Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Buenos Aires

It's 5:30 PM. You are in Buenos Aires in the dead of winter. You need food, but mostly you need warmth. You stop into the nearest cafe and order some coffee and medialunas (little croissants) to warm you up and hold you off until your dinner at 10:30 PM.

NOTE: Usually I drink my coffee black. I like it strong. However, most times in Buenos Aires I needed to douse (yes, douse) my coffee with sugar/milk. This was just my opinion (and the opinion of my traveling companions), but the coffee in Buenos Aires was not our fav. We would probably recommend ordering a cafe con leche most of the time. Or, you could always just drink mate, a traditional South American drink made from the dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water. My travel buddies and I even went to the mate museum in a small (abandoned, at least in the winter) yet beautiful river town called Tigre. The museum was more like an older man's home displaying his collection of mate paraphernalia, but we paid our dues and went with it.

This was our lunch in Tigre. As you can see, there were not many other people around.

The Argentine schedule is quite different than the American one; or at least it was for us. Wake up around noon, lunch around 3 or 4 PM, maybe a cafe around 6, go back to the apartment for a rest, and dinner around 10:30 PM. Sometimes we would just cook our own dinner at the apartment. Max christened our first night in Argentina with his own spaghetti carbonara.

On other nights, we would go out for dinner. We tried the northwestern Argentine food like empanadas, a pastry filled with meat, cheese, beans, and/or vegetables, locro, a hominy-based stew with meats, sausages, and vegetables, and humitas, sort of like a tamale but more mushy and a tad sweeter.

Humita (from the restaurant in Palermo called "Las Choles"

One restaurant even had crayons at the table. We colored.

One of my favorite things about Buenos Aires was all of the live music. We frequented this one bar called Thelonious Bar. Live jazz almost every night. The bar had a warehouse feel to it with nice twinkle lights behind the band. I especially enjoyed how people both young and old came to hear the music and just hang out at the bar with a drink or a coffee.

Thelonious Bar

Another musical night was spent at la catedral, a milonga or a place where people go to tango. We went on an off-night, so there was not too much tango, however we did see some nice live music and we admired the funky artsy decor of the place. The food looked quite good (I saw a man eating a pizza and I was tempted to ask him for a bite, but don't worry, I didn't get up the nerve to ask him).

Music at la catedral

We also saw a local band play some Argentine folk music. They had rain-sticks, drums, and all sorts of great instruments. The band is called El Enjambre. And for a more crowded hippie-esque drum show, we went to the Bomba de Tiempo, a Monday night music show where you can get your marijuana fix if someone will share with you.

El Enjambre

And one night we met some really awesomely-dressed Argentine hipsters who are also in a band (called "The Shortcuts") at a pizza place called Kentucky.

Our lunches were very hit or miss. Most times we would just duck into the nearest restaurant whenever we felt hungry. We would stare at the menu, slightly hesistant and unsure...

...and most times we would end up with a meal like this:

Lomo con champignons y papas noisette

Heavy, creamy, fried. Good for a few bites, but it was just a little too much for me, ya hear?

Oh yes, and I must not forget the condiment of the trip: salsa golf. What the heck is salsa golf? Well, wikipedia has led me to believe that it is basically just mayo with a tomato based sauce similar to ketchup and possibly some other spices like paprika or turmeric. We mostly just played around with our golf sauce, but Matt from the blog MattBites really seemed to like salsa golf: check it.

Our model, Corey, smiling with his salsa golf creation!

So yes, many of our lunches were hit or miss. But sometimes we would dip into some neat cafes/restaurants and even if the food was just so so, the decor was an A+. Check out this poster of Madonna, I mean come on...she just can't get any sexier. And check out that smokin' young lad below her:

Actually, I have to say that my favorite lunch breaks were when we bought street food from a choripán cart. Choripán is basically grilled chorizo on a crusty roll with chimichurri sauce (garlic-based) or mustard.

Carlos absolutely loved his sausage. This is what he looked like when he did not get his daily sausage fix:

Someone please find this man a choripan asap!

We even tried blood sausage. WARNING: The photograph below was taken with a flash in a dark restaurant (which was actually a very good restaurant called Miranda). If the site of grisly blood sausage freaks you out, close your eyes and scroll further down the screen. If not, then here it is (with a Quilmes beer in the background):

On the final night of our stay in Buenos Aires, we decided to go all fancy pants and eat at Thymus, a French-inspired restaurant. Our meal was fantastic and it was extremely cheap compared to what we would have paid for a meal like this in the US. I really love it when restaurants give you bread and butter, with mounds of salt and pepper for dipping, too.

2 weeks in Buenos Aires was a lot of eating and I have only covered some of our many adventures in this blog post. I will say, though, that if you find yourself in Buenos Aires, you MUST go to Tierra Santa, the religious theme park that screams kitschy but is incredibly fun and full of animatronic shows of the birth of Jesus, the creation, the last supper, and Jesus's resurrection. And you can pose behind cutouts of historical characters:

I will say that traveling in Buenos Aires and Argentina in general during their winter can be pretty rough. Yes, you beat the crowds, but come prepared with warm clothes, especially in case you get stranded at 8 am in the rain waiting for a taxi having been out all night at a club in the middle of nowhere near the ocean wearing a tiny dress and nice heals.

Ok, chau chicos! And don't forget to eat dulce de leche until you can't even look at it anymore!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Countryside of Germany: St. Goar and the Rhine Valley River

I was in Germany for a little over 24 hours. Probably not the typical Germany that you think of when you imagine the big cities of Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich...I was in St. Goar and the Rhine Valley River areas. Home of the largest hanging (free-standing) cuckoo clock.

The Rhine Valley River town is very tiny and quaint, with a street that is filled with restaurants, beer stein shops, the cuckoo clock shop, and the Birkenstock store.

In front of the beer stein shop

Taking a mini cruise along the river showcases the beautiful castles in the hills of Germany. It is really amazing to see all of the castles built right into the mountains:

So, what is German cuisine like?

Dense Dark Whole Grain Breads

Streusels and Strudels and Pretzel Bread

This little custard fruit tart business

Germany is also known for its 1200 types of sausage, 1500 kinds of beer (served in steins, in liters), sauerkraut, dumplings, pork knuckles, and Fanta Orange (Brazil is the #1 consumer).

In the village of St. Goar, I stayed in a family-owned hotel in the midst of a residential area in the hills. One man showed my entire group of 50 people to each of our rooms, he cooked, and he cleared our plates. After dinner, my group and I went on a wine tasting in an underground cellar where I was able to taste the famous Riesling wines of Germany. I tasted a red, a rose, a white Riesling (my favorite), a sweet white, and an ice wine.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Open Markets in Lucerne (Luzern), Switzerland

High up in the Swiss Alps on a Mountain named Pilatus, I stood, freezing (literally) my little tootsies off. A 30+ minute gondola ride took me 7000 ft high to a place where snow reigns strong in mid-June.

And when I say high, I mean high. High enough to see (sort of) the most spectacular view of Switzerland (or at least part of it).

And I especially enjoyed the little yellow flowers peaking through the snow, trying to break free.

After getting back down to a part of Switzerland where it was not snowing, I found myself in the heart of the loveliest town Lucerne, a town where the lake meets the city meets the mountains.

Just beautiful. The snowy mountains were far enough away that I could feel warm again, and I could still admire them from a distance. And there were swans, too!

So, what's was for lunch? How about a ginormous baked good from the local backeri (bakery)?

Ok, ok, maybe some fruits and veggies would be nice, too. I found myself perusing the open markets in Lucerne...there were lions and tigers and berries, oh my! Alright settle down, so there were no tigers. But lions and berries, yes and yes.

There were tomatoes that looked like grapes, veiny grapes:

More tomatoes, of the heirloom variety I suppose:

There was white asparagus and chanterelle mushrooms:

Beautiful bundled carrots:

Aaaaaaaaannnnnnddddddd...FIGS IN MY BELLY!!!!!!!!

Dried, fresh, purple, green. Feiges (figs)! Oh, how I love thee.

I bought loads of chocolate to savor between (and after!) meals, I went to a touristy fondue dinner complete with a yodeling show and alphorn blowing, and I even ate sushi in Switzerland (I know, not the most authentic, but sometimes you just crave sushi).

Menu from the fondue dinner

Switzerland was such a blast. I would definitely go back, especially to see some of the other great cities that the country has to offer.