Monday, September 2, 2013

American Expats in Buenos Aires: Day 1 - The Arrival

A week ago, my spouse and I took a trip to Buenos Aires mainly to validate my diploma and transcripts so I could officially attend the university in Argentina next year. The cheapest way for us to get there was by train.  
We bought the “Pullman” class seats, which is like 1st class in Argentina but equivalent to Amtrak’s coach seats in the United States. The cost of each ticket was 89 pesos (15.71 USD). 
Sleeping compartments are available too, but are a bit more expensive. I wouldn’t recommend anything less than the “Pullman” class since the cheaper class doesn’t have well kept, or temperature-controlled compartments, and they tend to attract a shadier group of passengers.
My main complaint about the train was that there was a plastic partition in front of the window which distorted the view. This made it very difficult to film any scenery, but I understood very quickly why the shield was needed. As the train passes through the rural areas, dried tree branches scratch against the side of the train. These plastic partitions were undoubtedly placed there to prevent damage to the glass.

A complete dinner service was about 70 pesos (12.35 in USD) but I opted for a sandwich and a Coke, which was 24 pesos for each of us (4.23 in USD). 
When we finally arrived in Buenos Aires, we picked up our luggage and headed to what I thought would be the street. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find a station, somewhat similar to Grand Central, albeit 70 percent smaller. There were coffee shops, money exchange centers, stores, and ticket booths. It was quite different from the station in Cordoba, which only has a ticket booth and a bunch of train tracks. 
When we walked out of the station, our jaws dropped! In front of us was this huge city with clean buildings, clean sidewalks and clean streets and lots and lots of people. I looked at my spouse and asked him if we’d been magically transported back to New York. In that instance, we knew that B.A. was worlds apart from Cordoba. 
We hailed a cab and gave him directions to our hotel. The driver quickly turned us down and said that he doesn’t go to the location we specified. Our excitement quickly turned to despair. We thought, “If the cabs don’t go to the hotel, how do we get there? By foot?” Then, we took a chance and hailed another cab. This driver had no problem taking us. 
Along the way we got to see some beautiful buildings. Some of them reminded me of the buildings I’d seen while driving through Miami Beach, Florida when I was in my late teens/early 20s. I had this cheese face smile the whole ride to the hotel. Buenos Aires may not have been home, but it sure felt like it. The whole cab ride cost us 30 pesos (5.29 in USD). 
Our check-in at Hotel Mundial was at 3:00 pm but we had arrived in Buenos Aires at 11:00 a.m. We didn’t want to walk around the city with our bulky luggage, so we went into the hotel and asked them if we could check in early. Fortunately, they said yes! 
We quickly headed upstairs to check out our room. The room was clean. The bed was fantastic and spacious. The best part for us was the balcony. Well… sort of. The view of the city was fantastic from up there, but I am petrified of heights. I can’t do roller coasters or climb a ladder without freaking out. I hate heights! There’s no way around it. I felt my knees buckle, but I tried to hang on out there long enough to take some photos with my spouse. Afterwards, we showered, changed our clothes and headed out to explore Buenos Aires. 
Only a block away from our hotel, we were startled by a woman who came out of a Chinese restaurant screaming that someone had just stolen her purse. The woman literally fainted by my feet. Obviously, being in a city like Buenos Aires, you have to be careful. It was the same way for us when we lived in New York. Don’t put your money in the obvious places where someone can snatch it from you, like your butt pant pockets. Be aware of your surroundings and if you see anyone getting too close to you or following you, get in a store or find a cop or join a group of people. Despite this incident, we chose to keep exploring and taking photos of the various buildings.
We eventually made it to a port called “Puerto Madero". There were boats, cannons, bridges and water. We even got to sit with a statue of Carlos Gardel, a famous singer in Argentina.
 We may have also spotted Wall-E in the water... but we're not sure. You decide. We decided to continue exploring the city, and it was just spectacular!
So, what could have made this experience even better? A TGIF restaurant… and we’d just spotted one.
We were trying to figure out whether to go in or not. I’d checked online and everyone from Argentinians to U.S. tourists had given the TGIF restaurants in Buenos Aires a very negative review. So, we figured we’d check the prices at the door first. The meals averaged about 80 pesos (15.00 in USD). 
As luck would have it, we ran into a U.S. soldier who was vacationing in Buenos Aires. This was his last day here. He told us he was heading back home the next day to prepare for deployment to the Middle East. He invited us to join him for lunch and we had a great time getting to know each other. It was great to speak with a fellow American and even better that we were in a TGIF eating food that we hadn’t had a chance to try since we left the U.S.  
The only negative thing I have to say about the TGIF in Argentina was that they charged us 30 pesos for the use of utensils, the napkins and the use of the sauces. That’s something that TGIF has never done in the States. Everything else was great. 
After we parted ways with our new friend, we started heading back to the hotel. Along the way we took some more photos. We even found a Staples. Alright, so it's not like there aren't any office supply stores in Cordoba, but come on! It's a Staples! Anyway, we continued exploring B.A., even though our feet hurt from walking so much!
By the time we got back to our hotel we were exhausted. 
There’s so much more I’d like to share about our experience in Buenos Aires, but it's too much to fit into one post alone, so I’m breaking this down into several entries, which I’ll post over the next several weeks. 
So stay tuned! Day 2 is available to read here.

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