Sunday, June 7, 2009

Much-needed family time

My mom and Bill were here visiting for 2 weeks! They left this past Wednesday, and I know I'm a bit late writing about it but I must say, it's taken me a while to ease back into my life after their visit. It was so hard to say good bye, and I'm just finally digesting the visit enough to write about it! Their visit was wonderful, fun, hilarious, and necessary to my sanity, and their departure was incredibly painful.

It's funny how you don't realize how homesick you are until a piece of home comes walking through the door. I've been here now for 4 months, and hadn't really felt homesick at all (I mean I missed people, but I wouldn't really classify it as homesickness per se), and having visitors just brought it all back into my head. I started thinking about my life at home with not only them but with my other family (my dad, my niece, my sister), my friends, my bicycles.... haha! Yes, it's true.

Anyhoo, though I'm sad it's over, we had such a great time together!!! I laughed so hard I cried on many occasions. My family is ridiculous, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Basically, we ate our way through Buenos Aires for 2 weeks straight, with the occasional excursion or activity tossed in for good measure. I'd been making lists of restaurants I wanted to try for weeks, and took full advantage while they were here! After all, a place that feels expensive for someone earning in pesos is still incredibly cheap when looked at from the American dollar perspective. For example, a fancy steak dinner, including appetizers, side orders and wine generally comes out to around $20 USD per person, which is just crazy.

Here were some of our favorites:

1. La Brigada-- A well known and celebrated parrilla in my neighborhood of San Telmo boasting juicy steaks, outstanding service, and a comfortable ambiance complete with a live piano and accordion player. We fell in love with our waiter, Jorge, our juicy bife de chorizo, the provoleta, and the panqueque de dulce de leche for dessert, which Jorge literally drowned in hot molten chocolate.

2. Cantina Pierino-- We never would have found this place if it hadn't been for the expert recommendation of my friend Liz, who promised us "the best Italian food in the city." Daaaaaamn she was right!!! The place has a spectacular Italian-tastic ambiance, sprinkled with members of the original owner's family bustling about serving, cooking, and checking in with customers.... it's now on the 4th generation! Something clearly must be working. I will never forget the plate of homemade raviolis I ate, smothered in a creamy garlic, porcini mushroom, and chard sauce. To die for.

3. La Cholita-- The place is owned by the same people who run Cumaná right next door, and although Cumaná is the one that seems to get all the raves, we tried both, and we all unanimously preferred La Cholita for its eclectic menu, huge portions, veggie-friendliness (my mom and Ali split a spectacular roasted veggie plate, and couldn't even finish it), and fun atmosphere. I adored my chicken skewers, and might have even finished them if I hadn't loaded up on their free homemade bread loaves while we sipped wine and waited. Worth the wait-- and wait, you will.

4. El Desnivel-- From the outside, you would never know that inside are quite possibly the best steaks in town... in Bill's and my humble opinions, anyway. I mean, oh man, I was rocking a pretty serious steak baby after our meal, and it was worth it! My mom also enjoyed her first chicken milanesa, and all was devoured. We loved the service, the plastic tablecloths, and the bang for our buck. Not to mention, one of the best slabs of meat ever placed in front of me.

5. Origen Café-- It's less than a block from my house. How had I never been there before?! Serving up foods made with all organic, free-range ingredients, this little café also serves up one of the biggest and most satisfying cups of café con leche I have had in Argentina. I enjoyed a hearty bowl of vegetarian lentil and veggie soup, served with warm whole grain bread. I'll be back with my laptop soon to take advantage of the free wi-fi and chill atmosphere.

Warning: my fingers are getting tired, so my reviews are going to start getting shorter...

6. Café Tortoni-- We saw an incredible, traditional tango show here, and had some delicious cakes after the show. A historical site, and a must-see.

7. La Cabrera-- Probably one of the most well-known parrillas in the city, and deserving of its reputation. Delicious food, huge portions, diverse side orders, but a bit touristy.

8. El Federal-- One of the oldest places to eat in San Telmo, and right across the street from my house, I can literally look through the windows from my bedroom.... creepy. Anyway, great sandwiches, great burgers, terrible service. What's not to love?

9. El Nacional-- Another gem located right the street from me in San Telmo, we had one of our favorite lunches of the trip here. Mmmmm... I'm still thinking about my grilled chicken panini. This place also turns into a fun dance spot at night.

10. Bio-- A yummy 100% vegetarian restaurant located in trendy Palermo Hollywood. My food was over-salted, but overall the place was yummy, and it was nice to see things like seitan and tofu on a menu for a change. I'd go back.

And that, friends, marks the end of my restaurant blabbery!!! We went to about 15-20 different places overall for lunches and dinners, but I can't possibly write about them all!

We also did more than eat. Their first weekend here, we had an amazing 2 day and 1 night stay at an estancia called Don Silvano, about 30 minutes from a cute town called San Antonio de Areco, in the provincia of Buenos Aires (aka outside the city). There, we sampled the gaucho lifestyle by riding horses, watching traditional folk dancing, and chowing down on asado. We made some new friends (there were a surprising number of locals there, given the touristy nature of the whole thing), and and had a really relaxing time. My mom and I also bought ourselves pairs of alpargatas, which are the traditional shoes worn in Argentina. They are suuuuuper comfortable, and more importantly, dirt cheap!

They also really wanted to meet my friends, so we invited 10 of my favorite people over to their rental apartment in Recoleta, bought a huuuge amount of empanadas and far too much wine, and all sat around eating and drinking one afternoon. It was great! It gave them a chance to meet my [amazing] friends, and my friends a chance to see where all my insanity comes from. ;-) The best part was that everyone loved each other, got along great, and had a fun time, so I'd say it was a big success.

My mom had some bad luck here-- she got slipped a counterfeit $20 peso bill (sadly, this is quite common), almost got robbed on the subte when she caught a woman digging through her purse (also, sadly common), and learned the hard way several times that change, especially monedas, are hard to come by (now do you believe me?!).

I'll be honest though-- ugh this is going to come out wrong. But something about knowing that my mom and Bill had to experience some of the really crappy aspects of living here, like getting ripped off or having someone refuse to make you change (as the 'rents put it, 'you have to spend money to get money' because people won't give you change unless you buy enough stuff) made me feel like they better understand my experience here and what I deal with each day, and thus made me feel a bit better. At least now when I complain about monedas or the subte or the sketchy taxis, I have someone back home to commiserate with. :-/

Anyway, back to activities. During the week, we saw the Cementerio de Recoleta, Puerto Madero, San Telmo, Palermo, downtown and the famous Calle Florida, La Boca, and lots of sights, like the Casa Rosada and the mechanical flower. I continued to work my full work schedule, so while I was off working, my mom and Bill had time to explore the parks of Palermo, wander the streets of the city, and even go to Colonia, Uruguay for the day (which they looooved!).

Here they are strolling through Puerto Madero at sunset:

And of course my mom and I had to have our picture taken in front of this HILARIOUS statue:

Their second weekend here, we headed to Tigre, just outside the city. Tigre is known for its gorgeous river and ecological reserves and islands to explore, and is a very outdoorsy place to be... which was interesting, because the day we were there it was pouring rain!!! Bad luck. Though I initially advised against going in the rain, they still wanted to go, because getting there involved a scenic train ride that they didn't want to miss, so we headed out. It turned out to be well worth it! The train ride on the Tren de la Costa was lovely, comfortable, and scenic, and also very cheap. However, when we finally got to Tigre, there was literally a downpour, and we didn't know what to do with ourselves in a river town in weather like that. The market was closed, and there was no one around. A tour guide named Fernando ended up taking us under his wing. I don't know how it happened, but somehow he and I got to talking, and he offered to drive us into town to a restaurant, so we could at least eat lunch and look at the water. Next thing we know, we are all piling into his tiny, cluttered little car, and he mumbles an apology to us which Bill swears was "Sorry for the mess. I have a dog, and cat, and a kid with 3 assholes."

Hahaha!!! So of course we spent the entire afternoon making jokes about "the 3 assholes."

Anyway, Fernando ended up giving us a driving tour of the area, recommending a delicious restaurant (unfortunately I forget the name) and dropping us off at the door, and then after all that, refusing to accept a tip for his services. We just got lucky, and spent the rest of the afternoon stuffing our faces, drinking wine, and being thankful for him. Honestly, though we didn't see much of Tigre, it ended up being one of our most fun days, because we just sat and laughed and laughed and laughed all afternoon and enjoyed each other's company!

The following day I took the 'rents to the San Telmo market, which I've blogged about in the past. There, they enjoyed their first choripan (chorizo on bread, served with the always-amazing chimichurri sauce), which they became instantly (and rightfully) obsessed with. What's not to love?! My mom also got herself a mate, so she may be sitting at home in Massachusetts sipping on some mate right now! :-)

The three of us just had good, clean fun. We laughed, we cried. We discussed my future, and they of course became confused when I tried to explain why I needed to stay here for at least a full year, even though I'm not necessarily "happy." (It's complicated, and involves a promise I made to myself, one I don't expect you to understand.) It was very emotional, and also very special. They missed me a lot, and I realized how much I missed them, and everyone back home. Having a little taste of them being here made it all the more difficult to see them go. The last day was difficult, and of course my mom and I sobbed our eyes out as their taxi pulled away and took them to the airport. But really, I wouldn't change a thing. I am just lucky I had some visitors and some family time, that I had an excuse to do so much fun stuff, and that I got showered with so much love for 2 weeks.


heather said...

what a BEAUTIFUL accounting! i'm crying all over again. silly me. you captured all the highlights and most of all the love and laughter we shared for two solid weeks. it was the best time i've ever had with you and i learned so much about you and your life, goals, commitments, and dreams. thank you for such a memorable, blessed time. i love you.