journeys

Friday, May 29, 2009

Cinque Terre (May 25th - May 29th)

GETTING THERE

Genoa is probably the closest airport to fly to, to get to the Cinque Terre region. Florence is another alternative. Rome and Milan are options as well. I flew to Milan, but went to Venice first. So I made my way to Cinque Terre by train from Venice, which incidentally connects in Milan anyways. The time from Milan Centrale Station to Levanto was a little under 3 hours.
Regardless of where you fly to, you will eventually need to take a train, or drive to Cinque Terre. I guess you can go by sea as well, but I haven’t really explored that option and don’t know much about it. Trenitalia (http://www.trenitalia.com) has a great user friendly website one can use to check fares, schedules and make your reservations online.

You can either take the train to Levanto (recommended if coming from the north) or La Spezia (if coming from the south). Both Levanto and La Spezia and larger cities on each of Cinque Terre. You can choose to make these towns your base, or do like we did, just pick a village in Cinque Terre and stay there. There are trains running almost every 30 min between Levanto and La Spezia which stops at some or all the 5 villages. The five villages are all in a 5.28 km stretch, so the train rides are really short (2-3 min) between each village.

For tickets, you can but a single ticket and use it as many times within a 6 hour window as long as you go in the same direction as when you started. (to return, you will need a separate ticket). In anycase, tickets between villages are cheap (€1.40). Also, you have an option of including unlimited train with your Cinque Terre pass. The Cinque Terre pass, allows you on the trails between the 5 villages. It is €5.00 per day. Other options are also available for longer lengths. For more information, visit http://www.parconazionale5terre.it/news_parco_primo_piano.asp?id_lingue=2&pag=1


CINQUE TERRE ACCOMMODATIONS


I read a lot of information about Cinque Terre accommodations – from peoples blogs, to trip advisor, hotels.com, friends who had visited the area – and finally after sending out a couple dozen emails to various bed and breakfasts we decided on our accommodations.

Our first step was to narrow down which village we wanted to stay in. Most of the bigger travel sites (like hotels.com) listed hotels and B&B in Riomaggiore, arguably one of the biggest of the 5 villages. However, my first instinct was to stay in Corniglia since it is in the middle of the 5 villages. I found one B&B I liked, but after reading the review (which now, I can vouch is true) it was not a very convenient spot. After 5 or 6pm, there are no buses. You can take the train between villages. If you choose to eat dinner at Riomaggiore for instance, when you return to Corniglia, you will probably have to walk for at least 20 min to get to your room. It finally came down to a decision between Monterosso al mare and Vernazza.

Monterosso has the best beaches of Cinque Terre, and the most variety and number of restaurants among all the other villages and Vernazza looked just so pretty. Not being able to decide between the two, we decided to stay 2 nights at each place. In hindsight, it was a good decision – I enjoyed both places immensely. Perhaps if I had to choose only one, I’d pick Monterosso – It seemed to have more restaurants and bars. Also, the train station is in the heart of the new town and a short walk from old town, making it convenient to spend a late evening at another village and still being able to make it back to Monterosso late.

At Monterosso, we stayed at the Unico Affittacamere. At peak season, we paid €70/night It is owned by Adriano Rossignoli. I love the room. It was small, but very cozy, charming and clean. The location, in old town was perfect too. I would highly recommend it - this place is a gem. You can email Adriano at unicoscienza@libero.it . Basic information about the room is available at http://www.monterossonet.com/eng/strutture/hotel/da_unico/da_unico.htm

At Vernazza, we stayed at an apartment (without kitchen). The cost was €85/night. The location was fantastic. Just a few blocks from the train station, and steps away from the beach (You have a view of the beach from the bedroom window - See Photo). The only drawback with this apartment was that it can get very noisy till late at night or early in the morning since there are a couple of café/bars next to the apartment. Still, if you keep the windows shut, you can keep the most of the noise out. To make reservations, contact Alberto Basso at albertobasso@hotmail.com


A TOURIST IN CINQUE TERRE

DAY 1
After checking in to our room in the late afternoon, we spent our evening exploring Monterosso, walking in the old and new town. We spent a relaxed evening, eating dinner at the Enoteca Internazionale followed by a glass of wine at a bar just a few steps from our room.

DAY 2
We bought the Cinque Terre Pass for the day (€5/pp for the trail only - €8.50 for the trail + train for the day) … We planned to walk all the way from Monterosso to Riomaggiore stopping by each of the villages for a snack or wine or both. The trail from Monterosso to Vernazza (approx 1.5 hrs) and then from Vernazza to Corniglia (approx 1hr) was the hardest – but absolutely gorgeous as you pass through vineyards and orchards and have spectacular views of the Mediterranean at the same time. Corniglia to Manarola (approx 1 hr) was a straight stretch of road for the most part (other than the steep walk down the paved path towards the train station in Corniglia to get to the train – and the 300+ steps to the trail) – still it was a breeze compared to the hike between the previous two villages. Manarola to Riomaggiore was just a 20min walk – the trail called Via Dell’ Amore (lovers trail) was a pathway hugging the coastline offering expansive views of the Mediterranean. Absolutely gorgeous!

At Vernazza, we stopped at a café for juice and a sandwich. At Corniglia, we hunted for Miele Gelato (Honey gelato - a specialty of Corniglia) and were rewarded at a gelateria with the most delicious honey gelato. At Manarola, I wanted to drink the local wine made with grapes just from Manarola (as compared to the blends with grapes from all regions of Cinque Terre). I wasn’t too lucky. Instead, we settled for the most delicious foccacio’s at a bakery. At Riomaggiore, we stopped for a drink – my first glass of wine that day at La Corniglia. We took the train back to Monterosso and after relaxing and freshening up went to dinner at Al Carugio – a restaurant a block away from our room.

Having spent the entire day getting a flavor of all the villages – we planned to spend the next day in Vernazza (since we were to stay there for the next 2 nights), and then our last day in Corniglia and Manarola.

DAY 3
We checked in at our apartment at Vernazza. Alberto – the owner of the apartment suggested a La Sondra for lunch – an excellent recommendation. After lunch, we explored the village (did not take much time doing that) and then spent an hour at the beach. Dinner was at Belforte – a great restaurant, with an excellent location – overlooking the sea. I would recommend making reservations to make sure you get the table with the best views.

After dinner, we spent the evening with Alberto, his girlfriend Catherine and a couple of his friends. It was an unplanned event – we wanted to see a soccer game on TV and Alberto graciously offered us his living room to watch the game. He was entertaining some friends that evening and invited us to join them. I ate one of the best Tiramisu’s ever – and even got the recipe for it from Alberto.

DAY 4
We took the ferry to Riomaggiore. We wanted to go to Manarola, but due to rough seas, the ferry wouldn’t stop there. At Riomaggiore we explored the area a little, then took the train to Corniglia for lunch. No – I had no intention of walking that day. Lunch was a take away sandwich and some juice to keep us hydrated, and our treat later was the real reason we were there in the first place - their honey gelato. Hmm yummy!!!

We took the trail from Corniglia to Manarola – the only trail that you do not need the Cinque Terre pass. At Manarola, we sat at a bar, enjoying Cinque Terre wine and waited till 6:30pm, so we could eat dinner at Marina Piccola. After dinner, we took the train back to Vernazza and spent our last night with a bottle of wine sitting on the rocks, overlooking the sea, listening to waves crash at the shore. A wonderful end to a wonderful stay in Cinque Terre. The next day we were to head out early on a train back to Milan.









Monday, May 25, 2009

Venice (May 22nd - May 25th)

VENICE TRANSPORTATION: GETTING THERE & AROUND - SOME TRAVEL TIPS..

I traveled by train from Milan to Venice. It took approx. 2.5 hrs. €53 roundtrip 2nd class. Make sure you get tickets to Venice Saint Lucia and not Mestre (unless that's where you are staying) as Mestre is on the Mainland. When you leave the train station you will face the Grand Canal - It took me a few seconds to completely grasp that this is it - the real thing - not the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas or Disneyworld.

To get to the city center, you can take a water taxi (which can be quite expensive) or a Vaparetto. Two lines (line 1 & 2) run between the train Santa Lucia to St. Marks Square. (One way: €6.50 valid for an hour for a single direction only.. Cheaper tickets available for shorter distances). Vaparetto #1 is a slow service and will take approx 45min to get to St. Marks Square. Vaporetto #2, will takes approx 25min. Plan your return trip accordingly - We almost missed our train as we anticipated 30 min for the journey but realized we took Vaparetto 1, instead of 2.

You do not need the day passes for the Vaparetto unless you absolutely hate walking or plan to visit the nearby islands. You can walk from one end of the island to the other in less than an hour. Most of the touristy sights are within a 20 min walk from Rialto. It is a 5min walk from Rialto to St. Marks Square.

If you are curious and are interested in buying the passes, this site http://www.veniceconnected.com/ gives you all the details as well as an option to buy your tickets online (you get a discount if you buy the passes at least a week in advance)


RECOMMENDED ACCOMMODATION IN VENICE

At first glance, accommodations are expensive in Venice. Even a decent hostel runs to €50 pp/ per night. Hotels.com gave a bunch of options with an average price of €250/night for a Rialto or St Marks square location (which are the ideal locations). After spending almost all day searching for a nice, inexpensive (less than €150) place to stay in Venice, I finally found a gem. Locanda Antico Casin (http://www.anticocasin.com/en/index.htm). Room rates vary according to season. In May, the regular rate was €150/night. Look on their website for specials before booking. I was able to get my room for €120/nt since I was staying 3nights. Closer to my departure though, they has a last minute special of 95E/nt. Note though, this hotel only has 5 rooms, so I would not advise to wait until the last minute to book. Grab your room while you can if it is available. You will not regret it. This place is only a block away from St Marks. It is very clean, modern & comfortable. And even though it is so close to the most touristy place, it is in an alleyway which is very quiet so you will not be disturbed if you want to sleep early or wake up late. (Photo)

A TOURIST IN VENICE
My travel plans involved 3nts (2.5 days in Venice). That was perfect. I was able to see all the sights I really wanted to see and spend plenty to leisure time at café's, bars, and restaurants.

DAY 1, arrived Venice at 4:00pm.
We walked over to St Marks square, just because it was so close to us. Admired the Basilica and the Palace from the outside and then walked to Harry's Bar. (http://www.harrysbarvenezia.com/) A historic (and pricey) bar which invented the famous Bellini (Peach and Prosecco cocktail). I was expecting well dressed people and a flashy interior, but instead it was a small (but nice) room packed with very casually dressed tourists and tired and uninterested wait staff. A Bellini and a coffee and €30 poorer, we headed for a Cicchetteria (pub which serve small appetizers) crawl.

First stop was Ostaria Dei Zemei, It looked nice & casual and had food (I was hungry). Someone had just ordered a pretty looking drink so I asked the bartender to make me the same. The drink, apparently quite popular in Venice, is a Spritz. Mine was a Spritz con Campari. It was too bitter for my taste buds, but I am told there are many variations of the Spritz, and it does not have to be with Campari. In any case, I settled for wine for rest of my trip.

Next stop was Pane Vino e San Daniele (on Calle dei Botteri, Sao Polo 1544), apparently a chain. We were tempted by the sight of a fresh bubbling tomato sauce on the counter with breadsticks. So we ordered a glass of wine and nibbled on the breadsticks. After a glass (or was it two) of wine, we walked over to Al Marca (on Campo Cesare Battisti, near the fish market). This was a small bar without any seating overlooking a square. Apparently a very popular spot with the 18-35 age group locals. It was very crowded. We took our drinks and walked to the canal side and sat by the dock watching the boats sail by. Stuffed with appetizer’s but still hungry for more treats, we made our way to Al Nono Risorto, our last stop for the evening, an inexpensive pizzeria/trattoria boasting to have the best pizza's in Venice. After eating there, I would not be surprised if this claim was true. It was definitely one of the better pizza's I have had. If you want outdoor seating on weekend's do make reservations. This place is very popular.

DAY 2:
Started with breakfast in bed at the hotel. Did I mention how awesome the Locanda Antico Casin is? Well, it is.

We began our exploration of Venice around 10:30am. First we went to the Correr Museum on St Marks Square. (If you are planning to go to the Doge's Palace, your best bet is to buy your tickets at the Correr Museum to beat the line at the Palace) The ticket covers both the Correr museum and the Doge's Palace entry. After visiting the Correr Museum we went to St Mark's Basilica (Photo). Again, to beat the long serpentine queue to enter the Basilica, we went to the Bag check counter (on a small street to the left of the Basilica), checked in our bag (for free) and got a token which let us enter the basilica immediately. Only caveat is you have one hour to visit the basilica and pick up your bag - which really isn't a big deal. Entry to the basilica is free, but there are entrance fees to see the crypt of to go the 2nd floor where there is a small museum besides, the view from the balcony of St. Mark's square, as well as the interior of the basilica, makes this worthwhile.

For lunch we walked over to Sandwich row on Calle delle Rasse near St Marks Square for quick yummy inexpensive sandwiches to fuel us for the next couple of hours sightseeing. After lunch we went to Doge's Palace. The tickets we got at the Correr museum again helped us beat the line and walk right in. After spending a couple of hours at the Palace, we walked towards Friar Church. On the way, we stopped at a café on a square and sipped a Bellini and wine. The church was beautiful. Got to see the tomb of Titian and Canova, two great artists.

A full day of sightseeing done, we treated ourselves to some wine and appetizers at Cantino do Mori (on Sao Polo 429) and another Cicchetteria at Campo Cesare Battisti (near Al Marca). Cantino do Mori, was my favorite because of its rustic ambiance.

That evening, I went Tango dancing. I was a little disappointed with the Tango scene in venice. I guess I expected more. The Milonga was far from the city center (a 40 min walk) in a fairly deserted neighborhood. Not too many dancers. I did not stay there too long. Enough to dance a few tanda's and then returned back to the hotel.

DAY 3
We were woken up by a loud band playing. Today was the Fiesta della Senza. We assumed the band was playing near the canal. We had our breakfast and decided to walk to the Grand Canal near St Marks square to watch the festivities. As we got out of the hotel, we found the band playing right outside our hotel door. No wonder it felt so loud. We took some pictures at the Canal of the boats that were going to race that day. Then we went to the Campanile (the bell tower) (Photo) on St. Marks Square. We got wonderful views of the island as well as of all the boats at the canal for the festivities.

Next stop was to the Rialto bridge for the Sunday market – we wanted to buy some souvenirs. After buying some Murano glass handicrafts and a Venetian mask, we were hungry for lunch. We went to Osteria al Bomba , a restaurant listed in our guide book and while there, we met a group of 6 men who were apparently making their rounds at different bars. One of them was of Indian origin (Photo). He was from Pune, and had been living in Venice for 40 years. He recommended another restaurant close by (Osteria al Bottega) for lunch. It was really good. My ravioli was delicious!

Next stop was Scuola San Rocco, "Tintoretto's Sistine Chapel". Beautiful paintings! As if that wasn’t enough, our next stop was the Accademia Museum. After the museum, we had a quick snack at Pizzeria Accademia Foscarini (next to the Accademia bridge and Galleria). It was good – but not as good as Al Nono. Probably a good thing as we needed our appetite for our dinner. We had reservations at Bistrot de Venice (http://www.bistrotdevenise.com/eng/index.html). Paul had read about it in a book The Conquest of Taste, which talks about the history of spice trade. The Bistrot is one restaurant, which serves meals from the historic era using the traditional recipes and spices. The meal was very good and so was the ambience. A really nice way to spend our last night in Venice.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Comme il faut

This shop is so exclusive. They do not post pictures of their shoes on their website. They have limited quantity of shoes for each design. Some designs are available only in certain sizes. They have new designs come in everyday (which is how suckers like me end up buying shoes each time we go there). And they are actually comfortable, in spite of the high heels. Sorry guys, this store is for women only.

Some photos of my Comme il faut Tango shoes, so you can see what the fuss is all about.











Saturday, December 13, 2008

Last tango in Argentina

How much can I cram in my last 24 hrs in Buenos Aires to savor every bit of my experience there? Well - the best bet was to focus on the two things I love the most - Tango and Shopping. I started with Tango on Friday afternoon. Actually managing to wake up early enough to make the noon class at Confiteria Ideal. The class was hosted by Diego and Zoraida. It was more a practica (a practice session) rather than a formal class. You dance, if you need help, you ask the teachers. At one point, when I was taking a break and sitting, Diego came up to me and told me that he saw me dancing at the Milonga in Ideal a few days back and that I danced well, so what did I feel I need help working on. It caught me off guard, as I have had previous teachers in group classes show me figures and steps. Still, I took this opportunity to gather up things that I am need work on - Like my posture (I tense my shoulders at time), or boleos in the air (I can't relax my leg enough). He danced with me for a few minutes and then asked me why I suddenly stress in the midst of a dance… and I started saying .."well, I am trying to think …" and he cut me off before I could complete my sentence and said "That’s it - You are thinking. You should not think." And then he went on to show me that the only way I can move at any time in Tango is to walk back, or step forward, or to the side, or pivot and to the side - that is all. So with just 4 possible options for me, there is no need to think. Interesting way to put it. I have heard the "Do not anticipate" line before, and this was along those lines. I now need to work on just feeling the lead, not mentally interpret the lead. I practiced some more and then I got hungry.

I found a Pizzeria mentioned in my guide book. A very humble non-touristy restaurant with a lot of local flavor and character. It's called El Cuartito. I had two of my Argentine favorite - Queso y Cebolla Empanada & a a slice of Fugazetta (A white pizza with sour cream and Onions). I also tried Farina, a chickpea pancake which reminds me of something my mom makes. Suitably stuffed - I was now on to my next stop - Comme il faut. I wanted a neutral color dance shoes that would go with most dresses. I had seen one pair I had liked before and wanted to stop by and pick it up. Ingrid met me there as she had to pick up her shoes that she had bought and given for having suede soles put on the shoes. I went to just pick one pair, but while there, I saw another girl try on this bright black, yellow pick suede sandals with gold heels (yes, I know it sounds gaudy, but its not) I fell in love with those shoes and even though the heel was not as high as I wanted, I bought that too. I justified the purchase by thinking that these will be fabulous with a dressy pair of jeans and can pep up any outfit. So now, in all I have five pairs of dancing shoes from Buenos Aires, not counting the two that I already have at home. With eight pairs of dancing shoes, I now just need more Milongas to go to. I was not the only victim - Ingrid who was there to pick up her two shoes ended up buying two more. Bumped into Zeynep there too, who confided that so far in 10 days she has bought 12 pairs of shoes. It makes me feel less guilty now of my own indulgence.

That evening, Ingrid, Zeynep and I went to the theater for a Tango show at the Cambalache festival. After the show there was a Milonga. We stayed for about an hour at the Milonga but it was not that great. A lot of people, but very few were dancing. Considering it was to be my last milonga for this trip, I wanted to dance. We went to Salon Canning for the Parkutural Milonga instead. I got my hearts desire of dancing. Non stop for two hours until I my feet hurt so much. Towards the end, I avoided eye contact with people as I wanted to sit for a while, but that was not to be. Men came up to me asked me if I wanted to dance, and of course I still haven't mastered the art of saying no I am tired - so I danced some more. Finally when I could feel my feet dragging on the floor I knew its time for me to go home. I reached home at 4am.

Saturday, my last day in the city, I spent by going to Recoleta to the Artesan Market. I had some pesos left over and wanted to use them up. And I sure did that - all the way down to my last peso. Not a wise decision, as by afternoon when I got back to the casa, I was hungry and I walked around the neighborhood and realized that none of them accept credit cards. I guess I could have gone to an ATM, but did not want to for just 10 pesos ($3). Instead I went back home, had some fruits and cookies and coffee.

Maria met me a couple of hours before I was to leave and later Ingrid and Zeynep joined me for my final farewell… We sat, talked and joked about our funny tango moments and before I knew it, my shuttle was there to pick me up. (Picture: With Maria)

At the airport, I walked around aimlessly. Like Vegas and Amsterdam have slot machines at the airport for you spend your last few minutes gambling, I was longing that the Buenos Aires airport has a Milonga for a last tango before I get on the flight. Of course that was not meant to be… (But it would be a good idea, right?). While standing in line waiting to board, there was a young American teenager talking in a stereotypical “ugly American” high pitched whiney voice about how she could not stand the Subte (subways) in the city and how Buenos Aires was just so crowded and dirty and had dog poop everywhere etc etc… I felt sorry for her that she was unable to see past those layers into the depths of what this city has to offer. You really do not need to be a tango lover to fall in love with this city. It’s the people, the food, the music, the language the history all intertwined which makes this place so special. I turned on my ipod to my Tango music and drowned out the whiney voice and savored my last few minutes in Buenos Aires.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Getting high on a Tango overdose

My first milonga by myself was actually a lot of fun. It was called Maldita (damned) Milonga - (Which I found out later is named after a song which the orchestra who hosts that Milonga plays) I arrived there at 8:30pm as I was told thats when they have a group lesson pre milonga however I was the only person there (other than the musicians and the hosts). The lesson started at 9pm, and till then I chatted and befriended Adan, the bass player in the Orchestra. The lesson started with the very basics (majority of the people who showed up were complete beginners). After 20 min of warm up the group was divided into beginners and intermediates. The class was all about Giros (turns). After one hour of practicing giros I was getting dizzy (estoy Mariada.... I learned to say that in spanish). I danced with Adan who could not and does not dance, with Guillermo, who was almost a beginner. They were both from Buenos Aires (one of them a tango musician at that) and still do not dance Tango - Apparently the tango population is not too big here - especially with the younger people.

Talking about younger people, this Milonga had only 3 men with white hair.. meaning it was mostly a young crowd. (Which is why Maria recommended me to go here - and she was right). Even though I was by myself, I did not feel alone. I was seated with a French woman who talked to me about her travels to India. And then I danced some. My first dance (the most critical as thats where the other men judge you) felt good. I was reaffirmed in that I got asked to dance the next tanda by another guy who I had seen dancing before and was a good dancer - He told me that he saw me dance and that I dance Muy Lindo (which I think means beautiful). Unfortunately for him, my dance with him was not too good. Nor was the next two ones. They were not bad - but I could feel that I did not dance well. I do not understand why is it that I am able to connect and dance well with some people yet with others, however good dancers they may be, I am just not able to dance well. I tense and stiffen up at times. I have been told many times to relax. Still, I was able to dance some more. I stayed till the end (2:30am) and Adan was nice enough to drop me back home (as I was worried about getting a Taxi in that - san telmo- neighborhood at that time).

Today... i had three group lessons. One was Tango Nuevo at Escuela DNI which was a good class. In the evening I had another one with Sergio and his partner and there was just one other person in the class, so it was pretty much a private class for me. I enjoyed the class immensely, as I got to dance for 2 hours practicing and improving my dance. Sergio said that for 4mths, I dance quite good and that I must have an excellent teacher to have taught me as well. Incidentally this is the 4th person to have said that and I do agree - Louie has been a great teacher - everything I have learned from him, I hear in all the classes here - His style is as authentic as any Porteno. Infact a few days back at a Milonga, one of my dance partners asked me if my teacher was Argentine. Who would have thought I would get to find a Tango teacher in Little Rock - let alone an excellent one at that. My next class was with Puchu, a really good dancer who I had seen perform at a local show. It was a good class, however only drawback was the class was in Spanish so I missed all that he said, just watched his feet and movements instead. In this class, a woman actually hated me .. (Ingrid said she must have been jealous).. I was standing closest to Puchu so every time he demonstrated a step, he danced with me.. the woman said in Spanish that I am a terrible dancer and that I do not have the right posture and steps and that he should dance with someone more experienced like herself to demonstrate the figures... poor Puchu was put in a spot so he danced with each of the women.

At the end of the class, I was talking to Maria and Susanna about wanting to learn Chacarera (a folk dance) and Susanna got Puchu to show me and Ingrid how to dance it. I love Chacarera. It is a flirtatious dance where the man tries to woo the woman and the woman is all coy and towards the middle of the song she flirts back and in the end they are together. The music is so catchy and the dance fun a lot of fun. Unfortunately I sucked at it. I am no good at being flirtatious and coy. Later Puchu told me that I may not be good at Chacarera but I am very good at Tango and that if I keep on dancing, in one year I too would be able to perform. I don't know if he said that to make me feel nice after the other woman's nasty comment - but it worked - I have been in high spirits.

Below is a video of people dancing Chacarera at La Ideal

video

The good mood lingered through the night when Ingrid and I went to a Milonga at Club Gricel. We were not there for too long. I had 3 dances and my last one in particular was very good. On that high note we left Gricel and came back to the casa. Now, just one more night of Milonga in Buenos Aires left.... sob!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

No longer a tourist - now feeling at home in Buenos Aires

I am amazed how much Buenos Aires reminds me of Bombay. The buildings, the streets, the senseless traffic, crowds of people walking down the street, crowds on the subway, the weather, the humidity, the rains... yes.. all have a feel of Bombay ... And if I have to compare it to a European city, I would pick an Eastern European city like Bucharest. Here, like Bombay and Bucahrest, you have the old buildings blended in with new construction, the buildings not necessarily well maintained but each of them tells a story of its past if only you stopped to appreciate it. Ironically, I am not the only person who feels that way. Yesterday at a Milonga, I danced with a man, who between songs I learned was from Romania and he told me how Buenos Aires reminded him of Bucharest too.

These last few days I have been very interested in learning about real estate in Buenos Aires. First it was my friend Paula who plated a seed when she said to find an aprtment so that we all can come back and stay here whenever we want. Then I read about how economical it is to buy apartments here and that many Europeans and buyimg apartments as an investment. Someone mentioned that I can buy a 1 bedroom apartment for $60,000. Not bad - if i had that kind of spare cash. Still, I can dream. I talked to Elizabeth about it once, and the next day she told me how her friends Beatrice and Cyrill found an apartment for me. (they have friends in town who are architects). I loved the way she described the apartment. "... your apartment is in an old building which has been renovated... your apartment is on the 3rd floor... your apartment has a balcony..." I loved the way she said "your" she sure knew how to feed my dreams.

This week, I am not taking any private lessons.... instead, I have been going to a few group lessons. On Monday, I went to DNI Estudio where they had a class for Tango Nuevo. I found that a little difficult to get used to, as the styling is quite different than the salon Tango that I am used to dancing. Still it was good practice... also gave me some more elements that I can add to my dance. That evening, we went to Al Aranque (Picture 1) for an early evening Milonga. All older men there (by older I mean men in their 70's and 80's) - Come to think of it, it has been rare occasions that I have danced with young people. Most of those have been at night Milongas. Later at midnight, I went to Salon Canning (Paracultural Milonga). It was half full at that time, but by 1:30am it was packed. I got to dance for 2 hours non-stop... which was great as people were asking me to dance.- I think it was because of my hip new Tango sandals :-) .. After a couple of hours, my feet were sore. I knew I am tired, when suddenly dancing felt more painful than fun. By now, I have learned to call it quits when the going is good. I left Zeynep there as she wanted to dance some more and took a cab home.

Tuesday, I went with Elizabeth to a few shoe shops.. (By now I have been to almost all possible Tango shoe stores). I bought myself a pair of practice shoes (flat - no heels). I thought that would make dancing less painful if I dance for a few hours in flats... (but I later found out I was wrong - Its not the heels that were the problem apparently, it is dancing and leaning on my "Metatarso"(the balls of my feet). I have not been dancing too long, so suddenly 4-8 hrs of dancing a day is a lot. I am told, I will soon get used to it. I used my new practice shoes at my next group class - At La Ideal. I wanted to take Eduardo Saucedo's class, but after I got there, I was told that he will not be in. Instead the class was hosted by a Gustavio. He was good, but he thought extremely basic level steps. (Most of the people at the class were complete beginners). I did not get to learn much, instead I helped the complete novices by being their partner. Later Zeyneb told me, I should have left if I was not getting to learn from the class - "time is precious here" she said - if its not good, go someplace else, or go to a cafe and enjoy instead. True, considering I have only 4 more days left. That evening, I went to El Aranque again with Maria and Ingrid. We all danced for a couple of hours and then got home by 9:30.

That evening, we had a farewell dinner for Elizabeth. She leaves on Thursday. We ordered Empanada's, made salad at home, and had champagne and wine. It was a fun evening - just a small group of us - Maria, Elizabeth, Beatrice, Cyrill, Ingrid and I. After dinner, I planned to go to La Cathedral for a Milonga at midnight - however it started raining heavily and we cancelled our plans. Instead, I went to bed early. (Picture 2: Ingrid, me, Elizabeth, Cyrill, Beatrice and Maria)

Today I spent all day at the Palermo Viejo neighborhood with Zeyneb. Palermo Viejo is an ultra chic area, with nice cafes and upscale stores. I ogled at many (non-tango) shoes, and beautiful designer clothes. I bought myself some scarves (including an orange one to go with my tango shoes). I went to a store called Seco which only sold rain gear - it sounds boring, but was actually a fun store. I found myself a nice jacket on sale - i needed an all weather jacket, and this was perfect. After shopping, we went to a cafe for salad and coffee & juice. (Picture 3: Zeynep at the Cafe)

Now, I am back at home - The evening is still young. I plan to go to a Milonga by myself (have never been to one alone). Its called Maldita Milonga. Maria recommended I go to this one (younger crowd, plus they have a group lesson at 8pm which she thought I may like). Later at night, I will be joining Carina at the "queer" milonga. More on that later, as I have yet to figure out what that would be like.

Monday, December 08, 2008

A tourist in Buenos Aires

I had an abnormal day today – 24 hours passed with no dancing. Yet, I had a wonderful time. Today being Sunday, there are no Tango lessons at any place and I have no private classes scheduled. In a way it is good as it forces me to be a normal tourist in the city. My agenda was to go to Recoleta (see the famous cemetery where Eva Peron is buried - Picture 1) and then on to San Telmo to the Sunday market.

At Recoleta, they have a handicrafts Artisan market every Sunday and on holidays. I was expecting it to be similar to the one at San Telmo, but this one was a lot better. Nicer handicrafts, and I think cheaper prices. I spent three hours browsing through all the stores and wishing I could buy most of the things I saw – paintings, photos, handmade jewelry, woolen ponchos, crochet tops, mate are just some of the things I longed for. I had to curb my instinct to buy everything I liked – I am way too familiar with my impulse buying habit – It looks great, I get caught up in the moment, buy things and then never use it, or can find something better and cheaper elsewhere. I did get a few pieces of casual jewelry and a beautiful & unique fruit basket for my mother who loves that kind of stuff. (Picture 1: Zeynep and Dave at the Market)

After shopping, I went to the cemetery. It was like nothing I have seen before. There are no tombstones like I was expecting, rather they have small house like structures for families and or individual bodies. Some of them being so ornate. It was quite remarkable.

I did not expect to spend as much time as I did in Ricoleta. It was already 6pm – 6 hrs in Ricoleta later – I was tired. I came back to the casa to freshen up, then went to San Telmo. By the time I arrived there, the market had almost ended, but there were a lot of street artists playing music and dancing. I wanted to go to the Milonga Del Indio at the square at Defensa and Carlos Calvo – I wasn’t quite sure what to expect – a Milonga or a street performance. It turned out to be a performance of a couple of Tango dancers. They were good, but I have seen better at the tango lessons I have taken and at some of the Milongas.

Next stop was dinner. My friend Dave leaves tomorrow for Cordoba and I won’t see him again, so had a farewell dinner. We craved spicy food, so I suggested this Indian restaurant I saw in my guide book called Bangalore (at Humboldt 1416). I thought it would be a hole in the wall place with good food, but I was surprised by how nice it was. It was far better (in terms of ambience and quality of food) than most Indian Restaurants that I have been to in the US. The meal with a bottle of wine was less than $20 per person. I liked the place so much, I think I will go back – maybe take Luis (my tango teacher) and/or Daniela (from the Casa) to lunch as they are both vegetarians too and I think would enjoy this food.

After dinner, I was itching to dance. I had not been to a night Milonga in a couple of days, and had not danced for over 24hrs – so I did go to a Milonga. We went to El Beso (apparently it is “the” place to go to on Sunday nights). We got there at 12:30am, and it was packed. Excellent dancers, a joy to watch them. I danced a few tandas – enough to satisfy my craving to dance. I watched others dance and noticed that not one girl on the dance floor wore closed toe shoes…. All wore beautiful strappy high heeled sandals. I was the only one with the classic closed toe shoes, and suddenly felt so old-fashioned in them. Still, old fashioned or not, they are by far the most comfortable to wear while dancing.

After being content with my little bit of dancing and watching others dance, I was ready to leave for home. Another fabulous day spent in Buenos Aires.