Don’t die for me, Argentina

barecoletaWe couldn’t leave Buenos Aires without visiting La Recoleta Cemetery, said to be amongst the most beautiful in the world. In its streets rest some of the most famous and infamous sons and daughters of the city.

Given that it’s the number one visitor attraction in the area, we should have expected the number of tourists we found (ourselves included, of course) but the idea that it would be calm and serene persisted right up until we reached the front gates. Had none of us been there it would probably be regarded as the perfect final resting place by any proud porteño. As it was, the place can only be described as ‘bustling’.

It’s not a large cemetery, perhaps a few minutes walk to each side, and is laid out like a small city. Wide boulevards run through the centre, the rest is a grid pattern cut through with the odd diagonal street. Lining each narrow walkway are thousands of narrow mausoleums, each with its own character and level of upkeep.

barecoleta5Many favoured the classic style – marble, angels, columns. Some resembled crumbling Italian villas. A few looked like nothing so much as classy boutiques, all glass doors and ironwork. We cannot place the style of the one pictured here, but are guessing 20s-art-nouveau-meets-Inca.

We also found a very tenuous family connection here. The Crespo family mausoleum was a well-maintained, whitewashed structure, without too much in way in statuary or curlicues. Who knows whether our sister-in-law is any direct descendant of the Buenos Aires Crespos. We’ll enjoy assuming so until proven wrong.

In a small alleyway, we joined the queue to see the plaque marking Eva Peron’s family tomb. There were fresh flowers wound into the black iron gates and there was a fairly respectful quiet, except for the click and flash of cameras. It suddenly all felt very voyeuristic.

barecoleta2Of course, visiting cemeteries has long been a tourist favourite. Even before the Victorians made worshipping the cult of death an art form, we could be found on the Grand Tour with our Baedekers in hand, searching out the grave of a poet or general that we ‘simply had to see’.

Only the rich and famous are interred at Recoleta and all, we suspect, knew exactly what they were getting into.

Don’t dive for me, Argentina

boca3Argentina, or should I say, South America in general, loves the beautiful game. One of the biggest clubs here is the Buenos Aires team Boca Juniors, with famous players such as Maradona, Rattin, Samuel, Palermo, Riquelme and, of course, someone we seem to be connecting with on this trip, Nobby Solano. A treat organised back in the UK was a trip to the famous La Bombonera to see Boca vs Estudiantes.

It is very difficult, if not impossible, just to buy just tickets for the game, so we organised a package that included a pre-match drink & empanadas, transport to/from the game, travel guide and the match tickets via an agency called Landing Pad BA. Very much recommended.

We met in a local arts centre.Cold beer and hot savoury snacks were a perfect way of getting to know the others who were coming to the game, people from Albania, Canada, USA, Australia and the UK. A pretty quick half hour transport brought us right outside the ground. Our Boca-mad supporting guide said it was a must-win game, after two losses and a draw from the first three games of the second half of the season (keep up). Estudiantes on the other hand, had won all three games. Oh dear. This could get Lionel.

boca1boca2The noise was incredible from well before kick-off, (click this link – bocamovie1 – for the first movie). There was constant singing from the fans behind both goals and elsewhere. It was difficult to hear the person in the next seat never mind the guide at the end of the row. The game itself was, at times, brutal; a few challenges that should have been straight red cards brought the odd yellow card but nothing more apart from appreciation from the crowd (when it was a Boca player) or baying for a sending off (if it was the opposition).  There was a lot of individual skill – Pardew, get signing Boca’s number 17 Luciano Acosta right now – but some of the passing could have been straight out of Wimbledon under JFK. Not a single dive or complaint apart from a scrap at the end. Happily enough, the red and white striped ones from Estudiantes went away with nothing. A late first-half goal from a corner by Gigliotti was the difference between the two sides. Our final treat was to see a player who is even more admired than Maradona in these parts as the greatest ever player for Boca. Juan Roman Riquelme came on as a substitute in his attempt to recover from an injury that kept him out of most of last season.

boca4Special mention to the singing, click this link – bocamovie2 – for the second movie. One particular ditty (to the song of Bad Moon Rising) was sung a lot better than 50,000 Geordies could ever do. It was aired on more than one occasion and constantly on the long trek down to get out of the stadium. I did almost try and get the Coloccini song going, then realised that he actually played for a rival team, so definitely not a good idea. Click here for a few better videos than I took of that particular song, along with a translation and explanation of it all. Essentially, they don’t like River Plate. Massively. A lot. In a big way.

Boca. Fútbol. Fantástico.

Don’t fry for me, Argentina

basteakVegetarians look away now.

We were told in no uncertain terms that steak in Argentina was nothing short of ambrosia. Siobhan, Nell, Paul, Gabrielle, Mark, Tom – you all told us that it would rock our worlds. We were worried that our expectations were way too high. How could anything match the picture we had built in our minds?

Saturday night. Calden de Soho. Palermo. Buenos Aires.

Oh my god. Chargrilled. Steak.

BA K-nackered

It was pretty hot, though cloudy, in Buenos Aires on our first day in town. What better idea than a two-hour tromp through the city at midday? Despite the heat and humidity, it was a journey worth taking.

Buenos Aires is a very European-looking city, with huge Spanish influences in the architecture – both classical and brutally modern.

ba2We headed for El Palacio Aguas Corrientes, the Palace of the Running Waters. A beautiful name for a beautiful building. Taking up an entire block, the ornate Victorian style reminded us of the British Museum. In fact, the thousands of tiles that the line the exterior were imported from British ceramic producers Royal Doulton towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Lovely as it is, it never served as a palace of any sort. It was a water pumping station, bringing clean water to thousands of people, and its magnificent design a celebration of public and social works. That in itself is a very Victorian sentiment, we suppose.

The next stop was El Alteneo, an old theatre converted into the most beautiful bookshop we have ever seen. It was rated the second most beautiful in the world by the Guardian, beaten only by one in Maastricht, which we now have to visit too. For any bibliophile, it’s pretty much the promised land. As Barry Pierce said, “I didn’t know actual pictures of heaven existed.”

ba3

The balconies serve as the first and second floors, the stalls are the main shop floor and the stage is a cafe. Chloe didn’t want to leave and, frankly, wouldn’t have if she could have read any of the books on sale. We settled for buying a Spanish-English phrasebook and promising to return one day when our language skills have improved.

Heading for home we noticed the sheer volume of ice cream shops here. Buenos Aires prides itself on its incredible frozen treats and we fully intend to explore that later this evening. Once we’ve had a shower. And treated our blisters. And had a nap.

Having a Larco

P1000533 P1000536Onto the Museum Larco, or to give it the correct name, Museo Rafael Larco Herrera. This museum is one Peru’s finest and the entrance fee of 30 soles each said as much.

Entering via a manicured garden with flowers that were a treat for the eyes and nose, an impressive building held what turned out to be an amazing collection. There were textiles from over 500 years ago, burial masks in shining gold, silver and precious stone jewellery, statues looking very like mini Easter Island moais and various pots. Well, when I say various pots, I mean tonnes of pots, for drinking, for keeping the blood of human scarifies (yuk!) and depicting everything from everyday scenes from music making to making babies. Yes, a whole exhibit room full of crockery of not very happy people having lots of sex.

Walking through on occasions we just stared in disbelief on the condition of most of the exhibits. Woven dolls that looked as if they were made a year ago but were over 500 years old,  pots that could have been just taken out of the kiln but were over 2000 years old. Snr Larco must have had either loads of time, been a great archeologist or had tonnes of money. Or all three.

The final few rooms were of all the exhibits that didn’t make it to the final display rooms. This was pots, statues all displayed in floor to ceiling shelved displays. Conservative estimate suggests about 10,000 pieces of crockery and other items.

P1000558The only thing to do after being amazed was to go to the on-site cafe, again, this museum did things in style with the “best sandwich I have ever had” said Chloe and Allan had his first Tacu Tacu. Washed down with our first Pisco Sour meant an afternoon siesta was not just an aspiration, it was vital.

Mashed potato and mashed-up temples

startersWe decided to go posh for lunch. The place was recommended as a Top Pick in Lonely Planet and less than 5 minutes walk away – the award-winning restaurant of “El Rincon Que No Conoces”. This translates to something like “The Place on the Corner that No-one Has Heard Of”, which may explain why Apple Maps sent us the wrong way. Very friendly staff showed us to a table, giving us a jug of chica morada, a non-alcoholic red corn drink (think Ribena/sangria with cardamom notes) that was extremely refreshing, and proceeded to recommend some of their courses. We started by sharing 3 sorts of flavoured (and coloured) mashed potato with tuna, crab and chicken and went onto main courses of duck with rice and lamb with chickpeas. All absolutely delicious and way too big to finish. Very good value by UK standards, just over 100 soles (approx £20) for everything, but expensive in Peruvian terms, where the 3 course menus of the day in nearby restaurants were a mere 7 soles each.

walls1walls2Next up was Pachacamac. This is an archaeological site around 40km south of Lima, past suburbs, open cast mines and more suburbs. Our trusty taxi driver, Luis, had never been there either, so he decided to have a good explore with us. The site is big, covering  what must be 10km, but is not as well preserved as some in Peru. It is still fascinating to walk around the ruins of the temples and streets, some of which have been there for over 1500 years. Highlights include the Calle Norde Sud (a preserved pathway that, funnily enough, is directly north to south) and the Templo del Sol (a temple on top of the hill in honour of the Sun God, from which human sacrifices were made in the distant past). The latter involved a good 30 minute walk up a steep incline on gravel that ended up being quite a challenge in the baking sun, however, the views from the top more than made up for it. On the way down, we saw archaeology in action, with a set of four guys sieving huge trays of sand in the hope of finding the next piece of pottery. Well worth a visit, just don’t expect Machu Picchu.

South America arrival

P1000499 P1000506A quick post just to say that we’ve now arrived in South America. Leaving LA was the end of our original holiday, so the adventure really starts now. Our frankly embarrassingly bad Spanish will hopefully get better for the next couple of months, but the taxi driver definitely understood Allan’s internationally recognised phrasebook of “El futbol” and especially “Nolberto Solano”.

Stato alert – Lima also marks the most southerly in the world either of us has ever been, beating Bali & Lombok by around 4 degrees of latitude, although this record will be substantially beaten by Buenos Aires in a couple of days.

Hopefully we’ll get to see a little of Lima after our recovery from our Sun night/Monday morning flight, although we are due to come back here in around 8 weeks time if we miss the unmissable.

The End of the (Gally) World

007.billieToo soon, day three of Gallifrey One came and went. Highlights from Sunday included: interviews with Billie Piper and Arthur Darvill; a discussion of the of the Eleventh Doctor’s tenure; and a review of the past twelve months through the eyes of the British media.

Allan was shocked and upset to discover that Billie Piper is not, in fact, cockney. No, she’s rather posh. However, once he’d got over it, he most enjoyed her story about going drinking with John ‘Johnny’ Hurt during the filming of the 50th anniversary special, while Matt Smith and David Tennant stayed in and reviewed their lines like good boys. She also revealed just how much she hates the Rose action figure, which, she says, is “like a rat with hair”.

Chloe took point on Arthur Darvill. Bearing in mind that it was Sunday morning, and that he’d been out with Karen Gillan the night before, he was relatively together. Determined to beat Billie Piper in the battle of the ribbons, he asked anyone in the audience to bring theirs over at the end. Within an hour, rumour had it that his were being sewn into a magnificent centurion’s cape by the good people in the cosplay room. He was still bemused that Americans don’t properly take the piss out of each other (yes, we can confirm that saying what you mean without snarking is extremely confusing for the British) and yearned for it in New York. He was refreshingly, and perilously, honest about American traits – “you are now literally ‘woo-ing’ random words!” Oh, and his Nan has a full size cut out of him in her attic.

The look back over Matt Smith’s era on the show was made more interesting when it looked like fighting might break out amongst the panellists. A male contributor announced that he was scared about being flanked by two women because he was “getting it in stereo”. Ever wanted to stand up from the audience and shout “Oi! No. Not OK.”? Chloe failed to be a good feminist, but it turned out that panellists were able to hold their own, so disaster averted.

Finally, the year in review – a chance to see how the British media covered the anniversary. Don’t ever do this in room full of people not still under the embarrassing yoke of monarchy. Chloe nearly died when four whole minutes were given over to a visit by Charles and Camilla to the Cardiff studios. She never wants to see the heir to throne handle a sonic screwdriver again. Ever.

002.colsepoverlaySo, what were our favourite bits?

Allan – “The best story from the NASA talks was the one about one scientist describing a particularly challenging scenario as the Kobayashi Maru, and the rest of the room just nodding in agreement. No explanation needed.”

Chloe – “There’s always one moment at Gally where what I love about Doctor Who fans is on display loud and clear. This year it was the Colour Separation Overlay panel which, apart from its super-geeky and confusing name, was a thoughtful discussion about race and Doctor Who. Brilliantly hosted by Deb Stanish of Verity!, with Lindsay Mayers, Paul Cornell and Dennis Slade.”

003.dinnerAnd one last shout out – to Chuck, Ryan John, and Jen from Seattle. Lovely people. It was good to see them again – here’s hoping for next year. Allan, you didn’t hear that…no, of course I’m not dragging you half way round the world for a fourth year in a row…honestly…Allan?…

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8th Doctor and other ramblings

First stop of Day 2 of Gallifrey One was a director’s commentary of ‘Closing Time’. Yes, you remember, the second one with James Corden in it. Revelations by Steve Hughes included that: seven babies were used for the one baby in the episode; the first scene that was meant to be part of a Cyberman whizzing by was actually some tin foil as they hadn’t built the hand yet and; he wanted the Cyberman spaceship to look like the film Aliens.

P1000466P1000453Next up was Paul McGann talking about life before, during and particularly after his brief TV appearance as the Doctor. He seemed genuinely touched by how much he is still recognised by fans, was surprised to hear the TV ratings for the Doctor Who film were the same as the first new Doctor Who episodes and was pleased to see the minisode (Night of the Doctor – click here is you haven’t seen it) for the first time. His guest star for that brief reprise, Emma Campbell-Jones, joined him on the sofa and both agreed that keeping the minisode secret was possibly the hardest thing they have ever done in acting or their whole lives!

 

P1000474Another NASA talk, this time “Tales from the troops, True Stories from NASA”. An interesting panel of three of their finest engineers who have worked on Voyager, Mars, Cassini and other missions. Probably the best stories are:

1. Working on Mars missions, all of the staff stay on Mars days (Sols). A Sol is approx. 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, which means that all the staff feel as if they have permanent jet lag and very little idea of what the real time is on Earth. Special watches were developed to help staff.

2. They are really just a bunch of geeks like us. All the vets and maternity hospitals in the California area can easily tell when they have a NASA employee as they name their kids and pets after moons, planets and star systems. Also, when doing a particularly difficult test scenerio, one engineer shouted out “This is the Kobayashi Maru!” and not one of the 20-odd other people in room needed any explanation. Click here if this makes no sense.

3. Each mission has a designated food snack. For example, the Voyager food snack was ring donuts, the Casseni was muffins etc.

After the NASA talk, a wander around and an early finish today to charge up for day three. In the meantime, here’s some more photos of the day which included people dressed up as Misfits, Daleks and nurses. And why not.

P1000468 P1000476kelly

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Gallifrey (still) stands

OsgoodIt’s Valentine’s Day and the first day of Gallifrey One, the world’s longest sustained romantic night out with the Doctor and now in its 25th year. Three thousand people have made it through snow, storms and balmy sunshine to be here.

Chloe made the most of her confused body clock by getting up early to wait in line for a chance to join a kaffeeklatsch. These are small groups of a dozen chatting to one of the convention guests. You only get one, so she had to choose Paul Cornell – writer of some of her favourite novels, comics and Doctor Who episodes. As it happens, it was up first and so kicked off the weekend in style.

Allan opted for one of the NASA sessions, Mars Exploration Rovers. Apparently, each morning they have a video conference between all parties who decide what to do with the Explorer. This should last an hour maximum, except for one that lasted two hours. The reason would make any Doctor Who fan proud – the assembled geniuses couldn’t decide whether to turn left or turn right. In the end, they turned right.

But sometimes the best parts of Gallifrey One come between the sessions. In the space of an hour, Chloe met a couple of people she follows on Twitter (one of whom issued an invitation for coffee or dinner when we get to Washington DC), and Allan bumped into Chuck and Ryan, who we’ve met for the last couple of years and are now having dinner with tonight.

Plus, like those time lapse films of the desert blooming after rain, the corridors started to fill with colour as costumes began to appear. Doctors, companions, monsters; gender swapped characters (femme centurion Rory was fab); re-imagined outfits (UNIT soldiers with pink berets). The most notable new one this year was Osgood, the Tom Baker-scarfed UNIT scientist from Day of the Doctor, complete with asthma inhaler. Brilliant.

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