So the game plan for Friday was 4 hour boat trip on the Beagle Channel and then catch my flight to Buenos Aires at 8:00 p.m. However, a one day strike by Aerolineas Argentinas mechanics screwed up my flight plans and bad weather cancelled my boat trip. I woke up on Friday morning to find out that Aerolineas Argentinas had cancelled my 8:00 p.m. flight and put me on a 9:45 p.m. flight. Uh. That was not going to work for me since I had to vacate my hotel by 10:00 a.m. and would be back from the cruise by 2:00 p.m. I was not going to sit around for almost 8 hours with nothing to do.
I decided to head down to the boat early to check in and then head across the street to the Aerolineas offices to see about changing the flight. At this point, I had no clue about the previous day’s strike. And of course, the bad news continued when I arrived at the boat to find out the tour had been cancelled because of high winds. Yuck. Now I was really stuck. And the only reason I was still in Ushuaia was to go on the boat trip. So I walked across the street to see about an earlier flight only to find a massive line of folks who had been left in Ushuaia because of the strike the day before.
Once I saw the line, I figured I might be better off taking a 10 minute trip in a cab to the airport to see what could be done. Fortunately, this turned out to be a good call. There were only a couple people in line. I explained the issue to the Aerolineas employee who immediately changed me to a 2:55 p.m. flight. YAY!
Anyway, I spent the next couple hours wandering around the little town center, stopped for an early lunch and then headed back to my hotel to change in the lobby bathroom (I was not going to need four layers of clothing in Buenos Aires), pick up my luggage and order a cab. I reached the Ushuaia airport just after 1:00 p.m. and immediately found utter chaos. People who were stranded had descended on the airport looking for any way out. (I guess it paid to have a refundable ticket because I had no problem changing flights.)
Now once through security the fun began. The gate areas were mobbed with people as flights continued to be delayed or cancelled. Fortunately, my flight was not cancelled, but ended up being delayed one hour. Then once on the plane, we had a further half hour delay because some yahoo checked in and then failed to board the flight so they had to locate the luggage and have it removed. Thanks jackass.
I finally, and thankfully, landed in very humid Buenos Aires just after 7:30 p.m., but because of luggage delays and traffic, I did not reach my hotel in the gorgeous Palermo district until well after 9:00 p.m. Exhausted from the brutal day, I dropped my luggage and had a lovely glass of wine with dinner in my hotel’s award winning restaurant. Then it was bed.
Now I was really looking forward to my city tour of Buenos Aires, but when I woke up at 7:30, I wondered if it was going to happen. The skies had opened up and it was raining sideways with thunder booming and lightening flashing across the sky. Fortunately, this only lasted about an hour so by the time my guide, Jessica, arrived at 9:30, the weather had improved somewhat. However, this proved to be only temporary. By the time we took at cab to the city center about 15 minutes away, it was once again pouring and the wind was blowing the rain sideways. A real subtropical storm.
We decided it was best to simply wait it out so we popped into a café for some coffee con leche (Argentina’s version of a café latte). As we sat in the old, historical part of Buenos Aires directly across the street from the Santo Domingo church, Jennifer told me about the café culture in Buenos Aires. Cafés are an integral part of life here. People in Buenos Aires takes things slowly and that means they like to hang out in cafés enjoying their beverage of choice (which can include alcoholic beverages as all cafés double as a bar). The staff are trained not to rush anyone so you could sit and drink a coffee and hang out all day if you want. (This may have been where Starbucks got the idea.)
Anyway, after hanging out for almost an hour, the wind subsided and the rain let up so it was time to head out. We wandered down the old cobblestone streets past San Francisco Church to the oldest Farmacia (pharmacy) in Buenos Aires, the Farmacia la Estrella, established in 1895. And I have to say, it is without a doubt the most impressive pharmacy building I have ever seen. The building was constructed during the Buenos Aires heyday when people had money to burn. The building was full of inlaid wood, tile floors and beautiful frescos on the ceiling. It was absolutely amazing. The building is on the historical register in Buenos Aires and must be preserved. Yay for that!
After the Farmacia visit, we turned the corner and stopped into a café that used to be the coffee shop of choice for Pope Francis when he was a priest, then a bishop and then the Archbishop in Buenos Aires. Although there was no monument to him, there was a picture in the front window. Cute little coffee house.
When we walked outside, the rain had commenced again, but it was not too heavy so we wandered down the street to the San Ignacio Church, which is the oldest church in Buenos Aires dating to the 17th century. Now the church has been rebuilt and restored a number of times because the humidity in Buenos Aires causes massive deterioration problems for buildings. And the church has been no exception.
Across the street from the church was Libreria Avila, the oldest bookstore in Buenos Aires dating to 1785. It is apparently the only bookstore in Buenos Aires that has remained in its same location since its inception.
After the bookstore, we walked across the street and out of the historical neighborhood. At this point, we were walking towards city hall. Now people in Buenos Aires are known for their protests. They are always protesting something and politics is usually the target. As a result, it did not come as a surprise to me that the wall of city hall was covered in paint ball markings hurled by folks who are just plain pissed off at the government. And while it is never good to deface a public building, the sight of paint marks made me laugh … a lot.
Anyway, we continued on passing a number of Art Deco type buildings including one that used to be the offices of a local newspaper publication, La Prensa, as well as a gorgeous former department store. We then crossed the street where I was able to have a perfect view to the top of the dome of the Congress Building. (And fortunately, the rain had stopped so I had a nice view.) Argentina’s political structure is mirrored on the American system, so it has a Congress Building as well as a Presidential Palace (in this case, the “Pink Palace”), which we would see later.
Once we crossed the street, we stopped at yet another café, Café Tortoni, which dates to 1858. Café Tortoni has a famous history and was once the place to see and be seen with many well known celebrities and tango stars frequenting the café. Today, it is more of a tourist hangout, but it was worth a look inside for the amazing architecture. Jessica was able to by pass the line so we walked right inside (while those in line glared). The old art nouveau ceilings and wood paneling were gorgeous. They even had a tango room where small tango shows are held every day at 8:00 p.m. (early by Buenos Aires standards) and a little art museum dedicated to tango.
After the visit, we walked down the block to Avenida de 9 de Julio in a light rain shower. Now some consider this avenue the widest avenue in the world with 7 lanes running in one direction, 7 lanes running in the opposite direction and 2 lanes on either side paralleling the street. The name of the street honors Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816.
And on this avenue, I was able to see a massive iron monument to Evita Peron, considered the spiritual leader modern Argentine politics, as well as the Obelisco de Buenos Aires (Obelisk of Buenos Aires), which is located on the Plaza de la República on Avenida de 9 de Julio. The obelisk was erected in 1936 to commemorate the quadricentennial of the first foundation of the city.
After the visit to Avenida de 9 de Julio, we hopped on the subway more for the historical aspect than the need to ride the train to a distant spot since we only stayed on the train for two stops. The Buenos Aires subway system commenced operations in 1913 and much of the original underground architecture has been preserved. There was even the original toll booth and turnstiles. And the crazy part of the subway is that it was constructed by the Brits so the trains travel in the opposite direction from what you would normally see. So instead of travelling from left to right, the trains travel from right to left as you are looking at the arriving train on the platform in front of you. Totally screwed me up as I kept looking in the opposite direction for the train.
Anyway, once we reached our stop, we walked down the street to the Plaza de Mayo, the central plaza in Buenos Aires, which houses the Presidential Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the monument to Independence. As we wandered into the Plaza, the sky started to brighten. I was holding out hope for some respite from the rain, but their were dark clouds looming to the north and the rumble of thunder was all around us.
And as we walked, we encountered the “changing of the guard” in front of a building that looked like something you would find in Rome with massive Roman columns. I had no idea what this was all about, and before I could ask a VERY rowdy guy walked by selling Boca Juniors and River Plate flags. Now what the heck is Boca and River you ask. Well to start with, Boca Juniors is the name of one of Argentina’s oldest football (soccer) teams and River Plate is the name of the other oldest team with the two teams first meeting in 1913. The two teams traditionally meet twice a year in what is known as the Super Classico. And if you are Boca, you do not marry into a River family and vice versa. They take their sport very seriously here.
Now the Super Classico was not being played, but something actually more important. Boca and River had qualified to play in the final of the Copa Libertadores 2018 (the South American club championship) with each team hosting one of the games that make up the two match final. The two teams have never met in the Copa Libertadores championship, and everywhere we went this morning we could hear Boca fans singing and yelling. (As it turned out, the bad weather forced the postponement so the game is now being played on Sunday.)
Anyway, I watched this guy with some amusement as he waved the flags at me before he turned his attention to someone else as it was clear I was not a buyer. We then moved on to the Plaza de Mayo where we wandered across the square to the Pink Palace. As we walked, we passed a circle of white flags painted around the Independence Monument. I learned that these flags symbolize the Mothers of the Disappeared, mothers of activist children who disappeared during the military dictatorship from 1976 to 1983. It is estimated that over 20,000 young people were murdered by their own government. The mothers spent years walking around the monument silently while carrying pictures of their missing children. The symbol of their fight was a white scarf now immortalized on the Plaza de Mayo.
As we turned to take a look at the Independence Monument, Jessica pointed out the oldest remaining Spanish style building in Buenos Aires, which sits just outside the plaza. It was really a beautiful old building.
Then we turned our attention back to the Pink Palace or Casa Rosada. The existing building was constructed in 1884 and combined the former post office with the government house. The building is the executive mansion of the President of Argentina and is most famous for the final speech given by Eva (Evita) Peron on October 17, 1951 on one of the palace’s balconies. (The balcony is the middle balcony with the doors.)
Our last stop turned out to be the building where there was the changing of the guard. This building turned out to be the Metropolitan Cathedral, the main church in Buenos Aires, which also happened to be the church where Pope Francis aka Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergagolio conducted services before becoming pope. And from the outside of the building, you would never know it was a church. It looked more like some kind of government office building or something the Romans built.
However, once inside, it turned out to be actually quite beautiful. And in addition to the now famous pulpit area where Pope Francis conducted mass, the building is famous for being the burial ground of General Jose de San Martin, who lead the struggle for independence from Spain in the central and southern parts of South America. As part of the struggle, San Martin created the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers, which brings me to the changing of the guard. An honor guard of the Regiment of Mounted Grenadiers are posted at the general’s mausoleum and the guard is changed every two hours so that is what I saw about a half hour before we visited the Cathedral.
Now, although our tour was done, the rain was not finished. The skies literally opened once again as we were leaving the Cathedral with the ever present thunder and lightening. Fortunately, there was enough of a let up to allow us to dash for a cab to take me back to my hotel. I would see Jessica again tomorrow.
And my day was not done. At 6:15 p.m., I arrived at the doors of the Argentine Experience. Now what is the Argentine Experience you ask? It actually bills itself as a “large dinner party”. The idea is to bring folks from all walks of life (usually tourists) to have a typical Argentine meal. There would be 20 of us for dinner, but 8 of us had also signed up for the cocktail making event, which preceded the dinner party.
So we were all paired up, and my partner turned out to be Nicole from Chicago. A 20 something lovely human who was travelling on her own until meeting up with family in Patagonia next week. She turned out to be great fun.
Anyway, the staff began the night by teaching us how to make three different cocktails using three different wines: Malbec, Torontas and Rose. After they made each drink, they would pour it into a little shot glass, which they called a cocktail tapas, and we had to taste each drink. Once we chose our favourite from the drinks that were named Malabeca, Torontea and Roscessema, we were tasked with making the drink our partner chose. Nicole chose the Malabeca and I chose the Roscessema. Fortunately, neither Nicole nor I screwed it up. Hell, I even did the bartender shake without even dropping the shaker.
While we tasted the cocktail tapas, we were actually served real tapas including a small piece of marinated steak, salmon on a piece of bread, and a tomato relish on cornbread. Delish.
After making the drinks, we went upstairs and were seated at our table and the first of many rounds of wine were poured. By now, the other 12 guests had arrived. The evening turned out to be great fun. We were first tasked with making an empanada. We were provided the shells and the ingredients and then taught to roll and pinch the ends of the pastry shell. After we put our name on a flag and marked our empanada, the staff took the empanadas for baking. We were then given a lesson in how to order steak in Spanish, which we then had to do for real as the main course would be, what else in Argentina, steak.
The wine continued to flow as another round of tapas, including our empanada, were brought out. We then had to make another “creative” empanada and the most creative would win a prize. I made one with the sun rising over the Andes, but forgot to take a picture. I was not the winner, they gave it to the Nicole and another lady who each made a turtle. (I don’t think they realized what mine was, but I thought it was really good … but then again, maybe that’s just the wine talking.)
By about 9:30, the main course was served with grilled veggies. Then we made desert from cookies, Dulce de Luce, chocolate and coconut. We were also tasked with making Matte, which did not go well.
By now, everyone at our table was laughing and talking. It was a really fabulous way to spend an evening. Amazing, friendly staff, great food and drinks and wonderful company with people from all over the world! I was done in by 11:00 p.m., but would do it all over again if I could. It had been an awesome, albeit wet, day!