(title comes from the Argentine chocolate brand Cofler, which my name always gets mistaken for.)
My family left Argentina last Monday after 8 crazy days. We covered a lot of ground and I had a wonderful time. As my mom noted, the lack of wifi/smartphones/a super on the go culture in Argentina meant long meals, 7 pm afternoon coffee stops and lots of real conversation. We all talk at home of course, but there’s often (usually) an iphone or two involved.
In a lot of ways, their trip was a test of my porteña cred. I chose restaurants, gave taxi drivers directions, translated a ton and tried to explain these little details of life that I’ve gotten used to in these past 6 weeks. Some things they were surprised by included: the late mealtimes, the lack of water (in terms of drinking water), the really uneven sidewalks, the dog poop everywhere, the Argentine version of spanish, the popularity of carbs!, the crazy drivers, the friendliness, and the ubiquity of flatform shoes on young argentine women. Reading back this list, it strikes me that I’m pretty used to most of these things but I remember being SO overwhelmed. OMG it’s been 6 weeks. I also have so much respect for how much they did in their 8 days. My first day was spent taking a nap and getting coffee. They walked around most of downtown Buenos Aires and made short work of two bottles of wine and Armenian food for my birthday. Super impressive. The logistics worked really well for a few reasons:
1) my parents stayed in a hotel super close to me (15 minutes walking, 5 minutes in a cab).
2) I don’t have class on mondays or fridays (more on my full schedule in a different post, but it’s finally all set up!)
3) They rented a cell phone and are wonderful, flexible people. I was able to see them everyday before dinner and though I missed seeing some of the tourist sights (they went to the Boca and I still haven’t been) because of class, it worked out really well.
4) When you’re with your parents, you can take cabs (etc.)! Cabs are not expensive here but I rarely take them unless it’s late because I’m trying really hard to LIVE here. My family was on vacation which meant that I could speak english, take a cab, buy something that may have been slightly overpriced (but still cheaper than in the US) without guilt. It was a switch in mindset that took a little getting used to, but it made the week really fun and helped me see the city differently.
I’m going to include a little summary of each day and some pictures. My dad, the actual tourist, has way better ones that he will post to facebook soon.
Day 1: (My birthday!!) Monday
I woke up jumping out of my skin (and wrote about that) and got an email around 11 that they had arrived. I walked/ran to the hotel and we had a wonderful made for tv hugfest in the hotel lobby. After about an hour just sitting on the big bed snuggling, we set out to grab lunch. It was so nice to catch up and hear all the news. They also brought me peanut butter, sriracha and Leah’s old ipod touch (PRAISE).
I took them down to the centro to see the Obelisk and the Plaza de Mayo. It was the coldest this day which was a rough adjustment but you gotta see the city center to orient yourself. We also stumbled upon the leather store my grandma told us about from her visit to BA (she claims it’s the best and I can’t really argue). When it’s your birthday, you need to buy a leather jacket. My dad, sister, and I all chose new jackets and I love mine!! It was custom made so I picked it up on thursday and am so obsessed with it. After views of la Casa Rosado and the Catedral (the facade is under construction but the inside is impressive), we grabbed afternoon coffee (like 7 pm) at El Ateneo, the theater turned bookstore with a cafe on the stage. They also tried one of my fave desserts: the brownie-dulce de leche-merengue combo. They were exhausted at this point so we went back to the hotel to relax. For dinner, we went to Sarkis, an Armenian restaurant within walking distance that always has a wait, even on monday nights. It’s huge and SO good and totally unpretentious. We had three menus that were all slightly different (this led to me accidentally ordering brains instead of white beans, very disturbing) and the waiters had definitely worked there forever. Leah said they should do something for my birthday, like a song and candle, and Dad responded, “this isn’t applebee’s.” He was wrong, of course, because midway through our meal we heard a birthday song blaring on the speakers (for someone else). That was the first of four times it would play! So mondays at Sarkis are birthday time! After two bottles of wine and tons of food, everyone was exhausted so we paid and got up to leave. We almost collided with our waiter bearing a dessert with a lit candle and more champagne on our way out. We were directed/shoved back to our table, the birthday jam played again, and my whole family could not stop laughing. It was so different from most of my birthdays but also the same. Usually because of the timing of my birthday (and how close we are), I celebrate with family, not friends (there also have been hurricanes on my birthday preventing any of my friends from leaving their houses/18th birthday tbt) and there’s always good food.
Day 2: Tuesday
I had a class at 3 on tuesday which meant I had to leave at 2 since it’s at Ditella so my time with the fam was limited. We got lunch together at my favorite bookshop/café and walked around Palermo. They headed down to explore Teatro Colon (I need to go see something there) and the Jewish museum and more. Leah slept over this night so she stopped by with her stuff, met Rita and then we headed to dinner at a vegetarian restaurant. It was my first time trying a more formal vegetarian restaurant and it was So good! There were veggie tapas, homemade breads, tons of delicious options and everyone really enjoyed it. My friend Nora came too to meet the family and we all had a really nice time. Then we made a halfhearted attempt to go out with Olivia, my friend who shares a birthday with me, and wound up getting ice cream instead. YOLO.
Day 3: Wednesday
Waking up in my apartment with Leah in the extra bed in my room was just so cozy. My family and Rita wanted to meet so we had settled on Wednesday morning as the perfect time. We woke up and they came over, bearing flowers and their best attempts at Spanish. We had an apartment tour and then went to breakfast at Malvon, my fave brunch spot. It was really nice for them to meet and they got along great, because Rita is an Argentine jewish grandmother and a lovely person. She and my mom both made fun of me for my messy room and shared tips on making challah (Rita tried to make it for the first time this week for Rosh Hashanah). After breakfast, I showed my family the gym which was playing three year old American music on the speakers, as usual. Then I headed to class, Leah headed to nap off her jetlag and found froyo, and my parents went museum hopping and exploring Alto Palermo. After class, I joined them for afternoon coffee at Rosa’s apartment. Rosa’s the mother of our argentine friend in the neighborhood and she is just the classiest, funniest lady. She has an adorable apartment in Recoleta and I hope I can see her again before she leaves for the states to visit her grandchildren. We met Leah at the hotel (who had found froyo and was happier) and enjoyed a happy hour snack and drink in the hotel cafe. Dad had his first Quilmes so he’s officially argentine. We then went to dinner at Cumana, the classic argentine restaurant I really like. Everyone enjoyed it but was still very tired.
Day 4: Thursday Dad’s Birthday!!
Thursday morning was a logistical struggle. We were leaving for Mendoza very early friday morning so I stayed with my family thursday night. That meant I had to drop my luggage off at their hotel on Thursday morning before a big day of class. We went from the hotel to the leather jacket store to pick up the goods. Then I went to class (first at IFSA, then at UBA which was a packed rush hour subway ride) while they had an amazing touring day. They hit up Recoleta cemetery with a guide, swung by La Boca, walked around San Telmo, had a drink at the gorgeous Park Hyatt, and walked around Puerto Madero. I went to class, ate lunch and heard all about Argentine student elections and the new oil contract the President signed with Chevron that people are very upset about. We also talked about syria and I got a little insight into how US foreign policy is perceived. Thursday was probably the height of contrasts in this trip. After my class, I took the subway to Puerto Madero (well as close as you can get) and walked to the steakhouse where my dad’s birthday dinner was. I had never been there before and it’s beautiful and so luxurious!! We ate around 10 and my parents were shocked to see a family with a baby walk in to eat around 11:30! Some things you can never understand. We had a beautiful birthday dinner and my parents loved the Argentine beef. The restaurant also gives you lots of little picadas (tapas) and a proper birthday sparkler.
Day 5: Mendoza bound!
A 6 am wakeup call kicked off our trip to Mendoza. Mendoza is Argentina’s main wine region and it’s almost directly west of BA, right near the Chilean border aka the Andes. Traveling with parents meant we flew (no more omnibus) so the trip was really painless (there’s a local airport with a nice cafe, short lines, great snacks on the plane, under 2 hours in the air). We were met at the airport by Jorge, our driver for the weekend and one of the nicest people on this planet. He drove us into Mendoza while sharing so many facts about the city. It was completely rebuilt in the 19th century after an earthquake and now has lots of plazas so people can run somewhere if the buildings all collapse. I thought we were heading to the hotel but Jorge instead pulled up to vineyard (it was before noon at this point). Welcome to Mendoza. I love wine but can’t do vineyard visits in the US for another year so this was my first time seeing how it was made. It’s really interesting to see the machines and steps involved. It’s incredibly time consuming and can easily go wrong. The first vineyard we visited was the largest of the weekend. I also like how vineyards explain the differences in making different varieties (read: price levels) of wine without using words like cheap. They favor terms like “young, easy drinking, popular with students.” We had a British tour guide who looked like Scott Disick give us a tasting and we then headed to lunch at a restaurant in the vineyard. Since it’s offseason, there were no grapes on the vine but the scenery in Mendoza remains striking. It’s a desert, you can see mountains everywhere and your lips are constantly chapped. Lunch was amazing! We had vegetarian tapas, an olive oil tasting, wine, fresh pasta and salad, all in a gorgeous setting. The produce was so high quality and Mendoza also grows garlic so everything was well seasoned. We made some purchases in the shop and headed to check out our hotel.
Our hotel was a bed a breakfast run by a family of four (mother, father, almost 2 year old daughter, dog). The daughter was my favorite and Leah fell in love with the dog, Olivia. They run this tiny B&B with a courtyard and banners urging you to relax all over it. The wifi password is chillout. It was perfect. We had some time to check out the city of Mendoza and grab afternoon coffee at 7 pm before dinner.
One of the most traditional Argentine meals is an asado, literally a type of grill. People will have huge grills at their house and invite friends and family for a multicourse meal involving many parts of a cow and other signature items. I’ve never been to one (usually people have them in the country) but our hotel asked us if we were interested in one at the b&b and we signed up. It was billed as an “asado cooking class” though we contributed very minimally to the final meal. My family and two other couples staying at the b&b spent hours in the courtyard with the chef and sommelier that came to prepare the asado. We had picada (like tapas of olives and cheese), emapanadas that we made (the only cooking we did all night), proveleta (grilled provolone cheese with oregano on it. ooh this was good), a million types of meat (chorizo, blood sausage, steak, ribs etc.), and THREE desserts. My vegetarian meal was so delicious and included tabouli and grilled vegetables. The chef was so considerate and cooked with lots of garlic which they grow in Mendoza. We also had vino flowing the entire time. Asados are the opposite of a quick meal: it’s about sharing a moment with people. The other couples were really interesting (one of them just got engaged last week in the cutest way: he proposed on the top of the Met which he managed to reserve!) and we found lots of little connections. After hours of laughter and bedtime sips of port, we all walked about five feet to our beds. Perfection.
We slept in the way you only can in hotels in beautiful places and ate a sunny breakfast. Then Jorge picked us up and took us to the first of three vineyards. This one recently built their visitor center and it was beautiful! The coolest feature was a wall of their soil, which is super rocky. It’s the best way to explain why grapes grow so well here. Grapes get better when they have to struggle to survive because they produce more sugar so the desert climate is perfect and the irrigation systems let them control how much water the grapes get. My dad knows so much about winemaking, I realized during these tours, and I enjoyed seeing him geek out over all the terminology. There are so many steps involved in making even the cheapest wine and it’s rare that consumers have such access to the industry. Our tour was with one other family who was speaking a mix of english and spanish. I couldn’t figure out where they were from so we asked. Turned out they live in Buenos Aires only three blocks from me! It was an American girl and an Argentine man and their one son. They met working in DC and their son is bilingual. The mom even goes to my gym! It was such a ridiculous connection and they gave me lots of restaurant suggestions. We tried wine starting at 11:30 am which is ridiculous but we started with sparkling so it’s basically a breakfast drink. My parents bought a sparkling wine for when I come back which is so sweet (and it was really good).
We then headed to Ruca Malen for lunch. The tour was roughly 3 minutes long but lunch was out of this world. You sit outside, looking at the andes and the vines in 70 degree sunshine and eat 5 courses paired with 6 wines. How bad can that be? Family dinner is one of the things I miss most here and having these meals to just talk about anything we observe and experience is so special.
Because life is crazy, we followed this lunch up with more wine at probably the best vineyard we visited. We didn’t even tour, just staggered to an outdoor furniture set made out of old wine barrels and soaked up the sunshine in a food and wine induced stupor. A really attractive employee named NICK gave us tastings and even let us try wine straight from the barrel using a special syringe called a wine thief. It was damn near perfect.
We headed back to Casa Lila for reading and relaxing We found room for ice cream, somehow. Then we went to dinner and each only got one course, a huge departure from our normal dinner game. There are limits.
On Sunday, I wasn’t feeling that well (super sleep deprived) so we took it easy and read and napped. My parents took a walk and we ate lunch al fresco before our flight back to Buenos Aires. It was a really easy flight and nice to be back in my apartment. After a quick rest, we met up for dinner. We went to a Mexican place that I’ve been to before and it was perfect. Super casual and cool and full of guacamole and coronas and non Argentine food. I love that my parents are totally cool with being the oldest people at restaurants and we had a really nice time eating tacos. Is it possible to have a bad time eating tacos?
Monday was the final day of Kofflers in Argentina. I had to run to this office to get part of my Argentine residency so I met up with my family around noon after completing that and getting coffee with a friend. We went to Puerto Madero, the newest area of the city that was recently completely built up with skyscrapers, running trails, fancy shops and restaurants and twinkly lights. We walked along the reserva ecologica and bought some cofler chocolates for them to take home. We got lunch at the Argentine version of dean and deluca. The area is beautiful and on the water and I want to hang there more. It’s just really far from where I live (and expensive). Then we went to Recoleta to do some shopping. At this point we had not much time to get ice cream (crucial last bite) and get back to the hotel so they could get to the airport on time. Thanks to a cab driver who looked like Fabio, we made it to Persicco, an ice cream place that may be better than Freddo, a block from the hotel and they made their flight.
I know this post was incredibly long and I’m grateful to anyone who read the entire thing. This was a week I knew in theory would happen but there were moments when it maybe wouldn’t have been able to due to some health stuff and just schedules. I’m so thankful that my family spent time in this crazy city I sort of call home and I will never forget it. It was so comforting to be with people who know you better than anyone else and I’m storing all of our hugs for lonely rainy days (today is so rainy that everyone is staying inside) To many more trips to many more fabulous places…obvio!