City Visits

And The Winner is….(Part 2)

Continuing on our post from yesterday, we’re reflecting back on our four month trip around the world and picking out some of our favorite stops and visits. Through a series of intense discussion, secret balloting and contemplative reflection, we’ve determined our top choices in a variety of categories. So, once again below are our Luggage Tag RTW Awards! It was a real challenge to hand out top honors, but here we go again with our remaining choices:

Luggage Tags  RTW Awards!

Best Public Transportation– Tokyo and throughout Japan–  This one was a no brainer. The rail system in Tokoyo and throughout Japan is efficient, clean reliable, modern and incredible expansive although not terribly inexpensive. With a system that includes the Tokyo Subway, Regional Rail and Long Distance Trains, there are hundreds and hundreds of stations and stops. A single train map usually does not do the job. One thing we love is that many of the train cars have unique options–there is a quiet car and an all female car on some trains for rush hour.  Announcements and signs are often given in three languages including English. If the trains weren’t enough to win us over, the passengers would be. As a rule, riders are incredibly polite. They even line up in an orderly way to board the most crowded train and rude behavior is rarely seen.  There really is no equal.

Best City-to-City Transportation  Once you place air travel in another category, we have a two way tie. The train ride from Zagreb to Munich finally fulfilled  expectations of what we had hoped for in a European train ride. Up to this point, our train rides in Eastern Europe had been on outdated trains, lackluster, and disappointing. Our overnight ride in a private sleeper to Germany was comfortable, state of the art and packed with amenities. We even had an attentive porter who brought us water and handled customs at the border. Phil spent a good chunk of the night excitedly peering out of the window watching the night landscape roll by rather than sleeping. And pulling into the massive Munich train station at dawn was a fun way to end the trip. The other winner is the bus ride from Buenos Aires to Mendoza. At first, memories of rides on Greyhound made us dread a 14-hour cross country bus ride. It turns out, it was probably more comfortable than sitting in our living room! Over sized seats that rival first class airplane seats mingled nicely with the service that included two meals, complimentary cheap wine, movies and even bingo, It all made for a great ride. If this kind of bus travel was more common in the United States, I think people might rethink their attitudes toward long haul bus rides! 

Best Local Beer– Munich  Shocking, I know. Since every country has their own national or local brew, we tried beer in every city we visited. But virtually all the beer we tried in Munich was simply better than the rest.  We particularly enjoyed the Hofbrau and Lowenbrau labels in all varieties, but they sure know how to do a Dunkel.  Strong and smooth.  Absolutely perfect with a pretzel and currywurst.  Yum!  We enjoyed beers all around the globe from the Quilmes in Argentina, to Carlsberg in Copenhagen and Asashi Ichiban in Japan, but few of them were particularly memorable.  We will give an honorable mention to some of the smaller breweries we tried in New Zealand and Bulgaria, but overall they paled in comparison to all beer in Munich.

There is no doubt – they make some really great beer in Munch

Most Beautiful Nature Setting- We have a split decision here. Actually, we have a no decision. This is likely the thing we get asked about the most. Brooke immediately said the Rila Mountains in Bulgaria, with the thick forest and rushing stream.  Phil was convinced it was the panoramic view from the top of Mt. Fuji.  But then, what about sunset in Dubrovnik or the view of the Adriatic?  The rock formations in HaLong Bay or the Waitomo Caves?  For that matter, what about all of New Zealand where they really earn the nickname of the “God Zone”? Honestly, we can’t even choose.

Bridal Veils in New Zealand

Most Beautiful City Setting- Budapest is tough to beat.  The architecture is absolutely beautiful. It has an old style, but in a classic sense, not like ruins which we saw in so many other Eastern European cities.  In addition, Budapest’s wide sidewalks lined with grand mansions and historic homes give the city a Parisian air.  Just around every corner was another stunning building. Toss in Buda Castle, Parliament and the Danube River as landmarks and it only gets better. What certainly stands out is that not a single building or monument is covered by spray paint.  How refreshing!  It is important to mention that we considered Edinburgh as the winner of this award, and it is a close second, but it has a grittiness (probably from all the rain and the fact that it is hundreds of years older) that Budapest is missing.

Budapest at night

Best Surprise–  Dubrovnik. We really didn’t know anything about Dubrovnik before arriving.  We learned that Croatia was part of the Serbian conflict, and we may have expected it to look more like Belgrade and Sofia.  Instead we found streets paved with marble and beautiful seaside views.  Wow and then some. The relaxed atmosphere, beautiful walk along the city walls and the historic nature of the entire city makes Dubrovnik the best surprise of the trip. Walking the city wall provided some of the best views and moments of the trip, hands down.

We could gush and ramble for hours about some of our favorite parts of our trip, but those are some of the  real highlights. As you might imagine, there are tons of categories we could have listed. Anything ranging from Best coffee, Best Weather, Best WiFi Availability, Best encounter with a local and more. But, we have to draw the line  somewhere. We also have our share of low lights (I’m looking at you, Belgrade restaurant who served us massively undercooked chicken kebabs), but we’ll save those for another day. So, if you have any questions about our “Best of” awards or if you have any additional categories you would want to see, just drop us a line and we’ll wax nostalgically about those as well!

–Brooke and Phil

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Categories: Beer, Best Of, City Visits, Exploring, Post Trip Reflections, Random Thoughts, Round The World Trip, Surprises, The End of our Trip, Trains, Transportation, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sunrise on our final day in Argentina

Given how far South we currently are in relation to the rest of South America and also factoring in the time of year, there are some long days here in Mar Del Plata. Lots of daylight over the course of any given day. All of that made it even more challenging when we pledged to wake up and catch the sunrise this morning. We set the alarm for the official daybreak time of 5:30 AM, but in all honestly dawn starts lighting up the sky around 4:45. Somehow, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed and onto the balcony by the magical, early hour. Facing due east, we were able to watch the sun quickly rise right across the horizon on schedule. Moving from a slight sliver to a full glowing sphere in just a few moments. Sort of spectacular. Ocean view sunrises aren’t something we will have much opportunity to take advantage of moving forward. We’ve managed to see several sunsets during our trip, but this one was the first sunrise. I know it’s just a sunrise, but it was magnificent all the same.

Thus began the final, full day of our Around the World Trip. An easy going day overall. I finally stuck my toe in the ocean – oh so cold. Long walks around Mar Del Plata followed taking me to the cute and charming Guemes street. Another run in with a Post Office complete with long lines, difficult staff and overpiced ($3!) international post card stamps. Sweet Cliff Claven, I’ve come to loathe all post offices. Later on, I contemplated the gravity of the end of our trip at lunch while a plate of empanadas stared back at me. We’ll have more comprehensive trip reflections in future posts (oh, there is much to say), but as we wind down the trip and prepare to head home, I have a general feeling of accomplishment. I feel really good about things. Although, there are some clothes that I’ve been carrying around since July that I never want to see again. It also might be a sign of apparent good timing to head home as I just ran out of shaving cream this morning and I managed to pack exactly the right number of razor blades. On a more meaningful scale, I really hope that Brooke and I managed to expand our horizons and maybe, just maybe, grow a bit as travelers and as people.

Less stunning was the challenge we had with the local bus company later in the day. We rode all the way on two buses to central bus terminal where there, and only there, we could purchase a bus pass card. After interacting with the two most bored information booth employees I’ve ever seen (never a good sign when you have to wake one of them up), we thought we were all set. It wasn’t until we were headed back home boarding another bus that the driver yelled at us in Spanish that the card is not good. Apparently, there are separate bus companies in Mar Del Plata running different routes. Awesome. We bought a card we’ll have little use for. In hindsight, there were some clues that the 221 bus might not operate the same way the 581 bus does, but it would have been incredibly kind of anyone to have clued us in along the way. It’s actually reassuring to know that in our last days of our trip, we’re still getting bamboozled from time to time. Running into these small and ridiculously frustrating issues is all part of the package deal. It would be kind of shame if we had mastered world travel in a matter of a few months.

We closed down the day with one last, delicious, romantic Mar Del Plata dinner at a top local seafood joint named Alito. We’ve been in Argentina for a while now but we just can’t get the hang of eating out at 10:00 PM. In fact, when we sat down to eat at the reasonable dining hour of 8:15 PM, we were the only patrons in the entire restaurant. More guests showed up soon after, but they were mostly of the elderly persuasion. For a while, it felt like we wandered into the equivalent of the Early Bird Special. Luckily, this didn’t have any impact on a scrumptious meal that followed. Our dinner was bookended with a bottle of one of our new favorite wines from Mendoza (The Trumpetter Malbec, if you’re keeping score at home) and two over-the-top desserts. Brooke’s dessert that involved Baileys, ice cream, walnuts and cookies was served in a cocktail glass. There was a dish on the menu called Flan Solo that Brooke joked should be served with Luke Piewalker and C3POreo. Yeah, I’ve got a damn clever and funny wife. This trip has been made up of several wonderful moments spread across the globe and this would count as one of them. We toasted to our time in Argentina and enjoyed a nice, intimate, slow meal as is the style around here.

One last, delicious dessert!

Now, I’m going to get back to enjoying one last morning of seasside living. One of the nicest things about being here has been simply looking out the window and watching the waves crash into the giant rocks far below. Additionally, given how many hotels, apartment buildings, hostels and homes I’ve seen that are blocks from the beach, we’ve been so lucky to have this place. Having been through so many places (often for just one or two nights), and now having all these days in just one apartment has felt like a pleasant eternity. All we need now are some comfy pants and slippers. Soon enough, I suppose. Next stop, a bus to Buenos Aires, another bus to the airport, a flight to Atlanta and a final flight to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA.

-Phil

Of all the currency we’ve encountered, Argentine peso bills are often ratty and tattered. This was my change from lunch today – the bills are falling apart!

There are commonly found at traffic lights in Argentine cities: Street Entertainers that perform for stopped cars in order for tips. This kid was a pretty fierce juggler.

This is a water tower designed to look like a medieval tower at the highest point in Mar Del Plata. Free to get in, but it was apparently closed for the day so this is as close as I got.

Categories: Beach, City Visits, Clothes, Destinations, Eating, Hotels, Mar Del Plata, Random Thoughts, Relaxing, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Enjoying Mar Del Plata

Choosing to come to Mar Del Plata as an end to our trip around the world was a fantastic idea.  We have enjoyed our time relaxing, doing some “re-entry” work, and literally taking long walks along the beach.  No, we aren’t placing a singles ad or anything, but the coastline here stretches for miles and it is wonderful that we have time to simply walk.  Like many other beach towns, there are dozens of runners, roller bladers, power walkers and skaters moving about and enjoying the sunshine and ocean breeze.  The beach is noticeably busier on the weekends and the atmosphere is charged with energy and excitement.

Determined to take advantage of the awesome apartment where we are staying, we wandered half way across town to find a better grocery store in order to make dinner for ourselves.  Though this Toledo store is the same brand as the other, its much more expansive aisles and wider selection made this one far superior.  We could actually identify vegetables through the mud caked on them, unlike our previous Toledo visit.  The floors were also level, allowing us to let go of our cart without it racing to the other end of the store and crashing into a wall.  What a refreshing change!  We bought all the fixins for a truly delicious homemade dinner.  Once preparations began, we found ourselves faced with a challenge.  Now, bear in mind we have cooked using a gas stove and oven for years–this is what we are used to.  Also know that our Air BnB host, Carlos, demonstrated how to use the oven on the first day we arrived.  None of that made any difference.  On this stove, the pilot light for the oven has to bit lit manually using a match.  Simple enough, but we had the hardest time finding the right combination.  Light the match, push in the dial, spin until you hear the gas release, then release and set the temperature.  Each time we tried the last step, the flame disappeared.  In fact, every time I had the stupid thing lit, the flame would die if I made any moves with the dial.  I wasn’t too keen on sitting with my hand on the dial for the entire time and not only did my frustration began to build, but my fear that we were going to blow up this apartment in our efforts.  Phil took over and had similar issues.  Match after match, we lit the flame to see it almost immediately die out.  As soon as we were about to change the menu from oven-roasted carrots to sautéed carrots, Phil saved the day and figured it out.  It took us at least 15 matches and I’m not sure we’ll be able to do it again, but at least we were able to roast those carrots and enjoy a delicious homemade dinner.

After dinner, Phil was excited to check out the casino.  I was feeling much more comfy and cozy inside and managed to talk him into staying home and just hanging on the couch.  As Phil mentioned in his last post, one thing we have been doing is watching a fair amount of television, which we haven’t done much of on the whole trip. Now, almost every channel we get has the shows dubbed over in Spanish, but there are a few reliable channels that merely have Spanish subtitles and we can actually watch the programming.  We don’t really get many typical American networks–no NBC, CBS, or ABC.  We do get FOX, but it is some different version and of course there is AXN, with its endless episodes of CSI: Miami, Criminal Minds and Castle.  However, even with our limited choices, we have managed to discover 2 new shows which we think are part of the new fall schedule (though we aren’t sure, because here they were shown on Cinemax).  These shows are Arrow and Revolution.  Both on in marathon format (though Revolution was only 2 episodes), we watched from pilot to current episode and really enjoyed them both.  Are they high quality shows?  Maybe, but we have been starved for such television, and it was fun to indulge and watch for hours.  There is a 75% chance we won’t ever watch these once we return to the States, but I’m glad we caught them here.

We should have known. It doesn’t even look fun or inviting from the outside.

After much begging, pleading and arm twisting, we finally found ourselves at the Casino Central the following day.  Okay, so maybe Phil and I love casinos and we have found it interesting to see some of the differences between the ones we are used to in Las Vegas and those around the world. Set in an old hotel, this casino was said to be a fun time and the best of a few of these establishments in Mar Del Plata.  It may be the best one, but think our standards might be too high.  As we walked in, I got the distinct feeling that we were in an old hotel convention floor which is hosting a casino night.  All the games were concentrated in one area with the corners and edges of the room largely empty.  There isn’t much different from one slot machine to another, although we did see one of our Vegas favorites called Milked Money that involved racing cows and more fun.  However,  when we played electronic roulette, we couldn’t determine how to cash out our winnings.  We hit all the buttons and read the whole screen (in Spanish), but no ticket printed.  Finally we asked the attendant and he showed us this ridiculously obscure multi-step process of cashing out.  Great, at least it was possible to actually get the money out.  We weren’t ready to leave, so I went to put the ticket back in the machine and keep playing, but unlike most casinos, the tickets can’t be used at cash in this electronic game.  Argh, what a pain.  Finally, we settled in an played for a bit.  The minimum bet was 1 peso, which is a little less than 25 US cents, so we weren’t exactly risking our life savings, just having some fun.  Once we ran out of pesos, we headed for the door.  The only thing this trip to the casino really did was give us the itch to go back to Las Vegas.

And now we find we have come to our last full day of the trip.  True, we don’t leave until Tuesday, but that we mostly be spent traveling.  So, we will continue to soak up the sun, reflect on this amazing journey and prepare to establish ourselves back into the world of work, family and friends.  It may surprise you to hear that this is actually something we are really looking forward to. But first, we will enjoy Mar Del Plata–the beach, the sun, the seafood–for just a little while longer.

–Brooke

The bigger, better grocery store also has these crazy peanuts we ate at a restaurant. They are battered and fried. And delicious!

During the high season, it is almost impossible to find a spot on the beach. That won’t happen until late December and January.

Categories: Argentina, At Night, Casino, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Mar Del Plata, Reflections, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Trip to the Beach

Yes, we’ve been traveling for months and in some ways it has been a vacation.  We don’t have jobs.  We don’t cook dinner.  We don’t have to clean the house.  Even with all that,  our trip has felt less like a vacation and more like traveling.  I think there is a difference.  On vacation you relax, go at a slower pace and try not to think about any other responsibilities.  On the contrary, when traveling you are on the go, visiting different attractions, learning new information and soaking up interesting experiences.  We have been traveling since the end of July.  Now, it is time for vacation.

When we return to the States we will be relocating to a new city.  Looking for a new car, apartment and job means we will probably have to hit the ground running.  Because of this, we have decided to end our trip with a sort of beach vacation–an opportunity to reflect, relax, and re-gather our energy to start anew upon our return.  So, today we find ourselves in Mar Del Plata, a beach town that’s a 5 1/2 hour bus ride south of Buenos Aires and the summer playground for many Portenos.  We took another comfy ride on a luxury coach bus, where I tried to get some much needed rest.  I fell a sleep for a bit, but was rudely awakened by the man across the aisle snoring so loudly I could hear him through my earplugs.  Argh!  I reluctantly woke up and eventually we pulled into this sunny coastal city.  As we cruised down Avenida de Colon toward the sea’s edge, it felt like we were on the drive into Clearwater Beach, Florida.  The road slopes slightly upward and I eagerly anticipated the moment when the Atlantic Ocean revealed itself before our eyes.  Once it finally did, the view took our breath away.  Ocean spread in front of us as far as our eyes could see and the breeze from the water cooled the air at least 10 degrees.  It is gorgeous.

Our Air BnB home for the next five days. Perfect.

We arrived at the final stay of our trip, an apartment we found through Air BnB.  It is hard to believe after so many different hotels, hostels and apartments over the last few months, this is the last one of our trip.  And we couldn’t have chosen a better final stay.  The apartment is small, but absolutely perfect for what we need.  Big comfortable bed, hot shower and a well-equipped kitchen.  But the most impressive feature is the balcony which overlooks the sea.  In fact, every window in the apartment has views of the ocean making us feel like we are floating on the sea.  Our host, Carlos, was incredibly welcoming.  He shared with us they myriad restaurants and attractions we could visit during our stay.  Apparently there is a section of town with great seafood restaurants and his mention of a nearby casino certainly didn’t go unnoticed.  We ventured out for some lunch and to stock up on groceries. We searched for a grocery which was more than just a “mini-mercado.”  We finally found one, excited by its size, but this excitement soon wore off.  The veggies were all caked in dirt, the meat looked a few days old and I couldn’t find any peanut butter.  They sell dulce de lece by the gallon-sized bucket, but no peanut butter.  This makes me very sad.  We finally settled on brown rice and some frozen veggie concoction, along with some other snacks and necessities, then began to walk back to our place.  Exhausted from the early morning, snoring man on bus and the weariness of travel, we then took an epic nap.  Let the vacation begin.   A king sized bed, the ocean breeze blowing through the window and the sounds of waves crashing against the shore are a recipe for the perfect nap.  Add to that the very little sleep we got last night and waking up early for the bus and we were both asleep within seconds of our heads hitting the pillow.

Excited to finally find a big grocery store. Sadness at not finding peanut butter has not yet descended.

Once we peeled ourselves from our comfort, we made a much anticipated homemade dinner.  The first of many in our near future.  If we had to choose the one thing we have consistently missed the most on this trip (besides friends and family, of course), it is cooking for ourselves.  We can’t wait to get back into this habit.  Happy to be in the same place for 5 days, we plan to continue much the same way we did today, with the addition of some beach time and maybe a trip to the casino.  We will cherish each moment of this “vacation” from our travels because the real world beckons and will be here before we know it.

–Brooke

The view from our balcony. I’ll take it!

Categories: Argentina, Beach, Casino, City Visits, Differences, Mar Del Plata, Relaxing, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Back through Mendoza

As we trek onward through Argentina, we’re putting our phenomenal time in wine country behind us and heading back east. Ah, I already miss enjoying a daily bottle of wine. A cheap ride on the city bus took us back into the city of Mendoza. Brooke and I were looking forward to one more day in Mendoza since we liked so much of what we saw the first time around. One of Argentina’s larger cities, the central area of Mendoza is compact, walkable, tree lined and punctuated with several lively public squares teeming with ample green space and functioning fountains. The sidewalks are packed with people on their way to school and work or, in the evening, leisurely ambling across town. Toss on the marble tiling found everywhere and the aqueducts running beneath the sidewalk that feed the city and Mendoza is an easy place to like. Returning to endless dinner options doesn’t hurt either. A tasty Italian dinner at a popular favorite restaurant called Marchigiana was a big success. We’ve found quality Italian cuisine is common in Argentina which is no surprise given the amount of Italian heritage found throughout the country.

One last great photo from our time amongst the vineyards

Zip Lining or Hail Protection Gear?For a change of pace, we headed down to the Avis storefront and decided to rent a car for the day. It’s been several weeks since we’ve had a chance to do any leisurely driving and this seemed to be the right place for it. One insight we’ve gained from traveling is that if you don’t know how to drive a manual transmission car, you’re not going to get very far in just about any country. Lucky for us, Brooke and I are both well versed in the five speed, although the reverse on our tiny Chevy sedan was a bit tricky. One of the primary reasons we rented a car was to scoot out to the Argentina Rafting company outdoor complex about 45 minutes away. Our plan was to tackle a long-standing adventure on our list that we hadn’t had the chance to do yet: Zip Lining! Or, depending on your geographical preference, you may call it Canopy or even Flying Fox. After waiting for a guide, we strapped on our harnesses, hiked up to the start of the course and we’re ready to, er, Zip. Not so far- just about five minutes before we were going to descend down the first line, it started to rain. Then the rain turned into heavier rain. And the heavier rain turned into hail. Nothing says, “you’re not going to be Zip Lining today” like a hail storm. Good thing we had these handy helmets on to protect our noggins from the nasty sky ice. Actually, good thing it started hailing before we started the two hour course. Once you start, there is no where to seek shelter between each zip line.

Undaunted and not discouraged, we hopped back in our rental car and began the scenic drive past the foothills of the Andes and back into Mendoza. We wandered a bit and even found ourselves in a local Wal-Mart stocking up on snacks. Sad to report that an Argentine Wal-Mart is identical to an American Wal-Mart. Our car made it’s way to an extraordinary nature reserve/city park north of the city that offers everything from soccer fields to golf courses. I even managed to sneak in a quick park nap on a bench near the lake. Later, we found ourselves enjoying a late lunch at an outdoor cafe in the center of town. Over afternoon coffee, sandwiches and even more empanadas, we allowed ourselves to wonder what we’ll be doing two weeks from now. After this trip is over, we have a lot of unknowns and another big adventure waiting for us. Even though it likely won’t include afternoons at outdoor cafes, it should make for an exciting and remarkable time.

After re-fueling and returning the car, a small slew of logistical challenges in their own right, we made our way back to the Mendoza bus station and prepared for another comfortable 14-hour bus ride back to Buenos Aires. And I think that this bus was a little bit newer and nicer than the last one. Really, anyway you slice it, these are high quality buses. The overnight ride was comparable to the easy-going trip out that we wrote about last week. Although the morning traffic getting into the center of Buenos Aires was brutal and seemed to last forever.

Sunset view from our bus

Fireproof - forced to watch on a busThe one constant on both of our bus rides? Terrible, terrible movies. Films so bar that we never heard of any of them. I kept hoping and hoping that the next flick the bus attendant was going to pop on would be a box-office smash. Or at least enjoyable. Instead, each film was worse than the one before. And with a screen a few feet from my head, there was no escaping. The first film was “A Little Bit of Heaven” – an obnoxiously adorable Kate Hudson movie that started out like all Kate Hudson movies. That is until Kate Hudson gets a terminal case of cancer and spends the rest of the film dying with dignity and grace. The second movie was “Get The Gringo” a 2012 Mel Gibson movie that might have been the most brutal and violent movie I’ve seen in years. Not so much suitable for a public bus ride, but I’m more stunned that they are still letting Mel Gibson make movies. The last film was “Fireproof” an independent starring former heart-throb turned evangelical actor Kirk Cameron. It was in Spanish, but I got the gist: small town Fire Chief spends a lot of time crying and being angry about his failing marriage until he accepts Christ’s understanding. Awesome. The Avengers it was not.

After a brief stop in Buenos Aires our next stop is the beaches of Mar Del Plata! Can’t wait to check out another Argentine town.

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Driving, Mendoza, Relaxing, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Wine, Tango and Futbol Chat

As Phil stated in the previous post, we had quite a full day yesterday.  It seems some days we take it easy and do nothing of any consequence, then there are days where we are constantly on the go.  It actually works out pretty well and makes for some really great days.  After voting for president and navigating our way through the Buenos Aires bus station, we finally took part in what I most looking forward to while in Argentina–wine!

Thanks to Phil’s diligent research, he found Anuva Wines, a small business dedicated to helping people discover small South American wineries with a personal touch.  We found they offer tasting sessions twice daily in English, so we eagerly signed up.  The reviews raved about this experience with several people stating it was the best thing they did while in Buenos Aires.  They also bragged of the generous pours and refills, often rare at such tastings.  The reviews were spot on.  We arrived to the Anuva Wine Loft to be greeted by Cara, our hostess.  Along with four other visitors, she explained to us the process of tasting wine and the importance of using all the senses.  We looked.  We smelled.  But most importantly, we tasted.  Using all Argentinian wines, of course, she started us with a delicious sparkling white called “Hom”. We moved onto a Torrontes (my favorite white wine grape), and then onto the reds.  When I think of Argentinian wines, I always think red.  She introduced me to a new grape called Bonarda which has traditionally been used with blended wines, but has recently become more popular on its own.  She explained to us the importance of sun, temperature, rain and altitude in the wine industry.  With the Andes Mountains, Argentina has a the perfect conditions for certain grapes to grow, most especially Malbec.  This was easily my favorite wine of the tasting, probably because it is what I often choose to drink at home.  We were offered one more red blend, and they all came along with a different food pairing.  With each glass Cara offered insights and information…and refills if we so desired.  Yes and yes!  After we finished, the order forms came out.  Of course, we could buy all the wines we tasted (and then some).  We could choose to take them with us or have them shipped home.  Everyone immediately started filling out the form to have one or more cases sent home. After we had decided which 12 bottles to get, we put the order form away and figured it’s probably best not to make this kind of decision after drinking so much!  We settled for taking two bottles with us and we will order more online if we wish (when we are totally sober).

After the wine tasting, we had a short respite before going to our first tango lesson.  One of the reasons we chose our hotel, The Tango Suites, is because they offer complimentary tango lessons, at all skill levels, to their guests.  Tango is everywhere in Buenos Aires and we didn’t want to miss the opportunity to learn a little bit ourselves.  There were two teachers and six students.  We kicked off our shoes in order to move more fluidly across the floor.  We started merely by walking to the beat of the music, feeling the rhythm.  This wasn’t always easy–tango music changes often and there is not a strong back beat.  It was difficult to keep in time.  After we learned to walk, we paired up and walked with a partner.  No touching, just sensing one another’s movements.  We slowly graduated to touching arms, then embracing, then traditional dance posture.  We took turns leading each other and often changed partners.  There was quite a bit of stumbling, and not a little of stepping on toes, but it was great fun.  I would love to take another lesson, or maybe even a dance class where we learn lots of different dances.  I don’t think Phil had quite the same experience.  He seemed to enjoy the walking and the earlier steps of the lesson.  Once we got to the embrace and traditional dance posture, he got frustrated and I could tell he was ready to be done with it.  If I take future dance lessons, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to find a different partner.

Brooke with Dan, a freelance futbol writer in Argentina.

After we finished the tango, we hurried out of the hotel to meet up with Dan, a freelance writer who covers Argentinian futbol.  While Phil was attempting to procure tickets to a futbol match, he found Sam and Dan, two futbol writers.  When we couldn’t make the game happen, we opted instead to meet for a drink and talk about life in Buenos Aires.  Due to the crazy amounts of rain, Sam couldn’t make it, but we were able to meet up with Dan at a pub called Gibralter.  We chatted for a couple of hours about life in Argentina, futbol culture and the differences between the UK and South America.  Having lived here for 3 years, it was interesting to hear Dan’s perspective.  We always enjoy talking to locals and getting their take.  We spoke of the overwhelming homeless problem and he explained that compared to other big cities in South America, Buenos Aires is considered wealthy.  It is all relative, I suppose.  He also shared a few stories about attempted muggings on the street.  He was much braver than I would have been, standing up to these would be attackers and refusing to give them anything.  In both cases, they walked away.  This certainly made me look over my shoulder a bit more on our way back to the hotel.

We have had full and interesting days here in Buenos Aires, but I have to say, I am ready to go.  I don’t really like it here.  It is a really big city, very spread out and not very well served by the subway.  It seems to take 45 minutes to get anywhere.  Not only that, part of it just aren’t very nice.  It is dirty, with broken sidewalks, graffiti and trash everywhere.  And homelessness is rampant, even in the nicest areas.  I am very ready to get out of Buenos Aires and head to wine country, which is good because that is exactly what we are doing.  Fourteen-hour, overnight bus ride, here we come!

–Brooke

Just one example of the broken and busted sidewalks. i wish the was the exception, but it is the rule.

Brooke learns the tango…or at least learns to walk rhythmically.

Categories: Argentina, At Night, Bars, City Visits, Customs, Differences, Hotels, Reflections, Safety, Tango, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Continuing to Explore Buenos Aires

Greetings again from Buenos Aires! It took a day of resting, but we’ve both recovered from the lingering effects of a long couple days of travel. It’s easy to pick up a nasty case of jet lag and a general rundown feeling after traveling on three buses and two 8+ hour intercontinental flights. Now, we’re ready to hit the streets running! We started yesterday with an excellent, free walking tour of the downtown area of Buenos Aires. Our guide Virigina was animated, informative, opinionated (in a good way!) and lively. It’s not the first time we’ve stumbled across a free walking or biking tour that has been simply exceptional. Given Virginia’s enthusiasm, amount of information delivered and the fact that the tour was was entirely in English, the Free Buenos Aires Walking Tour was exponentially superior to the Tangol van tour we took the day before. Although central Buenos Aires is considerably sleepier on a Saturday, we still managed to enjoy the sites and cover a good chunk of the area on foot.

Virginia – our awesome Buenos Aires Free Walking Tour Guide!

The first thing we quickly learned on our tour is that Portenos – residents of Buenos Aires- absolutely love protests, marches and demonstrations. The protests are almost always peaceful and somewhat well organized, but they are also nearly non-stop. Brooke and I have already seen half a dozen different groups in action since our arrival and that doesn’t include the permanent encampment of Falkland Island War veterans rooted right next door to the Casa Rosada (the central government’s “Pink House”). We’re likely seeing more protests since our hotel is close to the city center, but were also told that as many as 20 loud, vocal gatherings like these happen each week. What are they protesting? It ranges, but just about every conceivable topic is covered. Yesterday, a large crew was gathering in remembrance of the two year anniversary of the death of former Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner. Given their propensity for protests and their insane devotion to football, I think that the next time Argentina wins (or loses) the World Cup, the only calm place to be around here is Uruguay. Speaking of football, there is a “Superclassic” match today between the city’s two top teams that is the biggest thing happening in town. Every television in town seems to be tuned to the game.

Over the course of the walking tour we were able to take in some of the Bueno Aires architecture which is a blend of Italian, Spanish and French influences. The city, which just celebrated its bicentennial, has tons of grand 19th century buildings and homes, many with grand balconies. Our tour led us through some of the small green spaces that are scattered throughout town with adjoining fountains which only function sporadically. BA even has its own, iconic towering “oblesico” monument built in the 1930’s that does a good impression of a mini Washington Monument.

Sadly, the Obelisk, like several of Bueno Aires’ old, grand moments and statues, is placed well behind fences. It’s a shame, but given the excessive graffiti found throughout the city and the number of homeless looking for a place to sleep, it’s clear why they are there. So far. we’re actually seeing more graffiti in Buenos Aires than we’ve seen in almost any other city. Everything from banks to subway cars to historic buildings are tagged. What makes the vandalism unique is that it is often comprised of phrases rather than images and it is almost always political in nature. Another way to protest? Perhaps, but it is ugly. Yesterday we saw a cross walk where even the white painted strips were hit. From city to city, we’ve seen so many otherwise nice buildings ruined by spray paint. About three percent of it is captivating, quality art, but the rest just makes a place look trashy. We’ve come to the conclusion that whomever invented spray paint should be strung up by their toes and whacked by pillows repeatedly.

Overall, it was a great tour of the area. Virgina even told us why the Pink House is painted pink. (Spoiler: no one really knows why). The tour did end on a bit of a uncomfortable note as a creepy, drooling homeless dude followed closely behind members of our tour group at the obelisk plaza. It’s hard to ignore the significant homeless and poverty issues prevalent throughout the city. Traffic and Congestion also seem to be a persistent issue all over town. In fact, we learned during our tour that due to the lousy traffic, the president flies into the city by helicopter every day from her house outside of town. Brooke then pointed out that she could just live in the city, but I seemed to be the only one to think that was a good idea.

After the tour, Brooke and I found ourselves meandering down one of the pedestrian streets looking for lunch. Along the way, we bypassed a surprisingly large number of Burger King’s and McDonald’s. In fact, I’ve been so seeing many Mickey D’s and BKs that I’m starting to think I’m seeing the same location twice. Later, we took the free tour of the Casa Rosada. Lovely building, but most of it was partitioned off since it’s a functional government building. We spent about 15 minutes trying our best to translate the biographies under the portraits for famous Central and South American leaders.

But enough sight seeing! Later last evening, the time had come do to what everyone who visits Argentina must do: Tango! Well, we’re not actually going to Tango (classes come later this week), but we did attend one of the iconic shows and dinners at El QuerandiEl Querandi – one of many old Tango Halls in the city. It was a great experience and a rare treat to have a nice, full night out. Over a tasty dinner of empanadas (I just can’t get enough empanadas), steak and flan, Brooke and I marveled that after all this time traveling, we still haven’t run out of things to talk about or gotten tired of each other’s company. I’d say that bodes well for our life together.

The show itself was entertaining and fun. A live four piece band walked us through the history of tango while the numbers alternated between traditional tango singers and impressive tango dancers. Taking in a dance performance isn’t usually on the top of my list, but these guys were good. We preferred the dancing to the singing, but it was a wonderful show all around. The meal came with a couple of bottles of wine which also were rather wonderful. We’re getting a head start on our guidebooks advice to enjoy at least one bottle of wine per day while in Argentina!

-Phil

Categories: Argentina, At Night, City Visits, Destinations, Tango, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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