Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chillin' in Uruguay

We took the Buque Bus ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo. It was a very comfortable ride with free wifi and a nice change of pace to all the flights we took during our trip. When we arrived there was an immediate sense that life was much slower in Uruguay. Above is the Palacio Salvo that we saw during our city tour. It was South America's tallest building when it was built in 1927 and still is the tallest in Montevideo. Even in the downtown area everything felt quaint and small.

One day we took a full day excursion to Punta del Este, the famous beach resort city about a two hour drive from the capital Montevideo. On the way we stopped at the artist Carlos Paez Vilaro's home and subsequently a museum he built called Casapueblo.

His art work.

The city of Punta del Este has a permanent year round population of around 11,000; but in their summer (our winter) it swells to a million rich folks from Argentina, Brazil, and lately Europe. On the day we visited it was kind of a ghost town.

The symbol of Punta del Este is La Mano, a giant concrete hand sculpture rising out of the sands of the Atlantic. This was actually the first area in Uruguay the beach was against the Atlantic Ocean. Every time I thought it was the ocean I was told it was actually a river, the Río de la Plata. The river flowed along the coast for miles and miles and miles. Strange.

During our tour of Punta del Este our guide pointed out this bridge (click pic to enlarge for better viewing). Why would they build a wavy bridge? Our bus driver showed us... he gunned it. We were sitting in the back and I nearly lost my breakfast. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what passes as entertainment in Uruguay. We did meet a fellow American named Paul on our tour. He gave us his blog address before the day was over. Take a look at his impression of me on his blog; pretty ironic my reaction was to laugh out loud.

Christina woke up our last day in Uruguay with one goal and one goal only– to take a picture of one of the guys we'd seen collecting recycling with his horse. Success. Next stop Chile!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Buenos Aires: our favorite South American city

We loved this city. So much history, architecture, museums, markets, different neighborhoods... the list could go on and on. It was very European and modern in most areas. Above is the famous Floralis Genérica at United Nations Park. The giant metallic petals open when it is sunny and close when its not. In this area we visited a bunch of museums and walked by several embassies.

In the neighborhood of La Boca there is a street called Caminito where everything is painted bright colors. Christina was in heaven.

We wandered around and took photos.

Colorful houses and soccer enthusiasm.

La Boca is home to the soccer club Boca Juniors. The best player in the country and current national team coach is Diego Maradona. His picture was everywhere in Argentina, but in La Boca is was insane because he played his entire career for the Boca Juniors. I opted for the above photo over the lookalike that wanted money (but I kind of regret that now).

During our walk we stopped in this little bakery for a snack. So many choices! Although an obvious tourist trap these days it was a wonderful place to walk around in.

At night we took in a dinner show at La Ventana in the San Telmo neighborhood where all the Tango houses are located. Argentina loves tango. Christina got up for a few tango instructions before dinner and the show (I declined).

Here is a little video during the show. The highlight for me was the guy who swung balls attached to strings against the stage while dancing. In hindsight this should have been the time to record a video (YouTube to the rescue!). It was so unusual. So much dancing. They easily could have cut out almost an hour. The show was fun to see and our seats were next to the stage.
On a lovely Saturday we met up with co-worker of a friend who lived in the city. James is from London, but spoke Spanish and offered to show us around, which was wonderful. He took us to San Telmo, which is an area was very old and has lots of antique shops. The above photo is from one of the antique markets. The main square called Plaza Dorrego has a giant antique market on Sundays, but today had a great craft market. Later James and I had one of the best chorizo sausage sandwiches I've ever had at some small hole in the wall place he had visited in the past.

Later we took a taxi to Palermo. This is a young, trendy, hip neighborhood. Lots of boutique stores and restaurants.
After parting ways with James we took a taxi to Recoleta (near the flower sculpture) to see La Recoleta Cemetery. Its pretty famous and there were many very expensive mausoleums. The Eva Perón grave was by far the most crowded. After we walked through yet another crafts market. I was pretty excited to find a guy selling little figures carved out of the end of wooden matches. I purchased one that looked like Maradona kicking a soccer ball.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Iguassu to Iguazu

We flew into Iguassu Falls, Brazil and the rain started. It rarely let up until we flew out of Iguazu, Argentina two days later. The change of name is because Brazil speaks Portuguese and Argentina speaks Spanish. Our first order of business was a tour of the Itaipu Hydroelectric power plant. Its the largest in the world and was built jointly by Brazil and Paraguay in the Paraná River. The 18 generating units supply 95% of the electric power consumed in Paraguay and 25% of the total demand in the Brazil. The scale of everything was crazy.

Before leaving to check into our hotel I posed with the robot. There were sculptures, murals and lots of trees spread over hundreds of acres at the site of the power plant. Our hotel, despite having an environmental efficient source of electricity so close, insisted on having all the lights (even the hallways) on motion sensors that would only stay on for 4 seconds. It was very strange. In the evening we went into town with Archie and Fred, two Florida guys we met earlier, and had some dinner. Our waiter who spoke perfect English, since he had lived in Detroit for 15 years, laughed when we asked what else we could do in town.

We visited the falls twice. First we crossed the border into Argentina and entered the National Park Iguazu. Originally, when we got off the plane in Iguassu the guy who picked us up asked if we were a family. We all had a good laugh at that and joked about it later. So Archie and Fred wanted to take a 'family' photo at the falls.

To get out to this point we had to take a train through the park, then walk over a series of metal docks over water. If only it hadn't been pouring rain the entire time.

Regardless of rain we would have been soaked at this point. The amount of water moving over the falls was intense.

Snakes!? This sign was placed at the entrance to the jungle from the dock walkway. At this point we took a boat ride up a part of the river, under some of the falls. Everyone was screaming. This was my favorite part of the visit to the falls. It wasn't Christina's, as you can see from the photo once the ride was done. This picture is entitled: defeated, cold, wet, crabby.

After 6 hours out in the cold and rain we had a buffet lunch in the park's restaurant La Selva. It was one of the best meals we had the entire trip (a wonderful surprise, especially since we were still soaking wet). In the evening we laid out everything we had with us during the day to dry and stuffed countless newspapers in our shoes.

Early the next morning we crossed the Iguacu River to view the falls from the Brazilian side. Rather than being directly on top of the falls you get a better view from further back. Again, the scale of things was just amazing.

After the falls we visited a bird zoo called Parque das Aves. All I can say is we saw lots and lots of birds. Despite taking 30-40 photos I just couldn't get a good shot of any hummingbirds. Above is a Paraguayan hammock merchant along the side of the road. It seemed people from Paraguay crossed the border to sell their goods to the wealthier Brazilian and Argentinian folks (and tourists). Unfortunately, one of these hammocks wasn't going to fit in our bags.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Christ, we took a lot of photos

We got back Saturday afternoon from a two week trip to South America. We visited Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile. We have a bunch of photos, 1,066 to be exact, so we're going to try and post about each location separately. We arrived in Rio de Janerio after an eight hour red eye out of Miami. Once we reached the hotel we called the hang gliding outfit we had pre-arranged. Unfortunately the wind conditions weren't right that day (or any day during our stay). The weather was actually very nice the whole time. They are just starting spring in South America. We walked the Copacabana Beach most of the day until the flight caught up with us. The next day we took a city tour. Above is a photo of us on Corcovado Mountain in front of Christ the Redeemer.

The tile was all over, but the designs were breathtaking when you realized their scale after walking down the beach for hours.

The is the view from the roof top pool at our hotel, the Astoria Palace. It was three doors down from the famous Copacabana Palace.

Copacabana Beach was very crowded from sunrise to sunset. Lots of beach soccer, volleyball, and footvolley (basically a combo of the two sports).

The statue was actually under some renovation, thus the scaffolding. On the trip up to the statue we had to change buses a few times as we zig zagged through a few favelas and a national park. The change was required because the government controls the area near the statue. The reason seemed to be as much to make money as it was for safety. We realized during this first guided tour a trend that lasted the entire trip– not letting us off the bus. At least in this case it seemed legitimate.

After the city tour and visit up Corcovado we were picked up to attend an evening soccer game at Maracanã Stadium. We saw the Flumenese football club take on Náutico. Flu (as the local Rio fans called it) was down lately, but people still take things pretty seriously. The other team was from the North, but still had a section of fans-- protected by security-- I should add. We went with a guide and 15 others. We sat at midfield with a guy from Aruba named Ronnie and his friend from Venezuela who spoke no english. Lots of crazy fans as you can see above and below.

I just happened to start taping the above video right when Flu scored their one and only goal in the 1-1 tie. Flu fans were crying at the end of the game because they didn't win. Maracanã is amazing and will be the site of the World Cup final in 2014.

The next day we did a lot of walking in the morning, then took another tour in the afternoon. Above is the outside of the St. Sebastian Cathedral.

In the late afternoon we took a trip to the Sugarloaf Mountain. It overlooks most of the city. We took a series of gondolas from one mountain to the next. It was great.

The sunset was beautiful and the photos almost do it justice.

On our fourth day we packed up for an early flight to Iguazu, Brazil. Here is a photo from the window of our hotel room before we left. Below is a pretty great shot we took from the plane after we took off.

South Beach

After our Friday morning flight we quick made our way to South Beach in Miami to take a look at some art deco architecture.

2-for-1 $25 daiquiris is probably the best way to take advantage of a happy hour deal. And make the most of a rainy eight hour layover. We enjoyed the people watching before we returned to the airport for our red-eye to Rio.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

September Link of the Month

The Twin Cities has a lot of art and a lot of public art. Here is a collection on Flickr.