On Day 1 of my trip to Argentina, I didn’t have a lot of expectations based on past experience. So in that respect, it’s been a good first day – and a half. Good in the sense that it provided just the sort of distractions I like to find when I get away to a distant place – people, place, language, food, wine. In other words, so far so good.
It’s hard for me to generalize much about Buenos Aires considering how little time I’ve spent here and plan to spend. It was a waypoint but I’m glad I stopped in for a day. I wouldn’t mind exploring more. I didn’t do too much touristy. The boutique hotel I’d found online is just the sort of place I like to find. Central and within walking distance to interesting sights it has only 6 rooms. Quiet, clean, comfortable and place with some interesting character. Bonus: wine bar downstairs with some nice choices and a sommelier, Kevin, that calls New York home and spoke English so he could explain the choices on hand. It seems as if he’s lived in a lot of places – including Austin for a bit. Now he lives here.
I spent most of the day just wandering through the streets of the city with the hotel in the Palermo Soho region of the city as home base. This website I ran across: has a good write-up on Palermo Soho. You do find all the shopping and restaurants and night spots pointed out there but I’d say that’s pretty much a chamber of commerce write-up. The neighborhood and in fact all the areas I walked, including a close to 3 hour trek out and back to Recoleta, reflected a well-worn city. Graffiti graces the walls of most blocks, some trash piled at corners, litter. You’ll find that sort of thing in any major urban city of course but most travel write-ups only talk about the restaurants and the shopping but there’s plenty of the other to go around. New Orleans came to mind. Very cool place to visit, but a little frayed around the edges.
Plenty of the usual American retail influences here. McDonalds, Starbucks and I even saw a little girl on the street with her mom (maybe 3 years old?) wearing a shirt with a Walmart logo on it.
Food & Wine
Food alone would be reason enough to hang around in the city for more days. There are so many choices. Aside from a lunchtime empanada snack (that wasn’t anything to write home about) I only got to enjoy the wine bar at the hotel and one meal. Both were great though.
I tried two wines from the region where I’m headed: Salta. One was a Torrontes from the Colome’ bodega. Crisp, light, floral and dry. Then I tried another Salta wine that was a blend of Malbec and Cabernet. Ascension from Bodega Tacuil. Definitely out of the ordinary. A little on the vegatal side but not necessarily in a bad way.
The woman at the front desk recommended a popular parillia for dinner because it’s so typically Argentine. A good write-up here of Parilla. I went to Don Julio’s about 4 blocks from the hotel. Casual, comfortable and friendly attentive staff. The open grill in the kitchen area looked and smelled great. I got a good view because my table was right up next to it. Lots of meat choices here. I ended up selecting some beef ribs. Not quite like Texas BBQ in flavor but really, really good. I started with a ‘grilled cheese with tomatoes, basil and olive oil.’ Not grilled cheese like a sandwich. Grilled cheese like you put the whole wad of cheese on the grill and cook it. Definitely awesome. No idea how they keep it from getting to be one big gooey mess. Clearly the right choice of cheese for this would have to be important but I don’t know what it is.
The flight from Austin to Buenos Aires is like any other long international flight. Between ‘coach’ class tickets and the TSA, it’s an experience to be endured. But to be specific, the flight from Houston takes about 9 and a half hours. They’re ahead of Houston by 2 hours so you leave at 9pm and arrive around 9:30 am local time the next morning. The flight was booked solid and thank God I managed to book an aisle seat. Otherwise, flights were mercifully on time and event free.
Having just recently traveled to Montreal, it was interesting to compare the two experiences. The customs and declarations forms experience is illustrative. In Canada and the US you get a form that appears to be printed on a stock that at least seems like an official state document. The two forms you get for Argentina appear to have been run off on a mimeograph machine. I was wondering if the airline had photocopied them.
If you’re from the US, Canada or Australia you get in a special line when you go through customs. You must pay the ‘reciprocity fee’ first. The fee is essentially because apparently turnabout is fair play. We have similar fees for Visas apparently so consequently, as an American you pay US$140 to enter the country. The pass you get is pasted into your passport and it lasts for 10 years so if you go back in that time, you don’t pay again.
Aside from that, getting through customs was no problem and the lines on a Saturday morning at least were short. Luggage was there as expected and I was through the whole thing in a jiffy.
I typically get the local currency out of an ATM once I’m through the other side and this was no exception. Except, the ATM in this case was within a separate glassed-in booth of sorts that could only be accessed by swiping your card in advance. I hadn’t seen that before. A security feature I’m sure. Later I saw the same technique used in the city.
I bellied up to the “Official Taxi” bar just outside of customs and ordered up a ride into the city. AR$198 (Pesos) fixed fee to anywhere in the city from the airport. That’s about US$45. There are no doubt cheaper ways into the city but comfort was a factor. I wanted to check in asap. We drove what I can only guess was about 45 minutes through and into the city to get to my hotel in Palermo Soho. As we got closer to the city from the airport, traffic got heavy. We went throught several toll booths and the rest was winding through crowded city streets. The painted lanes are apparently only a suggestion. Rolling stop the rule unless there’s actually a red light.
Squeegee Men and jugglers appear to be popular ways for people to squeeze money out of passing drivers. They come out when the light turns red and either perform or clean your window. The one juggler I saw on a unicycle was actually pretty good.
Off to Salta…