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A week in Buenos Aires; making new friends and painfully learning Spanish

After our relaxing stint in Tigre and our arrival to Buenos Aires, we had a full week ahead of us trying to learn Spanish.  The week was really crazy, waking up every morning at around 7 am, taking classes at a formal school from 9 am til 1 pm and then usually a 2 hour lunch break followed by more Spanish lessons with a private tutor. These would go on for usually 3 hours total (not including travel time).  Sometimes we met with the tutor at night instead of the day.  We also couchsurfed three different times, which caused us to pack up our bags and move to different neighborhoods.  Suffice to say, it was a busy week but I really enjoyed it all.  It felt like a real life had already begun for us.  We had new friends, classes to attend and places to go all the time.  I really felt like this was a new life for me.

Before leaving for our trip, we had signed up for classes at a local Spanish school. I really enjoyed going to school, although the hectic life of a full time student was difficult to get used to (I’ve been out of school for 8 years now).  We received a placement test after the orientation and let’s just say I think I answered three questions.  I didn’t know anything.  It got worse when one of the teachers tried to converse with me in Spanish to “see where I was at”.  He didn’t see much of anything I’m sure, because I barely understood what the heck he was saying.  I think I may have mumbled something half French/half English to him.

one of the many amazing cafes

Now, almost three weeks into our trip, I can speak when we arrive to a hostel, order my food successfully in a restaurant and can tell new people a bit (a very small bit!)  about myself.  I didn’t think it would happen but it’s happening, although very slowly.  I don’t know much but at least I know something.  The private tutor we had was amazing.  She became more of a friend by the end of the week.  She told us that learning a new language is painful.  It’s so true.  I could feel the pain with each try.  All of our lessons with her were held in cafes around the city.  This way we could get a chance to see the cafe’s while learning our Spanish. She knows the cafes so well, she is even writing a book about them!  Each one of the cafes she took us  to were stunning and unique.  From a cafe in a convent, hundreds of years old to a modern tea house, we sipped our way through wonderful cafes while stumbling through our Spanish lessons.

my empanada lunch

The school offered us a discount on an empanada making class and even though we were really busy, we decided to sign up anyway.  It wasn’t overly focused on cooking the empanadas, so I was a bit disappointed.  We didn’t actually get to make the dough.  But they did tell us a lot about empanadas and we got to practice making the nice little folds on the sides of them.  We also got treated to a wine tasting of different Malbecs, learned how to make alfajores and we were taught all about mate.   They even cooked us other tasty food to eat with our empanadas.  It was more of a social lunch than a real cooking lesson but it was fun nonetheless and the empanadas we made were amazing.  You can read a review of the class here (coming soon).

a great dinner with new friends

I also made friends with the students from my class.  Everyone was so nice!  Even the couchsurfers we stayed with.  Our first couchsurfer came up with the great idea to have a small party on the day before we departed Buenos Aires.  She offered for me to invite my school friends and even my teachers and she would host us all in her beautiful, spacious apartment.  The only requirement was that you had to bring a dish that represented a typical food of Argentina.  It was a great success!  A few friends  from school showed up and even our tutor came.  We ate homemade empanandas, fresh pizza, a wonderful dessert made from quince and pastry and Laurent and I found a restaurant that specialised in traditional foods from Argentina.  So we got some humita and some locro to try too.  There were also pastries filled with dulce de leche and lots of Malbec wine to drink.  It was a wonderful night filled with new friends and new foods.  Spanish, German, French and English were all spoken and the world began to feel a lot smaller.

The night after the party, our last full day in Buenos Aires, our tutor offered to take us to a special exhibit that only shows once a year in BA.  Since we were there at the perfect time, we thought it would be great to check out.  Casa Foa was an amazing display of creativity.  It  is essentially a space for the free development of creativity, a meeting place where designers, architects, interior designers show off their stuff.  It’s located in an old warehouse and it’s fantastic.  They basically create “rooms” where you can walk through, for example, a bedroom with lighting fixtures made out of fishnet that looked like lace and chairs that are made out of belts.  It was like an IKEA created by art students and I was blown away by the creativity there.  They used such simple materials, such as coal, burlap, fishnet and wool to create beautiful rooms.

We spent some time walking in the neighborhoods that we stayed at when we “lived” with the couchsurfers.  I loved that you really could get a distinct feeling when you walk through each neighborhood in BA.  Palermo Soho was our first neighborhood and it’s super trendy,  just brimming with cool shops, cafes and restaurants.  Recoleta was more quiet yet very posh.  The apartment buildings looked polished and fancy, trees lined nearly every street and the place is filled with Italian influence as evidenced by the numerous pasta shops, all hand-making enticing pastas.  Downtown was bustling, and busy and dirty but also exciting and energetic.  We stayed in one neighborhood on the outskirts of the city, Flores which you had to ride the Subte line A to get to.  Line A has these charming, old fashioned trolley cars that run under the ground.  It made riding on the Subte bearable because the rest of the time, it was so crowded down there, it made the subways of NYC during rush hour look like a ghost town.  I was never so smushed up against other people in my life.  Not even the Radiohead concert in Roseland could compare!

We didn’t get to walk around the city as much as I would have liked nor did we get to experience its famous nightlife.  So we are going back.  After our relaxing week here in Uruguay, tomorrow we will go back to BA to do some of the things we didn’t get to do.  BA is big and dirty, dynamic and full of character.  It’s also beautiful and historic and filled to the brim with excellent cafes and restaurants.  I’m looking forward to going back!

If you want to see all of Laurent’s great photos from BA, check them out here.  And we have some reviews up in our review section for those of you who want some recommendations on where to stay/eat/do, etc.

Here are a few more photos from the Casa Foa exhibit:

lights made from fishing net!

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