Monday, November 24, 2008

Last Tango in BsAs

Jim covered our last few days pretty well, but I need to expand on the San Telmo Feria (fair.) Almost like jamon y queso, craft fairs seem to be everywhere, everyday in Buenos Aires. Since we'd seen San Telmo on Saturday we thought we might skip the fair on Sunday. Thankfully, for once we took the advice of the guidebooks and went to this 'must-see' event. And it is a site to behold -- Calle Defensa is closed to traffic for blocks and is filled with vendors, street performers and musicians. But most importantly, I finally saw a tango performance. We had seen 'real' people tango at the milonga the week before, but I still wanted to see a performance - and did we get one. In a corner of Plaza Dorrego, a tanguero nicknamed El Indio (according to my guidebook) wows the crowd with a history of tango told largely through dance. At one point, he asked the crowd (in Spanish) where they were from, and I heard Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay and Boston - so a tourist crowd but largely South American. How fitting to finally see a tango show on my last day.

As always, there would be more to do and see if we had the time. But I liked the way we arranged our trip. At our first stay in Palermo we didn't feel so much like tourists - we were often the only English speakers in restaurants - we certainly were the only ones or one of the few at the milonga. We popped into the little mercado across from our inn each day for essentials (usually that means cerveza), and we strolled the streets comfortably at all hours. (Turns out we might have been a little too comfortable - folks we met on the wine tour were robbed at gunpoint in Palermo. But they noted the robbers were kids who looked as nervous as they were.)

Then we had the lovely break in the country where we relaxed, caught up on our blog and had some wonderful wine.

Finally, it was back to the city for a taste of what the world usually associates with Buenos Aires - tango and the colorful filete painting on buildings and signs. It was definitely more touristy, but there's a reason tourists visit these places - it's a lot of fun!

I managed to get my Dulce de Leche ice cream, another pizza and Fernet, but never got around to having sweetbreads and sausage. Guess I'll just have to make do with the New Jersey variety.

Bye-Bye Buenos Aires

The jamon y queso tour has come to an end. As I start this post, we're on the plane waiting for all the cattle to be loaded; as I finish it, we are home. A spotty wi-fi connection at the last hotel made additional updating difficult, (Too cold here, I want to go back.)

I think I succeeded in having ham and cheese for at least one lunch, dinner and breakfast (many times for breakfast to be sure.) The airport restaurant was the topper Sunday night; of 20 sandwich choices, 15 were some variation of jamon y queso – and all we heard about was the beef before our departure. Ate a lot of that to be sure, most of which was outstanding.

Where to begin? The final two and a half days were another whirlwind. The final hotel was in a funky area in the southern part of the city; partly a neighborhood and partly a business area. There was a printing company across the street, for example. But the rooms in the hotel were secluded from the street by huge wooden doors that opened onto a Spanish colonial courtyard. We had dinner the first night back in a Italian place a block and a half from our hotel that was all locals. Lots of families out for a Friday night dinner. We finally tried the milanese, which is on virtually every menu in town. Pat had the veal; I had a chicken version topped with, you guessed it, jamon y queso. OK, in the US it is usually called saltimboca, but I had to go there. It was good, and at 28 pesos, or about $8.50, it was a good deal. Food costs in Argentina were very reasonable, but we were struck by how pricey clothing was.

Saturday brought us to La Boca, the old shipbuilding port famous for its brightly colored houses. It's a big tourist area – paid 10 pesos to pose with a tango dancer. Good for a laugh. But the market stalls were actually pretty good. But the area is dodgy; walk a block away from where the vendors are set up and you are in Fort Apache. A local woman warned me to put my camera away, so we got back to the tourist zone fast. As we learned later, there are plenty of police around when the vendors and tourists are in the area, but they clear out when the vendors do leaving the residents to fend for themselves.

That night we closed out at a trendy bar/restaurant in the Recoleta district. It was weird; sitting in the dining room all we heard was English in contrast to the previous night. But when we moved to the bar for a night cap (why wouldn't we?), it was all Spanish. We did learn our bartender from earlier in the trip, Ariel (which might not be a real name), has some local renown among fellow bartenders. They refer to him as the Samurai, I guess for his shaved head plus beard look.

Wrapped up the final day with another must-see stop on the tourist train, which is the San Telmo market. It is block upon block of vendors, musicians, tango dancers and all manner of things. It's a day-long carnival. Shared a beer with a Brit who now resides outside of Atlanta that told us about getting jumped on a visit to Lima, Peru. Put the previous day's experience in La Boca in another light. (Memo to file; don't plan a trip to Lima anytime soon.}

All in all, we loved Buenos Aires; it's now one of my favorite cities in the world. It is vibrant but seems to work well enough. We enjoyed the people, most of whom were very friendly even when we couldn't communicate, and would seriously consider a return visit in the future to explore other parts of the country.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Back in B.A.

We are back in B.A. after momentarily scaring ourselves with the thought maybe we still had the wrong time, but that was not the case. Except for the time snafu earlier, Aerolineas was basically good. They even feed you, which regular readers will know was a ham sandwich. Plane left on time, bags arrived safe, and a guy with a pair of pliers fixed the plane before we left. O.K., he pulled out an exposed fastener on the seat in front of mine that was in danger of stabbing me in the knee, but there is something oddly disconcerting when a repairman arrives on the scene equipped with only pliers. We can only wonder what the other passengers were thinking.

The new digs in B.A. aren´t as fancy as what we just left, but it is an interesting colonial style building and the staff is friendly. More later, off to explore another section of town...

Still Trying To Leave

Pat didn't want to leave Mendoza and in a way we have succeeded by missing our flight back to Buenos Aires. It's not like we weren't warned. A local had told us the flights were marked for BA time, which is an hour ahead of Mendoza. Despite ample opportunities to reconfirm the flight, in the boneheaded move of the week, we took Aerolinias Argentinas at its word that the flight departed at 9:50. Wrong! That's 8.50 Mendoza time. Ironically, if the cab we had scheduled for our morning pickup would have arrived on time, instead of 15 minutes late, we would likely would have squeezed on the plane at the end. Instead, they had just shut the doors. Muy stupido as the locals might say. (Or something like that.) Actually, they might call it a qui lombo, as in a big mess on our part. Qui lombo probably isn't correct as that is more of a slang phrase akin to a snafu in english.

So, we stashed a bag with the customer service people at the airport -- charge of six pesos (lesss than $2) to watch it for up to 24 hours, and took a cab back to Mendoza centro. Ok, it wasn't our favorite locale but it's nice enough for shopping, so we we took care of souvenir shopping so as not to waste the time. We're back to a cafe on a closed shopping street where its warm outside (mid 80s, looking forward to those 30s back home), so could be worse. Could do without the jackhammer in the background from some street repair project, but what are you going to do?

Our only concern now is that Aerolineas shows up on time for the afternoon flight; that would be poetic justice but such is travel. In the scheme of mistakes, it could have been worse. All in all, a minor glitch in an otherwise good trip.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I Don't Want To Leave

We've had a wonderful stay in Mendoza. And no, I don't want to leave.

Today we ventured to the Valle de Uco, which is south of Mendoza city and is considered to be the up and coming wine region. It's a higher elevation with warmer days, colder nights and rocky soil so the grapes get very thick skins and intense flavor. Two of the three bodegas we visited were absolutely gorgeous – one was owned by a Dutch company, the other a Spanish couple. There are a lot of foreign winemakers in Mendoza, but as our guide pointed out, they employ Argentines so they do help the local economy.

The wines at these bodegas didn't blow me away like a couple from our first tour, though I did really enjoy the wines from the Spanish-owned Fournier, which uses Tempranillo in their blends. But we'll have to look for this region back at home and track what they're producing.

The tours themselves were diverse – Salentein was a beautiful building with a formal tasting in a lovely cellar room; Mil Piedras was in the owner's backyard with the Spanish-speaking agronomist - very informal and fun, and the last, Fournier, was a fantastic setting with a delicious lunch. All in all, a great day. We used Ampora Tours, and I would happily use them again or recommend them. We also had a lively group that made the hour plus drive to and from the Valley enjoyable.

We ended up staying all four nights at Casa Glebinius, and I'm so glad we did. It's lovely and relaxing here. I could stay another four days. We took a day trip to Mendoza city, and unless we missed something, I wouldn't put it on a tourist must-see list – though we did have an excellent tasting at Vines of Mendoza where we signed up for their wine club. (Friends at home will benefit from this stop.)

It's off to Buenos Aires tomorrow for one last city fling. I'm looking forward to experiencing some of what we missed, though I know we won't cover it all. We definitely need to do: more cow parts (sweetbreads, sausage), dulce de leche ice cream, another pizza, Fernet. Oh, and probably some more sightseeing.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Mendoza Wine Touring

Yesterday was our first day of wine touring in Mendoza. I gave Jim a break on this trip - we took a tour instead of making him drink and drive. This also kept us to a slower (and probably better) pace of 4 bodega (winery) visits instead of the usual 6 to 8. We also had a great lunch at one of the bodegas, Ruca Malen.

I was surprised at the grandeur of the bodegas we visited - they were as large and beautiful as any we've visited in California, and they were all using the latest technology. A winemaker from France apparently criticized the Argentine industry for being too technology-driven.

But in any case, they are making good, and sometimes great, wines. The malbec at Achaval-Ferrer was among the best wines I've ever tasted - and we were doing a barrel tasting of the 2008 vintage! This was the most expensive wine on the tour, but there were others that were also very good and less expensive.

Today we head off to the city of Mendoza to sightsee, taste more wines at a tasting room (where we're armed with a strong list from our favorite Buenos Aires sommelier) and maybe, finally, do some shopping. (We'll see - we always seem to hit the shops at siesta.)

If our friends are lucky, we won't finish all the wine we buy before we get home!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Jamon y Queso

Okay, so I enjoyed the ham and cheese sandwiches we had our three mornings at the B&B in Buenos Aires. That, with eggs, homemade bread and jams and peanut spreads, pastries, alfajores, yogurt and fruit was enough to get a girl going in the morning. I was starting to get a little tired of ham and cheese when we had it for lunch today, but at least it was jamon crudo.

But now I'm drowning in ham and cheese. We wanted to eat a little earlier, so we went to one of the only two places in town open before 9 pm. It was a casual cantina with the bonus of an outdoor spinning area in the back. (Yes, an illuminated spin pit where you could watch spinners while you ate.)

I ordered the vegetarian sandwich, and Jim wanted the empanada with cheese and sundried tomato. "Sorry, we're out. We have ham and cheese. " How about a salad? "Okay, it comes with nice ham and cheese on it. " I give up - we ordered the beef empanada and steak sandwich. We shouldn't have been surprised - the steak sandwich came with ham and cheese. We're told breakfast at our inn tomorrow will be sandwiches and bakery goods - I could only guess what the sandwich will be. (Sure enough, the next morning brought another ham sandwich.)

We ate our ham, cheese and steak and hurried out because our waiter wanted to go to spin class. After all this ham and cheese I should have joined him.