26 February 2013

South American Travel Tour

Countdown: 3 days til we leave Buenos Aires for good and head out for our South American Travel Tour. Below are the places we've been in Argentina and Uruguay and the places we plan to visit in the months ahead. Peace out, BA. It's been good! 


17 February 2013

BA Delivery - Food Delivery Service in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Delivery provides delivery services for tons of restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops, and even beer bodegas around the city. Go to their site, plug in your address, and all the places that are open and available for delivery in your area will appear (most places are available after 8pm). Browse their menus in English or Spanish and add things to your tab. There may be an order minimum ($30-100 pesos) or a delivery fee ($5-10 pesos), depending on how far away you live. Be prepared to pay with cash and to wait at least 45 minutes to an hour for your food. Overall, I'd say the website is easy to use and accurate, the food comes hot, and the prices are fair (we average $100 pesos + tip for two of us and get plenty of food). Perfect for a night in.

These are my top picks:

o Marfa - The Polo Tom wrap is a must. Chicken strips, brie, avocado, and bacon in a warm tortilla with salad greens. It almost makes you feel like you're being 'good'. Also try the beet and green onion burger and the chicken and cheddar quesadilla.

o Tabule - One word: HUMMUS. It's legit and comes with six palm-sized pitas. Get the falafel (6 pieces in a half order) and they'll hook you up with a mini-side of baba ghanoush. Done. Side note: skip the empanadas. They're weird.

o Peru Deli - I have no idea what this place is trying to be (Peruvian/Thai fusion?). Rice, stew, sushi, cow hearts. I went with the yellow Thai quinoa curry with chicken and was not disappointed.

o Tandoor - Spicy, regular Indian food. The chicken tikka masala with naan was classic. A little pricey, but sometimes you just need this.

WORST: La Querencia. Trust me. Gross.
Also, these aren't photos from the actual places. But they're not far off.

28 January 2013

A Weekend Trip to Montevideo, Uruguay

Our Argentina tourist visas were coming up on 90 days and needed to be renewed, so Sandro and I decided to make the most of it by taking a weekend trip to Montevideo, the capital city of Uruguay.

The easiest way to get there from Buenos Aires is by plane. But the more interesting and similarly priced way is by Buquebus, the river ferry. You can purchase tickets online, but I found that (surprise?) the site kept trying to tack on extra fees/insurance/etc to my total, which we didn't need. So we headed down to their downtown office a week ahead of time, passports in hand. It's high season (summer vacation time) here in BA, so it was pretty crowded. We waited about a half hour, but once we got to the ticketing agent, it was a fast and easy transaction.
*Note: This was a direct ferry from BA to Montevideo. You can also get ferries that go to Colonia (a small, pleasant, Uruguayan colonial town) in one hour, spend the day there, then catch a 3 hour bus to Montevideo in the evening. It's slightly cheaper and you can do both cities.

The day of our departure, we showed up at the Buquebus terminal in Puerto Madero about an hour early. Good thing, because it took us forever to get through security and customs. Once we were on the ferry, it was a smooth, three hour ride across the Rio de la Plata.

So because it's the height of summer down here and everyone flees the cities for the beaches, Montevideo was a quiet, slow, and really relaxing place to be. We stayed at the Sur Hotel, which was gorgeous and really affordable at that time. It was a few blocks from a ton of restaurants, plazas, cafes, and the beach, and also just a 15 minute walk to Ciudad Vieja, the trendy, touristy, shopping district.

We went for dinner at a typically Uruguayan steak restaurant in the Mercado de la Abundacia and got a surprise when half way through our meal the dance floor opened up, the music started playing, and older locals tangoed their way through the night.

Montevideo has a few really cool, gorgeous cultural points, like El Fuente de los Candados, or the Fountain of Locks. Here, lovers put their initials on a padlock, attach it to the fountain, and the legend says that they'll forever be in love and return to Montevideo someday.
There was a ton of good street art all over the city as well. It popped out at me everytime I turned a corner.

Oh. Also, Sandro and I killed some really delicious paella.

Not to miss:
-A walk down La Rambla, the path that stretches the entire length of the city coastline.
-Room #17 at Sur Hotel. Two words: In-room jacuzzi.
-Share the paella at Euskal Erria.
-A walk through Ciudad Vieja. If you like shopping and outdoor cafes, they've got 'em. It's geared toward tourists and can be a bit crowded, but is a pleasant area with a pedestrian street and butts up against the city's government buildings, older architecture, and public art.

27 December 2012

This is not a bitch sesh, it's a lesson.

When we visited BA last year, we decided we'd move here. Everyday of our trip was magical...so much to see and do. It was charming when the restaurant servers responded to our botched Spanish in English. We didn't have to do laundry. We ate every meal out and tried something new every day. We took cabs when it was too far to walk, which was never because we were so excited to walk. We walked around at night with money and a camera, speaking English all the way back to our room without reserve. We were from Philly, so grit (just straight up dirt) wasn't new, graffiti wasn't new, crazy drivers weren't anything new. We left ready to come back.

We came back a month ago with long term plans. We moved. We got rid of everything, gave up our apartment in Philly, saved up for a year and then moved to BA. We'd live here and work here and meet people for at least a year, at which point we'd probably be so in love we'd stay. Or, if by some chance it didn't work out, we'd go home.

It's been a month and I'm reminded of the very obvious idea that living in a place is not the same as visiting a place. Day to day life is not the same as vacation mode. Watching our budget means taking the bus, having the laundry done less often than we'd like, grocery shopping in a store where we can't tell the difference between milk in a bag and drinkable yogurt. Living in an apartment for a fair price means dealing with leaky faucets and no window screens in the middle of mosquito season. The graffiti (different from the street art) on every single wall ever, the dog shit that doesn't get scooped on the sidewalks, these things are no longer 'quirky' but frustrating. As a privileged person, it's ridiculous that I could even complain. But I think you get my point.

But this city is awesome. It reminds me so much of New York in it's density and activity and the pride the people have in their hometown. I go to New York when I want to have a whirlwind time. I go to NY to hang in Central Park. Everything is big and fast and fun and if something sucks it doesn't matter because everything else is pretty rad. And I can leave. I can go back to Philly where there's just as much fun but it's slower, quieter, more manageable. Comparisons aren't always fair, but this is the best I can do.

And I love South America. I love the Latin American things about this city. I love the late mornings and nights, I love the relaxed attitudes. No one cares what you do for a job, no one cares what you're wearing, and no one cares what you do in your free time. As long as you're around for a coffee in the afternoon, you've got friends. And there's an enormous park here in BA, with a lake and bridges and a rose garden. People rollerblade and run around in the grass with their kids, drinking mate, or making out. You can't beat it.

But the inflation is real. Don't be fooled or think it's less of an issue than it seems. It's a real, daily problem that even affects those of us making dollars. A year ago, everything in this city was approximately 15% less expensive than in Philly. This year, everything is at least that much pricier. Again, I'm talking NY prices. You will not find a 'deal' here on anything but public transportation, in my experience.

So Sandro and I have decided to travel. It's too expensive to live the life we want in this city long term. That may not always be the case (2001 financial crisis re-dux?), but for now it's only getting more expensive by the day. We came here to practice Spanish, meet people, and work less, and that last part can't happen here for much longer. We're having fun, and there's so much more to see, so we're staying in the city until March, then redirecting our mission!

I had no idea this was coming, but I got here and suddenly craved the atmosphere I was born in. Salty California air, green mountains and blue seas, warmth year round. I didn't expect that feeling to come until I got old and cold, but here it is while I'm still young and excited. I want to sit on a porch and look out at the ocean, shaded by huge palm leaves. I want to walk around barefoot. I want a stray dog to come by in the afternoons. I want to live in Nicaragua?

I'm worried this means I'm fickle. But I don't believe it. If it were someone else I'd wonder what they were running from. But I really think I'm just so grateful to have a buddy and freelance work and the wherewithal to finally travel the world and to not be burdened with stuff and to pursue this dream that I was wrong to think I'd want to settle in one place. I'm so eager to soak in every single thing and place and person and food I come across that I have to take it while I can.

Now we've got plans for a trip to Ushuaia in March, the world's southern most city, the closest thing to the Antarctic Circle! Then we'll hop our way back up north, stopping for a month or more at a time in Chile, Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua. We've got permits to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Pichu in May, so THAT'S HAPPENING! If we end up somewhere that we love and that really works, we'll stay longer. If we hear of somewhere great or meet some travelers, we'll detour. We'll keep working and hopefully stop bleeding money in some of these less expensive areas. We'll see more and be open. We'll slow down and get tropical. We'll figure it out as we go instead of making such long term plans ahead of time.

13 December 2012

A Weekend in Mendoza

This weekend we took a four day trip to Mendoza, the capital of the province of the same name to the west of Buenos Aires. It butts up against the Chilean border and sits in the foothills of the Andes. It's a dry, warm region this time of year, making it the perfect climate for vineyards. So naturally, this is where a huge portion of Argentine wine comes from. We were lucky enough to take some winery tours, do some tastings, and meet some really awesome people along the way.

The highlight of our trip for me was a bike ride through wine land with a group of international travelers we met at the hostel. We took a bus about 30 minutes out of the city to Lujan de Cuyo, where the Baccus bike rental shop was located only minutes from eight wineries. For $35 ARS/$7 USD we got decent bikes (functioning, though not extremely comfortable!) for the entire day and a map detailing what each spot had to offer and their available tour times.
The first winery we stopped at was Alta Vista. This very professional, medium sized production winery produces red and white wines that are found throughout Argentina. For $30 pesos, we got a tour of the old and new holding tanks and the cellar as well as a tasting of three different wine varieties. Perfecto! Bottles ranged from $65-$2000 ARS.

Our next stop was Pulmary. This tiny, organic, single family winery was the most charming and interesting in my opinion. We got a tour of the tanks and cellar, and were even treated to wine right out of the oak barrels! We ate the most delicious hunks of seared beef I've ever tasted in my life out in the yard. For $30 pesos, we were given two full bottles of wine for tasting for the group (regularly $100 ARS each). By this time, I was feeling a little wobbly getting back on my bike!

Our last stop was Clos de Chacras. We had an excellent guide who took us through the wine making process, throughout the winery, and even into the vineyards. We sat out on their gorgeous deck by a fish pond and shared four bottles, one from each of line. Bottles ranged from $40-180 ARS. The 'tasting' came with cheese, crackers, and raisins and the cost divided among the group came out to only $40 pesos per person!

Other than that, we did a lot of relaxing in the sun. I love dry heat so much, so I felt right at home in Mendoza. We explored the city itself a little bit, and I can't say there's a ton to report. But having met such an awesome group of friends right at the beginning, we had a really good time. Three major asados in three days put me over the edge...So Much Beef And Wine! But who's complaining?

Oh. We also hung out with this dude for a second...

29 November 2012

XOOM Money Transfer in Buenos Aires

Money is a funny thing in Argentina. I'm sure you've heard. So what currency you can use and how much of it you'll need to get anything done in this country is a constant guessing game. And you won't get past your own front door without cash. So in short, there's an official currency conversion rate (today, you get $4.82 Argentine pesos for every US dollar you pull out of an ATM), and then there's the Blue Rate (today, 'illegal' money changers will give you $6.20 ARS for every physical US dollar you hand over). So using your regular bank card to get pesos out of the ATM isn't the worst thing in the world, it works. But you are potentially 'losing' money by not taking advantage of the Blue Market. But how do you do that if you don't have physical US dollars in hand?

For now, the recommended way to transfer money from a foreign bank account into your hands in Argentina is through XOOM Money Transfer. This magical service gives you physical pesos at the Blue Market rate from the money that is sitting in your bank account. With some advice from other expats who have tried it, I decided to give it a go.

Here's how it went down:
I went to XOOM's site and followed directions. I sent money from myself (US bank account, US address), to myself (Argentina cash pick up location, Argentina address). There is a fee per transaction which is either $15 USD if you pay with your bank information (account and routing numbers), or $25 USD if you pay with a credit or debit card. I chose the cheaper option. I immediately got a confirmation email followed by a cancellation email. For whatever reason, the transaction seemed shady to Ms. Xoom and I wasn't charged.

A few days later, I tried something different. I sent money from myself (US bank account, US address) to Sandro (Argentina cash pick up location, Argentina address). Makes perfect sense, right, this is what this services does, sends money around the world? Nope. Cancelled. Not charged.

This time I called their appeals hotline. A really helpful dude on the phone verified my information (location, bank, amount, etc.). He had me go through the process of sending the money to myself (from the US to Argentina) online while he was still on the phone with me and then confirmed and approved the transaction immediately. Later that day I received an email stating that my cash was ready for pick up.

There are a few pick up locations in the greater Buenos Aires area. The one closest to me is the More Money Transfer center at Libertad 1057. We got off the Subte from the D Line at Callao, walked 6 blocks east on Cordoba and 2.5 blocks north on Libertad. It's on the right hand side. Just a small storefront with post office type windows and a little seating/waiting area.

When you go, be sure to bring the confirmation number from the email and your passport. I also copied down the amount of pesos I was due to receive just to be sure. We arrived at 1:15pm and took a number. There were 6 people ahead of us, but the lines went quickly so we only waited about 20 minutes. I handed the guy at the window my passport and confirmation number and said, "Pick up, por favor." He made copies and pulled up my transaction. I signed a page saying I knew what I was doing and that I am indeed a grown up and that I was going to be receiving these many pesos. The whole thing was quick, easy, and legit. Consider taking a cab home if you are a non-Spanish speaker walking out of a money transfer center with lots of pesos in the middle of the city where pickpockets and other criminals are prominent. Just a tip!

So the overall result: Even with the $15 USD fee, I 'made' about 24% more pesos on the transaction than I would have received at an ATM. Super good deal if you don't mind a putting in a little time and effort to make it happen.

25 November 2012

Buenos Aires Organic Food Market

This weekend, Planeta Joy hosted the Buenos Aires Market, an urban organic food market at Palermo Park. Forty vendors, from local produce to restaurants to specialty prepared food producers, set up tents and offered samples and food for sale.

I tried the fresh pressed wheatgrass at Luz Vida. At $10 ARS, it was a refreshing, vitamin packed cure for my post-Thanksgiving wooziness. After perusing and picking up a free, recyclable bag thanks to the City of Buenos Aires, I purchased a liter of Boudicca Beer's Celtic Red Ale ($30 ARS) to take home to Sandro. For lunch I grabbed a black bean wrap from Artemisia Organic Kitchen ($25 ARS) and plum juice from Purificare Juices ($20 ARS). It was a gorgeous Saturday morning to spend in the park with these delicious foods!

Buenos Aires Market happens once a month. Dates are announced at PlanetaJoy.com Entrance to the market is free and vendors offer sandwiches, empanadas, fresh squeezed juices, and other picnic-perfect options, as well as packaged products for sale. Tables, chairs, and umbrellas are provided for relaxing and enjoying a meal. The city provides health care stations where blood pressure, weight, and other simple measures can be taken. Organic food representatives give talks, workshops, and cooking classes that are free to the public. If a soy empanada doesn't sound good yet, get to the BA Market and try one!

21 November 2012

Wine Tour Urbano

Wine Tour Urbano is a group that brings Argentina wine tasting tours into the city. This week, eight local design boutiques in Palermo paired with local wineries to host something of a wine crawl. We met at Honduras y Armenia at 7pm. For $100 ARS (~$20 USD), you'll receive a red wine glass, entry into a raffle, and a map of the eight stops. Take your time on the self guided tour throughout the neighborhood. At each store you'll find the Wine Tour Urbano flag, waving you inside where a table is set offering tastings of 2 to 4 varieties. You'll learn from a representative about where the wine comes from, the year, and it's particular characteristics. Look around the boutique, then move on to the next stop. At 10pm, the tour wraps up and all the participants gather back at the meeting point. The raffle takes place and gifts from the shops and bottles of wine are given away to celebrate.

The wine tour originally costs $150 ARS. However, if you follow @winetoururbano on Twitter, they'll post an offer a few days before the tour. This week, we got $50 ARS off per person for bringing in small toy. Sandro and I spent $40 ARS total on two toys, saving $60 ARS between the two of us.

There were approximately 60 people participating on the tour. But because it is self guided and lasts three hours, there were never more than 6 or 8 at a stop at any given time, so no long waits for wine. Most of the representatives spoke about the wines in Spanish, but were happy to answer questions in English. Also, the tastings are just that...tastings. Don't worry, you won't be drinking eight full glasses of wine! Each stop has crackers as well to get you through.

The raffle was probably the funnest part about the tour. Once everyone had regrouped, the hostess started pulling names from the hat. There were so many prizes that it seemed like everyone got something. We won a bottle of fancy bubbly, so we were happy! This week, because it was the last tour of the season, we were also offered free pizza at the bar down the street! Everyone rushed over, and sure enough, by the time we'd ordered drinks, there were hot pizzas being passed around the room. There was plenty for everyone and the staff was really on top of it.

What I loved about Wine Tour Urbano was that it was the most organized and functional event I think we've been to here in BA. It started on time, it was well laid out and informative, and the promises of discounts and free food were kept. It was quite a deal at only $100 ARS!

18 November 2012

A Buenos Aires Tango

Our British girl, Stephanie, invited us out to a milonga in San Telmo on Sunday. These old tango halls offer a more authentic experience than the big shows put on for hundreds of dollars for tourists. The Buenos Ayres Club at Peru 571 (between Mexico and Venezuela) is a simple, dim, old timey theater with a stage, a dance floor, and tables and chairs along the perimeter. There is a $30 ARS (~$6 USD) cover charge and a bar in the back that offers bottled beer, fernet y cola, and generous glasses of wine for $25-$35 ARS a piece.

At Buenos Ayres Club, you're welcome to take lessons, dance, or just watch. We showed up at 11pm just in time for the live music and open dance floor. We sat and watched a three piece band with male and female vocalists perform native tango songs. The dancers ranged from older local couples in love to younger students of the dance. It was an absolutely pleasant, classic argentine, and inexpensive evening!

13 November 2012

A Typical Day Off in Buenos Aires

Sandro and I thought we'd wander and check out a few different spots throughout the city today. After walking through Chacarita last week for all it's amazing street art, we went back to see Parque Los Andes, the weekend feria, and the famous cemetery there.
On the way we walked through Mercado de Las Pulgas, the antique furniture flea market. The warehouse has about a thousand beautiful, vintage furniture pieces, plus knickknacks, clothes, and art from the 1940s-80s. I dream of an apartment furnished by Las Pulgas!

We moved on to Chacarita and walked the edge of the park, browsing through the clothes, incense, tools, and jewelry of the Feria de Parque Los Andes. I purchased a cup of mate and was so satisfied for only $4 ARS. Around the corner was the cemetery. It was just as huge and beautiful as the more popular cemetery in Recoleta, but without tourists or an entrance fee! No Evita here, but we did run into Carlos Gardel, Argentina's most beloved tango singer!

Don't tell anyone, but we ended our outing with a stop at Walmart. We thought maybe we'd find decent prices on household items or familiar fits in t-shirts and other basics. We did find these things, but it definitely wasn't worth it. Cheap products at dumb prices and inefficient customer service at a far-out location are not reasons to make the trek. Stick to your neighborhood shops and you'll be better off!