Tag Archives: travel

Travel Diaries – Buenos Aires, Argentina

I visited Buenos Aires, Argentina in May 2017, and it was very different from the cities I have visited earlier. I stayed in the old barrio of San Telmo but was able to visit few other barrios such as Recoleta, San Nicolás, Monserrat, Puerto Madero, and La Boca.

In the San Telmo neighborhood, you can walk along the cobblestone streets admiring the architecture from the Spanish colonial times. The area has beautiful large houses, or ‘Quintas’, built for elite families in the 17th century. Due to a yellow fever epidemic in 1871, the upper classes have left the area and moved to Recoleta. So these houses were converted to Conventillos which were rented to poor European immigrant workers. It is said that in the central courtyards of these overcrowded urban housing schemes Tango was born. Pasaje Defensa, or the house of the Ezeiza family, is one such house we got to visit. Calle Defensa from Plaza de Mayo to Plaza Dorrego is closed to motor traffic on Sundays and turns into a flea market. You can walk along the side streets enjoying the tango dancers, antique shops, and hand-made jewelry vendors.

Other interesting places we visited in San Telmo are the Mafalda monument (a tribute to the famous cartoon character) and Mercado de San Telmo (the indoor market). The best meat empanadas I had were at a small shop inside the market (200 pesos) and at a bakery (Panadería Confitería) called ‘La Nueva Independencia’ (180 pesos). For meat-based fast food like Chorizo or Bondiola sandwiches, I recommend Nuestra Parilla near the market.

In the Monserrat barrio, the main attraction was the Plaza de Mayo named after the May 1810 revolution which led to Argentina’s independence from Spain. A bit north of the plaza is the cultural center where we attended a nice concert by the National tango orchestra. The admission is free for this. But you have to get tickets during the day.

If you walk few blocks northwest of the Plaza de Mayo, you reach the Obelisco, the famous landmark. There was a big protest against wage limits going on here when we visited. But with the firecrackers, drums, and chants, it appeared more like a carnival rather than a protest. Apparently, this kind of protests is a very common thing in downtown Buenos Aires.

We took a 6-pesos bus ride from San Telmo to arrive in the La Boca barrio. This neighborhood has got the name because it is at the mouth (‘Boca’) of the Matanza-Riachuelo River. We visited La Bombonera, the home ground of the famous Boca Juniors football club. Then we walked through the Caminito, with the colorful houses and local artists selling their paintings on both sides of the road. With their murals everywhere you will soon understand how important are Evita (Eva Perón), Carlos Gardel, and Maradona as cultural icons in Argentina.

Puerto Madero is a failed port project by the local businessman Eduardo Madero in the 1880s which was redeveloped in the 1990s to have luxury hotels, apartment towers, offices and universities along the waterfront. Highlights for me in the area were Presidente Sarmiento museum ship and Puente de la Mujer (‘Women’s Bridge’) designed by the famous architect Santiago Calatrava to resemble a couple dancing the tango.

Travel Tip: Although I did not come across any problems walking at night in San Telmo or Monserrat, I heard one of my colleagues got robbed using the notorious white-paint-squirt-on-bag trick. The locals advised us not to go off the well-known tourist routes in La Boca and San Telmo. It will be very useful if you can speak Spanish when you walk around.

Popular Local Beer: Quilmes

Photo Credits: Eduardo Coronado-Montoya

Here are some articles I found useful to answer the questions I had after visiting this interesting city.


Travel Diaries – Tokyo, Japan

I visited Tokyo, Japan in March 2017. It’s a huge, beautiful city and you cannot cover everything  awesome in few days. I spent 4 nights in Tokyo and 5 nights in Kamakura.

Travel Tip: Tokyo has a great train network. But they are operated by different companies like JR, Tokyo Metro, and Toei Subway. Make sure you buy a prepaid IC card like PASMO or Suica at the airport to avoid wasting time at ticket booths every time you transfer between lines. Also, make sure you are looking at the correct train network map when you’re planning the trip.

In Tokyo, I stayed in a hostel near the Asakusabashi station because it’s in the center of several attractions such as Asakusa, Ueno, Akihabara and Ryōgoku. In Asakusa, I visted the Sensō-ji Temple. It is a colorful, ancient, Buddhist temple.

If you’re a fan of anime, manga, board games and electronics, you should visit Akihabara, the geek town of Tokyo. In Shibuya, you’ll find the busiest intersection in the world, the Shibuya crossing, and the Hachiko memorial.

Edo-Tokyo museum, situated near the Ryogoku station, provided me with a concise view of the Edo period and the recent history of Tokyo. The kids will love the hands-on exhibits and photo-ops as well. There are free traditional magic shows and other cultural events in the weekends as well.

If you are interested in a more in-depth tour covering the history of Japan and Buddhism in Asia, make sure you check out the Asian gallery of Tokyo National Museum, in Ueno. The highlight for me was the large collection of Buddhist sculptures from the Gandhara, Mathura and Gupta periods. Tip for the history buffs: Ueno area is the home to several other museums as well, National Museum of Western Art, National Science Museum, and the Shitamachi Museum.

In Kamakura area, the highlight for me was the Great Buddha Statue (Daibutsu) at the Kotokuin temple. I also visited the Hase-kannon Temple and the Hachiman-gu Shrine in Kamakura. In Japan, shrines are built to worship elements from both Shinto and Buddhism, while temples are dedicated to Buddhism.

I tasted some special food items in Tokyo as well. I tried Kibi dango and Ningyo-yaki (snacks made out of rice flour and redbean paste) at the Nakamise shopping street in Asakusa. Then there were delicious sushi and sashimi at some local restaurants. Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake that can have a mix of ingredients. Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo are the most famous beer brands in Japan.

Travel Tip: If you want to taste some authentic Japanese food for cheap for one last time before leaving Tokyo, there are some good restaurants at the Narita and Haneda airports.

Travel Diaries – Auckland, New Zealand

I visited Auckland, New Zealand in March 2013. Although it’s the largest and most populous city in the country, I found it to be a very relaxed city where everyone closes shops early and goes to sleep around 6pm and even a cat lost at sea makes headlines in the local newspaper. It’s situated in the north island of New Zealand and straddles the Auckland volcanic field. So here I got to visit Mount Eden, a volcanic crater (specifically a scoria cone) one of many formations created due to the merely dormant volcanic field. I also got another rare chance to visit Eden Park, the city’s primary stadium where the 2011 Rugby World Cup matches and many famous cricket matches were held. Other attractions in the city include the Harbour Bridge (and Harbourfront at night), Sky Tower (the tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere) and the Auckland museum.
Later in the trip, we drove 260kms down south to the geothermal wonderland of Wai-O-Tapu in Rotorua. It’s a protected reserve of stunningly colourful geothermal activity, with many hot springs, Sulphur caves noted for their colourful appearance, in addition to the Lady Knox Geyser, Champagne Pool, Artist’s Palette, Primrose Terrace and boiling mud pools. The absurd and volatile conditions of the area should not be missed by anyone interested in studying Geology.
On a side note, Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand, originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in canoe voyages. Each Māori tribe has a sacred tree and a mountain. Mt. Eden is the ‘Mountain of the Whau tree’ or ‘Maungawhau’ in Māori language. Wai-o-tapu is Māori for “sacred waters”.
If you a wondering who’s Moa while going through the photo gallery,  they were nine species of flightless birds endemic to New Zealand, driven to extinction by hunting and, to a lesser extent, by habitat reduction due to forest clearance.
The delicacy not to be missed in New Zealand is Hāngi or Umu. They are meats and vegetables, wrapped in leaves, cooked by traditional New Zealand Māori method of using heated rocks buried in a pit oven.

Thanks Madhuka for the pics.

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