Week 4: 13 – 19 February
Our final week was about discovering a few new things and revisiting others, continuing to appreciate or shrug at some of the idiosyncrasies that are Buenos Aires.
Some fairly unique attributes
Everyone visiting this bustling city asks the same question – what is it with the pavements (sidewalks)? There are two particular characteristics that are unmissable, and they are some of our key memories of our previous visit. Firstly, as there are no awnings and lots of air-conditioning units, it is impossible to walk down the street without getting wet – often!
Secondly, the paving looks different along a single street and the condition and cleanliness varies from pretty good to really bad and seriously dangerous. We found out that this is because each building owner is responsible for the area of paving outside their own building, and naturally some do a better job than others.
When the utility workers dig up the paving, they are meant to repair it, but that doesn’t happen. Even the cleaning of the area is up to the building – so we’re very happy that we have a lovely lady that cleans up the leaves and dog poo from in front of our apartment block twice a day (except on Sundays).
During our first week or two in the city, we kept seeing cars with bottles on their roof and couldn’t comprehend why people here would have a particular tendency to place bottles on top of a car.
Finally we discovered that a car with a bottle on the roof is for sale and in most instances there is a phone number written on the bottle. As we live down the road from a large car wash, there seem to be an extra large number of bottled cars lining the street, having been cleaned up to be sold.
Not all the cars for sale are clean and many of them are extremely old! No pink slip for them!
A few new finds for eating and drinking
Although Serendipity is by far our favourite and most visited coffee shop, we do have a number of others around. We had tried most, but had one that we kept passing, intending to pop in. Serendipity is closed on a Saturday, so this was a good day to try out the trendy café come surf shop, Von Berry. Not a bad cuppa but they won’t be tearing us away from our local.
On numerous occasions, we had seen La Nueva Panaderia Buenos Aires, a panaderia (bakery) a few hundred metres from home. Having fully intended to go in and buy something we had never done so. We eventually made it, and had many a lunch of empanada jamon y queso (ham & cheese empanadas / pies). Glenda’s not a fan of a pie, but empanada are yummy! They also have beautiful, fresh dulce de leche filled pastries- a good breakfast when we can’t make it to the coffee shop.
Cabernet, a restaurant a 2km walk from home, serves the typical Argentinian Bife de Chorizo (steak), but is a little more refined and has a few more creative dishes on its menu.
The restaurant was pretty busy for a Monday night, but tables were sufficiently spread out to make for a quiet evening. The waitress spoke enough English to engage with us about Australian bands, and we had a brief chat to a couple at the table behind – they’ve lived in Toronto, Canada for the last 40+ years but still spoke with broad Scottish twang. We couldn’t resist both eating the same thing – the waitress showed us someone else’s slow cooked pork dish on its way to the table and that was it. Sadly, we didn’t have space for dessert as they looked pretty good.
Deciding we’ve eaten enough meat, we didn’t get tempted by the half carcass of beef or enormous box of ham from the supermarket!
Visiting the parks…..by day and by night
We had been intending to visit the Rodedal (the park where we go running) at sunset as we thought it would be pretty. There is also a popular ice-cream shop nearby that we’d been wanting to try. Everyone keeps saying that you can’t visit Buenos Aires without eating ice-cream, so how could we? So after an early dinner on Sunday night (early here is 7/730pm), we took a stroll along the 2km stretch to get there. And boy, weren’t we glad to have done so! The sun had just set and the moon was rising over the small central lake. We found out afterwards that the reason it was so huge and bright was because it was a supermoon.
Being Sunday night, hundreds of people were there, having picnics, playing soccer, roller-blading, cycling and walking. Having planned to go straight to the ice-cream shop, we couldn’t resist joining the families walking around the 1600m loop. That way we’d earned our icy treat!
On our way back, we took a small detour via a nearby group of outlet stores, Distrito Arcos. They are located in the old buildings of a railway site. The shops open on to common outdoor area. The main feature if\s the brick construction of the railway viaduct that forms the inner walls and outer street façade. They have created a number of green areas, and amongst them there are kiosks, terraces and an amphitheatre. We had visited a number of times during the day but were keen to see what it was like at 10pm on Sunday night. As one would expect in Buenos Aires, everything was open and lots of people, young and old, were milling around.
Having seen the Floralis Generica marked on a tourist map and looking for a place to walk, we headed off one day, having no idea how worth it the 15km return trip would be! It was a sight to behold. Floralis Genérica is a sculpture created in 2002 and was a gift to the city by the Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano. It represents a large flower made of stainless steel with aluminium skeleton and reinforced concrete, which looks at the sky, extending to its six petals. It weighs eighteen tons and is 23 meters high. The sculpture is located in the centre of a large park, surrounded by paths that get closer and provide different perspectives of the monument. It is placed above a reflecting pool, which apart from fulfilling its aesthetic function, protects it.
The architect once said that the flower “is a synthesis of all the flowers and, at the same time, a hope reborn every day at opening.” So it was designed to move, closing its petals in the evening and opening them in the morning. An electrical system automatically opens and closes the petals depending on the time of the day. At night the flower closes, emanating a red glow from inside, and reopens (“…is reborn…”) the following morning. This mechanism also closes the flower if strong winds blow.
A day like a Gaucho….
We enjoyed a day on a ranch about 150km south west of the city. Not only was it good to get a break from the concrete, but it was interesting to mingle with the other visitors, most of whom seemed to have come from the city for the day or weekend.
Soon after we arrived, we had a leisurely walk around the large property on horseback. Prince and Colonia, our horses, are so used to carrying people around that we didn’t have to do much. Except when Colonia, Glenda’s mount, decided that it was time to stop for a nibble and needed a little nudge to continue. Later in the day, we also had a carriage ride along a similar path, although this time we ventured too close to a mosquito nest and we were both chewed to bits!
Our visit to the onsite castle was somewhat boring. Not only did the guide carry on way too long, it was all in Spanish and we didn’t understand much. Fortunately our guide gave us a quick translation afterwards.
Lunch was a typical Asado. Just like Australians have BBQs and South Africans have braais, an asado is a typical Argentinian family or social event of cooking meet on a parrilla or an open fire. An asado usually consists of beef, pork, chicken and chorizo and we had them all! Plus a few insides of the cow that we couldn’t identify and didn’t eat. There was some traditional dancing to bring lunch to a close before we took a short walk around the ranch to work off the food. We were hoping to see a practice for a polo match – the ranch also hosts polo events – but this didn’t seem to be taking place as expected.
Another unique local characteristic became evident during our trip back to town. People here love to picnic, which in itself is not unusual. What is unusual, and to us pretty strange, is that most of said picnicking takes place a few metres from the side of a busy rode. As we drove along the main road and highway, it was lined with families sitting on picnic chairs, throwing balls and generally having a great time outdoors.