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!

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