Well, hello there, did you think I had dropped off the edge of the earth? Well, yes, Argentina is a long way away, since you mention it.
Monday, 31 July, 2023
I spent the day before our departure stress tidying a bookcase. Some people were not enormously pleased. More fool them as we are home now and we know where all the jigsaws are.
I found myself increasingly worried about our 2 hour window to change flights in JFK. We were only passing through the US but we discovered, rather late in the game, that we would have to go though immigration and rescue our luggage and get it on the connecting flight. We also had to fill in ESTA forms. The US is not ideal for transit but we were flying a long way as cheaply as we could (still very expensive, I might add).
Mr. Waffle found a fantastic app for roaming which herself tested out when she was in Italy. I can truly recommend. It’s called Airalo and no one paid me any money for this recommendation. More’s the pity. Mr. Waffle also sorted out cash, insurance, Argentine plug adaptors and gathered tickets, passports and other documentation. Good job I had the bookcase tidying in hand is all I can say.
Tuesday, 1 August, 2023
We arrived at Dublin airport about lunch time to be given the deeply unwelcome intelligence that our flight from London to New York had been cancelled. We would be flown out via Paris the following day. Could we go home and fly in the morning? Are you joking me? We had to take our scheduled flight to Heathrow and once there would be sorted by BA for overnight accommodation in London and onward flights. The man at the ticket desk gave us this comprehensive paper work.
Essentially we would be spending 24 hours getting to Paris which is kind of in the wrong direction from Ireland, if you are trying to get to Argentina. As my sister conceded when I told her about our woes, “It does seem a roundabout way to get to Argentina.”
When we got to Heathrow we queued for two long hours to arrange our new flights and hotel accommodation. A very pleasant French woman sorted us out eventually, “Oh, you’re going to Argentina,” she exclaimed, “I would love to be you!” I did raise a slightly battle hardened eyebrow at that but I suppose her heart was in the right place.
We stayed in the Renaissance hotel in Heathrow airport. The children had a room each and Daniel was touchingly amazed and delighted that it was free. The rest of us were a bit less impressed and herself sent round a poll asking whether the hotel had previously been a prison; honestly, quite plausible. We were rigorously separated from paying guests and checked-in and fed in separate rooms – obviously minimising costs as they had some kind of deal with BA but these were – you will scarcely believe this – even less appealing than the hotel restaurants. I went to inquire about buses. There were no buses to our terminal and they recommended booking a taxi. I booked. I will reveal that in the morning it cost us £50 to get to the airport. What kind of an airport hotel does not have a shuttle bus to the terminals? The Renaissance Heathrow Airport. As I overheard a German lady saying to her husband in reception, “Niemals wieder!”
Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Anyway after a forgettable breakfast buffet at the hotel we were off. I still had a couple of the £8 vouchers we had got from British airways and passed them on to other passengers. Daniel continued to be charmingly astonished by the generosity of British airways, “We got an £8 voucher each? I thought it was one between the five of us!” Herself put our bags through the self check-in like a ninja.
We got to Paris without further incident. As we transferred in CDG, our substitute cleaner rang. Our own lovely cleaner was on holidays in Ukraine and this was a friend of hers to whom she had given a wholly inflated and inaccurate impression of my ability to express myself in Ukrainian. As we scooted around the airport, I was fielding new cleaner’s queries about the front door key in Ukrainian. I had no idea what was going on. We resorted to texting each other with the assistance of google translate and the neighbours from both sides got involved and I spoke to each on the telephone. The Chubb key she had didn’t work, at least one neighbour had one that worked, she got in. I aged by about five years.
After this we enjoyed an extremely lengthy security queue in CDG and I was filled with fear that we would miss our plane. I am pleased to say that we did not miss our flight and we settled into the five middle seats some distance apart from each other which were to be our homes for the next 15 hours. I have never flown longer than 5 hours before. I would not recommend.
I was sitting beside an Argentinian woman who sympathised with me on my novice long haul flying status. “Do you know what we say about where Argentina is?” she asked. “El culo del mondo” she said patting her bottom. I can confirm that it is a long way from Ireland. I asked whether my knowledge of Italian would be at all helpful in getting around. “No,” she said looking at me, reasonably enough, as though I had two heads. “I heard that there were a lot of Italian immigrants and perhaps…” I said feebly. Apparently not.
By the time we got to arrivals in the airport in Buenos Aires it was about 11.30 local time and we were met by our local guide. Honestly, I would pay all of the considerable money we paid our travel agent just to be met at an international airport in the middle of the night. Silvia, our guide, was a Convent of Mercy girl like myself and this helped us to bond. She commented rather acerbically on all the Argentinian families emerging from the plane. “I see that although we’re all supposed to be suffering economically, some people went to Europe for the winter break with their families.” Our driver whisked us off to the Airbnb and Silvia pressed a charcuterie board and a bottle of wine into my hand after we arrived and she had ensured that we were safely ensconced. “Your arrival gift,” said she. I was living my best life, I am not sure I
can ever go back to non-luxury travel.
A word on our travel arrangements: when we decided to go to Argentina, Mr. Waffle mentioned it to an Argentinian woman who had done a post grad with him in Belgium asking for tips. She put him in touch with Corinne, a friend of hers from school who is a travel agent, and this friend organised our trip. I can never go back; that was an amazing, amazing service. More details will follow but she booked all our internal flights and accommodation except for the airbnbs and this was only the beginning. Stay tuned for further luxury travel details.
Thursday, August 3, 2023
Leaving the children to sleep off the jet lag which was fine really it’s only a four hour time difference, Mr. Waffle and I scurried around the corner to the Pain Quotidien, my safe space everywhere. We were staying in what the airbnb owner called “Chic Recoleta” and Recoleta was pretty chic and also spotless. However, the airbnb did boast this sign in the lift which seems to follow me around from place to place.
As well as breakfast our initial foray into the outside involved a trip to the supermarket. It turns out that Italian is not a lot of use in supermarkets in Buenos Aires. Silvia had said that the supermarkets had very little stock. I didn’t find that but any imported products were breathtakingly dear.
As I was to discover, Argentinians love telling you that BA (as we will now be calling it as I am as good as a local) is a very European city. There was a big boom in the period between about 1880 and 1940 and in the early 20th century a lot of European architects were commissioned to design buildings in BA. So as you walk around, you kind of could be in Paris or Rome or anywhere in Europe except you turn the corner and you’re definitely not. It’s a bit uncanny valley.
After breakfast we went out on tour in our big car. It was a bit weird but not unsatisfying. The big draw in our neighbourhood is the cemetery. I love a cemetery. We were driven there; all of 300 metres from our accommodation. Both driver and guide seemed shocked that we felt we could possibly have walked there through the extremely safe streets of Recoleta.
At the cemetery entrance we were wafted to the top of the queue. No such vulgar issues as buying tickets delayed our entry; this was all sorted beforehand and Silvia guided us around. This is one of the world’s great cemeteries.
Admiral Brown, formerly of Foxford, Co. Mayo and founder of the Argentine Navy is buried here.
The misfortunate young woman buried here was allegedly killed by the shock of discovering that her fiancé and her mother were having an affair. She was then buried but not in fact dead and scrabbled unsuccessfully to get out. Unlikely in my view but a beautiful tomb.
In fact there were loads of really beautiful tombs.
Evita’s tomb was surprisingly very much at the modest end of things. There is a long story about what happened her corpse after she died but most people seem to accept that eventually she landed here.
I very much enjoyed this story about an Argentine great man who wanted his tomb to be a monument to him alone.
His wife died after him and the family, despite his clearly expressed wishes installed her in the same tomb. Her rather grumpy looking bust is around the back.
There was a famous boxer’s grave.
There was something I have never seen before and found quite touching, a shared grave for a Catholic/Jewish couple.
From there we went to inspect a large mechanical tulip in the park which rotates and opens with the sun. I mean, grand, nice even but it was no Recoleta cemetery.
Then off for a quick trot across Parque 3 de Febrero, the “Central Park” of BA. It’s enormous and laid out like all these 19th century parks with water features and walks and so on. Honestly, it probably wasn’t at its best in the middle of winter. I was struck though by how clean it was and for all of the ongoing economic crisis there were loads of municipal employees cleaning and raking and tidying.
The car drove around the park and picked us up on the far side. Unheard of luxury but a bit weird. Our driver, A, was a young Venezuelan; very pleasant and hardworking. He had got himself Argentine residency and voting rights (the ease with which these can be acquired was the subject of some ire among the Argentines). I guess the Venezuelans haven’t had a great time with left wing governments but he told us that he would be voting for Milei in the upcoming presidential primaries. Very popular with the the young men, apparently but definitely someone who would have me clutching my pearls. The former Argentine finance minister, Martin Lousteau, was running for mayor of BA. His posters were everywhere and Michael and I were quite excited as we had been to see him at a small venue in the Kilkenny economics festival (otherwise disastrous) and thought he was pretty good. Our driver and guide were unconvinced.
They took us on a driving tour of the Embassy quarter. A bit dull to be honest but the Indonesians appeared to be prepping for some upcoming excitement and my husband and children enjoyed themselves identifying the various flags.
Then we went to trendy, happening Palermo Soho. This was much more exciting. Because inflation is so problematic (when we arrived in BA the peso was 500 to the dollar, when we left it was 780), the young people are not incentivised to save and they spend all their money in the trendy restaurants and cafes of Palermo Soho and the like. We stopped for churros. Very satisfactory.
That evening we walked to dinner. It was quite exciting to get out with our own map and without a driver. We went to a recommended steak restaurant which was, weirdly, under a motorway. A place called Piegari. We liked the steak but, it was the first of many. Argentinians apparently eat more beef per person than any other nation on earth and I can well believe it.
People, it’s not even the end of the first week and we were in Argentina for three weeks. Much, much more content to come.