Buenos Dias from Buenos Aires

Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Sep 17, 2008

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Buenos Dias from Buenos Aires!
Well, that's what I should have said two weeks ago when I was actually in Argentina. Terribly sorry for the delay. I've already been yelled at by more than one person for not writing on a regular basis. I promise to be better. But, I had a friend on the road with me and any free time I had was actually spent doing stuff, and not sitting alone in a hotel room.So, without further ado, here's what happened in Buenos Aires...

Erin and I left Santiago, Chile around 10 AM on September 11, and just for the record, the Santiago airport had some kick ass gift shops. We were pretty bummed that we didn't have any time to shop for souvenirs during our short stay in the city, so we were thrilled when there were multiple shops to visit while we waited for our flight. Truth be told, the majority of souvenirs were actually made in Costa Rica (the wooden jewelery was everywhere!). But, we still managed to find a few things that were authentic to Chile.

We arrived in Buenos Aires in the early afternoon, and once again there was a car waiting for us at the airport. Check in at the Marriott Plaza was a bit chaotic. Well, not really chaotic so much as the service was just really slow so there was a long line wrapping around the small lobby. We were able to get a room with two double beds and figured we would drop our stuff off and head out to explore a bit before the sun went down. The Marriott Plaza hotel is at the end of Florida Street, which is supposed to be the place for shopping in Buenos Aires. Sure enough, there were dozens of sweater shops (our favorite name was "Mr. Sweater"), and leather shops. There was a mall too-Galerias Pacifico. We stepped inside for a second and both had the same reaction-"this reminds me of Vegas". For Erin it reminded her of the shops at Cesars Palace. For me it was the shops at the Venetian. Too funny.

Erin and I found Florida Street to be ridiculously crowded and rather unpleasant. The fact that everyone walking there was smoking may have had something to do with it. But, we were determined to make it to the end because according to our map Florida Street was supposed to bring us to the Plaza de Mayo, and Casa Rosado. It was also supposed to take us close to Cafe Tortoni, which was listed in my 1000 Place to See Before you Die book, so you know I was determined to get there.

We finally reached the end of Florida Street (how many sweater stores does one city really need?) and came upon Casa Rosado (where Evita made her famous speech). A few blocks away we eventually found Cafe Tortoni. We were shocked to discover that there was a wait at four in the afternoon but we had to stand in line outside for about five minutes. Stepping inside Cafe Tortoni was like stepping in to a Parisian cafe. It is one of the oldest cafes in the city. There were funky paintings on the wall and a collection of Tiffany lamps. The menus were quite pretty, but the food selection was actually rather poor. We hadn't eaten all day and I was a bit disappointed by this discovery.
We settled on two cheeseburgers. The meat in Argentina is supposed to be the best in the world, so I think our expectations were high. The burgers were just ok. So, we felt obligated to get some drinks and dessert-it's a cafe, we figured this would be there specialty. My hot chocolate was quite delicious. The churros were ok. Overall I'd give the ambiance an A, and the food a C.

The walk on Florida Street in the evening was much more enjoyable than the afternoon. It was much quieter. We got back to the hotel just as it was starting to get dark. I caught up on email and Erin read our Buenos Aires guide to figure out what we should do the next day.

The next day we opted for a three hour city tour. We had a great guide and it was the perfect overview of the city. First stop of the day was the Plaza de Mayo, where we got an in depth history of the Casa Rosado and Evita. We also got to visit the Cathedral Metropolitana. Buenos Aires has some pretty fantastic architecture. It is clear that there is a strong European influence on the city. We drove through San Telmo and had a blink and you'll miss it walk through the colorful La Boca neighborhood, the birthplace of Tango. Our guide said it would just be impossible to stay in La Boca because everyone would want to walk around and shop so we had to get back on the van. He was right though. Erin and I decided to head back there as soon as the tour was over.

We drove along the waterfront to reach the Recoleta neighborhood, and the Recoleta cemetary, where Evita is buried. The Recoleta cemetary is just like the cemetaris in New Orleans, and the Pere Lachais cemetary in Paris where Jim Morrison is buried. The masoleums are lined up in such a way that it appears to create a mini city. Our guide explained that some of the more expensive ones actually had escalators leading down to where the casket lies. I'm not sure I actually believe that part.

On the way back to the hotel we drove by the Teatro Colon, which was closed for renovations. We drove up Ave Santa Fe, where all the "real" shopping was supposed to be. Back on the van our driver handed out our free Buenos Aires guide, which came included with our $30 tour ticket. We weren't expecting much but it turned out to be a an actual guide book that we later saw in a store selling for $30. So, our tour turned out to be a pretty sweet deal. There was only supposed to be one book to a room, but our guide gave an extra one to Erin. He definitely earned his tip that day. Besides hooking us up with an extra book he was also extremely knowledgeable about the history of the city. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour.

The only downside of the tour was that we didn't have any time to explore La Boca. Erin and I took a cab back to the funky neighborhood to explore. The rule on the street is you must visit La Boca during the day. It shuts down and gets a bit dodgy when the sun goes down. We consulted Erin's guide from home and found what looked like a well regarded restaurant for lunch. When we reached the restaurant it looked deserted. It was open and we were seated-we were the only ones there. The place looked pretty cool until we were handed a price fixed lunch menu and the meal was $100! We politely excused ourselves and decided that lunch could wait.

La Boca really isn't very big, two or three blocks at the most. But, it is unlike any place I have seen before. There were artists selling their paintings on the sidewalks. After some skillfull negotiation and some tricky math we bought a few photos and paintings.

Later we took a cab to an Italian restaurant that was also listed in Erin's book. This one specifically mentioned affordable lunch specials so we figured we would be safe. The cab driver actually dropped us off a couple of blocks away, but we figured out where to go.

La Parolaccia did not dissappoint. Our three course lunch, with wine, was about $20 each. When we sat down the hostess asked us if we wanted peach juice and champage. A bellini! Patricia, I thought of you instantly :-). How could we refuse? Erin had never had one before and I think by the time the meal was over she had discovered a new favorite drink. The best part-the bellinis were only about $2.50 each!

The menu was written in a combination of Spanish and Italian so between the two of us we were able to identify almost everything. We split our appetizers-eggplant parmesan and caprese salad. The caprese salad was made with arugula instead of basil. I was a bit thrown off by this, but the salad was still good, never the less. Erin had the gnocci and I had black ravioli stuffed with salmon. I had never had black pasta before, but I leanred that it is made from squid ink. It was delicious and I ate the whole damn plate.
For dessert the restaurant was serving Persicco gelato. I had the dulce de leche with chocolate chips. I mention the name because I had been on a quest to find a Persicco gelato shop and had been unsuccessful. We were running out of time so it was looking like I was going to have to miss it. But, when we ordered our meals Erin pointed to the spot on the menu that said "Proudly serving Persicco". It did not disappoint.

Once again, our meal lasted over two hours, which put me dangerously close to being late for work. We hauled ass down Ave Sante Fe and got back to the hotel in less than 15 minutes. I have no idea how. A quick change for me and I was off to the MBA fair.

A piece of advice from a seasoned traveler: Don't run after a three course Italian lunch, with wine and a bellini. I was exhausted at the fair and for a short while was pretty sure my stomach was going to explode. I thought for sure I wouldn't have to eat for days. Except...Erin and I had already made reservations at La Caballeriza, a steak house recommended by my friend Val, who had been there before. She said it was one of her favorites.

By the time we left for dinner-9:30 PM, I was feeling better. We bumped in to another school rep from Hult, and his alum. They were heading out to dinner and wound up tagging along with us. Since we had a Buenos Aires local we decided to leave the ordering up to him. We stressed how not hungry we were, but that doesn't seem to stop them from trying to stuff you silly.

For our appetizers we had baked cheese (well, they did, I do have my limits), and tiny meat empanadas. Those were good. Our first course of meat consisted of the interesting parts. At first the alum didn't even was to tell us what things were, but we eventually got it out of him. First up-blood sausage. By now that was old hat for me and Erin. Unfortunately, it was not nearly as good as it was at Astrid y Gaston. We also got to try kidney, neck, and intestines. Yes, that's right...intestines. We should have taken a picture of the plate but the alum started cutting everything up too fast. I'm not going to lie-my favorite would probably have to be the intestine. Gross to think about, and look at, but it actually had very little flavor, which is probably what made it bearable.
For the main course we had ribs and a rib eye. The ribs were well done and tough and all together not very enjoyable. The rib eye, however, was delicious.

After another two hour + dinner we went out for gelato. We went to Freddo, one of the big gelato chains in Buenos Aires. The guys wanted to walk outside by the water as we ate our gelato...in the winter! While some of us were wearing open toed shoes! Needless to say, some of us were very cold and anxious to get back after the gelato was gone. The gelato was pretty good, but for all the big talk around Buenos Aires that their gelato is better than Italy, I'd still prefer a trip back to Italy for the real thing any day.

Now you can see why I never quite got around to this on the road. I haven't even mentioned what happened on our second day in Buenos Aires! More on that soon...
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