Sunday, March 28, 2010

Uruguay...and Back

It's the law...without a long term visa, a foreigner cannot stay in Argentina for more than 90 days, which we are fast approaching. So we decide to spend Sunday in Colonia, Uruguay, get our passports stamped, and return to BA that evening. Matina and Steve, who we met here last year, are back in town and want to go too, as does Jim, who also needs his passport stamped.

Colonia, a day trip from Buenos Aires, is just one hour away by high-speed ferry. The guide books say it's a charming colonial town, a former Portuguese settlement dating to 1680 and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Our plan is to take the 12:30 ferry there, spend the day touring, and return on the 9:30 ferry.

And we're not talking about some rinky-dink ferry – no chickens on this ship! The seats are relatively cushy and, for those who get bored easily, there's a snack bar and duty free shopping.

But on Sunday morning, the weather has done a 180...Saturday was glorious, and today we wake up to a driving rain, cool temps and high winds. We decide to go anyway and, even though its raining really hard, the ride over is smooth.

After the ferry pulls in, we have a quick conference at the Uruguay terminal and decide to exchange our 9:30 tickets for a 5:30 return...not so easy, of course, since the woman at the ticket counter doesn't initially understand what we want to do and then can't quite get a handle around what the additional cost will be. But 20 or so minutes later and three different price changes, we've successfully exchanged our tickets...and we're on our way.

I was optimistic about what the weather would be like when we arrived but it's raining even harder, so we abandon any thoughts of sightseeing and taxi to a restaurant in town, where we spend the next 2 hours eating, drinking, and having a really good time.

On the ride back, I try to take skyline photos of BA, but they're blurred almost beyond recognition by the rain that hasn't let up all day.

However, the minute we get off the ferry, the sky clears...

so we walk back to the Recoleta...drop Matina and Steve off at their hotel...

and agree that Colonia will have to wait 'til next year!

We also agree that we should eat at home for at least 3 days in a the scheme of things, a rather insignificant but, none-the-less, binding decision on our part, made easier because Matina has brought us a homemade banana bread, and I find myself eating it for or after almost every meal. Great comfort food...great gift.

We spend a day in San Telmo, primarily to go to Walrus Book Store, which is known for its selection of “slightly used” English books.

On Thursday evening, we break our “restaurant fast” and meet Angela for dinner...

and then it's birthday!! Feliz cumpleanos to me. To start the day, I get a “flower delivery” from Rick and Kevin, .

and later that evening 8 of us meet at one of our favorite “locals” for dinner. We order an assortment of tastes, including langostinos, lomo (beef) and champagne...

and then birthday cake, complete with candle...and a song (in Spanish, of course).

Around midnight, I go to the ladies room...2 little stalls opposite one another. I use the one on my right, but when I go to open the door, the handle comes off in my hand. I'm locked in and, try as I might, I can't get the darn door open. So I sit there, thinking how nice it would be if I had a cell phone with me, looking through the key hole, waiting for someone else to come in.

Finally, I hear someone and start banging on the door (feeling really silly). Of course, if I knew Spanish, I could have shouted “Ayudame, por favor” - “Help me please” - but of all the phrases I've learned, that's not one of them! I know she hears me, but instead of saying something, she just walks out and, much as I do find the humor in this, I can't help but wonder how long I'll be stuck in there.

And then, a miracle!!! The door of the waiters has come to my rescue! I look up at him, he looks down at me, and we burst out laughing. My savior!

Perhaps 10 minutes have passed. I walk back to our table, carrying the door handle, and ask if anyone has missed me? The answer....NO. Good thing I wasn't waiting for any of them to come looking for me!!

To round out my 48 hour birthday celebration, David and I go to a little French bistro on Saturday for a “romantic” dinner... pate, boeuf bourguignon a la Julia, crème brule, and champagne.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Nine and 1/2 Days

Wednesday night is movie we go to see “Alicia en el pais de las maravillas” (aka “Alice in Wonderland”) in 3D and then do dinner at a traditional parrilla (grillhouse) with Rick and Kirk (standing 2 steps down - he's really not that short at all!).

Lots of meats, chickens, and sausages on the grill sizzling away, though the salad bar is the big hit for us all. I'm actually feeling vegetable-deprived...with the exception of potatoes, pumpkin squash, and lettuce/tomato salads, vegetables typically aren't served with an entree or as a side dish.

Thursday is quiet but, on Friday, we have breakfast with Claire and George, who are visiting from the states and just back from Neuquen, Argentina, just 40 or so miles from Concepcion, Chile...

and hear, first hand, how it felt to be close to the epicenter of Chile's earthquake. We didn't feel a thing here in BA, but aren't sure whether it's because it occurred at 3:30 a.m. and we slept through it or because the city wasn't affected...we've heard both stories.

Later that day, we go to the Palacio Errazuriz, the only early 20th century French-style mansion open to the public.

But we don't take a tour...oh no, no, no...instead we dine al fresco at the mansion's restaurant with Julie, Bob, Bettye, and Michael.

On Saturday, we walk over to the Marriott to welcome our friends Nelson and Brian, who've just arrived from the states for a week long stay.

On the way, we pass another of those statues that cause us to take notice...this time, a replica of Michaelangelo's “Pieta”...

as well as “tamale art”...(we photograph pretty much anything that catches our eye).

We spend part of the day and that evening with them and then, on Sunday, we all go to San Telmo, where we walk around the Plaza Dorrego...arts and crafts, tango singers and street performers galore. We browse in antique stores, nibble on filo dough and honey pastries,

and then go for lunch to El Hippopotamus …

(see the hippo on the left?).

Next we bus over to La Boca, where we “view” the works of “aspiring artists”...

and I catch David fraternizing with the local gnome.

On Monday, some of us go to the Palacio San Martin which, we were told only a week ago, gives English-speaking tours on Mondays and Wednesdays. But that was then...and this is now! We've learned that this weeks' tours have been canceled. Why? We don't know. But that's OK. We're flexible and, if I can't get photos of the Palacio's interior, Julie in the Sofitel ladies room will have to do.

Later that evening, David is feeling a little “off” and, by Tuesday, has a fever and sounds pretty awful. So, after I have lunch with Nelson and Brian, the 3 of us go to Farmacity (BA's version of CVS) and buy “proper drugs” for David. In retrospect, we've been really fortunate. In all of our stays here, this is the first time either of us has been sick. And since antibiotics are sold over the counter here, within 24 hours, the drugs have kicked in, his fever has broken, and a bunch of us go to lunch...

Then, David and I go back to the optical store to pick up my new glasses. Sabrina is there, thankfully, to help with the final fitting. Even though she doesn't speak any English, she's been a big help throughout the multi-visit process.  And once David finalizes the deal (all in Spanish!), we're off and running.

Great...except that by that evening, I'm sick too! No socializing for me until Friday, which is Brian and Nelson's last night we make it Paella Night!

It's back again to San Telmo, where we eat Spanish a restaurant with lots of old-world charm, really good food and enough wine to take us through multiple courses.

And that's the story...until Sunday, when we go to Uruguay, so stay tuned!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

Life is easy, except when it's not. And some things are made just a little more difficult when the task must be done almost exclusively in Spanish.

Take, for instance, the purchase and activation of a new quad band GSM  international phone. David, with some help from friends, spent hours figuring out how to add minutes, change the ring, retrieve messages, with all the items in Spanish.  After all that, he finally figured out how to change the menu from Spanish to English! And he's passed this information on to Julie, who's had similar frustrations. Here we are, with Bob, celebrating “phone victory” at one of the outdoor cafes we've started going to now that the weather is perfect!

When it comes to the unexpected, we've had a bit of good luck. Last week, for example, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) kicked off this year's Congress with a very lengthy speech. We happened to be leaving a cafe on one of the busier streets soon after she finished speaking and there, with perfect timing, was a procession of soldiers on horseback, which David was able to capture on camera.

A few days later, we walked by the Palais de Glace. Just a few blocks from our apartment, we frequently pass by, but this time decided to go inside. We thought Palais de Glace meant museum of glass but, actually, it means “ice palace” or, for those in the know, “ice skating rink,” which is what it was when it opened in 1910. A grand circular structure, it became a tango salon at some point and now, in its most recent iteration, houses rotating (and very eclectic) art collections.

like Shadow Box Marionettes...

Tie Haute Couture....

Wood Blocks and etchings, like this “Van Gogh Visiting Van Gogh”...

And, oh look, there's David with a friend!

We've continued to celebrate the fabulous weather by eating outdoors every chance we get. And, yet again, we've joined Julie and Bob for lunch. Along with Jim, we walked down Avenida San Martin, past not-so-understated courtyards...

some with surprises,

(look – it's Winged Victory, on vacation from the Louvre!), on the way to restaurante El Claustro Santa Catalina. The first thing you see is the church of Santa Maria...

and to the left is an unassuming wall and doorway. But once through, we're in a courtyard restaurant that was once the grounds of the church's convent.

After an amazing meal,

we walk to the Centro Cultural Borges, a gallery that's part of the Galerias Pacifico, a shopping mall located in one of the city's many, many turn-of-the-century buildings, of course!

We're there to see a photo exhibit by National Geographic photojournalist Steve McCurry that spans 25+ years of his may recognize his 1985 cover photo “Afghan Girl”...

The exhibit doesn't disappoint. Nor does the store window that I look forward to seeing every year. If you've followed our blog since it started, you'll recognize these 3 ladies.

Our apartment is around the corner from this store and, for some reason, every year I feel compelled to photograph them. They never change their pose...only their gowns.

And, after David has his daily Spanglish conversation with Leo, our building's afternoon doorman.  Leo's trying to learn English and David practices Spanish (which Leo enthusiastically corrects).

we start cooking for guests Gaby and Pablo, who come over for dinner.

Yes – we actually prepared a meal. And ate at home. Wow – a big deal (for us)!

More to come soon.