|Wednesday, December 28, 2011
|Good reasons to visit Buenos Aires
Before I get to today's topic, let me
say what just happened a few minutes ago. As I was coming back from
my walk/exercising in the nearby park I was asked by an Argentine how
to get to the law faculty of the university. That is not all,
because I was actually able to tell him where it is and how to get
there (!!!!!!) WOW!!!! I can almost feel like a porteño (a
resident of Buenos Aires).
Good reasons to visit Buenos Aires?
THE WEATHER. I don't know how it
is for the rest of the year but if you live in Europe or North
America then December/January is the perfect period to come here.
The latitude of Buenos Aires is about 34 degrees South. That is
similar like Sidney, Australia, and Cape Town, South Africa. The
respective cities in the Northern hemisphere are Los Angeles (34
degrees to the North), Athens (almost 36 degrees North) and Osaka,
Japan (34 North). The daily temperature most of the time is close
to 30 degrees apart for a few cloudy days when it was a little
THE PEOPLE. I find Argentines
very polite and friendly. In fact the are so polite that one might
get an impression that they want to be friends with you. Whenever I
asked for a way or anything else, I was always treated with utmost
respect and friendliness. In fact a good percentage of them speak
some English and they are happy to use it once they notice that your
Spanish is in the need of a lot of improvement.
PIZZA TO DIE FOR. I don't usually
buy pizza at home, but one day I was passing an establishment with a
lot of people inside. I went in to discover that this was a pizza
place where you can either order a pizza to take it out or eat at a
table inside (it has a big restaurant-like room with tables).
Intrigued by the popularity I ordered one big pizza Napolitana con
Roquefort. Sine I don't usually eat pizza, I had no idea what I
am ordering, except that the name Napolitana sounded good to me, and
I new that I like Roquefort cheese. I brought it home, made a salad
and started my dinner. I COULD NOT BELIEVE HOW GOOD IT WAS! It was
just melting in my mouth. OK, the place is called El Cuartito, La
Buena Pizza, and the address is Calle Talcahuano 937. If you are
here, you must have it! It is about 3 blocks away from Teatro
Colon, or the Palace of Justice (Palacio de Justicia).
WINE. They have a great selection
of wines and the prices are about 50% lower then in Canada.
CHEESE. I am buying great
Roquefort and other cheeses at a place nearby, and like wine, at
about half the price of what I would pay in Vancouver.
ARCHITECTURE. I hope to post some
pictures soon. I took a lot of them. At the beginning of 20th
century Argentina belonged to the richest countries of the world. The Argentines had great ambitions to transform Buenos Aires
architecturally to rival Europe. However, some are of the opinion
that Buenos Aires was at that time more like Dubai is today -- the
city had the wealth to pay for the massive rebuilding but it lacked
the know-how and had to import talent, labour, and materials from
Europe... Nonetheless, what was build then remains until now and it
is pleasing to the eye (at least to my eye)
PARKS. There are many parks in
the city. Some of them contain countless statues and sculptures.
In fact all kinds of various monuments, and statues are posted all
over the city. I plan to devote one of the future posts to show
some of them.
- DO NOT COME HERE TO STUDY SPANISH. Without going too much into detail, the pronunciation here is strange, and they use "Vos" instead of "Tu" (singular "you") which conjugates the verbs differently -- a form that is hardly anywhere else used outside of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile.
|Monday, December 26, 2011
If you have ever been to Mexico City
you couldn't possibly have missed the traffic congestion. I didn't
travel extensively and it would be false on my part to make any
statements concerning the whole world but out of all the cities that
I have seen in my life the traffic congestion of Mexico City can only
be compared to the one of New York City. If you try to get anywhere
by car during the rush hours you are simply stuck there for hours...
I've heard that London has similar problems but I haven't
experienced that personally – most likely because I have never
tried to use a car in London (why would I venture into the roads
where everyone is driving on the wrong [left] side?). Especially
that London has a very well developed public transportation system.
As far as I recall from my visits to
Mexico City, I think that the administration is trying to cope with
the traffic congestion problem by introducing a bylaw that limits
the cars to only those having even numbers on their registration
plates every other day. That means, if your number is even then you
can drive in the city on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, etc. I am
not sure how it works exactly, but I seem to remember someone telling
me something to that effect.
Based on my observation, I think that
Buenos Aires does not have such a problem with traffic congestion as
Mexico City, New York City, or London. I don't know the reason for
that – maybe they have a good road system (they do in the area
where I live), or maybe they also somehow legislated the problem if
they had one. What I have noticed, however, and what I liked a lot,
is that they have a network of bicycle stations all over the city
where you can get a bike and ride it FOR FREE. I was happy when I
found such a station for the first time. I thought I would be able
to rent a bike and ride the streets which would greatly expand the
range of places that I could visit in a day. My interest rose after I
learned that the service is free. Unfortunately I was soon told
that this service is only available to the citizens of Buenos Aires.
If you are a permanent resident of the city, then you can register
for the service, get you identification number (PIN), which you then
provide at each bike station whenever you want to use a bicycle.
The system seems to be well developed,
but it does not seem to be very popular. I did not have seen many
people using the bicycle. They are just standing there waiting to
gain some popularity. Buenos Aires is nothing like Amsterdam where
you see thousand of bikes on each street and a great lot of them
parked at the train station. Very close to where I live is a street
called Calle Montevideo. A part of the road here has been separated
for bicycles only, but I hardly ever see any cyclists actually using
PS. I've just noticed that some idiot posted some spam in the comments. I have removed the spam, but I don't want to be doing that each day so I am disabling the comments, sorry.
|Friday, December 16, 2011
| Bits and Pieces
If I wrote in one of my previous posts
that I could probably blend with the Buenos Aires population, it
definitely was not relevant today. Walking in shorts and a T-shirt
I was sticking out like a sore thumb. For the last few days we got
showers here, and although previous days remain warm as usual (about
25 to 30 degrees Celsius) the temperature dropped today to below 20
degrees, and of course everybody was dressed much warmer. I wasn't
cold but I definitely stood out of the crowd. Besides, in my
opinion, Argentines, like other men in South America, generally do
not wear shorts. So, if you are walking the streets in shorts here,
then you are almost certainly a tourist.
I was asked to not write about shopping
and prices, but I have to, sorry. Why? Because I am not getting any
free lunch here!!! Whenever I went to Latin America before, I was
saving on living expenses. The cost of living in Mexico or Ecuador
(the two Latin-American countries that I visited so far) is far below the
one of Canada. That is not the case here. Apart from the relatively
low cost of the apartment rental, the rest of it is not cheep at all,
and in some cases the prices are higher then in Vancouver. It should
be noted, though, that apart from the location, my apartment is not
that great, and I wouldn't pay much more for it anywhere else in the
world. As for the cost of food, the prices are comparable to the
ones in Vancouver.
On my walk today, I came across
something called Sushi Bar. To my amazement, nobody had any sushi,
just standard sandwiches, etc. I looked at the menu and I could not
find any sushi or sashimi. Only after an extensive examination of
the menu I finally came across a small section of Sushi, Maki, and
Sashimi items. Surprise, surprise, the prices where about double the
ones in Vancouver! But then again, I have already read somewhere
before that supposedly Vancouver is one of the best (if not the best)
cities in the world for the variety of international cuisine and low
cost of dining out...
One thing that is definitely cheep here is the public transport. I haven't used any buses yet but the subway, which by the way is called "Subte" (short for "subterráneo" which means "underground") only cost 1.10 peso a ride, which is about 25 cents. I think that the price for a city bus ride is the same. This is definitely very heavily subsidized service!
If you read anywhere about Buenos Aires
you will probably sooner or later come across a statement that the
city has a very European feel to it and that the architecture is
often “French inspired”. I don't remember much of my visit to
Paris but I have to indeed agree with that statement. I generally
recognize only two architectural styles:
the one that I like
the one that I do not care about
and so far I have seen a lot of
buildings here that fit the first category.
When it comes to similarities between
Buenos Aires and Paris, then apart from the architecture there is one
more thing that strikes me as worth mentioning. I remember that when
I went out in Paris for a walk on Christmas Day I had to pay a lot of
attention to where I put my feet so as not to step into.... A DOG
SHIT! That's right, Parisians do not pick up after their dogs (or at
least they did not do that over 10 years ago) and you have to really watch
your step if you decide to stroll the streets when the city cleaners
have their day off. The same applies to Buenos Aires.
I mentioned before about some “poor
people” picking through the garbage on the street. In the meantime
I learned a little more. These people a called “cartoneros”
(cardboar collectors) and they are actually organized groups that
decided to make sorting of garbage their way of living. They remove
recyclables (paper, cardboard, plastic bottles, etc) and turn them
into the source of their income. After some past unsuccessful
recycling programs, the City of Buenos Aires seems to depend on
cartoneros to take care of the recycling while leaving this group of
self-employed informal workers out of taxation.
It seems that most of the garbage that
people put away onto the streets (the black bags) is recyclable
goods. This cartonero opens each black bag of garbage, takes out all
recyclables and sorts them into three different big grey bags of paper,
cartons, and plastic.
A cartonero delivering his daily harvest to the recycling depot.
|Monday, December 12, 2011
|Cementerio de la Recoleta - Evita's resting place
La Recoleta Cemetery (Cementerio
de la Recoleta) is the resting place of many Argentine
presidents, writers, artists, intellectuals, and other prominent
Argentine figures. Laid out in sections like city blocks, the
cemetery contains many elaborate mausoleums, decorated with statues,
in a wide variety of architectural styles. It is an impressive site
and definitely worth visiting. Rather then describing it I just
include a number of photographs that I took a few days ago.
Entrance to the cemetery
The most visited place at the cemetery
is of course the resting place of Maria Eva Duarte de Peron, known to
the world as Evita. Born at the province as an illegitimate child of a wealthy
businessman, at the age of 15 she moved to Buenos Aires dreaming of
becoming an actress. She achieved some success mostly due to her
beauty. In 1944 she met Colonel Juan Peron, a quickly rising figure
in the government. After their marriage in 1945 Evita was
instrumental in her husband's presidential campaign. Es the first
lady she established Eva Peron Foundation that directed funds to
programs benefiting hospitals, schools, senior centres, and other
charitable undertakings. She helped to raise wages for union workers
and to get the right to vote for women. She died of cancer in 1952,
at the age of 33. Because of her impoverished background and the
lack of formal education Evita was not accepted by the high society
but she was, and still is, loved by the most of the nation and
although July 26 it is not an official government holiday, the
anniversary of Eva Peron's death is marked by Argentines every year.
Out of all places that I saw at the cemetery, only Evita's tomb was
adorned by flowers as you can see at the picture below.
The cemetery exit
|Saturday, December 10, 2011
|De donde es usted? Que pais?
Where are you from? Which country? -- I am often asked these
questions. Being both Polish and Canadian citizen I answer these
questions depending on the situation, although in most cases I say
that I am Canadian.
When I was planning my trip to Buenos
Aires, I checked the visa requirements. Canadians and Americans do
not need visa to enter Argentina but they need to pay an entry fee.
If I remember correctly the fee for Canadians is $75. However the
citizens of European countries, including Poland, can enter Argentina
for the period of up to 3 months without visa, and they do not need
to pay any fee. So I decided to enter Argentina as 'un Polaco' to
save the $75 entry fee that I would have to pay as 'un Canadiense'.
Since I live in Vancouver I feel
Canadian first of all and in most cases I say that I am Canadian.
However, I think that Canadians and Americans are often perceived as
rich people. To avoid such misconception sometimes I say that I am
Polish to avoid being perceived as a wealthy person. Such situation
occurred two days ago when I went to see the famous Recoleta
Cemetery, the resting place of many of the wealthiest and most
important Argentine historical figures. There was a man standing at
the entrance to the cemetery who immediately approached me with the
question “De donde es usted?” He made the impression of an
aggressive sales person so to shake him quickly off I answered “soy
de Polonia” (I'm from Poland), to which he immediately cried:
Polaco! Lato! Boniek! -- I couldn't help bursting in laugh...
Argentines must indeed be big soccer
funs to remember these names. Lato and Boniek were two famous soccer
players at the time when Poland was among the best soccer teams of
the world. In 1974 at the soccer world cup in Germany Lato was the
top player of the games scoring 7 goals. By the way Poland beat then
Argentina in the first match 3 to 2 with Lato scoring 2 goals.
At the last mach for the third place of the championship, Lato scored
one goal enabling Poland to beat Brazil 1 to 0. The championship was
won by the host country (Germany) who in a dramatic final match beat
Netherlands 2 to 1. I remember all that vividly because that
was the first soccer world cup that I watched. (I was only 13 then).
I believe that Lato is now the president of the Polish Soccer
Association. Argentines won the world cup at the next championship
in 1978 in Argentina beating the Netherlands in the final match 3 to
Boniek scored the most goals for Polish
team at the championship in Spain in 1982 when Poland got third place
again after Italy and Germany. I believe that Lato was also a
part of this team.
I planned to write about the Recoleta
Cemetery today, but the history of soccer championship from over 30
years ago took too much time and space, so I will continue at the
To keep with the topic of
nationalities, I will just add that I find that it is possible to
blend with Argentines as, unlike in the other Latin-American
countries, many of the Argentines are Caucasian and they look like
most Europeans, or North-Americans. Of course, there are other ways
of recognizing a tourist (a particular way of dressing or behaviour)
but this is secondary, so in my opinion, if you really want to, you
can pretend to be an Argentine, as long as you don't have to speak
of course... :-)
In the news: Cristina Kirchner
was sworn-in today to a second four-year term as the president of the
country. She is just having a speech on TV now. I think that the
festivities take place at Plaza de Mayo, which is a walking distance
away from where I stay. I think I will go there soon to check it out.
It seems to be 'una fiesta grande'...
|Thursday, December 08, 2011
|Los Barrios de Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires comprises of 48 'barrios'
or districts. Before renting my apartment I asked some people about
the best neighbourhoods of the city. I was told that Recoleta is the
place to be. Following this advice I rented a place in Recoleta...
I wrote in my previous post that I have
seen some signs of opulence in my neighbourhood. Well, that was my
comment after the first few hours around here. Now, after
one-week-stay, I got to know this area pretty well. It is indeed a
very wealthy neighbourhood. Most of the buildings here (if not all
of them) have a doorman, and some look 'muy rico' (rich). Some
remind me of the buildings at the Fifth Avenue in New York City.
About five blocks away is the Alvear Palace Hotel which is probably
the most elegant hotel in Buenos Aires.
Alvear Palace Hotel
There is a number of boutiques around
here with low inventories but high prices. Today, on the way from
Recoleta Cemetery (more about it in the next post) I stepped into
Polo Ralph Lauren shop located in a nice mansion. It is actually a
small shop with a limited offer but with a large number os sales
force and a doorman (who needs that shit!) I made a quick round
checking the prices doing my best to stay ahead of the 'helpful'
sales people . There was one nice shirt that I would buy if not for
the price. It cost over 800 pesos, or about $200. Two years ago I
bought a very similar shirt in Mexico for less then $20 (as far as I
remember) except that it was without the Polo Ralph Lauren logo on
it. Come on, I don't need that bull-shit doorman, just don't ask me to pay $200 for something that cost you $5 and you added the bull-shit logo to it! I
wonder how many empty-headed, vain people fall for that crap...
There must be some, or otherwise the business would close. I need to
point out that in addition to 5 or 7 people of the staff I was the
only 'client' there. But one sucker an hour probably makes more than
it is needed to run such a rip off place. I had a number of Polo
shirts in my life and I never paid more than $30 or $40 for them, but
there was NOTHING at this shop that would cost less than $100.
Looking for slippers I also dropped
into the Recoleta Mall. Again, each floor houses just a few shops
with limited inventories. One shop carried something close to what I
was looking for. The problem was that the label cried for 380 pesos
(over $80) while I have exactly the same shoes in Vancouver, which I
know are made in China, and which cost about $20 in Vancouver. RIP
OFF seems to be the name of the game in RECOLETA.
Two days ago I walked about 4 to 5 km
one way to a neighbourhood called Palermo. I like walking, and this
is practically the only exercise that I have here so I take the
opportunity to walk whenever I can. This way I can experience much
more of the city while at the same time soaking up the sun. Palermo
is a bigger district and I specifically went to see Palermo Soho.
According to my tourist guide Palermo Soho is a bohemian part of the
district of Palermo. I didn't experience much of the bohemian
ambiance as it only comes alive at night, with a lot of young people
supposedly gathering, singing, celebrating (smoking pot? -- don't
know, haven't seen it, it was only about 6pm when I was there). In spite of the name,
the area reminds me more of the Commercial Street neighbourhood in
Vancouver, rather than the Soho of London.
Rich and Poor
The garbage is each day put out on the
street in front of the buildings. I have seen a few instances of
poor people going through that garbage and taking all the valuable
stuff out before it gets picked up by the city cleaners. On the
other hand, as I was walking back home just an hour ago, I came across
a big bag full of fresh French baguettes (probably up to 20kg) that was
thrown away by someone. Was that a local restaurant, or just a
stupid, rich fuck who couldn't use this stuff up at his birthday
party? I guess I will never know that, I just hope that one of the
poor folks will come across this bag...
Feel free to comment on the blog, it is possible now. However, I will disable the commenting at the end of my trip in January. Sadly, this is necessary so as not to allow spammers put up their nonsense here as it happened before...
|Thursday, December 01, 2011
|Vancouver to Buenos Aires
According to my itinerary the total
length of my trip from Vancouver via Seattle and Houston to Buenos
Aires was supposed to be 17 hours, the last leg of it from Houston to
BA being about 9 hours. However, there must have been some mistake
in the itinerary as the flight from Houston to Buenos Aires was
actually a little over 10 hours. That's the longest flight I took so
far! My annual flights from Vancouver to Europe are always about
one hour shorter.
The time difference is 5 hours, which
is big enough to make me feel tired and sleep depraved. Actually,
although to my understanding this trip was mainly due South, I did
not sleep much more over the night then about 3 hours.
The good trend that I noticed on this
trip is that most airports (at least the North American ones) now
provide free internet WiFi spots. First time I noticed a sign
advertising that at the Vancouver airport. Then, out of curiosity, I
also checked that in Seattle – good news, it also worked! It was
also possible in Houston although there I had to download first some
“Boingo Wireless” (or something similar) software to make it
work. This all is a great news for me as I find waiting at the
airports a very unpleasant part of any trip. Now, I was able to
check and answer my email messages, and the time passed fast.
According to my agreement with Marita,
the lady who is renting the apartment for me, someone was supposed to
meet me at the airport to help me get to the city. She specifically
asked me to not go on my own but to wait for a person who would be
standing there with my name written on a piece of paper. When I
arrived at the Ezeiza Airport there were indeed
about 30 people standing, holding all kind of names but I was out of
luck finding my name among them. So after about 15 minutes of
waiting I decided to call her. I was curious if I can also get
wireless access on my computer and call Marita on Skype, but I was
out of luck. There is no such service here. So I had to use my
charm and ask a local guy with a mobile phone to call Marita and ask
her what to do. I was told that no-one will come and I have to take
the taxi on my own. I did that, paying 180 Pesos for about a 40
minutes ride. That amounts to about US$45 which I find a little
extravagant. Had I known in advance that no-one would wait for me, I
would search an option to take a shuttle bus. I travel light, so it
wouldn't be difficult for me, and according to the information that
I just checked it would only cost me about $10.
One thing that I found confusing is
that they also use the dollar sign ($) for Pesos. (Actually they do
the same in Mexico). Since American Dollars are very popular here,
I was not sure if the prices that I found in the guide to Buenos Aires
that I bought in Vancouver actually mean Pesos or US Dollars. Now,
after walking the streets and checking some prices, I think that
they indeed refer to Pesos.
The apartment that I am renting at the
rate of US $900 a month is rather cheap for Vancouver standards.
However it is also a very basic one. It is a studio and it
practically contains nothing but a bed and a table with a sofa to sit
on (+ an old TV, ironing board and iron, radio, and other basic
necessities). But the important thing is that the bed is good --
very comfortable and large, probably king size, or at least queen.
There is no real kitchen but a tiny kitchenette. But again, not
being a chef and not planning to cook any big meals, this is just
enough for me. The internet is not wireless, but it works, although
I might have to buy a better connecting cable because the one that is
in the apartment must have gotten some rough treatment by some
previous tenants and tends to slip out of the socket, because someone
tore off the little things that hold the cable inside the computer.
But it works if you position the computer properly so for now at
least as I am able to post this message...
One thing to remember when coming here
is that the electricity here is 220V, 50 Hz so it is good idea to
make sure that your laptop, mobile phone charger, hair dryer, and/or
any other appliances will work here. Actually they usually do
nowadays but the problem is with the sockets in the wall. Wherever
you travel, each country seem to have their own idea about designing
their own sockets (damn it!). North America has one kind, Europe
another, UK must of course be different then anybody else and they
also have their own design. In Argentina they have yet another one.
I knew about it, but did not want to bother with that until coming
here. I thought that I would have to go look for a converter for me
to be able to use my chargers, but luckily this apartment being a
rental already has the convertors plugged into the wall.
The one problem with renting a
furnished apartment in Buenos Aires is that everyone is trying to
charge you arm and leg for a security deposit. There is nothing in
this apartment that could be damaged for more than a $100 but they
tried to charge me US $700 damage deposit (!!!!). Eventually, after
some negotiation, Marita agreed to charge me only US $500 but I still
think that it is a large overkill...
As for location, I cannot
say yet, as I only was out for about an hour looking for groceries. I
did find a good shop within a walking distance (less then a kilometre
away). Otherwise, Recollect (the area where I am), is supposed
to be the most affluent area of BA. Indeed, when I had a short walk
around a few blocks to get a feel of the area I did spot some signs
of opulence at a few spots.
More when I actually see something