A Travellerspoint blog

Porto

We rented a car for our drive from Lisbon to Porto. When you need an automatic car and the European rental car place has limited options, you end up with a sweet BMW convertible. 5 points for being dumb Americans!

We drove an hour north of Lisbon to Obidos which is a walled city from the 1100s. It reminded me of Toledo, Spain which is another medieval walled city. Unless you are a 70 year old tourist taking a giant bus tour, you only need thirty minutes to stroll around here. We then drove 45 minutes north to Nazaré to see the Atlantic Ocean. In high tourist season, Nazaré is supposedly bumping. In April, it was rather quiet, but it was cool to see Portugal's famous beaches.

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We drove two more hours north to Porto. After almost witnessing a motorcyclist get annihilated by a car in Porto, we were ready to return our car. City driving in Portugal is not for us. We returned the car and checked into Hotel Carris which is a couple blocks from the Douro River and the Ribeira district. We had drinks on the Ribeira before eating one of our favorite meals of the trip.

Flor dos Congregados is a tiny little restaurant on a side street in the center of town. It has an old rustic feel to it with a stone and dark wood interior. We tried their famous tyrlene (pork and prosciutto sandwich), a delicious charcuterie board, octopus, tomato rice, and pork. All of that with two glasses of wine and two cocktails for €45 which we thought was a bargain.

Our first full day in Porto, we met up with Pancho Walking Tour for a free historical tour of the city. Our tour guide Ana was much better than Ricardo in Lisbon. Here are a few fun facts about Porto:

1. Rua Flores is one of three historic shopping streets. There aren't any flowers on this street, nor any flower shops. The street gets its name because it used to be where the bishop's gardens were located.
2. The Luis the First Bridge has a twin named the Dona Maria further up the Douro River. Both were designed by Gustave Eiffel, and the Dona Maria bridge served as his inspiration for the Eiffel Tower.
3. Port wine was made by mistake. The English and Portuguese have a long standing alliance dating back to 1386. The Portuguese would export wine, but during the journey, it would lose its alcohol content and flavor. They started adding a neutral grape spirit to the wine to preserve it, thus the birth of fortified Portuguese wine.
4. Gaia is the city on the opposite side of the Douro from Porto. In the 17th century, the port wineries started building cellars in Gaia. They would grow grapes and produce the wine in the Douro Valley, but the dry, hot climate of the Douro Valley was not ideal for aging the wine. Thus, they built cellars in the more humid and cooler Gaia. They chose Gaia over Porto because there were lower taxes and more space.
5. There are approximately 17 large Port cellars in Gaia and numerous smaller ones. The majority of the large cellars have English names like Taylor, Offley, Sandeman, Callem, Graham, and Cockburn. As mentioned in #3 above, Port was the result of exporting wine to the English. Those English in turn invested in wineries and started their own wine brands.
6. JK Rowling lived in Porto for a few years pre-Harry Potter. Salazar Slytherin was named after the Portuguese dictator who ruled Portugal for 30 years. There is a bookstore named Livraria Lello that served as the inspiration for Flourish and Botts. Outside the bookstore is a fountain decorated with winged lions. These gryphons served as the inspiration for the Gryffindor mascot. Also, the college students here wear cloaks similar to the Hogwarts students.
7. Azulejos are ceramic glazed tiles that adorn buildings throughout Portugal. The word is derived from an Arabic word meaning polished stone. The tiles in Lisbon feature more of the Moorish influence whereas tiles in Porto feature more Christian influences. The traditional colors are blue and white since those are the main paint colors the moors had. They decorate buildings and often tell stories of the country's history. They also help keep the heat in the house in the winter, cool inside in the summer, and fight erosion.

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After the tour, we ate at Fish Fixe on the Ribeira and then walked across the Louis I Bridge to Gaia. Our tour guide told us to pass the first few cellars in Gaia as they were always the busiest. Luckily, the cellars are easy to spot as they all have large signs on the top of their buildings. We opted for Taylor's which is located high on a hill overlooking Porto. Taylor's was a very classy establishment. It rules about 40% of the port industry and has brands that make table wines and own luxury hotels. The gardens outside the cellar had peacocks and roosters which was very entertaining to watch while tasting ports.

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After Taylor's, we wanted to see what a smaller cellar was like, and we visited Augusto's for a glass of wine. The difference between the two was akin to visiting Sam Adam's and then a local craft brewery.

We ended the day with dinner at A Tasquinha. The TripAdvisor reviews were misleading. It was a decent meal but did not live up to all the hype. Luckily it was another relatively cheap meal so we weren't mad about it.

Posted by lsto90 10:14 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Sintra Summary

We took a 45 minute train from Rossio Station to Sintra. Once again, we encountered confusing signage in the train station. The lack of clear signage is something Portugal must have shared with Brazil when it ruled it. Sintra is a small town located in the hills outside of Lisbon. The royal family used to vacation here, so there are multiple palaces and castles to tour.

When we arrived, we saw a huge line for the bus to the top of the steep hill where the Pena Palace and Castles of the Moors are located. Since all of cab rides prior to Sintra had been cheaper than Uber rides in Houston, we opted for a taxi instead of the bus. It took about 20 minutes to wind up the narrow one way roads and only cost 13 euros. Once you get to the entrance of the Pena Palace, you have about a 10 minute hike up the hill to the actual Palace. The area is well shaded, and the views from the top are nice. Pena Palace was formerly a monastery converted into a palace and last occupied in the early 1900s. The exterior is brightly painted and covered in colorful tiles. The inside is unimpressive, especially after a 20 minute wait to get in and then having the slowest moving crowds inside.

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We then walked five minutes from Pena Palace to the Castle of the Moors which was the old fortress guarding the area way back when the Moors occupied the area. The Castle of the Moors was less crowded, and it offered even better views. I recommend skipping Pena Palace and just admiring it from afar. Also, tuk tuks are everywhere here. It reminds me of India, but a lot safer since the drivers somewhat obey traffic signs (not completely but somewhat) and the tuk tuks are equipped with seat belts. We recommend taking a tuk tuk up and down the hill to the Castle of the Moors as it is the quickest form of transportation since the tuk tuks can weave in and out of traffic. It cost us 10 euros on the way down, and our driver pointed out Yoko Ono and John Lennon's old house in Sintra.

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We ate lunch at Cafe Saudade which reminded me of Sweet Eugene's in College Station. It was a cozy little house with various rooms of seating. The Portuguese are big fans of smoked salmon and beers which happen to be two of my favorite foods, and Café Saudade had a delicious beer and smoked salmon sandwich.

For Marshall's birthday, he gave him two tickets to the Lisbon Oceanarium. After Sintra, we took a 45 minute train to the Oriente Station next to the oceanarium to figure out what the heck an oceanarium is. Answer: it is an aquarium set on a platform in the ocean. Ocean + Aquarium = Oceanarium (at least that's what I conclude). It is the largest European aquarium, and it was pretty cool. I found Nemo and Dory, so I was amused for the hour we visited.

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We ended the day eating our best meal yet at Sacramento. I tried the bacalhau (cod) finally, and I loved it!

Summary: if you go to Sintra, skip the Pena Palace and visit less popular estates and palaces there. There are a handful to choose from. Also, take a tuk tuk around Sintra to avoid traffic and to feel like you are in Southeast Asia.

Posted by lsto90 14:34 Archived in Portugal Comments (0)

Bom dia, Lisboa

In In Argentina in August, I met a couple on a bike tour who told me I needed to visit Portugal. That's all it took to convince me to visit this country. After a few months of convincing Marshall that Portugal would be a good choice for our a vacation, here we are in Lisbon! This is really a test to see if makes my short list of international travel companions. Obviously, he will never surpass Erin (see Iceland and Brazil) or Alyssa (Peru, Brazil and Argentina), but he may come in a close third place after this week.

We arrived Saturday morning at the International Design Hotel. It is in the Baixa district of the downtown which is the less noisy area but still conveniently located. It turns out that is only one block from the Rossio subway station and Rossio train station. When Marshall told me good job on the location, I pretended I researched locations before booking and accepted the compliment.

Day one, we were jet lagged but forced ourselves to stay awake. We went on a Sandeman New Europe free walking tour to orient ourselves with the city. I have done these tours in various European countries. You simply tip the guide at the end instead of paying for a tour and then tipping on top of it. I am sure you can pay for better tours, but the Sandeman free ones do the trick.

Our guide Ricardo was born and raised in Portugal and gave us a good overview of its history. Here are some fun facts:
1. In 1755, there was a horrible earthquake and tsunami that wiped out the entire downtown.
2. Buildings with a nail sculpture on the front of them survived the earthquake.
3. Downtown Lisbon was the first planned downtown area in a grid system and the example many cities later followed.
4. St. John the Baptist chapel is the most expensive church in all of Europe. It was dismantled and moved from Rome. There are mosaics that look like paintings, but close up, you realize they are made from micro tiles.
5. Bairro Alto is a downtown neighborhood that used to be where all the dock workers lived. It later became the area all the students lived in. To support their education, 130+ bars opened in the neighborhood, and now it is the party area. All of Lisbon (as far as we can tell) has a sip and stroll policy meaning you can order to go alcoholic beverages and walk around town.
6. Sidewalks in Lisbon are black and white mosaics. The Copacabana sidewalks are identical to the ones here because the exiled monarchs brought the tradition with them to Brazil. While the sidewalks are cool to look at, they are very slippery both when dry and wet.
7. Portugal was ruled by a dictator until the 1970s when there was a bloodless revolution to overthrow the dictator. While they did not like the dictator, they did appreciate him for certain things, such as keeping them out of WW1 and WW2.
8. Lisbon claims to be the city of seven hills. If you Google this, Rome and couple dozen other cities also claim this name. As a result of being built on seven hills, there are many miradouros (viewpoints) throughout.
9. The San Justa Elevator is an elevator that connects Baixa to the Chiado neighborhood that is located on a hill. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel's apprentice, so there are some similarities to the Eiffel Tower. Your metro card covers the elevator ride, and for an extra euro, you can go to the viewing platform. Luckily, our tour guide told us not to waste our time or money. There is a bridge connecting the Santa Justa elevator to Chiado that is free. You get the same view without the wait or money!

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After our tour, we ate at Cervejaria Ramiro which is a famous seafood restaurant. We arrived at 7 which we thought would be very early since most Portuguese people don't eat until 8:30. To our surprise, there was a long line, so we got a number (like at the meat counter at Central Market), and luckily, the line moved quickly and we were seated in 20 minutes. Marshall ordered shrimp, and I ordered clams. Both would have cost much more in America than they did here. The lobsters and other shellfish looked delicious. Too bad I am slightly allergic and couldn't try them! We also ordered vinho verde which is made in Portuguese using young unripen grapes. Thus green describes the nature of the grapes, not the color of the wine. The wine is a light refreshing white wine that costs $4 per bottle at your local Specs.

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Our travel day wiped us out, and we ended up sleeping until 10 am on Sunday. Our sleeping in gave us the chance to see how regular tourists do things. By this, I mean that we waited in many lines that we could have avoided if we woke up earlier. The first line was waiting from Tram 15 a block from our hotel. We, along with every tourist in Lisbon, waited for Tram 15 which carries passengers 45 minutes to the suburb of Belem. A few stops in, we saw a sign on a tram stop that said "€10 euros for taxi to Belem." We felt really dumb at that point since we paid €5.80 to be on a tram crammed with a billion other people.

Alas, we ended up at the Jerónimos Monastery where we were greeted with yet another line. Actually there were 3 lines and no signs explaining what each line was for. We learned one line was for tickets, one was for entrance to the monastery, and one was still unknown. We got in the ticket line, and after 30 minutes, we discovered the unknown line was actually a much shorter ticket line. We felt really dumb at this point because the other line had no more than 20 people in it all times, while our line had about 100 people. We then got to the front of the ticket line where it branched into two more lines. We were confused, but then just took a chance and got into one. Luckily we could buy tickets there.

As mentioned earlier, one of the three original lines was for entrance into what we thought was the monastery. We queued up in that line with our tickets and learned that the entrance line was the free entrance into the church, not the line to get into the monastery. Luckily many people had this same confusion, and the security guard let us cut to the front of the monastery line.

Was the monastery worth the 40 minute wait? No, not really, but we did like it! It was built in the 1500s Andy as intricate gothic stone work. There were a few exhibits inside too that taught us more about Portugal which was beneficial since we knew nothing about Portugal other than all the famous explorers lived here.

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After the monastery, we walked along the Tagus River to the Tower of Bélem which served as a fortress for the city and a political prison in the past. It was short (for a tower) and looked rather simple from the exterior. When we saw yet another line there, we decided to pass on the tower.

We headed back to town to eat the famous bifana sandwich at O Trevo. It turns out O Trevo is closed on Sundays, but luckily, I had researched back ups before the trip and directly across the square from O Trevo was the Bairro Alto Hotel. They have a terrace that serves lunch and drinks and overlooks the water. We both go delicious salads and drinks and enjoyed the view.

Later, we made our way to the Alfama neighborhood. This neighborhood is set in the hills, and it used to be where all the crooks, prostitutes and other undesirables lived. In 1755 when Portugal had its terrible earthquake on All Saints Day, the Alfama was the only neighborhood not affected, mainly because it is built on hard rocky surfaces unlike the rest of the city that is built on sandy ground. All the Catholics in the rest of the city were in mass for All Saints Day when the earthquake happened. They did not understand why the Alfama with all the sinners had been spared and started questioning God as a result.

The Alfama has narrow cobblestone streets and many viewpoints (Lisbon really takes advantage of its hills and has many miradouros (viewpoints) throughout). We stopped at Miradouro de Graca and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Both had excellent views. Afterward, he headed down to one of the many plazas and had caipirinhas (an ode to their Brazilian heritage).

I finally stopped at one of the nine billion bakeries by our hotel to try the pastel de nata which is a vanilla custard tart that is very popular here. Monks at Jerónimos Monastery originally sold these pastries to produce income for the monastery. In the late 1800s, a bakery in Belem started selling ones based on the monks' recipe. That bakery claims to serve the best ones, but we missed it this morning. The ones served in the city are delicious, so I am not too sad about missing the original which likely involved standing in another line. Meanwhile Marshall was enjoying his version of dessert. He has thoroughly enjoyed trying Portugal's fortified wines, and his current favorites are moscatel which is fortified muscatel and white port. Not to mention, he has enjoyed how in every plaza, they sell mojitos, sangria and caipirinhas to go.

We ate dinner at Cafe do São Bento which has won best steak in Lisbon for the past few years. The best steak in Lisbon does not even come close to the top ten in Houston. It was good, but we need not revisit. I did enjoy the restaurant's playlist of 1980s American music. The restaurant banned smoking inside recently (so progressive), but it still reeks of cigarettes that have seeped into the red velour furniture that has not changed since its opening in 1982.

Main takeaways from days 1 & 2: don't eat at Café do São Bento, do visit the San Justa elevator for free, and eat all the pastries you see.

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Posted by lsto90 13:52 Archived in Portugal Tagged lisbon Comments (0)

Catch Up Entry

"You should write a blog about that ski trip your super cool dad took you on." - Dad

Per my father's request, here is recap of my travels since I last wrote.

Brews before the I do's in Breck:

In August, I took a quick weekend trip to Breck for my college friend Megan's bachelorette party. Of course, Megan's idea of an awesome girls weekend included breweries, mountains, and a viewing of a classic 2000s movie (Bring It On, this time), and I could not agree more! Unfortunately, a delayed flight Friday night made this weekend trip even shorter than originally planned. Three other Houstonians and I had the misfortune of having our flight delayed, resulting in a late night drive through the mountains(shout out to Jenny for taking one for the team and chauffeuring us to Breck!) and a 3 am arrival to a house full of sleeping girls.

Somehow we rallied and woke up a few hours later to make breakfast tacos before heading to the base of the mountain. I have gone skiing in Breck before, and it was crazy to see the transformation in the summer. Our condo from our last Breck trip in 2015 overlooked the area where the summer alpine slide is located. We learned that the alpine slide is there year round. During ski season, it is covered with snow. Who knew? We did the alpine slide, went to Breckenridge Brewery (a must do on all my trips to Breck), and overall enjoyed the mountain air!
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An Aptly Named Canyon:

After staying in Houston for two of the three holiday weekends over the summer, I was determined to take advantage of the three day Labor Day weekend and cross the Grand Canyon off my bucket list. My family went a few years ago without consulting my schedule because I am the middle child. Since they forgot the middle child on that trip, I had to take matters into my own hands and plan my own Grand Canyon trip. I convinced my boyfriend Marshall to join me and off we went.

We flew to Phoenix and drove three hours to Flagstaff. Saturday, we drove an hour to the Grand Canyon Airport outside of Tusayan. We did the 45 minute Imperial Ecostar helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon. The soundtrack of the helicopter ride was appropriately curated and included gems, such as the Rocky theme song and "Fly like an Eagle." After the helicopter ride, we drove to the South Rim, somehow found parking amongst all the holiday weekend traffic, and ate at the El Tovar Lodge for lunch. When in a national park, I always must check out the historic lodge there.

The El Tovar has been a running joke in the family since my family visited without me (I promise I am not bitter). Apparently, when they visited my dad told my siblings and mom to wait in the lobby for him. They wandered outdoors to the flagpole right outside the entrance. Dad didn't see them and freaked out on them. From that day on, anytime dad gets mad at us, we say "don't go El Tovar on us." Thus, I was happy I finally got to see the legendary spot. Unfortunately, the El Tovar Lodge ranks low on my list of favorite NPS lodges. Who on earth builds a restaurant in the Grand Canyon without a ton of windows showing off the Grand Canyon?

We walked along the Rim Trail before heading to the South Kaibab Trail. By this time, it was afternoon and pretty hot outside so we opted for a short hike down the South Kaibab Trail to Ooh Aah Point. It was a quick hike and fairly easy. Another bone to pick with the Grand Canyon, where are the guard rails or safety precautions along the South Kaibab Trail? It was a fairly narrow trail with steep drop offs.

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After the Grand Canyon, we headed back to Flagstaff and explored the surprisingly cute downtown area of Flagstaff. Flagstaff has tons of breweries. We visited Lumberyard Brewery and Mother Road Brewing before calling it a day.

Sunday, after a brunch at the Toasted Owl where everything- food, drinks and eclectic furniture- is for sale, we drove to Sedona (approximately 2 hours south of Flagstaff). If you have never been to Sedona, go now, immediately. It is gorgeous! You can see pink rocks at every angle! We did an easy hike at Fay Canyon and then stumbled across another trail. There are trailheads all over this town, so hiking is easy to access! Marshall had put up with me for the whole weekend an didn't complain about my hiking requests or itinerary that he had little input in, so when he requested a visit to the spa for a massage (apparently normal people like to relax on vacations....), I gave in and put massages on the itinerary to conclude our trip.

Mile High Matrimony:

Megan (from the Breck bachelorette party above) got married in Denver in October. A group of ten of us rented a house in the super cool, up and coming Tennyson Street area. We didn't even know we were being trendy. We just thought we were being cheap because this house was only $250 per night and slept ten! It was an Airbnb jackpot, at least until we checked out (more to come on that in the following paragraphs).

On Friday, we ventured an hour to Boulder and did a leisurely hike. We "hiked" for approximately 15 minutes before finding a boulder in Boulder, and we opted to sit on said boulder and catch up. When we got back to our cars a couple hours later, we realized how lazy we had been and decided to stop at the Flatirons and walk around there for a while before heading to Avery Brewing for lunch.

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The rest of the weekend consisted of wedding festivities, including an epic wedding reception playlist that led to a fun night on the dance floor. Shout out to Suzanne for her epic countdown to the beat drop during "Mr. Brightside." The weekend ended with lunch at Avanti, an impromptu game of Pig, and a stop at Prost Brewing Company.

Now back to the Airbnb. We were so excited to all be able to stay together under one roof. It was a cute duplex in a hipster neighborhood. It was October, and the backyard had awesome foliage. Overall, we loved our lodging choice, and I was prepared to leave a lovely review at the end of our trip.

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When we arrived late on Thursday, we noticed some clothes left out on a couch. Two of our friends were already there and were asleep so we assumed they had left their clothes out and would pick them up in the morning. The dishwasher had not been unloaded which seemed a little weird, but it was late at night so we unloaded it and didn't think about it again. In the room that I stayed in, I noticed bundled up sheets on top of the dresser. Again, I thought it was weird the owner didn't pick up, but I was too tired and went to bed. We also noticed the owner left his car in the garage which was odd since they told us we could park in the garage.

Fast forward to Sunday when I am waiting at the airport: I receive a call from the lady who rented the house to us. I thought she was calling to tell us the neighbors complained about us for being too noisy. When I answered, she started apologizing profusely. I was relieved she wasn't complaining about us and going to give me a bad Airbnb review. Then I heard what she was saying. She manages the property on Airbnb but is not the owner. The owner had stayed in the house the night before we checked in and promised to do the list of chores required before a guest checks in; however, he did not do the chores. Those sheets on the dresser were the clean sheets he was supposed to put on the bed before leaving. In summary, I slept on dirty sheets that a stranger slept on for THREE NIGHTS! I am still disgusted and now skeptical of Airbnb. At least, we got our cleaning fee refunded.

That ski trip with my "super cool dad":

The annual family ski trip was scheduled for February this year, and since I quit my former job in external audit, I was able to attend. Note: if you enjoy spring skiing, don't be an auditor. Busy season will crush your soul every year when you get calls and texts from your family and friends who are skiing while you are sitting in a tiny audit room for 80 hours a week. We headed to our favorite ski destination- Park City, Utah. The trip included our favorites: staying in the Canyon Village, making fun of dad for missing the turn to the hotel every single time we came back from town, mass at St. Mary's, and meals at Fletcher's, Sushi Blue, and Zoom.

We had fantastic bluebird days during our trip, yet it was still pretty cold. Much to our dismay, we discovered the heater on the Orange Bubble chair was disconnected this season. We have been spoiled over the last couple of years skiing at the Canyons when the lift was heated, and we would have really appreciated the heated chairlift in between runs. This year, I realized speed is inversely related to age. Dad who used to zoom pass us on the slopes has decided to slow it down and be more cautious as he approaches 60 years old. Joseph (teenage brother) bragged about being faster than dad the whole time until dad informed him that Joseph had fallen multiple times while he had remained upright the whole trip.

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I had one epic wipe out where I slid at least 15 feet down the mountain while lying on my back and spinning in circles. Miraculously, I did not fall off the mountain or lose any of my equipment. Another miracle: Joseph didn't have time to film the fall on his phone which is surprising because I thought his phone was permanently attached to his hand.

That was a much longer recap than expected, but I always get carried away when blogging from my iPhone.

Posted by lsto90 00:20 Archived in USA Tagged grand_canyon sedona denver breckenridge park_city Comments (0)

Argentina

Alyssa and I ended our trip with 3 days in Buenos Aires. Why Buenos Aires? Because it was only an inch away from Rio on a map. FYI the international terminal in Rio is the nicest terminal I have ever been in. Good job, Rio.

We arrived in Buenos Aires in the early afternoon and checked into Mine Hotel in the Palermo Soho neighborhood. Palermo Soho is in the north of the city and a richer neighborhood. It is filled with cute shops and restaurants. Mine Hotel is an adorable boutique hotel. It was a nice change from our Airbnb apartment in Rio de Janeiro.

We ate lunch at El Caldén de Soho. We ordered a half bottle of wine, grilled provoleta cheese (a Argentinian favorite), and steak. The portions in Argentina are huge and cheap. Each steak could have easily fed 3 people.

On our first night, we went to the Argentine Experience for dinner. We arrived in Palermo Hollywood and received a welcome wine cocktail of Malbec, apple juice, lime, and pisco. We met our dinner companions. There was a retired couple from Australian who were hilarious, unfiltered, slightly inappropriate, and incredibly snarky. In summary, they were everything I hope to be at their age. The other was a wealthy family from the UK who currently spend six months of the year in Bermuda and the rest of the year at the ski cottage in Vermont. Celia and Sofia were the hosts for the Argentine Experience. They taught us about the cuisine, wine, common expressions and phrases, and culture of Argentina during our three hour meal. There was plenty of time to talk to the other guests about their travels during the meal. We also learned how to fold our own empanadas. The empanada is folded based upon its filling. Along with beef and caprese empanadas, we ate sweetbreads, chorizo, provoleta, chimichurri sauce, steak, mate tea, Malbec, roasted vegetables, and alfajores (dulce de leche cookies). We learned that the cuisine was influenced by Italian immigrants. As such, pasta is commonly found on Argentinian menus. We had a blast at the Argentine Experience, and the food was delicious. We highly recommend it to anyone going to Buenos Aires.

Thursday, we went on a bike tour with BA Bike Tours. They offer two circuits- the south circuit and the north circuit. Since we were staying in the north, we chose the south circuit. Agosto was our guide, and Alyssa and I were the only tourists doing the south circuit. We went to San Telmo (oldest neighborhood in BA where the rich used to live until they moved to Recoleta and Palermo in the north), La Boca (the poorest part of the town where the famous colorful Caminitos are found and tango was born), Puerto Madero (the new part of town where all the new money lives), and the center of the city (where the Casa Rosada (their White House) is located). Honestly, we knew nothing about Argentina before this bike tour. We learned so much. For instance:
-You cannot knock down buildings that are older than 100 years. So new buildings keep the old facades and build new modern buildings behind them.
-Tango used to be a dance between men. The men would use their dance skills to woo prostitutes. Thus, the women who now tango dress as prostitutes from the 1930s and 1940s while the men are dressed as macho mobsters.
-Tango was created by European immigrants which is why the music is comprised of accordions, pianos, violin, and bass.
-Puerto Madero was supposed to be the second port for the city. However, the architect of the port forgot one minor detail when building it. He forgot to ensure it was deep enough for ships. After a few decades of the port being useless, the government sold it to private investors in the 1990s who have since revitalized the area making it he ritziest neighborhood in the city. Another fun fact: the streets in Puerto Madero are all named after women.
-Many people fled to Argentina durian WW1 and WW2 since Argentina was neutral. People came from Spain, Italy, Poland, and Germany. Now Argentina boasts the largest Jewish population in South America.
-During the Cold War, the reigning dictator would silently arrest those with communist sympathies, tie cement blocks on their feet, and push them out of planes over the Rio de Plata. The government has not formally admitted and apologized to the country. Thus, every Thursday at 3, a group of mothers protest outside the Casa Rosada demanding the government own up to these atrocities.

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After the bike tour, we ate Italian food at Campo del Fiore, and then grabbed coffee at Felix & Felicis, the cutest Harry Potter themed coffee shop in Palermo. We then went to El Viejo Almacén for dinner and a tango show. We met a retired man from Albuquerque named Ralph who was in Argentina to ski. Since he was alone, we let him sit with us. He was humorous and ended up drinking a bottle of Malbec alone, making him even more of a hoot. We learned all about his family. His wife chose to hike the Inca trail in Peru while he skied in Bariloche. Ralph is loving retirement and is a huge fan of his local senior center. The tango show was fantastic; however, the accompanying meal was not. Travel tip: skip the dinner option and eat before the show on your own.

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Friday, we went to Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Perón is buried (Eva was the inspiration for the musical Evita). The graves were ornately decorated and all larger than my apartment. After the cemetery, we strolled through the Recoleta neighborhood which is ritzy and stopped for lunch at Cumaná, an Argentinian restaurant. We have decided we cannot eat cheese, bread, or steak for at least a month after this trip. That is all we have eaten for ten days and are ready for some fresh vegetables in the states.

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After strolling around Recoleta and Palermo, we hopped in the slowest cab ever during rush hour to get to the airport. We only had 320 pesos leftover and started to panic when the cab fare went over the 320 mark. Plus, we were moving at a snails pace. When we got to the airport, I put my high school Spanish to use and explained our money situation. Luckily, the cab driver was 100% fine with us paying in USD. At this point, our flight was taking off in an hour, and I just started throwing our leftover pesos and some USD at him. He banked on our cab ride.

We checked in for our flight, got through security, and then waited in the most inefficient passport control line ever. The people working kept taking snack breaks, texting on their phones, applying lipstick, and disappearing at random. We finally made it through passport control and walked straight on the plane. We luckily made our connection in Dallas and landed in Houston early Saturday morning.

We had so much fun on this trip. Rio was beautiful yet chaotic, inefficient, and prone to travel mishaps. However, we wouldn't have wanted it any other way. We laughed so hard at every mishap and example of how Rio was not completely ready for the Olympics, and we enjoyed experiencing the Olympics in person. Buenos Aires was a clean and relaxing compared to Rio. The weather was perfect (sunny and in the 60s), and Buenos Aires has a very European feel to it. It was the perfect way to end our South American adventure!

Posted by lsto90 06:51 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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