With our truck enjoying its four to six week Atlantic cruise, it was time for us to settle in for several weeks and wait until our beloved arrived at the Jacksonville, Florida port. It made more sense for us to rent an apartment in Buenos Aires and stick around in Argentina than it did to fly… well, basically anywhere. Lucky for us, Buenos Aires had quite a bit to keep us busy for those weeks.
Little to my knowledge a surprise was being planned behind my back. Our apartment had an extra bedroom so Richard invited his mom Louise (you may remember her from her visit at Christmastime in Chile!) to come and stay with us. A few days later she booked her flights and was scheduled to arrive during the last 10 days of our stay in Buenos Aires. Sneakily, and without my knowledge, Louise invited my mom to come down with her in order to surprise me. Richard was in on the surprise as well. The day of the moms’ flight down, Louise (by accident) posted a picture on Facebook of the two of them at the airport. My brain went to mush. Why was my mom at the airport with Louise? Wasn’t she supposed to be somewhere else? Was she just visiting Louise at the airport? I did not comprehend. Then, slowly, I looked at Richard with wide, teary eyes and said, “Is my mommy coming?” He grinned and I burst into tears. The surprise was supposed to happen at the airport, but for the sake of my pride I am glad my ugly cry occurred in the comfort of our own apartment.
Casa San Telmo
We e-mailed Luis and Lacey of Lost World Expedition as we knew they spent some good quality time in various apartments in the San Telmo area. They directed us to the Casa San Telmo website, which has a variety of apartments for rent at a relatively inexpensive rate. The booking process is fairly easy, but can be a bit annoying if you are in a rush. Try to book ahead of time and check your junk e-mail box if you haven’t heard back from them in a timely manner. Wifi is included in the monthly rate.
Our first apartment was a super legitimate loft with brick ceilings, a full kitchen, hot shower, and two bedrooms. There was also a private courtyard with a table and chairs, but the weather was generally pretty cool when we were there so we didn’t spend much time lounging outside. We both caught serious 10-day head colds, trapping us inside and pretty much staying put on the couch with our blankies imbibing hot tea with lemon, ginger and honey and doing rosemary infused facial steams.
Other than dealing with our sickness we had a great experience in the apartment. Every Monday we would smell fresh roasting coffee from the nearby cafe, and almost daily we heard the meowing of our neighbourhood cats and music from somewhere in the building complex ranging from traditional, lovely Argentinian tango to Justin Bieber.
Speaking of noises, we had a very enthusiastic neighbour who seemed to be working towards some sort of world record for loudest and most frequent sexual intercourse. By the time we left the apartment we were hearing her up to three times per day. Not super awkward at all when hanging out with our moms. Louise leaned out the window at one point and shouted, “Brava! Brava! Brava!” Almost two months later we were in Portland, Maine eating pizza with some fellow Overland travellers, Nate and Sarah of The Long Way South, and they had the exact same loud neighbour in their apartment in Buenos Aires. Is it the maté or what? If somebody can tell us how this woman is achieving this kind of excitement, be sure to let me know.
Our second apartment was only a couple of blocks away, which we stayed in for one night at the end of our trip. We loved the super funky decor with chandeliers, large pieces of wall art, and watching our moms climb up the treehouse ladder to the tiny loft upstairs. #sorrynotsorry
What to See and Do in San Telmo
San Telmo was a neat neighbourhood to hang out in and we enjoyed being there for the duration of our time in Buenos Aires. Tall wooden doors lined the streets, the gateway to mysterious things behind ranging from antique stores to apartments to shops selling produce. The sidewalks were very narrow, often constructed of small concrete tiles, and if more than one person was walking it was nearly impossible to avoid stepping into the street. The sidewalks in San Telmo were also littered with dog crap. We made sure to keep our eyes open for suspect brown smears, for some reason negligently left by dog owners. Speaking of dogs, there were a lot of them. Not the street dogs that we were used to, but the jacket-clad, well manicured, bejewelled kind. We usually spotted several dog walkers per day, providing much needed exercise to the hounds that were cooped up all day inside small city apartments.
A cab driver gave us some excellent advice for Buenos Aires: “look up.” This advice opened up a world to us that we wouldn’t have experienced (especially while trying to avoid doggy doo) otherwise. Iron balconies with hanging clothes, bikes, plants, French and Spanish architecture, sculptures, beautifully decorated windows, and people’s staring faces became apparent when we cranked our necks upwards towards the sky. Back down at ground level busses rumbled past, black exhaust fumes filling our faces with cancerous noxious fumes. But then we looked back up again and spotted some graffiti or an elegant balcony with white wooden shutters.
The following is a list of things we really enjoyed while we were in San Telmo.
The San Telmo Sunday Market
Every Sunday artisans from all over the city gather in San Telmo to display their wares for sale. There are many items, including antiques, maté gourds, leather goods (belts, wallets), jewelry, art (paintings, photography), hand-made notebooks, aprons and felt hats. The market runs along several cobblestone streets, which are shut down to traffic during market day. The event is always busy with tourists and locals crowding through the streets checking out the items for sale.
We wandered from stall to stall, the smell of palo santo and sugary roasted peanuts filling our nostrils. We saw men doing magic tricks, puppeteering and busking, while others paced around with some sort of plastic contraption in their hands, surprising passers by with its loud, chicken-squawk noise.
The main square, Plaza Dorrego, was filled to the brim with antiques. We saw paintings, old black and white photographs, fur coats, glasses, china, cutlery, old cigarette packages, medicine tins, ancient razors, knitting hooks and block and tackle. More upscale antique shops could be found around the square as well as throughout the San Telmo neighbourhood. They were often filled with enormous marble sculptures, crystal chandeliers, and thick wooden furniture.
Oh my goodness, I LOVE milonga. Milonga is a place or event where tango dancing takes place, such as at a dance hall or club. We went to Maldita Milonga in San Telmo (at the Buenos Ayres Club at Peru 571; $10 USD per person) and had an amazing time. If you show up at 9 p.m. you must partake in the free tango lesson. It was pretty fun to watch our moms dancing the tango with various dudes, gliding around the dance floor and giggling up a storm. After the hour long tango lesson a live band comes on stage and plays a few sets of modern tango music. The band played instruments such as banoneóns (small accordions), a piano, violins, cello, and bass. Couples continued to dance while the band played.
The tango is an intimate experience. It is addictive to watch – especially watching the women’s feet carrying out complicated footwork and swift snappy movements in their tango heels. Partners keep very close to one another, eyes closed. As North Americans we are not used to being this close to another person, the dance defying all rules about boundaries and personal bubbles. But it is all part of the art. Strangers break apart during music breaks and become chatty and informal with one another, until the next round of song breaks out and they are velcro-d together once more. The women wear anything from jeans to dresses, often dancing with older men as young men are few and far between.
After several hours of dancing and well into the evening (or morning at this point?) a professional couple took to the dance floor to strut their stuff. Dang. We couldn’t help but stand and clap after their performance. Beautiful cultural practices always tickle my heart strings, and this was definitely one of them. Grinding at the clubs just seems tacky when you could wrap your arms around someone and dance cheek to cheek like a sophisticated and sensual human being, Milonga-style.
Walking Around and Checking Out Cars, Street Art and Architecture
Just observing the neighbourhood was fun in and of itself. Bring your camera, but be careful! We were warned many times by locals about the high rate of petty crime in the area. We were never threatened, but we did see many women wearing their backpacks on the front of their bodies to avoid being robbed. On the other hand we did see tourists with cameras hanging around their necks, wandered about, map in hand, and we only hoped their cameras remained in their possession for the rest of their visit.
We often saw cars parked on the side of the road in a no parking zone with their hoods up and/or a sign saying that their car was in ‘disrepair.’ Nice trick.
Where and What to Eat in San Telmo
The food, the food, the food! We tried everything from steak and red wine to French inspired croissants to ice cream. Buenos Aires has it all. I relied heavily on the Pick Up the Fork food blog, which has an incredibly comprehensive list of great food places in each neighbourhood.
I’m going to say something that may shock people, but I am undecided about choripan. Perhaps I never really had the right kind, but I found it to be mediocre at best. Basically choripan is a type of sandwich involving a bun with chorizo sausage in the middle. Add a variety of toppings and this should really be one of the best things ever. I don’t know why, but all of the toppings we had were quite oily when I was expecting a vinegar-y type of onion/veggie experience to counteract the high fat content of the chorizo sausage. Richard had a differing opinion and quite liked choripan. So you’ll have to try it out yourself. Challenge accepted, right?
The ice cream in Buenos Aires is THE BEST I’ve ever had. Well, I haven’t been to Italy yet but from what we’ve heard Argentina’s ice cream is very similar to Italian gelato, as it stems from the Italian immigration during the 19th century. Whatever it is, we found ourselves visiting the local heladerías (ice cream parlours) way too often, ordering obscene amounts of the stuff to satisfy our cravings. They even offer a dangerous service called ice cream delivery, which we didn’t dare give in to. That walk to the parlour was pretty important considering how much delicious ice cream we were ingesting.
Our two favourite places were: 1. Nonna Bianca and 2. Freddo. Personally I preferred Nonna but everyone has their own favourite. As for flavours, there were about a million to choose from. Dulce de Leche was a popular one. The photo below shows raspberry (dark red), pistachio (green), strawberry (light pink) and dulce de leche (brown). You can order your ice cream in various sizes, up to 1 kilo.
Coffee and Treats
Ol’Days Coffee was a tasty option close to Puerto Madero (more about that neighbourhood later…). They had a variety of your classic hipster coffee preparation techniques including French Press, Kemex and pour-over. Their loose leaf teas were quite good, and an order of almond milk brought me quite a surprise — they make their own and didn’t charge extra for it.
Le Blé (means ‘wheat’ in French) is a French cafe with several locations in the city. They had, hands down, the best pain au chocolat I have ever consumed. We visited the San Telmo location several times with our moms (and by several times I mean the staff knew us and we took multiple pictures with them by the end) and always enjoyed our giant mugs of coffee, food and pastries. In most cafes in Buenos Aires they serve your coffee or tea with a quaint glass of sparkling water and a tiny shortbread biscuit. Now that’s classy.
Red Meat and Red Wine
El Refuerzo was conveniently located next door to our apartment, so we went with our moms for a delicious dinner. Starting with some house white wine or Imperial lager, we picked our way through the little dishes of picadas (sampler plate of meat and cheese) — eggplant and garlic tapenade, olives, cured cheeses and meat, and bread.
Oh yeah, and this. I think Louise’s face says it all. Steak with chimichurri sauce and roasted vegetables.
El Banco Rojo was our go-to spot when we got lazy and didn’t feel like cooking. This tiny take-away spot has minimal seating and is always busy with loud music cranked, but the very reasonably priced burgers are delicious and worth the wait. They have varying daily specials and their fries are to die for (thinly sliced and heavily seasoned, almost like chips). To give you an idea of the daily specials, ‘The Kiwi’ boasted beef, cheese, panceta, beets, a fried egg and salsa while ‘The Bolas Tristes’ had beef, provolone, panceta, chimichurri, lettuce and mayonnaise with sweet chili sauce. My former vegetarian self hates me, but… when in Buenos Aires!
Another melt in your mouth, flavourful steak experience in Buenos Aires worth mentioning, La Brigada. The classier-than-a-pub ambiance and framed football jersey panelled walls were a nice touch. Louise had the short ribs and it was apparent that she experienced a spiritual-like existence during the meal.
Groceries and Markets
There is a plethora of fresh produce hidden away behind wooden doors in Buenos Aires. Our favourite places to shop included the San Telmo Daily Market (located inside a large hall with a huge variety of fruit and veggies), the San Telmo Verde Feria Organica (organic farmer’s market twice a week), and the health food store just down the street from San Telmo Verde (can’t recall the name), which had a ton of teas, dried lentils, pastas, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds and non-dairy milks available.
So there you have it. You may wonder what delightful things we encountered when we stepped out of the neighbourhood of San Telmo. You will have to read our next post to find out.