Argentina – December 2015
The “silver lining” of sending my 20-year-old daughter off to study in Argentina for a semester was that I got to go and visit her when her program finished up last month. From the moment that I dropped her at Logan airport in August, until I stepped off that plane in Buenos Aires in December, I was counting the days! The pre-trip anticipation was mostly about seeing my daughter, but I have to say that, once I got there, the country really took me by surprise. I absolutely LOVED it!
The overnight flight from Boston to Buenos Aires is a long one, but I was lucky enough to snag an inexpensive upgrade to Business Class, so I enjoyed a nice meal and a lay-flat bed, and arrived rested and ready on a sunny Monday morning. The international airport is about 40 minutes outside the sprawling city, and I was met by a driver/guide for the private transfer to my hotel (the only way to go when you’re arriving in a foreign city after an overnight flight!).
The Mine Boutique Hotel is an adorable little 20-room design hotel in the chic Palermo neighborhood, within walking distance of shops, boutiques, restaurants, bars and more. Despite my early arrival, they welcomed me with a cool drink and got me right into my room to freshen up. The staff (throughout my stay) was amazingly friendly and helpful, and they all spoke perfect English (which may be why the other guests seemed to all be Brits/Aussies/ Americans). Our “classic” room, their entry-level offering, was cozy but cute, with a cheerful color scheme, comfortable twin beds, and lots of natural wood/stone accents. It was perfect for the two of us, and the other hotel amenities (daily breakfast, an outdoor pool, and rental bicycles) just added to the appeal. I would stay there again in a minute!
Once Mary arrived to meet me, we headed out to explore the city. She had an ambitious plan for our three days in Buenos Aires, but she was already well-versed in how to get around, so I got to enjoy the local buses (“colectivos”), in addition to some hair-raising cab rides (B.A. cabbies are even more fearless than their NYC counterparts!) NOTE: A typical tourist would probably not use the buses (they require a special fare card, called a SUBE, and they can be confusing to figure out), but the city is easily explored on foot and by cab, neighborhood by neighborhood.
That first afternoon was spent exploring MALBA (the museum of Latin American art) and wandering through the Recoleta Cemetery (where we saw Evita Peron’s grave). We popped into Mary’s favorite bookstore – El Ateneo Grand, a former theater – and then enjoyed a relaxing dinner at her host mom’s house, where she had been living all semester. After dinner, we stopped for a glass of wine at Aldo’s Vinoteca, and then went back to the hotel to crash! NOTE: Mary had prepared me for the fact that Argentines dine late (and by “late”, I mean 10 pm or later), so I knew to pace myself and rest/snack in the afternoons, but it did take some getting used to!
On Tuesday morning we walked from our hotel to the nearby Botanical Garden, and then met some of her friends for a relaxing vegetarian brunch at Yerba Buena in San Telmo (an artsy neighborhood of the city). Sitting in the park with Mary’s friends, I had my first introduction to “mate” (an herbal/grassy tea shared out of a communal cup) and then – fortified by caffeine – we headed off to see Casa Rosada, the Plaza de Mayo, and the Cathedral where Pope Francis was baptized, followed by an afternoon coffee at a famous local café (Café Tortoni). That evening we enjoyed a fantastic Italian dinner at La Locanda, and a nightcap at one of Buenos Aires’ popular “secret bars”. This one – called Floreria Atlantico – is in a basement accessed through the walk-in cooler at a florist shop!
Our last day in Buenos Aires started with brunch in Palermo, at Oui Oui, followed by a morning of Rembrants, Van Goghs, Picassos and Rodins at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (fine arts museum). We had a late lunch at Croque Madame, the adorable outdoor café at the Museum of Decorative Arts, and then made the mistake of taking a long, sweaty walk across town to the Planetarium….and promptly falling asleep in the show! After a nap and a shower, we headed back out for a special evening at Teatro Colon (Buenos Aires’ historic opera house). Neither of us is an opera fan, but we had purchased tickets for a performance of Wagner’s Parsifal so that we could see the theater and enjoy the overall experience. Our “obstructed view” seats were actually “NO” view seats, but I enjoyed hearing the music and seeing the gorgeous building 🙂 We snuck out at intermission and enjoyed some milanesa and beers at the Club de Milanesa, and then stopped by Mary’s favorite local bar (La Hormiga) for a drink and some live music before calling it a night.
On Thursday, we checked out and enjoyed a private transfer to the smaller domestic airport (about 20 minutes away) for our quick flight north to Iguazu. LAN Airlines unfortunately lost Mary’s bag, but she handled it like a trooper and quickly sorted it out with the airport staff (speaking Spanish helps!) so that we could hop in the car with our driver/guide and make our way to our hotel to check in.
I had chosen the Hotel Panoramic, in Puerto Iguazu, because I wanted to be in town, within walking distance of restaurants, and I wanted a river view. Our river view room was great, and the hotel was certainly convenient to town, but it had a really strange vibe. The 90-room property seemed like a sleek, modern business hotel (complete with meeting rooms, bars/restaurants, and a casino)…but it’s in a sleepy tropical town in the rainforest, and was half-empty. Undaunted, we treated ourselves to some very inexpensive massages at the onsite spa, and a room service dinner, and rested up for our day at the falls.
The next day was an absolute highlight of the trip. We were picked up early in the morning, along with a handful of English-speaking guests from other local hotels, and taken into the national park for a guided tour of Iguazu Falls. The falls straddle the border between Argentina and Brazil, and can be viewed/visited from both sides. Because we had not obtained visas for Brazil, we were only doing the Argentinean side, but several of the others in our group were planning to come back the next day and see the Brazilian side. NOTE Per our guide, Junior, the view is better from Brazil, because you get a full 360 degree panorama, but the falls are better experienced from Argentina, because you can get so much closer on the various trails that travel over, under and alongside the cataracts. We did not feel that we missed anything by not going to Brazil.
During our very full day in the park, we hiked miles of (easy) trails, rode an open-air train, and took a speedboat tour through the base of the falls (which soaked us to the skin!) We saw monkeys, coatis, all sorts of tropical butterflies, and even a toucan, and we were lucky enough to be there under ideal conditions (not too hot/steamy, and it had recently rained, so the falls were thundering along at a very high water level.)
I’ve been fortunate enough to see some gorgeous natural wonders in my life, but Iguazu Falls put Niagara to shame, and is right up there in my top two or three all-time most beautiful places, along with Alaska and Iceland.
We dined in town that night, and rushed back home in a tropical downpour, while lightning made the power flicker on and off in the hotel. Very atmospheric, and a perfect farewell to the rainforest!
The next morning we hopped back on a plane to Mendoza, in the western part of Argentina, in the foothills of the Andes near the Chilean border. We came to Mendoza for one thing – wine! – but I was very pleasantly surprised by the city itself. Our hotel, the Park Hyatt Mendoza, was in a beautiful historic building facing a park (the Plaza Independencia) and the surrounding streets were shady and walkable. We arrived during the afternoon siesta, which they take very seriously in this part of the country, so we enjoyed a late lunch on the hotel terrace and then strolled around the neighborhood for a bit.
The hotel itself was another highlight of the trip. I always like to end on a high note, and had chosen this five-star property as a splurge. It did not disappoint! From the grand marble lobby, to the cozy wine bar, and the efficient/professional (American!) front desk staff, to the helpful laundry service that took care of our waterfall-soaked clothing, we could not find fault with a single thing. Our Andes-view room was spacious, modern and comfortable, and the (giant) bathroom was to die for.
The concierge recommended a nearby Italian restaurant (Francesco Barbera) for dinner, and we enjoyed fresh pasta and a bottle of local wine in a garden courtyard under the stars.
On Sunday morning we met our smiling guide in the lobby for a full-day private winetasting tour in Lujan de Cuyo (one of the famous wine regions outside of Mendoza). We were treated to some delicious wines, and a tour, at the Alta Vista winery, followed by the Achaval-Ferrer vineyard (where we couldn’t resist splurging on a couple of bottles to bring home). Afterwards, we enjoyed a special lunch at Dominio de Plata, with each delicious course paired with a Susanna Balbo wine.
I’m not sure how we rallied that evening, but we did! I had made reservations at 1884, which is an exquisite Mendoza restaurant owned by famous Argentine chef Francis Mallman. The restaurant is set in an old winery on the outskirts of the city, and guests dine in the gardens, surrounded by twinkling lights and the open-air wood fireplace on which they roast all sorts of meats. Mary was adventurous, and tried her first taste of rabbit (which was delicious) and I could not resist an Argentine steak. We shared a bottle of malbec, and it was about as perfect a summer evening as you could imagine.
On Monday, for our last day in Argentina, we decided last-minute to book another day of winetasting. Our driver took us back to Lujan de Cuyo, where we visited Bodega Dante Robino for a tour and tasting that included some really good sparkling wines. Afterwards, we spent several delightful hours sitting in the sunshine, overlooking Ruca Malen’s vineyards and enjoying a mind-blowing six-course tasting menu that paired fabulous wines with inventive local cuisine. It was a top-ten meal, and a top-ten day, and the perfect way to end our time in Mendoza!
We rolled ourselves back into the car, and back to the airport, and boarded our flight back to Buenos Aires, where we caught our overnight flight back home to the US. All too soon, we found ourselves back at Logan Airport, where it had all begun…feeling like this was all just a fabulous dream 🙂