Buenos Días, Argentina! (Good Morning, Argentina!)
Trip Start Nov 12, 2009
4Trip End Nov 22, 2009
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Where I stayed
After finding my seat, a blonde flight attendant named Jill came and immediately offered to hang up my coat and asked if I wanted something to drink. Tempted by a pre-flight cocktail but knowing that I would have to pace myself, I elected to have some cranapple juice instead. Then, the chief flight attendant and the chief ground attendant came to greet all the passengers in Business First by our full names and welcomed us warmly on board. I was impressed that they had studied all of the 25 passengers' names beforehand and correctly identified each one of us.
Then a bilingual flight attendant, who was speaking in Spanish to an Argentine couple in front of me, came to take my dinner order
Shortly after we reached cruising altitude over the Gulf of Mexico, the dinner ritual commenced. First came the warm towel to refresh my face, then Jill returned to my seat to drape a silver-blue tablecloth over my pullout table, on which she placed a small white porcelain cup containing warm, roasted assorted nuts. She then set my table with some silverware and fine china. For red wine, I continued the theme of Argentina by selecting a Malbec over the French Bordeaux or Côtes du Rhône, which I had already tasted on my previous Business First flight between Houston and Paris. The wine, water, and bread were constantly being replenished, and when the salad arrived on my table, I decided to enhance the dining experience with some relaxing music
Ahh, the dessert cart quickly arrived. I decided to have some vanilla ice cream served in a beautiful crystalline glass, drenched in hot chocolate syrup, fresh strawberries, cherries, and warm nuts. I also had the sweet, flavorful amaretto dessert wine to help induce some REM sleep. With heavy eyes, I was now very relaxed and content. Looking at my watch, the dinner was drawing to a close two hours into the flight, which corresponded to our flying over Honduras on the GPS map
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Good Morning, Buenos Aires!
Argentina: Population 40,134,425 in 2009 (33rd in the world)
Area: 2,766,890 sq. km. (8th in the world)
Year Visited: 2006
GDP per capita: USD $14,408 (Source: Int'l Monetary Fund, 2009)
Exchange Rate: $1 USD = $3.82 ARS (Argentine Peso)
President: Mrs. Cristina Fernández de Kirchner
The lights illuminated the cabin an hour and a half before landing. Waking up very refreshed, I looked out the window and witnessed the subtle morning sunlight above the clouds
Short Houston Reunion in Buenos Aires
The plane was ahead of schedule, traveling only 9 hours 45 minutes, and landing 45 minutes before the expected time. As soon as I exited the plane, I followed the signs to "Migración - Aduanas (Passport Control and Customs). While waiting in line, a tall, blonde guy, who immediately seemed very familiar to me, approached me and said, "Hey!"
It was Paolo, an Italian friend of mine from Houston, with his wife Deborah. I was surprisingly pleased to see two familiar faces on foreign soil. Instinctively, I said, "Ciao, Paolo. Come stai (Hi, Paolo. How are you?)" I also greeted Deborah with a friendly embrace and kiss on the cheek alla italiana. There we were, Paolo and I chatting in Italian while surrounded by Argentines, Brazilians, Americans, and a few Germans in line. They told me how badly they had slept and that their food was not tasty. Then they wondered how come they didn't see me on the plane
Initially I thought they were on the same tour with me. In fact, Paolo and Deborah decided to take advantage of the warm weather in South America and strong dollar to travel to Argentina on an independent self-made tour. In a bizarre twist of fate, our itineraries were almost identical. We were going to spend two days in Buenos Aires. Then we would go to Mendoza on the same day, and we would end our vacation in Santiago, flying back to Houston on the same day. But they would fly from Santiago to Miami to Houston, whereas I would return to Buenos Aires to board my non-stop Continental Business First flight to Houston.
After picking up our luggage, we exited through the sliding doors to the large lobby full of people waiting for the arriving passengers. I knew there was someone waiting to pick me up. Yes, I saw my chauffeur holding up my name. I said farewell to Paolo and Deborah, and after giving them my accommodation details, I wished them a good vacation and a possible reunion along the way.
Throughout the taxi ride to the hotel, my driver was trying to practice English with me whereas I was practicing Spanish with him
Lovely Springtime in Buenos Aires
My hotel was very centrally located at the corner of Avenida Córdoba and San Martín St, right next to one of Argentina's principal and most important shopping malls, las Galerías Pacífico, built in 1889 and modeled on Le Bon Marché in Paris. In fact, if one stepped outside the hotel, Buenos Aires' long pedestrian shopping street, Calle Florida, was only one block away. After checking in, I quickly had to go buy some converters for my electronic apparels. Although I had brought the European-type converters, my hotel had the Australian-type power outlets only. Last night when I was packing, I had the fear this was going to happen. Argentina strangely adopted two different types of electrical sockets, one with the European prongs and the other with the Australian prongs, all over the country
TIP: For US travelers, bring both types of converters when visiting Argentina!
My next mission was to go shopping for myself and friends. I sort of received a shopping list from some people before arriving here, so I conveniently wandered up and down Calle Florida in search of those items. I then stopped into an Argentine men's fashion store, Macowens, to buy a new suit to wear to my friends' wedding in Europe next year. I really was impressed with the sharp style of a particular suit, which was reminiscent of the slim, fashionable Italian look. I immediately purchased it along with some very nice shirts.
Shopping Tip in Buenos Aires:
The interesting thing about shopping in Buenos Aires was that some prices might look deceptively cheap until one read between the lines. Usually, expensive items were written as a certain low amount with x number of payment installments. For example, I saw a nice pair of Argentine shoes with the following sign, "$30 x 5 installments," meaning $150
Walking around Buenos Aires today, I noticed a large presence of Brazilian tourists everywhere. Some Argentinian vendors were screaming about discounts to passer-bys in Spanish, English, and now, Portuguese. Because of the stronger Brazilian economy and currency, people from Brazil were now traveling more to neighboring countries in South America. Back in 2006 when I was here, an encounter with Brazilian tourists was a rarity.
Meeting The Group
At 7PM, I met my group in the hotel lobby. My tour guide, Victor, was a young sports aficionado probably in his late 20's. Very active in rugby and running, he originally came from one of the suburbs of Buenos Aires. Then there was the only other male in the group, Jimmy originally from Toledo, OH, who he spent most of his working career in Aerospace Engineering in Southern California. Now retired and living very prosperously in Phoenix, AZ after having sold some real estate in 2007, he had been traveling around the world with his friend, Inge, who originally came from Hamburg, Germany
For dinner, we took a taxi together to El Gran Bar Danzón located at 1161 Libertad, 5 minutes from the hotel. My first impression of this fashionable haunt was Manhattan Meets Buenos Aires. The intimate, dimly lit bar and dining area accentuated by bossa nova music and a soft, monochromatic decor would usually attract a very fashionable crowd starting at around 10:30PM every night in the heart of downtown Buenos Aires. We relaxed on the leather divan with some delicious wine tasting, followed by several plates of bruschetta, while looking over the busy streets of Buenos Aires. For dinner, I selected a grilled Argentine ribeye steak with corn and cheese dauphinoise (it looked almost like potato au gratin but with corn) topped with a "criolla" sauce, followed by a dark chocolate and mango cake with chocolate sauce and raspberry sherbet for dessert. The conversations were very lively with the help of some Malbec and Pinot Noir. At around 11:30PM, we all headed back to the hotel to get ready for tomorrow's first bicycle ride on the streets of Buenos Aires.
To Be Continued....