Sunday, October 28, 2012

Buenos Aries

With the kids safely headed off on their school trips, Greg and I headed to Buenos Aries, Argentina. We spent 3 peaceful nights in the beautiful Ulyssis Hotel. No neighbor dog howling, no earthquakes (they had one here in Chile while we were gone), no kids or early morning schedules.

We arrived late on Monday in the rain. The flight was a little extra bumpy due to the storm, but we finally landed on the runway around 8:30pm. When I say runway - I mean runway. The plane stops in the middle of the tarmac. You get off and walk to a shuttle bus, which hauls you and everyone else on the plane to the building. No pulling up to a "gate" at the terminal. Apparently, this is very common outside of the US. It seemed a little unsafe to me. People just walking around amid planes... Whatever. We got inside safely and through immigration fairly quickly. The reciprocation fee was $160. This little fee continues to irritate me. Countries charging us lump sums of money because the US charges their citizens to enter the country. It's their way of "getting the money back". It seems to me that the only people benefiting from these fees are the governments. Not the people paying them. But that's a story for another day.

Buenos Aries was amazing! We spent all day Tuesday exploring the city. We started by walking up to the La Recoleta Cemetery, which was only a few blocks from our hotel. I know, that sounds weird, checking out the cemetery - but we kept hearing that this place was a Must See. They were right. It was absolutely astonishing.

First we came to this amazing 200 year old tree in the park on our way there. It was just the beginning. The old cathedral. The colors and stone. Everything had history. I loved it!

The cemetery was really very interesting. The statues and designs that went into these crypts is unbelievable.

The first thing you notice is the enormity of this place. It's like a small city, with elaborate buildings erected to honor the dead. There are 'streets' throughout the complex, some more narrow than others. 

 The next thing you notice are the statues. They are truly works of art.

You also realize that although this place is very old, it is still a place visited by living relatives, paying respect to their ancestors. Fresh flowers were often seen throughout.

You also realize the intricate details carved into stone throughout the cemetery. These are expensive tributes to loved ones. No detail was left unattended. 

One of the main draws to this particular cemetery is Evita. We were following the extensive map trying to locate her when we came upon this crowd. Everyone wanted to see Evita. It looked as if this was a school group on a field trip. She was quite an important influence in Argentinian history. Her story is quite interesting. The disappearance of her body and political influence that she had, has mandated a guard watching over her final resting place here in the Duarte family tomb. 

You also can see inside of some of these tombs and see that there are caskets just staked on top of one another. Interesting...

The rest of the day was spent exploring around via the Hop On - Hop Off bus. For around $20USD you can have an all day pass to use the tour buses. You get on or off at any stop. Busses run every 20 minutes. It was a little bit chilly on Tuesday, but it didn't stop us from sitting up on top of the open roofed bus. I took some great pictures from up there.

The city is OLD. When we talk about old in the US, we don't even begin to match the age of these cities. The buildings and history go way back. I took lots of architectural photographs. I am thinking there will be an "Architecture of South America" coffee table book in my future (what else am I going to do with all these pictures?).

It is a big modern city with lots of beautiful old buildings mixed in. I loved it.

Our first stop was at the Opera House, Teatro Colon. It is considered one of the top five, I think, Opera Houses in the World. It was beautiful.

We bought tickets for the spanish-speaking tour as the english tour wasn't for a few hours. It was fine by me, I had Greg there to tell me the high points - really I just wanted to enjoy and photograph the details. The only rules: No flash. I managed to still get some great shots.

 It had been recently restored and absolutely unbelievable. It first opened in 1908 and back in the day, the smokers had quite an impact on the furnishings. The black junk took years to remove - but it is stunning now. The photo of the column below shows a patch of what the Opera House looked like BEFORE the restoration. 

You see that black spot? That is what the entire inside looked like before the painstaking renovation. Years and years of indoor smoking coupled with normal wear and tear, and it was a hot mess. The restoration has made it exquisite again. 

Inside the performance hall was unbelievable. The grandeur and magnitude of the facility was awe-inspiring. It seats 2,500 people and is a tuxedo/evening gown only crowd. I am certain a full house, decked to the nines, just adds to the ambiance. Greg said he may just have to take me there one day - when we are dressed more appropriately. Unfortunately, he left his tux at home.

One of our stops was the futbol stadium. As we headed that direction, we could tell we were moving into a less affluent part of town. I loved seeing the old part of the city.


After exploring the area, and picking up some souvenirs, we decided to skip a few of the stops by walking about 5 blocks to the next bus stop. We got about 2 blocks and decided to turn around and head back to the stadium. It wasn't the best part of town. We were warned by some local friends that it is probably worse than Santiago... We both had second thoughts after about 1 block. Cool place for photos from the safety of the tour bus - not so cool to be the only white people walking around on foot. Being the gringos sort of makes you feel like there is a big fat target on your forehead.

That night, we had dinner with some friends who live in Buenos Aries at an amazing steak place. Everything wonderful that you've heard about Argentinean steak places doesn't even begin to put the moist deliciousness that we ate to justice. OH MY GOODNESS! They do not have good beef here in Chile, so that big ole' medium cooked T-Bone tasted like HEAVEN! For dessert - Argentinean dulce-de-leche. It puts Chilean manajar to shame. (We brought some back) YUM-O!

Wednesday was a beautiful spring day. We took the "fast ferry" across the river to Uruguay, to visit the little historical town of Colonia. The fast ferry takes 1 hour to get across the river. This is a huge river. The regular ferry, takes 3 hours.

We arrived in Uruguay in time for lunch. We ate at this peaceful little place on the water. The Yacht Club was recommended, but hadn't opened for the season yet, we were just a little too early. The $70 lunch was good - but not $70 good. I think they saw us coming :) Whatever, the dining experience was a big chunk of the fun, and that lunch was a beautiful meal that kicked off a casual, fun day, strolling around this old town.

If you look at the photo below, you'll see an island on the right in the distance, with 2 ships to the left of it. You can't tell from the picture, but Buenos Aries is just to the left of the last ship - this is one BIG river!

The "Fast Ferry" took us back to Buenos Aries. On the way home, we rode in first class. It was a fun day!

On Thursday we didn't head home at 8:30pm, so we had the whole day to do whatever we wanted. We slept in late, ate a late breakfast and then wandered around the town near the hotel. We ate lunch at a restaurant under the branches of that 200 year old tree. We had to pull the patio umbrella over us to protect our food (and heads) from the falling "fruit". The seed pods from that tree would plummet down at amazing speeds when the breeze blew. It was pretty dang funny.

We sat on park benches and wandered around all afternoon. We alternated from the sun to the shade (gringos and sunburns). It was a perfect ending to our little getaway.

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