Long Way Home

Midway through a flight it’s rare to think, “Shit, we’re going the wrong way!”

wrong way

Such was our plight from Buenos Aires back to Australia. Solely for monetary reasons – about 2000 of them – we’d spurned the directish Qantas route in favour of a 45-hour Delta hellride home via the US of A.

First stopover: Atlanta, with time for some good ol’ airport grits and a little light Georgian reading.

airport grits     light southern reading

Second stopover: LA. And with 8 hours in the city of angels, only one thing could ever be top of the list.

in-n-out time
Top, second top, third top, forth top, fi….

For those poor souls who don’t know, In-N-Out Burger is a WEST Coast institution peddling perfect freshly made burgers and fries. Best of all, they have a (not so) secret menu allowing dozens of customisations, additions and variations to seriously pimp your meal.

And who knew, there’s one right next to LAX!

always busy
I knew.

Love for this place is not far short of a cult and I’m happy to admit we’ve drunk the Kool Aid Neapolitan shakes. I mean FFS just feast your eyes on this glorious Double Double.

double double

Hang on…

wait one sec

…no, I’m not dreaming.

It was everything I’d been pining for since I last had one. Nursing an epic burger-belly and with about 6 hours to kill, we jumped on a bus into Santa Monica for some light shopping.

santa monica boulevard

And happened upon this.

santa monica sunset

sunset junkies

We’ve seen some gooduns in the last 5 years, but that’s right up there.

Fittingly, the final act of this tale is all about food. Again. Back at LAX Kate’s insatiable eavesdropping at the check-in desk revealed that famous food truck Koji had just opened a pop-up AT THE AIRPORT. We’d been super keen to get in on LA’s revered food truck scene, and now they’d driven perhaps the best of the damned things right to our door! Or… so we thought. After slogging through security, we wandered past generic airport bar after generic airport bar, eyes peeled for the famous taco truck. A complete lap of our terminal revealed nothing. Devestation set in. Was this to be our final experience? A taco-tease? But hark! Where do those sign-less steps lead?? A tunnel beneath the tarmac! Could it be… a Taco Tunnel?!

taco tunnel

Down and along the rabbit hole we went, emerging bleary-eyed in the AA terminal. Right next to this baby.

lax food truck

I could have wept with joy.

Still reeling from our earlier burgerthon and facing 15 hours at 40000 feet, we compiled a modest tasting plate: short-rib and calamari tacos, and pork sliders.

taco time

taco heaven

Looking at those pics, I can’t think of a better meal to end our trip. Although to be honest I can’t think of anything but how fucking amazing those tacos were.

All that remained was to wander back down the magical Taco Tunnel and board the last flight of the whole trip. LA – we nailed you.

15 hours later we hit Oz, where our welcoming committee had gone all out.

the welcoming committee
A sight for sore eyes.

There were hugs, there were laughs, there were even tears – all from Kate’s Dad.

The epic journey was over. Door to door it had taken 51 hours. But looking at it another way, it even took a bit longer than that….  it took 5 wonderful years.

And though our packs were heavy, you might say that it was our hearts…. that were truly full.

And tho – what, too much? Right. Roll Credits!

Muy Buenos Aires

When we weren’t eating ourselves to a steak-fuelled standstill or dancing the nights away with Dutchies, we were determined to check out as much of Buenos Aires as we could.

First stop: the dead centre of town.

tomb town
BOOM.

La Recoleta is a beautiful and fantastically atmospheric cemetery, home to Eva Peron as well as more presidents, statesmen and notable citizens than you can poke a camera lens at. Any qualms one might have at walking over astride someone’s grave in the name of tourism are quickly forgotten; from the ostentatious entranceway to the grandiose tombs inside, it’s pretty clear these dead residents wanted an audience.

recoleta cemetary

menorah and cross     modest interment

Take this former president whose tomb features a statue of him atop his own coffin, still giving orders, as a bunch of chicks gaze lovingly up at him.

coffin top
“I just want something modest” – not that guy

Here we also ran into the Evita craziness; her family vault was absolutely mobbed.

peron crowd

The fascination with the charismatic former First Lady and beloved national icon is undeniable. Her mystique has only amplified given her early death (at only 33), ongoing debate about her motives and her husband’s style of politics, and subsequent musical fame. The Evita Museum offered some sympathetic insight into her life and career.

evita

Oh and special mention to the room featuring a stirring ‘Women’s Rights Progress’ tribute next to a bevy of preserved fashion outfits.

evita dresses
*Laced* with irony, amirite?

Perhaps the most famous Evita moments are her stirring speeches from the balcony of the Casa Rosada (i.e. the “Pink House”, incidentally the least serious-sounding President’s Office in all the world: “There’s an asteroid hurtling toward Argentina… Get me the Pink House on the line….” see?) Still, it’s an iconic building.

don't cry for me

The main square and Grecian cathedral complete the impressive picture.

more rosada

grecian design

cathedral

The rest of the city centre has something of a Parisian feel with its wide streets, grand old buildings and yep – even a huge Obelisk.

el stick shot

paris like street  streetscape

If those streets ain’t wide enough for ya, BA also features the supposed widest street in the world: Avenida 9 de Julio.

wide road

evita building
Erm, is there a shuttle running across?

If all this isn’t enough, there’s a nature reserve right on the edge of the city centre. A few minutes in and you feel a million miles away from all the craziness.

reserve canal

Man we loved this city.

Between seeing all this, hanging out in our hood San Telmo and the accompanying eat-n-drinkathon, our fortnight absolutely flew by. Before we knew it, we were on our way to the airport and home to Australia. We’d pinned all our hopes on Buenos Aires to deliver an impossibly epic send-off worthy of 5 long years away.

And boy did it deliver in steaks – sorry, spades.

Right the first time.

A few more BA pics here.

Seventh Heaven: The Best 7 Parrillas of Buenos Aires

We’ve been to some food obsessed towns – Bologna, San Sebastian, Namedrop City – and Buenos Aires is right up there with all of ’em. There’s a parrilla (grill/steakhouse) on every corner, and many many corners.

This post is the beefy fruit of our fortnight long labours: from streetside to meatside, a definitive list of our favouritest BA parrillas.

7. Que Parrillon (Puerto Madero)

Que Parrillon, you completo me.

que parrillon

The beautiful Puerto Madero nature reserve is lined with dozens of food stalls. They all turn out fantastic grub at the kind of low prices that make you nervous you’ve accidentally ordered a salad roll. At these streetside grills, it’s all about the steak sandwich (lomito). And the only order better than a lomito is a lomito completo, with added egg, ham and cheese.

At Que Parrillon the condiment bar is longer than a Leonard Cohen song and we dutifully loaded up.

condiment heaven

lomito complete

Let us bow our heads and pray we can finish it.

pre-lomito pause

Lomito-m-g.

6. Nuestra Parrilla (San Telmo)

Mind if I just stare at your grill for a few hours?

man looks at grill

Early on we tripped over this hole-in-the-wall joint about 50m from our apartment. Here a paltry 20 pesos (A$2) lands you a ‘choripan’, a deviously simple but heavenly affair consisting of grilled chorizo slapped onto a fresh hunk of french roll.

choripan time

See those twin jars of homemade chimichurri? That’s a zingy, tangy condiment that comes in two choices: red or green. Slathering on irresponsible amounts of BOTH red and green is mandatory. As is a 1L beer to wash it all down.

Chorizo-m-g.

5. Desnivel (San Telmo)

Not even Evel Knievel could jump over a Desnivel steak.

desnivel

This ‘working man’s’ parrilla is on Defensa, smack bang in the middle of the main San Telmo shopping drag. Inside, the only thing more crowded than the restaurant floor was the grill.

desnivel grill

Our cheerful waiter delivered up superb steaks, chorizo sausage and a divine proveleta (a cheese round grilled into gooey melted bliss). Even better, we were reunited with two of our favourite things: Our Dutch pals Jacq & Tijs, and penguin-shaped jugs of wine.

penguinito pals

Penguinito-m-g.

4. Gran Parrilla Del Plato

Take a butcher’s at this place.

classy

Gran Parrilla Del Plato is a former San Telmo butchers shop converted into a classy restaurant. That red neon sign (top) drew us in like moths to the flame.

Their perfectly cooked Ojo de Bife (ribeye fillet) made my ojos pop out of my cabeza if you know what I mean.

bife shot

Paired with provenzal fries and a delish Malbec, it was truly epic. By the time our waiter brought us the bill with complementary limoncello, I was chaining myself to a table.

Ojo-m-g.

3. Don Julio (Palermo)

The Don made us an offer we couldn’t refuse: more steak.

don julio palermo

The Palermo location of this top-rated parrilla meant a considerable jump up in swank and price. Case in point: the hand carved and engraved steak knives, available for purchase at a lazy $600 pesos (A$60) each.

don julio knives

These bad boys went through a beautiful Bife de Chorizo (top sirloin) like a knife through steaky butter. And what a steak it was. At this point we were smugly certain we’d nailed the best in BA.

Don Julio-m-g.

2. La Cabrera (Palermo)

All aboard the champagne train.

tijsbomb

Another Palermo institution, La Cabrera offers free champagne to those queuing for a table. So of course,we turned up smack bang in the middle of peak hour. Imagine our disappointment at being seated immediately – almost unheard of!

On the plus side, our Dutch double date meant we could go for both the Bife de Chorizo and Ojo de Bife between us.

el cabrera

The sirloin was excellent – but the ribeye was To Die For. At long last, the WOOAAAHH moment we’d been searching for. Jaws hit floors. Conversation ceased. And all of us desperately wished we’d ordered two ribeyes.

The icing on the steak: after the meal the waiter delivered up four free glasses of excellent bubbly! Better late than never.

Ooo La La Cabrera.

1. La Brigada (San Telmo)

Steak Harder, La Brigada.

brigada

The term Old School was never so fitting than for this neighbourhood parrilla in San Telmo. The decor is mafioso hangout meets sports memorabilia bar meets confused patrons.

la brigada bar

Given this was our Swan Song we eagerly doubled-down on two big steaks: One last Bife de Chorizo and a mystery cut the waiter insisted upon. In accordance with legend, the waiter cut the steaks with a spoon to show how tender they are. A f*cking spoon!

oh si

To this day we’re not sure what cut the recommended steak (left) was; it was lovely though. But there on the right, the Bife took out the night, the city and all my hopes and dreams. Time after time this supremely popular cut had floored us but failed to deliver a knockout. Not this time. So tender it was like slicing into jelly. Perfectly salty, smokey, meaty heaven.

Just look at my stupid smiling face below, not yet realising I’m about to have the greatest steak of my life.

steak tiempo
So stupid.

Lord we had some great steak in Bueons Aires, in Argentina, in South America even! – but that one went full Tina Turner. It was simply the best.

Two (Weeks) To Tango

5 years, 6 continents and 7 wasted minutes trying to think of something 7 related to our trip for this intro; it would all come down to one last stop. Buenos Aires, “Paris of the South” and sadly for us, End of the Line. Accordingly we teed up 2 whole weeks to make sure we hashtag nailedit.

Our base: San Telmo, one of the oldest ‘hoods in town and definitely the place to be. Cobblestone streets and crumbling colonial buildings form an atmospheric backdrop for bustling markets and open-air tango.

san telmo streets

more san t grafitti     che in san telmo

tango in profile

ferria street shot     san telmo bar

more milonga

San T (as no-one else but me calls it) takes everything in stride. It’s touristy sure, but full of locals too. You can go cheap’n’cheerful, classy or anything in between. Old-school Argentine ‘bar notables’ comfortably co-exist with English-style expat pubs. It’s authentic, cheap and has charm to burn. In almost every way it was exactly our kinda place.

It didn’t hurt that we managed to land an Airbnb pad that was supercool; probably the best place we’ve stayed in 5 years on the road. Not a bad way to wrap things up.

dining

kitchen     study

Once again our Dutch travel pals Tijs and Jacq were in town, OUR TOWN, for a week – I mean, get your own travel plans guys, sheesh. Out of pity more than anything else, we invited them around to dinner one evening and together drank our entire week’s booze cache in a Fernet-fuelled Taco Tuesday.

the gang

Our Penguinito wine jug still hasn’t recovered from Tijs’ attentions.

penguinito love
The love that dare not speak its name.

A few days later they reciprocated with a stunningly delicious home-cooked satay (finding peanut butter in South America is no mean feat) and memorable evening at their own funky San T pad.

sateh friday

trio
Uitstekend!

Life’s better shared with friends. *Nawwww*

Together we also hit up the working class suburb of Boca, just south of San Telmo. Two major attractions draw tourists into this otherwise supposed ‘no-go’ zone; La Bombonera (the football stadium of Boca Juniors) and the famously colourful Caminito street. Instagram filters need not apply.

la bombonera     stadium shot

classic caminito

more colour

sign shopping     scary maradonna

Bottom right: scary Maradona is scary.

Having witnessed the hauntingly beautiful tango on the streets of San T, we decided to get off the sidelines and into the game. Kate’s folks kindly gifted us tango lessons at a BA dance studio. Boasting 4 left feet between the 2 of us, it was anyone’s guess how we were going to handle the smooth, seductive movements of this signature Latin American dance. Happily, the classes proved very fun and informal; T&J tagged along one day and Tijs promptly Tango’d off with my woman.

dutch tango
Never trust a Dutchman.

After a few lessons we managed to string together some steps not on each other’s feet. Now, this short clip of us in the studio isn’t great quality, but should give you the general idea.

I reckon we had a few good moves. Cheers grob!

Easily, and effortlessly, one of the coolest cities in the world. And we haven’t even covered the best bits! Still to come: more ramblings on (1) meat and (2) the best of the rest of BA. ¡Salud!

Peace be the journey.