. This tour was another highlight of our trip.
We started the day by going to the Alvear Hotel so that we could book a 3-hour city tour–our first and only bus tour in Buenos Aires. Part of the reason why we picked this tour was because it went to La Boca, which was a neighborhood we hadn’t been to yet. Our vacation was quickly coming to and end and I wanted to make sure that I at least got some pictures of the colored houses and stadium.
The tour driver stopped at a hotel in San Telmo and picked up five hungry Australians who persuaded the guide to stop at a nearby pizza joint so they could eat. We were hungry as well so it was a welcomed break. Part of what makes any tour a good time is the other people on board with you. The Australians were funny, lively, and a lot of fun. One of them told the tour guide that trying to organize Australians is like trying to herd cats.
The tour started in La Boca, then San Telmo, Plaza de Mayo, where we got to go inside the lavish Catedral Metroplitana, and ended at the Recoleta Cemetery (yes, our third time there). The disparity of wealth between neighborhoods was evident on this tour–from the yellow-grass and dirt soccer fields of La Boca to the lush green parks of Recoleta. From homes close to dilapidation to opulent high rises. But one thing these neighborhoods had in common was the poop on the ground.
A quick word about the sidewalks and dog poop: We are proud to say that we did not once step in any poop or trip on any broken surfaces. You definitely have to be on the lookout for these things but to say that the sidewalks are coated in poop would be a glaring exaggeration.
That night, our friend Leticia took us to a Tango show at Tango Madero. All the dancers and performers were talented but the overall event had the atmosphere of a cruise ship performance. A Tango show was the last of our top ten things to do while in Buenos Aires, and it was clearly the most disappointing.
After the show, we went to Soul Café on Calle Baez, where we stayed until around two in the morning drinking, eating sushi, and dancing the night away. It made up for lousy Tango.
Our last full day in Buenos Aires. We were very sad that our vacation was coming to an end. I was really becoming attached to the place. We had no illusions–we were tourists. But our attempted immersion into the culture and city made this trip unlike any other we’ve ever taken. Renting an apartment in the city, learning the language and history, making friends with true Portenos, and the culinary feast were the real highlights of our trip. (Iquazu Falls was pretty damn awesome, too).
We went to the Evita Museum in Palermo and found it a lot more interesting than we’d thought it be. I told my wife that Madonna and Evita shared some similarities: They both got further in life with a lot of ambition and little talent. We went back to Cumana for dinner with Leticia, who was a wonderful host to us. Our trip wouldn’t have been the same without her. We hope she’ll make it up to Seattle to visit us someday.
We picked up some dulce de leche and Havanna cookies to take back with us. Had lunch at an Italian restaurant at the design mall. What a high-end mall this was. My dream is to buy an apartment in Buenos Aires and furnish with items from all its stores. We could live there one or two months out of the year in Argentina.
the check-out process went smoothly–no dings or missing items–and took a taxi to EZE. I highly recommend Apartmentsba for renting a place to stay in Buenos Aires. They were professional, efficient, and we were able to pay for the apartment before we arrived.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city and, as Arnold would say, we will be back.