Morning came before we were ready, after a very long day and the tango show last night. We had a very nice buffet breakfast and got ready for our day tour of Buenos Aires. Pepe picked us up promptly at 9:30AM. Today, Thursday, was a holiday, so we were spared much of the busy downtown traffic that might have impeded us. We travelled some on the multi-lane 9th
of July Boulevard, at one point turning left by pulling into the right most lane, a sort of mini New Jersey style jug-handle turn. Some of the cross streets meander in an uncertain direction and not being marked with lane dividers, drivers are left to determine how many cars can fit through some sections. In two days, our driver only had to honk the horn twice, and only once just now did he give the right-of-way to a dilapidated wreck that just veered in front of us. It reminded me of a story my uncle had told me once, of when he was a very young driver with a car that must have looked as beat up as the one in front of us. Who knows, this could have been the same car! He
had cut in front of a bus driver, who stuck his head out the window and shouted, “If I had a car like that, I’d drive that way too!” Both Oscar and Pepe chuckled when I told this, which was when we realized that Oscar understood and spoke English better than he had let on.
We drove through the financial district, where many prominent banks had their offices. Nearby were the government buildings. We approached the “pink house”, but barricades had been erected to keep cars from passing in front of the president’s residence. Pink had been the color of many buildings in the past, resulting from being covered in a mixture of ox blood and chalk. Down a back street we encountered an assembly of police officers, perhaps one hundred of them, getting their orders in crowd control for some ceremony in the square that afternoon. We parked, and proceeded on foot, taking pictures as we went. The new one hundred peso bill featuring Evita and many sophisticated countermeasures against counterfeiting was being introduced this week, and a billboard in the square illustrated the new bill and the safeguards to the public. The hundred
peso note is the largest denomination circulating in Argentina.
We drove through a number of different neighborhoods, including a very posh neighborhood where many prominent people lived. We saw the very nice residence of the US Ambassador, near the US embassy. Another neighborhood had once been a very trendy dining neighborhood, but rougher elements had taken over, and Pepe pointed out that this was dangerous place to be at night. Business had mostly moved out, closer to the river, and was now the Buenos Aires equivalent to Greenwich Village. During our drive we passed that second soccer stadium, and we saw the black-and-white Coca Cola logos encircling the top of the stadium.
We finally reached the very popular and fancy graveyard that many people come to visit. The graveyard is currently full, containing tombs that range from very simple marble slabs to the most ornate structures. These family plots are for many of the most important Argentinean families. Pepe said that the basic plot value is about US$35,000. There is also a monthly maintenance charge, and if the monthly fee is not paid for three years, those buried there may be moved and the
plot sold to someone else. The attraction of this graveyard is that, this is where Evita is buried, and there was a bit of a crowd around the Duarte family tomb when we first reached that row. On our last cruise, we had learned the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard, the latter being a burial site associated with and adjacent church. Indeed, we visited the large stone Catholic Church near the entrance of the graveyard. While many buried here are Argentinean Catholics, there are families from many different countries and faiths as well.
Pepe and Oscar got us back to the Hotel before 2PM, and we said good-bye. We were hoping to catch a quick nap before we had to leave for the airport at 5:30PM. We dropped stuff off in our room, and decided to get a quick bite at the restaurant we ate at the day before. The previous day, it appeared they were serving fresh squeezed orange juice, and that sounded good to me. I decided on the same pepperoni pizza… it was that good. Sharon ordered a beef steak with sauce and vegetables. Well, my orange juice wasn’t fresh squeezed, it
was pulpy and maybe that’s what fooled me. It was good, but not to be compared to fresh squeezed. And the pizza wasn’t quite as good as the previous day either. Instead of the ham on the previous day, today they used mild salami. It was still quite good with the small red grilled chili peppers, but the ham was much better. And Sharon’s portion was a serving that she could have taken home and had for dinner or lunch over the next several days. I had to order a Coke to finish my pizza, and didn’t worry about what Pepe said about pizza and Coke not mixing. We finished and rushed back to the hotel. We had to do some repacking to get our three checked bags under 50 pounds each. I had to shift 6 pounds from my big bag, and Sharon needed to move 2 pounds. The overflow went into carry-ons and our shared smaller bag which had about 5 spare pounds available. In the end we wound up with three bags weighing in very near 50 pounds each. We used Sharon’s hand held luggage scale, which we proved was very accurate when we packed for the
trip. We requested a 4:30PM wakeup and tried to sleep. Sharon had paid for late checkout when booking the room through HAL (with luggage drop-off and airport delivery). This entitled us to checkout as late as 6PM, and was well worth the value. They must have been eager for us to leave, because our wakeup call came at 4:15PM, and neither of us really was able to fall asleep for more than a few minutes at a time. But it was something.
The shuttle bus arrived on time, and a full HAL contingent was leaving from the Sheraton with us. We were asked to hold our bags until the end, because our Delta drop-off would be first at the airport. It was about a thirty minute trip. The HAL representative who helped me find my bag the day before, rode with us to the airport, and even helped us with one of our bags making sure we got in the right line (while others were waiting). She had individually checked with all the airlines to make sure that all flights were on time (which they were). We had checked in online at the hotel, but had not
been able to print the boarding pass. At the airport there were just two kiosks serving all international flights in this terminal, although most people weren’t using these choosing instead to wait in the much longer line to check their bags and get a boarding pass. It was an ordeal, but I finally got all of our boarding passes printed out, and we went to the fast line for those with their boarding passes already. We got our bags checked, and I noticed that the scale for our agent wasn’t working.
We then had to pass through passport control, and this was quite a long line with an equally long wait. This was followed by another line for security. They don’t make you take your shoes or belts off. The scanner wanted to check Sharon’s carry-on, because her purse was inside. We did finally get to the gate and had about two hours until flight time. For some reason, Sharon mentioned which row she was seated in, and that didn’t match my boarding pass. I was sitting two rows in front of her. We had selected the rows over a year ago, and until just now we
were sitting next to each other. The agent at the gate had paged someone to see if they would change seats, but the young Spanish lady would not change. When we got on the plane I noticed that this lady was sitting next to Sharon, and she hadn’t wanted to change because she was travelling with the two people behind me (and in front of her and Sharon). I asked if she wanted to change with me, but she didn’t, until the gentleman in front of Sharon asked if the seat on the aisle that I was sitting in was my seat. The gentleman seemed eager to sit with the lady in my row, and looked like everything was settled, until a Korean woman showed up with the boarding pass that said that the seat I was sitting in was really her seat. It seems that the lady that traded me her seat, and traded me a seat that wasn’t hers to give. That’s when the stewardess came, trying to make sense of who should sit where. The Korean lady wanted the aisle seat so she could sit across from her elderly mother. And she wasn’t receptive to sit one
seat in front of the one I was in. Then somehow the elderly mother wound up forward one seat, and now she would accept that seat. Which was all well and good until someone else showed up as the plane is starting to move, who in all of this juggling had lost his coveted aisle seat. If the plane hadn’t been moving, this whole musical chairs fiasco might have unraveled, but the stewardess told him to sit down, and he grumbled something about a nine-hour flight and losing his aisle seat. So I guess the moral of the story is not to be the last person to board the plane, or you might not be happy with your seating arrangements. Sharon finally figured out the three Spanish people only had one aisle seat, and the original Spanish lady actually was supposed to be sitting in the seat next to me… Which is why the gentleman was excited to confirm I was giving up the aisle seat so he and his girlfriend could sit together. And I never did figure out how the other woman figured into the threesome who was initially sitting next to the “gentleman friend”.
I chose the pasta dish which was passably bad, and Sharon had the chicken dish which was worse. I try to follow my uncle’s recommendation when it comes to airline food… Avoid the Beef! Sharon actually did get a little sleep on this flight, but perhaps just a few minutes at a time. I did somewhat better. She only woke me up once, shaking me and asking, “What is that smell?” I really think this must make us even for the water that I spilled on her at the winery. She’s had enough experience dealing with her baby brothers to know what “that smell” is, and we were both aware of the baby in the other aisle that cried for the first hour of the flight. Now, my nose made it very difficult for me to fall back asleep. The morning sun was creeping through the window shades before long, and the worst breakfast ever served on any airline ever followed shortly after. There was a roll. There seemed to be some sweaty cheese that had adhered itself to the roll so that Sharon couldn’t remove it and eat just the bread. And there was tasteless greenish fungus-like stuff congealing
on top of the cheese… at least it was tasteless.
We landed in Atlanta, cleared customs, collected our bags and cleared passport control. I wish it was as easily done as it is easily said. We re-checked our bags, and went through security to regain access to the terminal. We made our way from the F-Terminal wing to the B-Terminal, and our gate was near the top of the escalator when coming up from the Plane-Train. We squatted on two seats near a couple of two prong electrical outlets, began charging phones and laptops, and I went out to get us some food. I got Sharon the equivalent of McDonald’s Big Breakfast with Coke, while I got a double Southwest Burger with Fries and a Mr. Pibb. Coke is fine, but it’s nice for a change once in a while. This flight wasn’t full, so it didn’t matter that there was an unused seat between us, with Sharon on the window. We arrived back in Dayton, Ohio, and the outside temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit (-8 degrees when figuring in the wind chill factor). It was colder here in Ohio than it was in Antarctica! And it
felt much colder! The limo driver was waiting right where he said he’d be. The visibility was good today, but he said the weather has been crazy. Two days earlier the temperature was in the sixties. And a couple days before that there were white-out conditions that had caused many accidents. Still, as much as we enjoyed the cruise, it was good to be home.
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