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Trip Report rhkkmk's visit to South America as reported on the Asia board

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Argentina and Paraguay, April 14 to May 5, 2009

As many of you know my wife and I travel as much as time and the budget allows. We are 65 years old and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells, people, shopping, music and environment of foreign lands.

We have neglected South America in our travel heretofore, having only visited Peru in the past. My wife lived in Asuncion, Paraguay for a couple of years in the mid-1950’s, as a child, and has always wanted to return there to observe the changes and to reaffirm her interest in that country, but we never found time to fit it in….. Our friend Robert, “ Tenombre” from fodors, convinced us that we should visit Argentina and thus there was an opening to visit Paraguay also…

I started our planning about a year ago before we left for Asia in April, 2008. It continued through the summer and well into the Fall. Argentina was very easy to research and converse with people about, but No One GOES to Paraguay or knows anything much about it… This became my challenge.

As usual the first thing to address is the flights and inclusive dates. My first call to Delta yielded FF tickets on Continental. While not the best routing (boston-newark-houston-buenos aires), it was acceptable because of the times and decent lay-overs….I don’t like to leave too early in the AM, nor rush from one flight to another taking into account delays, etc… plus I love night flights as one tends to get some rest and arrive more refreshed, with the aid of some little pills my doc prescribes for me (halcyon)… Our flight left boston early afternoon and the flight from Houston was a night flight getting us into BA early morning about 9:15AM… the return flight left BA at 9:50PM, so I was thrilled with these times… and as a bonus we got back to boston about 4PM..

We were undecided what areas to visit….we knew we wanted to visit Iguazu Falls in NE Argentina, Asuncion and Buenos Aires, but I knew little about the rest of the country… I started with Fodors, of course, visited our local library, checked out TA and then purchased two Argentine guidebooks. I was unable to find anything really current on Paraguay. We also knew that we probably needed to spend some time in one of the wine producing areas. Eventually I decided on Mendoza in the western section of Argentina near to the Chile border and the Andes. This decision was made easy by the excellent responses I received from a B&B in Mendoza, about which I will write more later.

I also had help from a number of people on Fodors, but Avrooster (Alberto Gallo), stands out for his clear love of his country and the clarity of his English responses, plus a great sense of humor.. We clicked immediately.. Crelleston, from fodors, had also advised me that avrooster was a wonderful reliable source. I will write more about our interface later as well..

Through TA, I made contact with two men in Asuncion, both by the name of Jose, and they helped me a great deal as did a few other posters.

Our Spring schedule became very complicated as time went on, as we attended the LA Fodors GTG in mid-march and then out of the blue a quick trip to England for a double surprise birthday party arose for the week-end before we were to leave for BA… In the end it all worked out perfectly.

Athough this lead in seems a bit long I hope to do a more abbreviated day to day report. I will follow with some sort of recap/contact listing/etc…

Airline: Continental proved to be a good choice… All but the two Newark hops were in planes offering 2-4-2 seating… the food going down was at best OK, but coming home we had an excellent meal.. Alcohol drinks are all $5 and a second suitcase is $25 which are negatives..

Luggage: Karen used her usual 22” rollie and a small carry-on rollie.. I also had a small carry-on rollie and for the first time used a 24” rollie as my suitcase—she packed my bag to show me that it could be done and actually it was excellent for the entire trip…It has a 2” expansion which came in handy for the return to allow for purchases… You can do this if you plan to use laundries along the way--- We sent things out 2 times I think…

Meals: We tend not to like airline food, so we plan accordingly… We are finding that a substantial meal before flights works well and allows you to only pick at the airline food if you wish. We had a nice meal at the Garden State Diner at Newark airport during our lay-over there.

We arrived in BA about 9:15 after the 9+ hour flight from Houston. In the arrivals hall we hired a car to drive us to the Plaza Hotel (Marriott), cost 144 pse (3.75 pse to the $1.).
It took about 30-45 minutes to get there, mostly on highways. Prior to leaving home the hotel had offered us an upgrade to the executive floor which we decided to accept at $40 extra per nite.
The club was a bit of a disappointment but was adequate allowing us a decent hot breakfast and the usual evening spread---but no free alcohol, which we found odd, but we did find other hotels operated in the same way, but not all of them.. There also was not internet other than wi-fi and we left the laptop at home..
Our room was very nice but not overly large---FF room. We had breakfast in the club immediately upon arrival. The hotel faces onto San Martin Park. It was built in 1907 as the first lux hotel in that part of BA. It remains very elegant today.

After unpacking a bit we headed out to explore the neighborhood. The hotel is at one end of Florida Street, the main walking street of the city, We stopped to visit Galleria Pacifica which Guenmai has raved about on Fodors. We walked about 2/3rds of Florida St. before hunger set in. Empanadas seemed to be calling to us. We found a very local place and had a nice lunch consisting of empanadas, bottled water and flan—total cost $9.

On the way back to the hotel we sat for some time in San Martin park and admired the old trees and a special traveling UN exhibit of large standing bears, each painted fantastically to represent a different country---this is a traveling show so watch for it on your travels.

Karen had her first look in H. Stern, the famous South American jeweler.

Had a nap upon our return to the hotel.

The concierge suggested a steak place about 3.5 blocks away and we went there for our first of many argentine beef meals. WHILE WE HAD READ ABOUT IT WE DID NOT HAVE ANY REALIZATION ABOUT ACTUALLY HOW HUGE THE PORTIONS ARE…. Split your meals. We had two fillets, one would have done, a salad, two boiled potatoes (which actually looked like two large blocks of ivory soap), a bottle of malbec (wine), water and dulce de leche in a crepe---221 pse…
Restaurant name: Las Nazarenas—Reconquista 1132… It is open all day from lunch onwards. Open pit fire, some by wood, some by gas….slow cook…
We would return here on our last day as well.

Fell into bed…

Thursday April 16—my sister’s 60th birthday

We booked a 3 hour city tour with signature tours, for the morning, through the concierge—110 pse each. This is going to be our new get acquainted method in the future. When the large van arrived we were the only participants for the day so it ended up as a private tour rather than sharing with up to 10 others. Our guide, Juliet, was a delightful young conservative woman who we really enjoyed. The tour took us to all the major sites and/or parts of town: independence square and casa rosada, san telmo, recoletta, la boca, each of which we got out and walked around. Independence Sauare is the site of the weekly demonstration on Thursday afternoons by the mother’s of the mostly young men who disappeared in the 1970’s at the hands of the then military dictatorship, never to be heard from again. Juliet pointed out that rather than being victims as is represented by the group today, they were in fact “terriorists” of the era.
We asked to be dropped off after the tour of the recoletta cemetery, and we walked around for a while in this charming part of the city. As it happens we ended up on Ayacucho street which is where the main shop of Arundle is located. This is one of the major leather/polo shops in BA. Tenombre had put us onto it… We had interest in items made of Carpincho, a unique skin with small dots, usually rust in color, which has amazing durability. We bought several items and I ordered two custom made belts (had to be custom for the size----no rude comments please). The animal is best described as a small pig like creature that spends most of its time in the water. They have large claws and often the suade like hides have scratch marks on them---this is normal, not shop worn by product… We are told that they are unique to Argentina.

The arundle people suggested the El Sanjuanino Restaurant at Posados 1515, directly behind the Alvear Palace Hotel, for some of the best empanadas in BA. As it was close by we headed there, but stopped off to stroll through the Alvear lobby and use the banos (toilets) on our way. Lunch was delicious and in fact we think they have the best empanadas in the city… It was here that we saw our first young woman eating a man sized steak for her lunch. This happened often during our trip. Those Argentines love their meats!!! BTW, lunch is often the largest meal of the day for locals.

After lunch we headed out to find some of the famous Argentine ice cream, and ended up at Volta one of the three main ice cream chains…. Yum, yum yum…

We taxied back to the hotel. We used taxis often during our stay as they are reasonable and an easy way to get around…..There are about 30,000 legal and 10,000 illegal taxis in BA we were told….The fare starts at 3.80 pse.($1.). Taxis have meters… There are other forms of transportation as well, like the ‘remise’, but we most often just used the regular radio taxi (yellow and black). We had no issue what so ever with using taxis from any street corner. Guidebooks warn about this but it seems to be an issue of the past.

On Thursdays at 6PM, the Plaza Hotel offers a free tour of the historic building and its surroundings. This is conducted by a rep from the historic buildings commission in conjunction with the hotel. We signed up for it the nite before and ended up being the only participants. The hotel was built in 1907 in a newly expanding area of the city by one of the local gentry. It’s an imposing classical style structure with a long history.

We had a date with Alberto (avrooster) and his wife in the Plaza bar at 8PM. He had asked me if I minded if they brought another couple along (for protection I think) as we might find them good company. Phil, an American and his Argentine wife Graciela, were already in the bar when Karen and I arrived. Alberto and Teresa arrived shortly thereafter…. We had a lovely time in this beautiful bar and then walked across San Martin Park to the Ligure Restaurant, Juncal 855. Alberto and Phil had picked this restaurant as it represents an older style of Argentine restaurant and was also quite close to the Plaza. We had a lovely evening with these other two couples. Alberto claims Phil is ‘THE’ Argentine expert on TA. The dinner was delicious and the restaurant was attractive with excellent service. We did not get back to the hotel until 12:30AM. A fantastic evening with yet another Fodorite.

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