Arty uni city to wine mecca.. Córdoba and Mendoza

(Another massive post-mostly photos in fairness. With thanks to Ana from Spanish in Mendoza for additional photos).

Córdoba is famous for its large amount of colonial architecture, high amount of students and thus its nightlife and as being at one point a central point for the Jesuits  (in fact the Jesuit block is also a UNESCO site). It’s also full of great museums. However like the rest of Argentina it has suffered since the crisis and large swathes of the city were in need of repair and it had a slightly edgy feel.

We arrived early (8am) into Cordoba, it was cold (18ºC) and wet. This didn’t last long though as it did get horrendously hot during the day- they were having unseasonably hot weather there. Every night had violent thunder and lightning storms and heavy rain, bad enough to wake you.

We got a taxi to the hostel and spent the rest of the morning trying to organise a Spanish course here,with SET Idomas. All seemed ok initially, the price was within our range and we decided start the following day. But there were little things like extra charges for a study pack and then to book online you got charged an extra 10%. If we paid in cash we could save it though so that’s what we decided to do.

The following morning we went hunting for a cash machine. An annoying thing about Argentina is that there are too few machines that work with foreign cards and they charge a small fortune (~$ 90 ARG/$6.60/£4.50) per withdrawal so finding one that dispenses larger bills so you can take more out is key- the largest you can take out is $4000 ARG ($282/£200) but it’s hard to find those ATMs so it ends up being half that amount with the same charge. That morning we couldn’t find one that would work with our card, then we thought maybe it wasn’t working and we’d need to call the bank. In the end we decided to suck it up and pay by card at the office and, not knowing where it was we got a taxi (the street I had thought it was on was miles away but it turns our there are two streets with the same name and the office was not far from the centre). When we arrived there was a note on the door in Spanish (seriously why would you be going to the school if you spoke Spanish), which we translated as they had moved office to 15 mins away. Oh and it was lashing rain. We decided that us going to this school wasn’t to be and gave up.

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First meal here. Cerveza Quilmes plus tapas and the Argentinian staple the ham and cheese toasty (the other national dish of Argentina it seems!).
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One of the many dulce de leche pastries-yum!

So we were now at a loose end and left to explore the city. It was built on the two pillars of religion and education, in addition it has some pretty cool Art Galleries.

We visited the Museo General Perez- an old colonial house with art collection. It contained some rather dark stuff by  Luis Felipe Noé (which I did not get a photo of).

Gav also celebrated his birthday here and for that we went to the Museo Emilio Caraffa which had some excellent exhibitions. We particularly liked the one by Carlos Alonso and Guillermo Roux. One would start the drawing and the other would finish it, the results were pretty cool.

Next up was the Natural History Museum (which wasn’t great- seemed like it hasn’t fully been finished or during the recession hasn’t been maintained), followed by a wander through the Park with all it’s runners and dog walkers.

In the centre of the city is the Jesuit Crypt- we tried a few times to visit but it always seemed to be closed even when it should have been open. After a few days of failed attempts we finally managed it. From there we continued on to the Jesuit Church a few streets away…

So that was Córdoba, so many art galleries and churches so little time. Between visiting all these places we also were making plans for the remainder of our trip as well as the hardest decision-our end date. So it was here we booked our flights home to Europe from….Cuba! The last stop! Such a terrifying thought giving us only 12 weeks left of travel at that point and with the whole west coast to do and get to Bogota for our flight to Cuba in early May.

On our last day in Córdoba, Boris Johnson decided to announce his intention to back Brexit. Though we have been keeping an eye on stuff back in Europe nothing had as much influence on us as this announcement. We lost 5% of our travel pot value overnight. Thanks for that Boris.

Anyway after a few days here it was time to move on to our next stop..the wine capital of Mendoza.

After such an awesome journey with Plusultra Mercobus, we booked the bus to Mendoza with them. It was awful, a 2×2 (normal bus) with ice-cold aircon and no blanket or service so I got no sleep and arrived quite cranky.

A quick (albeit grumpy) ride to our Apartment hotel (Wines Apart) they gave us a free breakfast (hurrah!) and we chilled out for the afternoon.

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The breakfast was three types of bread (Croissants, a sort of hard puff pastry (on the left) and the one at the front looked like bread and tasted like baked shortcrust pastry), cream cheese, butter, peach marmalade (they love peaches here) and there was also dulce de leche (but we didn’t have that all the time). Plus juice and coffee. It was grand but so much bread!

After the nightmare with the Spanish class in Córdoba, and our awful Spanish not improving fast enough on its own we managed to organise another one with Ana Maria from Spanish in Mendoza we had opted for a  (more fun) half study, half touristy class (the touristy bit all in Spanish too so we could practice). The cash nightmare continued however…it has been the worst country to get money out of banks (the economy there was just starting to stabilise after the recession and the blue market was still operating but we didn’t use it). Half were closed and others didn’t take MasterCard. We ended up at Bank of China-it became our go to bank here. But we were limited in what we could take out so could only get half. Damn it!

One thing that really stood out for me in Mendoza were the footpaths/pavements- death traps they were. Mendoza was actually in the desert, and the Incas had used their fantastic engineering to turn the desert into an artificial oasis. Unfortunately modern street design and this classic irrigation blueprint do not marry well.

Luckily we managed to survive unscathed during our time here but others weren’t so lucky!

Though in this city we saw less broken legs than elsewhere (I forgot to mention it at the time we saw a lot of ladies in leg casts and leg cast boots in Buenos Aires) despite the fashion due to the almost closed market here..

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[Also for some reason this is the ONLY city that I couldn’t get my bearings in, I don’t know why but for almost the whole time here I was never completely sure where I was unless I spotted the Ice-cream shop (above) or the lingerie shop with the red bra billboard (there are so many lingerie shops in Argentina, loads, as many as there are pharmacies). It was as bad as being in an episode of Father Ted.]

Anyway on with our time here. The following morning we headed to Ana’s house and began our first 4 hour session, every day this consisted of 2 hours of class and 2 hours of tourist stuff so after the classroom session we had a trip to the bakery on route to the Parque General San Martín.

Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina, and we arrived at the start of festival season. At the time we were there they were in the process of selecting the Harvest Queen.

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Half the shops had these photos of the contestants-photoshopped to look like mannequins. They do actually look quite pretty in the flesh. This is some sort of tradition here apparently.

So the following evening we went to the wine festival! My Spanish became amazing, though that may have just been the influence of the wine….

..Gav on the other hand was chatting away with Fernando in English every time Ana wasn’t looking. Bold boy.

I was so hungover the next morning, the last thing we needed was to have to concentrate but we were having breakfast on the terrace of the very fancy El Faro (surprisingly hard to find).

We also visited the Plaza San Martin (we knew it well as it was where all the banks were) and heard the tragic history of one of Argentina’s heroes.

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That evening we swung by the Plaza Independencia, there the party was in full swing for the crowning of the queen.
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….all the fountains turned red. The harvest was due to begin!

It was now Saturday, no better day to head off horse-riding followed by a wine tasting and an Asado (BBQ) (booked with Kahuak Turismo). We met some great people on this tour too as a day out it was pretty good but the company made it better.

The bbq was quite basic, meat, aubergines, tomato salad and potatoes with wine of course. We figured it was probably not that strong a wine as the eight year old son of the cook drank a jug full of it. The day was enjoyable if a little tame and we were still smarting over the measly (and rushed) wine tasting.

As we were chatting over lunch swapping travel tales,one of the girls, Jane, gaily relayed to us how she was robbed at knife point in Paraguay. She had just arrived in the country NS had everything in her bags including her passport (she hadn’t moved it back to her moneybelt)…and it was her first month travelling too. [We had been warned by the Argentinians we had met in Laos that in South America you should only carry a copy of your passport on you, thus the only times you are at risk of getting it stolen is when you are in transit- a godsend for Gav as he had worn them for the best part of seven months in South East Asia]. Nasty stuff, but she was able to get a temporary one to continue travelling for another few months thankfully, and she was now a little wiser to boot.

On Sunday we had to catch up on a ton of homework…..so much homework!

The following morning we met Ana for coffee at Brön and a quick check of the homework before heading off to another wine tasting at Los Toneles. A gorgeous place with an excellent tour, amazing wine and paired canapés. It was so good Gav ended up getting a bottle (it’s so cheap here!).

Our last class and last full day in Mendoza was empanada making. Before hand we had to go to the market and the supermarket to get the ingredients. We came away with everything we needed-we can get by in Spanish now! Wohoo! Mission accomplished.

After a week it was now time to move on to our next destination, our bus to Santiago was booked for the following morning. We had a few things to do in the morning, one was to post some postcards-to any backpackers reading this they were ridiculously expensive so do not bother sending any from Argentina- we forgot to check the postage first and got quite a shock. We also got stung by our hotel. As we booked with booking.com, they wouldn’t accept anything but cash-and the peso had gained against the dollar so between withdrawal fees and currency fluctuations we lost quite a bit which was infuriating but just one of those things. Everywhere else we had booked with booking.com to this point in Argentina or Brazil either accepted card payment on check-in or deducted it from the card when we checked in so this was quite a surprise.

Anyway, next stop country number 14 (or 15 if you count the 30 seconds in Paraguay), the sizzling, cosmopolitan, Chilean capital- Santiago.

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