Friday, December 24, 2010

El Campo Argentino de Polo (AKA the Cathedral of Polo)

Along with steaks and wines, Argentines are passionate about polo.* 
We may have gotten to the field a bit early.
And the biggest polo event in Argentina each year is the Campeonato Argentino Abierto de Polo held by the Asociación Argentina de Polo in Palermo, our neighborhood.  After seeing countless ads, billboards, and other promotions touting the excitement (and good-lookingness of the polistas, hello Nacho), we were in.

After our “authentic” futbol experience we decided to roll the dice and forgo the $150 USD polo tour and simply buy tickets at the box office on the day of the event.  We also decided that there had to be a much lower incidence of crime and rioting at a polo match than a futbol match.  We had chosen wisely.  For a mere $7.50 USD ticket we were granted full access to both games that were being played that day. 
Not knowing anything about polo our first stop was at the bar.  Actually, this is almost always our first stop at a sporting event, or any event for that matter.  With a beer in hand, we sauntered up to the bar and starting talking shop with the bartender.  Grilling him with pointed questions, such as:

 How many players are on the field at once?
A polo team consists of four riders and their mounts.
The (long) face-off was always a bit hectic with all 8 horses, plus the refs.
 How do you score?
You drive a small white plastic/wooden ball into the opposing team's goal using a long-handled mallet, duh.
This is about to be a goal.
Here, the white player is attempting to hook the red player.  This basic defensive technique is when a player uses their mallet to block or interfere with an opponent's swing by hooking the mallet of the other player with their own mallet.
He was a bit too slow.

Why are they always blowing the whistle and stopping play?
Because the most important rule in polo relates to the safety & security of the horse and player.  It is a foul if you put your horse in line with an oncoming horse with the angle of collision greater than 45 degrees.
It is also a foul to leap off your pony and onto another player's pony.

 How big is the field?
300 yards long, and 160 yards wide.
The field is really big.
How often do the teams switch directions?
Polo teams change direction after each goal – this cleared up a lot of confusion for us.
We didn't really care which way they were going.  Our favorite was when they reached a full gallop.
How many horses does each player have?
Actually, they are called polo ponies, not horses, and a respectable player will have at least 8 ponies.  This is also why the sport is so affordable.

With this most superficial understanding of the game we returned to milling about with the rest of the crowd in their fancy hats, pastel colored collared tees and mirrored aviator sunglasses.
Just one of the fancy polo spectators.
It was great fun watching the polo matches.  The horses were gorgeous, the games (fairly) exciting, and at the end of it Jesse promised I could buy a vaciopan (delicious flank steak sandwich) from one of the street vendors. 

Judging from the photo, perhaps Jesse should have just sent me to the gym.
A good day.

* This is perhaps so because they are really good at it.  Wikipedia notes that the Federation of International Polo caps the cumulative handicap of teams competing in the World Polo Championship to 14 goals (the top-ranked players in the world have a 10-goal handicap) because without that the Argentine National team would never lose.  Indeed, the best players in the world (often Argentine) cannot play the World Polo Championship.
This is supposedly the best player in the world. 
He enjoys a 10-goal handicap.
He is still not as good-looking as Nacho.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Real Time Update - On to Africa!

A quick pause in our regular blog posting to announce that we're in South Africa!  We're trading Spanish for English (and Afrikaans, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu), asados for braais, and horses and cows for elephants and zebras.  We'll be in sunny Cape Town and driving the Garden Route for the next two weeks, and then it's off to Dubai, Jordan and Egypt.  For now, please enjoy the rest of our posts about Buenos Aires and our three weeks in gorgeous (but freezing) Patagonia.

In other news -- while still works, you can now find us at:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Week Eight Daily Journal

Friday, November 19
Buenos Aires, Argentina

I know, it looks like we could be anywhere.
But we're at La Cocina Discreta.
The day of buses!  This morning we went to the Indian embassy (via local bus) and it was open - woo!  We sat and waited and then sat some more.  Around noon we started getting nervous- the embassy hours are 10:30-12:30 and 2:30-4:30 - but it turned out that the visa guy was going to work through lunch.  Finally he was ready for us, the last people he would see before his break, at 1:30.  We had a long chat (did I mention that Dave was dying of hunger at this point), got our visas and busted out of there!  We had lunch at Dadá, which Sarah recommended to us, which was pretty good (steak for D, salad for J).  Then we walked to the Nikon store and learned that the camera would he ready next week -yay!  Our next stop was at Ateneo, an old grand theater that has been repurposed as a bookstore.  It was pretty cool (see post Not Your Neighborhood Barnes & Nobles).  We successfully took the local bus back home.  For dinner we went (by bus!) to La Cocina Discreta, a puerto cerrado (closed door restaurant) located in a private home.  We had heard that the communal seating and informal atmosphere of this type of restaurant was a great place to meet new people.  Unfortunately, the guests that night were us and a party of 7 Argentines.  So, no new friends, although we did enjoy the 3 course dinner: caesar salad/mushroom tart, chicken tandoori/lomo in a coffee based sauce, semi freddo with fruit.

Saturday, November 20
Buenos Aires, Argentina

There was an Alice-in-Wonderland
sort of look to the restaurant
We spent the morning doing trip planning at Quimbobo, which really makes a great breakfast.  We spent the rest of the day in the park (or El Bosque (the forest) as they call it), which was really nice (see post El Bosque).  That night we splurged and went to dinner at El Bistro, the restaurant in the Phillipe Starck- designed Faena Hotel.  The hotel and restaurant were very cool and the dinner was for the most part absolutely delicious.  We told them it was Dave's birthday and got an extra free dessert.  We went to the pool bar after (very Miami Beach) and lounged on the pool chairs, although we decided to pass on the 80 peso ($20) drinks (also very Miami Beach!)

Sunday, November 21
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Today we went to the Mataderos Feria (fair) located on the edge of the city.  It took us almost an hour to get there on the (hot, crowded, nauseating) bus (but cost only $0.30 each!). This was a traditional fair the likes of which we had seen much more up on the northern Salta region than the cosmopolitan Buenos Aires region.  There was traditional dancing, empanadas, tons of leather goods, and a horse riding competition where rides galloped down a city street, attempting to snag a small hanging ring with the tiny little pencil sized stick the carried.  Lots of fun (see post Galloping Through BA)!  By the time we made it back on the city bus we were wiped out so we relaxed until it was time to go to Casa Saltshaker, another puerto cerrado run by an American expat Dan.  This one did not disappoint, with a Moroccan-themed tasting menu with wine pairings, communal seating and an atmosphere that encouraged couples to split up and people to mingle.  We ate eggplant and white bean salads, chickpea and lentil soup, couscous with vegetables and Harissa, fish tagine and coconut cake.  Afterwards we went out with some new friends to km0, a club just a few blocks away.  A late night and fun times!

Monday, November 22
Buenos Aires, Argentina

The DJ wine wall
Each bottle is signed by its drinker!
We whiled away most of the day in the apartment, recuperating from the night before, attempting to buy various plane tickets, etc.  Eventually we ventured out to Don Julio's for dinner.  Since we hadn't really eaten all day we went early, around 7:30, and had bar far our worst meal there so far.

Tuesday, November 23
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Excited for steak
This morning we found our new favorite breakfast spot, a cafe just a block and a half away.   We enjoyed our coffees, medialunas and fruit salad while we waited for the Meltzers to land.  When they finally got in (their flight was delayed) we headed over to La Cabrera for the traditional (at least for us) welcome lunch - delicious.  In the afternoon we walked around the neighborhood and had a coffee at Quimbobo.  Later we went to dinner at the neighborhood joint we had been wanting to try.  It was Spanish food and it was ok, so we had to salvage the night with ice cream from la esquina de helado (we went to the one where they wear jaunty red caps and make the delicious chocolate almond flavor).

Wednesday, November 24
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Praying for a perfect photo in a BA church
After breakfast at the Bobo we headed downtown for a walking tour with Buenos Aires Walking Tour.  We started on Florida Street and stayed mostly in Retiro and Recoleta.  It was really interesting and we learned a lot about the older history of the city.  We broke for lunch (we went to Sirup Folie) and then rejoined the tour guide for the afternoon tour of Recoleta Cemetery.  We heard some interesting stories about the people buried there and then left the cemetery for some other sights like the Eva Peron memorial.  When the tour ended we went back to Casa Saltshaker to pick up the sweater I had left there the other night and then walked to El Ateco bookstore and the Nikon store.  Fatty D is fixed!  He was just dirty!  Woo!  We walked down Avenida Santa Fe for a while and stopped at Volta for ice cream and then walked some more before taking a taxi back to Palermo and hunting for a hole in the wall empanada joint.  Later, for dinner, we tried to go to Osaka but couldn't get in, and ended up at Miranda where we had some good steak.  We tried to meet some friends but the bar was closed.

Thursday, November 24
Buenos Aires, Argentina & Colonia, Uruguay

At least the lighthouse was open!
We headed out bright and early to catch the 8:45 fast shuttle to Colonia de Sacremento, Uruguay, arriving in the third country of the GT at - well, we weren't sure.  It took us a while to get a straight answer as to whether Colonia was the same time zone or an hour ahead of BA.  After checking into the hotel and having lunch we attempted to hit the many small museums for which Colonia is known... only to discover that the museums were all on some sort of strike!  We spent the day walking around, relaxing by the pool, and having our thanksgiving dinner at La Florida - delicious.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Giving Thanks in Uruguay

Dave: I´m thankful that all of the museums were mysteriously closed.
Sue: I´m thankful that all of the stores were still open.
Howie: I´m thankful that tomorrow night we´re having asian food.
Jesse: I´m thankful to be spending Thanksgiving with my parents and husband.  And not at work.

Copyright Howard L. Meltzer.
Appropriated by JDMesh.
We spent Thanksgiving with Sue and Howie in the charming colonial town of Colonia de Sacramento, Uruguay.  Just an hour from Buenos Aires by fast ferry, the historic quarter of Colonia is like stepping back in time.

Crumbling Portugeuse architecture
(and JDMesh checking it out)

Really old cars are parked everywhere.
Car repurposed as vase.

Even though all of the museums were closed because of some sort of strike, we were still able to visit the old lighthouse, the city walls and the wooden drawbridge, and to walk along the quaint cobblestoned streets and the picturesque river.

Sue: Hola officer.  Por que los museos estan cerrados?
Policia:  Bla bla bla bla strike, bla bla bla bla.

Climbing to the top of the lighthouse
Hanging out on a cannon
Riverside promenade
"The Street of Sighs"
Two official and opposing theories as to the origin of this name:
(1) Sailers kept their girlfriends here, or
(2) Sailers were executed (and drew their last breaths) here
The drawbridge by night.

Our dinner that night was at La Florida where, in a cozy old house, we enjoyed such classic Thanksgiving fare as steaks and grilled fish.

And the BEST french onion soup EVER.
We finished it off with apple pie.  Pretty thanksgivingy.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Puertas Cerradas

Puertas Cerradas, literally "closed door" restaurants, are one of our favorite Buenos Aires dining trends (after, of course, giant delicious steaks).  Held in private homes, and usually only on weekends, puertas cerradas offer set menus at pretty reasonable prices in an intimate atmosphere.  Diners are encouraged to chat with the chef and to mingle with other guests.

It's sort of like when Dave gets his hands on a giant pork shoulder and his slow cooker, but here they invite strangers and charge money.

We very much enjoyed each of the three puertas cerradas we hit up while in BA - discussing travel with the chef at La Cocina Discreta (menu), making new friends at Casa Saltshaker (menu and recipes!), and finally satisfying an asian food craving at Cocina Sunae (menu).

Oh yeah -- and the food was so good we forgot to take any pictures!

JDMesh says:  YUM.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

El Bosque

El Bosque (formally known as Parque Tres de Febrero) is located in the northern part of the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Palermo.  On weekends the area fills up with joggers, bikers, picnic-ers and families taking advantage of the park, the lake and the rose gardens.  Here are some of our favorite photos from our afternoon in El Bosque ("the Central Park of Buenos Aires").

The map

They call these "bici boats" - ha!

Oh yeah, and we also stumbled on some sort of Mexican festival.
Daniela, is that you?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Milonga me up!

A couple of old pros.
Buenos Aires is well-known for its (expensive) (and touristy) tango shows.  The set dinner menu, full-orchestra, and extravagant suits & dresses the performers wear may well make a visit worthwhile; but we can't speak to that because we never went.  Instead, we opted for the far cheaper, and perhaps more fun, milonga tango experience.

A milonga is simply a place where tango is danced.  And we visited La Viruta milonga twice - first with Lynda & Steve and then Sue & Howie.  Both times we reserved a table and for a cover of $6 USD per person.*   In part it is so cheap because the milonga is in a community center recreation room!  But it had a proper dance floor, some stage lighting, and tables all around.  It was kinda like being in Dirty Dancing - The Sequel in Argentina.

Milonga are a fun way to watch and learn tango because they start (or at least La Viruta starts) with tango lessons.  So from 10:30 until 12:00 we all took beginner tango lessons. 
Actually, before any lessons the professionals dance around making the tango look super easy.
It is not.
Those 7 steps look easy, but can be tricky, especially in a crowded dance floor.  After the 90 minutes of lessons are up, the dance floor clears and local milongueros (people who frequent milongas) took over.  Old & young, fat & thin, good-looking & not-as-good-looking Argentines graced the dance floor and danced incredible tango.

Better at tango than horseback riding.
It is hard to explain how good the local dancers were.  Suffice it to say that as bad as we were - and we were bad - they were good.  They sailed and glided over the entire dance floor.  They effortlessly bobbed and weaved through the masses of untrained and novice milongueros, i.e. Jesse and me, Lynda and Steve, Howie & Sue (who only after a few hours of bumping into people realized that the entire dance floor danced clockwise, and not counter-clockwise).

Instructor: ¨You are very good.  But you keep bumping into people.¨
Howie: ¨Yes.  Why are all these people going the wrong way?¨
Instructor:  ¨I am very sorry.  You are going the wrong way¨
Howie: ¨No hablo espanol¨
It was fun to watch.

But they got the hang of it pretty quickly...
Nonetheless, the lessons were fun, the drinks cheap (and whiskeys large), and the experience well worth having.

Look at those smiles.  That is the sign of a fun milonga.
Or the general happiness as a result of my moustache.

La Viruta Milonga
$25 pesos cover charge
Call in advance to reserve a table.  Request on right on the dance floor.

See some pictures in our Milonga Album.

* Actually, at the end of each tango lesson they sell half-priced tickets.  So the second visit only cost $3per person.