Archive for February, 2011

In Buenos Aires

We’ve been in Buenos Aires almost two weeks, but it seems ages since we set off from High Wycombe.  The flight was fine, but when we arrived at the flat we’d booked on the Net, it was ghastly: dark and poky, with hardly any natural light and no view of the outside world.  We should have refused to stay, but it was very late and we were tired.  We indicated to the agent that we were not happy, and he told us to contact the agency the next day.

On Friday morning we visited the agency, and told them we could not stay in the flat.  Ian did not like it, and for Sandie, who is claustrophobic, it was impossible!  Unfortunately, we’d already paid, but they managed to negotiate for us to get some of the money back from the owners, and helped us to find another flat.  On our way back to the first place, to pack our belongings, disaster struck again: a young man snatched Sandie’s ruby pendant (given by Ian for our anniversary last October) from her neck, and ran away.  Ian shouted and gave chase, but could not catch him (probably just as well!).  As well as losing the pendant, it was a shock to realise that theft could happen that way, especially in a busy street in broad daylight.

The new flat turned out to be a vast improvement on the old one.  It is light, airy and spacious, with a balcony overlooking a park.  It is also in a better area of the city.  The only problem to begin with was that the promised Internet connection did not work, but after both Ian and the woman from the agency failed to get it going, a technician came to make the necessary adjustments.  After he’d gone, we had to go to the police to report the theft.  There was no time for anything else that day!

On the balcony of our flat

We’re glad to say that things then improved greatly.   The following day we started to explore the city, and it felt that our South American tour had really begun.  We’ve had a couple of rainy days, but mostly it’s been glorious sunshine, and delightfully warm all the time.  It is great to go out in just shorts and Tshirts!

We had decided to take intensive Spanish lessons while here, and began these on Monday 14th.  Ian had only a few words of Spanish and was therefore in Level 1, which he will complete by the time we leave (each level takes two weeks).  Sandie did Spanish A-level a few years ago, and had done well in the placement tests, but still struggled with the spoken Spanish.   After trying Levels 2 and 3, she ended up with private lessons, which are much more useful for her, as they are entirely conversation and she does not need to do elementary exercises!

Ian's Spanish class

When not in language classes, we’ve spent a lot of our time exploring different parts of the city, which we’ve got to know pretty well.  Travelling around is cheap.  The Subte (underground) costs 18p for a single trip, although it is not as extensive as its London counterpart, and does not reach all of the barrios (neighbourhoods) which make up the city of Buenos Aires.  Travelling by bus is slightly more expensive (20p per journey).  But most of our travelling has been done on foot.  The avenidas (avenues) in Buenos Aires are wider than the calles (streets), and there is one avenida which is particularly wide – almost like three parallel streets.  It is called Nuevo de Julio (ninth of July) and crossing it on foot is a real challenge. As our flat is on one side and our language school on the other, we’ve had to cross the ninth of July at least once (often twice) every day.

One early excursion took us to the Plaza de Mayo, where we visited the Casa Rosada and stood on the balcony where Eva Peron made her famous speech (immortalised by Rice and Lloyd-Webber as ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’).  Another day we explored the Recoleta area, including the cemetery where the great and good of Buenos Aires are buried.  The streets of mausoleums have to be seen to be believed.

Casa Rosada

A guard at the Casa Rosada

An Evita look-alike on the balcony of the Casa Rosada

Recoleta cemetery

Of course, on all our expeditions we need regular refuelling with food and drink.  One local delicacy we’ve discovered is ‘mediolunas’, rather sweet and sticky croissants.  Although often eaten for breakfast, they can be obtained at any time of the day, and lots of cafés offer a special ‘coffee and mediolunas’ deal which can provide a cheap lunch.

Ian enjoys medialunes

We’ve done a couple of trips out of the city.   On Sunday 13th we went by train to Tigre, at the mouth of the River Plate.  We then took a ferry to one of the islands, and enjoyed lunch at a café while watching the busy river traffic, before going for a walk along the peaceful backwaters.  Back in Tigre we followed the promenade along the river bank; it’s where people from the city go on summer weekends, and it was fascinating to see all the deckchairs, ice boxes etc.  It was more crowded than Brighton beach on August bank holiday!

On the Rio Sarmiento, by boat from Tigre

A lazy backwater

The following Sunday (20th) we took the catamaran across the river from Buenos Aires to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay.  The old part of that town has been declared a World Heritage Site, and is extremely photogenic (picturesque painted houses in tree-lined cobbled streets).  The beaches outside the town are also pleasant; we enjoyed strolling and sitting in the shade of a tree.  We paddled in the river but did not actually swim!

An old street in Colonia

Needs work for the MoT

The beach at Colonia

Buenos Aires is of course famous for tango; you can’t go far without being offered tickets for a tango show, or tango lessons, or even seeing tango dancers in the open air.  We went to two shows, and saw some fantastic dancing.   We also felt that while here we must have a try ourselves, and enjoyed a couple of lessons with some very patient teachers.   It was good fun, though I don’t think the experts have anything to fear from us – we’re more the Ann Widdecombe level of dance.

Learning tango

Open-air tango

After two weeks in Buenos Aires, we’re feeling quite at home here.  According to our original plan, we would have stayed a month, but our departure from England was delayed by Ian’s broken arm.  We’re glad to report that it’s been getting steadily better since we arrived.   He rarely wears the splint now, although he does not yet have full use of his right hand and wrist, which is still slightly swollen.  He is doing the exercises recommended by the physiotherapist – sometimes when we are waiting in a café, to the amusement or bafflement of onlookers!

While here, we’ve had exciting news from home.   Claire phoned to tell us she is expecting another baby in October.  We trust all goes well, and look forward to the arrival of our fourth grandchild!

We can’t stay longer in Buenos Aires because we have to be in Rio in time for the carnival.  So we head off on Friday 25th, and we’ve devoted some time to planning the next stage of our travels.  Making some of the arrangements seems incredibly complicated! Having our flat, and the internet connection, has been useful, and we’ve tried to make the most of it. Apart from Day 1, we’ve enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires, but we are happy to move on and ready for the next adventure!


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Medical report, courtroom drama and a radical change of plans

Our main concerns in January were healing up from the injuries sustained in December, our court case against the rental agents who rubbished our flat, and trying desperately to sort out where we’re going in February. And now we’re off – but where?

On the 11th Sandie went back to High Wycombe Hospital for a check-up on her wrist, and repeat x-rays confirmed there were no bones broken. Since then she’s been able to use it pretty well, but still gets some pain on and off.  On the 5th Ian went back to Stoke Mandeville to have one plaster removed and another (lurid red) one put on.  Three weeks later, he went back to have the pins removed. He is now in a wrist splint rather than plaster. He has been discharged from the care of the hospital, but will need physiotherapy and time to get the wrist back to normal. He’s had a couple of visits to the physiotherapist, who has given him exercises to get on with.

Ian on the laptop with his red plaster

On January 14th we had the final chapter of our courtroom drama, with the full hearing of our case against IPS Property Services. We were claiming for the furniture that went missing, the renovation that was needed, and changing the locks because they lost the keys. The judge believed our version of events, backed up by all the evidence we produced, and awarded us damages. He cut them down slightly from the total we had claimed, but we were still awarded £3600. As the judgement was announced, there was an apocalyptic thunderstorm overhead, which we took as a sign of divine vindication. In principle we should have got £2000 almost at once, because that was what they had already paid into court, but there has been a hold-up due to red tape. On the other hand, much to our astonishment, we received a cheque from IPS for the balance of £1600, which we paid into the bank very quickly indeed.

Celebrating our courtroom victory

Because of Ian’s arm we knew we couldn’t leave as we’d planned at the end of January, so we managed to arrange an extension on the flat where we’re living till 18 February, in the hope that he would be fit to travel by then. But where to? – another interesting story. We had been finding it hard to get any communication from the people in Ghana, but then suddenly we did get an email. This mentioned a room over the office which was being converted for our use – not quite the 3-bed house we’d been promised! We felt this would probably not be suitable for an extended stay, and asked if they could they find an alternative.  There were also issues with the visas we needed, and eventually they came back on 27 January to say they weren’t really ready for us and it would be better if we left it a bit! Needless to say, this was bit of a shock after assuming it was all go and we’d be leaving for Ghana mid-February.

So the South America trip got pulled off the back burner and reinstated as the main plan. We went flat out contacting all the tours we’d been investigating and re-booking the flights. Fortunately we had not cancelled the carnival tickets and hotels in Rio and were able to go back to our original itinerary, except that we have lost two weeks off the front and start off with just two weeks in Buenos Aires rather than four. But we fly out on 10th February, so watch this blog for news of our trip.

Apart from all this, we haven’t managed to do a great deal since Christmas. Early in the new year we managed our traditional Christmas visit to London, seeing the lights and the Winter Fair on Hyde Park, and going to the theatre to see ‘Deathtrap’.

The Egyptian Escalator in Harrods

The Winter Fair in Hyde Park

Trafalgar Square just before 12th Night

Another day when the sun was shining we got the bus to Bourne End and walked along the Thames to Marlow. The path was very muddy but we enjoyed seeing the Thames again.

Thames in winter

One Sunday Claire drove us and Charlie down to Brighton, to visit Sandie’s cousin’s daughter Jo, her husband Jay and 4-year-old son Sam. The main purpose was to take back some of the stuff we’d borrowed from them for the flat, but it was good to see them again.

Jo, Sam and Charlie

The following Sunday we had a day trip to Faversham to see Andrew and his family; we all went for a pub lunch, and Charlie was able to bond with his cousins again.

To the pub!

Our gap adventure is turning out to be somewhat more unpredictable than we bargained, but it’s all good. The next instalment of the blog will probably come from Buenos Aires. One thing’s for sure – we shan’t miss the British winter!

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