Trip Report - Mostly Buenos Aires

Old Mar 15th, 2010, 03:09 PM
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Trip Report - Mostly Buenos Aires

As per the title, most of this trip report is Buenos Aires, but because of circumstances (beyond our control!), we spent some time in Santiago. So I'm posting about both cities.

Trip began badly. I worked at home that day, but it was a busy day with lots of conference calls and I was trying to finish up my packing between calls. Because the weather wasn’t very good, we decided to go out to the airport early to have dinner and then catch our 11:45 PM flight with Air Canada. When we got to the airport, we saw that it was delayed ½ hour. The ½ hour became 2 hours. The AC reps said that it was a full flight and there were only 2 of them to check us all in (I think that maybe 2 others eventually joined them), but finally we were on the flight and heading south. We had managed to get great seats (bulk head) so we were relatively comfortable and were able to sleep.

The flight was direct to BA, but not non-stop. We were stopping in Santiago, and that’s where it got worse, much much worse. The plane hit a bird while landing – other passengers said we had a short landing and much faster than usual. We didn’t realize there was a problem, so we all rushed over to the gate where we were to fly out. It turns out that there was no need to rush. AC staff made a couple of announcements, but weren’t particularly forthcoming with information. They asked the business class passengers to come to the desk, where they seemed to be rebooking some of them. After several hours, they announced that they couldn’t get permission to fly out because of the mechanical problems. Again, no real information, other than we were going to a hotel for the night. We joined a group who were heading away from the gate with an AC person.

Now we had to pass through Chilean immigration. The AC person disappeared at that point, and we were on our own with a group of other passengers. None of us wanted to pay the fee to enter Chile, and they didn’t seem to give us much choice. Mind you, they didn’t speak English and my Spanish isn’t terrific. One of the passengers translated and he said that we could give up our passports and we’d pick them up the next day. We didn’t really like the idea of doing that but neither did we want to be on our own with the rest of the group heading out. We handed over our passports. We now got little pieces of paper with a stamp saying we were in transit.

We must have waited 1+ hours for our bags to arrive. Finally we had them both, and we headed out of the terminal to a bus. A guy got on, saying they worked for tips. We joked that’s why AC didn’t provide much information – they worked for tips. It seemed to take forever to get to our hotel and we wondered where we were headed. We continued to joke – maybe the hotel was actually a football stadium that hadn’t been used since Pinochet. Finally we arrived at the Sheraton. We checked in and ate a very mediocre dinner in a huge dining room. We went to the bar and I had a couple of pisco sours. Finally we headed upstairs to our room. We didn’t really unpack – no point, we were only going to be there overnight. No real idea when we were supposed to leave – people said 7 AM, 8:30 AM, who knows. No signs in the lobby. We went to bed, asked for a wakeup call at 7 AM. I was annoyed by the whole thing – John is retired, but I still work. I get 25 days of vacation a year – this was 4% of my annual vacation. On the other hand, I could now say I had been to Chile ......

Then, as everyone knows, the earthquake happened. It was terrifying. 90 seconds of terror. I clung to the bed, my husband made his way to the doorway of the bathroom. After the earth stopped moving, we pulled on our clothes and headed out of the building. (At least we were able to do that – lots of people left the hotel in various states of undress!)

Air Canada was more or less useless throughout the experience. We all felt abandoned by them. It was 3 days before they even showed up at the hotel. I do think that the Canadian consulate staff was pretty amazing. They clearly don’t have experience with earthquakes, etc., but I heard from them within a couple of hours of sending an email. They gave me 3 cell phone numbers to call at any time, and they were so patient with us all. The staff at the Sheraton is absolutely wonderful. Within minutes of the quake, they were bringing blankets, water, slippers to those people who had left the hotel wearing almost thing. By the time it was light outside, they had laid out a breakfast for everyone. Every day, we had a very nice buffet lunch and dinner. (A lot of grilled meats, sausages, ribs and so on, rice, pasta, lots of salads, smoked salmon and so on) Considering what they were dealing with, they absolutely amazed me. I’ve often stayed at the Sheraton in Montreal when I’m there on business but when it’s my own dime, I never stay at the Sheraton. Now I can’t say enough about them.

During our time in Santiago, we did see a little of the city. The Sheraton is in Providencia, a nice neighbourhood. One of the days, we walked all the way into town and back again, meeting another Canadian couple on the way, also staying at the Sheraton. We had a couple of drinks at the Mercado Central and picked up a bottle of wine for the room. We walked back downtown another day and had a quiet drink on a lovely little street that reminded me of Paris. Another day, we went the opposite direction on Providencia and I bought a beautiful pair of silver & lapis earrings (my terromoto earrings). They were in a shop called Veronica Silva – very ‘designer’ jewellery. We also bought a small wall hanging, something to remember Chile by. Since we were leaving the next day, we booked a dinner & show with another couple from Vancouver. The dinner was just so so and the show wasn’t very good – definitely not the kind of thing we usually do, but it was nice to get out of the hotel for a few hours. Unfortunately a couple of hours before going out to dinner, we were told that we weren’t leaving the next day, but had to stay another day. At that point, we decided to cancel our Iguazu trip. I called and cancelled the LAN flights (only a $30 cancellation fee) – I just didn’t see that we could do the long trip from Santiago to BA on Thursday and then get up the next morning to take an early flight to Iguazu. When we got back from dinner (around 11:30 PM), the rep from the consulate told us that I needed to get a replacement passport because the Argentines wouldn’t guarantee that our damaged passports would be accepted. If we were actually leaving the next day, I guess I would have had to stay behind.

The next day (Wednesday) was a low point for me. I was told to come to the lobby at 9 to get my picture taken. At 9:45, I called the vice-consul to confirm that they were coming. At 10:15, the consulate people finally arrived, but the photographer was MIA. He appeared around 11:15 but it turned out that there were no white walls in the hotel and even putting a sheet over it wasn’t acceptable. I thought I was going to have a meltdown. We wanted to see a little of the city so had decided to spring for the hop on / hop off bus. But by the time I got my picture taken, it wasn’t going to be worth it. We finally decided just to walk to the funicular and do that in the afternoon. We walked there with a couple of nice (and funny) Canadian guys who were going to have to cancel their entire trip. I kept trying to tell myself that in the greater scheme of things, the fact that I was being inconvenienced was not a big deal – but I felt like crying. Someone in our AC group said that we were probably all dealing with some low level post-traumatic stress.

I really appreciated my fellow passengers through the whole experience. I know we all had our low points (I know I’m embarrassed by my behaviour that Wednesday while trying to get my picture taken), but overall people were really good. There’s something about going through an experience like that and we formed friendships with people we’d normally never even meet.

In the middle of all this, we got an itinerary change from Air Canada – no, it wasn’t about the flight to BA, it was about our flight from BA. Apparently it is now going to leave at 10:10 PM instead of 5 PM and quel horror, we have lost our bulk head seats. We now have aisle seats across from one another. I’m not happy but there’s nothing we can do about the seat assignments (and I tried, believe me).

At 8 PM, we said good bye to our fellow passengers who were flying home. (Many of the cruise passengers were not able to make their departures in BA, so had opted to fly home.) By 9 PM, I had my temporary passport. We celebrated by going to dinner at Astrid y Gaston, which is within walking distance of the Sheraton. The food was wonderful, service excellent, and I felt like we were on holiday. We had an appetizer for 2 people (a mixed selection of Peruvian specialties that were amazing), and for our mains, John had pork and I had perfectly grilled tuna. The piece of the tuna was huge and there was no way I could finish it. We were so full, I didn`t want dessert, but John ordered their take on churros and ice cream – actually surprisingly light and delicious. It was not an inexpensive evening ($175 CAD), but less than we would have paid in Toronto for the equivalent meal. I had wanted to go to Astrid y Gaston when we went to Panama City last year so it was nice to finally go.

Next morning, we were up at 5 AM, in the lobby by 6 AM and on the bus out of Santiago around 7:30 AM. We had an anxious moment when we got up (i.e., I freaked out) – our clock said 7 AM, not 5 AM. I leapt out of bed yelling that we had missed our bus that was leaving at 6:30. Our bus was comfortable and the scenery was amazing. Everyone was snapping pictures and despite the circumstances, it is something I’m glad we saw. At one point, the driver’s assistant took up a collection to ‘assist’ in our going through customs. It must have worked – they didn’t even look at any of our bags on the bus. We got to the airport in Mendoza in the late afternoon. AC had a rep there – maybe he didn’t actually work for Air Canada, but he was there to get us organized. Always thinking of food, I asked him about meal vouchers – we hadn’t eaten since 6 AM, and he arranged for us all to get sandwiches & a drink at the cafe in the airport. Nice guy! I think it was about 7 PM by the time the charter flight left, and maybe 8:30 by the time we landed in BA at Aeroparque. It had been a long long day. All of the passengers clapped when we landed, we were so relieved to be in BA. I asked the AC guy if I could use his phone and we called the contact we had for our apartment in BA.
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Old Mar 15th, 2010, 03:26 PM
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Finally we were in our apartment in Palermo Soho (on Cabrera close to Scalabrini Ortiz). It’s in a small building and our unit is 2 stories, very comfortable and quiet, loft-like. There’s a lovely terrace as well. The terrace does get hot during the day, but it’s comfortable for breakfast. We didn’t especially feel like we wanted to go out for dinner, and fortunately there is an empanadas place nearby. We picked up excellent empanadas and beer and came back to the apartment. I slept very well that night.

Next morning (Friday) we took care of the basics food for b/fasts, coffee and so on), and we started to explore the neighbourhood. We went to Club Eros for lunch – despite the racy name, it’s a sports club with a restaurant. John had steak, fries, I had pasta. Very cheap and crowded with locals. I also had probably the biggest beer I’ve ever seen. I think the waiter thought it was for both of us but John doesn’t drink, so the waiter looked a little surprised when John ordered a coke light. (In my defence, I thought I was ordering a regular sized beer and the guy opened it before I realized what was going on! At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

We really didn’t have any idea what we wanted for dinner that night. We set out with the idea of just walking and seeing what appealed to us. That’s when we came across Mundano, a restaurant at Cabrera & Malabia – food is very good, service is great. We shared salmon rolls (sushi) for an appetizer, John had stuffed pasta for his main and I had lamb. We shared a wonderful chocolate dessert. Prices were very reasonable and the bill came to 154 pesos before tip.

Saturday we decided to take the BA Free Tour. Sol was the guide – she’s got lots of good information and it was well worth it. We took a cab from our apartment and had no problem finding the meeting point at Plaza Congresso. There were about 15 people on the tour, more young than old. The tour finished about 1:30 PM and we had lunch at Palacio de Papa Frita, which is close to where the tour ended. It was just ok – I think we should have ordered the papas fritas (duh). When John went to pay the bill, he realized he didn’t have his visa. The last time he used it was at the restaurant the night before so we figured he must have left it there. We took a cab back and sure enough, they had it. I think we were chatting so much with the waiter that John just forgot to put it back in his wallet. Another catastrophe averted, we wandered through Palermo, stopped for ice cream and just generally enjoyed ourselves. After the heavy lunch, we really didn’t want much for dinner. We had picked up a quiche at a nearby bakery the day before, so we heated that up and had it for dinner. We wanted to go listen to some jazz in the evening, so we walked over to Virasoro bar on Guatemala y Scalabrini Ortiz. It's a small place, and we didn`t have a reservation. They put us first at the bar, then we were able to move to a table. We shared a small Roquefort pizza (nice thin crust, very tasty) and listened to some great music. It was a definitely a local crowd, all ages, but more young than old.

On Sunday, we went to the San Telmo fair. We were apprehensive of the crowds, etc., and debated whether we should go, but it was fun. We stopped for an iced tea at one point, then wandered some more. Idea was to have a light lunch and go to a parrilla for dinner. We were looking for a place that I had read about – we found the address, but the restaurant was no longer there. We stopped at a place called Territorio and ordered Tabla 1 para dos personas. Forget the light lunch! The waiter first delivered a basket of bread and a kind of hummus made with lentils. Then he brought a wonderful charcuterie platter – several different kinds of hard sausage, prosciutto, ham, 4 or 5 cheeses, pickled cauliflower, olives, other mixed pickles, eggplant and so on. All that food for 70 pesos. Add in a couple of artisanal beers and it was an inexpensive meal. It was fabulous, very tasty and definitely more than 2 people needed. I had a couple of glasses of beer, John had diet coke. They have several other tablas (one with smoked trout, another that is vegetarian), plus other choices on their menu. I`d recommend it. I saw some nice scarves that I thought about buying, also some local art. I did buy a small piece of art, and I’ll probably buy scarves too.

So we rethought the parrilla for dinner – empanadas and the Oscars on TV sounded like a good alternative. We were actually able to switch off the Spanish dubbing and get it into English! Bonus!

On Monday morning, we got up late – Oscars ran until 2 AM, so it had been a late night. We had coffee & medialunas on our terrace and then set off for the Jardin Botanico. It wasn’t that far a walk and it was a nice quiet place to wander and sit for a bit. Being ‘cat people’, we appreciated the gatos y gatas. After that, we went to the Japanese Garden which was very pretty and peaceful. By this time it was 2 PM, so we decided to have a sushi lunch at the restaurant there. (We figured that the sushi should be ok there.) We ordered a platter of 11 pieces of sushi and an order of tempura vegetables, plus a couple of bottles of mineral water. Cost was 101 pesos. That was perfect considering that we were planning to try a parrilla that night. On the walk back to the Palermo, I had this bright idea of looking for Thelonius jazz bar – we could make a reservation for Thursday evening. Of course, I didn’t have the actual address, just the name of the street (and not the cross street) and I wasn’t 100% sure of that. And of course our maps are useless and we got lost. Finally we started getting cranky with one another (for people our age, we can both be remarkably immature) and we gave up and decided to take a taxi back to our own part of town. We picked up our netbook and headed to a nearby coffee shop. We refuelled with coffee & alfajores. After checking our emails, we walked over to Cabrera to make a dinner reservation. Cabrera Norte was full, and no one seemed to be around Cabrera. We walked back to Lo de Jesus, which was my first choice anyway, and made a 9:30 reservation. By now, it’s 6 PM and I’m tired – time to put up my feet and have a beer. I’m going nowhere until we go out for dinner.

Lo de Jesus was ok – not spectacular but quite good. We shared a capresse salad, a plate of grilled vegetables and a bife de chorizo (400 grams). I think the problem was that we had eaten such great grilled meats at the Sheraton. I had a mojito and a glass of malbec. The cost of the meal was 186 pesos. We talked to an American at the next table – 51 y/o businessman who travelled a lot (mostly in the Middle East). He was exactly the kind of person I would never talk to in my everyday life, except maybe at work, but he seemed to want some company during his meal. He was shocked that we were renting an apartment.

The mojito and malbec did their trick and I slept well. When we got up, it looked like it might rain, so I packed an umbrella and we took a cab to the Recoleta cemetery to take the free tour. A sign was posted that the 11 AM tour was cancelled, so we just bought a map and did our own tour. Saw some cute little cemetery cats, some amazing monuments. John was busy snapping pictures. It reminded me of a Paris cemetery, although there weren’t any of the modern ones that I remember in Paris. After wandering for 1 ½ hours, we had cafes de leche & medialunas at La Biela. It looked like it might rain, but it was just a little cloudy. We started wandering around aimlessly, looking at high end stores. A couple of jack russells were tied up outside a jewellery store on Alvear, very cute. At one point, we decided to search out another restaurant that I had read about. We found the address, but it was now a different restaurant and we weren’t interested in the menu. We debated going to the Rodi Bar, which we had noticed before, but finally decided to look for Juana M, another place I’d heard about. A well-dressed older Argentine man stopped to tell us about some of the buildings nearby (embassies, etc.) and we asked him to point us in the direction of Carlos Pellegrini. Success! We found the address and it was still Juana M! Nice space – although in the basement of a building, it has tall ceilings, very loft like, interesting art for sale on the walls. Food was great – we ordered ribs and provoletta with ham and peppers. Their fresh bread and crackers (which were thin slices of the same bread, salted and toasted) were wonderful with the cheese. They also included a rather good salad bar with the meal, so we were definitely not able to order dessert. Total cost for both meals with 1 glass of red wine, 1 bottle of mineral water and 1 diet coke was 104 pesos plus tip, so really reasonable. Mind you, John’s dental crown popped off during the meal. He often has a dental emergency before we on holiday. This time he waited until we were actually on vacation. Probably the provoletta. Now we’re going to have to look for a dentist to cement it back on.

After lunch, we hailed a cab and went back to the apartment. We checked our email to find that the tango show was moved up to 10 PM instead of 11. I emailed Fred to see if he had a dentist he’d recommend. He forwarded our request to Veronica, who has a service that works with ex-pats who need / want medical services in BA. (I’m assuming a lot of it is plastic surgery related.)

Neither of us felt like dinner that evening so at 9:15 PM, we left the apartment and caught a cab to Esquina Carlos Gardel. Fred, who has a limo service here in BA, had reserved it for us, but recommended we just see the show, not do the meal. We wondered about the seats we’d get, but they were excellent, better than if we had dinner there. We were at the back of the theatre, along a long bar. It’s elevated, so we had a perfect view of the stage. They served us drinks and empanadas (included in our ticket price of $65 USD each). The show was very professional. Most of the audience seemed to be big groups and I think that many of them were Argentine – they knew the words to a lot of the songs. When we left the show, there was a guy outside with my name on a sign and he drove us back to our apartment. Very handy! Apart from the empanada, we hadn’t had any dinner. We stayed up late watching TV and eating junk food that we had bought earlier.

We woke up to grey skies and some rain. After breakfast, because the internet wasn’t working in our apartment, we went to our neighbourhood internet cafe and checked emails. (The internet cafe is only 1 peso for 15 minutes, definitely cheaper than going to Havanna or somewhere similar with WIFI.) John now has an appointment with a dentist for Thursday morning. I sent a note to our friends who are looking after our house to ask if they’ve had another sighting of Lulu (our female cat who goes feral when we’re away) and whether Chico (our male cat) is doing ok. (What can I say – I miss my kittehs.) Since it was now raining fairly steadily, we took a cab to Gallerias Pacifico – gorgeous space. I noticed lots of beautiful red bags – my favourite purses are red (one for winter, one for summer and even my travel bag are red – even my laptop bag is red). I’m kind of looking for a bag with a print on it, not red. I saw one that I liked a lot, but do I want to spend the pesos? We checked out the art in the Carlos Borges centre, then walked down Florida. By now, we were getting hungry and decided to go to Cafe Tortoni – not so much for the food (which was basic), but to see the interior. The sun was shining and we walked down Florida. After eating a sandwich, we took the A line for 1 stop, just to see the old subway cars. After that, it was a cab ride back to the apartment.

For dinner, we’re going to Almacen Secreto, a puerta cerrada. We have a 9:30 reservation, rebooked from last week when we were still in Santiago. After relaxing a bit, we decided to explore more of Palermo – maybe I’d see a bag that I would want to buy, but no luck. I realize how I feel quite comfortable in Palermo, more comfortable than I felt in Recoleta. We live in a ‘gentrifying’ area of Toronto – we have the tattoo parlours, restaurants, etc. (albeit on a much smaller scale). If I was going to buy an apartment in BA, I’d look for one like the place we’re renting.

Dinner was amazing. We took a taxi to a street in Villa Crespo. There was no sign or any indication that it was a restaurant. We rang the bell and were let in to a lovely walled garden with tables set up. The menu was in Spanish and English but we were the only Norte Americanos among the 20 or so people there. The menu is divided into North, Central and South. We were given a basket of bread and a little bowl of crispy corn kernels in a spicy oil on the table. We ordered the tamales and the humita to start. John had the Patagonian lamb, which was melt in your mouth tender. I had the locro, which was wonderful and way more than I could eat. For dessert, I had the poached quince and homemade chocolate ice cream. The ice cream was phenomenal and I would have been happy with just that. John had the apple pie, very good. I had a couple of glasses of red wine, John mineral water. We had a tea (made from big leaves – no idea what they were) and some sort of liqueur. The bill came to 191 pesos. I was very impressed and would definitely recommend it. It was one of the best meals we have had here. There’s a website where you can make a reservation.

We woke up to an absolutely gorgeous morning, breezy, almost cool. We were still full from dinner, so we just had coffee on the terrace. John’s dental appointment was in el centro in an multistory office building at 12:45 PM. After a slow start, we caught a taxi. (We wished we had taken the subte.) There was no sign that it was a dental office at all. We buzzed from outside the building to be let in, then took a tiny ancient elevator up to the 4th floor. Someone in a uniform let us into the office and we waited for an hour or so until the dentist could see John. He said that it was an old crown, but he was able to re-cement it. Cost was 150 pesos. Since we didn’t get a receipt, I won’t be able to submit it to my insurance carrier.

By this time, I was really hungry. We debated where to go, but finally ended up at a Peruvian restaurant called Status. It’s a basic little place, not fancy at all, despite the name. I ordered the mixed ceviche, John ordered chicken, rice & beans. We thought that we’d make the ceviche our appetizer and we’d each order mains. Just before ordering, we changed our minds. Good thing – it was an enormous plate of ceviche, with 3 or 4 different types of corn kernels, potatoes, lettuce and onion. Perfect lunch. The waiter brought a small dish of a seriously hot sauce with the bread. John put a lot of it on his rice – he likes his food caliente. With diet pepsi , mineral water and bread, lunch came to about 70 pesos for the 2 of us.

We finally decided to go to La Boca. By now it was about 3 PM. The cabbie told us to be very careful, it was dangerous, watch our bags, don’t hang around after dark, etc. All this in Spanish, but we definitely got his drift.

La Boca was fine to visit in the afternoon. We wandered around, had a coffee at Havanna (the waiter asked where we were from and when we said Toronto, he said Maple Leafs and gave us the thumbs up). I actually bought a piece of art in La Boca. Most of it looks the same – photos of the area (which are actually kind of nice, but mass produced), really bright paintings, etc. – most of it the kind of stuff you wouldn’t necessarily want when you get home. This is a mixed work – an etching, with minimal colours. I liked it and we met the artist. It was only 200 pesos and will make a nice remembrance of our trip. I hope I can find a stock frame for it. The trip back to Palermo was the longest taxi ride we’ve had here – it came to about 40 pesos, but the traffic was busy. Once again, we were reminded that we have no desire to drive in BA.

Tonight we’re hoping to go to Thelonius jazz bar. I sent them an email, but got an answer back that we need to call after 6:30 PM to make a reservation. So we called, but just got voice mail. I left a message in English, so we’ll see if we have a reservation. We took a cab (10 pesos) to Thelonius. It’s 9 PM, but they haven’t opened the doors yet. Finally we get inside and of course they don’t have our reservation. We sit at the bar and order 2 pizzettas – one capresse, one Roquefort (blue cheese seems really popular in BA and we love it, so we’re happy with that). John ordered a diet pepsi and I ordered a caparoschka from what has to be one of the best looking men I’ve ever seen. The pizzas come and they are excellent. The bartender tells me that the drink might be a little strong – ok by me! We notice that the crowd is young and good looking. A little later, we’re offered a seat on a couch instead of sitting at the bar. John says maybe it’s because we bring down the young good looking ‘attractiveness’ factor at the bar. The music is excellent and we enjoy the 2 sets. Given the age of the audience, we think the future of jazz lies in South America. We catch a cab home (not a radio cab – we’re living life on the wild side).

The next morning, we get moving late (was it the 3 caparoshkas I had?) and have our coffee on the terrace. What to do with the day? We are booked for dinner at Casa Saltshaker and we want to do the 5 PM BA free tour. Finally we decide we’ll walk down (up?) Scalabrini Ortiz to the subte. It means we’ll be spending a lot of the day on the go, so I’m less inclined to run out and start the day.

We walked down (up?) Scalabrini Ortiz. John was happy – he found a shop where he could buy a whistle – it’s an ‘official’ whistle made in the UK. We found the subte and took it to the station where we could transfer to another line. We’re living like locals! We finally got to the end of the B line, the closest stop to Puerto Madero. Puerto Madero is amazing – lots of money there, the Puente de la Mujer is beautiful, and there are a lot of expensive restaurants. We stopped for a sandwich and fries at a restaurant on the Puerto Madero Este side, continued walking. By now, it was time to head to the 5 PM free tour. We made our way over to San Martin Plaza where we met up with the rest of the tour group. We were 30 people, so a big group. The tour is terrific – it’s interesting to learn about the amazing buildings and so on. The guide, a young Portena, is hilarious – she’s quite funny when she talks about the ‘lions’ and ‘cougars’ and their plastic surgeries. The tour ends at the Recoleta cemetery. By now, we‘re exhausted –we’ve walked a long way (or it seems like we have). We need coffee. We stop at La Biela for a cafe con leche – we sit outside and it appears that the people inside are about 100 years old (we are mere children compared o some of them). We wander on, finally ending up at a place called Tea Connection, near Casa Saltshaker. We kill some time there and then it’s time to go to Saltshaker. Dinner is good – the dessert is very good, the rest of the courses are more or less successful. The wines are very good and the company is great. There are 2 tables (one of 8, the other 4) and we’re encouraged to sit with people other than the one we came with. It’s a very enjoyable evening. Our fellow diners are from Washington DC, Austria, Australia, Louisiana, LA, Florida (via Colombia). We take a cab home to the apartment and realize that it’s the only cab we’ve taken today.

I didn’t sleep well. I think I know that the vacation is nearing the end and I’ll be back at work next week. I find my job very stressful right now and I needed a change to deal with it. I’m worried that 10 days in BA (even 10 wonderful days) is not enough, especially after going through the earthquake.

When we get up the next morning, it’s another gorgeous day –
sunny, but a little breezy. We take our coffee to the terrace and plan out our day. The idea is to go to Belgrano – now that we’re subte pros, we’ll walk to the subte station and catch it going the other direction. There’s a fair in Belgrano, also a store that I’m interested in.

We take the subte, no problem, but get totally twisted around looking for the street where a non-profit craft store is located. It doesn’t help that the street stops and then starts up again a block away. I finally find the store and feel that I have to buy something, anything. Luckily I find some lovely bracelets made from bone – they are quite modern looking and inexpensive (27 pesos). I buy one to wear from the store. We wander over to the fair, which is just setting up. John looks at knives, a weird (disturbing?) interest of his. We stopped for an ice cream at Altera Volta – I have lemon with chocolate, perfectly tart, and John has a mixture of chocolates (“African Surprise”). We find a museum of Spanish Art across from the fair – it’s in a gorgeous old building and the garden is beautiful. At only 1 peso to get in, it’s a deal.

Later we take the subte back, but instead of going to Scalabrini Ortiz, we get off at Plaza Italia. We walk all the way down Thames to Cabrera, where we stop into Cabrera Norte to make a lunch reservation for Sunday. I figure we’ll go out in a meat frenzy. I check out a beautiful beaded bag – still looking for that elusive purse – but I’m just not sure. I like shoulder bags. I like bags that close. (After having my wallet stolen twice in Toronto, I learned my lesson.) This bag is neither a shoulder bag, nor does it close properly. I rationalize – since my company moved to the burbs, I never take public transit anymore, it’s unique, and so on......

After a rum & coke at the apartment, I go back and buy the bag. It’s beautiful and unique. And I can actually wear it over my shoulder. I saw so many nice leather bags, but that was it – they were nice, but they weren’t must haves. (I still regret not buying a beautiful bag made from a huipil that I saw at a store in the Santo Domingo hotel in Antigua, Guatemala – that was a must have and I wish I had bought it.) I love it!

We’re going to Casa Felix for dinner tonight. I read about Diego Felix quite a while ago, and then saw an article in the Globe & Mail about him. It’s the most expensive of the puertas cerradas, and I have high expectations.

Casa Felix lives up to my expectations. The email I received said that we are to arrive at 9:30 (no earlier). We take a taxi to Chacarita where Diego and Sanra (Diego’s partner) live. Again there is absolutely no sign that it’s a restaurant. Sanra answers the door and give us the BA kiss on the cheek. She’s American, friendly. She leads us through the house into a small walled garden in the back where we meet other guests, a family from Colorado. The scent in the garden is wonderful. Others arrive and after a welcome drink, we go into another part of the garden where tables are set. It’s not a communal experience, like Saltshaker. There are individual tables set up. The food is amazing – it’s 5 courses and each course is perfectly thought out. We start with a purple corn empanada stuffed with apple, goat cheese and something called burrito (an herb). Then we have a fabulous spicy salad, with something like yucca (the name escapes me right now), peanuts, etc. After that we had a lemon verbena granite. The main is firm fleshed white fish from Patagonia with a wonderful tomato sauce and zucchini. Dessert is a quinoa cookie with plum served with coconut ice cream. I think a lot of the herbs and greens are grown in their garden. Since John doesn’t drink, I ordered a couple of glasses of wine. The meal itself is 150 pesos for each of us, well worth it. Diego comes to each table to explain each course. It’s a wonderful evening, especially for our last night in BA. We catch a taxi back to the apartment and get to bed. I’m determined to finish my book so it’s again a late night.

And now it’s our last day in BA. We have a 1:30 lunch reservation at La Cabrera Norte and Fred is to pick us at 6:45. Daniela is coming to pick up the keys from us. We pack in the morning. I’m so glad I didn’t buy more – it’s hard enough getting the handbag in my suitcase, along with the other bits and pieces we bought. When we check our email, we see an email from Air Canada re check-in. We know that we’ve lost the bulk head seats that we were assigned and now when I start the check-in process, I see that one of us has an aisle seat and the other has the middle seat. We don’t even the 2 aisle seats that we supposedly had? How else can AC screw up our lives – I`m just over 5’1” tall – don’t they know that I need my leg room (yeah, right). Before having a meltdown, I check to see what’s available and we’re able to get an aisle & a window seat side-by-side at the back of one of the cabins. Not the bulk head but hopefully better than the aisle & middle.

We head over to a market on Honduras and I look at a scarf. It’s done on a loom, so a little different from all the knitted ones. It’s red, my favourite colour. It’s only 75 pesos, and I buy it.

Eventually we make our way over to La Cabrera Norte. The restaurant is bustling! The waiter brings bread, a couple of butter like things and some really good roasted garlic. Plus a huge bottle of mineral water. We order a heart of palm, tomato and avocado salad. It’s simple and delicious. We decide to share a stuffed lomo (stuffed with sun dried tomatoes, a little bit of ham and a little bit of cheese) plus an order of grilled vegetables. I order a glass of malbec. There is no way we can eat all the food – it’s delicious but too much. Some of the little side dishes are less impressive than others – I like the pickled onions and the mushrooms the best. This was a good way to end our stay in BA. I had some concerns about La Cabrera – it’s really on every tourist’s itinerary, but it was filled with locals and we were happy with our c hoices. It came to 205 pesos before tip.

Later we head over to Havanna to buy medialunas for friends who looked after our cats and other friends who made phone calls, etc. when we were in Santiago. Fred picks us up and we’re driven to EZE. It’s a mob scene – packed with people, and it takes us a while to a) find the Air Canada check-in, b) get through the line to go through security and c) go through immigration. Everyone examined my passport thoroughly. I even had to produce another form of ID at one point. But it appears that there was no need to rush. As I was in the line to pay for wine at the duty free, I get into a conversation with an AC pilot behind in the line. He tells me that the flight will be delayed ...... And of course it was.

Sooner or later, of course, we do take off and we arrive back in Toronto around 9 AM. Coming through customs was a breeze –they didn’t even look at my temporary passport. We catch a taxi home. Our trip is officially over.

Despite the dreadful start, the trip has been great - we loved BA and I'm so glad we didn't go to Iguazu or Punta del Este.
SusanInToronto is offline  
Old Mar 15th, 2010, 05:06 PM
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Susan, what an awful start to your vacation. One that you certainly will never forget. I remember well, hearing the story about the plane hitting the bird. I was in Buenos Aires then and due to fly home the day of the earthquake. It must have been awful to have been in Santiago.
Buenos Aires was a better place to be, but we were delayed getting home too.. but only 3 days. The worst we had it was sitting on the floor of the airport all night, hoping to get on a plane. Finally at 5 AM the AC rep told us we'd be getting on yet another bus and going back to another hotel.

I'm glad the rest of your trip was good. The bus ride from Santiago to Mendoza was one of the highlites of my 6 week trip. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

You are much better than I am. Here you are with a trip report done, and I still haven't done mine.

I'm glad you are home safe and sound.
kodi is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2010, 05:12 AM
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Enjoyed the report. That was quite a way to start a vacation...but sounds like you made the best of it.

Now you have an excuse to come back to see the rest of the country, it's quite addicting!
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Old Mar 16th, 2010, 04:16 PM
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Hello SusanInToronto,

We followed your trials and troubles in Chile while we were in Buenos Aires - sending you speedy departure thoughts - and so I doubly appreciated this exhuastive and interesting report of your time after finally making it to BsAs.

Welcome home.

Now you can start to plan your next trip to Arg.; maybe with a non-stop flight toronto-Buenos Aires ?

All the best to you and DH,
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Old Mar 16th, 2010, 04:45 PM
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Thank you for the wonderful trip report!
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Old Mar 16th, 2010, 05:26 PM
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i loved your trip report especially since i too recently returned from b.a. and santiago.
i missed the earthquake by barely 24 hours.
the morning that we arrived home in s.f., we received a frantic call from my neighbour who had just heard about the earthquake and thought we were still there.
talk about a close call.
coincidentally, we were at the sheraton in providencia. so we missed each other by a day!
glad the rest of your time in b.a. was wonderful.
i am in love with the city and except for the fact that i do not eat mammals, everything else was divine.
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Old Mar 16th, 2010, 05:33 PM
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Susan, I'm glad to hear you're home safe and sound! We can't afford to lose any Toronto posters!
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Old Mar 16th, 2010, 06:26 PM
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Great report that has added to my desire to visit BA.
SeeHag is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2010, 08:47 PM
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Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts you think the bird strike with the airplane was that the bird was getting mixed up magnetic signals from the earthquake.
Can't believe you went through was so strong it knocked the earth of its axis!
You might still be going through PTS.
Great report!
ksucat is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2010, 05:27 AM
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I just realized that I said we bought medialunas for friends - of course I meant alfajores!!!

I am still very distracted, so maybe I can blame it on PTS - or maybe it's just the comedown after a vacation.....
SusanInToronto is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2010, 07:01 AM
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Yikes, what a start to that trip! I'm actually looking forward to seeing Santiago, but hopefully in better circumstances than you did.

Do you know if the buses were running? I think that Santiago - Mendoza is about 6 hours by bus, and Mendoza to Buenos Aires is about 13 hours, so theoretically you could have been in BA much quicker if anyone had suggested that to you.

What a shame you missed Iguazu after all that preparation you did.
WillTravel is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2010, 08:19 AM
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The big problem was that we didn't have passports! We wouldn't have been able to leave Chile and get into Argentina without them. By the time I got mine, it was Wednesday night.
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Old Mar 17th, 2010, 08:41 AM
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Oh, that's right. You would have had to pay the visa fee and entered Chile formally in order to do the buses. What was wrong with your passports that they told you to get a replacement?
WillTravel is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2010, 09:37 AM
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The Argentine police kept our passports when we entered Chile, rather than charging us to enter the country. We were assured that they would be safely kept. But then the airport was badly damaged and about 25% of the 130+ passports were water damaged. They were just really wrinkled looking, but the Cdn consulate said that they weren't able to get agreement from Argentina that they would accept them when we entered Argentina, even if the consulate gave us an official letter to carry with the passport.
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Old Mar 17th, 2010, 09:49 AM
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That is just bad luck! I hope you get back to see Iguazu under better circumstances.
WillTravel is offline  
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