09 October 2012

Buenos Aires in the Spring

Near the beginning of the year, I received an offer in the mail for a discounted room at the hotel I had stayed at last November.  I decided that the October trip slot would work best, so I was booked way in advance for this trip -- so far in advance that I went through several airline changes to the itinerary.  I had flight time changes, price changes, aircraft changes, class of service changes, and seat changes.  Last year, the route I took was through Dulles Airport.  United changed the routing to originate from Newark.  I had the option of going through Houston, but I preferred the legacy United 3-class 767 plane.  They ended up changing the equipment to the legacy continental 767 2-class plane (fortunately it was the newer version).  But I was still disappointed before and decided after the trip that I still preferred the legacy UA equipment.

I purposely built in a large layover cushion in both directions and was glad.  While there were no big delays, we were late in arriving into Newark airport for both of my originating flights.  The cushions eliminated any stress and gave me time to do some work.  The flights to and from Buenos Aires are night flights, so most of the time is taken up with eating and sleeping.

I again had arranged for the hotel to pick me up from the airport.  We were also delayed in departing Newark for Buenos Aires, so I managed to get an email off to them before departure letting them know I would be late.  There were no issues once we arrived.  Since I had already paid the entrance fee on my last trip, I could head towards the immigration lines that had just to process my passport, take my picture and record my thumbprint.  My driver was easy to spot in the arrivals hall.  Since I already had some local currency and knew where I could get some in town, we could leave the airport immediately.

Room perspective from the entryway
The Algodon Mansion Hotel gave me a nice upgrade for this stay.  For my prior visit, I was on a higher floor in a nice-sized suite.  This time, I was on the first floor in an even larger suite, with an outdoor terrace on one side and a waterfall in the light well on the other side.

The bathroom wasn't as large as the one from my prior stay and didn't have a waterfall shower.  But it had a steam room shower with a rainmaker shower head and thermostat-controlled radiant heating in the marble floors.

Looking towards the light well with waterfall
Tub with lights and jets
Shower/steam room
Private terrace 
After settling in for a bit and resting, I ventured out for a walk in search of an ATM.  I also wanted to see how long it would take to get to the restaurant I had selected for that evening's dinner.  I knew it would be a bit of a hike, and I ultimately decided that I would take the subway for the actual trip to dinner.  It was about a 45 minute walk in a roundabout way, and I learned where the subway exit was relative to the restaurant.  I had also planned to see if I could walk to the Buenos Aires casino I had just read about.  I decided it was too far and out of my way, so I decided to walk back to my hotel, taking a different path.  On the way back on Avenida 9 de Julio, I happen to see a shuttle bus from the casino stop and pick up some people.  It looked like it was free, so I noted where it was and decided I might try that the next day.

Dinner that evening was scheduled to be at a place called aramburu.  I had wanted to dine there on my last trip, but a last-minute attempt for a reservation was not successful.  This time, the hotel had ample time to get me in, so my dinner reservation at 9 pm was set (that was the earliest time they start serving dinner, which is typical).  There is no menu presented, but they do ask if you have any allergies or strong dislikes.  My 10-course meal employed some molecular gastronomy techniques and relied on local ingredients for the "winter menu".  I enjoyed the meal, particular as I was able to sit at the small bar seating, positioned right in front of the large kitchen window.  I was able to watch them prepare and assemble all the dishes. I was also pleased that the cost of the meal was much less expensive that it would have been if in another city, given the quality of the ingredients and preparation efforts. 

It always seemed odd to me that while dinners are much later in the evening that in North America, the subway closes before midnight, so that if you are out for dinner, you almost always have to take a taxi home if you cannot walk back after dinner.

The next day, after a late breakfast, I was off to tour the Teatro Colon.  It's a restored grand theatre in the French classical tradition.  It is on par with such places as the Paris Opera, La Scala in Milan, and the Vienna Opera House.  The guided tour was very interesting.

After the tour, I headed back to the intersection I had noted fro the prior day where I saw the casino  shuttle stop.  I waited around a bit but no shuttle.  And then I saw people starting to line up,  The service from that location didn't start until 3pm, but I didn't know that at the time.  The shuttle was free, and it took about 15 minutes from the pickup point at Rivadavia.  When I arrived at the casino, I saw the stops and the schedule.  There is another shuttle line that runs 24 hours.

The casino itself is built on the water by two boats joined together.  There is no entrance fee and no dress code.  They even have regular bank ATMs inside the casino.  There were slots, and table games, food, and smoking and non-smoking sections.

After a few hours, I found out how to take the shuttles back to the center of town (had to go to the other side of the entrance hall to catch the return shuttles).  I walked back from the Avenida Cordova and Ahem intersection to my hotel and had just enough time to get ready for dinner.  Fortunately, the restaurant that evening was in my hotel 's neighborhood, about 3 blocks away.

The restaurant was call Tarquino and was from a list that the hotel sent me.  The them was modern Argentine cuisine.  It was a little difficult to fine, even though I had the exact address.  There was no sign in front, nor any evidence of a restaurant.  A doorman finally let me in and I walked down a marble corridor to the back where I finally saw the restaurant entrance.  The restaurant was set in a back walled courtyard, covered by a glass and steel roof with a tree growing through it.

For the next day, I wasn't scheduled to leave for the airport until 5pm.  So, after some packing, i went out to visit the nearby landmark bookstore called El Ateneo.  It's an old theatre that was recently converted into a bookstore.  It's quite a sight.

I also had time to hop on the subway and head out to Palermo Hollywood for a quick stroll around.  I had only been there during the evening last time, and wanted a chance to check out the central area.  It was mostly galleries and restaurants, will all the restaurants seemingly packed that late afternoon.

After that, it was back to my hotel to freshen up.  And then it was off to the airport.  On a Sunday afternoon, it only took half an hour.  But all the U.S.-bound flights head out in the evening.  If you don't have status with your airline, it can be a long wait to check in.  Otherwise, it's not too bad.  So it was an easy wait, with a little shopping and a short stay in the United Club before heading back.  If it was easier to get to Buenos Aires from SFO on UA, I would probably visit more often.

01 October 2012


It was not in the plans this year to go to Honolulu.  But a couple of months ago, United was having an airfare sale, and I found a weekend I could go.  Moreover, the upgraded seats were available at booking, so I used up a voucher I had from a prior trip and essentially booked a free trip to Hawaii.  Other island destinations in Hawaii did not come up as cheaply for that weekend.

The flight over was straightforward for the most part.  The morning flight I was on left at around 9 am and got in at 11:15 am.  The only glitch was that the video system did not work on the airplane.  United uses a two-class "domestic" 777 for this flight, so there is just one big video screen in the center of first class.  They did not want to delay the flight, so we still left on time.  For the trouble, I received a $250 voucher.

I used Speedishuttle to get to and from my hotel.  They were not an option the last time I visited.  They were quick to depart and if you booked a round-trip ticket, they scheduled that right then as well (with a follow-up call the day before departure).  It worked very well.

Honolulu is not one of my favored destinations in Hawaii, but it is still Hawaii.  I think I had been there about three times before this trip.  This time, instead of staying at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is located at the other end of Waikiki (towards Diamond Head).  It's not right on the beach, but it is a much smaller property than the multi-towered Hilton Hawaiian Village.  Every room has a balcony, and I pre-booked an ocean-view room.  Upon arrival, they upgraded me to an extra-large two-room suite, with a living room/dining room area, wet bar, parlour bathroom and separate bedroom and bath, all on the top floor of the hotel.  The hotel has an Executive Lounge on the ground level.

During my short stay, I decided I would visit one or two restaurants, hike Diamond Head, and shop a little.  I did not have a dining reservation for the first night.  In a text conversation with a friend, the suggestion came up of going to the revolving restaurant called Top of Waikiki.  I went onto OpenTable.com and was able to secure a dinner reservation for that evening.

It was only a 15-minute walk from my hotel, and was located on top of a commercial office building.  I thought the food was fine.  They used local ingredients and provided good service.  The food production was geared for tourist volume.

Corn chowder

Day-boat scallops

Wilted-spinach salad with duck confit

Panna cotta
My meal was almost two-hours long and we probably made 2.25 revolutions.  The meal was also not that expensive, but I did not order a full entree.

The next morning, I headed out to Diamond Head crater for the hike up.  I had planned to take the bus around to the park entrance.  But the bus service was extremely irregular, despite having a posted schedule.  I ended up walking all the way to the park entrance instead (about a half-hour total).  I then entered the park and hiked all the way up.  Once you are on the main trail past the parking, lot, the trail is only paved for about 100 feet.  It then follows a gully up the crater side to the top.  Towards the end, there are a lot of stairs to climb.  It's a very popular hike, so the trial can get crowded, especially at the top.  It was a nice day to do it, as it was partly cloudy in the morning and there was a strong breeze.

I hiked back down the trail and went out to the road to take the bus back. I first checked out a farmers' market nearby. The right bus didn't come for awhile (I think I had just missed it).  I thought of walking back, but waited it out as I didn't really have anywhere I needed to be.  A bus came which I thought would take me back to Waikiki or very close.  At one point, the driver told us to change buses to get to Waikiki and I decided that I thought the bus would go somewhere near enough that I wanted to check out a different route.  Turned out the bus soon veered away from Waikiki.  The then decided to get off the bus after a bit (I was tracking my location on my iPhone) and would have just taken the bus back towards where I came from, but I found another but that was going to take me to the Ala Moana Shopping Center.  I thought it would give me a good place to get lunch.  Plus, my transfer was going to be good for two hours, so I could get there, eat lunch, and then catch a bus back to Waikiki, which was how my early afternoon went.  After my soba noodle/shrimp tempura lunch, I was back at my hotel in time for a little swim in the ocean before having to get ready for dinner.

Before leaving the mainland, I had used OpenTable.com to make a reservation at La Mer at the Halekulani Hotel.  I had tried to go to an Alan Wong restaurant that had a chef's counter.  But it was located downtown and didn't look like I could get in at a good time.  la Mer has been a highly-rated restaurant on Waikiki for a long time, so it certainly was not a bad option.  I like my meal there, even though  I had to wear dress shoes, dress pants, and long sleeves.  The food was very good, they were flexible enough with the tasting menu to accommodate my preferences, and the service was excellent (including a free glass of champagne to start the meal)..

Foie gras and pineapple

Scallops and mushroom


Duck breast and potato puffs

Apricot sorbet

 The next day, my flight was scheduled to leave at 12:30 pm.  The Speedishuttle picked me up on time 3 hours before the flight.  The airport check-in was fine.  They were almost ready to implement the TSA-PreCheck program (I would have qualified as my boarding pass beeped three times at security), but I was a month too early.  Still, I did not have to wait long.  The return flight left on time but arrived just a few minutes late due to less-than-favorable winds.  It was a quick but nice weekend where I picked up about 5,000 lifetime qualifying miles for fee.