¡Feliz Navidad!

Old-fashioned Christmas by katiemetz, on Flickr

When you strip away the trappings of Christmas—the gifts, the decorations, and everything else that Hallmark and Martha Stewart promote to ensure a "perfect" holiday—you're left with one all-important element: family.

This Christmas I will cherish the time with my family and friends here in the U.S. even more since it's likely to be the last holiday I spend with them for a while. I wish I didn't have to choose between my American family and my Argentine one, but I found out long ago that there are plenty of tough choices to be made in life. Maybe some day I will sit at one table with all those people who are important to me—now that would be a special Christmas.

To all of my family and friends: no matter what corner of the world you call home, you are in my heart this holiday. I dedicate this Christmas song, Los reyes magos by Argentine composer Ariel Ramírez, to you all.

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Wind Farm Coming to Necochea

Going Green with Wind Turbines

Necochenses
are a bit sensitive about their beach town's reputation as a windy city, claiming that it's no windier than any other spot on Argentina's Atlantic coast. While Necochea's blustery reputation may still be up for debate between tourists and residents, the local government has decided it's time to tap into one of the area's most abundant resources - the wind - as a green method to generate electricity.

On December 5th, the mayor of Necochea, Dr. Daniel Molina, and the president of Sea Energy S.A. signed an agreement to construct a wind farm on a strip of land in Parque Miguel Lillo, about 1km (0.6 mi.) south of the fisherman's pier in Necochea. According to the company's president, the location in Necochea was selected as the project site for the quality of its winds as well as its proximity to a city center.

Sea Energy, headquartered in the city of La Plata, plans an investment of $3,500,000 for the installation of wind turbines some 40m (131 ft.) high. Work is slated to start at the beginning of January, and the first wind turbine should be in place by February. The wind farm is expected to generate 3 megawatts of power annually.

Sources: Municipalidad de Necochea and Voces de Necochea Read More......

Handmade Gifts from Argentina

If you've ever been to an artisan fair in Argentina, then it's no secret that the country has a multitude of talented craftspeople. A stroll through one of those fairs can yield some very interesting, one-of-a-kind treasures. There's a certain allure to shopping in your pjs though, so if you don't feel like leaving the comforts of home (or you don't happen to have a plane ticket to Argentina handy), surf on over to Etsy, "an online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade."

If you're looking for a unique, handcrafted gift for someone, you can meander through Etsy's Argentine offerings or read this entry on the site's blog for specific gift recommendations from an Argentine craftswoman. There's a wide array of crafts available ranging from jewelry to woolen goods to hand-printed cards.

The necklace shown above is made by sherry truitt studios, an artist based in New Jersey. She'll customize the map on the pendant to any location. I'm fairly sure she's not Argentine, but I thought that necklace was pretty cool and worth a mention anyway.

At any rate, enjoy the hunt and feel good about the fact that you're supporting talented artisans (whether in New Jersey or Argentina!).

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Estancia Los Dos Hermanos

During my recent trip to Argentina with my family, we spent the day at Estancia Los Dos Hermanos, a ranch about an hour outside of Buenos Aires in Zárate. When I was initially planning the trip, a day at an estancia seemed appealing since I know my father prefers the countryside to the big city; however, when I first told my dad and stepdad about the ranch, neither of them was terribly enthused. Though they weren't as excited about horseback riding as I'd hoped, I wasn't perturbed since the owner assured me that other activities were available. With plain old rest and relaxation near the top of the list of alternatives [plus a swimming pool and carriage rides], I knew I couldn't go wrong!

Shortly after we arrived at the estancia, we were offered a light snack and a drink before heading out to the horses. Matías, one of the guides, selected a mount for both Daniel and me. Instead of saddling up, Vince and my dad opted to ride in a carriage around the estancia with Alejandro, another guide. They even had an opportunity to take the reins and drive for a bit. For our morning jaunt, we stayed within the boundaries of the estancia while enjoying the fantastic weather, the beauty of the landscape and some interesting critters such as teros, lechuzas [burrowing owls], and a water buffalo.

At lunch we were plied with beer, red wine, empanadas and a very tasty asado that included three courses of meat—chorizo and costillas [short ribs], lomo [tenderloin] and bife de chorizo [strip steak]—with a simple green salad thrown in for good measure. The meal was topped off by a dessert of flan, which looked so good even I was tempted to sample a spoonful, despite my general aversion to eggs. We ate together outdoors with the other guests at the estancia and the guides, and the conversation was pleasant among the group comprised of Americans, a Canadian couple and a pair of newlyweds from Scotland.

We sat and talked for a few minutes after lunch while others played foosball or sapo, and then most of the group prepared for a second ride. Daniel and I headed out for another round of horseback riding while Dad and Vince stayed behind and relaxed in the hammocks and strolled around taking photos. This time the group ventured outside the boundaries of the estancia for a wonderful ride that lasted close to two hours. More advanced riders were given the freedom to gallop and separate a bit from the group while novices walked or trotted according to their comfort level. The galloping was exhilarating!

As the sun began to set, we returned a bit sore but with smiles all around. We were served buñuelos [a type of doughnut], juice, and coffee while signing the estancia's guestbook and playing with the exuberant pack of dogs. We bade farewell to our hosts after a thoroughly enjoyable day and headed back to the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires. If you're looking for a laidback experience that focuses on horseback riding and isn't overly touristy, then I highly recommend Estancia Los Dos Hermanos.

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Argentina, Here I Come!

The date practically leapt off the printed confirmation page that I clutched eagerly: Saturday, February 28, 2009. I felt a flood of excitement and a tinge of anxiety as the realization set in that in less than three months, I will be moving to Argentina. I know that the time will simultaneously drag on and pass by in a heartbeat. Let the new countdown commence!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I took advantage of a great fare through LAN thanks to this post on Argentina's Travel Guide.
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Tourist Information for Necochea, Argentina

English-language tourist information for Necochea, Argentina can be difficult to come by, even with the vast wealth of resources available on the Internet. Here is some information from Seashells and Sunflowers as well as other quality sources on the web to get you started.

Things to Do

» Exploring Necochea and Quequén: Get an overview of Necochea's tourist offerings. This article includes information about neighboring Quequén, too.

» The Beaches of Necochea and Quequén: Get the scoop on the area's best spots to enjoy the sun and surf!

» Taking in the Sights of Puerto Quequén: Find out about available recreational opportunities at Necochea and Quequén's port, including fishing and visiting the sea lion colony.

» Sightseeing Bus Tours in Necochea and Quequén: This tour is a great opportunity to see the cities' main tourist attractions, especially for those visiting without a car!

» Adventure and Extreme Sports in Necochea and Quequén: With access to the sea, a major river, an extensive pine forest, and undulating dunes, Necochea and Quequén offer tons of exciting activities for visitors with a taste for adventure.

» Natural Beauty at Paraje Las Cascadas: Relax, picnic, kayak or swim just outside of town along the Río Quequén.

Cultural Events

January
» Feria de las Colectividades: Celebrate the various immigrant groups that have helped shape Necochea, with ethnic foods, music, and folk dancing.

June
» Festividad de San Juan: Ring in the winter solstice with a good old-fashioned witch burning.

October
» Aniversario de Necochea: Enjoy the parade, food, music and festivities to mark the founding of Necochea.

Transportation

» Getting to Necochea by Bus, Plane or Car

Where to Eat

» Read Necochea restaurant reviews on Trip Advisor [all English-language reviews were written by me].

» Sabores de Necochea: Necochea restaurant guide [in Spanish]

Resources Around the Web
» Lonely Planet » Necochea
» TravelPod » Necochea
» ENTUR [Necochea Tourism Board] [in Spanish]
» Necochea Webcam
» Descubrí Quequén [in Spanish]
» Accuweather Forecast for Necochea
» Wind Guru - Necochea

[View Necochea, Argentina in a larger map]

[Information updated on October 8, 2012]

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Flights from Buenos Aires to Necochea?

Although there are extensive long-distance bus routes connecting points within the province of Buenos Aires, limited options exist for travelers wishing to reach destinations by air. According to an article [in Spanish] on Mensajeroweb, all of that may be about to change. The provincial government of Buenos Aires announced an initiative that makes subsidies available for new flights from the capital to locations around the province.

On November 17th, Sol Líneas Aéreas began operating flights from Aeroparque "Jorge Newbery" to Tandil. The airline also proposed additional routes to Necochea and Villa Gesell, subject to a government feasibility study.

A direct flight from Buenos Aires to Necochea would definitely appeal to my family members coming to visit from the States. Let's face it—after almost 11 hours on a plane, the prospect of a 5 1/2-hour car ride or up to eight hours on a bus just isn't that exciting.

[Update: Although Sol Líneas Aéreas did operate flights to Necochea for a brief period of time, service was suspended indefinitely in March 2009. Regional carrier LAER now offers flights between Buenos Aires and Necochea.]

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Thankful

"We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures." – Thornton Wilder

Bounty

Sometimes when life gets hard, it's easy to see past the blessings we have right under our noses. On this day of Thanksgiving, I feel immensely grateful for all that I have: good health, the roof over my head and the food on the table, the promise of a future in Argentina, and most of all – the love of my family and friends.

May the spirit of peace and gratitude fill your hearts on this Thanksgiving Day.

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Can You Do Better Than Cristina Kirchner?

This just in! You've been elected to the Argentine presidency - forget about Cristina! Here's a little tongue-in-cheek humor from my favorite satirical news website, The Onion.



Now start brushing up on that tango, will you?! Read More......

Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

First Snow by Cocoabiscuit on Flickr

Once I'm living in Necochea, I doubt I'll ever find myself pining for the stark and dreary winters of Philadelphia. I happily played the role of snowbird last year while I spent the entire northern hemisphere winter in Argentina. I rather enjoyed my endless summer, although admittedly I did miss one thing. Snow.

Tiny, white flakes are falling from the sky as I write this, blanketing the landscape and creating that special atmosphere that I hold so dear. There is nothing like peering through the window and watching the snowflakes swirl about.

Although it can be cold and rather blustery in Necochea during the winter, snowfall is an extremely rare occurrence for most cities in the province of Buenos Aires. In fact, snowfall in the capital last year made international headlines. Daniel has only seen snow a couple of times in his entire life, and with the reversal of seasons in the southern hemisphere, he doesn't equate icicles and the fluffy, white stuff with the holidays as I do.

Though it is very early in the season, I have already been treated to two instances of snow, and one well-respected meteorologist here in Philadelphia is predicting a cold and snowy winter for the region (25-35 inches of snow!). I guess Mother Nature wants to make sure my snow boots aren't relegated to the attic just yet.

Photo credit: Cocoabiscuit

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Hibernation

This afternoon as I pulled up in front of my dad's house, I saw a squirrel sitting on a tree branch with a large acorn clenched between his paws. He turned and eyed me up, and then he skittered down the tree trunk and into a burrow at the base of the tree. I imagined him in a few weeks, curled up tightly with his bushy little tail wrapped around him, sleeping away the cold, dreary winter without a care in the world.

Not a bad idea. Read More......

Letting Go

Let Go by deadmethods, originally on Flickr [Member no longer active]
"We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us." – Joseph Campbell

As I packed the last of my belongings into cardboard boxes this evening, my thoughts turned to the first day I walked through the barn-red front door of my 100-year-old home. Each footstep on the old, hardwood floors creaked and echoed through the empty house. As I climbed the stairs, I thought of all the hands that had run over the smooth wood of the banister. I surveyed my backyard through the large windows in my bedroom, marveling at the massive oak tree swaying ever so slightly in the wind. As I descended the staircase, my eyes fell upon boxes—identical to those I was now in the midst of filling—strewn about the living room, each laden with items awaiting their place in the new surroundings. I felt enormous pride that day; I had fulfilled a goal in the life I had planned for myself.

Now I stand in the threshold of a different doorway—a doorway that leads to a path that I had never imagined even in my wildest dreams. Tomorrow morning I will close the barn-red door one last time, and I will go to live in my father's home until it is time for me to move to Argentina. Tomorrow I take another step towards the life that awaits me.

P.S. A ladybug just landed on the floor next to me. She literally appeared out of nowhere! I'll take that as a good sign.

[Photo credit: deadmethods]

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Beachcombing for Sea Glass

Fragile hearts by Green Wellies on Flickr

A stroll along the beach is always a pleasant way to while away the time, but where do you cast your gaze as you wander along the water's edge? Toward the waves breaking along the shore? At a loved one by your side? Well, if you're a beachcomber hunting for sea glass, you're scanning the sand for a gleaming jewel among the pebbles, shells and seaweed washed ashore.

Sea glass, also known as beach glass or mermaids' tears, is man's trash turned to treasure by the action of the waves. The ocean transforms glass that was carelessly discarded into its waters many years ago into a thing of beauty. The sharp edges of the glass are worn smooth, and the shard often takes on a frosted and slightly pitted appearance. And for the record, that razor-sharp piece of glass from a busted bottle of Quilmes that washed up along the bank of the Río de la Plata does not qualify as beach glass.

As greater concern for the environment has curtailed practices such as off-shore dumping and fewer and fewer products are packaged in glass, the search for sea glass becomes all the more challenging. Smithsonian Magazine recently published an article discussing the increasing rarity of sea glass and the lengths that collectors and artisans will go to in order to find the most desirable pieces.

Some of the best places to find sea glass are beaches located near shipping lanes (sailors of yore weren't the most environmentally conscious lot), so it's no wonder that Daniel and I have had success along the beaches of Necochea. Daniel seems to have a particularly sharp eye, and he discovered several fragments of beach glass on our last visit to Punta Negra. Now that his great talent has been revealed, Daniel is under strict orders from my stepdad and grandmother to collect as much sea glass as possible. My grandmother has a fascination with sea glass, and she proudly displays her collection at the family's beach house in New Jersey.

Indeed, she is not alone – interest in collecting has risen and there is now a North American Sea Glass Association. While I enjoy scouring the beach for interesting shells, stones and sea glass, I don't think my interest even comes close to that of the participants in the "Shard of the Year" contest. If you're looking to round up an entry or two for next year's contest, here are some tips for finding sea glass.

[Photo credit: Green Wellies]

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Material Girl

"Love is a force more formidable than any other. It cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment, and offer you more joy than any material possession could." - Barbara De Angelis

When I made the decision to move to Argentina, I did so for the love of a man, not for the love of my shoe collection, my iPod or my library of books. As I prepare to leave for Necochea, I am slowly divesting myself of most of my belongings. I have sold virtually all of my furniture through craigslist, and last week I wheeled and dealed with buyers to sell a tableful of trinkets at a friend's garage sale.

I have gradually whittled away ten years of accumulated possessions to a few boxes' worth of items. In some ways it has been cathartic to rid myself of excess baggage, but despite that inner voice that says, "It's just stuff," at times it has been hard to part with my material possessions. Aside from the emotional attachment that some items hold, it has been a little difficult to separate myself from the notion that the amount of stuff we have is an indicator of our success in life and who we are. I suppose that feeling is natural though, considering the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses attitude and the messages of materialism that are pervasive in American society. Above all, getting rid of most of my possessions brings home the fact that I really am starting anew, and that fact is a little scary. But hey, who ever said self-reflection was easy?

My new home in Argentina might be a bit more spartan than I'm accustomed to, but my heart is fuller than it has been in a long time.

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The Morning After

In the days leading up to the presidential election, a few acquaintances had the nerve to ask me, "Are you going to vote? Why bother if you're moving to Argentina?"

I balked at the preposterous and rather offensive notion that I would stop caring about the direction and leadership of my country just because I'll live outside its borders. I also found it hard to believe that someone would think that policy decisions made in the U.S. would have no repercussions for me living abroad. No matter where life takes me, no matter where I rest my head at night, I'll always be American. I'll always have a stake in the fate of this country.

While on vacation in Argentina, I was floored by the number of Argentines who wanted to discuss the election and who I was voting for. In Argentina, voting is compulsory, and though not mandated by law here in the U.S., I felt obligated to make the effort to participate in a decision that has so much impact. If Argentines take that much interest in our election, shouldn't I, as an American?

And now here we are, the morning after. The votes have been tallied, and a winner has been proclaimed. Today is a proud day, a special day, because our country succeeded in doing something I wasn't sure we could do: we, as a people, elected a black man to lead us. Fellow blogger Jackson Bliss writes poignantly about this turning point in our nation's history. But beyond the issue of race, we voted for change, for a new direction for the United States. Only time will tell if President-Elect Obama is prepared to face the weighty challenges ahead. Without question, he is inheriting a broken country, and I pray that he has the leadership and know-how to fix it.

I'll be watching from afar, Mr. Obama, and I won't be the only one. The global community wants to believe in us again, as discussed in The New York Times article "The Promise - For Many Abroad, an Ideal Renewed." People across the globe are counting on you to restore honor, dignity and true diplomacy to the White House after your predecessor just about stomped those ideals into oblivion. Please don't let us down.

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Six Random Things About Yours Truly

Six Random Things About Me My new friend in the blogosphere over at Still Life in Buenos Aires authored a "Six Random Things About Me" post last week and issued an open invitation to interested readers. I have answered the call!

So, now I present to you six random things about yours truly:

  1. I played loosehead prop for the women's rugby club in college, and I even won the Most Improved Player award my first year on the team. Did I mention my best friend was the team's hooker? [Please read up on rugby positions if you think this is something dirty.]

  2. I detest eggs. I'm not allergic to them nor do I mind them when they are thoroughly disguised by other ingredients, say, in a cake; however, you will never catch me eating an omelette or, heaven forbid, a poached egg. My distaste for eggs runs so deep that at age 12 I made a bet with my dad about whether I'd eat eggs by the time I turned 30 (he was banking on the hope that my tastes would change over time). Needless to say, I easily collected my debt this past October 5th.

  3. I am a bit of a perfectionist. I've learned that this can be both a blessing and a curse in life.

  4. I have always enjoyed reading, but this seemingly safe and intellectual activity turned out to have serious consequences when I was a kid. One time at the age of seven, I mysteriously awoke with a black eye. My mom determined that I must have poked my eye on the corner of one of the 10 or so books I surrounded myself with in bed each night. A few years later, I accidentally set my tooth fairy pillow on fire after pressing my gooseneck lamp down into it to dim the light enough so that I could continue reading past my bedtime and avoid detection by my parents. Unfortunately the smell of burning cotton batting sort of clued them in.

  5. I go gaga over an Australian accent.

  6. My favorite Girl Scout Cookies are Samoas, with Peanut Butter Patties and Thin Mints a respectable second and third. Plus, I used to be one of those cute little Girl Scouts, and I still have the vest and badges to prove it.

So, now it's my turn to tag others; however, I’m going to be a copycat and follow Still Life's example. Those of you who read this post and find the idea interesting are welcome to participate. Give us all some insight into the collection of facts, interests and experiences that makes you, you! Here are the rules:

  • Link to the person who tagged you.
  • Post the rules on the blog.
  • Write six random things about yourself.
  • Tag six people at the end of your post.
  • Let each person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when your entry is up.
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Walking Tour of Buenos Aires

Sometimes it takes a special person to point out the charms of a city and make its history come alive so it doesn't just seem like a pile of concrete and bricks with a few trees thrown in for good measure. I can say without hesitation that Alan Patrick of Buenos Tours is one such individual.

During the initial planning of my most recent trip to Argentina, I decided that an English-speaking guide for Buenos Aires would be essential to not only my parents' enjoyment of the tour but my own. While vacationing in Bariloche earlier this year with Daniel, I served as an impromptu interpreter for a pair of English-speaking travelers on a Spanish-language tour of Isla Victoria. Though happy to be of service to them, I found my own enjoyment of the tour was diminished to a certain extent because, well, I was working (and for free, no less)! I vowed not to repeat that mistake, and I began my search for a guide in earnest.

I discovered Buenos Tours through Alan's excellent website. Alan is an English expat who has called Buenos Aires home for about three years, and apart from an obvious love of the city, this man has done his homework. I booked a private, full-day walking tour with him, and Alan absolutely delivered! He engaged all of us with a highly informative and well-planned tour. Alan's pleasant, easy-going style mixed with a touch of classic British wit resulted in an outing that was truly memorable. My parents raved about the tour and are already planning to use Alan's services on future trips to Buenos Aires.

Alright, so where exactly did our intrepid guide lead us? We started off in the barrio of San Telmo, one of Buenos Aires' most celebrated neighborhoods. We slipped inside the lovely courtyards of outwardly unassuming conventillos, stood in the center of the famed Plaza Dorrego, and surveyed with curiosity the endless stream of antiques that we encountered at practically every turn, all while Alan wove a tale about the down-and-dirty beginnings of Argentina's beloved tango right there in the heart of San Telmo.

Conventillo, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Next, we made our way over to the barrio of Monserrat where we took a quick café break at the historic La Puerto Rico. We then continued exploring some hidden gems such as Farmacia de la Estrella, an old-time pharmacy featuring a fantastic painted ceiling and intricate woodwork, as well as a couple of beautiful yet crumbling churches before heading over to the Plaza de Mayo, home to some of Buenos Aires' most important landmarks.

European Flavor by katiemetz, on Flickr

Afterwards we zipped along on Línea A of the subte with its original wooden cars before transferring to one of the more modern subway lines, and we picked up the tour at Plaza San Martín in the barrio of Retiro. As we wandered through Barrio Norte, we passed by some of the most posh areas of the city, filled with grand monuments and works of sheer architectural genius. We broke for lunch at a small neighborhood restaurant, Rodi Bar, which served up a tasty meal at reasonable prices.

Iglesia de San Ignacio - Manzana de las Luces by katiemetz, on Flickr Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores | Ministry of Foreign Affairs by katiemetz, on Flickr

The very last stop on the tour was Cementerio de la Recoleta [Recoleta Cemetery] where Alan recounted the tales of some of the cemetery's most famous residents. Many groups rush in merely to visit Evita's grave, bypassing so many other worthwhile spots, but Alan's approach differed considerably.

Querubín | Cherub by katiemetz, on Flickr

In my opinion, the cemetery is not to be missed, and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about the culture and history of Argentina through the figures buried there. At ten minutes to 6 the bell at the entrance gate rang out in a series of near-deafening peals, announcing that it was time for the living to depart the city of the dead.

After exiting the cemetery we bade a fond farewell to Alan, our feet a bit sore but our minds chock-full of fascinating information to mull over and submit to further exploration.

Check out additional photos in my Buenos Aires set on Flickr.

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Argentina's Passion for Fútbol

The Argentines are a passionate people, and their devotion to fútbol or soccer is legendary. Their fanaticism for the game andSoccer Ball by jbelluch on Flickr its heroes reaches a level virtually unrivaled among American sports fans. Argentina's golden boy, Diego Maradona, is unfailingly worshipped by Argentine soccer fans in spite of numerous scandals over the years. In fact, he was just selected as the coach of the Argentine national soccer team. Read about it here.

While there are many aspects of Argentine culture which I readily accept, the great passion for soccer does not count among them. I just don't feel that jolt of excitement when watching a soccer game; frankly, fútbol just leaves me feeling bored and indifferent. Apparently I am not alone in that mindset, as soccer is one of the least popular spectator sports in the United States. Soccer is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a sport, and I suppose it just doesn't translate well. This article explores various theories as to why soccer fails to draw admiration from American fans.

Pat Burrell on Deck by Scott Ableman on Flickr

While I find it difficult to get behind soccer, I joyfully celebrated a tremendous victory last night in the quintessential American sport: baseball. My hometown team – the Philadelphia Phillies – garnered the team's first World Series title since 1980 and the city's first professional sports championship since 1983. Click here to watch the strikeout that ended it all and clinched the 2008 World Series for the Phils! The curse has been lifted.

Argentine soccer fans continue to endure a similar title drought, with their last World Cup win coming in 1986 from a team led by none other than Maradona. I guess we HAD something in common after all. ;)

I'll wrap up this post with a parting confession. There is one thing I love about soccer: I can't help but break into a grin when the announcers scream "¡Gooooooooool!" Have a look at Maradona's "Goal of the Century" from the 1986 World Cup:

[Photo credits: jbelluch & Scott Ableman]

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Exploring Necochea & Quequén

Playa de los Patos, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Each summer, Necochea and Quequén's miles of coastline beckon to vacationing Argentines in search of a bit of surf and sand. The area's ample beaches are its main attraction, making Necochea hard to beat if your primary objective is to spend a few days of rest and relaxation under the sun.

Sea Lion Colony | Lobería, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on FlickrAlthough it wasn't exactly beach weather, there was still plenty to keep my parents occupied during our stay in Necochea. If you take joy in the simple pleasures of nature, you will find plenty of interest in this corner of the province of Buenos Aires. We began our visit at the port, and we were entertained for quite some time by the antics of the sea lion colony that makes its home next to the jetty.

We then descended to the adjacent beach known as Playa de los Patos to take in a bit of sunshine and views of Necochea's high-rise buildings in the distance [see first photo]. After examining, with childlike wonder, the barnacles attached to massive boulders at the base of the jetty and breathing in a bit of salt air, we hopped in the car and made our way north along the dusty, unpaved road that leads to Costa Bonita. Mediterranean-style homes with uninterrupted views of the ocean accompanied us along the coast to Bahía de los Vientos, site of the barco encallado.

El Barco Encallado | Ship Run Aground, Bahía de los Vientos, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

The hulking, rusty wreckage of the Pesuarsa II came to rest in the waters of Bahía de los Vientos after it broke free from its moorings in the port during a tremendous flood in 1980. Encircled by an almost continuous cloud of seagulls and appreciated by both tourists and locals alike, the mysterious-looking ship lies stranded on the coast as the saltwater slowly eats away at its hull.

El Faro Quequén | The Quequén Lighthouse, Quequén, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

The rest of the day was consumed by our visit with Daniel's family, but we awoke the following morning, fresh and ready to tackle the spiral staircase of the Faro Quequén. This lighthouse clad in black and white stands tall in Quequén, sister city to Necochea, and still serves as an active aid to navigation.

The climb to the top cost us nothing more than 163 footsteps, as we were not charged an entrance fee by the guard. We were rewarded with far-reaching views of the sea, the port, the city of Necochea and the surrounding countryside. A pair of binoculars comes in handy to gain a more detailed view of visible landmarks like the barco encallado (just don't leave them in the trunk like we did!). Unfortunately, we chose a very windy day for our visit, and we were almost carried away by the gusts of wind at the top of the lighthouse!

Caracol II [Faro Quequén, Quequén, Argentina] by katiemetz, on Flickr

Interspersed between hours of talking and relaxing with Daniel's family and consuming mass quantities of food and beverage (this is not a complaint), we managed to take in a few other sights while visiting Necochea and Quequén.

Falkland Islands War Memorial | Monumento a la Gesta de Malvinas, Quequén, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr Monumento a la Gesta de Malvinas: Erected as a tribute to the soldiers that perished in the conflict with Great Britain over the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) in 1982, this concrete monument stands over 111.5 ft. (34 m) tall in the city of Quequén. Backed by a gracefully-draped Argentine flag, the monument is oriented in the direction of the Falkland Islands. While my parents snapped photos of the memorial, I marveled at the spooky, abandoned hotel across the way and dreamed of how it must have looked in its heyday.

Parque Miguel Lillo and Lago de los Cisnes: A lovely retreat situated directly on the coast, Parque Miguel Lillo (Miguel Lillo Park) contains an extensive pine forest that offers a number of recreational opportunities. Outside of the tourist season things are a bit quiet, but hordes of visitors Lago de los Cisnes, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickrwill invade the park come summertime, plunking down their lawn chairs under every available patch of shade and drinking mate to their heart's content. Lago de los Cisnes (Swan Lake) is a small, man-made lake located within the park. Ideal for picnics, paddleboat rides or a brief stroll, visitors can take a gander at the numerous ducks, geese and other animals that call the lake home.

Las Grutas and Punta Negra: Exploration of the coastal road Avenida 2 a few miles to the south of Necochea will yield both Las Grutas and Punta Negra. Visitors will find this portion of the beach quite rocky with many small caves along the shoreline, hence the name Las Grutas (The Grottoes). Punta Negra, meaning "Black Point," derives its moniker from the iron-rich sand peppered with black speckles. We whiled away the time searching for sea glass, shells and pebbles and snapping photos along this vast stretch of beach. It must have been our lucky day because Daniel happened upon a smooth shard of kelly green sea glass with a four-leaf clover emblazoned upon it.

Las Grutas | The Grottoes, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on Flickr

Due to time constraints, we didn't have an opportunity to show my family all of the wonderful natural areas in the vicinity of Necochea such as the Río Quequén and Playa Verde; however, as my stepdad is fond of saying, there's always next time.


Please visit my Necochea & Quequén set on Flickr for more images. Read More......

Don't Leave Fido or Fluffy at Home: Traveling with Pets to Argentina

Cocoa by katiealley on Flickr

Moving to Argentina does not mean that you have to leave behind your pets! Fortunately, traveling with pets to Argentina isn't as difficult as you might imagine. Of course, there are some hoops to jump through.

First, you must make arrangements for your pet to accompany you onboard the aircraft. Some airlines will allow you to travel with your pet in the cabin but others do not, e.g. American Airlines. My two cats rode in steerage with the luggage, and they made it just fine. American Airlines charges a fee of $150 per animal [one way] – check with your particular carrier for rules and fees. Click here for a partial list of carriers and links to their policies about shipping pets (scroll to the bottom of the page).

Be advised that the airlines do not allow pets to travel in the belly of the plane if the temperature is forecast to exceed 85ºF at any point on the itinerary; if so, the animals will be denied boarding. Even traveling in October as I did, temperatures topping out at 85º+ F were a concern in Houston, Atlanta and Miami (layover options when leaving from Philadelphia), so I decided the best option to ensure that my furry friends would be accompanying me was to book a non-stop flight from New York City to Buenos Aires. I couldn't chance it that the cats would be denied boarding since the cost to send them as "cargo" on a separate flight would have been about $675 for the two of them (gulp!).

Next, let's take a look at the requirements and paperwork necessary to bring your pet along for the ride. The complete, official pet admission guidelines for Argentina can be found here at the SENASA website; the following is a summary of the requirements.

Fortunately, there is no quarantine for cats and dogs entering Argentina (under normal circumstances – in other words – for animals in good health and with proper documentation). Documentation about the health of your pet is provided by means of the International Health Certificate. This document should be obtained from your veterinarian (check with your vet to make sure that he/she is certified by the USDA - APHIS [United States Department of Agriculture - Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] to issue this certificate).

In addition to the International Health Certificate, you must provide evidence that your pet has been vaccinated against rabies. If your pet is over 90 days old, he/she must have had the rabies vaccine less than one year prior to the date of entry in Argentina but no less than 30 days before the date of entry into Argentina.

Once your veterinarian has completed the International Health Certificate, the form must be sent along with the rabies vaccination record to the USDA - APHIS office in your state capital for endorsement. The catch is that the vet exam/issuance of the International Health Certificate and USDA endorsement must all be completed no more than 10 days prior to entry into Argentina, so careful planning is required to ensure that all documentation is finalized before your departure. Most likely you will have to express mail the documents or personally present them in the USDA - APHIS office in order to complete all of the documentation in a timely manner; time is of the essence!

In addition, it is recommended that the documents be apostilled and translated into Spanish. In my personal experience, I found that the apostille alone was sufficient. I obtained the apostille from the Department of State office in my state capital. Once you have cut through all of this bureaucratic red tape, you are ready to travel with your pet!

Upon arrival at the airport in Buenos Aires, you will pick up your pets in the baggage area if they didn't travel in the cabin, and you will be directed to meet with a SENASA (the Argentine version of the USDA) official who will review your documentation. After paying a small fee, you're free to begin your adventure in Argentina with your pets!

If all of this just sounds too complicated, there is the alternative proposed by the satirical news source The Onion: "Before leaving home, take your pets to local humane society and have them put to sleep; get new pets when you come back." :p

Additional helpful links about travel with pets:
Argentina.gov website - Admission of Pets into Argentina
IATA (International Air Transport Association) - Recommendations for shipping a cat or dog

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Back to the States (and Reality!)

After a whirlwind couple of weeks in Argentina with its green pastures, mild temperatures, and flowering plants all announcing that springtime has arrived, I am back in Philadelphia to await the cold, bleak winter that is just around the corner.

I am happy to report that the visit was an unqualified success! My dad and stepdad greatly enjoyed the hospitality shown to them by Daniel and his family, and I would venture to say that meeting my Argentine family was the highlight of the trip for them. We mostly confined our adventures to the province of Buenos Aires, but we did get a bonus stamp in our passports when we crossed over the Río de la Plata to Uruguay for the day. The dads are already planning future trips to more far-flung locales such as Bariloche!

I am also pleased to write that my two cats, Cocoa and Ziggy, braved the journey unbelievably well, and they have settled into their new home and routine nicely. Daniel and his family just love the cats - they are being treated like celebrities there! They will await my return to Argentina some time in the next year, but somehow I think I will miss them more than they will miss me!

There is so much to write about with regards to my trip - stay tuned for separate blog entries detailing the highlights!

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My Bags Are Packed

Finally the long-awaited day has arrived! In about six hours, I will be heading to New York's JFK Airport with my stepdad and two cats in tow to begin my latest adventure. My dad is flying Philly to Houston to Buenos Aires, so we'll meet him and Daniel, my boyfriend, at Ezeiza. My suitcases are packed, the cats have all of their documentation, and I am filled to the brim with excitement and just a tinge of anxiety. So, I bid you all a fond farewell (for now, at least!). Read More......

Less Than a Week

With less than a week to go before I leave for Argentina with my entourage of two cats and two dads, it is very important to establish an itinerary so that everyone knows what in the world is going on! At this point I'd say it's 95% complete – I'm just waiting on confirmation of a few minor details. I thought I'd mention the highlights here. When I get back from the trip, I'll blog about some of the activities and places in more detail.

Friday, October 3rd – Arrive in Buenos Aires, drive to Necochea; relax, get settled

Saturday, October 4th – tour of Necochea including the Quequén Lighthouse, sunken ship, port (maybe even see some sea lions!)

Sunday, October 5th – My birthday! Visit Parque Miguel Lillo; drive along beach or in countryside

Monday, October 6th – Day trip to Mar del Plata – Visit Plaza San Martín, sea lion statues, Torreón del Monje

Tuesday, October 7th – Leave Necochea for Buenos Aires; dinner in Buenos Aires and tango show at Café Tortoni

Wednesday, October 8th – Walking tour of Buenos Aires with Alan of BuenosTours

Thursday, October 9th – Take ferry to Colonia, Uruguay for the day

Friday, October 10th – A day of horseback riding and good food at Estancia Los Dos Hermanos

Saturday, October 11th – Visit the Jardín Japonés, have lunch, leave Buenos Aires (dads)

Sunday, October 12th - Friday, October 17th  Spend time in Necochea and take some day trips (e.g. Claromecó)

Friday, October 17th – Leave Buenos Aires (Katie)

I'm so excited! :)

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Annoyed!

With my trip to Argentina just over a week away, the last thing I need is additional annoyances to crop up on me. Aside from the fact that the potential sale on my house fell through (which I dare say is far more than annoying), I was completely aggravated when I called the veterinarian's office to schedule the cats' appointment for their International Health Certificates, and I found out that the only vet at the practice who can do the exams will be on vacation.

Now, I don't expect people to arrange their vacations around my needs, but a phone call to let me know she would be away would have been nice. I'd been in contact with this same vet for about two months regarding the cats' travel exam, and I really think she dropped the ball on this and showed a lack of professionalism.

Cocoa and Ziggy are now scheduled to meet with a vet at a practice I'm not familiar with. I'm crossing my fingers that everything goes smoothly and the paperwork is completed accurately and on time!

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Waiting

The Coin of Your Life by katiealley on Flickr

When I was a kid my grandmother used to say to me, "Don't wish your life away." At times that was difficult advice to heed, especially when I was filled with excitement for a field trip, the holidays, or some other special occasion, and all I hoped for was the speedy passage of time. As an adult, I've learned to be a bit more patient, but this wait has been particularly difficult.

I'm excited and anxious about so many aspects of this trip: I can't wait to see Daniel again (it's been five months!); I'm looking forward to my parents meeting Daniel and his family; I'm excited about all of the fun activities we will do together; I'm looking forward to my birthday; and I'm a little worried about my cats and how they will fare during the long journey.

There are still preparations left to be done, but the aggravating part is that most have to be done in the last week or so (e.g., taking the cats to the vet [again], packing my bags). So I guess for now I'm resigned to waiting - and I'll try to mind grandmom's advice.

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Taken for Granted

Circumstances being as they are, I decided it would be prudent to choose more economical entertainment options these days (trip to Argentina aside, of course!). So rather than dine out or go to the movies, I've been spending more time just relaxing with friends and family and engaging in the art of conversation. Talk is cheap, right? ;)

In addition to enjoying the company of my loved ones, I've been packing up my camera and venturing out on photo safaris around Philadelphia and its suburbs. I've always had an interest in photography, but I recently decided to make a more concerted effort to get out there and really practice and improve my skills. While doing so, I am taking advantage of the countless, beautiful natural and historic treasures that sit practically in my backyard.

Before I made the decision to move to Argentina, I put off visiting some of these places - there was always a tomorrow. As a lifelong resident of the Philadelphia area, if I didn't get to Tyler Arboretum or the Keith House this year, it wasn't a big deal because I thought I'd always have the opportunity to go at another time. With a finite number of days left for me in this corner of the world, I feel a slight pang of guilt that, at times, I have taken my hometown for granted. But I promise you all one thing: I'm turning over a new leaf.

Visit my Flickr photostream for my latest (and greatest, I hope!) photos. Read More......

The Argentine Recipe File

Find your favorite Argentine recipes here in list format! Do you prefer to taste first with your eyes? If so, check out the visual recipe index.
The Seashells and Sunflowers Recipe File
» Chipá [cheese rolls]
» Dulce de Leche [caramel spread]
» Empanadas de Humita [creamy corn empanadas]
» Argentine Locro [hearty meat and vegetable stew]
» Pionono or Arrollado Primavera [sponge cake filled with ham, cheese and vegetables and rolled up jelly roll-style]
» Clericot [white sangria]
» Vitel Toné [cold veal with tuna sauce]
» Panettone | Pan Dulce
» Three Kings' Cake | Rosca de Reyes
» Ricotta Pie | Torta de Ricota
» Torre de Panqueques [layers of ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwiched between crepes]
» Creamy Stewed Corn | Humita en Olla
» Tortas Fritas [fried dough]
» Swiss Chard Fritters | Buñuelos de Acelga
» Pollo al Disco de Arado [chicken and vegetables cooked in a large iron disc over a wood fire]
» Savory Easter Pie | Tarta Pascualina
» Roquefort Cheese, Celery and Walnut Empanadas | Empanadas de Roquefort, Apio y Nuez [Empanadas de Vigilia]
» Easter Bread Ring | Rosca de Pascua
» Stuffed Provolone | Provoleta Rellena
» Homemade Gancia | Gancia Casero [liquor]
» Argentine Croissants | Medialunas de Manteca
» Blackberry Empanadas | Empanadas de Zarzamora
» Roasted Butternut Squash Tart | Tarta de Zapallo
» Pickled Eggplant | Berenjenas en Escabeche
» Stuffed Round Zucchini | Zapallitos Rellenos
» Deep-fried Silversides | Cornalitos Fritos [fish]
» Pancetta and Plum Empanadas | Empanadas de Panceta y Ciruela
» Chocolate-covered Sandwich Cookies with Dulce de Leche | Alfajores Marplatenses [like those from Havanna]
» Coconut and Dulce de Leche Tart | Tarta de Coco y Dulce de Leche
» Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi, Two Ways | Ñoquis de Zapallo y Ricota, Servido de Dos Maneras
» Crepes with Dulce de Leche | Panqueques de Dulce de Leche
» Chicken Salad Roll with Hearts of Palm | Pionono de Pollo y Palmitos

My Argentine Recipes Featured Around the Web
» Torta de Ochenta Golpes [sweet yeast dough with raisins and nuts]
» Stuffed Beef Rolls | Niños Envueltos
» Quince Paste | Dulce de Membrillo
» Coconut Macaroons | Coquitos
» Quince Jam Thumbprint Cookies | Pepitas
» Chicken and Corn Pie | Tarta de Pollo y Choclo
» Pastelitos de Dulce de Membrillo [fried pastries filled with quince paste]
» Peaches and Cream Cake with Dulce de Leche | Torta de Durazno y Crema con Dulce de Leche
» Empanadas Árabes or Fatay [Middle Eastern-style beef empanadas]
» Quince Tart | Pasta Frola
» Chicken in a Scallion Cream Sauce | Pollo al Verdeo
» Bifes a la Criolla [thinly-sliced steaks stewed with onions, peppers, and potatoes]
» Matambre a la Pizza [flank steak "pizza"]
» Lomito Completo [Argentine steak sandwich]
» Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni | Canelones de Espinaca y Ricota
» Chickpea Flatbread | Fainá
» Round Ravioli Stuffed with Ham and Cheese | Sorrentinos de Jamón y Queso
» Open-faced Empanadas with Tomato, Basil and Mozzarella | Canastitas Caprese
» Orange and Red Onion Salad | Ensalada de Naranja y Cebolla
» Quinoa and Goat Cheese Empanadas | Empanadas de Quinoa y Queso de Cabra
» Leek Tart | Tarta de Puerros

Guest Recipes for Seashells and Sunflowers
» Grandma Elsa's Lentil Stew | Guiso de Lentejas de la Abuela Elsa
» Onion and Cheese Quickbread | Tarta de Cebolla y Queso
» Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce | Budín de Pan al Caramelo
» Argentine Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak | Matambre Arrollado
» Beef Ragu | Estofado de Carne
» Quince Paste and Mascarpone Tart | Tarta de Dulce de Membrillo con Mascarpone
» Inés' Stuffed Chicken Roll | Pollo Relleno de Inés
» Marta's Famous Spinach Pie | La Famosa Tarta Pascualina de Mi Amiga Marta Read More......

The Damage is Done

Day is Done by katiealley on Flickr

A stunning vote in the Argentine Congress on Friday led to the president's withdrawal of a highly controversial agricultural tax put into place earlier this year. For those of you who haven't been following the situation, the recently-elected president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, handed down a decision in March to increase overnight the tax on agricultural exports from 35 to 44 percent. This move came without congressional approval and set off a firestorm of controversy and protests throughout the country, bringing about food shortages, price increases and a deep lack of faith in the new government.

The tie-breaking vote against the tax, cast by none other than the vice president, has shown that apparently the government does listen to the will of the people on occasion. Unfortunately, the farm conflict tarnished Argentina's image as a reliable agricultural exporter, and several countries began looking elsewhere when exports came to a standstill. Argentina is missing out just as the worldwide demand for wheat, soybeans and other crops is greater than ever.

Although the agricultural producers can breathe a sigh of relief for the time being, many are wondering what la presidenta has in store for the future while lamenting the losses they incurred as a result of the conflict. For example, Daniel's family, landowners in the province of Buenos Aires, made the decision at the start of winter to leave the fields fallow this growing season. Daniel explained that operating under the tax increase, the chance for profitability was extremely low. Any unexpected circumstance, such as the breakdown of a piece of farm machinery requiring an expensive repair or replacement, would cause profits to evaporate. His family decided to wait and see how the conflict would be resolved, and they are pleased with the outcome, but regrettably they have lost the opportunity for a harvest, as it is too late to sow crops for the coming season.

Here's hoping that Cristina doesn't have another trick up her sleeve because the country has got a lot of catching up to do.

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The Butterfly Jar

Lori releasing "Troyella" by Chuckumentary on Flickr [Creative Commons]

I dedicate this poem to Daniel on the occasion of his 35th birthday.

The Butterfly Jar
by Jeffrey Moss

We had a jar with a butterfly.
We opened the lid and it flew to the sky.
And there are things inside my head
Waiting to be thought or said;
Dreams and jokes and wonderings are
Locked inside, like a butterfly jar.
But then, when you are here with me,
I can open the lid and set them free.

The world can be a lonely place sometimes, especially if you find yourself a stranger in a strange land. May you all be blessed with the good fortune of having someone in your life with whom you can open the butterfly jar.

[Photo credit: Chuckumentary]

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Friends & Strangers

"Strangers are just friends waiting to happen." – Rod McKuen, Looking for a Friend

When it comes to friendships, I've always been a big believer in quality over quantity. I've known my best friend, Jen, since the 8th grade (although it wasn't until 9th grade that I decided I liked her!). Over the years there have been ups and downs, as with most friendships, but I would venture to say that we are closer than ever at this point in our lives.

When I first broke the news to Jen that I would be moving to Argentina, she seemed a bit incredulous. She looked at me dejectedly and asked, "But you'll be coming back, right?" I'd recently returned from a four-month stay in Argentina, and we both missed spending time with each other face-to-face. Although neither of us acknowledged it aloud, we both knew that our friendship would be challenged by the 5,500 miles that would some day separate us.

As an expat, I know that in reality the challenge will be two-fold: maintaining my relationships with family and friends back in the U.S. while forging new relationships in Argentina. I have always been an outgoing and sociable person, but building a a new circle of friends in a foreign country will definitely test my mettle. I am extremely fortunate to have the love and support of my boyfriend, Daniel, and his family in Argentina, but those relationships don't replace the need and desire for friendships with other women my age.

Perhaps I am worrying prematurely since I won't be moving abroad for at least a year, yet as time passes and I inch towards making the great leap, these sorts of fears are unavoidable (and normal I suppose). Once in Argentina, I'll just have to focus on turning strangers into friends while ensuring that I don't become a stranger to the friends I already have.

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When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Travel Agent

Buenos Aires from the Natural Reserve by lrargerich on Flickr

Well, not really (no offense to the lovely folks in the travel industry), but I do feel like one at the moment. I've been busy coordinating all of the details for my next trip to Argentina including flight schedules for the two dads, hotel and apartment options, as well as trying to plan just the right itinerary to entertain two men who have fairly different ideas of what makes for an enjoyable trip. This is no small undertaking, I assure you!

The first few days will be spent in Necochea with Daniel's family. This portion of the trip will be relatively low key (apart from the insane, all-out party that promises to be my 30th birthday – please note sarcasm). I'd like to pop over to Mar del Plata for the day so the dads can get a taste of the city during the off-season, and then it's on to Buenos Aires for about four days.

Here is where things get interesting. My dad is really not a big city guy (this is the man that visited me two times in three years when I lived in Philadelphia – did I mention he lived 50 minutes away?), preferring the beauty and quietude of nature, while my step-dad enjoys a bit of hustle and bustle and the cultural offerings that a more cosmopolitan location can provide (read: "The campo is pretty but where can I get a Starbucks?"). How to strike a balance?

So far, I have decided to take the dads on a classic tour of Buenos Aires which will include sites such as the Plaza de Mayo, the iconic Obelisk and the neighborhood of San Telmo. I'm considering booking a personalized walking tour with an English-speaking guide since the dads don't speak Spanish (this would give me a break from interpreting for a few hours). Does anyone have any personal recommendations?

I figure that two days of tooling around Buenos Aires will pretty much wear my dad out, so I have investigated two activities for the remaining time that I think will appeal to both dads and get them out of the city for a bit. I found out about the family-run Estancia Los Dos Hermanos that doesn't sound uber-touristy and will allow the dads to sample some gaucho flavor. I also read about the small town of Tigre only 45 minutes outside of the city where we can relax, take a boat ride and shop at the outdoor market.

With three months to go, there's still plenty of time to mull over the options. If you have a suggestion you'd like to share, I'm all ears. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to wear my travel agent hat a bit longer.

[Photo credit: lrargerich]

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The Countdown

Today the countdown on my iGoogle home page dutifully reminded me that in 90 days I will be returning to Argentina for my next adventure. I am very excited about this upcoming trip because this time I will not be traveling alone! I will be accompanied by a rather motley crew: my father, my step-father and my two cats! I will also have the good fortune of celebrating my 30th birthday while I am there, and what better way to do it than with an asado!?

I was pleased yet surprised when my step-dad first mentioned to me that he would like to travel to Argentina. Then, I was even more surprised when my dad said he wanted to go too! I'm ecstatic that they will be traveling with me, but let's face it: this is the fatherly inspection tour. They are going to to turn a critical eye on my boyfriend, his family and his home, and frankly, it does make me a little nervous! I'm sure all will pass with flying colors, and we will do our best to ensure that the 'rents enjoy their stay and leave with a positive impression.

As far as the cats, they are the first to make the move across the equator to their new South American home. Daniel will keep watch over them until I can move too, as my present living situation no longer accommodates my four-legged companions. I will provide more detailed information about the steps involved in taking pets to Argentina in a future post.

The plane tickets have been bought and the planning is underway, but for now, I'm resigned to wait out the countdown. Read More......

Seashells and Sunflowers

Las Grutas, Necochea, Argentina by katiemetz, on FlickrNecochea, Argentina. The mere mention of this place usually produces a glazed-over expression, as the mind frantically searches through the vestiges of seventh grade geography that remain. "Where's that? Never heard of it," comes the inevitable response, nearly always uttered in a slightly disparaging tone. I understand the reaction because it matches almost exactly the one I had when I first met Daniel, my Argentine boyfriend.

Previously, in keeping with most of my fellow Americans, my sum total knowledge of Argentina consisted of buzzwords such as tango, gauchos and grass-fed beef. Yet, in spite of preconceived notions of what I would (or wouldn't) find in South America, after a few trips to Argentina—one of which included a four-month stay—I fell in love with both Daniel and his far-off country.

In comparison with the cosmopolitan air of Buenos Aires, Necochea is a rather humble little city. It sits unassumingly on the Atlantic coast, five hours due south of the Argentine capital in the province of Buenos Aires. During the late spring and summer months, Necochea draws thousands of Argentine families anxious to enjoy the area's expansive beaches, pine forest and low-key atmosphere, but when the visitors head home, the city returns to what can best be described as a state of suspended animation until the following tourist season. Nonetheless, the off-season holds its own particular charm. A quiet walk along the sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy beach yields inviting views of the water and the coastline, dotted with a lighthouse and a rusty, old shipwreck; sometimes I even come across a seashell or two worth pocketing.

The beaches of Necochea certainly attract their fair share of tourists, but the real bread and butter of this region is agriculture. Once outside the city, the landscape transforms into miles and miles of land preserved for cattle ranching and farming. The oceans of wheat, corn, soybeans and sunflowers farmed on the pampas seem endless—as vast as the nearby Atlantic itself. Daniel's family is connected to this farmland, from which they harvest the seed-laden heads of sunflowers and golden wheat.

I've decided that I'm ready to be more than a visitor. Argentina has called to me, and I feel compelled to answer. So, over the next year or so I will begin the process of wrapping up my life here in Philadelphia in preparation to move 5,500 miles away to Necochea, another country—another hemisphere even! Let's see where life takes me.

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