Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wrapping up Buenos Aires

This week we left Buenos Aires and headed down to southern Argentina.  As we swap warm days and chaotic city life for the chilly, remote wilderness of Patagonia, we wanted to close the first leg of our trip by sharing some of our favorite memories of Buenos Aires and a few of the things we won’t miss at all.


After becoming accomplished tango dancers through an 8-week course of beginner tango lessons in Cinci prior to our trip, Mike and I were eager to hit the dance floor in the tango capital of the world.  All the guidebooks talked about dance halls with strict etiquette where a casual glance could be misinterpreted as an invitation to dance.  Although this made me a little nervous, we finally got up the nerve to check out a place near our house.  In the basement of the local Armenian Cultural Center, it didn’t sound intimidating.  Although the atmosphere was a little reminiscent of a high school dance in the school cafeteria (dark lights, a few balloons, tables around the outside), this place was packed every night and included instruction in Spanish followed by lots of opportunities to dance.  We went back several times and can’t wait to bust out our tango moves at weddings (Daniel – watch out!).  While we don’t have any pics of us dancing, here are a few of from the place:

The Buenos Aires Zoo and Botanical Gardens
I felt a little ashamed going here since I haven’t visited the Cincinnati Zoo in a long time, but we were curious to see what it was like.  We ended up having an excellent time driven primarily by one thing – we got to feed lots of animals.  Although I’m sure the zookeepers in Cincinnati would be appalled, apparently here, feeding the animals isn’t off limits.  Most cages would have a little chute that you could throw food down to the animals…monkeys, zebras (we fed the zebra by hand), kangaroos…you name it, we fed it.  The other highlight was two strange types of animals roaming the grounds (like peacocks do in US zoos).  One looked like a giant rat/otter/woodchuck while the other looked like a giant rabbit thingy.  The botanical gardens were across from the zoo and a lovely retreat from the traffic and noise of BA plus there were lots of cats to feed.

Much to my dismay and Mike’s excitement, a company in Buenos Aires hosts events daily that are the speed dating for language nerds.  Here’s how it works: Want to practice your Spanish?  At the event you get paired with someone who wants to practice English.  Each pair spends 5 minutes talking in English, then 5 in Spanish.  After this is up, one person moves a table down and you repeat 5 times.  It’s a great idea and Mike really enjoyed practicing the Spanish he has been learning over the past few months.  However, as my Spanish is more random Italian words interspersed with “Lo siento, no comprendo” (I’m sorry, I don’t understand), this was definitely a challenge for me (although I did great at the English portion!).  Here are a few of the people we met at one of the events and Mike practicing Spanish (it has become an obsession for him).

These don’t warrant long descriptions, but here are a few of our other BA favorites:

  • The weather – sunny, 80, and minimal humidity
  • Yogurt milk – not sure what this is really called, but this is what we called it.  Yogurt in a bag that you poured in a cup and drank.  It was a great addition to breakfast.
  • Beautiful, varied architecture and multi-colored buildings – here is a pic from our neighborhood
  • Inexpensive wine – it seems like they only sell Argentine wine here, but we aren’t complaining.  A delicious bottle of Malbec typically costs only $5.  We can’t wait till we get to Mendoza where we can sample at the actual vineyards!
  • Fresh bread every day – a bakery down the street sold fresh baked bread for slightly over $1 per loaf.  I will really miss this when we are back in the States
  • Interesting graffiti

Not our Favorites
In general there wasn’t much we that drove us crazy, but here are a few:
  • Dog poop on the sidewalks – Everywhere.  People never clean up after their pooches and there are a lot of dogs around her.  Dog walkers with up to 8 canines will decimate large chunks of sidewalk in seconds.
  • City Juice –  In addition to doggie poo, you constantly had to watch out for loose sidewalk tiles that would splash "city juice" (gross water that was been festering for an undetermined amounts of time) on you if you stepped on one. 
  • Keys/Locks – they use these huge, old fashioned keys here and we had to unlock 4 doors to get to our apartment.  You can’t lock or unlock the door without the key…seemed like a fire hazard to us so we always kept the key in the door at night so we wouldn’t be locked in
  • No stop signs – in theory, you have the right of way if you are coming from the right, but it seems more like a game of chicken

  • Table service charge – everywhere you eat in BA, they charge you a “Cubierto” for the table and bread.  Sometimes it was as much as $5 per person and you never knew how much it would be.  Luckily, outside of BA this doesn’t seem to be a problem.
  • Ham Sandwiches (or really ham in general) – I always thought of Argentina as the land of beef, but actually it is the home to all things ham.   It seems like this is the only option for sandwiches (no one has heard of turkey lunch meat).  At some restaurants they would literally have 12 sandwich varieties and every single one would be ham with something else.  I will never eat ham again!