Southern hemisphere updates and fashion reports

Written yesterday but posted today since we had no internet till now…

It’s Saturday, which means that we’ve been here in Buenos Aires for a whole week now. It’s warmed up a couple of degrees since we arrived, or I’m getting used to the colder temperatures, but I’m still missing the sun – I think it’s showed its face for a total of about three hours since we’ve gotten here. Here’s hoping our second week in BA will be a bit brighter!

Weather aside, it’s been a slow start here in Argentina. We had done the research and figured out a route through Australia before we left the States. Our time in Oz was so busy that we hadn’t gotten around to investigating more than an apartment, Spanish school options and the ticket to Argentina before we were boarding the plane to BA. This week we’ve been total homebodies, hanging out in the apartment because of all the rain or to catch up on admin and research or to wait around for someone to show up and get the internet going or fix the washing machine.

So it hasn’t been the most fun week, but it’s been productive and I’m excited for some of its prospective yields. Our internet seems to work about 30% of the time now which is an improvement over 0% (apparently this is the norm around here), and the washing machine seems to be on track, although our handy man warned us not to leave it on when we’re not around in case it floods or sets the place on fire. Awesome.

Spanish classes start bright and early this Monday. I’ve found and started going to a yoga studio not too far from the apartment where the teachers are all American and mercifully teach in English. I’m investigating tango classes. Roman has gotten us set up with sim cards with 3G for our phone (about as reliable as the internet in our apartment). And we’ve sussed out a wish list of exciting places we want to visit here in Argentina and have even got some ideas for where to head next. So things are looking up!

The plan for the rest of the weekend, now that we’ve been so productive, is to start checking out some of the more touristy/famous spots here in BA (weather permitting). We haven’t seen all that much of the city yet, but we have started to know our way around our neighborhood, which is a nice feeling.

Where we live

We’re staying in Palermo, an upper-middle class neighborhood which is meant to be one of the nicest places in the city to live.

There are two parks not far from our flat and plenty of grocery stores, little produce shops and kiosks within walking distance. There are a couple of massive shopping centers close by too; these seem to get the most pedestrian traffic of the area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a line for coffee so consistently long as the one at the Starbucks at Alto Palermo. We’ve discovered two streets within walking distance that are lined with some really enticing restaurants, wine, cheese & meat shops and boutiques. I’ve been happily cooking in my cute little kitchen this past week, but I’m looking forward to start trying out some of the local eateries – once I have a bit of Spanish vocab under my belt so I have half a clue what I’m ordering. The clothes shops in the area are definitely going to be a problem for me. 🙂 I need to keep reminding myself that we are on a budget!

Fall fashion and more

Obviously we haven’t been here long enough for me to know very much of anything about the porteños (what BA-ers call themselves), but I’ve still enjoyed the people watching in our neighborhood immensely.

I started getting into local fashion while we were in Asia. Clothing over there, especially for women, tends to be rather conservative by Western standards (notable exceptions – Bangkok, the Philippines and some Chinese tourists). In some of the places we traveled, I would have to think twice about bearing an elbow or kneecap as a woman. When we left Asia to come to the States, it was the middle of winter, so I spent the months there covered up too.

I actually experienced a bit of culture shock when we first arrived in Australia at the tail end of their summer. I loved how the easygoing atmosphere in Oz translated into what people wore. Women’s fashion is definitely not uniform there and it seems like most anything goes. Basically, wear what makes you happy. The one element that caught my eye was that there was a lot more skin than I was used to – after all that time in Asia and my winter in the States anyhow. Lots of low-cut dresses, shorts and t-shirts being worn even when it was cold out, and if we saw a teenage girl, chances were she’d be walking around in shorts so short that her bum was sticking out the bottom. No joke. Did my time in Asia turn me prudish, or is this too much? Or should I say too little?

What do you think? Too short?

Fashion, or at least autumn fashion, here in BA seems to be more conservative. I’m looking forward to see what it’s like in the rest of Argentina and BA, but the people in Palermo anyhow have a practical but stylish look about them. And as far as I’ve observed so far, there is definitely a bit of a uniform for the young women around here. Let me paint a picture of a typical porteña this season.

She’s got loads of long hair, which she lets tumble carelessly down her back or which she piles unceremoniously (sometimes asymmetrically) on her head. She wears little to no make up; same goes for jewelry. She favors somber colors – navy, grey, brown, olive, maroon, black, black, black, but almost always accentuates this palette with a splash of bright color – nails, shoes, a colorful top or most often a cheerful patterned scarf. She’s wearing jeans or leggings and either way her pants are definitely form fitting. Leggings are often in funky, geometric patterns. Her coat is dark and practical but not unstylish. On her feet she wears sturdy, flat-soled boots, chuck tailors or demurely colored galoshes (probably as a defense against the plentiful dog poop all over the sidewalks in BA. Not a bad idea!).

It’s a look I like – although I’m not sure my fashion sensibilities have recovered yet from China. Especially with my latest purchase. It’s cold down here, and in an effort to keep warm and to keep the aforementioned street dirt out of our apartment, we’ve been on the hunt for slippers since we arrived. I guess they’re not a popular purchase in Argentina, cause it’s taken us forever to find some. Wimp about the cold that I am, I went ahead and bought the very first – and in my defense only – pair that I could find. Now I have warm, but pretty ridiculous looking feet. So much for being a fashionista…

Possibly the most ridiculous slippers ever?

Advertisements

Musings from underside of the world

The flight from Los Angeles to Sydney felt pretty personally monumental. Aside from being the first step in the second portion of “the big trip”, it was also our first time ever traveling to the Southern Hemisphere.

When you’ve been someplace for a couple of days, or when you’re traveling at a snail’s pace, as we did, country by (relatively) small country across a place like Southeast Asia or province by province through China, it’s easy to forget about the geography of travel, about how far away your starting point is or where you are relative to other spots on the planet.

I know I’ve posted this photo before, but I still get excited about it – seriously one of the coolest flight paths I’ve ever seen. 🙂

But jumping all the way from North America to Australia, being on the “underside” of the globe for the first time, felt really special for the travel nerd in me. The first few weeks in Oz I kept having all sorts of silly thoughts about how far “below” we were from home, how the people in the Northern Hemisphere where pointing in a different direction from me when they stood up, or where we would end up of we dug a hole straight through the earth from where we were standing.

Or, standing at the water’s edge in Melbourne, if I started swimming South, would I make it all the way to Antarctica (!!! Seriously – I’d never been that close to Antarctica before, how cool is that?)? (Theoretically anyhow. From Melbourne I would probably hit Tasmania before I made it to the South Pole not to mention I’d be amazed if I was fit enough to swim to the end of the pier I was facing not to also mention that I am a total wimp about swimming in cold, coldish or even tepid water.)

We saw this wild penguin at the beach in Melbourne. I wonder if he was contemplating swimming to the South Pole too?

It was exciting to discover the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky: to find out that the moon waxes and wanes in the opposite direction, to see the constellation the Southern Cross for the first time, to observe that the one familiar face in the heavens, Orion, leaves his hunt when he heads south and instead starts turning careless somersaults towards the horizon.

And although the weather was warm when we arrived, there was definitely a hint of fall on the March air. Which was just bizarre and wonderful. (More wonderful than this cold and gloomy May that Buenos Aires continues to serve up.)

Fall foliage in April

When you’ve lived your whole life in the Northern Hemisphere, you take it for granted that Christmas will be cold, if not snowy, that the fourth of July or 1st August (US and Swiss holidays) will involve barbeques, fire works and other warm weather activities. You don’t give much thought to what’s going on at those times in the Southern half of the world. I wonder if those Southern Hemisphere folk are as blasé about us and our weather up in the North? Are Christmas-time barbeques equally par for the course or do they sometimes wish for a bit of snow and pine trees instead of palm trees, the way I am dreaming of warmer weather as I drink cup after cup of tea to warm up while I write this. 😉

The colors down under

As I scroll through my photos from Australia, these are the colors that pop out at me.

Dazzling blue: the clear skies as backdrop to graceful cities and amazing landscapes, the stately waters of Sydney harbor, the bright hues of the Southern and Indian oceans. Vibrant green: the perfectly manicured city parks and football pitches. The ancient deep burnt oranges of the desert. The gold of the sunlight illuminating it all.

So apparently, I am a fickle traveler; I loved pretty much everything about Australia but plunged head first into a serious crush with New Zealand as soon as we got there (more on that later), and now I’m just dealing with getting to know my way around our new neighborhood here in BA. So I have to take a spin through my photos to remind me – oh yeah, Australia is simply amazing. And it’s nice to remember a bit of sun on this rainy BA day as I’m figuring out how to begin writing about Oz. 🙂

Homesick in BA

We land at Buenos Aires in a shroud of mist and thick, low-slung cloud cover. The streetlights are on by the time we leave the airport; night is drawing in. I struggle against the siren song of jet lag in the darkening back of the cab, trying to keep awake for my first glimpses of the city. Ragged, low buildings along the highway slowly give way to increasingly tall blocks. Eventually we are dipping off the highway, descending into the dark city herself. Roughness and beauty flash by the window in turn; I try to be intrigued but really I am just relieved when we pull up to our apartment building.

A quick exchange with our Airb’n’b host, a grocery run, and a hazy hour or two fighting the urge to nap make up enough of an evening for me. I collapse into sleep. I’m wide awake again around 3am local time. I sit in the living room, waiting for the dawn that takes an age to come. By the time the sun is up, I’m exhausted and realizing that I am feeling awfully homesick.

It doesn’t happen often, but I shouldn’t be surprised that I would feel this way sometimes. I don’t know if it’s the rainy weather, the stark contrast of Argentina (so far) to the exuberant welcome and sunshine, the pristine cities and stunning nature we experienced in Australia and New Zealand. Maybe it’s down to how much time we spent in the cozy homes of friends the past weeks back in Oz and NZ. Or how hard I fell for both these countries.

What ever it is, even though our rented flat is nice and I have nothing really to judge Buenos Aires by at this point, I find myself feeling awfully whiny, getting pissed about stupid stuff and longing for a familiar bed, familiar smells, things I can trust.

It’s ok though. Observing the weather as the plane touched down in BA, I thought to myself, no bother, we have time for good weather to come to us. We’ve rented the flat for five weeks, and we’ll be in Argentina at least that long. No rush.

There’s plenty of time for my homesickness to work itself out, and to gently, without expectation, to get to know this place. There’s no rule that I have to love a place right away, or ever if it comes to that. It doesn’t mean I have to make my initial reaction into a big deal. Mind over matter – just be patient Jenny and see what there is to see. Sometimes doing the thing just involves hanging in there. And no expectations.

We take our first exploratory walk around the neighborhood later that day. Getting out of the apartment, despite the gloomy weather, is a step in the right direction for my head space.

Lonely Planet describes BA as “somehow strangely familiar, but unlike any other city in the world.” There are elements that evoke bits and pieces of other cities to be sure.

The traffic sounds – squeaking breaks, honking horns, wailing sirens – and the ravines of one-way streets below canyons of looming buildings call to mind New York. At moments as we walk through the streets, I’ll catch glimpses of Europe – Paris or Madrid – hologram like, superimposed on the scenes in front of me. The park we pass through is full of tropical trees and smells like a zoo. (Full disclosure: it smells like animal poo). This and the trash on the street bring to mind some of the Asian metropolises we visited. The rough and tumble corrugated iron houses we passed on the way from the airport make me think of India, of Manila.

It’s a new sensation on this big trip of ours too to look the like locals. At this point I’m used to either being in an English-speaking country or sticking out like the obvious tourist. I find myself feeling a bit shy where in Australia and New Zealand I would talk to anyone (cause they would talk to us, easily, openly, effortlessly) – and hoping that Spanish classes will give me a chance to interact with more than an awkward smile. Although Roman (who already knows some Spanish) says that the people here talk SO fast.

It’s also a new experience on this trip to do such a big geographical and cultural jump so fast. We worked our way so slowly through the different shades of Asia; each new flavor providing context for our subsequent destination. And now here we are, from one day to the next, in South America for the first time ever, and my mind is kind of sort of blown.

I’m curious how all these different parts will congeal over the next weeks to form in my mind this new (for me) city in this new country on this new continent. How I will feel about it at the end of our time versus these first jet-lagged days.

Today, after another too-short night of sleep, we woke to the din of heavy rains washing through the soundscape of morning traffic. Even though the weather has only gotten gloomier, my heart is lighter today. The apartment is getting more familiar and it feels nice to have an idea of where we might try and pick up a few things we need when we go for a walk later today. Let’s see if we can’t make this little corner of the world into a home, even if it’s just temporary.

Great Ocean Road Teaser

We’ve barely begun our tour of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, and already it’s treating us to some absolutely stunning scenery. I’m determined to keep on catching up on the China posts, but just quickly, here’s a peak of just one of the amazing ocean views we’ve seen on our first day of our Aussie Camper Van adventure! Click to enlarge. The spot is Bell Beach, where just this past Easter weekend the yearly massive surf contest took place.

Bats!!

We’ve been having an absolute ball here in Sydney. The weather’s continued to be lovely and we’ve been roving all over the city exploring and enjoying.

Today’s the first over cast day there’s been since we’ve arrived, so we’re using it as a good excuse for a quiet morning and chance to catch our breath, do a bit of admin and maybe get out a blog post or two.

I’ll get back to writing about China at some point, but for now, here is a quick post about one of the fun things we’ve experienced here so far.

There are loads of beautiful spots in Sydney but I think at this point my most favorite has got to be the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The Gardens is a massive green space that starts at one end just next door to the city’s famous harbor and opera house and finishes up well into its business district. It’s full of native and exotic plants, pristinely manicured lawns and local fauna. Visitors are encouraged to walk – or play, or nap – on the grass, and it’s a perfect place for a stroll to enjoy views of the water or the city skyline or the lovely nature.

We spent one whole afternoon hanging out there, enjoying all it has to offer. We’d thought we’d gotten to know most of the animals living there when we heard a racket coming from a group of trees across a lawn. Taking a closer look, we discovered a colony of what must have been about a thousand fruit bats, or flying foxes.

Our love of fruit bats was cemented early on in our time in Asia, so we were really excited to check out the five or six trees that were literally dripping with these massive flying mammals. Here are a few pics. Unfortunately the zoom on my camera isn’t that great so there aren’t any good close-ups.

Also, in case you ever wondered what hundreds of flying foxes sound when they hang out together, click here: (Bats) for a sound clip. Can’t decide if those are the throes of passion or of death! 🙂

 

Wait, what??

My last post on this blog was written about a month ago in wintry Connecticut, about our autumnal adventures in the southern hills of China.

A lot of things have happened since then.

There’s been loads going on at home – soul searching and trials by fire within my heart, exciting exploration in the name of future scheming, lots of time spent with beloved family and friends, yoga, yoga and more yoga, travel research and preparation – and while all this has been going on, Spring managed to arrive on the scene. While I’ve been busy, my hometown exploded into full bloom, sunny afternoons, and birdsong. (Morning birdsong is how I was waking up each morning the past week or two – beautiful sounds that transported me, in the comfort of my familiar bed – right back to childhood memories) It’s been absolutely glorious!

All of this important and lovely stuff has kept me engaged in the present and not very keen to look forward. Or, put more accurately, to think about leaving. I’d been decidedly sticking my head in the sand, assuming that we’d figure out some sort of scheme by which I’d get to stay home for longer. However, the expiration date of Roman’s visa began to loom in a most un-ignorable way and forced us to decide and act.

Which is how we’ve some how, suddenly seemingly (to my heart at least), landed here in Sydney, Australia!

We booked a couple of weeks ago (I think – my sense of time is not the best at the moment!) and it’s been a mad dash to prepare in time for our flight plus I’ve also been busy wading through Olympic sized swimming pools of sadness about leaving my family. We flew into Los Angeles on Wednesday to break up the journey, where we had a fantastic overnight visit that ended with us leaving the country with about an hour to spare on Roman’s visa. 😉

15 hours of plane-ride later and we arrived in Sydney, who was gracious enough to welcome us with her best face forward. I had no preconceived notions about the place and really, with everything going on prior to departure, didn’t really think or care much about where we were going. Yet now that we’ve arrived, I’m SO excited and glad that we’re starting part two of the journey here.

We landed on a perfect Autumn day. Warm sun, brilliant blue skies, and that crisp feel of Fall in the air.

Sunrise and a first glimpse of Australia from the plane

After leaving the airport (where we got our first auspicious sign – we got to watch Nestor Carbonell and his family rent a car. 🙂 Even though we’d just been in L.A., we had to come to Australia to see a famous actor…), we headed straight to the prime tourist spot where we’re spending our first couple of nights: the Rocks. This part of Sydney seems spotlessly clean, at least what we’ve seen so far, and absolutely stunning with a lovely mix of older, colonial buildings in lovely shades of brown and beige countered by impressively sleek modern skyscrapers. All the urbanity is off set by fantastically massive, tropical trees of the many parks in the area and the amazing and iconic harbor at Circular Quay.

We ended up spending most of the day wandering around on foot and discovering delight after delight. Sydney seemed determined to offer us a spectacular welcome. 🙂

Incredible tropical birds, a massive cruise ship parked across from the opera house, an open-air artisan market, fantastic musicians performing Spanish guitar under an overpass, our first didgeridoo performance, delicious food, peaceful parks stunning scenery.

These funny looking guys were hanging around scrounging for food the way pigeons would in New York or Zurich. Anyone know what they're called?

Love was in the air in the city the day we arrived too; we must have seen three or four hen parties cruising the town and countless wedding parties having their photos taken in front of the city’s iconic spots, boarding ships at the Quay for a celebration on the water; there was even one party taking place AT the Opera House. All this added to the magical atmosphere for me and I’m so grateful for this welcome, which has eased the heartache of leaving home and gotten me completely juiced for Part Two of our Big Adventure!

Obviously at this point there is a LOT to catch up on. 🙂 I’ll be doing a combo of posts going forward – filling in all that we did in Asia, bits and pieces about our time in the States and more current events now that we are here in the Land Down Under. Hopefully one of these months this online journal will be up to speed… 🙂