A traditional Thanksgiving?

Yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., so my work was closed. Sue and I decided that since we had been back in Buenos Aires for three whole days, it was important for us to leave again – no more accurately, we decided that since we had a free day, we would head to Uruguay. There is a little town called Colonia del Sacramento just across the river Uruguay from Buenos Aries and there are ferries that run back and forth every hour or so. Sue got us tickets for a 10:30 a.m. outward bound ferry and an 18:00 (6 p.m.) ferry back.

As many of you might remember, Sue gets terribly seasick, just looking at the water. She has scopolamine patches that really help her but have the side effect of making her terribly thirsty. She put on her patch the night before and in the morning we headed for the ferry. We sat out in the sunshine at the back of the boat and enjoyed the breeze and the rays. It has turned quite warm here and ride to Colonia took an hour and a half, and was very enjoyable.

We disembarked and walked around the town. We were expecting a cute little tourist town, with colorful buildings and a nice little central square. It was quite disappointing. First, the town is fairly run down, I guess the pandemic has taken its toll. Second, many of the places were closed, we suspect because Uruguay was playing in the world cup that morning. We made of the best of what was there, wandering through the town and walking along the river. Sometime around 2 o’clock we sat down and had lunch on the terrace of a little restaurant that overlooked the river.

After lunch we wandered some more, but by 4 p.m. we were done, and headed back to the ferry terminal to await our return trip. Once again we sat outside in the back of the ferry and enjoyed the breeze and sunshine. We both agreed that the best part of the trip was the boat ride. We cleared immigration in Argentina for the fourth and final time during this trip and headed back the AirBnB.

We had a quick change and headed out for dinner. We were meeting Marco at 9 p.m. at La Cabrera, one of Buenos Aires’ best steak restaurants. I believe the total count of vegetarian entrées on the menu was two. One was pasta, the other was grilled vegetables – and that may have been a side dish, not a real entrée. Not surprisingly, Marco and I each had a huge hunk of meat, while Sue had grilled vegetables. The food, wine and desserts were all great and finished up the meal right about on schedule – three hours after we sat down.

Today, we took a bit of time and made reservations for a weekend trip to the Atacama desert in Chile. It looks amazing and is the driest non-polar desert in the world. We will write more about that once it gets closer.

This coming weekend is our last in Buenos Aries before we head to Patagonia so we are going to pack a lot in.

Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends in the U.S.

Family Fun Time

Boy, they really know how to eat meat in Porto Alegre (Yes they do!! YUM)! Aside from that, Vitor and family went all out entertaining us and making sure there was never a dull moment.

Vitor wanted to show us how beautiful the sunset is over the river Jacuí, so we went to Cais Embarcadero, which is a park along the river with restaurants and bars (and an Insta sign, of course). We got there with perfect timing and the sunset was gorgeous. One thing we have learned is that a sense of time is not a Brazilian strong suit. We decided to eat dinner there and were given an estimate of one hour to get a table … more than two hours later, with me and Alexia in desperate need of food (they were talking about eating the barstools) , we were seated. Phew. Meat (and a veggie burger) did the trick. At least it was worth the wait and the company was excellent, as usual.

Friday night, we went to Sargent Peppers, where the house band — yes, you guessed it, the Lonely Heart’s Club Band — plays covers of ’80s and ’90s music include a few Brazilian pop tunes. There were 10 of us and we sang, danced and ate (mostly meat). The band was a lot of fun, but for me, the highlights were the man who sells roses on the street who showed up at the beginning of the second set and sang three classic Brazilian tunes and the fact that all the waiters get on stage and sing Hey Jude with the band.

The Rose Man Singeth

In case you were wondering about the playlist, here is pretty much the first set:

  • Betty Davis Eyes
  • Stand by Me
  • Every Breath You Take
  • I Will Survive (sung by a very large Brazilian man; it was a little discordant)
  • Sultans of Swing
  • Swept Away
  • Sugar
  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • Pride (In the Name of Love)
  • Don’t Look Back in Anger
  • Don’t Stop Me Now
  • Don’t You (Forget About Me)
  • I Shot the Sheriff
  • With or Without You
  • Watermelon Sugar
  • Memories
  • Believe
Na na na nananana nananana Hey Jude

The second set had more Brazilian tunes, but here are the songs you will know. (Admit it, you know all these songs.)

  • Hey Jude
  • Under Pressure
  • Let’s Dance
  • Dancing with Myself
  • Psycho Killer
  • Titanium
  • Suspicious Minds
  • Dancing Queen

They were still playing when we called it a night at around 1:30 .

Saturday, we headed back to the beach. Well, back to the beach for me, but for Steven it was the first trip since someone around here has to support our crazy lifestyle. It was supposed to be very hot and it may well have been in Porto Alegre, but the gale-force winds were blowing at the beach so it was a little chilly, but very relaxing, especially when there’s a hammock. Steven loves a good hammock. They are nap-inducing.

Vitor’s friend Marcelo invited us for coffee after he joined us for lunch (guess what Vitor made (the steaks he BBQ’d at the beach were amazing!) so we could see his beach house. In case he forgets, he said, “Mi casa es su casa,” so if we ever want to go back, we can stay in one of the six bedroom suites and maybe even invite all our friends. Thanks, Marcelo 😉 Marcelo also told us that the beach, Praia do Cassino, is the world’s longest at 254 km (about 150 miles).

The one downside of the brisk wind was that we were a bit too chilly to hang out to stargaze. We still haven’t seen the southern cross, but we have time.

We decided on sushi for dinner (we being Alexia and I), but the boys wanted burgers because they hadn’t had enough meat at lunch (while the steaks were delicious, according to Vitor, if it doesn’t have bacon, then it is a light meal – and there was no bacon). The hamburgers they got were only slightly smaller than an LP in diameter. They typically come with cheese, an egg, peas, corn, onion, lettuce, and tomato. If that’s not enough, feel free to add bacon. It’s hardly a surprise that there was a bit of meat left over.

Meat, left; meat, center; Steven eats meat, right.

Vitor cooks meat (well, lamb meat) for our last night in Porto Alegre.

Sunday, we went to an art fair in Parque Farroupilha. It’s a huge park that houses an small amusement park, trails, the weekly art fair, and a Saturday farm market among other attractions. There, Steven bought a meat knife. He is very proud of it, so don’t be surprised if he cooks you meat the next time he sees you just so he can show off his knife (OMG! it is a fabulous knife! Vitor explained the knife rules: 1. Never use the knife to cut vegetables especially onions- that is a sacrilege. 2. Never use the knife to cut raw meat -use a stainless steel knife for that. 3. (This one was for Sue) – you can’t use the knife on the owner to cut their throat when they are sleeping, even if they are snoring, just use the pillow.

Our fabulous host, Vitor, bought me a mate cup that is really beautiful. I really enjoy mate, but not just for the drink, but because of the ritual that goes with it. I hope I find some other mate drinkers when we settle down. The mate in Brazil is different from the Argentine mate. It’s got a lighter flavor and greener color. I’m not going to play favorites, though. I like them both.

You’re never going to guess what happened after the art fair. Try not to faint. … We went to a vegetarian restaurant! It was an all-you-can-eat buffet and it was delicious! It’s a good thing everyone ate a light lunch because our last dinner was another meatfest. While the giant leg of lamb and rack of lamb ribs were cooking, everyone “snacked” on sausage that contained cheese.

We got to say goodbye to everyone, including Vitor’s brother, sister-in-law and one of their kids while we shared good food and wine. It was a fitting ending to a very family-oriented week. We had a blast and are thinking maybe we should learn Portuguese next. (That is the imperial we meaning Sue. I am unlikely to manage to learn enough Spanish to order in a restaurant, let alone actually hold a conversation).

Thanks to Vitor, Alexia, Alice, and Lucas for opening their homes, showing us around their city and state, and putting up with our TERRIBLE attempts to pronounce Portuguese words.

Ciao for now, Porto Alegre.

Family, Friends, Food and Football

This weekend was all about family. When I was in college, my parents hosted an exchange student from Porto Alegre, Brazil, named Vitor. Our families have been close ever since and we think of Vitor and his family as our family. My mother decided that for her 85th birthday she wanted to visit Vitor and his family. Sue and I had already planned to be in Buenos Aires and so we quickly agreed to hop a flight and join her and her traveling partner, my sister, Judie. 

Tonight’s cast of characters:

  • My mother: Turned 85 on Saturday and is still walking 3 miles a day
  • Judie: My much younger sister (she and Sue are the same age – currently 39 and holding) Judie is MUCH older than I am. She was born in April; I, in June.
  • Vitor: Our brother from another mother and chief host of the insanity that is to follow
  • Alexia: Vitor’s fabulous wife who is smarter, better looking and in every way better than Vitor
  • Alice: Alexia aad Vitor’s daughter; she has recently passed the Brazilian equivalent of the bar and is beyond wonderful. She speaks fluent English and is happy to help everyone with everything.
  • Lucas: Alexia and Vitor’s son; He always has a smile and is just starting at college. As a teenage boy, he has an appetite that doesn’t end.
  • Bruno: Alice’s boyfriend who is also a lawyer, speaks immaculate English but has two strikes against him in my book because 1) he drinks Budweiser and 2) is a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

…and now back to our story…

Mom and Judie arrived on Thursday morning. For reasons we cannot recall, Sue and I decided to book our flight on Friday at 5:30 AM (IN THE MORNING). We figured that we would get to the airport at about 4, as we didn’t expect that it would be crowded. Boy were we wrong! Luckily Aerolineas Argentina has a “great” system. Everyone waits on huge lines until your flight is about to depart and they call up your flight and you bypass the line. At about 4:45 they called our flight; we bypassed the rest of our our line, checked in and were on our way. Boarding started at 5:10 and amazingly we left on time for the 90-minute trip to Brazil.

4 a.m. at Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, a smaller Buenos Aires airport. Boy, do I look sleepy!

Vitor picked us up at the airport, whisked us to our AirBnB and then to his place. We met up with everyone and then piled into two cars for a trip to a winery called Casa Valduga, about 90 minutes away. We arrived at lunchtime and headed for their restaurant. The food is served continuously, by which I mean the waiters carry trays of food from table to table and you can take or not as you choose. I was not aware of this when the service started, so by the time we reached the seventh or eight dish, all of it either meat or pasta, I was struggling. The food was fabulous, and I was very full. Luckily, after lunch, we headed to a winery named Casa Miolo for a tour and some tasting. It was nice to walk around and stretch our legs. The tour was in Portuguese, but come on, it is a winery, so we all know what they do and how they do it. After the tour and tasting were done, we headed back to Vitor and Alexia’s house and relaxed for the evening.

Saturday was my mother’s birthday party, so preparations needed to be made. Vitor ran here there and everywhere getting meat, meat and more meat. Alexia made salads, vegetables, tabouleh and potato salad. The rest of the cast tried to help or just stay out of the way. The party was held in a party room at Bruno’s parents’ apartment building. Many of Vitor’s family and friends showed up and quite a few spoke enough English to have conversations, which is really great because my Portuguese is even worse than my Spanish, which is nearly non-existent. The “boys” (Vitor, Bruno, and Bruno’s dad and brother) fired up the indoor BBQ (what a great invention!)  and promptly roasted approximately one full herd of cattle.  The challenge tonight was to try each different cut of beef without bursting – it was a tough challenge, but I rose to the occasion. Sue was of no help whatsoever as she is a vegetarian. The party lasted until after midnight and everyone was exhausted by the time we got back. I would like to take a quick moment to say how welcoming everyone was. Many had never met us nor my mother, but that didn’t seem to make a bit of difference to them. In their minds, we are friends of Vitor and Alexia and therefore we are friends of theirs. It is so nice to make new friends.

Luckily for us, Vitor planned a quiet day of football on Sunday. In the morning, we watched American football on TV (there was a game being played in Germany, so it was on early in the day). We had a “light” meal of about 30 pounds of pasta and Alice’s wonderful homemade sauce. Then we hopped into the cars and headed for the nearest 50,000-person stadium to see the last game of the season of SC Inter. We sat in some box seats behind the goal and what we in the U.S. would call the bleacher bums. The area by the goals is all standing room only and the crowd sings and chants the entire game. Inter scored their first goal after 11 minutes and then piled on, winning 3-0. I hope the videos give you some idea of the electricity in the stadium.

Goal #3
The bleacher bums sing and chant the entire game

After the match we retired back to Vitor’s and watched more American football and had beer, wings and pizza – because we hadn’t eaten enough the previous few hours/days. Somewhere around midnight, we called it a weekend.

For those of you trying to keep track of where are/will be here is our schedule for the next few months:

11/15 – 11/21 (or 15/11 – 21/11 depending on how you read dates) – Porto Alegre Brazil

11/21-12/3 (21/11 – 3/12) – Buenos Aires

12/3 – 12/17 (3/12-17/12) – various stops in Patagonia

12/17 – 1/26/23 (17/12 – 1/26/23) Santiago Chile.

Un blog especial para los profesores de ingles

This blog is mostly in Spanish, but you can use Google translate 🙂 It’s for English teachers because it’s that nameless exercise where someone writes a sentence, covers it up and passes it down the line. Here’s the version TJ, another student and I created yesterday:

Una noche oscura

“Los adolescentes caminaban por la ciudad y estaba muy oscuro. 

Ellos buscaban una fiesta donde su amigo Baba estaba tocando música pero no lo encontraba. 

De repente hubo un sonido muy raro. Parecía venir desde una casa abandonada en la calle. Un minuto después, el sonido vino de nuevo, más fuerte e intenso. 

Pronto, una chicago corrió por la calle y gritó, “Ayudenme, ayudenme!” 

Y después de esto todos tenían mucha hambre y caminaron a un restaurante que conocían pero este restaurante está cerrado … por muchos meses … pero había abierto ayer! 

Por quererte, acababa de llorar y con la vuelta del sol, hacía calor y había mucha luz, los problemas del pasado desaparecieron y todos siguieron con el día con calma. Así es un día típico en Buenos Aires.”

Espero que lo disfruten. That’s subjunctive because I don’t know if you will or you won’t. If I knew that you would, I would use the indicative.

Dance Party! (and there’s more)

Cacio e pepe in the making!

Wow, did we have a busy weekend. Our friend Tamar arrived Wednesday so now we have another partner in this adventure. But even before I get to the dance party, I have to tell you about the very best dessert, which I had following fabulous cacio e pepe (yes, I had extreme dog belly, but it was worth it) on Thursday night. I love chocolate. I really love chocolate mousse. When I heard that I could have the special chocolate mousse at La Locanda, I leapt at the chance. I thought it sounded odd because they add salt, pepper, and olive oil to the already delicious treat BUT, porque no? So I ordered it. First, the waiter had us try the standard chocolate mousse before he put in the extra ingredients and it was really yummy. Then, he salted, peppered, oiled, and stirred. OMG! It was creamy and amazing. Try it!

OK, on to the weekend. Our friends Marco and Barbara invited us to a peña. We had no idea what it was, but we said yes and we are very glad we did. It’s a community dance party (think the kind of dance party they had during the 1940s big band era) where everyone dances traditional Argentine dances to live music. This being Argentina, it doesn’t even start until after 10 p.m., so we wisely had an afternoon siesta. Marco and Barbara picked us up and after learning that open 24 hours does not mean the parking lot is really open 24 hours, we found a parking lot and walked over. The room has a big dance floor against a stage. There’s a small bar where you can get water, beer, wine and, of course, empanadas and pizza. Folding with tables and chairs frame the edges of the dance floor. During the week, dance lessons are offered.

We arrived in time to take the dance lesson before the peña even officially starts (and remember we arrived at 10!), so we were total experts after one hour of learning five or six difference dances. Sure thing. At the end of the class, we snaked around the room hand-in-hand in that classic of all cultures where you try to whip the end of the line by moving faster and faster and making tighter turns until everyone is just laughing. There was also a hora-ish circle dance — another staple of party dancing.

During the class, we learned (to say I learned would be a very large overstatement) the chacarera, gato, chacarera doble, escondido, and a few others. Most involved dancing facing a partner and then dancing to and around them in various steps. Apparently, we were dancing stories, but we were happy to sort of get our feet going in the right direction. In one of the dances (I don’t remember it’s name), we were lined up with women facing the men and when we met and crossed the lines over, we held our fists up. Barbara said the dance originated as a show of strength between tribes.

One dance we could manage was a couple’s dance — take two steps one way and one step the other (umm…we mostly managed, but I kept losing the count when my mind would wander). Excellent! Even simpler than a box step. We were pretty good at that one. But let’s just say that Marco is a great teacher and we enjoyed ourselves even if we ended up the wrong way round many times.

The first band had 10 members who played several different horns, piano, guitar, bandoneón (like a small accordion), and drums. If you could stop yourself from dancing, more power to you. After a break, a second band with a singer who had a fabulous voice played. We danced and talked and had a great time. We also got to see excellent dancers doing the samba, the zamba, and other dances that even Marcos wouldn’t do without more lessons. We learned that the samba has very specific moves and the partners signal each other with handkerchiefs. (the video below is Sue and Tamar doing the chacarera)

What made it so amazing was not the music or the dancing, it was the community atmosphere and joy. The crowd ranged from 20-somethings to oldies (even older than us) and everyone was on their feet. Sometimes the dance floor was so crowded, bumping one another was inevitable, but everyone was laughing about it.

The second band finished up at about 3 a.m., but we could have kept on dancing. (At least I could have, I’ll let Steven tell you how he felt. (Old, but not particularly tired. ) We did sleep well that night, but that didn’t mean we lounged about on Saturday. No way. Too much to do.

Every weekend, artisans set up shop in a pedestrian area right outside Cementeria de la Recoleta where Eva Peron is buried. We walked over and perused the arts and crafts at a local outdoor market before heading into the cemetery. When we got to the gate, an attendant asked us if we were Argentinian. When we said no, she said, Ooooh and ducked her head as if she were so sorry that we were unfortunate enough to have been born elsewhere.

The cemetery is all paved and originally we thought it was all above ground. It is full of grand mausoleums, but some of the graves are underground (some you can look in and see the coffins, others you see stairs going down). Anyway, being unfortunate enough not to be Argentinian (we must have done something bad in a previous life), we didn’t really know anyone else to visit besides Evita, but we wandered around anyway because there were many cool photos to be taken (Apparently before she was interred in her family’s crypt, her body had a unusual time — including being displayed in her husband’s dining room for a while — read about it here).

We grabbed some empanadas for lunch at a deli and ate in the glorious sunshine, did some errands, and Steven and Tamar had plates of meat for dinner. I had pasta.

I’m going to leave Sunday’s adventure for the next blog, since Tamar and I are starting Spanish classes tomorrow at the ridiculous hour of 8:30 a.m.

Iguazu Falls – the video

The enormity of Iguazu Falls is mind boggling and our “expedition” was broken into four parts, the lower trail, the boat ride, the upper trail and the Brazilian side. I have attempted to capture a taste of what it was like on video. I was using my GoPro, which I had not picked up in about 4 years, so to say my camera skills are rusty would be assume I had any skills at all.  Add to that my editing skills are significantly worse than my camera skills, so please don’t expect too much, but enjoy.

A map of the Argentine side for reference. The yellow is the lower trail; the orange is the upper trail; the blue is the boat ride; the red, which the Devil’s Throat bridge, was washed away by the flood.

The lower trail

The boat ride

The upper trail

The Brazilian side

Iguazu Falls

We took a weekend jaunt to Iguazu Falls, about an hour and a half plane trip from Buenos Aires. For some reason we can no longer remember, we took at 7:30 a.m. flight. Not knowing how long it would take to get an Uber or what security would be like at the airport (not the big international airport of Ezeiza, but Aeroparque Jorge Newbery), so we got up at 4:30. We were sitting at the gate before 6 a.m. Better early than late! (Susan is being kind. It is my time-based insanity that gets us everywhere early, and I am so grateful that she is willing to go along) At least the coffee was already flowing.

The only hiccup came when our tour guide had us coming in an hour later on a different flight. We finally managed to track down an emergency number and Marcela arrived soon thereafter. I highly recommend getting emergency contact info if you book through an agency. It was Saturday morning, so our regular contact wasn’t working.

We went straight to Iguazu National Park in Argentina. We knew that because of extreme flooding the week before, the bridge to Devil’s Throat washed away. Bummer! However, because the river was so high, the falls were spectacular. Notice how brownish red the water is. The soil is full of iron and the water was carrying a lot of soil.

We also got lucky in that the boat, which had not been operating the previous week, was powering down the river again. We couldn’t go behind the falls, which were flowing with almost 10 times their normal water volume, but we did get a truly fun ride. We opted out of wearing our rain jackets and got plenty soaked! But the other aspect of our luck was the weather. Not a drop of rain fell, and the temperature was about 80, so we certainly did not mind wearing a bit of the Iguazu River.

The park contains several different paths that lead to points overlooking the falls. There’s also a train for those who don’t want to or can’t walk. It wasn’t very strenuous, but there are steps since there is an upper trail and a lower trail. We did the lower trail first; Marcela thought it would be less crowded. Apparently, word got out that lots of water makes for spectacular falls. We liked doing it that way because when we got a wide-angle view, we really understood what we were seeing.

Here are some interesting facts about the falls:

  • Iguazu means big water
  • Eighty percent of the falls are in Argentina
  • There are more than 275 waterfalls, making it the largest waterfall system in the world
  • Heights range from 200-270 feet (Victoria Falls is 354 feet) and they span 1.7 miles
  • When the water level is typical, water falls from Devil’s Throat at 1 million liters per second
  • Iguazu River connects to the Panama River
  • The area has been home to the Guarani tribe for thousands of years

The park contains wildlife such as jaguars and pumas (which we did not see(other than people’s sneakers) ), capybara, monkeys and coatis (which we did see because they love human food), and tons of lizards, birds, and butterflies. The river is home to more than 100 species of fish.

Aside for Shannon (and others who like natural disaster/human stupidity stories): Don’t climb guard rails to take selfies (also lots of signs in Argentina saying don’t put your kids on your shoulders).

The Argentine government, to encourage tourism, has set aside land for eco-friendly hotels. It seemed as though that mostly meant that they cleared a minimum of the jungle and used paper straws. We stayed at La Cantera Lodge, which was perfectly serviceable. The downside to the eco-friendly hotels is that unless you have a car, you’re stuck. We were tired from our long day anyway, so we opted to eat at the restaurant in the hotel. Surprisingly, Steven ordered a slab of meat. Vegetarian options were slim (how much pasta can one eat?), so I tried the river fish, a local delicacy. It tasted like white fish, but the sauce was delicious and it was tender.

Sunday, Marcela picked us up after the breakfast buffet (which reminded us of the ones at U.S. motels minus the waffle maker) and we headed to Brazil. The trick here was to have the Argentine driver get us close to the border where we met the Brazilian driver, who gets treated better in Brazil. The amount of time it takes to cross the border is unpredictable, but tour cars have a special line and the border agents in both countries were amenable. I’m not sure why it takes so long to leave Argentina, but they have their reasons. On the Brazilian side, we had to get out of the car and enter the immigration building to show our passports and proof of Covid vaccination. That took maybe 5 minutes.

Most of the reason to go to Brazil (aside from the fact that Vitor says it is much better than Argentina (Vitor says everything in Brazil is better than Argentina)) is the panoramic view. All but two of the 275 falls (or more because of the flooding) are in Argentina, but especially since we could not see Devil’s Throat from Argentina, it was well worth the short trip to the other side. Plus, we got to get drenched again!

The waiter treated our Quilmes beer like it was a fine champagne.

After we finished at the falls, we had a couple of hours to kill, so we decided to go into the town of Puerto Iguazu in Argentina for lunch and a wander (our two favorite things). Marcela dropped us off and we had a tasty lunch. Steven had another huge hunk of meat and I had a salad. The “downtown” consists of a few restaurants and a shops, some of which were closed because it was A) Sunday and B) siesta time with a temperature of 87 degrees. About a mile from the restaurant, there’s a lookout point over the river from which you can see three countries. Do you know what they are? We’ve already talked about the first two: Argentina and Brazil. The third is Paraguay. Needless to say, if there is a walk, we take it. I was excited to find that Iguazu has also adopted the Insta sign, everyone’s favorite place to pose.

While we waited at the border crossing, Marcela explained to us that depending on politics and economics, the people of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay trade off shopping in duty-free border stores. When we were waiting to enter Brazil, the line of cars waiting to go the other way was long, but when we headed back into Argentina, there was hardly a wait at all. Marcela was very surprised, but you just never know. For those of you who have crossed into or out of Tijuana from California — the Argentina-Brazil border would be a breeze.

Our last stop was back at the hotel, where we changed into warmer and dryer clothes for the trip back south. Our plane arrived back in Buenos Aires pretty much on time, we hopped a cab and were back at our apartment by 10 p.m., just in time for Argentine dinner.

Later in the week if we remember how to edit our GoPro video (where is a 12-year-old tech genius when you need one???), we will post some of the videos..

Un nuevo continente, país y ciudad

Today we arrived in Buenos Aires. It is the first time either of us has been to South America and the first day of about seven months away.

We flew from Miami on Saturday night – our flight left at 11:15 p.m. and arrived in Buenos Aires at 9 a.m. The flight was really easy, in part because American Airlines offered a last-minute cheap upgrade to business class. We have never flown business class before, and for an overnight flight, the lay flat seats were really useful. We both slept quite a bit and arrived reasonably rested. I decided I love business class, but Steven told me not to get used to it. Spoil sport.

A colleague of a former colleague of mine is a native of Buenos Aires and was kind enough to pick us up from the airport and take us to our apartment.  He and his wife found us as we wandered into the international terminal lobby and whisked us to our new digs. They both speak excellent English and one of us (the other one) speaks passable Spanish. It never ceases to amaze me how kind strangers are. This is a young couple with whom we have only a passing connection, but they went of their way to pick us up at the airport, sent us a ton of material on what to do in the city and would not leave until we were safely in the apartment. Our new friends are Marco and Barbara.

We quickly unpacked our stuff, checked the internet speed (100mb!), had a little nap to recharge our batteries and then headed out to get the lay of the land. Martin, the manager from the apartment agency gave us some ideas about where to find things and we headed out to find a grocery store. We wandered a few blocks, found a few small stores, picked up some staples for dinner and, more importantly, coffee for the morning. It was surprisingly difficult to find coffee here as everyone here drink a type of tea called Yerba Mate. We haven’t tried it yet, but when we do, we will include a review. I am pretty sure I had some bad American version of it and did not like it, but I am game to try again.

One of the interesting (at least for me, being a money guy) is that there are two exchange rates for the Argentine peso. The official rate is about 150 Argentine pesos to 1 U.S. dollar. The unofficial, or blue, rate is roughly double that and it is so common that the rates are published in the newspaper. The way it works is that if you are accessing the banking system either through an ATM or through a credit card you receive the official rate. If you have U.S. dollars you can exchange them at a cambio (imagine the currency exchanges you see at an international airport) or on the street for the blue rate. If we exchange our dollars for pesos at the blue rate, the prices fall by half for us. Western Union will send dollars at the blue rate and so on Monday we are going to try that and see how it works. I will update this later and let you know how it goes.

Later in the afternoon, we headed out for a walk. There are a series of large parks in our neighborhood, so we took a walk around them. To give you some idea of distance on the map, from our place to the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes is about one kilometer. We walked all around the parks and in the park across from the Cementerio de la Recoleta (where Eva Peron is buried, but we have saved Dead Person Bingo for another day) there was a large arts and crafts fair that we walked through, but of course did not buy anything.

Monday is also a national holiday in Argentina. It is the Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity. The link is to a Wikipedia article which is in Spanish, but given my brilliant understanding of español (and chrome’s auto translate feature), I have found that that it commemorates when people from Western Europe first arrived on the continent. I got all excited about the respect for cultural diversity thing until I realized they just meant white Europeans. Oh well.

Monday

So here is the update on using Western Union….I transferred $300 and received 91,080 Argentine pesos. The Western Union office is quite conveniently inside a Carrefour grocery store. Carrefour is a large French-based grocery chain, and we often shopped in them when we were in France and Italy. We even found one in Morocco when we were there in 2017, but that was before we were blogging. The process is very easy. Western Union gave me a code number when I sent the funds. I presented that and my passport to the agent, confirmed my phone number and gave him my address in Buenos Aires and he handed me the pesos.  

On confusing thing is that the symbol for the peso is the same as the one for the dollar, so when we look at prices, we naturally think of dollars, but the price is actually 1/300 of that price. Since we were there, we also did some shopping at the Carrefour and bought some wine that was $1,092 – in my head – in reality US$3.64. It was one of the most expensive wines on the shelf…and it was US$3. Our wine from last night was about 400 pesos, about US$1.30. Overall, the prices in the grocery store seemed reasonable at the official exchange rate, but at the blue rate, it was all very inexpensive.

Washington, D.C. Roundup

We spent a hectic month or so in Washington, D.C., but I was a bit lazy about blog writing. OK, I was a lot lazy. Some of you know that we are partially hunting for a place to alight should we ever decide to do so. We are happy to announce that we think it is possible that we might be able to stay in DC for more than a few weeks (especially because our perfect granddaughter is there).

The AirBnB we stayed in was beautiful. It was a classic row house in Petworth. We chose the neighborhood partly because it is north and so a bit closer to our baby, but it is also a Latino area and had a few opportunities to practice Spanish and many chances to eat Mexican food (and drink tequila).

Our long-term plans are sketchy (after South America which is mostly settled), but we love nothing more than rehashing the house vs. condo discussion. The house in Petworth was large for us, but had great outdoor space including a garden and deck, a large and easy-to-use kitchen, parking (!), and friendly neighbors. BUT, it also had a lot of steps and our knees and hips are not getting any younger.

We liked the neighborhood. It’s an easy walk to the Metro and there was a yoga studio, Yoga District, a few blocks away. We didn’t take as much advantage of it as we would have liked (that fifth Covid shot knocked us out for a bit) but again, friendly people and good instructors. Plus, it’s close enough that we can see our smart and beautiful granddaughter and even help out when she gets hand, foot, and mouth disease.

There were plenty of restaurants within walking distance. We had Mexican, Lao, Vietnamese, and pizza. We love no-frills delicious food.

I hadn’t spent much time in DC, aside from a childhood trip (that’s another story) and the day I secured my EU passport. Did you know there are a lot of hills? We love marching hills (hmm…love marching nor love hills are part of my usual vocabulary).

Traditional Death March

What’s a weekend without a death march? The best way to explore a city is on foot. At least it’s best if you want to stay out of the car, which we do. Sometimes we just look at the map, pick a location in death march distance and go (death march distance varies by user. for me – 600 feet, for Sue – 20 miles) .

One day, that place was Hillwood Gardens, which is the former home of Marjorie Post (daughter of the cereal guy). Her house is a museum, when people come to see’um, well it’s really not a screa-um, but its not the Addams Family house. In fact, the gardens are lovely and the “mansion” is fairly modest as mansions go. If you like looking at stuff, definitely visit the house. Marjorie loved her place settings (especially imperial Russian china). Also, there is a pet cemetery on the grounds. Really a dog cemetery, but a little creepy nonetheless.

A special exhibit called Grace of Monaco: Princess in Dior was housed in an outbuilding. I played my favorite fashion museum game: Would I wear that? I found several I would deign to wear when I get a posh life and am invited to soirees, galas and charity balls. I’ve included them among the pics above in case you are a designer and want to fashion me a ball gown (or are holding a gala and are foolish enough to invite us).

Dead Person Bingo

We know you’ve been missing this exciting game show, so we made sure we took a trip to Arlington National Cemetery. Driving around DC is a little wacky, but not any worse than driving in other cities. We are used to not knowing where we are going.

Arlington is a far cry from the ancient, overgrowth cemeteries of Europe, but it has an air of honor and respect (as it should). I was eager to visit RBG (we wished her shana tova as it was right before Rosh Hashanah and searched high and low for rocks to place on her grave). Here are the other people we visited, in no particular order:

  • JFK (of course)
  • RFK
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • John Glenn
  • Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • Abner Doubleday (did you know he fired the first shot in defending Fort Sumter? That’s true, whereas the notion that he “invented” baseball is likely not.)
  • The crew of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia
  • Joe Louis
  • Medgar Evers
  • Jacky Kennedy Onassis

Dear Friends

We have met so many wonderful people in our travels, but we took our time in the States to get reacquainted with some old ones. I visited with a woman who was my mentor at The Summit School (Hi Chris). Chris is one of the people who makes me want to stay in a place long enough to cement friendships. I also caught up with Susanna, who I worked with in San Diego when we were mere children. She’s a hot shot now at the NYT and I, well, am not.

Steven got a bug and decided to contact a college buddy of his. They went out and then set up a dinner with the wives included. Steve and Patricia are great and they just bought a house in Portugal, so they are adventurous too!

A short museum jaunt

Steven had a another business trip to Dallas and I skipped that one, so one day I hopped the Metro and hit the National Gallery of Art, including the sculpture garden. A very nice woman explained the whole place to me and drew circles on the map so I would know what was what, but I never made it past the special photography exhibit. I love photography. I think it is because it is the only art I am semi-successful at creating.

Robert Adams (no relation of Ansel as far as I know except for the black and white America photos) documents America (good choice for the National Gallery, huh?) in starkly beautiful or horrifying images of nature and the destruction of it in the pursuit of suburban life. I spent more than an hour in the exhibit and I can still see the images in my mind’s eye. I wish I could make pictures like that! The museum also reminded me how nationalistic and provincial Americans can be. Yes, it is the National gallery, but would it be so difficult to translate the descriptions into Spanish, at least. I overheard two French women commenting about the lack of other languages. I’m going to assume there were audio guides in other languages, but I don’t know.

Yom Kippur drive (and where are we now)

We made the radical decision to spend Yom Kippur on the road. Originally we had planned to leave for Florida on Friday, stop for a couple of hours in Coconut Creek to see mom (Hi mom), and then head to Miami for our flight to Buenos Aires BUT …

We figured G-d would forgive us if we skipped shul in order to see a Jewish mom. The plan was to leave before dawn on Wednesday, drive 12 or so hours stop overnight and then arrive early Thursday afternoon. At some point, we looked at each other and asked, “What if we just kept going?” So we did. We drove 15 1/2 hours and 1,023.7 miles on Yom Kippur and with stops for lunch and dinner, we were receiving Jewish mom hugs by 9:20 pm. (With the exception of when we stopped for food and fuel the trip was on one road. We turned left out of our street onto 14th street in DC, which turned into Route 1, which turned into I-395, which turned into I-95, and we stayed on that until we were in Coconut Creek – 1,020 miles later)

BTW, Yom Kippur fell on our anniversary (four years of glorious craziness in case you are counting). A true test of our undying love is 15 1/2 hours in a car together badly singing road trip songs. We made it!

Saturday night, we’re off to BA. Let the next adventure begin!

London – the second weekend

We were lucky enough to have two weekends in London and we packed the second one as full as we could. On Friday night, Abi, Laurens, Sue & I went to London’s Chinatown for a relatively early dinner at Joy King Lau. We ordered about 10 different dishes all of which were yummy and managed to finish all of them. After dinner we had reservations at the Comedy Store for an evening of stand up. They had seven comedians, an MC, the other four shown on the poster and then two more who did short sets of about 10 minutes each. They were all very good and we had a great time. After the show, Sue and I grabbed a cab back to the AirBnB driven by a very funny and talkative cab driver name Josie. 

Saturday, Sue and I went on a nice little stroll from Hackney to Highgate (circa 4 miles). Our destination, was, of course, Highgate Cemetery. We stopped on the way at the Lord Palmerston pub for a real British pub lunch. Sue had fish and chips and a cider while I had a Caesar salad (ok, not really British pub lunch, but I was still full from dinner the night before) and a pint of beer. We sat outside in the sunshine (yes really, there was sunshine) and watched the world go by. 

After lunch we headed for the cemetery to play our favorite game – Dead Person Bingo. The cemetery has two sections, East and West. We started with the west section and found Michael Faraday, Alexander Litvinenko and George Michael (real name Georgios Panayioto). Unfortunately we missed Beryl Bainbridge and Bob Hoskins, but oh well, you can’t see them all. In the East section we found Karl Marx (really impossible to miss), Malcolm McLaren and Douglas Adams (Don’t Panic!). All in all a very successful dead person’s bingo day.

We left the Highgate via the overground trains (which Sue has dubbed the overtube) on our way to meet up with Abi & Laurens to celebrate Laurens’ birthday. We met them and a bunch of their friends at a canalside bar called Crate Brewery. A good time was had by all. When the sun started to go down, Sue & I decided to have Indian food for dinner at Bengal Village on Brick Lane. The food was delicious a great end to a really enjoyable day.

Sunday, Sue and I walked down to Borough Market just to see what was there. Broadway Market, which we visited last weekend, was all prepared and ready to eat food, Borough Market had a much greater mix of prepared and grocery foods. The walk there took us past a few of the buildings that worked in when I lived in London, back during the 1980s, which made me a bit nostalgic. After walking through the market we decided to have lunch at the Anchor Pub, which has been open since 1615. I used to work around the corner from it, and when I lived in London, I would often go there for lunch. After a nice lunch, we had some time to kill until me were meeting Abi & Laurens, so we continued down the south side of the Thames to Tate Modern Museum. We wandered around looking at the installations for about an hour, and to be truthful, I just don’t get it. I think I am going to give up on modern art museums, I just don’t understand why the pieces that they are showing are good art. Some are interesting to look at, but what makes them great art? After being thoroughly bewildered by the Tate, we walked back to meet Abi and Laurens for a drink and then headed back to our AirBnB. Back to back 10 mile days, my legs were tired.

Monday was a bank holiday in Great Britain, called August Bank Holiday (pretty clever huh?).  Unfortunately, we had to work, because none of our clients are British. Sue and I did yoga in the morning (as if my legs didn’t hurt enough) and we met Abi & Laurens for dinner our last dinner in the UK at a Jamaican place called Ma Petite Jamaica. The food was good and we had a nice, if a little melancholy time, knowing that this was our last night together for a while.

Steven neglects to mention that Sue went on a 4-mile walk on the Regents Canal to Camden Market. The walk was the goal, not the market. In fact, the market, which is pretty famous, has every type of food you could want and plenty of knickknacks, leather goods, souvenir junk, and jewelry. If you don’t mind crowds, it’s a fun visit. That’s where I found Amy Winehouse. It used to be a haven for punks and goths, but like everywhere else, it just seemed touristy and hipstery.

Just some random photos of London courtesy of Sue:

Tuesday morning, we took the Chunnel to Paris and Wednesday morning we flew back to Chicago.

The Chicago skyline from the window of our plane – the color is due to the tinting on the window: