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rhkkmk's visit to South America as reported on the SA board

rhkkmk's visit to South America as reported on the SA board

Old May 11th, 2009, 03:18 PM
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Good report, Bob. What fun you & Karen had there.

I am finding it interesting reading...lots of details...enough to get a sense about the SA countryside and the small towns.

Keep it coming...and pictures too please !!
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Old May 11th, 2009, 05:15 PM
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my subtraction is no better than my spelling
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Old May 11th, 2009, 06:59 PM
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Quick visits to Ciudad del Este. Two times. A quick trip across a river, passing through a sparsely guarded immigration point. Money tucked into passports. I knew it all along: Bob is a smuggler! Now, the fact is he might have been smuggling flan across that border but we know he was up to something.

Great report. The specifics and flavor of the lands is just great. Gracias.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 08:24 PM
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Sunday 26th

We were up early and finally got to have breakfast in one of the two elegant main dining rooms. I had arranged for a taxi to the airport for our flight back to Buenos Aires. Check-in at GOL Airlines was swift and easy. Jose was coming to meet us so we waited a few minutes for him.. He insisted on coming to make sure that we had no problems with immigration and to speak in Spanish to the man whose name he had been given. Jose arrived and went into the immigration check through area and spoke with the man… He returned and told me that I needed two $100 bills if I could get them. We went to the ATM---they give out both US dollars and Guaranies. Mission accomplished. We all returned to immigration and again the bills were slipped out of the passports and into a drawer and our passports were stamped and we were on our way. So for $240 we solved the problem that the clerk in the Paraguayan mission in NYC had created.

Karen and I were both glad we had made the effort to visit here, but quite honestly there is not much to see or do in Paraguay. I know most of you have it high on your lists, but may I suggest that you move it to page 5.


Pablo was at the exit in BA waiting for us as we had requested. We had decided to hire him for several hours (60 pse per hour), as we were taking a 9:30PM overnite bus to Mendoza and we had arrived back in BA in the afternoon. This solved what to do with ourselves and our luggage during this time, without having to rent a hotel room which we did not need. There was some confusion about the timing and Pablo had another job, so he passed us off to one of his associates for a few hours once we got into the city. This guy, equally nice and well spoken, drove us to a few spots to take pictures with FS and then delivered us to the most fabulous pizza restaurant for about an hour and ½ when he would return to pick us up. That all worked out perfectly.

The restaurant is El Cuartito, Talcahuano 937. They specialize in pizza and other simple pasta dishes. Their special pizza is heaped high with onions. So we had a delicious pizza with a combo of items on it and cold beers, followed by a flan which we shared. Just as we were finishing the driver appeared at the window for us. Perfect timing. He said we had a little time to kill so what would we like to see.. We had no ideas, so he took us to a near-by theatre which had been converted to a huge bookstore. WOW.
What a place… All gold and white inside with many levels and loges, some of which were used for selling books and others as reading areas. On the stage there is a café which also had a piano player that evening. I believe it is located on Santa Fe avenue, but I have lost the name. I told Guenmai about it so maybe she will chime in with the name and its also in my pics.

We got to the bus station about 8:15. Plenty of time we thought. We had no idea that we were stepping into chaos. There are 70 bus bays. There was no central bus schedule listing or assignment of lanes. Buses came and went in less than 15 minutes. It was the beginning of a holiday weekend. Our tickets had a designation of which outside door to enter from and we were dropped off there, but the rest was greek…

After some walking back and forth dragging along our 4 rollies, Karen approached the info booth where the woman was less than helpful. She returned there twice for more directions and finally asked for someone who spoke English. In the meantime, I had a slight meltdown. Finally we were told to wait by lanes 8-10 and look for our bus. At 9:15 the first Cata bus for Mendoza pulled in….It was not our bus. Ten minutes later the fourth Cata bus to pull in was ours.

We delivered our luggage to the luggage area and tipped the man loading things in and climbed to the 2nd story of the bus for our seats, number 1 and 2. As requested they were the front seats allowing plenty of sight line if you wanted it. These lux buses generally have 1st class executive seats up top and more simple non-fully reclining seats below.
The seats on the top were two and one. Our seats fully recline flat and had curtains to partially block out exterior lighting. We were given a blanket and a pillow. Drinks and dinner were served almost as soon as we left the station… Even champagne was on offer.

The food proved to not be all that appealing, so we only picked at it.. Thank God we had a belly full of pizza. Karen watched a movie for a while and I decided to try to sleep. We took our sleeping pills and slept for quite a while. The ride was over 14 hours. We woke up as the sun was coming up. About 4 hours later we arrived in Mendoza after a simple breakfast. We took a taxi to our B&B in the center of Mendoza.

I selected Mendoza largely on the responses I had received from the son of the owners of the Plaza Italia B&B. His English was excellent and he answered tons of my questions. The place looked just like what we wanted and was located smack in the middle of the town. www.plazaitalia.cjb.net or [email protected]

We knew we wanted to visit a wine producing area and this one looked appealing. We were rewarded with our choice. $80 per nite including breakfast. Our room on the 2nd floor was large and comfortable and the private en-suite bath was nice—room #1.

The greeting was warm and I knew we had made a perfect choice. Our room was ready for us upon arrival.

We asked for a laundry suggestion and one was about 5 blocks away. Again very reasonable. From the laundry we walked over to Sarmiento Street to find some lunch. This street provided us almost every eatery we used in Mendoza.

We settled on the outdoor café at La Florencia Restaurant. We shared one each of 4 different empanadas and a huge mixed salad and two bottles of water, all for about $12.
After lunch we walked around this street a little looking at other potential restaurants. We found several. We ended up at an ice cream shop—Ferruccio Soppelsa. We returned to the B&B to decompress a bit and unpack.

We left for dinner about 8PM. BTW, that is early for Argentina. As we needed some cash, it was suggested that the easiest place was at the casino at the Hyatt hotel, also on that same street. We had a delicious dinner at Facundo Restaurant. No record of the menu but I think there are pictures. Cost about $35 for way tooo much food. We had not yet begun to start to split orders.

After dinner there was a nice small shop across the street so we spent some time there. I bought a pair of carpincho sandals – 160 pse—all leather.. K bought another silver looking necklace, but it is fact a composite metal called Alpaca—shop name Capibara Rustico. Fell into bed tired after over 24 hours of only semi sleep.


Tuesday

The breakfast was in the dining room overlooking the enclosed patio at the rear of the B&B. It was the best we had had thus far. Fresh eggs and pastry and toast, juice, cheese, meats and fruit and cereals.

We decided to walk through Independence Park to visit the walking street where most of the main shops are located---sort of a Florida street. We stopped at a cute shop with the name Zoe---attention Robert in nyc, on the way.
The walking street was not all that interesting although there were many shops, bars and restaurants. It was about 3 blocks long. Karen bought some more shoes.

On the way home, we stopped for our laundry after a short lunch stop at an outdoor café.
We had scheduled a city tour for 3PM.

Let me say that we were completely dissatisfied with the city tour. There were about 15 people and while the tour was to be bi-lingual, the guide omitted many of the English explanations. I knew that by the time of the speaking in each language, but Karen knew it by the content in Spanish. The B&B had arranged this for us. We complained to the owner and she was mad. She called the agency right up and told them that they would not be paid for the tour. I wanted to pay but she said no… I was unhappy after about 30 minutes into the tour. Karen told me to cool it.

We had also scheduled an all day tour for the next day to the mountains (Andes), but I cancelled that.

BTW, you can see the mountains from open areas of the city.

For dinner, we went back to the same street. The restaurant is aZafran, Sarmiento 765---make a res: 0261-429-4200. This was probably the nicest meal we had on the whole trip. The restaurant is in an old building and also has a large outdoor presence on the sidewalk. The place is a bit unique.. The décor inside is rustic and welcoming. The front room is a make-shift wine celler. Bottles line the walls. You are taken in there to select your wine for the night after having selected your menu. A wine expert is there to assist you. Its really fun. Some people spend quite a while in there.

They started us off with a small glass of warm vicheysoir (sp) with truffle. We then split a grilled tuna/Caesar salad plate—which was fantastic. Our main course was a pork loin with blueberry sauce (although this nite they used blackberries), a phillo pouch full of mushrooms with a poached pear nestled beside it. Karen had wine flan and I had a molten chocolate cake. Karen had S. Blanc and I had beers and water.
It was so good that we made a reservation for the next nite before leaving. Our waiter was excellent and the whole crew worked very well together. The place was full and mostly with Argentine people. Karen did not record the price, but it was moderate, nothing like what you might expect for this food, service or decor.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 10:10 PM
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I am slightly jealous that you got some good flan in Argentina. Usually I was too full from those huge servings to have dessert. A couple times I had a bit of flan from a buffet, and it was not really that good. One hotel had flan for breakfast, but it wasn't good at all. So I wondered if Argentinian flan just wasn't as good as the others I had in other countries, or if I just had bad luck with it.

On a future trip, I will have to organize my dining around saving my appetite for a proper flan.
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Old May 11th, 2009, 11:30 PM
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Hola, Bobchacha- El Report es muy interesante... dos thumbs alta!

Great report, although what a pain to have to travel to the SA board to read it now!

Lucita or, I suppose, Lcutia
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Old May 12th, 2009, 03:07 AM
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Hi Bob,
Still enjoying the report. So sorry to hear the city tour was disappointing, but thrilled to learn that Karen made it back to her former school, neighborhood and house! (IMO, that is sooo cool!)

BC
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Old May 12th, 2009, 03:30 AM
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The bookstore on Santa Fé avenue must be El Ateneo.

http://www.tematika.com/instituciona...negocio=ateneo

http://tinyurl.com/pbfqzy
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Old May 12th, 2009, 05:40 AM
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thanks alberto, that's the one and it is a fantastic take...
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Old May 12th, 2009, 06:52 AM
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Glad you had a nice time. Correction: I didn't go to the Galerie Pacifico as mentioned above. Happy Travels!
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Old May 12th, 2009, 11:42 AM
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Wednesday


We had another delicious breakfast in the dining room… We spent the mid-morning just lazing around waiting for Javier, the owner’s son to come pick us up. He conducts winery tours and we engaged him to take us for about ½ day to visit two wineries and have lunch at one of them. We left the choice up to him. This was a last minute booking and we were lucky to get him on short notice. He is in his 30’s and is very charming. He drives a new comfortable van for his tours. His English is excellent and we were looking forward to our tour. Wineries are mostly visited by appointment only and this is why we were not able to leave until later in the morning, which was fine with us. You can contact him through the B&B’s website or [email protected] .

The two wineries chosen were both south of Mendoza. As soon as we left the city there was a marvelous backdrop of mountains, many with snow peaks. The two wineries were Bordega Ruca Malen in Agrelo and Bodega Vistalba in a town about 20 minutes drive away. Both are small wineries, the first having production of 500,000 litres and the second 1,000,000 annually.

Agrelo is about 7 km south of Mendoza. The countryside is very open and there are lots of grapes and even an oil cracking plant. The Malen operation is only 9 years old. The buildings are very attractive and there is a fine restaurant here which is where Javier had suggested that we take our lunch. We were met by the primary wine sommelier and she gave us a tour of the facilities and explained their philosophy and wine making principles. They age the wines, primarily malbec, in 90% French oak and 10% American casks. They only use French yeasts. The plant is very modern with lots of stainless steel. All of their grapes are hand picked. After the tour of the production areas (production had ceased only a few days before), we were taken to the charming indoor/outdoor restaurant. We were seated on the patio with a full view of the vineyards and the snow caped mountains. It could not have been more lovely. The table setting was fabulous, so we knew we had a true experience in front of us. Javier joined us for lunch. He had also asked that we be treated to a couple of special wines, including their white production.
As I reported earlier, I think, each of us had 9 wine glasses in front of us. The linen was starched and bright white and there was a flower on the table. The sun was shinning brightly….Have I set the picture?

Menu:

Fresh goat cheese bruschetta, granny smith apple and lemon zest, paired with Yauquen Sauvignon blanc 2008 (fermented in stainless steel, with a further 2 month aging in the bottle before release—no oak).

3 small slices of filet mignon cured with olive oil from Lunlunta, paired with ruca malen malbec 2006 (86% malbec, 8% petit verdot, 6% tempranillo grapes (12 month aging in second use barrels, with a further 12 month of bottle aging before release).

Wheat croquets served with wild mushroom ragout and caramelized onions, paired with ruca malen cabernet sauvignon 2006 (90% cabernet sauvignon, 5% merlot and 5% petit verdot—12 month again in second use oak (80% French and 20% American) with a further 12 months of bottle aging before release—5 year cellaring potential.

Crushed ice palate cleanser which they called Granite, made of Chardonnay, yerba mate and honey.

Roasted beef tenderloin (cooked to order) served with squash, white wheat, sweet corn and smashed tomatoes and flavored with lavender salt. This was paired with two wines, firstly ruca malen petit verdot 2007-- 100% petit verdot grapes (12 months in oak with a further 6 months of bottle aging before release (85% French, 15% American).

Kinien malbec 2007—(95% malbec, 5% cabernet sauvignon). 14 month aging in new oak with a further 12 months of bottle aging prior to release. This is their #1 wine. 10-12 years cellaring expected.

White chocolate soup and seasonal fruits.

We skipped the coffee and petit fours.

The normal price for the tour and lunch is 115 psc each, but we received a discount and paid only 200 total. We did not purchase any wine here. It was all very delicious but at this point we had not decided what we wanted to bring home.

SO, AT THIS POINT, WE WERE A BIT TIPSY BUT ANXIOUS TO FORGE AHEAD TO THE NEXT STOP.

Our next stop at Vistalba was similar in many ways but yet different. This is also a newly opened operation, however it was built on land which had long been owned by the family. The family, well known in Argentina, for their huge and excellent wine production, sold off their holdings some years ago. One of the sons purchased this area to start his own winery. The buildings here are a bit more elaborate and there is a two room inn here, as well as the most famous of the winery restaurants. They specialize in varietal wines.

We had a tour given by a very attractive woman who spoke perfect English. She knew Javier so we were in good hands. I think all the pretty girls know Javier. The production is largely the same as the previous winery except that they use 100% French Oak and many different kinds of yeast. The tasting room is underground and is very attractive as well. Karen liked the wines quite well and bought 3 bottles of their Tomero white (one to drink and two to bring home).

We felt that these two wineries gave us a good overview of the argentine wine production. Two was plenty for us, but many of you might have wanted more.
We drove back to town and Javier took us to his favorite wine shop where we purchased a shipping carton and 4 more bottles of wine. The box was Styrofoam lined and able to withstand the airline handling (we hoped) as we would check it as a 3rd piece of luggage.

We had made our dinner reservation for 8:15, so by then we were sufficiently hungry again. aZafran was only a 5 minute walk from the B&B. They remembered us from the previous nite and we were given a prime table. One of their specialties is a cold antipasto type plate, so we ordered the largest one (79 pse) hoping to have the greatest variety. It took about 10-15 minutes to construct it. Our waiter from the previous nite was assigned to construct it and we were able to watch him from a distance. Thank God I had given him an excellent tip. I did not take my camera this nite, which is too bad as the board we were given was fantastic. It contained 3 rolls of a dried beef like proschutto (sp) standing up on its side, three or four kinds of cheeses, two or three other kinds of salamis, slices of dried wild boar, wild venison, dried beef, olives, raisins, walnuts. It was a whole meal, but that did not stop us. We choose a bottle of rose to have with our dinner along with bottled water. For a main course we decided to have the seared ahi tuna rare that we had the night before, but to have the entrée size, which we shared. For dessert we shared a medley of sorbets. A fabulous meal for 217 pse.

This proved to be our main gastronomic day of the trip.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 02:10 PM
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I trust that you have recited all of the menu options on this day from memory...

Sounds fantastic all-in-all.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 04:17 PM
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craig...you know my mind...i had it all down....i'm not one of those attorney types who get the spelling and facts all mixed up
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Old May 12th, 2009, 05:37 PM
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Bookmarking
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Old May 12th, 2009, 06:12 PM
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Very well written Bob!
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Old May 12th, 2009, 06:13 PM
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thanks femi....i will never get any awards
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Old May 12th, 2009, 06:32 PM
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Wow -- it's definitely worth migrating over from the Asia board to follow this.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 07:06 PM
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Bob, I am ready to pass out in gastronomic ecstacy from reading, and thoroughly enjoyed the "WE WERE A BIT TIPSY"!!! It sounds like all your homework really paid off well in terms of the guides you and Karen had for this trip. I'm a bit surprised, though, as Panda told me you never leave a tip anwywhere you go....

BC
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Old May 12th, 2009, 07:36 PM
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Thursday 30th

We had to be out of our room by 10, so we had packed up most of our junk the nite before. Had our last lovely breakfast, which Karen tells me did not have any hot eggs offered, and stored our suitcases under the stairs. We were welcome to leave the bags there for the day and to have use of a bathroom for freshening up if we chose.

We went across to the Italia park and sat for a while and just enjoyed the scene--- kids playing, dogs running around, lovely trees, a lovely morning. Karen walked up to a stationary store and bought a roll of tape to fasten a handle to our wine box. In the distance we could hear drums, but thought nothing of it. We decided to walk down to the walk-in street in search of a suitcase handle or nylon band to assist with the bundling up of the wine. We also wanted to check out Wines of Mendoza, but unfortunately it does not open until 3PM.

Once in Independence park, we could hear more drums and fireworks. Soon a police car rounded the corner and we came head on with another demonstration. This too was a labor dispute, but this time aimed against Walmart. It was wage related.

We finally found just the type of nylon we wanted at a hardware store, after having checked out several suitcase places. We checked out the new Sheraton, which is right in the center of town too and got to see two rooms, which are very nice.

We wandered around some more and ended up back on Sarmiento St at Tommaso Trattoria, just across the road from aZafran. We had a lovely meal, some of which we shared and some we had our own individual plates. We wanted a big meal to hold us over during the overnite bus ride. It was perfect and very delicious. 146 psc.

On the way to the restaurant we were crossing a small park and Karen heard a woman speak to us, “excuse me, excuse me…”. She approached us and we thought it must be a tout. She asked if we had been in Paraguay the week before. She said she recognized me from her sister’s restaurant up in the hills. We had a nice chat. She works for the Paraguayan Tourist Board and had been in Mendoza for a few days for a regional tourist conference. Small world.

We arrived back at the B&B about 5:30. We assembled our wine box handle and secured the box with tons of packing tape. Javier had come by to assist and to say good-bye.

A remise came for us at 6:15 for our 7:15 bus.

The bus arrived about 7:10 after about 4 others going to BA at about the same time had left. We had the same seats, but this was an even newer bus and more comfortable, plus the service was much better. We passed on the food and took our pills. The bus to Mendoza had made a couple of stops, but this bus was non-stop so only took about 11 hours.

Karen wrote a note for the future. The toilet room is very small. I could not fit in it and she barely fit. Hold your breathe.

We loved Mendoza more than we liked BA in retrospect. It was smaller, safer and more manageable. It was also cheaper.



Friday


This was May 1 and was Labor Day (May Day) in Argentina. Avrooster had warned me in an e-mail that everything except a few restaurants would be closed that day.

After our arrival, we took a taxi to the Hilton, which is in a section called Puerto Modera. This is part of the old port area and has had a complete face lift and many new hi-rises have been added to the older buildings. It’s a mecca for eating and strolling along the water. It’s both residential and small business in nature. We loved the hotel and the area. We were upgraded to the club area, which was a lovely perk. We took great advantage of the full club perks. Our room was large and sunny and had a marvelous view out to the river. The lounge served cocktails and breakfast and also offered complimentary internet, which we used quite a bit.


Shortly after arrival Avrooster called. He said, “I have an offer you can’t refuse..”. I inquired what that might be. He said we would like to have you come out to our house for a typical Argentine BBQ and spend some time relaxing with us. We thought how kind and friendly they are. We accepted immediately. BTW, he had not cleared this with the “war department”, as we guys tend to do, but said he would call back shortly with the logistics as he lives about 40 miles north of BA

OMG, we need a hostess gift and everything is closed. We asked the concierge for a suggestion and he said we could get flowers in an hour---not enough time, how about a cake? Perfect. But did the hotel have any? Yes, they had 4 options. We took a large cake which Teresa served as our dessert.

So, about noon he arrived to pick us up and then took us on a whirl-wind tour around the city and then we hit the highway out to his place. It’s a toll road out there. At one toll there was quite a back up. The Argentine rule is that if the cars back-up past a certain point which is denoted by a white line on the pavement, the authorities must open up the tolls for free. The cars passed this line and horns started to honk and sure enough we sailed through having paid no toll. Alberto was quite pleased.

So as not to invade their privacy, I will refrain from too extensive a review of their abode, only saying that it is set in a gated community with lots of land and great distances between houses. There is a large swimming pool in the back yard and a great BBQ patio on which to relax in the rear of the house. Teresa is a terrific gardener and the place shows off her green thumb.

One last item, the house has 6 bathrooms. We were impressed. Only 3 of them live there, how do they decide which one to use next?? Lottery??

We had a delicious meal (a combo of lunch and dinner) and a very relaxing afternoon. They are super hosts. Teresa did all the BBQing and it was simply delicious: pork, chorizo, beef, ribs, even bread warmed by the fire, and the best malbec and coldest beer. Alberto had even bought a special spicy sauce for us to try.

We took a remise back to town and luckily avoided all the returning labor day traffic.

We went to the club upon our return and had a few snacks and drinks and that was just a nite cap on our earlier delicious meal. What a lovely day!!

I left my sweater in the remise and Alberto was able to retrieve it and brought it back to me at the Sheraton a day or so later.


Saturday


We got going slowly this day but headed over to Recoletta to see if my belts were ready, which they had promised that they would be. The clerks could not find them, so we guessed they were not there yet. The manager who had helped me was off that day..
We took a taxi back to the San Martin Square area to the leather store we had visited the day of the assault. It’s called Frenkel’s. They offer very high quality leather items, including belts, purses, jackets, shoes, wallets, fur throws, hats and various other items, mostly all made from leather. They are located on the ground floor of the Cavanaugh Building which is directly next to the Marriott Plaza Hotel and across from San Martin Park. We bought a number of things including some gifts. Next we walked up past the Plaza Hotel and turned left after H Stern, and walked down one block to another leather shop called Welcome. We had visited there earlier and saw a few things Karen wanted, especially something for Xmas gifts for our daughters. From there we took a taxi back to the Hilton. We had a quick, but delicious lunch at the deli in the hotel lobby. The lobby is 9 stories of open space with exterior elevators and lots of activity, so it’s very pleasant..

We decided that perhaps we would take a swim… Went down to the pool but it was too cool, so we just sat around for a while relaxing.

We decided to take a walk around the area and walked along the canals and around the immediate area. Lots of people were out walking on this beautiful afternoon.

We went to the lounge for a drink or two. The hors d’s were only so so….The cashews were the best quite honestly. We walked around the corner to an Italian place we had seen for our dinner---Carletto, Olga Cossettini 791. Great service and a delicious meal. 140 psc.

After our return we sat in the lobby for a while watching the activity and then went to our room for the nite.
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Old May 12th, 2009, 08:10 PM
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Alberto must have changed his car, because i remember the last posting about a dinner with him involved excessive expense, poor food and a tiny car....none of that was evident during our stay. oh and everyone spoke only Spanish....
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