Falling in love with Buenos Aires

As Al told me when I met with him pre-tour to get a sense of what kind of experience he wanted from my tour: "I probably won't ever go there a second time, so I want to see some sights. I don't care if I dance a lot." Right from the start, part of his tour fell through when another member of the group decided not to go to Iguazu Falls, and that got cancelled. But Al persevered, and found plenty to do! Here you have his own words:

Notes from the tour

Buenos Aires. There was so much more to my visit than tango and milongas. I can start with saying I fell in love with Bs As. Don't ever think of it as a third world place. It's definitely different from here. Especially NOW with this freezing weather. The climate is subtropical and was just approaching summer south of the equator. I don't know about anyone else, but I didn't have any experience with mosquitos and I didn't use any repellants. And humidity wasn't a problem for me even in the Tigre delta. Or out in the pampas at the estancia. The weather was perfect, sunny and warm.

The Palermo barrio where we stayed was a great neighborhood, akin to the Pearl in Portland. I had most of my meals outdoors at sidewalk cafes and restaurants. The food was great and the portions were not skimpy. I had a difficult time finding a lite meal.

As for the milongas, I need to practice my cabeceo. It's nothing like in Portland where everybody is mixed together. Men on one side of the dance floor and women on the other side. Not being prepared, I didn't get to dance as much as I would have liked. And watching the Argentines tango was eye opening. It seemed as natural to them as breathing. Or walking down the street. And milongas seemed to be available everyday from afternoon to late night. I particularly enjoyed the outdoor milongas: la Glorieta in Belgrano, and La Milonga Gran Nacional in Avenida de Mayo.

Transportation was no problem. I even managed to learn how to get around on the subway (yes, they have a subway system) by myself. Cabs are plentiful and not hard at all to get. However, their sidewalks could use more maintenance. They are uneven and broken up in places. I walked a lot and there were street fairs all over the place, it seemed in every neighborhood, every few blocks.

The biggest drawback was the economy. I wasn't prepared for that. The inflation rate is 40% and some places wanted to be paid in US dollars and not Argentine pesos. However, I had no problems using my credit card or debit card for making withdrawals from ATMs once I figured it out. But once I got back to the US, I couldn't get my leftover pesos exchanged. They wouldn't take Argentine pesos because of the volatile exchange rate. So if you go, spend all of your pesos before you leave.

Prices there are reasonable. As I told everyone, should I ever hit the lotto or Publisher's Clearing House (LMAO), I would definitely have a winter home there. I don't imagine that would be a problem for rich people. I could go on and on, but I have things to do. So, hasta luego, todos.

Running, opera and bikes: a first trip to Buenos Aires

Thanks to Jim, another tour member, who is guest-writing today's blog entry!

Running in Buenos Aires

After a half-century of being an avid runner/cyclist/hiker, it was with great excitement that I hit the pavement in Buenos Aires. This effort is made a little easier in Buenos Aires than at home, because just prior to sunrise, one hears the most strange (and beautiful) bird call, awaking me at the proper time to suit up and get going.

My first run was a several kilometers around Palermo, the neighborhood in which we were lodged. First reaction: Estoy contento porque estoy corriendo en Buenos Aires! (I am happy to be running in Buenos Aires!) Not knowing the lay of the land, I stayed close to the hotel. Given that it was about 5 am, I was astounded by the number of people still on the street! Most seemed to be party-goers who were heading home.

The following days, my runs took me farther afield, and with even a little uphill; going uphill is the runner's friend. During the daytime, I noticed many runners, even during the hottest parts of the day. This was very encouraging, because when I come back, I'd like to have a partner or two and take a running tour of the town.

Speaking of tours, let's switch gears and talk about tours en bicicleta.

Biking in Buenos Aires

First, let me digress for a few sentences. I am not a "tour" type of person, but I was indeed fortunate that Elizabeth ran this tour, because she designed the tour so that I was able to be myself and do things my own way: 1. stay physical; and 2. be independent.

A bike tour for me means a 50-km ride at a pretty good clip. However, the tour that Elizabeth found for us did not conform to this expectation. Instead it was at a very leisurely pace. Guess what? Did I ever find this relaxing! I was able to talk with my fellow riders, including Megan and Anna, our tour guides. I was actually able to "see" things that I would otherwise have missed. I learned a lot about the history of Buenos Aires. So, here we learn again the important life lesson: eschewing "my" way and following another's way, often leads to delightful results!

Teatro Colón

OK, I admit it: I love the opera. As mentioned before on these blog pages, the opera house in Buenos Aires, is rated the third best opera house in the world. With this in mind, I was more than excited to attend an opera here. Gershwin's Porgy and Bess was playing. Having seen operas in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, I had some previous data about opera halls, with which to compare Teatro Colón.

First, the actual structure, both inside and out, is stunning. The paintings on the ceiling inside Teatro Colón reminded me of the Sistine Chapel. Second, the acoustics were very good. I felt as if I were almost right next to the singers. Some of the other venues occasionally had a “washed out” sound. Not so here.

The actually performance was outstanding and made me happy, thinking about this good advice: I got plenty of nothin’ and nothin’ is plenty for me. I thought that the opera troupe, from South Africa, was excellent. Excellent singers in an outstanding venue make for a great experience.

Overall Tour Impression

I came back from Buenos Aires, hoping to return as soon as possible. This old Puritan came away utterly charmed. (In more colorful terms, as I tell my friends, the December 2016 Puritan Siege of Buenos Aires was a massive failure – thank goodness). I have to give a lot of credit to Elizabeth for designing a tour that took into account my many idiosyncrasies. She went way out of her way to make the tour a memorable experience. I doubt if any other tour would have been as successful for me, and for this, I am thankful.

Isla Macondo

Bed and Breakfast place in the Tigre delta

Susana and her husband are friends of Argentine friends of mine. The last time I visited their house out on the Tigre delta, they were still building it. That was in 1999 or 2000 (Silvana and I can't remember exactly when we went there, and neither of us took pictures). When members of my tour group asked what else there was to do in Argentina besides tango, I thought of Isla Macondo, and wrote to them.

The Caraguata River is not a happening place: this is the place to go in order to do nothing! Think the opposite of the bustle that is Buenos Aires. Think RELAX! This is where people go to just hang out for a few days. You can swim in the river, take a canoe out and paddle around, or use the river taxi to check out the various restaurants and bars that dot these waterways; but that's about it.

We took the local train to Tigre, about an hour away from where we were staying in Palermo. Unlike my last trip, you can now just use your Sube card (subway/bus pass) and get on the train! It think it was 12 pesos for the ride. It was a holiday weekend, and the train was packed to the gills with folks escaping the city for a few days.

In Tigre, we only had time for lunch before boarding a river taxi. We ate at Vivanco Restaurant (General Bartolomé Mitre 74, Tigre). The flan was magnificent, especially as I had not yet had flan during this visit, and it is my favorite dessert! Connie had some sort of prawn dish.

To take the river taxi (lancha colectiva), you have to know the address for your destination. "Caraguata 1098" got us the right tickets and they put us on boats depending on our destination. Then, as we went up the river, the guys on the boat made sure that they had a list of where everyone needed to go, and stopped at each place on the way. They managed to snag each dock, pull the boat close, off- or on-load people, and off we went, with barely a pause.

Susana met us at the dock for Isla Macondo. She was surprised to see us an hour early: apparently, they had added extra launches because of the holiday weekend, and we could have had a bit more time in town. She offered us tea and mate, and homemade fruit bread, fresh from the oven. The group settled into their rooms, and the island had its inevitable effect: people kept dozing off in comfy chairs!

From what I hear, dinner and breakfast the next morning were very yummy. My memories from 1999 are of a scrumptious outdoor barbeque, good wine, and excellent coffee and breakfast the next day. Susana is lovely and eager to please. Her husband is building another house for vacation rentals nearby, to add to their capacity.

My husband and I were going home that evening, to make sure that the other tour participants in Buenos Aires were OK. It was quite a journey for one day: almost 3 hours on the boat total, plus 2 hours back and forth to Buenos Aires on the train. Plus it was so relaxing out on the river! I wish I had stayed overnight, too! They have three bedrooms available, great food, and very good hosts.

To book at Isla Macondo, you can contact them at susana@islamacondo.com.ar and ask for details. They do not speak much English, but I do, so that was not a problem for the group. I appreciate that they were very flexible with the changing travel plans of my group in a way that a larger business would not have been. They are open December to May for the summer season.

 

A day trip to Colonia

I helped Felicita set up a three-week trip to Buenos Aires in November, as she could not fit her schedule around the tango tour in December. Her main focus was improving her Spanish, in addition to dancing as much as possible. She took a day off to visit Colonia, Uruguay, and agreed to write it up for the blog. Thank you, Felicita!

Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay

A day trip to Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay is a perfect day trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. Hop on the boat and you are there in about an hour. I was lucky in that the weather was perfect and all the flowers were blooming. 

I arrived about 10 am and left at 7 PM. One day is plenty to visit the historic town with your two feet. However, I wish I had rented a scooter to ride up the coast a bit. I guess I'll have to go back! If you aren't a scooter person there are golf carts and bikes.

I recommend the lighthouse, the oldest church in the country (Iglesia Matriz Church, built in the early 1800s), walking up and down the Calle de los Suspiros window shopping and simply walking around this historic town with a significant Portuguese history. While walking around you will see beautiful architecture and art.

I was really curious about the tile museum. It never became clear to me why none of the museums were open. I hope that I will see it next time!

Logistics

Getting There

You can get from BA to Colonia in about an hour via Boque bus (https://www.buquebus.com/english). Buy the tickets online prior to your departure. My "there and back in a day" ticket was $125 US Dollars. It was the Friday of a holiday weekend, so I'm guessing this is a little more expensive than normal. Get to the terminal at least an hour early, as going through customs takes a long time; plan accordingly. Apparently, there is a cheap boat ride to Colonia but is 3 hours long.

Money

I was told by several people that no one in the city would take Argentina pesos, which isn't entirely true because the lighthouse did. You can exchange your money at the boat stop in Uruguay, but be warned that you need at least 100 to exchange back. 

Tourist Office

Once you step off the boat head outside and veer to your left. There is a tourist office with maps and helpful people.

More sightseeing in Buenos Aires

Recoleta Cemetary

  • Address: Junin 1760
  • Hours: 8 am to 6 PM (each website said something slightly different, but this is close)

I don't know why I like this place so much, but I tend to go every time I am in Buenos Aires. It was beautiful on Sunday. I went early, so there were almost no people. Just beautiful. It did seem strange to be walking around in 90 degree weather, listening to the churchgoers singing Christmas hymns. I have spent three Decembers in Buenos Aires, and I am still not used to Christmas being in summer.

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Centro Cultural Kirchner

Entrada: Free.

Hours: 2-8 PM Thursday-Sunday.

Tours: Thursdays 3-6 PM, every half hour; Fri-Sun. 2:15-6 PM, every 15 minutes. The tour takes about one hour. There seem to be huge numbers of workers available to direct you to get tickets, find the bathroom, follow the tour, try to answer questions, and lurk in groups in corners.

My friend, Silvana, and I met at the new cultural center. It was the central post office for 90 years, and just opened this year as a cultural center. All the activities are free to the public, so check out the website to plan when you want to go. It's pretty impressive. It was worth going on the guided tour, so I suggest doing that.

 

The building is on the historical buildings register, so they returned it to its former beauty. It reminds me of East Coast train stations: beautiful windows, marble, wood, careful craftsmanship.


The back section, ten floors high, has been gutted, and completely remodeled. Suspended in the center is La Ballena Azul (The Blue Whale), a state-of-the-art concert hall with incredible acoustics. It is so large that I couldn't find a way to photograph all of it from where we were allowed to go.

This next picture shows how large this building really is. The bluish structure at the top is called La Lampera (The Lantern), and houses an art gallery. The large mesh thing below it, is the outside of La Ballena Azul. This inside is the photo above this.

 

You can get free tickets online for concerts, according to our guide. Three disgruntled tour participants told the tour guide that they were unable to do so. Tip from the guide: when you can't get tickets online, come down the day of the concert, stand in line, and pick up tickets that people have not claimed. Apparently, there are always unclaimed tickets.

 

Good restaurant in Puerto Madera: La Parolaccia

 

  • Address: Pierina Dealessi 260
  • Salad with seafood on top (146 pesos), Caesar salad with chicken (125 pesos), 2 coffees & table setting charge: 400ish pesos

We were starving by the time that we finished going through the cultural center, so we headed to nearby Puerto Madero to eat. This is NOT my part of town: our lunch cost what a steak, salad and glass of wine cost in Almagro. However, it was air-conditioned on a very hot day; and although I couldn't eat most of the food because it is an Italian restaurant specializing in pastas, other people's food looked marvelous. The assortment of breads that I couldn't eat looked marvelous, and Silvan said the flatbread was still hot when it came to the table. The waiter was bored, as it was after the usual lunch hour, and chatted with us. He brought us complementary limoncellos, perhaps because we were so friendly? Ah, it's fun to be female in Buenos Aires :-)

Puerto Madero was being built back in the late 90s when I started coming to Buenos Aires. It is so strange to me to see tons of ritzy hotels, huge skyscrapers and restaurants, a yacht club, etc., where it was abandoned land. I agree with Silvana that it's not right that the coast area does not belong to all of the people, but instead is private property.


Why are all the Tshirts here in English?

Looking for a shirt in Spanish...

OK, a few shirts I saw today were in Spanish, but most were in English. Some examples:

  1. Love me!
  2. It's only Rock 'N Roll but I like it
  3. Brooklyn
  4. Married to the mob

And the winner is...

And my favorite today? Standing in a bank line a full block long:

IN [blank space] WE TRUST

I think that just about sums up what Argentines have told me about life here. Especially with a change in government coming, there is a gallows humor about the economic situation that makes this the perfect shirt for today.

Perhaps problems are just more open here

Bank Lines

With the four-day weekend/holiday, everyone was out of pesos by today. The banks were out of pesos on the weekend, and everyone was desperate to get cash. There were waiting lines at all the banks and places that changed money. In fact, some places weren't marked as cambios, but the lines outside gave them away.

We don't have an unofficial exchange rate in the USA, so I'm not sure what this could correspond to. It reminds me of the lines at gas stations in the 70s, and only being able to fill our car with gas on odd-numbered days. I was really little, but that memory has stuck in my head.

Police

Last night on the way to the milonga in the rain, I passed a circle of policemen, surrounding an older man who was on his knees on the ground. At first, I wondered if he was ill, It was not clear at all what was going on, but everyone passed the scene as if nothing was happening. It felt really scary to me.

One taxi driver told me that the police just help the mafia, and that he had been threatened at the airport to leave a certain area by the police and the mafia.  He said, "The police are supposed to provide public safety, not mafia safety." As I walked away, I kept worrying about the guy on the ground. You don't need seven policemen to deal with one person.

As is obvious by what has been happening in the United States with the police, perhaps here there is just a wider swath of the population who distrust the motives of "public safety" officers. Here, it's probably going to be a long time before police have car or visor cameras.

Crony-ism

According to a friend, the day that Macri won, the stock in one of his friend's companies rose by 8%, and the other stocks declined about 10%. "Everyone knows who is going to benefit from this government," he said. "The people already knew it on the day Macri won."

But this happens in the USA as well, whether we are willing to admit it. If (goddess forbid) Trump becomes the next president, I could see exactly the same scenario happening all over the place. Of course, I'll be moving to Canada (it's going to be crowded).

 

I think I know what a sardine feels like now

I spent the day rushing around, trying to get too many things done. On the way home, I squeezed into a subway train at the first stop from the terminus. Each stop, more people shoved into the car. Each stop, someone with a loudspeaker had to ask people to let the doors close; each stop, there were people left on the platform who couldn't get in. At one, the announcement happened three times, and someone called, "Attack them!" and everyone in the car chuckled. It is interesting to be surrounded by people, pressed MUCH tighter together than couples on the dance floor, buttocks to other people's fronts/sides/backs/handbags/shopping--and to politely ignore that we are all packed like sardines into this metal box. It was really a relief to fight my way out of the car and get back up into (relatively) fresh air.

Most of this trip, I have walked places. I find that it helps me remember my geography better. I also feel better when I absorb sun. When I am running late, I'll hop into a taxi to get the rest of the way to where I am going if traffic is good. I have been avoiding the buses because most of the time, they don't go all that much faster than walking! The subway is my choice for public transportation if possible because there is so much street traffic that the buses idle in place, with sweating people mopping their brows inside.

I can see why I did not play tourist the first six times I visited Buenos Aires: I am just too tired sometimes to go dancing. Before, if you had given me the choice, I would have stared at you. Of COURSE dancing comes first! However, since I am trying to organize everything I will need for bringing people with me next year, I am spending a lot of time looking at tango hostels, hotels and apartments. I am spending a lot of time doing cultural/touristy things that I should have done before; and I am dancing a lot less.

Right now, I am supposed to be at La Milonguita, a milonga I LOVE, but I never managed to eat today after an early breakfast, so I am eating now. Also, I promised to call my son, and right after school is great for him, but means I miss out on getting to early milongas on time.

Part of why I am late, is that there was a huge demonstration/gathering to hear the outgoing president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, give a speech. On the TV, I could see probably thousands (maybe hundreds) of people jumping up and down, waving flags, chanting, etc. CFK was already speaking when I got home. I watched a bit, fielded a call from my son, and then watched the end of her speech. She was losing her voice by that time.

My hostess was watching the speech, and consequently probably arrived late for the class she teaches. As she got up to leave, I said we would never have this in the USA, that this seemed more like a telenovela than politics--an impassioned speech basically admonishing everyone to take responsibility on themselves for the nation, implying very strongly that a. she will be back in four years ("I am listening to you, I will always listen to you, etc." and b. that the incoming government will be awful--she laughed. She said that, unless one understands the entire history of Argentina, that this speech would seem overly dramatic. Also, we would need to know all of Argentine history to understand that CFK is not a psycho. My hostess seemed very moved by the speech. "We are very Italian," she shrugged. On the other hand, we have Donald Trump doing pretty much the male imitation of what I just saw, so maybe I should not be so shocked.

Bits and pieces that haven't fit in anywhere

Good massage place

Marta Rey does reflexology, massage, facials, moxibustion, etc., and has those strange but very nice Korean massage beds that roll your spine for you. I tried it once, and Gayle is back getting everything loosened up for the flight home. Both of us really liked how our backs and feet felt afterwards. Marta speaks some English. You can reach her to set up a time (you will need 2.5-3 hours for the whole works) at 4951-6755; 4953-7223; or 15-4061-3232. All numbers that start with 15- are mobile numbers. The other two are her work phone and her home phone; I am not sure which, but try the first one first. She is at Rivadavia 1966, 3rd floor, Apt. A (in Congreso). We got a deal for being friends of friends, so I am not sure of the price, but I think it's around 120ish pesos. Tipping is nice.

Good pedicure and hair place

Claudio Zappulla, Ayacucho 57 (also in Congreso) was hopping when we went in to schedule pedicures: we had to wait two days! Some friends get their hair done here, too, and vouch for the stylists. I don't know if they speak English, but the pedicure person did not. They aren't afraid to remove callus here. If you haven't had a pedicure outside the USA, don't panic when they start shaving callus off (last year, at another place, the girl broke open a disposable razor and used a blade from it; at this place, at least they have the right tools!). The little sander-like tool made everything supersmooth, but I'm very ticklish, so it was a bit of a torture for me. However, my feet felt GREAT afterwards. I think it was 75 pesos for the most thorough pedicure I've ever had. Telephone: 4953-6584.

Nice leather products

We wandered into a few leather stores, as my handbag started to disintegrate a week into our stay (it's "Ecoleather" aka vinyl). Camila Cueros, Lavalle 741, had pushy salespeople, but very good quality leather. The prices seemed high to me because I don't buy leather in the USA, but Gayle assured me that the prices were really good deals, compared to prices at home.

Good ice cream

Cadore Gelato Artigianale, Av. Corrientes 1695. I already mentioned this place last year, but I went back. I REALLY like their gelato!

Shoe repair

I think I already said this, but I'll put it here, too. Sarmiento 1882, half a block away from Neotango Shoes. They can get stuff done fast: they put croma on Gayle's shoes between yesterday afternoon and 9 am today. Fast, good service and repair.

My new favorite clothing store for tango: Tango-Imagin

Tango-Imagen Anchorena 606, tel,. 4864-3847, email: jazmin.tangoimagen@gmail.com, is next to Tango 8, and I hadn't seen it before. However, the nice ladies at Susana Artesanal steered us that way after we couldn't find what we wanted at their store. What a nice place (both). At Tango-Imagen, three people do the cutting and sewing and selling, so they know the fabrics, they know what they have, and they can take special orders. They have a mix of performance stuff, going out to dance clothing, and practice clothing.

The man who helped us makes most of the pants they sell, but he was able to look at how one outfit fit Gayle and suggest another one because the fabric was stretchier. It only came in one size fits all, but that stretchier one was perfect, and she bought it. Pretty designs, nice fabrics--how can you lose? Check them out! Buy their clothing!

Favorite seafood restaurant

La Gran Taberna, Combate de los Pozos 95 (esq. Hipolito Yrigoyen), has things from quite cheap to very expensive. We went on the less expensive side, and stuffed ourselves. What I really like about this place: the waiter took our order, and then said, "Look, that's too much food for the two of you. What if you share one order of the fish, along with your salad and sauted asparagus?" Where else would they suggest you order less of the most expensive part of your meal? Also, we ordered two glasses of wine, and the waiter brought us a bottle: he said that, if we shared a third glass of wine, it would be the same price as the whole bottle. Now that is service! We helped the waiters with their English homework, too. They have a second door on Combate de los Pozos that is their take-out service. Yum! Reservations: 4951-7586.

Slightly cheaper, nice place

Puenta Cuore Restaurant, Rivadavia and Ayacucho (in Congreso), had nice salads. I had an excellent merluza (fish) and steamed veggie meal. Gayle had yummy pasta. The restaurant is on a corner, and it was fun to people watch. The waiter was attentive.

Vegetarian possibilities

There are a lot more vegetables in restaurants than ten years ago. Also, I found three vegetarian restaurants in the area between Lavalle and Corrientes; between Callao and Junin. I didn't try any of them. Sorry, Geofrey! I know you wanted more information.

Gluten and life in Bs As

If you don't eat gluten, eating out is almost impossible if you are also a vegetarian. I opted for eating more meat than usual, and went off my gluten-free lifestyle. Thank goodness I'm not allergic! Many people said they had heard that some people can't eat gluten, but I didn't meet anyone who said they were gluten-intolerant or allergic to gluten. They don't eat in restaurants here, I bet!

Miscellaneous thoughts

1. Song I don't have that I wish I had bought: Di Sarli's Volver a Sonar. At least that's what the DJ Sunday at Canning wrote down for me. Hey, I still have a few hours!

2.  Our taxi driver one night would need to change his name to emigrate to the USA: on the placard showing his license, etc., it claimed that his last name was Moron. I kid you not.

3.  I think American milongas would be better if we kept the idea of a set or two of something different, interpersed during the evening. I love having a chacarera set and a set of "tropical" (cumbia, salsa, merengue) during the evening to relax my body, take a break from concentrating, and enjoy the other dances that I love. I would accept a set of "rock 'n roll" as long as it wasn't all Dixieland jazz (a bit overplayed here) or Elvis (don't get me wrong: I love him, but too much is too much).

 

Bikes in Buenos Aires

It is striking how much pro-bicycle change has happened in the past two years. I was amazed to see a bike lane on CORRIENTES! Wow!

Bike lane corrientes

Areas in downtown have bike lights and green boxes, just like in Portland:

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SAM_0547

This one is on Suipacha, at Diagonal Norte.

I talked to a few of the taxi drivers. The general view is that one must get accustomed to the idea, but that it is snarling traffic because of street size. For example, on a two-lane, one-way street with parking, no other changes were made. Cars are still trying to fit into two lanes, and people are still parking their cars on one side. No adjustments have been made, except to drive closer together and closer to parked cars. Eek! Eventually, I think some streets will either lose parking or be reduced to single lanes, but it is not clear to anyone if the government of the city has considered this carefully.

I saw a lot more bikers than ever before (and a lot of motorcycles in the bike lane). I also saw one crazy rollerblader going down the middle of Corrientes, in between the cars. That guy must have a death wish!

 

Rude people on the dance floor

When annoying men try to teach on the dance floor (and yes, I know women do this too), I have found I have a limit to my politeness.  When one French man informed me that I had anticipated a step, I said nothing, but when he REPEATED it at the end of the tanda: "You anticipated one step."  One step in the tanda!!  I am afraid I told him that it was rude to criticize on the dance floor, and that I had not said anything about his mistakes, but rather, had fixed them. Grrr.

The other rude man--as opposed to those who are trying to be helpful--was at Nino Bien.  An awful Argentine dancer hauled me around the floor, and then suggested I go to La Viruta to learn that style of dance.  It was obvious he didn't care whether I was enjoying the dance, and he didn't bother try to adjust at all: he just pulled me in tighter and higher, until I could barely keep my feet on the floor.  I smiled at him and told him that good technique works with everyone, and walked away. Grrr.

I have taught dance for 25 years, and I would never dream of saying things like that to another dancer while dancing socially!!! Shame on them.

 

More cool places to go and stuff to do in Buenos Aires!

I keep thinking of information about Buenos Aires and adding it to my blog. Here is another installment.

Shows

As I never seem to have money available for tango shows (and prefer dancing to watching), I had never been to a tango show in Buenos Aires before this year. However, my main teachers, Oscar Mandagaran and Georgina Vargas, are kick-ass stage performers, along with being fabulous dancers in the milongas. I went to the show at Esquina Carlos Gardel to see them. Most of the sweet young things (SYTs) were pretty to watch. Oscar and Georgina were amazing--ever think you saw fire and smoke sizzle off of performers? I think I did!--and Pocho Pizarro did his famous broom dance, which was even better than on YouTube. He had as much stage presence as all the SYTs put together! If you like to watch show tango, or if you have non-dancing friends headed for Buenos Aires, this is a classy place to have dinner and enjoy the show, and other folks told me that they consider this the best show in town.

If you are going to be in Buenos Aires for long enough to contemplate taking nights off to do things other than dancing, check out the great programs at the Centro Cultural Borges, Viamonte, esq. San Martin. There are great shows there (and tango classes, etc.). I didn't get to see the entire flamenco show featured in January and February, but I was lucky enough to see some of the performers from Entre Mi Sangre Y Mi Tierra when they showed up at TangoQueer to promote their show. WOW! Some of the best flamenco dancing I have seen. Centro Cultural Torcuato Tasso, on Defensa, also has shows and classes, again quite reasonable in price.

Food

My favorite place to eat in Buenos Aires is Pedro Telmo, Bolivar 962, in San Telmo. It has good pizza, empanadas, baked pasta, etc. It is inexpensive and filling. However, the reason it is my FAVORITE place is because of La Negra, the proprietor. She's getting up there in years (no idea, but she reminds me of my grandmother), and she is everyone's Mama. I spent three months eating lunch there almost every day (close to my dive hotel, cheap, warm) about ten years ago. La Negra bossed me around, fussed if I didn't eat all of it, and generally made me feel happy and cared for during two cold winters.

Confiteria La Opera, Av. Corrientes 1789 (Corrientes y Callao) was the closest cafe to where we stayed this time. I remembered their yummy coffee from my other visits, and they have free Wi-Fi (email downloads!), so we made this our standard breakfast coffee place. They happily adjusted their omelettes to my traveling companions request (combining the ham and cheese omelet with the omelet with verduras), and got used to seeing us at all strange, random hours of the day and night. On our last night in Bs As, we told the waiter they wouldn't be seeing us until our next visit, and he refused our tip and brought us each a free glass of wine. Very unexpected, as they are nice, correct waiters and stayed out of our hair for the most part.

Chiquilín, Sarmiento 1599, esp. Montevideo, is open from noon to 2 am every day. It is more expensive than the other places we went, but it was nice to play hooky from tango for a night and pig out. I had the bife de lomo, medium rare; a salad; wine; and flan (my usual). I can't remember how much it cost, but it was above budget, and worth it! My travel companion happily checked email, as there is free Wi-Fi.

Gijon, Chile 1402 (Chile y San Jose), is a neighborhood parrilla. It was stuffed full of folks from the neighborhood, watching the football game and eating. The price is right (MUCH lower than the other parrillas we went to) for good food. The wine sucked, but we ordered the house wine, so . . .  The flan was delicious, as was the salad and steak I had. Warning: closed on Sundays!

Chan Chan, Hipólito Yrigoyen 1390, is a neighborhood Peruvian restaurant. The food was cheap and delicious. It's just around the corner from La Nacional, and we went after dancing. Our friends had been there many times, and the entire wait staff kindly served us and waited until we were done (the absolute last to come in and order) with patience and friendly smiles. I had amazing fish stew. If you like Peruvian food, you will love this place!

Quorum, Combate de los Pozos 61, is right behind the Congreso building, and has an all-you-can-eat format, including salads, cold cuts, veggies, a dessert bar (flan oh my god), and a HUGE grill at the back. Phone for reservations: 4951-0855. Prices are reasonable but not cheap (32-43 pesos a person, depending on day of the week and whether it's lunch or dinner, with reduced prices for kids) and the food is very good.

Is it OK to write about restaurants that I wish I had visited? Sarkis, Thames 1101, is a WONDERFUL Arab and Armenian restaurant that I visited years ago with an Argentine friend. We debated going there this time, but ended up at a different place due to time constraints (see next). It is not super cheap, but you will end up eating so much that you hurt, if you like this kind of food. Yummy yummy yummy!!!!

Bodega Campo, Rodríguez Peña 264, was our chosen spot to meet this year because it was between our houses and both of us had appointments afterwards. This was not amazing, but the food was good and the price was, too. It has a western feeling to the decor, a tango show in the evenings (a strange combo), and a good wine cellar. The empanadas were not on the menu, but were produced when we requested them (very good!), along with salad. My friend says that the locro is very good here (a bean stew with unmentionable cow innards in it that tastes wonderful and looks a bit strange to this ex-vegetarian).

Music

I admit it: I love Zival's, on the corner of Corrientes and Callao (subte stop: Callao). It didn't help that I was staying a block away. I'm still impressed with myself for limiting the number of CDs I bought!

What I love about Zival's is the knowledgeable staff. I walked up to ask questions about good milonga CDs, and the counter person called for another guy to come over. I told him what I already had, and he made some suggestions to augment my collection. He could tell me what CDs they had, whether the sound quality was good or not, and was able to find them for me in about a minute. Wow!

I also like their system (installed since my last visit) that allows you to listen to every cut on most of their available music. This really helped in selecting music for my sweetie, who prefers electronic tango music (not my strong point). I listened to ten albums before choosing two. I now hear those two albums daily ;-)

I wandered into several other stores and bought music, but only Zival's had someone who knew tango well (I'm sure other stores do, too, but not the ones I went to!). You can order from Zival's online (see link above).

Books

If you are looking for something to read, and don't read Spanish, toddle over to one of these two bookstores that stocked with English books:

Rincon 9 and Junin 74 (both named after their addresses)

They appear to cater to teachers of English, English and American literature (and also current fiction) and children's books. I found some nice books on Buenos Aires architecture and social history for my sweetie. The store personnel speak at least some English, and are VERY helpful.

Ways to get from the airport to the city

Vicky Ayer's friend, Luis, arranged for our transport to and from the airport. I don't have his phone number, but Vicky can set you up with him. His son took us back to the airport, and was very chatty and nice.  Luis' friend, Graciela Guido, picked us up; she also runs her own airport pickup and rents an apartment in Palermo Soho to visitors. She seemed really nice, although we did not see the apartment. I don't think she speaks any English, but we had a rolicking conversation in Spanish. You can contact her at ipedeargentina @ hotmail.com or 1540639799 (mobile) or 4573-5597 (land line).

Street Art

One of the artists displaying their wares along Humberto Primo in San Telmo, caught the eye of my traveling companion. You could see that the artist had talent (which I can't say for all of the artists selling there). Mirtha Ruix paints and does india ink and paint works. She is also a teacher. I couldn't find any pictures of her work online, but if you go to the street fair, look for her portly husband selling paintings/india ink work that involves pretty cats, women, etc.

Luggage

If you buy too many pairs of shoes, you may find yourself shopping for luggage (in the end, we fitted everything in, but it was close). Pinco Pinco, Av. Corrientes 2250, was your standard Once retail/wholesale kinda place, but the owner was both helpful and funny ("Buy some luggage, feed my children! Stimulate the economy!"). He gave honest opinions about the quality of the available bags (if you want super cheap, this is it; if you want something that will last, this medium price bag is better made than the one you are looking at, etc.).

Cheap pants and Tshirts

Basicos, Rivadavia 2297, had pants, skirts and shirts for very reasonable prices (30 pesos for a Tshirt, with 3.8 pesos to the dollar). They were not very friendly, but if you need some more clothes, there they are. I really like the harem-style pants I bought there. They do NOT have a changing room, but you can exchange sizes (they looked at us, handed us clothes, and the clothes fit--no need to exchange).

England and France through a three-year-old's eyes

Many of you know that I recently took my son along on a two-week trip to England and France. A close friend from college had extracted a promise to come to his wedding almost a year ago. Despite the economic downturn, the state of my bank account and the thought of bringing a kiddo along, I decided to go. 

Jamie had three things on his list of must-dos: Buckingham Palace, double decker buses and a real castle. Buckingham Palace came about from reading A. A. Milne at bedtimes ("They're changing guards at Buckingham Palace . . ."). The castle came from playing with toy castles at friends' houses and at his grandmother's house. I don't know where the double decker bus fixation came from, but it figured on his list.

You have not experienced cabin fever until you are contained in a hotel (a proper, English environment) with a bored, jet-lagged three-year-old at bedtime. My son is used to running off steam by singing, break-dancing, pounding things (construction worker), putting out pretend fires, and generally making a lot of noise. This is not possible in a public place that has people trying to sleep on all sides, thin walls, and no space to move.

However, after a few days, we adjusted to the new situation and had a GREAT time. Jamie added to his list of favorites over the days and weeks. He got to try on fake armor at the castle and discovered a coat of armor at the Maritime Museum. He rode two carousels in Paris. He watched and then participated in break dancing at the Trocadero metro stop, in view of the Eiffel Tower, and then ate the world's largest cone of gelato. He rode on: a boat, the Metro, the Underground, the Eurostar (train from London to Paris), double decker buses, a taxi, friends' cars, and the train to Cambridge. He walked through Buckingham Palace. He played at the Museum of the Docklands and at the Maritime Museum (both of which have a lot of exhibits that appeal to kids). He visited the Princess Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens, where he pretended to be a pirate on the pirate ship, climbed around on a fort, played in teepees, and dug in the sand for hours.

On top of that, he had a fabulous third birthday at my friend Samantha's house, with her sons and a neighbor. A Bob the Builder card, a cake with construction tools on top, Thomas the Train presents, four boys under five, and we were set for a rocking party. The mothers drank tea, talked about work, knitting, sons, village life vs. the city--and had fun. The boys ran around, ate too much sugar, and shrieked--and had fun. A great party!

After a few weeks home, we have readjusted to the USA. Jamie started preschool this week. I am job hunting, blogging and teaching dance. If you'd like to see ten of the three hundred pictures I took, the travel photo album has our trip from Jamie's list of high points.