It would be nice if, as someone who has to move to a different country every two to three years for their work, I could deduct
Therefore under this pretext, my husband and I just returned from a purely job-related
Further, in my attempt to keep this blog related to life in the Foreign Service, it is now the appropriate time to mention something endemic among my colleagues: rampant travel. I don't know of any other profession where people pop off to Greece, Belize or Fiji "just because" for a week. Is it because by nature we're the type of people who love foreign places (if not, we've made a grave career error)? Is it because we probably have A-100 classmates or former coworkers with spare bedrooms in travel magazine destinations? Are we returning to places where we served internships or studied abroad? Or are we just taking advantage of regional travel, "while we're here" at our current assignments? As with just about everything, I'm certain that the truth lies in all of the above. I've heard all these reasons from friends about their travels and one coworker recently popped off to Russia just to check it out before he had to bid on his next post. Quite a trip from northern Mexico, but he reports that at least now all his romantic notions of a Soviet life have been squashed.
My husband and I tend to do weekend trips, mostly because of the Tabbies, and then save up our vacation time for one big trip every year or two, and this was it. The rest of this posting will change tone and become more of a travelogue about Buenos Aires and environs. If you're considering a trip to South America, all I can say is don't miss Argentina! So here you go:
First, find a little pied a terre in a great neighborhood. We always use Vacation Rental By Owner and have had only positive experiences with houses or apartments (knock wood) in a variety of countries. This one was no exception and for about $100 less per night than a single hotel room, we got a cute apartment in the tony neighborhood of Recoleta. Having an apartment means we can have a kitchen, which means we don't have to eat out three times a day and lets me pad down the hall in my jammies to brew my peppermint tea in something other than a hotel-room coffee pot, which no matter how much hot water you flush through it, still tastes like coffee. Also, having an apartment lets us experience what life in that city is like, instead of just being a tourist in a hotel. Our apartment came with an owner who met us the morning we arrived, gave us great suggestions for places to visit, transportation, restaurants etc... and was willing to let us check in at 9 am and check out when we needed. Check it out here: Our Recoleta Apartment. We'd go there again, for sure.
|View from our apartment|
First impression of the city was that it was more like Paris or New York than any Latin American city I've ever visited. Admittedly, that is not a long list, but the difference was striking. Not only in the architecture, but in the faces of the "portenos" (Buenos Aires residents) who defend this fact by stating that they're NOT Latin, but completely European. This makes for a great mixture of food, too, as the Italian influences are overt and the broad tree-lined avenues, parks and gardens made us feel like we were in France or London instead of just a stone's throw from Bolivia and the Amazon. The fashion is also so NOT Latina! And by that, I mean not super tight and sexy everything and spiked heels. Quite the contrary, Portenas are wearing chunky all-terrain platform shoes, flowery maxi dresses and loose tropical-print pants. Frankly, it wasn't my style, but I had to give them props for not bowing to the torture of fashion, especially in such a cobbled and walkable city. Perhaps they are on to something (hint hint Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico)?
|I'd definitely wear that dress!|
|...But not with those shoes, popular as they are.|
Our next step was to figure out the timing of meals in our new city. My husband and I have spent many a vacation eating in empty restaurants and annoying waiters who want to leave/just arrived at work. We were forewarned by our apartment owner that dinner starts at 10 pm, and to arrive before 9 pm would be *awkward.* Further, if we wanted to go out to a club, we should plan to get there no earlier than 2 am (we didn't). When asked directly, with unflinching eye contact on my behalf, Argentinians were unable to give me a clear answer as to just HOW everyone got up the next day to go to work if they finished dinner at 11:30 on a Tuesday night?! Stutter, blank look, "It's just what we do," was the best answer they could come up with. Coming from a region that necessitates car-only movement, we were relieved to be in such a walking and taxi-friendly city and struck out in different directions each evening for dinner. Arriving only minutes before 9 pm each night was accidentally a great strategy. We were seated right away and only had to endure the cold stares of locals as they arrived fashionably at 10 pm to find THEIR table taken by THOSE PEOPLE (emphasis added but not exaggerated). On about the third night of eating at this hour, we noticed we were always and only in the company of senior citizens, and therefore were dining at the equivalent of the 4:30 pm "early bird special" seating. Ah well.
|Our favorite local restaurant Pichi Huasi, notice that it's before 9:30 as you can still get a table.|
|Because at 10:30 - this is what the other places look like.|
|Need flowers or a coffee at 11 pm - no problem!|
Each day took us a different direction in either the city or the region. The first two days were over the weekend and demanded our attention to the various markets (of the antique, artisan and flea varieties) of Buenos Aires. In San Telmo, we found not just one city plaza, but one city plaza plus about ten linear miles of pedestrian-only streets crammed with vendors' stalls. To prepare a weekly market of this size certainly required an incredible amount of planning and set-up, even harder to imagine when you remember that everyone got home at 3:00 am the night before! There were impromptu bursts of tango (both the music and the dance), a zillion stalls selling mate (as in yerba mate) materials, an incredible selection of antiques from around the world, gaucho-inspired knick-knacks and art and roaming empanada and tarta salespeople.
|Antiques shopping in San Telmo|
|Mate mate everywhere and not a drop to drink|
|Market lunch stand for tartas and empanadas|
|Impromptu bursts of tango|
There were also three day trips, each taking us to a destination completely different from the previous. First was to the town of Tigre and the Paraná Delta, which is an area of islands and intersecting rivers (Plata, Saramiento to name the only two I recall - but there are a ton more) where people live either full-time or in weekend and summer homes. Transportation is purely via the water in boat taxis, ferries or private watercraft of all sizes and descriptions, including a darling water school bus we passed delivering the students to little docks where their parents met them and walked them home on island sidewalks to their stilt-raised homes.
|Tigre town boat station|
|Home, home on the Delta...|
|Water bus service for locals|
|Town square shaded by brilliant jacaranda trees|
|Calle de Los Suspiros, Colonia de Sacramento|
|Rows of Colonia shops|
|Colonia town cathedral|
|Estancia Los Dos Hermanos|
|You can stay at the estancia, too|
Final impressions? Argentina is an incredible country to visit of which we have only seen a wee corner. Ditto Uruguay. In keeping with the motivation for our trip, we'd gladly bid on a two or three year tour here and would recommend this itinerary as a vacation for anyone wanting a sample of South America.