It is a nice surprise to know that this time around my experience in Buenos Aires is so much more pleasant! The people are kind, friendly, and polite (except at Tegui Restaurant! But that’s another story!). I really enjoyed my time in Argentina this time, both in Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires. And I also felt so much safer in Argentina! I guess after ten days in Brazil with constant alertness, it is nice to relax a little bit. Also, it surprised me how I can easily understand their spanish this time round, even with the “che”, “ta”, and the use of “vos” and its conjugation.
On a side note regarding the language, I also like how my Uruguayan contacts speak. I plan to pick up their habits of saying “impeccable” when something is great and when someone asks me how I am doing, I would want to say “todo bien, por suerte” (loosely translated to “all very well, luckily”).
Argentina is a complicated country at the moment with its economic and political situation. There is never a place where cash is definitely KING! When you come to Argentina, bring loads of USD and exchange it at the so-called blue rate. You get 20% more in purchasing power at least. Sometimes there will be places where you can pay in dollar exchanged at better rate than official rates and you will receive your change as such. Credit card purchases will be done at official rates.
City wise, nothing has changed much in Buenos Aires, as eight years ago. I still remember some of the buildings from my last trip. Perhaps the traffic is slightly worse these days. 9th of July Avenue and Florida Street still look the same as eight years ago.
Avenida de Libertador seems to have more constructions in office buildings in recent years.
Montevideo has not changed one bit also. Montevideo is a very chill city. I went to their best shopping mall and it was boring as hell! Most of the brands are from Argentina. I did not spend much time in the city centre and I did not take any new photos, unfortunately. The casino hotel and the beach in the peaceful, upscale Carrasco neighborhood in Montevideo still look the same.
For shopping Argentina is definitely the best. I pick up an amazing leather jacket. And across from my hotel of Alvear Art on Suipacha (a luxury hotel for cheaper rate than our so-so Rio de Janeiro hotel), there was a shop “de autor” – meaning everything in there is of special design and the talents are all from Argentina. I bought a really super-duper cool necklace and a ring. (Side note: I prefer to stay in Microcentre still, just off the Avenida 9 de Julho than specific neighborhood. Taxi is cheap in Buenos Aires. I prefer to be in the centre, where I have the hotel options. Even if you stay in Palermo, chances are you’d still be taking taxis at night).
One of my best memories of Buenos Aires is also the giant tree in front of La Biela café in Recoleta (across from the Recoleta Cemetery where Evita Peron is buried). I walked around to find it again! It might sound silly, but I was quite excited to see it again. It made me feel like I know Buenos Aires.
Knowing a local person is also great! I would have gone to Don Julio for parrilla in Palermo (listed as one of the top restaurants in The Guardian UK newspaper. But a local friend took me to El Primo in Las Cañitas neighborhood and everyone there was local. The food and wine and atmosphere were great!!!!
My trip in Montevideo is also quite chill. I met up with an old friend whom I have known for 15 years back in the school days. He has now settled and lived in Montevideo for over ten years. We did asados at home with his family and close friends. The best asado! He is truly an expert. I ate so much and so well. Something very typically Uruguayan is the provolone cheese with oregano. I also love the tripe (stomach) and the sweetbreads and the chorizos! Omigod, everything was to die for.
He also took me to a milanesa place (homey and a bit run down in Malvinas neighborhood) and it tasted like home. The breading tasted like how Mom used to do it with her fried fish. I totally enjoyed it!!! Thanks, FT!
Oh, I forgot to mention, I managed to make it to Colonia del Sacramento this trip. Unfortunately it was raining and raining. I had some amazing photos and I managed to climb up the lighthouse before the weather turned nastier. I can see it is a quaint, beautiful colonial town, but I could not really enjoy it unfortunately.
For lunch and to escape the rain, I decided to eat a full parilla at one of the restaurants. I was told by friends afterwards that one does not order full parilla because it is usually leftovers or meat that is dry or overcooked. I did have that experience. I did not enjoy full parilla.
When I was in Colonia due to the rain, I was cooped up in the hotel. Luckily it was a full service, large hotel (though located away from the Old Town). And one guy I met, told me that I speak Spanish like a “GRINGO” (like an American and a British person speaking Spanish) due to my “R”. Excuse me???? That is like the biggest insult of the trip. I was quite offended. No tengo ni accento de gringo ni nada, y por lo menos, vocalizo bien. İQue burro!
One interesting thing about Uruguay is that they refund VAT for foreigners for food and beverages, if we pay by foreign credit cards. So, fellow travelers, remember to pay your meal with credit card in Uruguay (even in hotel restaurants- not all hotel reception can separate the transaction and process the VAT refund). I think the amount is at least 10% of total bill. And you usually add 10% to the credit card anyways for tips.
I enjoyed my trips in Buenos Aires and Montevideo and Colonia, though I spent most of my time for work, but I loved interacting with the people. I really did get to practice my Spanish. I loved it!! I loved it!! I did not end up having time for city tour or biking tour in any of the places, but it would have been great. Please do it if you ever visit these places and let the world know how it goes!
On a side note though or after thought rather: Eight years ago, I also missed visiting Tigre area in Buenos Aires (which is off the river de La Plata and where many people have their summer homes). I decided to do it this trip with a tour company. I do not think it was worth it. Not for USD85 trip. Perhaps if one goes on one’s own and take the time to stay in one of the homes there to enjoy the river and try rowing, it would have been a better experience.
What is interesting is that we drove by San Isidro neighborhood on the way to Tigre. And San Isidro is a happening zone for people to live and enjoy life.