…eat a couple of 450g perfectly cooked, juicy Bife de Lomos and a huge bowl of papas fritas, after a starter of grilled provolone cheese, then followed by a huge slice of ‘Guilt Cake’, and all accompanied by a great Malbec from Mendoza. But we managed it in Buenos Aires, more than once… a lot more than once in fact.
It’s been a long time since our last post, and we had a bit of time in Australia before we left to begin the last section of our journey in South America, so I’ll start back then. Here goes… this is going to be a long post!
After our wedding we had a wonderful couple of weeks up in Cairns, where it was a comfortable winter temperature of 28°C. We had enough time to relax after the wedding, to enjoy some post-wedding quiet time with family, and to start to think about a rough plan for South America. At the beginning of June we said goodbye to Cairns and returned to Sydney to catch up with friends for a few days. The World Cup had begun and the forced football fever had temporarily gripped a large enough portion of the nation to warrant a big screen in Darling Harbour and football-themed ads on television. It wasn’t the best place in the world to be, with the tournament taking place in South Africa, and after finding myself as the only person willing to get up at 3am to watch England play the USA, the following night it was a little easier to stay awake. It was the night that the ‘Socceroos’ (an unfortunate nickname) would be playing their opening match against the Germans at 3.30am. After spending the evening out with friends, Janna (an Australian/German friend, and a big F1 fan) and I decided to pop to a bottle shop on the way back to her place in Bondi to buy our fuel for a night/morning of sport – lots of Doritos, a decent sized bottle of vodka and plenty of Red Bull. Alexandra promptly crashed out on the sofa after a single sip of the drink, leaving Janna and I to finish off the rest while watching the Canadian Grand Prix. At 3am, after the race (which Hamilton won, the only English success of this post) we woke Alexandra and all stumbled, red-eyed and weary, to the local pub to watch the football. After the Aussies were comprehensively handed their coats by the Germans, we were surprised to run into some people from Framestore – small world and all that – and at 7am despite us feeling like zombies we went with them for breakfast to have a chat and a catch-up. Afterwards, Alexandra and I decided to try and get a few hours sleep.
After a great few days in Sydney with good food, drink and friends, we didn’t want to put our backpacks on again, knowing that it’d mean the last chapter of our trip was beginning. Despite our reluctance we caught our flight to Buenos Aires excited at all the things we’d be doing there. With a 13 hour flight, and with an awkward time difference from Sydney, we knew we’d be tired when we arrived, but a lucky upgrade to premium economy certainly helped soften the blow. Considering our exhilarating but exhausting time in India, our intention in South America is to spend longer in quite a few places over the few months we’ve got here. BA was one of those places and we were looking to spend at least 4 weeks there to really get to know the place.
We arrived and it was a pretty easy transfer to our first of four different accommodations in BA, a backpackers hostel right in the centre of town. It was immediately obvious that this country was obsessed with football (not that I didn’t know it already), and the hostel was a great place to be for the first of Argentina’s World Cup games. We slept in a little late that morning but were woken by a massive cheer as Argentina scored their first goal against the Koreans. We quickly got up and watched the rest of the game in the huge tv room which was packed with enthusiastic Argentines. It was great fun to be there with them all. During the tournament I also noticed an awful lot of teenagers playing Shakira’s World Cup song out loud from their phones while walking down the street, something that probably wouldn’t happen in London, not with Shakira anyway.
We stayed for a couple of nights and used the time to hunt down a homely B&B that we could spend a month at. We decided to stay in San Telmo – an area with loads of character, interesting architecture and some great restaurants and bars – and the day we spent walking around the area looking for a place to stay certainly helped us get familiar with it. It was a chilly 10°C or so and combined with the look and feel of the city, made us feel like we were somewhere in Spain, and certainly not as far away from London as we were.
We found a place we liked, negociated a good deal, paid for the first week and moved in. Still feeling jet-lagged, we tried to get an early night. We soon realised that our room was situated right above a night club which played a continuous stream of house music at exactly the same beat from 9pm to about 6am. The whole room vibrated at that beat throughout the night, as did my head, and the next morning we promptly got a refund, arranged a room at our second-choice B&B, and moved out to accommodation number three. It was a little more expensive, but was well worth the extra cash. Finally settled, we felt we could start to get to know BA properly.
We had four weeks of Spanish lessons booked to begin the following week, and we had a weekend to do some touristy things before they began. We soon found that most of the places we wanted to visit were reachable on foot and the streets were amazingly quiet for such a big city. We managed to see quite a lot in those few days including Cementerio de la Recoleta, the Floris Genérica, Casa Rosada and the Museo de la Ciudad. Interspersed with all of these things we started to introduce ourselves to the amazing food and wine that BA had to offer, and there was plenty of it. One morning while walking the quiet streets around the Cathedral, we even heard La Cumparsita – the most famous of all tango melodies – being played from the bells of the Cathedral.
Our first day at Spanish school started the following week and we were happy that the walk we’d be doing every morning was quick and easy without much traffic to get in the way. The first lesson went well and I soon realised that this was a pretty fast-paced course. Lots of the things I’d learnt from a short course at school (13 years ago now, which scares me) came back to me and it all seemed pretty good. Except one thing, homework. It really was like being back at school.
The room at our B&B was set away from the street and on Tuesday morning we opened the front door to head out to our lesson and were shocked to step into the polluted chaos of buses, cars, motorbikes and people. We later found out that the day before was a public holiday and most people had headed to the country for the long weekend. The true face of San Telmo had revealed itself, and there we were, for a few days at least thinking that it was the nice quiet part of the city. Being a Londoner, it didn’t take long to get used to the people and noise, but the pollution from some of the old trucks and buses was pretty hard to bear sometimes. BA is a city with some seriously old vehicles on the streets. I thought I’d seen my last Ford Sierra about 10 years ago, but here they were, battered and bruised but still running, and looking decidedly modern next to some of the 45-or-so year old Ford trucks that were all over the city.
The next week or so didn’t turn out as planned for us. It has to be said that BA is a city for getting up late, eating late and staying out very very late, and we were failing in our self-set task to get to know the city more like a local would. Getting up early, going to study Spanish for 2 hours and then having homework to do, all coupled with the fact that we were still a little jet-lagged, meant that we were struggling to sync our body clocks… not to GMT-4, but to BA time, which is something entirely different. Luckily for me though, most of the World Cup matches were on either in the morning or early afternoon, so that worked out pretty well! We did manage to get to a great evening Tango show and found a San Telmo steak house that served what is still the best steak I’ve ever eaten. It was so good that we ended up going to that restaurant five times while we were there! We also visited a few great bars, but were still struggling to match the Port eños‘ stamina for going out and staying out.
We were getting to know BA by day though, and it definitely felt like we were beginning to settle in to the city after the short time we’d been there. We even started doing less touristy things like going for a few jogs around Puerto Madero and even went to the cinema (where I found out that Eclipse is a pretty shit film).
After two weeks of two hours per day of Spanish, we were booked in for four hours per day for the final two weeks. There were times during the first couple of weeks that I felt like my head just couldn’t take in any more information, and it was going to get even more intense. Maybe, just maybe, increasing the intake of vino tinto (I had remembered the most important words) each night would help me cope. Or maybe not, it was worth a shot though. A night at our favourite restaurant (La Gran Parilla del Plata, on the corner of Chile and Peru) where we managed to wait until 10pm before turning up, highlighted just how late the people in BA eat. We managed to finish our meal at 1am, and even as we were finishing, a couple of guys walked in for dinner. It was an extreme case, but as we clearly still needed to get into the BA groove, we moved the rest of our Spanish lessons into the afternoon to help us adjust.
During that week we headed to a nice little San Telmo café for lunch, a place with a menu written in Spanish. We had the dictionary out and were clearly far too obvious about it because we were approached by an Australian girl who introduced herself as Hayley and kindly offered to help us with the menu. Well, she helped by translating one word for us before pointing at my menu and saying ‘You should just try that!’ So we did. We got chatting while waiting for the food and agreed to get in contact again soon. Hayley left, and the food arrived. It was an excellent recommendation. A huge wooden platter of cold cuts, cheeses and pickles with a bowl of chunky bread. We wondered what other great recommendations Hayley might have for us and we decided to make sure we got back in contact soon.
The next day it was time for England to play Germany. We headed to Gibraltar – an oasis in the desert for British ex-pats and tourists who need their fix of beer battered fish ‘n’ chips served by a fat bloke who speaks English with a northern accent and tells terrible jokes. My day was ruined by the Germans, but at 4-1 neither me, nor the fat barman could argue with the result. It was not the last time the pesky German youngsters would try to ruin my day.
Later we headed to another nice little San Telmo café. The plan was to have a quick lunch and then to find another pub where we could watch Argentina play Mexico in their first knockout game. The café had one tiny tv showing the build-up to the game and while we were eating our lunch the place steadily filled up with all kinds of people, from children to a small group of grannies. The one similarity between them all? Celeste y blanco… light blue and white. They were clearly all there for the game, and the atmosphere was great. We decided to keep our seats, order another couple of coffees and stay. The streets outside were deserted for 45 mins, while inside the café the passion of the people was on full display, with huge cheers of ‘¡Vamos!’ and the grannies with flags wrapped around their heads banging the coffee tables with their fists when the Argentines scored. For 15 minutes the streets returned to normal (other than the beeping horns of cars and cheering from the locals – and it was only half time), and then it was back to the game.
I was hoping that it’d take my mind off of England’s terrible performance, and it certainly did. In the end Argentina won, and in that little café, it was very obvious that they had. Germany were next, and the people were confident.
After a few days during which we managed to surprise ourselves by taking to the extended Spanish lessons fairly well, we also visited a couple of excellent restaruants. Café San Juan was absolute proof that steak isn’t all that BA has to offer, as we had some fantastic pork with shallots wrapped in grilled prosciutto.Then the following evening La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar provided us with a 16 course experimental degustation menu that included things like a shot glass of roast cauliflour gravy, and a chocolate cloud (chocolate sauce, foamed up and quickly frozen in liquid nitrogen before being served).
Then came Argentina v Germany, it was a big big game, so we headed to Plaza San Martin (a big park) to watch it on a big screen with a big crowd. Unfortunately the only big thing at the end of the game was the Germans’ score. But despite the defeat, the Argentines didn’t seem defeated. Maybe it was the scoreline that made them seem to give a collective shrug of the shoulders and display an ‘Oh well, maybe next time’ attitude. I was ready to be disappointed with them (my nationality prepares me for sporting disappointments) but by the end of the match, I think I ended up being more disappointed than they were. The World Cup party was over in BA, but it was still a great party to have been at.
The day after we had a great Sunday afternoon wandering around and taking photos at the markets on Defensa – a long cobbled street that runs through the length of San Telmo and beyond. Our pub lunch was disturbed when I had to run outside to take some photos of a guy singing and playing a wobbling piano on wheels as it was pushed along the cobblestones by two of his friends, who also doubled as his backing singers.
After getting back in contact with Hayley the week after our first meeting, we ended up going out with her a couple more times over the next week, and were introduced to a few friends, Sam, Ben Lauren and Mike. After an evening in a bar in Palermo – one of the more up-market areas of BA – we had an ‘interesting’ night at a club where a British DJ attempted to convincingly mix mid 90s UK Garage with West Coast Hip Hop. He failed miserably, and needless to say, we left pretty soon after we arrived. Earlier that evening Hayley kindly invited us to stay with her in her new apartment as she had a spare room, and after a little rearranging of dates with our B&B a few days later we happily accepted.
Since they kept annoying me with their excellent football, that week I was happy to see the Germans knocked out by Spain (apologies to Christian and Janna!), and it seemed there were plenty of Argentines who shared my feelings on the matter.
The following Saturday morning we moved into Hayley’s beautiful San Telmo apartment (which simply meant repacking our stuff and walking a few blocks) and we all immediately headed over to the weekend farmers’ market to stock up for the week. We returned to the apartment with bags of great fresh food, looking forward to all of the things we could make now that we had a whole kitchen to use! We spent that afternoon walking around La Boca and watching a little more tango. Then on Sunday we all went to watch Spain beat The Netherlands to win the World Cup.
Being at Hayley’s place for the last week-and-a-half of our time in BA totally changed how we spent that time. She had so many ideas, plans and recommendations that put our guide book to shame. On one of the days not only did we pack our Spanish books before leaving for our lesson, we also packed some steel mixing bowls and a couple of steel ladels. Hayley was going to a gay rights protest later that day as the Senate were due to vote on legalising gay marriage the following evening, and she invited us along. The protest was a response to a large event outside the Palacio del Congresso where people protested against the law being passed, and the small gathering of a few hundred people at Obelisco with their pots, pans and voices (and a few resurrected light blue and white vuvuzelas) was enough to make a lot of noise and even got a mention on the BBC News website. It was a precursor to a much larger gay rights event at the Palacio del Congresso the following day. We went along with Sam, Ben and Hayley and made plenty of noise, and also went to the larger event which had a huge attendance, a great atmosphere and live music. The morning after, we heard that the vote was passed in the early hours after about 14 hours of debating on the issue. It was a great result and we were so happy to have played our small part in the protests.
Our Spanish lesons came to a close at the end of that week and our very basic understanding of the language probably contributed to us feeling like we’d finally ended up getting into the way of life of BA. We weren’t so much living the life of the Porteños, as living the life of the Porteños whilst on holiday. (Hayley was also on a holiday from work, which made that easier.) After a week of nights out, an excellent party at Ben’s apartment was absolute proof that drinking wine, Fernet and vodka until 6am and feeling like it’s only about 1am was now actually pretty easy for us! We softened the blow of the hangovers with yet more wine and some great steak during a visit to La Cabrera with Ben and Hayley the following evening.
After a rainy Sunday kept us indoors for most of the day (recovery time), Hayley made sure we had stuff to do on our last full day in BA by taking us around Abasto and for a huge lunch of high tea at Las Violetas – a totally unnessary purchase after having had a pizza an hour earlier, but great all the same. We then all went to La Bomba de Tiempo for a great purcussion show, and had farewell drinks with Sam, Lauren, Ben and Hayley at Territorio – the same place we first met Hayley at only a few weeks before.
The next evening we left BA on a first class 13 hour overnight bus to Mendoza – flat bed, movies, a meal with wine and even bingo on board! – to try and learn about the amazing wine we’d become so accustomed to drinking over the past few weeks, and to get our first glimpse of the Andes. BA is one of the most fun, vibrant and interesting cities we’ve ever visited and we had no regrets about spending 5 weeks there. In fact we decided to change our itinerary to return to London from BA instead of Lima, so it wasn’t a final goodbye to BA and our friends. We’ll be back there in late October for some more fun, food and Fernet!
Huge thanks to Sam and Lauren for the laughs, Ben and Mike for an amazing party, and especially to Hayley for making our time in BA so much better than it could’ve been!
Here are some pictures from our time in BA.