Buenos Aires, Argentina 2008

Wednesday 5/7/08
Our first travel day, went off without a hitch I suppose.  We took the shuttle bus from Albany Airport to JFK and arrived in plenty of time to catch our 7:50pm flight.  We board quickly and are in the air shortly thereafter.  The first leg is 9 ½ hours on the plane and I learn the Portuguese word for thank you is obrigado.  A small bump once we arrive at our stopover in Sao Paulo as our connecting plane has not yet arrived, but within an hour it does and we are off.  The 3 hour flight from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires (BsAs) is uneventful.  Interestingly, and potentially confusing, Argentina uses the “$” for its pesos.  So, all $ prices in this journal are in pesos unless specified US$.

Thursday 5/8/08
We fly into Aeropuerto Internacional de Ezeiza "Ministro Pistarini" (EZE) to find our driver waiting for us.  He zips us to the hotel where we check in and settle into our room.  It’s extremely small, a miniature version of a "real" hotel room. It is tiny and old. Not quaint old, but rusty faucets in the bathroom with missing floor tiles old with the kind of carpet that your feet stick to, but you don't notice until you take your socks off.  I'll be able to handle it for a week.  Being that we are beat from the flights and want to get on the new schedule (which is only a 1 hr difference from home), we plan to run out now for a snack and go to the Plaza De Mayo, head back to the room for a nap, and go out for dinner tonight closer to 9:00 or 10:00.  We find the closest Subte (short for Subterraneo, as in underground subway) and head toward the Plaza De Mayo.  I had read in some of the guidebooks about the “Madres de Plaza De Mayo”. 




This is a gathering and procession of the mothers of the disappeared who for the past 30 years get together every Thursday at 3:30pm when they hold a procession at the Plaza until 4:00, when they march towards the Casa Rosado (Argentina’s version of the white house) and give a speech.  It is supposed to be pretty powerful, and the audience was applauding, but since it was in Spanish, they really could have been talking about anything, so we didn't stay long.  I understand that the size of the group has diminished and splintered, but it is still a powerful vision to see these mothers wearing the symbolic white kerchiefs with photos of their loved ones around their necks.  They say upwards of 30,000 people went “missing” during the Dirty War of the 1970’s and 80’s, and these families show that hope is still alive.  Still though, it's hard to imagine the grief these families have endured for years.  El and I decide to find a neighborhood cafe to get a coffee and snack before heading back.  We happen upon a cafe called La Puerto Rica. I order a cafe con leche mucho leche and a hamburger...oops strike that, the waiter just returned to tell me they are out of burgers.  I switch to some empanadas and hope for the best.  All arrives and I start sampling.  The cafe con leche is mixed by the waiter at the table.  It's pretty good, but may be made with skim milk giving it a little bit of a less creamy texture.  The empanadas are carne (beef like taco filling tasting like a White Castle hamburger), chicken which has some spices in it, but tastes a bit on the gamey side, and a ham and cheese that was really good.  There are no dipping sauces, but they turn out to be a good and satisfying snack nonetheless.  We review some of our guidebooks while we relax and ready to head back.  With the weather really nice, we may just walk it to get a better sense of the neighborhood our hotel is in.  As we ready to leave, El realizes that one of the "1000 Places To See Before You Die" in BsAs is on the way back.  It is called Cafe Tortoni. 

It is located on Avenue De Mayo.  So we decide to go and strike it off of our list of things to do.  We arrive and see that there is a wait for a table.  It looks like a tourist spot for sure and considering that we have read or heard about this place from several sources, it's no wonder it's packed with tourists and local alike.  The house specialty is chocolate with churros, the sticks of fried dough that you dip into your dipping chocolate.  We each order the chocolate with 3 churros and I add a glass of wine.  Food arrives swiftly and we dive right in. The chocolate pours a little thin for my liking.  I thought the chocolate would be closer to the sipping chocolate we had in Spain and less like hot chocolate made with Hershey's syrup.  The churros are good, but neither the flavor nor size puts them into "spectacular" realm.  We agree that my wine "Copa Reaserva" is nice, crisp and fruity.  I am glad we came, but honestly not sure what all of the hype is about.  Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don't.  This one I don't.  We walk back to the hotel via Avienda 9 De Julio and cross the 20 (yes 20!) lanes of two way traffic to get to the other side. 




It takes two turns of the light to cross this widest avenue in the world.  We get back to the room around 7:00, pick a dinner place in the neighborhood and set the alarm for 10:00pm.  That should give us a rest and still allow us to get out and find some good local flavor.  As planned, we get up at 10 pm, rinse our faces and venture out for some food and local culture.  As we walk from the hotel towards the restaurant in the neighborhood that we decided on, a few things become apparent, one, the amount of litter on the streets.  It is all over the place.  It looks like tomorrow is garbage day and instead of large garbage bags like we are used to, everyone just uses small grocery bags like we use in the a bathroom garbage can.  So instead of a weeks worth of garbage in one bag or two on the curb, we pass apartment buildings with huge piles of little bags.  Bringing me to the next thing I notice is the number of homeless living in the streets.  Mostly individuals who sleep in parks or in doorways and whole families of gypsies living near the Subte entrances and at night they rummage through the piles of garbage bags looking for food or other items of value, and strewing the street with the discards, thereby creating a sea of trash to wade through as you make it to your destination.  Although we are not uncomfortable- safetywise, the neighborhood near the hotel does not seem as good as we hoped for and we will need to walk directly more and wander less.  We make our way to El Cuartito which advertises their pizza as "muy bueno". 


We have read good things about the pizza here and this is our chance to give it a go.  We arrive as a soccer game is winding down and the place is packed.  We wait for a seat and finally get one.  El is feeling a little full and waits on food.  I on the other hand am starving and need to do something.  I start with a glass of Vasco Viejo blanco in a small carafe, one spicy carne and one cheese with onion empanada.  The empanadas are small, like the size of a half slice of bread with fillings.  El and I share the empanadas and start leafing through our guidebooks for tomorrows plan.  We have to decide as we finish off the snacks, do we stay, order more food and drink, and continue to plan, or move on back to the hotel.  We decide to stay and order a small Hawaiian pizza and a carafe of house red (or "tinto") wine.  The pizza is a 6 cut with a decent crust, mozzarella, ham, pineapple rings, and topped with green olives.  The olives are closer to what I am used to than the Spanish olives I love, but there are only a couple on the pie.  I had read that the pizza here is pretty good, but that the amount of mozzarella can be overkill.  While not extreme, the amount of mozzarella on this pie is certainly ample to the point that it hides the small amount of red sauce underneath.  Either way, it is probably the best foreign pizza I have ever had and could teach some of the pizza places at home a thing or two.  We slowly eat our pizza, drink our wine, I journal, and El begins to set our plan for tomorrow.  The Recoleta cemetery that is also in the "1000 Places To See Before You Die" seems to be on tap.  At this point we wind down our dinner and it is unclear if we should venture on or call it a night.  We shall decide shortly.  Before we go, El thinks that she wants a dessert, but admits from the get go that she will not be able to finish it.  She orders a "flan con crema o dulce" with two spoons.  The dessert arrives and is a sizeable slice of flan, flanked with a large dollop of whipped crème and a serving of dulce which is like a thick caramel pudding.  All very sweet and all very good. The Flan is very eggy, but when mixed with either or both of the cream or dulce, is very good.  We finish it off, down what wine we have left and prepare to move on.  We settle our bill and leave, taking our photos of a restaurant at 12:15 on a Thursday night, amazed at the number of diners still out.  We don't make it one block before we see a bar that strikes our eyes.  We head in for a nightcap.  We are asked by the host and the waitress separately if we are here for dinner.  We assure them that, at this point, we just want some drinks.  We pick and order a bottle of Castel Chandon blanco.  A white wine we haven't tried yet.  This place, La Tekla, is a bit smaller and quieter than the place we just came from, but still has 15 out of 20 tables occupied at this hour.  The wine arrives in a bottle and at US$6 a bottle we couldn't really go wrong.  El and I catch up on our journals while playing a game of Scrabble as we wind the evening down.  We settle up and head back to the room.

Friday 5/9/08
The wine had more of an affect on me than I thought it would.  We wake a little hung over and get ready for the day around 11:00am.  We plan to head up to the Recoleta neighborhood today. 




We missed the breakfast in the hotel, which, considering the rest of this place, is no loss, so we plan to grab our collected notes and head to a cafe for some breakfast and map out some things to do today.  Because our tourist style is so aimless, it can be tricky to plan a whole day.  We are more likely to pick one or two things we want to see/do and make pit stops along the way.  We will probably sightsee today, and then head back to the room for a nap and then head out for a night of food and drink.  First stops today are a newsstand to get a Guia T, which is the city's bus map in book format, and a place called "the Coffee Store" (there are no Starbucks here, but this is a chain with spots all over the city).  We each get a cafe con leche and I get 2 “medialunas with jamon y queso”.  Basically, they take a small croissant (medialunas) split in half, put some ham and cheese between the halves and grill it.  The only thing I didn't like about it is that the croissants are sweet, so the sweet roll and the salty ham and cheese was not as tasty as say, the same combination in a chocolate covered pretzel.  We decide to make our first stop the Recoleta cemetery.  We find the main entrance and are approached by a representative from the Recoleta restoration society selling maps of the necropolis for 4 pesos.  Not that we couldn't find Eva Peron’s shrine without it, it turns out to be helpful.


We wander around taking pictures and listening to tour guides as we cross paths at different intersections.
  It is a beautiful day and we wind up wandering for close to two hours.  The cemetery holds 4800 people from all different levels of society.  Several famous Argentinians, from writers and artists to military figures and presidents are interred in the mausoleums here.  There are no headstones or graves per se, but rather shrines erected to people or entire families.  Some are grand, 
and some are very unassuming.  We will learn later in the week that some of the very wealthy families would have sculptors from Italy come to create pieces for their tomb and some are very impressive.  


Before we leave, we find a bench and plan our next stop to grab some lunch.  As we head toward El Sanjuanino for lunch we pass by a famous rubber tree.  I didn't read about it yet, but when I suggest getting a picture of this neat looking tree, El is reminded that she saw pictures in the guide books of it.  We take some shots and press on. 


Almost immediately El recognizes a cafe on the corner that was recommended by one of her friends.  We weren't planning to eat here, but decide we should stop in to say we did.  One look at the menu and as El pulls out the guidebook to read about this place called La Biela, and we see why it says this is "where the rich people hang out..."!  Because of the prices, we decide to get a cafe con leche and a dessert before moving on for lunch.  With my coffee, I try an almendrado which is a slice of almond ice cream cake with a crushed candied almond crust.  It is very good and hits the spot.  We leave and head towards some shopping that El found in the guidebooks.  We are just wandering through the Recoleta neighborhood.  A lot of upscale stores remind us we are a little out of our element.  Lots of Armani Exchange and Rolex type shops.  Places I don't even like looking at since I wouldn't pay those prices for any of this stuff.  Anyway, we walk along and find the mall with many shops.  El windowshops a little while I watch the bags and look up some other neighborhood interests to head for (I have also discovered that El Sanjuanino is closed between lunch and dinner).  I find a bookstore that has been converted from an old theatre.  I am not looking for any books, but we stop in to see the layout.  It really is a pretty unique layout for a bookstore. 

You walk in and the lobby and where the seats used to be are now the racks of books.  The balconies are also racks of books.  On the stage is now a cafe, so we get another snack and make plans.  I get a cafe con leche and a coconut and dulce de leche cake.  It's like a giant macaroon cross cut with a layer of caramel and then baked.  It is pretty good and the cafe con leche needs a little more leche.  I guess I have to start ordering the "mucho leche" again.  Our game plan is to head back to the hotel, take a nap, and head out for the night using a list of stops recommended by El's acquaintance.  Our first stop is for dinner at Parrilla Pena which is a place for steaks and all things meat. We arrive around 9pm to find a group of people milling about outside waiting for a table.  El puts her name on the list and is impressed when the host doesn't blink when she replies "Eleonora" for the name we wish to leave.  


The wait is a half hour, so we start a Scrabble game as we too mill.  We are soon seated and start perusing the menu.  We must look very needy because as we start to discuss the menu, a woman comes from out of nowhere to ask if we need help ordering.  In fact I do.  I see some words I recognize, but the extra words make me wonder if I am ordering what I think I want.  After quick conference with this good samaritan, I conclude that I want a mixte ensalada, bife de chorizo – cooked medium, and a bottle of Bodega Norton Malbec D.O.C. 2005.  There is a plate of 2 empanadas carne already on the table. They are filled with the spicy beef and a chopped hardboiled egg.  They are good.  Our order begins to arrive.  Starting with the salad, lettuce, tomato, and onion, pre-dressed with Italian dressing.  A nice start.  We start on the wine that had been recommended by the waiter and it does not disappoint.  Then our steaks arrive.  Although I ordered mine "medium" it arrives much closer to well-done, but not dry.  I am OK with that and dig in.  It really is superb.  El makes a last minute addition to the order of a plate of fried potatoes.  They are just shoestring french fries.  And she also asks for a side of chimichurri which arrives in a little metal bowl and looks like a sludge.  As we stir it up we can see some of the garlic and onions and peppers that make it up.  It is a condiment not unlike Worcestershire sauce.  It is pretty spicy and is a wonderful flavor to add to the steak.  We eat and enjoy this fine recommendation also admiring what tables around us have ordered.  As the table next to us finishes up and we begin to wind down, El asks one of the gentlemen what cut of beef they had just eaten (turns out to be beef ribs, but they are cut cross-wise instead of lengthwise, making for an odd looking cut of meat).  This began a 45 minute conversation with two men who were great fun to meet in terms of suggestions of things to see and do in BsAs.  Especially places to eat, which they assure us that we are currently eating at “the best” parrilla in the city, and that we should not go anywhere else for meat.  It seems like they really love their food and they had some great recommendations.  We wound up showing them all of our travel notes and they added commentary to our itinerary.  They spend a lot of time in the U.S. and had some good things to add to our plans.  The restaurant serves dessert but no coffee, so we decide to take a pass and move on to the next place to fill that order.  We say our goodbyes and choose a bar called Notorious as our next stop.  We don't really yet understand this place...even as we sit in it! There are some tables with wait service and each table has a computer monitor with a single pair of headphones.  There are racks of CD's like a music shop and a stage in the back with a live act.  The assumption is that you can choose a CD from the racks to listen to while you sip your drink, or you can head to the back for the live performance if you wish.  We both start to journal as we wait for service.  We wait for close to 7 minutes for any wait service.  We agree to wait just a couple more minutes before skipping this place and moving on to a place that "wants" our business.  I suggest waiting for me to finish my current journal update before we leave.  El says we should wait long enough only to choose our next place from our notes.  She caves and decides to flag down the waitress instead of holding out.  We just order two cafe con leche.  We find the next place that will most likely be a bar instead of a cafe.  We get the computer going and find a Kiss disc offered, so El relinquishes the headphones and I listen to the Unplugged disc.  Even after we got our service and figured out the computer I am not "feeling" this place and look to move on.  The live music in the next room is drowning out my headphones and the Argentinian version of James Taylor is overrunning the music in my ears.  My vote is to finish my Unplugged highlights, down the coffee and press on.  I have just asked for "la cuenta" so I think we may not even last that long.  We make our way out and head to another recommendation called Classica y Moderna.  We find it quickly, but a live band performance calls for a $20 cover each.  We take a pass and decide to head down Calle Currito.  The street is busy as we look for a little wine bar or pub as we are both still full from dinner.  To no avail.  By this time, it is around 1:00am and some of the better looking places are closed or closing.  After several blocks we decide to look up a specific place and just go instead of wandering.  The lack of streetlights on many of the streets makes walking a little uneasy.  Not that we feel uncomfortable now, but we keep reading about some of the more unsavory neighborhoods and realize that we could wind up somewhere we shouldn't be very easily without knowing it.  We choose an Irish pub called the Shamrock.  It turns out to be farther than we expected and when we get to the door, the place is pretty full, the music is not very good, but very loud, and there is a $30 combined cover.  We decide to pass, and head back towards the hotel and try to find a wine bar for a nightcap.  We make the walk but don’t find anything.  It's now close to 2:30am and most places are closed and the streets aren't getting any better lit, so we decide to call it a night and try again tomorrow.

Saturday 5/10/08
We wake up and reflect that we didn't do as much as we could or should have yesterday, so we agree to get out quickly today to try not to let the day slip away.  We need food, so we choose our first stop to be Piola, which is a pizza place recommended by the guys at dinner last night.  Of course, we get there and find it closed.  At this point we really need to eat, so we just pick a place across the street called Libertad Plaza Cafe.  I guess it seems like a nice diner.  We pull out our maps and guidebooks and plan our next stop of the day.  For breakfast I go with a snack size rather than an all out meal.  We are planning to do a bit of walking so I don't want to be bogged down and full.  I choose an "internacional" breakfast which is basically a cup of coffee, glass of orange juice, scrambled eggs with ham, and some toast.  It's filling, but I am not stuffed full.  Now we head out to the San Telmo neighborhood.  We understand that there is a weekly antiques fair here on Sunday's, but we choose to go on Saturday to get a look around as we have other plans for Sunday, and we aren't much for antiques shopping anyway.  


We walk up Avienda Santa Fe and cross Avienda 9 de Julio.  I get some pictures and we continue on to the Subte blue line to San Telmo.  We get off at the Constitucion stop and begin to walk through the San Telmo neighborhood. What a dump!  A lot of the shops are closed on Saturday and there is minimum activity on the streets.  Most of the sidewalks are in a state of gross disrepair (actually, this is true throughout the city - I can't help but think how people wheeling a stroller manage at all!) and there is garbage everywhere.  Graffiti and general unkemptness make the place less than inviting.  We pull out our maps, get our route down, and begin to wonder with all of the negative press the La Boca neighborhood gets, how is this NOT considered a shitty neighborhood??  We wander through Parque Lezama where there are a few stands set up for artisans to show off their souvenirs and trinkets.  This is the park where the big antiques fair is held, but at this point, I have no interest in coming back for that.  We look up local drinking holes and find one a short distance away.   We stop in for a snack before pressing on back to Plaza de Mayo.  It is called El Hipopotamo, we walk in and take a seat.  I am finding some of the menus a little difficult to navigate.  I recognize the ingredients’ names, but not the preparations.  I order a copa of tinto vino Malbec (glass of Malbec red wine) and something called "tablas" of ham and cheese.  It's cheap, so I am not expecting a ham dinner, maybe a sandwich?  What arrives is a slice of prosciutto and a slice of cheese between two Saltine crackers.  A very light snack.  El gets a bowl of olives which turn out to be more bitter and salty than the olives at home.  I do not like them.  Well, it seems that El and I have had a slight misunderstanding.  I thought we would head back to Plaza De Mayo now and she thinks we were heading to the bar across the street for a mini pubcrawl.  Since I have just eaten, I offer to just get a glass of wine or something as I am not too hungry.  As we survey the area, we agree to move towards the Plaza and get something on the move if we are inclined.  We walk up Avienda Defense towards the Plaza. There are several antique shops and some boutiques open, but nothing really strikes us.  We do stop at a church that is undergoing some reconstruction, but a few quick pictures and we are ambling again. Once we hit the plaza, we get some more shots of the Casa Rosada and El goes to the cathedral adjacent to the plaza. 



I wait outside looking WAY out of place next to the gypsies begging for change by swirling cups of coins.  The sound is unmistakable and the children apprenticing their begging skills is sad at best.  We map out our route to walk down Avienda Florida to check the shopping.  As we stroll we see a lot of shops, but nothing really interests us.  It is a street closed to motor traffic and you just walk down the middle.  There are several people who have set up shop in the center to hawk their goods.  Everything from guitar and pan flute players selling their CD's to tango shop offering everything tango from lessons to garb to cassettes and CD’s with a couple doing a tango in front of the shop acting as a live advertisement.  Nice to look at, but nothing we need.  We walk to the cross street of Viamonte which is where our hotel is so we turn and start in that direction.  We are still several blocks from the hotel.  As we walk we cross Avienda 9 de Julio again. 



This time we get our pictures of the obelisk and do stop for a snack at The Metro Bar.  A nice little place.  I get three empanadas (beef, chicken, and ham and cheese) and a 1/2 liter of Valmont cabernet sauvignon Malbec pinot noir.  It is not as good as the wine from last night, but the empanadas are all excellent.  It looks like there are several bars and eateries in the Palermo and Las Canitas neighborhoods and the write ups we see on them say they don't open until around 8pm.  We plan to head back to the hotel for a nap and head to Palermo to start our evening festivities.  We get up at 9pm and head out.  One of the empanadas from before, the spicy beef, I think, is not sitting well.  I take something from El’s portable pharmacy and forget about it.  We grab our bags and guides and head out for the night.  We take the Subte (which closes at 10pm! very early for a city with such late nightlife) to the Palermo neighborhood.  We find a couple of restaurants we could go for and set out to find them.  Unfortunately they are spread out and not worth walking to all of them to find the best.  We try for two French restaurants, but one is packed and the other looks much more upscale than our dress allows for this evening.  We see and pick a place called Grappa Cantina.  We put in our name for a 20 minute wait.  We go to the bar and order a drink.  El notices a couple being seated near the hostess station as they refuse the seating and opt to wait for a more desirable location.  We are then bumped to the front of the line and are seated next to the hostess station.  I had just ordered a glass of wine, that I sip at the table while I look over the menu.  We choose a cheese and meat platter to start.  There were about 15 cheeses and charcuterie items to choose from and for the portion we opted for we got to choose four of them.  We got parmesan, mozzarella, Roquefort, and soprasata.  Everything was good, if not a little salty.  The Roquefort on bread was fantastic.  Soprasata has never been my favorite and chunked parmesan is a little tough.  The mozzarella was nice and smooth.  All in all, good choices.  For entree I get spaghetti delfino.  Basically a bowl of spaghetti with a sauce of diced tomatoes, diced chicken, and basil.  It was very decent and I had no complaints with the quality of the meal.  We can't help but notice that at 11:05pm the place is packed and there is a significant line waiting to be seated.  After dinner we walk to one of the two bars that had been recommended.  The first is the Soul Cafe. It is in the Las Canitas neighborhood and the adjective "funky" squared just about begins to describe this place.  Straight out of the 1970's, the red bar with dice hanging from the ceiling has funk and soul written all over it...literally.  It looks to be mostly a restaurant, but the bar in front doubles as a waiting area for tables.  I start with a gin and tonic which is quite fine.  The music is by live DJ and is a bit too junky for my tastes.  Retro is one thing, but there are certain aspects of pop music that should have stayed in the 70's, and this is one of them.  After a half hour, we haven't recognized any of the tunes and it just seems like we should press on to the other place I had heard about.  I'm glad I came, but I am ready to move on.  We now need to walk for what seems like an eternity to get to another bar.  This one is called Mundo Bizarro and is back in the Palermo neighborhood. It is open until 5:00am on Saturday night, so at 2:00am, we are the early birds!  I have read about this place in several places and am looking forward to it.  They say the music ranges from Dolly Parton to Black Sabbath.  That is my kind of place!  On the way, we stop at a helado place to get an ice cream for the walk. Two small cups for $3.  I get mint chocolate chip which is good, not Ben and Jerry's good, but good.  We finally make it to Mundo Bizarro.  What a disappointment!  I guess the music is really at the discretion if the DJ and tonight we are subjected to a mix of crap.  It's not dance.  It's not trance.  It's not rap.  It's not house.  It's just unlistenable crap.  Monotonous beats with no discernable lyrics.  Just crap.  El gets a Blue Hawaiian and I get a bottle of Heineken.  It is like pulling teeth to get the attention of the bartenders and the prices, although cheap by U.S. standards, are pretty steep for this town.  El's drink is very strong and she has trouble drinking it.  I don't want to prolong this night as we are pretty far from the hotel and won't be able to walk home.  I finish my beer and help her finish her drink which is pretty good.  Fruity, but good.  I decided to hit the bathroom before we leave.  The bathroom choices are "chi-chas" and "chi-chos".  Luckily, there is a silhouette of the "That Girl" flip on the "chi-chas" door, so my choice is narrowed.  The bathrooms, at least many of the ones I have been in, smell like a latrine…strong, stale, urine and I notice that many of the patrons do not wash their hands after using the facilities.  It's pretty nasty and I try not to touch the doorknobs as I exit.  There was one place I went where a guy uses the urinal, walks over to the sink, looks in the mirror, runs his unwashed hands through his coiffe and heads out.  Luckily I am not shaking hands with many people here.  Anyway, we leave and grab a taxi back to the hotel and call it a night. The taxi runs $4US. It would have been at least $10-15 in NYC.  It is 3:24am and we are planning to take a day trip tomorrow, so I sign off for now.

Sunday 5/11/08
Our plan for the day is to go to the La Feria De Mataderos today (literally The Slaughterhouse Fair(!?), but whatever…).  We are going to try our hand at using the Guia T to figure out the bus route.  The challenge is that the fair is so far on the outskirts of the city that no Subte line makes it that far.  Our only choices are taxi or bus.  We hear that a taxi will cost about $30 and the bus $2 each.  It is Sunday, so things seem pretty quiet on the streets.  We spend about 20 minutes with the Guia T and I think I have it figured out.  It is pretty complicated.  I make an agreement with El though that since we don't know how long it will take to get there or how long to get through the fair, I suggest that if I have failed in my bus routing, then we should grab the taxi and try the bus again on the way back.  We walk up to Avienda De Corrientas and look for a bus stop.  We don't see one right off, so we start to walk looking at all of the bus stops for the bus line # we want.  Then, we actually see the bus we want to take, but, we are not at a stop.  We quickly think to watch the bus drive by and watch it as it heads down the street, then wherever it stops, we will go to that spot and catch the next one.  Sadly, the bus makes no stops on this street and we watch it turn off the avienda.  So, our choice now is to go back to the Guia T and start again trying to figure it out, or to take the taxi.  At just that moment a taxi approaches and we both decide to take it.  We jump in and ask to go to the fair.  The whole ride is about 20 minutes and runs $26.  We get out and the fair is basically a street fair with local artisans selling their goods.  Having not eaten any breakfast and it is now around 12:30pm, I need something. 



One of the first places I see is a grilled meat store.  He has several different meats for sale that he puts on bread to order.  I don't want to overdo it, so I just get a carne empanada.  A good walk around food.  Lots of foods, leathers, silver, and many, many booths with mate cups.  Trinkets all.  I guess some of the food booths were good and we did buy some of the chimichurri mix and a jar of dulche de leche after sampling a panqueque con dulche de leche.  El bought some things for people at home, but I was mostly interested in the street food vendors.  There was a funny moment when we were near the stage in the center of the fair that had a band playing traditional music, gauchos all dressed up, and dancers putting on a show.  At one point someone came out and began singing solo.  That was fine, but as the song ended literally, every single person in attendance stopped what they were doing and cheered in unison.  Except us.  We just stood there.  I assume now the song was probably the Argentinian national anthem, and not being familiar with that tune, we just stood there as everyone else acknowledges the way they might at home.  Talk about feeling out of place. We continue to walk around and see the food vendors.  Not prepared food, but like cheese makers, or bakers, or spice sellers etc. We look to see if there is anything we want to buy or sample.  As we make our way through to the end there is a section of prepared food vendors.  Most had similar versions of the same foods, grilled beef and sausages, empanadas, tamales, humita (sweet cream corn tamales), and locra, which is a stew of beans and tripe flavored with meat.  Kind of a national dish here.  We got a bit of everything (except the locra).  A sandwich de lomito – which was like a hot roast beef sandwich, a handmade tamale, another carne empanada with hardboiled egg, another filled with chicken, spinach, and cheese, a humita tamale, and a bottle of Cabarceno Patero vino tinto dulche.  There was no choice in wine, so we took what we got.  It was really not too good and fortunately the only bad thing in the meal.  One of the issues we ran into was that the tamale booth was so popular that they actually had deli counter numbers to keep customers in line.  When we arrived they were serving #78 and El grabbed #08.  We agree that she will wait in line at the tamale place and I will go get the meat sandwich.  I come back and get a seat at one of the picnic tables and wait for El.  I wait, and I wait, then wait some more. It takes about 45 minutes for her to get through the line.  It was a good lunch, it just took forever it seemed to get it.  We later figure out that those in the know grab a deli number, then go off to either wander the fair or get food at less busy vendors.  They kill a half hour, then go back to get back into the tamale line.  Ah, if we only knew then what we know now...  After lunch we take one more stroll through the fair and head for the bus.  El has better luck with the Guia T and we get the 126 bus towards Retiro.  I realize now that I may have been reading the outbound bus schedule this morning instead of the inbound explaining why the bus didn’t stop on Corrientas, since it’s a one way street…the other way.  Again, if I knew then...  The bus takes us about 45 minutes and we get off near Plaza De Mayo since it looks like this is the closest it will take us to the hotel.  We jump off and begin to walk.  We stop at a diner called Petalo for a cafe con leche so we can look at our maps for getting to the restaurant tonight...that should be an adventure, not getting there but the place and meal itself.  More on that later.  We make it back to the room and take a nap after catching up on our journals.  The dinner starts at 9:15pm and they have asked for us to arrive between 8:45 and 9:00.  Not really knowing how long it will take us to get there we leave to give us plenty of time.  We arrive closer to 8:30, so we decide to grab a pre-dinner drink before ringing the bell.  We walk down the street to a little pizza place with a wine selection.  We order a half bottle of Viejo blanco, sit at a table while El catches up on her journal and I start writing some postcards.  Before we know it, it is close to 9:00, and we high tail it back to the dinner place.  At this point I should mention that this is no ordinary restaurant as it is run out of a private apartment.  No walk-ins here, just private recommendations to private parties.  We are 2 of the 8 guests this evening at Casa SaltShaker.  We arrive in the middle as two are already arrived and four are on the way in.  We are told to wander the apartment until everyone arrives.  We take on our art gallery pose and look intensely at things that would ordinarily not grab our attention.  Photos of people we don't know on the wall and a CD collection with very few artists I have ever heard of.  We walk out to the terrace and admire the apartment from all angles.  It is inviting and we are greeted warmly.  Before too long a party of four arrives and takes on the introduction duties.  A nice mix it turns out, the group of four are two Australian expats living in BsAs taking their parents who are visiting from Melbourne out for a Mother’s Day dinner. The other couple (one Russian and one British) are bar owners living in BsAs. And then El and I.  Everyone is introduced and begin obligatory small talk.  Before long Dan, the owner/chef brings out a shot glass of clarito’s.  He says it is like an extra dry martini with a twist of lemon.  After determining that even though served as a shooter, it is best to sip, everyone begins to drink and open up.  Dan invites us to move to the eight setting dining room table at our leisure which we do in short order and get on with the dinner.  Dan starts by formally introducing himself and his staff of one, and gives a brief explanation of tonight’s dinner, which is a celebration of the life of Irving Berlin (who was born in 1888).  This concept was a little lost on me.  I am mostly unfamiliar with the work of Mr. Berlin.  I have recently been informed that he was responsible for such tunes as “God Bless America”, “White Christmas” and showtunes such as “There’s No Business Like Show Business”.  Dan also explains that he owns no Irving Berlin CD's, making this an even more far-fetched connection for the dinner.  We all opt for the wine pairings with the five course dinner.  So, to recap, this dinner is a tribute to composer Irving Berlin, by celebrating culinary events, introductions or innovatons that occurred at the time of his birth.  As you will see, the connections are loose at best, but it obviously took some research and development, and I wasn’t about to spoil the parade.

Course I 

                                                                                                                                                  
Ostras “Rockefeller”.  Invented at Antoine’s Restaurant in New Orleans in 1899, although the recipe has never been divulged, it has been reasonably speculated and this is Dan's version.  Three shucked and roasted oysters with a dollop of watercress and herb puree (among other seasonings and ingredients).  This was very good.  I was expecting raw oysters with a slimy consistency, but the roasting dried them out and made them chewable instead of slurpable.  The watercress paste wasn't a standout, but the well roasted oysters more than made up for it.  He paired this with Nieto Senetiner Extra Brut.




Course II


Sopa de Trigo.  The breakfast cereal Cream of Wheat was first sold in 1893 around the same time creamed beef was introduced, so naturally, the next course was a wheatberry and pastrami soup.  The connection between the soup and the culinary advances?  I’m not sure.  Nevertheless, this was absolutely the highlight of the meal for me.  I can't really say more about it, just a great soup that tasted like a soup that my grandmother used to make.  The wheatberries were well cooked, but not falling apart and the pastrami, vegetables, and spices flavored the broth nicely.  The paired wine was 2007 Humberto Canale-Patasona Intimo Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon.



Course III


                                                                                                                                             
Hongos Pinos Salteados con Tortita Ingles.  The 1880’s gave us many things, including the Thomas' English muffin.  For this, Dan made his own homemade English muffins and topped it with pine mushrooms with chilis and molasses, drizzled with an egg yolk sauce, sprinkled with a powder of crushed pumpkin seeds and “ramassan” seasoning.  The consistency of the mushrooms was a little slimy and the sauce was a tad too sweet for my tastes.  The muffin was fine, if not a little more dense than a Thomas’, but that wasn't what I was interested in.  The wine pairing was Vendima 2007 Finca Las Moras Rosado de Syrah – Mendoza.





Course IV 
                                                                                                                                                
Pato con “Newtons” de Higos  Next up, the entrée of Duck Breast with Fig "Newton".  1891 was the year the Fig Newton was introduced and that's what we were after today.  The dish arrives with a sizable fig and vegetable stuffed spring roll with five slices of roasted duck breast.  The duck breast is done very well and tastes great.  The spring roll, is again a little too sweet for my liking.  I try to add a forkful of the fig filling to my bites of duck breast.  It works, but remains on the sweet side.  The wine for this dish was 2005 Domain Chandon Clos Du Moulin Cabernet- Pinot Noir.




Course V 

                                                                                                       
Cheesecake de Pomelo Rosado.  In, what I consider to be the farthest reaching tie to our beloved Mr. Berlin, the 1880’s saw the invention of refrigerated railcars used to transport fresh citrus fruit from California and Florida to parts of the country not able to produce citrus.  For this, the last course is a cheesecake with grapefruit sauce.  Very creative.  I love cheesecake.  And although not too sweet, the cheesecake is pretty good.  The grapefruit sauce, not so much.  An oddly bitter sauce with not enough sweet in the cake to counterbalance.  It was so bitter that it was like biting straight into the pith of a grapefruit.    The wine pairing on the other hand is very sweet and not to my liking because of it.  A San Felipe Tardio Roble 2007.   




A choice of coffee or tea comes with the dinner and I choose tea.  Alas, I am a Red Rose drinker.  Any pekoe or Earl Grey will suffice.  English or Irish Breakfast will do.  The server comes around with a box of tea bags and offers them like fine cigars.  I can't read most of the labels and few are obvious.  The last thing I want is to wind up selecting a flavored tea like pomegranate or cinnamon.  Luckily I pick what turns out to be an acceptable choice.  A nice way to finish the evening.  To sum up this dinner, I am thrilled we ate here.  The mixture of guests was great and the owner, Dan was an excellent host.  The theme of the evening was lost on me, but I am sure someone, somewhere could relate (I suppose if we were celebrating the life of Paul McCartney and listened to Abbey Road and ate Beatles "inspired" food, I may have had a little better of an appreciation).  The food was a little hit or miss for me.  I appreciated the effort and guess this is one of the pitfalls of running a place with no static menu, or at least that does not offer course choices.  You can’t please all of the people all of the time…  As the evening winds down I reflect that this was a pretty good group of people to share a dinner with.  The oddity of the place itself made it that much more enjoyable.  For all around experience...two thumbs up…highly recommended.  After dinner we move on to a bar called Milion.  It keeps popping up in our books and it is in the neighborhood.  It is about 12:15am and most of the streets are quiet.  We find our way down to Milion which is a 3 story mansion converted to a bar/nightspot.  Each level has a bar and you can wander around and t feels like you are in someone’s mansion (which, technically, I guess you are) and you can sit in a living room on a sofa, at a dining room table, or out on a terrace, balcony, or overlook.  Overall, the place is pretty quiet, though I can see how it could get busy and loud on a Friday night.  We each order gin and tonics and try to catch up on our journals.  Being so full from dinner and having had one before-dinner wine, a calito, and five courses of wine, we are probably at the end of our drinking rope for the night.  We don't stay long as El is very tired and I am just not “feeling” this place.  We settle the bill and walk our way back to the hotel.  We stop at the desk and inquire about shuttle service to the airport on Wednesday morning.  The clerk tells us that we should come back in the morning.  We head up to the room and call it a night.

Monday 5/12/08
As we leave the hotel we see a post office across the street.  We go to buy some postcard stamps.  We need to write them still, but this way we can write them today, stamp them and drop them with the front desk of the hotel like we usually do.  We go in and, surprise, there is a line.  There is a take-a-tab at the entrance.  There is a waiting area with probably 10 chairs.  Five tellers and a ticker board displaying the "now serving" number.  We wait for about 5 minutes when I decide to run back to the room for a minute.  El continued to wait.  She makes it to the counter, asks for a book of stamps and is told that you have to bring the items to be mailed directly to the counter and then buy your postage.  They do not sell stamps, just postage.  El comes back to the hotel to see if she understood that concept correctly, which, it turns out, she did.  We will write our postcards today and mail them tomorrow.  We are decidedly running out of things we want to do.  We feel we have hit the highlights and more and trying to find other things to do may be a lesson in futility.  We make the decision against our better judgment to go to La Cabana Las Lilas.  This is a steakhouse that actually shows up by name in the "1000 Places To See Before You Die" book.  When we ate at the Parrillo Pena the other night, we were assured that:                                                              
a) Parrilla Pena was “THE best" steak place in the city and                                                                                
b) La Cabana Las Llilas was an “overpriced tourist trap".
Sadly, we broke down and had to try Las Lilas to confirm the latter. 
We walk down to the harbor and find the steakhouse in all its glory overlooking the canal with a nice harbor view as we are seated on the deck.  As we are seated, the table is already half full of food plates.  A large platter with sections of salmon salad, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella balls, tempinade, and a seemingly out of place chicken stew.  There are several bread stick selections and the waiter brings an amuse bouche of soup in a shot glass.  He tells El that it is a vegetable soup, but it is obvious from the first sip that it is a fish based soup.  We both drink and it is good.  At this point we are sure we will be paying for this in the end.  The sommelier comes by to offer assistance with our wine selection.  This place is said to have the finest wine list in Argentina(!).  It was pretty big and had some very expensive selections.  We were just looking for a cheap bottle of Malbec or similar.  The gentleman helps us choose a Melipal Malbec 2005 from Mendoza.  It is muy bueno.  In fact it came from the "muy bueno" section of the wine list.  I go on to order “ojo de bife” (ribeye steak) with papas fritas (french fries).  The food arrives in a timely fashion and we dig in.  My steak, although cooked well, is a little lacking in character.  It is good, don't get me wrong, it is really good.  But this place prides itself on the fact that they raise their own steers on a private ranch to supply the restaurant, I was just expecting a little more "oh, my goodness", and a little less "oh, is that what all of the fuss is about".  The fried potatoes suck.  Although hot, they are nothing more than soggy McDonald’s french fries.  The meat has no vegetable sides, just meat on a plate.  The overall meal is fine and in line price-wise with what we would pay at home.  About US$120 for a substantial steak dinner (even though we ate lunch here, it was certainly a dinner portion anywhere).  Now completely full and out of cash since we are politely reminded at the end of the meal that they do not accept Master Card (Visa and American Express only).  We head out to find an ATM and start to walk this gluttonous episode off.  We walk to Plaza De Mayo and get our banking done. 




Then we head around the corner to the Linea A Subte.  This is the last of the Subte lines with the original wooden cars on it.  Every other line has been updated.  Very rickety and seemingly frail, the line is the least modern metro we have seen since the old Soviet cattle cars in Budapest.  We take the Subte about 5 stops to the Congreso station.  At El's suggestion I had grabbed the video camera in case we get close to the Recoleta cemetery again and I could do a quick video tour of the deathville (that’s really what it’s called).  We walk up Avienda Callao towards Recoleta and stop into a place called Aroma for a cafe con leche and a helado.  Hey, give us a chance to sit and digest a bit before moving on.  We start walking again towards the Recoleta cemetery.  The idea of a short video of this place is fun.  As we walk, the 15 blocks or so, we think that we should do a time check because, just because the place s free, doesn't mean it doesn't close.  Alas, we consult the guidebook that tells us that it does, in fact, close at 6 pm.  Since it is 5:45 now, we hold little hope for tonight.  True, we get to the gate at 5:50 and the doors are already closed to incoming visitors and only opened to let people out.  We consult the guidebook again and see there is a microbrewery around the corner called the Buller Brewing Company where we can sit for a beer and discuss our plans.  The place is pretty empty and the wait staff friendly.  They brew their own beer and we decide to break the "no beer in wine country edict".  I order and Oktoberfest and El a Hefeweizen.  Turns out to be "fanatic hour" between 6 and 9pm.  Our drinks are cheaper than usual about US$4 per pint.  The beer is very decent and equals any microbrew I have had at home.  We take the time to write out our postcards and I look for other places to go.  I forgot the list of postcard recipients, so we do as many as we can from memory, so the list is a lot shorter tomorrow.  We settle our tab and head to a place called Deep Blue.  It is well on the other side of town, but here is the game plan.  We are still full from lunch, so even though it is after 8pm, we are not looking for food.  There is a pizza place that was recommended by the two guys at the Parrilla Pena called Piola.  We tried to go yesterday, but they were closed.  Two of the dinner guests at last night’s dinner were a couple of guys that own a bar in town.  We thought it might be fun to stop in for a drink tonight.  So, we consult the maps and see Deep Blue is farther away from the hotel.  We should hit Deep Blue, then, if we are hungry, go to Piola for food.  If not hungry, go to Flux around the corner and hit Piola afterwards.  Either way we will be closer to the hotel at the end of it all.  Our first stop is Deep Blue. A pretty good looking place with lots of food and drink offerings.  I get a coconut daiquiri which is sweeter than expected.  I would have rather had more rum in it, but I'll deal.  We both journal and enjoy some of the better music selections of this trip, which isn't saying much.  When mainstream R.E.M. and Maroon 5 qualify as the best tunes we've heard, I long for the days of metal clubs in Barcelona.  The music begins to waffle.  Some U2 and what sounds like T. Rex, but I think we have gone through a full disc of Maroon 5 and Counting Crows by now.  I am looking to settle up and press on.  We do and head to Flux, the bar owned by the two guys from dinner last night.  Based on what I see and their business card I think the best way to describe this place is a "hetero friendly gay bar".  There are not many people here tonight, but the music is loud.  No matter, both Jamie and Ilia are working and remember us from last night.  They both stop over to say “hello” as they bring menus and we order.  We get a bottle of Trapiche Malbec 2007.  The wine is fine.  Nothing special, but fine.  We continue a game of Scrabble while El works on more postcards and I continue to journal.  At one point El remarks how the artwork on the walls is for sale.  Photographs that could have been ripped from Men's Health magazine.  I decide to pass on any purchase at this time.  This a nice, quiet way to spend some time.  I am glad we came.  It is now 10:40.  I expect we will finish this bottle of wine, head to Piola and call it a night.  We have set up a walking tour for tomorrow afternoon and we are supposed to come up with the itinerary.  I have been thinking about some of the things we could ask our guide to show us.  We were hoping that the guide would take the suggestion from us to "show us the sights that no one sees" and get creative, but the last communication from the guide was, "I'll pick you up and you can tell me where you want to go".  I'm sure we'll have something in mind by then.  We finish our bottle of red wine and our Scrabble game at the same time.  We decide to head out.  We settle the bill and head to Piola (every time we say the name of this place we make it sound like the Ricola lozenge commercial so it sounds like Peeee-Ola) for a pizza and salad.  The place is still lively at 11:30.  Not full, just lively.  We order a salad, a small pizza, and a bottle of Dona Paula Sauvignon Blanc 2007.  It is a little sweet, but acceptable.  On the way out we pilfer two embroidered cloth napkins as a reminder of this place.  A decent pie and nice way to end the evening as we make our way back to the room.

Tuesday 5/13/08
Our last day in town.  We decide to split up for the morning.  I would like to get back to the cemetery and El has some things she wants to do.  One thing I wanted to make note of was an interesting network of tourist information that are spread across the city. 

At specific landmarks you will see these plaques embedded into the sidewalks that instruct you to dial phone numbers from your cell as you look at the landmark and when you call you are supposed to get an explanation of what you are looking at.  We didn't have a cell phone, so we are unsure of the actual information or even if you can get the information in different languages.  Nevertheless, it seemed like an interesting concept...a do-it-yourself audioguide.  I take the Subte back to Recoleta and walk to the cemetery.  This time there is actually an interment ceremony in progress. 




The coffin is still in the hearse outside of the front gates.  I am allowed to go in, but am asked to enter through a side gate instead of through the area where the family is waiting.  I spend about a half hour there just getting some video of the mausolea.  Afterwards it is about 12:15 and I decide to head to a lunch place in the area.  It is called El Sanjuanino.  It is an Argentine restaurant known for their preparation of traditional foods.  There are only ten tables in the place, and only a couple of patrons.  The waiter gives me an English menu.  I ask if he recommends the empanadas or the tamales.  He says empanadas.  I order one mild and one spicy beef and a bowl of locro, which is a stew of rice, white beans, sausage, and "fat gut", which I believe is tripe.  I ask for a side of the chimichurri sauce I like.  The stew is really nice.  Overall very mild with some spicy bits.  I figure if I am going to try tripe here, I should probably get it at a place known for its locro.  I'm not ready for menudo soup yet, but I think this is a good first step.  The chimichurri sauce is not very good here.  The first time I had it, it was full of garlic and herbs and made for a great addition to the steak.  The three times I have had it since seem much less fragrant and more to just add some spice to dishes that aren’t necessarily spicy.  This meal is really good and this place was a great find from the guidebook.  We are taking a walking tour today and are meeting the guide at the hotel around 2pm.  It is now 12:45.  I will consult my maps and head back to the room.  I walk back and have plenty of time to start packing and journaling.  I am so turned around in this city!  The maps face different directions depending on the publisher.  Some orient so north is up and south is on the bottom.  But most maps orient so the northeast river is on the bottom.  Therefore, if you use different maps to get around, one time you will turn right to go to the hotel, while other times you will go straight.  It is very disorienting.  I have finally figured out the green Subte line, while the Guia T has become a lost cause.  We think we have it figured out, but will have no chance to use it.  We talked to someone who agreed it is a very complicated bus system, but says that once you figure it out, the Guia T is an invaluable tool.  So, the plan today is to take our walking tour, come back to the hotel and sleep.  Get up around 10pm, shower, go to Parrilla Pena for dinner again, then back to the hotel, finish packing and wait for our shuttle to the airport at 3:00am.  Since we have had some good luck with walking tours in other cities, we looked into doing one here.  We found a couple of companies, and one from the guidebook looks interesting.  It is called Churritos and I guess the way it works is that you email them and request a walking tour and tell them where you want to go.  They will then find a volunteer tour guide to take you around free of charge.  The guidebook said to allow three days correspondence time to set up your tour, on our first day we sent the request in, but when they responded they were unsure if they could get us a guide without five days notice!  Anyway, they checked and found a guide for us and it all worked out.   Although it is said that with most things "you get what you pay for, so beware of what comes free".  However, in this particular case, it worked out perfectly.  Our guide, David, arrived on time for our tour as he picked us up in the lobby of our hotel.  He asks us what we would like to see and we tell him that we would like to either go to the La Boca neighborhood or to the underground city and archaeological museum I had read about briefly.  He says he is living in San Telmo and is comfortable with taking us the adjacent La Boca.  We walk to the Subte and take the train back to Constitucion.  We walk again through San Telmo and then turn off towards the neighborhood of La Boca.  He is happy to answer questions about everything from the history to daily life in Buenos Aires.  La Boca has been written about as a more "dangerous" neighborhood where if tourists are going to run into problems like being mugged or harassed, it is more likely to happen in La Boca (and David points out in San Telmo at night), than anywhere else in the city.  David knows exactly where to take us.  It takes us about an hour to get to La Boca, we spend about hour walking around there, and about an hour to get back.  I found it very ironic once we got there that it was an obvious tourist trap.  One of the appeals of the neighborhood is the row houses that were built by immigrants who used scraps of wood and metal from the ports to build their hoses and leftover paint to cover them. 



This makes for a visually busy scene straight out of the film Edward Scissorhands.  There is one small section with a large concentration of these houses- that evidently, no one lives in anymore, that just act as something for tourists to see.  There are several street vendors all pulling for your dollars, several restaurants with live music, some with live tango shows and one couple of tango dancers dressed to the nines providing a photo opportunity...for a price.  David points out that a few years ago the dancers used to just dance all day with a box in front of them for people to throw coins in, but that now they just stand around waiting to provide a scene to be snapped.  I guess there's something to be said for giving the people what they want, just not me.  We continued around the block and made our way to the old port.  We walked along the water which smelled just horrible of pollution.  The floating discarded tires were a nice touch too.  At one point on the promenade David actually asks us if would mind stopping to rest for a few minutes!  I was so proud!  We outlasted our walking tour guide!  After this quick pit stop, we head back to Lemuza Park in San Telmo and get back onto Defensa which is the street we walked back from San Telmo when we came on Saturday.  We go several blocks and David gets to the street he lives on.  We part ways after getting directions back to the Subte San Juan.  When he first arrived, David gave his spiel that included explaining that he was a volunteer, but that any donation at the end to the company would be greatly appreciated.  As we break we make our donation and wish David well.  After we say our goodbyes and split, El and I stop at a cafe called Arte and Cafe for a coffee and an empanada. I ask El to order me a cafe con leche as I go to wash up.  I arrive back at the table to a Cappuccino Italiano.  It was closer to an espresso macchiato than a coffee with a lot of milk.  El offers to drink my reject, and I order a cafe con leche and a carne empanada.  They hit the spot.  We are heading back to the hotel for our sleep and will get up tonight and head to Parrilla Pena for our final meal in town.  The sleep does not go as well as planned, but we do manage to get some shuteye.  We get up at 10pm as planned and shower and finish packing.  We then head out for dinner.  We order mostly the same meal we had the other night.  We got a bottle of the same Norton Malbec D.O.C., salad this time with crumbled Roquefort on top, papas fritas, and I again got the bife de chorizo.  El got the ribs this time.  The waiter starts us off with an empanada each while we review the menu.  Since we know what we want, it doesn't take long.  The meal is every bit as good as the first time we ate here.  What a great recommendation, even though it doesn't show up in and guide book.  It is a local place with local flavor and it was fantastic...again.  As we eat our dinner, El and I talk about this trip and how we both feel it was a productive trip and we leave not feeling like we missed anything or didn't allow enough time for something we wanted to do.  Although I think we were both curious what the mate tastes like.  We were led to believe that everyone, everywhere drinks mate which is like and herb tea.  They will carry around a cup made from a hollowed out gourd filled with crushed herbs.  The cup has a built in metal straw, and you fill the cup with hot water from a thermos that you carry around under you arm.  Supposedly, "everyone" does this and as a sign of friendship they invite you to drink from their straw.  We didn't really see much of this in the city.  We saw a few people doing this at La Feria De Mataderos, but suffice it to say, I wasn't invited to drink from anyone else’s straw- which I think I am OK with.  But the fact remains, we did not get to sample mate while were here.  In retrospect, I think that three or four days here would have been enough and three or four days in another city would have been fun too.  But this trip was six days in Buenos Aires.  And it was good.  I don't think we had as much interaction with "portenos" (locals) as we do in some other cities, but the people we did meet were friendly and hospitable.  As we finish our meal, it is just past midnight.  We agree that we need to sit and digest for a while.  We head back down Parana to a cafe that is still serving called Gran Marin. We each order cafe con leche and I get an almendrado, the ice cream cake with almond crust.  It hits the spot for sure.  A half hour later and we are done with our coffees and sweets and wonder what our plan should be since we still have 2 1/2 hours before airport pickup.  It's back to the room to watch television and grab a short nap before heading to the lobby for our remise, which is like a car service.  You can't hail them like a taxi, but the hotel calls for it and you pay a predetermined flat rate for your ride.  He is a few minutes late, but his speedy driving more than makes up for his tardiness.  The ride is 70 pesos.  The only beauty about arriving at the airport at 3:30am for a 5:00am flight is that there is hardly anyone in the airport at this hour.  We check in with virtually no line, pass through security where we are the only ones there, pay our airport tax with no wait, and go through passport control with only one person in line in front of us and we are at the gate 10 minutes after arriving at the terminal.  The flight is uneventful and we now sit in Sao Paulo, Brazil waiting for our connection, which should be coming directly.

A couple of random observations.  This country went through a disastrous economy collapse a few years ago.  They say it is rebounding nicely, but that the effects can still be felt in a major way.  The way it was explained to us was the collapse eradicated the middle class.  Those who were rich before the collapse remained rich, and everyone else who was middle or lower class, became lower class overnight.  The unemployment rate is very high (around 16%).  There are a lot of homeless on the streets and ecofriendship has not hit these shores yet.  Frequently, people litter.  To add to the garbage all over the sidewalks and streets, it is very common to see men in business suits just toss a candy wrapper or empty cigarette pack onto the ground.  The quality of the sidewalks themselves is horrible.  Between the two of us we have tripped, stumbled, and generally ankle twisted many times, luckily without serious injury.   I suppose the city has more important things to spend its revenue on at this time.  In addition to littler, pollution seems uncurbed.  The cars, buses and motorcycles emit clouds of black exhaust as they pass.  The noxious fumes make your eyes water and your clothes stink.  Between the general appearance and attitude here, it is unclear to what extent portenos (natives of BsAs) take pride in their city.  I think that working class everyday people are more concerned with living day to day than attracting tourism dollars.  I can’t say I blame them and I guess that's the tradeoff we make for visiting a city where the dollar still holds considerable value in relation to local currency.  Would I come back?  Probably not.  But only because we've done it and would prefer to go somewhere else to try something new in the future.  Would I recommend visiting Buenos Aires to others?  Absolutely.  At least until the dollar regains some strength against the English Pound or Euro, this could be one of the best travel bets you can find and we are thrilled to have experienced it.

sim

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