Monday, March 3, 2014

Spending the Holidays Abroad and a Visit from Mom & Dad

Until this trip, I had never actually spend Christmas away from family, and it was only the second time I had ever missed Thanksgiving.  I wasn't entirely feeling in the Christmas spirit surrounded by the endless heat that is inevitable during summer in the Southern Hemisphere, but I was excited to have my parents in town to visit a few days later.  As the holiday approached, my neighbor Tobias graciously invited me to join him at a friend's house - an Argentinean named Sabrina that he knew from tango - for Christmas Eve dinner.  We arrived hours too early, not quite realizing that Argentineans typically arrive 2-3 hours after the given time, but we settled in, hanging out as Sabrina and her boyfriend Nico began preparing the asado and listening to the Michael Buble Christmas album on YouTube.  

Eventually the meat went on the grill and the other guests arrived, prompting us to open the first bottle of sparkling wine and move towards the table.  A grand feast of chorizo, beef, cheese cooked directly on the grill, bread, green salad, potato salad and plenty of red wine was served, followed by tiramasu, fruit salad, and more sparkling wine.  We were happily stuffed when midnight struck, followed by the endless booms of fireworks going off all around the city.  We ran out to the outside patio, enjoying a massive fireworks show thanks to one of Sabrina's neighbors that rivaled anything I've seen on the Fourth of July back in the States!  They handed out small gifts from under the tree (they were incredibly sweet and even made sure I had a gift) and we settled in for another round of dessert, sparkling wine, and fireworks.  While it wasn't my typical Christmas at home, it was wonderful to experience the Argentinean traditions and to be taken in so sweetly by Sabrina and her friends and family.  

Toasting the holiday

Massive fireworks displays began all over town as soon as the clock struck midnight

I spent Christmas Day holed up in my apartment (nothing was open anyway!), FaceTiming with my family (modern technology never ceases to astound me) as they opened stockings and presents.  And two days later, my parents arrived!  Through AirBnB, I was able to get them their own apartment in the same building as mine, which made things incredibly convenient and much cheaper than them booking a hotel room on their own.  They were pretty exhausted when they arrived, so we didn't do too much that day - I took them to Florida Street to change money and do some light shopping, and later that evening we decided to head to Palermo Soho for happy hour at La Cabrera.  As I mentioned last time, the happy hour is an incredible deal - 40% off the entire menu - and since they were fairly jetlagged and still on an American eating schedule, the early dinner time suited them perfectly.  We filled up on delicious steaks and Malbec and got plenty of rest for the upcoming week.

My mom had brought a book of "top 10" activities in Buenos Aires that included a few different walking routes of the city.  The next day, we decided to try one of them out that took us past a number of monuments, through an area of the city that I hadn't yet explored.  We started out at a spot called La Americana, known for empanadas and pizzas, and sampled a few empanadas for a late breakfast.  Just around the corner, we ventured out on our route, checking out the Congress building and plaza before continuing down Avenida de Mayo for some light shopping.  We passed Avenida 9 de Julio, a major thoroughfare, catching sight of both the Obelisco de Buenos Aires and the Ministry of Health building, which has images of Evita prominently displayed on either side of the structure.  We eventually reached Plaza de Mayo, where we visited the Metropolitan Cathedral (where Pope Frances formerly presided) and observed the presidential residence known as the 'Pink Palace'.  We then wandered back the way we had come up Avenida de Mayo to Cafe Tortoni, a famous tango cafe, where we queued up to eventually enter and enjoy a light lunch.  I'm not sure if it was worth the wait for the food, but the architecture inside was absolutely beautiful - tall ceilings, low light, and stained glass that felt very New Orleans-esque - and you could definitely feel the history of the place.  Probably far better to go for a coffee or drink though!  

Avenida de Mayo
An image of Evita is visible on the Ministry of Health building

The president's residence, aka the 'Pink Palace'

Cafe Tortoni

The Obelisco de Buenos Aires in Plaza de la Republica

Next we attempted to visit Theatro Colon - the opera house - but it had unfortunately just closed.  Instead, we hopped in a cab to a famous bookstore, El Ateneo on Santa Fe, which is located inside an old theater.  We took our time to explore the beautiful architecture and then walked towards the Recoleta Cemetery, which we also reached just in time to see it close!  We didn't have the best timing that day!  Instead, we returned home for a brief siesta before a very casual stroll through Palermo Soho and a light dinner, planning for a busy Sunday morning.

Sunday morning we took a cab over to the La Boca neighborhood to check out Caminito Street, an art district known for brightly painted buildings.  Once we arrived, we realized it was a massive tourist trap.  While we didn't want to stay long, I have to admit that it really was a great spot for photography alone - I at least got some wonderful photos out of the visit!  From La Boca, we made what would be my third trip to the San Telmo market to browse for souvenirs.  Sure enough, they successfully picked up some fun items for themselves (as well as a few gifts for upcoming weddings).  The one item that alluded us was a set of cufflinks for my dad, who collects them from his travels.  Just as we were about to leave the market, I spotted a silversmith shop called Marcelo Toledo tucked away on one of the side streets.  When we entered, we were greeted by Marcelo, the designer himself, who showed us dozens of gorgeous cufflinks among the selection in his store, explaining what some of the designs meant, and showing us the hidden details on others.  It turned out to be a great experience, and Dad walked away with a beautiful pair of cufflinks as a result!

An empty crate of oranges sits next to a lamp post on Caminito Street in La Boca

A string of colored lights hangs against the bright walls on Caminito Street in La Boca

Dad with Marcelo Toledo

For dinner that evening, we visited Mott, a restaurant in Palermo Soho I had walked by many times but never stopped in.  It was modern and airy, with dim light and sleek, minimalist but elegant decor.  And the dishes we ordered were fantastic - prawns and cevice as appetizers, beef tenderloin and sweet ribs for entrees, and banana and dulce de leche souffles for dessert.  All complemented with another bottle of Malbec and a few complementary glasses of sparkling wine!  It was a lovely meal and a real treat to finally enjoy the nicer restaurants in the neighborhood!

Monday was our earliest morning, as I had booked us ferry tickets for a day trip to Colonia, Uruguay.  We arrived at the dock not too long before departure, barely finding seats on the packed ship.  While standing in line to board, we met a Canadian jewelry shop owner named Dane who was traveling around South America on his own.  Upon our arrival into Colonia, we wound up spending the day wandering around the town with Dane and two other guys he had met at a wine tasting the previous day - John and Rich.  Surprisingly, John had attended the same university as both myself and my parents and was a huge football fan as well, and Rich actually refereed hockey games in my parents' hometown!  It was so nice to find people that we clicked with so well, and especially for my parents to experience just how easy it can be to meet good people and instantly begin traveling around with them.  We took our time exploring the little colonial town, visiting the docks, meandering through cobblestone streets and little shops, climbing to the top of the local lighthouse for a panoramic view, and enjoying leisurely beers and snacks along the way.  

On the pier in Colonia

The guys at the top of the lighthouse 

The whole group after a day of exploring Colonia, Uruguay

New Year's Eve was fairly quiet during the day - most of the shops in Buenos Aires shut down pretty early to prepare for the evening festivities.  We wandered around the shops of Palermo Soho until they closed, stopping at Watt Market for a fantastic lunch and dessert.  That evening, we got dressed up and headed out for reservations I had made the previous week at a spot called Unik, which had been recommended by a waiter at one of the cafes I frequent and was offering a prix fixe menu that looked amazing.  Dane also joined us, not having plans of his own (John & Rich were busy flying back to the States).  The meal was even more incredible than we had expected, including five courses of uniquely modern takes on classic Argentinean cuisine.  The highlight was the entree course - a Patagonian lamb steak that couldn't have been more perfectly prepared.  And of course, a glass of wine which was constantly being refilled.  As midnight approached, we received champagne for toasts, and we all rushed outside after the countdown to catch some of the fireworks displays going off all around us.  As dinner and drinks wrapped up, my parents made their way home, and Dane and I decided to attempt the Buenos Aires nightlife.  We wound up running into another couple from his wine tasting, joining them and their friends at a club in Palermo Soho for drinks and dancing until the wee hours of the morning.

Ringing in 2014

On New Year's Day, the entire city of Buenos Aires was a virtual ghost town for most of the day - not a single shop was open, so for lunch, we pooled together leftovers between myself, my parents, and my neighbor Tobias, enjoying an apartment picnic of sorts.  In anticipation of a lack of activity on New Year's Day, we had pre-booked a tango show and dinner for that evening.  I'm well aware that this is a purely tourist activity, but we had a great time anyway!  We were seated inside the theater at a long table with an excellent view of the stage for a three-course meal with three options each for appetizer, entree, and dessert.  While we ate, the dancers from the show made their way through the aisles, posing for pictures with the guests (which were offered for sale at the end of the show).  The show itself began during our dessert course, and included a mix of tango dance performances, orchestral pieces, and singing.  While the dancing wasn't 'pure' tango (it included many more tricks, etc.), the artistry and athleticism of the dancers was absolutely incredible - definitely my favorite portion of the show.   

Mere moments after we arrived home from the show, a massive thunderstorm began that would continue into the next morning, affecting our plans for my parents' last day in town.  We had originally planned to visit the Japanese Gardens and the Botanical Garden, but with the rain coming down, my parents instead hopped in a taxi and headed to the Theatro Colon for a tour of the opera house.  Once they returned, the weather had not only cleared up, but it was pleasantly cool outside.  We ventured over to the Japanese Gardens for lunch and an hour or so of wandering through the space.  From there, we returned home to quickly gather their things and let them head off to the airport to return home.

Dad and Mom at the Japanese Gardens

It was so wonderful to have them come visit during this trip - not just to see them, but also to let them experience a bit of what I'm doing on this journey.  The excitement of visiting a new place and the day-to-day process of figuring out what to do; the enjoyment of new foods and eye-opening art or architecture and the challenges in figuring out logistics, from simply getting around to converting money or translating words; and the ease and joy in meeting new people to experience it all with.  At one point I had slight pangs of wishing I had gone home for the holidays, allowing myself to venture back out into the world refreshed, but I wouldn't trade the experience of them joining me on this journey - even for such a short time - for the world.

1 comment:

  1. Why am I not surprised your dad ended up with cufflinks?

    So glad they got to visit you and be part of your adventure. :)