For our one-year anniversary, Katie and I decided to go somewhere we've never been before: Buenos Aires, Argentina! Thanks to recommendations from many friends who have visited or lived there, we have more on our BA bucket list than we could possibly handle in a week, but we'll certainly make a noble effort.
After an overnight flight direct from Houston (There was another Rice alum in our row on the plane - small world!) we arrived Friday morning to glorious weather. Although it's Autumn here, it felt much more like late summer. We checked into our hotel, which is right off of one of the main throughways: Avenida del Libertador, a wide street (10 lanes one way!) lined with parks for miles and miles. We're in the Palermo neighborhood, which is very walkable and full of shops, cafes, bars, and restaurants on every block.
Our first order of business was to break our fast so we struck out walking. I was stunned by how much green space there is even in the heart of this large urban area. Every few blocks there is another park or monument with lots of grass around it. Combine this with the extreme walkability and A. everyone is out walking all the time and B. it seems that everyone has a dog! This is great . . . except that people don't seem to pick up after their dogs here. Early in the morning the shop keepers hose down the sidewalks but, as the day wears on, you have to be careful of stepping on land mines.
We found a little cafe with no English on their menu, so we figured it was safely not a tourist trap. Katie ordered a pizza while I took the salad bar. Because of Argentina's high Italian immigrant population, it seems that we will never find ourselves more than a block away from pizza or pasta. This is great for Katie, but not so much for me, as I'm rarely eating grains or starchy carbs these days. My salad bar, by contrast, consisted of at least 75% meat options (which Katie, a vegetarian, can't eat)! Yes, we're definitely in Argentina! Between the two of us we can eat just about everything, but rarely the same thing. On a related note, I'm relaxing my grain avoidance rules while here to eat empanadas, which we have had with almost every meal - including breakfast!
We spent much of the afternoon just wandering around and then I went for a run in one of the nearby parks. There are miles and miles of trails; I could probably run a different route each day and still have not covered them all by the end of this vacation.
For dinner we met up with two of my IMD classmates, Felipe and Hernan, and their wives, at Sucre, a modern Argentinian restaurant. The food was fantastic and of course we accompanied it with Mendoza Malbec. From the reviews it seems that this restaurant is considered pricey but, due to the exchange rate with the US dollar, it is actually quite affordable - even by Houston standards, which is already pretty cheap.
Saturday we put together a breakfast from the bakery down the corner and then struck out to La Recoleta, where we visited the craft market and the cemetery. I was blown away by the cemetery; it's like an entire city of mausoleums with different streets and paths and avenues between them. Some of them are more dark and somber; some are more colorful and vivacious, but they're all really impressive with really detailed craftsmanship. Some haven't been terribly well maintained, though, and you can even see the coffins inside. We were there on a sunny day but I have to believe that it would be incredibly creepy to be walking around all those tombs at night!
Saturday evening we did a wine tasting at Anuva, an exporter of boutique Argentinian wines. It was fun not only to taste wines we had never heard of there but also to meet other couples who were interested in wine. Because Argentinians eat dinner very late, we then had some time to kill and had a drink at 868, an old school speakeasy-style cocktail joint. Our drinks were delicious and expertly crafted by a very nice, talkative bartender.
Finally we had dinner at Casa Felix, a small private dining establishment that grows all of its own herbs and seasonings on site and sources everything else locally. Here again it was fun to meet other couples (including another Rice alum!) who value the locavore lifestyle enough to seek it out while traveling. Dinner was delicious: Bolivian peanut soup, salad with homemade burrata and spicy plum marmalade, cocoa-chili crusted Patagonian sand perch, and three different papaya desserts. It was a very, very satisfying way to end the day!
Sunday has been a wonderful ride as well. We spent the day out on Felipe's boat (with Laura, Hernan, and Natalia) getting a tour of the many rivers around Buenos Aires. Eventually we stopped for an outdoor lunch (mostly meat but they managed to find some ravioli for Katie!) and just relaxed along the beach for some time. We followed this up with alfajores, a traditional Argentinian cookie that can be thought of as an oreo but 800x better, and headed back to the city - a fun IMD mini-reunion boat trip!
After nearly three days here, I'm beginning to get the feel for the place. Buenos Aires is widely called the "Paris of the South" due to its very European layout and culture but it seems much more like Rome than Paris to me. It is big and beautiful with all kinds of stuff to do at all hours, but it is just a little bit dirtier (e.g. the dog poop!) and the fiery latin tempers cursing at each other in traffic definitely remind me more of Rome. One of the big monuments here (which we haven't yet visited) is an obelisk, which I much more strongly associate with Rome than with Paris too. We will be here several more days so we will see if my opinion changes!
For the moment, though, we're off to an Italian restaurant with a friend of one of my startup company's investors - hooray for the global network!