Thursday, March 27, 2014

Interim Trip Report– Diane & Troy in Argentina

We arrived quite Wednesday morning (3-19-14) and after unpacking headed out for lunch at Canita La Mamma Rosa, as we always do on our first day. We met Julia and Pablo (youngest daughter and her boyfriend) and Camila and Tito for dinner at our favorite restaurant, A Nos Amours. Tito mentioned to Leandro, the chef, that the figs will be ready for harvest on “the farm.” Leandro gave Tito a lovely smile and said, “I want your figs.”

The following evening we rented a car at Localiza, one of the few car rental places outside the airports, which is (luckily) just three blocks from our house. The day consumed with biking to a meeting with the escribano in the afternoon and shopping for the weekend. We didn’t get to dinner at La Choza until eleven.

Pin indicates location of La Esperanza relative to Buenos Aires.

On Friday morning we picked up daughter Diane and son-in-law Troy at the airport. We headed straight to the estancia (ranch) of our friends Camila and Tito, which is about 4 hours south of BA. Camila served a lunch of delicious empenadas. Afterwards, Tito, Troy, Diane and I drove to Azul, the nearest large town (population: ~60,000), to go shopping for provisions for the weekend. It’s about a 35 kilometer drive over dirt roads that cut through a landscape of grass, blue sky, and lots of cows.  Diane and Troy got a good glimpse into life in this important agricultural and cattle center.

It was a Friday afternoon and the town was bustling with pedestrians, motor bikes, wandering dogs and cars competing at every intersection. The first time Carolyn and I had been here , a number of years ago, was during the quiet siesta time, after lunch, when the only person, besides us, at the main square was a taxi driver snoozing in his car. 

We visited a couple of panaderias (bakeries), the supermarket and the butcher, where Tito selected 7 kilos of meat for the asado planned for Saturday night. That’s 15 pounds of meat! The trunk of the car was filled with food when we finished shopping!  Of course, the Saturday evening asado and all our meals were fabulous. Camila and Tito are excellent cooks. Particularly popular was the Ricotta Cake that Camila prepared from scratch.

JBrzezinski_photo 1_77257-1
7 kilos of meat on the butcher's scale with Tito in the background

“The farm,” as Tito and Camila refer to their estancia (cattle ranch) in English, is named La Esperanza. It’s 2,500 acres supports about 1,400 cows. Altogether, from what I can gather, Tito, his brother, 3 sisters plus two cousins own about 11,000 acres, cumulatively, within the same area. For us urbanites, it’s really hard to fathom such huge tracts of land.

The vistas over the flat land, dotted with thousands of grass fed cows, are astounding. The nearest large town, Azul, is a bit over 25 kilometers (15.5 miles), yet you can see the lights of many of its buildings.

Entrance to La Esperanza (3-21-14)

Happy cows – curious cows

We noticed last December that the flag at La Esperanza was ready to be replaced. Indeed, when we arrived this time it was gone.

 JBrzezinski_photo 2_77258-2
Julia watches as the new flag being installed next to the pool

The weather was and ideal, summer-like, but it is the start of fall and perfect timing to  harvest  some figs and walnuts.


Above, Diane whizzes by as she took a turn driving the cuatro ciclo (i.e. ATV).

The two brothers who have been operating Campodonico for decades

We had a chance to visit a nearby pulperia, called Campodonico, which is an ancient bar and general store that has served the gauchos and locals since 1850. These old pulperias are quickly disappearing on the pampas. (location: -36.341944,-59.789722) (See more images, taken by someone else HERE).

After lunch on Saturday. Right to left: Me, Carolyn, Troy, Diane, Tito, Julia, Camila, Francisca, Santi, Joaquin (Camila’s brother) and Luz (his girlfriend)

Tito’s cousin, Inca, her husband, Paul, and their two younger sons joined us for the asado. I preapred Tito’s Hammock cocktails that disappeared very quickly. Unfortunately, I had developed a sore throat and had to abstain. Mas o menos. We attacked the meat with appetite and energy, but only made a dent into the 7 kilos. We went at it again on Sunday lunch, but still could not finish everything.

Everyone agrees … Diane and Agustina (Tito’s sister) look like sisters! (Taken at the Saturday night asado

Julia hides behind the bottle … Sunday lunch

On Sunday afternoon we drove to the estancia owned by Inca and her brother Juan. It’s called La Aurora (The Sunrise). It’s fairly close to La Esperanza, but even larger in acreage. Although Inca and Paul were not there, Tito provided a thorough tour and some history. The house is a rambling colonial Spanish style building that consists of two connected houses that share a huge dining room. Altogether there are over a dozen bedrooms. Great place for a party!   ;)

At El Obrero (“The Worker”) restaurant in La Boca (3-24-14)

We returned late on Sunday afternoon to finally introduce Diane and Troy to the city.  Since we still had the rental car on Monday (a holiday here) we took the opportunity and drove down to La Boca and San Telmo with them. Julia (youngest daughter, who lives in BA) joined us and served as an impromptu tour guide.

Alternative take on a mobile library in San Telmo; a art piece.

Luckily we found parking in San Telmo. Because it was a holiday, the market that operates on Sundays was again in full swing, including a demonstration of tango in the square.

Soccer in front of the church at nearby Plaza Guemes

In the evening Pablo, Julia’s boyfriend, joined us at Casa Palermo and shortly later we walked to meet Adriana and Carlos for dinner at the restaurant Minga.

Tuesday morning I returned the dust encrusted rental car to the Localiza office. The young woman there carefully inspected the car, making officious notes on her clipboard. I was worried that there was damage from the rocks on the country roads. She returned to the office and announced “Perfecto!” with a beaming smile. Whew.

Strolling through Palermo Soho (3-25-14)

In the afternoon we walked around Palermo Soho, exploring the various shops. Carolyn and I haven’t done this in the last several years and we astonished how many new shops there are and how many have vanished. Needless to say, it was a lot of walking around. We enjoyed a good lunch at Bartola (corner of Gurruchaga and Costa Rica). In the evening, we met Camila at Plaza Guemes and strolled back to Casa Palermo where she showed us how to start the gas heater. (Unfortunately, the auto pilot has quit working.)

With Maria on the roof terrace at Magnolia Hotel (3-26-14)

We had a late start on Wednesday and didn’t arrive at Maria’s hotel (Magnolia Hotel) until after noon, in spite of the fact that it is only a block away. At long last Maria and Diane and Troy could meet. We had a chance to catch up with Maria and she gave Diane and Troy a short tour of the hotel. Afterwards we had lunch at El Renaciente, a local dive that serves up inexpensive but tasty fare. After a meat-packed lunch we headed to Recoleta Cemetery for the obligatory tour and a stop at Evita’s final resting place.

Enormous tree in the park outside of Recoleta Cementery

Recoleta Cemetery

Military guard in Plaza San Martin accompanied by a random dog

Street scene opposite the Casa Rosada

After an helado, we peeked into the famous Alvear Hotel. From there we walked about a mile to Plaza San Martin, which truly is an elegant park and then about 1/5 miles down Florida Street, which was very crowded with people, hawkers and people yelling “cambio” (change), hoping to exchange pesos for dollars. Last stop: Casa Rosada (the presidential office building).

At Casa Rosada (3-26-14)

Later we enjoyed a very nice dinner at our favorite restaurant, A Nos Amours, and called it night, exhausted from all the walking.

This morning, Thursday, was cloudy and there was a light, intermittent drizzle, but it was over by noon. Diane and Troy headed out to visit the Museo Evita, but Carolyn and I decided to chillax Casa Palermo. This evening we have plans to go for pizza and then to Milion, a popular club that is housed in a mansion in Recoleta, which is the upscale neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

Unfortunately, Diane and Troy’s week in Argentina is quickly coming to a close. Somehow we have to squeeze in all the rest tomorrow, before they leave for the airport at six.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Renting a car in Buenos Aires


I posted on the topic of renting a car previously (HERE) and if you are interested in doing so, it’s still relevant and is worth referring to. This post is meant to be an update.

We rented a car from Localiza for 4 days to visit friends in Carillo last week. The cost for a teeny 2-door Chevy was $2,187.50 (pesos), which included unlimited miles. The car was okay, however, it did not have optional features of any kind. i.e. no power windows, manual locks, etc. Not even cups holders. All this was okay, but it didn’t have airbags, which we didn’t realize until we were returning from our trip. We will never rent a car again without airbags. It’s not worth the risk.

The previous weekend we rented a car, but they didn’t have it available and upgraded us to a 4-door VW. It had airbags, power locks, power windows and cup holders. The cost was $1,641 for three days with unlimited miles. I recommend this as a minimum, if you can afford it.

When you return the car, you are supposed to return it with a full tank. There is a filling station at the corner of Gorriti and Scalabrini Ortiz, however, when we went to fill up, they were out of gas. Out of gas! How does that happen? The other station that we know of is on Cordoba, not far from Scalabrini Ortiz, but it was closed for remodeling. So we returned the car about 3/4 full. No problem. They simply charged us about the same as it would have cost anyway.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Buenos Aires – My November 2013 Report


Buenos Aires, like everything, is changing. Some changes are welcome; some are dreaded.

The city’s program of installing bike paths is the best we’ve seen anywhere. The bike paths replace parking lanes entirely, giving bicyclists a truly dedicated and protected two-way path. And they are all over the city, bisecting it in every direction. At home, in Evanston and Chicago, bike paths are half hearted . . . a joke really; a very dangerous joke played on bicyclists by politicians who don’t have the courage to act decisively and responsibly. In Nashville, we were shocked to find “share the road” signs on the expressway (!), where the speed limit is 55. Sorry, but that is simply idiotic. I must say, BA is way ahead of the curve!


Photo above: Bike lane at the end of our block, along Julian Alvarez.

Buenos Aires has also changed the situation with trash, at least in Palermo and Villa Crespo. We haven’t yet been to any of the other barrios this time, but assume this is now prevalent everywhere. Previously, people did one of three things:

1. They would put their trash into a metal basket, well above ground, meant to keep animals from foraging (except for squirrels, because there are no squirrels here). Notice the metal basket in the photo below; next to the green Estanciera truck:




2. They would place their trash bags against the nearest tree or into the gutter along the curb.

3. In some blocks, for reasons I don’t know, they would walk to the corner and throw it into a growing pile.

Now there are one or more large bins on each block. Our neighbor cheerfully asked us to instruct our housekeeper to no longer place the trash against the tree in front of his house because the city now imposes fines for not using the new bins.


Images above and below: The new trash bins.


One outcome, it appears, is that we haven’t seen any carteneros (poor people, searching through trash for cardboard and other recyclables). We haven’t seen those on foot nor those that came around on horse and wagon. At least not so far. Although the sound of the horse clopping on the pavement was charming, the reality is that these people are desperately poor, searching for anything that can be reused or sold as scrap to make a few pesos. We often saw entire families picking through trash in the dark of night. Last night, there wasn’t a soul to be seen. UPDATE: During the three weeks that followed my initial report, we noted that there are still lots of carteneros working in the night.


Yet another outcome is that the city appears noticeably cleaner than it did in the past. Not clean … just cleaner. Some of our friends here don’t notice the change because they are here all the time, but to us, there has been improvement. And little, by little, the city is paving over the century old stones with asphalt. It makes the roads more quiet, but we lament the loss of the granite paving. In places, the paving was artfully and beautifully laid in circular patterns. Along El Salvador, comes to mind. Gone. The stones (see photo below), I have read, were brought from Europe as ballast on ships.


A year or two ago the city entirely remodeled the park at the end of the block. Now they have added a fenced dog run. That’s a welcome addition. And the city continues to install more curb cuts for the handicapped:


Unfortunately, the guy at the rear wasn’t paying attention and stopped the flow of concrete too late, leaving them with a large slug of unnecessary concrete. After this photo, they all came to stand and look at the pile of concrete and to discuss what to do about it.

As we traverse the city on our bikes we notice that new construction continues with abandon. But we don’t understand it. The government restrictions on the U.S. dollar should have stopped the real estate market in it’s tracks, and we’re told it did.  Yet we see developers tearing down buildings, helter skelter, and replacing them with new ones. Who is buying all this, we ask? Everyone shrugs. Meanwhile, boutique hotels have been closing right and left. Even the venerable Malabia House in Palermo Soho has bit the dust. In spite of that, we see new restaurants and shops that have appeared just since our last visit in April. People keep trying; plodding forward against the heavy current of a sputtering economy and against the odds. Hooray for them for trying! Suerte!

Acuña de Figueroa 1581 (Palermo)

Above: Just one development that is a couple blocks from Casa Palermo. See more at the developer’s website. And that’s just one developer.

Meanwhile, the peso continues to be in trouble. :(  The official exchange rate is now around $6.11 pesos to $1 USD. The “blue rate” (read: black market rate) is around $9.80 pesos to the USD. Last April the official rate was around $5 pesos and the blue around $7.50. The rate of inflation is a mystery, but many insist it’s around 25%. Things are noticeably more costly, but still affordable for foreigners and those with dollars.

In spite of the economic woes, we observed at dinner last night that the restaurant was packed full, with people waiting for tables. The ambient noise was loud from all the talking and laughter and clicking of wine glasses. The lights were bright and there seemed to be sense of hopefulness. But the portions were smaller and we noticed some patrons sharing; something we’ve never seen before.

There is one thing that hasn’t changed. One thing that you can count on. When it rains, it pours.

-jrb  11-28-13

Nice and red

We enjoyed this Malbec last night. $62 pesos. I hope to find it in the U.S!


Made in Argentina?

One of things I love about Buenos Aires is that you come across shops like this little women's shoe store. Interesting designs at a reasonable price. ($35 USD for a pair of all leather "tennis shoes.") And when we asked if they are made in Argentina, the woman said "Yes, of course. In the back," and opened the door to the rear of the store, to show us the workshop where the shoes are made.

Where: Lineal at El Salvador 4380 in Palermo, just a few blocks from Casa Palermo.




Dining on budget?

Lunch in Buenos Aires is still a bargain (11-28-13). I had steak (bife de chorizo) with fries, a basket of breads with butter, a glass of wine and desert for 67 pesos (excluding tip). That's about $10 USD at the official exchange rate or $7.50 if you can exchange dollars at the "blue rate."

Where? Los Remanseros. Around the corner from Casa Palermo, at the corner of Medrano and Costa Rica.

p.s. the fries were perfect … crispy on the outside and like mashed potatoes inside.



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Tres Tintos Muy Rico