Unpacked in Strasbourg

Our apartment is located in the historic central area of Strasbourg.

After all of the weekend’s rain and wind, we woke up yesterday morning in Normandy to blue skies and fluffy clouds. It was still cold though – coats were a must. We were out the door though and over to Caen on time to turn in our car, and then were on our way to Strasbourg via LeMans. We were truly sad to say good-bye to Normandy and wished we had given ourselves more time there.

The kitchen and dining area in our tiny apartment. There’s a full-size dishwasher though so I’m happy

The train ride was extremely comfortable – we were in first class on one of the high-speed trains, and I fell asleep for most of the ride. After our usual small spell of confusion upon arriving in Strasbourg, we eventually found and bought tram tickets and got going in the right direction to our location. Our host’s son met us and got us settled in the apartment as our host is currently traveling in Croatia. It’s the smallest place we’ve stayed in yet – less than 300 square feet – but efficient, extremely well-equipped, and comfortable. I was a bit concerned because I had not noticed when I reserved the apartment that it was a studio and that we would be sleeping on a sofa bed, but the bed turned out to be the most comfortable yet (and they’ve all been comfortable so far). Before we went to bed we headed down to the mini-mart on the corner and bought some soup and camembert cheese for dinner, and orange juice for this morning’s breakfast. We had carried along crackers and a couple of pain au chocolate from Normandy, and the host had provided coffee, so we were set for dinner and breakfast this morning.

The sofa contains an immensely comfortable mattress. Even though the room is tiny, we found room to tuck away our big suitcases, shoes, etc. so it doesn’t feel cluttered.

Both Brett and I slept soundly, until almost 11:00 this morning though, meaning both of us were w-a-y more tired than we imagined (especially Brett, who is normally an early riser). We have been pushing ourselves the last couple of weeks, with the short stays in Montevideo, Paris and Normandy, the long flight over to Paris, sightseeing almost every day and moving from place to place. We’ve especially been looking forward to our stay in Strasbourg because we’re here for nearly three weeks, enough time to unpack our suitcases and hang up our clothes for a while (the apartment has a large closet with plenty of hangers and shelves for us to put our clothes away). We’ll be able to catch our breath here. Although we’ll of course be out and about, for a these next few weeks there’ll be little to no pressure to go somewhere or see something every day. If we want to take a day off and stay “home” we can do it and not feel guilty.

One of the first things we do after checking into our apartment is put together the gift bag for our host.

Our suitcases have been slowly growing lighter as we move along. We’ve ditched a couple of heavy guidebooks along the way (Buenos Aires and Paris), Brett left behind a pair of jeans and t-shirt in Montevideo that he hated wearing, and we’ve slowly but surely been divesting ourselves of the gifts we brought along from Hawai’i. We haven’t bought anything other than the two travel umbrellas on Mont Saint-Michel, but those get carried in our backpacks. We’ve lost only one thing along the way, the package of beeswax wraps in various sizes. Where those got left, or if they even got packed back on Kaua’i is anyone’s guess, but they’re nowhere to be found. We’ve been nursing a couple of Ziploc bags along the way and holding on to any plastic bags we get at a market, and so far that’s been working for us.

We went out first thing today to find the nearest ATM and buy provisions for the next few days. There are two nice markets nearby: an expensive Whole Foods sort of place, and a regular supermarket with a boulangerie right between the two. We bought a little at each place including some prepared foods from the Whole Foods place that I can heat in the oven: ratatouille, vegetable lasagna and a quiche. I haven’t felt like cooking since we set out on this adventure, so this will make dinner easy for the next few days. There’s a big farmers’ market every Saturday next to the Whole Foods store, so we’ll check that out too.

History is right outside our building’s front door.

We’re looking forward to exploring more of our neighborhood tomorrow and in the coming days – we’re just a couple of minutes’ walk from the cathedral and the main historic center. We have laundry to do though before we can really feel settled in. And, I want to spend this evening finding out more about the charcuterie in the area – both stores we visited had many delicious-looking sausages and other meats, but we have no idea where to start.

I think we’re going to enjoy being unpacked here in Strasbourg!

Rain and More Rain

Looking down on Omaha Beach from the path out to the American Cemetery. This is the view the Germans would have had of the Americans as they landed on the beach.

There was one thing on our pre-travel checklist that we never got around to purchasing: travel umbrellas! For some reason we kept putting them off, telling ourselves we’d get them in Portland . . . or Dallas . . . or Philadelphia. But as the days went on, and the weather stayed lovely, we forgot about the fact that we might need them one of these days. And up to now we’ve been blessed with beautiful weather.

That all changed yesterday and today. Rain had been in the forecast, but before we went to sleep on Friday night the last report we looked at showed that chances for rain had diminished, and we thought we just might be able leave Normandy without seeing rain.

Nope. We woke up to steady rain Saturday morning, and it stayed rainy all day. Today turned out to be even worse, or at least it started out that way.

The Memorial at the American Military Cemetery – the names of the missing are inscribed on the inside walls.

Our first goal yesterday was to visit the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which overlooks Omaha Beach. The drive over there from Balleroy was lovely, even in the rain, but as we approached the cemetery I noticed that the GPS had once again pretty much drained my phone battery. I went to get my portable charger out of my purse and realized I had left the charging cord back at the apartment. NO!!!!!! Thankfully Brett’s phone was almost fully charged but we knew we had to be careful with how we used it to get around. A trip out to Mont Saint-Michel was not going to be possible with only one phone charged.

The initial view of all the graves in the American cemetery made it difficult to breathe for a moment. They seemed to go on forever.

There are over 9,300 WWII service members buried in Normandy, including three women and one WWI deceased, Quentin Roosevelt. He was allowed to be interred next to his older brother, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. The most recent burial was in June, 2018.

Our visit to American Cemetery was sobering, and in retrospect it seemed fitting to be there in the rain and gloom. Brett and I both almost stopped breathing when we first saw all the graves, more than 9,300 of them, all laid out in perfect rows. So many dreams unfulfilled, so many memories never made – how can we ever thank all these dead for the sacrifice they made? We walked slowly through the cemetery, stepping in at times to read the names on the marble stones, and to see where the deceased were from and when they died. There were many markers for the dead whose names were not known.

An old mill in the historic area of Bayeux. Fall is just beginning to arrive.

Because of the rain and phone/GPS situation we decided to head over to the nearby Bayeux historic district to view the Bayeux Tapestry and the Bayeux Cathedral. The tapestry was fascinating to view as was the cathedral (plus we were inside and out of the rain). The rain did have the benefit of tamping down the number of visitors that might otherwise have been there that day. It was easy to get in and out of places, find parking, etc.

The Bayeux Cathedral was consecrated in 1077 (but of course construction went on for a whole lot longer).

The pulpit, built in 1786, is covered by a large sounding board depicting a cloud filled with cherubs, and with rays of light streaming down.

Less rain was predicted for today, but if anything it was raining even harder than it had been on Friday. Still, today was our last chance to get out to Mont Saint-Michel (or “Mont Saint-Mitchel” as the GPS voice kept pronouncing it) so off we went after breakfast. The further along we traveled the more the rain seemed to increase, to the point at times where we could barely see in front of the car. At one point all I could think was, “What ever made us think this would be a good day to do some sightseeing?” I told Brett that if it was raining at all when we got to Mont Saint-Michel I was not getting out of the car because I was tired of being wet!

Mont Saint-Michel under cloudy skies (I took this picture as we left as it was too windy to take anything before we entered the island).

However, almost unbelievably, the rain stopped as we arrived and parked the car. We walked over and caught one of the free shuttles out to the island, but as soon as it started off the heavens opened and the wind came roaring in. Oh great. When we stepped off the shuttle to make the final walk to the island we (and everyone else) were practically blown over by the wind and umbrellas were useless (no one could get their umbrella opened, let alone hold it over their head, because the wind was blowing so strongly).

Brett’s had a large bowl of moules marinière et frites for lunch – he’s been wanting some since we arrived in Normandy.

Once we stepped under the outer ramparts guarding Mont Saint-Michel, the wind thankfully died down, although the rain continued. Brett and I stopped at the first gift shop we saw to see if we could maybe get a couple of ponchos, but we instead found some very nice travel umbrellas at an affordable price, so we each got one – our first souvenirs of the trip! We were also very hungry at that point, and after reading a few menus stopped for lunch at a restaurant attached to a hotel. Brett finally got to enjoy the big bowl of moules marinière (mussels) he’s been craving since we arrived while I had a small Margherita pizza and a bowl of ratatouille – yum!

Looking out over the tidal flats surrounding Mont Saint-Michel. There are actually people walking out there (why????).

Then it was up to view the abbey only to discover we couldn’t go in because they were offering a series of concerts today. Although it was still cold and windy, the rain had finally stopped so we took our time walking around outside the abbey and on the ramparts, looking out over the tidal flats to the shore in the distance (where strange as it seemed, several groups of people were walking!). The rain had done a fairly good job of keeping the number of visitors to a manageable level, and we tried to imagine what it would have been like on the little island during peak tourist season (not very pleasant, we assumed). We eventually climbed back down and to our car and headed home to Balleroy, a much easier trip this time without all the heavy rain that had accompanied us on our way out.

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There was one last stop we wanted to make in Balleroy before returning to our apartment: the Balleroy Chateau, located just up the road from where we’re staying. Constructed between 1626 and 1636, it was last purchased by Malcolm Forbes (of Forbes Magazine fame) in 1970 and is still owned by the Forbes family. The chateau has a real moat (although there’s no water in it currently), its own chapel, and beautiful, traditional French gardens. Although it wasn’t raining when we arrived we didn’t stay long as the temperature had dropped to where we were more than ready to get back to our warm apartment.

Tonight we finished up the last of a baguette, some cheeses, a piece of paté au champignon and the last of our wine and have gotten everything packed up for tomorrow’s journey to Strasbourg. Once again we realize we have spent too few days in a location we have come to love. Our crazy GPS has taken us through all sorts of backroads in Normandy, and provided us with views and villages we would have never come across and enjoyed otherwise. We haven’t even left and we’re already ready to come back, rain or shine!


Off To a Great Start in Normandy

The street where we’re staying in Balleroy. It’s pretty much the only street in town, actually.

Although we felt like we had barely gotten started in Paris, yesterday morning it was time for us to head west to Normandy. We were up early, and somehow got our big suitcases over to St. Lazare station to catch our train(s) out to Caen. We had stairways to deal with in a couple of places, but we worked out a system where Brett would carry one suitcase to the bottom of the stairs, then he would run back up for the second while I got down to the first suitcase as quickly as possible. Thankfully we didn’t have to do that more than a few times!

The train ride to Caen was fast and comfortable. We rode in second class, but it seemed closer to first in our opinion. We enjoyed watching the scenery change from city to countryside as we went along, and had a bit of excitement when a couple of security police climbed on our car at one station. They were very businesslike and quickly moved to the next car so we didn’t think too much about it until they got off a couple of stations later and we realized these guys had not come to play! There were actually four of them, and they were all fully weaponized and wearing bullet-proof gear. We have no idea what or who they were looking for but it was slightly scary to think what might have brought them on our train.

We’re staying in a lovely little apartment up above the double doors on the right (where the farm wagon would have been parked in the past).

Picking up our car after we arrived in Caen was easy but getting out of town and on our way to Balleroy was less easy. Our VW Golf came equipped with GPS but it took us a few tries to get that figured out (everything is in French!) and a few wrong turns before we were finally on our way. Our apartment in Balleroy is very comfortable, and just the right size for a few days’ stay. Our hosts are warm and friendly, and they stocked the refrigerator for us with orange juice, milk and a bottle of homemade sparkling cider (delicious!). Balleroy has one market, one charcuterie and one boulangerie, so we headed out before the sun went down for provisions and coffee and croissants for our next morning’s breakfast.

Brett woke up around 6:30 to the sound of tractors rumbling down the street, but all my lack of sleep from jet lag must have finally caught up with me because I slept soundly until 10:00 a.m. – and I wasn’t wearing earplugs! We were on the road by noon though and although the temperature was nearly 20 degrees cooler than it was in Paris, the sun was shining so we headed out to visit the Normandy D-Day beaches.

The old church in Vierville, just north of Caretan, on the way to Utah Beach.

We drove up through Carentan, where the Band of Brothers (Easy Company, 82nd Airborne Division) had fought so fiercely soon after landing in Normandy and headed to our first stop, Utah Beach. As I know more about the landings at Omaha Beach compared to Utah Beach, we decided to go through the museum there before walking down to the beach. We spent quite a bit of time in the museum as the displays were quite detailed and informative.

Utah Beach

It was short walk over to the beach from the museum, and humbling for both of us to stand there and think of the men coming up on that long, wide beach on D-Day, being fired upon and yet not giving up. It is an aspect of war that I have never been able to grasp, how soldiers, sailors and airmen went forward into intense, life-threatening danger or dangerous situations and kept going, even when they were afraid or terrified. But they did, and seeing the immensity of the beach today and the distance the American troops had to go literally took my breath away. Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., who was a general, came ashore on Utah Beach under heavy fire and led the assault (he was the highest ranking person to come ashore during the initial landings). Even though he was suffering from heart problems and crippling arthritis that caused him to walk with a cane, his presence on the beach motivated the soldiers to keep going. He died on July 12 in France, of a heart attack, and is buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy.

La Pointe du Hoc. American Rangers scaled the vertical cliffs in order to disarm the German guns at the top.

Leaving Utah Beach, we headed west to visit La Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, and the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. While the sun continued to shine, the wind had picked up and it was about all we could do to stay on our feet when we got to La Pointe du Hoc. The ground at the point is still heavily marked with craters created by shells primarily from the battleship USS Texas (those battleships had some HUGE guns) that were fired before the D-Day invasion. La Pointe du Hoc had been heavily fortified by the German army, and the remains of some of the bunkers and gun placements could be seen in and around the craters, but a couple of the bunkers survived intact. The shelling only took out one of the guns, but caused the German army to move and hide the guns about one kilometer back in from the beach. The U.S. Rangers that climbed the cliffs at Point du Hoc on D-Day suffered massive losses (255 set out; only 90 were able to complete the mission), but they found and destroyed the German guns and ammunition before heading on to Omaha Beach. The guns had been aimed at Utah Beach.

A German observation bunker at La Pointe du Hoc

Looking out from the observation bunker. There were several rooms below ground there  for munitions, communication and possibly living quarters.

Leaving La Pointe du Hoc, we had a short but pleasant drive down to Omaha Beach (we hadn’t know before today that Pointe du Hoc is actually an official part of the Omaha Beach landing area). As we drove, it was not difficult to pick out buildings along the way that had been there before and during the war, and we wondered about the people who had lived there, or whether Americans or Germans had fought around those buildings or occupied them, or had marched or walked down the roads we were traveling on.

Omaha Beach looking east. The light lines are actually sand being blown across the beach (the sand at both beaches was extremely fine).

Omaha Beach, looking west toward La Pointe du Hoc.

A view of Omaha Beach at the end of the day, June 6, 1944.

Omaha beach was much, much larger than we imagined, and looking up at the hills just off of the beach was again a very humbling experience for both Brett and I. Today the hills are covered with beautiful houses, hotels and restaurants, but the thought of the American soldiers coming off their landing boats, advancing up that beach in the open with the Germans firing down on them in order to climb and overtake those hills was almost too much for Brett and I to contemplate. Again I wondered, how did they do it? How could they do it, especially being out in the open with so many around them dead or dying in the attempt?

“Les Braves” is a sculpture erected on Omaha Beach in 2005 to honor the courage of the men who came ashore on D-Day to help free France.

We had planned to finish the day with a visit to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, but we arrived just as they were closing (5:00 p.m.) so we will go back tomorrow in the morning.

One of the many lovely views from the car as we drove through the Normandy countryside.

We had a lovely drive back to Balleroy – almost everything, whether a village or farmland, was beautiful beyond measure. I’m wondering though how anyone not from here ever figured out how to get around the area before GPS! Thanks to the system in the car along with my phone’s GPS talking us through the route, we were able to drive along some lovely back roads versus having to get on a less-attractive expressway. The leaves haven’t begun to change yet, but we could sure see and feel the change of seasons coming to the area.

We had Mimolette and Roquefort cheeses, pate, seeded baguette, Muscat grapes and one last Mirabelle plum to go with our wine.

We had wine, cheese, some paté and grapes when we got back to the apartment, and then got out our maps to plan tomorrow’s journey. We hope to visit the American cemetery first thing in the morning as it’s less than a half hour away (weather permitting – rain is possible tomorrow) and then will head over to visit Mont St. Michel.

Two Americans in Paris

When we were making plans for our Big Adventure, Paris initially wasn’t even on our list of places to see in France because we felt we would be sucked into a complete tourist experience, and we believed it was also too expensive to stay for an extended period of time. However, we eventually figured that since we would be flying into Paris we might as well visit for a few days before heading off to explore other areas.

We realize now we did not schedule anywhere near enough time in Paris, and we of course ended up doing the whole tourist thing, visiting various “must-see” places around the city. It didn’t help that we lost almost two days of our time here thanks to the long (miserable) flight from Uruguay and jet lag. Although we arrived last Friday, we weren’t ready to get out and see anything until Sunday, when we scheduled what we thought would be two short walking tours of Notre-Dame and the Latin Quarter and the Marais neighborhood.

We were filled with dread at the thought of having to get our suitcases down eight flights of these stairs but finally discovered the (hidden) elevator.

When we set out on Sunday we thought we had plenty of time to get to the tour meeting spot via the Metro. We have a Metro station just down the street but once there we had to go down eight long flights of stairs to get to the tracks, and I can’t do going down stairs quickly (we have since discovered the elevator). I told Brett I felt like I was descending into the 7th circle of Hell, and that the stairs would never end. Our train arrived shortly after we finally arrived at the track, but two stops later we ran into a problem: the station where we were to transfer was closed for repairs! So, we had to sit with our map for a while and recalculate a new route to get us to the Notre-Dame Cathedral (Cité Station). We eventually got to Cité, but saw no signs in the station directing us to Notre-Dame and we ended up coming out of the wrong exit, heading away from Notre-Dame versus toward it. By the time we got oriented and over to the cathedral we had missed our tour, but fortune stepped in for us: another tour was forming up and the guide warmly welcomed us to her group.

Notre-Dame Cathedral. This past Sunday was something called “Patriarchy Day” where all churches, schools, museums, etc. in Paris were open for free to everyone. The crowds and lines to visit anywhere were massive and long.

The temperature had been fairly moderate when we left our apartment, but by the time we got to Notre-Dame it had climbed to near 80° and we were overdressed, hot, and parched. The guide gave Brett time to run over and get a couple of bottles of water, and then off we went with the tour. We enjoy walking tours and learn a lot, but like the one in Buenos Aires, this tour also ended up being longer than advertised, and by the time we finished we knew there was no way we would survive the Marais tour later in the day. We had already walked over 11,000 steps and neither of us was interested in going through another 17,000+ step day in the heat. So, we said thank you and good-bye, and five transfers later on the Metro we were back in Montmartre (and of course we got to climb back up those eight flights of stairs in our station before arriving back at the apartment). After drinking a LOT of water, and of course some wine, we went out for dinner at an affordable Japanese restaurant down the road. It was still warm enough to sit out on the street and we enjoyed a very good meal!

A glimpse of the Seine River cooled things down a bit on Sunday.

Monday’s temperature was predicted to be 85º so we pulled some of our summer clothes back out of the suitcase, but decided to wait until later in the afternoon to set out, which turned out to be a very good choice. We did a little food shop in the morning, and stopped at a nearby boulangerie for a chicken sandwich to carry along with us for a late lunch/early dinner.

A recent and provocative work by acclaimed street artist Banksy, in the Latin Quarter on the Left Bank

Our first stop of the day yesterday was the Arc de Triomphe. Paris, we were discovering, is one of those places that photos just cannot do justice. We were absolutely wowed by the Arc and stayed for a while to check it out. Afterwards we decided to stroll down the Champs Elysees. The street was wide and there was a nice breeze, but we sort of felt for a while like we were walking through the Ala Moana mall in Honolulu – the shops ran the gamut from Tiffany’s to Foot Locker with a McDonald’s thrown in for good measure.

The Grand Pyramid in the inner courtyard (“carrousel”) of the Louvre museum. Again, there were hoards of people visiting so we skipped going in.

We stopped at a park and ate our chicken sandwich while we rested for a bit, then climbed back on the Metro again at Franklin D. Roosevelt Station and rode over to check out the courtyard at the Louvre (there was no way we were going to deal with the hordes inside the museum). The temperature was starting to drop a bit so we spent an enjoyable time there, although we did stop at a Starbucks in the mall we had to pass through to get from the station to the courtyard – I got some iced tea and Brett ordered hot chocolate. I had promised myself that we were not going to go to a Starbucks while we were in Europe, but a hot day in Paris apparently had other ideas.

And then it was on to our last stop, the Eiffel Tower. We arrived at around 6:00, found a nice place in the park to sit and stretch our legs, and stayed until around 8:30, long enough to watch the sun set and the lights come on. What can I say other than c’était manifique! We did not stay for the full light show though – we had walked over 13,000 steps and nearly six miles at that point, and we were ready to get to our apartment and to bed.

A little cul-de-sac of attached houses in Montmartre – we would have never have thought to turn down this street on our own.

This morning we woke up bright and early to meet up with a private guide for a tour of the Montmartre area. We set up this tour through a wonderful organization called Paris Greeters. The tour was completely free although we did make a donation of 20€ to the organization. Our guide, Jean-Claude, would accept nothing from us except for a glass of juice when we stopped to rest midway through the tour.

Hotel Particulier, a (genuinely) hidden gem in Montmartre, offers luxury, privacy, and a spectacular view of the city off to the right. The hotel has just five suites, with prices starting at $477US per night. There’s also an acclaimed restaurant and bar on site.

We knew Montmartre was full of hills, but until we walked the area we had no idea how many hills there actually were! There are also miles of old cobblestone roads, fascinating architecture, breathtaking views around almost every corner, art everywhere, and loads and loads of history. Besides the more famous sights in the area, such as the Basilica of Sacré-Cœur or the only vineyard left in Paris, Jean-Claude also showed us places we never would have found on our own, including a cul-de-sac of attached houses from around the time of WWI, and a very private (and expensive) small hotel with a drop-dead view of the city (instead of being upset when we showed up at the hotel, the staff was very generous and invited us in for a drink!). Although he lives in a suburb outside of Paris, Jean-Claude also seemed to know plenty of people in Montmartre, including a famous artist we met on the street (we had no idea who he was however). Below is a slideshow of a few of the things we saw this morning:

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After three days with lots of walking, Brett and I decided to take this afternoon off to rest and re-pack our suitcases in preparation for Thursday morning’s early departure for Normandy. Plus, while it’s a little cooler than yesterday it’s also more humid, and it rained for a short while this afternoon. Tomorrow we may go visit the Pompidou Center or we might go look at the churches of Saint-Sulpice and/or Sainte-Chapelle – we haven’t made up our minds yet.

The final stop on this morning’s tour was the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur. It was awe-inspiring and we would have loved to go in, but it was also swarming with tourists and touts so we instead admired it from the outside and took in the views of the city from the top of this hill.

We know we’ve barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and experience in Paris. Neither of us can say we’ve fallen in love with the city; in fact, we both agree that we barely know it and want and need more time than we gave ourselves. We’ve had an absolutely wonderful time though, and know we’ll be back.

It’s An Adventure, Right?

We’re in Paris! The view from our kitchen window.

We wondered at times though if we were ever going to make it to Paris or in what condition. Starting two days before we traveled our plans and budget seemed to be unraveling, but thankfully it all worked out and here we are. We’re sore and jet-lagged, but all in one piece with an intact budget, ready to get out and explore the City of Lights, our first stop in France.

Our first indication that things might not be going as planned was when we tried to check in online for our flight to Paris 48 hours in advance (as requested), and got a notification that Air Europa was unable to complete our check-in and would we please see someone at the airport? We also learned for the first time that we had somehow purchased “lite” fares on Air Europa, meaning the cost of checking our bags was going to cost an additional $300 at the airport. When I booked the tickets the price included one checked bag each, up to 50 pounds, but now we were being told something different.

Minor panic set in.

We spent our last day in Uruguay packing and resting because we knew we would be facing a long, long flight on Thursday, and we worried most of the day that something was wrong with our tickets. But that evening we tried checking in again and were successful, although apparently not for the second leg of the trip, from Madrid to Paris. As that flight would be on Air France versus Air Europa, Brett decided to check the Air France site and discovered we had also been checked in for that flight. Yeah! We also decided to pay 40€ at check-in to make sure we sat together rather than let Air Europa randomly pick seats for us. However, we still had that $300 luggage fee hanging over our heads. We had read if we could pre-check the bags online it would only cost $100 per bag instead of $150 for airport check-in, but the Air Europa baggage check site did not work for us.

We were feeling a little less panicked, but still  . . . .

Thursday morning we were up bright and early and outside at 8:00 a.m. waiting for our driver to pick us up for the drive to Carrasco airport (remises are the recommended way to get to the airport in Montevideo – $36US for a private driver versus around $55US for a taxi). He finally showed up a little before 9:00 – the transport company had supposedly given him the wrong time. Whatever – he was a very pleasant man, and we had a lovely drive along the Rambla out to the airport, a nice way to say good-bye to Uruguay. We went straight to check in and learned our bags would be checked through to Paris and there would be no baggage fees! It turned out our entire flight was booked with Air France, with the flight to Madrid operated by Air Europa, and not the reverse as we had thought. Air France did not charge for the first checked bag, so no fees for us! We relaxed a little and went for coffee, and I enjoyed a couple of last empanada before boarding begin.

Every (cramped) seat on the plane was taken, but boarding went well and we began our taxi on time only to stop after a couple of minutes. Eventually the pilot announced there was a mechanical problem and we would be returning to the gate. Sigh. About 30 minutes later though the problem was fixed, we taxied out to the runway and took off for Madrid around an hour later than scheduled, meaning we would miss our connecting flight to Paris. Sigh again.

The flight was, to put it nicely, brutal. We spent 12 and a half hours in very, very cramped seats. The two middle-aged women in front of us fully reclined their seats almost immediately after take-off and left them that way the entire flight giving us about six inches of space. When I would recline my seat, the woman in back of me would tap me on the shoulder to put it back up (she also kicked my seat repeatedly). Brett sat on the aisle and was hit on the head or pushed and had water spilled on him among other indignities. The movies advertised were not the movies available, which were old and uninteresting. Thankfully the food was OK. I was able to sleep for a while thanks to my TRTL neck pillow, but for most of the flight I kept reminding myself “it’s an adventure, right?” We had paid for cheap seats and we got what we paid for.

Sunrise at the Madrid airport – we arrived at 6:20 a.m., right as our original flight to Paris was taking off.

A couple of hours before we landed, gates were announced for new flight connections. However, a flight attendant came to us personally with information about our connection. And, when we landed in Madrid a representative from Air France was at the gate to personally greet us and hand us our new boarding passes! Apparently we had been the only passengers ticketed by Air France versus Air Europa, and who were flying to Charles de Gaulle versus Orly airport.

Looking out over Spain on our way to Paris.

Our big concern had become whether our luggage would make it to Paris or not because of the changes, but there it was in Paris and so off we went to catch a taxi to our Airbnb rental. The taxi was a flat-rate 50€, well worth it because in our exhausted condition we did not have to haul luggage up or down stairs or on and off a bus or train, or try to figure out the Metro, and because our driver turned out to be a lovely man originally from the Ivory Coast who had lived in Paris for 50 years. He spoke a little English and his taxi was a Mercedes(!) so we had a very comfortable ride over to Montmartre. Although neither of us is particularly suspicious, we figured out during the drive that our flight to Europe had been on the 13th of the month, and wondered if that was why everything had been off a bit.

Our Montmartre apartment was built in 1908; it sits across the street from a small park.

Our Airbnb is fantastic! The apartment building was constructed in 1908, so the rooms all have 12-14 foot ceilings with original, ornate moldings, and tall windows that overlook a small park across the street. We have every modern convenience though, including a dishwasher and induction stove, and the bed is extremely comfortable. Our hosts are a lovely older couple, around the same ages we are, and they left us some treats including a very nice bottle of Bordeaux! Before we collapsed, Brett and I walked down the street a bit and purchased a quiche Lorraine, a baguette and two croissant from a boulangerie, and found a small supermarket and bought a few supplies (cheese, butter, jam, fruit, soup, and a bottle of Chardonnay). We fell asleep around 5:00 p.m. but woke up again at 2:00 a.m. and enjoyed a slice of the extremely delicious quiche before falling asleep again. We awoke about 10:00 a.m. this morning, and both of us have our fingers crossed that the jet lag won’t be too bad this time.

Original moldings adorn the ceilings throughout the apartment.

But, we are in Paris! We’re moving slowly this morning – we enjoyed coffee and croissants for breakfast, and will go out later this afternoon to figure out the Metro. There’s a station just down the street, and we plan to buy a book of passes. We’re very happy too that we will have no more flights for another five weeks – all our travel throughout France will be by train and car.

So, the adventure continues!

A Stroll Through the Old City of Montevideo

Palacio Salvo looks over Montevideo’s Plaza Independencia

We had planned to go on a free walking tour this morning, but Brett was feeling a little under the weather yesterday evening, and still not 100% when we woke up this morning. The tour company we were planning to use offered a second tour in the afternoon, but after checking out their website we realized that a) the tour finished at a spot about as far from our apartment as possible, and b) it started and ended too late in the day for us. Brett was feeling back to normal though by noon, so blessed with a beautiful day and armed with a map and comfortable shoes we set out to do our own walking tour of Montevideo’s Old City.

The recreated Ciudadela gate to the old city, with Palacio Salvo in the back

The old quarter of Montevideo is located at the south end of the city, near a natural harbor in the Rio de la Plata. Entrance to this part of the city in the past was through the Cuidadela gate of an old fort that guarded the harbor and the city. The fort no longer exists, but a recreation of the gate was erected in 2009

The imposing statue of José Gervasio Artigas sits in the middle of Plaza Independencia, over his mausoleum.

We began our tour at Plaza Independencia, which sits in between Central Montevideo and the Old City at the end of 18 de Julio Avenue, Montevideo’s main thoroughfare through the city (our apartment is located less than a mile from the Plaza). The center of this large square is dominated by a statue of José Gervasio Artigas, the “father of Uruguayan nationhood,” and one of Uruguay’s national heroes. His mausoleum sits under the statue and is guarded by members of a cavalry guard that has existed since colonial times. Located at the edge of the square is the imposing Palacio Salvo, built in 1928 and for a while the tallest building in Latin America. Originally planned as a hotel, the Palacio instead has been occupied by offices and private residences since its creation. The front of the Palacio at the ground level is an open galleria which currently contains sculptures created from scrap metal.

Teatro Solis

Leaving the Plaza, Brett and I headed over to check out the Teatro Solis, built in 1856 and still housing the Uruguay National Theater. Banners hanging in front advertised opera, Beethoven, flamenco and modern dance offerings, all upcoming at the theater.

Sparkling street art in the old city.

It was a short walk from the theater over to Peatonales Sarandi, an old cobblestone street now closed to vehicular traffic that’s lined with beautiful old buildings containing shops and restaurants. This street runs from Plaza Independencia almost all the way down to the Rio de La Plata. A scattering of vendors were on the sides of the street selling all sorts of goods, and there were various musicians along the way too (some definitely better than others).

The trees in Plaza Matriz’s are almost ready to leaf out, which will make this pretty little plaza even lovelier.

The Metropolitan Cathedral dominates one side of Plaza Matriz.

The Peatonales Sarandi passes by two smaller plazas: the Plaza Matriz (or Plaza Constitución) and the Plaza Zabala. We turned into the lovely Plaza Matriz to check out the Metropolitan Cathedral of Montevideo and then headed to the nearby Café Brasilero for coffee and a piece of their famous German apple pie.

The original Art Nouveau bar looks out over Cafe Brasilero.

Coffee with a slice of German apple pie.

Opened in 1877, Café Brasilero is the oldest cafe in Montevideo, and is also considered one of the 13 most emblematic cafes in the world. Its original Art Nouveau bar still holds pride of place in the back of the cafe. Brett and I each enjoyed the best coffee we have had so far on our trip, shared a slice of German apple pie with ice cream (which more than lived up to its reputation), and soaked in some fascinating history and atmosphere.

Templo Ingles

Then it was down to La Rambla once again, a distance this time of just three blocks. Along the way we passed the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, known locally as Templo Inglés, an Anglican church constructed in the 1830s for English residents of Montevideo. Originally built next to the beach, it was moved to its present location when La Rambla was developed.

Looking out from an opening in an old fortification on La Rambla. To the left were steps leading down to the rocks where several people were fishing.

Our location on La Rambla this time was a bit further west of where we visited on Monday, in the Gran Bretaña division which overlooks the area where the Rio de la Plata feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. Long, brown streams of the river’s sediment could be seen out in the distance, and there were several huge container ships in the channel. We again took a short stroll along the Rambla, and then turned north and headed back up to the Plaza Independencia and back to our apartment.

It was a beautiful day for a walk around the old city of Montevideo!

Our little tour took us around two and half hours. We covered a little over three and a half miles of the city in that time, just enough to whet our appetites for more, especially the chance to visit some of the many museums in Montevideo. We’re even more disappointed now that we’re leaving Montevideo so soon as there is much we still want to see. I guess we’re just going to have to come back!

Primer Dia en Montevideo

Spring is in the air in Montevideo

After just a day in Montevideo both Brett and I think we should have scheduled more time in Uruguay. We should have given ourselves time to get off the ferry and explore the historic city of Colonia for a few days before traveling down to Montevideo for longer than the three days we will spend here.

The trip over to Uruguay from Buenos Aires yesterday was a bit rough, to be honest. Getting to the ferry terminal on Sunday morning was a breeze – we had arranged for the same taxi driver who had brought us from the Buenos Aires airport to take us to the terminal. He was on-time and affordable. Going through immigration was easy as well – we were stamped out of Argentina on one side of an aisle in immigration, then turned around and had our passports stamped to enter Uruguay on the other side! Easy-peasy.

The ferry was HUGE, and we boarded easily and found seats quickly. They were sort of like airline seats, but a bit more comfortable (although with just as little leg room). However, instead of maybe six or seven seats across, the ferry rows had more like 30 seats across, with aisles between every set of three, and every seat was filled by the time we departed. There was an elaborate snack bar up at the front, but after over-paying for a bottle of water at the terminal we avoided it. We learned that some of the ferries that make the longer three-hour trip from Buenos Aires direct to Montevideo provide restaurants and even a tango show! Brett and I instead nibbled on some leftover crackers during the voyage which turned out to be a smart thing.

The trip across the Rio de la Plata (Silver River) started out smoothly, but got rougher the farther across we traveled. The Rio de la Plata is the widest river in the world, over 140 miles across at one point, and even the “short” trip to Colonia takes an hour and is more like crossing a lake. It was a windy day yesterday so the water was quite choppy which of course meant the ferry bobbed up and down quite a bit as well. Brett, an experienced sailor, handled it well but even after taking motion-sickness medication before embarking I was not feeling well at all by the time we got to Colonia where, after passing through what has to be the most ridiculously easy customs ever, we got right onto a stuffy, uncomfortable bus for a 2 1/2 ride down to Montevideo (we chose this option to save money). I tried to catch some of the scenery as we rolled along but mostly I tried to keep myself from getting sick (all I remember today are lots and lots of farms and lots and lots of date palms). I was glad for those crackers!

Never judge a book by its cover – the front of our apartment building (door is on the left) gave no hint of our lovely apartment inside.

Graffiti covers the side of an old apartment building n Montevideo. The graffiti is everywhere in the city, most of it tagging, but political statements can frequently be seen as well. Old and new buildings sit side by side throughout the city.

Colorful street art can be found as well.

Upon arrival at the bus station in Montevideo we retrieved our suitcases, found an ATM and got some Uruguayan pesos and then hired a cab to take us to our apartment. Our lovely host, Fernanda, met us there and explained everything about the apartment and then left us to decompress. Although the front of the building looked a bit sketchy after our posh digs in Buenos Aires, the inside of the apartment was clean, cute and cozy with everything we needed for a comfortable stay. As it was Sunday, NOTHING was open except (thankfully) a Subway sandwich shop across the street, so that’s what we had for dinner. We were able to buy coffee and orange juice for the next morning at a mini-mart, and we both fell asleep early and slept soundly for twelve hours!

Lots of food (and wine) for just under $70US – we’ll eat well for the next three days!

We woke this morning to a cold but beautiful day with clear blue skies. Our first chore in the morning was to get ourselves some more Uruguayan pesos, and then some groceries for the next three days. Brett went out to check out one nearby ATM nearby on his own but it was out of cash and the bank didn’t open until 1:00 p.m. (ATMs are all attached to banks here). So, we waited until 1:00, got our pesos and then set out to find a grocery store – easier said than done because even though we had checked out locations on Google Maps, nothing looked like a grocery store from the street. We finally entered what appeared to be a discount quick-mart from the front, but which held a full supermarket at the back. It turned out to have a better selection of groceries than stores we had visited in Buenos Aires, but prices were definitely higher here. Also, the produce section was surprisingly small (almost non-existent, really) with very little to choose from and, unlike Buenos Aires, we have so far not seen any independent produce stalls on the street nor any bakeries either. I’m hopeful they’re around though.

La Rambla (Division Republica Argentina)

Looking out on the Atlantic Ocean from La Rambla at the Parque Rodo neighborhood of Montevideo.

The place we wanted to visit first in Montevideo was La Rambla, the broad avenue which goes all along the coastline of the city, from the Rio de la Plata on the west to the Atlantic ocean on the south. Almost 14 uninterrupted miles long, it has the world’s longest continual sidewalk, and is under consideration as a World Heritage Site. La Rambla has been called the “identity of Montevideo” as well as “the lungs of the city.” The wide sidewalk is used by city dwellers for walking, skating, fishing, sunbathing and so forth. There are several beaches along its way as well, and no buildings are allowed on the water side of La Rambla so that views are not interrupted. It took us a bit longer than we imagined to walk to it from our apartment, but it was worth the time in spite of the wind we experienced. It was exciting to get our first view of the Atlantic Ocean!

Tomorrow we are heading out in the morning for a free walking tour of Montevideo’s historic Old Town and we may try to visit another division of La Rambla if we can. Wednesday’s schedule remains up in the air as rain is forecast for the entire day. We have laundry to do though and a bit of repacking to take care of before we depart for Paris on Thursday morning so we’ll be busy no matter how things turn out.

Evening approaches the city: the view from our balcony.

Trying Out the Travel Budget

A favorite meal in Buenos Aires was empanadas at El Sanjuanino, located just a couple of blocks away from our apartment. We each had two empanadas, a glass of wine filled to the rim, and shared a flan with dulce de leche for dessert, all for just $16US.

Buenos Aires has been a very affordable city, especially when it comes to food costs, and even more especially when it comes to dining out. Our host told us not long after we arrived that it was practically cheaper to go out to a restaurant here than it was to buy food at the market and prepare it ourselves! The low cost of food here combined with recent devaluation of the Argentine peso has meant we’ve had a fairly easy time of sticking to the budget we worked out before we left Kaua’i.

Brett has faithfully been maintaining a spreadsheet of our daily spending. He asks for a receipt from any place where we spend, and tracks our daily average to make sure things are not spinning out of control. So far we’ve been able to stay slightly under our daily budget of $40US that we alloted for our time in Argentina and Uruguay. Beyond food/dining costs our daily expenses have included items like tours, taxis, subway fares, tips, etc. for the time we’ve been here. Because of the lower price of food we’ve had some leeway that we’re probably not going to have when we arrive in Europe – we’re going to have to be far more careful there. I’m positive we’ll be having far fewer meals and such out in town than we’ve been able to enjoy here.

We’ve eaten breakfast at our apartment every morning.

As food is typically our biggest daily expense, our very first outing in Buenos Aires was to a nearby supermarket, and we have prepared most of our meals here in our apartment. We’ve had breakfast “at home” every morning, usually yogurt topped with fruit and granola that we brought along with us, along with orange juice and coffee. A few times we’ve eaten “Argentinian style,” enjoying coffee, juice and a couple of mezzaluna (croissant). The mezzaluna here are a bit smaller than the croissant we get back in the U.S. and are not as flaky; they are also brushed with egg whites and topped with a sprinkle of sugar . . . and completely delicious and satisfying!

Bakeries in Buenos Aires have provided affordable treats. We picked up a strawberry tart, a huge palmier, two churros, two fruit danish, and four mezzaluna the other day just $5US.

We’ve skipped lunch most days and instead stopped at a coffee shop in the mid-afternoon for a beverage and a shared pastry. I discovered that fresh fruit juices are often on the menu here, and have sometimes enjoyed having a glass of juice instead of coffee in the afternoon. My favorite so far was a combination of strawberry, mango and orange – very refreshing!

Beef is what you eat in Argentina, so we went out for dinner one evening at Fervor, another nearby restaurant. Brett had a perfectly cooked 12 oz. beef tenderloin brochette, I had longostino and we shared a plate of grilled vegetables. Each of us had a BIG glass of wine, and we shared a dessert. Total cost for everything, including a tip, was half of what we would have paid in the U.S. for the same meal (apologies for the pictures’ dim lighting – I blame the beautiful restaurant ambiance).

In the early evening, we’ve usually relaxed in our apartment with a glass of wine along with some local cheese and crackers. Good wine is ridiculously cheap here: a bottle of decent chardonnay can be had for as little as $2.50, and a big glass (like filled up to the rim) of quality wine at a restaurant goes for around $3.65. We’ve gone out for dinner just twice; all other evenings we’ve eaten dinner in the apartment. Dinners out were for empanadas one time and for a fabulous meal of Argentinian beef and seafood. In all cases, whether we’ve cooked our own meals or picked up something from a bakery or eaten at a restaurant, the cost has usually been half or less than half of what we would have paid in the U.S. for a comparable meal.

Brett had a classic Argentinian grilled ham and cheese sandwich for lunch one day at La Biela while I had a simple cheese pizza and fresh strawberry juice. La Biela is an old, famous restaurant in our neighborhood, and going for lunch versus dinner kept it affordable.

One big thing we’ve noticed here is that other than buying food, neither of us has been tempted in the least to purchase anything else, quite a difference from how we travelled in the past. The old version of Brett and Laura would have been drawn into countless shops and rationalized buying something no matter how much further traveling we were going to be doing or how the budget was holding up. These days we stand and look in windows and admire, and then remind ourselves there’s no room in the suitcases or the budget and go on our way!

Buenos Aires has been a great place to test our ability to stay within our daily limits, but with food costs so low we’re not sure how our experience here will extrapolate to future destinations.  We’re on our way to Uruguay tomorrow, where the peso has a stronger exchange rate with the dollar. We have also set a higher daily budget for our time in Europe, but whether it will be enough remains to be seen.

The Day of 17,739 Steps

Some real “street art” in Palermo Soho

17,739 steps, or 6.7 miles, is the distance my phone said I walked this past Tuesday (which means I probably walked far more because my phone has always undercounted the number of steps and distance when I walk).

One of the things Brett and I very much wanted to see in Buenos Aires was some street art in the Palermo Soho neighborhood. Airbnb Experiences had a few affordable tours to choose from so we selected one that fit our budget and off we went on Tuesday morning, setting out from our apartment at 9:00 a.m.

Houses in Palermo Soho

The Palermo Soho neighborhood is far enough away that we decided we should take the subway, which meant our first stop of the day was the Recoleta Neighborhood Tourist Assistance booth to pick up cards as you can no longer pay cash for a ticket. The booth was just a few blocks away and easy to find, but from there it was almost a mile’s walk to the nearest subway station! We were able to stop at an ATM along the way though to withdraw some pesos because we wanted to eat pizza for lunch at a highly-rated and affordable restaurant near where the tour would be.

At the subway station we discovered we first had to pay 50 pesos each just to activate the card. After that we added pesos to the card to use for our trip, 50 pesos each. Mind you, we had no idea what was happening at the time, but a lovely woman visiting Buenos Aires from Columbia stepped up to help, speaking with the man in the station window and trying to explain what was going on. Between her limited English and my extremely limited Spanish we eventually figured it out, and 200 pesos ($5.15US) later we were ready to board the train to our destination.

Upon exiting the subway in Palermo, we found ourself with yet another walk of about a mile to the tour’s starting point! The weather was lovely though and beginning to warm up, to the point we had to stop along the way for a bottle of water as we found ourselves becoming a bit parched. The neighborhood was interesting but also a bit “rougher” than the Recoleta neighborhood, or other parts of the Palermo neighborhood we had visited. We arrived at our destination tired but on time at 10:30 a.m. and set off on our tour.

The “Love Is In the Air” mosaic was a collaborative work between several artists. It was created as part of a no smoking campaign.

This mural was my favorite of all the paintings we saw. Nasepop is the artist – he created it for his son, Theo using aerosol spray paint.

Our tour guide, Florencia, was an absolute delight. She’s a professional photographer who also works with various artists in the city, and sets up installations or exhibitions beyond her own work. Along the way she offered several tips and tricks for getting better photos from our phones or cameras (a couple from Austria took the tour with us).

This artist asked for and was granted permission to paint on this particular house. After he finished he was offered a commission to create another painting on a store down the road.

The artist of this commissioned work was inspired by the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

Palermo Soho, Florencia explained, was a former working class neighborhood that had been ‘discovered’ by artists because of the cheap rents there, and had grown into a vibrant arts center in the city, much like the Soho areas of other cities. The street art that has flourished in the neighborhood is not graffiti (although that exists, mainly in the form of tagging) but either works commissioned by the owners of houses or businesses where the artist is paid, or where the artist or artists has/have asked for and been given permission to create a work on a building or home and the art work is done for free.

The artist of this mural was asked to paint over another artist’s work. However, she chose to leave the angels the previous artist had created in her work, and also left his signature on the mural.

The art we viewed was varied, colorful and exciting, and as tired as I was becoming I could have gone on viewing it for hours more. I was especially thrilled by the artists’ use of color – all the artwork we saw was so vibrant and thought provoking. It was also fascinating to see how the artists had used various spaces in the neighborhood, from the front of a small house to an entire side of a building.

Carlos Thays built and lived in this “castle” while he created the Botanical Gardens. It now contains offices and occasional exhibitions.

The tour did not end however with street art in Palermo Soho. We left the neighborhood and walked to the Botanical Gardens, which unfortunately was in the opposite direction of the restaurant where we had planned to have lunch. Sigh. After what seemed like a very long walk, about 30 minutes or more, we finally arrived at the Botanical Gardens, another stunning but calm space in the middle of bustling and busy Buenos Aires. The garden was designed by French architect and landscape designer Carlos Thays, and was dedicated in 1898. It covers over 17 acres, and contains eight separate geographical garden areas as well as five greenhouses and several sculptures and monuments. Some of the sculptures are copies of originals in Europe which were recreated by the original artists and sent to Buenos Aires for inclusion in the Botanical Gardens.

This greenhouse, built in the early 20th century, contained subtropical plants and only opened for an hour at 5:00 p.m. As you can see from the deep blue of the sky, we were blessed with absolutely gorgeous weather on Tuesday.

Objects in photo are more tired than they appear.

Following a leisurely walk through the cool, lush gardens Brett and I had to beg off one more garden visit as we were hungry and frankly more than a bit tired and needed to sit down for a while. Also, we were only a very few blocks from the Eva Perón museum which we both very much wanted to see and wanted to save our remaining energy for that. We said our good-byes to Florencia and headed to the museum, with a brief stop along the way for coffee and juice.

The interior of the building that holds the Eva Peron museum was almost as interesting as the exhibits it holds.

Eva Perón died the year I was born, but for some reason I feel like I have always known her story in spite of knowing very little else about Argentina. She is still a somewhat-revered figure here, so I was eagerly anticipating the visit to the museum to learn more about her and her life and accomplishments, and the museum did not disappoint. The displays and artifacts were fascinating, and the exhibits provided enough English translation to allow us to understand what we were looking at or viewing (there were several videos shown throughout the museum, all with English subtitles). Especially interesting to me were the many of Evita’s outfits on display which also often included the accompanying shoes, hats, gloves, etc. Seeing the photos of her and being able to look at the actual outfit she had been wearing brought a surprising depth to both the photos and the stories. Beyond her many accomplishments, Evita was an extremely vibrant, beautiful and stylish woman.

This is perhaps the most famous image of Eva Peron and we were able to view the actual dress she is wearing in the painting. It was elegant but simple, made of navy blue patterned velvet with the large pink rose made of silk.

I have told Brett that if I ever again say at the end of a day like Tuesday, “I think it will be OK to walk back” he is to immediately stop and hail a taxi. Yes, for some crazy reason I decided it would be fine to walk back the two plus miles to our apartment through busy city streets after we had finished at the museum. To give a small idea of how exhausting that walk was, by the time we neared our street I could no longer focus my eyes! Our apartment is blessed with a jetted tub though, and after a long soak, a couple of Aleve and a big glass of wine I was feeling good enough to fix us a simple dinner of grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. We both slept soundly, and it appears I have finally gotten myself on somewhat of a normal sleep schedule again.

“Mona Pink,” a mash-up of the Mona Lisa with Munch’s “The Scream,” appeared at the end of our art tour and I knew just how she felt.

One of the joys of slow travel we are discovering is that we don’t feel like we have to go out every day and do something. Yesterday our only activities were a walk over to the ferry office to book our tickets for Sunday’s trip to Montevideo and to go out for a wonderful dinner at a nearby restaurant in the late evening. We’re not sure yet what we’re going to do today or even if we’re going to do anything. We may head over and walk through the old San Telmo neighborhood but we might also just stick closer to the apartment and do some more exploration in our neighborhood. Whatever we decide, we won’t be walking any six and a half miles again, that’s for sure. Tuesday’s exercise was really was too much for us, too soon. 10,000 steps a day is more than enough right now.

Cementario de La Recoleta

Named as the number one must-see site in Buenos Aires in probably every guidebook, the Recoleta Cemetery’s reputation is more than well-deserved. Located in the Recoleta neighborhood, the cemetery contains the mausoleums of Argentine presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and other notables as well as well-heeled members of Buenos Aires society. The cemetery’s most famous resident is Eva Perón, the second wife of former President Juan Perón.

As we approached the cemetery we could see the roofs and domes of mausoleums peeking over the top of the high brick wall that surrounds the cemetery. It felt almost like walking up to an attraction in Disney World – we could tell there was something fabulous inside but were only being offered a small tease. We couldn’t wait to get inside to see more.

Looking down one of the many lanes that run through the cemetery. Domes were a popular architectural motif on many of the older mausoleums. (If you look closely you can see that the door has fallen off one of the crypts and the coffin is now open to the elements.)

Angels came in all designs, sizes and moods.

The modern mausoleums, with their more austere architecture and dark marble, were easy to pick out from the more ornate older tombs.

This mausoleum had its own little fenced yard.

After passing through the main gate I had to stop and catch my breath. It was like entering a fabulous but macabre city, with each street offering an array of beautiful, interesting or weird sites to explore. The mausoleums ranged in size from tiny to immense, from very old to modern, from simple to highly ornate. Some were adorned with fabulous sculpture, others were more plain. It was easy to date some of the mausoleums by their architecture: an Art Nouveau door signified the building was erected around the turn of the 19th century, and Art Deco design meant the tomb was erected later, sometime in the 1930s. Brett’s first impression was that it looked like the cemeteries in New Orleans, but by the time we left his comment was, “New Orleans is nothing like this!”

One of the oldest mausoleums in the cemetery is showing its age and wear.

Another old and decaying but still beautiful building.

Many of the mausoleums wore cobwebs both inside and out.

Most of the graves were somewhat well maintained, but many were not, and it was fascinating to observe the decay happening throughout the cemetery. Sometimes the outer building was doing well, but the inside was crumbling. Other times the whole edifice, inside and out, was falling apart. Some of the mausoleums were on one level, with coffins displayed on shelves, but many had a stairwell heading underground, where the coffins rested while upstairs contained an altar or other simple decoration. Apparently built on a hillside, the top of the back wall of the cemetery stands nearly three stories above the street below.

The Duarte family mausoleum, where Eva Peron (Evita) is interred. The mausoleum itself is fairly unostentatious, but is the most visited in the cemetery. A few people left fresh flowers the day we visited.

The most famous and most visited grave in the cemetery is the Duarte family mausoleum, where Eva Perón’s (Evita) is buried. Still viewed by many Argentinians as practically a saint, her mausoleum is adorned with flowers, rosaries and other ornaments brought by her admirers, and there is almost always a small crowd there. The story of her death and what followed is both sad and weird. Only 33 years old, she suffered greatly before she died of cervical cancer in 1952.

This man was imposing even if we had no idea who he was.

A life-size bronze statue stunning in its simplicity. The woman looked as if she could be a saint.

The largest statue in the cemetery, bronze or otherwise, I believe. I’m 65″ tall, and I barely came up to her knees. The detail on the sculpture was exquisite – it must have cost a small fortune to have it made.

The wife only merited a bust, and was placed on the back of this family mausoleum, while . . .

. . . her husband got a full-figure seated statue on the front of their building. But note the brooding angel in the back of the mausoleum who appears to be hovering over both of them. She actually sits atop the tomb behind theirs.

It is said that it costs more to die here than to live in Buenos Aires, and the Recoleta Cemetery is a testament to that expression. The cost of some of the mausoleums and their accompanying sculptures had to be in the millions, and that’s on top of the cost of space inside the cemetery. No matter, it was an extremely fascinating place to visit even though we had no idea who any of its residents were (other than Eva Perón).

Finally, this mausoleum, located on a corner, was both the creepiest and the saddest to me. The front door was locked tight with a padlock and chain, but the large side window had gone missing so everyone could peer right in. The four coffins appear to be trying to burst off their shelves, and the man’s bust was sitting on the floor with the most forlorn expression of all the statues in the cemetery. It was obvious no one had cared for the mausoleum for years, and I couldn’t find a family name on the tomb.