When we first started this blog, we had big plans – frequent updates with what we’ve been doing, foodie stories, maybe even character sketches of the awesome, or at least interesting people we meet along the way (there’s been a few) and of course our postcards to George. And we started out well – for the first couple of months we were largely on track – maybe a week or so behind. But then that week behind turned into a month behind and now we haven’t posted in three months and are four months from actual stories.
So what happened?
Travelling. Travelling happened. Or to be precise, the actual planning as you go, somewhat intense, exhausted at the end of the day sort of travelling.
See when we first started, all this adventure was new and exciting and we had plenty of energy to write a blog post after a few days. It also helped that we had our first two and a half months pretty much planned out. Sure, we had to book a few internal buses and a few hotels, but our itinerary was mostly already organised from London. After a day touring a city or some other great activity, we had time to work on the blog writing while enjoying a local beverage.
That changed at the beginning of January when we got to Buenos Aires and had nothing else planned, except to meet up with family at the end of the month and a flight booked to New Zealand at the end of February. Planning travel (particularly on a budget) takes time and that time ate into our blog stuff. It is during those last two months in South America (and Antarctica – but more on that in a future post) where the delay of posts went from a week behind to over a month behind.
But during that time, whilst planning our travels, we were still posting, however slowly and since leaving South America, we have barely posted. So what happened again?
Two things – even more intense travel and (probably as a result), exhaustion.
So first the intense travel. . .
In New Zealand we did a road trip – an awesome five week path from Auckland to Christchurch, touring both islands, hitting the northern most tip of the North Island and the southernmost tip of the South Island, and trying to see as much as possible in between. We had an amazing car (named BB – Badass Barbie for short – more on her in a future post) and had a short list of must dos and a long list of everything else.
Yet as we learned more about this amazing country, both lists kept getting longer and longer. And with the freedom of having your own car, it was difficult for us to turn down activities or places. Thus, we would pack our days full of amazingness and since it was still summer light, this would mean until 8pm – when we would finally find our place to stay and food for dinner before crashing shortly after 10pm in order to get some rest and do it all over again the next day. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
After our awesome road trip came our three weeks in Australia, which was a different kind of intense. While we would have loved to do a road trip like in New Zealand, with the country being the size of the continental US, we would need several months, if not a year. Instead we set out to do all our bucket list items and in three weeks, this was still a task – Melbourne, drive the Great Ocean Road, Kangaroo Island, Adelaide (just a hotel and the airport actually), Alice Springs, camp in the Outback, Cairns, spend three days on a boat, diving and snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney and finally a day in Perth. When we tell this itinerary to Aussies, they usually comment on how we’ve seen more of Oz than they have.
So yeah, intense.
After the bits of planning we would have to do, any remaining time wasn’t going to blog writing (or even photo organising/back up), it was now going to recuperation, and relaxation. For instance, one evening in Alice Springs, instead of going out, we took advantage of our Airbnb host’s Netflix and just binge watched The Crown. It doesn’t sound exciting, but we still remember that evening with fondness. There were even a few nights in there, where we would just have dinner in and then watch dumb tv (reality shows, sheer time wasters, and the like) – for those of you who know Jen, you know this is odd – very odd. On those evenings, the last thing we would want to do was have to think and write a blog post.
So yeah, exhaustion.
Exhaustion from travelling is a thing. We have met other long term travellers who have confirmed this by experiencing the same – there particularly seems to be a break point around the 3-4 month point.
We mention the exhaustion, not to gain sympathy – no violins should play for us. And we’d still rather have travel exhaustion than stressed from work / bored with our lives exhaustion. But it’s a reality and it’s why some of big plans for projects (this blog only being the most obvious) have not turned out how we originally thought.
And we’re now ok with that. This last sentence took awhile for Jen to accept. As the backlog of post ideas grew in South America, there were a few sleepless nights for her as she tried to catch up (and stay on top of photo organising). Yet that stress and “to do”-ness was just making the travel less fun. Do we really want to miss today’s fun activity so that we can catch up on a blog? No. This year of travel for us is about experiencing the world, having adventure and enjoying life while we still have it. Documenting it can be delayed. And at the very least, we will always have our memories.
Don’t get us wrong, we’ll still try to update the blog (there’s a long list of post ideas). However future posts might come from Jen’s lunch break while back at work in London than actually on the road.
Oh and don’t worry about our original premise of the blog in order to stay in touch with George. He’s on WhatsApp and still gets updates. Here’s his activities from a week ago of him navigating a ladder. . . And yes, we realise that only his mama finds this adorable and watches the video all the way through. . .
Still travelling with Lindo (the dynamic duo that is Jen’s sister, Linda, and her husband, Lando), after Calafate, we headed to Ushuaia – otherwise known as Fin del Mundo.
Settled along the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is billed as “the end of the world” because it is the southernmost city. Fort Williams in Chile (also on the Channel) is actually further south, but the folks in Ushuaia will wave that off since Fort Williams is just a “town”.
Ushuaia milks this end of the world status for all that it’s worth. It has the most southernly golf course, the most southernly train, the most southernly spa, etc. As a result, the city can be quite expensive and touristic – you definitely don’t want to be there when a couple of the big cruises come in. . .
Anyways it’s fair to say that we were some of those tourists and fell for much of the hype. On our first afternoon in town, as we were exploring the making plans for the next few days, we made sure to stop into the tourist centre to get our passport stamped from Fin del Mundo. We even went back on a later day to get another stamp for Linda (they had 4 to choose from) and for Jen to get both her passports stamped (USA and UK).
So what did we do the next day, our first full day in town? We rode the most southernly railroad of course! The Fin del Mundo train, which takes you through Tierra del Fuego National Park. It actually began as a train used by prisoners who were made to work the logging industry in the area.
As the prisoners are all long gone, where does it head to now, you ask? Well the most southernly post office of course! Which is pretty much a tiny shed on a dock run by one enterprising man.
He sells postcards and stamps from the end of the world and will also stamp your passport – quite extravagantly as you can see. . .
Tourists eat it up and there was a long line inside the shed. The line included Jen and Linda as they sent a postcard to their parents (and of course got their passports stamped.
Tourist duties over, we enjoyed a small hike and picnic lunch at the end of the world.
Then of course, had a bit of a photo shoot. . .
After heading back to our Airbnb place, we rested and cooked an early dinner (or early for Argentine standards), since we had big plans for the evening – we were heading to the southernmost casino!
We arrived there around 8:30pm and as everyone else was probably still having dinner, the place was fairly empty. Sure, there were people on the slots (there always are), but we opened up the tables and headed straight to blackjack (Jen’s preferred choice). We were all in the game, but gradually we all lost our money – except for Jen, who ended $10 up. From the backjack she actually ended $9 down, but with her last $1, she took a risk on roulette and it turned out well.
By the end of the night, more people fortunately joined us on the tables, including some very talkative old, Argentinian gentlemen at blackjack and a French sailor on roulette. However, it was never the fun, crazy party atmosphere as some of the tables in Vegas. . .
The next morning, we woke up early and excited as today was the day we came to Ushuaia for – we were going to see penguins! PENGUINS! And not just see them, but walk amongst them and become their best friends. Outside of Ushuaia is Martillo Island where there are colonies of both Gentoo and Magellan Penguins (and interestingly a few King Penguins).
There are many tours that take a boat to the shores of the island, from which you can view all the beautiful creatures. However, we paid the bit extra (it was pricey) and booked with Piratour, which is the only company that can take small groups of people to walk around the island.
Yay penguins! Jen was particularly excited! And after a bus ride, waiting through a nature presentation and then a boat ride, we finally approach the island. And there’s tons of them! Just hanging out on the beach!
Once standing on the island, it was magical! So many penguins and all so close to you!
Granted if you got too close, they would move en masse and it would freak them out. Yet you could easily be less than a meter away without them minding. . .
After hanging out on the beach with them, we went for a guided walk around the island.
As part of our walk, we saw the burrows and the babies – who were actually largely grown up by this time of year (some were larger than their parent).
We also saw some babies being fed. . .
Oh, so many penguins! Jen went photo crazy. She particularly liked all the different personalities that manner of the individuals seemed to have – here’s a few of the characters:
And finally, a King Penguin, hiding amongst the Gentoos. . .
It also took all of her self control not to try to cuddle one of them. Or try to take one home (she decided that if she had, its name would be Herbert and she’d buy a separate freezer for him).
After about an hour on the island, sadly, our guide made us leave. He had to drag Jen. On the boat ride back to Ushuaia, we also passed a sea lion colony, as well as a small island full of various bird life.
On any other day, both of these sights would be amazing, yet we had just walked amongst penguins, so we were a bit jaded. . .
What an experience! And it was the perfect finale to our trip with Lindo, since they would be flying back to the states the next day. Nothing could be a better send off than the penguins, but we still tried to make a night of it and went to a fancy restaurant for dinner. Chez Manu had a great view over the city and the Beagle Chanel and served fantastic food.
Even Petit George joined us for the evening.
What a great last day to spend with and say adios to family.
Our time in El Calafate was defined by two things – travelling with family and glaciers.
Jen’s sister, Linda, and her husband, Lando (from now on, they will be referred to as Lindo) joined us in El Calafate to help us continue to explore Patagonia. We were able to share with them our new-found love of Argentinian wine and Argentinian steak (Jen and Erwan respectively). And together we were able to explore the glaciers surrounding El Calafate, namely Uppsala Glacier and Perito Moreno Glacier (no relation to the town mentioned in the previous post).
Uppsala Glacier is less famous than the Perito Moreno Glacier, as it is further from town and visitors can’t get as close to it. But it’s still pretty spectacular.
We visited Uppsala on our first full day in town. The only way to get to Uppsala is to book a tour, which brings you there by boat, passing icebergs along the way.
And in our case, also a rainbow. . .
Our tour included a trip to Estancia Christina, an old ranch.
From which we took vans up the mountains to view the glacier from above – amazing!
Particularly when a condor flew by just above our heads. Jen only got this one good shot though. . .
Perito Moreno Glacier
As its closer to town, Perito Moreno can be more easily visited. There’s a bus from town or you can simply drive yourself (it’s in Los Glaciers National Park, UNESCO site, yo!). Once there, the walkways and viewpoints are all self-guided.
And it’s a fantastic sight!
Particularly when the ice calved. Sadly Jen always missed the shot (just getting it at the end). However, Lando caught a huge piece breaking off and made this gif. . .
To visit the glacier, we actually booked a tour, because then we were able to don crampons and actually walk on the ice!
We also had whiskey served with the ice!
It looks awesome, and it was. However, because it was with a massive tour, the experience felt a bit industrial – we had to keep moving and always travel in the pack. Jen, particularly, doesn’t do well in these circumstances as she always wants to break away to take photos and doesn’t like groups of people in said shots.
Still we’ve never walked on a glacier before; or had whiskey served on one – so we can’t really complain. . .
Finally, we must admit that El Calafate wasn’t all glaciers. On our last day in town, we rented a car and drove out to the other side of Los Glacieres National Park to hike Cerro Cristal.
As a slight aside, we saw flamingos on the way – who knew a place known for glaciers would also be home to these birds more associated with Florida?
The hike actually looks over Perito Moreno glacier and we got this great shot with Lindo. . .
And one of just us, which is one of Jen’s favourite photos from the trip (and even now, over a month later, still her Facebook cover photo).
This whole trip is about adventure. Sure, we’re ticking countries off our list of ‘been to’, but it’s more about truly experiencing those places and challenging ourselves with different experiences – some of which are indeed ‘bucket list’ items that we’ve longed planned (like going to the Amazonian rainforest) and others come about more serendipitously once we’re in an area.
That pretty much sums up our experience in Patagonia – prior to getting to Argentina, we had nothing planned for the region, other than knowing we wanted to go to Bariloche, following friends’ suggestions (previous post). We also knew we were meeting family in El Calafate and Ushuaia, but everything else was open.
Once we arrived in Buenos Aires, we began looking into Patagonia a bit more and suddenly we had two distinct goals to achieve – visit Cueva de las Manos and hike the Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre circuit in El Chalten.
We found out about Cueva de las Manos thanks to the UNESCO bucket list app (check it out – it’s free) and discovered the circuit thanks to the plethora of blogs/travel sites that absolutely rave about it. It also helped that some friends confirmed it was feasible for unfit people.
Yet here’s where the challenge comes in:
Cueva de las Manos is outside the tiny town of Perito Moreno, which only has main buses to it a few times a week (and which we could not purchase online or at the large Buenos Aires bus station). Even once in Perito Moreno, you had to find transport out to the site (it’s a few hours away) – which also didn’t seem to exist online. Logistical challenge accepted!
The Cerro Fitzroy/Cerro Torre circuit is 30km, with the final ascent supposedly being one of the most difficult in South America (of public trails) – and we’re not hikers. We’re walkers – but urban, live in flat, few hills London. Sure, when travelling we’ll go on nature walks for a few hours, maybe a half day, but in our 13 years together we have never done a proper mountain hike. Erwan is usually allergic to significant exercise and Jen last hiked a mountain while living in Germany in 2002. Physical challenge accepted!
Ok, spoiler alert! We achieved both! But follow along anyways, because there’s some pretty cool photos. . .
As mentioned above, in Buenos Aires, we were unable to book the bus to Perito Moreno and thus, Cueva de las Manos. So, in the capital city, we just booked our travel to Mendoza and then Bariloche and hoped the rest would fall in place. And fortunately, it did fairly easily.
Once in Bariloche, on the free tourist map, we noticed that Chalten Travel was denoted on the Main Street – we read in a blog that this company has shuttles to Cueva de las Manos! So, on our first evening in Bariloche, we popped in. Not only was there a bus in three day’s time to Perito Moreno, but they could coordinate a minibus to Cueva de las Manos the day after and then a night bus to El Chalten – booked, booked and booked! Logistical challenged achieved! Now we just needed to go do it. . .
And we did – it was spectacular!
Not only did the day tour take in Cueva de las Manos, but also included a hike along the Rio Pinturas,
Where we saw these awesome hills. . .
Fun facts about Cueva de las Manos:
It is 9000 years old.
The pigment comes from the rocks like the coloured hill pictured above.
All the hands are left hands, as it’s thought they used the right hand to hold the blow gun that administered the paint.
Some hands had 6 fingers – can you find them?
It is thought that the hand painting was a coming of age ritual.
Less interesting facts about our day tour:
Jen practiced her Hamlet along the way, thanks to finding some old cow skulls. . .
Jen lost her sunglasses (we think they fell off her head when she tripped on a vine).
The day was pretty long thanks to the 2.5 hours’ drive out to site and some slow walkers on the hike. At least we saw some guanaco and choique along the way though. . .
On to the physical challenge!
Our night bus from Perito Moreno arrived in El Chalten admits rain and fog – good thing we weren’t planning on doing the hike that day. Instead, we used the day to rest, cover some admin, and set ourselves up for the hike the following day.
Sadly, that night, Jen didn’t sleep well. As some of you might know, Jen occasionally suffers from insomnia, where she wakes up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. And of course, it occurs the night before the physical challenge! It also didn’t help that we couldn’t get to sleep as early as we intended due to noise in the hostel (our room was just off the kitchen and Argentines eat dinner late).
Despite having only a few hours of sleep, we still head out for the hike at 7am. Our goal is to finish it in 12 hours, yet even if we were longer, due to how far south we are, we still had an additional 2.5 hours before sunset in order to get back.
Jen is already exhausted, but this is the only day for us to complete the hike, as the next day we have to head to El Calafate to meet her family – so we trudge on. Fortunately, she got her second wind about an hour in and was fine for the rest of the hike (or as much ‘fine’ as can be for 30 kilometres).
And thank god she did get her second wind – the hike was spectacular! Even though Cerro Torre was entirely in cloud while on its trail. . .
and Fitzroy was partial in cloud the whole time. . .
There were still photos opportunities everywhere!
And the air was so fresh! Like, breath in deep, savour it, Buddhist meditation level fresh.
The last kilometre was indeed tough – it took us an hour to climb!
And sadly, when we got to the very top, Fitzroy decided to be entirely in cloud and give us a bit of rain. That didn’t stop us from spending an hour exploring the lakes at the top and marvelling the glacier.
It also didn’t stop some hikers from skinny dipping. . .
Due to the rain, we also got some amazing rainbows on the descent.
Also going down, we started to feel the physical exhaustion. We definitely felt the pressure in our knees – particularly the last 5 kilometres through the woods.
After a nice break wading in the waters of Laguna Capri, we pushed on, however slowly we were now walking.
And at 6:45pm we finished! We made our goal of within 12 hours!
To celebrate, we went straight for drinks and dinner. We knew that if we headed back to the hostel first, we would just stay there exhausted and eat our crackers (the only food we had).
On the way down, we had briefly discussed what would be the perfect dinner after such a huge physical feat. Erwan just wanted another Argentinian steak; whereas Jen wanted Indian (after 3 months in South America, she was really craving a good Tikka Masala), with her next choices being either fajitas or a good solid veggie burger. They, of course, were all just hypotheticals since these choices are rarely found in Argentina, particularly a small town like El Chalten. Oh, ye of little faith! The restaurant that we went to had fajitas as one of the veggie options! Erwan of course still got his steak. . .
After dinner, we headed back to the hostel, where despite there still being noise from the kitchen, we fell asleep within minutes and slept a solid 12 hours. Jen does not remember when we last slept that long! Mission accomplished!
Fun facts about the Cerro Torre/Cerro Fitzroy:
We did it in 1 day, but many do it across 3 days, staying at the various campsites along the way (so carrying all their gear and food).
Even if staying in town, many hike the two trails across different days.
The final ascent of the Fitzroy goes up close to 500 meters in elevation in that 1 kilometre of hiking. It hurts the heart going up and hurts the knees going down – and Jen’s got a dodgy one (knee, not heart).
You can drink from all the streams you pass along the way – they are that pure. Many hikers (particularly the camping ones) filled up their water bottles this way. We didn’t know prior to setting out, so we were carrying around two 1 litre bottles of aqua.
Less interesting fact about our time in El Chalten:
Erwan picked out a microbrewery that he wanted to eat at the first night. However, he didn’t look up where it was in town and apparently, there’s a lot of places called La Cerveceria. Thus we went to the wrong place. The second night (at the end of the hike), we tried again, but still went to the wrong place. Third times a charm, but we were only there for two days. . .
Following from the above, the first mistaken restaurant was horrible. It was the only time in her life, Jen actually sent her food back. The cheese on her cannoli had gone off (she even had to google how to say this in Spanish).
The day after the hike, we had half a day to kill before our bus to El Calafate. Surprisingly Jen had energy to do the small hikes of Los Condores and Las Aguilas, which overlook the town (thanks 12 hours of sleep)! Erwan decided to opt out and thus, guarded the bags at the bus station (allergic to exercise).
Finally, whenever now faced with a challenge, Erwan confidently puffs up his chest and states “I hiked the Fitzroy.” And there are definitely more challenges to come on this trip. . .
The waiter’s cell phone rings. As he fishes it from his pocket and places it to his ear, he happily responds “Mutti!”, but then proceeds to speak to his mother in Spanish. This scene we witnessed completely sums up Bariloche – Argentinian, but for all the important things, Germanic at heart.
The town was settled by German and Swiss settlers in the late 19th century and much of the its businesses were started by or at least pay tribute to these early families. The waiter above was working in the Weiss family restaurant and the Weiss family name can be seen on countless other shops and establishments throughout the area. From walking around town and looking at shop signs, we think there were only four German speaking families that started the whole thing. . .
Due to this heritage, the town is known as “little Switzerland” and pretty much looks like a small alpine ski town – it helps that it’s located on a lake surrounded by mountains. It also has a huge focus on chocolate and beer (yum!) and is a hotbed for outdoor pursuits such as trekking, mountain biking and skiing (it hosts Cerro Catedral, the largest ski resort in South America). Sadly, to Jen’s disappointment, we weren’t there at the right time of year to hit the slopes.
However, a negative side to this heritage – Bariloche was also a haven for Nazis following World War II – with some theorists thinking Hitler and Eva Braun, themselves, escaped here and hid away until their natural deaths in the 1960s. Anyway, we weren’t there to go Nazi hunting (although that’d make an awesome blog post) – instead, we were there to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, eat chocolate and drink beer!
After an 18-hour bus ride (which was gorgeous – see post on Patagonian bus rides), we arrive in town in the early afternoon and head to our digs for the next few nights – Moving Hostel travel bar, which is a great place with super friendly staff and a pretty good breakfast selection.
Because we just came from Mendoza, where our time was spend drinking wine, we hadn’t fully prepared for our visit to the town. Thus, we spent the first hour chatting with one of the hostel workers, trying to figure out what we wanted to do. Thing is, we were there at the height of the summer season and our first idea to rent a car and drive around the seven lakes in the area was quickly deflated. The earliest we could rent a car was in three days, late on our last afternoon in town – no bueno – or actually, nicht gut.
Although there are bus tours that take you around the seven lakes, the idea of only being allowed out at pre-ordained viewpoints with 50 other people to take photos was not appealing to Jen. Plus, the first company that the hostel reception called to inquire about costs was already booked, so we figured not to pursue further.
Instead, like in Mendoza, we decided to reserve bikes for the next day and just do the Circuit Chico, which takes in parts of a few of the lakes. We had other ideas to enjoy the town, but wouldn’t book anything, as we were still hopeful that I car might become available for the day after.
With the next day planned, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon/evening wandering around town, enjoying its alpine village feel.
We also walked along the shores of Lago Nahuel Huapi, which was really, really windy at the time.
We started to get peckish (and thirsty), so we headed for dinner and our first beers in town at the Manush brewery. Erwan tried the IPA and Jen tried the Victoria. Both were good, a hoppy IPA, and a malty Ale, but did not make it to the Top 10.
For dessert, we headed to Rapa Nui, one of the many chocolate shops along the main street. And this place was a bit more special, because it had an ice-skating rink inside.
After Jen’s hot chocolate, Erwan’s chocolate beer and a few truffles, we called it a night.
The next morning (after our lovely hostel breakfast), we head to the bus stop to travel the 20 km (11 miles) to Circuito Chico Mountain Bike, the rental shop, which was at the start of the Chico Circuit. We find the bus stop easy enough, but the bus we need just drives right past – it was already full. The next one was also packed and drives right past. And the third. By this point we’ve already been waiting about 40 minutes, so we headed to the main square in town (which is two stops earlier), thinking we’ll be able to get on a bus there. Nope, that one drove right past as well. We’re a bit concerned, as we were told that the bike place could give up our reservation if we don’t get there by 10am and we know that we only have so much time to cycle the 30km of the circuit before we’d need to return the bikes.
As a side note, we learned later, that due to it being high tourist season, the buses are packed already at the other side of town, with all the campgrounds located in that area.
Jen saw two backpacker-looking girls (who were also disappointed when the last bus just drove past) flag down a taxi. Jen jumped in on the deal, asked where they are headed and if they would like to split the taxi. Turns out they were also renting bikes to cycle the circuit – perfect (although even with splitting the fare, we’d still have to pay $12 more than the bus $2 fare). The girls were two American nurses who were travelling around South America for three months – at the moment they were heading north through Argentina, having just come from El Chalten and then heading to Mendoza. We were doing the opposite.
We arrived at Circuito Chico Mountain Bike, and it’s a slick operation – way more professional than any of the other places we rented from so far on the trip – proper safety equipment and demonstration, a presentation and map of the circuit, a number to call for pick up if you don’t want to continue. As part of this, they advised to cycle the circuit clockwise. This is interesting, as Jen had read on blogs to go counter clockwise. Hmmmm, neither give a reason on why to go either way. . . The presentation also warned us that the route is hilly, or in their words “it is never flat, always up or always down”.
After getting the presentation and testing our bikes, we headed off – in the clockwise direction (like proper Germans, we’re good little citizens and follow the instructions from authority).
The trail starts out fairly easy, as it’s mostly downhill to get to the first good vantage point – a bridge crossing the first lake.
However, after that, it’s uphill. For awhile – seriously awhile. However, it’s worth it because at the top is probably the best view of the circuit.
Sadly, we got there at the same time as two tour buses, so it was packed with people and getting the photographs took some time.
Continuing on the trail, we arrived at another brewery – Patagonia. Good thing we stopped by – not only do they have a fantastic view, but they also provided us with a ski bench from which to enjoy it.
As it’s a fairly common beer found throughout the country, we’ve had Patagonia before and we knew what we wanted to order. However, when Erwan asked the bartender for our Bohemia and Kiine, his response was “I don’t like serving beers that you can get in bottles.” We, thus, found out about all the brews that they had solely at the brewery and tried 4 of those – Oktober Fest, Ginger Bell, Double IPA, and Pilon Pana. Oktober Fest was a red ale, which was easy to drink. Ginger Bell was a refreshing lager with a hint of ginger as an after taste – very original. Pilon Pana was supposed to be a local fruit beer, but we could not tell what it was and it was a bit disappointing. However, the Double IPA at 9% made it to our Top 10 on this trip, so far…?
Well oiled, we hit the road and decided to cycle off the route for the 8 km, trek to Colonia Suiza, a small village, also inhabited originally by Germanic immigrants.
In particular, our cooking teachers in Buenos Aires had advised us of a good restaurant in the village, where we could get Curanto, the traditional food of the area, which is meat cooked on hot stones – Erwan was intrigued.
The village, is also known for its market, but sadly it is only on Wednesday and Sunday (we were there Friday). We knew that the market wouldn’t be going on, however we thought the restaurant would be a good bet for lunch and thus thought nothing of the additional distance that we then had to cycle.
When we get to the village, sure enough, the market isn’t going on, however there’s still tourists milling about.
After a cycling the main drag, we don’t see the recommended restaurant and thus asked for directions. Yet there are more tourists than actual villagers milling about, so nobody knows it. It also doesn’t help that everything in the village is named Goye (pronounced Goche) so even the locals we came across aren’t sure to which we are referring. After a few frustrating cycles along all the side roads in the village, we found our place. However, as it’s not market day, they weren’t serving Curanto. To make matters worse, on non-market days they have a very limited menu, with the only vegetarian item being fried potatoes. Not exactly the grand meal, we had in mind. . . Nonetheless, considering we had just cycled all the way to and throughout the town it in search of this place, we stay and have the menu del dia (Rainbow Trout), with fried potatoes for Jen. . .
All this additional cycling made us tired. By the time we get back to the main circuit, we were exhausted. And yet, we were only about a third done! Furthermore, with the side diversion and lunch, we now only had three hours to return the bikes before they closed.
We got to cycling and only stopped at the viewpoints quickly to take photos (fortunately there are no more big tour buses), so it was a bit easier. And they weren’t lying when they said it wasn’t flat. Unfortunately, it also felt like it was more uphill than down. . .
We do take a bit more of a rest at Bahia Lopez, but even that was only about 10 minutes.
Shortly after, we get to the Llao Llao Hotel – a posh hotel (again in chalet style), which we heard has good afternoon tea.
This is about 2/3s through the route. Thinking about how shattered we are, we decided that rather than push ourselves to finish the route (and probably no longer get enjoyment from it), we’ll stop here, enjoy an afternoon tea and then call the bike company for a pick-up. We had already splurged earlier with the taxi, so why not go for broke with the additional pick up charge?
As we walked through the reception of the hotel, it is clear that we were fish out of water. Two sweaty, probably smelly, helmeted cyclists wearing dirty shoes amidst a lovely grand hotel and its even grander guests. They allowed us in regardless – however not for tea – we had to book that in advance. Thus, they seated us in the grand lobby, where they allowed us to order hot chocolate for Jen and a beer for Erwan (Cervezeria Blest Raspberry).
After which, the reception even called the bike company to pick us up (probably thinking good riddance). We get picked up and the driver turns out to be a local guy, who in the winter is a ski instructor and former racer and actually taught throughout the world, including the US, Canada, France, Andorra and Switzerland. On the way back we also realise why they suggested going clockwise. The part we didn’t cycle was the least interesting bit – no viewpoints, with the street mostly lined with little cottage industries, tourist shops and cafes. Still not sure why the blogs suggest hitting this part first – if we had done so, we would have been exhausted by the time we got to all the good views (if we would have gotten to them at all).
After dropping off our bikes, we fortunately arrived just in time to catch a bus back (they come only every 20 minutes), however it was pretty packed and we have to stand the whole way.
After some quick naps, we headed out to dinner – but there was a problem. Jen’s dodgy knee was acting up and she couldn’t put any pressure on it. With Jen limping along, we thus, decided to go to the closest place to the hostel – a pizzeria (still very good due to Argentina’s many Italian immigrants). After dinner, we got some ice from the hostel staff for Jen’s knee, raised it, took some ibuprofen and hoped it gets better. Jen also had a brief online chat with her sister, Linda, a physical therapist, to see if it could be anything serious. Linda suggested the same three things we were already doing. . .
Fortunately, after a solid 8 hours of sleep, the knee feels better the next morning, so we could still play around town – yay! For our second day, our plan was a boat ride in the morning out to Victoria Island and then a ride up Cerro Campanario for the panoramic view, before maybe taking in some more breweries.
We booked the boat ride through our hostel and it turned out to be a lovely day for it. The best part was that we were constantly followed by seagulls, who were quite happy to be fed along the way. . .
Our first stop on the boat ride was Bosque de Arraynes, which has a forest of the arrayan, a very unique looking tree with multi trunks of orange color.
It is supposedly the forest that inspired Bambi – although we understand that this is something they just tell the tourists. It doesn’t stop them from having a cute, picturesque cottage, in front of which you can get professional photographs. . .
After a quick wander through this forest, we reboarded the boat to head to Victoria Island. The island has a beach and various hiking trails. However, when we arrived, we realise that it is already 1pm – how is this a half day tour? We inquire further and it turned out we were actually booked on the full day tour, which doesn’t get back until 5pm. This would be too late to get to the top of Cerro Campanario, as the cable car closes at that time. We explained our dilemma to the boat staff and it turned out our only options were to wait out the tour, or head back right at that moment with another boat. As we really wanted to see the panoramic view from the mountain, we choose to head back. So, we only experienced the dock of Victoria Island and its views. . .
Once back at port, we caught the bus to Cerro Campanario. Well, at first we tried to hitchhike as it seemed the bus was taking forever. Nobody picked us up, and then the bus finally came.
At Cerro Campanario, we learned that the cable car to the top is actually a chairlift. It felt so strange to be on one without skis, but up we went.
And thank god we did – the views were stunning!
With our fill of landscapes, we headed back into town, stopping at the Berlina brewery along the way to test a few of their specialities (we recommend their IPA).
After a quick rest at the hostel, we then went out to dinner at Family Weiss restaurant, which is where this blog post started. It’s a restaurant that specialises in fondue and all things Swiss. Mmmmmmm. . .
Fondue, hot chocolate, beers, beautiful landscapes, cycling – what more could you ask for in 3 days? Danke schoen Bariloche!
With its semi-arid, mountainous landscape, Patagonia is home to a few unique animals. Thing is, for much of our time travelling through the countryside, we were on a bus (see previous post). Yet, despite being on a double decker cruising along at 60mph, we were still able to catch glimpses of some of the native fauna. . .
Guanaco – sort of a cross between a llama and deer. These were Jen’s favourites and the roads even have guanaco crossing signs (we at first mistook them for llama crossings). You can spot one of these signs in a foot selfie in the previous post. . .
Choique – a Patagonian ostrich. We didn’t see as many of these as the guanaco. And even when we did, they were usually running at top speed away from the bus, so the pictures weren’t great.
And finally, like in many arid climates, we were even able to see an armadillo. It helped that the bus was stopped at this point. . .
Of course, the best wildlife we saw in Patagonia were the penguins and sea lions in Ushuaia – that’ll need to be a whole other post – coming soon, we promise. . .
Due to budget and a sense of adventure, for our month in Argentina, we travelled mostly by bus. Plus, we heard that Argentinian buses were lush. Forget the recycled school buses of Panama (November 23rd post) or the simple bus fare offered in Ecuador (December 17th post), Argentina knows how to get the masses around by the road in style. And they do big time. When we went to the bus station in Buenos Aires to plan and book some of the journeys, there were over 200 companies to choose from – some serious competition. And competition is great for the consumer. . .
Firstly, there’s the super comfy seats, which come in three different price ranges:
Executive, fully reclining (180 degrees) – obviously the most expensive.
Semi-cama, decent reclining (130-140 degrees – still better than a flight) – cheapest option
The first two of the above are only 3 across the bus, so plenty of width as well, whereas semi-cama is the normal 4 across. Because of the seat cosiness, night buses are the norm in Argentina. Despite our hesitations due to Jen having problems sleeping on overnight flights and then being exhausted the next day, we were going to go try them out. Particularly as it also combines travel and accommodation costs – score!
In addition to the comfy seats, the buses also provide meals on board. Albeit it’s not the best food, but it’s on par with airline fare – dinner even comes with wine. There’s also Wi-Fi (although usually spotty/sometimes not working) and a personal entertainment system, with plenty of movies to choose from.
And finally, there’s the landscapes that you pass. And that’s what this blog is really all about. . .
Buenos Aires – Mendoza (15 hours, cama)
For our first journey, we were just amazed at the comfy-ness of it. This was the only bus we booked in Buenos Aires – partly because it would be an experiment to see how we coped with a night journey. But it passed the test – after watching a movie and having dinner, Jen got a good night’s sleep! She even slept through the storm outside! We were converted – buses it shall be!
However, as it was a night bus, there wasn’t much of a view – we did get to see a wonderful sunset though. . .
Mendoza – Bariloche (18 hours, executive)
Ah! The bus journey that originally inspired this post! While it was the longest of all of them, much of it was overnight – when we didn’t photograph anything. But then the journey continued for the whole morning and it was gorgeous! GOR.GE.OUS! Naturally, Jen went completely photo crazy.
This journey also inspired us to put “Argentinian road trip” on our list of future travel destinations – that way Jen won’t have to take shots from the top deck of a bus going 60 mph. Most specifically, we would want to drive along Route 40, which is basically Argentina’s version of Route 66 (throughout our journey, we met a few motorcyclists doing this journey). However, considering how many times we’d stop for photo ops, I think we’d need a much longer time for that drive.
Oh, and one more thing about this bus trip – in the evening, just before dinner, we had a rousing game of bingo. Sadly, we did not win. The prize was a bottle of Malbec. . .
Bariloche – Perito Moreno (12 hours, cama)
This was our first journey that was solely during the day. And it was the whole day – we left at 6:30 am and arrived at 6:30 pm. While at first we were bummed that we would spend an entire day on a bus, we were able to book front row, top deck seats! The scenery was amazing and in the front row, it was like watching an Imax panorama screen. Granted, our neighbour didn’t appreciate it as much and often had all the curtains drawn on his side – boo!
With the great seats, and the many hours to kill (particularly as she can’t read on moving vehicles), Jen started her own little project of documenting the journey via foot selfies. We won’t bore you with all of them, but here’s a selection. . .
She took some normal shots as well. . .
Perito Moreno – El Chalten (10 hours, semi-cama)
This was the only bus that was entirely overnight. The bus left at 9.30pm and arrived around 7:30am. Thus, we slept for most of it. And even when we were awake, it was pitch black and you couldn’t see a thing.
However, we did wake up about 30 minutes prior to pulling into El Chalten and got a few early morning light shots.
But then the clouds rolled in. As you enter the town, you are supposed to get an amazing view of Mt. Fitzroy, which looks something like this (photo taken from the interwebs).
It was raining when we arrived, so sadly we did not see the mountain, however we did get a lovely rainbow. . .
PS – even though this was only a semi-cama, Jen was still able to sleep – yay!
PPS – we found the beginning of the rainbow. . .
El Chalten – El Calafate (3 hours, semi-cama)
The shortest of the journeys, but what it lacked in time, it made up for in beauty.
As the crow flies, the two towns aren’t very far, yet because of glaciers and mountains in the way, the route to take is around Lago Viedma and Lago Argentino and both are gorgeous.
El Calafate – Ushuaia (ok, we cheated and flew, 1.5 hours)
For this part of the trip, we were travelling with Jen’s sister, Linda and her husband, Lando (together they are Lindo). As they only had a little over a week to travel with us, they weren’t keen on spending a full day on a bus. Thus, the flight. It still had some good scenery though – at least flying out of Calafate (where the airport is right next to the lake.
We arrived in Ushuaia under dense cloud, which only cleared just before we landed. Pity we couldn’t see more as it’s also supposed to be a beautiful all around, as it’s right on the Beagle Channel. . .
Ushuaia – Punta Arenas (12 hours, semi-cama)
This was our first bus across a border (we planned to do it from Brazil to Argentina in Iguacu, but ended up taking a shared taxi instead). Thus, we had the required everyone off the bus on the Argentinian side, drive a few miles, then everyone off again on the Chilean side. Oh and sniffer dogs to go through everything. . .
It was also the only time of taking a ferry – which was pretty cool as it was to get across the Magellan Strait.
The landscape was flat and standard for this journey (or at least the part where Jen was awake with camera ready. However, there were a few frontiersy type structures. . .
And finally, we’ll end with a some other shots from day trips on the road within the towns. . .
It was the best of times, it was the. . . Nah, we’re just going stick with that first part – we’re in wine country! Mendoza, Argentina – home to the Malbec – how can it be anything other than good times?! That being said, for our few days there, we still had two very different experiences of the wine country – one of rich traveller and one of poor traveller. Rich traveller, because sometimes when in a place that you may never visit again, you just need to live large for the experience (however briefly). And then poor traveller, because budget, you know.
Before we get to the two, just a note on how we got to wine country to begin with – we took a 14-hour bus. A 14-hour bus! The journey from Buenos Aires began our bus tour around the country. Now this sounds like it would fit in the poor traveller camp, but it turned out to be a bit of both, because the buses in Argentina are lush! Fully reclining seats, meals served on board (OK they’re not that tasty), personal entertainment systems with plenty of movies to choose from, and great countryside views (we’ll touch more on this in a future post). So, our 14-hour journey to Mendoza just flew by, particularly as it was overnight. And Jen was actually able to get a full night rest! She can’t sleep on planes, but on Argentine buses? Si chico!
Ok, back to being a rich traveller. . .
Once we arrived in Mendoza, we took another hour bus to Tupungato, which is in the Uco Valley – one of the more recent winery areas outside Mendoza, but full of small boutique bodegas. And we’re staying at one of them – Tupungato Divino! And it is posh! And we have our own cabin – one of only eight and it looks out to not just the vines, but the Andes Mountains. And I mean, look at it!
After settling in and noticing the nice little touches like three spare bottles of wine in the nightstand (way better than finding a King James there), we head to the vineyard restaurant for lunch.
It wasn’t just any lunch though – it was a 3 hour, 4 course, 5 wine lunch – lush! There was Malbec, there was Torrentes, there was some Pinot Noir (the best Jen has had for a while – Oregon, watch out!), oh there was also some food that Erwan liked; there was Just. So. Much. Goodness!
At this point, it’s probably worth reminding our reader that Erwan doesn’t drink wine. Although, he will taste it, and being French (and having to take a wine appreciation course at business school in Paris – only in France, right?!), he knows his stuff. He just doesn’t really enjoy drinking wine and thus, leaves it to those that do – like Jen. So, during lunch, Erwan would taste the wine (maybe twice, to get a full test), but then pass the glass to Jen. Therefore, by the end of the lunch, it’s fair to say that she was a bit tipsy.
Not to worry, the rest of the afternoon was spent just relaxing by the vineyard pool.
After a couple hours in the sun, Jen thought it might be nice to have another glass of Torrentes – it’s perfect for a nice, sunny day. So, she asked Erwan to order one for her – he comes back with a bottle, because “it was the same price as two glasses, so might as well”. Now, Jen has even more to drink and although it was really good, finishing it took a while and felt a bit chore-like (I know, life is tough). Yet Petit George was there to help her out. . .
After a nap by the pool, the Torrentes was drunk into the evening and over dinner, which was much smaller, as we were still full from lunch.
After dinner, Jen only had enough energy to attempt a few star photos (which didn’t come out very well – big surprise, considering Jen’s state) and head back to the cabin for bed.
The next day we woke up to this view.
And then we just stared at it for a while. Jen was also a little bit hung over, so that would explain a bit of her excessive staring.
Sadly, however, within an hour, the Sonda started, which is a huge dry windstorm that comes down from the Andes, blowing sand everywhere. Thus, relaxing by the pool in the morning (which was the original plan), wasn’t going to be pleasant. Instead, we relaxed in our plush room – not too bad still.
Then it was noon and we had to check out. The time of rich traveller was over and it was back to Mendoza, where we checked into a hostel. We had booked a private room in the hostel, but they were out, so they gave us a dorm room all to ourselves. Oh, the choices of bed!
The next day began the full poor traveller experience – but we were in wine country, so there was plenty of fun and Malbec to be had. Now when in Mendoza city, the rich traveller, or even the middle-class traveller, would simply book one of the many day tours offered throughout the city, which take you to 4 or 5 vineyards in the surrounding area. You just need to sit back on the tour bus and be ferried to the places where you are told to drink. Not the poor traveller. We took a public city bus out to Coquimbito, where there are several vineyards. Not far from where the bus dropped us off, thanks to Hugo Bikes, we rented some old beach cruisers for the day and were off!
Now the Uco Valley was beautiful countryside in the shadow of the looming Andes mountains. In contrast, the vineyards of Coquimbito, were more interspersed amongst industrial suburbia – still with the Andes looking on though. Thus, cycling amongst the vines on the winery estates was lovely; in between them was more a commuter experience.
Regardless, that day, our legs cycled 25 kilometres, covering 5 wineries for tastings (Domicianio, Trapiche, Mevi, Bodega Tempus Alba, and Vina el Cerno) and a microbrewery for lunch (Erwan needed to drink some too).
As per usual, at the tastings, Erwan would take a sip and then pass the rest to Jen. Yet, despite drinking for two, Jen is not the one that passed out at the last place. . .
All the cycling and drinking obviously tired us out. So back in the city, we went for an early dinner and despite only being a 10-15-minute walk from our hostel, with our drunken exhaustion, we took a cab back – a small moment of richness in the poor traveller day.
Day two of being a poor traveller! And today we didn’t even spring for bikes! We took another public bus out to Maipu, where we walked between the wineries.
To be fair, it was only two vineyards (Giol and Lopez) and a museum. Fun fact for the day, Giol was state owned under the military dictatorship, and was therefore, the daily wine on every table across Argentina.
Despite being a poor traveller day, at our last estate (Lopez), we decide to splash out a bit and eat lunch in their restaurant. It sounds lush (and it was food and drink wise), but considering we were at source, the prices were still reasonable – here’s Jen’s face upon realising a glass of the brut reserve was only 2 dollars. . .
After the lunch (and tasting), we head back into town via the local commuter train in time to catch our evening/night bus out of town. It was time to continue our bus tour of Argentina!
The train ride back truly was the best of times and the worst of times. Worst of times because our fun in Mendoza were now at an end, but best of times, because we were on our way to Bariloche – chocolate, beer and lakes, here we come! Stay tuned!
We loved Buenos Aires. I mean we loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED it. LOVED IT!
I know we rave about lots of places where we travel, but the Argentine capital is the only place we’ve been on this trip, to which we would want to move. Sure, we would go back to lots of places, spend more time, visit for another week, etc, but for Buenos Aires, if London ever gets us down (Brexit?), we could seriously see ourselves upping sticks and settling there.
A lot of this sentiment just comes from the ‘feel’ of a place and is a bit difficult to fully describe or get across via some words on a screen. However, below we try and thus, list out the eight main reasons why we want to move to Buenos Aires.
Firstly, we should explain the frame of mind when we got to the city. We spent a little over a week in Buenos Aires, beginning at the end of December. It was the last part of our trip that was planned from London and after two months of largely go, go, go, we booked eight days in an Airbnb flat, thinking such a length of time would be nice to enjoy the city leisurely, relax a bit and take care of some admin (for instance, planning the next couple of weeks). And we were largely able to do this – we even spent almost a whole day doing not much thanks to a late night out (us oldies stayed out past 3am!) and a bit of a hangover.
Ok, so the reasons we would move to Buenos Aires. . .
1. Great neighbourhoods
As stated previously on this blog, we are city people, with Jen being a card carrying urban dork. Thus, we love exploring city neighbourhoods. Jen loves the architecture and the street art; Erwan loves figuring out the transport and sampling the cafes and restaurants; and both of us love just urban wandering, soaking up the vitality of a place.
We also like it when a city has so many different neighbourhoods – creating a varied, yet rich tapestry of places to explore – and that sums up Buenos Aires.
Firstly, there’s Recoleta (where we stayed), with it grand Belle Époque mansions and its swanky apartment complexes, you’d think you were walking around the 16th arrondissement of Paris. One of Erwan’s friends, who used to live in BA, upon hearing that we had booked a flat here, told us that as an area it was posh and boring. To which, Erwan replied, “after Rio, that’s exactly what we need.”
And yes, the area, was posh, but we dispute the boring bit – while the luxury shopping street of Avenida Alvear, was a bit dead (supposedly the Champs Elysees of South America, but the only similarity when we were there was the expensive brands of Cartier and the like), the rest of the place was still quite fun to explore. The area had tons of cute little (if pricey) boutiques, plenty of people out and about (including the friendly doormen of the swanky flats) and the best street furniture we’ve encountered on this trip with these little numbers. . .
Recoleta also has the most beautiful cemetery to explore (appropriately called Recoleta Cemetery). It’s famous because Evita is buried there, but more so it just has fantastically designed tombs – mostly classical in style, but several were art nouveau or even Modernist. . .
Finally, everywhere you went you would also see professional dog walkers with herds of pooches. Turns out, in BA this is a full on professional job that doesn’t just include walking, but grooming and general care as well – with many of the individuals being trained as vets.
Next to Recoleta, was Retiro, which is similar in style, but a little bit more edgy in feel – particularly around the bus terminal. It also had a few more art deco buildings than Recoleta and another grand shopping street, Calle Florida – but one more populated, as it catered more to the average folks’ wallet.
Retiro also had a few more monuments – including two that create an international standoff. There’s the Torre de Los Ingleses (English Tower) – basically a gift from the UK to celebrate the city’s 100th birthday years ago. However, during the Falklands War, many wanted the tower to go. Decorum won out, but instead, directly opposite the tower, they erected the memorial to commemorate the Argentine soldiers that died in the war.
South of Retiro and Recoleta and connected to them via the grand boulevard of Avenida 9 de Julio (huge monumental axis in Jen’s architectural speak), was Centro.
This is basically where all the government and institutional buildings are – including the Casa Rosada (pink house), the residence of the president.
Like a lot of capital cities, this area is interesting to see for the history and architecture, but didn’t quite have the life on the streets as some of the other areas. It probably didn’t help that we were there on January 1st, so a lot was closed and the streets were pretty dead. At least there were fewer people in Jen’s photographs. . .
Between Centro and the water, is Puerto Madero area. To be fair, we didn’t get a chance to see this place during the day, but came here on New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks.
It seems similar to many reclaimed urban docklands – pedestrian paths around the water, old warehouses turned into restaurants and flats and the large cranes looming overhead to ensure one recalls the area’s history.
Like many such places, Puerto Madero appeared a bit overly sanitised from its industrial past and we heard could be quite dead to walk around during the day – however we never found out. . .
Compared to the deadness of Centro and (maybe) Puerto Madero, San Telmo, was anything but – street performers, tango dancers in the squares, and a lively little market that stretches along one long street (mostly on Sundays). Whereas Recoleta and Retiro, were quite established neighbourhoods, San Telmo, was hipster South American style – fun little cafes, trendy boutiques and run-down buildings that have been given only a slight make over.
Yet, even edgier is the area of Boca. With its famous soccer stadium, colourful streets of corrugated metal buildings, and restaurants that spill out into the street, it was quite a vibrant place.
However, it has a bit of a bad rap or as the locals, say of an area – it’s a bit picante (spicy). We were warned not to go to this area at night and following Rio, we duly complied. We saw a bit of the area on our own, based on the warnings, we booked a street art tour to explore it further. The tour not only came with a guide, but also a security guard. The area didn’t seem too bad, but these reputations can be hard to beat – we enjoyed it none the less. . .
And the final neighbourhood, we explored – Palermo, which due to its size is actually a few different neighbourhoods rolled into one. Some of Palermo is similar to Recoleta with expensive new flats and nice, tree lined streets. However, there is also Palermo Soho – a trendy, gentrified area of chic boutiques, hip eateries and cool street art, including this very topical one. . .
There’s Palermo Viejo – similar to the Soho part, but not quite as cutting edge and a bit calmer at night. And Palermo Hollywood – so named because there’s a lot of cinema arts companies here – although from our experience it felt more residential. Palermo was also where most of the big parks (including the rose garden and the botanical garden) and the pretty cool MALBA museum or Museum of Latin Art.
With all these different neighbourhoods, we were spoilt for choice and thus spent hours just wandering around, exploring – and we probably didn’t even scratch the surface of the city. We loved it! With the varied immigration history of the country and city, some parts of it felt distinctly European, with others feeling distinctly South American. Yet all of it was wonderful and we could not get enough. Thus, we would love a chance to live in the city and truly get to know the neighbourhoods better.
2. Urban parks
While we like the urban, it doesn’t mean that all we like is bricks, concrete, and steel. In fact, all of our favourite cities are very green – cue Buenos Aires’s tree lined boulevards, little green plazas with their shady playgrounds and dog parks and, of course, the large, lush urban parks (particularly in the Palermo district). True some areas are greener than others (Palermo and Recoleta vs. Boca and San Telmo), but we were impressed with the level of vegetation everywhere.
The greenery is particularly demonstrated in the private gardens between flats. Despite the dense city blocks and the small distance between flats, there would still be fully grown trees in private gardens – as seen from our Airbnb flat’s balcony. . .
And even in the neighbourhoods where there was less space for full gardens, there would be plants, herbs, and even some veggies, growing from terraces and balconies. As urban gardeners, we love this!
3. The best bookstore in the world
Jen’s favourite bookstore used to be Powell’s in Portland – not only is it big (largest in the world?), but it has so many fun little nooks and crannies to explore or settle with a good read (oh and the antiquities room is pretty cool). Well, move over Powell’s, cause Jen’s got a new favourite book store – El Ateneo!
El Ateneo is in a former theatre and upon entering it is just majestic – just look at it!
And it makes full use of the various parts of the theatre. Several balconies are little reading nooks and the stage is now the café area.
We spent a morning perusing the shelves (good design section, albeit in Spanish) and enjoying some coffee (hot chocolate for Jen) in the café – if we lived here, this would be her second home.
To prove the point, when we returned to Buenos Aires briefly to catch a cruise to Antarctica, the first place we visited was El Ateneo. It was a Friday night – we know how to roll large. . .
Ah empanadas! If either of us were poets, we would have written several lovely little odes to these tasty little morsels of goodness. We are not poets, so this section of the blog will have to be enough. . .
We have eaten empanadas in several places on this trip, yet our favourite have been in Buenos Aires by far. Not only does the city host the restaurant with the best empanadas EVER (Sanjuanimo in Recoleta), but even at average little hole in the wall cafes, we had good quality empanadas. We, thus, ate empanadas every day that we were in Buenos Aires – either for lunch or as a snack.
Thus, during the week, when we found a class teaching us how to make these yummy packages of joy, we jumped at the chance.
At the class, we not only learned how to make empanadas,
but also flan and dulce de leche.
Oh, and it was all paired with a wine tasting of three different Argentinian wines (more on that below). We also learned a few tidbits about the national treat:
While there’s always the usual fillings of carne, queso, etc, this varies by the region and traditionally, fillings were based on whatever was available (it being a ‘working man’s food’). Therefore, in the wine region, you will find empanadas with grapes in them; in areas by the sea, you will get seafood ones; and in places in the lake region, you will have various river fish, like trout.
The way an empanada is folded should denote the filling inside. We only learned two folding techniques (the one for carne and the one for vegetables), but there’s always YouTube for the others. . .
At the class, Erwan was also able to show off his culinary skills. While we were kneading the dough, one of the other participants, impressed with his technique, asked if he had ever worked at Dominoes. . .
Even if we never move to Buenos Aires, we will now be celebrating International Empanada Day (April 8th) every year. . .
5. Wine and steak
Sticking with the culinary theme, Buenos Aires is fantastic for wine and steak. Now together we only enjoy this combination as a single person – Jen, as a vegetarian, doesn’t eat the steak and Erwan, as a broken Frenchman, doesn’t drink wine.
Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying our respective part. Erwan had a steak almost every day we were in the city. I mean, you can’t really come to Argentina and not do so – the culture is pretty much entwined with beef and the different ways to grill it. Whether you choose Bife de Chorizo (Loin) or Oro de Bife (Ribeye), Argentinian will always cook it to perfection, with just salt rub and little (or nothing) else. The meat is so tender, it just melts in your mouth – nom, nom, nom. And with portions between 400 and 600g, you feel stuffed at the end of the meal. Erwan always talked of having a steak as long as his forearm, and Buenos Aires delivered beyond expectations. Although, he claims that his favourite steak was actually in Puerto Iguazu (yet, this might be because it was the first he had in Argentina).
However, despite all this meaty-ness, the city still had a few really nice vegetarian cafes or restaurants that we checked out – particularly in the trendy neighbourhoods of San Telmo and Palermo.
As for the wine, oh, the Malbec! Like Erwan’s steak, Jen had wine everyday (pretty much every day in the country, not just the city) and much of it was Malbec.
Yet she also learned of two other great Argentinian wines:
Torrentes (which interestingly, is actually the only native grape to the country) – makes a lovely light, crisp white that’s perfect for hot days
Carmenere – a red that’s similar to a Petit Verdot
Not only was the wine good, but also quite cheap (although not as cheap as some of the bottles you’ll find in Italy) – a very good bottle could be had for $10-$15. Perfect for when we live here!
Ok, here’s where we differ in opinion. Jen likes the Tango and Erwan, well not so much. Yet, even he realised that when in Buenos Aires, the home of the Tango, one needs to check it out. So, we booked our lesson in conjunction with one of the many evening tango shows.
From the lesson, we learned the very basic steps and we’re proud to say that we both graduated. . .
We then watched the tango show and while, Jen enjoyed it and Erwan didn’t, we both admit that it’s quite touristy.
Instead, we preferred the milonga – where the average Argentine actually goes to dance. These traditionally are held in a plaza in the afternoon (for the older generation) or at a dance hall late at night (most get started around midnight). Given the late hour, we only went once, but we got to show off our new skills to the friends who joined us.
Jen also danced with a few other partners that were much happier to oblige than Erwan (particularly as one was a tango instructor looking for new clients). Although, as it was a holiday week, it wasn’t as crowded as it supposedly normally is. We’ll just have to come back. . .
Did you know that the Argentines are the best in the world for polo? Neither did we, but while there, we learned that just like golf, players get handicap ranking, 10 being the best handicap. Argentina has the most players in the world with 10 handicap. Thus, to avoid Argentina winning all international tournaments, there is a cap at 36 on combined handicap a team can have – basically, it’s like asking a football team to field at least 2 amateurs, because the rest of their team is that good.
With this dominance in mind and knowing it was one of the national sports, when we found an opportunity to watch and then learn to play polo, for probably a fraction of the price of doing so in the UK, we had to take it. Our polo day was one of the best we spent in the city. We were taken out to a beautiful ranch, just outside the city, where we were fed excellent empanadas (here we go again) and watched a professional polo match (when Erwan made a new friend).
We then had an asado lunch (more steak for Erwan) and then got to the business of learning how to play.
And how fun it was! And unlike tango, both of us loved it! Neither of us were very good, as you can see from this video, the US Polo Association won’t be calling Jen up any time soon.
However, in the match that we played with the other participants, both of us scored, despite Jen’s horse, Picante (named by Jen, as she couldn’t pronounce his real name), not really wanting to move half the time (although he found his speed when we went for a ride following the game). In the end, Jen’s team won and we then went and relaxed by the ranch’s pool with some wine.
Such a fun game! We have no idea how we will play it again, as a horse is pretty near impossible to keep in London, so again, a reason to move to Buenos Aires. . .
8. Friendly people
And finally, the friendly people of Buenos Aires – after all they’re the true reason the city is buzzing and so alive with life. And they’re great! Everyone seemed to be really friendly and generally happy – from the uber drivers, to the door men, to just average people on the street. People were always ready to give each other help when needed – for little things or for instance when during New Year’s Eve, when couple of people were trying to set off a floating lantern, about 10 other people immediately came to help get it in the air.
They all seem like great future neighbours. . .
So, to sum up Buenos Aires is awesome! And above are just the eight main points, we didn’t even mention the great ice cream (thanks to the numerous Italian immigrants), the plethora of small, local shops, cafes and restaurants that litter the city, the fact that any building older than 50 years old, would have its architect’s name inscribed near the entrance, or the Palacio Barolo, the fantastic urban office block, with a lighthouse on top that’s built full of allegories to Dante’s Divine Comedy and has beautiful internal design details.
Or all the other fun little public realm design treats we found. . .
Oh, such a great place! Even if we never move to the city properly, the next time we feel like we need some time out, instead of travelling around to a bunch of places, we’ll just rent a flat here for a few months. We’ll learn Spanish, we’ll tango and play polo, and we’ll eat, drink and be merry.
This is a pretty boring picture – a simple river and its tributary with not much in the way of discernible or beautiful landscape features.
However, in reality, it is kind of interesting, in that it shows three different countries. Straight ahead is Brazil, to the left is Paraguay and the bush in the foreground (and indeed from where the photo is taken) is Argentina. If one were to walk by this site unaware of the location, they would have no idea of the significance, were it not for a mini monument a block away. . .
We found it intriguing that such a mundane looking place was significant due to the man-made constructs of territories/countries/boundaries.
As for our travels, we only made it to the Argentinian and Brazilian sides – despite Erwan debating on whether we should just find a local fisherman to ferry us across to Paraguay, land our feet, take a selfie and claim we had been to the country.
And the reason, we only went to the Argentinian and Brazilian sides was due to a much more significant boundary – Iguazu (or Iguacu) Falls (see previous post). . .
Here it was spectacular even without the manmade concepts. . .