Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving from Buenos Aires

Settled in well; all "domestic" stuff down pat and on a normal schedule. Found a great Fitness club with top-notch equipment and facilities to keep in shape and healthy, where we work out usually 3 times a week for a couple of hours. Been trying to ‘tour’ the City in sections every other day or so – it’s really huge and lot’s of different neighborhoods to see. And of course we’re slowly trying different restaurants on our weekend nights out. They have a Chinatown neighborhood here, where we found a couple of excellent (and cheap) places to eat our favorite food. We even found a Korean restaurant (outside of Chinatown) which amazingly serves the real stuff. (We love it – and, missed it since leaving Chicago – if you never tried it, it’s very different than other Asian food and very spicy). Not to be missed in Argentina naturally, are the steakhouses known as Parrillas which serve up some of the best steaks and meats in the world. Had some adventurous fun at one where we had the platter for two that has many different cuts from all parts of the cow (i.e. sweetbreads, kidney, liver, intestine, blood sausage, as well as the ‘normal’ stuff) – liked most of it, though some is a little strong/gamy. Went to the Port last weekend, and ate at a fine seafood restaurant; and, unlike Mexico they have fresh seafood (and safe to eat). FYI – Buenos Aires is situated on a large bay/inlet leading directly out to the Atlantic Ocean.

Somewhat surprising, it is much hotter here than we were originally led to believe from our planning guides. While we knew, of course, that we would be visiting during Summer here (Nov. – Feb.), we had read that average temps. would be in high 80’s. In fact, it’s already in upper 80’s and summer has just started, with hotter temps. to come. Now, we understand that temps. in upper 90’s and even 100F by January are normal. It definitely could get a little uncomfortable ‘touring’ around; especially on public transportation (the city buses are not air conditioned, and usually pretty crowded – i.e. sweaty people here we come). At least our apartment is air conditioned, so we are comfy sleeping and when we get home. We will probably do what many Buenos Aires folks do in summer time, get out of town when it gets really hot. We can visit the beaches in Argentina, about 3 or 4 hours south on the coast; or, take a Ferry ride across the Bay to Uruguay and visit their better beaches and the beautiful small city of Colonia; or, head to the wine country in Mendoza; or, the southern highlands/forest/lake region of Patagonia. Probably, do several or all such side trips. Our Monks Pub friend Mike is planning to visit (again!) in January, so we may save a trip or two to go with him.

Cultural interests in BA are limitless, with too many museums and art galleries to count; numerous theaters and concert halls, a large zoo (not gone yet), botanical gardens, etc. Street musicians are abundant (especially in summer of course) as shown in our photos. One interesting site we visited is the War Memorial to the approx. 650 Argentine Soldiers killed in the Falklands War with the UK. (See photo with Bob) The Argentines are still ‘pissed’ with Britain about the War and consider it a very serious matter; while most of the Western World thought it was a minor silly skirmish. (Never say that to an Argentinean, or you’re going to be in deep doo-doo).

Last evening, we even attended an Opera performance of Figaro, at one of the finer Theaters. The performance was 4 hours long (and, didn’t even begin until 8:30pm). We bought cheap seats (US$10 each) in the nose bleed section, where it was uncomfortably hot (no a/c up there) – but, nothing keeps ‘us down’ (or up) – so during intermission after only the 1st Act, we strolled down to main floor where Bob had scoped out some empty seats 4th row dead center on the aisle (probably best in the house) where we stayed for the remainder of the performance.

Today, being Thanksgiving (in USA), we are going to celebrate in an ex-pat Grill and Bar called Kansas, where they advertised a Thanksgiving dinner of Turkey with all the trimmings.

Anyway, so far, BA is everything we had had heard. Large, beautiful, safe, friendly people, lots to offer culturally, great food and wine, easy to get around, and exciting. Could possibly be a place we’d consider living on a longer term basis; albeit probably seasonally. Best time to visit/live here, would be the Fall and Spring seasons, when weather is milder and more enjoyable. (i.e. summer is a bit too hot; and, winter does get cold as well as rainy).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


(11/5/09-2/4/09) The drive back from Mexico to Dallas was uneventful, albeit exhausting and longer than we were led to believe. This was mainly due to the hassle at the Border -- first, we had to "cancel" our Mexican Auto Permit (required, or you get in big trouble if you ever want to return), and that was problematic both in finding the right place to do it and getting there (driving around Nuevo Loredo on the Mexican side of the border is neither easy nor safe), and then waiting in a long line of cars for one girl handling the cancellation on a Friday evening. Then, the line/wait for autos crossing the international Bridge to USA was unbelievable -- took nearly 2 hrs. By the time we crossed into USA and Loredo TX it was about 8:30pm, and we hadn't eaten since a quick lunch around Noon. Still we pressed on, not wanting to get stuck staying overnight again in Loredo (again, a trashy border town and not very safe -- worried about auto getting broken into). So we drove another hour, until we came to another town large enough to have a motel and a place to eat. Finally, had 'dinner' (a hamburger & fries) around 11pm, and got to bed at Midnight. Needless to say, we never made to San Antonio (and, the hoped for 'quick tour' of the Riverwalk).

Slept in a bit next morning, and renewed our drive to Dallas about 11am, and finally arrived back at 'home' in Dallas about 6pm on Sunday night. Went out for quick BBQ Brisket dinner with Bob's Aunt Pat. First major project while in Dallas, was to sell our SUV and only had 2 business days to do it (otherwise, would have to 'dump it' at CarMax and accept their customary low-ball 20c on the dollar offer). So right after returning from dinner, we checked our voicemail for messages regarding the sale of our SUV on Craiglist which we had listed just before leaving Mexico. Had 3-4 calls waiting, made 2 appointments for Monday back-to-back at Noon & 12:30pm. First appointment struck gold --made the sale for $300 less than listed (and only $100 less than goal) -- bottom line we paid $2600 6mos. prior when we bought it in Chicago; drove it down to Dallas and then all way down to Mexico, across Mexico to 2nd home, and then back again to Dallas, and then sold it for $2400. We'd say that's a miracle for our 1999 Ford Explorer with 140,000 miles on it -- we were basically just hoping it would just make it to Mexico (and if we were really lucky maybe back again without any major breakdown or costly repair). Only problem we ever had was minor -- the distributor cap had to be replaced a month we arrived in Jocotepec MX -- took a little over an hour and cost only $25. So, aside from gas, we got a '6-mo. rental', drove thousands of miles across international borders, including drives on dirt roads, cobblestone streets, and San Francisco-like hilly towns, for only $225. We'd say that's Pretty damn good (lucky/miraculous)!

Other projects while in Dallas, were to do some banking business, re-execute new Estate Planning documents for both of us (new Wills, POA's, etc.) valid under TX. law, and a little shopping for minor items. Biggest 'project' was yet another 'downsize' of our personal belongings -- which after giving/selling a bunch more stuff down in Mexico to our neighbors (e.g. 2 mountain bikes, boombox, all our CD's, lots more clothes), we still had a 1/2 full SUV. So, we gave away more stuff to Bob's Aunt, and mostly to Bob's Cousin Marty and his family (2 very large duffle bags full of clothes, electronics, appliances, etc., and even including the 2 brand new Yamaha sports duffle bags). Downsize was mandatory for the Airplane Flight to Buenos Aires, since we were only permitted to now take with us 2 Checked Bags each, and 2 small carryon bags without major extra charges e.g. $100 per 25kg of additional luggage. Note our carryons needed to include Laptop bag, and a medicine/bathroom stuff bag -- Bob's still a walking pharmacy with all the meds. he has to take). Another miracle -- we managed to do it -- i.e. our worldly belongings now fit in the 2 checked bags/suitcases and 2 carryons each. And, guess what -- when, we leave Buenos Aires in 3mos., we plan to downsize (one last time) to just one checked bag/suitcase each, plus the carryons; and, hope to then be able to fit it all into one large backpack each (plus carryons hopefully that can be attached).

The other important thing we had to do while still in Dallas was to cast our VOTE for President O'Bama, which we did in person while in Dallas (with our new TX voter regist. cards). We then ordered in chinese food, and watched the Election Night coverage with Aunt Pat.

Next morning (Wed. Nov. 5), we completed our packing, and took off from DFW airport on Mexicana Air, with a 4hr stopover in Mexico City. Flight from Dallas was sparce and comfy. Once in Mexico City, we snuck into the VIP Lounge for Mexicana, which was similar to Bob's VIP treatment in Las Vegas. Comfy padded leather lounge chairs and couches, big screen TV's, internet access, and free beer, wine and liquor (including top grade), plus hors d'oeuvres/snacks. Unfortunately, our 'luxury' was fleeting, because the flight from Mexico City was full booked, long and very uncomfortable. It was an overnight flight that left (slightly late) about 10:3opm, took 9.5hrs, and then unbeknownst to us Buenos Aires is 4hrs ahead of Chicago/Dallas time -- so we were both exhausted and jet-lagged, and very crabby upon our arrival at 11:30am.

But once again Karma, our high-rise Apartment turned out to be very nice, well-located only 1/2 block from what I would compare to living on Michigan Ave. right near Water Tower Place. The place is a good size 2br, 1.5ba, with large living room, DR, well-equipped eat-in kitchen, Satellite TV, balcony, a/c, laundry room, and good security. We're on the 4th floor, and yes it has multiple elevators. Grocery shopping is ok, lots of stores, but their 'city' stores for those familiar with that - e.g. mostly about size of Sandburg Village grocery store, with moderate selections. But, we were fortunate to have just located one huge store, where they do have a good meat and fresh fish selection (unlike most of the others).

Initial Impressions: First, it should be noted that despite their many prior travels together, it is momentous for Bob & Nancy to have crossed the equator and for the first time ever to have stepped foot in the Southern Hemisphere and to have added the new continent of South America to the travels. As for BA, as promised it is a very 'European' city, in its architecture and culture. People seem super friendly albeit not many speak english, and it seems to be a VERY SAFE city (FYI -- for all you skeptical Gringos, the statistics are that it is one of the safest cities in the world, with little violent crime). Interestingly, there is a big Italian influence here because supposedly there is something like a 1/3 Italian genes in population, so their speaking and gestures have a lot of Italian flair even though they technically speak (their own version) of Spanish. And, you would be hard-pressed to find a corner of any busy intersection that does not have a large Pizza/Pasta restaurant. Haven't had much opportunity yet to dine out (knowledgeably), but even so already impressed (plus what I've read in guide books). Certainly more international variety than Mexico, and we hear its up to first-world standards. But, best of all, we can already see that besides good food (and AMAZING steaks and grilled meats), good food and wine are incredibly cheap. Examples (converted to US$): We have been buying very good wines (for home) for less than US$2 per bottle. And, good quality ground beef for our spaghetti, cost only about $1.5/lb. Other stuff is cheap too: e.g. the subways and buses, only cost 30c US per ride. We also (already) found and joined an top-notch Fitness Club nearby with high-end equipment for only $55/mo. (they have something like 10 clubs around the city, which we can use too). Also, unlike Mexico, drinking tap water here is perfectly safe; as is eating fruits and vegetables without the hassle of chemical cleansing as we had to do in Mexico. But visitors beware: B.A. electricity is 220Volts not 110, in addition to using the same wierd 3-prong plugs like Europe. So, besides a plug 'adaptor', you need a transformer from 220-120volts to use any USA appliances, or you will fry them out and probably short-circuit all the electricity in your apartment (or hotel room if not floor).

Definately looking forward to exploring the City's sites and culinary experiences in the coming weeks, having now somewhat settled in and gotten the basic domestic stuff out of the way. Then, we'll have some photos to post as well.

BUENOS AIRES -- Nancy and Bob have arrived!

Thursday, October 30, 2008


After living here for 6 months, we bid adieux (adios) to San Miguel and Mexico. On Sat., Nov. 1 we begin our 2-day drive back to Dallas TX. We will try to make it all the way to San Antonio the first day’s drive (10-12 hrs), and spend an evening on or near the famous Riverwalk, which Bob has never seen (and Nancy hasn’t been back to in 25yrs or so). We will then stay once again with Bob’s Aunt in Dallas (i.e. our permanent new ‘home’ in USA), for a few days during which time we will cast our Vote in Dallas for the next President, do some banking business, update both our Estate Plans, and sell our SUV. Have to once more ‘thin out’ our already thinned worldly belongings, now down to 2 suitcases each for purposes of airline flight. Our previously booked next destination: BUENOS AIRES. Leaving on a flight from Dallas on Wed. Nov. 5 and arriving in B.A. on Thurs. Nov. 6, where we are booked to spend at least the next 3 months. We’re really looking forward to the excitement of B.A., with it’s international diversity and world class dining and entertainment. And, of course, being a huge city with enormous commercial potential, who knows Bob may find a new job or business opportunity that may keep us there on a long term basis. Otherwise, we intend to explore some other countries in South and Central America through at least next Fall (on the likely 'list': Montevideo UR., Panama City, Quito & Cuenca Ecuador, coastal Brazil, and perhaps short sightseeing visits to Chile and Peru). Then, next Winter perhaps Southeast Asia (Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam) may beckon us to visit. But, that’s all foggy and we are not making any definate plans following B.A. for the time being. Next update in a week or so, after we are settled in our new temporary home (balcony apartment actually) in B.A.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Mike Shaker Visits Us in San Miguel; We see a Bull Fight; and Festival celebrating San Miguel's Archangel

Last weekend (Thurs 10/2 - Sun. 10/5) our good friend Mike Shaker (of Monks Pub fame), came to visit us for the 2nd time -- this time sans wife. After picking him up from the airport in Leon (about a 1 1/2hr drive each way), as soon as we drove into San Miguel, Mike needed to relax with a Marguerita. So, we took him to our fav Marguerita place, where they serve gigantic and delicious ones, with mucho high quality Tequila. Having duly relaxed, we drove home and let him unpack, and immediately trucked out to a new Thai restaurant to eat, joined by a couple of our friendly neighbors.

Next morning, just Mike & I went to the hot springs Spa outside of town, which he enjoyed a lot; and, then toured the town most of the day. For dinner, we went to our country hacienda spot, that serves up all homemade homegrown food, including homemade wine and grappa. A bit depressing though, as we were informed by the owner that her husband had passed away in Italy the past weekend, and they had just received the body and were in mourning (but for whatever reason still open for dining). We tried to make the best of it, and let the owner and her 16-year old daughter talk about him while we lent a sympathetic ear.

Tired and tipsy from a full day of touring, margueritas, wining and dining, we nevertheless dragged ourselves to the center of town to watch some of the weekend long festivities celebrating San Miguel's Archangel. As it turns out, this is the biggest 'blow-out' of the year (at least that we've seen). Crowds and festivities far bigger than even Independence Day. All day and night (starting on Thurs. when Mike arrived), there are continuous parades through the streets and in the town square (Jardin), including native dancers, acrobats, horseback riding, and of course lots of Fireworks. As we finally started walking back home after 11pm, we passed by one of the church squares, and were fortunate enough to encounter a group of caped singers who also passed out free Sangria to the crowd. Reminded Nanc & I of a University town we visited in Portugal where students dressed in capes and seranaded the town every Sat. night. We all had a blast.

On Saturday, after walking thru the beautiful central park and gardens, we went to our first Bullfight in Mexico (1st one of the season). As anticipated, exciting but far too gory and cruel to the bulls. After the bull is let into the ring, it is immediately stabbed by 4-6 colorful spikes (to get it mad and excited), then after a few plays with the Matador, a horsebacked and armoured guy, comes out with a spear pokes the Bull in he back a couple of time to draw some more blood, then the Matador plays with the Bull a bit more until its tired, and finally takes a sword and jams it thru its neck and as the Bull lays down they finish him off with a knife thru his brain. Finally, the Matador cuts off an ear as a 'trophy' and walks around the ring taking bows. And, believe it or not, this is "family fun" for the locals, who bring their babies, small children and Granny to watch and chear. After 4 bulls, we couldn't stomach any more and left (I think they planned on 2 or 3 more after that). Don't think we'll be seeing another one.

Our final evening, we took Mike to our favorite San Miguel restaurant -- the spanish one we had our Anniversary dinner at. As always, it was absolutely fabulous! We were fortunate he had his awesome braised Lamb dish, and Mike also had a really fantastic marinated filet.

As always, Mike was a pleasure to have as a Guest -- albeit exhausting from so much activity.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

16th of Sept. - Mexican Independence Day in San Miguel

We had heard the celebration of Mexican Independence Day - 16th of Sept. - was a 'big deal' in San Miguel. Truth be told, it wasn't. Quite dissappointed. We've seen more celebrating on 4th of July in USA. Though of course a national holiday, surprisingly many businesses were still open as usual; and, we just didn't see the kind of huge crowds we had expected. The only 'parade', was a score of marchers and and equal number of costumed horse riders, that kept riding around in a 4 or 5 block circle several times. And, then some late night fireworks that only lasted for 10 mins. or so. (Of course, the locals as usual constantly light off their own private skyrockets and aerial bombs, day and night during the week or so before and after). P.S. It's too bad that the San Miguel city council voted a few years ago to end another local tradition held on a different date -the local "Running of the Bulls". We heard had become a major blowout -- with something like 30-40,000 extra visitors flooding the town. Was obviously a great boon for the local businesses, but some of the people thought it had gotten too rowdy and out of control. Someday, we hope to make it to the 'true' Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain.

Day visit to neighboring Queretaro

A couple of weekends ago, we took a little drive (only 45 mins) to the neighboring City of Queretaro, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Definately a pretty town, but architecturally not quite as spectacular as Guanajuato or even San Miguel. Nevertheless, for a city with a population now around 750,000, it's very clean, quiet and pretty much crime-free. There are many parks and plazas that are a pleasure to stroll. It's also a fairly modern city, with a good industrial base, plentiful employment, and a new international airport. Notwithstanding the foregoing pleasantries, it most likely is not a place we would decide to settle in. Not much else to say about it - just the usual "it's a nice place to visit, just wouldn't live there". No compelling reason, other than we just were not 'wowed' by it.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Guanajuato – A weekend Visit

Located in the Mexican highlands about 1 1/2hr drive northeast of San Miguel and at a slightly higher elevation than SM, this town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. The town was built on the slopes of a steep gorge, so as you move away from the town center you must traverse narrow streets and pedestrian walkways that rise quickly. If you like walking and exercise you’ll like this town a lot. Seriously, it’s a really awesome place to visit; with striking architecture and unique tunnels that traverse the town, both for cars and pedestrians. It is easy to get lost among the twisting maze, but that’s really part of the adventure. If you arrive by car, as we did, best to simply try to park wherever you are lucky enough to find a legal space, and leave your car until you depart town. There is no way you are going to be able to find anything by car, let alone park anywhere near where you may want to go. In order to acclimate a little, it’s a great idea to take a ride on the Funicular located in the center of town, up the steep slopes to the El Pipila monument, where you will have superb views of the entire town.

Despite a slightly smaller population that SM, Guanajuato has a wide variety of dining and cultural offerings, home to three large Theatres, and scores of bars and eateries that host nightly live music in all genres. No doubt this is due in no small part to the fact that the town is home to some 20,000 students who attend the University of Guanajuato. One interesting and unique site to visit while in town, is the Museo De Las Momias (Museum of the Mummies). These human remains were first dug up from the local cemetery by local authorities in the late 19th Century when they needed to be relocated. They were surprised to find naturally well-preserved mummified remains, apparently due to the mineral content of the soil and dry atmosphere. In any event, the museum is both a wonder and spooky, at least to us Gringos. Mexicans have a different view of death, and celebrate rather than fear the spirits of the deceased. (i.e. The "Day of the Dead" is a huge national holiday every year the first week of November, where families everywhere picnic at the local cemetaries and pay joyous homage to their ancestors). All in all, enjoyed Guanajuato and would recommend it for a short visit.

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