Top Ten Ways to Ring In the New Year

BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: December 28-January 2

Steve: Hi blog reader. As a belated Christmas gift we are going to give you a short(ish) and sweet(ish) version of our New Years visit to mystical Buenos Aires. We are not huge David Letterman fans per se but thought it would be nice to give you a Top 10 List of the Things We Like About Buenos Aires.

Drum roll please...

1) Al Zain Middle Eastern food: So there we were on New Years Eve ready to take on the town and have a classy meal and hit up a pub or two. We were assured by many a kind folk that places would be open even though we had heard that Argentine custom was to dine and celebrate with family and then around 2:00 AM go out and paint the town . I was gearing up for a tasty steak and looking forward to washing it down with a proper pint in homage to our custom of ringing in the New Year with bagpipes at San Diego's own Shakespeare Pub. Well, it turns out everyone was wrong. We walked a half-mile down to a local Irish pub to find out that it was closed along with everything else. Upon returning to our hotel we were directed to a couple of places around the neighborhood (one being "expensive" and the other "really expensive") but at the very least open for business. As we wandered past the few open restaurants and began to sink into despair we stumbled upon the Al Zain House of Stuffing Your Face With Tasty Middle Eastern Food (I embellished a bit there). Both of us are fans of Arabian and Mediterranean food so we had no problem sitting down to the meal that Lady Luck provided for us--delicious spreads of hummus, grape leaves, falafel, chicken and lamb skewers, tabouli and what I'm pretty sure were Del Taco french fries. I'm getting hungry again...Leah: We then headed back to the room for some bubbly and hopes of televised New Years footage from around the world, but a really atrocious Justin Bieber special was the only thing on and it drove us to sleep by 1 A.M. Yup, we're party animals.

2) El Ateneo: "Hi Leah and Steve?" "Yes, that's us...who is this?" "It's the nerdery calling to invite you to the El Ateneo bookstore." Okay, self-deprecating jokes aside this place was amazing. This theater-turned-bookstore was a bookworm's daydream--four levels of books, music, movies and art all enveloped around a cafe built upon what used to be a stage. Britain's The Guardian named it one of the top ten bookstores in the world and we would have to agree. The only downside is that I felt like Burgess Meredith in the classic Twilight Zone episode "Time Enough At Last"...with all those books around us none were in English. Leah: I was happy just to stand, stare and sniff...bookstores are a personal Heaven for me and this one was divine.

3) El Recoleta Cemetery: Some of you might find our fascination with cemeteries morbid but they are peaceful anthropological goldmines. This one is like the great granddaddy of them all with row after row of ornate crypts and statues. The famous and the rich of Argentina are all buried here...presidents, generals and even the famed Eva (Evita) Peron. Whether families were honoring their kin or the dying were incredibly egotistical before their passing, who's to know. But it made for a very nice afternoon stroll. Leah: Our favorite was the tomb of Liliana Crociati de Szasza, a 26-year-old killed by an avalanche on her honeymoon (really)?! She was an only child and her distraught parents commissioned a haunting yet delicate bronze statue of Liliana with her beloved dog (who had died a decade earlier) by her side. The red rose and rosary beads added to her hand since then just heighten the austere beauty.

4) Megan & Taryn: Everybody's favorite San Franciscan/Diegans made another appearance in our Buenos Aires blog. They were in town staying with Megan's new romantic interest, Jason, (we give him four thumbs up) who is also from San Francisco/Diego and was visiting with family. We did a lot of catching up on the rooftop pool of their hotel and parted ways knowing that we will see them again in the States one day. Oh, one quick note...in talking about our experiences abroad with the Connecticut shootings M & T tipped us off to this awesome way of actively remembering the fallen...check out the 26 Random Acts of Kindness campaign. Leah: I love seeing these ladies and we always laugh too hard and share too much when we're together--it's an instant heart and soul uplift and i'm bummed we won't see them again till we're home.

5) Nac & Pop: Food makes it to the Top Ten List yet again. This super-cheap and always-open burger joint gave us cheap travelers a place to look forward to. It's no In 'N Out but with a bevy of sauces to smother your burger in and a no-frills 2-for-1 beer special this place would keep getting our business if we stayed longer. I wonder if the locals think this place is gross? Meh, I could care less.

6) Street fairs: We stayed in the bohemian and slightly hippy San Telmo area of Buenos Aires during the first few days of our stay. As if there already weren't enough antique shops and bookstores, a sprawling craft fair is set up every weekend. We walked the twenty or so blocks several times picking up some gifts and souvenirs along the way...and maybe a duende or two to remind us of the pups...

7 & 8) Air conditioning and Peace and Quiet: Wifey wanted me to plug the Pax Hostel ($10 dorm) where we had a semi-working air conditioning unit (it would've worked better if certain dorm-mates wouldn't have kept leaving the door open and/or unplugging the AC). The real AC belonged to the Casa Las Canitas bed and breakfast where we stayed on Ma & Pa McFail's dime as a gift for Leah's birthday. This was and will be the cleanest room/bathroom and nicest bed that we've stayed in and will stay in during our trip. I will gladly eat my words if this statement is not true. We had the luxury of cranking up the AC (Buenos Aires had pleasant weather during most of our stay I might add) and crawling under the covers, knowing full well that no drunk hostel-mate would come in at 3 AM and leave the lights on because they lack all manners and/or a capacity for empathy.

9) Dog walkers: Supposedly Bs. As. is famous for its dog walkers...and we saw why. These guys (and I'm sure there's some gals out there too) walk 10+ dogs at a time and somehow the dogs aren't all trying to bite each others' faces off. We sat in one of Buenos' many parks and watched them calmly take control of huge groups of frenzied dogs and turn them into a focused pack of lean mean pooping machines. Cesar Milan would be proud. Leah: And to top it off there was even a Ming lookalike that may have brought a few tears to my eyes...it always good to "see" her again.

10) Lack of Censorship: This sounds really crass and it kind of is. I have been amazed at the movies shown on Argentine buses (it's incredibly uncomfortable watching a movie with graphic sex scenes when children and old ladies are sitting next to you) as well as on TV (nothing is censored). However I think I was most taken aback when I came across bus stop ads for the local version of the National Enquirer touting it as the "tetas" issue and with bare breasts spread across the ad. I'm pretty sure Leah smacked me on the back of the head before I even saw it...you can thank her for the preemptive strike on any manly thoughts that might have ensued. I only have eyes for you my sweetest love... Leah: <sigh>.

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