Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

Running in Buenos Aires

December 2, 2017
One of Buenos Aires' best features is its many beautiful parks ("over 250" according to the city tourism website). Some of them have a fascinating history: Tres de Febrero, for example, was built on the land of defeated strongman Juan Manuel de Rosas. Many of the parks have exercise stations, and when we lived there, we used to ride our bikes every few days to the Lago de Regatas and enjoy the free outdoor gym.

I've been enjoying running this year (137 miles over 42 runs so far in 2017), so I brought my running shoes on this trip. I ran on 3 mornings, totaling 13.2 miles (21 km), at an average pace of 8:06/mile (tracked with Strava). It's late spring there now, and the weather was wonderful (around 80°F / 27°C), perhaps a bit too hot one of the days. (The drinking water fountains along Avenida Sarmiento were very helpful.)



The parks were full every day (especially weekends, but also weekdays) with cyclists, runners, walkers, an outdoor dance/cardio class, and people just hanging out.


- Ben

¡Tanta comida (so much food)!

November 28, 2017
For the last few mornings we've been cooking breakfast in, but this morning we decided to have an American-style brunch in Villa Crespo. It's just south of Palermo Viejo – where we're staying, and where we used to live – but for whatever reason we hardly ever visited there. We followed the recommendation of the wonderful food blog Pick Up The Fork and went to Cafe Crespin.

(First, I got up at the early vacation hour of 8:45 and ran 4.3 miles, burning 624 calories before breakfast. I like to think of this as earning the rest of the day's meals.)

At the cafe, I ordered an "English LHC" sandwich – lomitohuevocheddar on a large English muffin  and Steph ordered french toast with eggs and bacon. (Her dish was twice as large as mine and I ended up eating half of hers.) All delicious.

A few hours of reading in the park, window shopping, and science-museum-learning later, we stepped into another (mediocre) cafe for more coffee. Their menu had both café con leche (what we'd call in the U.S. a latte) and a laté. We ordered one of each to learn the difference. Turns out, at least at this place, a laté is a cold (more like room temperature), overly sweetened milk-and-coffee beverage, more like what Starbucks would call a "frappe" (I think – I've never actually ordered one). (Earlier with brunch, we ordered cafes doble, thinking they'd be like cafe con leche with two shots, but they were just double shots with no milk. Our local food lingo is rusty.)

Then it was time for an afternoon snack of ice cream. We had already tried and greatly enjoyed Tufic, and were familiar with the older chains (Persicco, Freddo, etc). An Argentine friend had recommended Lucciano's, so we went there. A quarter kilo was much more cost effective than two small cups, so efficiency dictated that we eat delicious dulce de leche granizado, Bailey's, and hazelnut helado. Yummy.

Then I wanted to go back to Chori. This little joint serves amazing choripan, an Argentine street food of sausage on bread with chimichurri and other toppings. (Sort of like a hot dog, but the sausage here is homemade, and cut lengthwise for a larger ciabatta-like bun.) We had eaten there a few days earlier, but... we're leaving in two days and I needed another fix. (We split one this time.)

Dinner: We had been in Buenos Aires for six days and hadn't had any steak! We went to a new parilla which everyone was recommending (with reservations made several days before), La Carniceria in Palermo. (Their owners also happen to own Chori.) Steak in Argentina obviously pairs best with Malbec, but this place is also known for its gin & tonics (gin being a thing that seems to have caught on in the last few years, specifically the local brand Apóstoles), so we started with those. (Chori's gin & tonics were too sweet, but these were quite good.) The menu had two Malbecs in the 350 peso (~US$20) range, so we asked the waiter to help us choose between them, and he said, "oh those are shit Chinese wine" and insisted we order a different one. Kind of funny (they were of course from Argentine wineries, not Chinese)... but we ordered a bottle a notch up and it was excellent.

The steaks were HUGE. (It was the second-largest steak I'd ever eaten, after the monstrosity I shared with a friend in 2012 at La Brigada, and Steph's largest.) Three inches tall and six wide, bone-in, medium-rare, dry-aged rib eye. Wowzers. (Oh, and before the steak, we had their whole wheat sourdough bread – perhaps the best bread we've had in BA so far, tied with Caseros in San Telmo – and then a delicious slab of smoked provoleta for an appetizer.)


The amazing thing about parillas here is that they're still relatively cost effective. Most of the other food we've eaten seems very inflated, certainly relative to 2012, and even comparable at current exchange rates to San Francisco prices. Some places, like the Japanese-Peruvian fusion restaurant Osaka, are really pushing the limits of dinner prices. But those massive steaks at La Carniceria cost 380 pesos (US $22), and a steak a fraction half the size would probably cost three times as much at home. (I can't remember the last time I got a steak at an American restaurant; they never seem worth the price.)


Conclusion: When you visit Buenos Aires, eat good choripan, ice cream, and steak, and you can't go wrong.

- Ben

Museums in Buenos Aires

November 25, 2017
We always loved all the cheap/free culture in Buenos Aires, and it seems there's there's even more now than there used to be. So far, we've visited the newly opened CCK (Centro Cultural Kirchner) and the Museo de Arte Moderno Buenos Aires (MAMBA), where we saw a really awesome special exhibit, "How to trap the universe in a web," by Tomas Saraceno.

7,000 spiders built the "world's largest indoor spider web" over the course of six months
We took a (free) guided tour in Spanish and were proud of how much we understood
Ben at the MAMBA
Photo exhibit at the CCK (Centro Cultural Kirchner), which opened in 2015

Photo exhibit at the CCK

- Steph

Adventures in Argentine banking

November 23, 2017
One thing hasn't changed: It's still a challenge to withdraw cash from ATMs. It took us seven tries today to get money. Each of the different machines gave us a different reason: you requested an invalid amount; this transaction cannot be processed right now; still processing. After we saw an Argentine successfully withdraw money, we started to worry that our debit cards had been frozen because of all the attempted withdrawals. But we hadn't received any alerts from our banks, so we kept trying. Finally, at ATM #7, belonging to Banco de la Cuidad, voilà.

- Steph

Argentina 5-year reunion, day 1

November 22, 2017
It has been five years since we left Argentina, after living in Buenos Aires for a year. We're finally back! So far, with one day here, it has been a wonderful walk down memory lane.

We arrived this morning, after an overnight flight on which we got very little sleep. We chuckled at the old charade of declaring nothing of value as bags full of laptops and phones go through the x-ray machine. We took a taxi into town, driving through some neighborhoods we barely knew and some we remembered very well. We bought prepaid SIM cards at the same shop where we used to pay our cellphone bill in cash each month. We had a mediocre coffee and pizza at the old place around the corner from our former apartment, got some groceries for breakfast, checked in, took a much-needed nap, and then left to stroll around the neighborhood.

We're staying in an apartment one block from where we used to live. Everything looks familiar, yet a little different. Christina Kirchner is gone, Mauricio Macri is now the president (he was mayor of Buenos Aires when we lived here). The peso is no longer artificially overvalued against other currencies: Five years ago, the official rate was around 4.6:1 ARP:USD, with the more market-based "blue rate" around 7:1; now it's traded on a real market, around 17:1. Food in particular is not cheap anymore: The most expensive bottle of wine that we ever bought in a restaurant cost 92 pesos (=$13 at the unofficial rate); last night, the cheaper bottle on the menu cost 300 pesos (=$18 at the current rate). Restaurants seem almost as expensive as San Francisco. (And yet, the streets are bustling and we spotted dozens of new shops in the neighborhood.) There used to be a big problem of trash bags left on streets; now there are bins with Vamos Buenos Aires slogans all around. We used to ride our bicycles on the bike lanes of the major thoroughfares; now there are yellow public bike stations and bike lanes even on narrow side streets. The wonderful verduleria on our corner is still there. There even seems to be, from one day's anecdotal observation, far less dog poop on the sidewalks than there used to be.

In 2012, if you wanted a beer, there was basically just Quilmes. Now, amazingly, there's a huge craft beer scene! I remember when a single tiny craft beer shop opened on Thames St, a few blocks from our apartment, and we thought it was so quaint. Now Lonely Planet credits that shop with starting a craft beer revolution. There are signs for cerveza artesenal everywhere, and we stopped at one bar in Plaza Serrano for a flight. We tasted five beers from a menu of twenty, by twelve Argentine craft breweries which all apparently popped on the scene in the last 3-4 years. One, the "Belgian Strong" by Gante, was quite good, the rest were decent – but our point of reference is places like Fieldwork in Berkeley, so we're spoiled, and for such a young scene, we were quite impressed. (My Spanish has mostly come back as I've started using it again, and my new word of the day is lúpulo, for hops.)


Another item that hardly existed in BA in 2012 was a good, juicy, American-style hamburger. One good expat-owned place had opened but didn't stay open for long, and the other local attempts were pitiful. Now there are apparently dozens of excellent burger joints. Stay tuned!

BA had some great ice cream in 2012, and has even more now. We shared a mediano at Tufic's, which a friend recommended, of kinbueno (hazelnut) and lemon-mint-ginger  – the serving was surprisingly large for the small cup it was piled in, and it was delicious.

For dinner, we ate at Las Pizarras, an upscale restaurant around the block from our old place. We weren't that hungry after the ice cream, so we shared three appetizers. It wasn't as good as we remembered, so we left without getting another dessert, and are now in for a good night's sleep.

Also new since 2012: Legal [medical] marijuana
Hauling furniture down from an apartment... watch out below!
- Ben

Big Bend National Park

October 4, 2017
Photos from a long weekend in Big Bend National Park, in west Texas on the Mexican border.

View from the top of the Lost Mine Trail
Early morning start for the South Rim
The fog cleared!
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw, when you pick a pear, try to use the claw
Wildlife sighting
Driving through Big Bend State Park
I thought this was the coolest rock formation
Agave
Terlingua Ghost Town (the actual name of the town)

- Steph

American Acoustic!

August 28, 2017
A bunch of our favorite musicians went on tour together this summer...so we flew to Chicago to see them.


Motorcycle camping: Salt Point State Park

August 9, 2017
We loaded up the motorcycle last weekend for an overnight trip to Salt Point State Park. Admittedly, the motorcycle's been a bit neglected lately, especially during the rainy winter, but we've been trying to remedy that with weekend rides and camping trips.

The campground at Salt Point is rather nondescript — we've been multiple times and neither of us could remember what it looked like before we arrived. The real reason we go is for the drive. The stretch of Route 1 between Jenner and Salt Point is one of our favorite parts of California coast, with dramatic cliffs and mostly empty stretches of road. Plus it winds through a number of cute coastal towns. I left my camera at home, so I don't have photos of the drive, but I took a few last year.

Russian River in Jenner

Live music at Cafe Aquatica in Jenner


Table Top farmstand in Point Reyes Station


- Steph