Tom and Greta senior romantic South America Trip 2009 - Volume 3. Buenos Aires has succulent beef and passionate tango
By Tom P Blake – Finding Love after 50
My partner Greta and I are traveling in South America. Our second stop was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, a lively, bustling city of three million inhabitants (10 million in the metropolitan area).
At the airport, there were six taxi companies at booths inside competing for business. You pre-purchase your fare based on the zone in the city to where you are traveling so there is no haggling over fares with the driver. The tip is already included.
We arrived on a Sunday, when many shops and restaurants were closed. Our timeshare apartment was centrally located in the Capitol Federal area of the city, two blocks from the obelisk, a visible landmark similar to the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
After unpacking, the first time we ventured outside, front desk personnel gave us a printed warning notice about pickpockets, that lately they had been trying a new ploy--spilling mustard or ketchup on people--then offering to clean it off while stealing wallets, purses, cameras or whatever else they could get their hands on. They often work in teams.
Greta and I were very aware of who was around us at all times. We wore money belts hidden under our clothes, kept nothing in our back pockets and had only spending money in our front pockets. Greta spotted one pickpocket working a group of tourists, we even photographed him, but from what we observed, he got nothing from them.
We found a cafeteria at the intersection of two well-known streets,9 Julio & Avenida de Mayo. We had heard the beef in Argentina is the best in the world and our first steak sandwich upheld that reputation. Lunch for two with beverages cost about $15.
As we usually do when we travel, we found a Super Market and purchased supplies for our apartment--bottled water, a baguette, salami, olive oil, cheese and, of course, some inexpensive red Argentina wine. That first night we dined in the room.
The electrical outlets yielded 220 volts. Appliances and computers from the USA will be damaged on that much electricity. Fortuitously, Greta had purchased an adapter and converter before we left so we were able to use our electrical equipment. Our apartment had free Wi-Fi included.
Exchanging money in Argentina was challenging. We waited in line at Citibank for a half hour, only to be told we needed to be approved by another department before exchanging the money, and then we'd have to come back and stand in line again. We decided to go to a local Buenos Aires bank and got far better and friendlier service.
Downtown Buenos Aires is a city made for walking. The sidewalks on many city streets are very narrow-only two people can pass at one time-so most often we walked single-file. We had to be street savvy by avoiding collisions with people, crossing streets when the lights were green, dodging potholes and uneven sidewalk surfaces, and of course, avoiding pickpockets. The map issued by the tourist bureau is excellent; it guides tourists to any place in the city.
Greta loves to dance so two of our missions in Buenos Aires--where the tango is sacred--were to take a tango lesson and enjoy a tango show. Buenos Aires has succulent beef and passionate tango.
We took the lesson at a restaurant called the Confiteria La Ideal. It was built in 1918, and is a timeworn, European-style restaurant with marble columns, marble floors, and stained- glass ceilings. One could visualize hundreds of people dancing there in its 1920s heyday. The 1998 movie, The Tango Lesson, was filmed there.
The lesson cost $8 for each of us and lasted for three hours with 40 people attending. It focused on getting the eight basic tango steps down.
Our instructors, Zoraida and Diego, had two rules: everyone dances with everyone and when someone asks you to dance, you dance.
The tango is a great way for older singles to mix with all kinds of people. Many older singles--men and women--came just to dance, not for a lesson. There were enough men so everyone seemed to have a wonderful time. One woman from San Francisco, about our age, danced almost nonstop the entire afternoon.
By the end of the lesson, Greta and I were actually doing the tango together (and still speaking to each other).
We took in two tango shows, both at restaurants. The first one was a disappointment. There were no dancers. Just an older guy like me belting out passionate love songs in Castellano, the Spanish dialect spoken in Buenos Aires.
So, on another night, we went to a show at the Gran Café Tortoni, the city's first confiteria (by definition: a café, bistro, ice cream shop, bakery, wine bar, beer hall-all under the same roof), established in 1858. The Cafe also had high, stained- glass ceilings, and has been beautifully maintained and remains very popular.
We walked to the Café from our apartment in the rain. About 30 yards before the Café, Greta's sole of the high heel on her left foot came loose, making it impossible to walk unless she did a goose step, which she did for a few yards. As luck would have it, we were in front of a shoe store that was still open at 7:45 p.m. She got a pair of sandals for $40. We entered the Café, a little wet from the rain, with the old shoes in a plastic bag.
The show included four musicians: violinist, pianist, guitarist and accordionist. Plus a singer, and two dancers, who danced seven dances. A good value for the $30 cover charge each paid. We sat at a table with a young Brazilian couple. He was a pilot for Tam Airways, the Brazilian airline.
In a city of incredible restaurant choices, the one we enjoyed the most was Sanjuanino, located in an upscale area of Buenos Aires called Alvear Avenue. There we enjoyed empanadas, a bread pie with meat or cheese and sauce inside, and a bowl of lentil soup for lunch.
While in that part of the city, we visited the Design Center, an ultra modern and hip collection of designer shops, before taking in the National Museum. There were works of art by many of the world's greatest painters including Picasso, Rubens and even an El Greco (Christ in the Garden of Olives), plus an array of painters from Argentina.
Buenos Aires is a truly remarkable city, a melting pot of people and cultures, with varied neighborhoods--similar to New York City. Our four days there went by too quickly.
Next: Rio de Janeiro.