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Published: April 12th 2014
7 April 2014 – Monday – Cordoba to Rosario, Argentina
Today we journeyed by bus from Cordoba to Rosario. The trip took twelve hours. The countryside was flat, mostly agricultural, and water-logged from the heavy and persistent rain from the previous day. It rained nearly the entire journey. The bus stopped about a dozen times in the small towns en route.
When we arrived at the bus terminus in Rosario we sought out the tourist office to acquire a map. There were two attendants, a female talking on a mobile phone and a male staring into space. We asked the male for a map and after a couple minutes’ search he found a few of them at the bottom of a cabinet behind him. We asked him if he could mark on the map the location of the bus station, which he did reluctantly, and also Maipu street where our new temporary residence was, which he pretended not to understand. The map was very small print so we moved away from the information booth and set about searching it for Maipu street. As we were looking at the map, the female attendant exited the booth and came up to
us with another copy of the map with her finger pointing to Maipu street. We thanked her and asked about taxis and she said that a taxi would take us on a roundabout route to increase the fare and drew us a small map to hand the taxi driver to tell him the route we wanted him to take. While we were discussing all this – she had no English and we were just picking out words in her instructions – an older man approached us and asked if he could be of assistance. He was a local man, Luis, who has lived in Boston most of his life and was home visiting his elderly parents. He translated for us what the attendant had said and then escorted us to the taxi rank and instructed the taxi driver where we wanted to go and how to get us there. We recount this story as an example of both the indifference and incredible helpfulness we have experienced from Argentine people.
We had received a location description of the apartment as ‘next door to a pasta place’, called La Pentola. When we arrived at the destination there was a wonderful smell
in the air and indeed a small shop in which a man was making pasta and instantly we knew what we were having for our next meal. The pasta maker phoned his colleague, Sebastian, who was nearby with the keys and he arrived in a couple minutes to let us into the apartment. An energetic chef, with a bright smile and happy face, he showed us around. He had only a little English and handed us a note he had prepared that read: ‘Welcome!! My name is Sebastian and I am going to be the person who will receive and assist you with anything you ned (sic).’ He gave us another map, this one larger and more comprehensive than the one we had received at the bus station information office, and pointed out the areas to visit.
We settled in and walked to the nearby supermarket to purchase essentials: bread, meat, cheese, fruit and veg, wine and beer! Joan bought ingredients for a pasta sauce and she purchased a tray of spinach and ricotta ravioli from Sebastian which we had for dinner. The pasta was thicker than the Italian variety and it was fully-stuffed.
Later that evening we
sat on the couch looking out the window at a lightning storm. The lightning was steady and constant for nearly an hour. It was like a strobe-light sparkling across the sky. One flash followed another with no delay between them; it was a magnificent light show.
8 April 2014 – Tuesday – Rosario, Argentina
We woke to sunshine and blue skies. We learned later that this central part of Argentina had received around 118 millimetres of rain in 24 hours, just short of half the annual total. Many of the interior towns, including Cordoba where we left yesterday, suffered severe flooding and about three thousand people had to be evacuated from their homes.
We began our meandering walkabout and exploration of Rosario by heading toward a restaurant, Parrilla La Estancia, that Joan had selected for lunch from her internet research, located in an area that Sebastian had described as having many restaurants. We found it easily enough and Joan read the menu and liked the looks of it so we decided to come back later. We wandered further up the street, stopping to read more restaurant menus and window shop. When we reached the massive justice building
we turned toward the historical centre. There were any number of cute-looking coffee shops and restaurants on these tree-lined streets. Some of the trees, however, were damaged in the storm. Fallen branches littered the sidewalk and in a couple instances trees that had uprooted had already been sawn and piled up awaiting collection.
There are more old Spanish colonial buildings spread around Rosario, some of which have been renovated and are quite beautiful, and some of which are crumbling from neglect. They range from the magnificent opera house to residential buildings. There seem to be at least one or two on every block.
We walked down the entire length of Cordoba, which is the main shopping street, to the River Parana, which was wide, with a very strong current, and very muddy brown and reminded us of the Mississippi River. There is a wonderful tower monument and sculpture plaza at the bottom of Cordoba celebrating the Argentine flag and history. It was closing for lunch and the afternoon siesta as we tried to enter it. On the waterfront a few men had cast fishing lines into the brown river; they seemed to be fishing more from habit than
hope. We browsed the menus of a couple of the restaurants overlooking the water and then headed back into the historical district after plotting a separate route back to Parrilla La Estancia.
On Rioja avenue we passed a gourmet food shop called Foodies which had a line of people stretching from the counter to the entranceway. They produced and sold a variety of quiches, empanadas and pastries, trays of which were set out in the window and inside balanced on stools. They all looked wonderfully delicious and inviting. They were for takeaway only. We walked on and passed an old-time, traditional resto-bar called El Ruedo in which sat a number of men in white shirts and ties as well as a few well-dressed women. We walked up and down outside this restaurant peering in the windows inspecting the food and Joan decided this place was worth trying. The room was old wood and antiques hanging on the walls and from the ceiling. Our red-haired waiter must have had an Irish great-granny in his family lineage. The menu-del-dia offered three options – Joan had the chicken filet in a mustard sauce with roasted potatoes and I had the meatballs sitting
on a bed of yellow rice. The meal included a drink and desert and our total bill was 110 Argentine Pesos (about 11 US Dollars).
After lunch, we returned to the Foodies shop and purchased a selection of quiches and pastries for our evening meal.
We hadn’t slept well the evening before as the apartment is located on a major bus route and there is a car park next door and behind the building, the gate for which opens and closes with a thunderous bang, so we returned to the apartment for an Argentine afternoon siesta and came out again just after 5pm when we returned the few blocks into the historical centre and a very nice bookstore cafe we had earlier browsed in. It also had a music department and some Argentine jazz cds that I wanted to look at more closely. We stopped at another information kiosk on Cordoba street and asked the friendly young attendant there about local buses and buses to Montevideo, Uruguay, and live music venues. There is one music pub in Rosario called Beatlesmemo that is also a music museum and they have live music most evenings, but no jazz; tomorrow night
they have a ‘tribute to Elvis Presley’! (The local opera house is offering a week of the music of Queen starting at the weekend.) We had a strong coffee, again served in the Argentine fashion accompanied by a small glass of sparkling water and a lemon tart.
Joan browsed the tourist brochures we had received at the information kiosk while I browsed through the jazz cds. There was a good selection of Argentine cds from Rivorecords, a label I had come across online while googling ‘Argentine jazz musicians’ and I had emailed asking where I could purchase their recordings. They responded immediately and recommended this bookstore. The cds, however, had over-stickered price labels asking 97 pesos and under-stickered price labels asking 83 pesos; and I had witnessed a clerk with a large roll of price stickers to hand that he was diligently working through. I decided I would try to find the label’s recordings at another of the local stores they had recommended before deciding which to purchase. (Later that evening I found an Argentine music store website that was quoting prices of 130 pesos per cd.)
We had earlier stumbled upon another music store with a section
dedicated to ‘National Jazz’ that I browsed through and purchased a couple of piano solo cds: one by Argentine artists Paula Shocron (hers had three Thelonious Monk covers) and a live double cd by Adrian Iaies, who is perhaps the most well-known internationally of Argentine jazz musicians (which also has covers of Monk songs, one on each cd).
On the way home we stopped again at the supermarket to replenish our sparkling water supply and a few other bits and pieces. We spent the remainder of the evening reading, writing, browsing online, and listening to Argentine solo piano!
9 April 2014 – Wednesday – Rosario, Argentina
Our first destination this morning was the Central Bus Station to arrange passage to Montevideo, Uruguay. The journey takes from eight to ten hours and we were hoping to purchase tickets for a bus departing in the morning, but when we got there we found that only a couple of buses travelled this route and they were all overnight buses, departing around 11pm and arriving the next morning at the destination. We retreated to a bus station cafe that offered wifi to consider our options. After some further research and discussion
we decided to proceed with the overnight bus. We have five extra days before we are due to arrive in Buenos Aires, where we already have our apartment reserved and paid for, and it is the ideal opportunity to visit the seaport capital city of Uruguay. We have heard it described as ‘the most beautiful city in South America.’ We returned to the bus company ticket booth and purchased our seats at the front of the bus with the panoramic view, although we probably won’t see much at night but we should have a wonderful view of the sunrise.
There is a beach area on the River Parana called La Florida on the outskirts of the city. We purchased a local bus pass with enough credit to get us there and back and went in search of the correct bus. But we got on the wrong one and after about 40 minutes of driving around the city centre a passenger sitting behind us and noticing our frustration as we tried to determine the route the bus was taking by following it on the map leaned over and informed us we were on the wrong bus and advised us to
disembark on Pellegrini and get the 35/9 bus instead. This we did and it too went back and forth through the city centre before turning toward the suburbs. We finally exited the bus about another 40 minutes later and walked a few blocks to the beach area.
Normally an entrance fee is required, but as this was off-season and mid-week entrance was free but all the amenities were closed. There were a few people sun-bathing and a couple of guys playing volleyball and some children playing and some kayakers in the distance paddling against the strong current of the river. There was a nice view of the long Calatrava bridge that stretches across the river onto the island opposite. We walked a wooden boardwalk the length of the enclosed private beach. The sand is very soft. It was long past lunch time and we were both very hungry. We had approached one restaurant overlooking the water but their kitchen had closed. We started walking along the riverside back toward the city centre and came the public beach area and on the opposite side of the street a series of small market stalls where fish were hanging from their gills.
There were a few fish restaurants that we looked into but decided against as they were a bit dingy and looked out onto a dirt parking lot. We preferred to eat on the waterside with a nice view of the river and found a bar that served burgers and chips and ice-cold beer. We settled here for a couple hours, had lunch and sat in the sunshine, and I watched the last few minutes of the European Football (Soccer) Match in which Athletico Madrid knocked Barcelona out of the competition. Barcelona’s star player, Lionel Messi, is from this town of Rosario, Argentina. He left here as a sickly child for medical treatment in Spain and has lived and played there ever since. Apparently, the La Estancia Grill Restaurant, is a favourite of his and he frequents it when he returns to Rosario to visit and there are photos of him on the wall above the entranceway.
We walked back toward the town and came across a large shopping mall. A bookstore/music store there called Yenny had some of the Argentine jazz cds I have been searching for at a very good price (about 9 US Dollars each) so I
purchased three of them. One of the young women working there was a student learning English so we chatted with her for a minute, encouraging her to practice as much as possible. As it was now dark, we asked her advice on which bus to take back to the city centre and this time we boarded the correct bus and were deposited a few blocks from our apartment on Maipu street, where we spent the rest of the evening reading and writing and browsing the web.
10 April 2014 – Thursday – Rosario, Argentina
We woke to quiet. There were no buses or heavy goods trucks passing beneath our bedroom window. A nationwide strike had closed down the public transport systems and roadblocks at key locations in the city limited traffic into the city. Unlike the strike we experienced in Cusco, Peru which caused us much difficulty in getting to and back from Machu Picchu – we hadn’t been planning to travel today and could enjoy the nearly traffic free city.
The first item on our agenda was a haircut and beard trim for the disheveled and bushy travelling man I had become since arriving in South America. We had seen a couple male barbershops on Entre Rios street when coming back home on the bus yesterday evening and walked in that direction. We found an old school barber who spoke no English but we managed to receive an adequate haircut and beard trim for the equivalent of 7 US Dollars.
Our plan was to visit two of the local fine arts museums, but neither of them opened in the morning. After the haircut we decided to walk the entire length of Entre Rios to the riverside. Because Rosario is located at a wide, sweeping bend of the river most of its historical centre streets eventually emerge there. In addition to the barber shops, we had noticed a few small cafes and gourmet shops on yesterday’s bus journey and we stopped to view and browse them on our walk. The neighbourhood was tree-lined and the houses very well kept. There was very little traffic. Many of the shops were closed, presumably because of the strike. But most of the cafes and food stores were open. We passed a couple more small pasta-making kitchens like the one next to our apartment. It is the first time we have seen this type of business in South America in which pasta is hand-made and then sold over-the-counter – very like in Italy, and that is presumably because of the historically-large Italian immigrant population bringing their customs from home with them. There are very many second and third generation immigrants in Argentina, not only Italians but Germans and Spanish also.
We purchased only a jar of fig chutney to accompany our usual light dinner of meat and cheeses, bread and grapes.
And then it was time for lunch. We returned to La Estancia, the Argentine Grill restaurant we had planned to eat at on Tuesday before we were distracted by the traditional resto-bar El Ruedo. La Estancia is a large open room. A massive wood-fired grill covered with various meats and sausages blazes in a recessed corner. The restaurant was less than half-full when we arrive at about 1:30. (Argentine’s eat lunch late.) The all male wait-staff are dressed in black-and-white and move around the room with a practiced and experienced efficiency. We order our meal – steak for Joan and a rack of pork ribs for myself – and sipped at the Malbec wine Joan had ordered. It is served at room temperature here (other places it has been served cold) and is very agreeable. The room slowly but steadily filled up. A group of five men were seated at a table beside us. Two of them wear Argentine Rugby Tour jerseys and look vaguely familiar to me. Local people arriving did a double-take when they notice them, and one man approached them for a brief chat and handshakes. These five men tackled a bulging platter of grilled meats and sausage with the enthusiasm and eagerness of a scrum.
When we ordered our meal the waiter made a point of telling us the weight of our selection, a sort of advance warning. The steak was thick and juicy and cooked medium (although asked for medium-rare) and the pork rib stretched the entire length of a long silver platter. It was accompanied by a mound of french fries and a large bowl of baby rocket and parmesan salad. We tucked in and thoroughly enjoyed it.
After lunch we waddled up to the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts and browsed their selection of Argentine paintings. We preferred the paintings from the 20th
Century. There were some landscapes and portraits. We had refused to put our knapsacks which contain our computers and passports in the not-so-secure area and we were shadowed throughout the gallery by a security man and I was unable to take any photographs there. Unfortunately, only the permanent exhibition was available to view as the three temporary exhibition rooms were all being prepared with new exhibitions that were not open yet.
We walked the entire length of Boulevard Orono, a beautiful Spanish-type boulevard with a wide central tree-lined walkway with many park benches and a few statues and sculptures and several fine Spanish Colonial buildings. There were also a number of high-rise apartment buildings of about twelve stories. This looked like one of the prime residential locations in the city. There were many young people power-walking and others strolling and still others walking their dogs, a sort of pleasant and relaxing Sunday afternoon.
When we reached the banks of the muddy river Parana again we found the grassy park full of families and groups of friends lounging in the mid-afternoon sunshine.
The second museum on our itinerary was a converted silo building overlooking the river, the Museum of Contemporary Arts of Rosario. We paid the entrance fee and were directed to an elevator and told to go to the 7th
floor and walk down to the exhibition rooms, one per floor. The best part of this museum is the view from the top of the building. The exhibitions were not worth opening the doors to view; so much of what passes for ‘contemporary art’ is just trash and junk items arranged on a floor or a wall. It was very disappointing. Joan commented that it was probably the worst museum exhibition she had ever visited and I agreed.
We emerged back onto the riverbank and into the early evening sunshine and strolled among the lazing Argentines. We did not see another gringo there, or anywhere else the entire day. We headed back into the historical centre in search of a ‘blue-dollar- cambio man and a cup of coffee at the bookstore-cafe. The cambio men were taking the day off, at least we couldn’t find any, and the cafe was closed although the bookstore was opened. We were tired from all the walking and decided to go back to the apartment, where we enjoyed a sample of the fig jam and finished the Malbec leftover from lunch.
11 April 2014 – Friday – Rosario, Argentina
The buses returned to the streets with their old roaring engines and rattling metal carriages.
We were fortunate in that there is no one arriving for the apartment we are staying in so we can use it the entire day as our bus journey to Montevideo did not commence until 11:30pm.
The first item on our agenda was to find the ‘blue dollar’ cambio man, as we were down to our last 5 dollars in Argentine Pesos. Sebastian told us they hung out on the corner of Cordoba and San Martin; we walked there about 10:30am. We hung around on the corner but no one approached us and there didn’t seem to be anyone else just hanging around. We decided to sit a moment and observe the scene and activity. A few minutes later I noticed a man walk up to two men drinking coffee and chatting at a small table outside a cafe. The man unfolded a wad of Argentine Pesos and departed with a couple US Dollar bills. We watched this happen a few times and knew that we had found the right man. I readied my 100 US Dollars and left my backpack with Joan and approached the man who nodded when I asked was he the local ‘cambio man’. He asked how much I had to exchange and told me the rate (10 pesos per dollar, which is what I had expected) and he counted out 1000 pesos and I counted the five twenties I had in my palm. We handed each other our cash and counted it again. I thanked him and as I rose he reached out to shake my hand and we were flush with Argentine pesos again!
Our next destination was the Decorative Arts Museum which was really the marvellous house of Firma and Odilo Estevez, which was bequeathed to the city, with its contents in 1966. The house contains a permanent exhibition of artwork, sculptures and furniture that was collected over a period of 30 years. It includes Spanish furniture from the 16th, 17th and 18th century and copies of 18th-century French furniture; a collection of European paintings; a number of sculptures; works in ivory, glass, porcelain, jade, and silver (European, pre-Columbian and Asian); tapestries, carpets, and fans. A young and enthusiastic attendant met us at the door and ushered us around the house in an informal tour. She was a student and eager to practice her English with us. It was a beautiful house and a lovely experience.
Time for lunch: Joan had chosen a fish restaurant that was close to the museum, called La Marina. A basement no-frills fish restaurant, it had posters of Asturias and Galicia in North-western Spain covering its walls. We ordered two fish empanadas as starters that were full of a mixture of shellfish and fin fish. We shared a paella for the main course. The waiter corrected our pronunciation of ‘paella’, insisting it was pronounced ‘pay-yeah-jah’. The paella was not the best we have ever had (that would be David’s, our niece’s husband) but it was tasty with a good stock flavouring the rice. A bottle of crisp white wine from the Bodega Lopez, a winery we had visited in Maipu (Mendoza) washed it all down with ease. The total bill was the equivalent of 15 US Dollars.
We decided to return to the bookshop cafe on Cordoba for coffee and dessert. Again, the coffee was strong and the desserts sweet: lemon meringue for Joan and chocolate mousse for me.
Our last stop of the day was the jazz cd store, Paraphernalia. It is a beautiful store with fine wooden display tables. Unfortunately, the price of the cds was quite considerably more than anywhere else (110 Argentine Pesos compared to 60 to 84 I had previously spent) so I didn’t buy any, although I could have purchased a dozen or more as they had a very wide range of Argentine jazz recordings. There are quite a few small record labels in Argentina that are recording jazz of a very high quality, and there are still record stores selling music cds. Rosario has at least half a dozen music stores (and at least that many bookstores, some combined) that we have visited in the past few days.
We have heard Rosario described as a ‘mini-Buenos Aires’. We found it very comfortable and safe to amble around and explore. There are nice boutiques and coffee shops. The people are friendly and helpful. It is easy to lose yourself in the city centre grid of interesting streets. The people look reasonably well off and the women are fashionably dressed; there is very little obvious poverty or begging in the streets. It is built ‘facing the river’ and optimising its potential and allure by constructing a long walkway and parkway alongside it that is filled with the local people in the early evenings. It is a city we would be very happy to return to, especially in November during its ten-day jazz festival.
We returned to the apartment to have a short siesta before a light dinner and going to the bus station for our overnight journey to Montevideo.
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Hi...I am from Rosario...just landed on your blog by chance, I was looking for something else. Just wanted to tell you that none of the old buildings are "spanish colonial": Rosario was founded in 1793 and Argentina got independent in 1810.....no buiding from these 17 years survived. As far as I know, there is no bulding from earlier than 1860 or so.
The architecture certainly seemed influenced by the Spanish Colonial, but thank you for correcting our error. That is why we travel, and write about our experience and what we see: to learn. We would happily return to Rosario, and to Argentina (despite the rugby team dumping the Irish out of the tournament yesterday, and we being Irish!).