Monday, December 17, 2012

Further Adventures in Buenos Aires

One of the things Lana most wanted to do in Buenos Aires was to see the El Alteneo bookstore, which is housed in a beautiful renovated theater.  It wasn’t actually far from our apartment, so we walked over on our second day in town.  It was worth it.  The building itself was magical, and the fact that it housed so many books, as well as movies and music, seemed like a perfect setting to us. The stage had been turned into a café, where you could sit and read a book and just appreciate the loveliness.  It also smelled like new books, and if you love books as much as we do, you know and love that smell.
El Ateneo Bookstore
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Another day we took a self-guided walking tour of the architecture of Buenos Aires, which was interesting, but we were perplexed by how few people were out and about for a Monday. It was much later that we learned that it was, in fact, a holiday in Argentina: National Sovereignty Day.  It worked in our favor, however, because the crowded sidewalks on a normal day can be slow to navigate, but that day we had them to ourselves. 
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Aside from beautiful buildings, and spring blossoms, we also saw some good examples of stencil graffiti, which is very popular in the city.  The middle one below is about the Falkland islands (roughly translated: “return the islands to us”), which Argentinians call Malvinas, and they still deeply resent British authority there.
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On our way we visited the Plaza de Mayo, and toured the Casa Rosada (the pink house) which is the executive mansion of the president, though not her actual residence.  Eva Peron famously addressed the crowds from the left balcony:

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The tour took us through a series of named rooms that are essentially museum exhibits, as well as some of the actual functioning rooms like the Salon Blanco, above, where legislation is formally signed.  It also took us out onto that same, left balcony, if we cared to strike an Evita pose there.  We preferred a self portrait, instead.  Most of the guards we saw were in dress uniform like the one pictured here.
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The hall of moustache (this is apparently also referred to as The Hall of Busts, but I think we can agree which is more accurate):
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Argentina loves its meat, and we decided Buenos Aires was a good place to get the best steak dinner we could.  We got a recommendation to try Cabana Las Lilas, and it was an excellent one.  The restaurant is located in Puerto Madero, which is a waterfront area that has been cleaned up and turned into restaurants, shops, and apartments.  We got there just before sunset (and ahead of our 8:00 pm reservation) so we wandered around a bit, people watching and enjoying the view.
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We ordered medallon de lomo (tenderloin), asado de tira (rib strip), papas fritas (fries) and choclo  a la crema (creamed corn).  The tenderloin was two 8 ounce pieces, enough for the both of us, and very delicious.  The rib strip was very good, but tougher, and Lana is not a fan of big chunks of fat in meat.  But we were in no threat of running out of food to eat.  The choclo came in a copper pot, with enough creamed corn to serve a large family, and the plate of fries was also quite generous.  We had a bottle of malbec as well, but didn’t come close to finishing it.
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Despite the mounds of food, we decided to have postres as well; panqueque de dulce de leche con helado de crema, and chocolate nemesis (a la mode).  We also had coffee, which came with its own sampler platter of cookies.  It was a fabulous dinner, with impeccable service—a wonderful evening, though it left us waddling a bit.
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Our flight, on LAN airlines, was cancelled—probably not enough passengers—and our only options were to leave one day earlier, on the morning we’d planned to visit Uruguay, or two days later.  After looking at our schedule, we found we had some wiggle room, so we chose later, and then looked at what we could fill two more days in Buenos Aires with.  As luck would have it our apartment in Recoleta was not booked up, and the owner let us stay there two more days at half-price. Buenos Aires was our cheapest accommodations in all of Argentina and Chile. We highly recommend trying out an apartment service like airbnb.com. It worked out great for us this time.
One of the things we hadn’t yet gotten a chance to do was to explore the San Telmo neighborhood, which is a bit grittier, but with some gems.  he extra days also provided us with the opportunity to use the Subte system a little more.  It’s reasonably clean, and easy to navigate.  While it’s not as extensive as some, it was very useful to us, and certainly very popular when we were riding it.  There are some great tile displays at each stop.

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We found a small but nice used, English bookstore, Walrus Books and bought John McPhee’s Silk Parachute.  We also got dulce waffles at Waffles SUR, and we explored the antique markets in the neighborhood, including one shop that specialized in optics and scientific instruments. 
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In the end, we really appreciated the two extra days.  In addition to seeing some more of the city, we also had some more recovery time, watching a few movies, and spending our time more like we would on a weekend than as dedicated tourists. Maybe it’s because we spent so long there, but we loved Buenos Aires, and while it can be an easy place to stop over briefly on your way to somewhere else, it deserves a chance to be seen in its own right. It’s really beautiful, and there is lots to see and do. But the best things are just ordering medialunas and café con leche at a sidewalk table, walking through the markets in Recoleta and San Telmo, and most importantly, sampling some delicious helado (gelato) from various top-notch heladerias. That said, spring is probably the best time to visit; everything is blooming, and the fierce summer heat hasn’t set in.
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After 10 days, the apartment was starting to feel like home. But we had a plane to catch to El Calafate, and a date with a little glacier named Perito Moreno, so we finally had to bid farewell to our home in Recoleta and Buenos Aires.