Friday, January 30, 2009

Buenos Aires

My first stop on this adventure was in Buenos Aires and it took me about 55 hours to get here. I had the afternoon I arrived and one day after returning from Iguazu Falls in the city. Buenos Aires is a very pretty city and has a rich history. I'd like to go back and spend some more time as I only got a little taste on this trip.

Of course, one of the first things I had to do was shop for shoes :) Thanks to MatildaLily's penchant for munching moccasins, I had to replace my gym shoes. We popped into Galleria Pacifica, right up the street from our hotel, and hit the Nike store. I was pretty shattered after all of the travel, so begged off dinner with friends and hit the rack instead. The next morning we were meant to take the 8am flight to Iguazu Falls, but Amber discovered an email with flight changes after dinner. Our flight had been moved to 1pm, which was disappointing as it meant we would lose an entire day at the Falls.

The day after Iguazu, we had a shopping morning followed by a city tour. Argentina is known for its leather goods and I just so happened to need a new pair of black dress shoes for the cruise. The front desk clerk at our hotel, The Dazzler Towers, helpfully suggested a small store just down the block. They had wonderful shoes and was hard to keep on task and only walk out with what I really needed insead of all the things I wanted!

Well, technically I didn't really *need* the boots, but they were a great price and are oh so awesome!

A group of us also hit a wine store to stock up for the cruise. The cruise ship has wine, but not Argentinian wines and Amber remembered some nice ones from her trip last year. The wine store is only half a block from the shoe store so we did a group project. This is a small hole in the wall family owned store. The son speaks English but the mother not so much. They are both very helpful in recommending wines to suit each person's tastes. We haven't sampled all of the bottles yet (we're on day 10 of the cruise), but the bottles we have cracked have all been great. I bought a bottle of sparkling white and we're going to have a little cabin party to sample it.

I got to be a true pod person for the first time ever in Buenos Aires. At 1pm I boarded a big ol' tour bus for our guided tour around key sites. Our guide was excellent and her commentary was truly interesting. It was frustrating to have to shoot photos out the windows and not stop at some of the monuments - Buenos Aires has thousands of monuments, it seems, each with a story. One of the coolest sculptures is this enormous flower - Floralis Generica - done in metal in 2002 by architect Eduardo Catalano. It actually opens during the day and then closes at night, just like a real flower. Unfortunately for me, we only stopped at a light and I had to take a couple of pot shots through the windows on the other side of the bus from where I was sitting! It would become a shooting technique I had to use frequently on a lot of the trip!

Colourful graffiti with a Russian Orthodox Church behind it on the hill - again, from the wrong side of the bus, out the window, while stopped at a traffic light!

Evita Perrone is a huge figure in Argentine history. She still evokes high emotions with the locals - some love her, some hate her. They've had to surround a monument to her with a big fence to keep out some of the more over-zealous detractors.

The Cementario de la Recoleta is amazing. The tombs were originally built as miniature echoes of the deceased's own houses. They range from the very simple to the crazily ornate.

This one was built stone by stone by the son and took years to complete. It's one of the less polished edifices but the care and dedication it took to build give it a powerful presence.

The only example of Egyptian influence in the entire cemetary

Evita's is tucked down a non-descript alleyway with no sign post to mark it. Just look out for the bands of tour groups and you'll find it. She is under her maiden name Durante, not Perrone, so don't walk past it! Hers is one of the only ones we saw that had fresh flowers adorning it.

Our next stop was at the Plaza de Mayo, the name commemorating the May Revoltion (1810) that began the trek to indepedence from Spain, with the Presidential Palace, the Casa Rosada, yes it's pink, one one end. Cheryl and I were hamming it up trying to shoot over this enormous fence that blocked the building from the main square. We were jumping up and trying to fire shots off over the top, sticking our lenses into small openings in the fence and generally doing things the hard way...since the tour guide then said that we could simply walk around the fence!

The Piramide de Mayo reaches skyward, a reminder of the first anniversary of Buenos Aires' independence from Spain.

The ornate Catedral Metropolitana graces one side of this square. It's a very active cathedral and no flash is allowed inside as people are coming to pray all day. There are also areas that are completely off limits for photography, even with no flash.

The main altar is a lesson in decadence

Cheryl at the ropes which protect the altar area from the masses

La Boca is a festive, colourful area that we barely got to sample. El Caminito is the main tourist spot in this true locals neighborhood and it has tons of street artists, cafes, bars, entertainment, arts & crafts stalls and tourists. Most of it is pure kitsch, but it has a great, happy vibe. Unfortunately we only had about 20 minutes to check it out; if I ever come back to Buenos Aires, this area is worth at least half a day and a lunch with a cool beverage! The soccer stadium, La Bombonera, is only four blocks away, a few museums are nestled on the side streets and a few notable historical buildings (Casa Amarillo, Torre Fantasma) are all within walking distance. There are eclectic shops on the block surrounding a very colourful La Caminita which itself lined with more works of art and brightly painted buildings

The area also has its fair share of characters. One member of our group was approached by a working lady who threw a leg over him and then demanded $20! She had been hitting the bottle a bit and became quite enraged when her generous offer was declined. I thought Mike, the unlucky gent, and his wife Pauline handled it quite well and it was the best story of the day.

The last part of our city tour was more sedate with many more monuments, a cruise around Punta Madero with its reclaimed brick warehouses finding new lease as trendy developments, extensive new high-end hotels, restuarants, shops and condos and a little rush hour traffic. My second favourite sculpture of the day is actually a bridge, the Puentes de la Mujer. Designed by the Spanaird Santiago Calatrava (Calatreva, depending on the resource you use) and built mostly in Spain, it is 160m long and rotates 90 degrees to allow water traffic to pass. We didn't get to see it move as we hurtled by on the main road. It's intended to represent a couple dancing tango; I think it's elegant and simply beautiful.

That night we had dinner at La Cabrera steak house and it was crazy. There were about 30 of us and we took up one long set of tables down the whole side of the restuarant. The downside to this arrangement is that I was trapped in a corner all night and couldn't take many photos.

I know this snap doesn't do our dinner justice, but we had at least four types of steak, four types of potatoes, mulitple trays of little veggies and appertizer type goodies, lots of bread, a bunch of stuff I didn't know what it was and then they brought out about 20 different desserts. The whole endeavour was done family style and our plates were heaping for two hours, even when we tried to take just the tiniest taste of each thing!

After such a huge meal, of course we needed to work it off. And what better way than the Tango? *We* weren't doing the tango, but I'm sure we burned off some of the calories watching the hour and a half Tango Show at a dinner theatre! A couple more wines couldn't hurt, right? Happily, the wine was terrible so we stuck with water - much more righteous.

The show was pretty impressive and some of the dances were excellent. I had a guy with an enormous head sitting right in front of me so I wasn't able to see everything that happened or take a lot of photos as planned, but it was still enjoyable and the music was good.

There was a live orchestra supplying all the music and they were fantastic. The lead violinist wore an amazing dress...not what one expects from a violin player!

It was a little long for my tastes so it was nice to get to the end

I was happy to head back to the hotel for some still much needed sleep. I headed to the cruise ship the next day...

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