We had a great first night in Buenos Aires with Juana (Mark & Sarah´s Argentinian friend) and it was good to go out with the locals. On Friday we visited the museum at the Cabildo (old town hall) which is free on Fridays it´s all that´s left of the colonial arches that once surrounded the square & there´s also a lovely handicraft market in the courtyard. Also had a walk round Monserrat a good barrio (neigbourhood) for nosing around old churchs like Basilica de San Francisco, the 18th century Basilica de Santa Domingo & Basilica Nuestra Señora del Rosario. Visited Manzana de las luces (Block of Enlightenment) a complex of historical buildings including Iglesia de San Ignacio (built 1734) - BA´s oldest church and a cool antiques market. Spent the night at a party of friend we met in Chile.
On Saturday we got a Colectivos (public bus) number 59 to Recoleta. We didn´t have any coins which is a big no no because you get your ticket from a machine that requires the correct change and the bus driver is no help! Thankfully a nice porteño (local) felt sorry for us and gave us the right money. In Recoleta we visited the Cementerio de la Recoleta renowned for it´s illustrious tenants including Eva Durte de Peron (otherwise known as Evita). It´s fascinating to wander around the maze of granite, marble & bronze made statues & tombs inches away from one another. It was also the anniversary of the death of Evita (Marcha del 26 de Julio, 26th July) so there were lots of people praying by her grave and it was surrounded by flowers. Next door to the cemetry is the beautiful 1732 Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Pilar which we popped into. There´s also a very large hippie market in the local area which was great to browse round. For lunch we went to Cumaña, were we had to wait 20mins for a table but it was well worth it. The food was delicious, we both had a cazuela which is like a typical South American dish and is a stew baked in a clay pot. It was very cheap and the atmosphere was great. The restaurant bakes all of it's dishes in a horno al barro - a domed adobe oven used in the north of Argentina. After lunch we went for a walk to Retiro and it's lovely Plaza San Martin to see Monumento al Libertador General San Martin - the city's most important monument. We also saw Torre Monumental, also known by the locals as Torre de los Ingleses (the English Tower), which is supposed to be a Big Ben lookalike funded by the British residents living in Argentina to mark the centenary of the May revolution in 1910. From here we walked down Ave Florida, BA's only pedestrianised street and shopping central, visited Galerias Pacifico, a gorgeous shopping mall with amazing ceiling paintings, past a run down store called 'Harrods'. Our walk also took us past the beautiful & enormous Colon Theatre and ended at The Obelisco, on Avenue 9 de Julio - the world's widest road, at 68m high & built 1935 to mark four of BA's key historical events - First and final foundation of BA, the 1800 declaration of the city as the country's federal capital & to mark the site of the demolished church of San Nicolas where the national flag was first flown.
On Sunday we actually had the free brekkie, nice to have cornflakes, and then walked to San Telmo with it's cobbled streets, cafes, tango street shows, bands performing and lots of antique shops. Visited inside the lovely Pasaje de la Defensa, a refurbished 2 storey 1880 house with hidden antique stalls in every corner. From there we went to the very crowded Plaza Dorrego, the city´s second oldest square after Plaza Mayo, to look around the famous antique fair which even had victrola (gramophone) stalls. Our nice, cheap lunch was away from the tourists in a cafe for the locals (chicken and potato cost 2 quid) and we walked it off strolling round Parque Lezama watching the guys play chess and a group of people debating (not that we understood much but it was fun anyway!). Dinner was at El Desnivel in San Telmo, apparently the best parrilla in town. Argentina´s national dish is the asado (BBQ) cooked on a parrilla (grill) and consists of steak, chicken, morcilla (black pudding), chorizo sausage, mollejas (sweetbreads) and chinchulines (intestines). we just had the steak which was gorgeous and on our way out Jem asked the guy on the grill to pose for a photo with his knives which was funny.
Brekkie on Monday was a delicious pastry from a quaint little, weekends only, bakery called Tentempie on Chile 626 in San Telmo then we caught the local bus to the working class area of La Boca, situated along the old port at the boca (mouth) of the Riachuelo river. We visited the very colourful and charming caminito (little walkway) which is a short pedestrian street lined with painted corrugated-metal buildings. We then went to Boca Juniors football stadium, also known as La Bombonera (chocolate bowl) due to it´s rectangular shape. With a capacity of just over 57,000 it seemed small compared to our stadiums back home. Outside the stadium we took the obligatory photo of Diego Maradona´s star on the pavement. That night we met up with a relative of Hilary & Gordon´s friend who was a lovely guy called Ignacio, aka Nacho, and his wife. Nacho picked us up from the hostel and we walked to his flat in Palermo, past the beautifully lit up Palacio de Justicia, and had pizza and empanadas followed by the best ice-cream ever. When we got back to the hostel it had turned into a disco which was funny to see.
On Tuesday we walked along Avenida de Mayo (wide tree-lined Boulevard), trying to avoid the potholes (very common in BA), popped into Palacio Barolo, built in1923 & one of the finest buildings in the city. We then went onto Plaza del Congreso were we watched the dog walkers take it in turns to let the 15 dogs run around without fighting with each other. We then went on a tour inside the green domed palacio del Congreso building which was very interesting, saw the Monumento a los dos Congresos which was built in memory of the first constitutional assembly held in 1813 and the Declaration of Independence three years later in Tucuman. Used the subte (BA´s underground train network) and got a rammed and rickety ride in a wooden carriage train with cute little lamps to Plaza Italia and went round La Rural - the nation´s supremely important two week farm fair. This was amazing, we saw lambs, rams, pigs, big bulls, cows, llamas (and I got to stroke one!), hens, and gauchos wearing traditional outfits on horseback doing fantstic stunts. There were lots of shows, traditional music & local food, we ate the best chorizo sausage bun (for a pound) and from what we could see we were the only tourists-all for two pounds! There was even a naughty bull called Willie! After quite a few hours there we walked home through the many parks of Palermo including Parque Tres de Febrero & past the Jardin Japones (Japanese Garden) which is one of the largest in the world. That night we watched the free tango dancing at our hostel then said our goodbyes to our dutch friend Jeroen at the dutch pub Van Koming in Las Canitas which has it´s own microbrewery. Jem had the recommended beer, Otro Mundo which was very tasty.
On Wednesday we said goodbye to Em & Laura, our roomies, and got the train from Retiro to the lovely riverside city of Tigre (cost 16p) which is an hour north of Buenos Aires. The mouth of the Parana River, or Tigre is the 5th largest delta in the world. We stayed at the beautiful Tigre Hostel, across the Tigre river via Sacriste Bridge, a 1860 stylishly restored posada. We spent the afternoon walking around, past the grand European rowing clubs, Puero de Frutos - the massive fruit (but not much now) and craft market, past the rowers monument with it´s upturned oars, along Paseo Victoria (leafy riverside promenade), saw the Art gallery - 1910 restored belle epoque building, walked down Royal Road (old `Camino Real´), past the church - Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception and lots of stunning old colonial houses.
Yesterday we caught the 8.30am ferry from Tigre to Carmelo, Uruguay which took two and half hours along the delta. It was really good to see river life again and reminded me of our boat trip in South East Asia. In Carmelo I had my apple and cheese confiscated at customs and then we muddled our way to a bus stop for Colonia 5mins walk away. When we got there we asked the locals what time the colonia bus was due, they just shrugged with a smile and said anytine! They also told us in spanish that we needed Uruguay pesos for the bus and that we could change money at the port. We vaguely understood so we walked back to get our Argentina pesos changed. We totally thought that we were going to get ripped off but for 100 Argentina pesos we got 600 Uruguay pesos (should have been 629) - good deal for the convenience! Thankfully the bus hadn´t gone. When it did arrive about 20mins later it was full so we stood and then got seats as people got off. In South America there aren´t many bus stops, people get on and off the bus where they want.
An hour later we were in Colonia. Straight away we bought our ferry ticket back to Buenos Aires for 4.30am the following morning - yuk! We stayed in a dorm at Hostel El Viajero (7 pound each) and went to expolre the historical town. We saw the old city gates, walked down Calle de los Suspiros (Street of Sighs) which is a portuguese street with original pavements and colonial houses - very quaint! We wandered around Plaza Mayor (main square), saw the ruins of San Francisco (built in 1694 & destroyed by fire in 1704), climbed the winding stairs to the top of the lighthouse for lovely views of the town, past the beautiful white church, Basilica of the Holy Sacrament and had a nice walk along the wharf. Our busy day ended with a cold beer watching the sunset - perfect!
Getting up at 2.30am this morning was a hard slog but we arrived in Buenos Aires at 7.30am, after a short sleep in the first class section (couple of pounds more, bonus is comfy chair with more room). Got a taxi straight to the massive bus station and bought our bus ticket to Puerto Iguazu for 7pm that night. Stored our bags with the bus company and then went for a nice brekkie at a funky little french cafe in Palermo called Oui Oui. For just over a pound we got a lovely coffee, 4 pieces of thick toast with cream cheese of marmalade - bargain! We then went to the cinema to watch the new Batman, The Dark Knight which was awesome but sad and we´ve just had a nice late lunch in Cumana, were we went on Saturday. I had a gorgeous baked stew with beef, pumpkin and mash on top which cost 1.50. After an 18hr bus ride on a cama (comfy chair with lots of room, cost 32 pounds) we´ll arrive in Puerto Iguazu at 1pm tomorrow afternoon - bye for now xxxxx