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Trip Report Trip Report...Buenos Aires: Fun City, Lovely Hotel, & Wonderful Guide

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My Dad and I recently returned from a South America/Antarctica cruise with a four night, pre-cruise stay in Buenos Aires. Since this is a Buenos Aires forum, I'll save my cruise related remarks for the Cruise Critic forums, but I encourage anyone cruising into or out of Buenos Aires to consider spending at least a few nights there. My Dad and I had a wonderful time. Four nights was definitely not too much for us, and we could have made good use of a few days more.

I started planning the trip for my Dad and Uncle back in September. Both are 80ish, both have mobility problems ( Dad uses crutches to walk, and my Uncle uses a cane ), and neither speaks much Spanish. They would be bringing a good amount of luggage because of the cruise and the anticipated wide range of weather conditions. I had these factors in mind when trying to find an ideal hotel and guide service for them.

Our Buenos Aires Tour Leader and Planner

After having spent much time researching Buenos Aires on the Tripadvisor BA forum and elsewhere, I booked my Dad and Uncle at the Four Seasons in the Recoleta neighborhood. Then, I compiled my thoughts, and e-mailed them to Buenos Aires travel planner extraordinaire, Madi Lang of BA Cultural Concierge ( http://baculturalconcierge.com ). I had found out about Madi in a sort of roundabout way. I was reading about "taxis" on the Tripadvisor BA forum, and clicked on a link to the Landingpad BA website ( a kind of "What's On in BA" site), where I found an ad for Madi's business.

BA Cultural Concierge was exactly the type of business I was searching for to coordinate and facilitate the Buenos Aires stay for my Dad and Uncle. Madi Lang is a knowledgeable, personable, caring, and very capable young lady from Maryland, who has been living in, exploring, writing about, and sharing Buenos Aires for the last several years. I can't recommend her highly enough. Her website explains quite well the variety of services she offers to Buenos Aires visitors, and has links to many articles she has written for Landingpad BA and other websites/publications ( Madi has links to her articles on the "about us" page on her website...or, you can google "Madi Lang" ).

Some things I really appreciated about BA Cultural Concierge and proprietor Madi Lang:

- Quick to respond to e-mails.
- Actually "reads" your e-mails and gives thoughtful replies and asks good questions.
- A joie de vivre and enthusiasm that are evident in Madi's articles, e-mails, and in person.
- Understands the need for flexibility. Physical exhaustion, unexpected delays, and other surprises can upset even the most carefully thought out plans. Madi capably handles last minute changes.
- Madi, and her intern Emily, are both absolutely delightful to be around ( !!!!! x a million! )
- Always "On Call" during your stay. Will run errands, find you a phone card and show you how to use it, compile a list of recommended hotels near your hotel, teach you how to use the confusing bus system, point out the best gelato shops ( Madi and Emily are gelato enthusiasts! )...Anything to relieve you of the stressful things associated with travel, while accentuating all of the nice things, Madi does her best for you.

Madi does not bill herself as a "guide", as she is not a licensed guide. She will, however, accompany you during your stay as much, or as little, as you like. For my Dad and Uncle, I requested "much accompaniment". I could tell from my e-mail exchanges with Madi, and from reading her articles, that my Dad and Uncle would find her interesting and good company. She is very knowledgable about the city and its history, current events, and ins and outs
( just read her articles and you'll understand what I mean ). For clients wanting something more "in depth", Madi will arrange for a private tour or "cafe chat" with a specialist.

Here's how our stay in BA went:
One week before the scheduled departure from home, my Uncle had to drop out due to a health issue in his family. I stepped in as his replacement. I made no changes to the scheduled itinerary prior to leaving home, with the exception of cancelling a VIP service at the Buenos Aires airport ( arranged through the Four Seasons Hotel ). I had arranged it for my Dad and Uncle mostly for the assistance with luggage that the service would provide.

Wednesday, January 27
Flight on LAN from Miami to BA departed and arrived pretty much on time ( 8AM arrival ).

All LAN employees were VERY accomodating with respect to Dad's disability.

Food was OK on the flight. Great touch-screen, seat-back entertainment system with a zillion movie and music options in English. The only negative on the flight was very messy restrooms.

Immigration went smoothly, but luggage was very slow to arrive at the carrousel. While I waited for the luggage, Dad went through customs and exchanged US dollars for pesos at the Banco Nacional counter, just on the other side of customs ( no line at the bank counter, as the other passengers were waiting for luggage with me ). Customs went smoothly. Customs was randomly scanning some luggage, but it didn't really slow things up.

The Four Seasons Hotel arranged our airport transfer. Our ride with driver George was in a beautiful Mercedes sedan. Newspaper, chilled towels, and cold bottled water were provided on the ride to the Four Seasons. The transfer was very expensive ( $120 USD ). For our return to the airport at the end of the trip, I let Madi arrange it, and saved a bundle.

Dad and I were greeted in the Four Seasons hotel lobby with smiles and kisses on the cheeks by Madi and Emily, which was even more agreeable than the chilled towels and cold bottled water we got from George. The ladies presented us with a lovely and very comprehensive gift basket ( which I had arranged for my Dad and Uncle, but chose not to cancel because I knew there'd be brownies ). Madi has a "Care Package-Gift Basket" business , by the way ( http://sendloveba.com ). Other goodies in the basket ( a huge, colorful, BA/Tango design box, really ) included sausages, cheese, crackers, bottled water, a jar of dulce de leche, mate (tea ) bags, other local treats, as well as some Tootsie Pops. I had also requested some cat food for our visit to the Recoleta Cemetery ( many cats reside there ). Two bags of cat food and a small plush toy cat accompanied the gift basket.

Dad was fatigued from the overnight flight, so he went right up to the room for a nap ( check-in time at the Four Seasons is listed as 3pm, I think, but we were allowed in our room upon arrival at 10:30am ). I went with Madi and Emily for a couple hour orientation tour of the Recoleta neighborhood. Madi talked about the neighborhood's history. It's a very beautiful area. Lots of huge, old mansions, posh shops, sidewalk cafes, and, of course, Recoleta Cemetery. We didn't go inside the cemetery on the orientation tour, as that was on the next day's agenda. We did make our first gelato stop, however, at Freddo, across the street from the cemetery. The ladies recommended Dulce de Leche Granizado flavor, so I had one scoop of that with a scoop of banana. Perfecto!

Madi and Emily also pointed out safe ATM's, places to get snacks, and also helped me purchase a phone card. The phone card was easy to use from our hotel room phone, and only 10 pesos for 60 minutes of call time to the US. The hotel, I believe, charged for a local call when I used the card, but I still saved a bunch compared to the US $3.95 per minute charge for my Mobal GSM cell phone.

Sometime after noon, Madi and Emily left me at the hotel, and I took a nap while Dad finished his. We got up around 5pm, and went down to the courtyard for a poolside burger ( lamb, I think ). The attendant was very pleasant, but service was very, very slow. The burgers were OK. The surroundings were gorgeous, though.

About the Four Seasons Buenos Aires...

I'll talk about the hotel a little bit now. Our rate, I felt, was very reasonable, compared to what one would pay for comparable digs in most other large cities, or the other deluxe choices in the Recoleta neighborhood for that matter. We paid US $425 plus taxes for the first three nights, and got the fourth night free ( for an average of US $319 per night ). A delicious, daily buffet breakfast for two was included in the room rate. We had a fifth floor standard room, with a direct view of the courtyard and the hotel's beautiful mansion, and an angled view of the pool. The room was large, with a big flat-screen tv ( several English-language channels ), and a huge bathroom. The bathroom had a big soaking tub that filled up very quickly, and a separate shower.

Two computers are available for use 24/7, at no charge, on the seventh floor just a few steps from the elevator.

We had breakfast in the main dining room all four mornings...no lunch or dinner. The breakfast buffet was wonderful. Many kinds of fruits, meats, cheeses, pastries, cereals, quiches, and other things that I don't quite know what they were! Also, we could order omelettes, eggs cooked to order, waffles, pancakes, and french toast from the waitperson. These are also included in the buffet price. Service at breakfast was perfect all four mornings. My Dad loved the coffee. I don't drink coffee, but I thought the orange juice was very fresh and tasty.

I had read about a Sunday brunch and a Saturday night tango show at the Four Seasons, but both of these weekly events had been suspended, and so were not available during our stay.

Thursday, January 28
Madi met Dad and me in the hotel lobby after we had our breakfast. We took a cab to Recoleta Cemetery which is just a couple minute drive away, and about 8 - 9 pesos not including tip. We brought our cat food with. Madi gave us a nice, leisurely tour around the incredible cemetery. We never saw any of the ladies who are said to feed the cat residents ( our wish was to donate the food to the ladies and perhaps observe while they fed the cats ). However, about 45 minutes into our tour, one cat sidled up to the plastic bag I was carrying...the bag with the still-sealed sacks of cat food...and acted like we were long-lost friends. I took the hint and opened a bag of food, and poured out a little pile. Soon, I was pouring out more piles for more cats. We continued walking, Madi continued talking about significant Buenos Aires dead people, while more cats ( maybe about a dozen, total ) came out to greet us. After we exited the cemetery, we cleansed our hands with Purell, and walked across the street to Freddo to introduce Dad to Argentinean gelato. The Freddo visit went well.

We cabbed back to the Four Seasons, and Dad went to the room for a siesta. Madi took me to El Mirasol, a restaurant amongst a cluster of restaurants called "La Recova", beneath an overpass about a block from the hotel, for my first taste of Argentinean beef. Madi chatted up the waiter, and got his recommendation... the ribeye...which both of us ordered and enjoyed. I have to add that it was very nice to have Madi as a lunch companion.

After lunch, we walked back to the hotel to pick up Dad. We were joined by Madi's associate, Nestor. Nestor and his van drove us around Buenos Aires, as Madi gave us her fantastic city tour. The van was very nice, and Nestor provided good company and additional commentary. Madi showed us the different neighborhoods, some beautiful parks, monuments, and important buildings. She wrapped up the day by taking us to a scenic perch high atop a city hotel, where we had a light bite, sipped some beverages, snapped some photos, and chatted until the sun started to set. A great day! Then, back to the hotel.

Friday, January 29 Our "Estancia Day"
Madi and Emily joined us for the breakfast buffet at the hotel. The bus for the estancia
( ranch ), and its guide, Flower, picked the four of us up at the hotel, and took us on about an hour ride to Estancia La Cina Cina. On the way, Flower told us about what we'd be experiencing at the estancia, and also introduced us to mate, a tea-like beverage.

Upon arrival at the estancia, we were greeted by ladies who offered us empanadas
( choice of beef or chicken ), which were mighty good. There was a beverage bar set up in a little building. Meat was cooking over large fire pits and grills. Horseback riding was available, as well as wagon rides. Emily and I rode horses, while Madi stayed back and chatted with Dad. A little later, the entertainment started. It was a folkloric show, with music and dance and gauchos ( cowboys ). While we were being entertained, all manner of meat was brought around to our table. I tried the beef, which was very good. Emily danced with one of the gauchos. After the meal and entertainment, the gauchos put on a sort of horseriding show/competition. That was fun to watch. Emily got a kiss from one of the gauchos.

All-in-all, while "touristy", the estancia visit was very worthwhile. It was a pleasant, leisurely day. The bus returned us to the Four Seasons, where we said good-bye to Madi and Emily for the day.

Dad and I later walked the short distance to that cluster of restaurants, "La Recova", and decided to eat "Italian" at Sorrento restaurant. It was shortly after 6pm when we arrived, and we were the only customers. When we left, a little after 8pm, other customers were starting to roll in. Dad had the "Spaghetti Al Pacino", which he enjoyed, and I had the Four Cheese and Spinach Ravioli. Excellent. Service was very good. The atmosphere was pleasant and prices were very reasonable.

Saturday, January 30
Madi collected us at the hotel, and we took a cab to a cafe a very short distance down the road. I think the place was called Ramblas. Nice little place. We went there for a private "cafe chat" about the Argentinean economy and politics, past and present, with a nice gentleman named "Diego".

Dad and Madi ordered coffee. I ordered hot chocolate. My hot chocolate arrived first. Madi's eyes got big and she changed her order to hot chocolate.

Diego gave us each a printed outline, and used his laptop computer for visuals. At the outset, he encouraged us to ask questions, which we did. The talk was very informative and interesting. Well worth the time. Perfect setting.

We returned to the hotel and said goodbye to Madi. We wouldn't see her again until we returned to Buenos Aires at the end of our cruise. Madi would arrange our transfers to and from the cruise pier. She also made reservations for us, and Emily, to see a tango show at Cafe Tortoni that evening.

Emily arrived on time and met us in the hotel lobby. We arrived at Cafe Tortoni around 8:15, and the tango show was scheduled to start at 8:30. The show was in the upstairs venue, Sala Alfonsina Storni ( there are also shows in a downstairs space ). The room was very intimate...I think there were probably around 16 four-seater tables. No bad seats. Service was quick and friendly. We ordered food ( burgers and a sandwich ) and beverages, and everything arrived quickly. The food was not great, but not terrible either. The fourth seat at our table was occupied by a very nice, very interesting lady from Sao Paulo, Brazil. She and Emily hit it off, as they both teach English.

Prior to the trip, I had asked Madi to look into a tango show for my Dad and Uncle, but nothing too fancy. I wanted something in an informal setting. Madi chose the perfect venue. Not that Cafe Tortoni is a "hidden gem". It's a very popular tourist spot. Once inside the performance room, though, you really have a sense of going back in time. There was no phony feeling about the show. It wasn't at all expensive, either. Only 60 pesos per person ( about US $16 ).

After the show, Emily cabbed with us back to the hotel, gave us some updated details regarding our cruise pier transfer the next day, and wished us Bon Voyage.

Sunday, January 31
Our transfer from the hotel to the cruise pier went off without a hitch.

Sunday, February 14
Our transfer from the pier to our new hotel, Urban Suites Recoleta, went off without a hitch.

Urban Suites Recoleta had been my first choice for my Dad's and Uncle's four night pre-cruise stay. I had chosen it because of the lovely view of the Recoleta Cemetery. However, I was given very good advice from a regular Tripadvisor BA forum contributor, who told me that there is currently too much noise from the next door all-night nightclub on weekend nights, and too much noise during weekdays from nearby construction. I didn't have an opportunity to observe or hear the weekend nightclub activity, but there is indeed a 5 story nightclub right next door. I did witness the weekday construction activity at the adjacent shopping center and I think it would have detracted from our enjoyment of our hotel room's balcony.

Since we would only be using the Urban Suites for a day room ( our flight home was at 10:30pm later that day )...on a Sunday...I thought it would be a great time to take advantage of the hotel's great views, and not have to experience the noise. Our room was on the second floor, with a small balcony overlooking the cemetery. It was a beautiful sight. The room was large and very nice. The bathroom was also large, with a shower, but no bath. The rooms had individual air-conditioning units, which sit on the balconies. Our AC seemed to have trouble keeping the room comfortable, even though it was only about 75 degrees F outside. It was very humid outside, though. I think the room would have been very uncomfortable during our four night pre-cruise stay, when the weather was very hot.

Dad and I enjoyed the view from the balcony for a while. We watched as some workers from the next door restaurant pulled off a daring rescue of a cat stuck up in a tree across the street.

At noon, Madi came to get us for our Valentines Day Brunch at the posh Alvear Palace Hotel. We walked the four blocks to the Alvear. Just a quick side note...While much is made of the need to watch out for crazy, impatient drivers in Buenos Aires, my Dad had no problem crossing the streets at controlled intersections. The green lights and walk signs we encountered were very long, and gave him plenty of time to get across.

Emily met us at the Alvear. The brunch was held in a beautiful room at the top of the hotel. There was a three person combo playing background music. All of the chairs had white covers with red bows. The view of the city and river was beautiful. The spread was fantastic: Sole with Prawns in Champagne Lemon Sauce, Duck with Port Wine Apples in Passion Fruit Sauce, King Crab Ravioli ( my favorite ), Tenderloin Medallions, Sweet Potato with Dates and Thyme, among other warm offerings. Plus...assorted breads, pastries, cheeses, sushi, and many, many incredible treats. Add to all that a crepe station, and what we experienced there was food heaven.

As we left, the ladies each received a rose and a little box of treats. It was a very nice event, and we stayed much longer than we had anticipated. It was really tough to leave. However, we still wanted to visit the Sunday San Telmo street fair before we left Buenos Aires.

The four of us took a cab to San Telmo. We spent about 90 minutes strolling, people and pet watching, listening to live music, and window shopping. Great atmosphere and much fun.

We took a cab back to the Urban Suites, and said goodbye to Madi and Emily. You know you've had a wonderful trip when you feel some sadness when it's time to go home. I've traveled much during my 49 years. The older I get, the less often I get that feeling. I truly felt it this time. I was very sad to say goodbye to Madi and Emily. And, I know my Dad grew very fond of them as well.

Dad and I went back up to the room for an hour of rest before our driver ( which Madi arranged ) came to collect us for the airport. I stood on the balcony and took a last look at Recoleta Cemetery...so full of cat feeding memories and recollections of Madi's dead people stories...and I said goodbye to Buenos Aires.

Our transfer arrived on time. On the way to the airport, the driver received a call on his cell phone. It was Madi, calling to say goodbye again, and wish us a safe journey home. Nice touch...

Our flight back on LAN went fine. Again, LAN employees took good care of Dad.

If anyone would like to see some photos of our stay in Buenos Aires, this url should get you there ( I hope ): http://tinyurl.com/y9qoww7

I captioned some of the photos. If you're viewing the photos using the slideshow, please place your cursor over the area where the caption appears, otherwise the captions will fade or disappear. Or, if you manually advance the slideshow, you won't have this problem. It's a glitch in the Picasa Web Album program.

I'm sorry for the lengthy and disorganized review, but I hope that some of the information
herein might be helpful to someone. I appreciate the help I received from posters on this forum.

Bill Hjort
Maplewood, Minnesota

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