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Monday, April 23, 2012

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

Not Your Average Barnes & Nobels...
If you are visiting Buenos Aires for more than a few days, one of the mini-sites to see is El Ateneo Grand Splendid (Recoleta, Av Santa Fe 1860, cross-street Callao, 4811-6104).  It's in some of the tour books more specific to Buenos Aires you might find more information on this it, but it is a really neat little spot.  Not so little, actually.  El Ateneo Grand Splendid is the biggest book store in South America, that stocks books in many languages (even English!) and really, is a site to see in it's own right.  Built in 1919, this building was originally a movie theater that included a small recording studio in the back.  This studio boasts famous visitors such as Ignacio Corsini and Carlos Gardel (don't worry, I didn't know who they were until we moved here either - both best known for their tango singing).

It is unclear to me as to when it was converted into a book store, but it still has the full feeling of a "Majestic" style move theater, which is really what make it so cool.  Behind the red velvet curtain is a little cafe where you will find people sipping coffee, chatting quietly or just starting their recent purchase.  From a distance, the cafe gives the impression of being a pit orchestra, I had to actually get up close to see that it was a cafe.

My motivation for visiting El Ateneo after all this time living in the city is that I have heard they have a great area for kids on the lower level.  It's true, Ateneo Junior is a sectioned off part of the bookstore where kids can pull books off of the shelves and play without any issue from the staff.  The issue is that there are only two ways to access the downstairs area, and they are either an escalator or stairs, making my stroller dilemma quite complicated.  I was able to leave my stroller at the information booth - but it is dependent on your trust that the information booth guy is actually going to keep his eyes on your stroller, a risky venture to say the least.  We crossed our fingers and left the stroller to spend some time in the kiddo area.

I will admit, this is probably an activity better suited for the slightly older child.  Gretchen LOVED the fact that she could pull the books off of the shelves, just like at home, but wasn't so into actually looking at the books.  She spent most of the afternoon sitting among a pile of books, then getting up and creating a new pile somewhere else.  She was also intrigued by the shelf labeled "Please do not remove cellophane from the book sets", because there is nothing more fun to a one year old than removing cellophane from a book set or two.  Joking aside, I think she had a really run time, and we found a couple new books to add to our home library.  The staff is really nice, completely understanding, and helpful in engaging the kids with books.  What I had hoped for was a "reading corner" where little ones could sit on a bean bag chair and peruse through a book, but this wasn't that kind of book shop.  There are a few little table and chair combinations, and a large, carpeted, island-style bench that Gretchen liked to crawl around on, and we actually sat together and stumbled through a Spanish children's book together.  I will say, the books we purchased are as much for me and Jon as for her, because that is about where my reading level has reached in Spanish.  "En el Parque con Miguel" (one of our purchases) is a great vocabulary book for items that we use at the park every day - though I think it's meant for ages 1+, I'm not ashamed to say that I read it on my own.

As Gretchen grows, I see this as a kind of "treat" excursion where she can pick out a book or two for a rainy day.  As a tourist attraction, it is really worth a look-see, the multi-leveled building of books is unlike anything I've ever seen.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Palermo Rose Gardens: El Rosedal

There are a whole lotta parks in Buenos Aires, so it took me a while to find this "rose garden" park that everyone was talking about.  When I finally stumbled upon it, I felt like an idiot, because it has somewhere in the realm of a million roses (actually, more like 5,000, according to their website), thus justifying the name El Rosedal.

The Rosedal is actually a small part of the Parque Tres de Febrero, a park that sits between Libertador and Figuero Alcorta, starting at Sarmiento street.  Virtually every weekend, especially in the summer, there is a fun run, or a roller skating tournament, or a brake-dancing show, or some other event going on in the pedestrian street that covers the perimeter of the park.  This is one of the most lively parts of the city during weekend days, and it offers a fun day outside for families, or fantastic people-watching for the casual observer.  There are vendors located on the pedestrian street that rent bicycles and peddle carts, a paddle boat rental for the small lake and plenty of ducks and geese for the little ones to feed.  It is also a great place to bring your camera and get fantastic, colorful shots of the city.

I have gone to El Rosedal exactly 10 times.  I have entered the park exactly 5 times because the other 5 times it was closed.  Maybe it's just me, but the downside of this park is that it seems to be closed on the most awkward of occasions.  New Year's Day: closed.  All Mondays: closed.  Carnival: closed (apparently it is closed all holidays, I should have learned from my mistakes). And to top the cake, I have attempted to take my in-laws to visit this park at least 2 times, my mother-in-law being a huge fan of flowers, and they have yet to get inside the gates, it's always been closed.  So, be warned, check their website before visiting, because on even the most beautiful spring day.... the gates may be shut.

Jon and I have taken Gretchen to this park together 2 times, and in an extremely unfortunate turn of events, we both wore the exact same shirts on both visits.  Luckily, Gretchen changed considerably between the two visits, so you can easily tell the difference in the pictures.  In other news, we are looking forward to our next US trip so that we can buy some new clothes.
Daddy and Gretchen April, 2011
Daddy and Gretchen, April 2012
Mommy and Gretchen, April 2011

Mommy and Gretchen, April 2012
 For families that want to visit the roses, here is another tip.  The rose gardens are accessible from two different directions, one has a footbridge with 12 steps up and then 12 steps down, the other direction is a long sidewalk of these clay-rocks, both are pretty rough on a stroller.  Bring the jogging stroller on this outing, if you have one, and if not, consider a carrier for the little one.

Also, the clay stones leave clay dust on EVERYTHING.  It's impossible to resist this face that wants to play in the rocks, luckily, the dust washes out.

 One of my other visits to the Rose Gardens was with our friends the Wilsons, who visited us back in October 2010, when Gretchen was just a little bean in my belly.  We got some great pictures of the roses, and the adorable Wilson girls:
Emma and Roses
Rebecca amid a whole lot of roses
 There are nice fountains and lots of walking paths around the park as well, it really is a nice place to spend an afternoon.  The actual Rose Garden is pretty strict about not going on the grass, so if you pack a picnic, plan on eating it on the outskirts of the park.  Also, if you visit in summer, the lake is a big draw for mosquitos, so bring some spray.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter at the Alvear

We waited until the 11th hour to figure out our Easter plans this year, and it worked out pretty fantastically!  Our friends asked us to join their reservation for brunch at the Alvear Palace Hotel, and we happily accepted.

Beautiful chocolate egg centerpiece
I have been to the Alvear before for their famous high-tea but Jon had never been, and since it has been almost a year since we enjoyed the Four Seasons brunch spread, we were really excited to see how this one measured up.  To start with, we knew that it was going to be amazing, these upscale hotels really go out of their way to make things incredibly nice, and with the addition of the Easter holiday, they had lots of little extras that made it even more special.

The brunch itself is a flat cost meal that includes all you can eat food items (though it's much less cheesy than that phrase makes it seem) and beverages including wine and champagne.  It may include beer too, but I have never once seen a beer at the restaurant.  Reservations are mandatory, and ours was for the first time slot of the day, 12:30pm.

Now for the main event: The Food:

A cheese and meat display that makes any mouth water:

A seafood display of shrimp, oysters, clams, salmon and caviar - prepared in just about every way you could imagine:

There was an entire buffet dedicated to hot food as well, beef, quail, chicken, pasta, vegetables wrapped in phyllo dough, couscous, bean salad, I could go on and on.  This buffet was not nearly as photogenic due to the lids being on all of the serving dishes, so I omitted those pics.

 A sushi chef that takes requests, standing next to a crepe chef that also creates things made-to-order.  

The amazing topping assortment for your crepes/ice cream sundaes:

The completely separate room filled with incredible desserts.  Truffles, creme brûlée, baklava, fruit and chocolate fondue... not the way to start a diet... 

 And here is our beautifully set table with some good looking folks enjoying their meals.  There are a couple of chicos missing though....you may ask where our adorable daughter was through this feast....

 She was having the time of her life at their FREE (well, included in the cost of your meal) babysitting service!  I was so nervous about this, especially since Gretchen has been a little more mommy-attached as of late.  Little did I know she was going to RUN, not walk, to the room once she saw the incredible spread of toy stations that they had.  Not only that, there were no less than 6 employees there to watch the kids and I never saw more than 5 children in the room - including Gretchen and our friend's son Trey.  I came to check on her a few times and even when she saw me, she just kept on playing, not running to me while crying like I feared.  Here she is playing one-on-one with some sort of ball game and one of the sitters.

Near the end of our meal, we picked up the kiddos to join us at the table for the last little bit.  This is Trey, eating one of the decorative eggs on our table and realizing that inside the egg there is more candy!  I am not sure I have ever seen this much joy.
Stunned realization that there is candy inside the candy...
The happiest guy on Earth
 And here is our one family shot from the day with our dazed and exhausted baby girl.  

 Felices Pascuas everyone!  We hope you had a fun, and memorable Easter!
Gretchen, wearing one of my childhood dresses that my mom saved for me.
Isn't she super cute in yellow?!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Week as a Working Mom

I have the incredible fortune of being able to stay at home full-time with my daughter.  This fact has brought me unmeasurable joy and allowed me to be present for virtually every milestone in her life (most of which I then share on this blog...).  So, don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE staying home with Gretchen, but sometimes... it's nice to interact with the world of adults.

Most moms I know have a similar conundrum (maybe dads do too, but I've only really heard it from moms), I want to be there for my kids, but I really like working/my job/having a life outside of the home.  Then there's the other conundrum that if you choose to work, you are somehow shorting your children a parent, or if you stay home, your identity becomes "(Child's Name)'s Mom" and everything else you've ever known is gone.  Anyways, it's a real pickle.

This is why, when the most ridiculous series of events lead to me being offered a 5-day job in the city, I jumped at the chance.  Even though it involved working at a world congress of Anesthesiologists, a field that I know nothing about, with a group of people I had never met personally, performing a job that I was only semi-clear of the responsibilities - and not only that, I brought a friend!  I turns out that I'm not the only one curious about the life of a working mom, my friend Mary joined me to help with the congress.

So, here's the story: My mom, an avid Packer's fan (as in football, cheesehead, Lambeau Field.  Not as in boxing up your belongings for a move) went to the Packers/Vikings football game last year and met a "really nice" guy while tailgating before the game.  Chris, is the Director of Meetings & Exhibits for the American Society of Anesthesiologists and one of their upcoming exhibits was going to be in, you guessed it, Buenos Aires!  Not just in BsAs, but literally on my morning jogging route, it was super close to my house.  So, my mom took his card, asked me to call him and give restaurant recommendations and other general travel information that I give to people coming to Argentina.  A few months later we started emailing, and much to my surprise, Chris wanted to hire me and a friend for the week - "helping" with the congress.

Me and Mary working our mojo at our busy booth
So, we helped.  We setup the booth, got dressed up, and then spent the following week representing the American Society of Anesthesiologists - which in and of itself is a pretty straightforward job.  The complication came when we realized that this world congress was heavily attended by South American doctors that generally did not speak English - so we became, quite possibly, the most under-qualified and over-praised translators ever.  It was great!  The doctors attending the congress loved us because most of the companies/groups represented did not have Spanish-speakers at their booths, and Chris and his team loved us because to their non-Spanish-speaking selves, we were fluent!  Who would have ever thought the phrase "Si puedo escanear su papel, se mandamos mas informacion de nuestros proximos congresos" (If I can scan your badge, we will send you more information about our next meetings) would come in so handy?!?

Still working...though slightly less busy...
It was incredibly fun, we had a great time meeting new people, working on our Spanish, and generally interacting with the world outside of home.  It was challenging, interesting and completely different than my normal day-to-day.  The best part about it was the incredible amount of positive feedback we got from everyone around us, the doctors, the other exhibitors and the entire group to came to represent the ASA.

The worst part about it was being away from Gretchen - I know it sounds silly, but it was really difficult to be away for that many hours a day when I am used to spending my life in its entirety with her.  I really missed her!  I was sad to come home and only have an hour or so before she had to go to bed.  In this regard, I am glad that this job offer only lasted a few days.  I hope this doesn't come off as condescending, but I have a new appreciation for those that can balance working during the day, raising their children at night, keeping food in the house and still maintaining contact with their friends.  It is not an easy balance, and for those that do it, whether by necessity or by choice, know that I am impressed.

So, thank you to Chris and the group at ASA for the opportunity to work for a few days, thank you to Mary for joining me, thanks to Gretchen and Jon for being rockstars while I was gone, and thanks to my mom for being a social butterfly at a Packer's game.  It was fun, educational and a good reminder that I have skills that range outside of the home.