Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Visiting the Argentine Tango Milongas

Salon Canning milonga in Palermo
Tango is synonymous with Argentina. Watching, and perhaps participating in some tango is a necessary part of a visit to Buenos Aires. On any given night, there are tango dinner shows, tango lessons, milongas (tango dance halls), nuevo tango, disco tango, gringo tango (no, not really), etc. The guidebooks try to steer the tourists to the big well-known milongas: Confiteria Ideal, Salon Canning, Niño Bien, Sin Rumbo, to name a few...where the really good dancers show up around 3 am to strut their stuff. The guidebooks also recommend a tango dinner show where the tourists can see the real pros show off tango's intricate moves - something that may not necessarily be witnessed at a regular milonga where there is usually a mix of newbies and experienced dancing together. Also, Buenos Aires Milongas provides a comprehensive list of tango going on every night of the week.

Day 88: Random Buenos Aires Adventures

This is a random assortment of events in one blog with buses, Kansas Grill, Thai Embassy, etc., but it all happened in one day, and it was quite adventurous so read on!

We thank our lucky stars that we can do this kind of traveling without hassle by virtue of having been born in countries that allow their citizens to roam freely around most of the world (We don't take it for granted.  Our freedoms CAN be taken away).  There are others that require their people apply for visas to leave their own country, and plenty of nations that require visitors from certain places to apply for tourist visas before entry.  That's a lot of embassy hopping.  For the most part, our journey doesn't require us to obtain special visas.  Except, if we want to stay in Thailand for longer than 30 days in October, which we do.  

It seems premature to apply for a tourist visa in July (for October), but looking at our next 2-3 months, we will frequently be on-the-go without the benefit of a Thai Embassy nearby.  Since we're hunkered down in Buenos Aires (BA) for 3-weeks, why not get this business taken care of now?  We did have to consult our calendar because we cannot be too hasty...we must enter Thailand within 90-days of issue, or else the visa expires.  This happens to be the perfect window of opportunity.  

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Buenos Aires - Plaza and Avenida de Mayo

Plaza de Mayo and Avenida de Mayo is probably the FIRST place most tourists visit in Buenos Aires (BA), but alas, it's one of our last places on our list to sightsee.  We couldn't claim to have been in BA without having gone to the historic and political center of BA with the massive Obelisk tower that looks like the Washington Monument; or having a photo taken in front of the famous balcony of the pink Presidential Palace, Casa Rosada; or, visiting the oldest Cafe Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo; or the first subway line in South America; and finally finishing at the National Congress Building, home to the seat of the Argentine government.  We finally saw all that in the Monserrat District (also referred to as Microcentro and Congreso) on Saturday, Day 89 on our sabbatical around the world.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Buenos Aires - Retiro District

We started our walkabout tour in the Barrio Norte neighborhood, home to the famous El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore in a former theatre on Santa Fe Avenue and Callao.  Before coming to Buenos Aires (BA) we didn't know a whole lot about its city landmarks and buildings, but one place we had heard about was the "bookstore in the theatre".  Surely, there were actual customers buying books in this 21,000 square foot space, but there were equal numbers of tourists in awe (including us) at the amazing architecture and the sheer genius of converting a theatre into a bookstore.  Of course the seats have been removed to accommodate the bookshelves; however, the theatre box-seats remained intact where we saw visitors lounging in the velvet chairs, reading a good book.  On the stage was a nice size cafe serving full meals, coffee, drinks, desserts.  We only had some coffee and a mid-afternoon snack, but the entrees looked very appetizing.  We thought it was ingenious of them to put the cafe/restaurant on the stage.  After all, when do most people get to be in the center of the stage, ever?  Looking up, we could still see the theatre lighting, cat walks, purple velvet curtains, and all the behind-the-stage mechanics.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Buenos Aires - Recoleta District

We are enjoying how each of the Buenos Aires' (BA) neighborhoods have unique characteristics that distinguish themselves from the others.  Over the weekend, we took another self-guided walking tour of another district, Recoleta.

Recoleta is just north of downtown, and according to Lonely Planet, "the Rolls Royce of BA.  It's where the rich live in luxury apartments and mansions while spending their free time shopping in expensive boutiques such as Cartier and Armani.  It's where the privileged proudly walk their purebred dogs and have their hair dyed an even bluer hue.  It's where the elite sip at elegant cafes in their best Sunday threads, even on Thursdays.  And, it's where they're all finally put to rest."

Yes, the Recoleta cemetery takes up a large portion of this district.   We expected to walk around a "regular" cemetery, never anticipating we would be sucked in to another "city" of sorts.  This cemetery is a labyrinth of many streets flanked by impressive statues and marble sarcophagi.  In the crypts lie many of the city's elite and famous, including past presidents, military heroes, politicians, and the rich and famous, including Evita.  We thought you would have to be quite rich to have one of these sarcophagus built for yourself.  Some of them were bigger than our house, and definitely more ornate than many churches we've seen!  A photographer could spend hours wandering around this place. It's one of those moments that I actually wished I carried around a real camera. It was that amazing.

Besides the cemetery, Recoleta is the home to the National Library of Argentina (in the ugliest building we've ever witnessed), National Art Museum, plenty of bronze monuments to military heroes, parks, and university schools.

Quote: What Gives Value to Travel is Fear

"What gives value to travel is fear.  It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country...we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits.  This is the most obvious benefit of travel...This is why we should not say that we travel for pleasure.  There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing.  Pleasure takes us away from ourselves in the same way as distraction...Travel, brings us back to ourselves." -Albert Caymus, Notebooks, 1935-1951

Under most circumstances, fear seems to be too strong a word, especially traveling in this modern age where we continue to be connected and not too remote from any part of the world; but we do identify with this quote. We have rarely felt physical fear for our lives (so far) but have felt fearful of our own limitations, mental stamina, and the unknown. Perhaps "discomfort", "anxiety", or "uncertainty" occurs more often than actual fear. It's true that travel is not always pleasurable. There has definitely been plenty of frustrations, annoyances, mistakes, illness, etc.; however, all is worthwhile for the authentic experiences for which there is just no substitute. If you want more pleasure and less fear, take a vacation. Otherwise, embrace the fear and travel.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Quote: On Planning

"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your future plans." - Woody Allen

Buenos Aires - Puerto Madero, the Port District

Another day spent exploring a new part of Buenos Aires (BA)!  Today, we went to the Puerto Madero area.  This is the newest district in BA that converted its old brick warehouses into some of the ritziest lofts, offices, hotels, and restaurants along the formerly abandoned shipping port. It's only a stone's throw away from the center of the city, too. We knew BA was a port city, but this was the first time we set eyes on actual water since we've been here for a week.  The cobblestone lined promenade along the dikes are a nice place to stroll and admire the interesting architecture; although on a Friday afternoon, it felt like we landed in the middle of a high school field trip.  Huge groups of teenagers running amok made for a less peaceful experience, but we sheltered ourselves under a cafe awning and paid an exorbitant $30 for 2 beers to enjoy the view without the Argentine teeny-boppers (and well worth the expense).  We didn't make it to the large ecological reserve, sandwiched between Rió de la Plata and the Puerto Madero promenade and dikes, but how it came to be is interesting.  In the 1970s, as an urban development plan, they filled about 865 acres of the river banks. However, this project was called off and the landfill abandoned from development.  Over the next decade, numerous species of plants, trees, animals, and birds began to settle in this area - becoming a rich natural reserve for local flora and fauna!  How cool is that?!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Buenos Aires - Belgrano Neighborhood

A 45-minute walk north of our neighborhood in Palermo got us to the Belgrano neighborhood of Buenos Aires (BA).  There's a few historically significant buildings and monuments, but since it is in the northern most district of BA, opposite of the city center, most of the people walking about are porteños (locals) just going about their business.  

We explored Belgrano because we almost rented an apartment in this neighborhood instead of Palermo.  Depending on the location, the neighborhood seems to be closer to the subway stations, has a lot more high rise condos, and a very busy commercial shopping strip along the main thoroughfare of Cabildo Avenue.  In the quieter streets, there are old mansions intermingled amongst modern high-rises, but the neighborhood just didn't seem charming and quaint as the one we are in, so we are glad we decided on Palermo!

One huge advantage (in Akiko's estimation) of Belgrano is a couple Asian markets in Chinatown and a non-sushi Japanese izakaya (pub) restaurant.  

Other than that, we took in a few significant landmarks and enjoyed walking around the neighborhood on this sunny day.  

Busy > Commercial > Midtown-NY > Traintracks > Asian > Bustling > Crowded > Locals > Retail > TimesSquare (Cabildo and Juramento)

1.  Monuments and historical buildings around General Manual Belgrano Square on Avenida Juramento
2.  View the artwork at Enrique Larreta Spanish Art Museum
3.  Window shop along the busy commercial street of Avenida Cabildo
4.  Visit Chinatown, buy some Asian groceries, eat at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant
5.  Admire the huge magnolia tree at the Belgrano Cliffs park

"In 1855, a settlement located north of Buenos Aires was named Belgrano in honor of the military man, politician and creator of the Argentine flag. The village soon grew in population and, in accordance with 19th century’s standards, was declared a city. In 1880, it served as seat of the National Government during a conflict with the city of Buenos Aires’ authorities. Once this disagreement was settled, a law was passed in 1887 including Belgrano into the capital city as one of its districts. Nowadays, Belgrano is a lively commercial area, especially around Cabildo Avenue. In this district, ancient mansions and stately dwellings coexist with tall and modern buildings." -Sitio oficial de turismo de la Ciudad de Buenos Aireshttp://bue.gov.ar/

As described, we did see "ancient mansions and stately dwellings coexisiting with tall and modern buildings."

The historical ground zero of Belgrano is General Manuel Belgrano Square. His life size statue stands in the middle of the square, flanked by Immaculate Concepcion Parish Church with a beautiful rotunda.

We didn't go inside, but here's the exterior of the Enrique Larreta Spanish Art Museum, showcasing Enrique Larreta's extensive Spanish art collection at his former residence, collected throughout his career as an ambassador and writer.

This humongous magnolia tree sits in a place called Belgrano Cliffs where the waters of the Río de la Plata washed up against this embankment until the mid-19th century, after which the land dried up when the railroads were built. We were expecting an actual cliff, but it was more like a very small slope! We cannot imagine the waters coming this far in.

We took a rest at a very cozy cafe, Salvame Maria, and Akiko had to sit next to these amazing croissants!

Across the tracks becomes Chinatown.

Of course we found an Asian market! Typical of one, there were aisles of fresh tofu, tofu and fish balls, dried mushrooms, ready-made sushi rolls, an eatery inside, huge seafood market, rows of noodles, etc.

We scoped out a Japanese izakaya (pub) in Chinatown that isn't a sushi place. We've seen plenty of Japanese restaurants in Peru and Buenos Aires, but they're all sushi joints, as if that's the only type of Japanese food. We are looking forward to trying out Nobiru, sometime in the next couple of weeks.

...but, until then, we made do with a bowl of curry udon (カレーうどん) noodles from ingredients we bought at the Asian market for dinner!

Oh, almost forgot about this very large Japanese anime/manga store!!

Well, that was our adventure for today!

Buenos Aires - Palermo Neighborhood

Palermo is one of the largest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires - home and playground to the urban middle-class.  Palermo is full of parks and museums, while Palermo Viejo is the center of designer boutique stores, cafes, bars, international restaurants, and music venues.  Viejo is further separated into Palermo Soho where most of the bohemian fashion is, and Palermo Hollywood - named due to the TV and radio stations in this area - which has a lot of restaurants.  

What appears as abandoned streets lined with apartments during the day, comes alive after about 9 or 10 at night (every night).  Walking around during the day is nothing like seeing all the restaurants open, patio tables and chairs full of diners, and people walking around at midnight without a care about the next day.  It's truly a night owl's dream.  When we first got into our apartment, the owner was explaining that the trash should be placed outside the door by 7.  We clarified, 7 am?  She laughed and laughed.  No silly...7 pm.  No one is up at 7 am in the morning.  [Below: Plaza Serrano getting ready for the night. This was around 9pm and still basically empty.]

Greenery > Fashion-Forward > Nighttime > Food > Residential > Trendy > Boutique > Bohemian > Museums > (Our Temporary) Home

1. Visit Parqué 3 de Febrero's ponds and rose garden
2. Visit the botanical gardens, Japanese garden, and zoo
3. Visit the many museums, including the Evita Museum and MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires)
4.  Shop for one of a kind clothing at one of the Buenos Aires's designer boutique store
5.  Hang out at one of the bars on Plaza Serrano until the wee hours
6.  Go on a neighborhood graffiti/mural tour
7.  Enjoy one of the many international restaurants.  Feel like Vietnamese, sushi, Indian curry, gyros, tacos, pizza, barbecue, Scandinavian, vegetarian?  They got it here.
8.  Go listen to live music at one of the many venues such as Boris de Jazz or Thelonius.

[Below: strolling the lovely streets of Palermo Soho.]

[Below: dog walkers everywhere. All the dog poo left on the sidewalks reminds us a lot of Paris. No wonder they call Buenos Aires, the Paris of the South.]

[Below: enjoying the cafe culture with a delicious cup of coffee and alfajores cookies.]

[Below: love the brightly painted buildings. Irony is the equal amounts of graffiti painted all over the nicest looking neighborhoods...]

[Below: creative use of space in a former industrial warehouse and silos, turned into condos. Palermo Hollywood.]

[Below: found a HUGE furniture flea market, Mercado de Pulgas, in Palermo Hollywood.]

[Below: Islamic Cultural Center off of Bullrich and Libertador Avenues.]

[Below: Large park, similar in size to Central Park in New York City. Parqué 3 de Febrero. Lots of people (and geese) out and about on a sunny, wintery day.]

[Below: some roses still in bloom in the rose garden.]

[Below: old magnolia tree.]

[Below: carriage rides around the park.]

[Below: “El monumento de los Españoles” (The Monument to the Spaniards) on Libertador Avenue. It was donated in 1910 by the Spanish community for the centenary of the May Revolution.]

[Below: Japanese Garden, dedicated to then Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko on their visit to Argentina in 1967. Cherry and plum blossoms still in bloom in winter!]

[Below: we didn't go inside, but the Evita Museum seems to be a popular attraction in Palermo.]

[Below: the "dark-side" of the streets of BA. Besides all the dog poo on the sidewalks, the piles of trash on the streets are HORRENDOUS! People seem to have no qualms about letting the trash pile up and getting ransacked, even in the nicest areas of town. Disgusting.]

[Below: night out at Boris Jazz Club, 2-blocks away from our apartment. Cirilo Fernandez is the pianist and band leader. A Swiss native, grew up in BA, and studied at the world renowned contemporary music school, Berklee College of Music in Boston. They were very talented and passionate about their music. It was definitely jazz, but some bizarre jazz fusion with the synthesizer.]

[Below: one of the many restaurants with international flair around Palermo Viejo. La Fabrica del Taco.]

[Below: ...and a BarBQ restaurant, although the laundry guy down the street from Australia said it wasn't that good; to try Kansas Grill and Bar instead.]

Well, that basically sums up our home-away-from-home in Palermo. Hope you have a chance to visit and stay in this cool 'hood. We highly recommend it.