One giant leap for Dekan part 11

As you’ve probably already imagined my time in Mendoza was taken up mostly with wine, and steak – the staple of any Argentinian diet!

Because of this I’ll fast forward to my trip to Cordoba!

In the guide books Cordoba is described as the second city of Argentina! However when I arrived at 6pm from airport it felt like anything but a major city!

The streets were empty for the most part and few cars cruised the roads….but oh how little did I know….

After unpacking in hotel – when taking my wash bag out – I logged on to my trusted couch surfer account to check whether the message I’d posted the day before had been picked up by anyone. (I’d asked if anyone was in town to show me around). To my joy (relief) a few locals had replied offering to show me around the city.

So I showered, put on a t-shirt (it was still very hot) and went to meet my first guide, Vicky. We met in my hotel lobby and she told me we’d walk around for a bit.. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much as I hadn’t been blown away by the cab journey, but literally two minutes away from my hotel entrance I was in the middle of a bustling plaza… It was full of people sitting, chatting and enjoying the coolness of the evening. On the corner of the plaza was a cathedral (this country seems to be full of them) It was a magnificent building, but the outside only served to draw punters, believers and non believers in through its doors!

Once inside we had to dodge the cameras – alas they were not for me, but for the bride and groom who were walking down the isle! We’d walked in on a wedding! A quick look around and we realised that we weren’t intruding… The couple had simply paid to use the premises… So I’ve now been to my first wedding in Argentina!!!

Trying desperately to stay out of the eye line of the wedding camera proved difficult, but was well worth the trouble as we walked deeper into the church. The artwork that adorned the walls was amazing! The structures depicting various scenes from the bible looked like they took hundreds if not thousands of man-hours to create! The cathedral itself apparently took a century to construct (check out some of the pictures).

After witnessing the wedding, we stepped back out into the warm nights air and continued our stroll around the city!

We neared main roads and immediately the noise and vibe of the city picked up. We approached a building that was illuminated by various multicoloured flashing lights – I though it was a disco of sorts, but it’s just a refurbished women’s prison that has now home to art galleries, restaurants and bars… It also has the most amazing water fountain – where the water dances to whatever music is being emitted from the speakers.

Crowds gathered round, enjoying the music and taking pictures… But then something caught my eye… Was I at a prom? I had to double-take because looking around, all I could see were girls dressed in prom dresses posing in and around the building – maybe there was a special party on tonight?
But there was no party – these young women were taking pictures for their ‘sweet 15’ birthday parties! I didn’t know, but a sweet 15 party is a big deal over here.. Families spend lots and lots of money, putting on a massive party to welcome their daughters into…. Womanhood….I guess…

Not quite sure that wearing an eighties through back prom dress from Teen Wolf, and sporting a fire-tastic perm is really selling the idea that becoming a woman though…. I could be wrong…

Anyway after making our way through he endless photographers papping these young models, we made our way to a great little restaurant with mammoth size portions!

I don’t think I’d ever seen a Milanese that big before – it was literally 24 inches… No lie ladies….honest! Lol 🙂

After getting them to wrap half of my food to take home…. My guide decided it was late enough (2300) to first go and take a siesta and then meet up for a drink and to check out the club/bars!

A couple things I should point out- my guide is an English language exchange teacher ( very handy) and Cordoba is a student town! Which means that every night is. Party night lol!

So we head to a club… And what can I say.. Expect the music was very David Guetto and Rhianna, with a mix of Cumbia. What can I say, expect after a giant glass of Cuba libre the night seemed to go pretty quickly – which means it was good! 🙂

When I eventually woke up the next day (i say the next day, but it was actually the same day i left the club – make sense?) it was off to meet my second guide for the weekend – Martin!

Now before I rush into my day tour, I’ll tell you that Martin is a student studying (my mind has gone blank)…. It feels like I met him a year ago, but it was only last week! WTH is happening to me – my brain is finally switching off! It’s only taken 3 weeks of sun and about a bucket of red wine 🙂

Anyway, I’ll remember soon… Martin meets me outside the cathedral and we walk and talk about Cordoba as we head towards one of its parks for some mates! The park is full as is always the case it seems in Argentina. We drink mate and continue to chat about everything. For only 21, Martin is a well rounded young guy with plenty to say on a variety of issues.

Anyway talk moves to walking and we tour even more of the beautiful parks that are buzzing! We also head to the arts fair – which is full of people. Stalls sell everything from plants, to trinkets, the obligatory mate cups, and anything else you can think of!

Finally after a couple more hours braving the sun and heat we head to little bar to quench our thirst with an ice cold beer!

The day isn’t finished yet though.. Later that evening Martin takes me out with his friends to an impromptu house party.. Two memorable things… 1) the melon with wine! Delicious! I’ll be doing that when summer roles round in London, 2) Chiropan – it’s like the Argentinian equivalent of a kebab, expect its a heck of a lot tastier! It’s basically a chorizo sausage grilled and put between a chunk of freshly backed French bread. It’s tipped with Salad (no chilli sauce lol) and that’s about it! Delicious!!!!

Now that we can see the sun rising, it’s definitely time for bed!

20130130-141234.jpg

20130130-141243.jpg

20130130-141252.jpg

20130130-141301.jpg

20130130-141314.jpg

20130130-141324.jpg

20130130-141335.jpg

20130130-141344.jpg

20130130-141359.jpg

Advertisements

One giant leap for Dekan part 9

The bus

So before coming on my trip to South America I spoke to numerous friends, who had had fabulous experiences here, and all of them bar none, told me that I should make sure I travelled on the bus/coach (similar to National Express) at least once.

Initially I found this strange. Paying to travel upwards of 7 hours on a confined bus didn’t appeal to me one bit. But my friends insisted saying that traveling on a coach in Argentina was like traveling in first class on a plane (when you paid for the cama seats).

I found this very hard to believe, but after checking out the website images and the costs (a cama seat is only about £10-20 more than the normal seat) I decided, albeit reluctantly to give it a go!

So ticket booked, I arrived at Retiro bus station, which for be main international bus station in Buenos Aires, could do with tearing down and starting again!

The immediate area around the bus station is full of people trying to sell you tat, this isn’t the problem. The issue for me was that this is potentially the first place people will see when they arrive in Buenos Aires and it doesn’t give a good impression. The streets are dirty with rubbish and food waste – it’s really no comparison to the beauty of the city I’d seen earlier that week! And that kinda upset me…

Anyway I navigate myself through the mess and the hundreds of fellow travellers all making their way inside and to find my coach ‘platform’. I look at a a nearby screen, but that doesn’t really help. Then I find someone to ask and in spang-lish we figure out hat my bus…coach departs from the furthered platform to where I am – typical!

As I near the platform there are a row of buses all bearing the Andesmar coach company logo – I’m in the right place!

A quick look on the screen, but I can’t see my bus anywhere.. I walk up to the driver and show him my ticket, he grabs it, spends a few moments looking at it and then hands it back to me pointing to another bus. So I walk over to this bus (remember that I’m still carrying a 16kg backpack and 6kg hand luggage in 30 degree heat!)

Pushing my way through the crowds, who are exactly the same situation I am, uncertain as to whether the bus they’re about to step on will take them to the destination they paid for or some other place….

Finally I get to the second driver and discover that my coach will arrive in 10minutes – lovely! I stand and wait….

I’m nervous and slightly excited. Why? Because of the look I get from the baggage handler when I can only give him 5 Pesos because that’s the change I’ve got, and excited because I’ve never travelled in first claw before.. I‘m feeling pretty optimistic.

Living the dream

So it’s time to board. I step inside and wow – my initial impression is ok. The cama ‘bed’ seats are downstairs. There are about eight seats all looking back at me eager to recline. They’re leather looking… But tired. I can imagine that whine this coach first went into service this would have been creme de la creme of travel. But by the look of these chairs they’d seen more than their fair share of hot sweaty bottoms!

The seats are comfortable, and as the picture on he website illustrated, they do recline all the way back providing some comfort for tired bodies.

Again I’m not sure whether it was because my friends sold me such great stories, and It just didn’t live up to the vivid images I’d conjured up in my mind, or whether it was simply that this was the standard and that was that!

Either way I was happy I’d chosen to book the cama seat, even if it was a little old – at least it would make the 15 hour trip a little easier to swallow!

Time flies when your having fun

I on the other hand as not having that much fun… When they said it would take 15 hours they meant it! Despite the reclining chair, the game of bingo (which helped massively with me understanding numbers, the inflight ‘not actually on a flight’ food which was ok, and the challenge of not spilling my complimentary glass of red wine all over myself after every bump in the road, I never knew 15 hours could go so slowly!

Alas night drew in and I fell asleep watching Batman: The dark knight rises, dubbed in Spanish. Unfortunately that didn’t help with my language skills!

Finally dawn broke and we were nearly at our destination. Another tray of ore-packaged food crossed my lap and as the rubbish was being cleared away we arrived at Mendoza!

To Malbec or not to Malbec

Like Retiro, Mendoza bus station isn’t much to look at, but I found the layout and general cleanliness of the place much better! I jumped in a taxi – and headed to my second homestay house!

The house, or apartment was situated on the road in Mendoza, full of various bars and restaurants. At first I was a little concerned, but once I found out the block where the apartment was, was set back from the road it was a big relief!

After setting my stuff in the room i was allocated, was more or less an annex used by the family’s children to keep their table tennis table I was kindly invited to share their lunch too!

In a variation of Spanglish we talked about what I did in London, what the family did, how long my trip was going to be and finally sat around my phone laughing at the comical episodes of my ‘Dekan Does’ series.

After a shower and a little rest, I decided to venture out into Mendoza and get a lay of the land.

As I mentioned I was struck by the numerous bars on the main road – this was definitely a party city, and by the number of chairs that were being put out; tonight (Saturday) was going to be a busy night!

For me though it was about trying the wine, after all that’s the thing that Mendoza is famous for!

I popped into a local restaurant following a recommendation from from a friend and ordered my first Milanese – a beef schnitzel if you will – deliciously crisp and light topped off with a fried egg! And to accompany my main, a glass of the house red….But what a house red! No sharp after taste, no burn on the throat, just lots of flavour and very, very, very smooth! My next stop would have to be a winery!

20130122-220731.jpg

20130122-220745.jpg

20130122-220817.jpg

20130122-220757.jpg

One giant leap for Dekan part 7

Tickets please, tickets please

Time to book my ticket for Mendoza – I told you I’m travelling right! Lol

After sitting in a cafe using their wifi all morning trying to figure out whether it’s cheaper to fly or get a bus and where to stay I decide that I’ll go to Mendoza on Friday and take the much talked about bus!

I pack my bag and now head to Retiro station!

Retiro is a bit of a strange place, filled with stall after stall of merchants attempting to sell you any little bit of tat you want. Interjected between these stalls are a number of food sellers, some cooking on the street, others who’ve prepared their sandwiches for sale. I pass one stall where they’re selling fresh chorizo grilled sandwiches – it spells and looks delicious. Just the place your mates tell you about when they bombard you with their holiday stories! Lol. But focus! Bus ticket first!

The area of Retiro where the station is, is not the most pleasant of places… It’s a bit grotty and come night time I’m not sure I’d like to be walking around alone. (Something to remember when I’m booking my ticket’s departure time)

Walking into he station doesn’t I still me with much confidence- it’s dated and could do with some real attention. This is an international bus station, but it feels more like a small local station. Having brushed up on my vocabulary for tickets I spot the sign and the bus company I’m going to book with (recommended on trip advisor) and try to play it cool as I approach the kiosk! (The del-boy falling through the bar scene quickly flashes through my head) I reach the front of the line, and ask for my ticket- as I expected the attendant doesn’t speak English and is struggling to understand my pronunciations, apart from the word ‘Mendoza’. But this is where my back up plane kicks in – I’ve written it all down – Last Boy Scout or what?!? Lol!

She understands!! Pen and paper are truly man’s greatest inventions! Paying proves slightly more difficult as my card takes an eternity to go through… But eventually it does and I’ve now got myself a one way ticket to Mendoza on a 15 hour bus ride! Yes 15 hours! Where is that far by bus? And shouldn’t it be illegal to be on a bus that long? Lol. Luckily I decided to book the ‘cama’ or bed seats for this trip. They were advised to me by friends. Slightly more expensive than normal tickets, they apparently offer a bit more comfort and a kind of in-flight service. I just wish they’d actually fly! Another few days and I’d find out!

Walking back towards town I see the chorizo guy.. Should I, shouldn’t I? I way the odds. If I eat one and it makes me feel sick, I’m still in a good place to chill at home and get better.. Go on Dek they look and spell so good! 30 seconds later and I’m biting into a soft baguette filled with juicy, full-of-flavour. With each bite I’m praying that I won’t get sick.

Within minutes I’ve polished off my scrummy snack and now it’s time to walk back.

I’m tempted to go back, but I’ve got dinner plans tonight. I’m being taken to a local ‘Portana’ restaurant in Palermo!

Stomach or bowel

I’m not talking about the chorizo sandwich, I’m talking about the menu at Enfunda la Mendolina.

It’s a quirky place with load of trinkets on the walls, retro toys dotted all over the place and reclaimed wall tiles as plates.. Nice touch!

My host, Ale encourages me to be adventurous so I sit back and let her order some Molleja. She tells me what it is, and I take a breathe remembering that my friends back home had god me that in Argentina no part of the animal is wasted! I’m promised that it will be the best thing I’ve tasted so far, and when it arrives I must say that it looks pretty scrumptious! (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture as I was too busy preparing to eat it)

The molleja is covered in a light breadcrumb batter and served on a bed of sweet sautéed onions and crisp lettuce.

When I finally did pluck up the courage to eat it I was genuinely surprised by how good it tasted – allowing my mind not to focus on what it actually was – and simply just going by taste and smell, I have to say it was very good! Honest! 😉 It’s on to my main meal now and something a little more normal – chicken! Again I have to say that it’s great- Enfunda del Mandolina do a great job of preparing local food in a stylish way and I recommend you drop by if you’re ever in the area!

After dinner – we take a trip to a doorway. This isn’t just any doorway; it’s home to 878 bar – a trendy night spot for true Portenas. The bar is brimming with alcohol from all over the world – the cocktails in here are supposed to be amazing. So for the taste test, I order an amaretto sour – my drink if choice at the moment! 🙂

After initially being told they don’t make them (I’m shocked) I convince the waitress to get the bartenders to live a little experiment a little – they’ve got all the ingredients.
20130112-164852.jpg20130112-164905.jpg20130112-171243.jpg

When it comes it’s good, and I sip away enjoying more great company…but tonight can’t be a late one – tomorrow I’ve organised a trip to Tigre…20130124-122334.jpg

One giant leap for Dekan part 6

Hola!!! Don’t get too excited I haven’t learnt to say much more than this, but I am starting to understand the language a lot better! That’s mainly thanks to the new friends I’m making!

So it’s been a couple of days since my last instalment – hope you haven’t missed me too much? Just thought I’d give you a break and also do a few more things.

Where did i leave you…. oh that’s right I left you after my evening of dancing and steak…

Waking up on Tuesday (Martes) morning again by the building work, but it’s cool – I’m in a big bustling city and there’s noise – so I’m over it! 🙂

What to do today?

I woke up, stretched and started my routine – carefully remove my toothbrush from my wash- bag. Right now dropping my toothbrush on the floor is a concern, a big concern. You may laugh, or be thinking WTH?!? But really I don’t care… My toothbrush is mine.. Dropping it on the floor anywhere would be a small trauma! Lol. I’m not saying the place where I’m staying is dirty, but it’s not my place… It’s someone else’s… And that odd route hair you might see on a bathroom floor occasionally (and don’t pretend you’ve never seen one), well I know that it’s got nothing to do with me…

So after I’ve brushed my teeth, carefully replaced my toothbrush and had a shower – love that it’s powerful and hot – it’s back to my room to decide what clothes I want to wear, or what clothes do I want to sweat in today. I grab some shorts, and a t-shirt, pack my little rucksack with my essentials – map, water, guide book, pen, notebook, wet wipes, hand sanitizer and a packet of tissues I’m good to go.

(I’m not OCD, but according to a lot of the guide books, finding a loo and then a loo with toilet paper is difficult – and I’d never like to get caught out… But so far everything has been fine – no nasty experiences to report)

So I step out in the blistering heat and it is blistering. After two blocks I’m starting to feel my body heat up like its on fire.. Sweat beads drip from my brow like I’ve just been doing another series of ‘Dekan Does’ lmao!

But at least I’ve got my tissues and wet-wipes!! 🙂

It’s lunchtime and I’d arranged to meet another new CS friend for something to eat. Arriving at the restaurant – I’m very happy – it’s full of locals…and more importantly it’s busy, very busy. It’s time for my first Argentinian Empanadas. My lunch mate isn’t that hungry, and to be honest neither am I (not after last night’s steak anyway). But I force myself (lol) to try a slice of pizza – thick with cheese, gooey mozerella and spinach and meat (carne) empanadas! I tear through the pizza with ease, it’s only a small slice (honest), but it’s tasty! Next the Empanadas. If you’ve never had one, it’s like a pasty. But this one wasn’t the type of thing you get at a London train station on a drunken night home, this was crispy and yet soft with really well favoured chicken and chunks of garlic – delicious!

After lunch I consider getting the subte but despite the heat walking around the city admiring the architecture, people watching, and eyeing up potential eating spots is much more appealing, so I continue. By the time I get to the Obelisco it’s time for me to take a seat and play a game I’ve made up – spot the tourist. So far I’m absolutely pants at this game and that’s mainly because Buenos Aires is so multicultural… You could stand 10 people in a line and I would not have a clue whether they were local or not!

20130111-153905.jpg

I give up on my game and take my hot self (temperature not looks..lol) onwards to the heart of theatre land. For a moment I have to double take as it looks and feels as though I could be back in London or New York! Glowing neon lights, gigantic billboards… Loads of cabs.. Wow – not really what I expected at all, but it’s cool. The noise and hustle instantly reassures me – it must be because it reminds me so much of being home.

Street performers and people selling bits of tat litter the pavements – every so often I walk past a giant bin and I have to hold my breath! The smell is nauseous! But I pass and continue onwards to my unknown destination!

By the time I’m ready to check my phone and get some wifi so I can also double check my plans for tonight I look up and I don’t really have a clue where I am! (Don’t worry mum, I’m safe lol). I’ve just been so caught up in looking around at the buildings and trying to remember any phrases I’ve heard that will allow me to communicate better with everyone.

So out comes the now very worn map… It’s falling apart like you wouldn’t believe! Right here I am, no here I am….wait… No, yep… I’m here! WTH! I’m miles away! I better start making my way back to my homestay… I’ve only got an hour or so before I meet yet another CSer, Mariel, who’s taking me to a language exchange night that’s held in a local pub (don’t get any ideas I’m going to do this idea when I get back!) It’s a great way to meet more locals, exchange language skills and have a cold beer! And this pub couldn’t be better for that! I’m no beer drinker, but they looked like they pretty much had everything that would make a beer drinkers wet dream! (No pun intended- seriously).

On the way to Temple bar – where this weekly language exchange takes place Mariel takes me on a bit of a tour walking past this place – London city cafe. Really in Buenos Aires? C’mon portenas it don’t even serve English breakfast tea… And I didn’t travel all this way to go to a cafe trying to link itself back to London. I must say though that the scaffolding was a good London building site touch! Lol!

We arrive at Temple bar and its a throw back to my university days. Dark, with loads of corners and a bar stacked with bottles! I get talking to an Argentinian guy who speaks English, Russian and Portuguese. And another Argentinian guy that has the strangest Australian/cockney accent I’ve ever heard! But they’re great – as I’m new they mainly talk in English – apparently I’m now helping them learn, but very welcoming cool guys! The night’s going great, so when my hosts tell me they’re off I stay to continue talking – after all having walked around most of the city today I know I won’t be getting lost! After a few more conversations, I decide to leave and head to another CS meeting. It’s still early (12am) for Argentinians even if it is a Tuesday! I catch up with the CSers and am immediately spotted and welcomed by some CSers I’d met on the Friday – it’s like meeting long lost friends! We chat and joke and just as I’m now expecting we head to Palermo Soho for a pizza and to chat some more. The place is buzzing as usual and we eat and chat well into the morning!

20130112-165127.jpg20130111-195450.jpg20130111-200833.jpg20130112-154831.jpg20130111-195427.jpg20130111-161224.jpg20130111-155814.jpg