Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay: Latam 2016 Last Stop and Highlights

Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay was the last destination of our Latam 2016 trip. To be completely honest, we chose it for three reasons: 1) we were nearby, 50 km across the Narrow Sea; 2) we had never been to Uruguay (and did not exactly see ourselves coming back to Latin America just to visit it) and 3) visiting three countries on a new continent did sound exciting. Plus, Colonia del Sacramento is listed as UNESCO heritage, travelers’ photos were gorgeous, so it all got us fired up to go.

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Was it a good idea?..

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Buenos Aires, Last Chapter: La Recoleta

I left the last, my favorite, piece of Buenos Aires for last. The most attentive of you have noticed that missing from my sight’s list from the last post is La Recoleta, the famous cemetery of the Argentinian capital. I am not a big fan of cemeteries, to put it mildly. I was always accelerating to pass the one close to my house in St Petersburg, changed route to avoid the green spaces of Munich cemeteries and even in Paris, made it to the famous Père Lachaise only when my history-obsessed friend Ele came to visit (which was a great experience: our quest for the tomb is Sextoy was epic). I could never get how people find peace walking in the cemeteries, or jogging there, or doing yoga (seen in Munich), or walking their dogs. For me, so many things are wrong about it.

Yet there is something about La Recoleta that makes you feel very fine with the concept. It does not feel like a cemetery, in fact. Located in a middle of a well off Recoleta neighborhood, it looks more like an endless gallery of the most fine European art, exposed along symmetrically perfect alleys under the gorgeous blue summer sky. And given that most of the monuments and tomb construction materials were brought here from Paris and Milan in the 1880 -1930s, it is no wonder that the place is comforting: everything familiar is. But most of all, it really does not look like a cemetery. Well, not exactly, not how you would picture one.

See it for yourself.

 

So what’s the story of this place?

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Buenos Aires: The Real Deal

As I was saying in my post on Caminito, Buenos Aires is not the most beautiful city on Earth. In fact, when, inspired by the stunning views of Rio, we asked the hotel concierge what the best place to get a panoramic view of the city would be, he was truly puzzled. Unable to get a meaningful answer, we have soon discovered that the best place to see the city is, in fact, our hotel room at the Park Tower Hotel. That’s why I am sort of overusing different versions of this picture in my posts on the Argentinian capital.

For instance, that’s what you get during the day time.

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View on Torre Monumental from the Park Power Hotel, Buenos Aires

So Buenos Aires is almost the opposite of Rio. The comparison, however, runs in the opposite sense as well: the Argentinian capital is everything Rio is not, too. For starters, it is not dangerous: an 8 year-old with a gun asking you to hand him over your money and your passport (true story) stays in Brazil. You see people wearing jewellery, expensive watches, branded sunglasses and they are fine. That’s refreshing after Rio. What you also feel right away is a different level of life sophistication. Buenos Aires has it all for a good life: truly great restaurants, art markets, Miami-like neighbourhoods with hipster cafes, endless parks and classic and contemporary museums with the world’s finest collections. It opens up a totally new perspective on a daily life in Latin America, making you feel at home, but with a twist of tropical set up.

Nothing illustrates Buenos Aires better than this modern-slash-art-deco building, tucked between the classic European style baroque houses and a splurge of posh green.

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A twist of arc deco and modern in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Unlike Rio, with key monuments far from each other and unreachable by foot (well, unless you have a lot of time and have been practising for this trip), the best way to discover Buenos Aires is by foot. Like a European city. You take a map and wander through the neighbourhoods of Palermo (for trendy places and posh meals),  Puerto Madero (for modern skyscrapers), San Telmo (for a whisper of history and an artisan market), Microcentro (for the business vibe) and Belgrano (for a taste of upper-middle class Argentinian life). The only place that might require a taxi ride is La Boca, where the Caminito is: theoretically, you can get there by foot but the way is not that spectacular and you would be better off spending this time over some delicious lunch at Palermo or an art hunt at San Telmo.

Here is a hand pick of famous spots of the Argentinian capital. Make sure you stop by Floralis Genérica, The Steel Flower of Buenos Aires, which is designed to open and close its petals in rhythm with the Sun. You too, try to catch the rhyme of the Argentinian capital and move in the unison with it. 

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Buenos Aires: Caminito

You would think that Buenos Aires would be somewhat similar to Rio, because both are big cities in Latin America (at least, I did). But shame on me and on my chronic lack of preparation for trips, there could not be two more different cities! So now when you know what Rio is like, you can easily make up what Buenos Aires is not: picturesque, spectacular and breath-taking. It certainly is not a love at first sight. However, once you get to know Buenos Aires, it results in some serious attachment. If Rio is an amazing place to visit, take pictures and tell you kids all about it, Buenos Aires is more a city to live in. 

Caminito is probably the most photographed area of Buenos Aires. A part of a poor La Boca neighbourhood, it is a splash of bright lively colors, in a stunning contrast to a gloomy (and a bit dodgy, really) surroundings. There are many stories about Caminito’s origin, and the one I like the most is about the Italians. Buenos Aires became a meaningful city in 1880s, when as many as 6 million foreign immigrants poured into it. Many were Italians, and many were from the port of Genoa. Italians like familiar things, so they stayed at the port of La Boca. To add some colors to the place, they used whatever they could get their hands on, namely shipwreck, container leftovers and some paint.

And they did add a lot of colors: look at Caminito now! Personally, I like that.

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Gringokids 2016: How It All Started

Last thing I was planning to do in the end of 2015 was going to Latin America. I mean, Rio has always been my dream, sure. And sure, with my travel map being almost completely painted in Europe and Asia being my parents’ place, Latam seemed an absolutely exciting place to explore.

There were no upcoming signs.  In early November, I just broke up with my French boyfriend of almost a year and invited all my best friends over to Paris. I was wholeheartedly anticipating the holiday season in my newly free status and planned back-to-back business trips and weekends in European capitals to fill the waiting time. A few weeks after, I was at La Maison Blanche, casually playing 36 Questions to Fall in Love. Falling in love was the last item on my agenda, along with the trip to Latam, but I read about this game in The New York Times and was finding this experiment entertaining. I was cheating when playing, of course (it was my game, after all): always asking the questions first, listening to Louveteau’s answers and only then giving mine (in theory, partners should take turns). Somewhere between the main and the dessert, Louveteau said: Can I ask you a question as well? How do you see the development of this relationship going forward? Going forward. 

Next thing I know, we landed in Rio. Together.

In short, our trip looked like that: Paris –> Rio –> Iguazu (Brazilian side) –> Iguazu (Argentinian side) –> Buenos Aires –> Colonia, Uruguay –> Buenos Aires –> Rio –> Paris

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What I learnt from travelling to 37 countries (and living in 9)

I have recently posted a teaser on stepping out of the comfort of the place you come from and setting a foot to wander the world. Here is my learning on what happens when you actually do.

Credit card, passport, phone. You will probably forget something somewhere. And most likely, more than once. As practice has it, any travel gap can be covered by a credit card, passport and a phone or a combination of the three. So make sure you hold on to these fundamentals. Everything else is replaceable. It is still useful to pack as few valuable as possible (and in some case, like when travelling to Brazil, to avoid taking any at all), to lock the few you take with you in a safe and to check the room before leaving the hotel for good. Knowing what is enough though will save you a lot of time (and peace of mind) when packing.

Follow your (photo) hunch. Places make first impressions, too. And these first impressions matter. So take pictures of whatever catches your eye. The palm trees will become a usual part of the scenery after a few days on an island, the magic of the Mediterranean sunsets will fade away after a few nights, so keep the memories of the things as you first see them. And remember: imperfect photo is better than no photo at all. In a few months, you might find things that you hated in this picture less dramatic. In a few years, they might become a source of a great story.

Some of the best travel memories happen at 6 am. I learnt it the hard way: waking up that early is the last thing I want to do on vacation. And it can be oh so worth it. My trip to Iguazu falls would never be even nearly as amazing without a 6 am plunge into the smooth surface of the swimming pool followed by the breakfast in the sunrise rays (and a walk to the falls in the only company of coati). One of my best pictures from Rio is its sunrise, which Louveteau and I captured on our last day in Latam when we could finally catch the sun after several days of clouds at the dawn.

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