We set ourselves a challenging 3 country itinerary for my 50th birthday (final) celebrations! It was in December but the only way to deal with it was to start celebrating last July and carry on until now; and it worked! I’m loving being 50! So first stop was Argentina. Three days in Buenos Aires.
First day was ‘free time’ after a 14 hour flight that went a bit like a toboggan ride, ie really quickly but really bumpy, we arrived at our hotel, a Hilton, with its enormous lobby and mesmerising LED colour changing bar. It’s in the area of Puerto Madero, a new upmarket area still under construction, with lots of bars and trendy sushi and steak restaurants along the waterways of the old port. Argentina is known for 4 things, steak, football, wine and daily protests. We enjoyed all 4! The centre itself is made up of various districts, each one has its own unique style, architecture and fashion. most of these are safe to walk around during the day and some at night too.
At 6pm on our first evening we booked a Malbec/street art walking tour in the young and vibrant area of Palermo. Here, in an art gallery, we met our guide for the next 3 hours, and Tess and Rebecca, two travel bloggers from Oz who had also arrived early that morning. We were given an aperitif to set us on our way, which was a delicious Malbec white, more like a very light and delicious rose wine! Think Whispering Angel but lighter and nicer! Moving on to JA winery, an old style wine shop with quirky bottle openers and a vino vending machine, we had our tasting along with 11 other people. One was the visual effects director on the film Independence Day, others were set designers for West End productions, and also a few quiet ones and we had no idea what they did! A wonderful eclectic mix. And then us 😂 . Rebecca announced she didn’t like wine! It’s all for the love of the job apparently! We were also lucky enough to have our very own Professor of wine in the house who came from Oregon and answered lots of questions that Joaquin the owner couldn’t due to language barriers and excessive alcohol tastings himself which left him slightly inebriated! And who knew there was such a thing as a wine professor. At first I thought he was joking and meant he was a professional alcoholic until he answered someone’s specific question on the production of wine! I now know what I want to study next! Lovely Malbec and Chardonnay wines to taste with tapas but only after (so as not to ruin the taste of the wines). We ended off the evening in a rooftop bar with a final tasting of the local aromatic and 39% alcohol drink Fernet (a drink the Italians brought over with them when they migrated). A combination of herbs and spices with full fat coke. All I’m saying is she may as well have given us a pint of Listerine and coke to taste! 🤑. This was a great fun tour to get us into the swing of things as well as giving us an idea of Palermo and it’s wonderful street art as a district, as sadly we had no time to revisit it on this trip.
Next day was our city tour with our gorgeous guide Mariela, who lives in Palermo! A gorgeous, bubbly young Spanish girl that at 50, I now envy, though in my head I’m identical to her in looks 🤣. Very knowledgeable about Buenos Aires, she tailored our tour to exactly what we wanted to see. We had a driver included, although we did have the option of a walking tour, but it was way too hot for that. The cemetery in Recoleta is a must and definitely with a guide. They know the stories of some of the more interesting mausoleums, as well as a quick route through the maze of upright graves to that of Eva Peron. A quick and very coincidental bump into Tess and Rebecca from the other night in front of Eva’s stone, then off we went for another quick one, a visit to San Telmo indoor market which was another one we’d definitely return to on a longer trip. Lastly our favourite district, La Boca. This was also the most dangerous district, especially after 5pm so it’s only recommended to go with a guide or get a regulated taxi in and out of the area. Buzzing with people on pedestrianised streets lined with colourful buildings and little shops, bars and restaurants, a tourist trap definitely. Even ‘Maradona’ (lookalike) had a seat there; for people to take photos with him. A mini anti-abortion protest entertained us for a while and then we did the obligatory football stadium tour of La Boca Juniors, one of the most famous football teams. Sadly no hunky footballers were there but I did buy my boys a baseball hat with the teams initials on it. ‘BJ’!!
When our guide left us, she pointed out a nice restaurant on a corner and whilst waiting for our tour of the stadium to start we thought we’d pop in for a quick bite. The restauranteur unlocked the door (!) asked where we were from and then told us, ‘you eat what I give you, you pay what I say!’ Petrified at this point, we had no option but to sit down and do as we were told. As I was waiting for him to come and ask if we had any dietary requirements, he plonked a plate of empanadas, (think Cornish pasty) breads and tuna mix down on the table and asked if we wanted beer or wine. I had wine, other half had beer, he got a litre and I think I also got a litre!!
Before I could tell him I don’t eat meat he arrived back at the table and dropped a steak onto the other half’s plate! So he eats it. I’m too scared not to so decide to try a bit! I haven’t eaten a steak or burger since 1984, bad experience with the new McDonalds that had just opened in the Gateshead metro centre! I have nothing to compare it to but I have tasted chateaubriand on special occasions and I have to say this was off the clock! Glad I’d been brave enough to try it. We both waited for the veg or salad or chips or even pasta, as the restaurant was named Don Carlos (I actually told the guide I’d read about this restaurant, but then realised I had got it confused with Don Julios, a highly recommended upmarket steak place that this one very clearly wasn’t). Anyway, 10 minutes later another steak was dropped on his plate, this time a rump. Again he ate most of it and I tried a bite or two. Also delicious. After that a pork steak landed from somewhere above us. I had just one bite of this one, other half 3 or 4. By this time we were full, or had had an excellent sufficiency as my grandma Freda taught me to say! And that was it for the savouries. Then a delicious pear in Malbec and cinnamon and flan with dulce de leche (caramel sauce) appeared to top it all off. I’m not a dessert person but this was special! Finally two espressos arrived. I drew the line there! I’ve never drunk coffee because I hate it; so was beyond being worried in case I offend him and left it to go cold. So 45 minutes after we arrived we left having had an amazing, if not rather aggressive, experience and being left £25 poorer!!
After our football tour, the clock struck 5.05 and I began to panic, the restaurant was already boarded up and as we made our way to the taxi rank desperate to get out before the vigilantes woke up (apparently there is no law after dark), we rushed into a cab and were on our way back to safety. Or so we thought…….. what followed next was 10 minutes of sheer panic, the taxi driver of the UNREGULATED taxi we had got into can’t have been any younger than 95! He could barely see over the wheel, couldn’t drive very well and decided the best way home was on a dirt track via the docks, under a bridge with pillars and tree trunks in the road as if to stop cars driving through.
Imagine mafia/thriller films where they take or meet people to kill them without anyone knowing. This was definitely where those scenes were filmed! No other cars. At one point we were swerving round the tree trunks and pillars and saw a car drive alongside us like Kenickie at the Thunder Road Grease Lightning race and this was the point I thought we were going to die! It was a catch 22 situation, open the door and jump out, not ideal, or stay put and pray, I did the latter. The other half took it all in his stride obviously, but I know he was also secretly pooping and praying himself! Finally we saw a road with cars and normality resumed! An area we would definitely return to but will definitely have left by 5pm if not before. Did I mention that even ‘Maradona’ had left his prime photo spot by 5pm 🤣. Finally for that day a good old fashioned tango show in the back of an old Argentinian cafe. A word of advice, do go for the decor, music and dancing, don’t go for the food!
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