Monday, February 19, 2007

The supermarket as a window into the heart of a city


Banderas de la República Argentina y Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires

Supermercado Coto
Avenida Cabildo, Barrio Nuñez
Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires
República de la Argentina

Item: In the 15 items or less check out line, a woman in her late 60s or early 70s removes one item at a time from the small, hand-held, blue, supermarket basket and places each one carefully in front of the cashier so it can be scanned, all the while keeping an eye on the subtotal as it steadily climbs. She has obviously calculated well in advance the precise amount of money she can spend, because when the total reaches her budgeted amount, she hands the remaining items to the cashier and asks her to please have them returned to the shelf. She then opens a small change purse, extracts two small denomination bills, and counts out small change in the exact amount. The cashier accepts the money, checks to make sure it is correct, finalizes the transaction, and gives the woman her receipt, which she then folds and tucks away in her change purse. The cashier, a young and very courteous woman, thanks the older woman with a smile, and hands her two plastic bags. The older woman then picks her way through the small group of shoppers, store employees, and security guards in the front of the store to the automatic doors leading to the very busy street.

Item: Outside the store, on the curb, just to the left of the front entrance, a short Bolivian or Peruvian woman with pronounced buck teeth, has a sidewalk display of small quantities of vegetables and fruits, of roughly the same variety and often of a superior quality to those offered in the produce section of the supermarket, but that sell for approximately 20% less, neatly arranged in wooden boxes. Three women and two men are queued up waiting for a fourth woman to complete and pay for her selection. A member of the woman's family has a display just to the side of and across the sidewalk from the produce display, against the outside wall of the supermarket. This display features DVD's of most, if not all, of the latest movies showing in the first-run theaters.

Item: Just inside and to the right of the supermarket's front entrance, numerous store employees, all young males, congregate around stacks of white plastic baskets each containing numerous plastic sacks of groceries. Each stack carries a hand-written piece of paper showing an address, with a copy of a cash register receipt stapled to it. They are organizing home deliveries, a service which virtually every retail outlet in Buenos Aires, from supermarkets to pharmacies to ice cream stores to hardware stores, provides free of charge. (Note: Buenos Aires is the ONLY place I have seen in my travels where every McDonalds offers home delivery.)

Item: Soft drinks in Coto, as in supermarkets everywhere, occupy a great deal of shelf space. In Coto, they fill full five head-high shelves that run almost the width of the store. Directly across the aisle, occupying a space of almost identical size, is an enormous variety of different brands of mate.

According to Wikipedia...

Mate (pronounced /'ma.te/) is a highly caffeinated infusion prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) in hot water. It is the national drink in Uruguay and Argentina[1] and a common social practice in Paraguay and parts of Chile and Brazil.

Mate gourd with bombilla

Item: A shopper, after all of his items have been rung up, produces a 100 peso note in payment. The cashier immediately asks if he has any smaller denomination bills, or, if not, the correct amount of small change. The shopper responds in the negative and the cashier reluctantly accepts the 100 peso note. After holding it up to the light and carefully examining it to insure its authenticity, the cashier rings for assistance from the supervisor who circulates among the cashiers at the front of the store. A few minutes later when the supervisor arrives, the cashier shows her the 100 peso note. The supervisor takes it and disappears into a small office just to the side of the front entrance. She returns a minute or two later with change for the note in bills and coins. The cashier completes the transaction and hands the correct change to the customer.

Labels: , , ,


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sofia from the 16th floor

The office of the project that oversees my work in Sofia is on the 16th floor of the NDK Building, adjacent to the National Cultural Center, at the south end of Bulgaria Plaza, both of which serve as the anchor for the south end of the city center. I often work there on weekends and after hours, taking advantage of their broadband internet access.



When I was here in late January and early February, the pollution of winter, significantly worsened by the extremely cold weather, made photos like this impossible. With the arrival of spring and fresh breezes from the slopes of Mt. Vitosha, the beauty and variety of the city can be much better appreciated. The large, u-shaped white building in the second photo from the top is the Hilton Hotel. Note the still snow-capped Mt. Vitosha looming over the city in the bottom photo.


These scenes of a bustling city contrast sharply with the locked-down feeling of just over a week ago when the NATO Foreign Ministers gathered for a two-day meeting in Sofia.

Where can you go in the world these days without stumbling over a McDonalds? Sofia is no exception. I've counted at least five franchises just in my brief walkabouts. Note the Cyrllic script version of the famous name just to the left of the more familiar version.


After darkness fell, I was startled by a number of sudden and unexpected explosions. I jumped to the window and was able to catch the end of a fairly outstanding fireworks display.


Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sunday photo-blogging: Sofia, Bulgaria

It may have been the last day of April but it was damn chilly! The clouds and stiff breeze didn't help. Nippy weather, however, never seems to stop the good locals from getting out and about. When I was here in February, the main streets were crowded with pedestrians even at -20C! It's much easier to talk myself into a walk when everyone else is doing it, so, that's precisely what I did. Here's a flavor of the city on an early - chilly - Sunday afternoon.

Sofia Chinese Restaurant
Vassil Levski Blvd

Often when the restaurant sign contains English, it will read "Chines" food.

11th Century Eastern Orthodox Church
Vitosha Street, Sofia

15th Century Jewish Synagogue
Behind Central Hall, Sofia

The Orthodox Church, the Synagogue and an Islamic Mosque are all within three blocks of each other. I will get a shot of the Mosque and post it later.

My friend, S, writing postcards
Central Hall, Sofia

Note the Subway franchise on the second level. There's no escaping the United States no matter how far away you may go.


Friday, April 21, 2006

The former YUGO-slavia

Without going into all of the details, for over ten years after the breakup of Yugoslavia, the Republic of Macedonia was called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), and, as far as the Greeks are concerned, that will always be its name because the name MACEDONIA, by god, belongs to the Greeks, period, end of report. Everyone might want to note, however, that there's still plenty of "YUGO" left in Macedonia as evidenced by these pictures taken on Thursday, 20 April, in Macedonia's capital city, Skopje.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Bulgarian Martenitza

I've been sadly absent from this blog. My camera crapped out (a lame excuse) and I've been preoccupied with my news and political blog (an even lamer excuse). However, today, I received an email from a friend in Sofia, Bulgaria, and it was so nice and friendly and interesting, I simply couldn't resist putting it up to share.

Bulgarian Martenitza


The Story of Bulgarian Martenitza

In Bulgaria we have a very interesting tradition and it is related to the 1st of March. It is not a big holiday, but it is more traditional than celebration and is based on the founding of Bulgaria, 681 AD.

The month of March according to Bulgarian folk belief marks the beginning of the springtime. Therefore the 1st day of March is a traditional holiday associated with sending off the winter and welcoming the spring.

The tradition is that on the 1st of March and the days after all people give to each other very interesting strips or small wool dalls called Pijo and Penda, or as we call them Martenitzi. They bring the name of March, in Bulgarian Mart. But according to our tradition, behind the name Mart stands an angry old lady who changes her mood very rapidly. Her name is Grandma Marta, in Bulgarian Baba Marta.

The ancient roots of this ritual honor the God Mars, who is the God of the spring and later the God of the war. People in the very beginning of our century were fighting a lot. Usually the wars started at the beginning of March, and most of the warriors had to leave their homes. The women were so unhappy, and afraid about the lives of their men. That is why they decided to give to their husbands red and white tokens, which were either red and white cloth strips for the hand, or small woolen figures of a white girl and a red boy. The colours represent the blood of the warriors, which their wifes didn't want spilled, and the white colour the pale faces of their women waiting for the warriors to come back home. The exchange of these tokens was made for two reasons: the first one was to remind the men about their families and the second - to please Baba Marta, so she would not change her mood so friquently: in other words, so that the warriors would not have a lot of problems with the weather and die because of frost.

That was remained almost the same today as it began. Today we give the red and white colours only to please Baba Marta, not to make us cold. In doing so, we hope the spring will come as soon as possible. Once we have those tokens, which we put on our cloths or wrist, we wear them until we see a stork. After seeing this bird, we have to take away the tokens, cause the stork is showing us that the spring is already here. In the different parts of the country, however, the process of taking away the token is different. Some ties it on a fruit tree, thus giving the tree the health and luck that we had while having the token. Others are putting it under a stone. The kind of insect we find right next to the token the next day will determine our health for the rest of the year. If it is a worm, it will be a very healthy year, and we'll have success. It is the same in with an ant; the difference is that we'll have to work a lot to reach success. If it is a spider, then we are in trouble and we might not have that luck with health and personal success.

The "martenitza" is also an odd artistic image of nature. At that period of the year, nature is full of hopes and expectations. It also symbolized the purity of the white snow going away and the red settings of the sun becoming more and more intensive with the coming spring. These two natural resources are necessary for the life as well as the male and female spirits.

A decoration with "martenitzi" is the most typical and unique Bulgarian tradition. Now the "martenitza" symbolized new life, conception, fertility, and spring. This holiday is for joy, health and long life. This Bulgarian tradition is pure and bright like the colours of the "martenitza". It shows us the neceessity of harmony in nature and in people's lives. This is the sincere message from the "martenitza".


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Buenos Aires classic vehicles

I am not a fanatic about classic cars but i know what i like. I think it started when my grandmother would ride me around in her 1936 Studebaker, a great silver-gray chariot with a sloping, chrome grill, headlights mounted prominently on sloping silver-gray fenders, horse-hair upholstery, a back seat area suitable for football games, and, most impressive of all to a small boy, a footrest mounted on the rear of the front seat that could be lowered up and down like a kneeler in church.

There are quite a few classic cars, trucks and other interesting forms of transportation in Buenos Aires. The predominant auto model seems to be old Ford Falcons. While I've had plenty of opportunity to photograph the Falcon, for some reason, I never have. Without bothering to get into arcana, I thought I'd offer a few of those that have caught my eye.

For starters, a classic Valiant...



A classic old Ford pickup keeping company with a classic old Mercedes...


What can you say about this VW bus, decked out to look like a dog. I regret that I didn't get a photo of the rear which sported a tail. The sign in the window says it's for sale.


About the only place you'd see a bus like this in the U.S. these days would be in a junkyard.


A little bonus with the bus picture is the "Route U.S. 66" sign on the wall of the building in the background.


Quite a few furniture movers have their offices and live along Avenida Forest near Federico Lacroze and Fraga. Here's one of their trucks.


I've passed this car countless times on my walks, it's always parked in the same spot, and doesn't seem to be driven very often. I've noticed, however, that the owner tends to shine it up in the warmer weather.


Here's a close-up of the logo on the hood and a shot of the rally sticker from the back window.


And, last but not least, my favorite, the Citroen Charleston, obviously a well-cared for vehicle.



Saturday, August 27, 2005

October elections...? Time to fix up the city...!

Like every city government most everywhere in the world, when elections roll around, Buenos Aires starts fixing up the streets and sprucing up the parks. Message: See how well we take care of our residents and don't forget it when you go to the polls!

Production, Tourism and Sustainable Development
Government of the City of Buenos Aires
Recovery of Green Spaces
Parque Centenario
Remodeling and improving the value of Parque Centenario
You want to take care of where we live
We are doing it today

The good news is that Buenos Aires, despite the 17m folks living in the greater metro area, has a number of really terrific parks and open spaces to be proud of.


Parque Centenario

Work underway at Parque los Andes

Plaza 25 de Agosto


Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Ohrid Wine and Cheese Festival

Ohrid, Macedonia
July 30 and 31, 2005

A happy weekend on Lake Ohrid in the Balkans, only a 30-minute drive from the Albanian border and a short 3-hour drive from Kosovo.


Nothing about prisoner abuse and torture.


Only a boy fishing on the promenade by the lake.


Nothing about a spiraling death toll in Iraq.


Just a chance to sample great wine.


Nothing about genocide in Darfur.


Just a chance to taste some really good cheese.


Nothing about demonizing gays.


But maybe some motorized parasailing in a bright, blue sky.


No sign of a world leader shaking his fist at the rest of the world.


Celebrating instead the traditions of Macedonian folk dance.


Definitely a good use of our time on this earth.

Wouldn't you agree?


Saturday, July 23, 2005

A sidewalk tribute to New York City

in Belgrade, Serbia...

there i was, sitting at an outdoor cafe on the pedestrian mall in belgrade (beograd), enjoying a capuccino on a drizzly saturday, when what should catch my eye

but a photo tribute to new york city featuring the lyrics of the famous song - posted on a construction fence...

(more here)

Start spreading the news,
I'm leaving today,
I want to be a part of it - New York, New York

These vagabond shoes
Are longing to stray
Right through the very heart of it

New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city that doesn't sleep

And find I'm king of the hill - top of the heap
These little town blues
Are melting away

I'll make a brand new start of it
In old New York
If I can make it there
I'll make it anywhere

It's up to you - New York, New York
New York, New York
I want to wake up in a city that never sleeps
And find I'm "A Number 1," top of the list, king of the hill

"A Number 1"
These little town blues
Are melting away
I'm gonna make a brand new start of it

In old New York
And if I can make it there
I'm gonna make it anywhere
It's up to you

New York, New York


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Exploring Buenos Aires (by shank's mare and subway) - profmarcus

An unconventional guide to a fascinating city...

Getting Around
Buenos Aires Design Center
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Cementerio Recoleta
Palermo Parks
Palermo Hollywood
Palermo Soho
Costanera Ecological Preserve
Buquebus hydrofoil ferry
Colonia, Uruguay
Feria Chacarita (new photo)
Cementerio Chacarita
Abasto (new photo)
Feria San Telmo
Eating (new photos)
Home Delivery
Internet and Phone
Taxis (new photo)
A Typical Neighborhood (new)

(enter here)

Buenos Aires - the port city

Looking out over Buenos Aires

There may be well over 15 million people in greater Buenos Aires (Gran Buenos Aires) but there is no need to be intimidated by its size. Yes, a lot of it is densely packed but somehow you never feel suffocated. The "busy-ness" is easily outweighed by the friendly people (many of them chatting on the sidewalks), the neighborhoods (Buenos Aires is virtually a city of neighborhoods) each with its own unique feel, the greenery (many streets are tree-lined and the parks are a treasure), the ease of getting around, and the many, many things to see and do. Even if your idea of relaxing is sitting around reading a good book over a cup of coffee, you will be in good company. Porteños, as the residents are known (literally, port city dwellers), love their cafés (confiterias) and their coffee and spend hours enjoying both. Needless to say, the people-watching is world-class.

Brujas ("Witches") Pizza Bar in Palermo Hollywood, a typical Porteño eatery and hang-out

My idea of getting to know a place is to jump right in to the local day-to-day comings and goings whether it be grocery shopping, going to work or school, browsing the mall, or just riding around on the subway. In Buenos Aires, there's no better way to do that than walking and using public transportation. Public transportation in BsAs (the accepted abbreviation for Buenos Aires) is excellent. Whether it's subway, train, taxi or bus, it's fast, reliable, safe, comfortable and inexpensive. Doctors, lawyers, laborers, storekeepers, professors, housewives, lovers, musicians, secretaries, schoolkids, and senior citizens all rub shoulders on busses, trains, and the subway and seem to be perfectly content to do it too.

Subte, Estación Palermo

I’ve spent many, many hours exploring BsAs. Mostly, I’ve done it by walking and taking advantage of the terrific Subte (short for “Subterraneo”) system. This is a short, illustrated guide for those who, like me, enjoy getting out and about in the company of those who know a place best - the ones who live there. The suggestions I've sketched out here would keep the average person well-occupied for about a week, more or less, and that's assuming stout legs and an adventuresome spirit.

Getting around

First of all…

Be sure to get yourself a good (detailed, not just main thoroughfares), pocket-size street map that includes the Subte system.

BsAs Microcentro/"Downtown" (sample of detailed street map)

(For ease of orientation, the center and starting point for this guide is the intersection of Avenidas Santa Fe and Pueyrredón in Recoleta, the center of most everything. This would be a good time to check your map to make sure you know where I'm talking about.)

Once you've figured out where you are, go to the Pueyrredón Subte station and buy yourself a ten-trip Subtepass. This saves you from standing in line each time you want to go somewhere. (Tip: Always carry plenty of small change - 10 and 20 peso notes and smaller. NOBODY wants to give you change unless you're buying something and even then, if it's a small purchase and you offer a 50 or a 100-peso note, you will invariably be asked if you have something smaller.)

Subtecard (This is the rechargeable Subtecard for use in the system’s electronic card readers. Note: The 10-ride Subtepass is printed on card stock, not plastic, and has a different appearance.)

The Subte fare is approximately is 70 centavos (25 U.S. cents) per ride. Subte line "D" goes up and down Avenida Santa Fe (Santa Fe turns into Avenida Cabildo as it passes through Palermo) from Belgrano to the Microcentro. At roughly Avenida Pueyrredón it jogs to the Microcentro and ends at the Estación Catedral. Your days will often begin and end with Línea D.

Subte map: Teal - Line A; Red - Line B; Blue - Line C;
Green - Line D; Violet - Line E (click on map for larger view)

The Subte has its own TV system that not only keeps you up-to-date on system status and train frequencies, it also shows news and entertainment (and, unfortunately, commercials too, although some of the public service ads are terrific - a psa on condoms comes to mind). The rechargeable Subte card can also be used to purchase goods and services in Subte stations and to obtain discounts at movie theaters, restaurants and other establishments. Most all Subte cars have scrolling marquees that announce the next stop and some even tell you on which side of the car the doors will open! It's perhaps the cleanest, most efficient, most reliable, and cheapest system I've ever ridden.

Interior of Subte car showing scrolling marquee

Things to do and see

The very first thing to do, preferably the day you arrive, is visit the Ateneo bookstore. On Avenida Santa Fe between Avenidas Callao and Riobamba, the Ateneo is splendidly quartered in a beautifully restored theater dating from the days when even movie theaters were luxury venues. Have a cup of coffee (their coffee shop occupies the former stage) while you're nursing your jet lag and bask in one of the best bookstore atmospheres to be found anywhere. Cross the street to Restaurant La Farola for a good meal.

Interior of Ateneo

Something for a long day or perhaps two...

Walk to Cementerio Recoleta from Santa Fe and Pueyrredón.

Cementerio Recoleta (area bounded by Avenidas Vicente Lopez, Junín, Pueyrredón and Del Libertador)

In Recoleta you can see the tomb of Eva Peron and the "fantabulous" tomb architecture laid out like an exclusive neighborhood in a miniature city. From there, you can walk to the Buenos Aires Design Center where beautiful, innovative and expensive home decor items are featured in numerous locales (stores) in an old but thoroughly and creatively rehabbed setting complete with outdoor cafes where you can indulge in the BsAS pastime of people-watching.

Buenos Aires Design Center

From the Design Center, cross Avenida del Libertador (if you cross Avenida Alcorta, you've gone too far), and you'll be almost on top of the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the country's premier fine arts museum.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

Standing in front of the museum as you're facing the street, turn and walk to your right. In the next block or so to your right you will see the parks that parallel Libertador. Walk through them and when you emerge look for Avenida Aguado. Follow Aguado almost to Alcorta and then take a left on Ortiz De Ocampo and look for Avenida Castex on your right.

Avenidas Aguado, Ortiz De Ocampo and Castex

Walk along Castex (the street takes a jog in the middle) and you will come to more parks. At that point, you can literally walk through parks all the way to Avenida de Los Incas, not on the maps here but, trust me, quite a hike.

Palermo parks and attractions

Along the way, you will pass the Japanese Garden (Jardín Japonés), the planetarium, the zoo (Jardín Zoológico - as you're walking, the zoo is a fair walk off to the left in an adjacent park), the Botanical Garden (Jardín Botánico, again to the left, beyond the zoo), the rose garden (Rosedal), the Hipodromo, the horse club, the golf club, and people walking, talking, sunning, picnicking and, of course, playing fútbol.

Japanese Garden (Jardín Japonés)

Rose Garden (Rosedal)

Along the way, there are statues, small lakes, fountains, plazas, plenty of open space, lots of greenery, and the ubiquitous paseaperros (professional dog walkers) who may have as many as 20 on the leash at once, all happy and wagging their tails. (Watch your step, always - parks, sidewalks, everywhere...!)


At any point you can break out of the parks to your left and get refreshed at an outdoor cafe along Libertador or on one of the side streets. When your feet have had it, break out your Subtepass, locate the nearest station on Avenida Santa Fe/Cabildo (be sure to take the direction "Trenes a Catedral") and head back to your stop in Recoleta.

Avenida Santa Fe/Cabildo

Some Friday or Saturday night...

If you have the adventuresome spirit, take Subte Linea D to the Plaza Italia station (direction “Trenes a Congreso de Tucuman”). Cross Avenida Santa Fe and continue on Santa Fe in the same direction the train was heading (Congreso de Tucuman).

Avenidas Santa Fe, Godoy Cruz, Honduras and Juan B. Justo

After a few blocks, you will see the club, "New Metropolis" (Avenida Santa Fe 4389). This is one of several popular venues for the music that virtually every Argentine teen-ager listens to and goes wild over - Cumbia Villera (literally, "ghetto cumbia"). It has some of elements of rap but I find it a lot more enjoyable, a lot more musical, and have even picked up some cd's.

New Metropolis

One of the most interesting things, to me at least, is just how much fun these kids have. They don't have the angry, belligerent facade of so many American teens. They're a bit more relaxed and seem to be generally happier. Don't even think of showing up before 11 p.m.

Cumbia Villera group at Fantastico Bailable, another Cumbia
Villera venue

If you want to notch up your adventure a bit, before you go to New Metropolis, stay on Line D to the next station, Palermo. Intersecting Avenida Santa Fe at the Palermo station is Avenida Godoy Cruz. If you walk up Godoy Cruz without crossing Santa Fe, you will see old, graffiti-covered walls on one side with the up-and-coming trendiness of Palermo Soho on the other. If you time it right, between 9:30 and 10 at night, before you tackle New Metropolis, you will witness one of the best transvestite street shows anywhere. I accidentally stumbled across this interesting scene one cold (for BsAs) winter's night in July and was quite astonished. They’re out for pick-ups, of course, but they’re polite, funny and definitely having a good time. To be sure, this isn’t something you'll run across just anywhere. (If you’d rather not get hit on, you might want to consider a taxi rather than walking. You’ll be hit on in a taxi too but escape is quicker. Please note - I’ve never, ever had personal safety problems walking in BsAs but, as everywhere, dress like a local and act like you know where you're going and what you're doing – even if you don’t.)

La Chochona Restaurant in Palermo Soho

If you keep walking up Godoy Cruz until the walls end, there’s a street where you can turn right (Avenida Honduras) that will take you across the commuter rail tracks and to the major street that parallels Godoy Cruz on the other side, Avenida Juan B. Justo. Cross J.B. Justo, staying on Honduras, and you will be in the thick of Palermo Hollywood, even trendier, believe it or not, than Palermo Soho. Palermo Soho and its upstart sibling, Palermo Hollywood, are both great fun if you like nifty little bistros, art galleries, unique designer clothing and mingling with the BsAs “in” crowd.

Any day...

Take Linea D to the end, Estación Catedral (direction "Trenes a Catedral"). When you emerge from the station, you will be across from Plaza de Mayo. From there you can see the "Pink House" (Casa Rosada), the seat of Argentina's government and, of course, the expansive plaza.

Casa Rosada

Keep walking toward Rio de la Plata, cross Avenidas Madero and Goritti. To cross Goritti, you will have to walk either left or right along the causeway until you reach a bridge. Once across the bridge, you will be in Puerto Madero, an area reclaimed from the river by dumping Subte construction debris.

Avenida Madero appears as Avenida Huergo
on this map. Goritti runs parallel to Madero
on one side and to the river channel on the
other. (See following picture.)

Downtown Buenos Aires viewed
from Puerto Madero

If you keep on heading toward the river, you will come to the Costanera ecological preserve, a terrific natural area with lots and lots of hiking paths, wildlife, birds, trees, pampa grass, and other native flora and fauna all of which colonized the area on top of the debris. With commendable foresight, it was declared a preserve rather than handing it over to developers.

Costanera Ecological Preserve

Costanera Ecological Preserve

Any day...

Take the Buquebus hydrofoil ferry to Colonia, Uruguay. (Note: The round-trip fare isn’t in the bargain category.) You will depart from the Buquebus ferry terminal at Darsena Norte on the western end of Puerto Madero, about 8-9 blocks from the Catedral Subte station.

Darsena Norte denoted by

The ferry leaves about 11:30 a.m. and you should be there by 10-10:30 to get a ticket. The hydrofoil (made in Australia) is a marvel and it flat-out FLIES. It shaves the regular ferry ride from 3 hrs to 1 and is a most pleasurable experience.

Buquebus Ferry "Atlantic III"

There's a buffet restaurant onboard and the duty free shop would put a lot of airports to shame. Try to be one of the first onboard so you can get a window seat.

Passenger seating area, Buquebus
Ferry "Atlantic III"

Colonia is a great walking town and you can walk from the ferry terminal into town and back without breaking a sweat. There’s some great eating along the main drag and the UNESCO World Heritage site in the old town is definitely worth exploring. If you want to return to BsAs that day, the ferry leaves at 5:30 but keep in mind that Uruguay is one hour ahead of BsAs. There are some nice-looking hotels if you want to spend a night or two.

Decorative bus bench
Colonia, Uruguay

UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site
Old town, Colonia, Uruguay

For a Saturday or a Sunday...

Take Subte Linea D to Estación 9 de Julio and follow the signs for Linea B, direction "Trenes a Los Incas." (Pay close attention. It’s a bit of a walk and it can be confusing.) Take Linea B to Estación Dorrego. When you emerge on Avenida Corrientes, you will be across the street from the big Chacarita Saturday fair (Feria Chacarita) in Parque Los Andes.

Parque Los Andes with
Cementerio Chacarita in
upper left

This is a bona-fide BsAs flea market and a gringo is a rarity. Just walk around and enjoy. There’s everything from genuine antiques to fishing equipment to cell phone chargers (along with batteries to fit every model ever made and probably some that haven’t been invented yet), artisan items, food stalls, on and on.

Feria Chacarita

If you continue walking up Corrientes and follow the street that jogs to the left, you will come to Cementerio Chacarita, bigger than Cementerio Recoleta, and great for strolling. You can visit the tomb of Carlos Gardel, the famous tango singer, whose life-size statue often features a lit cigarette between his fingers.

Cementerio de la Chacarita

Across the street is the Federico Lacroze Subte and commuter train station where you can catch the Subte back to Estación Carlos Gardel (direction "Trenes a L.N. Alem"). Estación Carlos Gardel has direct access to the Abasto shopping center, a magnificent structure that, after being empty and neglected for many years, was completely re-done by investors (one of them being George Soros). It used to be the central vegetable market for BsAS. Be sure to go outside and walk around it to get the full benefit of the splendid architecture.

Abasto at night

Abasto has a great food court, a multi-screen cinema, a first-class arcade, and even amusement park rides. In the surrounding streets, you can find everything related to Argentine tango, Argentine crafts and Argentine artisan items including leather goods and accessories for the culture (and obsession) of maté. (Maté is a hot drink similar to tea and requires a much lengthier treatment than is possible here. Besides, a much better and considerably more pleasant way to learn about maté is to engage a Porteńo in conversation.)

Abasto looking down on food court

When you tire of Abasto, you can hop on the Subte and re-trace your morning journey back to Recoleta. (Direction "Trenes a L.N. Alem," change for Line D at Estación Diagonal Norte, direction “Trenes a Congreso de Tucuman.”)

For a Sunday...

Take Subte Linea D to Estación 9 de julio (direction "Trenes a Catedral") and follow the signs to Linea C (direction "Trenes a Constitucion"). Get off at Estación San Juan. When you exit the station, you will most likely be disoriented but that's ok. Just be sure to consult your map. Do NOT cross Avenida Bernardo de Irigoyen or the huge street that runs next to it, Avenida 9 de Julio. Instead, find Avenida San Juan (it runs at a 90-degree angle to Irigoyen) and walk down it AWAY from Irigoyen and 9 de Julio until you reach Avenida Defensa where you will turn left until you run into Plaza Dorrego.

Avenidas 9 De Julio, Bernardo De Irigoyen,
San Juan, and Defensa

You can't miss Plaza Dorrego because that's where the San Telmo flea market (Feria de San Telmo) will be in full swing. Unfortunately, that's also where tourists tend to congregate but it's still a must-see.

Plaza Dorrego and Feria San Telmo

If you keep walking down Defensa one block to Carlos Calvo and take a left, on the opposite side of the street almost at the next corner is the Mercado San Telmo, not so many tourists and loaded with all kinds of interesting things. It's an original but, then, so is San Telmo.


Breakfast –
  • cortado (small espresso cut with hot water and a little sugar), café con leche, cappuccino, doble espresso, café frappe, or you-name-your-coffee, all rich and full of flavor…
  • medialunas (half-moons) are basically croissants (but substantial, not fluffy) that come in two varieties, grasa (literally, “grease,” signifying ingredient rather than mode of preparation) and manteca (butter)…
Most confiterias (delis, coffee shops, cafes) offer some kind of combo deal on coffee and medialunas.

Lunch –

Many restaurants and confiterias offer a “menu del dia,” the daily special, usually good, filling and cheap. Be sure to check the menus too because they’re usually extensive.

Dinner –

There’s no end of restaurants and they range from local, family-type establishments to the big, fancy and expensive. I prefer the former. You can always tell a good place to eat the same way you pick good eateries everywhere else in the world - by how many people are inside. A national dish, ñoquis, flour dumplings served with a rich sauce of your choice, is delicious, hearty, and deadly for the waistline. The locals love pizza and there are more pizza places, both eat-in and carry-out, than you can imagine. Again, the rule of thumb: the more heavily patronized, the better. Note: Porteños have a horror of eating dinner before 9:30-10 p.m. and many don’t even head out until after 11. The good places are packed on Friday and Saturday nights.

Ice cream –

I would be terribly negligent and probably also in denial if I didn’t mention the abundance of excellent heladerias (ice cream shops), featuring the real homemade stuff, that are everywhere, often two or three to a block.

A sample of ice cream flavors

Cooking for yourself –

Go crazy. The big supermarket chains (Coto, Norte, Plaza Vea) have everything imaginable. The bigger stores are European-style hypermarts with clothing, hardware, and just about everything else.The Coto on Cabildo just down from Avenida Federico Lacroze is a real adventure as is the one across the street from the Abasto shopping mall. There are smaller, mom-and-pop supermercados on every block. Immigrant Chinese and Koreans have snared a chunk of this niche market. And, of course, there are specialty meat and vegetable markets, fresh pasta stores, and wonderful bakeries.

Coto at Abasto

Unsolicited restaurant recommendation –

For a place that has genuine Argentine parillada and asado (mixed grill and barbecue), a friendly neighborhood atmosphere, local (as opposed to gringo) prices, no gringos, good food, and a nice selection of Argentine wines, Restaurant Don Lechón can't be beat. (By the way, if you enjoy good wine, Argentine wines are one of the better-kept secrets and ridiculously inexpensive!)

Restaurant Don Lechón

Don Lechón sits where the Villas (city government subsectors) of Colegiales and Ortuzar come together. Just give any taxi driver the name of the place and tell him it's at the intersection of Avenidas Elcano and Alvarez Thomas. Go after 9 p.m.

Restaurant Don Lechon denoted by *

Home delivery…

Note for the couch potato: Literally EVERYTHING that is available for purchase in Buenos Aires can be ordered via phone and delivered to your door. It doesn’t matter whether it’s fast food, restaurant food, groceries, pharmacy items, hardware, or anything else, EVERYBODY delivers “sin cargo” (“without charge”).

Internet and phone…

No problem here. Particularly when you get out of the Microcentro (downtown), “cibers” (internet cafes) and locutorios (telephone storefront businesses that often have internet available and, frequently, bill-paying services as well) are omnipresent. The cibers often cater to kids and teens and feature a huge selection of juegos en red (networked computer games) and sometimes arcade games. The locutorios tend to draw a more adult clientele and consequently are a bit more expensive than the cibers (1.5 - 2 pesos per hour vs. 1 peso per hour for the cibers). For the most part, if you patronize an internet business in one of the more upscale neighborhoods (Palermo, Belgrano, etc.) and/or downtown, you will pay more (2 - 2.5 pesos an hour). Phone calls to the U.S. are roughly 1.5 - 2 pesos a minute.

Locutorio with internet


The black and yellow BsAs taxis are terrific. They cruise the streets in packs, looking for fares. The drivers are often older gentlemen, friendly and helpful. All taxis are fare-regulated and the most I ever paid was 13 pesos ($4.50 U.S.) and that was to go from one end of town to the other. You can flag them down anywhere and you know they're available when the red "libre" (“free”) light on the upper passenger-side windshield is lit. No need to tip but if you get in or get out somewhere where someone is waiting to open the door for you, give him a peso - that's how he's making his living.

BsAs Taxi


Note: In BsAs, it's not Español (Spanish), it's "Castellano." Argentines pronounce the double-“ll” as "sh" instead of "y," so it's "Cas-ta-'shano" instead of "Cas-te-yano" and "'Vee-sha" instead of "Vee-ya" (villa). An "s" is often pronounced "sh" as well - "mash-o-'nesa" instead of "my-o-'nesa" (mayonnaise). If you've learned Mexican Spanish as I have, this takes some real adjustment. Besides all that, Porteño speech is very unique in its idioms. "Che, boludo!," which means literally, "Hey, turd!" is often used with close friends and NEVER with casual acquaintances. "Fua!" is the Porteño expression for "wow," "amazing," "holy cow," etc. Hand gestures are also interesting and most of the time don't mean what you might think. In all seriousness, I have found that the more I slur, lisp and mumble, the better I'm understood.

A typical neighborhood...

No two neighborhoods in Buenos Aires are the same. They may have a lot of the same kinds of stores and services but they all have their own unique feel. Here's a sample of a typical neighborhood in the same general area as Restaurant Don Lechón (see above), spanning Avenidas Forest, Elcano, and Alvarez Thomas.

A montage, clockwise from upper left: the pharmacy, the grocery store, the pizza parlor, and the laundry.

For some reason, the logo of this poultry shop caught my eye. The name of the store is, in English, "This is my chicken" or, in Castellano, "Este es mi pollo."

Este es mi pollo

The proprietor is in the background, waving hello.

You occasionally run across some wonderful classic cars in Buenos Aires. This old Citroen has obviously received a lot of TLC.

Classic Citroen

Argentina has a world-wide reputation for manufacturing outstanding fireworks and producing world-class displays. One of the best, Jupiter, sits on the corner of Virrey Loreto and Alvarez Thomas.

Fuegos Artificiales Jupiter

What would any neighborhood be without an occasional scene like this - a cable tv installer, trying to untangle the cable wire from a tree so he can attach it to the cable box on the upper line while leaning his metal ladder against the lower wires?

Cable installer

And, what better way to end a nice afternoon of walking around the 'hood than watching a glorious sunset from the park.


(more to come)


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.