April 23, 2010
Our flight left Lima at around 11.30pm and arrived in BA at about 6am this morning, meaning that for the third night in a row we’d not had much sleep. Thankfully our taxi to the hostel was waiting for us and by 7 we were at the hostel and they found two beds for us. Unfortunately, the sheets weren’t agreeable with Elizabeth and made her sneeze and made her eyes itchy. She ended up getting no sleep and sitting in the lounge area and after a couple of hours sleep I joined her. At midday we got our rooms and had a couple of hours nap. Not wanting to oversleep and stay awake tonight, plus trying to get into the Argentine time frame (late lunches and dinners), we headed out for lunch around 3pm.
We walked through the main pedestrian areas, just four blocks or so from the hostel and found a decent restaurant offering a set lunch which looked pretty good. Not really understanding all the options, Elizabeth went with the chicken ravioli and I ordered something with a white wine sauce. Mine turned out to be a decent cut of steak with chips and was really filling. We also ended up with caramel ice cream for dessert and it was certainly a filling meal!
We had a walk around after lunch and visited a few stores, my jeans having decided to fall apart, but had no luck getting anything. We stopped at a grocery store and grabbed some local beer (Quilmes), a bottle of wine (a Lavague Malbec) and some water to keep us topped up at the hostel!
After a short nap and some hanging out, we headed out for dinner at around 9.30pm, about as late as we could last before gnawing our own knuckles! Having had a large lunch we headed out to a small Mexican place called the California Burrito Company and both had excellent burritos plus two beers for the price of one!
Back at the hostel we tried to stay up later than usual to get us into a different regime to fit in more with everything we want to do here – most museums don’t open until midday so there is little point being awake at 9am like we usually are! We decided to try the Quilmes beer and it was pretty good, tasting a little heavier than a plain lager but going down really well!
One really noticeable in the city is the rubbish and the homeless people. By day, the city is clean and easy to walk about and there isn’t a sign of begging anywhere. However, once the offices close they throw the waste from that day out into the roads and it is at this time that the homeless people come out and start ripping bags open to find anything they can salvage – from clothes to recyclable paper, bottles, glass, etc. The streets as we are heading to and from dinner each night are a mess, strewn with the contents of the bags. It is a sad situation that these people can only survive this way and there must be a way for the government to prevent this. It creates a bad environment for everyone in the city, although most of the locals seem oblivious to the mess around them as they go on their merry way to their dinner.
April 24, 2010
After a late night, we awoke at about 10am and got some breakfast at the hostel. While we had it we looked at the things we wanted to do and tried to it everything in with the different opening hours.
We headed today to two different museums and neither were very big nor took very long to visit. The first was the Museo Historico Nacional where we hoped to learn a bit about the history of the country. Unfortunately everything was in Spanish so after a long walk we breezed around the museum. We did at least stop and try and understand some of the stuff which is more than can be said of two girls we saw as we were leaving. The lady at reception was trying to tell them that the museum was free and which way to visit the exhibits but the two girls didn’t understand. One of them just blurted out “you’re going to have to speak in English”. Elizabeth and I found this completely ridiculous but Elizabeth told the girls where to go. We don’t speak a lot of Spanish, in fact I hardly speak any, but we are both trying to talk to and understand the locals in their own language. I think it is a huge part of travelling to try and understand the culture including the language. To say such things to people who are trying to help you is completely ignorant of these girls and you wonder why they even came to a foreign country if they only wanted English speaking! I bet they got even less from the Spanish only museum than we did!
After a nice sandwich for lunch we headed to the Museo Etnografico. Once again everything was in Spanish and despite it having only just opened when we arrived, we were advised to start at the top as these floors close first – the museum was supposedly open for another 5 hours so god knows how long they thought we were going to spend in there! As it was, we spent about half an hour and then had the rest of the afternoon to waste.
We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking around the shops, eventually buying me a pair of jeans to replace the ones I was wearing. I had long been overdue some new ones and finally the seams had started coming apart on these so I thought it best to get some new ones before they fell apart completely!
In the evening we went to a parilla for dinner. This is a steak house and Elizabeth and I both ordered steaks. My steak was lovely and was really tender and well cooked. Elizabeth on the other hand wasn’t happy with hers as it was too rare so she sent it back. When they came back again, the new piece was even more bloody and she didn’t eat it. I think they must have thought we were complaining that the first bit was overcooked rather than undercooked. Anyway, at the end we complained and had it taken off the bill. It was really a shame that it wasn’t what she’d expected especially as I felt I couldn’t even mention how good mine was as everything I said just annoyed her. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly a great evening!
April 25, 2010
Today was another real mixed bag and after another late start we headed out the same way as we had been yesterday towards the Museo Penitenciario. When we got there it was all boarded up but the road it was on was right in the middle of the market held every Sunday in the San Telmo district. We decided to investigate the market instead and there we picked up a couple more souvenirs, including an old soda bottle, a small picture and a hand-painted glass.
After an interesting lunch, where I’m sure the waitress was intending to throw the food on us rather than the table, we headed to the Plaza de Mayo and visited the pink coloured Casa Rosada. This is the government palace where Eva Peron made her speech from the balcony overlooking the square. Once again though, the tour was all in Spanish so while it was good to see the inside of the building we didn’t really know what the significance of each room was! The tour was only about 20 minutes long too so it wasn’t comprehensive by any means but at least it was free!
This left us to walk around the shops (again) for the third afternoon in a row and we ended up buying a new bag. The rucksack Elizabeth has for her hand luggage has started to fray at the seams, like so many other things (!), so we decided it was time to buy a new one.
Another quiet day was finished off with a lovely Italian meal at a restaurant called Broccolino. The pasta was freshly made and the sauces were really good, too. Mine was tomato, olives and ham and had a slight spicy kick to it. I was suitably stuffed by the time I reached my bed!
April 26, 2010
Today was another slightly frustrating day but it started off really well. We headed to El Zanjon, which was described as some kind of labyrinth of underground tunnels beneath the city. It wasn’t that at all, really, but it was really interesting and the guide was great. The building had been completely restored having previously been home to a wealthy family before becoming slim housing once Buenos Aires’ pollution problem became a problem and the rich moved away. In 1965 it was left empty before it was bought in 1985 to be turned into a restaurant. When the new owner started renovating he discovered a tunnel beneath the building and started investigating further. The tunnel linked the few buildings around the area and continued along the two waterways which met here. There may be a labyrinth of tunnels around the city but the site only had one which connected the building we were in and the hotel next door – they had yet to discover any further. The building was really well renovated and our guide was really enthusiastic and even gave us some good tips on places to eat in the city!
Unfortunately for lunch we didn’t pick one of those! We were walking along Defensa where we had been a few times now and each time we had seen a multitude of cafés full of people. We picked one which had a few customers and a decent menu and were presented with two beautifully microwaved “hot” sandwiches. We couldn’t believe that surrounded by lots of wonderful cafés we’d picked this craphole! Oh well, it was the only bad meal I’d had since arriving in South America (I think) so that’s a pretty good record.
After lunch we headed to La Bombonera, the football stadium which is home to Boca Juniors in the La Boca region of the city. The region isn’t the nicest area and I don’t think Elizabeth really realised where we were until we saw some of the colourful La Boca houses she’d seen on postcards. It was then she started telling me how the guidebook said the area wasn’t safe to walk around even in daylight but quite honestly it was no different to around lots of the stadiums in London. I hadn’t got to see a match at the stadium so I decided to pay to go inside and take some pictures. The stadium doesn’t look that big but on the wall inside the shop one particular picture makes it look a whole lot bigger, especially when full! The stadium was completely blue and yellow and the terracing was surrounded by barbed wire fences, something which is completely alien to most English football fans nowadays.
From there we walked back to San Telmo and headed for the Museo de Arte Moderno. Like so many other things we’ve tried to do here in the city it was closed for renovations. I believe the city is having the bicentennial this year and many of the museums were undergoing improvements for that celebration. This one however was a building site and I have no clue when it is supposed to reopen! Certainly not while we’re here!
As a consolation, we decided to seek out some ice cream, eventually settling on a café near to our hostel where I tucked in to some lovely dulce de leche and Elizabeth had the limon, which was a sort of creamy sorbet.
In the evening we took the advice of the woman at El Zanjon (and Anthony Bourdain, apparently) and ate pizza at El Cuartito. The name means “little room” but this place was pretty big inside but was packed. We’d gone earlier than usual and by 9pm there wasn’t a spare seat and they were queuing at the counter for takeaways! We ordered small pepperoni and spicy pizza and the two of them were much too big – we only ate about half of each despite them being very, very tasty (very doughy, also!) and took the rest back to the hostel for later!
April 27, 2010
We got up early this morning but didn’t have much planned for early on. We wanted to try a café near the hostel for lunch before hitting a couple more museums. For reasons unbeknown to us, pure curiosity maybe, we decided to just double check the opening times of our first museum stop. It was the Policia Federal museum and had originally been advertised as Tuesday to Friday, 2pm to 7pm. Given the last few days, we were not surprised to see this had changed to WEDNESDAY to Friday. Making a swift change of plans, we decided to leave the café for later and try and do some of our Wednesday activities today and leave those for today until tomorrow. Now, this might sound a little too organised but we have found that most museums here close for at least one day a week so we had tried to put everything on a day when it is actually open. It seems, however, museums in Argentina like to change this day off at a whim without telling anyone.
For the first time we used the subway here and it was really straight forward and cheap to boot! Our new first stop after our rearrangement was the Museo Evita which we were grateful to find open after a walk through the less-than-impressive botanic gardens. I wasn’t too bothered about this museum really but it was actually very good and very well presented. It had a lot of video clips of Eva Peron which really highlighted parts of her life I knew little about. It also bought the person to life so much better. The final video talked about her death, of course, but also about how her body was stolen and buried in a secret site in Milan after being cut and burned and tarred and beaten posthumously. I had never known this and it was only this video that explained all the relevant dates around the body being stolen and ultimately returned to Argentina. We had planned to see her grave here in Recoleta Cemetery and half way through the video I was wondering whether it would be an empty tomb. The museum of course depicted Eva Peron as a hero and a great person but the cynic in me did question some of her motives, and this was indeed heightened when the drama with her dead body was revealed. She must have done something disagreeable in life for someone to treat her so badly in death, surely.
After a fair old trek, we had lunch at a shopping centre called BA Design which seemed to house all the high end furniture stores of the city. The little café we stopped at for sandwiches was a million times better than yesterday and about the same cost. It still amazes me how shitty microwave café survives in a city where we’ve had such great food.
We had trekked over to this area to try and visit the Hard Rock Café and get another magnet. However, when we got there the only magnet they had looked bent and cheap yet didn’t come complete with the cheap price tag. We passed on this amazing deal and headed on.
Thankfully, there were other things in the area we wanted to see apart from Hard Rock so we headed to the first of those. After getting a bit lost and ending up inside the very impressive university building, we eventually found the Museo de Bellas Artes. According to the massive sign outside they were open but, yes you’ve guessed it, they were shut for the day. Monday was supposed to be their closed day but they obviously changed their minds, as is their want in this city.
Of course, being really organised and not at all frustrated, we had a backup plan and headed to MALBA – The Museo de Arte Latinamerico de Buenos Aires. Alas, this was also shut. Arrrgghhh!
We decided that those would both have to wait until tomorrow as they were both due to be pen then. They were supposed to be the two biggest and best art museums here so let’s hope they live up to that expectation when we finally get inside them.
As an almost last resort, we headed to the Recoleta Cemetery and found Evita’s grave. It was the one surrounded by tourists. We had a walk around too and were surprised that this cemetery was fully concrete unlike most where there is a healthy covering of grass and flowers. Each “site” here belonged to a family and each seemed to outdo the previous in extravagance and, most likely, cost too. Each crypt was like a marble house and many had elaborate statues outside. Part of me was left wondering how much money people had spent reserving their plots and building their tombs while many in the city starved and were homeless, as is still the case in fact as we’ve seen most evenings.
With mixed emotions of the day’s sights, we decided to find another of the recommendations made by the lady at El Zanjon yesterday and it was, in fact, the café we’d intended to have lunch at. The café was called Vesuvio and was mostly known for its hot chocolate and its ice cream. Elizabeth plumped for the hot chocolate, complete with churros, while I was way too hot having walked miles around the city so went for the nice cold ice cream option. I did feel particularly fat once I had fought through my pile of sweet, creamy goodness but no doubt tomorrow I’ll be back on my feet all day for no reward!
After lazing around the hostel for a couple of hours, neither of us were particularly hungry nor particularly had the energy to move very far so we decided to make use of our leftover pizza for dinner. It certainly wasn’t as good as last night but it was enough to fill our small appetites before bed!
April 28, 2010
Our final day in BA and we finally got some things achieved! We had another late, lazy start knowing that nothing opens early and everything closes late. We walked towards the Bellas Artes museum but by the time we got there we were hungry so we stopped at a parilla for lunch. It was a set 3 course meal for 40 Pesos and as we had an early flight tomorrow and didn’t fancy a heavy, late night we decided to have a bigger lunch and walk it off! We both had steaks and while mine wasn’t anywhere near as tender as the one the other night it was still good. At least this time Elizabeth enjoyed hers as it was actually cooked to her liking.
After that we went to the Bellas Artes museum. It is about a 30-40 minute walk from our hostel so we’d had a good chance to stretch our legs before walking around it. As well as a good collection of works by well known artists it also featured many Argentines including a man called Xul Solar. We had intended to go to his personal museum but it was a bit further out and we eventually skipped it. His works were quite interesting but probably not worth the trek to his own gallery.
From there we walked a bit further to MALBA, pretty much retracing our route from yesterday. Like the Bellas Artes, MALBA was open today and was a decent stop, too. Here the works were focused on Latin American artists and included more works by Xul Solar as well as a self portrait of Frida Kahlo (complete with moustache and mono-brow) and a Diego Rivera mural. The top floor was almost entirely given over to a special exhibit of Cuban artists which was quite interesting. Of course, a Latin American museum wouldn’t be complete without a huge room full of paintings of Jesus either and we weren’t disappointed in that! The building itself was pretty impressive and one of the art works was a bench on the top floor which grew and grew like tree roots and climbed down the side of the main atrium eventually connecting to another bench on a lower floor. It looked really impressive from the escalators as you travelled down the floors.
After that we were both fairly tired but still had a long walk back to the hostel. We decided to stop for dinner on our way back rather than head out again so we headed towards the Centro and decided to have a burrito again given our heavy lunch. The walk back took around an hour and we were both grateful to be off our feet for a while as we ate. Ignoring walking around the museums we’d walked for over 2 hours today just between attractions and I reckon that must equate to at LEAST 6 miles, of not more. I might’ve had a few ice creams in BA but I reckon I’ve worked them off a few times over!
Back at the hostel we packed and hung out in the lounge. There seems to be a lot of people who hang around the hostel who neither work nor stay there and it is really annoying. We had put something remotely watchable on TV but couldn’t hear it because of the comings and goings of people who shouldn’t be there. We had the TV up so loud it almost deafened us sitting so close yet we still couldn’t hear it clearly enough due to the shouting between the various locals using the hostel as a drinking hang out. I tried sitting there and watching Iron Man but eventually gave up and lay in bed watching the same film on the laptop instead before falling asleep!
Along with the noise at the hostel, the room we had was really damp too and made Elizabeth and I both feel a bit crap. The hostel is in dire need of major renovations and they have been doing things while we were there but it isn’t great yet. It actually won an award in November 2009 for cleanliness so no idea what has happened in the last six months to make it such a mess. It wasn’t that bad though as it was central and comfy enough and cheap but it needs more than a lick of paint to cover the mouldy ceilings!