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Home > Virtual Cruises > South America on Azamara Journey
South America on Azamara Journey
Day 1: Pre-Trip Thoughts
Day 2: Arrival in Buenos Aires
Day 3: Setting Sail
Day 4: Punta del Este, Uruguay
Day 5: Two Sea Days and Santos, Brazil
Day 6: Arrival and First Day in Rio
Day 7: Carnaval in Rio!
Day 8: From Rio to Montevideo
Day 9: Disembarkation in Buenos Aires
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Day 2: Monday, Arrival in Buenos Aires
Arrival in Buenos AiresOur 40-minute trip heading from the airport to the Buenos Aires Hilton (my pre-cruise hotel and a popular choice of Americans staying ashore setting sail) took us along a well-maintained, modern expressway through a homogenous mass of tenements of the same height and nondescript architecture. In fact, except for much of the newer development in the heart of Buenos Aires, my first impression was that of a sprawling city cut off at the 10-story level, punctuated here and there by the soaring spires of large old cathedrals or massive modern communication antenna towers.

We exited the highway into the trendy Puerto Madero neighborhood where the Hilton is located. The ambience of our surroundings immediately changed. The area was clearly undergoing gentrification. One side of many streets held abandoned buildings in various stages of demolition, while upscale shops, bars and restaurants occupied the opposite side. We crossed over the Rio Plata, the river that is the heart of Puerto Madero, to the broad, tree-lined Avenida Juana Manso, which reminded me, in many ways, of the pricier areas of midtown Manhattan. Many details seemed to come right out of a backdrop of Park Avenue -- Mercedes Benz and Jaguar dealerships and slews of professional dog walkers leading their leashed packs of purebreds along the sidewalks.

I noticed that seated in the front of the Hilton's broad atrium lobby was a representative from Azamara, who, I found out, was there to advise Azamara guests on pre-cruise stays about exploring Buenos Aires -- including booking them on ship-sponsored excursions right on the spot.

Puerto Madero is a terrific neighborhood that occupies a significant portion of the riverbank. One side of this area of the river is almost entirely devoted to small vessel marinas, crowded with private yachts both power and sail. On both sides of the river are a number of historic sailing ships, open now as floating museums, and low brick buildings that were maritime warehouses in an earlier incarnation but now house trendy boutiques and al fresco restaurants. The restaurants run the gamut from Italian eateries to parillas (Argentinean steak houses). Near the end of the riverfront walk, I found Restaurante El Mirasol, which offered a variety of local food -- I chose a beef empanada (deep-fried thin pastry turnover stuffed with ground beef in sauce) and a generous salad of chicory, watercress, lettuces, celery and arugula, accompanied by a half-bottle of wine (an Argentinean Malbec) and bottle of water. When the check came, I experienced another feature of Argentinean cuisine: its affordability. My total bill came to 63 pesos or about $20!

In a different try at a local-style dining experience, dinner at Cabana las Lilas turned out to be everything promised. Featured are Argentina's famous steaks -- ojo de bife (ribeye) or bife de chorizo (bone-in rump steak). As for a starter, the choice was made for me: while I was perusing that portion of the menu, the waiter brought me a platter containing caprese (sliced tomatoes and mozzarella), marinated mushrooms, sliced salmon and peppers, along with a plate of flatbreads, fresh toasted thin sliced baguettes and those hot little puffy cheese-filled rolls you normally find in Brazilian restaurants. Papas souffles appealed, which is the same thing as the French, pommes souffles. These are like French fries in the shape of small blimps, crisp football-shaped hollow chips, created by an incredibly complex process of frying in two precisely different temperature oils. A reputable French chef once told me that they are the most difficult thing he cooks. He says that if 25 percent come out correct, he breaks his arm giving himself a pat on the back.

These potatoes were worth the price of admission all by themselves.

And the huge ribeye steak was tender and buttery to a fault. But as I walked back to the hotel, I considered the rule of thumb: on a cruise you can count on gaining a pound or so per day. What if you gain all that weight on the first night of your pre-cruise? With that thought in mind, I went to sleep, hoping to dream all night of running on a treadmill.

For my first real day in Buenos Aires, I'd made plans that started with a visit to San Telmo and the Feria de San Pedro Telmo (San Pedro Telmo Fair), a hullabaloo of street vendors, buskers and tango dancers held every Sunday. I discussed getting to the San Telmo neighborhood with the hotel's concierge and was pleased to find out that it would be a safe walk of about 20 minutes. The route he described would take me back along the Puerto Madero riverfront to Avenida Independencia, a broad, busy thoroughfare with substantial vehicular and pedestrian traffic -- always a safe bet.

This direction along the river -- opposite of yesterday's -- took me past some well-known landmarks, including the Puente de la Mujer (Woman's Bridge), an ultramodern pedestrian bridge built in 2001, so-called because its curved suspension mast is said to resemble a woman's backward leaning posture while dancing the tango. Another landmark is the Fregata Presidente Sarmiento, a tall ship which served in the Argentinean navy from 1897 through 2007, its latter service as a training vessel. The ship is now a floating museum open to the public.

On the other side of the walkway were some less notable landmarks; this was the region of American restaurant chains, including T.G.I. Friday's and, of all things, Hooters.

A walk of only about five blocks along Independencia brought me to the crossing with Calle Defensa, the midpoint in the street fair. At this point, the street surface changed from asphalt to cobblestones (San Telmo is Buenos Aires’s oldest suburb). Apart from the street vendors, my impressions from my stroll down Defensa were of New Orleans, especially Royal Street. Most of the shops along the sides of the street were art and antique galleries, above which were second stories in the French and Spanish colonial style, replete with wrought iron balconies and dark wooden shutters. Typical street vendor wares included leather goods, silver, hand-knit and sewn garments, folk art, and mate cups (decorated gourds with silver straws to sip the mate, an Argentine sort of herbal tea.)

At the end of Defensa is Plaza Dorrego, the focal point of the fair; it's crowded with nearly as many vendors as the rest of the fair combined. At 6 p.m., the vendors pack up, and the square gives itself over to crowds of impromptu tango dancers.

At 7:45 p.m., a small sightseeing van pulled up outside the Hilton, and the driver announced that he was the transportation to La Ventana. About 20 Hilton guests, mostly Americans, piled into the van and off we went, stopping briefly at two other hotels to pick up additional customers. Then, arriving at La Ventana, we waited 10 minutes at the curb while vans ahead of us disgorged their passengers. By the time we entered, bought our tickets and filed down the stairs to be seated, it was close to 8:30 p.m., and there were few seats left. The dinner/showroom at La Ventana is a long, narrow two-story vaulted space with walls and ceilings covered in brick; it looks like a giant, converted wine cellar. The seating on the main floor is row upon row of long tables, narrow ends facing the stage. I was seated on one of the two flanking balconies, and though my seat did not directly face the stage, I was actually closer to the performance than I would have been had they seated me on the main floor.

Dinner is a simple set menu with few choices. (For a price of about $80, dinner is included in the price of the show, but there is the option of buying show tickets without the meal and ordering from the higher-quality, a la carte menu). We were informed -- somewhat curtly by our waiter -- that we were each entitled to choose one appetizer, one main course, one bottle of wine and one bottle of water, followed by dessert or coffee: not both.

At 9:15 p.m., we were still waiting on our first courses to be served and for the show to start. But people continued to arrive independently, and at 10:00 p.m. as we were eating our main courses, these late arrivers had yet to order, so it was clear that this wasn't one of those shows that wouldn't begin until everyone had eaten (I hoped).

Like most packaged dinner shows, the meal was far from spectacular. The show finally did start at about 10:15 p.m. as the curtain ascended on a tango orchestra -- two violins, upright bass, piano and bandoneon (tango accordion). Four couples in 1940's-style costumes (the men in double-breasted pinstripe suits, the women in seamed fishnet stockings) danced several tangos. There were also two vocalists -- one male, one female -- and the scenes alternated between vocals, tango instrumentals without dance, and various combinations of solo, couple and group dance numbers. Without intermission, the second act began with a rendition of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina" sung in Spanish, after which a traditional Andean pipe band performed a set and then accompanied a Gaucho bola act. After that, the curtain opened to reveal an orquestra tipica (tango orchestra) of at least twice the size of the first one (this one had no less than four bandoneones), and the sequence of the first act with dancers and vocals was repeated with the larger, more rousing instrumentation.

I noticed that some folks had brought young kids who were either sleeping by the end or visibly squirming. We weren’t out the door till after midnight. As I looked around at the converging lines of buses and people, I decided to let the bus driver know not to wait for me, and I grabbed one of the many waiting taxis. The fare amounted only to about seven pesos (about $2.20 USD or just over 1 GBP), and as I crawled into bed and slid between the sheets, I couldn't help but think that the bus that had taken me to La Ventana probably had yet to leave the club. As I turned out the light I couldn't help but think, "Man, that was the best two-and-a-half bucks I've ever spent!"

In truth, a Buenos Aires tango spectacular is something every visitor should do once, but I think there are better ways to do it than I did. My recommendations:

Purchase tickets for the show only. You can then either dine elsewhere and enjoy a higher quality meal or arrive just before the show and order a la carte.

Investigate the cost of reserved V.I.P. seats right in front of the stage. If this is something you plan on doing once in a lifetime, it might be worth the extra cost.

Don't take the provided shuttle. Taxis are quite affordable in Buenos Aires, and you'll have the flexibility of arriving and departing on your own schedule.

If you are traveling with young kids, consider whether this is a good choice for them. Would they enjoy sitting through a folklorico show of two hours duration ending after midnight? Also, young kids aren't likely to understand the sensuality and male/female interplay that are the heart and soul of tango.

And, whatever you do, don't make the foolish mistake that I did and book an activity for first thing the morning after you go to a tango show.

I had scheduled an 8 a.m. pickup for a half-day of private car touring in Buenos Aires the following morning, and boy, did I dread hearing that alarm clock beeping at the crack of dawn...
Day 1: Pre-Trip Thoughts red arrow Day 3: Setting Sail

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