Sunday, 11 December 2011

IATTOUR Dec 5-11; Buenas Aires Wk 1

Elaine at the Casa Rosada
We begin the next leg of the trip arriving into BA via the Buquebus fast ferry from Colonia del Sacramento.  Our first challenge was to figure out how to phone the agency for our apartment rental; the phones need coins (moneda), the kiosk staff couldn't give change, but sold us a phone card that didn't work.  After a number of futile attempts, we hop in a taxi; with our broken Spanish convince the cab driver to call the agency on his cell phone...success.  We meet Sarah and Eve at the apartment just off Dorego Plaza and get settled.  We weren't sure what we were going to get, but the place is really comfy and has everything we need.  The area although a bit touristy seems like a pretty funky district with easy access to all transportation to get around the city.  We head out to get a few essentials; wine, cheese, fruit and begin exploring the neighborhood.  Lots of activity, both local and visitors.

After a busy weekend we are set to have a bit of a quiet evening of reading and relaxing.  The apartment although right next to Dorego Plaza is very quiet when compared to Montevideo.  As we settle in for the evening, we begin to get serenaded by one of our neighbours to a set of classical music on his grand what a treat!  This turns out to be a daily ritual....very talented person.  The only downside to the apartment is a lack of view (other than the fat guy next door in his undies) with a balcony/terrace, but that gives us a very quiet place..more important when sleeping.

We begin to understand the true size of this city and the amount of things to do and see here as we continue our research.  The good thing is we don't have to do it all in few days, so try and set a relaxed schedule to fully appreciate the offerings.  Our first foray out was to conquer the Subte (subway) was to no where in particular and tackled at a non-rush hour period so as not to frighten us off.  Pretty straight forward, the only thing don't bend your multi-pass paper viaje tickets as they get spit back out of the turnstyle and will not let you pass.  A wander down Avenida Rivadavia to the Parque Rivadavia was and enjoyable days outing.  Returning to Dorego Plaza, we watch the professionals doing the Tango...they make this look easy, but it ain't.
A trip on the A Line, the oldest subway in SA.
Playing Dominoes in the park.

We hook up with a British bloke (we were referred to by Juliane) who conducts walking/bus/subte tours of central BA (this is pay by tip tour); was about 4 hours; meeting on the steps of the statue at Plaza Italia.  A great backgrounder tour which explained how to use the urban omnibus (GUIAT de Bolsillo-a must have guide book 12 pesos if you ever expect to catch a bus)  and subte took us through a bunch of districts by bus and subte.  Got to see Carlos Gardel's house and district where the modern Tango began.  This fellow had a wealth of historic knowledge of the city and would highly recommend his tour-  He briefed us on the hazards of the city...mad drivers to the rougher sections to avoid and pick pockets.  Prior to getting on the omnibus, I had transferred anything of importance out of my pants pockets into the small backpack that hung in front of me.  Getting on the crowded omnibus, with kids crying, lots of distractions, getting jostled, I (Tony) realized someone had a hand in my back pocket....I turned quickly to find a middle aged guy dressed like he was heading to the golf course with his aviator sun glasses, non-chalantley give me a "what me worry" look shrug his shoulders, then promptly get off a the next stop.  I asked the guide if this was part of the tour!  Just reinforces that you need to be careful when on crowded buses or Subte.  The only safe way is to have a pack/bag which you hold in front of you with important stuff.
Great example of Fillette decoration.
Gaucho Gill shrine..for good or evil requests!
Iconic image of Carlos Gardel in the Abasto district.
mmmm custom made Tango shoes!

The converted (1910) market shopping centre with the only Kosher McDonald's outside Israel.

We strike off for Boca down Defensa.  This corner of the world is extremely colourful, but is undoubtedly not the safest place to wander at night.  There is a nice promenade along the tidal and very sketchy looking river.  Turning off this area into the heart of the tourist section in Boca, we are treated to an artesans market and then a cacophany of tango and flamenco music enticing tourists into various diners.  The Tango dancers artfully glide along while the tourists gather and gawk.  This place is alive with colour and languages and the expected tourist stuff.  We decide to walk a little further for lunch and find ourselves back on the San Telmo side in an airy old parilla.  Keeping to the pattern, a little rest and we are back out to check out the streets around the apartment in the evening.  Good thing we don't have the balcony that Tony hoped we would or we would not sleep for the activity that goes on in this little square.

Should we go to the Polo match today?  After we reach Palermo by subway, we wander through a giant supermercado in this upscale area (frequented by Embassy staff).  It is full of absolutely everything, especially wine.  We may have to come back with Carmel and Richard to pick up some of this for "taste-testing".  It turns out that the polo match is  too expensive (think the Stanley Cup finals) and sold out.  We walk by, photograph the polo ponies and head to the Hippodrome (across the street) to watch the horse races.  The horses and the venue are absolutely spectacular.  Too bad we don't put money on our choices as I picked the winner in the first and Tony picked the winner in the second.  As Elizabeth is coming this evening we make sure we are back and ready to greet her.

Tony, Elizabeth and I are up early to pick up tickets for the evening opera performance of "The Merry Widow" Teatro Colon. Afterwards we watch some of the celebrations surrounding the second inauguration of Chrisina Kitchner (Argentina's president and wife of a past president) at the Plazo de Mayo and Congresso.    There are I would guess >200,000 people lining the streets cheering and jeering, hard to distinguish who is who; all have drums and flags.  Quite a spectacle. 
Ella Presidente's coche
The Subte's is free today, so we make our way out to Palermo for a wander through some of the botique shopping districts, till our feet get too sore and we head back to San Telmo for a bit of a relax prior to the Opera. 
a thorn between two roses
This is our (T&E's) first opera, so quite an experience to be in one of the top Opera houses in the world..everything after this will have a hard time to live up to this standard.  The theatre is breathtaking, as this was one of of the last performances of the season, the place was packed.  The plot was simple enough to follow, so sat back and enjoyed the music and spectacle of the costumes and dance.  Finished off the evening sitting on a terrace above Dorrego Square enjoying a bottle of wine and a few nibblies between the three of us.  Drag ourselves into bed about 2am.

The San Telmo sunday market is in full swing, >20 blocks of art, antiques, performances (bands, puppeteers, mimes, tango, etc), knicknacks,food, clothing....and more, plus a gazillion locals and tourists packing the square and Defensa Ave.  This is a weekly  Richard and Carmel arrive in the middle of this mellee, but being the seasoned travelers arrived at our door with narry a problem.  Elizabeth heads back to Montevideo, we hope to meet up with her in LA on our way through.  Have a bit of a quiet day, with some wanderings through the market then a late dinner with Richard and Carmel...we are all ready for the sack.

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