travel

Casa SaltShaker

When I was researching what to do in Buenos Aires, puerta cerradas kept coming up. These “closed door” restaurants are basically supper clubs where a local cooks and serves a multi-course meal in his home to a small group of guests.

I loved this idea. I’m not a tour person and I’m not good at befriending strangers while traveling. But this sounded like the perfect way to meet people. Plus, I’d be able to get locals’ recommendations about what to do—and eat a ton of delicious food.

Once I started researching, I found so many puerta cerradasВ I wanted to try, that I booked one for almost every night I was in BA. I only opted for ones that had a communal table, though.

The first one I visited: Casa SaltShaker, just a few hours after my arrival in the city.

Casa SaltShaker is one of the older puertas cerradas in BA. For nearly nine years, Dan Pearlman, an American ex-pat and chef, and his partner, Henry, have been serving dinners out of their Recoleta home. (That’s actually the reason I selected it for my first night—it was in walking distance from my apartment.)

The evening felt very much like a dinner party. After Dan and Henry welcomed us into their home, we guests had cocktails on their outdoor patio. My dinner companions were an eclectic bunch: a British couple celebrating their 25 wedding anniversary, an American couple and their two friends, and three men (Canadian, French and Belgian) who were installing a flight simulator at the BA airport.

Dinner that night had an Amazonian theme, inspired by Dan and Henry’s travels in the region. Each dish came paired with wine.

casa saltshaker menu

Our first course was a salad of tomato, avocado and hearts of palm…

salad

…followed by a hearty soup of perjerry, cilntro and pureed chickpeas. This was easily my favorite dish of the night—I’d happily eat it every day.

soup

Next came a baked pasta stuffed with cream cheese, soppressata and leek, over a pea puree…

IMG_0743

…and a main dish of pollack and a sweet potato/quinoa cake.

fish and qunioa cake

The dessert was delicious: a huge slice of chocolate cheesecake topped with chocolate honeycomb. I had no trouble polishing it off!

cheesecake

My dinner companions were awesome—throughout the whole meal, everyone was talking and joking like old friends. (I was especially fascinated to learn about the simulator team’s work: The Canadian was part of the team that built the simulator, the Belgian was a veteran KLM pilot who was testing the simulator, and the French guy was the one who fixed the problems they came across.)

I was also impressed at how well paced the evening was. I was afraid that it might be long and drawn out (since I’d just arrived earlier on a red eye). But everything was timed perfectly, with enough opportunity to chat after one course but not so long that you wondered how long it would take the next to come out.

Dan and Henry were nice and polite, though they have the air of veterans who’ve been doing this for a long time. I was expecting them to be a little warmer, but they were a bit businesslike—though that’s what their puerta cerrada is: a business.

Still, I had a ton of fun eating, drinking and sharing stories with the other guests—and it was a great way to kick off all the eating I’d end up doing in BA.

Ballet Classes in Buenos Aires

As you might have guessed from my previous entry about tango, I didn’t seek it out in Buenos Aires. But I did take ballet.

Before my trip, I researched open ballet classes in BA and found Ballet Estudio. They offer many levels of classes a day, and had trained a number of renowned dancers, including ABT’s Paloma Herrera. Plus, I learned that in September, Alvin Ailey held a master class there. Via Facebook photos, it was cool to see a bit of my NYC in BA—the faces of company dancers whose photos are all over my NYC studio, and whom I occasionally see. Plus, it confirmed that I’d chosen a legit place!

I went to the studio on the Monday afternoon of my trip, for an advanced class. (I figured if I usually take intermediate classes in NYC, then I’d survive an advanced class in BA.)

The studio was on the second story of a Recoleta building.

ballet estudio 1

The doormats read “Welcome Home,” which made me smile, as did the weathered ballet photos in the reception area. Especially this one of Paloma Herrera.

paloma herrera

I paid for my class (100 pesos), went into the changing room…and noticed something odd. All the other dancers looked about 12 years old—niГ±as!

Ballet Estudio’s site advertises classes for all styles, levels and ages. I hadn’t realized that all the ages would be together. Here in NYC—and most places in the US—adults and kids are in separate classes. Still, I went with it.

The class ended up being me, five niГ±as and, thankfully, one other adult—I nearly fell over with relief when she came in. But being with mostly kids threw me. I felt off and out of place—which isn’t ideal, considering how much of ballet is mental!

Besides internally wrestling with that, I thought the class was an interesting experience. I’m glad I didn’t cop out because of the kids. The teacher, Mimi, couldn’t have been lovelier. She was warm, welcoming and kind, and had beautiful technique and extension.

She was also very patient with my lack of Spanish. As soon as class started, I realized that though I had no problem understanding the steps and combinations, I could barely understand anything else—my past studies didn’t cover the nuances of alignment, turnout or focus. There had not been a Coffee Break Spanish lesson that included terms like “Don’t tense up your shoulders” or “Pull up over your legs.”

Despite that, I was still able to understand many of Mimi’s corrections through her gestures and the words I did know. Her critiques and tips were all spot on. (Like telling me to straighten my legs and travel more in assembles, and not let my turnout drop when going into left pirouettes.)

As for the niГ±as—they were good! One had especially beautiful control and technique. I rarely see kids dance, and I realized it was gratifying to see Argentina’s next generation of ballet dancers in action.

And at the end of class, I felt a tad less awkward being in the same lesson as them. But just a tad.

ballet estudio

Ballet Estudio’s second floor studio

San Telmo Market and Downtown Sights

On Sundays in Buenos Aires, there’s one place where you can bet you’ll find most first-time visitors: at the San Telmo market.

The outdoor bazaar runs along Calle Defensa, with the bulk of vendors between Venezuela and San Juan.

Even though it looked like quite a trek, I decided to walk from my Barrio Norte apartment to the market. I mapped my route so that I’d pass some of BA’s most notable sights along the way.

Like the Palacio de Justicia…

palacio de justicia

…and Teatro Colon. (I was hoping to take a tour of the theatre, but it was closed for Election Day. I did go back another day—photos in a coming post.)

teatro colon

I made my way over to Avienda 9 de Julio to see the Obelisk…

obelisk

…and other interesting sights.

Ave 9 de julio

By the time I got to the market, I was starving—way too hungry to even look at anything.

There was a choripanВ (chorizo sandwich) vendor on the corner of Mexico and Defensa, where I entered the market. But few people were eating there, so I sought out another. (When it comes to street food, I follow the old rules: Eat at places with lots of customers and that cook food to order.)

I found another place farther up the block. Like the first, this choripan vendor seemed to be in an old auto repair lot. But here, lots of people were chowing down.

choripan place

I purchased one choripan…

choripan venedor

…dressed it with lettuce and chimichurri—and inhaled it. It was flavorful and a little greasy, but exactly what I wanted, at that moment!

choripan

Once fortified, I could turn my attention to the actual market.

san telmo market 1

Many blocks were packed, with seemingly every single other tourist roaming from vendor to vendor.

san telmo market 2

When it comes to markets around the world, my sister can hit one for an hour or two and emerge with amazing finds: soft scarves, elegant table cloths, fine pottery and the like. I don’t have those talents. For me, the San Telmo market was a big browse fest, as I checked out items likeВ faux Toms…

faux toms

…colorful notebooks and boxes…

painting at san telmo

…mate jugs…

mate jugs

…these, um, interesting leather masks…

leather masks

…and these gorgeous tango prints.

tango paintings

I’d read that there are sometimes tango dancers performing at Plaza Dorrego, but there weren’t any when I got there.

I hadn’t plotted a route home, but I fortuitously happened upon more of BA’s most iconic sites on my way back. I stayed on Defensa until I’d passed the last of the vendors—and found myself at Casa Rosada, the presidential palace.

casa roasada

Casa Rosada's plaza

Casa Rosada’s plaza

From there, I headed down Avienda de Mayo, because the tree-lined street was just so pretty.

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After a few blocks, I came upon the Argentine National Congress.

argentine national congress

I eventually made it home, sweaty and tired—I realized I’d been walking for nearly six hours! My feet were killing me. The sneakers I’d brought to walk in turned out to be not so comfortable, and I actually had a few blisters! But I was glad I was able to squeeze in so much of BA in one day.

El Ateneo

One other place in Recoleta that I loved was El Ateneo bookstore.

It’s located on Avienda Santa Fe, a busy commercial street that runs through Buenos Aires. From the outside, El Ateneo looks like any other storefront.

But once you enter—well, it’s clear that it’s not your average bookstore!

el ateneo 2

The space was once Teatro Nacional or Norte, when it opened in 1903, and later the Splendid Theatre in 1919. In that incarnation, it had 500 seats and four levels of balconies—some that you can still see today.

el ateneo 3

The bookstore opened in its place in 2000. Today, there are more than 200,000 books on its shelves.

el ateneo 2

…not that I looked at any! I was too busy admiring the architecture and frescoes, and taking these photos.

el ateneo 4

Think any U.S. cities will open one of these? I think we could use a bookstore this cool, stateside.

Recoleta: Cemetery, Museums and More

Recoleta is the Buenos Aires neighborhood that’s most often described as Parisian.В Though I’ve yet to visit Paris, I could certainly understand the comparison. Buenos Aires has a bit of a European vibe, in general, and it’s even more pronounced in Recoleta, one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods.

Since I was staying in Barrio Norte, a sub-neighborhood of Recoleta, I spent lots of time wandering around the area. It’s springtime in Buenos Aires and I was happy just walking the tree-lined streets, admiring the elegant stone homes with their tiny terraces.

In addition to having cafes and shops on every block, Recoleta is also home to a number of museums and public art installations. Within a short walk, you can get to the Floralis GenГ©rica, a giant metal flower sculpture…

floralis

…the Museum of Decorative Arts

museum of decorative arts

…and MALBA, the museum of Latin American art. (In case you’re wondering, I didn’t actually go into any of those museums—like I’ve mentioned, museums aren’t at the top of my travel must-dos!)

Despite those institutions, the neighborhood’s most famed spot is probably its graveyard.В The Recoleta Cemetery is the resting place of Eva PerГіn and numerous other distinguished BA figures: politicians, writers, Nobel prize winners and the like.

I actually wasn’t planning to go into the cemetery. But one afternoon, after walking by its walls a few times, I felt compelled to see why it attracts so many vistors.

Once inside, I understood. It’s undeniably beautiful: row after row of stately marble mausoleums and statues. Workers seemed to be everywhere, polishing and repairing things—it’s not a wonder the cemetery looks as pristine as it does!

recoleta cemetery 2

I didn’t stay too long. I sought out Evita (of course), along with everyone else in the cemetery. There was a small line to get to her spot—which is why my photos are especially bad!

Evita’s buried under her family name, Duarte.

evita 1

evita 2

Afterwards, I just walked up and down the rows, enjoying the warm weather and the peaceful setting.

recoleta cemetery 2
recoleta cemetery

recoleta cemetery

My Buenos Aires Apartment

I’m back from my quick trip to Argentina—a week in Buenos Aires and Iguazu—and had a fantastic time! It went by too quickly, as vacation always does, but I managed to see and do a ton. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting some highlights—starting with the cute place where I stayed:

For my six days in Buenos Aires, I decided to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel. I wanted to feel like I was living there, rather than just passing through.

As it turns out, the BAВ Airbnb market is booming. A search on the site turned up dozens of cute, modern and stylish apartments at very inexpensive prices. (Like this, this or this.) Many were in the most sought-after BA neighborhoods: Palmero and Recoleta. (More about them later.) Best of all, theyВ were usually В in the $40-90/night range—much cheaper than a hotel.

I chose this studio, in Barrio Norte, which is part of Recoleta and very close to Palmero. The rave reviews impressed me. Plus, many were from female travelers, so I assumed safety wouldn’t be an issue.

It turned out to be a great choice. When my cab dropped me off on the tree-lined street, I was happy to see that the building was nice and well-kept. A few minutes later, the owner’s husband arrived to check me in, carrying a big bag of medialunas (Argentinean croissants) as a welcome treat.

The apartment was just as advertised—bright, airy and clean.

BA studio: seating area

BA studio: bed

Little decorative touches made the apartment feel like home.

BA studio: view

BA studio: kitchen

I was lucky to have ended up in such a prime location. The streets of Barrio Norte and Recoleta are well-lit at night, and I felt safe walking by myself. It was also easy to hop a cab, bus or subway to get anywhere around the city.В 

barrio norte street

Every street had little cafes and shops. I started each morning at the cafe across the street from me. I tried to beef up my Spanish vocab by reading La Nacion…

la nacion

…over a typical Buenos Aires breakfast of a cafe con leche and three medialunas.

medialunas and cafe con leche

Off to Buenos Aires!

buenos aires

…thank god! To be honest, I’m feeling very much in need of a vacation. Life has been pretty nutty, and I haven’t had a full week off since January.

Which is why I haven’t scheduled too much to do, in Buenos Aires. Often, I’ll create detailed itineraries of everything I want to see and do in a place. But not this time. I figure I’ll pace myself leisurely and just wander around a little, each day. I’m hoping to discover places to see when I’m there, ideally from locals.

As it happens, the only set plans I have, so far, are all food-related—ones I had to make reservations for. Good thing I’ve been doing lots of ballet, and have a ton more to look forward to when I get back—because I’m really planning to indulge!

I won’t be posting while I’m away, but if you have any BA or Iguazu recommendations, please let me know. I’d love to hear!

(Photo of Avenida 9 de Julio, Buenos Aires via Image Juicy)