Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Too much walking

This morning we did an excellent walking tour of Santiago, which gave a really good overview of the city and its history, then James and I settled into an Irish pub (yes, Irish) to watch the Spain-Portugal game, where I enjoyed my first Pisco Sour, which was really nice and strong... so strong I had a bit of a nap near the end of the second half, but managed to recover to see Spain finish one-up and go through to the next round.

Next was the funicular up the San Christobal hill, where unfortunately the grand vista of the city was pretty much covered in smog - we could still make out the mountains, not that it really matters since we'll be going over them ourselves soon enough!

Unfortunately I was overruled about buying a return trip down the hill, and we ended up walking... 7.2km back the long way down the vehicle road. As I had suspected, the more direct pedestrian route was completely unsafe to use near sundown, in fact security guards were posted along the entrances to deter dumb tourists from going down, which is probably quite a good idea.

After a dinner of traditional Chilean comfort food/home-style cooking, we took the metro back to our hostel - the metro system here is noticeably cleaner and more modern than Buenos Aires, but still not as good as Hong Kong. =)

Tomorrow we're off to Valparaiso, hopefully can fit in a visit to one of Pablo Neruda's houses there too!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

First impressions of Chile

Safely landed in Santiago last night, once again during the flight the pilot rattled something off in Spanish with the result of the local passengers applauding, though this was near the beginning, and we later surmised he said something about how the football match between Chile & Brazil had just started, and he would keep everyone updated, then 'Go Chile' or something. Later we found out they lost three nil, so no wonder the passengers looked so glum.

After getting past the surly customs staff we were faced with a plethora of taxi-men wrangling for our business, one tried to convince us that the equivalent of US$25 was not that much more than the US$10 it would cost to take the local bus into the city and then walk, even though, uh, it was over twice as much. Nevermind! Once we figured out where the bus stop was and got on, I then promptly got short-changed by the driver by 10,000 Chilean pesos (or about NZ$27) - easily done given I was still grappling with the new currency, and the fact their 20,000 notes omitted the last three zeros on the corner and just looked like a $20...

Luckily James thought something was up, and by the time I mustered the courage to go up and ask the driver for the proper change (while wondering what the hell I'd do if he actually talked back to me in any way), I just wrote down on a piece of paper '$20,000' (what I gave him) and said 'cambio?', he just nodded and nonchalantly reached into his tray and handed me my missing two $5000s, no questions or comebacks. So, obviously a frequent ploy with FOB, non-Spanish fluent tourists like us...

Anyway, I'm hoping our experience in the rest of Chile will be a bit better, obviously we'll be on our guard but really did wish we were fluent in the language, makes such a huge difference! Today we're going to do a walking tour of Santiago, and then try and find a bar to watch the Spain/Portugal match in. Hopefully will get some good photos for tonight's post!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Vamos Argentina!

Yesterday (Sunday), despite being drizzly and grey, there were still plenty of stands at the antiques market by 10am, with more and more opening up. I certainly saw plenty of cool things I wouldn't have minded having at home, but a) would have had to carry it for the next three weeks, and b) they weren't actually that cheap. We did end up getting three flattened glass beer bottles though, just couldn't resist when we saw them:
Which one of these things is not like the others...?

Took heaps more photos of the market (James might say too many) but will leave them for when we've actually had time to sort, tag them properly and upload to Flickr. Afterwards we wandered down to Cafe Tortoni just in time to catch the second half of Germany's thrashing of England at the World Cup... I have to say I was a bit disappointed in their churros, even the ones I've had at a restaurant in Albany were better, and you can really tell it's recommended in every tourist guidebook (and website) as the whole place was probably 95% filled with tourists. And probably American ones, as very few other people bothered to watch the game.

For lunch we enjoyed a ham and cheese pizza at Guerrin (recommended on Chowhound), and in contrast it was full of locals, and also very nice! Their specialty was lots of cheese, which was evident:

When we finally got to Av. 9 de Julio (9th of July) and saw the Obelisk and later the Congreso building, I have to say it was a bit anticlimactic, having been to Washington DC... Plus, the buildings on either side of the 'grand', twelve-laned avenue kind of ruined the look of the whole thing. Still, we were tourists in BA and it was just one of those places you're supposed to go to I guess!

By the time we were heading into a subway station the whole city was like a ghost-town, probably due to the combination of it being Sunday morning, wet/cold for BA standards, and the big game was about to begin. There were still a few enterprising individuals hawking Argentinian flags, shirts and vuvuzelas at various streetcorners and intersections up until the last moment. 

Portenos combining their love for dogs & football

When we finally got back to San Telmo we (luckily) managed to get a seat in a crowded bar back in Plaza Dorrego just before kickoff, after already failing to find a spot at two other places. Good thing it was mostly full of locals too, because they just went absolutely nuts when Argentina scored the first goal! 

Of course the fact that it was offside didn't matter in the least, and there was wild applause for the ref when he let it stand. Then it was just all downhill from there for Mexico, except for one goal in the second half. Overall, definitely glad we managed to catch that game while we were here in Argentina, a bit of a shame the weather was bad and we didn't end up in Plaza San Martin with the big screen, but given the choice between sitting in mud/standing for two hours, and being in a warm bar, definitely would go with the latter...

At dinner we chose a local joint close to the place we went on the first night, and I ordered the offal:

Plus a chorizo sausage. In retrospect I probably felt more like a steak and got this dish just for the sake of being adventurous - I still don't know exactly what part of the (I presume) cow this came out of, I assume some part of the digestive system (and no, you don't need to tell me if you know), but it didn't taste that bad, though the appeal of eating it definitely lessened as it cooled and I became less hungry. Still, good to try it I suppose! The sausage was very tasty.

We're off to Santiago this afternoon, just hanging around the hostel for another hour before our taxi to the airport arrives, unfortunately not quite enough time to have another excursion, but overall I think we've seen all that we set out to see here on this trip!

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Tren de la Costa and the Tigre Delta

After two days in Argentina, I have to say that our Spanish is still quite rusty - this morning when we were trying to buy the train tickets to transfer from Retiro to B. Mitre to catch the Tren de la Costa, at the ticket window when the guy said 'quatro' I just went blank because I thought there was no way it was going to be FOUR pesos only! That's like NZ$0.35 each for a train trip from Auckland Central to Papatoetoe. In fact, all subway trips are capped at ARS$1.10 (about 40c NZD) each way no matter how far you go or how many transfers you make. Really wish Auckland had at least something remotely resembling a decent public transport network...

Anyway, after we got all that sorted and arrived at the first Tren de la Costa station, it seemed a little bit weird how run down it was given it was such a popular (local) tourist route.

Still, the trip was nice and we saw plenty of kids playing Saturday morning sports in fields along the way, and we got a glimpse of BA from across the water as well (though passed by too quickly to take a photo).

At the end was the 'Delta' stop of Tigre, where, on our way to the Tourist Info Office, James made an important discovery!
That's right, turns out you can get V in Argentina too... good to know!

Then it was a river ferry up to Tres Bocas, where three of us had a lovely lunch of grilled fish, the local speciality (James got grilled short-ribs).

I also finally gave in and decided to give beer another go, since it was so much more economical to get a bottle of that instead of wine or anything else - Quilmes seems to be the local choice, and the main reason I can tolerate it is because it tastes more like just cider, lacking the strong barley/hops aftertaste. I like how they brought it in an practical though not particularly attractive polystyrene enclosure to keep the bottle cool.

After that, we had intended to do a loop walk of the island, but thanks to some bad planning and lack of map/sign reading, we crossed several bridges that we shouldn't have and ended up 3km south of where we were trying to go... was finally forced to turn back when we ran out of track. Oops! Oh well, at least it was still a nice walk, and we made some canine friends along the way - basically these dogs would just follow us around for absolutely ages, for no particular reason.

Eventually we got all the way back safe and sound, and tired! Tomorrow is the antiques market in our neighbourhood so really looking forward to that, afterwards will finally check out 'El Obelisco' and Congreso, maybe go up the tower at Palacio Barolo.

Saturday, 26 June 2010


Well, despite my best intentions we all overslept - it's now past 9am and we're not off yet, but I guess that may be what happens when you get woken up at 5am by locals arguing (or something) passionately in the street. Have noticed that the traffic never really stops here, not sure if it's just where we are or what BA is like, but the frequency of the cars never really wanes, usually in other cities (even HK) there would be a bit of a lull between, say, 2am and 5-6am, but not here...

Anyway, Colonia side-trip has been canned due to the exorbitant price of the ferry - it would've been around the same as how much we're paying for accommodation for four nights! No matter, instead we're heading off to Tigre via train upriver, hopefully the weather stays nice for us!

Lots of walking (+ a bit of subway)

Today we wandered all over the place, covering Puerto Madero, Retiro and Recoleta, and visiting Plaza San Martin (where we might return on Sunday afternoon for the Argentina vs Mexico 'mundial/World Cup game), an arms museum, a Cloister, and of course the famous Recoleta cemetery.

The Hyundai 'Mundial' Fanzone

Eva Peron's grave

I actually walked right past Eva Peron's grave and wouldn't have turned back if Bruce hadn't told me, I was probably more interested in the cats wandering around.

Lunch near Plaza San Martin.

Took the subway (or 'subte') all the way from Pueyrredon to San Juan at rush hour, wasn't too bad actually - I really do miss living in cities with a subway system, just so much easier and more convenient than the alternatives...

Anyway, tonight we'll probably head to a tango show, and then tomorrow a day trip to Colonia in Uruguay. Looking forward to the antiques market here in San Telmo on Sunday!

Friday, 25 June 2010


Meat & potatoes, the staple of the South American diet... And our dinner! Delicious.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Safely landed in Buenos Aires

Which is apparently a pleasant surprise, given the applause from the locals when we touched down! I had been given quite low expectations of Aerolinas Argentinas, and while it certainly wasn't the worst airline experience I've had (that honour probably goes to Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport, a charming pair), it wasn't exactly overwhelming either. Everything on the plane was generally quite worn, but the main downer was the surly attitude of the flight attendants. I mean, I know your airline has a bad rep but at least crack a smile once in a while!

At least I got through two books on my Sony Reader Touch Edition, The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Kite Runner - probably was a mistake to read them one after the other given neither are exactly feel-good stories, but I was particularly unimpressed by the rather contrived plot of the latter. All the 'coincidences' were just too much to bear! Would not recommend it, personally.

Anyway, not much to discuss Buenos Aires-wise yet as we've only just arrived at our hostel, we're staying in the relatively historic district of San Telmo, and from what we can see from our balcony the buildings on our street look impressively historic so far! It's currently 5.40pm but I'm already feeling the hunger (didn't help that I didn't eat the dry croissant and cheese bun on the plane for breakfast), which is a bit of a concern since dinner here isn't usually until 8-9pm or later... Hopefully we can find a touristy spot that serves meals a bit earlier, and definitely looking forward to the grilled meats!

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

New Trip!

We're off to South America next week so thought it was about time I dusted off this old blog to document our trip. Looks like I never bothered writing about our time in San Francisco after all, probably due to the fact that we were unfortunately a bit disappointed by the whole city, plus travel fatigue had set in... At least we got to enjoy Pixar's Up! in 3D about six months before it was released in New Zealand, and the highlight was definitely going to see Alcatraz.

Anyway, our plan for South America at the moment is to fly into Buenos Aires, stay for four nights, then fly to Santiago to take the bus over the Andes to Mendoza, and then it's up to the Salta/Jujuy area. This is where it gets a bit flexible and hazy, but basically depending on how we go, we'll probably end up at Iguazu Falls during the FIFA World Cup final, then a final epic twenty hour bus trip to Rio, where our trip ends when we fly back to BA to catch our flight back to Auckland.

Really looking forward to it all, and if we manage to come back with all our possessions it will be a success!