Category Archives: Buenos Aires

Leaving BA….

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We left Buenos Aires just as the party people came out to play, heading for the southern most point in Argentina, and indeed the world. Ushuaia. Shuffling along the check in queue at 3.30am, we couldn’t help but wonder what possess an airline to schedule a flight as such an early hour. No surprises we nodded off pretty much as soon as we were in the air.

Blearily around 6am we peered out of the windows to spy the most incredible strips of colour, the beginning of a sunrise above the cloud-line and hoped we had seen the last of the rain. Alas not. On our descent the sprawling town came into view, nestled below snow-capped mountains, the tiny landing strip on a small peninsular, was dwarfed by commercial harbour just around the bay.

Main Street in Ushuaia

Shop til you drop on San Martin..

Matt in his gone fishing garb

Capt Matt getting ready for the Drake…

You name it and they sell it in Ushuaia, last stop Antarctica. Ski clobber (Spyder at that) Timberland, Northface and plenty of serious outdoor shops, duty free stores galore; knick knacks and trinkets you never knew you needed, the town has it nailed! A town that has boasted a penal colony and hosts a small naval base, it felt like a friendly frontier town with cars cruising (well crawling) up the main street, San Martin, in the early evening with pop tunes (80’s stylie) blaring and windows down. Not sure if the lads were checking out the chicas or not, but it made us giggle.

With cruise ships stopping to disgorge their passengers, several times a day during the summer season (our winter) there are plenty of places to eat. From king crab and blow out seafood dining experience at Kaupe (we were saving this for our return from Antarctica) to more regular Argentine asado grill restaurants serving up the local fave of Fuegian whole roast lamb, there is something for everyone. With something of an overload in red meat already, we settled on a simple fish supper of calamari plus perfectly grilled hake and salmon at Chiko’s.

One thing’s for sure, although booze is cheap, food is not a cheap commodity in these parts with a lot of products shipped down from BA and other areas. Our supermarket sweep of the biggest of the local supermarkets revealed why there is little in the way of salad or veg served… The fresh produce aisles were a fraction in size, compared to the other sections; limp and sad leaves were left abandoned, next to a tiny selection of cucumbers and plump yet squishy tomatoes. None of them keenly priced. Beetroot and squashes looked liked they had survived their journey and we did manage to find a great little red that came in a Tetra Pak … Perfect for trekking and camping!

Tetra Pak vino for trekkers

Vino tetra

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Tango-tastic…

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Since before we even arrived in Argentina, I wanted to see tango performed by professionals, up close, and personal-like, plus have a lesson at a milonga (tango hall), in a sleepy backwater town.  The last bit no doubt inspired by the film ‘Patagonia’.

Sunday’s street dancers in San Telmo had furthered our desire to see a show, although I am sure purist would argue there is nowt proper about show that is just put on for touristas, but what the hell!
We booked at one of the older established  and although we weren’t expecting anything amazing on the culinary front (supper was included) we were hoping to see a great show that gave us an insight into both the history and mystery surrounding tango.
Result! As we arrived, we were ushered to a ring-side table; one of, if not the best seats in the house! Having heard the wines (included) was closer to a balsamic we asked for the wine list; our waiter, Diego, kindly suggested we give the house wines a go, before upgrading.  Happy he did, as the Aberdeen Angus (!!!) was actually more than palatable.  And the hits just kept on rolling…. The tenderloin and pork fillet we ordered were cooked to perfection.
Our evening, just got better as the stage show, lived up to and exceeded our expectations….. An old crooner and chanteuse opened, warming up the audience with their plaintive and heartfelt melodies re-living stories of days gone by.  From the bars, gaming houses and bordellos of Buenos Aires, a dance was created that blended machismo, passion and longing for the women left behind by immigrants and other working men.
Dirty dancing at the Milonga

Down & dirty at the Milonga

Decent woman and families of good reputation wanted nothing to do with this perceived vulgar dance and  brothel workers would have to be paid; men wanting to improve their moves on the dance floor (and to impress the ladies) would have had to practice with each other…
Boarding houses, and more importantly the yards around these spaces became the place to learn these moves and (saucy) lyrics attached. Over time the dance was taught to sisters, cousins, neighbour’s female family members and sought out and danced at family gatherings for immigrants and Argentines alike. A cleaner version emerged that was taken by the middle class Argentines holidaying and partying with the equally rich and famous across Paris and London. It because the craze of the time
Tango returns home

Tango returns home

Eyes smouldering, chests pressed together, legs invading each other’s space with perfect synchronicity and lightening speed, the dancers depicted the  very best of tango – the subtle change in style from it’s infancy, through to the 1920’s  and it’s ‘legitimisation’ across Europe, to ‘modern’ day sultry expression.
Buenos Aires, is the birthplace of tango and our hearts had been well and truly captivated.

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.

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