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Playing Tourist with the Family

22 Dec

Just as we began to get a little homesick with Christmas approaching, my mother, father, and brother paid us a visit from the U.S. The timing was perfect. The company was great. And playing tourist was a welcome change of pace from playing local.

Arriving at the airport in Buenos Aires.

Christmas tree at the Hilton, Buenos Aires.

View of the city from the Hilton in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.

Whatever immediate culture shock they might have felt from the airport and ride into town surely dissipated once we walked in the doors of the Hilton in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires, where we were greeted by a large Christmas tree, reindeer on the elevators, and boughs of holly throughout the halls.

With the storm clouds zooming by and rains pounding down at random throughout the whole first day, we decided to lay low, rest, and take pictures of the rain and rainbow outside.

The rest was a good idea, because the next few days we conquered Buenos Aires with the help of an open roof tour bus we spotted from the hotel window.

Ready, aim, click!

The Buenos Aires Bus takes tourists like us around the city with the option of getting off and on at 21 different destinations. The buses come by every 20-30 minutes and have headphones with piped in guides in several different languages.

Here are few things we saw along the way.

Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires

"Don't you remember these?"

Rose Garden, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Rose Garden, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Marcus and Mom in Buenos Aires

Mom soaking it all in on the tour bus.

After a full day of roaming the city as tourists, we decided to give them a taste of our local life. That, of course, meant eating amazing empanadas, holding on for dear life on a bus, and traveling by subway.

Our local empanada restaurant. 3 empanadas for AR$ 13.50 or US$3.14.

The Buenos Aires colectivo (bus) -- a daily amusement park ride.

Safely on the subte (subway) in Buenos Aires.

On the Subte (subway) in Buenos Aires.

In just a few short days we were able to see so much of the city. We saw how tourists live and how the locals live. We capped it all off with a blending of the two worlds on a stroll down Defensa Street in San Telmo for the weekly Sunday street fair.

We celebrated a mini Christmas together. They had brought so much from the U.S., half of their luggage was for us. We took a picture of some of the gifts we’ve already opened. Notice a theme? (Not included are a new comforter, new towels, and a large air purifier, plus more still to be opened.)

After playing tourist with the family all week, we weren’t quite ready to go back to local life. Because they had a red-eye flight, their hotel room was booked for another night. We happily made sure it didn’t stay dormant. Call it an act of selflessness. We were very kind to attend to the rooftop pool on Monday morning.

Ah, but it did all come to an end. Local life is back. Work is calling. And the taxis are replaced with buses and subways. It’s always hard to return from a vacation, especially when the vacation was spent with family, had a rooftop pool, and had water pressure in the shower. I can’t wait to play tourist again.

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Hey Tigre, I’m Looking at You

6 Nov

Located about 17 miles outside of the city center, Tigre is a perfect weekend day-trip for city dwellers. Don’t expect to escape the hoards of people, but do expect to see trees, sky, water. That’s exactly what Maggie and I wanted, so this past weekend we went with a group of other students from Verbum Spanish School to visit Tigre.

The journey for us started at the Retiro train station in the city. For an Argentine $5 (that’s about U.S. $1.17) we got two round-trip tickets.

Retiro train station in Buenos Aires

Our group lined up for the train.

What’s great about Tigre is that it’s located right in a river delta, so there are numerous canals to explore. But, the only way to explore them is by boat. You can ride in a “lancha colectiva,” a public water bus that has routes throughout the delta.

"Lancha colectiva" - Public transportation 'bus' on the river.

If you know someone or happen to have one these handy, you could skip along in one of the little guys. We saw a handful docked along the river bank.

You could also row your way around. I guess that’s the water equivalent to a bicycle. Maybe conservationists prefer this way of traveling, but they get stuck breathing in the fumes from the boats.

We didn’t ride any of those this time. With our group we took one of those site-seeing boats that wanders up and down the canals for an hour for about $12 each (AR $50). I get seasick really quickly, so I was a bit worried to be on any boat without Dramamine, but the crew said if worse comes to worse I should use the toilet and not the river to “heal” myself.

I made it the entire hour without getting seasick.

Here are some of the sights from our journey through the canals of Tigre’s river delta.


After the boat ride we followed the crowds to a large outdoor market. Food was on our mind, not shopping, so we sat down at an outdoor restaurant to have some pork. I ordered the “sandwich de bife de chorizo” and Maggie had the “choripan.” The chimichurri sauce we spread on top was amazing.

Sandwich de bife de chorizo.

Choripan, a sausage link on a white bread bun.

In all, we had a wonderful time in Tigre. Next time we go, I’m hoping to spend some time on the grassy river bank with a book and a beer.

Why Buenos Aires?

7 Aug

We’ve been asked many times, “Why did you choose Buenos Aires?” The decision was easy, really, for several reasons.

Reason #1
We wanted to move to a Spanish-speaking country to immerse ourselves in the language. Even though Maggie has been offered a very lucrative position teaching English in Korea, we’ve turned it down, because Spanish is our number one goal. And of all the Spanish-speaking countries, Argentina has some major perks.

Reason #2
I have been to Buenos Aires before, and so we are already connected with the language school I went to (www.verbum.biz). The prices are some of the most reasonable in all of Buenos Aires and the owner, Marina, has been very kind to us in this whole process. Knowing the city and having a connection are huge advantages.

Reason #3
BA will allow us to live a city life, which we both enjoy. There’s plenty to see and do to keep us interested and exploring. The public transportation (subway, buses, taxis) mean we can get around without need for a car.

Reason #4
We can both work there. Though finding work for Maggie will not be easy, the city has opportunities. There are thousands of schools, private and public, and plenty of people wanting to learn English. My work is based in the U.S., so all I need is an occasional Internet connection and a place to sit. It’s exactly what I do now, just in a different city.

Reason #5
Cost of living. Though everything has gotten much more expensive in BA since when I was there in 2006, it is still relatively affordable for us. Much more than LA! There are cheaper cities, but putting all of these reasons together, we’re willing to give it a go.

Two tickets to Buenos Aires for less than $800

16 Jun

I couldn’t sleep tonight, so I crawled out of bed and started searching for flights to Buenos Aires. Good thing, because I just purchased two tickets for a total of $762!! No lie!

Here’s how.

Occasionally, I check the cost of flights from various mid and eastern cities in the U.S. to Buenos Aires: Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, and Miami. Mostly they are all equally priced, with the cheapest round trip tickets fluctuating between $1,200 to $1600. When I got out of bed tonight I expected to see the same.

Instead, when I checked the flights from Miami, I saw “$815.” I did the requisite wiping of the eyes to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating from lack of sleep. It was still there: $815 web fare special rate for a round trip ticket.

I knew I needed to grab them immediately, but Maggie was asleep. I certainly was not going to buy the tickets without her knowledge. I’ve already learned that lesson! Should I wake her up or stay up all night and ask her when she wakes up hoping the special rate didn’t disappear? I decided to wait.

And then I remembered our credit card, which we use for everything! I logged into the rewards system and it said we had just over 77,000 miles. Using their internal flight search, I found the same flight I had found on Expedia.com.

One ticket cost 75,000 reward miles or $750! I re-wiped my eyes and verified I read it correctly. What I thought was a good deal originally just got cut in half!

This time I had to wake up Maggie. Three-quarters asleep still, she said, “Why wouldn’t you buy that? Get it!”

So it turns out, our decision to get the overly advertised Capital One “No Hassle” Venture Credit Card paid off. You know that card. Just think of a viking asking, “What’s in YOUR wallet?”

The fact that we used that one card for about 95% of our purchases since being married helped us save a lot of money. I still can’t believe it. We just purchased one ticket completely with reward miles we’ve been accumulating for close to a year and the other ticket for only $762 (after the service fee was added). Amazing!

I guess we’re really going now. No turning back! We depart from Miami on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, for the beautiful city of Buenos Aires with a layover in Mexico City.

I do wonder if Maggie will remember me asking her.