Sunday, 14 October 2012

Location, location, location

We're finally back in Cordoba.  Our 4 pm flight was cancelled so we flew out of BA at 7 and arrived in Cordoba around 8:30 pm.  We quickly got our luggage, found our driver, and then headed to our new apartment.  Here's how our housing in Argentina works: Daniela is John's amazing secretary here.  She finds us a list of apartments based on our wish list - one bedroom, full-sized fridge, balcony (with BBQ if possible), and wireless. We look at the lists online, usually while John's at work and I'm elsewhere, and decide on our new home. These apartments come fully furnished and with basic kitchen provisions like plates, cups, cutlery, etc.

However, whenever John heads home for a week or longer, then he has to give up the apartment.  We pack everything up in boxes and suitcases, and whatever isn't coming home with us in stored in his office.  While the apartments are furnished, we've picked up extras like a colander, grater, saran wrap, tinfoil, a toaster, a good frying pan/wok , spices and some knives, etc.  I think we are up to two boxes and one very large suitcase of misc. additional 'stuff' that has to be packed and moved, in addition to our two suitcases each of clothes, shoes and toiletries.  When we come back, we stay in Buenos Aires at a hotel for a few days and live out of the two suitcases while he works at the plant there, then back to Cordoba to the next new apartment.  We really liked the apartment we had on Ovidio Lagos in July and August, but it wasn't available right now.  That's why we are here at nuestra nuevo casa numero cuatro (our new house, number four). 

So, back to our story.....  It was about 9 pm and we arrived at the gates of a huge compound with nine towers surrounded by a brick fence with a security gate.  The driver explained who we were and why we were there.  But while we had keys that Daniela had sent to the driver, we didn't have the name of which tower we were staying in or the apartment number.  John's Argentinean phone had a cracked screen and they had just given him a new one.  None of his contacts had been transferred onto the new phone so he tried looking for Daniela's number on his old phone.  Luckily he found someone's number, who was able to convince the security guard to let us in!

Up we went to the 15th floor to see our new home.  It was much smaller than the last apartment in every way - the rooms were smaller, the balcony was smaller, less closet space in the bedroom, no cabinet space in the bathroom.  But once I got everything unpacked the next morning, the suitcases stowed away, and added a few baskets to the bathroom, the space was working out OK. This compound is lovely, clean and so self contained.  It is all very new, with a big swimming pool and lots of little shops right on the grounds - several small grocery stores, a wine and cheese shop, a hairdresser, even a laundromat where you drop off your laundry and then pick it up later in the day, all washed and folded for only 26 pesos a load ($5).  Since it is a relatively new complex, many of the stores are still empty so the variety of shops will probably continue to expand over the next few months.

From our balcony we have a beautiful view of the Sierra Grandes and can watch the sunset over the mountains each night.  But the reason we have such a good view of the mountains is because we are on the very very edge of town, with mostly residential and some commercial buildings in one direction and open land in the other direction.  They have tried to create a compound that is like one of those Caribbean resorts where you never have to leave.  And quite frankly, after a week of exploring, there isn't much reason to go out into the neighbourhood.  Any restaurants are at least five or six blocks away and the only store within a short walking distance is WalMart.   All the other shops are quite a long hike away. 

The problem is that it doesn't feel like we're in Cordoba.  I'm not the type of person who goes to the resort and doesn't leave the grounds.  I'm more of a 'get out and explore with the locals kind of gal.  So, last week I decided it was time to learn how to get around on the local buses.  Now I have best of both worlds - a nice apartment to call home for now and easy access to the hustle and bustle of downtown. 

The bus system here is actually pretty good, and like most things in Argentina, very affordable.  In order to ride the bus, you have to have a Red Bus Tarjeta (card) which you can load and reload with any amount of pesos.  When you get on the bus, you swipe your card and it prints you out a receipt letting you know the balance remaining on your card.  Each bus ride is $3.20 pesos (about 60 cents).  This is a lot cheaper than the $40 peso ($9) cab fare for the twenty minute ride from here to downtown which is still ridiculously cheap compared to any Canadian or American city I've ever been in. 

There is a great website where you use a map to indicate your starting point and your destination and the website tells you which bus routes to take and the approximate time for the entire journey.  This is not just for Cordoba but for any major city in Argentina. There is another website where you can locate all of the stores that sell the Red Bus Tarjetas.  That being said, yesterday we went to buy John a bus card and the first two or three stores that we went to were out of cards.  Since we were already downtown, we just went from kiosco to kiosco until we found one that had cards available.  Now we're both able to head downtown whenever we want.  Yesterday's bus trip was to Mercado Norte, a huge bustling market with lots and lots of meat for sale as well as a few fruits and vegetables and other things. 

I'm not even sure what all of these are, I just know that I don't want to eat them.

We're heading to Buenos Aires next week and then home to Windsor for a week, so once again, we'll be giving up our apartment.  When we are back in early November we'll be in another new place, this one on the edge of Barrio Guemes and only a ten or fifteen minute walk downtown.  We'll be staying there until Christmas.  It will be great to be able to unpack our things and keep them unpacked for weeks on end! 

Within the next few weeks, John will have to decide where he wants to stay when he comes back in January - back to the great neighbourhood feel of Ovidio Lagos, the convenience of our location here at Altos Villa, or maybe our new neighbourhood in Barrio Guemes.  Who knows?  If none of those are available for a long stay, he could end up someplace new and different again.  It's all part of the adventure!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Weekend in Mendoza

This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada, and also a long weekend here in Argentina for Columbus Day.  John and I took advantage of the long weekend to head to Mendoza with John's co-workers Jose and Claudina.  They were both born in Mexico, and speak fluent Spanish, so John and I could relax and let them do all the talking!

Mendoza is Argentina's wine country and is situated right at the foot of the Andes mountains, so the wineries have fantastic views of vineyards, olive trees and mountains.  We spent our first day and last day in Mendoza on tours to many many different wineries.  We drank a lot of red wine, ate a lot of good food, and took lots of pictures.  If you are ever in Argentina, Mendoza is a must!    You're actually close enough to slip into Chile, but we didn't have time for that on our agenda this time.

Our one hour flight left almost an hour late (which is pretty typical in Argentina for the local carriers), so we arrived in late morning, grabbed a quick lunch, and then hopped on a mini bus for a wine tour.  First stop was Pasrai, which is an olive oil business.  They had delicious olive oil, and after our tour, John and I bought three bottles of olive oil - classic, rosemary, and basil flavoured.  Along the buildings were beautiful murals from a mural contest a few years ago. 

I loved the olive trees. The colours are so muted and beautiful.

After the olive grove, we went to two wineries: Cavas de Don Arturo and Vistandes.  We were fortunate that there were tours in English at all places we visited throughout the weekend. Several mini buses of tourists would pull up and a huge group would go off for the Spanish tour, while Jose, Claudina, John and I and two other people would take the much more private, VIP English tour.  Since our group was so small we got to see areas of the wineries that others weren't able to visit. Wine tastings at both wineries on Saturday left us a bit weary, and we went back to our hotel and slept right through dinner.  I felt better the next morning when Jose and Claudina said they slept through and missed dinner too.  They are much younger than we are!

 While in Mendoza we stayed at Huentala Boutique Hotel, which was lovely. Our room overlooked these beautiful eucalyptus trees - they are huge and covered with purple blossoms that smell like lilacs.  They were everywhere in our neighbourhood and the smell was AMAZING!

On day two, we were up early for breakfast and then on the mini bus for the mountain tour into the heart of the Andes with some of the same people who had been on the Winery Tour the day before.  The scenery was spectacular.  Huge jagged snow covered peaks that seemed to go up forever.  We pulled off the nice modern highway and took a short detour along an older version of the highway to see an ancient bridge and stopped to take photos at several points. 

Jose and Claudina at the bridge

We drove through the mountains and stopped again to get out and see Aconcagua, the tallest peak in the Western Hemisphere at 6962m (22, 841 ft).  It is also called "the roof of the Americas."   Here's some of the spectacular scenery.  As you can see, it was rather cold and snowy up in the mountains that day.

By far, the most exciting part of the day was when we stopped for lunch at a little ghost town, year round population: 1.  As we got off the minibus, everyone went around back to take pictures of the mountains.  John happened to get off and head to the front of the bus, and there, swooping around right in front of us was a huge condor.  By then everyone else was gone, so we stayed there while he took picture after picture.  When he showed them to everyone after lunch, they couldn't believe they had missed out on it!

A former hostel in the town where we stopped for lunch. 

The condor, with the red head and white ruff around his neck, just like in the cartoons!

Lunch was a typical Argentinian lunch.  We went into this big hall with long tables and were served at a buffet by an elderly woman who thought that we were all starving as she gave us enormous portions of beef milanese covered in cheese, rice, mashed potatoes, squash, lentils with beef, accompanied by three different salads plus a big basket of bread and, of course, red wine.  I think the idea was to make us all so full that we would sleep most of the way back to Mendoza.  And it worked!

We did stop just a few miles from our lunch stop to see a natural bridge that the locals call the "Inca Bridge" which leads to hot springs.  There used to be hotel and small village there, but it was wiped out in an avalanche a few years after it open in the 1920s.  Up until recently, you could pay to cross the bridge on foot and use the hot springs, but another avalanche made that unsafe.  So now you have to admire the buildings from across the river........

Day three - Mendoza.  We went on three more winery tours, but here's the thing. The driver was picking us up at 9:30 am, we were touring three wineries and having lunch at the third winery after the tour.  I'm not sure why it did not occur to me that this meant we would be going for wine tastings starting at about 10:30 am, and then having lunch after drinking wine all morning.  The first two wineries were Alta Vista (really really good wine) and then Achaval Ferrar (really really great wine), and both in beautiful settings. Lunch at Belasco De Baquedano turned out to be a five course meal, each meal accompanied by a different wine, and each course more delicious than the previous one.  It was fantastic. But by the time lunch was finished, we had just enough time to go back to the hotel, get our luggage and head to the airport for the quick flight home. 

So much wine....

All in all it was a wonderful weekend with good food, good friends, good wine and great scenery.  We would love to go back in March, when the grape harvest is on, and visit again.  

Friday, 5 October 2012

Beautiful Buenos Aires

Back to Argentina after a crazy September - including a blizzard of professional development and special events at work.  Then the closing on the sale of John's house and all the work of moving everything he owns into either my garage, my basement or a storage locker.  Everything is moved out of his house, although it still needs to be sorted, organized and tidied a bit.

We spent the weekend recovering and relaxing in my brother's condo in Port Clinton, and then it was time to head back to Argentina.
John and I were in Buenos Aires for a few days before flying to Cordoba; he at work in their Pacheco plant and I starting my online courses (I'm teaching two this term), and trying to relearn the Spanish I've forgotten.  
If you don't speak Spanish, Buenos Aires is a great place to start in South America.  Many of the signs, menus, etc are in English as well as Spanish. While we were only in Buenos Aires for a few days, it was wonderful.  I can hardly wait to come back later in October with my girls! 

Some of the highlights:
Our hotel.  We stayed at the Dazzler Tower on Heras, which is in the Recoleta neighbourhood, close to great restaurants and beautiful parks.  The staff were super helpful, especially when my flight to Cordoba was cancelled and I needed to make changes by phone. Not sure I would have been successful without Ana at the front desk. 

The food.  So much good food.... I especially loved the empanadas and tamales at El Sanjuanino, the tapas at El Burladero, and the fish and grilled vegetables at La Lorenzo.

The grilled vegetables at La Lorenzo were served on a little stand that contained hot coals, so the vegetables kept cooking at your table as you ate dinner.  Delish!

We arrived at the tapas restaurant on a Tuesday night and couldn't get a table - no room!  So we sat at the bar for dinner, which was very entertaining and the food was fantastic.

El Sanjuanino, a true little hole in the wall with the best tamales and empanadas

My 'office.'  There was free wifi at the cafe next door to the hotel, so I sat there for two afternoons drinking tea and working away on my online course.  No one tried to hurry me along, or accused me of loitering.  They almost seem disappointed when you ask for the bill.  For 15 pesos, about $3, I sat there all afternoon, drinking tea, working on my laptop, and watching the world go by.  Felt a little bit like JK Rowling.

The view from my office

Riding the A Subte line.  I had read on another BA blog (Buenos Aires or Bust) that the A line on the BA subway (subte) had antique wooden cars with vintage lights so I decided to go and check it out for myself.  The first A train that came along was a regular modern train, but sure enough, I waited for another and along it came. Beautiful wooden interior with windows that open all the way and doors that you have to pull open manually.  When the train takes off from the station, it takes quite awhile for the doors to eventually close.  I can't imagine the TTC ever allowing anything like that in Toronto.  Thanks for the tip Amber!


Doors open, windows open, as we speed away down the track.

Dogwalkers.  They were everywhere when I went for a walk on Wednesday morning.  And every single one of the dogs was adorable. Need I say more?  How can you not love a city that loves its dogs?