South American Tour – Montevideo Uruguay – Day 13

Day 13 – Montevideo

February 22 we had a nice leisurely morning before heading off for a walk around old town Montevideo on a warm clear day. There is a mix of renovated and ram-shackled buildings. In some places the original buildings have been replaced with new modern ones, but mostly the original buildings persist. There are surprisingly few churches, especially compared to Spain where there seems to be one on every block. The town squares with monuments and beautiful trees are common place however, and make for very pleasant city spaces. The architecture is consuming – so different from our North American style, and Michael loves to try to capture his unique perspective. So we spent much of the day looking up!

We sauntered by the market with lots of leather and animal skins, but no ‘amazing’ deals so haven’t jumped on anything yet. We did come across a stall from a woman who raised sheep, and made some beautiful felted scarves where I did break down! As we wandered around, we kept running into Portuguese speaking Brazilians. Then as we approached the harbour the reason was obvious from the massive cruise ship in port. We ate our big meal at 2pm and of course, had to try the asado at the Mercado del Peurto. The amazing building is an entire warehouse full of parilla (bbq) stalls and every possible cut of beef is available. We went for traditional asado and Mike was able to pre-test his Portuguese listening skills with several Brazilian table neighbours. Beer is the big drink here, not wine. But it is served from a large bottle, in an ice bucket – very classy.

We needed to head back to the main bus station to purchase our next leg of the trip to Punta del Diablo. The bus trip from our BnB to the station was so convenient, fast and easy that we will be able to skip a taxi ride when it’s time to head out – so having to make the extra trip was not a bad thing after all!

South America – Colonia Uruguay – Day 12

Day 12 – Colonia / Montevideo

After an early breakfast we left our lovely apartment and easily grabbed a taxi to the ferry port. That was a challenge however, as we were taking the less common ferry service SeaCat, not the Buquebus. In the end, they actually left out of the same terminal building but we only found that out after our poor taxi driver had to ask a half dozen people for guidance. We did get some form of entertainment at customs as a large family unit had several temper displays when a young boy in their group was denied entry to Uruguay. All seemed to resolve in the end, but I think the whole family just stayed behind. Not sure if the boy didn’t have custody papers to travel (most likely), or whether his name was perhaps on a no-travel list (there was a list that all the customs agents were looking at and laughing). Not funny at all, but watching the actions and reactions of all the players (family, customs agents, police) involved and not knowing the language made for a great way to pass the time while waiting in line.

Once in Colonia, we picked up our luggage and put it into storage, bought our tickets for the bus to Montevideo, hit a bank machine for local funds, and got a SIM card for our phone for Uruguay. A word about the bus system… It is very comprehensive and the buses are comfortable with preassigned seating, but one big limitation is that in order to pre-purchase tickets you must have a local credit card; otherwise you must be at the terminal you are departing from to purchase your ticket – very limiting! So at every arrival, we have to purchase our next leg of the trip ticket.

Colonia del Sacramento is one of the oldest cities in Uruguay, first founded in 1680, and has bounced between Portuguese and Spanish control until Uruguay took over in 1828. It was constantly being taken over due to its strategic location at the Rio de la Plata delta. The old town is full of ruins with several digs currently underway. The BasΓ­lica del SantΓ­simo Sacramento – the Basilica of the Holy Sacrament, was built by the Portuguese in early 1800’s. The lighthouse and Convent of San Francisco ruins are from the 17th century. And if there are old cars to be found, Mike will find them πŸ™‚

And after a 3hr bus ride to Montevideo, we quickly grabbed a taxi to our BnB in the Ciadade Vieja…so quickly that we forgot to buy our next bus ticket…DOH – needed to return next day! Once settled we headed out for more asada – but this time we shared a steak and split an order of vegetables and papas frites!

So after a long day of travel, ready for some zzz’s and to head out to check out Montevideo tomorrow!

South America Tour – Buenos Aires – Day 11

Day 11 – Buenos Aires

The morning of Feb 20 started in SOHO. Bit of a walk, but well worth it – so much colour and character and so many nice clothing stores. We resisted again, knowing that whatever we bought we needed to lug around for the rest of the trip.

The walls in SOHO were a fantastic kaleidoscopic art gallery. Some were clearly murals added by the shops, others quite certainly graffiti, but all were amazing art. We had a latte in a cute little square and met a woman from Italy. We had shared laughter as we heard multiple police sirens, and then realized it was one siren and dog that howled exactly like a siren in response! We learned about her home town of BRA which is not overly far from Milan & Rapallo where we have been; but more into the mountains closer to Turin. We will need to check out their famous cheese festival which occurs every second September – the next one is in 2019. We also need to try the raw beef, light spiced, sausage in nearby Alba which is famous for its tartar – along with Barolo (best) or (more likely and) Barbaresco wines.

For lunch we had a reservation at a well known local Spanish restaurant – El Burladero. It was fantastic! We had the 3 course albierto (lunch) with ensalata langostinos, I had Chilean Sea Bass with roasted veg, Mike had oxtail stew with mashed. Dessert was espresso with apple tart & ice cream for Michael. The ice cream was flavoured with cardamom and ginger – perhaps the best he’s ever tasted apparently! I had creme w. berries which was better than it sounds. They included a free aperitif before the meal, and a free grappa afterwards – so combined with the red wine, it was back for a short siesta!

Then off to the Museo des Belle Artes. They had an impressive list of artists, although definitely not top quality pieces of the top international names. The Argentinian works were quite impressive however. There was a Rodin show on right now…his work is everywhere! From there we wandered over to the Buenos Aires Cultural Centre where they had a wide variety of eclectic exhibits. Some for kids, but also some extreme adult content sex comics definitely NOT for kids and the best was an exhibit ‘Viva la Vida’ by Roberto Cortes. Interesting in that he had very many pieces which often carried a message. In most he captured himself, perhaps his wife, and there were several other recurrent characters.

Next stop was at the adjacent Iglesias – but as we sat quietly admiring the inside of the church, they quietly closed the cloisters, so we didn’t get to see the relics and museum. Then one last stop for ice cream before we headed back to empty the fridge of beer and salad as we packed for our departure early in the morning.

South American Tour – Buenos Aires Argentina – Day 10

Day 10 – Buenos Aires

On Monday Feb 19 we headed off to visit the Museo des Belles Artes only to find it closed on Mondays. But other sites were nearby, so not a total loss. The giant ‘machina’ flower – Floralis Generica – an 18 ton, 23 metre tall metallic flower sculpture which opens and closes automatically every day. Next off to the Iglesia del Pilar, a very beautiful and well maintained church but as mass was in progress, no photos from the inside.

Next stop was for a coffee at the ‘famous’ cafe La Biela in Recoleta where artists, writers, actors and minor celebrities frequented, and then in the 1950’s it became the popular hangout for racing car drivers; hence the extensive memorabilia on the walls. Outside the cafe was an enormous rubber tree with many supporting beams for the extensive branches.

More walking around town and we headed to the Teatro Colon. We arrived just before noon, but waited in line for 2 hours before our tour at 2pm. At least the lineup was in the shade. The theatre is said to have the best accoustics in the world – and you can see why. The whole theatre is of perfect dome shape; dome ceiling, curved walls in a full horseshoe and with all lower surfaces padded and the only hard surfaces were the pillars nearer the top. There are no walls between the boxes, and everything is velvet and wood. Even the floor seats are on a raised, grated floor to create an echo below them. The very top ring around the chandelier has room for singers (small ones!) to create the sensation of angels or birds singing.

The first 2 architects were Italian, each who died at the age of 44. When the 3rd was hired, he was French and a bit older to ensure completion (lovers scraps were the issue!). As a result there is a mix of styles in different sections of the theatre. The whole teatro was renovated between 2002 – 2010 when every wall was scraped of cigarette smoke and repainted the original colours – a monumental task.

The ‘widow boxes’ were stage left below the seats in a caged area. Widows were not to be seen in public for 2 years, so this is where they had to sit if they wished to attend the opera, ballet, concert etc. As it happened, they needed to enter their seats from the same entry as the orchestra members. So many “friendships” developed with the musicians πŸ˜‰ .

And we need to mention the traffic lights. There is only one traffic light and one walk signal per direction of traffic, and it’s not always in the same location. Even the locals seem confused at times on what colour the light is! This phenomenon seemed local to Buenos Aires – perhaps a way to save money?

South American Tour – Buenos Aires – Day 9

Day 9 – Buenos Aires

It was Sunday – the ideal day to visit the San Telmo Market, so off we went on the lengthy, but picturesque walk there. We travelled the full length of the market, end to end. The initial section was full of all kind of arts of crafts – leather, mate, stitching and more. We came across a beautiful church – Convento Santo Domingo – along the way and it was a lovely spot to get out of the sun for a break in the peaceful surrounds. As you can see in the photos, it was under restoration, with much of the ceiling still in serious need of attention.

Still ‘beefed out’, we chose an Indian restaurant along the route and were treated to some wonderful curry. We shared veg curry and a lamb dish. Interesting spin on the spicing – not sure how, but definitely different than other Indian curries we’ve had. As we approached San Telmo square, the antique markets took over and once in the square, Tango dance performances took over.

We timed it well, and were treated to a fantastic tango show in the square. It was sweltering hot, and the electric fans put out for the dancers were a small respite – not sure how the dancers managed to stay cool looking as we were fully wilted. We walked to the very end where La Boca begins, but it would have been an even longer walk through the worst part of the city, so we decided to head back as it was already late afternoon. So a cool beer later, we were back for siesta and a leisurely night in where we took advantage of our airbnb kitchen to actually cook and eat in… what a strange feeling!

South American Tour – Buenos Aires Argentina – Day 8

Day 8 – Buenos Aires
So actually starting this post on Day 7 with our travel to Buenos Aires. Our flight was delayed a 1/2 hour but otherwise smooth. The arrival in BA was less smooth. We decided to use the recommended airport taxi service on the advice that other taxis are not trustworthy and at the very least may price gouge. The quoted 1/2 hour wait for a taxi turned into 2 1/2 hours. In addition the only kiosk in the airport selling SIM cards was closed for construction, and my gmail account got locked by google due to ‘suspicious’ activity. So we had no way to contact our airbnb host to let them know we were now over 3 hours late.

But good Samaritans came through when we arrived at the apartment. A nearby hotel desk clerk allowed me to call our host and she immediately met us in the lobby. Marisa was very helpful and gave us lots of great advice. We quickly ran out for some groceries for breakfast before the stores closed at 10pm and then out for a ‘late’ dinner – which apparently is NOT late for the locals.

Day 8 was finally a full day of walking with NO BEEF! Our first stop was to the local shopping mall where we successfully ‘phoned up’. Then off to the Recoleta Cemetery where we intended to stay for a short visit – but stayed for a lengthy one. It is like an amazing little city with new and old mixed together. And as you can see, many spiders have been in residence. Many tombs went below ground quite deep for several floors with caskets on many levels and some seemed to be only above ground. Some were recently interred, others very old; some well kept and others decrepit. It was a true village of neighbourhoods. We visited Evita’s tomb – Eva Peron among many others.

After a short siesta, in the later afternoon we went to visit Plaza de Mayo in the city center with the Casa Rosada (Pink Palace), Metropolitan Catherdal and the Needle. The Metropolitan Cathedral was deceiving; on the outside we didn’t even realize what it was – until you step inside and then there was no doubt – Cathedral!

The architecture in Buenos Aires is beautiful and unique and Michael was in his element for photography! And through the city are random statues, some inviting you to interact with them; very fun and engaging. The youth Olympics are being held in BA in October this year, and the city centre had the rings already in place. The routine women’s protest was in process around the central area also. Women in Buenos Aires are very involved and vocal here which is impressive to see.

For dinner we found an Asian tapas restaurant where the meal got better with each course. My fav was the sweet rice cake which was breaded and fried topped with piquant salmon. Every dish had the flavours very well balanced especially the use of ginger. The ginger ice cream to end the meal was superb. We do love the beef, but it was a nice break from asado. And although we skipped the beef, we didn’t skimp on the ice cream….we couldn’t resist another stop at a heladeria where we had more dulce de leche along with raspberry for me and chocolate for Michael. Oh so good…

South American Tour – Mendoza Argentina – Days 6 & 7

Days 6 & 7 – Mendoza

Feb 15 & 16 our time in Mendoza was winding down. We had a chill-axing day on the 15th, which was good as it had really warmed up – mid to high 30’s and surprisingly humid with no breeze. Today Michael made his famous Montgomery Westerns along with hashbrowns. The plan was to initiate Bauti on the cooking process, but he had been up sick during the night so didn’t get his first lesson. Some of the neighbourhood kids joined us along with Iliana, their mother, who brought fruit and whipping cream to complete the scene with the mandatory Irish Coffees.

She also brought her Mate and taught us the basic etiquette. One person ‘hosts’ the mate and they offer to one person at a time, who drinks it dry. They return it to the host who then refills it and offers it to another and so on. When it is ‘washed’ (no longer providing flavour), the host knocks the top layer off and adds fresh mate. You never take out the bombilla (straw) either. It is very common to have mate get-togethers with family, friends and neighbours where you share a mate and socialize.

One other interesting observation here that both Mike & I made, were the garbage storage bins. First, you need to know that there are lots of dogs here. So on garbage day, the garbage is raised off the ground, often in cages, to protect it from the dogs. In the barrio’s, they are commonly underground out of sight. Many of the storage containers are ornate and a wide variety of materials are used.

We spent the afternoon doing laundry, packing and generally getting ready to depart. Jasmine took me next door to meet her friend, Mariana Tripoli, a visual artist who makes jewelry – obviously a purchase was involved given my obsession with earrings :-)! She even custom made the earrings to match a necklace I loved. Her work involves both felting and metalworking – I adored it.

That evening we headed back into Mendoza but without Marcelo as he was under the weather also with a severe headache. Our first stop was the amazing statue dedicated to San Martin in General San Martin Park. Last year was the 200th year of independence, and Bautista had learned about it extensively in school. There were several new plaques dedicated during the anniversary in addition to the many preexisting ones – some which are clearly rubbed for good luck quite often ;-). The view from the hilltop was wonderful as it took in much of Mendoza, and we managed to catch sunset on the way out. As it was getting dark, we squeezed in the fountain but cut the rest of our visit to the park short and headed for dinner.

We met up with Alice, Marcelo’s brothers wife, and her daughter Anna. The ravioli with mushrooms and sweet potatoes in walnut cream was deadly rich and yummy! I took Hilario for a walk along the strip and he was hilarious (well named!) and captured many smiles. He was enthralled by a live music performance and stood mesmerized. A whole table of young girls fell in love with him and took many photos. Back home, we sat up late chatting with Jasmine for our last night here.

The last morning Mike & Jasmine headed back into Chacras to get some lunch so I stayed with the kids (Jasmine did a kid swap with Iliana so that she could drive us to the airport). Marcelo stopped by from work to say good bye, and the kids understood that we were leaving and wanted lots of hugs and kisses – no screaming Mallo (meanie) or Loco (stupid) tantrums from Hilario this morn.

And so our tour in Mendoza was over…so quick, but so wonderful. Endless thanks to Jasmine and Marcelo for their hospitality – it made the trip so much more special.

South American Tour – Mendoza Argentina – Day 5

Day 5 – Mendoza

So day 5 was actually Feb 14, Valentines Day! Marcelo was back at work today – we really lucked out having booked our trip unknowingly on this extra long weekend.

We headed back into Mendoza with Jasmine and the boys to check out the ‘squares’. Mendoza’s main square, Plaza Independencia, is surrounded by 4 other squares; Plaza Italia – where we watched a children’s performer and Bautista participated; Plaza Espana (Spain) – the fanciest with many tile murals and monuments and the pathways were tiled with many different small tiles in the mix; Plaza Chile – who recognize Mendoza for their assistance with earthquakes (reciprocal appreciation); and Plaza San Martin with it’s statue to ‘the liberator’ of Argentina. All are well treed with the acequias doing their role in keeping Mendoza green.

We visited the Mercado Central – with it’s fish, meat, cheese, nuts, fruits & vegetables, the food basic – dulce de leche, not to mention sunglasses and more. We had pizza and a beer just as it was closing at 1pm. Then some more strolling around the city – where Michael captured more street murals and graffiti along with more ‘Vendimia’ posters. And before heading home we stopped in for some coffee Havanna (espresso with sweetened condensed milk) and alfajores. So enjoying eating πŸ™‚ And for dinner Jasmine introduced us to Milanese (basically a breaded cutlet) – which we experienced many a time later in the trip as it’s a basic menu option almost everywhere.

And before the day ended, Mike and I picked up some groceries so he can attempt Westerns tomorrow morning for some neighbours. Bautista’s friends are fixated on ‘American breakfasts’, so Mike’s on duty. But bacon is not an easy thing to get outside of Canada, so hoping our panceta ahumada works out as a substitute!