On one of the first days I was in Brazil one of my coworkers mentioned that to take advantage of a long weekend a number of folks would be heading to Buenos Aires the second weekend that I would be in South America.  And knowing how it feels to be in a new place without a lot to do asked me if I would be interested in joining them and sent me the info to purchase my plane tickets.

After debating a bit since I need to save some money to cover my upcoming vacation in Greece, I decided that it made sense to go as it would be nice to travel with a group for a change, especially given the language barriers, as in addition to not knowing Portuguese I also do not know Spanish.  So I went online to book my flight and was able to navigate to the English page of the local airline and find what I needed and submit things for the purchase.  And after waiting a bit got a message that the purchase had failed, so I figured I would try again and check with my bank afterwards to ensure that I only had one ticket.  Probably not surprising, I got the same result again.  As it was quite late by this time I figured I would get some sleep and call the bank in the morning.

Before calling the bank, I found a way to email the airline to check on the ticket so I did that and while waiting for the reply made the phone call.  Of course they saw both transactions pending.  By then the airline had replied and said that according to their system the whole thing failed and no charge would be processed, good and bad.  I wasn’t charged twice, yet I still didn’t have a ticket.

Luck would have it that I found a number to call for the airline that had an English option so I was able to sort things out and actually book the ticket over the phone.  Of course that wasn’t quite the end of it as over the phone they could only accept Amex cards which is not what I carry.  Thankfully, here as opposed to the US you can put a ticket on hold and pay for it right up until the flight, so that is what I did.  Being the paranoid type that I am I verified that the ticket did actually exist a couple of times during the week and checked with our office manager to see if this was indeed a standard practice.  In the end, there was no reason to worry as I was able to finalize the purchase when I arrived at the airport for the flight that Friday night.

So we were off, though there is one small complication that we found out about shortly before leaving for the airport.  Apparently, if you are from the US and fly into the Ezeiza airport you have to pay $130 to get into the country.  If however, you fly into the downtown airport you don’t have to pay this fee.  One guess as to where the person trying to save money was landing and it was actually $131 according to the sign at the airport, and a bit more than that after the bank did it’s magic conversion.  So I coined the phrase “it’s only money” in my head.  At the time I had no idea how true that phrase would continue to ring throughout the weekend.

Finally we were on our way to the Gran Hotel Argentino, a good half hour or so drive, and then finally checked in with some time to freshen up for dinner.  I had decided to share a room for the weekend so that I could try to save at least some cash.  By now it was late by my standards but apparently early in Argentina as we were meeting in the lobby at midnight to head for food.  After a short cab ride from the Plaza de Mayo neighborhood, which is the political center of the city, to Palermo where one of our co-workers was staying with his friend who had ventured down from Toronto.

After a nice meal of lamb risotto and some wine served in a funky pitcher I was ready for some sleep as were a few others, so we headed back to the hotel while some of the gang headed to a casino.  We made a plan to meet at the breakfast room at 9:15 to give us time to eat before it closed at 10.

Now it was time to really play tourist and after assembling the gang, no easy feat when you are talking 7 people staying in at least 4 different rooms, we headed for Casa Rosada.  Along the way we passed through a plaza where vendors were selling pigeon food which we all thought was at the very least strange and it got even stranger when we say the effect of someone purchasing and distributing some.

The government building itself was quite impressive both inside and out, although we decided against taking the official tour of the inside instead wandering elsewhere in the city.

So we continued on our wanderings passing lots of cool doors and signs and statues and eventually wound up at Florida street. This is one of the many, and I stress, many, places one can shop in Buenos Aires.  Well, the fact that I went shopping there eventually is probably of little surprise to those who know me at all and the fact that the shopping didn’t occur during our first visit they might be downright shocking.  Instead, we took it all in and scoped out the places we wanted to visit later as well as watched some of the tango street dancers.

Having exhausted Florida for the moment we headed to one of the famous cemeteries, La Recoleta, this one known for being the final resting place of Evita.  As it had turned into a beautifully, bright, sunny day, with a very blue sky, the photo ops were nearly endless.

Despite entering the cemetery on a grand boulevard, one quickly finds that there are many narrow passages which one could explore.

And given that this is a working cemetery, maintenance must be performed on the tombs.

That said, one look skyward yields some magnificent art.

There were also fantastic shadows…

…as well as a very old looking tomb and many religious figures.

Of course one of the downsides of being with a group as I could have spent hours there looking for interesting angles and shadows, instead I had to take a few snaps quickly, falling behind once, and then move on with the group to our next destination.  In the end, that was okay, as we stumbled onto an artists market, yes – shopping, and I finally made a few purchases.  They were fairly small, some jewelry and a cute little leather bag that is much more convenient to tote around than my big purse that I generally take on airplanes when I travel.

Finally it was time for lunch and we wandered to a near by cafe for some food, beverages, and a bit of r&r.

After lunch we headed to the harbor area, taking our customary two cabs for 7 people.  This time our destination was a bit less specific and rightfully enough we worried that we would get separated on the way there.  I was in the second cab, the girls, who was supposed to be following the first and just couldn’t keep up with the crazy maneuvers being made in front of him.  So we wound up touring the harbor separately and just as we were about to leave looked forward and saw the guys so we shared stories and realizing we were close to Florida street walked back there to continue our shopping efforts. The main thing that I wound up with was a lovely leather jacket as Argentina is known for it’s leather goods.  And yes, I didn’t need another leather jacket, but “it’s only money” and how often am I going to get to Buenos Aires.

There was one non-shopping moment with this trip to Florida that is worth mentioning.  When we first arrived we wound up on a corner where a small musical group was jamming.  Thatalone was nothing unusual, however, look closely at the picture and see how the dog seems to be listening attentively to the ensemble.

After our shopping efforts we headed to the hotel to rest a bit before heading out for a slightly earlier supper than the previous night.  This time we found an Indian restaurant that had been advertised at our hotel.  It was pretty good though not as spicy as they claimed, not that that was really surprising.  We did have a fantastic Argentinian  Malbec from Saint Felicien with dinner.  It was young, 2007, yet quite tasty.

We then headed back to Palermo for some drinks and to meet up once again with the guys staying in that neighborhood. We wound up at a trendy place with some awesome couches for folks to hang out in in living room style settings.  After the wine at dinner I didn’t want to drink a so-so house bar red so decided to order a Mojito, bad move, it was the worst Mojito I ever tasted, even worse than the ones we had made custom at a resort in India.  It was so sweet that I don’t think you could put any more sugar in it and I really wonder if it contained any rum at all.  So I wound up with wine after all, actually sharing in a some bottles of white from the same winery as we had enjoyed at dinner, it was also quite good which was a surprise as Argentina is not known for whites as they are usually quite sweet. Originally we had planned on heading to a nightclub the second night, instead we hung out at this location for a bit and went to one other bar briefly afterwards where we couldn’t sit outside due to space and wound up leaving as it was quite smokey inside making me that much more appreciative of the no smoking laws I have begun to rely on to make my nights out more enjoyable.

So it was back to the hotel to get some sleep before another mid-morning breakfast.

This time, we had to get our plans in place for that evening.  They guys all wanted to head to a local futebol game and us girls decided that it would be fun to take in a tango show.  So we split up to get our respective tickets and set a meeting time and place.  Well, this time the place was clear and the timing very dependent on the preceding events, so we once again were separated.

After a quick stop at the stadium, complete with standard sports bling, we headed to the colorful houses area of La Boca.

Here again lies a photographer’s dream.

Once again there were artists selling their wares and I was able to pick up a very nice rodacrosista, the national stone of Argentina, pendant on an interesting chain as well.

Before we left the area we were entertained by both the dog outfits and one more of the many figurines, this one ready for the upcoming match.  Oh and we also found the guys again.

It was now off to San Telmo, the site of, you guessed it, more shopping.  This area is known for it’s Sunday antique market as well as actual antique shops. Of course there are also the standard market booths as well, which, I must admit were starting to seem repetitive, yet once in awhile there was a gem. Having split into two cabs again after arranging what appeared to be a good meeting place we promptly lost the guys as neither driver knew exactly where we wanted to go despite it being on our tourist map. So we wandered through the streets and I found an awesome piece of tango sheet music from 1923 (well I don’t know how the tune actually sounds but the cover is a perfect match for my decor). Shortly after lunch we found the guys, do we sense a them here of lost and found, only to part ways again until the next day given our differing plans for the evening.

Once again we built in a bit of rest time before our evening activities where we were to meet in the lobby at 7:30 to get driven to El Viejo Almacen for dinner and the tango show.  It turns out that dinner was across the street in what looked to be a place owned by the same folks so in retrospect it would have been better to just pay for the show and have dinner on our own.  Especially since having heard awesome stories about the beef in Argentina, I ordered the steak. Let’s say it was a “mis-steak”, as it was quite tough and not up to the standards that I am sure are true.  That said, having the two together did make for a worry free evening and the show was fantastic. There could have been a bit more dancing, yet I know that costume changes take time and that the dancers need some time to recover and most of the acts in between were quite good as well.

As we had seen quite a bit in our first two days we didn’t have a very full agenda for Monday and started out heading for yet another amazing, photographer’s dream type building.

Then we were off to the Japanese gardens, where sadly photos were not allowed.

We then wandered a bit just taking in some of the local life such as this dog walker.  This also explains the site we saw earlier in the day in a grassy area where a large number of dogs were seemingly being attended to by one or two guys carrying large water jugs.

As some of our group was heading back to Porto Alegre that afternoon we needed to grab an early lunch so that they could catch their flights.  We found a nice relaxing outdoor cafe in Palermo where I had some excellent pork medallions in a wonderful mustard sauce.

Those of us remaining made one last touristy stop at a memorial and then tried to get to the river which proved impossible so we headed once again to Florida for some last minute purchases.

And this is where the story gets interesting.  Given that we all had different interests we split up and wandered around alone.  I took my time in one discount store trying some things and eventually choosing not to buy them and wandered around in and out of a few other places. Then a top caught my eye in one of the windows so I went in to investigate and while looking for that saw a dress that was pretty cool as well.  So between pantomime and who knows what else I was able to fiond someone with enough English to help me translate the sizes and to find the original item.  All in all I left with 2 tops and the dress for a total of just over $30 (US).

At this point I was ready to rest before dinner where we were going to try to actually find some of that good steak.  So I started wandering in the direction of the hotel, and almost turned off the main street to get there more quickly but decided to stick with the more glamorous view.  Soon after that I thought someone was offering me something to buy, as happens quite a bit along that route, only to turn around to see a well dressed man running away.  It didn’t take me long to realize that my bag was open and my wallet was missing.  After verifying that nothing else was gone, most importantly my passport I found the tourist office and tried to report the incident only to be told that I would have to wait at least an hour.  Since I felt  the time ticking in getting somewhere to report my stolen credit cards and since I had only a small amount of cash left as it was near the end of the trip I opted to head back to the hotel and not follow through with the report.

Thankfully, in addition to not being at all hurt in the ordeal, my co-workers have been more than generous in lending my money until I can get replacement cards to Brazil.  I already have one credit card here that the bank sent direct, so I can use that for lots of things, even possibly buying the cash at dinner some night if absolutely necessary. Yes, it has been inconvenient to have to rely on others and to have to change all of my direct pay items to new cards, but heck – it’s only money.

And for those of you looking for the futebol update.  Inter won the second game, sadly unbeknownst to me prior to the end of the game it was actually a two game total goal series and since the second game score was 1-0, Grêmio won the trophy.