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Trip Report Argentina: Slow Travelers' Month in Buenos Aires

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First the basics: We are in our early 60s, recently retired, now living in the mountains in Arkansas. We are originally from Chicago/Milwaukee, so we need an occasional city fix. Our goal was to live like ex-pats for a month in Buenos Aires. The first two weeks, we would be joined by another couple, very good friends from Philadelphia. But the last time we’d all traveled together was in 1974, riding the peoples’ buses around Guatemala and Mexico for three weeks, and sleeping on dirt floors. (There was no TripAdvisor to help us.)

For the past year, the four of us have been planning and anticipating this Buenos Aires trip – exchanging phone calls, excited emails and TripAdvisor tips. We had agreed – as we had in 1972 – to try to live within a daily budget. For our trip to Buenos Aires, we wanted to keep our expenses (not including lodging) under $100 a day per couple, which turned out to be pretty easy (we averaged $75 per day).

We couldn’t all depart at the same time, so my husband and I arrived a few days earlier than they did to scout things out, and we also stayed another two weeks after they left, to savor our slow travel experience. Here’s our story.

Day 1 – Departure
We left Northwest Arkansas (XNA) for Dallas, where we caught our American Airlines connecting flight to BsAs. Easy connection, uneventful and a fairly comfortable flight. We had learned the hard way never to check luggage. So – even for a month – we each had only one regulation-sized carry-on roller bag, and a personal item. Actually, I had two personal items and my husband had none. So while I kept the small Eddie Bauer pack on my back, he grudgingly (but sweetly) agreed to carry my yoga sling bag in its pretty pink silk case. (I think this makes him look very attractive.)

Day 2- Arrival in BsAs, Exploring the Recoleta
We arrived early a.m. at EZE. It is “easy” – if exceptionally slow -- to make it through the winding lines for customs, exchange money at El Banco National and find the counter for the Ezeiza taxi we’d arranged in advance. But things were complicated a bit more because my husband kept forgetting that he had his pretty yoga case. Airport personnel would call him back or announce, “Sir… your pink bag? Please come back here?” And after getting a good look at my burly husband, the female workers (and many of our fellow passengers) giggled. “You are a good husband,” one of them said in excellent English.

The taxi driver (from Ezeiza) spoke only a few words of English, but enjoyed teaching us some basic Spanish as we drove. He warned us about cab driver scams (the ones we’d read about on TA), drivers who will take a $100 bill and return a counterfeit one, claiming to have no change. It was nice to know that we had agreed upon a fare with Ezeiza before we left. So far, no hassles.

We had arranged to meet Nico, from Buenos Aires Habitat, at the apartment we’d rented in the Recoleta area, on Uruguay near Juncal. There we were to give him one month’s rent and a deposit in U.S. currency. It sounded a little scary – arriving with a truckload of US $100 bills (hand selected at our bank, so there were no wrinkled or old ones). But when we met smiling Nico, everything seemed fine. “Try not to break anything big,” he joked with us, as he showed us around the bright, cheerful rooms. “If you break anything, it should be small… and they won’t care so much.” We made a note to only break the small things, as he showed us through the airy sunlit loft, decorated with contemporary furniture and sophisticated artwork. The one-bedroom unit was equipped perfectly for our needs, and had a washing machine, small balcony and a clothes-drying rack – essential to our one-small-suitcase-per-person travel philosophy. Our total monthly rent was $1800.

After Nico left, we took a nap before heading out to explore our Recoleta and Barrio Norte neighborhood. We were charmed by our neighborhood, which is a little bit Champs Elysees, a little bit Michigan Avenue, a touch of Milan, a pinch of Nicaragua. The streets remind us of the 7th arrondissement in Paris – little bakeries, candy shops, butchers, fruit stands on tree-lined streets with bistros and outdoor restaurants tucked into almost every block. People were walking everywhere. There were many families, and many older people. Everyone was relaxed, happy, having a good time. Nobody – except one or two obvious tourists – was fearfully clutching purses. But I didn’t need to worry anyway. I had left my purse at home, zipped a few pesos into the pocket of my pants. So I was also carefree and happy, arms swinging.

Official dinner time in BsAs wouldn’t start until 9:30, but after we’d walked for about four hours, we were starving. About 8 p.m., we ducked into a little pizza parlor to get a cheese pizza and a Quilmes beer – which, to our delight, came in a large (liter) bottle to share. The pizza was delicious. But then, at this point, we would have eaten our socks.

On the way home, we stopped at the busy Carrefour grocery store to buy essential provisions for the apartment—yoghurt, granola with chocolate, cheeses, orange juice, crackers, bananas, herbal tea (for me), coffee (for him) and our first bottle of Malbec.

Day 3 – Discovering Palermo Soho (Viejo)
We woke about 8, and I rolled dout my yoga mat to do a few painful sun salutations on the nice hardwood floor of the apartment. As I huffed through the poses, I was enjoying the sun coming from the big wall of windows in the apartment until I realized there was a man in the facing apartment, in his underwear, was watching me. I pulled the white shades down to block him out. But still, after more than 20 hours on the plane and miles of walking, all of my muscles were protesting.

In the meantime, my husband headed to Vincente Lopez Park, to read the Buenos Aires Herald (a local paper written in English), and then to the bakery. He came back at 10 a.m., with pain au chocolat, which we enjoyed at the little dining table before leaving the apartment with maps, camera, guidebooks and sunblock.

We walked down Avenida de Santa Fe to Palermo Soho. Soho, as promised in TripAdvisor reports, is vibrant, youthful and exciting. It is filled with shops selling work by local artists as well as funky beads, creative t-shirts, trendy clothes. We ate at an outdoor café across from Plaza Palermo Vieja where my husband ordered stuffed eggplant (with olives, cheeses, green and red pepper, a wonderful cold salad) and I ordered chicken-stuffed ravioli. We lingered for two hours, then wandered through the Soho streets.

For dinner, we walked to Rodriguez Pena and found Cumana restaurant, at 114 Rodriquez Pena in the Recoleta. This place –recommended in the Time Out guidebook -- provides cheap eats and lots of ambiance. Since we had no reservation, we waited in the long line outside the place for our name to be called, enjoying the warm Buenos Aires evening. Inside, the restaurant was filled with charming wooden tables, groups of young adults in animated discussions and romantic couples staring into each other’s eyes. The menu has a wide selection of dishes that appear to be mashed potatoes mixed with other things. We ordered a liter of beer to share and an empanada appetizer, then locro and shepherd’s pie – far too much food to finish. The dinner bill was about $24 US dollars (93 pesos).

After dinner, we take a walk in the Recoleta, which is transformed into a different – and magical—place. With comfortable shoes (Ecco sandals) and no purse, evening walks are fun and I have the freedom to cover many miles. (Note: we felt completely safe walking through the streets of the Recoleta until very late in the evening. Crowds of portenos -- families, friends, groups of teenaged girls, couples – were doing the same thing.)

Day 4 –Lunch at Sanjanino, Dinner at Fervor
We walked up and down all of the tree-lined Recoleta streets, down Alvear past the wonderful hotel and Rodeo-drive-like shopping, then into all of the parks. We stopped for lunch at Sanjuanino on Posadas, which claimed to be the penultimate place for empanadas. The place was crowded and the mood was light, thanks to the jovial owner who goes from table-to-table teasing people and telling them what they need to order. The empanadas were indeed wonderful, we ordered both meat and vegetarian.

We decided to splurge for dinner and go to Fervor, an old-style, elegant, two-story restaurant behind the Alvear hotel on Posadas. We came in without a reservation, and enjoyed a complementary glass of champagne in the lovely lobby until a table was available. Beautiful chandeliers hung from the ceilings – including a large one made out of sterling silver cutlery -- and crowds of friends and multigenerational families order meals to share – steaks, seafood, salads, vegetables. Sharing seems intrinsic to the culture. I ordered a wonderful fish of the day and my husband ordered a steak. The waiter recommended an inexpensive but intriguing Malbec.

Day 5 – Our friends arrive from Philadelphia
We were still in bed when we got a phone call at our apartment – our friends had arrived at EZE and would be here soon. We asked if they needed time to rest and shower but no – they were too excited. We walked over to their apartment on Pacheco de Mele and greeted them. By the time we’d traded travel stories, it was time for lunch. We headed out to La Querencia, a neighborhood restaurant on the corner of Juncal and Junin with regional menu selections – including an interesting stew of beef, peaches, raisins, sweet potatoes, vegetables and a locro of beans, pumpkin and meats. We sat back, talked and laughed, relaxing into this vacation – and this beautiful city.

After lunch, we strolled around the Recoleta, discovering even more tree-lined streets and little shops, stopping for a glass of wine around 5 p.m. at La Rambla, an outdoor café on Posadas near the Alverar Palace hotel.

We headed back to our separate apartments to rest and clean up. And then we all met around 10:30 p.m. at Melo, a neighborhood restaurant with wonderful food and warm, friendly service. (This will be another favorite for the rest of our trip. ) Dinner is normally at 9:30 on weeknights, but at 10:30 or 11 on Friday and Saturday.

Day 6 – San Telmo
On Sunday, the four of us took a taxi to the craft fairs in San Telmo. We worked our way through the crowded, colorful streets, stopping to watch puppet shows and other street performances—including a great tango demonstration.

The most interesting wares seemed to be on side streets, where groups of artists are gathered. My friend and I bought colorful metal necklaces made by a local artist. We couldn’t find the restaurant we’d chosen, the 1888 Parilla recommended so highly in TA, even though we stopped at other restaurants, and asked shop owners. No, there is no such place in all of San Telmo, they all said. (The reason, we learned later, is that it really isn’t in this part of San Telmo --- it is actually closer to La Boca.) We gave up and found an outdoor restaurant – the place where all the umbrellas are lined up. One of those places that have “tourist trap” written all over it. The food was ok, but the opportunity to sit out in the sun in San Telmo – priceless.

For dinner, to keep our budget on target, we led our friends back to Rodriguez Pena, to the La Cholita restaurant next to Cumana. These are two of three of these low-budget restaurants (the third is Mexican), all in a row, that seem to appeal to college students, backpackers and people in their 20s. They are open to the street in front, charming in ambience – if a bit rocky on service. La Cholita is a parilla, but the steaks were a bit disappointing. I had ordered fish, and was not disappointed – the fish was just fine. Still, the laughter and fun in the place made us all feel like we were 23 again. And a great dessert made up for the exta-chewy steak.

Day 7- The mad hunt for tango shoes
We all met at the big tree in Vincente Lopez Park and began a long walk in search of tango shoes. We wandered through gritty business streets, crowded with workers of all kinds jostling each other on the narrow sidewalks and trying to avoid the hot exhaust from buses and muffler-less old cars. We passed the Obelisk and finally got to the streets where tango shoes were sold (streets my friend had researched in advance but I can’t remember). We enjoyed the pure pleasure of seeing all of these beautifully crafted shoes, in wild colors, with four-inch heels reinforced so they wouldn’t break, insteps padded to reduce the pain of wearing them. My friend bought a pair of red ones, the obvious choice, which she would need later this week when she and her husband would take lessons at a milonga. I was jealous, not of the lessons but the shoes – even though the need for tango shoes had never entered my consciousness until this very day. The want would grew in intensity because none of these tango shoe stores had any shoes to fit my size 8.5 AAAA feet. (Okay, and also because in all of the stores in Recoleta – with the most beautiful shoes I’ve ever seen – there were never any that would fit me. It is like being a diabetic in a Belgian chocolate shop.)

Exhausted from our labors, we took the Subte to Palermo Soho, getting off at the wrong stop – resulting in an exceptionally long walk through other Palermo neighborhoods until we found a restaurant in the Soho (I believe it was called Limbo) where we enjoyed a three-course meal on a rooftop across the street from Plaza Palermo Viejo. Sitting for hours under the sun, having all the time in the world to savor the experience. Walked and shopped for awhile and took a taxi back to Recoleta.

At 9:30 p.m., we got together again for a casual dinner at El Cuartito, the famous and brightly-lit pizza place on Talcahuano, crowded with sports and boxing memorabilia. The pizza, as promised, was delicious.

Day 8- Evita Museum
We walked to the subway, intending to visit the Evita Museum, but the trains had stopped. Something had happened. Someone who works there told us it could be a few minutes or maybe all day. So we caught a taxi instead. The museum was better than we expected, with excellent exhibits and compelling video footage.

But the best part was lunch in the museum’s outdoor café – an experience not to be missed. We walked back through the charming neighborhood of Palermo Chico.

After another nap (note the pattern here), we had a relaxing dinner at 9:30 p.m. at the Rodi Bar. The Rodi is a charming neighborhood gathering place with some excellent menu choices, but one has to know what to order. In our subsequent visits there, we learned that the Rodi Trout is the very best, the steaks are wonderful as is the Chicken Maryland. I didn’t care much for the spinach gnocci.

Day 9 -- Demonstration on Juncal

We awoke at 7:10 a.m. to the roll of drums, and an explosion of cannon shots and firecrackers. From our small balcony we could see that the intersection – Uruguay and Juncal– was filled with young men wearing white dress shirts and backpacks. At first, we thought it might be a parade for a high school soccer game – the kids looked so clean-cut and seemed to be in school uniforms. But there were no crowds to cheer them on and the streets started to fill with smoke bombs, blackening our view and sending others racing indoors. TA advisors said it was probably related to the Malvinas anniversary that week. Other demonstrations followed near the British embassy, but not that week.

So, back to sleep – but not easily. At 10 a.m., we met our friends at the Ateneo bookstore on Santa Fe, to chat for awhile before they left for their first tango lessons.

In this enticing bookstore, a renovated theatre that is now the largest bookstore in all of South America, there were only a few shelves of books in English. Nearly all were romance novellas (the ones Scarlett calls bodice-rippers). There was only one, a poetry book called the Amputee’s Guide to Sex, which I was tempted to buy. Until now, I hadn’t known I was in a desperate situation. I’d brought three books on the trip, and had already finished two.

After leaving the bookstore, my husband and I walked to Palermo Chico to have lunch at the charming open-air Voulez Café. We lingered for hours over a small lunch – observing people at the outside tables. I noticed the women -- so many laughing groups of friends, mothers and grandmothers with babies, young women whispering.

We walked home along Las Heras, stopping for awhile in the park – a charming, interesting walk. We were beginning to average 8-10 miles of walking each day, which made it possible not to gain weight (I found out when I got home) despite all of the wonderful food we were consuming.

We took a nap, I finished my last book (Astrid and Veronica) and started reading everything I could find in the apartment. I needed to find a bookstore soon. We didn’t have a computer with us (part of our plan to keep life simple), so we found a nearby Locutorio to check email and search on TA for bookstores that carry English books. I found a document someone had created a long time ago and wrote down the names of seven or eight stores.

For dinner, we met our tango-loving friends at La Granda Bistro, near Juncal on Junin, where we caught up on their adventures and mastery of new dancing skills. This little French bistro had delightful service and provided the best dinner we’d had so far. All of the entrees were good ( for example, steak with interesting sauces, layers of different fish in a wine-based sauc) but the helados was worth the trip to BsAs. It was homemade ice cream with orange, almond and other subtle flavors. Oh, my.

Day 10 -- Recoleta Cemetery and the Design Center
We all headed to Recoleta Cemetery with cameras in hand to photograph this peculiar city of the dead, with its pretty streets and imposing architecture housing dead inhabitants. We also walked through the Design Center nearby, finding artful, creative gift ideas. Then we visited the butterfly exhibit at the Institutio Culturo. Admission to all of these places was free. We walked for miles searching for the right place to have lunch, but decided nothing could be as good as La Querencia, so we took another long walk back to Junin and Juncal.

For dinner, we took a cab to Palermo Soho, where we ate outdoors on the interior patio of El Retirada, a parilla on El Salvador. The steaks, short ribs and chicken were wonderful, served with subtle sauces, and the ambience on the patio was convivial and charming. This was my husband’s birthday, so the waiter brought a round of champagne for all of us with a dessert to share. Very nice. We plan to go back here again next year.

Day 11 --- Casa Rosa and Borges Art Centre
We walked to the City Centre to see the Casa Rosa (where Madonna did the famous scene in the film Evita), Florida Street and the new Borges Center (Centro Cultural Borges). The Borges center is on the top floor of a mall (yes, a mall), the Galerias Pacifico. The T-shaped building allows for four separate exhibit spaces. The day we were there, there was an exhibit by a National Geo photographer, Steve McCurry (the one who did the Afghan child, the girl with the green eyes. )

We had lunch at Los Inmortales downtown (there are many of these around BsAs but this may have been the original – with a milonga on the second floor). Elderly waiters were serving pizza and sandwiches with grace and elegance. A nice find, since we didn’t have a plan for lunch.

Dinner that night was at L’Ecole. This was also going to become one of our favorite restaurants for both lunch and dinner. The interior patio has a mystical feel to it, and it was surprisingly filled – again -- with many tables of women –some seeming to be generations of the same family and others big groups of women having a night out. We ordered from the specials – dinner was $59 pesos per person (about $15 USD) for 3-courses, including a bottle of wine split between two people. The interior patio space is beautiful, the food is wonderful – but do make reservations in advance if you want to eat outside. My husband ordered spinach risotto, two of us had fish, one had pork. (We have learned not to order foods that involve intestines or parts of the head. We have mastered this much Spanish vocabulary.) The appetizer was an amazing corn soufflé, and we had dulce de leche crepes with ice cream for dessert.

Day 12– Laundry Day, Dinner at the SaltShaker
On this Saturday, we all agreed to take a vacation from our vacation. We stayed in most of the day, hung out at the beautiful park while reading and watching parents play with their children, had a quiet lunch in the neighborhood, did laundry and relaxed. We met our friends for dinner at the Saltshaker, for a home-hosted dinner prepared by a chef from the U.S. Midwest. This was a nice way to meet other travelers, especially from other countries.

Day 13 Trip to Belgrano
On Sunday, we all took the D line Subte to Belgrano to see the charming arts and crafts fair (held only on Sundays). We bought jewelry, small art pieces, Christmas ornaments. Then we walked to Chinatown (getting lost) and had lunch at the Budha-Ba, which was (for us) probably one of the most expensive and least satisfying lunches of the trip. In Chinatown, there were many other appealing choices, even though the ambience at the Buddha Ba is lovely. Next time, we will eat where the Chinese families are eating. The food looked great – especially the soups. Look through the windows of the restaurants along the main streets to find them.

Like Chinatown in every big city, this one had lots of color, festivity and fun --- and stores crammed with kitschy souvenirs. But if you had children, this would be a delight for them. We also walked through the large and crowded Asian grocery store. Slabs of fresh fish and meats everywhere, canned delicacies, seaweed specialties.

We walked back to the center of Belgrano and toured the little historical museum and garden near downtown. In the garden, as luck would have it, there was a charming children’s play going on – we sat on the bench to watch it. The Museum also happened to have an exhibit of contemporary paintings by local people. Admission was one peso, or about 25 cents.

As evening approached, we walked through the suburban streets of Belgrano wondering what life would be like there for ex-pats -- just a short subte ride from the city, with the quietness of the country. Not at all like most suburbs in the U.S. As the sky darkened, the craft fair continued with more music and bright lights in the square. We stopped for a beer at the Saluarme Marie bar on Juramento where we could enjoy watching the street action and the everyday lives of Belgrano families on a Sunday. The bar was cozy, with additional tables on the sidewalks. Charming.

We took the Subte home, fairly late in the evening, without a single worry. It was filled with people, families and couples. The BsAs subways are clean and pretty—with tile and art exhibits.

Day 14 --- Ides of March, Shopping Day in Palermo Soho

We decided to stroll down Juncal to the Botanical Gardens and then walk to the Soho.. We had a list of possible restaurants, but found that they were 1) no longer in business, 2) closed on Mondays or 3) only open in the evening. So, we succumbed to the temptations of a place called Utopia, a patio restaurant along Plaza Serrano with umbrellas and tables. Not the best meal but we still had a great conversation outside on a beautiful day.

We returned that evening to the Soho, to have dinner at Don Julio’s, another BsAs Authentic Restaurant. (My friend had a book of Authentic Restaurants in BsAs, which was invaluable.) Don Julio’s was as promised – authentic, with dusty wine bottles and photos of famous people on the wall, and aging waiters. The steaks were superb and so was the recommended wine. The vegetables were not as interesting: boiled spinach, potatoes and green beans in a big bowl to share. Service was fast, the only place in BsAs where that happened, and tables turned quickly. We ate our steaks and left to find the best possible ice cream which --- we were advised by New Jersey college students doing a semester abroad--- is Chocolatissimo.

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Our friends were doing a day trip to El Tigre (long story, which we will let them tell you), so I decided to venture out on my own to find some custom-made tango shoes at Comme Il Faut. Custom shoes seemed like a possibility, even if they were expensive. I found Comme Il Faut, relatively close to where we were staying in the Recoleta, in a little gallery walkway, then up two flights of stairs in a little apartment. I knocked at the door, and a well-dressed young woman in flats let me in. I felt like I’d walked into a baby shower. The room was filled with women of all ages, talking excitedly, all at once, sitting on comfortable couches in a living room. They were passing shoes around to each other, giving each other opinions. The shoes were beautiful and I was truly encouraged. I tried to explain the concept of ”narrow foot” using words from my Spanish dictionary. And she brought the manager over. Yes, we have narrow, the manager smiled. She talked to the younger saleswoman and whispered something. The sales woman came back with six boxes of shoes. Narrow? I said. Yes, she smiled.

She tried one on me, and it was not narrow. The manager then told her in Spanish – but I could get this --- to give me a smaller size instead. The younger woman tried to get my size 8.5 AAAA foot into a size 7B shoe, because, she said, “it fits”. “You just don’t think it does.” But I couldn’t even stand up. So I thanked her, lo siento, muchos gracias, and I left. With no shoes.

Our friends were still not back from El Tigre, so the two of us had a quiet dinner at Teodoro’s on Arenales, a bustling little neighborhood place – open all day until late at night – a block from our apartment. The place is family-run, intimate and casual – a place to have coffee, a glass of wine, a casual dinner. I ordered a fish in cream sauce, cooked in foil, my husband said his pork dish was delicious. Teodoro’s will become one of our favorite local places as we slide into an ex-pat life in the coming weeks.

Day 16 La Boca and St. Patrick’s Celebration
The four of us took a taxi to La Boca, a crowded, animated, tango-in-the street kind of place. This is where the colorful buildings are -- and the tourist traps. But it shouldn’t be missed. We had lunch at Don Carlos Restaurant, another authentic restaurant near the futbol stadium. In this little hole-n-the wall, the owner – Carlito – decides what you will eat. There is no menu. He keeps bringing food until you say stop. And then, he will bring desserts until you cry uncle. After eating beef and pork right off the grill, vegetable soufflés, cheeses, pastas, fried vegetables and whoknowswhat, along with beer and wine we all vowed we wouldn’t eat again for a week. Still, this was an experience not to be missed. The bill was 100 pesos per person (about $25 USD).

We went home to nap, then got up in the rain, late at night, to meet our friends to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. After all, we are (mostly) Irish. We walked through torrential rains, umbrellas turning inside out to reach St. Patrick’s Irish Pub – a place that seemed to hold so much promise. We were in the mood for a Guinness or Smithwicke’s, but the only beer on tap was Heineken. A large screen TV was projecting an Elton John concert and nobody was wearing green. Somehow, they didn’t seem to get the concept of St. Paddy’s Day here. We started walking again, despite the rain, checking out a few other restaurants and bars, finally giving up on the St. Patrick’s Day theme and sliding into a little restaurant near the cemetery for pizza and a beer before retiring for the night.

Day 17 Puerto Madero
We took a taxi to Puerto Madero and walked up and down the strip. It was nice to stroll along the water, but we felt that if there were one thing to skip on our vacation, this would be it. We tried to find a couple of recommended restaurants, from our guidebooks, but the places were no longer in business. The other restaurants were overpriced and – obviously – filled with tourists. We took a taxi back to our neighborhood and walked to a serviceable restaurant called Il Pilar at Junin and Las Heras. A simple place, with great pizza and nice service.

After a nap, we had dinner at Brut, a French restaurant on Pena. Our friends were scheduled to leave the next day, so we started with champagne to celebrate the end of two wonderful weeks. The service was attentive, the ambiance cozy, the food delicious. A personable waitress gave us great advice on the menu. Two of us ordered crepes stuffed with spinach and corn, one ordered salmon ravioli, another beef stew. All excellent. The desserts were even better – dulce de leche was involved, that’s all I will say.

Day 18 Farewell lunch at La Querencia

We met for a farewell lunch at La Querencia, our favorite lunch place, after a long walk around the Cemetery and the Design Centre – helping the Philadelphians find some last-minute souvenirs before catching a flight home.

On our way back to our apartment, we were feeling a little sad. We’d spent more than a year planning this trip together (with friends of 38 years) and now it was over, at least the time we would have together. Since – with the exception of an occasional waiter – we have met no one who speaks more than a few words of English, we can assume that from now on we won’t be able to engage anyone else on such a wide range of subjects – films, music, religion, philosophy, politics, and the raising of adult children.

Not only that, but my husband was starting to get a sore throat. And I am feeling fat, overfed and out of shape. I resolve –now that it is just the two of us – to eat less from now on and walk more.

We eat a quiet dinner in our apartment, wishing now that we’d packed a candle.

Day 19 Stormy weekend

By morning, both of us had a cold. That combined with the rain, encouraged us to stay in and read. We did get out for a trip to the bakery to buy slices of spinach quiche – popular all over town. I also picked up the Guia T (bus schedule). Our friends were gone, but perhaps we could still use the Guia T to see the rest of Buenos Aires by bus. And for dinner, hot soup in the apartment.

Day 20 Champagne at Teodoro’s
On Sunday, we spent most of the morning in bed, taking cough medicines. But when the sun came out, we strolled through the Recoleta with a camera and pockets full of Kleenex. We observed all of the healthy people -- how is it that all the people in Buenos Aires seem to be healthy? Nobody but us with colds?

We had an early dinner at Teodoro’s, ordering comfort foods (chicken with mushrooms and cream for me, gnocchi for him) and Malbec. However, the waiter was concerned because we didn’t order enough courses so he brought us champagne and dessert -- on the house. What a nice place. We were feeling much better already. I found a book in the apartment, Cape Breton Road by D.R. MacDonald which – amazingly, turned out to be a good read.

I took Airborne, Sudafed, Advil, vitamins, orange juice – and my cold wouldn’t go away. I missed my life, my yoga classes and my friends. I looked through the inscrutable Guia T and couldn’t imagine how I might ever use it to figure out how to get a bus anywhere – and more important, find a bus back. I wanted to go home.

But the maid was coming today, so I had to get out – and once I was out in the fresh air, under the Buenos Aires sunshine, it all seemed beautiful again. We stopped at the Locutorio and I checked my email and then Facebook. Friends in Arkansas had posted pictures of the 15.5 inches of snow that had fallen overnight. Stepping out into the sun, in my sleeveless top and sandals, I was once again grateful to be here.

We stopped for a lunch at an outdoor café, Josephina. We waited a long time for service, nobody seemed to even notice us. I was getting impatient (my nose was running), but my husband smiled reassuringly and told me I need to practice living in the moment, the way portenos do. Relax. A meal doesn’t have to take place in 15 minutes. The waitress did come and gives us a menu, and a much longer time later, she asked for our order, and a long time after that she brought it. We ate, we relaxed (although I really wanted to be home taking more Sudafed), we saw many other tables turn over. And finally, I askd my husband (humbly) if he might now ask for the check? When he went to the cashier, inside, he found out that our waitress had left – a long time ago. No one had any idea we were still there. (Can you imagine a proprietor in the U.S. being unaware of tables turning in a prime outdoor location?)

Day 21-22 Hot tea and Sudafed

Relaxed with hot tea and orange juice, while my husband went to Vincente Lopez Park to read – and to the pharmacy to get medicine for me. I finish Cape Breton.

Day 23 A Public Holiday

I was ready to walk among the living again, my head was clearing up. And it is a public holiday. We had an address for KEL, the English bookstore, someplace on Alvear. We walked the entire length of Alvear and could not find it. But it didn’t matter, all the stores were closed.

The Recoleta was a delight on a holiday. There was almost no traffic. People were dressed in weekend clothes and moving at a slower pace. Couples were together, families are together, nobody was racing to get to work, nobody is on a cell phone. The sidewalks were nearly empty.

We decided to have lunch at another one of the Authentic Restaurants in the guide – La Barra, on Libertador. We got a table, right on the busy street, and watched the city walk by. (Note: This would not be a good thing to do on a week day, when traffic from Libertador might drown out conversation.) We ordered Pepsi lights and Agua con gasa (needing to rehydrate), a delicious casserole for me and a steak for my husband. The restaurant inside had open windows, so it was also open air, but small, dark and charming.

At home, for dinner, we had toasted cheese sandwiches while we watching U.S. films with Spanish subtitles. Now it felt like we really did live there. This is what we do at home.

Day 24 Thursday, A Visit to KEL, the English Bookstore

Another one of those aha moments came this morning, when I discovered – on our laminated map – that there is more than one Avenida Alvear. There is also M.T. Alvear, and that’s where the KEL bookstore is. We walked a few blocks from our apartment, and then found the bookstore. It was jammed with Spanish-speakers, not tourists, definitely no one from the U.S. People were admitted one at a time to the back of the store where the books in English are kept. After books were chosen, people had to get numbers in order to have the purchase rung up. And then another number to wait in a third line to pay for it. The place was so crowded that people stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the small store, but it’s possible that with more efficient systems, they could have been less crowded and done two or three times more business. There was a decent selection of books in English, but for my taste, there were only a few. I chose Anita Brookner’s The Next Big Step, and also a book by Paulo Coehlo, whom I had never read before – but I wanted exposure to a new S.A. author. The book title was By the River Piedro I Wept.

For lunch, we stopped for pizza at Los Inmortales (part of the same chain) and had an onion and cheese fugazzi (a big deal here, cheese pizza with many cooked onions piled on top) while sitting at an outdoor table facing Vincente Lopez park. Delightful.

That evening, close to 10, we walked over to the Rodi Bar, where I ordered trout stuffed with leeks (Trout Rodi, so wonderful) and my husband had Chicken Maryland, breaded chicken with ham, peas and fries.

Day 25 Searching for more book stores with books in English… lunch at El Preferido

We walked six miles along Aranales – through the upscale neighborhood of Palermo Alto -- and then on to Soho, and all around Soho. We ate at El Preferido, another restaurant in the authentic guide. This one, however, was a bit disappointing. The tomato stuffed with chicken salad was just adequate although my husband enjoyed his steak and eggs. There were signs everywhere, in Spanish, warning people of things not to do. The waiters were all watching TV on a big screen. But it did have an authentic atmosphere, the old dusty wine bottles and pictures of famous people (Francis Ford Coppola) formula that seems to work so well in BsAs. We could tell that in the evening this is probably a much different, more vibrant, place.

In Palermo, we continued the bookstore search – even though I’d already found two books. We tracked down three bookstores on Honduras, one on Thames. But none had more than one or two small shelves, usually at the bottom, of English language books --- and all were uninspired selections. A book of Neruda poetry was tempting, but I was in the mood for novels. The bookstores themselves were fascinating, labyrinthian places with coffee shops built in and writers/readers hanging out.

As we walked home, we could feel the autumnal sun on our backs, the slant of slight working it way through the thinning trees. At home, the leaves would just be beginning to bud.

We had dinner, again, at La Granda, the little French bistro, where we had salmon crepes and boeuf bourguignonne.

Day 26 – The Saturday craft fair and farmers market at Soho
We returned to the Soho on a Saturday for the farmers market and the craft fairs. We had lunch once more outdoors, at Limbo – where a professional chef prepares outstanding food. We had risotta with mushrooms prepared in Malbec and ravioli with spinach.

The Soho on a Saturday was a completely different place, the quiet streets were filled with cars, people and kinetic energy. The stores were crammed with young people trying on clothes and jewelry, the craft stalls lined all the streets. It seemed to be the opposite of the Recoleta, which goes quiet on weekends but stays busy and full of energy during the week.

We also walked into Palermo Hollywood, across the tracks, to get a feel for what it would have been like to stay here. There is a sense of a working-class neighborhood with a few run-down buildings, graffiti on walls, but there are lots of bustling outdoor restaurants (and one great bookstore). Hollywood doesn’t have the bohemian charm (or touristy feel) of Soho, but it would be a fine place to stay – especially if the rent is less expensive.

Day 27 Sunday in the Botanical Park

There is something soft and almost European – about a Sunday in this city. We decided, on this our last Sunday, to stay close to home. We walked to the Botanical Gardens, past the Zoo and the Japanese Gardens, then found our way to a slow lunch, outdoors at Annetta’s on Cervino and Ultreche. The outdoor patio there was furnished with leather wingbacks and divans, sumptuously comfortable. The inside of the restaurant is decorated the same way, and we could have had a table – but instead, waited more than a half hour for the pleasure of eating outside. Annetta’s was filled with families coming from Mass on Palm Sunday – some of them carrying a different kind of palm leaf than we’d seen growing on trees around town. We were drawn to the restaurant, however, by the smell of its food. This place, more than any of the others, had mastered the concept of a Sunday Dinner.

We ordered the especials – I had brutula, a kind of whitefish, with sauce, and my husband ordered ravioli. For an appetizer, we had a smooth but spicy squash soup. And for dessert, ice cream sundaes. Service was as slow as our mood, and we sat back enjoying a glass of very cold white wine, enjoying the street action – and the action next to ours. Somebody was angry. A couple that had arrived after we did, in an expensive little sports car, were not pleased with their order. She was a vegetarian, and there were small pieces of meat in her pasta. They argued in Spanish with the wait staff – who handled it expertly, offering to bring her another. But the couple left, disappearing in their car down the street. Even in paradise, there can be a few clouds.

We finished our desserts and meandered over to the beautiful Botanical Gardens. Our lunch had been so slow that the sun was already dropping in the sky. We sat down in the park and watched (other) old people stroll together, families play, lovers kiss and cats stretch out on the still-hot concrete patios.

We were too tired for dinner. We napped, and then read until after midnight.

Day 28 Tres Febrerio Parque

Today, Monday, the maid – Mara – arrived again to clean the apartment. We left around 11 and walked to the Voulez Bar for an early lunch. Since I had had no breakfast (we had to clean for the cleaning lady), I treated myself to an entire pot of Monsoon Wedding tea, which I took my time sipping for at least an hour. After that, we continued our walk around Palermo Chico, and then took a long stroll around the Tres Febrerio Parque. It was hard, at first, to find an entrance into the park and discovered it was closed on Mondays. But there were open grassy areas all around the park with lagoons, walkways, and children playing. On a Monday, there weren’t many people – only a few lovers near the water. The sun was hot, and for the first time, I wished that I’d brought shorts with me I my backpack.

On the walk back to our apartment, we stopped at a confectioner’s to buy Easter candy to take home. Each confectioner competes with the next in egg artistry, creating delicate works of perfection. One very large chocolate egg was selling for about $400USD – but we were not tempted to buy it. Even the very small ones, unfortunately, did not make it back to Arkansas without trauma – the broken pieces amused our adult children on Easter morning.

For dinner, we made a reservation at Olla de Felix (1693 Juncal, tel. 4811-2873) – a discovery we intend to revisit next time we see BsAs. This tiny little restaurant is whimsical, charming and delightful. It’s decorated with antique pottery and contemporary art. There are only about 10 tables, so reservations are a must. It is a vegetarian’s delight. The menu is on the blackboard, much of it meatless --- spinach raviolis, a risotto, gnocci (with meat sauce), soufflé de chocro (corn soufflé). For dessert we split crepes that were swimming in dulce de leche. Today was gnocchi day – a reflection of the Argentine sense of humor. (Look this up to see why.)

A child at another table was celebrating a birthday, and the entire restaurant applauded as he blew out his candles – giving us the fleeting illusion of being with family and close friends. The place exuded warmth and intimacy, and the owner came over to chat with us about where we’d been, where we were going… and what we thought of this beautiful city. But, he said, you should have just seen it in the 50s, the 40s, the 30s!

Day 29 – Lunch at L’Ecole

We walked to the bakery in the morning for medialunas, our first of the trip. The woman behind the counter handed us what I thought was a little snack, a lagniappe -- two small folded pastries gushing with dulce de leche. I ate one and my husband took the other, the woman looked horrified. When we got out, my husband said, “I think we were supposed to spread the dulce de leche on the media lunas – not just eat it. I was, in fact, feeling a little sick now.

We made our travel arrangements for tomorrow, setting up our taxi and our meeting with Buenos Aires Habitat at the apartment.

We walked the neighborhood again, feeling the sadness of a trip about to end. We stopped for lunch at L’Ecole and had the best lunch of the trip – for me, chicken brochette and for him, the “wok”, a chicken stirfry. Best of all, the ubiquitous French fries were nowhere in sight. For dessert, ice cream with fruit sauces.

Day 30 Museum des Belles Artes, apartment checkout and The Big Mistake

It was our last day so, after we packed, we spent most of it visiting the Museum des Belles Artes. Admission was free, and this was one of the nicest city collections we had seen. We stopped for lunch at Rodi Bar. I had to order the Chicken Maryland, which lived up to its promise.

And then it was my turn to shop (shopping fever always hits the last day on a trip). We walked down Areneles where I found a small jewelry store filled with funky necklaces. I bought three.

The Buenos Aires Habitat rep was scheduled to arrive at our apartment at 6:15 p.m. and our taxi (Taxi Eziza) at 6:30 p.m. Our flight was at 9:30 p.m.

The young man from Habitat showed up at exactly 6:15 p.m., he returned our deposit and waited with us for the taxi. And waited, and waited. My husband called Taxi Eziza and they contacted their driver. Fortunately the young man from Habitat could translate for us – because my husband was not understanding at all. It seemed the driver had been told to go to Paraguay, not Uraguay and he was patiently waiting for us at the wrong address. Even though they sent him right over (he was only a few minutes away), we were going to be a little late.

It was 6:50 p.m. when we took off, which ordinarily would have given us time. Except that only a few blocks from our apartment we were stopped in traffic that seemed to have no hope of abating.

What we didn’t know: The Thursday before Easter starts the Easter holiday in Buenos Aires, and everyone who has a car leaves BsAs on Wednesday night to get to the beach or the country (the taxi driver didn’t mention church services, lol).

My husband was getting nervous, glancing at his watch every five minutes and asking the driver how long he thought it would be. Each time, the driver would make something up and smile. We were averaging five minutes per block. It was not a good time to remind my husband that I’d suggested a 5:30 pickup – you know, just in case something happens?

At first, the driver was smiling and confident. Sure he said, in English, we will make it! Twenty minutes later, “I’m pretty sure we’ll make it”. Then “I hope we make it.” Finally, he stopped answering my husband, but we could hear him on his cell phone, in Spanish, telling his friends how friggin’ upset he was because he was going to miss the plans they had that evening.

He dropped us off at the airport a little before 8:30, and fortunately for us AA was very organized, with a line for each departure. We found the Dallas departure line and there was (surprisingly) no line (all the responsible travelers had already checked in). We checked in, converted our pesos to dollars (again no line) went through immigration (slow, especially since my husband forgot his pretty yoga mat again and had to go back for it), security (slow), and rushed to the gate. We arrive nearly out of breath to hear that the flight departure was delayed 30 minutes because of some problem at the gate.

Reflection: Staying a month, rather than a week or two, gave us a chance to have a different kind of vacation than we’d ever had. Especially after our friends left, we moved out of tourist mode and began to imagine ourselves as temporary residents of this beautiful city. We no longer needed maps and could walk confidently through most of the streets of Recoleta and Palermo Soho, getting lost only occasionally. We revisited some of the restaurants where we’d been and had fun discovering new ones – the way we do in our home town.

As we got into the rhythm of our expat life, we ate quiet breakfasts at home, walked during the mornings, bought picnic foods at bakeries --- quiche, empanadas and relaxed in the park with our books. Some of the most fun nights were at home in our apartment, bringing home soup or a roasted chicken, sipping wine while watching a Spanish tearjerker film (even if you don’t speak Spanish, you can get it).

So, we are going back next year. We’ve already booked our flight out next March 1. This time it will be a different kind of trip, one with hiking boots, to explore Mendoza and the Salta/Jujuy region – but ending the trip with two more weeks in our beautiful new home town, Buenos Aires. (And I am studying Spanish on Spanishdict.com.)

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