Fun Times in Buenos Aires

So what did we do in this wonderful city to keep ourselves busy?  Well, I’ll tell you…

I discovered that my very first ice cream shop, Tufic, was also my favorite ice cream shop.  The Almond Cream was the best flavor.  I ate a lot of it.  A lot.

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Nic discovered a hot chocolate shop, Tatan, while roaming around one day.  I discovered what happiness tasted like in liquid form.  The “mixed spices” hot chocolate was the best ever.

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We got to see the infamous “dog walkers” in action.  These people walk up to 20 dogs at one time!  It’s craziness.  When they’re dropping off/picking up more dogs, they just tie them to a post and the dogs calmly wait to get the show on the road again.  I once walked behind a dog walker with about 18 dogs.  One of the poodles had to take a dump, so he just dropped to the back of the pack and pooped while scurrying to keep up with everyone…

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We spent many days just wandering around and exploring new streets and neighborhoods…

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Nic ate things like this for breakfast…

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One day we randomly found ourselves in the midst of a military welcome for a Brazilian politician, complete with a band…

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Nic learned that Teatro Colon (very famous, very beautiful, very old opera house) offered free performances at certain times of the month.  After a little research we woke up early to wait in line for tickets…

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Two days after scoring some tickets, we waited in line again for the free show.  While waiting in line, we sat next to some ridiculously friendly lady and her husband.  She seemed really invested in us having a good experience and came to find once everyone was seated inside and waiting for the show to begin.  She then proceeded to walk us around the entire opera house and give us a free tour (which all the ushers allowed her to do).  It was super nice of her and allowed us to see some rooms we otherwise wouldn’t have seen.  The theater was beautiful and well-restored.

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We took the scenic train to Tigre and made a few stops along the way to explore new towns…

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We went back to the Recoleta Cemetary for more photos and an official tour.  The tour was free and actually really interesting.

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We went to see an enormous library that was once an opera theater (Ateneo – Grand Splendid)…

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We made a guest appearance at the local casino because that’s just how we roll. I lost my pesos but Nic managed to eek out some winnings…

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Every day was a new adventure and most days were full of good weather.  I had an awesome time in Buenos Aires and hope to make it back there some day!

 

 

 

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Closed Kitchens – A Buenos Aires Fail

I was so excited.  The idea of a “puerta cerrada” seemed intriguing and sounded like fun.  A home-cooked meal created for you by a professional chef (or someone with similar credentials)… what’s not to like about that?  Best of all, with the exchange rate these 3-4 course meals would only cost about $25 USD.  Before I ever touched down in Buenos Aires, I already had myself booked for 3!  I even managed to persuade my fiscally-minded boyfriend to splurge with me for one of them.  Score!  How could this possibly go wrong?  I’ll tell you…  Please be warned that this tale debunks the myth that the 3rd time for anything will be a charm.

Fail #1 – Cocina Sunae

– I managed to set this one up for my first real evening in Buenos Aires.  By some random chance, I even managed to make 2 new friends on my walking tour earlier that day and they decided to join me for dinner.  One of the best parts about a puerta cerrada is that you set the meal up in advance and the chefs are very open to adjusting the menu for dietary restrictions (like my gluten intolerance).  Having confirmed twice, that I was gluten-free and that it wouldn’t be a problem, we arrived to this mystery dinner excited and ready for some serious eating.  As the menus were passed around, I mentioned to the waiter that I was gluten-free but that I had already sent an email confirming this restriction.  He left to get the chef.  Uh-oh.  She came out and walked me through the menu… not 1 item listed for the main course was gluten-free… she mentioned that one dish only had a little bit of flour to thicken the sauce and asked if that would be ok.  Umm… no.  No it wouldn’t.  An allergy means I can’t eat it.  Luckily she wasn’t a mean lady and she offered to adjust my dish to leave out the flour.  But still.  It was a bummer.  Overall, the food was good but not great.  Dessert however was amazing.  I’m still counting this as a fail though.

Fail #2 – Casa Felix

– Having received the highest praise of the 3 I had chosen, I was most excited about visiting this one.  I made my reservation over a month in advance but they were full for the first 3 weeks of my trip.  Luckily they had a spot open 2 weeks before I left town.  About 2 weeks before my reservation I received a notice that they were raising the price of the dinners.  I quickly wrote back to confirm that they would honor the price I was quoted when I made my initial reservation.  No, no they would not.  In the end the difference was maybe only $6 but I was so annoyed I just canceled my reservation and decided to spend my money at a fancy restaurant instead.

Fail #3 – Jueves a la Mesa

– At this point, all hopes and dreams were riding on this vegetarian dinner.  Especially considering it was the one dinner splurge I was able to convince Nic to join in on.  With 5 stars on Tripadvisor, I thought nothing could go wrong.  The evening started out well enough with the chef finishing up as we arrived…

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After weeks of nothing but meat, meat and more meat I was so excited to get some vegetables in my system.  I think even Nic felt the same way.  As the rest of the guests started arriving we noticed there was one really large party attending dinner that night.  They were a group of Californians in town to join their 2 friends who were driving their camper van across the world with their 2 year old kid.  After 18 months of camping, surfing and driving they had made their way to Buenos Aires and many of their friends had flown down to join them in celebration.

Unfortunately with the large group our dinner was overbooked.  Something as simple as finding 2 seats together became an awkward task.  When we finally managed to get 2 seats together, we were crammed onto the end of the table in the space normally given to one person.  As the first course was being passed around, everyone was able to enjoy their soup in a nice soup bowl (including the 2 year old) while we dined on this fine china…

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The rest of the meal came and went.  I especially loved the intimate dining moments that involved a 2 year running underneath the table and playing hide and seek with our legs.  The meal was ok but nothing spectacular.  We’ve had better (shout out to Dooley and her tacos!)

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For $20/person it was a bit disappointing.  In Buenos Aires, a $20 meal is quite the splurge.  For $3 you can get yourself a meal like this…

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In the end, I felt a bit like a jerk for convincing Nic to splurge on such a disappointing dinner.  But sometimes that’s just how it goes… That said, there were many good meals to be had in Buenos Aires.  I’ll be blogging about those next….

Hello, Medellin. It’s Nice to Meet You.

So I’m here!  Made it safe and sound to a city that was once known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world (Mom, keep reading!). Sadly, some of the stigma from those years still remains and I received more than one or two “are you crazy” comments when I told people of my plans to visit this city/country.  But I must say, Medellin is making big strides to rebrand itself and I’m glad I gave it a chance.  It’s really a lovely city.  Still not convinced?  Take a look at some of my photos!  Do it!  And then say you’re sorry!

Ok, so maybe you want to know what it’s like to pack up your life into a 40L backpack and set off on an international adventure.  Well, I’ll tell you… Scary, dubious, exciting, inspiring… basically a whole lot of mixed emotions all rolled into one.  I think I mostly felt numb from the overload of things you must do/take care of before you drop your life to travel for several months.  But when my butt landed in the airplane seat headed for another country, I started wondering why I had to live life trapped inside a crazy person’s body.  I thought to myself “I hope you know what you’re getting into because this kind of seems like a dumb idea.”  I was nervous to say the least.  Luckily my pre-arranged ride was already waiting for me at the airport (I arrived late at night) so I took this as a good sign and soon headed to bed to silence the nervous chatter in my head.

But morning came and I faced my first day in this new city/country.  I kept my calm and tried to focus on all the reasons I was excited to be here.  First order of business was a quick walk down the street to the Bancolombia to withdraw some Colombian pesos (a very important step as most places here only take cash).  As I put my brand new Charles Schwab ATM card into the machine (the one that charges $0 fees for international travel and even reimburses you for whatever the other bank charges you!) I took a deep breath and prayed my card would work.  Apparently prayers were not being answered at that time because the stupid ATM refused my card.  Multiple times.  I tried not to freak out and walked back to my hostel.  I called Schwab via Skype and they insisted everything should be working.  So I went back to try it again, this time bringing my backup Bank of America card (which charges a crapload of fees when taking money out).  No luck with the Schwab card.  Visions of buying a ticket back to the US started creeping into my mind.  Up next, the BofA card.  No luck with it either.  I’ll keep it real, I was about 2 steps away from a full-blown panic attack.  How in the hell would I get around with no pesos?!  Alas after much denial and 3 attempts, I FINALLY got the BofA card to work.  But then the realization of how much money I would lose using that card over and over again started to bring me down.  Like really down.  Like moody, I hate traveling, maybe I should go home, down.  As my boyfriend will tell you, I sometimes indulge the worst case scenario a little earlier than most.  Anyway, I was seriously depressed and decided to come back and hang out in my hostel for awhile.  I made a reservation for a fancy restaurant that was out of my budget and decided it might just be the therapy I needed.

Later that night I did copious amounts of research and learned that it’s a common problem with Bancolombia and that if I tried another bank, my card just might work.  Whew, huge sigh of relief.  After my nice dinner and the potentially good news, I went to bed feeling a bit better.

In the end things worked out and the research proved true (stupid Bancolombia!).  I managed to enjoy my time here complete with a day trip, a 4 hr walking tour and a Colombian bbq.  I even managed to make friends with a few of my hostel roommates.  Some were not so awesome so I chose not to make friends with them.  I even learned I had a fellow gluten-intolerant roommate who’s been traveling the world for 3 years (wtf?!) and had some CRAZY stories to share.

Here are some photos from the walking tour…

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And then there was the day trip to Guatape and La Piedra (seriously thought I was going to die walking up the 740 stairs to the top of that rock!)

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Hostel living is an interesting experiment and an adjustment for sure.  It’s actually not as bad as I feared it would be, but I’m also spending my first stint in a higher end hostel with a 6 bed female dorm and ensuite bathroom.  Some people are really friendly and others not so much.  There are a lot of people looking to hook up with each other (and with locals) so that stereotype seems true so far.  Another stereotype being fulfilled is the American guy who took it upon himself to play a 45 min set several nights in a row out in the courtyard where everyone could hear.  I mean everyone as in everyone, as in even the people hanging out in their rooms trying to take a nap with the doors shut.  And he was not that good.  Like sometimes painful to listen to.  And what’s really sad is that you know he thinks he’s great because he’s actually lugging a guitar around from country to country.  This, people, is what happens when you’re not honest with your friends.  It’s quite interesting just to sit downstairs and watch the interactions.  Yesterday I listened to a group of American guys flirt heavily with the receptionist.  It’s like re-visiting high school but slightly different.  At times it makes me feel old but there is a surprisingly large number of people here who are my age (and even older!).

For my last night, I headed out to a friend of a friend’s family bbq.  (Side note: it’s really nice to know people who know people… it makes your time in a new country so much more interesting and gets you one step closer to understanding what life in that city/country is really like.)  I had never met these people before my trip and they were so welcoming.  The friend and his girlfriend were some of the kindest people I’ve met and his mom even bought me a tube of her favorite sunscreen after a previous lunch where I complained about my sunburn from the walking tour!  Seriously SO NICE!  They made the bbq gluten-free so I could enjoy everything and his girlfriend spent the night catering to my every need.  Fair to say I was a bit spoiled 🙂  It was a fabulous way to end my time here in Medellin (minus the massive stomach cramp that came from overeating… I had no idea when I agreed to a second arepa con chorizo that it was just the appetizer!).  I hope to see them again some day…

Now, it’s time to pack up my stuff and head out to Cartagena.  While it’s a bit unsettling to be picking up and leaving again so soon, I’m really looking forward to some time on the beach with not much to do other than relax.

Hasta luego!