Friday, February 28, 2014

Tourist bus

... in uniform ...

We have been gone a week now. If I am away from the hotel for 8 hours I have to be ready for the change in the temperature. A coat if there is a wind off of the water. A hat if the sun is beating down. A scarf if the wind is blowing through the streets. A bag for my passport, my pesos, my sunglasses, my travel maps and some hand cream. Low runners, cotton socks, orthodics if one is old enough and needs them.  My hair has to be done above the level of my collar, but low enough that it doesn't interfere with a hat. I don't think about any of important things at home.

Wyona also worries about dust.  She was energetically cleaning off the seats of the tourist bus before Greg and I sat down?  "Now why are you doing that for us," I queried.

She showed me her hand.  Pitch black.  "I don't know why I had to feel the seats to see if they were clean.  But I found out.  They are not."  And she continued to scrub.

Not everyone has one of their party going before them, making the way clean.  But Greg and I have such a person. 


Electronic Equipment

Arta taking pictures
Wyona's hand taking pictures
Greg gets the shot

I am amazed because everywhere I look people are on their electronic equipment. I forgot that might even apply to us.

Tonight in the food court I saw a man with his phone out and his computer, side by side, and he was using both.

But this isn't much different than us. Such a great way to preserve memory. And in some cases for me, I look back on the pictures and wonder, "Did I really see this?", but there it is, on my camera. 

Dock / Pacifico

... down by the dock ...
The colour of the water is a surprise to us: brown with the iron it has picked up on the way to the sea. That is what I keep seeing when I see the water.

As well, we are looking at the plants, the trees, the cones, the grass -- comparing everything with what seems normal to us from home.

The newness of everything seems beautiful -- the green is lacey, the trees have huge flowers hanging from the bows.

We have been back to the food court.

Greg and Arta in Galleria Pacifico
So grand, with so many choices. Tonight gellato came with the meal for Wyona and Greg. I just couldn't do it.  I did some in the afternoon and that finished me off.

 Sad to say ... I had no idea that a person could eat enough chocolate dulche de leche, amaretto and strawberry, to top up for a lifetime.

Mmm, good.  But now I am out.


Bus Turistico

Tulip Sculpture -- the petals close in the evening.
I rode the tourist bus twice yesterday: the first time with Greg; the second time by myself. The third time this morning with Wyona. That makes me the expert in the group – at least with getting on and off the bus and with the headphones. On the first ride with Greg the sound was too loud and there was no way to change the volume. Greg and I wore them back behind on our ears, but still on our heads.

The second time I took the bus, there was not enough sound. I pressed one of the earphones to my ear, but that was good, for at least I was familiar with the music and since I didn’t want to hear it again I was good with concentrating on the audio when it was verbal.

Mural of Carlos -- a famous tango dancer

The third ride had the sound so loud that I noticed the man in front of us just wore his headphones around his neck and when the voice would come on, he would stretch one of them out from the neck position so that he could hear it just fine if he held it six inches away from one of his ears. This must have been the bus one of the reviewers was riding when they said, “Just don’t do it.”

Wyona had a different method of taking care of the noise. Our hats kept blowing off because of the wind on the top of the bus. She put on her hat, used the headphone to anchor the hat on her head, and then moved the anchoring ear phones above her ears. That made the sound just right and kept our hats in place.

“I wish we had a camera. No one would believe this,” she said. I wondered if all of that sound reverberating through our skull (but not through our ears) would change our I.Q,’s. At the end of the ride, we seemed pretty much the same as when we started the ride.

Low average.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Tigre - A Day Trip

... graffitti on building walls on our street ...
man sleeps behind piles of street garbage
taxi driver points to 2 workmen on ledge
they are standing by top left dark window
even the driver is surprised
 ... Sturlisboat  pulls away from the dock ...
 ... a quick game of Candy Crush on the boat ...
... canals and islands everywhere ...
President's home encased in glass to save
weathering from the elements
... colourful home along the waterway ...
"Tranquil" Tigre is a good description of this city which is a day trip, 1 hour by train, or 2 hours by water from Buenos Aires

Wyona was the driver behind getting us off to see Tigre and the huge river delta that is its home.

To begin the day, I was outside of our apartment waiting for the taxi this morning when I saw what I thought was the wind whip a piece of cardboard up in the air and back away from a corner of the building across the street.

Then I saw the energy behind the cardboard going up so high was a homeless man waking up, throwing off the top of his protection from the cold and climbing out of the industrial garbage bag into which he had tucked himself.

He folded it up to put it away in a sack, emptying the sack first, counting how many crushed cans he had to take to the bottle depot.

Someone entering the building said good morning to him, so this might have been his usual sleeping spot.

I was ouside, waiting for a taxi when i saaw this.

Greg explained to me yesterday that there is a protocol around getting taxis.

Outside of an department store is a man who wears a yellow baseball cap with the word Taxi emblazoned across the front of it.

He helps you out of the taxi.

You give him a peso.

6He calls the taxi for you.

You give him a peso.

If you don’t pay up, he put his hand in front of the driver’s windshield: the driver doesn’t go until you pay up.

When you alight and pay the taxi, a bit of money from the taxi driver goes to him as well.

Greg had figured this all out by the time we needed to take a taxi yesterday.

As well, if the taxi is called from you hotel it is four pesos, not just one.

Our taxi wasn’t on time this morning, so we were just going to hail one from the side of the street, but no, the doorman stopped us and told us we must wait for the one that had been called.

... tangled branches at the side of a canal ...
Everything done by protocol here.

Minutes later it arrived.

In those few minutes while I was standing on the sidewalk waiting, that is when I saw the man across the street waking up.

Yesterday, we had gone down to the dock to figure out how to get on the ride up the delta to Tigre.

We declined taking a trip on the ship that would take us for lunch and then up the river.

We wanted to see the canals and waterways that the guide book talked about – latte coloured water from the iron the river picks up on its way to the sea.

The two hour ride up the delta did not disappoint us.

The homes we saw can be purchased from $30,000 American to $150,000 American.

... tourist bus follows a load of cement ...
There are no community services.

Boats come by to sell vegetables, to do dental work, to carry away garbage, and to carry the children to school.

 ... Greg outside the Tigre Art Gallery ...
Tigre boasts the largest amusement park in South America and a large casino, as well as a famous Fruit Market which is more lively on the weekend than it was today.

Our ticket included lunch in a magnificent colonial mansion.

Though the spacious house is run down now, the oak stairwells and the silver candelabras in the ceiling high hutch were not lost on any of us.

... local train station ...
The most fun was the tourist bus which drove around the island, stopping along the road to pick us up, even though we were not at a prescribed stop.

How easy does that make travel?


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Don’t Look Like a Tourist

Don’t look like a tourist.
Don't look like a tourist

That is the caution one of the guide books gives.


--- frescos on ceiling of Pacifico
... Pactifico was at first a railroad terminal ...
How is that possible.

We have on sensible shoes, and a belly pouch that carries our money, a few other personal belongings.

We occasionally bring out a map and stop at a street corner to get our bearings.

1Sunglasses keep the blinding light out of our eyes.

Hard not to look like a tourist.

Oh, there is another kind of tourist looking couple.

 ... Centro Naval ornamentation ...
Wyona pointed them out to me.

He is tall and athletic, silver hair, maybe retired but still full of a lot of energy in his stroll.

She is older (at least not the second wife, yet), but still blonde and slight.

... budding angel Moroni ...
They carry no bags though she may have a slim leather purse across one shoulder.

They look American elite.

We look prairie peasant.  No hiding our roots.

... bronze plaque on door ...
She isn’t really buying anything for he is carrying no packages.

They are just strolling along.

Not even looking up, nor left or right.

 ... lion on door of Centro Naval ...
We however have the drop-jawed tourist look.

 Duh to us!

Oftentimes we lean against a building (or each other) with one arm to give us stability while we look way up.

... ceiling of unidentified shopping mall ...
Way, way up.

We are discussing the iron balconies, the influence of the Greek architecture, the two story high brass door on the naval building – there is no way we can keep from looking like tourists.

We are trying to figure out how long this walking street really is, why some of the buildings are now shabby or abandoned, how the graffiti is so plentiful on the side of one building, and there is none on the building next to it.

7Don’t look like a tourist? I wonder what that means.

Today we checked out where a Laundromat is from our building.

I was watching what the locals looked like, and today I noticed that about ¼ of them had on jackets or sweaters.

“Wyona, let’s go back and get a second layer on. One-quarter of these locals have an extra coat on today and I am already feeling the cold.”

... ornamentation above door ...
So Greg led us back to the hotel.  We can't even get two blocks away from the hotel and get back on our own.

With that extra layer on today, we looked more local.



Wyona spotted the Carrefour, an international chain grocery store on our way home from looking for tours. I have been having cravings for fruit and vegetables. There was only one small isle at the back which took care of both fruits and vegetables. The potatoes still had lots of dirt on them. That is a good way to know they are organic. There were only 8 mangoes for sale. No papayas. No fresh berries, though lots of grapes. I had imagined a steady diet of mangos and papayas in South America.  I was wrong.

We bought the standard oranges, apples and bananas. “We wouldn’t buy those at home,” Wyona said looking at the blemishes on all of the fruit. I reminded her that the oranges we buy at home are waxed and dyed. That makes look good to us but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are healthy for us or any better than the blemished ones.

Then Wyona wanted to go up and down all of the isles of the stores to look, as though we were shopping at home. I liked that idea so I did the isles as well. That is where I saw lots of canned vegetables. And every home must be making lots of pizza and pasta for there were large cellophane packages of oregano, turmeric, and paprika, bigger amounts than I see at home in my own grocery store. I would have to go off to the speciality Indian spice store to get packages that large.

I am not used to seeing so many shelves of alcohol in the grocery stores. There are no isles of whole grain products – mostly refined white flour. And no specialty isles where you can pick up frozen or fresh ethnic entrees and take them home. label on coke to the left...

At the check-out we saw Green Coke Labels – now that was confusing. "What is going on with the labelling," we were asking one another. Someone with limited English, (which feels like a lot of English to us, since we haven't been hearing much lately)  overheard our conversation and popped into the discussion, explaining to us that in the Green Label Coke, the sugar is natural. We don’t know what that means so I goggled it. Regular Coke: 250 calories. Green Coke: 100 calories. Diet Coke: no calories. Apparently one of the Argentinian efforts to combat obesity.

We were remarking that at this point in our trip, it doesn’t seem to matter than very few people we meet can speak English. I wonder how it is that we are getting along. Maybe the guide books that we brought with us. And commerce can go on in markets whether people can speak the same language or not. The people who stop to talk to us are so kind. No merchants are over-bearing. As we walk along the streets we hear cambio every few steps. I don’t think hearing that word from 10 people per block on the tourist walking street would be an exaggeration, men and women, maybe 8 out of 10 men. But some women along the side doing money changing.

Some salespeople are out on the streets selling tickets to dinner and dance shows – usually  a Tango Show. I saw a woman approach Wyona, who didn’t slow down for one step to hear her pitch. The girl walked along, sideways, trying to keep up with her, trying to get eye contact, get some word out of Wyona.

 “Oh, you don’t speak,” were the girl’s final words as she dropped behind to find another tourist.

I was not that tourist.


La Pasta Frola

Shouldn't we taste one of everything, since we finally got here?
It is not right to come this far and not test the pastries of Argentina.

Do they stand up to those in France?

... getting a selection ready ...
Those in Belgium?

Those that come from our local Calgary pastry shops?

Or those of our own kitchens?

... the first tray of goods ...
The first move here is to go into the store.

Then check out the goods.

 Next watch how other patrons order.

Maybe ask a few questions if you can find someone who can speak English.

Can you speak English?

Some people nod as though to say no, but out of their mouthes comes, "So-so".

Apparently all of the cream pastries cost the same amount of money.

... the choice is beween "dry" or "cream" fillings ...
Choose the ones you want..

Then the cost is done by weight.

Do you want a half kilo, a kilo, a kilo and a half?

A kilo and a half last seemed a bit excessive, as did a kilo.

... politically incorrect ...
Still, that is what we ordered.

Fourteen of them, and dividng each 3 ways at home gave us a taste of everything.

To up the ante, we served each other on the white glass plates that are in our kitchen.

This is the only time we have used them.

... those sprinkles only look good, not taste good ...
Our job at La Pasta Frola was to select one of everything that looked good.

Then to go home, have a tasting party and to see if we wanted to order more.

By about the twelfth taste, my palette was getting jaded.

No matter what it was that I was tasting now, those first few bites had been the best.

 ... my dream dish ...
This picture isn't very clear, but what I wanted in the whole shop was the tall pedestalled clear glass on which only one pastry rested.

"I used to have one of those", said Wyona, but then Greg let a huge big board fall on it as he was moving it down from the loft. "So they aren't that useful," she said.

 "At least mine isn't that useful anymore."

Greg said, "Yes, easy to break." He is the first one who mentioned it. Not her.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Planning Tours

We don’t know exactly how to use up these days in Buenos Aires in the best way – we like the Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus as a general rule, but the reviews for the buses here are so brutal that we are afraid to get on one. “The ear phones don’t work ... the incessant tango music will drive you crazy ... there is no substance to the description of what you are seeing ... you have to listen to the translation in so many languages ... just don't do it ... save your money. "

Not giving up on getting a quick start into touring, Wyona found some good reviews of private tours, so we took the address of one such office and walked down Corvientes street, stopping along the way to take our own pictures beside statues on the street. “This street must be the Broadway of Buenos Aires,” Wyona said. Yes, we saw musicals advertized, we stopped in at the opera to find out if there were performances this week, we saw movie theatres, and we stopped at the grocery store and at La Pasta Frola, which is a blog post of its own.

... the realities of candids ... passers by obscure the original subjects
We began to see statues along the way.

A baker outside of a baker.

A barber at another store.

We sat in the barber's chair for our picture.

We got the idea from a 2 year old and a 4 year old who did the same thing.
a small rest on a hot sunny day -- 28 degrees ... warm
There is a police presence wherever we walk.

There is always a security guard at the door of our hotel.

As we walk along the streets at night, every bank is guarded by someone at the door.

Greg is the mapper. 

He knows which way to turn and we finally found ourselves in front of the building, a locked building and no tour guide office there.

... getting posed for the shot ...
Greg hesitated in front of the door. 

 A distinguished gentleman was keying himself into the building, and offered to help. 

“That is my office number. Come up.” 

We entered the office of two lawyers, explained our plight and they both got on phones, looking for help for us. 

... now in fantastic comfort ...
Finally Wyona discovered – the lawyer who spoke only Spanish has a son who runs tours, but those tours are booked on the internet. 

Apparently tourists just don’t go to Buenos Aires and drop in at the office. 

Drop-in’s aren’t that easy to do, even in the best of buildings. 

For example, we are finding that there are no more than 3 people allowed in an elevator, and 3 doesn’t work in our building if you are carrying groceries. The elevator just won’t go if the load is too heavy (that would be 4 2.25 litres of Coke and 3 bananas, apples and oranges).

In the case of the elevator in the prestigious building, the elevator just wouldn’t stop at the landing. Wyona and Greg had to climb up a couple of feet to get out of the elevator and onto the 5th floor. “Shades of Lagos,” ... those words might have come quietly from Greg’s mouth.

We did get hold of the tour guide. He couldn’t offer more than our tour guide books and our local guide (Greg) could deliver.

Tomorrow we are going down for a dock tour – at the very least. And a lot of fun, at the very most.


Galerias Pacfico

Greg and I took a walk after supper tonight. We went the opposite way down the walking street, Florida, this time going left inside of right. The sun was setting. The temperature didn’t cool down. There was a strong wind – I am guessing as much as 30 mph some of the time. We watched a plastic slurpee cup bounce down the middle of the street, scraping its way curb to curb, being picked up the wind, caught in a whirl wind, then laid down again, twisting its way along the cobblestones – a symphonic sound that the echoed off of the buildings. Greg took along an umbrella for he expected rain.

Image: Galerias Pacifico Website

... ceiling fresco in Galerias Pacifico ...
We stopped first at the Galerias Pacifico, now looking like a palace with its evening lighting. He walked me inside, showing me the shops and then we went down the escalator so that we could get a better look at the frescos on the dome of the building. Socialist-activist art from the mid 1940’s I read on the internet when I came home to do a search about the meaning of the art. As well, I read about the history of the building. Originally built in 1889 and then I read up on each decade between now and then, as it changed uses.

When Greg and I were downstairs we checked out the food court – the first shop that caught my eye was MacDragon. “A Chinese version of MacDonalds,” Greg said. We looked at every kiosk even though we were stuffed from our evening meal. Finally Greg was laughing again.

“Only in Argentina would large slabs of meat constitute fast food. Look -- #16 on that menu is a rack of ribs for less than $12. We are bringing Wyona back here tomorrow. This is the equivalent of the food court we found in Hong Kong. I don’t know if we will ever eat anywhere else.”

There were the smells of BBQ a little further down: a huge grill with large sausages where the smell was coming from. I could see at least 8 possible places I would like to eat. Maybe tomorrow ... for I also want to see the Borges Cultural Centre on the top floor of that building.

Greg and I walked on down to the Plaza San Martin – stopping to admire the height of the Plaza Hotel at the corner of its ring road. We walked around the park, dark now, some joggers, some people walking their dogs. As we returned home we saw a different part of the night. The shops closing up, bringing down their corrugated iron sheeting. The homeless were getting out their mattresses – a mother and father laying out their three children – or getting a place ready for them to sleep on mats. The children were still playing in the corners of the buildings.

We walked by some political street art – a lot of careful printing and a chalk drawing of a political figure. We stopped to take a close look, even though neither of us could read a word of Spanish.

The tango dancers were still performing at one corner. They had been there when we began our walk and it would have been possible for us to have just stayed there and watched for the evening, for their moves were graceful ... more than that they were alluring, inviting the passer-by to give up any other agenda and to stop and watching for the evening.

We passed by the gelato shop and looked for Wyona’s favorite flavour saying that it would be unfair to bring her back gelato that had melted in the evening heat.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Paris of South America

We came in the door of our suite, opened the window, looked out into the courtyard.

Greg paused and then said, "So this is the Paris of South America."


That is what the guide books tell us and they are right.

... my first view out of the front room window ...
We are just are on the wrong side of the building to get the best view of Buenos Aires.

But we are 1/2 a block from the main walking street, 2 blocks from the metro, and a short stroll from the dock.

When we stand at the entrance to the building to have our picture taken by Greg, we notice a fine spray dropping on us, though the sun is shinning.  "That is the air conditioning we are feeling," Wyona tells me.

... the view from our front room ...
a long shot to the left of the initial presenting wires
We are sure we are going to have a grand time.

It is only the end of the first day and we have had one week's worth of adventures.

We have done the market, the Plaza, the Metropolitan Church, a gelato store, a local food eaterie, explored the breakfast kitchen of the hotel and made plans for tomorrow.


Churrasoueria – El Peregrino

... our seat at the window of the Churrasqueria ...
“I have the place you want to eat. Come, follow me,” Greg said to us.

Greg  had no idea we would stay.

He led us through the stalls to a bar and sandwich establishment where local people were eating.

The Churrasoueria

Large pieces of chicken were off to the side of the grill, and we walked down the counter, not able to really see what the menu was.

No sandwich board up high. I wandered through the tables to see what people were eating – I could see salad and meat. That was enough for me. I was hungry. The waitress cleaned off a table under the T.V. but Wyona could see a better move for us would be at the front window where we could see the people in the market strolling by the stalls.

... divide by 7 ...
no item on the menu over $7 Canadian

The waitress handed us a menu which we couldn't read.  No English there.

We could figure out the Coke and the beer at the bottom of the menu, and we were pretty sure pollo was chicken.

When the waitress could see that we couldn't speak enough Spanish, she began pointing to her body parts, first hitting her thigh and then hitting her chest, which is when we figured out she was asking us, do you want a leg or a breast of chicken.

The diner didn’t seem to have people staying.

 More customers came in with an order, paid at the till and were gone again.

We watched a table of men ahead of us share their food.

... using my camera to study someone else's food ...
The oldest had ordered an escalope (boneless meat thinned out with a mallet and cooked in bread crumbs).

The area of the escalope was so large, that it spilled over the side of his 10” plate.

 I looked at the height and the diameter of his side order. A plate of mashed potatoes – maybe three cups of them, maybe four. He dug in with relish, a bite of the meat with his fork and knife, then three or four forkfuls of the potatoes, then back to the meat.

Greg said he is not leaving Argentina until he gets a tortilla de papa.

 In another world, it looked like a close cousin to a Spanish frittata.

Greg said he was mesmerized by the height, the size, the golden crispy exterior and by the fact that the other guys at the table were sharing it.

Half for one, half for the other, and then they would take it back to the grill and get it warmed up when the heat was out of it.

... eating is only getting a rest from shopping in the market ...
We looked at our bottle of coke.  The tallest bottle we had evern seen -- not 2 litres but 2.251 litres.

We haven't seen that before.

We finished it off.  With Greg's help.


Catedral Metropolitana

What the picture doesn't show is this:
a street person was on the bench in front of us,
asleep, his body at a 45 degree angle.

We stopped to see the inside of the Catedral Metropolitana at the Plaza de Mayo.

 The tomb of General Jose de San Martin, Argentina’s most revered hero, is buried here.

A flame burning on the outside of the church keeps his spirit alive.

The cathedral has neoclassical columns and a triangular facade of Jacob and Joseph.

I thought I was seeing a Greek temple.

... at the tomb, two guards left behind, three march away ...
Greg and I took pictures when we saw the changing of the guard inside the church at the general’s mausoleum. The priest overseeing the change encouraged the bystanders to give a round of applause to the guards when they left. Wyona was watching the spiritual worship of a 15 year old boy, giving reverence at the sculpture of the broken and bruised body of Jesus. “Where does a 15 year old boy develop such piety,” she was asking herself. She was watching the boy’s mother and father, his brother, but she didn’t have any clues from them.


The Best Bag at the Market

... the best bag in the market ...
... no second one under the counter
don't send us any orders
... there was only one in the whole market ...
We found the best bag in the San Telmo market place five stalls into the afternoon of shopping. We didn’t know it was the best bag in the market yet. “Don’t buy the first thing I see in the market. I will find it cheaper at the end of the market.” That generally works for me.

We walked 20 blocks of market, looking for more of the same bag but looking at everything else – never getting tired. The literature says the market prices are fair; don’t bargain with the merchants. The market was fantastic – vendors polite, no one calling from the stalls, no one putting pressure on passers by, a polite interchange about the prices, which we have to divide by 7 so that times. “This is a market designed for Canadians – so polite.”

Twenty blocks is a long market. Just when I thought we were at the end of the market there would be a rise and a fall in the street and I could see more stalls side by side, on both sides of the streets, displaying belts, shoes, purses, shawls, souvenirs.

Wyona and I stopped to figure out what use to make of the calabash gourds we kept seeing.  Hundreds of them on display. “Don’t leave Argentina without drinking some of this tea,” someone who could speak English told us. “The metal spoon is the straw through which to drink the tea (mate). A cheaper straw comes with the gourd. Or you can buy one of the more expensive ones.”

 The vendor was taking the straw apart to show us how to clean the straw. The translator old us what she knew and then asked him questions herself.

We didn’t ever see food in the market. We think it is because it is too hot to have fresh vegetables and fruit in the sun all of the time.  Eight days of eating only meat is like going on the Atkin's diet, I think.

... we had no idea that the market would go for miles ...
this picture is a quick study

on the unevenness of the cobblestones exercise in trip, stumble and lurch ...
Five hours of market and then we realized closing time was near and we would have to make a run for that first shop. The street we walked on was heavily cobblestoned, rough rocks, we fell into each other all along the way. I watched a man with a stroller try to push a baby along – no luck, the wheels were getting stopped every few minutes.

To get that bag, we ran back the 20 blocks.

Greg calls it a scout run.

I only know I wasn't able to run and talk, so I didn't do any talking.

I am not going to get left behind.