Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Day 4 Wednesday 31st December

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Smoking is an interesting issue in Argentina. Smoking seems to be banned in many buildings and all restaurants have to provide separate smoking areas - either in another part of the room (usually not separated by a screen) or on another floor and cafes often seem to charge more to outdoor clients (who invariably smoke). Never-the-less, all buildings have congregations of smokers hanging around doorways and young girls in particular, seem to be keen smokers. If there is any health advertising, we have not seen it. Figures say that 46% of men and 35% of women smoke with 30% of all smokers starting before the age of 11 ! Cuban cigars are readily on sale which is not surprising because of the Spanish language links. Walking along the streets can be hazardous because BA smokers seem to have a style of holding the cigarette some distance away from their body and you can easily brush against it.

The objective for today is to go to the tourist area of La Boca (an area also famous for Maradona and Football). We decide to take a city bus there and back because it is cheaper but also takes us closer to city life. Finding and getting on the bus is the easy bit, paying for the ticket is much harder. You have to have the correct coins and no matter how much I put in the ticket machine on the bus it does not seem to be satisfied. To the rescue comes a Porteño (a BA native) who sorts the machine and the bus driver out, then deduces we are going to La Boca, discusses it with others on the bus and takes on the role of getting us off at the correct stop and escorting us part of the way. This open friendship seems typical of many of the people we have met - although we all have trouble understanding each other, that is not going to get in the way of them helping out a visitor.

La Boca used to be run down but over the past few years has developed as a tourist spot because of its unique colour schemes (which are said to derive from the use of left over pots of ship paint) and general character.

Lady crossing street in La Boca

La Boca colour scheme (1)

La Boca Colour Scheme (2)

La Boca Colour Scheme (3)

Some of the buildings are very old and full of character

Old Houses (1)

Old Houses (2)

Old Houses (3)

A particular form of local art seems to be based upon Beryl Cook style mannequins

La Boca Mannequins (1)

La Boca Mannequins (2)

La Boca Mannequins (3)

La Boca also has a transporter bridge like Middlesbrough (although this one does not work anymore) - the "World Transporter Bridge Association" say there are only 8 in the world (bet you did not know that such an association exists)

La Boca Transporter Bridge

and this also features in wall murals on the football pitch.

La Boca Football Pitch

We always seek to take back one picture souvenir from each trip and found a very nice vibrant painting of a La Boca house by a local artist in one of the area shops.

The 40% chance of rain becomes a 100% actuality so we head back to the hotel for a rest and to decide how to celebrate the fact that at 10 pm local time, I cease to be an employee of HRC and become something else. 


Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Day 3 Tuesday 30th December

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We took the advice of the guide book and after a late start, went out to find breakfast and after passing some street art on the way,

Street Art

we found a cafe just up the road from the Hotel serving a reasonable breakfast for 1/4 of the price at the hotel (inc fresh orange juice and medialunas - moon shaped croissants).

In an attempt to see the whole of BA on foot, we went on another self guided walking tour which started at the Casa Rosada in the Casa Rosada Plaza de Mayo. Supposedly it is pink because Ox Blood was originally mixed with Whitewash in order to fix the paint although the tour guides have other more politically sensational stories for the colour. Evita Peron amongst others addressed crowds from the Balcony.

Now started a two mile walk down the Avenue de Mayo in order to see various buildings important to the history of Argentina

This is the National Bank

National Bank

The Cabilado from whose balcony the first Junta was proclaimed in 1810 when Argentina gained freedom from Spain

Cabilado (unfortunately graffiti is just as popular in Argentina as elsewhere in the world)

The Palacio Vera (Art Nouveau balconies)

Palacio Vera

Cafe Tortoni (just for Joan Bowen)

Cafe Tortoni (1)

where we forced ourselves to have an ice cream and marvel at the paintings on the walls

Cafe Tortoni (2)

and the rather nice glass ceiling

Cafe Tortoni (3)

The Avenida 9 de Julio - a 10 lanes each way road through the centre of BA which seems to take ages to cross

Avenida 9 de Julio

You can see the Obelisk in the above picture - a rather striking multi purpose 67m tall monument erected in 1936 to the first (1536) and second (1580) foundings of the city of BA, the first raising of the national flag (1812) and the naming of the city as the Capital (1836).

Obelisk and Christmas Tree

A statue of Don Quixote (whose horse seems to have noticed something on the top of a nearby building)

Don Quixote

The Castelar Hotel opened in 1928

Castelar Hotel

The rather run down Art Nouveau Hotel Chile

Hotel Chile

The astonishing Palacio Barolo - a building

Palacio Barolo (1) 

designed to represent Dante's Inferno with

Palacio Barolo (2)

the Lobby symbolising Hell (plus a rather nice Kiosk)

Palacio Barolo (3)

The Moreno Monument (the secretary to the First Government Assembly following independence from Spain in 1810)

Moreno Monument

A copy of Rodin's "The Thinker" (not sure why it is here)

The Thinker

The monument to the two congresses which laid out the foundations of the state of Argentina following its independence

Monument to the two congresses

The Congress itself

The Congress

and finally the Confiteria del Molino (The Windmill Cafe) which closed in 1997 but like many buildings, is being "restored" (eventually).

Confiteria del Molino

Whilst we were out walking this afternoon, there was a constant rain of waste paper from the sky - it took us some while to realise that the waste paper was in fact pages from 2008 diaries torn into small pieces.

New Year paper from the sky (1)

New Year paper from the sky (2)

The paper throwers at work

The Paper Throwers

Tonight we are going out for dinner in a nearby restaurant and to hear Tango singing, a Tango show with dancing will probably be on the menu later in the week.


Tango update: Ruben Nativo is working hard to make it big in the Tango world! We went to a local restaurant which was known for Tango dancing and singing. Whilst there were no dancers on offer, Ruben Nativo was. It was more "karaoke tango" than anything else with him singing with passion to his CD backing track (which of course we could buy if we wanted to - all 18 volumes of it!). Anyway, the food was good and the evening will be memorable for us not understanding what he was singing about in an out-of-tune way.

On the way back we passed the street Tango dancers again who were far more entertaining and next time we see them, we will take a video to remember them by.

We have found that we are both rather sun burnt this evening, it did not seem to be a risk in late December despite the obvious heat and sunlight outside - so suntan lotion is a must when we got out next time (even though there is a 40% chance of rain forecast).


Day 2 Monday 29th December

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An uneventful flight to Sao Paulo - the route goes over Spain towards North Africa and then turns west at Senegal and heads across the Atlantic for South America. Although cramped, it is better than Ryan Air and there is plenty of choice on the "video on demand" system. 11 hours and three films later we stop in Sao Paulo to change crew and some passengers before heading off again for Buenos Aires.

Pat on the plane at Sao Paulo

Three hours, no films (VOD broke down) and one meal later we were at the main airport for BA (two hour time difference). Immigration is not really sized for Jumbo jets but the airport is not as bad as the reviews say and one hour later, our bags have appeared and we are in the pre-arranged remise heading for the City.

Our first impression is that Argentina is very green (as a contrast it is winter in the UK) and very busy. It takes 30 minutes to get to our hotel - the Sheraton Libertador which is very close to Florida and 23 hours after closing our front door we are in our hotel room.

Hotel Sheraton LIbertador 

The Hotel is decorated with Christmas Trees, lights and all sorts of seasonal things - we find this very strange when it is so warm and bright outside.

We soon hit the streets on a self guided buildings walk because even though we are tired, we are not in a mood to sleep.

There are some wonderful buildings in Downtown BA. This is the Centro Naval (Naval Officers Club)  The building was
opened in 1914 and was designed by Swiss architect Jacques Dunant.

Centro Naval

Over the doorway

Doorway Centro Naval

is a rather impressive freeze of "A nude sea god in a Spanish galleon, announcing triumph through a conch shell".

Freeze over Centro Naval

This is the Gallerias Pacifico. Although not bad looking from the outside,

Gallerias Pacifico

it is inside where the visual marvels are. The guide book says "The Galerías Pacífico was opened in 1891. The building was designed to recall the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan, with its long halls, glass cupola, and several tiers of shops. An economic crisis shortly after its opening, however, meant that it was converted into office space for the Pacífico Railroad Company. In 1992 everything old became new again, and the building was converted back into a shopping center."

The murals were painted in 1945 and represent: Brotherhood


Domination of Natural Forces

Domination of Natural Forces



Further down Florida one comes across a variety of ornate and impressive architecture including the Sociedad Rural Argentina

Sociedad Rural Argentina

A ceiling inside "Burger King"  who converted a grand turn of the 20th Century House

Ceiling site of Ana Diaz

the Galeria Mitre - now the Chilean Falabella store

Galeria Mitre (1)

Galeria Mitre (2)

The HSBC Building

HSBC Bulding

The Bank of Boston (often a site of protest against things American)

Bank of Boston (1)

Bank of Boston (2)

and the Roque Saenz Pena Monument which commemorates a President of Argentina who died in the early 1910s.

The only blip in our first day was that a pickpocket emptied Pat's back pack of all of its makeup! Nothing of real personal value was taken because we had been careful not to take anything. We then had an interesting time replacing the stolen items in local shops.

How tired we were after this day is best illustrated  by a picture of PatPat 'Dead to the World' 

"out for the count" or looking more like "dead to the world!"