Art Factory Hostel Blog

They lost my luggage between Prague and Madrid

On my way from Prague to Madrid, where I was scheduled to leave for BA at 11 pm, my luggage was lost. Whether by struggling, may-be-grounded Air Italia, or by unusually efficient Czech airlines, I have no idea. What I do know is that I have no clothes — no change of socks or underwear, no shorts — no backpack, no portable hard drive, no large collection of DVDs, both adult and mainstream, much more of the latter, no jackets or sweaters. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll need much of those, since spring has sprung in Argentina.
I’d be seriously bummed if I weren’t so excited to be out of Czech Republic, which I’d come to loathe as much as it had come to loathe me, and in a brand new place where I actually have some hope of learning the language. In fact, my comprehension of written/printed Spanish is already better than my understanding of Czech. Pretty sad considering I’d spent 5 years there and only managed Tarzan-like Czechlish, at best. Perhaps not so strangely, my comprehension of conversational Czech was much better than that of written Czech, probably because the fact that I heard separate words which were in fact multiple syllables. Czech is weird, especially for English speakers. I never want to speak Czech again, to be honest, although it keeps coming out automatically in restaurants and shops here, confusing the porteños, who think when I say “jo, jo, jo,” that I’m saying “yo, yo, yo,” or “I, I, I.” I’ve also been familiar when I should have been polite, and have been confused by the Argentinian variant of Spanish, where “y” is usually pronounced “zh.”

I’m staying at the large and labyrinthine Garden House Art Factory, in a dorm on the roof. It’s cozy and kinda cool. There are quite a few original arty touches to this hostel housed in a multi-story building, including original paintings on the walls, a two-story mural on the roof-top terrace, a skylight over the common area, and an antique porcelain footed bathtub in the toilets on the first floor. Dorm rates are reasonable, at $11 per night, and the folks who work here are all invariably friendly and helpful. It’s appropriately situated just on the border of antiquey, artsy San Telmo, and very close to the business center of BA, as well as being a short walk from Ave de Mayo, which leads to Plaza de Mayo, the city’s historic center.

BA has surprised me with how urban it is so far. I haven’t had the time or energy (after 16 hours of restless and mostly sleeples travel) to explore the chic areas yet; but what I have seen reminds me more of Chicago than Prague: lots and lots of cars and heavy traffic characterizing by horns-honking constantly and the noxious fumes of dozens of buses. Actually, I’d say that it feels more urban than Chicago, or the Chicago I remember anyway. BA is mostly set out on a grid, with a few easily learned diagonal streets, also much like Chicago. And while the traffic is heavy, it’s not particularly fast-moving. From that I concluded that the best way for me to get around would be by bike. I have years of experience negotiating Chicago’s streets. I’ve also spent substantial time on two wheels in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Cairo, Amsterdam, and a little bit in Berlin. I don’t think I’d have any problem dealing with the sorts of everyday issues I saw yesterday. Counting coup with buses and taxis is part of what makes city-biking so much fun. We’ll see if I can budget for it. What I don’t want to do is go without a helmet, as I’ve done in the past. Getting cautious in my old age.

BA is quite big — 13 million people! In order to save $15 bucks, and to get a feel for the city and its people on public transport, I took bus number 86 into the city from Ezieza Airport, instead of the more expensive but far, far quicker shuttles run by commercial companies. (The bus cost $1.50 AR, or an incredible 48 cents USD.) I wouldn’t recommend bus number 86, however, for any reason, unless, like me, you’re on a severe budget. Lonely Planet says the transit time can be more than two hours. I’d been on the bus, which was packed to its limits, for over two hours before leg cramps and claustrophobia, not to mention a fear that I was somehow on the wrong bus, forced me to push my way to the side door and stumble out onto the hard, dirty sidewalk.

Where I proceeded to get myself lost. But not too much. I was on the right street into the center, I’d just failed, when looking at the map, to take into account how big BA really is. So I walked, and walked, and walked, and it took a little over an hour to even find a street I could also see on the map. Once I did, I had no problem making my way to Plaza de Mayo, taking a short trip on the city’s crowded, quaint wooden subway cars, and from there finding the Art Factory, where I checked in, and konked out, not even bothering to shower.

I struggled awake around 20, cleaned up, and re-dressed, thinking I’d have the energy to venture out to explore BA’s vaunted nightlife. I got as far as buying cigarettes across the street and then decided I didn’t have the presence of mind to even read a map, not to mention following its directions. The hostel also doesn’t have lockers so I would’ve had to take my MacBook with me, through streets which both LP and the woman working at the desk called “dodgy.” I’ll have to make my own mind up about that.I sort of like dodgy.

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Tip: If you can, sit down when you're taking the subway

Transportation tips:

BA’s subway system, called Subte, can get you most places you want to go. Just make sure you’re always checking to see where you are and that you’re sitting down when you do. Announcements of stops and stations occur only sporadically and if you’re standing up, you won’t be able to see what station you’ve pulled into, either because your sight-lines are bad, or because there’s a kiosk selling magazines blocking the signs.

My advice is, before you even enter a subway car, to count the number of stops between where you are and where you want to go. Then keep track as you pull into stations. Otherwise, you’re liable to over- or undershoot. Don’t rely on finding maps inside the cars either. Sometimes they’re there, and sometimes it’s just another advertisement for Pepsi. None of this phases the porteños, or the locals, who obviously have the whole route memorized; so don’t be afraid to ask, “Donde estamos, por favor?” if you don’t where you’re at.

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My key is stuck in my dorm room's lock

“How did you do that?” the sexy lady in big beige boots who works afternoons in the hostel asked me when I showed her the problem.

“I don’t know…I think I put it in wrong.”

She smirked. I must have have blushed, and felt stupid. Doubly so because, as I was taking to her, I was also trying to staunch the blood flow from a shaving cut I’d acquired just a few minutes before. There’s still a big piece of toilet paper stuck to my temple as I write this. I must have cut off the head of a mole? Or something? Ewww.

A big burly construction worker just managed to pry the damn thing out and then showed me which way was the proper way to stick it in. (I must be using these double entendres because I find this guy kinda hot. His lil’ helper’s not bad, either. I’ve always thought chubby Mexican guys with doe eyes but soft, deep voices were an underrated segment of the Latino population in Chicago. There’s a lot of similar guys here, too, in Argentina. Their little bellies are so cute!)

So now I don’t have to babysit the room as punishment for having screwed up the lock. Off to visit my first gay bar, or two. (I tried to keep this blog sexually orientationally neutral, but found it was just too much effort, and not at all in keeping with my writing style or my personality. I hope that anyone can find something of value on this blog, however. Bitch if you don’t.)

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Restaurant at Defensa 855, San Telmo

I wandered around lovely, artsy San Telmo this morning and early afternoon, developing an appetite. I finally decided on El Desnivel, which was recommended by the hostel where I’m staying. I wasn’t disappointed.

Plenty of meat was on offer, but rather than what you might think of as typical Argentine cuisine, El Desnivel is Italian-influenced. The pastas are therefore the cheapest dishes on the menu. I looked around the hour and a half I was there and no one ordered any pasta. Meat, meat, meat was the rule. I ordered a stuffed beef roll with mashed potatos and enjoyed it quite a bit. I also “slurged” on a half-litre of serviceable house red, and a basic salad. With tip, I paid just over 14 USD, more than I might have paid in Prague or in Chicago for a typical meal, but filling and very tasty.

By the time I left, El Desnivel was full up with locals and a smattering of English-speaking tourists. There’s a garden out back. Service is slow-ish, as is typical here, I gather, but friendly and efficient.

After all that wine, even after having to ask for la cuenta (the check) twice, I could only say to myself:

Nice people. Good food. I like it here.

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Lost Luggage Update

I should file this under “stuff that only means very much to me, and no one else,” but hey, this is a blog, and ephemera informs the diary format.

I called the company that handles lost luggage for all the airlines at Madrid Barajas Airport. No news on where my bag is, other than it will probably take longer than normal to find it because of Alitalia’s ongoing problems. I could tell that AI wasn’t doing well, from the taciturn and grumpy attitudes of the flight attendants, all-male and, despite the ubiquity of fussed-over and oiled-up hair styles, all-straight, as far I could tell, unlike their counterparts in the U.S.; to the battered, fraying seats; to the bus that took us to the plane, as if the airline couldn’t afford proper gate access. It wouldn’t have surprised me if we had had to scale the plane’s sides like Batman and Robin.

On the phone, I gave the nice Spanish girl my number and address at the hostel (thank the gods for Skype!) and she assured me that they would eventually find my luggage.

I’ve never had trouble with lost luggage in the past because I only rarely checked any in, as when I went to Israel, Jordan and Egypt with my mom’s church group in the 90s. Like Rick Steves, I’m of the opinion that the best way to travel is light and fast, allowing only yourself to be responsible for your belongings. So I’ve always stuffed everything I need in one big backpack and sailed right out the airport doors as soon as I’d landed. Now, however, it’s more problematic to fit everything in one bag, all that’s allowed these days, what with a MacBook and some other electronics in a shoulder bag, 5 books including Lonely Planet’s Argentina, plus everything I own packed up, rather than just a month’s worth of stuff.

Next time I move: One big-ass backpack, no matter how much I have to sacrifice to get it all in there.

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Eating out: Unico, in Palermo Hollywood

Cut to the chase: Best beef sandwich I’ve ever had in my life, period. None better in Chicago, New York, or anywhere else I’ve had one. Tender and big, grilled, pounded-flat beef loin, complimented with sliced roasted red peppers and an over-easy egg, and served on homemade bread, I was blown away with its flavor. At 6.43 USD, it’s an incredible bargain. The french fries, originally frozen, were only so-so and even worse than that after they got cold — I was eating outside and it’s still slightly brisk here in BA — and the only beers on offer weren’t Argentine — although that big ol’ cold Heineken was actually pretty tasty. Still, they fed me good.

Apparently, Unico is a big hetero pick-up place in the evenings. I was there for lunch and can’t comment on that. See this page, and the links therein, for more on that aspect of this Palermo mainstay. Another, considerably less-impressed take here. When I was there, it was older guys taking business lunch. I observed the same thing all up and down Fitz Roy today, as well.

Unico sits on the corner of Fitz Roy and Honduras in the barrio of Palermo Hollywood. I took Subtle D, the green subway line, to the Palermo stop. Walked down Santa Fe until I hit Fitz Roy, then took Fitz Roy to Honduras. Get a map.

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