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Things to see in Buenos Aires:

Casa Rosada at Plaza de Mayo

Casa Rosada at Plaza de Mayo

Casa Rosada or Pink house is the Presendential Place where Eva Peron famously addressed her adoring supporters from the balcony. Other presidents, soccer star Diego Maradona and public figures have all used the famous balcony to stir national passions.

Piramide at Plaza de Mayo

Piramide at Plaza de Mayo which commemorates the Revolucion de Mayo 1810

Congreso de la Nacion

Congreso de la Nacion

Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon

La Boca was a barrio (neighborhood) that is famous for its colorful zinc shacks and its football team, Boca Juniors. El Caminito (Little Lane) is a short pedestrianized street famouse for its currogated zine walls and roofs painted in vivid colours. The polychromatic practice was decided by the Genoese immigrants who scrounged pots of paint from where they could to brighten up their otherwise dismal slum dwellings. Now, it’s very touristy with restaurants, souvenir shops & galleries. La Boca together with San Telmo neighbourhoods are also said to be to cradle of tango, tango was originated as a lower class dance.

Colourful houses at Lo Boca

Colourful houses at Lo Boca

El Caminito street in La Boca

El Caminito street in La Boca

Recoleta Cemerery is one of the largest and most beautiful cemeteries in the world. To call it a cemetery is quite misleading. I would describe it as a necropolis with narrow lanes of extravagant mausoleums of the rich and famous. Eva Peron’s family mausoleum is also located here.

Recoleta cemetary

Recoleta cemetary

Each mausoleum is built like a mini church or ornate temple which usually contain 2 layers of elaborately decorated wooden coffins on the ground level.

Recoleta cemetary

Recoleta cemetary

Jeepers creepers! I had a bit of a shock when I heard movement in one of the mausoleums, it turned out to be a man painting the inside of the mausoleum. He motioned to us to take a look inside and below the street level, there a deep basement that can fit another 5 layers of coffins. This one was large and had 4 row and could fit 20 just in the basement.

Below street level, there are another 5 levels of coffins

Below street level, there are another 5 levels of coffins

Other famous but not so interesting monuments:

Floralis generica

Floralis generica

Obelisco at Plaza de la Republica

Obelisco at Plaza de la Republica

A beautiful shopping mall with familiar brands like Zara.

Galerias Pacifico

Galerias Pacifico

I chanced upon the most beautiful book stores I have ever seen while shop browsing on Ave Santa Fe! A book store that now is now housed in what was once the Teatro Gran Splendid. I was enthralled the moment I stepped in, where once audiences sat is now occupied by books, the stage where once performers dance and sang is now a cafe with a view and the coveted balcony seats now cozy reading corners.

El Ateneo Bookshop & cafe

El Ateneo book store & cafe

Dog walkers that walk the pooches during the weekday while their owners are at work.

Dog walkers

Dog walkers

My first impression of Buenos Aires is that it is a beautiful city. With affluent neighbourhoods like Palermo, neighbourhoods with lots of character like San Telmo, Recoleta, Puerto Madero, La Boca and then the historic part like Centro.

However, there are also nuisances like fake currency, black market exchanges. The first briefing from our tour guide when we arrived at the hotel in Buenos Aires was on how to discern fake and genuine currency. There are a lot of fake notes circulating so just be weary and check your notes. Men standing along the pavement in centro chant “cambio, cambio, cambio” which are the black market currency exchanges. I assume they wash money through these black market exchanges from their money laundering activities which can get you up to 1.5 times the official rate for the US Dollar but exchange at your own peril.

That said, it has definitely piqued my interest to come back to explore the rest of Argentina. I would like to come back one day to see the rest of Argentina and in particular Patagonia and the Pampas, maybe some wine country and also fit in a trip to Chile.

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Map of Argentina

Map of Argentina

Buenos Aires is the capital of Argentina and is synonymous with beef and tango. So eat and tango we must!

Steak in Buenos Aires

I am slightly embarrassed to admit this but the ultimate highlight of arriving in Buenos Aires was actually the steak and a good malbec. I am a firm believer that the food tells you a lot about the country, its people and its culture.

El Desnivel parrilla

El Desnivel parrilla

We headed to El Desnivel in San Telmo, one of the best parrillas and is a classic neighbourhood steakhouse. Parilla means grill and is also used interchangeably to mean steakhouse.

Steak and chips

Steak (Bife de chorizo) and chips

The top 3 choice for steak cuts on the menu were:

  • Bife de lomo – is what we know as tenderloin. It’s a lean cut, if that floats your boat but not enough marbling for me.
  • Bife de chorizo – is what we know as sirloin. More marbling and fat which makes it really flavourful and juicy. Just the cut for me (see pic above)! Don’t confuse this with the chorizo with the spicy paprika sausage from Spain.
  • Bife de chorizo mariposa – butterfly sirloin, which just means 2 slices of bife de chorizo
Norton Malbec

Bodega Norton Malbec

We managed to order a special bottle of Malbec that wasn’t on the menu but from a good vineyard in Mendoza (one of their best wine growing regions). I love malbec with steak, they are a match made in heaven and usually very affordable too.

We ended up ordering the butterfly bife de chorizo and splitting it into 2, was just more economical to do it that way.

Cutting the steak with spoons!

So tender, cutting the steak with spoons!

Steak and chips at Desnivel

Steak and chips at Desnivel – photo bombed by Ben

I had my steak medium rare and it was perfectly cooked. The steak here is extremely succulent and tender but not as flavourful as I had hoped it to be. Steak here is also served with chimichurri sauce, an oil based sauce with mixed herbs which include oregano, garlic, red peppers, etc. Delicious!

Provoleta – a burger patty size disc of provolone cheese, grilled and topped with red peppers was superb too! I was a bit skeptical at first but it had me at first bite! Sorry, didn’t take a pic!

Since Ben who is Argentinian is in the picture, he ordered sweetbreads (thymus gland, the mildest and least offensive of all offal) which is not usually my cup of tea but was perfectly cooked and delicious!

Empanadas are little pastries filled with a variety of fillings like minced beef, spicy minced beef, ham and cheese, chicken and mushroom, minced beef with olives, etc. Usually deep fried but sometimes baked. Each shop does it slightly differently but the fried ones are similar to the curry puffs we get in Malaysia and the baked ones to pasties in the UK but thinner pastry.

Assortment of Empanadas at Gourmet Empanadas

Assortment of Empanadas at Gourmet Empanadas

Pasta is extremely popular here and in South America. Pasta, pizza and Italian food in general is found in most restaurants. Italians are one of the top immigrants to this region and hence brought their food culture along with them.

Ravioli

Excellent ravioli in mushroom sauce

The other dish to try was Pulpo a la Gallega, octopus in oil with hot red pepper that is served with Galician style potatoes a Spanish import.

Pulpo a la gallega at Rodi Bar

Pulpo a la gallega at Rodi Bar

Dulce de Leche is similar to toffee, made by caramelising condensed milk and is super popular here. They have it neat (i.e. like dipping a spoon in the jar and eating it), spread on bread, inside desserts like flan (like creme caramel/ baked custard topped with caramel) or on a Caminito!

Dulce de leche

Dulce de leche

The Caminito was my ultimate dessert here. I had the flan quite a few times in Uruguay but the Caminito was a pimped up version of the flan. It was the flan, topped with a dollop of dulce de leche, then a dollop of whipped cream and drizzled with chocolate! OMG! So GOOD! Sorry, no photos of this either. It was one of those things, you forget everything (including your camera) and just want to dig in!

Churros – fried dough sticks that are usually dipped in a thick chocolate sauce. Churros are like a crispier doughnut or a more doughy, fluffy yau char kwey.

Churros and hot chocolate at Cafe Tortoni

Churros and hot chocolate at Cafe Tortoni

I had to try the churros and hot chocolate at Cafe Tortoni. The Argentinian hot chocolate is called the  submarino is proper hot chocolate chocolate, chunks melted in hot milk. The churros dipping chocolate here isn’t as thick as it is in Spain, at Cafe Tortoni it came with a small jug more of chocolate and an equal size jug of milk to dilute the submarino so you can drink it post churros dipping.

Cafe Tortoni

Cafe Tortoni

Historic and beautiful Cafe Tortoni which also has Tango shows in the evening as it is beside the national Tango Academy.

Photo bombed by waiter at Cafe Tortoni

Photo bombed by waiter at Cafe Tortoni

Two other snacks that were recommended by our Argentinian friends were:

Bon-o-bon – It’s kind of like a distant relative of the ferrero rocher. It’s core is peanut butter, encased in a thin wafer and coated in chocolate. The concept is really good but the ingredients were kinda cheap so the peanut butter was chalky and the chocolate wasn’t that nice.

Bon-o-bon

Bon-o-bon

Alfajores is a dry spongey biscuit sandwich which is coated in chocolate. There are a variety of fillings including dulce de leche, peanut butter, etc. I tried the dulce de leche filling, it was alright. The premier brand of Alfajores is Havanna and available at the top tourist attractions.

Alfajores

Alfajores

Here’s a description of tango from Wikipedia. So we headed for a tango lessons and then a tango show

Tango lesson certificate

Tango lesson certificate

Tango show at Complejo Tango

Tango show at Complejo Tango

Colonia del Sacramento is a sleepy coastal Uruguayan town founded by the Portuguese to rival the success of then Spanish colony, Buenos Aires. It has both Spanish and Portuguese influences which include cobble stoned streets, leafy plazas and colonial houses in Barrio Historico and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Across the river, Rio de la Plata is Buenos Aires.

Colonia

Colonia

Colonial sleepy coastal town

Colonial sleepy coastal town

I think this painting captures the charm of Colonia really well, it is somewhat similar to Paraty in Brazil.

Basilica Del Santisimo Sacramento

Basilica Del Santisimo Sacramento

Calle d los Suspiros

Calle d los Suspiros – with original cobblestones

Colourful houses

Colourful houses

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

View of the city from the lighthouse

View of the city from the lighthouse

Uruguay Colonia - Day 17- Barrio Historico - Lighthouse (7)

City gate

City gate

There wasn’t much to see at the beach or new part of the city. You can take a golf cart or walk along the beach to the bull ring.

Dilapidated bull ring

Dilapidated bull ring

Only 1 hour away from the next destination, Buenos Aires.

Ferry from Colonia to Buenos Aires

Ferry from Colonia to Buenos Aires

I didn’t know much about Uruguay before coming on this trip, it was just a bonus on the tour itinerary. It wasn’t easy to find a guidebook on Uruguay. Lonely planet doesn’t have a guide book for Uruguay, it is included in their Argentina guidebook and Tripadvisor doesn’t even have a city guide for Montevideo on its mobile app.

Map of Uruguay

Map of Uruguay

Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay which is situated between Brazil and Argentina so the culture is loosely similar, e.g. good beef, crazy amounts of mate tea consumed (people here carry their mate cups like most here carry their mobile phones, walking on the street, sitting in the park, driving a car, just about everywhere they sip their mate through metal straws), passion for soccer.

Montevideo has suffered though some tough economic times and has been described as “elegantly shabby”, the city retains remnants of its wonderful colonial architecture, all mixed in with a growing collection of art galleries, stylish cafes and shops.

Port Market

Port Market

Port Market Grill

Port Market Grill

The Port Market is located in the old city (Ciudad Vieja) and was previously a train station which now houses grill bars which makes it a good stop for lunch.

Ciudad Vieja, the old city is the most charming part of Montevideo. Plaza Independencia is the main square

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia

It has beautiful colonial buildings but many of the buildings are boarded up and abandoned now.  Also, you have to ALWAYS watch your step on the pavement as there is dog poo all over this city, even on pavements here in the old city.

Pretty building boarded up

Pretty building boarded up

Shop in ciudad vieja

Fruit & veg shop in ciudad vieja

Bookshop

Charming bookshop

We left the old city to explore other parts of the city including:

Palacio Legislativo

Palacio Legislativo

The tallest building in the city is Antel Tower, they allow visitors to visit one of the top floors for a panoramic view of the city for free!

View of the port from Antel Tower

View of the port from Antel Tower

This city has definitely seen better days, it has remnants of a beautiful past but currently in disrepair or economic difficulty. An example is this beautiful old central train station which is now in disrepair, boarded up and a lot of homeless people live beside it.

Old Central Train Station

Old Central Train Station

The main beach isn’t much to write home about. This picture makes it look better than it was, there are no cafes or nice shops here. Just apartment blocks that look like low cost flats or council housing line the beachfront.

Beach on Rambla Republic Del Peru

Beach on Rambla Republic Del Peru

Trucks of market vendors near Punta Carretas

Trucks

Trucks

How the other half live

Rubbish collection

Rubbish collection by horse

I wasn’t terribly impressed with Montevideo. Maybe it was just our experience there, maybe it’s an unfair comparison since the last capital we were at was Rio de Janeiro. It just seemed very dreary, unclean (lots and lots of dog poo), not really safe (just an impression) and some parts were falling apart. It just doesn’t seem to have the flair or energy of Rio or Buenos Aires.

The only thing worth noting is the mixed grill at a restaurant in Centro near our hotel called El Fogon. We ordered the mix grill which came with beef ribs, beef steak, sausages, pamplona (grilled stuffed meat) and offal (not a fan of offal). We also ordered a side of fries and a salad with a glass of local wine tannat which was quite delicious. We also had a choice of desserts, my favourite was the flan (a creme caramel type dessert) and a small glass of a local bubbly called Castelar (if I remember correctly) and a cup of excellent coffee on the house. To top that all of, it was cheap and very friendly service even though the waiter didn’t speak english. So good we went there 2 days in a row.

El Fogon mixed grill

El Fogon mixed grill

Fray Bentos

Fray Bentos

We took the overnight bus from Brazil into Uruguay via Argentina. Yes, you heard me right, OVERNIGHT BUS! I swore to myself when I was a student, that I would never, ever, EVER take an overnight bus again. It was a trip that is still etched into my memory! The wailing baby with amazing lung capacity, the uncomfortable seats, the never ending journey, oh dear! The South American overnight bus was alright! It was modern double decker buses, the seats were large, comfy and reclined and were somewhat similar to premium economy!

Fray Bentos is the capital of Rio Negro in Western Uruguay but better known in the UK because of the Fray Bentos tinned pies (sounds revolting to me so I have never bought one). Here are some pics I collated from google in case you have never seen it before:

Fray Bentos Canned Pie

Fray Bentos  Pie

Err…synonymous with junk like pot noodles! But it does reflect the fact that meat processing is the main economy in Fray Bentos.

Anyway, I digress. We spent a couple of days here at an estancia (ranch) to experience the gaucho lifestyle. Yup, city girl living in a ranch in the middle of no where! No wifi for days, activities include horse riding, milking cows, sheep herding and sheering, bon fire nights. I was quite keen since is so far from what I would have ever chosen to do on my regular vacation.

View from the hill

View from the hill

Beautiful horses

Beautiful horses

Group at the race track

Group at the race track

Remains of an unidentified animal

Remains of an unidentified animal

Sunset on the ranch

Sunset on the ranch

The gaucho cooking our BBQ dinner in the fireplace

The gaucho cooking our BBQ dinner in the fireplace

Dining room

Dining room

It was an all inclusive (except drinks) and the food was simple, rustic and yummy.

Trimming the fringe so the sheep can see

Trimming the fringe so the sheep can see again

Horse

Horse/ pony riding

The Iguazu falls are shared between Brazil and Argentina, the falls are surrounded by 2 nature preserves of Brazil’s Parque Nacional do Iguacu & Argentina’s Parque Nacional Iguazu. It contains one of the largest surviving tracts of the Atlantic forest in South America. The falls are formed by a succession of 275 interlinking cataracts that stretches for 3km making it one of the widest waterfalls in the world.

It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the subtropical forest provides the setting for one of the worlds’s greatest wonders. There was much more water than usual when we visited which made the falls even more impressive and magnificent when you see and hear the roar of the enormous volume of water cascading down the falls.

In fact, a few days after we left they closed the park on both sides due to flooding. It really made me think about how powerful & unpredictable nature is. To think I was slightly dissapointed I didn’t get blue skies on both days of my visit and then to hear that just a couple of days after we left all the walk paths had been flooded and some parts washed away, so thank God! The guide also told us a few years ago they had a drought and the water dried up and there was no falls.

We spent the first day at the Brazil side of the falls, then the next day at the Argentinian side and one free morning which I opted to visit the bird park, Parque des Aves on the Brazilian side.

Day 1: Brazilian side of Iguazu Falls Majority of the cataracts are located on the Argentinian side so a visit to the Brazil side is the best place for panoramic views of the falls.

Iguazu Falls at sunset

Iguazu Falls at sunset

Brazilian side view of the falls

Brazilian side view of the falls

Some of the tour group

Some of the tour group

Day 2: Argentinian side of Iguazu Falls Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s throat) at 80m high is the biggest and most spectacular of the cataracts. Powerboat trips that skim the rapids to the very foot of the falls

Iguazu where the boat docks

Iguazu where the boat docks

Salto San Martin from Argentinian side

Salto San Martin from Argentinian side

Walkway that allows you to peer into the depths of the magnificent multiple cascading falls

Walkway that allows you to peer into the depths of the magnificent devil’s throat

Adventura boat

Adventura boat

On the speedboat

On the speedboat

More of the falls

More of the falls

Coati, raccoon like animal

Coati, raccoon like animal

Woodpecker

Woodpecker

Capucin monkey

Capucin monkey

Day 3: Parque des Aves

    There were a few optional activities which included visiting the bird park, itaipu dam or visiting Paraguay’s market. Majority of the tour group opted to get another country’s stamp on their passport and visited Paraguay’s market which I hear was a major disappointment. I opted to go to the bird park because I had seen a few toucans from a distance but wanted to see one up close.
Super cute toucan

Super cute toucan

*chuckle* I am such a sucker for cute things and is he a darling! I had seen a couple of toucans in the wild and they are so shy and illusive but these fellas in the bird park have such character, are curious creatures and happy to strut for you. Which reminds me of Rafael from Rio…

Rafael from Rio

Rafael from Rio

Cute Toucan

Another cute Toucan

Their beaks look unreal in real life too!

Another toucan, cute bib

Another toucan, cute bib

Parrots

Parrots

Blue Macaws

Blue Macaws

Scruffy looking toucan

Scruffy looking toucan

I love the toucans but obviously they had all sorts of other birds and animals at the bird park too. Tips: I decided to use the public bus (less than BRL 6 for return) as opposed to the private transfer (BRL 50 for return). The bus is the same one that goes to the airport and the Iguazu national park so easy to use. The parrot enclosure is closed for feeding between 13:00-14:00, Thank God for the lovely Swedish-English guy who told me that and showed me the quickest route that was not on the map to get to the enclosure.

Brazilian BBQ dinner at Churrascaria do Gaucho, non-stop supply of roast beef and other meat. The star of the show was the cinnamon dusted roasted pineapple. Sooo good! I have already started searching for a recipe to recreate it here…

Churrascaria do gaucho

Churrascaria do gaucho

Part 3: Paraty, Brazil

Paraty is one of the most photographed colonial towns on the Brazilian coast. Paraty is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is charming little place with a nice, friendly and laid back vibe. Paraty apparently means river of fish and used to have a gold mine which was shipped back to Portugal before the railway was built back in the day.

Paraty Old Town

Paraty Old Town

Where the boat for the boat trips are

Where the boat for the boat trips are

Store front with cute dog. Dogs seem to roam around here freely (all friendly)

Store front with cute dog. Dogs seem to roam around here freely (all friendly)

The other important fact is that it is the home of CACHACA! There’s a special variety here called Gabriela and is a golden coloured cachaca that is infused with spices like clove, cinnamon and a few more I can’t identify and sweetened with honey.

Me and Jorge Armado

Me and my Jorge Amado

Jorge Arado is a local cocktail with Gabriela Cachaca and passion fruit, lime and soda. It is delish and you MUST try it! Oh Jorge Amado is a famous Brazilian novelist and the cocktail was named in his honour.

A lazy day on the beach

A lazy day on the beach

I opted to pass on the boat trip and have a lazy day on the beach. You could also opt to do a jeep tour to see the gold trail, a few waterfalls and a cachaca distillery.

Bossa nova at Paraty 33

Bossa nova at Paraty 33

Shops and bars only come alive again after siesta at about 4pm. The nice thing about Paraty is that it has a really nice and friendly atmosphere about it. Wish we had a few more days in Paraty and maybe a little less at Ilha Grande (although beaches there were better)

P/S: Most restaurants and bars in the old town charge a small cover charge for the live music in the evenings.