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Over the river to Uruguay

A day in the old town of Colonia

sunny 78 °F

For our first day trip from Buenos Aires, we decided to head across the Rio de la Plata to Colonia, Uruguay. We set out early to catch our ferry. Expecting a full day's worth of sightseeing, we booked a late ferry back to BA, giving us plenty of time to see all the museums and sites. We may have over planned.

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Leaving Buenos Aires

We landed in Colonia to bright blue skies and warm breezes. Another perfect day. The old town of Colonia is a short walk from the port. As we approached the city gate, I noticed a school group sitting outside the city walls. We made our way into the city with a throng of middle-schoolers on or heels. Time to head elsewhere.

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We got a map from the tourist office and mapped out what we wanted to see. Number one on my list was the lighthouse. Climbing the narrow stairs was easier than I had expected. Navigating the other tourists coming down at the same time was not. So, when we reached the top, we relaxed on the seating around the top and soaked up the fantastic views of the town and the river.

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Church towers from the lighthouse

Once back on firm ground, we wandered the cobbled streets, taking photos of the quaint houses draped with bougainvillea and beautiful tile pictures and maps. As we stopped at the museums we had picked out, we noticed they were closed. I thumbed through my guidebook to discover each of the museums was open different days of the week. One was closed on Tuesday and Thursday. Another was closed on Monday and Wednesday. It seems there is no single day that all of the museums are open. Very odd. So, to occupy ourselves, we continued to wander the streets, making friends with the various stray dogs along the way.

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Colonia's lighthouse, built in the late 1800s

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After sitting down and lingering over a light lunch, we decided we were going to find an open museum. As it turns out, you can't just go to one museum. You have to buy a ticket that gets you into all of them. Luckily, it only costs about $2 US. Even so, it may have been overpriced.

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Beautiful tile map of Colonia

I was starting to feel a little let down by Colonia. I've been to some really interesting walled cities and fortifications. I guess I'm just spoiled, expecting over the top amazing every time. My disappointment may also be, in part, that we gave ourselves way too much time and we ran out of sites to see. I don't want to paint a terrible picture of Colonia. I thoroughly enjoyed the pastel painted houses and the intricately painted tiles. However, if you're looking for a full day of history, you may be disappointed. If you're wanting a few hours away from the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires, then Colonia is just the spot.

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Colonia City Gate

Posted by Jengt 12:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Culture Shock

Going from rich to poor in one easy step.

semi-overcast 73 °F

There are certain places that are iconic and must be seen. El Caminita in the La Boca neighborhood is one of those. I'm certain that nearly everyone has seen photos of the brightly painted houses in Buenos Aires. Everything I had read about this neighborhood stated that it was safe around the tourist area, but you shouldn't linger around any of the surrounding areas. Well, that makes it hard to get there if you're not part of a tour group. We decided to take the advice with a few grains of salt and take the subway as close as possible and then stick to main roads from there.

It was still a little cloudy as we got started so we decided to take a tour of the Teatro Colon, the opera house just 2 blocks away from our hotel. We had held off visiting when the sun was shining. Why waste beautiful weather inside? The theater was built in the late 1800s in full European style. There's Italian marble, stained glass, red velvet upholstery and gold gilding everywhere. Our tour guide stated that the architect wanted to imitate Versailles and the opera houses of Milan and Paris. No expense was spared.

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Teatro Colon's grand staircase

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Stained Glass Dome

As we entered the main theater, all eyes were drawn up and around to the boxes and galleries. All had rich red drapes and fine furniture. The guide stated the acoustics of this theater are the best of all opera houses around the world. Although there may be seats with sub-par views, there isn't a bad seat in the house in regards to the sound. Oh, how I would love to hear a performance here! I'm not a fan of opera, but I would definitely enjoy an orchestra concert!

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Inside the theater. It seats around 3,000!

After our theater tour, we set off for the subway and La Boca. It was after noon so the cars shouldn't be too , so we thought. The cars were PACKED! I thought about just getting right back off and taking a cab, but Mike insisted we go a little further to see if we had just caught a small influx. Once we reached our stop, we noticed there were people marching along one of the main streets. Not just a small group, but thousands of people. We later found out that there was a massive demonstration on the main square and all of these people were marching there. We were glad we had already visited the Plaza de Mayo earlier in the week!

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Protesters on their way to the demonstration

Unfortunately, La Boca is not well served by the subway so we had a good long walk to get to El Caminito. My trepidation about walking in the neighborhood was completely unfounded. Of course, it was broad daylight and we know enough to be aware of our surroundings and not have our cameras out as a big red flag asking to be mugged.

As we approached the area, the weather gods looked favorably on us and the sun started to peek out from the clouds. The brightly painted walls of the houses beckoned us forward. Even the bus loads of people couldn't dampen my spirits as I took photo after photo. The La Boca neighborhood is along the river, where the rich used to live - until yellow fever broke out and the wealthy just picked up and left. The dock workers just moved into the newly vacant houses and made the neighborhood their own. As more people moved into the area, they built houses out of tin and whatever they could find.

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It was amusing to see the various plaster statues hanging out windows, standing on corners and in various shops. Pope Francis was everywhere. I'm not kidding, I saw no less than six Pope Francis statues in 3 blocks. That guy gets around! There were also various murals and amazing artwork on the walls throughout the area. This neighborhood was definitely worth the walk!

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Pope Francis blessing all who walk past

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Knowing the subways would be packed to the gills, we opted to grab a taxi back to the hotel. The cabs in Buenos Aires are relatively cheap and provide an affordable alternative to a hot, crowded subway. Plus, you get dropped off right where you're going! On the way back to the hotel, we passed groups of people carrying their banners and signs heading home from the demonstration. I was doubly glad we opted for the taxi!

La Boca ended up more wonderful than I had imagined. Although it was touristy, it was art in a more approachable form. It's absolutely worth the trip!

Posted by Jengt 19:00 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Delta on my mind

A day trip to Tigre

semi-overcast 75 °F

One of the last things on my to-do list in Buenos Aires wasn't in Buenos Aires. It was a boat trip around the river delta in Tigre, a short train ride north of the city. Our guide books suggested Tigre as a good day trip from the city. We both agreed it would be nice to check out the delta for the day.

We grabbed the subway to the main train station in Retiro to switch to the commuter rail line going north. We had both read about a coastal train but couldn't figure out where to catch it so we opted for the regular train. The train to Tigre is a smooth, modern line which made the hour long trip move quickly. Of course, there were the obligatory hawkers of various items throughout the ride. People who get on the train and a station, walk the length of the train selling various items and get off at the next stop. It's common in Latin America.

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A church that has been turned into a local boating club

Once in Tigre, we headed for the Tourist Information office to get information on the various boat companies. They offer a one hour and two hour tours. We figured since we had just spent an hour getting there, the two hour tour made the most sense. After purchasing our tickets, we wandered around the riverfront taking photos and waiting for our sailing. The skies were starting to look ominous but we were thinking positive thoughts that the rain would hold off.

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View down the Tigre river

We boarded our catamaran and took off for the delta. The commentary was in Spanish so I hung out at the stern (rear) of the boat to allow for better photos. I wasn't going to miss anything if I couldn't understand more than a few words.

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Grocery store on the delta

The delta area has homes built on stilts and instead of roads, are built along canals. Some homes are luxurious and some look as though a good breeze will blow them over. There were a few that looked like somewhere I could live (for a while). We even passed one house that was inside a huge glass box! I never did get an answer why there was a house in a box. I guess that's just a question for another day.

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House in a box. Why?

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As we neared the end of our tour, it started to sprinkle a little. I was hoping it would soon stop since there were blue skies to the west. The rain did let up as we docked but soon started again. We looked over the map to plan our next place to see. Tigre has a naval museum that both Mike thought sounded good. We figured it would be a good way to see something interesting from indoors to let the rain pass. However, my hopes for this museum were a little low after the museums we had already seen in the area. It's good to be pleasantly surprised.

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A Greek Trireme model

The naval museum has models of ships back to the Egyptian era doing forward to the current day. There was a lot of information (in Spanish) about the Argentinian naval campaigns. I was able to pick out a few words here & there but the majority of the information was lost on me. However, there was an entire room filled with armaments- torpedoes, mines and GREAT BIG guns. There was even a two-man submarine there. From what I could make out from the placard, the submariners would have bombs/torpedoes that they would attach to enemy vessels magnetically and then drive off. That sounds like a very dangerous job to me!

As we wandered through the museum we could hear the rain pounding the roof. It was great to be indoors! After an hour or so perusing the exhibits, we headed out to the side yard of the museum. Outside the museum were anti-aircraft guns and aircraft from WWII and also some more recent wars. It's humbling to see just how big those guns are.

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Having seen everything we wanted to, it was time to head back to the central area of Tigre and back to Buenos Aires. We hopped onto the next train and started back to the city. It had been a long day of sight-seeing. Tigre didn't disappoint. Even with the rain, I thoroughly enjoyed our day on the delta.

Posted by Jengt 19:42 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Remembrance

A day to reflect

sunny 78 °F

When we woke up this morning, I had no idea of what we were going to see today. We had left today open not knowing if we were meeting our friend or if there were more museums to see. Turns out, it ended up being neither of these.

As we stepped out from the hotel, we noticed how empty the street was. It's Friday and there are no people. Then it dawned on us, today is a holiday. We decided to head back towards Plaza Mayo since I wanted to get better photos of the Casa Rosada. The tourist website suggested we walk down Florida Street, a pedestrian shopping street. Of course, since it's a holiday, all of the stores are closed. That's ok, neither of us are big shoppers. It would have been nice to see though. As we got closer to the plaza, we heard drums and horns blaring. We turned a corner to see groups of people holding banners and chanting. It looked like another protest march.

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Since we were there, we decided to check it out and see what it was all about. At one end of Avenida de Mayo were the groups of people. All along the sides of the Avenida towards the plaza were food vendors and political groups getting ready for a crowd. We wandered along, trying to figure out what was the reason for the gathering. More and more people were joining the crowd. Everyone seemed pleasant so I wasn't worried we were walking into an angry mob.

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In the plaza, a stage had been erected and it appeared they were still setting up for later. We checked out some of the groups in the plaza and decided to start back towards the hotel. Walking back down the Avenida, the crowd was still building. More and more groups with banners had congregated at the intersection. In fact, the main avenue, a 16 lane boulevard, was completely blocked and even more groups with flags and banners were lining up along the street. We were taking photos and videos of the multitudes of people everywhere.

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There were various political groups, Communist, Peronist, and a host of others. We wondered if the groups were heading to the plaza so we stuck around waiting for the throng to move. But the more we waited, the more we realized these folks weren't going anywhere anytime soon. As we walked up Avenida 9 de Julio (9th of July Avenue) I noticed the various groups were still coming. Instead of a few thousand people, this was turning into tens of thousands. I continued to be impressed with how well everyone was getting along. There were no fights or arguments. Just a lot of people sharing their views.

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One of the groups that caught my attention was the Madres de Mayo. This is a group of women who lost their sons during a junta in May of 1976. Nearly 30,000 people disappeared during the late 70s & early 80s. They still protest on the Plaza de Mayo every Thursday. These ladies, of all ages, had put together a presentation that brought tears to my eyes. I was deeply moved. At one point, the women turned around and spoke to the onlookers. Although I don't know what they said exactly, I inferred they were saying "Don't Forget" and also asking, "What happened to my son (father, brother)?" I couldn't break eye contact with the woman speaking to me as she asked her questions.

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Madres de Mayo

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By now, we were getting thirsty so we ducked into a Subway shop for a pop. One of the workers there spoke English so we asked what all of the people were gathering for. He said that today's holiday is the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. So, we were nearly right. It's a partial political rally and a chance to stand up for your cause. After a little rest, we decided to attempt to check one of the museums we hadn't seen earlier in the week. Since it's a holiday we knew there was a chance it would be closed but wanted to chance it. Once again, we were right.
With the museums closed, the only items left to see were in the park right next to us. Handy. I have to say, one thing I really like about Buenos Aires is the amount of green space and parks throughout the city. The last monument to see was the smaller version of the Big Ben tower just outside the train station.

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Mini Big Ben

With all of our photos taken, we headed back to the hotel. My feet were aching but I was glad that I was able to witness how another country handles remembrance. All in all, to me, much more interesting than an art museum.

Posted by Jengt 15:40 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

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