Sunday, January 31, 2010

Argentina, Days 4-6

Sorry for the delay in my posts. I have excuses: work has taken up a lot of time lately, and after more than two months of traveling through South America I’ve finally just gotten…tired. And with work and exhaustion upon me, I haven’t had much of a chance to go out and embrace many new adventures in Buenos Aires. I’m starting to feel that I should have traveled here first rather than to Peru, though had I done this I would almost certainly have been one of the travelers recently stranded at Machu Picchu. All in all, then, I guess I’m where I need to be.

Tomorrow, however, I return to the U.S. Or at least I leave tomorrow. I won’t actually arrive until the morning of February 2nd. So, goodbye sweltering South American summer.

Okay, that video has absolutely no relation to my trip, other than for my reference to summertime, but I like the song.

But back to Argentina…

Since I leave tomorrow, and since I haven’t done nearly as much as I would have liked to here, I’ll just include some highlights and lowlights from my last three days in Buenos Aires.


I didn’t eat anything terribly exciting during my last few days, just ordered sandwiches at a couple of local confiterias and a couple quick meals at restaurants I already blogged about. One place that I went to but didn’t blog about however, was, Ayacucho Cafeteria.

Had I known this was a cafeteria associated with a hotel, I wouldn’t have entered. I’m not sure why I’m saying this, but in general I feel like I should try to patronize eateries whose sole aim is good food. Not good food and clean linens every day. But that’s a stupid way to be, and I freely admit it. Ayacucho Cafeteria wasn’t a bad choice at all, in fact, though the interior was sterile in the way that a lot of hotel restaurants are.

I ordered a tortilla de verduras, which I assumed (in my ignorance) would involve an actual flour or corn tortilla. However, what I received was basically an omelet absolutely stuffed with spinach.

It wasn’t bad, and I appreciated how much spinach I was given, but it was too much food for one person, and too eggy in the end. Luckily I had a banana and milk liquido, which was intensely satisfying. They served it in a glass pitcher, in essence giving me two liquidos.

Another restaurant I tried was El Club de la Milanesa, which is between my hotel in Recoleta and some of the more popular tourist sites around the Cementerio de la Recoleta.

I nearly went there last night, but I put it off until tonight instead. I’m not sure why – nothing on the menu really jumped out at me – but I think I assumed that it would offer more options. When I was given a menu and began to peruse it, I saw that they mostly just had pizza, salads, and sandwiches. I ended up going with a super doble cheddar club, which consisted of bread and cholesterol in various forms: bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried egg, and breaded beef. Oh, and it came with French fries, too.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also ordered a beer and, midway through my pig-out, a glass of red wine. The amount of food was enormous, and as I struggled to get through it one American couple walked past me on their way outside and wished me luck with it. The man said it looked like I was eating dinosaur meat, and when I looked at my sandwich I sort of saw what he meant.

I didn’t feel like eating any more after that. But the restaurant itself was nice, the service was quick, and I had a good waitress.

El Club de la Milanesa is at Las Heras 2101, on the corner of Uriburu Street. Website: They’re open seven days a week, and accept Visa and Master Card.


Two days ago I decided to arrange a tour to an area just outside of Buenos Aires called Tigre. I heard that it was Buenos Aires’ answer to “Venice,” as it has a number of charming waterways. Since I had various problems with my Buenos Aires city tour, organized by TravelLine Tours, I asked my hotel if I could go with a different tour agency. They said sure, and soon I had a full-day trip arranged. Unfortunately, when I was picked up the next morning, what did I see on the side of the bus but “TravelLine Tours.” Well, it couldn’t be any worse than last time, right?

The bus picked me up only 15 minutes late this time, and once we had everyone in the bus that we needed, we were only an hour late – still better than my last TravelLine experience. Also, my guide was much friendlier, which was a bonus.

Once we got to Tigre, we were immediately taken to a boat on the Lujan River. Inside the boat was a full buffet and tables covered with tattered cloths. I ordered an overpriced bottle of water and watched the scenery begin to slide by.

Because the boat embarkation was in a tourist area, it was no surprise that the first place we passed was a theme park. I dislike theme parks, but I have to admit that the Ferris wheel here was rather interesting – the carriages reminded me somehow of old Russian cathedral domes.

The river widened as we passed the theme park, and in a few minutes we came upon grassy areas in which people were playing soccer and having picnics, and also small sandy areas where families sat under the sun and could step into the shallow water.

There were a number of homes along the river, too, with wooden piers jutting out, motorboats suspended over the water, and bridges set back along narrow canals. It was a beautiful area, actually, if perhaps a little too busy along the river for my tastes. Our cruise lasted about forty minutes, and it was a nice beginning to the tour. Following are some photos of where the cruise took us.

However, at that point the Tigre portion of our “all-day Tigre Tour” was over. We were then taken to a train station, where we stood around in the heat for about half an hour waiting for our train to arrive.

After a twenty-minute ride we found ourselves in San Isidro, where we were herded into a shopping center and given fifteen minutes to go find a church and craft fair on our own. I think I was the only one in the tour group who ventured out of the shopping center and into town to find either place.

I thought the church was quite nice, but the crafts fair was hardly the “vibrant market full of everything we could possibly want” (not that I wanted to buy anything there anyway).

When I returned to the group, I was given a choice of three not very appetizing lunch options at the shopping center, and then was told that after lunch I’d have three and a half more hours to go shopping. When I asked if that was the end of my $65 all-day tour of Tigre (not that we’d even spent an hour in Tigre), my guide told me that it was. So I asked if I could go back to Buenos Aires right then with the half-day group and she said yes, but I couldn’t get any money back. I really didn’t care at that point.

What annoyed me more was that on our way back to Buenos Aires I asked the guide if we would be passing through Recoleta or Retiro, or even Barrio Norte, as they are all areas of the city that I could easily walk back to my hotel from. She told me, “No, we’ll be entering the city from a different direction.” So I sat back in my seat…and forty minutes later watched the bus pass through all three of these areas. I tried to get her attention, but she was on the phone the whole time and I eventually gave up. I ended up forty blocks away from my hotel. When I left the bus I told her that we had in fact passed through all three areas I’d asked her about, but she didn’t really answer me. Maybe she wasn’t allowed to drop me off there. But I highly doubt that it was against tour policy to pull over to the side of the road and let me off. I could be wrong…In any case, for anyone heading to Buenos Aires you’ll do yourself a BIG favor by avoiding TravelLine Tours. They are a complete waste of money and time. Having said this, I do think that a trip to Tigre is a nice option for anyone staying in Buenos Aires for several days or longer.

Okay, I'll try to do one final post before I return to the U.S., or perhaps I'll just update this one to include a few more small things to add to my experience in Buenos Aires.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Argentina, Day 3

Today I had a three-hour city tour scheduled, and was told to wait for a bus to come by at 9:30 a.m. about four blocks from my hotel. Wanting to get breakfast early, I headed to a café called Tea Connection, which is only a block away from where I’m staying.

I sat down and ordered a scone and double espresso, and then read some fiction while waiting for my order to come out. It didn’t take long, and the scone and coffee (i.e., sugar and caffeine) were what I needed to start the day. It wasn’t much, but it’s nice not to stuff myself every meal, much like I did last night. Tea Connection is a nice little cafe, though, as often happens, it was nearly impossible to get my check. When I did get it, I was pleased that my breakfast only cost 12 pesos (~$3.15).

Tea Connection is located at the corner of Uriburu and Pacheco de Melo streets.

After returning to my hotel and checking email, I started walking to the intersection where the tour bus was supposed to get me. I waited and waited, and the bus didn’t come. At 9:59 I started pacing around the side of the building that I’d been leaning against, and told myself that if the bus didn’t come in one more minute…when suddenly I saw a white tourist bus veer across two lanes and stop before me.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” I was told. “Traffic this morning is really bad.”

Traffic didn’t seem all that bad to me, but I accepted the excuse and got on board. I sat down and looked out the window as the bus went around Buenos Aires for another half hour to pick up passengers at two other hotels, the last of whom had apparently grown tired of waiting because they weren’t there when the tour guide went to collect them. It was now 10:30, and our bus headed over to the Floralis Generica, in Plaza Naciones Unidas, where we were told to disembark so we could get put on different buses. Half an hour later I was being corralled inside another bus, and by the time it left it was already 11:05.

I wasn’t very pleased, but I was basically game for whatever came my way. A new tour guide was on this bus, and she went through her introduction and asked where we were from. I didn’t really pay attention to her, but looked instead out the window at what we were passing.

The first place we were taken to was the Plaza de Mayo. We weren’t given any description of what the Plaza’s significance was, but the guide pointed to a few different buildings and told us what to take photos of. Great. She left to make some calls on her cell phone and we had 15 minutes to wander around the plaza. There were a ton of tourists here, but it was interesting. Luckily I had my guidebook with me and could consult it to see exactly why the plaza was important.

The plaza is apparently a popular area for groups who want to stage protests, and for the last 33 years, every Thursday, people gather in a silent procession in memory of those who were killed or went missing under the military dictatorship of former President Jorge Rafael Videla. The plaza was also once the location of city hall as well as the president’s official residence. It’s a busy place, and has a busy history associated with it.

One end of the plaza is a building known as the Cabildo, the former city hall that I just mentioned, which is now a museum.

On the other end of the plaza is Casa Rosada, or The Pink House. This used to be the residence of Argentina’s presidents, and it is also where Eva Peron addressed thousands of Argentines who had gathered to hear her speak.

The Catedral Metropolitana is nearby, as is the Argentine National Bank. In the middle of the plaza is an obelisk called the Piramide de Mayo, which marks the country’s independence from Spain in 1816.

Once we were all on the bus again, we were taken through downtown and into an area that was markedly poorer than any place else I’ve seen so far in Buenos Aires. The area was called Boca, and is known internationally for its fantastically successful soccer team, Boca Juniors, and its best-known player, Diego Maradona.

It was interesting to see the stadium and the neighborhood where it’s located, but I wasn’t going to pay 20 extra pesos (~$5.20) for the chance to spend 15 minutes inside the stadium. So, we were told to stay in the stadium store, which was filled with Boca Juniors merchandise, though I went out and bought water from a place across the street.

As I was walking around I couldn’t help noticing how everything around the stadium was painted in Boca’s blue and yellow colors, and also how many of the shops and restaurants had statues of players – mostly Maradona – standing outside their doors. It was a fun place, and I’m sure it’s really exciting on nights when games there are played – especially against perennial rival River Plate.

After this we were bused four blocks away to a tourist area filled with stores. We were given half an hour to shop, basically. The area itself was vaguely interesting, but it was obviously just there for tourists and didn’t seem very authentic.

Anyway, it was a long half hour, and I started to reflect on how our city tour had quickly become a shopping tour.

Back on the bus, the tour guide approached me, as if she had something on her mind that she just couldn’t keep to herself any longer, and asked me where I was from. I told her the United States, and then she began to scold me.

“Why didn’t you raise your hand when I asked if anyone from the United States was on the bus? Why didn’t you make eye contact with me? Everyone else did this but you. It’s my way of saying hello to people and if you won’t raise your hand or look at me then how can I say hello? I was trying to say hi. So…hi.” And then she walked away.

Granted, I could have raised my hand, and I could have made eye contact with her, but I did say I was here when she called out people’s names, and besides, the tour was 90 minutes late and…oh, what’s the point of making excuses? It was just an odd moment, and I felt like I’d been a bad little boy on a school field trip.

I’d like to think she was only joking around, but I didn’t get that feeling at all. Sometimes, though, feelings are hard to decipher when someone isn’t speaking their native language. Even so, the tour was really bad. The company was called TravelLine Tours, if any one out there cares enough to try to avoid them.

I was let off in a part of town not terribly far from Recoleta, and I decided to walk back to my hotel rather than take a taxi. On the way I stopped for lunch at a tiny little Japanese restaurant called Maki Sushi.

There was a single table inside, and two small chairs at the sushi counter. Since nothing was available, I ordered a bento to go. It came with salmon sushi, salmon sashimi, a tuna fish roll, and a salmon roll. (The entire menu was completely dominated by salmon.)

My bento cost 50 pesos (~$13.10) and probably wasn’t worth it. Especially the tuna salad roll, which just seems a little cheap to me. It would have been nice if the woman who took my order would have smiled once, or simply not glowered at me as if she, too, thought I should have raised my hand and made eye contact when my tour guide asked if anyone was from the United States. The other people working here smiled at me, though, which was a relief. I’d been starting to wonder what dark forces I was attracting.

Maki Sushi is at Ayacucho 1208. Tel: 4823-3900.

I worked and then unsuccessfully tried to catch up on some sleep this afternoon, and didn’t venture back outside until it was time for dinner. An old writing friend of mine, Mong-Lan, who lives part of the year in Buenos Aires (where she writes poetry, paints, is a stand-in for a touring tango show, and studies opera), asked if I wanted to meet up tonight, and I said sure. I was given two restaurant choices, and I opted for one called Oviedo, which specializes in seafood. I was a little worried that my clothes (i.e., my rags) would permit my entry here, as it’s supposed to be an upscale place, but a collared shirt (clean) and jeans (ehhh...mostly clean) worked. I was the worst-dressed person in the restaurant, but luckily no one so much as scowled at me.

I ordered a dish consisting of grilled stone-bass, spinach, and pureed potatoes. The portion was a perfect amount after too many nights of large dinners, and the fish (lanzarote in Spanish) was firm and mild in flavor. There wasn’t too much going on with the spinach or potatoes, but both went nicely together with the fish. To be honest, I didn’t pay much attention to my food, as I was engrossed in conversation. That’s also why I didn’t take more photos, and why the one I did turned out so blurry. Sorry! The service at Oveido was excellent, incidentally, and the prices, for such a fancy place, were reasonable. My dish cost 65 pesos (~$17).

Restaurant Oviedo is located at Beruti 2602. Tel: 4821-3741 / 4822-5415. Web:

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Argentina, Day 2

Hot! It’s calor here! The temperature climbed over 90 degrees (32 C) again today, and I saw that on Friday it’s expected to top 97 (36 C). I’m thankful to have air-conditioning in my room; the heat prevents me from going out and doing as much as I’m used to.

Since my hotel doesn’t provide breakfast, I started off the morning by walking a couple blocks away to “be Frika,” a mint-colored café with two floors and free wi-fi. Knowing in advance of the wi-fi, I brought my computer with me so that I could get a bit of work out of the way early in the day.

I ordered a breakfast set of ham and cheese croissants and a double cappuccino, which threw me back all of 11 pesos (~$2.90). I stayed here, nursing my food, for about ninety minutes before moving on with my day.

Be Frika is at the corner of Junin and French streets. Tel: 4821-0010. Web:

I decided to wander about my neighborhood a little more, so I set off for an area full of plazas, museums, and other points that seemed interesting. I began by venturing to La Isla, at the top of Plaza Mitra, which was at the end of a very upscale neighborhood in which I managed to stay in tree-shade almost the entirety of my walk – in Buenos Aires, shade takes precedence over directness of route. Here there is a statue of former president Emilio Mitre riding a horse; I tried to take a photo from an angle that shows the least amount of graffiti on it.

From here I continued to Plaza Francia, which the French community in Buenos Aires, circa 1910, dedicated to the city. Other than this monument there’s not much here, and since there was no shade, either, I continued my walk.
There was a rather large sculpture garden in a long grassy area – I didn’t pay attention to the name of the park, unfortunately, though it’s only a few minutes from Plaza Francia – that I would have spent more time exploring if I didn’t feel like I’d melt first.

I crossed the street and made my way to one of the most interesting and beautiful artworks I’ve seen in any city park anywhere: the Floralis Generica, in Plaza Naciones Unidas. The giant steel flower, designed by local architect Eduardo Catalano, is only eight years old, and its petals open in the morning and close back up at night. I still need to get back here some evening to see the latter occur.

Next to the Floralis Generica is the Faculty de Derecho, a huge, many-columned building in which Argentina’s most important law school is housed.

I crossed the street again from here and arrived at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, a maroon-colored building that houses over 10,000 works of art, including pieces from Picasso, Goya, Gauguin, Monet, Cezanne, Rivera, and Renoir, as well as numerous Argentine artists. I got here fifteen minutes before it opened, which is at 12:30 on weekdays (but 9:30 on weekends and holidays), and talked with other uncomfortably hot people sitting on the shaded front steps.

After going through what I think was the entire museum, I needed some food and water. It was after two o’clock, and I decided to hit a well-known café called La Biela. La Biela has an enormous outdoor terrace directly behind a giant gum tree, and it looked much too pleasant to pass up. I sat down, disregarding the fact that orders cost more on the terrace than inside the café itself, and ordered a turkey sandwich with red bell peppers and mayonnaise.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by what I got, but toast with a small slice of canned red bell pepper and a couple pieces of cold turkey didn’t look all that appetizing, or worth 40 pesos (~$10.50). But I was paying for the atmosphere of the place, which was indeed nice, and I really had no complaints.

I headed back to the comfort of my air-conditioned room after that and returned to my work. By the time I wanted dinner I decided to hit a local parrilla that I’d seen before, but at 7 p.m. it was closed. So I continued aimlessly until I found something I thought would be simple and quick: a pizzeria. To be exact, Los Maestros Pizza.

I ordered red wine and a medium Rusa pizza, which consisted of tomato sauce, mozzarella, ham, hard-boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, red bell peppers, anchovies, and black olives. Altogether my meal cost 52 pesos (~$13.60), and might have been enough food for two people. And no, I didn’t finish, though I tried my hardest…

Los Maestros is located at Parana 1249 in Recoleta. They have a nice dining area and do delivery. Tel: 4815-4430. (For delivery in Barrio Norte call 4821-4658, and in Palermo call 4800-1112.) Web: Email:

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