Other Pages of Interest

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Herb Garden - Take 4

For the last four years, I've been dreaming of cooking with my own hand-picked, home-grown herbs.  The garden in my mind is filled with flourishing luscious herbs that are available whenever I need them.  Unfortunately, my gardens inevitably become plant graveyards.  I have tried growing them inside and outside, and somehow they always end up dead. 

So let's try this again.

This year I'm attempting basil, watercress, chives, thyme, oregano and mint.  My oregano, thyme and mint I started from plants and they are doing quite well, even though I planted them in winter.  My real test will be the other plants, especially basil, which I have never been able to keep alive. 

I'm going with the dual attack this year, starting basil from plants and from seeds to see if I have success at either one.  The seasons are opposite, so August is planting season down here.  Maybe the longer, warmer, Argentine growing season will be on my side this year.  I'm keeping my new plants inside for the time being, the temperature here still gets into the low 40s at night, but as soon as it warms up I believe these will be outside the window plants. 

That is assuming they live that long. 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cien = 100

Alrighty folks, we've reached the 100th post of my little blog. I'm not afraid to admit, I wasn't sure I would have this much to say, but it turns out that living in a foreign country combined with time on my hands gives me lots of material.

For this milestone post I decided to summarize some of my likes and dislikes, a pro/con list if you will, of my first 10 months of living in Argentina. This list is by no means exhaustive, but you get the general idea.
  • The Pro: I love the change of pace that we have experienced here in Argentina. In general people are more relaxed and the overall stress level seems significantly lower. The focus is on spending meaningful time with the people you are with.
  • The Con: Time is generally of no concern. A party that starts at 9:30pm will frequently see its first guest at 10:15 without a second thought. People laugh at you if you want to go to dinner before 9:00 and if you meet someone for lunch, you better clear the rest of your day because you're not making any appointments before that evening.
  • The Pro: Argentina has opened us up to a new part of the world. We both admit to knowing very little about South America before moving here, and although we still have lots to learn, we have been able to travel and experience new things that we probably never would have done otherwise.
  • The Con: Living far from home means that we're far from family and friends and therefore miss out on events and get-togethers that we would love to be part of.
  • The Pro: The cost of living is much more affordable than we were accustomed to in DC, especially when it comes to food and wine. This is augmented by the current 4:1 peso to dollar exchange rate making it a great place for Americans to vacation.
  • The Con: Inflation and product costs are constantly fluctuating making items and prices unpredictable and consumer trust is low. There is a large percentage of people living in extreme poverty and crime is higher than it should be.
  • The Pro: Learning Spanish! Everyone says that the best way to learn a language is to live among the language - and here we are. I can't say that we're fluent (yet) but we are getting there. This has the unexpected pro of learning to laugh at yourself and the situations that this hurdle creates.
  • The Con: It is hard to live in a country where you don't know the language. Reading instructions, menus, getting directions, phone calls and everyday common tasks are many times more difficult than they should be.

Despite the inevitable cons of being a foreigner, Argentina has been very good to us. We have met great new friends, experienced amazing new things and grown as people and as a couple. We could not have asked for a better international place to live, we are able to easily keep in touch with those at home while enjoying all the benefits of living in a new, exciting place. Thanks for tuning in with us during this crazy ride and I hope you stick with us for the next 100 posts!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Rancho Room

Bachelor Jon had a typical bachelor-style bed, with just a metal stand, a box spring and a mattress, and on the list of furniture purchases, a bed frame was pretty low on the priority list. Now that Jon's old bed serves as a guest room bed we thought it was time to invest in some actual furniture for the room.

We've been to Tigre a few times and have really liked the style of furniture that we've seen at the weekend Mercado de las Fruitas. I'm not totally sure why its called the Fruit Market, because all sorts of non-fruit related items are for sale, but it is a great market that is held every Saturday and Sunday in Tigre. We were most interested in the furniture sections of this market, which has a mostly unprocessed or "crudo" style.

After looking all over we found a bed we loved - and looks perfect in what I like to call the Southwestern Room:

We also got the alpaca skin rug next to the bed at the Fruit Market. This helps accomplish our cold-hardwood-floor issue.

I love the look of this bed. It's modeled after a fence gate and I don't remember seeing anything like it.
The design is so simple but the bed is sturdy, interesting and (the best part) it was pretty inexpensive. We ordered the bed from a shop called "El Buen Pino" located at Sarmiento 270, and spoke to the guy who was actually going to be making it. We chose the stain and size, and we had some options with the height. I have their card around here somewhere, when I find it I'll update the post, they were great to work with. The only item we plan to change is the chain used for the headboard looks a little sold-by-the-foot-at-Home-Depot and we would prefer something a little more, I don't know, authentic.

Hooray for new bed!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Casa Gill

There have been some sweeping changes to Casa Gill lately with more on the way.  We have the luxury of a great, large apartment here in Buenos Aires, although there are a few items that need attention.  The challenges of the apartment as far as I see it are as follows:  1) We moved from a much smaller place in DC and now are trying to fill up our apartment with furniture, 2) Our new place is filled with all wood floors and we own one small carpet, 3) We have extremely tall (maybe 15 feet) ceilings.  All of these things combined means that our apartment is large, semi-empty and every sound echos. 

Our first project, the great room:

This is a huge living room/dining room combo with elaborate chandeliers a functional marble fireplace and on the wall not shown in this photo, a complete set of built in bookshelves.  Not bad for a starting block.   We have focused mostly on the "dining" part of the room.

The hutch in the upper right-hand side and the horseshoe wine rack on the left-hand side were our first furniture purchases here.  Belgrano Street in the Centro neighborhood is knows for it multiple blocks of furniture shops and we found a gem in there called Rincon de Campo, Belgrano 2459, which is where we bought both pieces.  All furniture items are made by hand and they sell quite a few "one of a kind" unique pieces like the wine rack.  I love the rustic look to the piece and then to use horseshoes to hold the bottles in place is genius.  The hutch is handmade but we've seen other very similar items in the same store.  The display case is great and it serves as extra storage for serving dishes as well as a place to store our Spanish books (of which we have many). 

The next item, in my opinion, is the hardest item to choose for a household, a rug.  Standing in the Bazhars showroom in the Buenos Aires Design Centre trying to imagine what the rug will look like in our place made Jon and I both virtually crazy.  I think we did a pretty good job, as The Dude would say, it really ties the room together.

The most recent addition to this room is that ficas tree in the corner.  A friend has recently moved back to the US and needed a home for four trees, and I was more than happy to take them off of her hands.  Aside from the drama getting them to our house and the dead worms that we found near the pots afterward (apparently they were outdoor plants...) they have been a nice addition to the space.

Next up, our new guest room bed! 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sometimes, Just Sometimes...

This weekend marks the first really nice weather that we've had in awhile.  It hasn't been incredibly cold, but just cold enough that if given the choice, I wouldn't choose to be outside.  So, Jon and I spent this weekend celebrating by walking the couple of miles to the Jumbo/Easy shopping center instead of catching a taxi. 

And once we were there, we had another reason to celebrate.
Our first ever McDonald's date - excluding road trip meals

Because, sometimes, just sometimes, you need to indulge.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Entering Argentina - Travel Recommendations

Each time someone comes to visit, I put together this email filled with, in my opinion, helpful information that one may need when visiting Argentina.  My brilliant husband recommended that instead of writing up an email every time, I should make this a blog post - and with our next "wave" of visitors heading our way in the next few months, I thought I would do just that.  Ironically, our friends Allison and Scott beat me to this post-punch and added helpful hints for visitors on their blog, Married and Mobile, just this week.  Their post is funny and honest and includes all sorts of items that I hadn't even considered, you should definitely check it out.  As for me, here's my advice when visiting beautiful Argentina...

Before You Leave
  • Make 2 copies of your passport, just the page with your photo and information.
  • American citizens (along with many other countries, for a full list, click here) do not need a visa to enter Argentina.  You visit for up to 90 days at a time, for up to 180 days in a year (if you leave the country and return). 
  • Check with your credit cards to see if they charge overseas fees.  Also, the card(s) that you plan on using while here, be sure to let them know that you will be out of the country so that they don't flag you for fraud.  FYI - Capital One does not charge overseas transaction fees.  It's the only card we could find with this perk.
  • Argentina uses 220v, unlike the weak 110v of the US.  Check anything electric that you plan on bringing (curling irons, hairdryer, cell phone charger anything that plugs in) for the voltage capacity.  Generally it will say on the label, you're looking for 220v or 110v - 240v.  If the appliance doesn't say 220v on it, leave it at home.  You will also need a plug adapter, better to get one in the US versus once you arrive, Argentinean electronics are known for being problematic.  
  • Know the address of your destination.  This information is necessary to fill out your immigration form, and inexperienced world travelers like me didn't know that.  This held me up at least 40 minutes at the immigration counter my first time - and I was stressing. 
  • Your passport and 2 photocopies of the page with your picture and information.  
  • GOOD WALKING SHOES - there is a ton of walking in the city, wear shoes that won't kill your feet. 
  • Comfortable, lightweight clothes (assuming it's summer).
  • Leave all good jewelry at home, especially anything with a stone.  This includes wedding rings, you can wear a band, but nothing with a diamond.  Wearing any sort of "fancy" jewelry will only signal that you are not from around here, aka - please rob me.  Argentina is not (in my opinion) dangerous, but take precautions beyond what you would take in the US.  
Helpful Tips
  • Many stores/people here will only work in cash - you can withdraw money at an ATM or bring US dollars to convert.  The current exchange rate is 3.90 pesos to the dollar.  
  • I feel comfortable carrying a purse here, but many people choose not to.  If you want to bring a purse, bring something small that you can carry close the whole time.  I generally sit with my purse on my lap when I eat, none of this "hang it on your chair" nonsense.  Also, a purse that closes is a good idea, the "satchel" that only has a small tie or buckle at the top is perfect for pick-pocketers.
The Airport
  • There is a reciprocity fee for Americans, Canadians and Australians entering Argentina.  Currently, the fee is $140 per person (it is good for 10 years).  This fee is only collected if you arrive through Ezeiza Airport (the big international airport) although be careful, rumor has it that Jorge Newberry (the regional airport here) will be closing for a few months beginning October 15.  This means that all previous Newberry flights will now come through Ezeiza.   When you land in Bs As, they will direct you to customs when you leave the plane.  There will be 2 lines, one for residents and one for tourists/travelers - if you need to pay the fee, go to the the tourist line.  Note: Resident Visa holders to NOT need to pay this fee. 
  • After you clear immigration, bring your luggage through customs.  They offer free carts at the luggage claim.  After you have your luggage, they make you put it through an Xray machine before you proceed out of the airport. 
That is it for now.  When I think of more, I'll update this list.  We hope to see you soon!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Return to the Ice

As I write this, my middle brother Chris is in New Zealand anxiously waiting for the last leg of his trip around the world. The flight will leave sometime in the next few days, as soon as the weather cooperates. You see, they can't land a plane when the temperature is too low and currently, it's -40F in Antarctica, where Chris is headed.

It feels like just a few weeks ago that I was writing about Chris's return from Antarctica, and here he is, headed back to the ice for another 6 month trip. He claims that this trip will be his last. We shall see.

I mean, how could he give up great company like this:

And, embarrassingly, I'm waiting in anticipation for my Feedjit Live Traffic Map to show the coveted red dot on Antarctica. I am shameless in my love for followers, subscribers and those little red dots all over the world showing that people actually read my blog.

I will also look forward to phone calls in the middle of the night, considering that the 15 hour time difference doesn't not lend many hours of common awake time for phone calls.

This time around, Chris will also be spending a month at the South Pole, a place only imagined by most. I imagine there is some sort of red and white stripped barber's pole down there, now I will find out for sure.

Good luck to Chris and his team! Stay warm, take lots of pictures, and try not to go camping in the cold.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Passport Renewal Update

So in my growing list of blogging delinquencies, here is a post I meant to update a few weeks ago.  If you remember, on Friday, July 23, I took Jon's passport to the US Embassy for Renewal because it was getting seriously close to expiring.   The Embassy was incredibly efficient and, shockingly, came through with all of their promises, the main promise was that we would receive the passports back within 10 working days. 

I didn't realize until I got home that the DHL stand at the Embassy somehow recorded my name as Daun Gorgani (aka - Dawn Giorgiani) on the delivery slip.  Exactly 8 working days later, Jon received a call asking if it was alright to mail his old and new passport to this mysterious Daun Gorgani - just as a safety precaution.  I'm not gonna lie, this impressed me.

Come August 6, exactly 10 working days later, I had Jon's fancy new passport (and old used up passport) in my hands.  He even has that spiffy new chip in the front page that has every piece of relevant information to his entire identity.  Hooray for new passports!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

School Actually Takes Lots of Time

**News Flash**

School is time consuming. 

I mean, the actual four hours a day isn't incredibly consuming, but add in the review and homework time (plus the additional sleeping time I've been logging due to afternoon classes...) and the result is the blog gets shafted. 

The good news is that I passed last week's test with flying colors and this week began the next level of classes.  The bad news is that the next level is still a really basic level, I have a lot of work to do. 

Wish me luck - I'll find time to write in the upcoming days.....I hope. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Escuela #2: ECELA

So up to this point we have lived in Argentina for 9 months, I have been taking private language lessons for 8 months and although I'm feeling much more confident in everyday situations, I'm still pretty shaky with my conversational skills.  With this in mind, I decided to shake up my approach, cancel my private lessons and enroll in "full-time" school.  You may remember back in March I took 2 weeks of intensive classes through BASP and although I really liked the change to group classes, I wasn't entirely satisfied with the school.  My friend Anso recommended another school, ECELA, and she speaks incredible Spanish after only 6 weeks of classes so her recommendation seemed pretty sound.  Not only that, but this school is located in Recoleta at the corner of Ayacucho and Arenales, just a few blocks from home - bonus!  With this in mind, I signed up for a month of intensive courses and as of tomorrow, I will be halfway through the month. 

The classes are in small groups, no more than 6 students in a class for 4 hours every day.  The school is quite different than my previous experience with BASP, here is how the schools match up:

  • To determine skill level, on the first day there is a written exam and a conversation piece with the school's director.
  • Classes available starting at 9:00am or 2:00pm.
  • Class structure:  1.5 hours class, 30 min break, 50 min class, 10 min break, 1 hour class.  During the breaks there are snacks, tea, coffee and water.
  • In addition to classes, they offer an event each night centered around communication practice or a social event that spotlights Argentine culture. 
  • Tutoring assistance between 1:00 - 2:00pm each day.
  • At the end of 2 weeks there is an exam to determine your next placement level.
  • Cost:  $100 one-time enrollment fee, $356.00 for 2 weeks (40 hours) of class.
  • Written entrance exam to determine skill level.
  • Classes available starting at 9:00am or 2:00pm.  The school is small, so these times are contingent on other student's availability.
  • Class structure:  1.5 hours of grammar in the morning, 30 min break, 2 hours of communication in the afternoon.  There is tea and water available during the breaks.  
  • The school doesn't offer any additional entertainment, but offers lots of recommendations for things to do in the city.
  • At the end of 2 weeks, you receive a certificate and graduate to the next level.
  • Cost:  $10 registration fee, $290.00 for 2 weeks (40 hours) of class.  
All in all, I feel that ECELA is a more professionally run school, but the price is higher to accommodate the additional administrative fees.  BASP is a good school to start at, and I met some really great people there that I remain friends with.  For a more complete experience, ECELA has been a much more complete program, for my money, it's worth the few additional dollars.