Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Buenos Aires - A tale of two cities

Buenos Aires really is a tale of two cities. One minute you´ll see parks, avenues and architecture to rival Paris. The next you´ll get robbed and step in shit. I´ve never been anywhere like it. Its like the city suffers from Schizophrenia and/or has multiple personalities. This city will take you out for an amazing night on the town and then rob you at gunpoint before kissing you goodnight. After being here for six weeks I have to say I still love the city but you have to really keep an eye out at all times. All the good stuff about the city can lure you into a false sense of security.

Day one aside, we loved Buenos Aires. I´m a big city kid and absolutely loved being back in a big city with modern day convienences such as Starbucks, decent internet, wifi in our hostel, an Expat Sports bars to watch the NFL playoffs complete with buffalo chicken wings, and good restaurants with international cuisine! I had sushi for the first time in seven months, we had Thai, Indian, Mexican and found restaurants who understand how to cook a delicious AND healthy meal. Its no wonder we threw our budget out the door when we got here.

But I have to say we needed it, deserved it even. It was a rough five weeks after getting robbed by the Venezuelan police and then having my camera gear and new watch nabbed. So screw it, we threw caution to the wind and balled out of control (or spent money like we were rich for my less ghetto followers). We justified every expense by converting our bill to Pounds which made it incredibly cheap at 6 Argentine Pesos to one Pound. Three weeks later we realized we´d spent More than DOUBLE our monthly budget. Ouch.

We also had lots to celebrate in BA. I welcomed Gemma into her mid twenties on February 11th by taking her out to dinner at Green Bamboo(thanks for the rec Caitlin). We´d eaten at alot of restaurants in BA in the four weeks we were there before Gemma´s birthday but she wanted to go back to Green Bamboo for the pork balls (pic below). I still crack up when she says she´s a vegetarian.

We also celebrated Valentines Day with a night of jazz at Thelonious Club. The cocktails there were by far the best we´d had in South America. My Manhattan actually tasted like a Manhattan. I once had a bartender make it with orange juice in Colombia. Gemma´s frozen Mojito was also quite good.

Further celebrations were called for when we met up with a couple of our traveling friends. I met Geoff (a fellow Brummie (or person from Birmingham where G´s from) in Guatamala and Gemma and I met the crazy Scot, Grant Dick in Ecuador. They were both heading the opposite direction as us in their travels but we all happened to be in BA at the same time so we went out for what turned into way too many drinks.

We also went out with a former coworker of mine who now works in BA for a crazy club night at Crobar. Thanks again for the hospitality David. (I wonder if anyone ever notices that I wear the same shirt everytime we go out or are going someplace nice? I think I´ll frame this shirt someday after the trip is over and hang it amoungst my favorite pics).

One of my favorite things about BA was how easy it was to get around the city. Lots of places were an easy walk from our hostel and if not the subway or buses were cheap and easy. The best part though is that some of the buses look like traveling strip clubs. You see a bus coming towards you glowing with blue lights, full of disco balls and polished silver poles.

Sidewalks look like bombs went off here. Don´t walk around town without watching your step. You´ll either trip on a completely busted up sidewalk or on a pile of dog crap that most owners simply don´t pick up. Its a quick reminder that you are not in NYC or Paris and are in BA.

But to be fair, there are many times and places in BA that would try their hardest to fool you.

The parks in Palermo are absolutely amazing. I dare say they are nicer than Central Park(I don´t mean it CP) and on par with the gardens in Paris. Gemma and I went there a few times to run around the ponds and walk about the rose gardens and over the greek style bridges.

There was also a nice little Japanese Garden that was decent. Not quite as good as the ones I remember in San Francisco and definitely not as good as the Japan exhibit at EPCOT but not bad. I tried like five times to get the little red bridge in the pic below inbetween us but the best I could do was to have it coming out of my ear. Not my finest photographic moment.

We got into a bit of a health kick in BA. We actually joined a gym! It was great to finally have a chance to work out and be able to eat some healthy food. In just three weeks I got pretty buff. We went to a little place in Recoleta called Pura Vida which had healthy wraps, sandwiches, salads and fruit smoothies just about everyday after our workout.

The architecture is also great. I think one of my favorite buildings in the world must be the Edificios Aguas Argentinas. This building was two blocks from our hostel and we had the pleasure of walking past it nearly everyday. It helped that Starbucks was just another two blocks further. Its simply stunning and if I ever got to pick any building to live in based on its outside beauty, this would be the one. My pics will never do it justice but please give it a visit when you come.

Speaking of favorites, BA also has one of my favorite sculptures I´ve ever seen. I told Gemma it was in my top 5 but then had a hard time compiling a top five list. All I could come up with is Michaelangelo´s Pieta and David and anything by Alexander Calder (who technically does mostly mobiles so not sure if that counts or not?). Anyway here it is:

And here it is again with Gemma jumping into the picture (which helps give you an idea of how big it is). It´s called the Floralis Generica and was created by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano. It opens each day and closes at night. Its really big and very impressive.

And while I´m rambling about the wonderful architecture and art in the city I should mention the Museo de Arte Latinamerico de Buenos Aires or MALBA for short. While there was a great Andy Warhol exhibit which further confirmed what a complete weirdo that guy was, the art wasn´t particularily outstanding.

But the architecture of the building was fun and we loved these benches that were on each floor and connected to each other by vine like extenstions off their ends up and down through the atrium which was Guggenheim NYCesqe.

One painting that for some reason didn´t make its way into MALBA is this one below. It was hanging in the staircase of our hostel. Notice whats under the man or woman´s butt???? Odd. When our hostel got robbed by two men with guns one night they left this beauty behind. Luckily for us it was the night of Gemma´s birthday and we were out celebrating at the time.
This was also the same day my new camera arrived from the States. My mom was kind enough to ship a new one to me from my favorite camera store in Indy - Roberts. It scares me thinking what would have happend had I been sitting in the lobby of our hostel playing with my new camera when these two guys with guns came in and tried to take it from me. I wouldn´t have given it up easily.
These mini police cars made us laugh.

Buenos Aires, like Paris, has a very big cafe culture. The people from BA call themselves Portenos and you´ll find them at cafes drinking coffee and eating little croissants they call media lunas at all hours of the day. One night we went to Cafe Tortoni for a tango show. Its one of the older and more famous cafes in the city. BA´s famous for tango and there is no shortage of tango shows on offer. You have everything from street performances to big broadway like productions.
The show at Tortoni was much better than the first one we went to at Classica y Moderna, another well known cafe. The one at Tortoni actually had dancers performing. The one at Classica y Moderna was just an older lady singing what could best be described as ¨music to commit suicide to¨.
We didn´t bother taking lessons this time around. Tango is alot more difficult and serious looking than salsa and we weren´t sure we´d be able to reach the same level of domination that we did with salsa.

Speaking of domination. How about them Colts? I mean they didn´t win the big one, but we still had a good run. It was Gemma´s first year as a Colts fan and it just wouldn´t have been fair for her team to win a Super Bowl straight off the bat. We´ll make her wait one more year. I must give a huge recommendation to Casa Bar as the best place to watch sports in BA. The owner is great and the food and drinks were cheap. We were in BA for the entiretiy of the playoffs and it was a nice escape from traveling and a little taste of home.

Our favorite neighborhood in BA is unsurprisingly Palermo. Its trendy, full of nice restaruants and bars and has lots of shopping. Its like Soho in NYC and part of it is even called Palermo Soho. We spent alot of time and alot of money kicking it here. Our budget was crushed here. Our need and idea to get a job in Australia was born here. (Side note, we´ve both applied for and recieved our work and holiday visa for Australia which allows us to live and work there for a year which we´ll be doing after our time in New Zealand!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

The car below had wicker seats. I´d never seen that before. And after that a corner store in Palermo.
Our hostel was located in Barrio Norte which is right next to the famous Recoleta neighborhood which is home to the famous Recoleta Cemetary. It is here that Argentina´s political and military leaders, wealthy families and Evita are buried. Its a big tourist attraction in BA and for good reason. The tombs here are like works of art. Most of them anyway. This is the way to go out, being buried in a tomb with magnificent statues over you. I had a good time explaining to Gemma just how I´d like mine to look upon my departure. She did not enjoy this so much.

Evita´s less glamourous grave is pictured below followed by one of my favorite shabby chic tombs covered in vines that seem to be growing there to make the pile of rocks seem decorated.
Just outside the cemetary is an art fair on the weekends complete with street performers and tango shows. There are also these huge old trees with the craziest looking trunks. I never did find out what kind of tree it is but there were pretty impressive.
In San Telmo there is an antiques fair on Sundays where we saw one of our favorite performers. It was this puppeteer whose puppet was a drunk old man who stumbled around the outside of his pub and fell off the box before climbing back on.
Another nice neighborhood to stoll through is Puerto Madero. The area was a bustling port in 1887 but when a new port was built in 1925 it fell from grace. The area was a bunch of old abandoned factories before developers turned them into trendy lofts and expensive hotels with nice restaurants. Thats where the pic below was taken. In it you can see our future boat. The small one of the left first, then maybe the one next to it someday.

There is also a nice boardwalk that runs behind the neighborhood next to the ecological reserve that we never made it to. Thats where we found a stand selling sausage sandwiches, or choripan as they call it, with a toppings bar that really kicked it up a notch.
Random picture of a cool old painted bus.
And last but certainly not least, an ode to Steak. I´d been dreaming about eating steak in Argentina since we first decided we were going to South America. In our South America on a Shoestring guidebook there is occsionally a ¨splurge¨ section which lists an expensive restaurant or hotel worth checking out. In the previous five countries we´d been in I don´t think I even read the box. It wasn´t in the budget.

In the BA section they mention a steakhouse called La Cabrera. We went twice. We ordered twice as much food as we needed both times despite getting advice on how to order. If we hadn´t been given these instructions we surely would have ordered enough for six. I think our problem was that we did as we were told in ordering the half portions, but then ordered twice as many portions. Don´t miss it when you come.

This is how happy I was to finally be there.

And this is why.

They give you about twenty of these little side dishes with your steak. Everything from mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, to quails eggs, beans, apple sauce, sauteed mushrooms and onions and I can´t even recall all of them. The waiters had to bring extension tables to the side of our table to fit all the food on. Its ridiculous and amazing.

This cow on the wall was like a cow shaped plasma screen that highlighted different parts of the cow and showed its respective name. Pretty cool.

There are two different locations for La Cabera, both on the same street. There is the orignial which is small and full of old time atmosphere and then there is the newer bigger location, still full of atmosphere but not as 1930´s feeling. Each time we went we asked our hostel to make a reservation for us. When the guy called, he said ¨I´m calling from Hostel Milonga¨ before making the reservation. Not sure why but it inevitably doomed us to the newer location where they stick all the gringos. Couldn´t he have said I´m calling from the Four Seasons?
The bill for our first trip was 250 Argentine Pesos which is roughly $65USD or $42GBP. We had an appetizer, grilled veggies, extra side of mash, half a chorizo, half portion of ribeye, tiramisu, and a bottle of wine and water. This same meal at Dylan Prime in Tribeca would easily have been $175USD. So it was well worth the splurge. The second time we went we tried to tone it down a bit, and our bill went down to 200.
We were in BA for a total of six weeks (We broke it up with a trip to Iguazu Falls which we´ll write about next). We´d always wanted to stay in BA for about a month but the huge snow storm in Washington DC actually kept us there a couple weeks longer. Great Britian now outsources their passport services for South America to Washington DC for some reason. And since the federal employees in DC didn´t go into work for a good week during and after the storm, we were stuck there waiting for her new passport to arrive. There are worse places to be stuck. I hope you go there someday soon and tell me about your trip. Be sure to look for our Iguazu Falls post next, it was an incredible place and experience.


  1. Hi Guys!! The air in BA must be as great as the adventures it offers because you both look FANTASTIC!!! :) Congratulations on your success with Austrailia!! Sooo exciting!!!! :) Hope to see you there for a taste of Gemma and Jordan madness!! :) I'd say sorry for not making it out to see you already but you are having a fantabulous time so it's not required right??

    Fingers crossed I can save enough money to come and see you in Aussieland!!!! :)

    Lots and lots of love x x x x

  2. Dear Gemma,
    I love your dress..the white an black one that kinda looks mexican/hispanic. Can you get me one? i will paypal jordan. :) Seriously. Love all your adventures!

  3. Jordan, I looked it up for you because I had to know myself. It appears the tree question is called the Ombu Tree. Indigenous to South America, mainly Uruguay and Argentina.

    Saps poisonous, don't put it in your tea.