Other Pages of Interest

Saturday, January 30, 2010


Tigre is an area approximately 17 miles north of Buenos Aires located on the Parana Delta. According to my guidebook, it is a "great jumping off point for river trips into the delta, comprising of 6,500 miles of canals, rivers and marshes". We have not explored the 6,500 miles yet, but it is a great place to go to get away from the bustling of the city. People flock to Tigre on the weekends with picnic lunches and Mate (ma-TAY, the tea that is a national obsession here) or you can take boat tours of the delta lasting anywhere from 45 minutes to 8 hours. There are restaurants and cafes lining the shore and both the Tren de la Costa and the local commuter train stop right next to the dock.

I have been there twice now, the first time was an experiment with my friend La
uren who came to Argentina to travel for a few months. We took the commuter train which is by far the cheapest way to get there ($2.70 pesos round trip), albeit a much longer trip. A side note about the commuter train, I don't mind the it, but I have heard some horror stories regarding safety (similar to any stories that you hear about trains in large cities) and you have to be willing to put up with people begging for money/trying to sell you things. As Jon pointed out, it's similar to a train in Europe where people do the same thing. Back to my trip with Lauren, the only information that we had was a short paragraph in her guidebook, so we were relying on our instincts to make it through the day. We easily found the boat dock and decided to follow her guidebook's advice and chose the boat taxi instead of going on a tour. What we didn't realize was that it was literally a taxi boat, more intended for the locals who live in the delta and need to come to town to grocery shop, etc. This is a cool concept for people living or renting houses on the delta because they must take a boat to get back to town, it's like living on an island. For us, this meant that the boat stop 150 times by the time we wanted to get off. We stopped at an area called "Tres Bocas" where we were told there would be shopping and restaurants. We found 2 restaurants that were completely deserted and absolutely ZERO shops. What the guidebook did not mention was that the delta is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, and they were feasting on us. So we tried to leave Tres Bocas after about 20 minutes of walking around and could not figure out how to get back on the taxi boat. Three taxis passed us by as we waited...and with my limited knowledge of Spanish, I had no idea why they wouldn't let us on. We found some local folks that looked to be waiting to get back to the town and I asked them if we were waiting in the right spot. (I imagine that I sounded a little like this, "We want boat. We need boat for Tigre. You need boat for Tigre too?" Thank goodness for patient locals.) We made it back to town and had a great lunch that included a pitcher of delicious sangria. We had a great (though mildly hilarious) day.

For my guided trip, our friend Juan drove Jon and I to town and promised to show us the best places to go for shopping and eating in Tigre. It was raining a little so we stopped for lunch as
soon as we arrived. We went to this great place called Maria del Lujan that had a great menu with lots of choices from steak to Italian to sandwiches. We each got some sort of pasta dish, I got the tri-colored ravioli with Roquefort sauce, it was delicious. Afterward, we went to Puerto de Frutos, the port in Tigre. This area has a zillion places to buy furniture, art, clothing, crafts, home decor, etc. Intermixed with the crafts are fresh fruit and flower stands, complete with lots of potted herb plants. The style all was pretty similar, handmade wood and iron rustic looking items, just my taste. I could have spent all day here. Jon and I found this great painting that is now hanging in our front hallway (pictured below), and I plan to return sometime soon (I think Jon will be happy to pass on a second shopping trip) for a few other pieces that we saw.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cafe Tortoni vs. Las Violetas

Cafe Tortoni (Avenide de May0 829 in the Plaza de Mayo area) is the self-proclaimed oldest cafe in Buenos Aires. It originally opened in 1858, and moved to its current location in 1880. It is a huge tourist spot due to its long history, placement in every tour book you can find and (I recently found out) its placement in the book 1,000 Places You Should See Before You Die. Cafe Tortoni has indoor tables for the cafe portion, a basement for tango or jazz shows and a small museum dedicated to tango. The stained glass ceilings, historic decoration and interesting artifacts make it a great place to stop for coffee or a small bite to eat. To date, this is the only place in the city that we have had to wait for a table, the wait was only 5 minutes or so, but wait nonetheless.

Jon's coffee at Cafe Tortoni. I made the mistake of ordering an imitation frappuccino. It was best described as "lukewarm" and was not photo-worthy.

Me, Jon, Juan and Sole for what I'm pretty sure was all of our first time to the cafe. Just like at home, they don't do the tourist thing until someone is in from out of town.
My thoughts on the cafe - it is a cool place to see, but there are a zillion cafes in the city, and the food/atmosphere here was not the best. It was busy, I'm pretty sure that it always is busy, and as you can see in the picture, we had the smallest imaginable table for four people. Sole ordered food and had to just about eat it on her lap. The service was friendly and the waiters had a good sense of humor about everyone taking pictures or asking to take pictures of the table (our waiter just saw my camera and asked if we wanted him to take a picture, he knew the drill). All in all, the food was a big OK and my frappa-whatever should really not even be on the menu. This is all purely from a food standpoint, we did not see any tango or jazz performances.

My recommendation, if you're OK with missing the attraction of Cafe Tortoni, go to Las Violetas (Av. Rivadavia 3899, Almagro area). Though it has only been open for 125 years (not 152, like Tortoni), it has a very similar feel with the stained glass windows and antique decor. It was cheaper, less touristy, and both the food and drinks were better. We went with a party of six and ordered a platter of food recommended for four (pictured on the left) and we could not finish it all. The platter had sandwiches, tarts (sweet and savory), desserts, etc. They have a vast collection of hot tea if coffee isn't your taste and I ordered a frutilla licuado con leche (strawberry milkshake) even though everyone but Jon advised me not to. Apparently, these concoctions are normally made with water, not milk. I loved my creation, and after tasting it, the whole table agreed.

Moral of the story - go to Cafe Tortoni to see the decor, and to say that you have been there. It's one of the few places in Buenos Aires that people will ask if you visited while you were here. I recommend Las Violetas for a great place to stop for coffee or a snack, the food is much better and the decor is pretty cool too.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Palermo Zoo

After our glorious 2 week vacation back to Virginia, I went through a bit of re-acclimation withdrawal. After a few days of sitting around the house, I decided that we needed to get back into the swing of exploring town and meeting new people. So I looked to my travel books and found a destination that was cheap, local and highly recommended - the Palermo Zoo.

One of the many wonderful things about my husband is his ability to go with the flow. While I am positive that he hated my idea of spending his Saturday at the zoo in the middle of a 95 degree day during school summer vacation, he went along with my plan. The day started with the taxi driver having no clue where we were trying to go. Apparently, my Castellano expertise has not mastered the word "Zoologico". Eventually we arrive at the zoo - and it is PACKED. Not only is every man, woman and child from the greater BA area at the zoo, but we are all sweating to death. We're talking soak-through-your-clothing kind of heat. There were children in diapers, children wearing nothing, grossly overweight elderly men wearing little to no clothing - it was not our scene. But they have the largest collection of white tigers....so we soldiered on.

The Good News: The entrance fee is really cheap - 17 pesos (roughly US$4.50) The zoo has tons of animals. Its conveniently located in a nice area of the city. There are a number of places to buy animal food (for 2-5 pesos) and then the exhibits have ramps where you slide the food to the animals. It brought a lot of the animals right up to you and kids were loving feeding them. The signs were all in Spanish (obviously) so we had fun trying to figure out what the kangarabbit and the porcupig really were. (This remains a mystery to us)

The Bad News: Now here is where it gets really subjective. I have not been to a zoo in easily 15 years. I will admit that a lot of the following opinion may not be only because of the Palermo zoo, but because I forgot how sad zoos really are. The buildings are in disrepair, the animals have little to no shade, any water source was in pretty rough shape and all of the wildlife looks a little, well, skinny. Not to mention a little dehydrated - like our poor camel friend here.

The bottom line is that the zoo needs money. With a substantial amount of funding I think it would be a really nice zoo. It was a nice day regardless and I have to give us credit for trying. But for now, we will skip this stop when people come to visit. My favorite part of the day was on our way home when we stopped at our favorite helado place, Volta. Nothing changes my mood faster than a cuarto-kilo of delicious, amazing ice cream. More on Volta later....