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Buenos Aires and Uruguay


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Buenos Aires


Friday, Jan 24th

The trip starts with an overnight flight to Doha, Qatar, leaving Hong Kong just after midnight. There is really no easy way to get from Hong Kong to Argentina. One can fly via Europe, the US, South Africa or, as we did, via the Middle East. However, each of these options takes at least 30 hours. We were lucky that we found a very good 2 for 1 deal in business class on Qatar Airways (which ended up being only slightly more expensive per person than most other flights in economy). So our adventure started rather comfortable and in style. The flight from HK to Doha took 9 hours so we got there around 5 am local time. After breakfast and a shower in the very large and comfortable Doha business class lounge, we then continued on to the much longer section of the flight to Buenos Aires. Planes cannot quite make it all the way to Buenos Aires, so there is an additional short fuel stop in Sao Paulo, which means the whole flight from Doha to Buenos Aires takes about 19 hours. Well, that’s what it was supposed to take. However when we approached the Brazilian coast we started doing holding loops just before Rio de Janeiro, apparently because of heavy thunderstorms near Sao Paulo. We kept doing many of these loops and after about 2 hours the pilot announced that we will now have to land in Rio to refuel. It seemed there were many other planes who had to do the same thing, because it took us quite some time to get a parking spot and then a fuel truck. While waiting in the plane for about two hours, we could just about make out the Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance.



The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful. We did a very short 40 minute hop from Rio to Sao Paulo, where we had another hour stopover for new passengers to come on the plane, and then a 2.5 hour flight to Buenos Aires, which got us there just after 1 am local time, with nearly 5 hours delay. Since we never left the plane on our two stops in Brazil, this meant that we had spent a full 24 hours on the same aircraft since Doha. Thank god for those cheap business class tickets.

Saturday, Jan 25th

Our first day in Argentina and we wake up 9:30am. It’s a beautiful sunny day, not too warm so we start to explore the city. Our hotel, the Caesar Park Hotel, is located fairly centrally in the very posh Recoletta area of Buenos Aires and we can walk into the city straight from the hotel. We first got to San Martin Square and then started walking along the Calle Florida, which is a pedestrian street and seems to be one of the main shopping streets. We stopped in a little street cafe for some cafe doblo con crema and toasted sandwiches. The main attraction on the Calle Florida is the Galerias Pacifico shopping mall. It's a very ornate building from the 1880s with beautiful murals in the centre area.

        Plaza San Martin        Galerias Pacifico

From there we walked down to the Plaza de Mayo, the main city square. The main buildings surrounding the plaza are the cathedral, the central bank building and at Casa Rosado, which is the presidential palace, with the famous balcony from which Evita (and later Madonna as Evita)  gave her famous speech. There is also a protest camp and lots of banners in the centre of the square. This is a long ongoing protest by the mothers of the missing, who disappeared and were killed during Argentina's military dictatorship in the sixties and seventies. (Democracy in Argentina was restored in the early eighties following the Falkland’s war.)


The cathedral is not much to look at from the outside, a slightly drab neoclassical building, but quite beautiful inside, with a large dome in the middle, some beautiful stained glass windows and side chapels with large paintings. These days the cathedral is probably most famous for the fact that Pope Francis was the Cardinal here before he became pope, something the Argentineans appear to be rather proud of.


Next we walk to the main avenue, the Avenida 9 de Julio, which is the widest avenue in the world. There is a very large obelisk which was built for the fourth centenary of the city’s foundation. Along the Avenue is also the famous Teatro Colon, the main opera house. The building was finished in 1908 and was completely refurbished and updated from 2002 to 2010 at a cost of over $100 million. We take a guided tour in the theatre. It's a beautiful neo-baroque building richly decorated with multi colored marble, huge chandeliers and lots of sculptures and the names of famous opera composers on the ceilings. The theatre is also known for having one of the best acoustics of any opera house in the world, which our guide demonstrates quite impressively by singing ‘Don't cry for me Argentina’ for us.

 

                                                Teatro Colon


“The Secrect” depicting Venus and Cupid by German sculptor Gustav Eberlein
            Stained Glass Ceilings in the Teatro Colon

We walk back towards area of our hotel and stop for a beer in a park nearby. We sit underneath an absolutely enormous ficus tree, with tango dancers performing next to us. We also briefly visit the small church (Nuestra Senora del Pilar) in the park and then walk back to the hotel. Following a recommendation from the hotel concierge, we have dinner in a restaurant close to the hotel called Fervor with some very good and huge Argentine steaks.



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Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Sunday, Jan 26th


Today we decided to visit a new country, so we took the ferry across the Plata River Estuary to Uruguay. We had to get up early, since we had to be at the Buquebus Ferry terminal 1 hour before our 8:45am scheduled ferry. Argentina and Uruguay are separated by the Rio de la Plata, which is the huge estuary formed by the confluence of the Uruguay River and the Paran√° River. Calling this a river is a bit of a misnomer, it is so wide here that the fast ferry we were on takes 1 hour (the normal ferry takes 3 hours) to cross it.


Colonia del Sacramento, a Unesco World Heritage site, is a beautiful little colonial town on the coast. It was founded in 1680, and it changed hands numerous times between Spain and Portugal, usually being conquered by Spain and later returned to Portugal via treaty. It briefly was part of Brazil, before becoming part of newly independent Uruguay in 1828.

The old town, which sits on a peninsula and was once surrounded by walls, is only a 15 minute walk from the ferry terminal along tree-lined streets. We walked through the town and climbed up the lighthouse for a great view of the town and across the Rio de la Plata.


We have a very nice lunch of paella and Uruguayan beer at a restaurant by the shore, with a surprisingly good live jazz band playing in front of us.


After lunch we explore more of the town, see the main church and visit a couple of the small museums showing mostly artifacts and old maps from colonial times. 

              Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento

Many of the streets here still retain their original cobble stone pavements:


We took the late afternoon ferry back to Buenos Aires and ended up eating in the hotel because we were quite tired.



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Buenos Aires (2nd day)

 
Monday, Jan 27th

Today was the first official day of the tour, and we started to meet the people who will be on the ship with us for the next 10 days. There was a buffet brunch at the hotel, but we only stayed there for a short time, as we went out into town for some last minute shopping for a few gear items. In the afternoon there was a 4 hour sightseeing bus tour through Buenos Aires. Even though we had seen most of the sites two days earlier, we decided to go on the tour. And it turned out to be well worth it, getting more background on Argentine history from the guide and seeing a few areas of Buenos Aires which we didn't get to on Saturday. First stop was Boca, the home of Boca Juniors and the area where the stadium is located. Boca Juniors is one of the two big clubs in Buenos Aires, the other one is River Plate. We got out of the bus in an area where the houses are all painted in bright colors and adorned with somewhat crude life-size sculptures of mostly footballers (lots of Maradona sculptures, since he started his career at Boca Juniors).

 

Afterwards we drove around the former docklands area, which has been transformed into a swanky apartment and business district similar to Canary Wharf in London. Next stop was at the Plaza de Mayo and the cathedral, which we had already seen two days ago. At the end we drove out through the Palermo district and the Palermo park, and our final stop was at the main cemetery, the most famous grave of which was that of Eva Perron.

                                                             Puento de la Mujer
 

Afterwards we had to attend the official trip briefing, where they introduced some the staff and told us about the plans for our flight to Ushuaia the next day. There are a few people our age and some younger ones on the trip, but we are definitely well below the average age. There are quite a lot of elderly people, and a few rather obese people on this trip. We were both wondering how they are going to get on and off the zodiacs when we do land excursions. The vast majority are Americans, but we also met a couple from China and a group from India, and a few Europeans.

We had another fabulous steak dinner at a restaurant called 'La Cabrera'', which apparently is quite famous. The steaks were amazing, enormously huge and came with a large selection of interesting side dishes (such as mashed cauliflower, mashed beets and mashed cucumbers).

Back in the hotel we had to finish packing, because we had to put out our check-in bags in front of our rooms by 11pm. Since we wouldn't see them again until we got on the ship later the next day, it required some careful repacking for tomorrow to ensure we had everything we needed. We were a bit nervous about not being able to take our bags to the airport ourselves, particularly after having read some blogs from previous trips, where some of the bags did not turn up in Ushuaia. We went to bed early to be ready for the 5:30am wake up call.

 
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