Buenos Aires: Pre-Antarctica Cruise!

Reaching the 7th continent has been on my bucket list for a very long time and I didn’t even think I would achieve that in the coming years due to its cost (usually over $10k per person and not possible by points & miles!). During the early days of the pandemic in 2020 when the cruise industry almost shut down, cruises to Antarctica were on a big sale – 50% off with a minimum deposit of only $500 per person. It was my chance to lock in the price and go in two years in 2022. I thought things would be back to normal in two years. I booked on Nov of 2020 for the cruise on Nov 28-Dec 9, 2022 with Hurtigruten for $11,202 plus 350 Euros on board credit total for both of us. I shared the sale with Judy, Jeffrey, and Peter and they booked too!

Fast forward to 2022, things aren’t back to normal yet but the majority of the world has opened up for travel, especially Argentina, it dropped all the COVID restrictions so we were good to go! However, few things we weren’t planning for but got the notification two months before the cruise – Hurtigruten requires COVID vaccine + booster (we got those), a medical screening form signed by our physician 4-8 weeks before the cruise, and then a rapid COVID test 24 hours before the cruise (they offered the test onsite at the hotel in Buenos Aires for 50 Euros so at least that’s convenient). Also, since I am very prone to seasickness, my photo club colleague who has been to Antarctica recommended asking my doctor to prescribe pills for it; those are stronger and more effective than over-the-counter medicine. I am so glad that I did that! FYI, cruises to Antarctica sail through the Drake Passage which is known to be one of the roughest seas, they even have a name for it “Drake Shake”! If you are very lucky, there’s “Drake Lake” where it’s absolutely calm.

Originally, we planned to do Patagonia (also on my bucket list) and the cruise on the same trip but having a second kid means we can no longer take long (2 weeks+) vacations. To minimize the number of days of the trip, we booked the flight to arrive in Buenos Aires on Nov. 26 to give us a buffer in case of flight delay or cancellation, and still be able to make it for the cruise.

Luckily, we arrived on time! Once we got through customs and immigration, we got out to the arrival hall and looked for Taxi Ezeiza, they have a booth right there to book the taxi to our hotel – Intercontinental Buenos Aires. We have 5 people traveling together and they do not have a van type so we need 2 taxis. They take cash only either $42 USD or 6800 Argentina Pesos per taxi which I paid with US dollars. Normally, I would take out local currency on arrival with my Charles Schwab ATM card with no fee at all but not the case in Argentina. Let me tell you this which sounds crazy…the official exchange rate for USD to Argentina Pesos was $1 USD to 189 pesos (that’s the rate you’ll get from ATM and credit card). There’s another rate, a “blue dollar rate” which was $1 USD to 380 pesos (that you can exchange with $100 USD bills in Buenos Aires), more than double!!! We brought crisp new Benjamins for our trip to save more than 50%!!!

Once we checked in at the hotel and while waiting for our rooms to be ready, I asked the concierge on a reputable place to exchange USD to pesos. He recommends the Western Union inside a store a block away from the hotel, very close. We walked to the store, it looked shady at first but was completely safe, Judy speaks good Spanish and asked for the exchange rate. The guy said 380 pesos, she tried to negotiate a higher rate but was not successful. The highest peso bill is 1000 pesos (less than $3 USD) so we got stacks of bills exchanging $500 USD.

Our room was ready when we got back from exchanging money, we got an upgrade to an executive room with lounge access (we didn’t have a chance to check out their lounge). The room looked outdated…not to the Intercontinental brand level 🙁

The toiletries have no brand urg!!!

The tub/shower was small!

The mattress was so soft and not comfortable; that was the worst mattress in all of the Intercontinentals that I have stayed at!

The lighting in the room was dark.

The view….typical South American city view. the Intercontinental is nested in a commercial area, the Monserrat neighborhood, with not many shops or good restaurants. Retiro or the new port area would be nicer.

We walked to D’Oro, an Italian restaurant for lunch on our way to Plaza de Mayo. The first impression – the street smelled like urines urggg, definitely does not fit the name Buenos Aires meaning good air. Other than that, the street and buildings looked like an avenue in Europe. The waitress doesn’t speak any English but they do have an English menu.

Amuse-bouche…nothing special (to be fair, it’s not an upscale restaurant so we didn’t have high expectations):

The prawns were very good, love the sauce! The portion was generous for an appetizer!

I got the Spaghetti Nero which was the squid ink spaghetti with salmon and prawns. It tasted very squid-inky LOL I don’t know how to describe it.

Jason ordered the risotto with prawns deglazed with sparkling wine. He said it was okay.

The bill for 5 of us: 29200 pesos…..30 peso bills!

After a quick lunch, we continued our walk to Plaza de Mayo…it was very quiet for a main square. I didn’t want to attract attention with our DSLR camera, need to keep it safe for Antarctica photos, so all the photos in Buenos Aires were taken from our phones!

The purple flower tree – Jacarandas are everywhere and in bloom in Buenos Aires.

Casa Rosada, the “pink house”, where the president resides. The white sheet covers the tents where homeless or protesters are occupied.

Lots of rocks under the Monumento al General San Martín and glass walls surrounding it.

There was not much around the area so we walked back to the hotel and tried to get a taxi to a shopping mall where Jeffrey can check out the Louis Vuitton store. Guess what, we were there while the World Cup was going on and it happened to be Argentina versus I don’t remember who and EVERYONE was watching the game. EVERYONE, I literally mean everyone in Buenos Aires if not the whole of Argentina, soccer is huge there! I downloaded the Cabify app (similar to Uber but at a fixed rate so the rate you get is what you’ll be paying) but no driver take order! Similar to taxi, even the concierge tried for 45 minutes to get a taxi, crazy! Jason and I ended up going back to our room to rest, Peter took a nap, only Jeffrey and Judy went after 45 minutes of waiting.

We had a reservation at Aramburu at 7 PM, we took 2 taxis to get there cost around 1000 pesos (less than $3) per taxi. Taxis were cheap enough that we didn’t bother to use Cabify afterward, it took a long time to get a driver to accept the request and the rate is usually a little bit higher than the taxi fare. On the way to the restaurant, we passed by a square filled with people who were watching the game there and of course celebrating since Argentina won (the quarter-final I think).

The address got us to this ally and it was hard to find the restaurant at first….it is located near the end of this ally on the right with the door that was closed since the restaurant was not open when we got there.

Inside, the atmosphere was dark and very formal. Aramburu is one of the top 50 restaurants in Latin America and I booked their 19 courses (yes 19, it’s not a typo) for 29000 pesos (less than $100 with the blue dollar exchange rate) per person as soon as their booking calendar opened up for our date. They get fully booked quickly. The waiters and waitresses speak good English but with 19 courses, I don’t remember every detail when he explained the course 😉

I am not sure if this counts as the 1st course: fancy rice crackers on the tree, they were different flavors.

The next 4 courses with a garden theme. Aren’t those beautiful just to look at? The textures and the flavors were full of surprises. The meringue was chickpea and onion. The cone-looking was beet with goat cheese, the only dish I don’t like. The plant-like was black sesame with eggplant and sprout. Lastly, the sunflower was quinoa.

The next 4 courses were sea theme. The roll was filled with king crab meats and was delicious! The cloud-looking was yummy scallop.

Oyster apparently:

Then, we smelled something like grilled seafood from the table next to us; they were a few courses ahead. We were guessing what it is….the answer: Patagonia shrimp cooked on a hot rock:

It was sooooo good!

The next course was a mushroom tasted bun with stuffings.

Loin tartare according to the menu translated by Google:

The asparagus was really good, I never thought asparagus can taste this good!

Catch of the day; I am not a fish person but it tasted good:

Octopus with purple potato:

Quail with leek, I love the taste, I wish the portion is bigger!

Deer artichoke:

It was time for dessert, I was thinking why the people at the table next to us left, they haven’t had dessert yet? Then, the waiter took us to a room on the 2nd floor where our dessert will be served OHHH! WOW the room was beautiful with hanging tree branches/vines and rocks!

1st dessert: mojito chocolate. The ball was chocolate and filled with mojito I guess? I didn’t realize it until they gave us the menu to keep at the end!

Pink pepper ice cream…what? It tasted so good and we will never guess the flavor!

Avocado mango white chocolate, it was so good visually and the flavor. The avocado skin was chocolate, they made it so real looking!

“Little Four” this jelly-looking tasted like cranberry.

No idea what this is but it was too sweet for our taste.

I usually don’t prefer those fancy restaurants since their portions are so small that I won’t be full after I spent hundreds of dollars on a meal. However, I definitely recommend Aramburu, it was a great experience and I was not hungry afterward LOL! A group photo at the end, we all enjoyed our meal and was well worth the price! We tipped 10% for the great service and counted over a hundred bills. The waitress used a machine to verify haha!

After dinner, we took the taxis back to the hotel similar around 1000 pesos. The Christmas tree at the lobby:

In our room, there’s a card for safety tips…..I would warn you regarding #2, even the meter can tamper which I will explain in later post.

My impressions of Buenos Aires so far: culinary experiences and a huge soccer fan culture.

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