Days 53-57: Buenos Aires

It would have been extremely rude of us to make it halfway across Argentina and not go that extra mile to reach Buenos Aires. Plus, we had become sick of everybody telling us what an amazing place it was, so we needed to see for ourselves what all the fuss was about. Perhaps the whole experience would be underwhelming and we could swan about forevermore, snootily proclaiming that ‘Buenos Aires is overrated.’

Unfortunately Argentina’s capital had clearly been tipped-off that we were approaching. It rather unfairly marshalled all of its Franco-Italian-Spanish architectural might and we quickly surrendered as many millions have done before us.

Despite being home to some 14 million people Buenos Aires’ wide boulevards, large plazas and spirit-lifting architecture make it a pleasure to walk around. These factors also create an atmosphere which seems closer to Paris, Rome or Madrid than Lima, La Paz or even Santiago.

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Like many of the world’s great capitals, if there is something worth doing then it can be done in Buenos Aires. Aside from the simple joy of wondering the avenues and boulevards, our time there can be neatly if somewhat bizarrely divided into tango, art, football and the Beatles.

To experience some authentic tango we took in a show at Cafe Tortoni, the oldest establishment of its kind in Argentina. Here we were not only treated to some fine demonstrations of the one-step but also virtuoso accordion playing. Until then we didn’t know such a thing existed.

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Unsurprisingly Buenos Aires is home to some fine art galleries and museums and we nourished our souls with visits to the Museo del Cabildo, which charts the events surrounding Argentina’s independence from 1810; the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, a modernist building housing a fine collection of South American modern art; and the Coleccion de Arte Fortabat, a stunning exhibition of works owned by multimillionaireness Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat which includes works from Turner, the Brueghels, Rodin and Dali.

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Any River Plate fans among you may bristle at the news that we visited Boca Juniors’ stadium rather than their bitter rivals. But in our defence it was nearer our hostel and is the home of Diego Maradona – a particular favourite of Scotland supporters on two counts. Firstly, for being the greatest footballer of the modern-era. Secondly, for ‘single-handedly’ beating England in the 1986 World Cup.

And so with this in mind we bowed at the gates of Argentinian football, walked in the footsteps of Juan Roman Riquelme and stood in the shadow of Diego Maradona.

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Last but not least, we visited the collection of one Rodolfo Renato Vazquez. Rodolfo, with 7,700 differing items, happens to hold the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of Beatles memorabilia anywhere in the world.

The range of items on display and the fact that they are housed in Buenos Aires is a powerful reminder of the scale of The Beatles’ success. To be the biggest-selling band of all time AND the most critically acclaimed (some readers are welcome to disagree) is a hard act to follow. And as catalogued in Rodolfo’s collection, here’s only one example among many of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s greatness.

In February 1964 The Beatles arrived in the USA for the first time and appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Shortly after they played two concerts and appeared again on the Ed Sullivan Show. A little over a month later they held the top five slots in the USA Billboard’s chart. The Beatles didn’t just break America, they smashed it. And in record time.

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Our final night in Buenos Aires, nay Argentinia, couldn’t have passed without dining on steak and supping blood-red wine. No photographs are available due to the gratuitous size of the steak. But rest assured, whether it’s meat, dancing, art, football or music, Buenos Aires is a city that can offer you both quantity AND quality.

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Days 49-52: Cordoba in Pictures

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Another city, another cathedral. Nice though.

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The architect couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but something about the finished building didn’t quite match his plans.

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Richard and Sophia had taken ‘backpacker-bling’ too far this time. Their latest ‘hostel’ was obscene.

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A bed made of sweets. Sophia couldn’t quite believe her luck. Now she could combine two of her favourite things.

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Yes, sweets!

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The Cordoba wing of the St Johnstone Supporters Club greeted Steve Lomas’ appointment with jubilation.

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Richard and Maria.

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Sophia and Tinto.

Days 46-48: Mendoza, In Vino Mendacium

Modern-day Mendoza is a city dominated by its seismic past. In 1861 it was all but flattened by a huge earthquake. Vowing that the tragedy should never reoccur the authorities built a city of wide boulevards and large open central spaces. Mendoza’s centre now consists of Plaza Independencia, with four smaller plazas – Chile, Espana, Italia and San Martin – a block from each corner of the main square. The theory behind this bold city planning is that in the event of another large earthquake the spacious boulevards will absorb the falling buildings and the network of plazas will provide the inhabitants with areas of refuge.

But like the safety demonstrations on a plane, one wonders if it’s more about providing comfort through an illusion of safety rather than any practical solution. An earthquake tends to wreak its havoc in the first few seconds; any thoughts of escape to manicured parks would probably be in vain. Still, it makes for a pleasant city in which to wander.

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At this point we have to make a confession. Our unplanned flirtation with Argentina has led to a guilty affair. Although it’s perhaps vulgar to reduce the attractions of a country to one or two ‘flings’, it will probably prove true that Brazil will be remembered for Ipanema Beach and Iguazu Falls, Peru for Cusco and Machu Picchu and Bolivia for the salt flats. Chile, however, doesn’t quite fit that pattern.

Don’t misunderstand us – we really like Chile. In many ways, its main attraction is the very fact it doesn’t have a main attraction. There is lots on offer from the north to the south and Chile absorbs tourists with ease.

The one thing, however, that you would perhaps associate the country with is viticulture. And this is where we have been a tad duplicitous: for despite the fact we plan to return to Chile, we’ve gone behind its back and yesterday did a high-end wine tour in Argentina! Sorry, Chile. Can you ever forgive us?

In this life, if you are going to stray from the path of righteousness you may as well have a great time doing so. We duly did: booking the best one-day tour of the Uca Valley. For you wine enthusiasts out there (and we know that there is at least one wine merchant among our readership) here’s a detailed breakdown of what was quaffed that day.

First up was the Andeluna vineyard. Here we sampled a Torrontes 2011, a Cabernet Reserva 2006 and a Pasionado 2005.

Then it was off to the Salentein Bodega. As it was now after 12pm the stakes were raised somewhat. A Sauvignon Blanc from 2011, a Pinot Noir 2009 and a Numina from the same year, were all consumed without so much as a second glance at the spittoon. Then there was the no small matter of the Primus Malbec from 2007.

After that we headed for a six-course lunch at Bodega O’Fournier where sumptuous food was matched with scandalously-good wine: a 2010 Torrontes Urban, a B Crux Sauvignon Blance from the same year, a B Crux Tempranillo from ’07 and an A Crux Malbec from 2003.

At the end of the afternoon we all got poured back into the minibus and the return trip to Mendoza proved to be a lot quieter than that morning’s journey.

It was a great day and well worth the breaking of the backpacker budget. We learned an enormous amount about Argentinian wines, although for some inexplicable reason we can’t seem to remember any of it.

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We are extending our affair with Argentina and tonight we travel to Cordoba, the country’s second largest city. Just don’t tell Chile.