A Travellerspoint blog

Argentina

Buenos Aires - Final Days

all seasons in one day 20 °C

My last day in Buenos Aires was surprising: after the extreme heat of the previous day, it turned out quite cold, to the point that I needed more than the T-shirt I had set off with. There was no way I was going to see all this great city had to offer, so I decided to focus on the San Telmo area for my last day. It is one of the older areas of the city but has been prettied up, with shops selling high fashion, art and curios as well as a large number of cafes and bars alongside some more traditional places, the sort of place that men go to drink, and quite a few churches.

Buenos Aires has a pretty good underground railway, abbreviated as the subte (subterranean - somehow it sounds more sophisticated than the underground). It is pretty old, always packed, but has nice wooden seats (I rode to the end of the line to get this photo):

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A year on, I find I have several photos of buildings that I cannot identify but the reality is that I didn't know what they were at the time, I just took photos that gave a sense of place or of things that took my eye:

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One of the most famous cafes in town is the Cafe Tortoni: it is the longest running in the country (since 1858, just after my country started its modern existence) and in every guide of what to do in Buenos Aires, so I naturally went along. I thought the place looked really great but found the menu curiously uninspiring, certainly not a patch on the suburban places I had been frequenting, and the food I ordered was a bit average.

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In the back, they had a few busts of famous figures and other memorabilia. Most were not well known to me, but one fellow did leap out, as it were (it was a bust, so no actual leaping was involved):

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Then it was time to hit the cobbled streets of San Telmo - I really just wandered the streets, albeit in a methodical manner as I didn't want to miss anything. There was some quite interesting shopping to be done, but my bag was pretty full so I had to leave it all behind. I had a weird incident in a toy and household goods museum I went into. I had had a pretty good look round and was on my way out when I was accosted by a gentleman insisting on giving me a guided tour. Somehow he thought his English was up to it when he couldn't understand me saying I was finished and leaving: I had to be rude and just walk out on him.

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I had got to the furthest point, into an area where there was little of interest and buildings with no eaves, let alone verandahs, when disaster struck: it rained, quite heavily. I did quite a bit of dashing from doorwqy to doorway and scuttling along walls to keep moving but as dry as possible, because the rain looked set to stay and I had plane to catch and found it boring standing in one spot. Eventually I found exactly what I needed - a cafe. The one I found was heavily lemon themed and sold cutesy items for the home, but it wasn't a bad place to have a final cafe doblé and lemon pie (this would always be sold in English - whenever I tried Spanish to order it, they would get confused).

On one of my walks, possibly not on the last day, when I wandered pass their legislature, the Argentine National Congress, it was in lock down mode because they were anticipating a protest:

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Another venue for protest is La Casa Rosada - the pink is allegedly achieved through the use of blood. This is the Presidential Palace, modelled on the Post Office, which outclassed it, something President Roca thought little of. One addition is the balcony facing La Plaza de Mayo - this is where Eva Perón addressed a crowd of maybe 300,000 after her husband was released from arrest to thank them for their support (but not sing Don't Cry for me Argentina). The thing I found most noticeably was that a photo display had been set up outside, but each photo was of the same subject, the present President, Christina.

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My flight was a late one, so I thought I could have one final walk out past my hotel, and made all sorts of discoveries - many cafes, a couple of cinemas, shopping malls and lots of interesting wee shops to poke my nose into. I did plan to have dinner but struck a problem - this was maybe 6:30 or 7:00 and no one eats that early in Argentina. The cafes were either deserted or had people having afternoon tea or drinking, but I eventually found a place for a nice chicken and mushroom concoction and a couple of beers. Then it was time to collect my bags from the hotel, where the host was seeing me off as if I was family or a close friend, and catch the bus out to the airport - one on which I had to stand for a fair way. At least twice I secured a seat, only to be ousted when a mother and child wanted it and then an extremely old lady. At least they still respect such things there.

Posted by NZBarry 23:50 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Escape from Buenos Aires - Tigre

sunny 35 °C

I had a small item I needed to purchase and, since I didn't see it in any of the random shops I encountered as I wandered aimlessly around town, I thought I'd head for the premier shopping street in Buenos Aires, Florida Street. It runs for more than a kilometre and is totally pedestrians only, so I thought I'd have no problems getting what I needed here. How wrong I was! The day was incredibly hot, the street was crowded - not just shoppers, but the centre of the street had been taken over by street vendors selling what looked like mainly junk, laid out on their blankets. It was almost impossible to move, suffocating, and although I could see there were lots of interesting shops, I just couldn't stomach the crowds.

By way of antidote, I took the rattling suburban train up to Tigre, which is at the mouth of the Paraná River Delta and is apparently somewhere Madonna comes to hang out in the spas. I wasn't here for Madonna or a spa, I was here for the river. I spent a while just watching the boats, some of them seemed to be more for the locals, being loaded up with all sorts of groceries and household needs, including the supply for what I hoped was some sort of bar, otherwise the recipient either had a problem or a lot of thirsty friends which, in its own way, is a problem. It would have been interesting to get a ride on one of these vessels, making lots of stops and detours, but I couldn't quite work out whether they took tourists or how to get tickets - there were a bunch of ticket booths lining the riverfront, but none seemed to be for these taxi-freight boats. So, I just got a ticket on a regular tour boat, to go for a trip around the Delta - this is basically an ever changing mess of islands, rivers and streams - although the landmasses were obviously stable enough to build upon.

The boats used by the tour operators were pretty, all wood affairs:

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It is hardly surprising that there are quite a few boating and aquatic clubs spread around the Delta, as it really was a form of paradise, but I particularly liked the canoes this club had:

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There was a commentary but it was entirely in Spanish, and beyond my abilities to follow, so I just sat back and relaxed, allowing this aquatic world to wash (sorry!) over me. As I said, there are quite a few buildings, but some were more notable than others, and I really have no idea what was going on with this one:

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Here are a couple of houses I imagined living in as we glided past:

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This appeared to be some sort of camp, where kids could come to get away from the city:

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Two randomly grand buildings:

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A reminder that this is still very much a working river system:

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There was one downside to the day - the temperature was incredibly high, so that back on land, it was quite hard to motivate myself to move. I did have a quick look at the town of Tigre, it didn't seem to be up to much, so I went and sat in the railway station, to drink a very large amount of cool cool liquid before heading back home.

Posted by NZBarry 03:46 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Buenos Aires - Recoleta

sunny 30 °C

I mentioned in the last post that the hotel had a pretty unprepossessing entrance, so much so that I took a photo

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The building opposite was a bit more colourful

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My hotel provided breakfast: coffee, medialunes with dulce leche (caramelised condensed milk) and a tiny glass of some of the best orange juice I've tasted. The hotel manager would fuss around as I ate breakfast and, as if he was offering me the Crown jewels, want to know if I wanted another of his tiny orange juices: of course I did, I just didn't understand why he had to dole it out at about two tablespoons at a time! But breakfast was such a pleasant experience that going somewhere else for breakfast just seemed wrong, cheating somehow. But when you have the glamour of

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Las Violetas Cafe, well, it is hard not to be seduced and to have some delicious revuelto (scrambled eggs)

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Although I managed to squeeze in visits to a large number of cafes while I was in town, this was by far my favourite. I'd pop in for a morning coffee on my way into each day, and made a point of having dinner on my last night here - service was very formal but warm: obvious professionals. I wish we could have cafes like this in New Zealand. I ended up not seeking out any flash restaurants but concentrated on the cafes near the hotel, and they all did a great job of feeding me.

My first couple of days here saw me wandering in the vague direction of Recoleta, soaking up the experience of being in Buenos Aires. Seeing this

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I had to go in and explore - it is the former central market, now an upmarket mall, Abasto Shopping

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Recoleta is an inner city suburb of Buenos Aires, historically and culturally very important, with one of its major landmarks being the Recoleta Cemetery: lots of very important people buried or entombed here, including Eva Perón. Once again, I was astonished at the sheer grandeur of the cemetery and was happy to just wander around for a while.

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Of course, many tourists make a beeline for Eva Perón's tomb, and I did spot it, but there was always a huge cluster of people, as often as not with a guide explaining why he had brought them to see her tomb and it made me think - I don't actually know much about the reasons for her fame, so honouring her suddenly seemed a bit weird. Besides, it was time for coffee.

Next door to the cemetary is the Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, which was built in the early 18th century. It gets a bit of a panning from other tourists as being a bit average, but it seemed special enough to me.

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A museum of religious art has been established in the cloisters: it didn't do much for me, but I did enjoy the cloisters themselves.

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Also in the same area was the Ricoleta Cultural Center, which had an earlier life as a shelter for the poor.

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This was a good way to polish off my visit to this part of town.

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Posted by NZBarry 01:44 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Long Haul: Neuquén to Buenos Aires

sunny 28 °C

It is 3000 kilometres from Ushuaia to Buenos Aires: with my looped travel, I managed to do roughly twice that in various buses: in these last two days, I did near enough to 1200 km. It wasn't the most scenic trip I've been on - this was a fairly typical bus-side view:

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I didn't do it one hop, as I decided that it might be nice to check out Bahia Blanca on the way. I was right: this is one of my favourite towns so far and wish I gave it a bit more time. I got in late in the afternoon, after about an hour of the bus threading its way through innumerable narrow streets, leaving me feeling I had no idea where I was. I nearly just stayed in a place near the bus station but luckily found my way to the centro. My hostel proved to be fairly sketchy, to the point that I went for a private room in which I could hide away from my fellow guests. The photos on its website make it look much nicer than it is.

But the city itself struck me as quite wonderful, with a big central square

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There was a band set up in the corner, but I was starving and also keen to check out the city. Not exactly sure how it happened, but I promptly spent quite a bit of time in a kitchenware shop, examining the Argentinian version of familiar objects. The square was surrounded by gracious buildings - built no doubt because of its early commercial importance as a port and the terminus of the railway line to Buenos Aires.

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I dined at a very popular and buzzy cafe looking out over the square and was very pleased with my choice, although it did seem to be dominated by gaggles of old ladies dining out. The food there (a couple of very nice steaks and about a million mushrooms) made up for the breakfast served in the hostel: inedible medialunes and undrinkable coffee. I was glad to be back on the bus and completing the final leg of the journey. It seemed to go on and on and on, so that it was quite late by the time we got to Buenos Aires. Here the standard advice is to avoid marked taxis, don't accept help from anyone: always take a radio taxi from a proper booth. I asked there, but they wanted 80 pesos and I didn't actually have that much. So I hopped in a random taxi after a fellow helped me with my bags (and demanded a peso for doing so) and we set off. I really had no clear idea where my hotel was and started to get a little anxious when the taxi went further and further from the centre and the amount on the meter got closer and closer to the amount in my wallet. But despite all the dire warnings, it was fine. We got to my hotel - its entrance didn't promise very much, to the point I was wondering if it was a hotel at all (there was no sign, even). But I rang, and a kind fellow looked after me and I began to see why it was one of the top rated hotels in town: for the money, its a real bargain. So, for those who don't need to be right in the middle of things and don't mind modest unassuming places, Hotel San Carlos is a great option.

I was damn hungry by this stage, as it was after 10:00 and I was a bit worried I'd not find much to eat, but there was no cause for alarm: the area was flooded with great local cafes. The one I picked did me an interesting chicken and mushroom concoction, with a million little potato balls, deep fried. Yum!

Posted by NZBarry 03:38 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Seven Lakes Drive to San Martin de los Andes

sunny 35 °C

So, as I said, I had the trout and a decidedly queasy night. This was not good, in that I had to get up quite early and catch a minibus, one which was going to take me on a 184 km drive, and not all of the road was in a very good condition. My travel guide describes the Seven Lakes Drive as "a magical experience: a winding road through a wonderland of lakes embedded in forest-covered mountains", which is why I booked the trip. The van was full, but I was the only one who spoke English. I'm afraid my account of the drive will be a bit muted. I was actually OK as far as Villa La Angostura, and got out there for a walk around the town. After that, we did indeed pass a number of lakes, there may well have been seven, and they may well have been pretty, but my queasiness was taking on an alarming dimension. I really didn't want to embarrass myself and really didn't know how to stop the van if I needed to. Luckily, very luckily, we were stopped at a lake when the torrent came. Several times. The driver gestured to indicate the poor road - somehow I said I'd had a bad fish, and he understood, gave me a look of sympathy. For those who want a nice description of the drive, here's one and here's a blogger's account of coming the other way.

By the time we got to San Martin de los Andes, I was almost OK again. I had a really nice small hotel, Hotel Antiguous, which was almost brand new.

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After a bit of a look round town, I really needed to lie down for a while, emerging only once more to grab some random food. Next day, I did get to walk around town: it is a most perfect town, set in a steeply wooded valley, with a lake at the open end. They seem to have maintained architectural standards pretty tightly, so that most of the buildings have followed Bustillo's lead and used lots of varnished timber and a chalet style - it really is most attractive quite posh: the shops dominating the mainstreet sell high end outdoor equipment.

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Although I was feeling a bit weak and off eating, I did stop in at a nice wee cafe for a coffee and medialunes: another fellow had a coke which somehow seemed so enticing, in its glass bottle with crown cap, that I had to have one as well. I went for a bit of a hike up through the woods, hoping to find the top. I was a bit under the weather so had to stop more frequently than normal, and had quite a nice chat with a local family at one stage. They told me there were many paths heading to the top - somehow, I took a wrong turning and was heading back downhill: I didn't fight it!

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In the evening, I had a couple of recommended places to dine: one I am yet to find and the other was very full, so my eating experiences were pretty undistinguished.

I had planned to head north to Mendoza and across to Buenos Aires, but time was running short, so I decided to make a run for the coast: I had a week before my flight out and about three days worth of bus travel. My first jaunt was to a place called Neuquén - I had no particular reason for stopping here, save that I wanted to break the journey. It is actually the largest city in Patagonia, and the first place I've seen McDonalds and the like since Buenos Aires.

I made a bit of an error in deciding to walk to town, as I didn't quite realise how far away from the centre of town the bus station was, or even quite know where the centre of town was. So I dumped my stuff in a hostel I'd found near the bus station and walked. Then I walked some more, before doing a bit more walking. The centre of town was at least 30 blocks from the station, for those who knew where they were going. I didn't, so headed a bit off the direct route, found myself in an awful shopping mall - small and cramped. As a result, when I did finally get to downtown Neuquén, I was pretty tired and it was quite late in the day. It seemed like quite a nice place. I really don't know what my head was doing, because it refused to stop and eat. Walking back my 30 blocks, there were all sorts of shops, some would sound enticing, by advertising pollo [chicken] for example, I'd get all excited then find it was in its raw form. And thus I ate in the bus station, the positively worst food of the entire trip: an extremely dry and chewy burger.

Total travel so far: 4600 km of 3000.

Posted by NZBarry 05:30 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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