Sep 082017

After a good night’s sleep thanks to great wine and a beef coma, got up early to do a bit of walking around the city before my evening flight to Sao Paulo. I wanted to get to the airport early and explore the newish AmEx Lounge there for a couple of hours before my flight. The Sheraton had no problem giving me a 4pm checkout, so I had most of the morning and afternoon to walk around.

Rather than get breakfast in the lounge I opted to get an early start and get breakfast on the way. Nice try on the name Argentina, but the Dulce de Leche muffin was absolutely delicious.

Continued walking, and came to the Avenida 9 de Julio, one of the widest avenues in Buenos Aires with nearly six lanes in each direction.

As I was crossing the street (legally according to having the “walk” sign) a driver made a left turn right into the crosswalk, striking me and launching me onto the hood of her car. I won’t write this up again as I already did a post on this with all the details, but fortunately her car ended up worse off than I did:

I was completely in shock after being hit, despite being upright, and all I remember was yelling and gesturing at the driver to pull over and shouting at some pedestrians to call the police. One or more drivers must have seen the accident and called it in, because the police appeared in less than a minute after I was hit.

After shaking it off, and determining I was more or less ok, for some reason I decided to continue on my walk. Perhaps the ultimate irony about the accident is that I was struck by a car…walking to a cemetery. My destination had been the Recoleta Cemetery to a bit of touristing around. Main entrance to the cemetery:

The main attraction of the cemetery, Evita’s family crypt:

Tons of huge elaborate tombs sitting in rows:

As I left the cemetery, I got to thinking that if I was going to continue on with the trip, I would be doing a lot of flying over the coming weeks, and the last thing I needed was the possibility of a rogue blood clot from possible internal bleeding. Problem solved when I stopped in a pharmacy to buy some aspirin…it was amusing the look on the pharmacist’s face when he queried why I needed it. Positive from this whole experience: my Spanish vocabulary has expanded to being able to talk about being hit by a car. Hah!

Small, but empty park, on the walk back to the hotel:

As I went to check out, I encountered a phenomenon I’ve never had anywhere in the world. Normally, when leaving a country, I pay the bill with any cash that I might have left over in order to not lose it before my next trip and then pay the rest with a credit card. I’ve started doing this since Uber became common, knowing I wouldn’t need any cash after leaving the hotel.

However, upon checking out at the Sheraton, the guy at the front desk told me that if I paid the room in cash, then he would need to charge me tax on it. If I paid with credit card, no tax. Made no sense at all. Thinking back on it, I might have had about $50 in cash, and the tax was going to be something like $40, so I decided even if I had to exchange it at the airport at a bad rate I would come out ahead. It was just strange.

Then I called an Uber…and it turned out that in Buenos Aires Uber doesn’t accept American Express. However, you CAN pay the driver in cash. That went a long way to taking care of my leftover cash.

Quickish trip to the airport, and on the way we drove down Avenida 9 de Julio. Stopping at a red light, a mime came out into the middle of an intersection and did a little performance for tips. I get it: wear a bright red shirt and be 6’4 and you get hit by cars, but if you’re a mime you’re safe. Odd.

Check-in, immigration, and security were nice and easy at the Aerolineas Terminal at the airport, and soon I had found the American Express Lounge. This lounge was recently built when the new terminal opened, and had been moved from the old terminal. In the old terminal, there was also a lounge within a lounge only available to Centurion Card holders, so I was curious to see if it existed in the new lounge as well.

Entered, showed my card, and was pointed to a door on the side and told someone will be right here to escort you in. Nice! I was the only one in the lounge when I arrived, and had the whole place to myself. While it was self-serve if you wanted, there was also one lounge attendant who kept insisting on bringing me drinks. Half of the bar…great liquor selection (especially the Johnny Walker Blue) and a pretty respectable Veuve for champagne:

Other half of the bar, including wine selections:

The main seating area of the lounge:

I decided to start with a glass of champagne, to celebrate my near miss with the car. Note the Veuve Cliquot stemware:

Buffet area:

Tasty selection of cheeses. These weren’t out when I arrived, but when I got there (I think I was the first guest of the day) they quickly rushed to set up the entire buffet just for me.

…that included mini sandwiches and a selection of cheeses and cold cuts:

After a bit, I decided to be extra-classy and enjoyed some sour cream and onion Pringles with a glass of Johnny Walker Blue…neat. This was followed by a couple more glasses…which weren’t measured…but the bottle was roughly 1/3 full when I arrived…and empty by the time I left…

Fortunately, the boarding gate was just two down from the lounge, and the lounge attendants insisted I enjoy the lounge until the last possible moment so I could be the last to board. At this point, there were two other very loud Americans in the lounge, waiting for their Delta flight to Atlanta. Strange characters, dressed in jeans and hunting jackets with baseball caps, and complaining that there was no Budweiser in the lounge. Not who I would imagine to be Centurion Card holders, but you never know!

Aerolineas Argentinas (Operated by Austral) flight 2242
Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) to São Paulo, Brazil (GRU)
Depart 22:00, Arrive 22:45, Flight Time: 2:45
Embraer ERJ-190, Registration LV-CET, Manufactured 2010, Seat 3A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 75,694
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,452,671

All aboard, I was the only one in business class on the ERJ tonight. Only one of nine seats taken, but coach looked to be pretty much completely full except a seat or two.

Oh look, there’s even a mini amenity kit. Despite the J code on the ticket, I guess technically the call it “ClubEconomy.” Probably a better description, since when most people think of business class they think of seats that convert into flat beds and not domestic/regional seats.

Welcome to Seat 3A

I’m going to rant a little now. About 15 minutes into the flight, the flight attendants came on the PA system and announced there would be no service on this nearly three hour flight, due to the fact they were expecting turbulence. Now, I get this for short periods, or if there was an area with known weather, but this was one of the smoothest flights I’ve ever been on. Maybe two or three little bumps the whole way.

As if to make their point, they also blocked off the flight deck and galley by placing a service cart in the aisle. Want to use the washroom? Head all the way to the back of the plane…because that’s safer when there’s suppose to be turbulence? The turbulence was also sooooooo bad (sarcasm) that the crew spent around 90% of the flight standing around in the galley eating and drinking and chatting with each other…including at least one of the pilots.

No question this was just a lazy crew looking for an excuse to provide no service at all. I even tried to ring the call button at one point to ask for a glass of water…multiple times…and was completely ignored. This must have been the laziest crew in the history of aviation.

Thus, I can’t comment on food and beverage available….because we were never offered anything. Water included. Awful.

Great view of Sao Paulo on descent, however…the city just goes on and on!

After deplaning, quick shot of our ERJ:

Managed to change the rest of my pesos at the airport at a pretty bad rate, but losing 20% on $20 or so isn’t really the end of the world as far as things go. Decided to take an official taxi which accepted pre-payment by credit card, and I was off to my hotel to enjoy two nights in Sao Paulo before continuing on to Africa!

Sep 062017

I had forgotten that one of the best things about southbound/northbound redeye flights with no time zone change is the total lack of jetlag. Ended up going to bed around 10p my first night in Santiago, and slept over nine straight wonderful hours due to being so tired…and no waking up in the middle of the night due to jetlag. It was wonderful!

First stop was down the street to Starbucks to get some coffee and wake up, but for some reason (despite the opening hours indicating otherwise) the store was closed 45 minutes after it was supposed to open, and there was no sign of life inside. Hmm, oh well, on to plan two – breakfast at the W which was included with my room.

For some reason was feeling like fruit this morning, so went for a light breakfast of fruit and cheese, along with plenty of coffee. Fruit was fresh and super tasty – does anyone know what the fruit in the upper right of the picture is?

Still hungry, I went for a bit more fruit…and some pastries of course…

Sufficiently awake, I checked out, and called an Uber to head to the airport. No problem getting an Uber this time (despite the supposed illegal status in Santiago) and was at the airport and checked in in no time at all. Through immigration and security rather quickly, and walked through the duty free shop on the way to try and find the lounge. In Russia there was vodka in plastic kalashnikov rifle bottles, and apparently in Chile there is pisco in Easter Island statues for sale. Anything as a gimmick for the tourist dollar!

Finally found the Starbucks, and no thanks to signs, the Avianca lounge which is hidden in the basement. Never would have found it without asking someone where it is. Makes you wonder why there aren’t signs. The lounge is about as disappointing as every Avianca lounge I’ve been in, but did the job with plenty of bottled drinks and some chocolate chip cookies to go with my espresso, so I was happy.

Headed to the gate about 40 minutes prior to departure, and there was a huge throng of people waiting to board. Lots of jetlagged people continuing on from Toronto, including the obligatory “I’m a silver elite member” pushing people out of the way to try and board. Ahhh….just like being back home. But the Air Canada baby blue 787 looked striking against the grey, rainy sky:

Boarding was pretty easy, and a very friendly crew welcomed me on board and showed me to my seat – 1K

Air Canada flight 92
Santiago, Chile (SCL) to Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE)
Depart 10:45, Arrive 13:40, Flight Time: 1:55
Boeing 787-9, Registration C-FKSV, Manufactured 2016, Seat 1K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 74,624
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,451,601

Bienvenue á bord! Day three of trip, third language…

Must have gotten to the airport just on time, because the skies opened up and very heavy rain had begun to fall For pre-departure, the choice was water, water, or water. At least it wasn’t served in a plastic cup…

Great view of the Andes soon after takeoff. No sign of any soccer players…

Love this shot of the snow-capped Andes with the distinctive 787 wing.

The light clouds really added to the beauty.

About 30 minutes into the flight, lunch was served. Not too bad for a flight under two hours, and a continuation flight. I find generally when airlines do these “tag” flights onto a longer flight, the second flight has a tiny snack at best. This had a full lunch service which was super tasty. There was even a simple menu for the short flight:

High marks to Air Canada – the lunch was super tasty and fresh, and one of the better meals I’ve had on such a short route anywhere in the world. Plus, the Deutz is a less-common champagne that was a nice change from some of the more frequent offerings.

As we were approaching Buenos Aires, it was suggested I have another glass of champagne. My mild protests fell upon deaf ears….as did the ones 15 minutes before landing. “You’re having more, and I’ll put it in a plastic cup so you can enjoy it right up to the gate.” Did I mention I loved this crew?

Not feeling like dealing with Uber at the airport I allowed myself to get taken advantage of by the official taxi service, which was quick and prevented me from having to wait in the heavy rain outside looking around for an Uber. When I got to my hotel, the Sheraton Congress Centre, check-in was a little on the slow side, but they did inform me that they had upgraded me to a suite for my one night stay. Not too shabby for the low rate. The living room upon entry:

Looking from the living room back to the door and kitchen area:

Pretty typical bedroom, as big as most hotel rooms:

Great view out the window of the Plaza Fuerza Aérea Argentina, the Torre Monumental, and the Retiro train station:

Previous trips to Buenos Aires I had always stayed in the Luxury Collection Park Tower (which is right next to the Sheraton) but for some reason on this stay rates were more than double, and I figured for one night I would try and be a bit economical. Short version: I was perfectly happy with the Sheraton, and glad that I hadn’t spent the extra money simply for a nicer room.

It was still a light rain when I headed out, but decided to walk for a bit in hopes of not getting too wet. Monument to those killed in the wars in the Malvinas (Falkland) Islands:

Heading up the beginning of Avenida Florida past San Martin Park as dusk set in:

After about an hour of walking it was dark and I was getting damp and tired, so headed to my favourite parilla, El Establo, to get some delicious Argentine steak. The place was a bit more run down than I remembered it being, and of course prices are much higher now that the blue market exchange rate is more or less a thing of the past, but a half bottle of good malbec and a giant lomo/filet mignon with dessert was still under $30. Can’t beat it!

Almost perfectly cooked….could have been just the tiniest bit more red, but given the propensity of Argentines to overcook steak (even when ordered punto jugoso) I was very happy with it!

Now that was a LOT of steak.

…but of course, being Argentina, there was still room for some Dulce de Leche ice cream. Also being Argentina, there’s no such thing as a small dessert!

With that, it was getting late and I was getting tired, so it was time for some sleep so I could enjoy more Buenos Aires in the morning before heading onwards…

Aug 142017

It’s funny – I convinced myself this was a post I would never write. After all, I went to all 193 UN Member States without so much as travel insurance, never mind giving a second thought to medical insurance. I knew my policy through work was good, and convinced myself I was in good shape in case anything happened.

Well, “anything” finally happened yesterday in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the start of a 3+ week trip.

For anyone who knows Argentina, I looked both ways, confirmed the crosswalk light indicated it was mine, and started across Avenida 9 de Julio. I might have been looking at my phone as I crossed – I don’t remember – but regardless a car came from my back right direction and made a left onto Av. 9 de Julio, striking me in the right side. I flew up onto the hood of the car (thank God for being tall – any shorter I might have gone under).

After the driver realized what she’d done, she slammed the breaks, and I flew off the hood into the middle of the road…somehow landing on my feed and stumbling 10 steps backwards…still on my feet. I have no clue now I managed to land like this – especially given how uncoordinated I am, but I was very, very fortunate.

I stood there in the middle of the street, and just stared at the driver through the window. I would learn later she was just as paralyzed with fear as I was, and we didn’t know what to do. I seemed “ok” so motioned her to pull over to the side of the road as I walked there. I didn’t realize it at the time, but all the other drivers had seen this, and many had called the police.

As we both stood there on the side of the road shaking, I told her I was going to call the police. But, truth be told, I had no idea how to do that. You don’t just dial 911 in Argentina, and I don’t know the local emergency numbers. Before I could think what to do next – the police arrived thanks to the other drivers who had called them.

After the arrived, I calmed down enough to start to assess the situation. My first instinct was to take as pany pictures as possible to document things myself. I didn’t feel like relying on the police to make sure I was taken care of…but it sure helped having them there. One teaser pic, the damage I did to the car:

The tough part here was, neither the driver or the police spoke a word of English. My Spanish is ok for ordering food and having a basic conversation, but trying to talk about medical needs and accidents – well that was a challenge. Fortunately, the driver confessed it was all her fault – she was distracted by her toddler in the back seat, and she insisted that I go to the hospital, and she needed to know I was ok. Despite her complete carelessness, I was very, very glad to see she wanted to make sure I was taken care of.

After a quick inventory, I determined that somehow nothing was broken despite being struck hard enough to launch me onto the hood of the car, no major cuts or abrasions, and just lots of soreness and bruising. The police and the driver insisted I go to the hospital, but I declined. I knew there was nothing they would be able to do (since no broken bones) and it semed a pointless waste of time. I wanted to see the things I was heading to see!

So, fast forward 24 hours now. Still convinced no serious damage, but I’m incredibly sore. Maybe a tiny limp, and there’s gonna be some serious bruising coming. I have to decide tomorrow: fly home, refund the rest of the trip, and call it a lesson learned, or soldier on knowing I’ve pretty much passed the point of no return.

My concern from today is: I had to take it really easy due to how sore I was, and how much fun will I have over the coming week if I have to do that? Time will tell.

Anyways, long post to say: you might think you’ll never have a medical/police issue when traveling, but it’s always best to be prepared…just in case!

Dec 212011

So as I mentioned after well over 15-17 miles of walking the previous day – I still had Sunday to explore Buenos Aires.  I definitely wasn’t up for much more walking, so the plan was to explore the metro system and some other parts of the city.  I especially (being a transit geek) wanted to see the A line of the metro that dates back nearly 100 years and still has the original wooden cars!  This is going to be mostly a picture post, with a few comments.  Also, I’m going to merge this post with my post from the following Thursday.  It was also a holiday, so I spent both these days doing low-key sightseeing.

Decided the first thing I wanted to do was see the Palermo neighbourhood, mostly because I’d heard great things.  It was also the home of the Botanical Gardens and Zoo which I wandered.  A couple of pics, including a Yerba Mate bush:

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Dec 172011

I was originally going to make this one post on sightseeing, but then going through pictures I realized just how much I’d seen on Saturday alone and decided to split this into a few different posts.  The cool thing about Buenos Aires to me was what a walkable city it was.  Wide avenues, lots of sidewalks, and tons of cool and unique things to see along the way.

First stop out of the hotel was the memorial to those killed in the Islas Malvinas / Falkland Islands war.  It’s proof the great sense of irony the Argentines have that they placed this directly across the street from the English Clock Tower which was a gift from England around World War I.  The two monuments now stand facing each other, as if to say “this isn’t over yet.”

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Dec 162011

So up front, I need to make a confession.  Working late most nights, and then heading to work out, I stuck close to the hotel for food.  Thus, there’s only going to be two restaurant reviews because the other nights were either nothing special, or quick grab and go.  But that said, I did eat at each of these places three times because the food was solid!

Found this place my first night there, and it was just a 5 minute walk from the hotel.  Sat at the bar/grill, and the guy working the bar/grill was amazing.  I ended up eating here three times, and it was absolutely delicious every time.  In DC, I’m happy to get my steak “nearly perfect” one out of every three times.  That said, every time I ate here the steak was 110% absolutely perfect.  The best steaks I’ve ever had, and for those that know the quality of DC steakhouses, that’s saying a lot.  I went with the “Bife de Lomo” and the “Bife de Chorizo” and they were all absolutely amazing.  Also had the marinated garlic, which was a great starter.  I’m going to shut up and let the pictures do the talking, because I can’t stop drooling.

One other note….the “Ensalada Mixta” was pretty awesome too, and provided just enough fibre to down these massive hunks of beef.  Absolutely.  Awesome.  Oh, and each night I washed the whole thing down with 1/2 bottle of the Norton Malbec which for the price was passable, and finished off with a bowl of Dulce de Leche ice-cream.  Would you believe I actually returned from this trip five pounds lighter?

El Establo Parrilla

The marinated “ajo”  (garlic):

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Dec 152011

I chose to spend the night in Panama instead of a 7 hour redeye down to Buenos Aires on a 737 – and it was definitely the right call.  For some reason, my life seems to be revolving around Panamá in late 2011.  Went there in September as part of the giant around the world trip, and was my first visit.  Just over a month later, I went there on a milage run.  Now, I was overnighting there in order to save the company lots of cash.  Funny how these things work out.

Anyways, for the overnight I chose the same hotel I’d stayed at the past two trips, despite the fact it was in excess of our allowed travel budget.  I decided I’d rather pay the difference out of the per diem and stay at a hotel I knew I liked and would be comfortable in rather than risk something new on a short over night.  It was definitely a good call from my perspective.

Le Meridien, Panama City

The last two times here, we discovered the hotel car to the airport was only $3 more than the shady taxis at the airport, so we’d used that.  This time, I decided to call ahead and see if the same rates applied from the airport.  Yes they did, and they’d meet me in baggage claim.  Sweet!  Uneventful drive to the hotel in yet another Panamanian  downpour.  Driver was reasonably good, not reckless, spoke good English, and no complaints at all.  Well worth the extra 10%.

Check-in was quick, and just like the last to trips was upgraded to a “Gold Suite” – actually to the exact same room I’d had the previous trip.  No complaints there.  When checking in, I made a point of asking the hours of the executive lounge, because I planned a couple glasses of wine before dinner.  No problem, she told me the hours, etc.

Headed to the gym for a quick workout, and have to say it was quite disappointing.  Bare minimum hotel gym with 3 or 4 cardio machines and just about as little in the way of weights.  I managed to get in a (barely) adequate workout, but I guess I can’t complain too much.  I just hoped a higher-end hotel like this would have a better gym.  I’ll give it adequate at best.

Showered up, and went to the lounge…which was locked.  Went to the front desk and…surprise…it’s closed today.  Huh?!  On a Monday?  “You can drink at bar.”  Ok…went to bar, had a glass of wine, then decided to make sure at the desk:  “what is included at the bar?”   “You have drink.”  I decided this was getting nowhere, so I switched to my rather poor spanish and didn’t get much farther.  “If you want drinks, you have drinks.”  “Can I have food?”  “Yes you can have food.”   “Do I have to pay for food?”  “Yes, you have to pay for food.”

Ok, this was productive, lol.  Ended up sitting at the bar nearly two hours doing work on my laptop, and had three glasses of wine, and was never presented a bill…so I guess it’s whatever you want to drink?  Never did figure that out, but never did get billed either.  By this point the downpour still had not let up, so I decided it was a room service night.

Ordered a burger and ice cream from room service, which came with the incredibly low tab of around $15 and was tasty…no complaints.  It was quick, good quality, and all-in-all great value for room service.

On the room, it was great with an absolutely huge bathroom.  Based on my last two stays this was why I came back here, and as usual wasn’t disappointed.

The lounge was open again the next morning for a light breakfast, which was just enough to get moving.  Despite being empty, however, like my previous stays service in the lounge was quite slow.  I’m not sure how much is a factor of only one person working, and how much is a factor of them just being casual, but every time I’ve been in this lounge it’s been pretty empty yet service has still been incredibly slow.

Then…the checkout drama.  I feel I need to explain.  The last two stays, a couple days after checkout, my AmEx was hit for a charge of just over $2 for a room service Snickers I’d never touched.  First time, fine, accident.  Second time exact same thing?  I got the feeling they were operating a scam.  Not sure the reason (maybe because of my loud complaints the last two times) but this time…no Snickers charge so far.  Whew.  Overall, this will still be my #1 choice should I end up back in Panamá.

Park Tower, Buenos Aires

I was debating between this hotel and the hotel I’d stayed at my previous trip – the Sheraton Libertador.  Actually the debate was if I should hotel hop every night to get a 500 point SPG platinum bonus.  Then, SPG offered a triple points promo for longer stays, and my decision was made.  Our local office advised against this hotel, saying it was in a boring area, somewhat dangerous, and there were just much nicer choices.  Well, we’d see.  A few thoughts…

The Room

Was informed that for a 10 night stay there were no suites available, but they’d upgraded me to an “executive corner deluxe” which was actually as big as the junior suites on the second to top floor.  I have to say, if this wasn’t a suite, you sure could have fooled me.  It was bigger than many junior suites I’ve seen in other hotels, and the layout was very perfect  I have to give the room (and upgrade) a 9 out of 10 minimum…almost a 10.  The only thing (as you can see below) are the extremely strange paintings in the sitting area!  Lots of Luxury Collection hotels feel too “grandma/old lady” for me, but this one was actually quite a good balance.

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Dec 112011

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s been due to quite a bit of travel. All-too-quick trip to Minnesota over Thanksgiving, and then just got back from possibly the worst (yeah…right) business trip ever – two weeks in Buenos Aires. Nobody really wants to be traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There’s just too much to get done with shopping, holiday parties, and end of the year tasks in the office. But, if you have to get sent somewhere in December I’m pretty sure there’s no place better than Buenos Aires. Sunny, warm, great food, great people…yeah, it was definitely a hardship trip!

I’m also in the midst of planning an epic new years trip that will – if all goes well – even top the last two new years in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should be if all goes well a whirlwind two week trip that manages to get another 7 countries visited and should bring my total count up to 107. My goal is 125 by the end of 2012 so hopefully I can get there! This will put a good dent in things.

Since the Argentina trip was nearly two weeks, I think it would be better to break the posts up by theme. Nobody really wants to hear the day-to-day of going to the office and doing work, so I think I’ll skip that part. I’ll break things up into four sections:

I. Roundtrip flights Washington Dulles to Buenos Aires via Panama City on COPA Airlines
II. Hotel Reviews – Le Meridian Panama City and Park Tower Buenos Aires – SPG Luxury Collection
III. Restaurant Reviews
IV. Touring and Sightseeing

One quick teaser pic – the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires