May 2007 Trip to Argentina

This is an ongoing record of our travels.

Buenos Aires Restaurant Highlights

This is a selective list of restaurants that we enjoyed during our trip.

Aroma – All over the city you’ll find Aroma cafes – many inside bookstores, others in stand-alone spots.  They feature fresh “US-style” sandwiches, many made with whole-grain bread, which you select yourself from the cold case.  Even if you don’t read Spanish you can probably identify a familiar ham and cheese!  Packaged salads are also available, along with yogurts, fruit salads, soft drinks (and wine and beer) plus delicious little desserts (brownie is now apparently a Spanish word).  Aroma is a great option for a light lunch, or a coffee or tea break in the afternoon.

Bella Italia. Republica Arábe de Siria 3285, in the main section of Palermo, near posh Libertador Avenue.   The restaurant occupies an old house, gutted down to the brick walls, to become a small, cozy, upscale Italian spot (whose owners, interestingly, have a venture in Fort Worth TX).   In the next block is the Bella Italia café, where you can have a light lunch or supper.  A classic Buenos Aires Italian.  4802-4253

Cold Snap (More)

This has not been the first, and probably will not be the last, time where we have looked at the weather predicted and packed accordingly but underestimated how wrong the prediction would be. Argentina has experienced a record cold wave and we changed our plans, canceling our trip to Neuquén.

Argentina has under invested in their gas production and pipeline system with resultant shortages in various regions. To meet domestic demand, they have cut exports to Chile. The electrical system is running at max capacity with large amounts being imported from Brazil and Uruguay.

However, life here goes on.

Menu Criollo

Tonight we went to a movie (The Mistress of Spices) followed by a meal at Lola, an old favorite restaurant of ours, in Recolleta. Lola was featuring a special menu for flag Day, a Menu Crollio, which means a menu in the style of colonial Argentina. We thought it was a four course meal, including wine for 90 pesos per person. What it turned out to be was four different passes of tastings, which turned out to be much more than we could eat. Of the items in the main course, my favorite was a preparation of venison. They also had a small brochette of yacaré (alligator), which was good but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.

Please forgive me, Joe. I had wrecked my diet before I even approached the second part of the main course. Then there were over eight items for dessert. I opted for huevos quimbos (beaten egg yolks in syrup) ,  queso y dulces (cheese and jellies), a small item that looked like a miniature chocolate cake but was a welsh cake, and dulce de zapallo (preserved squash). The welsh cake was a surprise and my favorite.

Cold Snap

The past couple of days have seen a cold wave come into Argentina. This morning the newspapers showed pictures of snow in the areas around Cordoba. It is early to be this cold with the low this morning in the low forties. Here in Buenos Aires everyone is bundled up. Of course many bundle up as if they were going out into the snow if the temperature drops into the sixties.

Argentina is not a country where the anti-fur movement has any traction and today that was very apparent. There were lots of little old ladies, and some not so-old, dressed up in their furs walking out for their coffee or to do their shopping.

Friday, the 25th is an Argentine holiday, Flag Day, and every day there are more and more taxis going around with the Argentine flag flying. Yesterday we were walking around Avenida Florida shopping. While Marshall was looking for a sweater, I was watching a man who was helping the attendants in the store create their own miniature flag ribbons. He had small pins and a big roll of blue and white ribbon which they were cutting and pinning on. When he left, all of them were sporting their own flag pins.

Travel Notes (Marshall)

Packing for the trip, we searched for weather news, and planned for going out, to see friends and shows…but over-estimated formality and under-estimated humidity.   The affective power of temperature is strongly affected by humidity and we are spoiled by El Paso – 60 dry degrees is not the same as 60 damp degrees! And packing for a reverse season (Argentina is in late fall while El Paso enjoys late spring) is not an easy mental shift – my sweaters were all stacked away.  The immediate consequence was shopping for a sweater on arrival!

The first day was otherwise uncomplicated, as we returned to the same flat we stayed in some two and a half years ago, and it is in the same general neighborhood where we lived.  Not having to search for basic services such as a pharmacy or grocery removes a lot of stress.  I slept poorly on the plane and did take a siesta after lunch the first day.   Lunch was a great pleasure –  a not particularly special restaurant but a very nice setting, with three-foot-long garlic braids and equally large hams hanging from the ceiling beams.  We both choose the milanesa, a thin breaded steak – let’s say chicken-fried steak as prepared in heaven – and a glass of Argentine red (strangely, Delta did not serve any Argentine wine, so it was our first of many glasses to come on this trip).

Reflections on Traveling in Argentina

After we left Quilmes, we drove back to Salta with a stop in Cafayate for lunch and a visit to a craftsman box maker.  When we were near Salta, I looked at my watch and thought about how long it had taken and it reminded me of something I had learned about traveling by road in Argentina. If you are not traveling on one of the "autopistas," which are mostly toll roads, you move lots slower than you expect to. For planning purposes, expect to travel at about 75 kilometers per hour, plus time for any stops. Why so slow? Slow trucks, farm vehicles and other cars in places where passing is not possible. We had to stop for flocks of sheep and goats and, while not on this trip, horses and cows. There are small villages with speed bumps, called lomos de burro, that can really do a number on your car if you ignore them. Roads are narrow and curves are often blind and not designed for speed. That does not stop local drivers from passing regardless of the markings indicating that no passing is allowed. And that is on good paved roads. There are many, particularly in Patagonia, which are gravel roads and while you can do 75 Kilometers per hour, it isn't advisable and you need to be prepared for problems.

Quilmes, the next day

I've skipped adding to this because we have been busy. I decided to set the time aside for an update, including some reflections on traveling in Argentina.

The weather improved for our morning visit to the ruins. We had a light breakfast and walked over to the museum and were taken around by a guide and who then took us up into the ruins. This is where having the ability to understand spoken Spanish is very important. During our walk through the ruins, our guide explained how he had grown up in the village of Quilmes and like so many others had started work early very young and dropped out of school. Then one day he was very embarrassed when a woman spoke to him and he realized that he didn't understand a word she was speaking. It was Spanish and he had grown up speaking a regional dialect. He started learning Spanish and became a self-educated guide to the ruins and has studied the history of his people. However, he did not speak English and we would not have had the benefit of his knowledge had we not been able to speak Spanish.

Quilmes, Las Ruinas

"Quilmes" is a beer, a town, a village and the name of an indigenous Argentine people. We are staying at a lodge at the ruins of the village of the indigenous people. They were the last holdouts in the conquering of Argentina by the Spanish. When the last battle was over, the few men, most women and children were marched to a site near what is now Buenos Aires. Few survived the march. The rest died within a short time. It is said locally that some escaped capture by sneaking away in the night over the mountains and it is their descendants who now populate the area.

We tend to travel the routes less traveled and when we choose routes more frequently traveled, do do it in off season. Sometimes you are lucky and enjoy places without the overcrowding of the high season. Other times you learn why it is off season and experience reduced services. This is one of the latter.

The morning started out gray and cooler that yesterday. It stayed that way. The lodge is empty except for us three.  It is cool outside and cool inside. The heating in the floor takes some of the chill off but doesn't leave one feeling warm and toasty. I'm looking forward to getting under the covers and getting warm after a nice meal with some local, Cafayatean, wine. Because we are the only guests, they asked us to look over the menu and select our items early. Thus I know what I will be eating before long: Empanadas (of Tucuman), an ensalada mixta and lomo a la frontera.

Salta La Linda (Dick)

We were delayed leaving Buenos Aires yesterday but encountered no other problems.  Took a remise from the airport to the hotel, El Lagar, cost 22 pesos, about $7. We made a quick turnaround and were out walking, look for a place to eat within a few minutes.

El Lagar is very near, less than 2 blocks, to the train station where people embark on El Tren de Los Nubes, "The Train to the Sky." We found a very nice, new restaurant, "Vagón de Cola" (which can roughly be translated as Caboose") across the street from the station and had dinner there. It would be a tie as to which attracted us inside, the ambience with a lovely salad bar, the menu or the design of the interior. It was a good choice. We started out with an empanada, of course helped with a good bottle of local red wine - Tannat, by Nanni, a Cafayate vineyard. We all visited that salad bar. Marshall had a grilled trout, Ingried opted for "mollejas" - grilled" sweetbreads," and I had a small steak. Afterward, we had a flan casero to share and a small glass of lemoncello.

13 May - Buenos Aires (Dick's Comments)

Our visit and dinner with friends last night was very enjoyable. They had suffered a fire in a portion of their house early in the morning we arrived.  They and their three children had to flee the house by jumping out of a second story window. They were staying in his mother's apartment until repairs were effected.

We took a taxi to Olivos and were reminded how hectic Buenos Aires traffic can be. After drinks and chatting a bit, we went to a nearby restaurant. It was a typical suburban parrilla restaurant with a big salad bar. The food and wine was outstanding. The restaurant had a separate room for the children to play. It had various slides and other devices for them to exercise and do things that kids do. I think there was an attendant but I never saw one. The children would enter and leave at will, with bigger ones helping smaller ones open the door when necessary. It was nice to see in a place where adults can go out for a nice meal with friends and their kids without being reduced to eating at fast food places like McDonalds.

12 May - Buenos Aires (Dick's Comments)

Our trip went well. Flights were on time and no problems in the airport. We were lucky in the weather upon arrival. As we approached the airport, I could see a white landscape with trees and hedgerows and buildings sticking up in places. It looked like a winter scene but I recognized it as being ground fog. It did not give us any problem and our taxi driver had only the normal morning traffic to deal with. However, later I read in the paper that there had been a monstrous four hour traffic jam the previous morning on the same highway because of ground fog.
It is nice to travel to familiar places. We are staying in an apartment we used before. Yesterday we went out shortly after arrival. I immediately knew where to go to get pesos from an ATM, bypassing one that never worked for me before. Stopping at a kiosk to get two papers and then going to a cafe for coffee and light breakfast. Later we walked to a restaurant for lunch and stopped to pick up a few items on the way back, Last night we walked to a restaurant that we used to like but it has changed to the point that it is unlikely we will go back. Not bad but different.
This morning after a leisurely start Marshall and I went out and got my cell phone working using a prepaid card. Then we went different ways. One thing we have both noticed which is a very positive change. No smoking areas are strictly enforced. In the restaurant in which I ate lunch, the smokers were eating outside under a heated canopy. This is a significant improvement from the past.
Tonight we will have dinner with friends out in Olivos, a suburb of Buenos Aires.

Before the trip

There are only a few days before we depart for Buenos Aires on 10 May. Our last visit was in November of 2004. We will be staying in the same place as then, a friend's apartment in Palermo. We have two trips planned. One with a friend from California who will arrive on 13 May. We will fly to Salta that evening; visit it, Cafayate, the pre-Columbian ruins of Quilmes and return to Salta for our flight back to Buenos Aires on 18 May. Later we plan to visit Neuquen.

© Copyright 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, Richard W. Tripp, Jr.