After a whirlwind visit to Iguassu falls, two overnight buses and one night in a decrepit and smelly hostel, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! A freshly renovated apartment with luxuries I have not had in months, a bath, a washing machine, a dishwasher. It even had Netflix! At this point having hot running water in the kitchen and a kettle were luxury enough. Thank you AirBnB.
We’re only dipping our toes into this AirBnB thing. I had my reservations (mine the pun) as it seems a lot of people are milking it for as much as they can get for their spare room. There are, however, some really great finds. Airbnb has become more like a regular hotel booking website, with many hostels and guesthouses using it as another platform to secure reservations. This was our third AirBnB booking and so far all have been self-serviced private apartments. There’s no doubt it has been the cheapest place to find a good apartment. It has been a great way to break up the hostels, giving us the privacy we need sometimes as a couple and somewhere quiet we can work without distraction. Our AirBnB in the Bay of Kotor allowed us to avoid the high-prices and crowds of mid-summer. In Blumenau, it was more a necessity for Oktoberfest (it was that or pay $R500+ for a hotel). You also use paypal to pay for the accommodation in full on AirBnB which in Argentina is extremely helpful. Every ATM withdrawal costs $92 pesos and you’re limited to a maximum amount of $2,400 (about $240AUD).
Buenos Aires itself was akin to being transported to Madrid, a modern European city with all the western indulges one could want, and the prices to match. We spent far more on groceries than we do in Australia, with dairy products, bread and chocolate (all the essentials really!) costing 25-100% more than at home, with fresh produce about on par. Still, I was happy to be back in a land with decent coffee and splendid wine. Argentinians like to take their coffee with medialunas – delicious glazed croissants. There are deals at most cafes where they cost only a fraction more with your coffee.
Buenos Aires is brimming with green parks and Spanish style colonial buildings, with its wide Avenida 9 de Julio, running through the centre. I thought Recoleta was one of BAs most beautiful neighbourhoods. A cultural centre, with the Recoleta Cemetery one of it’s key sights. This is where Eva Peron was buried and as far as cemeteries go, it is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. We had stopped for lunch at El Sanjuanino, sampling the delicious empanadas, tamales and lentejas (a lentil stew), washed down with a very drinkable rosada (rosé) wine and custard pastries for dessert. All of it costed about AR$500 and was divine. The service is impeccable. An ageing waiter (maybe it was the owner), still enthused about his job and full of humour, speaking to us in perfect English while I replied in Spanish. Yes, you’ll find lots of tourists here, yes it’s in the travel guides and rated highly on trip advisor, but the best thing is they haven’t been sucked into what has been our typical experience of highly rated restaurants ‘so we’re in the guide now we’ll charge more and not care so much about service’. They are local, authentic, super-friendly and the food is excellent!
Weekends in BA are all about dancing until dawn, relaxing in the parks and exploring the markets. Recoleta also has weekend markets. In Palermo, you’ll find enormous parks and we discovered a meat festival ‘Carne! Festival de Parrillas’. Argentina is famous for its beef, and while you can sample a steak in many restaurants there was no better place than at this festival, served straight off the barbecue on a sourdough roll with fresh salad and chimichurri.
On Sunday we made our way to San Telmo, the mother of all markets. The diversity of goods for sale was beyond comprehension and those that say you need multiple Sundays to explore it are correct! We left our apartment at 10am on Sunday wondering if the world had ended. The streets ghostly quiet with not a soul in sight, the cafes advertising desayunos (breakfast) had their doors tightly sealed. As we drew closer to San Telmo the pace picked up and eventually we encountered markets in full swing, dozens of streets of them! Handicrafts, clothes, antiques, art, maté, it was overwhelming. After a good couple of hours wandering through, we stopped at a corner restaurant for some lunch and a tango show. Nearby is Panificacion Bragado, the best bakery for empanadas and alfajores (soft biscuits filled with Dulce de Leche).
In the very centre of BA located around Plaza de Mayo you have a myriad of sights, including multiple museums, the Metropolitan Cathedral and Casa Rosada, the palace-come-presidential-office. This part of the city alone could take several days to explore. Just west of this on Avineda de Mayo is Café Tortoni, a 19th Century coffeehouse, which has become a massive tourist attraction but is still worth a visit for its French turn-of-the century interior and good coffee and churros.
Having been deprived of decent quality cuisine (sorry Brazil) food and drink has been a feature of this entry. 90% of the time we self-cater and after 3+ months on the road we were tired of seasoning our cooking with salt and soy sauce. Josiah especially had had enough and we spent the best part of the day locating spices to cook up the more exotic food we’re accustomed to (if you want a true culinary journey, go to South-East Asia!). Searching online we found El Gato, a tea and spice shop with old world charm. While it was lovely, the spices were super expensive. We wandered around, keeping El Gato as our back up while hoping to find somewhere more reasonable. We were in luck! By chance we found El Banquito, a health-food shop which sold spices by the gram almost as cheap as they come in India! We were able to find everything bar coriander to cook up a much-missed indian curry in our lovely apartment. From now on we’ll be carrying around the equivalent of a spice rack! Josiah wouldn’t have it any other way.