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Birthday trip to Buenos Aires

Posted by urufish on May 22, 2009


Last week was my wife’s birthday.  

Sometime ago, it seems like another lifetime,  I wrote about the difficulties of facing my first wife’s birthday in Uruguay.  Up north, I knew where to buy cards, get her a birthday present and set up a nice quiet dinner at some cosy restuarant.   Here, I couldn’t find one or when I did find one, I couldn’t understand what the birthday card said.   I always used to buy her something small and unique up north.  Small you will find here but unique, you wont.  There are tons of cosy restaurants but I didn’t know where they were.  It’s really great to have friends when that happens.  

This birthday, having 2 years under my belt, was totally under control.  Birthday cards are no longer a problem because I buy a year’s supply of cards for each occasion when we’re up north in July.  My wife’s anniversary card sits in front of me in preparation for this weekend.  May is just a blur for me.  Mothers day, birthday and anniversary all rolled into one.  I took care of the present and the cosy restaurant in one fell swoop–a trip to Buenos Aires.  

Those of you know who know my wife know she’s only interested in two things.  Shoes and sunglasses.  All joking aside, having been to NYC, LA, Paris and the isle of Capri, I honestly believe Buenos Aires is the women’s shoe capital of the world (style, selection and price).  She was in heaven.  Sunglasses weren’t so bad either.   Betweeen Florida and Santa Fe, we must have checked out a dozen places.  Not only did she find a great pair to add to her closet of sunglasses we brought down from up north, but she found a great pair of Reef frames for reading glasses.  As you know, this country runs on text messages and I think she finally figured out she couldnt keep texting if she couldn’t read the incoming messages.  

As for a cosy restaurant, that took a slight twist to a ‘very nice restaurant’.  Buenos Aires has some great restaurants, even in the shopping district.  

To make it a really great trip, we flew instead of boating over.  Pluna must have known it was my wife’s birthday because both flights were on time.  I’ve never experienced that before.  This was the first time she used her Santander Van Gogh card to beat the immigration lines at the airport.  There’s a special line and there’s never anyone there.  We literally came in non stop and surprisingly enough, the luggage was already on the belt.  And to top it all off, customs had gone home for the evening so we just walked out of baggage right to our car.  Weird but true.

In the past, we used to stay with friends in Buenos Aires–the sister of my wife’s best friend.  But she moved to Mendoza so we had to seek commercial lodging.  After looking at a dozen different internet hotels and for each of them, reading at least one customer’s unhappy experience, I decided to fall back on the Marriott chain.   I always used to stay in Marriotts up north when travelling on business.  In 10 years, I never had a truly bad experience so I was hoping and praying that Marriott, Buenos Aires would be similar.  For some reason, they had executive suites on sale that weekend so we took a one bedroom on the top floor.  For us, we really liked the place.  It’s not a modern building.  Supposedly, 2009 was its 100th anniversary.  But it was well kept and there’s no substitute for old architecture.  I’d take peeling paint and cracked walls any day over sterile steel and glass.  The staff were friendly.  We had no problem checking in.  Breakfast was included and it was very nice.  The hot water was hot and plentiful.  The bottled water at 21 pesos seemed a little too Mariottish for our tastes but the refrigerator had lots of room for bottled water purchased around the corner.  

Getting the one bedroom paid off because my wife’s friend decided to come to BA to visit her for her birthday and the couch worked out just great.  She even had her own bathroom.  

I know that women’s clothing is a bigger money maker than men’s so it came as no surprise that most of the stores we passed held little interest for me.  Oh well.  It was her birthday and I was preoccupied with ways to pay off the credit card when we got back.  I did end up buying a sweater in a fabulous sweater store that it turns out I have bought sweaters in twice before when we visited Buenos Aires when I was here on holidays years ago.  I must have a thing for their style.  

For men, they do have have fantastically stylish suits and shoes.  But I’m a shleppy kind of guy, most happy in jeans and a polar (my newly adopted Uruguayan covering of choice).  If I ever need to find a pair of shoes to wear with a suit, if I ever wear one again, this would be where I’d go.  The prices are reasonable when compared with the quality and style.  As always, Buenos Aireas has phenomenal leathers of all kinds.  I have this dream of findig the right suitcase but I never have.  But I keep looking.  

No birthday trip to Buenos Aires can be complete without going to a live theatre.  In this respect, BA is very much like NYC.  Very much unlike my hometown of Toronto.  People love live theatre.  Prices are reasonable and some of these theatres are absolutely mangnificent.  I forget the name of the one we went to but there were about 200 people in the audience.  We had good seats.  I think there were 70 pesos (about USD20) a seat.  The show was a series of skits with scantily clad, curvaceous ladies.  My language skills are fair or worse but I found I enjoyed myself.  My wife and her friend were able to appreciate the jokes, of which there were many.

We went to the new mall that’s billed as 6 floors–4 up and 2 down.  Once you’ve been to a mall in BA, they all look the same to me.  Same stores with the same merchandise.  But this one had something I hadn’t seen before down here–an honest to goodness WalMart.  It turned out it was a WalMart in name if you’re American.  The stock resembled nothing we’re used to.  In fact, I kept telling my wife I felt we were in a bigger Tienda Inglesa.  First place I went was to the food section looking for Skippy peanut butter.   Nope.  No Kosher dill pickles either.  No original Kraft dinner.  No real choice of salad dressing but it did have a good selection of Newman’s own albeit in small size bottles.  

I have two memories from that trip that stand out the most.

First was what I thought was an incredibly built young lady standing on the street behing held back by 3 cops while some guy was yelling at her being held back by another 2 cops.  Turns out the she was a he.  

The 2nd memory was a young couple making out in the stairway of the Walmart mall, obvlivious to the world next to the elevator we were waiting for.  Just before I got on the elevator I took anothe quick look and like above, the he turned out to be a she.  They say Montevideo is very liberal in these kinds of things but in my 48 hours in BA, I saw more liberalism than I’ve seen in my 3 years in Montevideo.  

To sum it up, Buenos Aires will be my standard ‘birthday package’ for at least the next year or two.  That is unless my credit card bill comes in and reality smacks me in the head.

Posted in Daily life, Shopping | 3 Comments »

Shopping can be exciting

Posted by urufish on February 18, 2008

hiperpiria.jpg  Devoto Piria – scene of the ‘almost’ crime 

Note:  If you have no patience and want to get to the ‘exciting’ part right away – go to the 2nd last paragraph now.   

This was the first weekend of the year that we were able to get away for most of the weekend.  A family friend dropped by from BA on Friday so we took to the opportunity to go to Piria for Sat/Sun.

We left on Saturday morning for Piriapolis.  The traffic was light.  We only had to go back once because we forgot something.  When we arrived, everything looked beautiful.  A local friend volunteered to drive to the house every night and water the lawn and plants.  They really looked spectacular.  The best part was the new pool.  Last time we were there, it looked like Arrancopelito’s in the beginning–pea soup.  No matter how much chlorine I put in it, it was still green.  But like her pool, ours is now clear because she gave us her pool guy.  Yes, he really does a great job.  We could see the pattern in the floor clearly for the first time.  

That afternoon, we drove around quite a bit, showing our friend all the changes (she was born and lived here before she married and moved to BA).  We drove out towards Arrancopelito’s house, passing by Punta Fria, Punta Colorada and Punta Negra. Lots and lots of new houses…  Punta Colorada is fast becoming a very nice seaside resort. 

Everywhere we looked we saw signs for beachfront lots for sale.  Hopefully, a lot of people buy them and when we go next year, it will look even more fantastic.  I like the way the sand dunes move onto the road and everyone is zigging and zagging to stay out of them.  It’s great when the guy coming towards you is zigging when you are.  Always liked to play chicken.  My wife didn’t care much for it though.. You guys know how women get when we play these games 🙂

When we were almost at Arrancopelito’s place, we turned and drove onto to the beach.  We had Mordy, the dobie with us.  We wanted to let him run free–and run he did!!!  He just took off and ran from one end of the horizon to the other, almost knocking me over a few times.  This beach could aptly be called a ‘wild’ beach because it’s completely empty in both directions.  No wonder she likes this place.  We hung around there for a half hour or so.  Then headed back home.  Dropped the dog off on the balcony to guard the ‘casa’ and we went to the big Devoto in town.

We parked across the street because the lot was full (as often is this time of the year).  I thought the place was full but not quite.  The meat and cold cuts and dairy sections were jammed, but the boxed and canned food section was nearly empty.  That was unfortunate for my poor wife.  Like most American husbands, I headed for the part of the store that interested me while she did the boring stuff.. like buying food. I spent some time in the beer, wine and liquor section and then I moved to electrical, plumbing and finally, briefly, the AV section. After about a half hour, I went looking for her. 

I found her in the soups section. BTW, soups here are not what we think of back home.  I haven’t seen a can of soup since I got here.  I’m talking about vacuum sealed pouches soup section.  Anyway, when I came up to her, she was red in the face and looked ill.  Before I could ask what happened, she said something about smelling ether really strong and it made her sick to her stomach.  She said some guy walked past her or was near her and that he smelled really bad, like ether.  Now she had a horrifible headache.  Our friend was there and she said she smelled it too but by time she caught up to my wife, it wasn’t very strong.  I took her out front and sat her down and she was saying her ears felt like they were going to explode and she had this horrible headache and she was pissed.  We thought nothing of it until this afternoon, when her brother came to visit and she told him the story. 

He asked her to describe the guy and what he was doing when she smelled the ether.  She said he had some kind of pouch and he was putting something into it when the smell hit her.  Turns out this is a method used by the ‘bad guy’s to steal from people on the street and most recently, in supermarkets.  They carry ether in a spray can.  They spray it near someone like my wife.  The reason he chose her is that no one was on that aisle and she had her purse on the cart.  If her friend hadn’t come around the corner when she did, he would have taken the purse and gone.  Apparently, a lot of them use this technique but spray something in your eyes–which blinds you temporarily (not seriously), but you still end up losing your purse or whatever it was the thief wanted. 

The story ended well.  She woke up this morning without a headache.. And of course, thanks to our friend, with her purse intact.

Posted in Daily life, Shopping | 2 Comments »

What’s hot in Montevideo II

Posted by urufish on June 12, 2007


Yesterday, we went over the seasonal advertisemens in The Gallito, ‘El Oferton’ section.  Today, we look at the non seasonals, the ones that show up in El Oferton all the time. 

  • Mattresses (colchons).  Lots of ads, week after week, after week.  The two main kinds are spring mattresses and foam.  Our first mattress we bought here (eons ago), was a spring mattress.  Didn’t spend a lot of money on it and the result was predictable.  Several years we bought a good quality foam mattress and we like them a whole lot more.  Sizes aren’t exactly the same as back home.  Although the call them the same thing, we’ve put sheets from home on the same name and usually, the sheet is too big.  I’m no expert but I think a single here can be 0.80/0.90 x 1.85/1.90.  A double, 1.40 x 1.90.  I believe a king is 2.0 x 2.0.   Thicknesses vary too.  There are thin, 13cm foam mattresses.  The average mattress is 20cm thick.  1.40 x 1.90x .20 spring sets average USD$200.  Mattress alone, USD$135.   Orthopedic foam with a 60cm depth average USD$300 per mattress.  High end, premium sets go for USD$550.  Bottom of the line 13cm foam with base can be found for under USD$100.  Good quality mattresses here come with a 3 year guarantee.   For the past 3 years, we have bought all of our mattresses/springs at Divino (www.divino.com).  This is the closest store we have found to northern standards for quality and selection.

colchones.jpg  Mattress (colchones) examples

  • Flooring.  Piso Flotante is huge here.  This is stripwood flooring with an interlocking mechanism (like tongue/groove with a twist) that you put together over a thin, polyfoam sheet base.  It goes right over concrete.  It’s quite durable.  It comes in many colours and grains.  It goes in FAST.  It’s not that expensive, installed, USD$16/square meter at 8mm, about USD$1.60/square foot.  Parquet is also very popular here.  Whenever you are doing flooring, ask for Lapacho or Curupay.  I havent seen ads for Lapacho but I have them for Curupay.  Both are very strong woods with some resistance to water damage.  Wall to wall carpet (broadloom for our Canaian readers), is practically speaking, non existant here.  Area rugs can be bought cheaply (Chinese knockoffs).  We bought some throw rugs in the supermaket.  Tienda Inglesa (www.tinglesa.com.uy) frequently has some great looking rugs that last about as long as you’d expect from the price. 
  •  Computers and electronics.  These are advertised everywhere.  There are 2 markets in Uruguay.  The biggest is used computers.  The cheapest I’ve seen to date is USD$70 for an IBM system.  I’d say an average price for a used system is around USD$200 now.  New systems start around $350 and go up from there.  Used laptops are sold in Uruguay now but there were none in this El Oferton.  New laptops run USD$850 and up.  I’d say they average around USD$1150.  I have NEVER seen an English OS here where I’ve been shopping.  I was never able to get an English keyboard so I brought several spares from home in the container.  MP3 players go as low as USD$25 for a 256mb unit.  There are tons of Ipod knockoffs here for around USD$70 for 1gb. 

computers-cut.jpg Examples of used computers

  • Cellphones.  Lots of cellphones here.  Nowhere near the selection in the US or Canada, but penetration is higher here (higher % of Uruguayans have cellphones).  I read somewhere that in the next 18 months, there will be more ACTIVE cellpones in Uruguay than people.  All the mainstream models are here from Motorola, Nokia, Samsung, etc.  There are Chinese brands here you’ve never seen back home.  Blackberry finally got here last year.  Oveall coverage is excellent in urban areas with Antel.  Movistar is not as good.  CTI is not as good as Movistar.  Rates are not competitive here.  If you’re a power user, be prepared to pay a lot more here than in the US. 
  • Furniture.   Besides the regular stuff we’re familiar with like sofas, kitchen sets and beds, bunk beds are unusually popular here and something else I rarely saw up north, Placares.  Bedrooms in Uruguay are usually much smaller than up north.  It’s unusual to find enough space for dressers in many important bedrooms.  Closets often have shelves and drawers for that purpose.  But many bedrooms dont have a closet, so you use a ‘placard’ instead.   Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find a meaningful definition of the word placard or placares in online Spanish dictionaries.  We bought one and put it in the basement to hang winter clothes and my wife’s long dresses. 

placares.jpg Placares examples

  • Windows, roofs, paint, garage door openers, electric fences, etc. are also found in the ‘El Oferton’.  The many kinds of roofs are represented every week.  A lot more homes in Carrasco are putting in electric fences.  I have never seen one in Pocitos, not yet anyway. 
  • Prices…  for those of you interested in random prices for random things, I have cast my finger over the El Oferto and come up with the following.. in no particular order or organization…  plaster mouldings 70x48mm, $100 per meter.  fluorescent lighting assembly  for drop ceiling $189/sq.m., chainsaw USD119.  powerwash, 2hp, USD75.  potbelly stove USD150, tires 165/70/13-USD50, 175/70/13-USD53, 195/75/15-USD112, waterproof paint (for concrete roof), $1250/20kg.  utility trailer to pull behind car, 1.12x172x.5-USD695, burglar bars-$565/sq.m, alarm system-free + $488/mo+IVA, espresso machine-USD179, regular coffeemaker USD35, a complete bathroom with sink, toilet and of course, bidet-USD300, waterproof membrane for roof-USD4.50/sq.m, office chair with gas cylinder-USD50, pool heater-USD740, 29″ colour TV-USD258, universal gym-USD242, 100cc motorcycle-USD565, microwave-USD68, kitcen faucet-$590, wood oven for bakery-USD660 (does 160 baguettes on 6kg of wood), 1hp pump-$1900, standalone metal fireplace-$18,200; car battery 12v-70A-$950, commercial pool table USD2000, brake job (discs) $740, oil 20lts-$1850, wood kitchen set with 6 chairs-USD275, panic room door (metal) with 3 way locks-USD315, orthodontic braces (robomouth) USD500 plus USD45/mo until treatment finished, regular filling USD15, (that would scare the hell out of my old dentist), xerox 3117 printer-USD136, PAPER DEHUMIDIFIER-no price given, spray paint can and gun-USD19.90, socks-$4, watches-$19 (pesos), girls shoes-$80, dvd players-USD59, refrigerator-USD419, electric sheets-$792,

Posted in Shopping | 10 Comments »

What’s hot in Montevideo?

Posted by urufish on June 11, 2007


Whenever I went to a new city, one of the first things I did was buy the major newspaper, to read the advertisements.  I always felt you could learn a lot about the city that way.  In Uruguay, you will find most of those advertisements in the ‘El Oferton’.  You can see the classified advertisements for that week by surfing to http://www.gallito.com/default.asp?origen=gallito_com_uy  on Mondays after 11:00, Montevideo time.  They do this to minimize the effect of web readers on sales of the paper, which drops to nil by Monday morning.  You cant see the display advertisements on line.   

So what’s hot and interesting in Uruguay right now?  

  • Membranas (roof waterproofing).  Winters are wet.  We have lots of flat roofs.  Flat roofs leak.  You’re supposed to replace the membrana BEFORE the winter, but if you dont, you may have to do it now.  I guess enough people do it now to justify the advertising.  Membrana comes by the roll. It is silver on one side, asphalt on the other side.   After preparing the roof, you lay down the membrana and melt it to the roof by way of a blowtorch.  Seams are melted together with surface tar, melted also.  They last 10-15 years uncovered.  You can cover them with patio stones and then it will last for 25-30 years. 
  • Burletes (weatherstripping).  Uruguayans get motivated to add or change weatherstripping when the wind starts to blow through the house.  Because of the terrain, winds are very strong here.  Doors and windows are traditionally loose fitting.  A good combination for weatherstripping. 
  • Snow tires (just kidding)
  • Cabinas (small, fiberglass, one man, outside guardhouses).  Many businesses and high end residential areas hire guards to sit the property at night.   They dont want them freezing to death overnight.  They’re also used for taxi dispatchers.  They cost around USD600.
  • Flandes, estufas, woodstoves, furnaces.  In Uruguay, the majority of homes and apartments dont have heating.  Traditionally, when things become unbearable, they plug in an electric heater.  More organized/prepared people purchase supergaz heaters (propane).  But each year, some people decide to go for a more sophisticated heating solution, like a pot belly stove, high efficiency fireplace or even, a whole furnace/radiator system.  Recently, we’ve even seen some solar systems.  The heart of a radiator system, the caldera, costs around USD3K.  A 300m house with rads, pipes, will cost around USD$8K.  Add to that the cost of breaking and repairing the walls and floors (and replacing the tiles, marble and/or granite), for the piping.  A lot of people will opt for split airconditioning/heating systems.  A whole lot cheaper.  You can install a 9000btu heating/airconditioning split for under USD$500.  A 12000 for USD$600.  The same system installed in Toronto is USD$2200.  I guess 110v costs a lot more than 220v (pardon the sarcasm).   

That’s the winter stuff…  tomorrow, I’ll do the more interesting stuff–the things people buy here all year long, that are different or have a different twist, from what we’re used to up north. 

Posted in Shopping | 7 Comments »

Pocitos must be the home delivery capital of the world

Posted by urufish on May 24, 2007


McDonalds ‘free’ home delivery: 08002800

A couple of days ago, I was walking down 21 de Setiembre and for fun, started tracking all the stores that offered home delivery.  Long ago, when I first got here, I noticed delivery guys on bicycles and it tweaked an old memory of mine from when I was a kid.  My dad told me that was his first job.  Delivering groceries on a bicycle for a neighbourhood grocery store.  Even at that young, tender age, I thought that was pretty kul, because by then, that service had long ceased to exist in Toronto… or at least in the part that I lived in. 

So I decided to count them up and for fun, figure out what % of stores did it.  I walked a 6 block stretch of prime store locations and guess what.  I stopped counting when I realized it wasn’t a % at all.  It was all of them.  Every drugstore, supermarket and restaurant did home delivery… for free.  When I got to the end of my walk, there was the local Macdonalds, and guess what.  It had free home delivery too. 

Posted in Shopping | 2 Comments »

Shopping in Uruguay

Posted by urufish on May 14, 2007

We offered to pickup a cellphone for someone coming to Uruguay to save them the hassle of trying to find one immediately upon arrival.  Usually, we dont actually go shopping for something here.  When we brought our container from Canada, we pretty much filled it with everything we could think of we might need for the next year :-).  So now, we usually buy things when we see them, not when we need them. 

Anyway, to get the cellphone, we had to go looking.  Cellphones are everywhere here.  But if you’re doing someone a favour, last thing you want to do is buy them something they find cheaper a few days later.  So we had to scour the city to find the best deal at the time.  Being a web person, first thing I do is pull up all the stores I know in the area and check out product and pricing there.  Uruguay has a lot of material… but it’s not very clear.  More like opaque.  For instance, we looked up cellphones at www.motociclo.com.uy (one of the major low end suppliers of electronics and of course, motorcycles), and found lots of cellphones.  But the prices left something to be desired.  For instance, the cheapest phone was U$19.  Now do you really think you can buy a phone for less than a buck.  You wish.  So it must be payments (cuotas).  How many?  Well, if you live here, you assume it’s 24… because that phone we’ve seen for around 500-600 pesos. 

So where is the best place to bottom feed for prices in Uruguay that isn’t opaque…..   www.mercadolibre.com.uy… The e-bay of Uruguay.  Be warned… to really understand it, you need good Spanish.  Lots of assumptions and prior ebay skill is needed to truly figure out what’s going on.  Like the cellphone for over 1 mil pesos.  Still haven’t figured that one out.  Check it out.  Great fun. 

Posted in Shopping, Technology | 1 Comment »