Sunday, January 24, 2016

Buenos Aires

The last leg of our Argentina trip. We spent 3 full days in Buenos Aires. Seen most of the sights in the city the first day. Didn't do much on the second day as heavy downpour hampered us from walking around too much. Spent half of the third day visiting Recoleta Cemetery and the La Boca neighborhood.
Before we came to Buenos Aires, we were warned to exercise caution as petty crimes, thefts, robberies, and kidnappings were notorious in the city. Seeing cameras hanging around our necks, at least 5 taxi drivers told us to be careful and suggested that we put the cameras away in our bags for our own safety. Because of this, I was tense the first 2 days as I didn't dare to take pictures with my camera while walking about the city. It kinda dampen my spirit a bit. We spoke with visitors from Rio de Janeiro and they told us the difference between the crimes in Rio and Buenos Aires was that guns were usually involved in Rio while knives were the weapon of choice in Buenos Aires.  As if this explanation would put our minds at ease.
But, I must say Buenos Aires is a friendly city. Anytime we ask for directions and we speak hardly any Spanish, the locals were very willing to show us how to go about our ways, in Spanish of course. I find that English is spoken less frequently here in Buenos Aires compared to say, Ushuaia in the south. We were in Barrio Chino (Chinatown) one night and asked a guy where the public restroom was. The guy led us to his apartment and insisted that we use his bathroom instead. I was touched by the hospitality.

Bathroom of our hotel suite at Algodon Mansion. The best showers I had ever had with huge rain forest and body shower heads. The largest and most comfortable bed. It's 2 full beds pushed together into one gigantic bed. The only downside was the street noise as the windows were not sound proof. The hotel restaurant served excellent breakfast to order and I just love their buttery croissants. Tried their 3 course degustation dinner menu one night. From sweet bread as starter to braised beef cheek as main and chocolate cake as dessert, the food were of 5 stars quality.
Recoleta street view from our suite or more like a one bedroom apartment with no kitchen. Somewhere around the corner is a "blue dolar" exchange place. The storefront has a signage that says antique store and a couple pieces of jewelry on display. In the back room is where the exchange took place. Cash only, USD to be exact.

Teatro Colon- didn't get to see an opera show but we went to see Bien de Tango show at the Pacifica Galleria. Very traditional Argentinean tango dance show and it didn't look easy at all mastering the moves. But after an hour, I was ready to see something  else.
The Obelisk- built in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Buenos Aires city.
Casa Rosada at Plaza de Mayo. Wonderful place to be at lunchtime, grab a bite and people watch while lazing in the spring sun.
Puente de la Mujer- pedestrian bridge at Puerto Madero. Not a must do but a good place to stop for lunch.
Excellent squid ink pasta at La Parrochia- one of many Puerto Madero restaurants. Huge portions and serves excellent burrata with prosciutto.
El Casal de Catalunya in San Telmo for tapas housed in a historic old world Spanish style building. Lovely architecture and atmosphere.
Tomato braised snails was good but didn't like their deep fried frog legs. Maybe we just didn't order the right dishes.

Half a suckling pig- not the best that we had. Skin was crunchy but tough to chew. For some reason, the meat was tasteless but the accompanying sauces made it a little more edible.
Pretty good seafood paella but still cannot compare to the one that I had in Madrid many years ago.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore- older but lovely theater setting. I find that Buenos Aires is a city of book lovers. It's not hard to find locals reading anywhere instead of playing on their smartphones.
              Plaza Dorrego- empty due to heavy rain. So, time to find a cafe to try the mate tea.
Got to try the mate at least once. To drink this, we were told to fill the cup with mate leaves and pour hot water to the brim, add sugar and sip thru the silver straw. However for a first timer, it was so bitter that I probably dropped 2 tablespoonfuls of sugar in it just to make it a little more drinkable. I think it's an acquired taste. 

Basilica del Santissimo Sacramento where Pope Francis was stationed as bishop. Stunning architecture and a peaceful place to be on a rainy day.
Grilled kidneys, innards and intestines at Steaks by Luis. It was pouring hard the night we were supposed to be there. All the taxis that were abundant during the day was gone during the heavy downpour. Walked ten minutes away from our hotel to a busy street corner and stood in the rain for half an hour before we could get a taxi. So glad we came. What a private dining experience. Best steak we had in Argentina paired with great wine, acquaintances and a gracious host. Steak was juicy, tender and cooked to a prefect medium rare. 

Medium rare steaks, grass fed and marinated with salt for 3 hrs before grilling. Just looking at the picture makes me want to take another bite.

La Boca- colorful, lively and touristy. Was caught off guard by a guy hailing taxi for us when actually the taxi was already at the taxi stand. Ended up giving him a tip as he asked us for it.

Lunch at La Boca- choripan, a simple sausage on crusty bread, great with chimichurri sauce.
Very cheap beef empanadas, i think it was like 50 cents each. Had quite a few on this trip and this was one of the better ones. Not dry at all.
Evita Peron's tomb at Recoleta Cemetery. The cemetery was packed with tourists and local school children the day that we visited. However, it still felt creepy to me even though some of the tombs were luxuriously built with marbles and beautifully crafted, especially those with affluent family names.

Poor dogs left by their sitter, barking their heads off. It's not uncommon to see dog walkers walking with as many as 10 dogs at a time in the city. Got to be a tough job handling so many dogs at once.
                          Floralis Generica sculpture to symbolize all the flowers in the world.
The last photo I took of Buenos Aires before leaving for the airport to come home. Wonderful memories, indeed.

Iguazu Falls

We had 2 full days at Iguazu falls. It rained heavily the first day. As soon as we stepped out of the hotel to walk on the walkways, it started pouring. Went back to the hotel room for a nap hoping the rain would stop and there'll be less crowd. By afternoon, the rain died down a bit but not the crowd. We managed to spend 3 hrs in the afternoon taking pictures of the falls. Unfortunately, the pictures didn't turn out as great as I had hoped even though the falls were just stunning.
Views from the Sheraton Iguazu Resort and Spa inside the park. Our room needed updating but the falls view was unbeatable. Room was not sound proof either, we could pretty much hear everyone and everything. Complimentary breakfast was standard Sheraton fare.
                                            Zoomed in views of the falls and walkways.
                                   Brazilian side Devils's Throat as seen from our room.

Inferior/Lower circuit- This is where we did the boat ride under the falls. The tour operator gave us a waterproof bag each to store our cameras and we walked about 100 meters down to the dock to board the speedboat. Slippery walk because of the rain earlier. My husband was completely soaked with his rain jacket on. I used a rain poncho and wrapped the hood over my face then tightened the drawcord over my mouth, leaving out my nose for breathing. I looked terrible but was dry after the ride. Going under the falls felt like someone poured tonnes of water over you non stop. It was a fun 10 minutes but less thrilling than I had anticipated. Heavy downpour flooded San Martin Island thus we didn't get to embark on the island for a different view of the falls.
                                 Inferior/ Lower circuit- easy walk from Sheraton Resort.
                                                             Superior/Upper circuit.

Endless views of Superior/ Upper circuit. Half an hour before the park closed at 6 pm, the park ranger started escorting us out. We were the last ones to leave.
On the second day, we took the train ride up to the Devil's Throat from the Argentinean side. I was speechless by the grandness of the falls. Gigantic, majestic and enormous. This should be on everyone's bucket list. Wished I had spend more time here but we were in a hurry to visit the Brazilian side as well.
 Another view of Devil's Throat. It literally cuts through the borders between Argentina and Brazil.
Standing on the viewing platform, we were soaked by the waterfall mist. Amazing views as far as the eyes could see.

The magical rainbows. One minute it was there, the next it was gone and then out of the blue, it reappeared. So fun.
Curious bird turning its head every time I clicked my camera shutter.

                            Monster catfish (above) and turtle (below) on the Argentinean side.

Crossing the Argentina and Brazil border was a breeze as long as you have the right documentations- visa and passport. For US citizens, the Brazilian visas must be obtained before arriving in Brazil. 

                                    The iguana greeting us on the Brazilian side.
                                                        Colorful Brazilian ant.

Our remis driver that drove us to Brazil gave us 2 1/2 hours to visit the park but we actually needed 3 1/2 hours taking pictures of the falls, insects, wildlife and plants. The park was crowded too with tourists and locals. Every so often, we stayed back a little just to wait out the crowd so we can take pictures without too many heads in them.


Bring ponchos as not to be soaked by the waterfall mist. Could not get clear pictures of the waterfall at the boardwalk as my camera lens was constantly showered with water drops. Every time I wiped off the lens, as soon as I point the lens in the water fall direction, the lens would be covered in water spots instantly.

The grand finale. It's so close that I felt I could reach out and touch the water. Gotta have the utmost respect for mother nature.
Tripointe view of Paraguay (left), Brazil (right), and Argentina (forefront) where the Iguazu and Parana Rivers merge.
                              Another view of Tripoint- Hito de Las Tres Fronteras of Brazil.

Did not take any food pictures in Iguazu Falls as I was not impressed with the food that we had there. The first night which happened to be my husband's birthday, we went to the famed De La Fonte restaurant inside a hotel with the same name. Nice decor but service was kinda slow as the tables were spread out among different pavilions of the hotel courtyard. Thus, the wait persons had to run around a lot servicing the patrons. To start off, we had the thin crisp falafel on a stick, squid with pesto foam and tomato sauce which were good but the one that stood out was the homemade Negri pasta with seafood ragout- al dente pasta done just right in a creamy sauce. Surubi fish dish was a disappointment as the pomelo sauce was bitter and tart. The sauce didn't complement the grounded fish at all. Beef tongue was tender but the sauce was too overpowering. Ended the dinner with their tiramisu which just fell flat. By the presentations of the dishes, I can tell that the kitchen staff put in a lot of effort into dissecting each cooking ingredient in trying to bring the dishes to a whole new level but unfortunately, not all the flavors meld together. It was an expensive dinner and I left feeling a little disappointed as the dinner didn't turn out to be as special as it should be.
The next night, we went to Aqva that serves local fish with a friendly service. The place was packed but service was prompt. We ordered stuffed pacu with a sourish pickling sauce and the goldfish dorado done in a seafood creamy sauce. The pacu fish fillet itself was rough and tasteless. I preferred the dorado better as it had more flavor and was tender. After dinner, our remis driver took us to the Iguazu Icebar. The place was small and they made everyone put on their orange parkas that smelled like wet laundry which was not dried for days. We paid 200 pesos entrance fee each and was given an alright alcoholic beverage. Finished the drink and got out of there as there was nothing else to do besides taking pictures of the mediocre ice sculptures on display.
The last night, we had a light dinner at the Restaurant Garganta inside Sheraton. Nice falls views and their food was better than I thought. Surubi ceviche and surubi in curry sauce were both very good. So was their beef empanadas. Service was excellent, too. By then, we were ready for Buenos Aires, our last destination of this trip.