We’re Moving

We’re moving to our own domain (http://www.santelmoloft.com). We’re still working on the design and on updating all of the pages, while we add extra information we think is essential for anyone visiting San Telmo or Buenos Aires and for vacation rentals in general. For now, you can find all of our old posts both on this blog and on our new site. Once we’ve finished the migration and design changes, I’ll post here one last time. Our goal is to have it all done by January 1. Seems appropriate, don’t you think?

In the meantime, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook where we’ll be updating more frequently.

Happy Holidays to everyone from Angela, Natalia, and Gonzalo (and John, the newest addition to the group).

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Cat Power, Pizza and Faina

I’ve had a tough week. To top it off, my highlight was going to be the Cat Power concert at Teatro Gran Rex which I went to Thursday night. It may have been the highlight, but it certainly wasn’t the highlight I was expecting. For me, the fun was laughing with my friend Naty and wondering what the concert would be like if only we’d been on LSD.

My camera saw the concert as if on LSD at times.

My camera saw the concert as if on LSD at times.


At one point, Cat Power disappeared for what seemed like fifteen minutes and we listened to the band improvise the beginning of what should have been (and eventually, 15 minutes later) was the next song. Maybe she had to run to the bathroom, we thought.

Whered she go?

Where'd she go?

When she reappeared all she said was a quick, “Sorry.” But when the song got going, and the next song did, and the one after did, they all sounded exactly the same as the first five we’d heard before Cat Power disappeared leaving us with a repeating electronic opening and purple lights, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was just too old to get this type of concert or if everyone else there was thinking the same thing: “WTF!”

Naty pulled her cell phone out of her bag to see if anyone had called. That can’t be a good sign for a performer. I, too, was no longer paying attention to the concert, I wondered if Cat Power is the type of singer that you can like at home because you can mix her up with other groups you like. I almost never listen to one group or album all the way through anymore. They’re grouped by genre or by my playlists which I carefully put together and have a variety of music that is similar, but by various artists. Could I ever listen to Cat Power and nothing else for over an hour?

Each time a song began I’d think, “haven’t we heard this one?” Then Cat Power’s incredibly smoky voice would remind me that I do love her music. I just don’t love it for hours on end. Finally there was a surprise, and for certain, the highlight of the evening. She sang a song in Spanish (here’s the setlist from the concert). It was the only song I felt she cared about all night. Her body language changed and she seemed to connect with the audience.

At the end, I think it was the most boring and strangest concert I’ve seen. It wasn’t just that every song sounded the same and that the songs I most wanted to hear weren’t sung. It was the fact that she made no attempt to connect with us. Besides the one “sorry,” after her disappearance, she never spoke to the audience. Was it because her Spanish is not great? Maybe, but I’d guess that the people who want to see a Cat Power concert understand some English. A simple “Hello, Buenos Aires,” and “thank you for coming,” would probably do the trick. Instead we were left thinking, “WTF?”

Back on stage.

Back on stage.

On another note. If you go to a show on Corrientes, Buenos Aires’ Broadway, the place to head to after for a quick bite is Guerrin. It’s a pizza place, but more than pizza Guerrin is sort of a right of passage for theater goers in Buenos Aires. It’s not the best pizza in town, but it’s good pizza. It’s the atmosphere that brings in the crowds.

Pizza and Faina at Guerrin

Pizza and Faina at Guerrin

There’s even a song about this right of passage by the Argentine rock band called Memphis La Blusera. The song is called Moscato, Pizza y Faina.

Here are the lyrics:

Las luces se encienden,
calle Corrientes,
se llena de gente,
que viene y que va,
salen del cine,
rien y lloran,
se aman, se pelean,
se vuelven a amar,
en la Universal,
fin de la noche,
moscato, pizza y faina,
moscato y pizza.

Translation:

The lights turn on,
Corrientes Street,
fills up with people,
that come and go,
leaving the movies,
laughing and crying,
they love, they fight,
they fall back in love,
in the universal,
to end the night out,
moscato, pizza and faina,
moscato and pizza.

Pizza y Faina

Pizza y Faina

Pizza and faina is a common combination here in Buenos Aires. Faina is made from chickpea flour and often has herbs or onions mixed in with it. It usually comes on top of the pizza slice so you can cut through both and eat them together. According to the song, and to tradition especially at Guerrin, it’s best with a glass of Moscato.

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Cheap Flights to Buenos Aires

I posted a complaint about the fact that flights from Buenos Aires to the States cost more than the other way around on Twitter. It seems unfair, especially if you look at these prices: to BA from NY and to BA from LA. This information came from other Twitterers responding to my complaint. Thanks to @thefutureisred and @wendyperrin for the links.

Patriotic Pasta Fashion

Patriotic Pasta Fashion

And here’s a photo I took of the window display of Tranquila, Corazon on Peru and Humberto Primo in San Telmo. Yesterday was Independence Day here in Argentina. I like this shot because it captures three major characteristics of Buenos Aires: fashion, pasta, and the flag.

Happy Independence Day, Argentina!

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Rainy Day Activities in Buenos Aires

It’s a rainy Monday in Buenos Aires. Luckily, there’s still plenty to do. Here’s our list of “Rainy Day Activities.” Many of these activities are the sort of luxuries I don’t usually allow myself when traveling since I’m on a budget. But a little treat on a rainy day is always welcome. Some of the others are free or cheap, for those counting their pesos.

  1. Catch a Movie
    I love watching movies in other countries. Moviegoers around the world have different customs. For one thing, you can order your popcorn (popchocle) either sweet (dulce) or salty (salado) and you can also have a beer with it. But the main reason I like seeing movies in other countries is because our culture determines how we react, or don’t react, to different parts of the story.  I’ve often found myself laughing out loud when everyone else is silent and scratching my head when the people next to me are cracking up. You can find a list of cinemas in Buenos Aires at Time Out Buenos Aires.Another reason to go to the movies is that it’s a great way to practice your Spanish (castellano). If the movie is in English, it’s typically subtitled in Spanish. It’s two hours of entertainment and a language lesson all in one. And if you really want to test your language skills, check out a local film.
  2. Visit the MALBA
    Museums sometimes make me sleepy. I think the maximum amount of time I can spend looking at art is about two hours. This is why I love the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires). The collection is just the right size for me. After wandering through the rooms, I could have still seen another room or tow. I wanted more because I got to see works from artists I’ve long admired like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and because I’d never even heard of some of the other artists like Antonio Berni, Jorge de la Vega, Joaquin Torres-Garcia (from Uruguay). The size of the collection meant that I had the time to stay, observe, take in, and enjoy the works without rushing to the next room because my niece was going to run out of steam. Even my 15-year-old niece loved the art.

    The MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires

    The MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires

    She did run out of steam before the rest of us. So, she went to the cafe to catch up on her summer reading. We found her there pretending to be a local and sipping hot chocolate. She couldn’t stop talking about how it was the best hot chocolate she’d ever had in her life. Then she begged us to stay there for lunch.

    Lunch at Cafe des Arts

    Lunch at Cafe des Arts

    I was skeptical because museum food is often touristy and, well, bad. Not the Cafe des Arts. The chef, Jean Paul Bondoux, is from Bourgogne in France. Not suprisingly, every plate was fantastic. From the sandwiches with fresh salad and crisp french fries to the plate of pasta with mushrooms. It was all delicious.

    Arab Lamb Sandwich

    Arab Lamb Sandwich

    Croque Monsieur at Cafe des Arts

    Croque Monsieur at Cafe des Arts

    Penne con Funghi

    Penne con Funghi

    The museum is open from noon to 8PM, Thursday to Sunday and from noon to 9PM on Wednesdays when entrance to the museum is free (they ask for a 5 peso donation). Otherwise, it costs 15 pesos to enter. MALBA is closed on Tuesdays. From Thursday to Sunday, MALBAcine shows artsy films starting at 2PM until midnight most days.

  3. Hit the Mall
    I’m not much of a shopper, but shopping in Buenos Aires is a cultural experience and I’m all for cultural experiences. If it’s raining outside, you’ll probably want to take shelter in one of the many shopping centers. Here are the two I’d go to because you could spend the whole day there even if you don’t like to shop.
    I’d probably start at Galerias Pacifico because the turn-of-the-century building is gorgeous. The frescoes on the ceiling were painted by five Argentinean muralists.

    Fountain at Galerias Pacifico, by lrargerich on Flickr

    Fountain at Galerias Pacifico, by lrargerich on Flickr

    You can sit in the cafe down near the fountain and people-watch all afternoon, but the main reason I’d choose this shopping center is because on the top floor you’ll find the Centro Cultural Borges. There are art exhibits, live performances of music and dance, and showings of independent films. It’s open from 10AM to 9PM, Monday to Saturday and from noon to 9PM on Sundays. Tickets cost 10 pesos.

    The second shopping center I want to mention is Abasto. While I would prefer to go on a sunny day so that I could wander the streets of nearby Once, if you’re short on time and it’s raining, Abasto is a great option. I like Once, the nearby barrio, because it reminds me of the huge market in Cairo, although it looks nothing like it. But there are blocks devoted to textiles, others devoted to electronics, or to houseware, or to handbags. It’s lively haggling and full of energy. And there are some great Jewish delis in the neighborhood (try the empanadas arabes). Ok, so now that I’ve sold you on Once, let me sell you on Abasto.

    Abasto at Night, by Concepciones Relativistas on Flickr

    Abasto at Night, by Concepciones Relativistas on Flickr

    First off, you’d likely be the only tourist in the mall. Secondly, the building is amazing. Abasto is in the old tango district of Buenos Aires and the shopping center is housed in the old market, El Mercado de Abasto. It’s a very creative way to preserve old buildings whose purpose needs to be reinvented.

    Abasto, by puroticoricoon Flickr

    Abasto, by puroticoricoon Flickr

    Years ago you’d find produce, meats, and flowers. Today, in this beautiful example of Art Deco architecture from the 1930s, you can find Nike, Puma, and many other brands. There are over 200 stores, likely the most diverse shopping center in the city, so there’s something for everyone. For more on the history of the area and the building, read the Buenos Aires Argentina Guide.

  4. Get Pampered
    Well, why not? I’m the kind of person who puts off pampering myself. I say I’ll go, but I really only treat myself when someone else gifts it to me. That said, the only massage I’ve had in Buenos Aires was at Valle Tierra (it was a gift from my swamp sister, Natalia). The massage was excellent. I also liked the decor. It was calming, but not sterile. The furniture, rugs, and pieces of art come from the northern regions of Argentina (think Santa Fe, New Mexico). Lots of earthy tones.

    A couple the stayed with us a few weeks ago on their honeymoon spent a day at AquaVita. After months of planning the wedding and a weekend of serious celebration, a spa was what they needed. They had very good things to say about AquaVita. But I found a review from the Times Online where a commenter had a less favorable opinion. Since the complaint was about the customer service, and since I know that the idea of customer service here in Argentina is very different from the US and the UK, I’d take that complaint with a grain of salt. Or better. If you’re going to a spa, focus on the facilities and the quality of the massages. Ignore the service because you may not be able to relax unless you do.

  5. Have a Tea Party
    Indulge yourself at the Alvear Palace Hotel, one of Buenos Aires’ most beautiful hotels, for afternoon tea. this is a seriously decadent, albeit hoity-toity, experience. L’Orangerie is the restaurant in the hotel that serves high tea. Rule #1: ignore the snobby socialites looking at you because you are clearly nobody they recognize as important (besides, you are important, they just don’t know it). However, if fitting in matters to you, get dressed up and be sure to wear your pearls. Rule #2: only order one full tea for three or fewer people. One is plenty for three people.

    The Spread

    The Spread

    Rule #3: take your time. Just when you think they’ve brought all the goodies to the table and you’ve stuffed yourself full, out comes another plate.

    And then theres the cake

    And then there's the cake

  6. Browse Bookshelves
    I love books. My sister’s attic is full of boxes of books I just can’t part with. One day she’s going to make me decide. To keep my book collection manageable, I now check the book out thoroughly before buying it.  I can spend hours browsing the bookshelves, flipping the pages, asking myself if I can live without this book. My favorite bookstores for a rainy afternoon are El Ateneo, in Barrio Norte/Recoleta, and Boutique del Libro, in Palermo. They offer very different experiences.
    El Ateneo is the most beautiful bookstore in the world. I’m not exaggerating. They took an old theater where tango was once danced and turned it into a massive bookstore, leaving the balconies, the stage, the lighting for the most part, and the magic.

    El Ateneo Bookstore in Recoleta, by longhorndave on Flickr

    El Ateneo Bookstore in Recoleta, by longhorndave on Flickr

    You can have a coffee or tea at the cafe on the stage. I don’t recommend ordering food though. It’s mediocre, and that’s being kind. Check out Argentina’s Travel Guide’s write up on El Ateneo (by the way, Argentina’s Travel Guide also has a pocket guide BA’s bookstores in .pdf format which you can download here).

    If you’re in a more chill mood and if you’re hungry, I’d recommend el Boutique del Libro. The food is much better and it has a grab-a-book-and-a-cup-of-coffee atmosphere.

    Boutique del Libro on Thames in Palermo

    Boutique del Libro on Thames in Palermo

    Plus, they’re usually playing great music. In fact, if you hear something you like, just ask the cashier in the music department what’s playing. The music selection isn’t large, but it is good. I could spend all afternoon here.

So, what are your favorite rainy day activities in Buenos Aires? Did we miss something? I’m sure we did.

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Restaurant Review: Les Anciens Combattants

Les Anciens Combattants on Guia Oleo

Les Anciens Combattants on Guia Oleo

Browsing through the Guia Oleo for restaurants I didn’t know in San Telmo, I ran across the listing for Les Anciens Combattants. We were in the mood for something different and Les Anciens Combattants was intriguing. The pictures of the house, the descriptions and reviews of the food, and the fact that it’s in an area of town we would typically avoid at night are why we chose it. My thinking was that if a restaurant can survive in that neighborhood, it must really serve excellent food.

Constitucion is a rough neighborhood. When our cab driver stopped in front of the only house with lights on the street, I think JB and I both were wondering if we should get out or just head back to San Telmo. We rang the doorbell and waited. The waiter who opened the door asked if we had reservations, we did not. So, he explained in the fastest Spanish I’ve ever heard that they do have a table, but they don’t accept credit cards, only cash.

We followed him through a grand salon with beautiful wooden floors and high ceilings. He told us that he’d give us a tour of the house and tell us its history after dinner. The dining room is toward the back of the house, just before a huge open patio that must be amazing in summer.

Before dinner, we were served an aperitif, white wine with a bit of Cassis. The chef, Alexandre Sourou, comes to each table to explain the evening’s dishes (either in French or Spanish, but I translated from Spanish to English and Alex corrected me when I made mistakes).

Chef Alex Explains

Chef Alexandre Sourou Explains the Dishes

JB couldn’t resist the raw oysters. Fresh seafood is not easily found in Buenos Aires. And two Louisiana natives in a French restaurant in Buenos Aires are not going to pass up seafood, so I ordered the coquille aux fruits de mer. Both appetizers were amazing.

Raw Oysters from Patagonia

Raw Oysters from Patagonia

The coquille aux fruits de mer was packed with scallops, mussels, clams, and shrimp in a creamy gratin sauce that had just the right amount of crunch on top.

Coquille aux Fruits de Mer

Coquille aux Fruits de Mer

We both ordered gamey main courses: stuffed quail and venison. You can find venison, lamb, boar, and quail in some restaurants here in Buenos Aires, but they aren’t very common. The preparation was beautiful and the doneness was perfect, as one would expect from a French chef.

Venison with side of veggies

Venison with side of veggies

Stuffed quail

Stuffed quail

Chef Alex has headed Les Anciens Combattants for roughly five years, but his father was the chef here for ten years and some of the recipes are his. The waiter, Lolu, likes to point out when the recipe is from Alex’s father. They are from the Toulouse area in France and a lot of the dishes have a Toulouse touch that’s unmistakable.

We don’t usually order desserts because we tend to not leave enough room, but the desert options sounded so good that we had to indulge ourselves. JB ordered crepes that were served with a bit of liquor and glazed orange rinds.

Crepes to die for

Crepes to die for

I ordered a dish created by Alex’s father, tomate confit served with a mint liquor and ginger. It was out of this world!

Tomate confit with mint and ginger

Tomate confit with mint and ginger

The wine list was about six pages long and had a nice variety of types and prices. Our meal came out to roughly 450 pesos (about $120 USD). The venison was almost double the price of the other entrees (about 70 pesos) and that bumped our bill up significantly. So while Les Anciens isn’t cheap, the average entree cost around 30 -35 pesos which means it you could spend a lot less and eat one of the best meals in the city.

After dinner, Lolu showed us around the house. He explained that it was built as a guest house for the Canale family that lived in Recoleta about 100 years ago. After the Second World War, it was used to house French soldiers (Argentine-French) who returned from the war. It’s worth it just to visit the house and have dinner in such a stunning setting, but add to that Alexandre Sourou’s talent and I say this is one of the best kept secrets of Buenos Aires. Bon appetit!

Rating: Amazing *****
Chef: Alexandre Sourou
Barrio: Constitucion (about a 10 peso cab ride from San Telmo)
Address: Santiago del Estero, 1435
Phone: 4305-1701
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, evenings (starting at 9:00)
Payment Methods: Only cash

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La Reserva Ecológica

Rain and more rain. We didn’t get to go to La Reserva this weekend. Why not write about it?

So, JB and I have been living in San Telmo for about a month now and after falling in love with the architecture, the fabulous market (where they even have cilantro and mint ALL THE TIME!), the street vendors and musicians, the dark corners, the fancy and not-so-fancy restaurants, a pretty good Middle Eastern restaurant (which we’ll have to write about some other time), what’s really sold us on San Telmo after two years in Palermo is La Reserva.

La Reserva

There are tons of beautiful parks in Buenos Aires, but La Reserva is in a league of its own. Oddly, views of the river are fairly rare in the city. That alone is reason enough to love La Reserva (images here). Trek around the over 5-mile trail (map here) on foot or bike, or pack a picnic with goodies from San Telmo’s market or bakeries and watch the cargo ships go by. There are plenty of spots along the trail with benches, picnic tables, or rocky shores where you can be alone, another rare event in this immense city.

La Reserva is closed on Mondays and also closed during and after big rainstorms. It opens at 8:00 AM and closes at 6:00 PM in winter and 7:00 PM in summer.

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New Digs… La Cupula!

It’s a holiday weekend and what weather we are having! I’ve just come back from a trip home to Louisiana where it was cooler than here in Buenos Aires today. I love it!

So, what have we been up to? Well, besides visiting the family back home, I’ve spent the past few months looking for an apartment, getting it set up and learning more than I ever wanted to know about the art of getting stuff done in Buenos Aires. By stuff done, I mean things like getting the Internet hooked up, heaters working (which we don’t even need yet), hooking up the hot water, sealing leaks in the roof, finding a technician to work on our fridge which was freezing everything… really fun stuff like that.

Long-term apartment rentals here don’t work the same way they do in the States. They aren’t painted and readied up for the new tenants. Your phone may or may not work. Your toilet may spray water at the wall when you flush it. It’s quite an adventure. I went through it two years ago in the last place I rented. And here I am again, spending my days on the phone with the operators of the various companies to see just when they think they may come by…

“You’re on the list.”
“Great, so they’re coming today?”
“They’ll call you.”
“But my phone doesn’t work.”
“They’ll ring the doorbell.”
“That doesn’t work either. This is why I’m calling you to see when they’ll come.”

We haven’t had Internet for about two months even though we placed the order the first week of April. Seriously! We’ve been waiting for seven weeks for the guy to bring us the modem. One day, they called us just to let us know that they would be calling. They didn’t call. Then we learned that you can actually pick the modem up yourself. Ah, but there’s a catch. If you’ve already ordered Internet and you’re on the list, you cannot come by to pick it up. You have to cancel your order and then order it again 72 hours later and tell them that you want to come to pick up the modem yourself.

Ok, I don’t have that much to complain about because I love the new place. It’s in the same building as the Loft and the Pad, the two apartments Natalia, Gonzalo and I rent out. In fact, since we had no hot water and our fridge was freezing everything, we stayed in the Loft for the first week.

Here’s what sold me on the new digs…..we’re on the top floor and we have a dome! A dome! (On our Flickr site you can see our process–still ongoing–of making the Cupula a home.)

THE DOME!

JB hated the place when he first saw it, but I begged him to give it a chance. I mean, when will we ever live in an apartment with a dome again in our lives? It’s taken a lot of work to make it livable, but JB and I have hosted our first guest. His sister made her first trip overseas and we may have even convinced her to see if her company would transfer her to Buenos Aires. Now, that’s a successful visit!

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