Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Buenos Aires Chronicles - Part Two

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, December 14, 2008)

There are so many diversions this week. There's that washed up singer/actor, Pat Boone, stating that gay activists are just like the terrorist Muslims who shot up Mumbai. There is the Reverend Richard Cizik, a top evangelical Christian, who was forced to step down when he stated in an interview that he had reversed his opinion and was now for gay unions. There's the Bush administration, who are wasting no time in their last month in power making it easier for their friends in big business at the expense of the environment (not to mention many other sneaky actions aimed at abortion rights). There're the deaths of Bettie Page, Van Johnson and Forrest Ackerman. And on the bright side, there's Disneyland and its 2008 Christmas celebration that includes a magical "snow" down Main Street USA.

But I promised Buenos Aires and that's what you're gonna get. I'll have to revisit everything else after the first of the year. Again, Skip's pictures of our trip can be found at:

I left off at the end of our second day in the city, when we met an American couple from Oregon who were going to hang around, but suddenly disappeared the next morning. While we enjoyed sitting up most of the night and talking to the pair of them, they had this story about how the were supposed to stay with a friend for five weeks, but when they arrived, they found out that he had been deported to Lebanon, although he was an American, and now they had no place to stay, which was why they were checked into the hotel. Whatever! They disappeared and we never found out exactly what was going on. We were probably better off for it.

That next morning was Thursday October 16. After we woke up and realized the Americans were gone, we decided to have lunch at a local wine bar we had wanted to try out. This bar was about a 15 minute walk away in the Palermo Hollywood section of town. It was called the Lobby ( As with most bars in Buenos Aires, it was also a small restaurant. We sat and enjoyed a couple of great sandwiches and tried several glasses of wine. It was at that point that the owner, a guy named Ignacio Issazadeh, or Nacho for short, introduced himself and sat down to talk with us about wine. He had a great bar there and it was full of the best of the Argentine wineries, but he was curious about American wines. He had seen very few outside of the big names that make it everywhere in the world. We got to talking about the movie "Sideways", which he loved. He told us that his favorite part was when Miles and Maya were talking in her apartment and drinking an Andrew Murray wine. He was dying to try that wine. We told him that we knew Andrew Murray that we would be back later in the week with a present for him.

At that point, Nacho had to go talk with a woman from one of the Mendoza wineries, Barrandica, but he came back a few minutes later with glasses of her wine for us to try. They were all interested in what we thought, and as expected, we thought it was wonderful. That started a conversation about Mendoza and we were told by both Nacho and the lady from the winery that if we ever returned, they could arrange for a place to stay and some insider tours of many of the wineries there. We hope to take them up on it someday soon. (Skip has the lady's card filled away somewhere and I can't find it right now.)

But it was time to leave, so we walked up and around Palermo Hollywood to the Niceto Club, where we bought tickets to the upcoming Mudhoney show and then walked down to the subway station and took a train to downtown. We were eating dinner that night on the Puerto, so decided to spend the time walking around the city and looking at some of its oldest buildings. We spent a few hours hunting these buildings down and finding some beautiful places. Then we made our way to Puerto Madero and dinner at Cabana Las Lilas (, one of the most popular steakhouses in town.

This restaurant is so popular, that even at the early hour of 7:30, when we arrived, it was packed. We didn't have reservations. The hotel had called for us the day before, but we were told that it was completely booked. We thought that if we just showed up, they might find a place for us. At first we were told that we would have an hour or more wait, but after talking to the receptionist for a few minutes, she took a liking to us. Walking us to a prime table, she whisked off the "reserved" sign and told us she hoped we would enjoy ourselves. There was no reason to worry about that as the place was fantastic. We were once again filled with amazing meat and wine and the meal ended with two large bottles, one filled with grappa and the other with lemoncello, placed at our table on the house! We took full advantage of that and left full and extremely happy, thanking the receptionist once again on the way out.

(While we ate meat once again, we were intrigued by the Patagonic Spider Crab entrée that was listed on the menu. We promised ourselves that we would come back and try that, but we never got the chance.)

We decided to walk to the subway and go back to the hotel. Unfortunately, full of food and various alcoholic spirits, we got our bearings mixed up and ended up lost in a dark and lightly populated part of the city. About an hour later, around 10:30, we found our way back to the Obelisco and the subway station, only to find out that the subway closes around 10 PM. I found it to be absolutely ridiculous that the city's subway system would close so early when the city is such a late night place, but some bad logic somewhere dictated the rules and we found ourselves stranded too far to walk with no option but to grab one of the dreaded cabs we had been warned not to take.

I put my hand out and a cab stopped almost immediately. We climbed in to find a driver who spoke no English and could not make heads or tales out of the address we were giving him. So we pulled out our trusty Frommer's guide and found a map, pointing to the place that the hotel was at. He headed right off and took us straight to the hotel. There were no threats, robbery attempts or pretending to drive around the city to force the fare up. The only problem I saw was that people there drive like maniacs and I spent a good portion of the trip white knuckling the seat in front of me while hiding my eyes from the accident that seemed to be about to happen at any time. (Skip seemed to think it was all well, which says something about the way he drives.)

Back at the hotel, we sat up with Rodrigo again, drinking wine and talking until 1 AM or so and then hit the sack for a deep sleep.

On Friday, we awoke to another bright, shiny spring day and took the subway into town so we could have lunch at the Marriott Plaza Hotel's Plaza Grill ( The Plaza Hotel is close to 100 years old and is one of the most expensive and traditional hotels in the city. It's where the rich, famous and powerful stay. The Plaza Grill restaurant in the hotel is a favorite amongst businessmen and is one of the only places in the city to still get that old-style formal experience of dining. It's sort of like their version of the old Hollywood restaurant Musso and Frank's Grill. It's also considered formal dress, but when we showed up in bluejeans and untucked shirts, they seated us among the suited businessmen without batting an eyelid. As expected, it was a beautiful room and a wonderful experience. It's the type of place where the waiters bring out the dishes under silver domes and then pull them away at the same time to expose the food to your view. Once again, our waiters took a liking to us and poured some special wines for us to try on the house. We had a blast and it was a wonderful meal. We left another restaurant full and very happy.

We had to go back to our hotel early as we had booked a guide to take us to a soccer game that night. We wanted to experience soccer in this country as it should be experienced, but we were afraid to try it on our own. We knew the stories about hooligans and crazy fans and considering we couldn't speak the language, we figured it would be safer to pay someone to take care of us. It was also more expensive as we paid over $100 US for the privilege. But everything else we spent money on there was so cheap and we decided it we were better off safe than dead.

Our guide showed up with a bus and about a dozen other tourists he had picked up from other hotels. The drive was a long one into the west side of the city where subways didn't go. It was interesting to see this part of the city that few tourists venture into. We arrived at our stadium to find that streets had been blocked off for two blocks around the place. People could walk in, but driving was not allowed. We got off the bus and followed our guide through the heavy crowd to a stairway on the side of the stadium. We were patted down and sent through a metal detector and then we had to walk up about five flights, where we were led to our seats, which were perched over the field right at the center line. Cokes and suspicious looking hotdogs were offered, but we had eaten our big lunch, so we passed on them. We found out that beer and alcohol had been banned from games several decades ago.

It was about a half hour before the game and everything was already on the verge of pandemonium. The stadium was divided into sections and each section was surrounded by chain link fences topped with barbed wire, and in a few cases, electrical wires. The fanatical home team fans had all been placed at the head of the field. The visiting team fans were crowded into a much smaller space at the other end of the field. In these enclosures with the fans were full groups of musicians and colorful banners were hung over the edges and down the isles of each section. One group of fans would start a chant backed by their musicians. Then the other group would chant louder. The original group would even get louder and it would go back and forth until it sounded like a sonic boom.

We were told that we were rooting for the home team, which was the Argentinos. When the players arrived on the field, they were brought on through an inflatable tunnel onto the middle of the field. That way, opposing fans could not throw debris on them from the seats. As soon as play started, the fans on each side went wild, chanting, singing, and jumping around. It was like a zoo full of crazed apes. The game itself was a thing of beauty. I love soccer and have seen some of the greats play, including the legendary David Beckham, but I have never seen such an aggressive show of choreographed ball control as this one. These players were incredible. It was wonderful to watch and a little bit painful as they had no qualms about taking out a player on the opposing team in any way they could and red and yellow cards were flashed frequently. The fans went apeshit through the whole thing.

It finally ended with our home team winning by three points. While the home fans celebrated in the stands, the visiting team fans were let out. We were told that we had to stay put for 45 minutes or so. The police were making sure all the visiting fans were put on busses and cleared out of the area. They didn't want any fights breaking out. After the police were sure it was safe, we were finally let out of our section and made our way down the stairs to the street and our bus. By this time everything was completely calm.

Then we had a long drive back to the hotel. At one point we passed several police cars that were full of German Shepherds. There were probably about ten dogs in each car and each car was also full of police men. The dogs seemed happy sitting in the officer's laps and hanging out the windows, but it was a strange and somewhat disturbing sight.

We had enjoyed ourselves tremendously, but we were glad we had paid the extra money to our guide to take care of everything. We would have had no idea what we were doing and we easily could have ended up sitting someplace that would have gotten us bashed or worse. I've seen games played in Europe several times and they were exciting as well. But I've never seen anything as on the edge as this game was. I was thrilled.

Back at the hotel, it was about 10:30 and we decided we were hungry. We didn't want to go back to the Mexican restaurant, so we asked Rodrigo for a suggestion and once again he told us we should go to Oro & Candido around the corner. This time we took him up on it and we were glad we did.

Oro & Candido ( is a small restaurant and store that bills itself as serving "new Andean" food. Skip decided to try a pasta from the menu, which were raviolis filled with minced water buffalo meat. I had a special entrée for that evening, a lamb roll that was served on a bed of several types of Andean fingerling potatoes. Both our dishes were wonderful, but my potatoes were something special. There were about six or seven kinds, from a regular looking white potato, the purple potatoes and an amazing green potato that had a peppery bite to it. Dessert was a cake filled with dulce de cayote, or spaghetti squash jam. The menu was full of other weird items, so once again we swore to ourselves that we would return and try some of these other items we would never find here at home.

On Saturday, we woke early as we had to get down to the Buquebus ferry to take the boat over to Colonia Del Sacramento in Uruguay. The ferry ride was an hour (by fast boat – three hours by slow) across the bay to one of the oldest towns in Uruguay. It has been preserved to look like the original town and is one of the top tourists' destinations in the country. The ride over was fine. We just sat in seats and drank wine. To go upstairs and look out of windows cost a first class ticket and we decided we didn't need to splurge for this trip.

Once we got there, we went through customs and entered the city, grabbing maps at a tourist kiosk on the way. It was a nice enough town and we had fun climbing the narrow stairway up to the top of the local lighthouse to see the sights from the sky. After about an hour of sightseeing, we ended up at a small restaurant called Pulperia de los Faroles, where we enjoyed a small lunch. I had fresh palm hearts that had been baked in cheese and then placed on a bed of fresh spinach. I had never had fresh palm hearts before, although I love the canned ones that can be found on grocery shelves in the States. But the fresh ones were creamy and wonderful and the dish turned out to be one of my favorites during this vacation.

After lunch we walked around the city some more, but we quickly got bored and decided to go back to the ferry and try to get on the 6 o'clock ferry back instead of the 8:30 o'clock one we were booked on. Unfortunately we were told that it was completely booked, so we headed back into town trying to figure out how we were going to spend these extra hours.

There, we ran into the Radisson Hotel and Casino and noticed a restaurant inside. When we entered, we were told that they only served guests, but after a short talk with the manager, we got him to agree to let us sit on their patio and drink some wine while the sun set over the water. We ended up drinking two bottles of wine, both of them Uruguayan and both of them wonderful. We had no idea they had such amazing wines there. Just like the Argentines though, the hotel staff got worried about us drinking without food and before we knew they brought us a huge plate of cheeses, meats and fruits on the house! It made for a wonderful time. It's been awhile since I've seen something as lovely as the sun setting over that ocean.

But we finally decided that it was time to make our way back to the ferry and thanking our hosts, we left and calmly walked the 15 minutes to the dock. There we were met with panic. It seemed that there was a time change that afternoon and the ferry was scheduled to leave in five minutes, not the hour we thought we had. (We thought it was 7:25 at the moment, but it was actually 8:25.) No one had bothered to tell us about that time change. I would have thought it would have been mentioned when we bought our tickets. Plus, who schedules a time change in the middle of the afternoon? Whatever. We were rushed through customs and practically thrown on the boat just as the gangplank was being lifted. And we were on our way back to Argentina.

It was on this ferry trip that we ran into the only two assholes we experienced during the whole vacation. These were two guys working at the bar. They decided to give Skip some shit for some reason and wouldn't sell him a drink, claiming the bar was closed, although they kept serving other people. We told them in no uncertain terms what they could do to themselves and that led to security guards watching us closely the rest of the trip, which fortunately was over rather quickly.

After another trip through customs, we were glad to be back in Buenos Aires. We had just enough time to make it to the subway before it closed and before we knew it, we were back at our hotel, where we sat and talked and drank with Rodrigo before hitting the sack earlier than we were used to. We had an early morning date with the Gauchos the next morning.

And that's it for this week. I'll be back next week with the last three days of the trip.

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