Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina (seis)

What have I been doing for the past week or so? I'm having trouble remembering. My friend Fran came to stay for the weekend and on the Saturday we went to a couple of great restaurants in Palermo; Oui Oui for lunch and Sarkis for dinner, French(ish) and Armenian respectively. I had a pile of scrambled eggs with brioche, smoked salmon and peas at Oui Oui, along with the most amazing fresh, home-made lime juice sweetend with lots of sugar, which was totally moreish. Luckily it came served in a massive jug! Then at Sarkis I had lamb for the first time since I've got here (and man, have I missed it!) along with some great tabouleh, stuffed aubergines, hummus and lots of pitta. In between eating we strolled through Palermo, checking out shops and market stalls and walked round the Jardin Botanico, looking in the greenhouses and wandering the paths there.

Sunday was one of the best days I've had in Buenos Aires so far, the weather changed from grim and grey to bracingly cold but beautifully sunny, perfect for a day at La Feria de Matadores, a traditional gaucho market on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Forget San Telmo, this market is the real deal, with hundreds of different stalls laid out in a huge cross around a plaza filled with dancers and a stage of singers and musicians, performing all day; guachos competing on horseback, thundering down a sand-covered street to pluck a tiny token from a high bar and prove their talents; and people from all over looking at the wares, tasting the cheese and dulce de leche on offer, trying on hats and llama-wool gloves, and generally having a great time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina (cinco)

So, my flatmate and I just ordered in some ice-cream and it was super delicious! We ordered half a kilo and ate the whole lot. We chose dulce de leche (standard in Argentina), chocolate torta and another darker chocolate that I can't remember the name of. If you don't know what dulce de leche is then I will be happy to explain what I know about it: it translates roughly as sweet milk/sweet made of milk, tastes a bit like fudge but creamier and with a more syrupy consistency, and it's bloody good.

Earlier today I went to MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) and it's a great gallery, a little on the small side and lacking in posctards but otherwise really fantastic; the building is light and airy and there's a good collection of modern art from the last century or so. I particularly enjoyed the temporary exhibition they have on at the moment by Cristina Piffer, and the installation that doubled as benches, which had slats spreading out and climbing up the walls like creepers of ivy.

I'm pretty excited about the next week or so, I'm going to Colonia (in Uruguay) next week with Fran for the day, and then the weekend after I'm going to Iguazu to see the falls. BA has been good fun so far but it'll be nice to do some travelling!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina (cuatro)

It's been raining and pouring the last few days in BA and there's been some pretty impressive thunderstorms with actual thunderclaps rather than the bassy rumbles we get in the UK and purple lightning filling the sky and flickering constantly.
Today though the weather was much more inviting; yes, it was breezy and there was a nip in the air but the sun was shining and it was a perfect day for walking, so I walked: down Scalabrini Ortiz the wrong way so then I jumped on a bus to Del Libertador (which is where I planned to go in the first place) and walked up to Plaza Bolivia, where I sat enjoying the sun on my face and freshly-made empanadas (espinaca and queso y cebolla) and watched the pigeons and the parrots fighting over crumbs. Afterward I kept walking up Del Libertador and reached Parque Tres de Febrero where I wandered the paths of the rose garden and avoided skateboarders, cyclists and rollerbladers on the main strip. A lovely day.

I've been doing a lot of walking this weekend actually: I spent Saturday walking up and down Santa Fe in pursuit of the perfect pair of boots, and had lunch on the stage of a converted theatre, now a bookshop called El Ateneo Grand Splendid, a very beautiful setting but with a quite appalling selection of English-language books (they all have names like Forbidden Love, The Viking that Conquered my Heart, etc).

Then yesterday I went to the market in San Telmo for the second time with a couple of friends, where I bought a ring for an absolute bargain at 8 pesos and we whiled away a couple of hours sitting in a café, sipping café con leche and watching the world go by.

I've recently been informed that the organisation I'll be working with in Colombia will not be based in Bogotà, instead I'll be about three hours down the Central Cordillera in Ibagué. I'm a little disappointed but it seems like a nice little city and from my experiences in BA I think I'll learn Spanish a lot faster in a smaller place. Also Ibagué is only 1,285m above sea level wheras Bogotà is 2,625m so it should be much warmer! The only negative is that it rains a lot, but I'm a Mancunian, I can cope with that. Plus we get to spend our first couple of weeks in Colombia in Bogotà anyway so I'll have a chance to look around and it's not far, so I can visit on weekends.

So, my current itinerary is:
Jun/Jul - Buenos Aires (and Iguazu Falls hopefully)
Jul - northern Argentina/Bolivia
Aug - Bogotà, Colombia
Sep/Feb - Ibagué, Colombia

Rosario, Argentina

Last Saturday (11th June) I travelled to Rosario, a city north of Buenos Aires on the rio Parana. Rosario is known as Argentina's second city, culturally rather than in size or population. Che Guevara was born in Rosario, as was the creator of the Argentinean flag, whose name I can't remember (I can obviously retain some facts from the guidebooks but not all), and Messi too. I travelled to Rosario via bus, or micro as they're known here, and had my first experience of coche cama, which are seats that can be pushed right back with footrests, a necessity on an 18 hour bus trip, and which luckily I haven't yet had to go through as the journey to Rosario only takes about four and a half hours. I slept most of the way, which shows the effectiveness of the cama seats, although the fact that it was 7am and I'd only had about four hours sleep due to going out the night before may have had something to do with it.
I was welcomed in Rosario by my friend Fran and some absolutely gorgeous sunshine that had I been in the UK would have been t-shirt-and-shorts weather, but I wasn't, I was most definitely in Argentina. My first sight of the rio Parana assured me of that; it's massive!

Earlier we went to this great restuarant for lunch where everything served is made from locally-sourced produce, including the wine, and we had four extremely tasty courses. I was so stuffed I wasn't hungry until about 10pm (we started lunch about 2pm), which luckily is the time most people eat in Argentina on a Saturday night, so that worked out well.

I've only got Buenos Aires to compare it to but somehow Rosario felt a lot more Argentinean, less cosmopolitan, with fewer tourists and just people getting on with their lives. I was introduced to Folklore in Rosario, a type of music that is a lot more common all over Argentina although maybe not as famous as tango, which I'm told is more associated with BA. Fran, some of her friends and I went to a restaurant/bar/café for some empanadas (dulce carne and quesa y cebolla, my favourites that I've tried so far), and to watch Jose Simon, who was pretty amazing.

The next day I had a bit of a lie-in and then we went back down to the riverfront and wandered down to a restuarant where we had the most amazing river fish with patatas fritas, and then had a look round the markets and went to a contemporary art museum. Later we took advantage of the ice-cream store near to Fran's apartment and had a relaxing evening in.

On my final morning we went to a different part of the city and did some sightseeing round there, we had another nice lunch and then I got on the bus and came back home to BA!

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Buenos Aires, Argentina (tres)

I've been reading Outlaw Journalist and it's inspired me to hunch over my own set of keys and type out the ramblings I compose in my head whilst I'm walking or in bed, and try to get them into some semblance of order:

To start with I thought you might like to know that you can order ice cream over the phone here, and they will deliver it to your house or office or wherever you might be... I'll give you a minute whilst your mind boggles at the simple magnificence of this idea. On Thursday I bought quarter of a kilo of ice cream (in person, not delivered) - dulce con leche with brownies & chocolate with almonds and ate it all. It was AMAZING. Ice cream here is heavenly and you can buy all your standard cones, tubs, etc at your local Freddos or Munchi's but you can also buy quarters, halfs and whole kilos, where you pick what flavours you want combined.

I've been thinking and it's difficult to describe how Buenos Aires is different from any other international capital city. There's the language obviously, and perhaps the architecture, but Buenos Aires has a gridlike structure, an underground train system (the Subte) and large green spaces, much like New York or Tokyo (pretty smug about being able to personally compare these three great cities). Buenos Aires does have the biggest road that I've ever seen, the Avenida 9 de Julio which has like, 16 lanes of traffic and takes literally a minute to cross.

It's more the little things that make it different:
There's the constant aroma of cooking beef wafting out from all the parillas, which means that it smells like barbecue, all the time!
If you buy a bottled drink here from a kiosk they always give you a straw which is quite a nice touch.
They have professional dog walkers here, so you'll regularly see a man or woman walking loads of dogs all at once, which is pretty funny.