I am sad to admit that though I made lofty promises of a crazy Saturday night spent out on the town, Alison and I had a delicious Italian dinner a few blocks from our hostel and promptly walked back to our B&B, climbed into our beds, and passed out. In my defense, I equate my exhaustion to not napping. Oh well! I’m thoroughly enjoying the carefree attitude and relaxation that come with being on vacation — I’m here to see South America and the cities we’re staying in, but I’m also here to relax, and if that means heading to bed by 12:30 on Saturday night, so be it!
Sunday — Day 4
Sunday was the same overcast, mid-60’s weather we’ve been having all week, but despite the gloom we made our way down to Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada for a formal tour. Thankfully we had a bilingual tour guide, who did our entire tour in English and Spanish (poor woman — as a tour guide I truly appreciate her dedication!) so I was able to understand most of the explanations. The Casa is a much larger building inside than I had even anticipated. One thing Alison & I have noticed throughout the trip is how deceptive Argentinian architectural facades are — we go to restaurants and discover they’re actually quite deep and expansive (or even two or three levels) and realize that buildings we knew were big are actually vast, with countless rooms we had no idea existed.
After our tour, and a million photos later, we met up with Erica to wander the San Telmo market. When asking everyone for advice on the best things to do in BA, hands down the number one recommendation was to check out this market — the equivalent of a massive flea market meets farmers market down a single, quite narrow, cobblestone street, where you can buy anything your heart desires. Three packs of Nike socks for 10 pesos (approx $2.50), beautiful handmade silver jewelry, floral scarves, leather jackets and purses, the list goes on and on. Not to mention the homemade, incredible, pollo empanadas, fresh squeezed orange juice and plethora of kettle corn and cotton candy.
We munched on street food, perused the endless stalls and attempted not to stumble on the cobblestones and loose one another in the crowds. Despite the rain clouds that threatened most of the afternoon, aside from a few minutes of drizzle we lucked out. I bought a beautiful, hand-carved, wooden key holder for my new NYC apartment (!!), Alison got a gorgeous pair of leather, kitten heeled, lace up booties and a cute apron for her boyfriend’s mom, and Erica bought socks as to avoid doing laundry for another day.
After wandering the market we walked down into La Boca, the downtown neighborhood where Erica is staying. It has a bit of a bad rap for being unsafe and not a great place to be at night, but her apartment is off the main street and we felt completely fine walking to/from her neighborhood. Our goal was to head to the Boca Junior futbol stadium to buy tickets for the 7 PM game, but after multiple, fruitless inquisitions with police officers standing guard on every corner and walking through crowds of staring Boca Junior fans and we decided to head back to Erica’s apartment (just a few blocks from the stadium) to rest our feet and make a game plan.
A few google searches later helped us determine that tickets almost always sell out on the day of the game, and are upwards of $200 pesos to sit in the safer sections, so we decided at $40 US it wasn’t worth it, and instead stayed in and made delicious homemade chicken parm, pasta and broccoli.
The true Argentine adventure came after dinner, when we decided to grab the 152 bus down Santa Fe back to our B&B. Little did we know that despite the massive crowds at the half a dozen bus stops along the street near Erica’s apartment, the buses don’t make their regular stops on game days. Unbenownest to us, we stood for at least 30 minutes, probably longer, waiting for the bus that simply never showed up. After Alison spoke to a woman who had been waiting an hour and a half, and overhearing two American students talking about how long they had been waiting, we gave up and hailed a cab.
We were hesitant the driver would rip us off, or worse, but luckily he was an extremely friendly guy and he and Alison spoke in Spanish the entire cross-city drive. A cab ride like that would have cost an easy $80 or $100 in Boston, but we paid $62 pesos, or $17 dollars. Granted the bus would have cost us $2.50 pesos (50 cents) each, but we decided all things considered, it was a well spent $8 bucks each.
Monday, Day 5
To start our week off, Alison and I set an earlier alarm than we’ve been used to and got up for breakfast and to shower around 9:30. We made our way down to San Telmo, the neighborhood with the street market we were at yesterday, and found the El Zanjon site. After discovering their website has false information (tours in English and Spanish are, in fact, not offered every hour on the hour) we had an hour to kill before the next English tour, so we made our way down to Puerto Madero, the waterfront section of the city.
The waterfront reminds me a bit of Boston’s — very up and coming, with more modern apartments, upscale restaurants and classy bars. The water, however, is a putrid brown color, and not exactly picturesque. We had another very gloomy day (sans the 10 minutes of sunshine where we finally glimpsed some blue sky) so taking pictures was a bit of a challenge, but we wandered for about 40 minutes before making our way back to the site.
El Zanjon is an absolutely beautiful brick structure which has been reconstructed after a 20 year excavation project discovered the building, hiding beneath a crumbling and ruined facade. The structure, constructed in the 1830’s, belonged to a single wealthy family who held multiple African slaves, and who lived in the home until the 1870s, when they fled and abandoned the building to avoid a Yellow Fever epidemic which struck in San Telmo. The structure was then partially rebuilt as a tenant house, where 23 families lived. In 1985, when someone bought the land to develop a restaurant, they discovered sloping floors and began to dig. What they discovered was beautiful arched brick tunnels, built decades ago to protect a forked river that ran through, what were then, the outskirts of town.
Over the last 20 years, a private estate has worked tirelessly to restore the property, rebuild the brick walls and tunnels, and discover as much about the buildings and properties as they can. It was a steep $15 dollar tour, but well worth it to see the beautiful reconstruction efforts.
After our tour we came back to Palermo, and grabbed lunch down the street where we had our first language misunderstanding — despite Alison’s fluent Spanish. We each ordered sandwiches but on the menu, Alison’s was listed as coming with french fries, and mine was not. Alison asked what the portion size on the fries was and our waiter, in a very fast, rushed Spanish, responded “un pocito” — small. After confirming, at least we thought, that mine did not come with patatas, Alison ordered me a side of what we were told were sweet potato fries.
Ten minutes later, two plates, loaded with large sandwiches and huge helpings of thick cut french fries, arrived at our table. And then, a few seconds later, a second dish, heaped with more french fries, was brought to the table. All we could do was laugh at the massive amounts of potatoes we had to consume. They were good, but definitely not sweet potatoes, at least not as far as we could tell. Luckily, Carolyn (Alison’s sister) was arriving from New York in just a few hours, so we brought her back a snack.
After catching up with Carolyn, we headed out into Palermo to wander and show Carolyn our neighborhood, which both Alison and I are completely obsessed with. Picture Soho boutiques lining every street, with gorgeous trees and cobblestone streets. Aside from the taxi drivers racing down the roads and a few piles of dog poop you have to carefully avoid, Palermo Soho is picturesque and beautiful, and I’m so glad we’re staying out in this section of town.
We did some shopping — Alison bought a beautiful tan wrap dress — and tried on some ridiculous items (floor length horse print skirts, for instance), then came back to do some research and decision-making about the Uruguay portion of our trip. We booked Buquebus ferries from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and then from Colonia to Buenos Aires. We’ll be taking a bus between Montevideo and Colonia, and are flying out of BA to head north to Iguazu after that portion of our trip. Around 10:30, we left the B&B to grab dinner at our first parillio — the famous Argentine steakhouses.
We picked Don Julio’s: highly acclaimed, well rated and only 3 blocks from our B&B. Our food was incredible — we shared a bottle of Malbec, a delicious salad, and three entrees: a half chicken, a rib eye steak and an order of pumpkin and spinach ravioli. We were up to our eyeballs in food, but everything was absolutely delicious, and our total (with tip) was only $380 pesos — $82, less than $30 each!
It’s 2:30 AM and I’m exhausted, but pictures will come tomorrow, I promise!