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Buenos Aires and Carmelo Trip Report

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My wife and I just returned from a wonderful nine-day trip to Argentina and Uruguay. Although we travel fairly frequently to Europe, this was our first trip to South America. Fortunately, a friend of ours, who has been to Argentina many times in the past, was with us for the Buenos Aires portion of the trip. We spent five nights in Buenos Aires and three nights in Carmelo, Uruguay.

In Buenos Aires, we stayed at the Sheraton Park Tower. This was a luxurious modern hotel and we were able to get a junior suite thanks to my wife?s Starwood Platinum status. Although we enjoyed the hotel, it was on the wrong side of a huge street and it was a bit of a hike to most of the sites and more charming neighborhoods. That being said, it would be a good location for business travellers as it was in the midst of big office buildings. Our friend?s hotel, the Four Seasons, had a much better location for touring the city.

We started out our vist to BA with a stroll down the pedestrianized Florida Street, which was interesting but not particularly charming. We came to the central Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada (Pink House) where Evita used to address the assembled multitudes. We stopped at the historic Cafe Tortoni for lunch and then explored the upscale Recoleta neighborhood. For dinner on our first night we went to De Olivas i Lustres at Gascon 1460 in the Palermo neighborhood. This was an eclectic dinner of unusual and tasty tapas served in a variety of interesting ways. After dinner we walked around Palermo, which was filled with a large packed bars and cafes.

The next day we visited the Recoleta Cemetary and paid our respects to Evita, at her elaborate tomb. We had lunch at the nearby La Biela, a very European ourdoor cafe. We then departed from the city to see a polo match, arranged for us by the concierge of our hotel. We had never seen polo before and it was very exciting. We returned to BA and had a delicious dinner at Cabana Las Lilas in the Porto Madero area. This was quite possibly the best steak I have every eaten ? certainly it was the best steak I have eaten for the equivalent of $8!
The following day, Sunday, we took the subway to the San Telmo outdoor market (note that this is only on Sundays). There are many vendors selling various craft items in a square and there are dozens of antique shops in the neighborhood. We found a table that we liked in one of the shops and bought it. It should be noted that relatively few Argentines speak English and that it would have been very difficult to buy the table or do many other things without the help of our friend, who is a fluent Spanish speaker.

One can not visit Argentina and not see some Tango dancing, so we visited the ?Ideal? an ancient ballroom where young ladies from around the world come to dance the Tango with octagenarian Argetine men. We also saw Tango at Bar Sur in San Telmo, a very initimate venue with excellent dancers (recently featured on the cover of the New York Times ?Sophisticated Traveler?). In addition to Tango, we saw a very nice production of the classical ballet ?Don Quixote? at the majestic Teatro Colon.
On our last full day in Argentina, we visited an estancia (ranch) about one and a half hours outside of the city. Although not quite what we had expected, it was nice to get out of the city for a day. We rode horses, watched gauchos ride horses and perform tricks, saw more Tango dancing and so forth. All this activity at the estancia would have been fine, but it just went on for too long (over four hours), with too many period of inactivity.

We checked out of the Sheraton and took a ferry to Colonia, Uruguay. Without knowing it, we had purchased first class tickets. There seemed to be no real advantage to this and I would not do it again. We were met by a driver from the Four Seasons resort who took us to the resort in Carmelo, about a hour from Colonia. The resort was delightful and our suite was essentially a small two floor house. We had a view of the Rio de la Plata and the resort pool. Unfortunately it was a bit too cool for me to take a swim, althugh some other brave guests took a dip (briefly). The resort has plenty of activities and we played tennis, took a golf lesson, rode horses, had a massge at the spa, etc. A highlight of our visit to the Four Seasons was a romantic private dinner that was served for us in a glass-enclosed gazebo by the river. We had a private chef and waiter, who served us far too much delicious food. We also visited Cerros de San Juan, a nearby 150 year old winery and were given a tour by the very gracious owner. At the end of our time in Uruguay we took a tour of Colonia, which was a bit disappointing. Although Colonia is a mildly interesting place, it seems rather over-rated to me. However, I have to note that my opinion is biased because we had a very unimpressive and very overpriced tour of the town. The lesson is that Colonia is worth seeing if you are in the area, but it is easy to explore on your own.

We really liked the Four Seasons but found that it was a bit isolated. The area is very rural and is somewhat lacking in scenery. This Four Seasons is supposed to be one of the best resorts in Latin America, and that is probably true, but we were left asking ?why here??

We returned to Buenos Aires for one more night at the Sheraton Park Tower before flying back to New York. We had dinner at the fantastic La Borgogne. This restaurant is rated as the best French restaurant in South America and it lived up to its reputation. We had the chef?s tasting menu with paired wines, a splendid haute cuisine experience that would have cost several hundred dollars in New York but which only amounted to about $80 per person. It certaily was a nice benefit to visit one of the few places in the world where the U.S. dollar still has some value. The next day we had one last steak at the wonderful Cabana Las Lilas and then got on the plane for the ten hour ride home. A great trip!

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