New Years Eve in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires Day 2
Breakfast was simple but nice – fresh coffee and homemade orange marmalade will always make me happy! I headed out with a goal to see the Recolata Cemetery since we were not sure if it would be open during the rest of my time here. Maggie suggested that I take care using my “big” camera, so as I left to walk down Ave. de Mayo, the little one was out taking pictures. After crossing Ave. 9 de Julio (I made it in 2 lights across 18 lanes of traffic and 4 pedestrian esplanades!) I started seeing other people with cameras like mine – and larger. So, once I got to Plaza de Mayo, the larger camera was out and the picture-taking frenzy began! Lots of people were out and about. I am posting some travel notes – so see them about ideas for safely carrying cameras.

After taking pictures of Casa Rosada (the Pink House where Eva Peron, “Evita”, made her famous speech) and other items of interest, I headed to see if I could get on the Tourist Bus which would be one way to get to Recolata. The line was CRAZY, so I got a taxi and asked him to take me to Plaza Francia, in the Recolata neighbourhood.

I got some great shots of the century-old ombu bushes – with huge roots and branches that drag to the ground. I also tried to make friends with the dogs that were being walked by a group of people – there were at least 1 dog in the group. Only one was brave enough to come to me for a pet.
El Cemetario de Recolata is famous not only for who is buried there (Eva Peron’s is one of the “must-see” crypts) but also for the artwork and architecture. It is a photographers dream! Yes, there are LOTS of pictures to come (I’m just not sure if I found her crypt – I got a bit lost in the images and the heat). Did I mention it is hot?

After walking in an area with very little shade, I thought I deserved a treat – one of Buenos Aires’ specialities – Freddo ice cream! I had two flavours – limon and chocolate Italiano (it had almonds and cognac). YUM! I also saw one of BA’s iconic restaurants with a large outdoor area next to one of the ombu trees (I know they are “called” bushes – but they look like trees to me). This restaurant is called La Biela.

On weekends at Plaza Francia, there is an artists’ market. So I wandered through it and bought a couple of items – a decorated hair clip and a small hollowed-out gourd that is used to drink matte tea from. The one I got is decorated with tango dancers – including one on the metal straw that comes with it. So far on my travels, I have not seen one like it.

I am on a quest for tango shoes. Maggie made some suggestions, but was not sure if any place would be open this weekend. I caught another taxi from Plaza Francia and headed to the Obelisco – the large obelisk that was built in 1936 to commemorate the 400 year founding of the city. There were two shops that were supposed to be close to this landmark, so it was easy to tell the taxi driver where to go – and I could get another picture of something “famous.” One of the shops – Alanis Tango Shoes was not only easy to find – it appeared to be open. At least there were people in the shop. While I was looking at the shoes, a very nice man came up to me and starting talking – in Spanish of course. Unfortunately, we could not find a common language (he speaks Spanish, French and Arabic and I speak English and only comprehend bit of Spanish, French, and Italian. I won’t even get into my poor understanding of German. I really need to focus more on languages). I did get contact information, though 

After admiring the shoes, I tried to enter the shop, only to be told that she was closed – however she would open on Monday at 11. Guess what I am planning to do on Monday?

Walking back to Maggie’s was easy from here – and it was time for a break. Unfortunately, I had no idea what time it was! My phone did not re-set to Argentinian time automatically and the phone Maggie lent to me died. So I was at a loss for time-knowledge. But I did cool off a bit and decided to walk the opposite way down Ave. de Mayo towards the Palacio del Congresso. It houses the Senate and Congress and looks a lot like the Congress Building in Washington, D.C I also passed by the front view of the Palacio Barolo and I have to say, I have a wickedly good view – no way to really see it from the front. There is a nice fountain in front of the Congress building that inspired me to take more pictures. On the way back, I passed the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo Café, but it was closed. I also passed another place of business called “Open 25 hours”. I’m not sure which 25 hours they are open, since they were closed at the time.

I got back to Maggie’s and took a brief nap before getting ready for my New Year’s Eve Tango show. Before leaving, Maggie opened a bottle of champagne and shared it with me and the other woman from South Africa and her friend (also from SA – one was from Cape Town and one from Johannesburg). It was our toast to the New Year! I also kept hearing sounds like gun shots and learned that Argentinians celebrate with fireworks – including fire crackers, which is what I was hearing (Nothing like my first New Years in East Palo Alto – the then murder capital of the US – and the sounds of real gun shots and the guessing game of “hey, what kind of gun was that?”)

After the toast, I headed out. I was told to be waiting because they usually only pick up people from hotels. Fortunately, I had the emergency number to call, because they were late and I was getting odd looks from people walking along the street. But they finally arrived and we headed off – picking up a few more people before we arrived at the Piazzolla Tango.

The original building and has been restored (at one time, it was even a porn theatre, but was closed down). When it re-opened, it took the name of Piazzola, a famous musician and composer of Tango music. The space is opulent and includes private balconies that surround the main theatre area. We arrived and were directed to our tables. I was seated with a couple from Sao Paulo, Brazil – Cellian and Devin. Their English was much better than my Portuguese (back to my issues with language again … I HAVE to fix that!). But we had a nice time and a great view of the stage. We also took turns taking pictures of each other. According to them, there were a lot of people from Brazil at the show – they could tell because Brazilians tend to wear white for New Years, so they were easy to spot!

The food was ok – a fixed menu. We had red wine and mineral water to drink. The appetizer was a chees empanada with salad. The main course was the biggest piece of meat I think I have ever seen on a plate – and remember I grew up in Texas, do I have seen large hunks of meat!  The only problem with the meat was that it was not cooked according to your taste. I should have switched plates with Cellian because hers was exactly the way I like it and she would have been happier with mine. But, regardless of that, it was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had (sorry to any vegans … I am an omnivore when it comes to food and add to that the fact the my family has raised cattle for generations (think the cattle raid stories of the Irish Celts and that is my family’s story and it is just part of who I am). Dessert was an Argentinian staple – dulce con leche (similar to a flan). It was so rich that I could only eat half.

Then the show started! The dancing was awesome. There were 5 couples – each with a different style but flawless technique. There was one older gentleman who was amazing to watch – especially for a beginner such as I am who is trying very hard to learn how to follow. Watching him, I could start to see how he communicates to his partner so that she could show the magic. Incredible! There were also 3 singers – two men and a woman. I want her wardrobe! I would look fabulous in it. It was also nice to see her dance because it was not the “showy’ steps – but it still flowed with her partner and so the connection was just as strong. I loved the show – thanks Sue for suggesting I take in a real tango show for my first trip here.

After the show, we were escorted to a smaller theatre where there was champagne and more desserts – this time chocolate– and a disco floor. My new friends saved me a seat at a table close to the dance floor. We counted down to midnight and toasted the New Year – then danced. Yes, there are some incriminating videos – just not of me (except I was moving when I took the videos, so it might incriminate me after all … note to self to review videos first).

A Year of Inspiration and Passion

This is my challenge for 2011 — a daily blog where I share examples, experiences or feelings regarding passion and the things that inspire me to passionate pursuits. Nothing is more inspiring to me than when I see someone who has found their life’s passion.  This journey I embark is one where I will write about things that inspire me — and see where these inspirations lead to passion.

Since I am in Buenos Aires, I should write about Tango.  Everyone talks about the passion that is expressed in this dance. then people talk about how hard it must be to learn.  All I can say is that I am enjoying the journey to learn how to tango.  So far, I have found it to be about sharing energy with another person for the purpose of expressing the emotion of the music.  The hardest thing for me is there is no “counts” like 1,2,3.  There are steps, but the “counting” that I am used to doing just does not work as the rhythm changes as the man leading the dance moves through the steps to match the emotion of the song and the energy of the couple.  A friend suggested I read the boo the Tao of Tango — and I am so glad of this recommendation!  There is a balance between the man and the woman — the lead and the follower –the creates the magic that is tango.  It may also create changes in my life as well!

Always remember to dance as if no one was watching — share your joy!

Arrival in Buenos Aires

Arrival in Buenos Aires
Arrival was smooth. The flight included a landing in Santiago. Initially, I was told that those of us going on the Buenos Aires would get to remain on the plane – however this is not what happened. We all had to exit and go through a security check – then line-up again to get on the plane. The security check was very quick, though, and the guys were the friendliest ones I’ve met. Also ran into my Chilean friend I met in Toronto as we boarded the plane. He lives in Calgary and plays in a rock-a-billy band. He was going to see his daughters – one of which is a surfer at 10 years old (and the picture he showed me indicated that she has the surfer attitude down). From that, I started him humming “Wipe Out” which he carried throughout the flight and standing in the immigration line! Ah yes, my work here is done!
Immigration in Argentina is an exercise in extreme patience. If you are from the US, Canada or Argentina, you first have to stand in the line to pay a “Recipricol Fee” which for Canadians is $75 US (US and Ausssies pay $140). Once you pay, you stand in the immigration line. There are two forms to fill out – one for entering the country and one for customs (and they want to know what electronics you are carrying, including Cell phone type). It took me an hour to get through both lines (fortunately, my cell phone worked and I could call Nico, my taxi driver, to let him know I was there, just trying to get through customs). The Immigration officer did not look at the custom form, but stamped my passport so I could get my luggage. Before I could leave the luggage area, I had to show the form to a customs agent and put all my stuff through the scanner again. He never even checked my form or what I wrote, so I hope it was ok.
Nico was waiting for me and helped me with my luggage (he liked how it linked together). I got some cash and we headed into the city. At first, the roads reminded me of Germany, but the buildings reminded me of Athens – at least until we got downtown – then I knew there is nothing like Buenos Aires.
Maggie’s B&B is located in the Central area of BA in an old building. The elevator is ~100 years old. It reminds me of the one in the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie, although I do not think I will try tap dancing in it to make it work. The apartment is very nice – and my room has a seating area and a loft bed. I also have an incredible view of the Palacio Barolo building – one of BA’s highlights. So yes, expect lots of pictures. The building is a Neo-Gothic wonder built in 1923, designed by Mario Palanti, an Italian architect, who was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Maggie got me settled in, gave me some suggestions for things to do and where to go. Then she headed out and I spent a few minutes just organizing things before I headed out to get familiar with the neighbourhood and possibly get something to eat. I found my way to Ave. de Mayo (pronounced “ma-jo”) and from there to Ave. Julio de 9 – the widest street in the world. I passed a few places to eat and thought it might be nice to eat outside – it is about 31 C. Whenever I decided I would try one, the outside area was full. One place is “famous’ as in it’s been around a long time – 36 Billiards. As the names suggests, it does have a billiard room downstairs, but upstairs is a café.
I finally settled on a place called Alameda and got a nice table facing the street and a very nice waiter. Italian food is supposed to be as good here as it is in Italy – and I have to see that is true, at least for what I had tonight: a Calabrese pizza. Of course, I ended it with coffee (espresso) and was treated with a nice pastry.
During dinner, there was a protest that marched down Ave. de Mayo – probably associated with Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, especially since a former dictator was sentenced for torture committed in the 80s. The Mothers of Plaza de Mayo have been coming to Plaza de Mayo on Thursdays to protest the government’s lack of support in finding out what happened to ~30,000 Argentinians who were arrested and disappeared in the 1970s and 80s. The also run a café and bookstore close to where I am staying that may be a place to visit. I know this may sound weird, but seeing a protest on the first night I was here reminded me of the last time I saw a protest – this one in Barcelona and it occurred on the first night I was ever there. Interesting coincidence?
I made my way back to the B&B and figured out how all the keys work – never used skeleton keys before! And just taking it easy now until I decide if I have the energy to go to a milonga!

Looking for something to to in Toronto this December?

Go see the musical HAIR!  Great cast and amazing music — Aquarius, Hair, Good Morning Starshine, Easy to Be Hard, Let the Sun Shine … etc.  And you can get tickets at good prices: http://www.mirvish.com/shows/hair?comment. At the end, the audience is invited on stage to dance with the cast — to Hair and Let the Sun Shine.  I’m still smiling!

Planning my next trip

I like to plan, so trip planning is as much a part of travelling for me as taking the actual trip!  It can almost become an obsession as I try to seek out things to do and see — what not to miss.  As I get closer to the day I leave, I start to remind myself that I do not need — or want — every second planned.  Just the essentials.  Here is a brief list of my “essentials”

  • Transportation to and from my destination
  • Hotel for at least my first few days
  • Plan how to get from airport to hotel
  • Is there ONE thing I have to do and should I plan for this — like attending a tango show in Buenos Aires on New Years Eve
  • Study map of transit system (if any) or general map of where I am going
  • Is there a tourist pass that can be ordered?  The Madrid Pass is excellent — I never had to wait in a line for a major attraction and could use the Metro for my stay!
  • If there is something I want to do, is there a discount if I order a ticket online? When I went to Rome, there was a discount for the Coliseum and Forum that again saved me from standing in line!  Same with getting reservations for the Uffizi Museum in Florence.
  • Suggestions for different types of tours, walks, etc.
  • Information on “hop-on hop-off” busses — sometimes a good way to just learn the “lay of the land”

I also gather some very practical things like information on the local consulate, emergency numbers, banking information, etc.

My personal “trip advisors” have helped me find my way around and take care of emergencies when they arise — yet still leave me with the freedom to explore and enjoy, especially since no matter how well I plan for a trip, I am going to get lost somewhere along the way!

If you are interested in some of my trip advisors, let me know.  I have information on Barcelona, Madrid, Toledo, Malaga, Lisbon, Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice, Dubrovnik, Kotor (Montenegro), Athens, Santorini, Rhodes, Crete, Katakalon, Cyprus and Tunis.  Or let me write one for you!

So, here is to getting lost on the next adventure!

Don’t Dream It … Travel!

Sue and Cat in Malta
Sue and Cat in Malta
Join Sue and Catherine for an afternoon of socializing, travel tips, photos, music, misadventures and treasures from around the world.

Come and join us!

Make new friends, see new places and learn to find your inner travel self.

We specialize in safe, exciting travel for single women and offer tips for how you can make your dreams a reality.

Event details:
November 26 from 3 – 5 PM
Investors Group Building, Suite 701

305 Milner Ave
Toronto, ON
$5.00 donation

My pilgrimage to Montserrat, Spain

Since I study all sorts of maps before I leave, I thought I would have an easy time of getting from Barcelona to Montserrat. Should be easy – I had all my notes: go to Placa de Espanya (Metro line Green) and there would be signs to direct me to the FCB – but I got myself confused and kept following signs to Fira Montjudec and not Fira Montserrat.  Finally, I found the right spot and asked about how to get my ticket to the train and cable car.  Here is where I had a brain freeze.  Not sure what happened from the time I pulled out my wallet – but somehow it did not get back into the pocket of my travel bag.  When I finally noticed (about 20 minutes latter), it was gone.  Fortunately, I HAD done some things right. Yes, I lost some cash – Euros and Canadian.  Yes, I lost my driver’s license – replaceable.  And yes, I lost one credit card – but my cell phone worked in the subway and I had a plan so that I could make calls from Europe. I was immediately in touch with my credit company and thus the crisis was averted.  I still had some Euros on me, other cards, my passport, and my travel documents.

With a sigh of relief, I was off to Montserrat.  This is a monestary built high in a mountain that overlooks the Catalan region.  It is consider a place of pilgrimage for many Catalans as it is home of the statue of the Catalan Black Madonna. It takes about an hour on the train to one of two stops that will then take you to the top of the mountain.  One way – the way I took – is a cable car.  The other way is a funicular.  I thought the cable care would be more “fun”. Once at the top, you have to (of course) go up a long ramp then stairs (in Europe, you do not need a stairmaster). The views are incredible and the mountain has some interesting “shapes’.   Once on top, there are additional funiculars to take you to other spots in the mountain, as well as other shrines.

The main shrine is a basilica.  I got there right at noon – and they opened the doors to the basilica at 12:15.  I noticed some people in the crowd who were dressed up – almost like a wedding.  In fact, it was a wedding!  So, through all the people who were just there for the day, the bride was walked down the aisle in front of family – and a whole like of strangers! There were some singers that were dressed in Flamenco dresses.

Most people were lined up to see the Madonna. There are a series of chapels that you walked through.  The first was a Chapel to Saint Peter.  The second was a chapel to St. Ignatius of Loyola who underwent an intense experience at Montserrat. The third was the Chapel of St. Martin. The fourth was to St. Joseph of Calasactius.  This chapel was done by Francese Berenguer, a disciple of Gaudi and the first example of Catalan Modermisime art. The fifth chapel was for St. Benedict. It is very austere and has a very modern painting.  Next is the Angel Gate – it has carved scenes of angels, Mary and other objects of worship.  The stairs leading up to the shrine have panels depicting Holy Mothers on the left and Holy Virgins on the right.  St. Catarina was one of them depicted. Next was the Font of the Mother of God, then the Door of Ascent, with carvings of the Archangel Gabriel and St. Joseph and lastly, the Panel of the Visitation. Then you go up a final set of stairs to see the statue of the Mother of God from the late 12th century. In her right hand is a sphere that represents the universe – to which she has been given authority over.  Most of the statue is behind glass, however the sphere is outside the glass, and it is tradition to touch the sphere as a blessing. When you are at the statue, you can turn and see the entire basilica from the lofty height above the main altar.

There is one more panel that depicts the nativity of Mary.  Then you are down another flight of stairs and can go around the corner to a small chapel where you can also see the back of the statue.  This chapel was one of the most quiet and peaceful places I’ve ever been in. I was amzed at how peaceful — especially since there were so many people walking by it. Once you leave this area, you can go down more stairs to an area where you can leave a lighted candle for an offering – and trust me, there were a lot of lit candles!

The basilica itself was an interesting mix of old and very modern and I took some pictures of some panels that I still want to puzzle out the meanings.  One in particular had names of cities that included Ephesus and Pompeii – two places that were on my trip! Quite strange.

I walked around a bit more outside, but I really did not feeling hiking any more – and the thought of more stairs was giving my knee a fright.  So, I headed back.  On the cable car ride, it was only me and the operator – and there were a couple of views that were a little scary!

Montserrat

Once back in Barcelona, I headed for my hotel and officially checked in.  I am in the room right next to the one I had last time – 308 – it only has one balcony that overlooks the Placa del Angels.  I then headed to Las Ramblas, thinking I might get something to eat – walked around a bit then decided to head to another place I knew called Taller de Tapas.  I HIGHLY recommend this restaurant in Barcelona.  I’ve eaten ther twice.  The waiters are friendly and the food is awesome!  I had sangria, a salad with mozzarella cheese and the freshest tomatoes, tomato bread (a Catalan specialty – I really do not know how to describe it, but just try it if you get the chance!), and shrimped grilled with garlic and a chili pepper.  I was in heaven.  This was so fresh and just perfect. I decided to try dessert as well — a Catalan crème and espresso.  Again … amazing.

I finished my day in Barcelona with a concert by Manual Gonzalez. Awesome!

Cooking in Barcelona

Catalonian meals are amazing — paellas, tapas, wine — what more could you want? For me, I wanted to know how I could have this experience when I returned home.  More importantly, I share my experiences in Barcelona with my friends.  So, I was very excited to find Cook & Taste cooking school.  The school is located in the Barri Gotic area of Barcelona, very close the Cathedral. What a great way to spend a few hours in Barcelona and truly fall in love with this amazing food!

The morning started with a trip to the Boqueria market.  While this is “extra”, it was so cool to go through this market with someone who could share with us so much about the market and the different food available.  Learning about different types of olives, eggs, ham, fish .. I could go on about this part but I would then miss all the fun of the actual cooking!

So then it was time to learn how to cook — from tomato soup to potato tortillas with tomato bread to 2 types of paellas — fish and vegetarian — to creme Catalan. Wow .. it was so much fun.  Lots of stories, laughter and basic cooking.

And did I mention the wine?

If you like to cook — this is a great experience!

Cooking class in Barcelona
Learning how to make potato tortillas in Barcelona

Why I travel ….

It’s been said that I am always on “cruise control” — either planning my next trip or coming down from my last one. I love to travel because I love to experience new things and see places I’ve dreamed about all my life.  For a long time, I did not travel — mostly because I thought I could not do it on my own.  Finally, I just got tired of waiting for someone to join me on my journeys and I headed out.  My first trips were cruises — I thought it would be an easy way to see a number of places, be able to unpack once — and not really travel alone because I would meet people on the ship.  Also, if I liked a place, I would feel more confident about going back on my own and staying longer.  This plan is working well for me — in the past 4 years, I’ve been to Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Malta, Tunisa, Croatia, Montenegro, Portugal and now I’m preparing for trips to South America.

In this blog, I will share some of my trips (many have been shared with my Facebook friends who say they like to live vicariously through my adventures) as well as some amazing things that I have been able to do and see.

I hope you enjoy my stories!

Just cruisin' around the world

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