Friday, December 6, 2013

How NOT to Go to Tigre

FM and I? Not so much in to the tour thing. We'd much rather find our own way, go at our own pace and see what we want to see. However, with the parents in town we decided it might be best to go ahead and book our day visit to Tigre with Viator and save ourselves a little hassle. We've used them in the past and have normally found it to be an above average experience. And, really? This post isn't so much about the quality of THEIR tour, but how much cheaper and better it would have been had we went with our instinct and just winged it.

Included in our tour was a round trip boat ride from Buenos Aires to Tigre, about a two hour cruise through the Delta and some of the back waterways. This in itself was very enjoyable, and as you can see by the pictures, a perfect day for a boat cruise! We started from the Sturla boat docks in Puerto Madero.

Ready for launch, oh capitan!

The boat departed timely at 10AM. If you are heading down there, the tour folk will tell you to be early. However, the office itself didn't even open until 9:30, so. . . no need to rush too much. Off we go into the Rio Plata. Buenos Aires DEFINITELY underutilizes its riverfront property in town. You could be just a block or two from the water and not even know it was there. But seeing the city from the river was truly a treat. 

Adios, BA, Hello backwaters! 

Cruising by the old church (?) turned power plant

Receding more, but not as fast as you would think. . . 

San Isidro Cathedral. The steeple is the same height as the Obelisk in downtown BA, just over 200 feet.

Just over an hour into the cruise and BA is fading like an almost forgotten dream.

The boat has an uptop deck, which FM and I thoroughly enjoyed!

Heading into the Rio Sarmiento tributary, looking a lot less citified - FINALLY!
Adorable little houses and tiny resorts are built all along the waterway. The only access is via boat, so would take some commitment to actually purchase a place along here. Saw many places for sale, some that were even tempting! All houses are serviced by the river taxi's and also by supply/grocery boats.

Supply boat out for deliveries

River taxi and also school bus

Might want to spend a weekend here in January. . . if the mozzies aren't too horrible!

Arriving into the main port of Tigre

Roller Coaster from the Parque de la Costa looming over a rusting barge riverside
Upon arrival in Tigre, we were whisked from the boat dock immediately to the Hop On/Hop Off tourist bus. Which we waited over fifteen minutes for its arrival. It was a typical city bus, painted up, with no open top. This comprised the next 40 minutes of our day, and was a complete waste, as we were not able to "hop on/hop off", but sat inside a slow moving bus with very little visibility of the ten main points of interest in the town. This would have been a FAR better walking tour for FM and I. But when on a tour, one must do what the tour says. . . I guess.

One of about FOUR pics that turned out from the BUS. Mate (traditional tea like drink popular with Argentinians) Museum.

Town Insignia at the square. It's a Tiger. Can you see it? Squint.

Not surprisingly, the town of Tigre provides Argentina with most of its world class rowers. Rowing Clubs abound.
Next on the tour, a break for lunch and then off to the Puerto de Frutos (fruit port) for the required shopping. Although a cute area, found very few treasures that would travel well. Would have gladly traded this experience for more time to wander around town.

Some very un-Argentinian style products

Rowing club putting boats in
Things wrapped up pretty quickly after the visit to the market, and we were back on the boat heading to Buenos Aires. The water was a little choppier this trip, and we had a smaller sister boat to ours following that was having some difficulty with the water, which made our return trip three hours through the same scenery. Although the boat ride was the BEST part of the day, you can take the commuter train from Tigre to Retiro for about 4 peso and it takes 45 minutes. Had we not already committed to the tour, this is the route we would have taken home. It would have given us more time in town and my stomach would have been a bit more settled upon our arrival back in Buenos Aires!
Did get a nice shot of the Fishing Club building, though.
All in all, it was a nice day on the water, but for a fraction of the cost we could have done the same on our own and enjoyed a more leisurely time in Tigre. Good thing we have 2.5 months more so we can revisit whenever we want!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Seven Things to Know Before Coming to Buenos Aires

Anytime you venture out into the world and find yourself immersed in a different culture, you have a bit of a learning curve. Sometimes you never fully acclimate (Beijing, Tokyo) and sometimes adapting is the easiest thing in the world (Italy, Hong Kong).

However, it's always nice to have a little insider information before you go.  

1.  Buenos Aires CAN be expensive. The faltering economy, high inflation rate, and falling currency values have taken their toll on the people and the prices in Argentina. But, if you have American dollars and a little time and patience, you can make your money go 30% farther by taking advantage of the "Dolar Blue". In 2011, the Argentine government put a ban on owning US dollars. Currently, the published rate hovers around 5.85. However, the Blue Market rate is around 8.9. How can you use the Blue Market? You can bring US Dollars in cash and exchange them on the street (popularly Florida St or near the Recoleta Cemetery) for smaller amounts. This is generally an accepted practice and overall not that risky, but if you want to be safer you can use and send yourself up to $2999.00 in American Dollars, which they then convert to pesos very near to the Blue rate. The closest office to most of Buenos Aires is near the corner of Santa Fe and Libertad. I've been three times this month and the longest I've waited to get my money was 20 minutes and the rate has been between 8.8 and 9.0. This will save you big money on food, drinks and groceries. We even booked our trip to Patagonia and Iguazu Falls through Say Hueque and paid for it in pesos at the published rate, hence saving us almost $2000. Whatever you do, don't come and use the ATM's. Most limit you to 1000 peso per transaction fee (about $167 at today's published rate), and you could essentially buy that amount of pesos for around $112 US. A significant savings for your trip.
Finally a place that WANTS the not-so-almighty dollar!

2.  Have you been to Europe? Where dining before 8 pm is considered a little gauche? Well, guess what? The dinner hour here is more typically 9:30 to 10 pm. There is no way we can eat dinner at 10 pm and still have FM (and myself!) in bed at a reasonable hour for 6:30 am wake ups. At least not on a regular basis. Nor can I hold out that long without food, especially if I'm enjoying an early evening bottle of Malbec. And I refuse to eat four meals a day. One benefit is many restaurants DO open at 8 pm. If you arrive at 8 sharp, you can usually try some of the best restaurants in town without a reservation, probably surrounded by other tourists like yourself. This works for us. Also, there is a prevalence of Resto-Pubs, which serve adequate food all day and night. A few of our favorites are Gauresnei's (corner of Nicaragua and Angel Carranza in Palermo Hollywood - try the Torre de Pizza, Lomo Florentine or any of their homemade pastas), and Montego Bay (Guatemala and FitzRoy, Palermo Hollywood - can recommend everything but the Jerk Chicken). Both open before 8 for us philistines.  
Such a charming corner

3. The wine is fine. Even a 30 peso bottle of wine (from the grocery) is fine (for most palates). Seriously. I drink a lot of wine, and I have only met one bottle of Malbec here that hasn't met my expectations (Xero, don't buy it - legless and acidic). If your budget and taste go much higher than this, no worries - there are wine stores on nearly every corner to cater to any level of oenophile. 
Heaven. . . I'm in HEAVEN

4. It's not all about the beef. But, it really is. If you don't know, some of the very best beef in the world is raised in Argentina. And, it truly is amazing. Perhaps the MOST amazing thing is you don't HAVE to spend a lot of money for a good cut. Almost any neighborhood parilla is serving up premium steak. We've spent anywhere from $7 US to $20 US for various cuts and sizes, and I have to say it's not about the money or premium locations. It's about the restaurant. Try El Trapiche in Palermo Hollywood for perfectly done, reasonably priced quality cuts with out the pretension. 
An absolute institution in Buenos Aires Parilla's. YUM. 

 5. You can leave your finer things at home. Buenos Aires is a very casual town. Even at the best restaurants you will see people dining in jeans and a collared shirt. I'm not giving you permission to run around in daisy dukes and a wife beater, but Argentines don't really dress up all that much. Casual chic works fine. Unless you're planning a night at the opera or business meetings, a suit would look more out of place than not. But, again, it's rather an "anything goes" type of place, so dress the way you're most comfortable. 

People waiting at 9:15 to get into Don Julio's in Palermo SoHo. Very casual.

6.  Most of the nightlife is in the "suburbs" of Palermo, Recoleta and San Telmo, so book your accommodations accordingly. It's nice to be able to stagger home to your hotel/hostel/apartment and not rely on public transport or taxis. Most clubs and tango halls open AFTER dinner, around 11 pm and go til the early hours. If you are a party animal, plan your sightseeing activities respectively.

7. Buenos Aires is safer than what you think. It is, of course, a big city. You should be cautious. You shouldn't wear expensive jewelry or watches. You shouldn't flash large amounts of cash. You should be aware of your surroundings. But, for the most part, the biggest problems are pickpockets and muggings, no different than Rome or Athens. I'm not saying to ignore travel warnings, etc., but after living here for six weeks, walking around by myself (in nicer areas, even at night), riding the public transportation and visiting crowded, busy markets, I haven't had any problems. Or witnessed any problems. Just use common sense and your own intuition. Getting drunk in La Boca late at night and wandering around is probably NOT a good idea. . . but I wouldn't know. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Brief Run Through the Plaza De Mayo

Did you know Buenos Aires is the number one visited city in South America? Even above Rio de Janeiro? I didn't, but Wiki told me so. It's not hard to figure out why, what with the beautiful European architecture, the parks, the museums, the wine, the beef and being the starting point for trips such as Iguazu Falls and Patagonia.

Yesterday, I continued my exploration of Buenos Aires by venturing down to Plaza de Mayo. FM and I were there a couple years ago when we briefly hopped over to BA from Montevideo, Uruguay. But it was a cold, wet, blustery day.

Yesterday was much nicer. Temperatures are already peeking into the 80's. It's going to get warm around here. . . 

At the beginning of Diagnol Norte, facing the Tribunale. This street will lead us directly into the heart of  Plaza de Mayo

Just need to jump across the Avenue of the 9th of July, the largest boulevard in Buenos Aires. And look! There's the Obelisco!
The Cabildo - basically City Hall
Metropolitan Cathedral of Buenos Aires
Looking up the Plaza from the River side, the statue in the middle is the Piramide de Mayo

Casa Rosada - Mansion and offices of the President. Can you imagine how close you can get to the front gates?
Bank of the Argentine Nation. Pretty impressive.
And this is the Secretary of Intelligence, note the antenna. SPOOKy. LOL

Looking toward Puerto Madero, that landscape has changed dramatically

Secretary of Defense Building
And then I took the bus home. The right bus. First try. Amazing!
We've been pretty guilty of hanging around the house at night, which is COMPLETELY unlike us. I bought a post-season package from so we can watch all the Tigers games (AND NO COMMERCIALS - how odd) on the computer. WIth the games starting at 9 pm and our fave bar clear on the other side of town, it's a bit hard to get FM into bed before 1 AM.  So, I've been cooking and we've been cheering (and drinking lots of wine). 

Will have to cheer harder and louder tonight. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

We Moved On Up. . . To the West Side. . . (I think, I'm still directionally challenged)

Today was the day I fell in love (at least a little) with Buenos Aires. I haven't been in hate, just a bit of ambivalence. It's definitely interesting, it's lovely, it has it's shabby chic charm, but up till today,  I was a bit blah. 

It's spring. 

The air is fresh, the breezes are cool, the ground is warming up and smelling of dirt, the trees are starting to bloom, the hemlines are rising . . .  The tree-lined streets of Palermo Hollywood, our new neighborhood, offer a variety of architecture, eateries and drinking holes. 

I did a little park tour, bought some ground coffee for the house (at Starbucks, ARGH, no choice), found a cute sweater. . . just strolled around like an average Porteno (that should have a tilde above the n but I'm too lazy to figure out how to do that on Blogger, and it means a person from Buenos Aires).

Digging the old school signage. Parilla means grill, so these are places for MEAT, BABY! You know, ARGENTINIAN BEEF!?!?! Nom Nom Nom
Very strange flowers on a very big tree. . . .

Plaza Italia

Entrance to the Zoo. Didn't go today. Waiting for Mommy and Daddy to take me. They arrive 11/1!

Looking down Libertador Street. Such a gorgeous day!

More blooming. Park in front of US Embassy.

Monument of the Spanish. . . 


3rd of February Park. . . 

Heron posing for a pic

Digging the architecture

Remind you of anything, Grand Rapidians??? Can you say Art Prize. There's nothing new under the sun, apparently!

Even the graffiti is cool
See? LOL

More quaintness. . . .

The Argentinians dig their dogs. They hire people to walk them. Not unusual to see someone with 10-15 dogs on a leash meandering down the road.

Our street.

How does the elevator know FM lives here???

View from our balcony