Antarctica Day 2 – Madrid to Buenos Aires

During the flight the entertainment system was quite limited – anyone who didn’t bring their own headphones also had to pay €3 if they wanted to use it. A couple of hours into the flight they then served an evening meal which was pasta, rice, and a chocolate brownie. I guess they believe in providing plenty of carbohydrates but nothing else. Whilst I had this meal I watched “Jobs”, a film about the life of Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple Computers.

Obelisk in Buenos Aires

After many hours of attempting to sleep, which was difficult with the back of my chair being kicked regularly by young children, breakfast was then served. This was a ham roll with a large chocolate biscuit, similar to a bourbon cream. We then landed in Buenos Aires at 11:00, almost 2 hours later than originally scheduled. The immigration was pretty quick, though the baggage claims not so much. My friend’s luggage was the last one off the plane it seemed, though I wondered if it was due to his being tagged as heavy. Going through customs was then relatively quick after which we met with Julieta, our local guide for the day.

Our hotel, Eurobuilding, was on the main road through Buenos Aires and was fairly central to everything. When we arrived there was just over an hour available so we could get some lunch. For lunch we headed over the road to a small cafe that was filled with locals. I chose what the menu described as a chicken sandwich with fries – a fairly standard sounding meal. In actual fact it was a piece of pita bread cut in half with a grease-soaked chicken piece on one bit and the fries with the other. There wasn’t even any salad with it.

The service wasn’t great there either, and people arriving after us who could speak Spanish (at least better than we could anyway), were served before we were. We also had to go looking for our own knives and forks as although they’d delivered them for other people at the time of serving the meal, they hadn’t for us. I got the impression they didn’t like tourists in this cafe.

We then had a walking tour of the Recoleta neighbourhood, an area of architectural note and economic wealth, which started at our hotel. It was a reasonable walk just to get there, but our guide bought us some water along the way.

Teatro Colón

We passed the Teatro Colón opera house which was quite a nice looking building – outside they also have a screen so that performances can be seen for free for those who don’t have tickets. When there aren’t are performances on they also have tours which are 30 pesos for locals and 110 pesos for foreigners. It may seem odd that there’s that difference in price, but I think it’s fair.

There was also quite a few other old buildings we passed as well – two of them were once owned by a wealthy family but now one of them is an up-market hotel that is used by the extremely wealthy. A couple of the other buildings we were going to be shown we couldn’t see due to scaffolding covering them during some maintenance work.

As the tour continued we eventually got to the Plaza Francia with a very large rubber tree known as the Gran Gomero. Some of the branches were so big that it had to have supports to hold it up. The way it’s supported reminded me of the Major Oak in Nottingham, England – a tree tied to the legend of a Robin Hood. However this tree was far larger with massive twisting roots, and new roots forming from branches. It was planted in 1791 by Martín José Altolaguirre, the owner of the land at that time.

Recoleta Cemetery

On the other side of this park was the entrance to the La Recoleta Cemetery – a place started in the 1822 and is filled with mausoleums. It is also the final resting place of Maria Eva Duarte de Perón, the second wife of Argentine President Juan Perón, and known better to the world as Evita.

Mausoleum of the Duarte Family

Inside the cemetery there aren’t just old mausoleums, but also new ones where families have sold off their plot and a new mausoleum has been built in their place. The majority of figures from Argentina’s history can be found here, such as the wife of San Martin, the liberator of many Spanish colonies in South America. Each Mausoleum is owned by a family forever, or until they sell them on, though the maintenance is usually done through a fee paid to the Government.

Once we’d left there we moved on down the road the Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. From the outside it is a very Spanish design – the sort you’d expect to see in the more rural areas of mainland Spain. Inside though it follows a very similar design to those in Peru with large altars covered with gold leaf. Unlike a large number of churches in Peru however we were allowed to take photographs inside this one.

Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, Buenos Aires

A sleeping cherub

The church and cemetery was built in 1732 by the Monastery of the Recollect Fathers, members of the Franciscan Order – the 18th Century order for which the neighbourhood is named. The cemetery was later changed to be a site for mausoleums of the ruling elite at the request of the President at the time.

From the church we walked through the crafts market down into a park that was located near a large University building. It is a massive building and it’s large stone pillars at the front are reminiscent of the National Gallery building in London. Apparently education is free in Buenos Aires and this one is their best Universities dedicated to the study of law.

Buenos Aires University of Law

By this time the sun was getting too warm to be in it for too long – it had heated the bottle of water I had in my pocket to an almost tea-like temperature. It must have easily been in the mid-forties (Celsius) by this time. I was also starting to feel a bit dehydrated so did my best to keep out of the sun when possible. The walk continued down the road and across a park near the art gallery, past the British Embassy before finally coming to a stop at a memorial for Evita.

Evita memorial

On the way back from there we said goodbye to the guide and went looking for another building she had mentioned, as the building they used for sanitation had a baroque-style front. Considering our lack of directional skills it’s amazing we found the place as quickly as we did.

On the way though we stopped by the Recoleta mall in hope of buying more water but they’d only accepted Argentine Pesos – we only had US dollars on us at the time. The currency exchange place required a passport to exchange money so we couldn’t do that either having left our passports at the hotel. Instead we got some water from a kiosk just outside the mall.

By the time we got back to the hotel we’d estimated we’d walked around 10 miles in the heat, so it was no wonder we’d gone through so much water. There was then enough time to get a shower and rest a little before getting a taxi to La Cabrera – a grill restaurant we’d already got a table reserved at. Our guide had said that it’s a very popular restaurant and is probably the cities favourite.

La Cabrera Grill Restaurant

The taxi ride was quite a short one but it was far enough to not really be considered walking distance, even by our standards. When we got there it was a 30 minute wait for our reservation so walked around the block once and sat down for a bit. We were then pretty much the first to be seated so we chose to be inside where it is air conditioned. In this time quite a queue had formed which pretty much confirmed the popularity of this place.

600g Argentinian Steak

We had been forewarned that portions at this restaurant are very large so it is normal to share dishes. With this in mind we ordered a 600g steak, fries, and a mixed salad. The steak was unlike any I’d seen before – it was bigger than what a Sunday roast would normally be! The quality of the meal was excellent, and along with a large bottle of water for the table it only cost 490 pesos, so the equivalent of about £15 per person.

We then got quite lucky with finding a taxi to get us back to the hotel. Although it was almost twice the price of the previous one due to road closures since we’d left out. At the entrance to some roads there were mounds of rubbish on fire preventing access. According to BBC News these barricades were there as part of a protest relating to the power cuts across the city, for which the heat wave was being blamed as the cause.

During this ride though we noticed it was reporting the temperature as 38 degrees even though it was 22:20 by this time. Finally though, it was time to sleep.

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