Friday, July 12, 2013

Buenos Aires III: Life in Technicolor

On our last day in Buenos Aires, it was only Laura, Sebastian and I, as Stephan’s girlfriend was coming from Germany to visit him and he therefore had a good reason not to spend the day with us. First on our list was Plaza de Mayo again, as we had only seen it by night and wanted to get a view of Casa Rosada, the residence of the Argentinian president. It was open for visits so we also checked out the inside and I gotta say that president has some nice accommodation.

In front of Casa Rosada

With the guard


Outside there were guards marching around Plaza de Mayo. Nothing too special. But the cool thing about them was that they were absolutely in sync. Every single step was exactly coordinated and they never stopped marching. That even applied when they wantedd to cross the street but had to wait at the stoplight. Even when staying in one place they still marched on the spot. I guess that's better than not being allowed to smile but it still looked rather odd to me. 

Completely synchronized

From Plaza de Mayo we took a side street that went straight to our next destination – San Telmo. Conveniently, there was a feria (=market) in that same street and so we got to check out what markets in Buenos Aires have to offer. Most of it is pretty similar to Montevideo’s markets: clothes, souvenirs, mates. What I really liked were the leather products because that’s something we don’t have in Montevideo. One stand in particular caught my attention with really pretty notebook/calendar/passport covers made from leather and adorned with patterns that were burnt into the leather. My favorite was one with the South American continent etched into it that fit my calendar perfectly. But I hesitated at the price and so we went on towards the “Feria de San Telmo” which is a market for antiques. We didn’t really get too much into it, since neither of us had the money or the room in our luggage to bring home furniture or the like. Though the things we saw were incredibly pretty.

Feria as far as the eye can see

In a sea of mates

Old  Tango Guy

We then went on towards “La Boca” another one of Buenos Aires’ dockland districts. In opposition to Puerto Madero which we had visited the day before, this district was one of the poorer areas. No splendor, no skyscrapers and a bit too much dog poop on the streets for my liking. We had to watch every step so we wouldn’t accidentally step into it. Luckily we had Sebastian with us, who told us pretty much every 2 minutes to watch out. He’s like a dog-poop-detector. No shit… Literally!

Our first stop was “La Bombonera”, the stadium of one of Argentina’s most famous soccer clubs and one of the clubs Diego Maradona used to play for – Boca Juniors.

Sebastian sporting his "kompetenter-Trainer-Lächeln" (= competent coach smile)

Go Diego, Go!

But our actual destination in La Boca were the colorful houses of “El Caminito”. La Boca used to be a district of (especially Italian) immigrants and because many of them didn’t have much money on hand they built their houses out of metal plates from the ships they came on and painted them with ship-paint in all the colors of the rainbow.

El Caminito

Sebastian's Twin

I adored the colorful houses...

...but the sculptures they had peaking out of every window/balcony seriously creeped me out a bit!

Sitting on a bench, enjoying the colors

To be honest I thought the whole district was made up of those colorful houses so I was indeed a little disappointed that it was pretty much only two streets. But then again it was incredibly colorful and cheerful and even though there were way too many tourists and souvenir shops for my liking, it also has its own flair with all its Tango dancers. And did I mention the guy who looked exactly like Maradona now, all old and fat, and could be mistaken for the real one if it weren't for his obviously colored beard. 

After that our city tour was pretty much complete but we still had some hours of the day left. And because I couldn’t stop thinking about the leather cover for my calendar, we went back and hoped the guy with the leather things was still there. Luckily, he was. Which means I am now the proud owner of the most beautiful calendar cover imaginable. Complete with my name etched into the back side.

Craftsman at work (and my beautiful new calendar cover!)

We decided not to do much that night, since our bus left very early the next morning. Well the bus was of course late, but 6.45am still is a rather unearthly hour for students who never have class before 1.30pm.  So we went back to Laura’s, cooked a very delicious Lasagna, packed our things and went to bed. Good Night, Argentina, I hope I'll get to see you again someday! 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Buenos Aires II: Books, Graves and Pretty Lights

I know, I know..  It’s been way too long since I last updated the blog. But since I am indeed here for studying I had a few exams to study for. And now I am hopefully free for some last travelling. Though, depending on how well I did in one of my midterm exams I might or might not have another final exam. But I won’t find out until next week so let’s talk about something more fun than that. I left off talking about our trip to Buenos Aires and that’s where I’m going to continue now. Oh and have I mentioned I will "reimburse" you with lots and loooots of pictures... Enjoy!

After our rather embarrassing first night in Buenos Aires we divided up, Sebastian went with Stephan and I stayed at Laura’s place. The next morning, after some minor delays on our part, we all met back up to visit “El Ateneo” which is by far the coolest bookstore I have ever seen. And trust me I am a big fan of bookstores. I could spend hours in a good bookstore. Preferably one with a fireplace and some armchairs. But “El Ateneo” was much cooler than that because it was in an old theater. And from the lobby to the balconies, everything filled with books of all sorts. Including reading nooks in the VIP boxes and a café where the stage used to be. Which if you think about it is pretty genius as I imagine lots of little scenes taking place there everyday. The actors can be all kinds of people: lovers, family, friends, strangers,... booklovers. The setting is a bookstore. And the story is life. Just think about all the encounters! Now can a book store get any cooler than that?!

It's like my very own paradise!

Curtains up for... the café!

Just sitting there reading in the VIP box

Books everywhere! :)

El Ateneo in all its glory

After that we did a little more sightseeing and personally I was amazed by all the things Stephan could tell us about the city and all its places. He really did his homework. First we went to Recoleta, one of Buenos Aires’ more expensive districts. There we visited the cemetery which was pretty cool since it’s a graveyard for rich people, like Evita and some former presidents. And since rich people can’t just have regular graves, the entire place is made up of mausoleums. Well almost the entire place. There was apparently one single grave that had just a regular tombstone. Suppose that must have been a very humble man.

Recoleta Cemetery

Grave of Domingo F. Sarmiento, one of Argentina's former presidents

Evita's grave

Some of the gravees were super well-kept though others were abandoned and sported lots of spiderwebs. And since some of the graves had glass doors, of course I had to peak into them to see what it looks like inside. Though at one grave I wish I hadn't. It was a seemingly empty one, with tools and wooden boards inside. And something that was probably just some more wrapped-up building material but looked a lot like a body in a bag... Creepy to say the least!


And while I think most of those mausoleums are pretty impressive and incredibly elaborate in their decor, it is also shows the social injustice. Just imagine that those dead people lie in graves that are bigger than a lot of people's houses here in Buenos Aires!


People could easily live in there!

What’s also pretty cool about that cemetery is the aerial view. Since it’s made up of only mausoleums (as stupid as that word sounds, that is actually the plural of mausoleum… I googled it!) and mausoleums are like little houses over graves, it looks like a tiny city within a bigger city. No kidding. Look it up on google maps and be amazed. But enough now with the google-advertising.

On we go with the sightseeing. Well not exactly. There was this Artesanía market right outside the cemetery and I think it was one of the guys’ idea to walk through it. They soon regretted that decision. Laura and I enjoyed that market because it was full of pretty cool things. She bought a ceramic mate, I bought a super pretty bombilla and a leather cover for my passport. The guys were pretty annoyed because we were so slow and took our time to look at all the pretty things. Well... a girl can't help it ;)

After that we went on to see some more sights. On our way we passed the French and Brazilian embassy, which couldn't be any more different. 

Looks very French to me...

...but THIS my dear Brazilians, is nothing that I would associate even remotely with Brazil!

Some of the sights we then saw included the Obelisk, Teatro Colón and the Palacio de Justicia. After that our way led us to Plaza de Mayo, one of Buenos Aires’ most important squares, where the Argentinian “Madres del Plaza de Mayo” keep protesting year round for justice for their children who disappeared/died during the military dictatorship. On said square there are also the town hall, Casa Rosada (=the pink house) and the cathedral of Buenos Aires, which is the former church of Pope Francis.

Palacio de Justicia

Teatro Colón


Eva Perón

Wannabe Palacio Salvo
...obviously our version in Montevideo is much much bigger and better!

Plaza del Congreso

Just sitting there thinking with "El Pensador" by Rodin

Confitería del Molino
It's a shame they are letting this beautiful building decay like that! With just a little restoration it would be so incredibly splendid...

Reflection of the Congress building

A little boy chasing pidgeons - so precious!

In the evening we went on to Puerto Madero which is a district around the harbor with some really great architecture. And since it’s a harbor area with docks and everything, the light from the skyscrapers and other buildings reflects beautifully onto the water. We pretty much just spent some time strolling along the shore until it got too cold and then decided to find a place to eat.

Puerto Madero

Illuminated ship

Sebastian, Stephan, Laura and I

More beautiful lights

Look at that amazing and colorful skyline!

Puente de la Mujer (= Women's bridge)

Being all hungry from a day of endless walking we decided to go to a “Parrilla libre”, the Argentinian version of an all-you-can-eat grill. After that Sebastian and I said our goodbyes to Stephan who wouldn’t be joining us on our last day in Buenos Aires because his girlfriend would be arriving from Germany that next day. So at the end of the day Laura, Sebastian and I made our way back to Laura’s place in Palermo and fell right into bed after a long day of walking and exploring the city.  

Now that was saturday in Buenos Aires and there's still one day left in our weekend of discovering Buenos Aires, so stay tuned for the last part!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Buenos Aires I: Awkwardness in Argentina

I have already told you that our friends Stephan and Laura visited us in Montevideo. And of course Sebastian and I had to pay them a return visit in Buenos Aires. Because why not cross the river and see what the other side has to offer?

And so we started planning. Well.. kind of. We waited to get our bus/ferry tickets until the week before the weekend we had picked for our trip and just when we were about to go to the bus terminal and make a decision on the way of transportation, my dearest Pablo sent me the link to a website named “woow” which is like the Uruguayan equivalent to “Groupon”. You buy a promotion online, get a coupon code and with that code you can buy something for cheaper.

It just so happened that said website had a fantastic promotion: a back and forth trip to Buenos Aires for 712 Uruguayan pesos. Plus administrational fees of 130 pesos which meant an aggregated cost of 842 pesos. Which is equal to about 30€. Not bad. Well,… pretty good actually!

So we checked out the company that offered that trip and found out that they offer two different prices for the trip. One for residents and one for foreigners. Now guess which one was about 200 pesos higher! So we really weren’t sure whether or not they would let us get through with the coupon and sell us the tickets or if the fact that we are foreigners would somehow affect that purchase. We decided to go for it, because the worst that could happen was that we would have to pay the difference. And even with 200 pesos more, it would have still been a pretty good deal. 

So we bought it. And it worked. Yay, for cheap fares!

It just so happened, that the deal didn’t involve a trip via Colonia which is the more common route. Instead we went to a place with the sounding name of Carmelo which is further in on the Rio de la Plata delta. From there we took a ferry to an outskirt of Buenos Aires with the also very sounding name of Tigre and there we spontaneously decided to get our backpacks and leave the route for a bit. Mainly because it looked so pretty and the train from Tigre to the center of Buenos Aires only cost 4 Argentinian pesos (40 cents). And that was definitely an expense worthwhile because we got to see the cute little town of Tigre.

When we arrived, the town was still fast asleep...

Since I don’t do my days without breakfast, our first stop was McDonalds. Not exactly our first choice for breakfast but we didn’t find any cute café nearby so McD’s had to do. After that we explored our options and decided to go on a boat ride through the island scenery of the nearby rivers. 

Yo no soy marinero...

On said tour they explained to us what the whole island-living there looks like. Including garbage and supermarket-boats. I found it pretty interesting how they adapted all their lives around the fact that they are living on islands and completely depend on the waterways.

Now tell me that's not a cool name...

Parque de la Costa

Cool light effect caused by people buning fall leaves

Garbage boat

Island School. 
Imagine going to school by boat!

Sparkly water :)

Abandoned shipwreck

After that we explored the city some more and went to the most popular sight, the Mercado de Frutos. Said place was a market of all kinds of things, mainly Artesanía and food. But most of the stores were closed since it was winter and I guess sales are kind of slow with the lack of tourists during that season. For us it was time for lunch, so we had ourselves some Chorizos. We didn’t really explore all the little stores afterwards because to be honest, Sebastian is kind of a rushed and impatient tourist. No time for unnecessary strolling. Now there are probably more places to see in Tigre, for example the Mate museum. But we didn’t really feel like it and so after some strolling around we hopped on the next train to the city.

Caution! Beware of the creeping Tigers when crossing the street!

Meet Lola

No picknicks?! :(

Very cool tree

Repuposed: an Oldtimer as a Coffee Cart

Happy flag :)

Now that train ride was also quite interesting. By now we are used to all kinds of street artists entertaining the passengers of buses. Well here it was a train. Potato, potahto.  But on that train there were a lot more artists and at some points even whole bands. It’s also quite common to sell things on public transportation. So every now and then someone walks up to you and places his goods in your lap. And after he made his round her will come back and takes it from you unless you want to buy it. It’s just the normal means of selling small and cheap stuff. Like candy and socks. But that all is still pretty normal and we knew it from Uruguay. Now what was rare was that there are a lot more street children in Buenos Aires who of course also beg for money and food on the trains/buses/subways. And just when I turned away to look out the window, one of those kids spat in Sebastian’s face. He told me that apparently since he had his drinking bottle in his hand, some street kid wanted to have a drink. And when he said no the kid just spat at him. Rude! But then again I guess you can’t blame the kid for being thirsty.

After a while we eventually got to Retiro station where we met Stephan who came to pick us up. We then left for Pizzas and Sebastian, Laura and I continued on to Laura’s barrio, Palermo, where we strolled around for a bit before getting back to her place and taking a well-earned nap. At some point she woke us up, because we had made plans with Stephan to have dinner. I really didn’t want to get up again but then again a delicious steak was calling for me. So off we go. We ended up at a very good steak restaurant where we each got a steak that was accompanied by a salad buffet. Verrry tasty, to say the least. One might even call it “the best steak I ever had!”. And so we ate and talked German and enjoyed our company. And at some point we decided we should capture the moment on film. Well… on memory card. What’s the difference?

Que rico... Definitely the best steak I ever had!

So we contemplated whether we should ask one of the waiters or the people at the table next to ours. Since the restaurant was quite big and there was no waiter nearby, we settled on the people next to us. So that meant a woman in her best years and a much younger man. We asked ourselves (aloud) whether they were mother and son or two lovers on a date.  I think Stephan’s comment here was something like “I think they definitely got the tender-vibe going on”. Anyway, we didn’t really know and It would have been rude to ask. So instead we asked in perfect Spanish, whether one of them could take a picture of us just to find the lady replying to us in perfect native-born German, that she in fact could speak German and that she could understand all that we were talking about. Oooops!! That was kind of… Embarrassing!! And highly unlikely. I mean what’s the chance!! Luckily they didn’t seem to take it the wrong way and snapped our picture anyway. But we all resolved to be more careful with what we are saying. Lesson learned.

The hosts

The guests

Very awkward group picture...

And with that little awkward anecdote I am stopping for today since that was pretty much it for the first day of vacationing. So Laura and I went to her place to get a good night’s sleep and the guys went to Stephan’s apartment in the center. But before that we decided on a time when we would meet the following day to go for some sightseeing. Even though that kind of sort of accidentally turned out to be rather flexible… but more about that in the next blogpost. So stay tuned!