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Quilmes, etc.

May 21st 2010: Travel

(final chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Compared to the other Argentinean vices, their smoking, their caffeine dependency, and their sweet tooth, this last one, alcohol, is the one they seem to indulge the least in. Or at least they don’t drive it to an extreme the way they seem to push the other ones. Sure, just like in the rest of the world, alcohol is everywhere and happily consumed. But unlike the inhabitants of other countries I have visited, Argentineans don’t seem to like the feeling of losing control, getting way too drunk to find your way home. Instead they prefer to rely on yet more caffeine to make sure the party goes on until sunrise. As a result, beer and wine and cocktails are consumed in more or less “healthy” moderations.

The local wine is cheap and excellent. I grew particularly fond of Malbec, a local red wine grape similar to Merlot that turned out to be just right, not too sweet, not too dry. Most of the Argentinean wine
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Sweetness

May 20th 2010: Travel

(third chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

In Argentina some flavors are hard to find while others come in overwhelming abundance. Like sugar and anything sweet. Not only are Argentineans running on coffee and mate, but they also appear to be on a constant sugar high. Everything that’s not savory tends to be overly sweet. In Patagonia I had a hot chocolate that was so incredibly sweet, to an almost disgusting degree, that you could barely drink it. And it was served with several (!) additional packs of sugar on the side, in case I found it too bland. This is not a rare example. The movie theatre popcorn is sweet, the morning croisants are all sugar glazed like donuts, plenty of sugar goes into your mate, and because they are made with real sugar and not with corn sirup, sodas are also fairly popular, while their diet (or light) versions seem to just be available for show (or for us dumb foreigners). The epiphany of the Argentinean sweet tooth, however, is Dulce de Leche, a milk caramel sauce made, according to wikipedia, essentially from condensed, sweet milk. It’s as ubiquitous as your standard chocolate flavor: anything you can imagine getting in chocolate exists down here soaked in Dulce de Leche (ice cream, Oreos, etc). It is another one of those national Argentinean staples you will not be able to escape.

I just found out that, due to international trade issues, sugar has become a rare commodity over the last few weeks with many stores either not selling it at all or limiting sales to one pack per family. I wonder what that will do to the local cuisine. And to the business of the hordes of dentists that must be making a killing down here.

Coffee, Mate

May 15th 2010: Travel

(second chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

No, no. The comma in the title is on purpose, not a typo. I don’t want to talk about that artificial creamer office managers buy in bulk and that, because barely anyone uses it, fills up cabinets over cabinets in the shared kitchen. And yes, we are still in Argentina, not Australia. After dealing with smoking, I want to dive into the much more pleasurable Argentinean vices centered around caffeine. There are two you should really be familiar with, that you will be exposed to within the first few hours after entering Buenos Aires: Coffee and Mate.

Coffee

Argentineans have a wonderful coffee culture. There are cafes at every street corner. I heard a number quoted somewhere: 8,000 cafes in Capital Federal, the heart of Buenos Aires, alone. These cafes are open at all hours of the day, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. And not only do they serve coffee,
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Patagonia

May 13th 2010: Travel

When thinking of Patagonia I used to think of it as the end of the world, lots of ice, and overwhelmingly beauty. This kind of hype always sets the bar high and is pretty much asking for disappointment. Just think of the movies. Geek or not, I doubt there was a single person not feeling cheated by the “new” Star Wars trilogy. George Lucas basically just took your lunch money. And then there are those other cases when the hype turns out to be justified. Yosemite surprised like that. I mean how beautiful can that place really be? Going there on a snowy March morning was just breath taking, liking walking through a winter fairy tale.

When setting out for a trip to Patagonia with some close friends of mine, I was fearful of being let down again. And I was. And I was not.
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Light Up!

May 1st 2010: Travel

(first chapter of the Guilty Pleasure Tales)

Remember those times when you went out to a pub or a bar or a club and then you came home, late at night, after having a grand old time, you crash in your bed, barely able to get out of your clothing and sleep so deep and well, like a log, or like a German style rock? And the next morning you wake up bright and early and relaxed and still a tad hung-over. And then you smell your hair and that favorite shirt you wore the night before. And the gag reflex kicks in and you are more likely to throw up now from that nasty stench than you were the night before from the Tequila shots? Remember those days? Obviously I am talking about the time before smoking was banned in these … entertainment facilities. And when that ban came, at first you were surprised, didn’t see the point, reluctant to change, until that first time you went out after the ban had been instated and then, the next morning, you realized you smell like a fresh spring flower in an untouched forest near the snow covered mountains with Unicorns joyously trotting by. Basically what the snuggle bear must smell like. OK, maybe you didn’t smell quite like that, but you know what I mean. Well, Buenos Aires is going through that transition right now… and very slowly. At this point it is still smoker heaven with some minor annoyances, while as a non-smoker you are in partial hell. As occasional smoker you might just get by.
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The Bug

May 1st 2010: Travel

(update from: So Very Hot)

I just went to see a Tango show. It was fantastic. It was the Carlos Gardel show in Abasto, Buenos Aires. Dinner was great and then the show started. When it ended, an hour and a half later I was so disappointed. I could have watched for another hour or so. It was really well done, with a lot of variety. BUT I also have to say that watching those guys perform amazing Tango on stage only reaffirmed my understanding of the dance: it’s not a spectator sport. I want to be there, move with the music, as bad of a dancer as I still am, instead of watching them, no matter how amazing they are. Tango is so hot.

Safety in Buenos Aires

Apr 29th 2010: Travel

One question I often hear from friends is whether I feel safe in Buenos Aires and what the crime rate in this city is. Given the interest in the matter I want to give a quick overview of my experiences. But the short answer is, yes, I feel very safe. In fact I would say of all my travels it is one of the safest cities I’ve been to.

From friends who have lived here for a while I learnt that the cost of living in Buenos Aires has gone up 40% in the last year alone. Combine that with the worldwide economic decline and the resulting rise in unemployment rates and you might guess, correctly, that crime is on the rise here. However, it appears to be primarily petty crime like pickpocketing, at least in the areas foreigners visit. After spending 2 1/2 months here, my advice is exactly the same as the one I received before I got here: “Don’t be stupid. Use common sense. Use street smarts.” Some pretty obvious key points:
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So Very Hot

Apr 21st 2010: Thoughts, Travel

Wow. I’m on a high. It came from somewhere quite unexpected. But let me get back to that in a moment…

Boarding school had the clear disadvantage that, when the hormonal growing spurts of puberty hit you with an unearthly hunger at 2am, you would be stuck in a dormitory with a bunch of boys who didn’t know how to cook. You obviously being one of them. Without a kitchen and always strapped for cash we were required to leverage our low standards and our overexcited creativity. An illegal and as fire hazard classified water boiler dedicated to exclusively cooking cheap spaghetti together with the prepackaged tomato sauce became the nutritional source of choice to make it through the night. Even though the process was driven to a holy ritual and the result was sanctified, it was something that could only be recognized and classified as food at that particular age. Evaluating the pasta’s readiness for consumption required a long researched scientific test, a critical part of the procedure. A single spaghetti would be fished out of the pot and thrown with force against the ceiling. If it dropped back down we would have to endure our hunger for some more time, but if it stuck to the ceiling it was time to drain the bulk of the water, add the sauce mix, stir, and dig in. As the test spaghetti were rarely reclaimed, you might be able to imagine what some of the dormitory ceilings (and the corresponding water boilers) looked like towards the end of the semester.

Thanks to my current, unstructured lifestyle, I have come to realize that 24 hours, which never used to be anywhere near enough, can be rather long. Even embracing photography fulltime and working focused for an exhausting ten hours still leaves a good chunk of the day unallocated. As I am cursed with an relentlessly active ego craving to fill any void, I find myself creating lists of things to do and semi-useless skills to learn, often for no particular reason other than “wouldn’t it be cool if …” – a strange flashback to college days.

Reviewing my lists I came to realize that, 
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More Change

Apr 11th 2010: Travel

(update to: Looking for Change, part of Food)

Looks like McDonald’s smelled the beef and is introducing their own beef and bacon stacked burger line. I’m hoping they’ll try to top each other in size. I vow to eat a 10 paddy burger should they come out with one. And no, In’n Out does not count.

On a related note about McDonald’s creative menu in Germany: the following article was posted on the New York Times website today In Germany, a Taste of New York, via McDonald’s.

Nocturnal

Apr 10th 2010: Travel

Well documented in every guidebook, one of the first things you learn about life in Buenos Aires is its night-owl party schedule: The Argentine party goer takes a so called disco nap after work, around 8/9pm, goes out for dinner at 11pm, starts hitting the dance clubs at around 2 or 3am, has breakfast at 7am, and then goes straight back to work. Coming from San Francisco where you get the evil eye at 1:30am and the boot at 2am, where going to sleep at 4am constitutes an all-nighter for all practical purposes, where public transportation, especially into the East Bay, seizes to exist at around midnight, this all-night schedule seems unreal. Surely the guidebooks are exaggerating, trying to sell the place… No?

During my first week friends and I ended up at a Brazilian dance club at 1am and the place was absolutely deserted. It looked pretty sad in fact. As we hung out, bridging the time with various shots, the place started filling up and long and behold at 3am it was jam packed, with the Brazilian locals busting out some crazy, choreographed looking moves. Note to self: do visit Rio or Sao Paolo during Carnival. And this was a weeknight nevertheless, Wednesday I think. After stumbling back at around 6am I had to admit to myself that a) Buenos Aires does indeed have an insane nightlife and b) I had fun.

Without a “proper” job, without a fixed schedule, and with my apartment being conveniently located only two blocks from Plaza Serrano, one of the beating centers of this pulsating Metropolis, filled with bars, clubs, and upscale restaurants, I have since come to truly appreciate the night.
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