Antarctica Part 4: Buenos Aires pre-trip

21 January 2016…Finally!

~ Flight and Transfer ~

Pre-Day 1:  Memories are weird things. If there were no high points (happy, good…) or low points (disasters, et al) associated with a certain event, then the nuances of that event becomes fuzzy. At least that’s how it is with me.   Since I don’t remember any dramatrauma surrounding our flight to Buenos Aires….I guess it was nicely uneventful. Our pre-arranged driver –booked with Nestor of Colores de Argentina– was at the airport albeit hard to pick out in the crowd as he was holding our name sign waist-level….with a big crowd of people between him and us. Duh. But he was there and that is what counts.  Cash only.

~ HOTEL ~

The hotel selected by Quark for our first official night was the NH City Towers and Hotel. Quark provided one hotel night for what I call Fly-In Day…to make sure everyone utilizing their charter service was on-site for an early next-morning flight.   If this hotel was good enough for Quark, it should be good enough for our early arrival gap night.  I’m all for cruise companies making additional money on tours and add-ons but really? Booking our extra night independently resulted in a much better rate versus booking via Quark.  I was even able to book a slightly upgraded room for less than what Quark had quoted. Strategically, I was hoping the hotel would allow us to keep our same room. They did. I was happy. Props to the hotel!

NH City is a 4-star rated hotel according to that website that goes by the initials TA. I would say it is fairly accurate. Clean, neat and tidy, basic breakfast, helpful staff. Great location for walking although the very immediate area around the hotel is a little more commercial in feel. But just a few blocks away, things become lively. We walked everywhere never feeling like we needed a taxi. Well, maybe my feet felt the need but there was never a safety issue.

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NH City Hotel and Tower.  Quiz:  Who is on the building graphic? (This is not NH Hotel)

Rant On: The one thing that was irritating (and it’s not just this hotel) is the placement of electrical outlets. I really get tired of playing ‘find the outlet’, moving furniture, do I unplug the clock/light/if there is even an option, or not having an outlet within six to eight feet of the bed. In this case, there was a power strip hidden underneath the desk. Across the room from the bed. And hardwired to the wall. What?!?   That was it, no other outlets on that side of the room. The bedside lamps were mounted on the wall. There was no bedside clock…battery or plug-in…so bring your own.   Zero outlets on that side of the room.  So what’s a girl to do?  Drag out my six-foot extension cord and mini-power strip that lives in my suitcase.   Thank goodness our room was a skinny, rectangular shape….I had just enough stringalong to be able to sit in bed and read/charge my phone if I occupied the right side of the bed.  Mr. TxP had no choice in the matter….this is one situation where I always win. He gets preference for optimal television viewing angle but my electrical outlet access trumps his TV if there is a toss-up. /Rant!

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~ How We Spent Our Time ~

After checking in, we headed out the door to find lunch. The hotel recommended Aldo’s Vinoteca. We enthusiastically do also!  Based on our other BA adventures in dining, Mr. TxP would have been perfectly happy to have all his meals there.  Weekday lunches are the best in BA as most places serve a pre fixe menu that includes a glass of wine or a bottle of water.  Great value!   Most restaurants also close between lunch and dinner and dinner generally does not start until 7:00pm at the very earliest.  It’s good to check the hours and highly recommended that one make reservations…even for the most casual restaurants.

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Aldo’s Vinoteca

Well satisfied with lunch, we head out to explore.  Oh my gosh, the area where we stayed was so easy to wander around.  All 7+ miles we walked that day.  We would have continued but my feet were tired and my right foot, large toe was a little achy.  Feet hurt more than toe, so the toe issue was dismissed.

We typically don’t do much currency exchange for a few reasons: 1) We don’t want to wind up with unused currency especially if we don’t plan on returning. 2) We’re on a mad points chase to acquire lifetime status with large chain that starts with the letter M using their affinity card. 3) If we can’t make the purchase with a credit card, then we probably don’t need it. 4) And not having pocket change saves me from things like this:

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Croissant-like pastry filled with dulce de leche

Time for dinner so another rec from the hotel…ratified by a looksee at Y and TA. We head out. Toe is a little twingy. Hit ignore button.

Steak! We are in Argentina after all.  Gran Parrilla del Plata was our goal.  Good ratings, hopeful for a tasty experience.   It’s more of a locals’ place with a few tourists thrown in….to write reviews. Stars? Service 2.5, food 3.5, location 4.   Average overall but I can see how this restaurant could cultivate neighborhood regulars.  But since they had only one crack at my business, they failed. Too many other places to try if we were to return to BA…

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Gran Parilla del Plata Restaurant

…Like Desnivel.  Smelled soooo yummy but when we walked by the first time it was pretty empty so we passed…literally. But by the time we walked back by a few hours later…it was like a rip-roaring party was going on.  Don’t the Argentines know that eating after 6:00pm is not good for you?

Pre-First day was good.  Beds are firm but that didn’t interrupt my sleep.

Pre-Day 2, 22 January

Walking, and more walking.  And it was hot that day!  Like 97°F hot plus humidity!  The only real packing mistake on my part was not packing a more light-weight top.  I was heading to Antarctica for gosh sakes and BA wasn’t supposed to be so hot during winter time.

My toe was still a little achy.  Hit ignore button.

Over the course of two-days of tourwalking, we taste tested the requisite empanadas all along the way even making a special trip to La Morada to taste what was billed as the ‘best in town’. They were okay but I preferred the ones at the shop affiliated with the hotel.  ~Props to Mr. TxP for letting me drag him around to check out La Morada.  It wasn’t that close to the hotel but walking there did contribute to the step-count and helped to work off the calories.

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Empanada tasting at La Morada and NH City Hotel

 

Even better, I prefer the ones we ate in Montevideo, Uruguay…Empanadas Carolina.  Even Mr. TxP preferred these.

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Empanadas Carolina, Montevideo, Uruguay

We accidently happened on a market we had visited on our first trip a year earlier.  I had wanted a particular antique doll but the store was closed and the owner not to be found.  This time, I was going to persevere a bit more.  Success!  The owner happened to be milling about and opened the store for me.  The doll I wanted originally had been sold but I was willing to settle.  Mr. TxP kept saying…”But the toes are broken.”  I said, “Shush! I want it anyway. I’m buying it.”  It’s an interesting doll.  Happy!

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Walking around BA UL-LR:  Fast food.  Antiguo Mercado…where I bought the doll.  A photo shoot.  Shopping of all sorts.  ‘Celebrity shoeshine’.  Happy hour time!

Dinner time! Earlier, we found a small restaurant Deluca during our walk and decided to try it for dinner later that evening.  I can say that the wait staff person was nice. The food….pretty…but not so great. Pasta was awful…even with an Italian name.  Because Mr. TxP could not figure out what beer he wanted to try (as we try a local beer everywhere we go when overseas), a small sampling was offered gratis.  In reality, the samples totally satisfied the amount he usually imbibes (which isn’t a lot) so we really didn’t need to purchase a full drink but did so because the waiter was so nice.  Aldo was ever present on the mind.

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Deluca Restaurant

Arriving back to the hotel, there appeared to be more people milling around that we guessed were Quark passengers. We were right!

A good day ended with a good sleep.   The real start of The Really Big Trip is just a few hours away!

Antarctica, Part 3: The all important camera!

“If there isn’t a picture, it didn’t happen.” –So sayeth someone including me.

Backstory: Way back in the day, I started my more serious foray into photography using a 2 1/4 x2 1/4 Yashica D.   No, I’m not that old, it was a loaner.  At the same time, I had access to a Minolta –no idea of the model– with a match-needle metering system. I really miss that Minolta. A few years later, I finally had a little bit of money to buy a more name-drop camera and bought a Nikon FM. I hated that camera. And then real life got in the way and I could no longer afford film or paper or the chemistry so my photography endeavors came to a screeching halt. Fast forward into the 90s with digital all the rage, I started carrying around a little Cannon point-and-shoot and promptly upgraded at every opportunity. Some models were great, others not so much.   Marching forward to 2013, a big trip to China was coming up so it was time to graduate to something a little more serious so I bought a Samsung NX1000.  Mirrorless, fairly lightweight, interchangeable lenses, live-view LCD screen, adequate to get me by for a good while or so I thought. It did serve me well. But alas, it’s been relegated to the box-of-unloved-toys.

Six months after booking The Really Big Trip, Mr. TxP and I made a quick trip to India and went on a too-short wildlife drive in the Bandipur Tiger Reserve. I had spotted a bird that I wanted to photograph but trying to shoot action using only an LCD screen just doesn’t cut it. Oh! Nice tail feathers!!!

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I decided right then and there that I need to get more serious and buy a camera with a viewfinder. Yeah, bigger, heavier…but oh so necessary if one wants to shoot wildlife or anything that moves.   In case you’re wondering….no Tyger! Tyger! burning bright. *sigh*

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March 2015 | Sunset at Bandipur Tiger Reserve, India | Camera: Samsung NX1000

Many research hours later and a massive amount of eye-strain, I settled on a Pentax K-50. One of the big draws was its weatherproofing. Second, it was a good compromise between quality and value as it was a ‘last-years’ model.  Ratings from various sources were good. Clickety-click. I traveled with the K-50 body, 55-300 WR zoom, and the 18-55 which never saw the light of day. It’s was just too difficult to try and change lenses for a number of reasons. When I found myself in the position that I need to shoot something positioned at my feet…I whipped out my trusty Lumia 925 Windows phone.

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January 2016 | Adelie baby penguins | Paulet Island | Windows Phone Lumia 925

Additional batteries were purchased as I already knew that cold temps tend to rapidly drain lithium batteries. This little factoid can be confirmed by the crew filming the 360° VR feature for Quark.  All the while, I carried on a raging debate with myself about using a polarizer or not. I went with ‘or not’ and now I wish I had.

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January 2016 | Quark 360° VR camera filming | Antarctica | Pentax K-50

Major purchases have been made. Minor tweaks as needed. It’s now a waiting game.

Antarctica, Part 2: Shopping!

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing .” –Billy Connolly

Shopping for airline tickets wasn’t the only thing getting attention.   Clothes….of course clothes!   I live in Texas for gosh sakes and I’m not supposed to have suitable gear for the Antarctic…but I do. My clothes closet looks like I live in Duluth, MN, not in it-snows-once-every-ten-years-for-five-minutes Houston. But as we all know, this is a The Big  Trip and everything within my control will be as perfect as humanly possible without going crazy and further melting my credit card. Too much.

Quark supplied very. bright. yellow-is-not-my-color. parkas…which were ours to keep.  Waterproof, zip out fleece, very warm.  Exemplary job.  And on loan, very heavy Arctic Muck Boots.  Nice that we didn’t have to wrangle those items into a suitcase initially.  Still, packing was more than a bit challenging considering we travel only with carry-ons — Mr. TxP, a 20″ roll-on and me, a 21″ roll-on and each with a tote bag.   To make things even more challenging, we were limited on a checked luggage weight of 20KG and 5KG for the carryon with the threat that anything over weight would have to be left at the hotel and retrieved in some manner after the trip.  Note:  Leave enough space to pack parkas on return trip.

While February is still wintertime in the northern hemisphere, cold-weather clothing is already on sale. SierraTrading.com was my best friend. Being patient can get you discounts of up to 70% along with free shipping. So gloves of various styles, Icebreakers marino wool base layers, Smartwool tops and Columbia and Marmot brand waterproof outer shell pants found their way into my dedicated storage drawer. Joining the crowd, was some generic fleece pants, hats of various types, neck gators, and sundry items that I will list at the end.

The reading/research continued. Not like I was going to change my mind…or have buyer’s remorse…I just wanted to make sure I was well informed going into this trip.

Seasickness and my prevention strategy 

Of course, the best of plans can ‘go south’ when Mother Nature is involved. Everything, everyone, everywhere always added the proviso: “Based on weather conditions…”.  The favorite saying about the Drake Passage…all two days of transit…each way, “It can be the Drake Lake or the Drake Shake.” Which leads me to my next major prep.

A bit of a back story: When Mr. TxP made his first trip across the lesser pond to the U.S., it was aboard a ship. Bottom line, the crossing was so rough, he swore he would never get on an ocean-going cruise ship again. Fast-forward to July 2013, at the prodding of some acquaintances, we boarded the Emerald Princess with my super-duper bag of cure-what-ever-ails-you in hand and cruised for eleven days around the Baltic.   The trip was a success…meaning Mr. TxP didn’t get sick and we had fun as an added bonus.  We’ve since been cruising with a vengeance to attain ‘Your Royal Eliteness’ level.

So what was in our Anti-Sea Sickness Ziploc bag? From the first big-boat cruise, acupressure bands, over-the-counter Dramamine, and Rx Transderm Scope patches.   Because we had heard horror stories of the Drake Passage making hip-hop look like a waltz, we added Rx Phenergan, ginger capsules and an assortment of homeopathic therapies to the mix.  I’m happy to report, none was needed.

Clothing gear is being accumulated. We could stock a small pharmacy. Next to research…cameras!

~*~

Your first commercial break:  Apologies for jumping between past/present tense, active/passive voice and all the other English grammar rules that I have egregiously broken and will break in the future.  I’m having a difficult time keeping this missive neat and tidy as I am writing a report of past actions but at the same time injecting present time reflections and admonitions for the future.  As this is not a potential Pulitzer, please make your own mental grammar corrections and read on in the same spirit in which I’m sharing this wonderful experience!  — This now concludes my Public Service Announcement.