Monthly Archives: February 2013

Getting around

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We nixed the notion of hiring bikes pretty much from the offset; cobbled streets, pothole marked main roads and the reputation of Argentine drivers, put paid to that plan. Instead we settled for the Subte (metro) and ‘shanks pony’. Phrase book in hand we made our way to the nearest stop, Ministro Carranza and picked up a 10 journey ticket; at 2 1/2 pesos per ride and regular service across the six lines, it’s a great way to get across the city.

Linea A still has the original old wooden and worn carriage seats, Linea D the pick of the tourista hot spots and all the trains we travelled in were tagged and pimped. Just like the tube, to be avoided like the plague during rush-hour as it was hot and airless without the added hoards of commuters pushing to get on/off.

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What subway isn’t complete without cup rattlers telling their tale of woe and ‘performers’ whistling a tune or two? Best of the buskers, for us had to be the keyboard playing and sandal-wearing ‘Hagrid’, who set up in front of the doors (careful to ensure space for passers-by) plugged in his amp, theatrically tossed his locks, before thumping away on the ivories … When a stick wielding blind man (we doubted his authenticity, as did the chap sat beside us) bumped into his keyboard, he simply batted him away and rearranged his CD’s. Natch for sale.

Walking around Buenos Aires was a piece cake as the city, although sprawling, is real easy to navigate. Loved the little gems we found along way; quaint little shops full of kitsch collectibles, achingly-cool designer stores, vintage clothing and metro kool clobber, and numerous bag and serious shoe boutiques… already over our weight limit, I mentally bought loads!

The whole place is awash with resto’s, parillas, bars and cafes; literally on every street corner you can find somewhere to either whet your whistle or grab a bite to eat, or both. Maybe this is the reason why there are few street food vendors, even along the wide avenues around Ave 9 Julio . The only carts and mate vendors we came across were in San Telmo along Defensa.

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We really couldn’t leave BA without eating empanadas and ducked into a bakery cum confiteria to try one of each of the al hora, baked ones…freshly baked pockets of savoury goodness- cheese & ham, spinach, chicken and spicy beef. A true carnivore these days, I favoured the carne picante, beef and Matt, rather like the espinaca, spinach with surprise of a hard boiled egg.

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Sunday fairs and closed-door dining

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What’s not to love about the gentle and good natured jostling that surrounds antique and bric-a-brac markets? Sunday morning we joined the sharp-eyed locals and tourists alike, all heading along the sleepy streets towards Plaza Dorrego and the Feria de San Telmo.

We made our way along cobbled streets with low storey colonial buildings, still shuttered to the sun and ducked into Walrus bookstore, the only English one in town; it smelt of leather-bound and well thumbed paperback books, sandalwood and timbered beams. Leafing through the more serious tomes on philosophy, astro physics and the ilk, I spied what I had come in search of … A trash novel I could trade later along the way. Patricia Cornwall for a tidy price of 10 pesos!

Antique Siphons at Feria de San Telmo

Stall at Feria de San Telmo

The market was packed with personality and charm with vendors selling everything from vintages soda siphons, Christolfe silverware, Panama hats and jewellery to bags and rugs you can find pretty much in any hippy market from Camden to Ibiza.

Panama hats at Feria de San Telmo

Hats galore at Feria de San Telmo

Buskers worked the crowd and groups of tourists gathered around the tango shows that popped up in the square; full of tautness and desire, the dancers conjured up passion and mystery for a few pesos.

We were tangoed in more ways than one … Having dismissed a chap waving flyers as we ducked into a bar for beer and quick bite, we were slammed with a ‘tango charge’ for the couple that gracefully and theatrically weaved their way across the floor whilst we ate our parrilla y salade. Serves us right!

Next stop was Playa de Mayo, with it’s Piramide de Mayo, an obelisk built to mark BA’s independence from Spain, the impressive facade of the Banco de la Nacion and the Catedral Metropolitana – the towering pillars give no indication of the delicate murals and stained glass inside. Did feel rather sorry for two soldiers in full dress uniform guarding the tomb of General Jose de San Martin.

Having walked the streets of both San Telmo and Congresso, we had built a healthy appetite and were really looking forward to our ‘closed-door’ dining experience, Puertas Cerrades, at Casa Saltshaker with Dan and Henry our soon-to-be-hosts.

We arrived outside the appartment and noticed a few people lurking apprehensively…fellow diners? Full of Dutch courage after apperitifs en route, we rang the bell and announced our arrival in Spanish. Henry appeared and ushered us into the apartment block…. Along with the other four people. Thankfully Dan made introductions as we headed into the garden. Result!! The other dinner guests hailed from Portugal and the US. Relief flooded through us as this meant we could focus on enjoying our five course supper, rather than making conversation in faltering Spanish!

The highlights? Toughie as a really balanced meal with thoughtful wine pairing, but here goes…..
Gazpacho d’oro, sorbete de cilantro – a smooth sweet gazpacho with the added twist of a coriander sorbet with a hint of chilli…. Washed down with a glass of Atemporal Brut
Lomo de conejo, pure rustico, ruckus selvatica – loin of rabbit (not that easy to come by) on a chickpea and potato mash, with rocket and mustard dressing .. Paired to perfection with Padrillos Pinot noir
Cheesecake de miel, compote de ciruelas – not a pudding fan in the slightest, the homemade plum compote worked a treat with the honey cheesecake.
Casa Saltshaker

Conversation flowed as freely as the wine; we traded travellers notes, anecdotes from home and our future holiday plans…Cindy, Sarah and Marcus especially, added to the pleasure of the evening. As Dan said, you never can tell how these sort of evenings unfold and ours was definitely a resounding success.

The heat is on…

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Arriving at Buenos Aires was an assault to the senses in every way; you could taste the heat, even at 9pm, and the noise and bustle were so very far removed from our luxe (and totally spoilt) cocoon of business class, on the flight over.

Clutching our pre-ordered voucher we eagerly headed towards the taxi service to take us to downtown BA; like true Brits abroad, we waited patiently at the desk and again once we had paid the fee. Might just as well have rocked up empty-handed, as it was organised mayhem with drivers coming up to collect their fares and grabbing any voucher to hand!

Hey ho, lesson learnt, we nodded off to the sounds of a city getting ready for the night ahead, as the cab cruised the streets of BA, lined with street-side cafes, restaurants and bars.

Matt picked the perfect place for us to unwind and get to grips with not only BA, but the rest of the trip planning that was still required; ATempo Design Hotel in Palermo Hollywood (one of the nicer districts close to the main hot spots but far enough away to get some sleep!)  It was an awesome duplex – huge and airy with plenty of space to spread out and streamline our kit ready for the next leg and tighter luggage allowance.

Exhausted, we crashed after a couple of glasses of jolly good Malbec from the lobby bar.

Saturday dawned bright, sunny and oh-so humid. Time to explore the neighborhood and get our bearings; in a four block radius we had two mini supermarkets; one Korean and the other Carrefour (albeit a baby one) four cafes, with Vintage Coffee having better java and vibe, plus five restaurants and scrummy looking bakery, Darma, to check out ……. all before we headed south.

More time than anything was spent dodging dog poo and cracked pavement tiles whilst checking out the grafitti art and counting the number of tags (twenty plus in the space of half an hour). Seriously.

28 degrees at 4pm was more than our poor ol’ pasty arms and legs  could handle on day one! Yep, the duplex not only came with a kitchen (of sorts) it had access to a terrace pool… What better way to acclimatise to the heat?!

Full graffiti wall

Full graffiti wall along Ave Santa Fe

And we are off…

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With but eight hours and counting until our airport pick up and a chilled bottle of bubbly in the fridge, we vowed we would not do our ‘usual’; leave final packing to the very last moment and pack half pissed.

Shoes chosen (black strappy), wash kit and jeans whittled down by weight, I hit the wall of tiredness around 2.30am. In my defence, even the most hardened of late night birds, would lose the will to stay alive, much less awake, faced with counting out sachets and weighing cooking/camping utensils! Matt soldiered on and finished off all the joint packing; from medical supplies to sleeping bags. There is still some explaining required as to how a gorilla mask made the muster over dehydrated camping food!

Bleary eyed, we sailed through check in at terminal five and headed towards Travelex to pick up our Money Passports; neat idea – the ability to withdraw any currency from any ATM, worldwide, for small flat transaction fee. Shame about the execution at the desk. Seriously our patience was tested to max as the girls at the desk phaffed, taking the longest time, in fact 35 minutes and counting, to validate the cards. Missed out on DF camera buying and the obligatory fresh and unthumbed trash novel… Just as well we believe in karma is all I can say!

Our frustrations melted away in the care of Iberia Airlines (move over BA, your ranking in the MJ Inflight Service Awards has plummeted further – Don’t.Get.Me.Started) With an opening question from the purser, “Do you prefer English or Spanish to be spoken to you?”, we were won over. Throw in flat beds and seriously fab food, what’s not to like??

The highlights? Veal consommé finished with a flourish and splash of Tio Pepe, confit and pickled partridge with vegetables, goats cheese and blueberry jam…all before the main of a piping hot shoulder of Iberian pork wrapped in puff pastry with red wine and truffle sauce. Yum!!! No space for pud, just settled for a delightful sticky glass of Pedro Ximenez!

After blubbing our way thru the movie Mavericks (based on true story) it was time to turn in and catch up on zed’s *sigh* I slept the sleep of the dead (tired) whilst Matt flicked thru’ movies – a real turn up for the books as it is normally the other way round.

Just pick a pair…

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Veteran, in more ways than one, of backpacking, I know it all comes down to weight. However, it doesn’t stop my stomach from churning at the mere thought of picking just a single pair of ‘ridiculous’ [not my choice of word] heels to take with as a ‘catch all’ for the more civilised parts of our trip & party central Buenos Aires.

The outdoor clothes are easy to choose as contrary to what Matt keeps trying to tell me, they were never really designed to be attractive as well as functional. I have no qualms counting out the required number thermals & socks….

I have, for the past week, quite simply been in denial; refusing to acknowledge that trekking boots and Havaianas (only one pair *sniff*) aside, my remaining choice of footwear to pack is limited to but one pair of flatties, a pair of (light weight – natch) runners and one pair of heels.  To most people, my dilemma may sound stupid, or at the very least, strange. For me? sweat inducing Hell. I wear heels all day, every day to work.  In fact I invariably decide which shoes to wear before which frock and, for the record,  would get pretty good odds on a spread bet for the Stiletto Sprint!

Jury out…. will keep you posted, as I may just forego an item of clothing for a sneaky extra pair of heels….

Aside

Fresh faced in search of adventures and pastures new, I picked working in Danmark as ‘pige i huset’ as  my first overseas job.  Keen to see me off properly with clean underwear plus a small reminder of home, mum waved farewell with tears in her eyes and a parting gift of a knitted penguin. Pingu came complete with a ‘JH’ embroidered backpack (filled with a miniature bottle, natch).  There was no turning back……. for my wanderlust or liver.

Travels to far flung countries and stints working in some great (and  let’s be honest, not-so-great places) followed. With countries to visit, people to catch up with, I turned my hand to anything legal to fund the next leg of my travels. From ‘farm-hand’ in Israel, construction worker in Canada to numerous  stints as a waitress/cocktail bartender and cook along the way. One thing never changed tho’, Pingu was a constant travelling companion and picked up a fair few bus and air miles along the way.

Along came a kindred spirit, seasoned traveller and damn good chef…although we have yet to agree when we officially became a couple (!), one thing Matt and I both agree on is that  he didn’t get given his very own Pingu, until he made an honest woman out of me!

Thirteen and a bit years later, the penguins, Pingu and Pingu II are now well seasoned travellers in their own rights,  having crossed the Thorung La (Nepal), tackled the Tangariro Crossing (NZ) , kayaked in the Marlborough Sound, sailed the Caribbean (several times), walked the West Highland Way plus Coast to Coast, skied a fair few runs in Europe….to name but a few of their trips abroad.

Matt [ AKA the travel agent ] being a bit of a ‘Mountain Man’ fancied the idea of going to Antarctica to mark his half century (like we need an excuse!). With research done and Stamfords on speed dial for any latest editions, we are booked and good to go.  Our Penguins are heading home, in a fairytale sense. This is the trip of a lifetime for both of us and we look look forward to sharing our adventure with you.

A chef, creative and two penguins…..the beginning of our adventure to the end of the world