Tips for the people coming to Buenos Aires

Here are a few tips to make your visit to Buenos Aires and Argentina more beneficial for you!

  • Tax free shopping is a great way to save a bit of your money during your stay. Shopping in Buenos Aires is quite expensive, so you should really pay attention to these instructions how to make it ~13% cheaper to you.  When you are strolling around Buenos Aires, look for stores with the sign “Global Blue – TAX FREE” (I posted their logo below). Tax free in Argentina means without VAT (normally 21%), but as Global Blue takes its own slice of the cake the real advantage you get is somewhere between 13% – 14%. Global Blue only works on items produced in the country of origin (in this case only Argentine produced products). It’s best to explain the process through an example. We bought a pair of shoes for Maria from a store called Normandie, It offered the Global Blue tax free system and we took it. The cashier printed out a Global Blue receipt, which we had to take to Ezeiza International Airport. The cashier also gave us a pamphlet and it explained the whole process (including a map of Ezeiza detailing where to go). When we left Argentina, we went to the desk at the middle of the check-in desks. There was a man checking each product for “Industria Argentina” and marking the receipts accepted for cash in. After this we had to go upstairs to an another desk to cash our tax free receipt. 3 days later Global Blue had paid us our massive return of 3.99 euros to our bank account. We only realized the opportunity for Global Blue tax-free shopping during the last few weeks of our stay, so we didn’t purchase more than one product from a tax-free store. This is a guide for you to have an eye out there and only shop from these stores to save over 10% of your purchases.
  • Get your medical checks before your departure. We didn’t get a medical certificate saying that we could do exercise in a gym, so we couldn’t get a membership in a gym in Buenos Aires, unless we paid for 15-50 euros for a certificate that would be free in Finland. You should also get your teeth checked. I (Julius) can tell from my personal experience that the dentists in Argentina aren’t as tidy and clean as in Finland. I’m not saying that they are bad, no. I happened to find a very good private dentist that took my wisdom tooth out for about 120 euros, gave me medicine and a later “check-up” date was also included in the price. I would still advise you to get your teeth checked in Finland.
  • In Argentina there are a few supermarket chains, the biggest are the Cencosud -group (Jumbo, Disco and Dia, a Chilean company) and Coto (an Argentinian company). The prices in the stores are not that much different, but the coupons and the daily offers may differ a lot. When you are leaving your flat to do groceries, you should always check online which store has an offer for you today. For example, Coto may have Wednesday to Thursday -15% off when you pay with a credit card, while Cencosud has nothing. This will save you a lot of money. Also another thing to note is that any credit/debit card with a metal chip on it is considered as a credit card in Argentina, so don’t be fooled with an offer of “Today -20% with a debit card”. The Cencosud group has an interesting way of marketing products and stores nearby. Almost every time you make a purchase, you get a coupon giving you a discount for between specific dates at a specific store nearby. When we left Argentina we had at least 20 coupons for a sushi place, you can’t miss them.
  • To say it shortly: Spanish required! Some of the people (10-20%) speak some English, but they don’t want to speak English so don’t expect to hear it from anyone. If you go to a hospital, prepare for Spanish. If you go talk to a police officer, prepare for Spanish. The bright side is: You will learn A LOT of Spanish! 🙂
  • At least during our stay the monetary system of Argentina was very upside down. For example when we were going to Uruguay, we wanted Uruguayan pesos before we left, but the banks didn’t give them to us. They said “We can give them to you if you have a receipt that you bought Argentine pesos with your Uruguayan pesos”. Most of apartments will have their rent in US Dollars, but you CAN’T get ANY dollars from Buenos Aires. If you want to pay in pesos, you will have to pay a higher exchange rate (10-20% more) so the person renting the apartment can go to the black market and get the dollars from there. During our stay we didn’t meet a person who would want Argentine pesos instead of Dollars, this creates a problem of inflation as not one person has confidence in the peso.
  • During our stay we noticed the inflation. Argentina is not as cheap as you think it would be: Some of the prices are even higher than in Finland! It’s good to have some savings before coming to Argentina as an exchange student. When we arrived, a small pastry, factura, in a nearby bakery cost 1,8 pesos – when we left some stores sold the same facturas for 2,4 pesos. It’s not much, but 30% increase in half a year is enough to notice it in your daily choices in a supermarket.
  • Always ask the price, even in the coffee stores, the prices can vary a lot and the prices can be different for the foreigners. For example we went to a video-rental place near our flat in Palermo and the guy at the cashier wanted a deposit of 150 pesos (~30 euros) for renting a movie. We were confused and we asked him if this deposit was for everyone and he replied “No, its just for foreigners.” This is the kind of treatment the Argentinians give to Foreigners so you’d better prepare yourself for a “gringo extra” in any stores. Our law teacher Diego Fissore told us that its completely legal, as long as the company is not owned by the state (f.x. the post office, police etc.) According to Fissore, a private company can ask a customer for any amount of money for its services, just as the video-rental company did.
  • Get the SUBE -card when you arrive. The city of Buenos Aires used to run with coins, but nowadays most of the commuters use a card called SUBE. You can get it in most of the post offices in BA. It’s simply a plastic card. You can put any amount of money on your SUBE in hundreds of kiosks in the city in just a few moments and use it in Buses, the metro (Subte) and the short-distance trains.
  • There are free activities in Buenos Aires such as Hipodromo (excluding special races) and some museums.  Check online for more info!

These were only the things that we didn’t know pre-hand or take into account for some reason. Don’t take this as a “to-do-list” -before leaving.

 

 

 

 

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Back home

It’s a bit over one week since we came back to Finland.

Our last days in Buenos Aires were really busy with the packing. Last days we spent shopping for souvenirs and went to the movies to see Men in Black 3 in 3D.

On the last night before the departure we had an evening walk on the streets of Baires and had a dinner in the center of Palermo.

Feels like Finland is still the same, even after we’ve been gone for 6months. However after the exchange period we see Finland in a totally different way:
1) Life in Finland is so safe and secure. You don’t need to be afraid of everyday strikes and riots. It’s so easy too! You can go to a post office and take care of your things in 5minutes; not like in Correo, where you first wait 2hours on line and then it takes 20minutes to buy stamps from the counter….

2) Finland is so amazingly beautiful. Before my trip to Baires I have never really looked the scenery and enjoyed the views. Especially the clouds look so amazing, they are like from the paintings! The nature is also so green and the traffic is not even traffic compared to what it was in Buenos Aires: Here you can even hear how the birds are singing and walk on clean streets.

3) Finnish customer service is unique; The cashiers smile and are so helpful! This is the thing that I had never even noticed before.

4) You can pay by card in everywhere! First days I still had the Argentinean way of thinking in my mind when I said to Julius that I can’t by a cup of coffee from the school cafeteria because I don’t have cash. It took me a while to realize that I don’t need to have cash, because I can pay by using my card and there is no minimo para pagar con tarjeta 😀

Our exchange period in Argentina really opened our eyes: Everything is not always easy but even if something is difficult it is possible to find a way through the difficulties. In some situations you just need to adapt and not to give up: If the metro is on strike there are other possibilities: Take the bus or walk.

Finnish people are a bit perfectionists: everything needs to be perfect. We noticed this when we moved into a new apartment and we heard our neighbor complaining how the street lamp was not straight: In the end, does it really need to be straight? Even if the lamp is a bit out of the line it still drives it purpose and lights up the streets 🙂

One of the hardest thing to adapt back into the Finnish culture is the time. If something starts at 12.30 it really starts at 12.30, not 12.38 or 12.52… Finnish people are really punctual with the time.

Anyway it’s nice to be back home. Even though there were days that were harder than the others,  I could do the same again! We got new friends, traveled in Latin-America, learned a new language and culture. We also learned new skills like patience and a way to think alternative options and possibilities. Things that we will  miss from Argentina is the effective public transport, small bakeries around the corner, where you can buy your Sunday facturas and the small nearby Chinese stores, from where you can buy anything at anytime.

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Last goodbye

Here we are, waiting for the guy from the rental apartment agency.

Time went so fast, we don’t have much time to tell our stories now, but

we can tell you that we are coming home, now!

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Presidential ending

We have been quite busy the last few weeks with all of the deadlines at school, but now everything is finished. We used our only free day to visit one more place in Buenos Aires we hadn’t visited before, Casa Rosada. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in Buenos Aires. Until 2 weeks ago we didn’t know you could visit it.

Casa Rosada is the presidential house. The president of Argentina flies from her home in Olivos on weekdays with a helicopter and on weekends its open for locals and tourists. The entry is completely free. It was one of the most beautiful buildings I have seen in my life. I would recommend it for anyone visiting Buenos Aires. Its open only on Sundays, so pick a Sunday and go for it!

Like I said, we are now finished with our studies in UADE. We got our diplomas from our professors. We still have more shopping to do, but soon we have to get ready for our flight back. Overall we have had a great time here. We are feeling a bit down, because we have to leave this place. You will hear from us again before we leave.

 

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One month left

Time has gone really fast here! It’s hard to believe that its already May. At the moment I feel like I could stay here for longer, a month or two.

The past last two weeks we’ve done nothing special: School, projects and a couple of museums. The two that I could recommend would be Tranvia historico and Zanjon de Granados.

Tranvia historico is an old tram from the beginning of 20th century. It’s still operating in the Barrio of Caballito. The departures are on weekend evenings, every 20minutes and the starting point is Emilio Mitre al 500 (In the corner of Emilio Mitre and José Bonifacio). The admission is free of charge. The guided ride was in Spanish but luckily the guide talked really clearly so we could understand almost everything 🙂 We had fun and I recommend this half an hour -ride to everyone who is interested in history.

The other museum that we visited was located in San Telmo -neighborhood. El Zanjón de Granados is an old, restored building. The oldest parts of the building are from the 16th century: From the time when the first colonialists arrived, first settlements are from the year 1536!  Under the building there is a labyrinth and the visitors can walk in the tunnels. We visited this place on Sunday and on Sundays there are half an hour guided tours, but during the week it’s possible to have an one hour tour. Half an hour tour felt maybe a bit too short for us, so in the next visit I would take the one hour tour. The price for English guided 30minute tours were 40pesos and 30 pesos for a  guided tour in Spanish. We didn’t have enough cash with us so we chose the Spanish tour and we understood surprisingly much so it wasn’t a bad choice at all!

We also spent one Sunday in Tigre with two of our friends. Tigre is a city located in Buenos Aires province, around 30kilometers North from Buenos Aires. We took a boat and sailed through the canals and stopped by on one of the islands to have a picnic. The delta area is really beautiful but the rivers’ water is really dirty: We even saw people littering the water and it was a bit shocking to us.

One thing we’ve clearly noticed here is the improvement in our Spanish skills: Nowadays we can go into the stores or lavaderos and take care of everything in Spanish. We can have a small talk with shop clerks and ask questions about things. This wasn’t possible at all during the first month when we arrived 😀

One of the biggest cultural difference here is the kissing: People kiss each others on cheek to say hello or goodbye. If you go to work, party or other meeting it’s common to kiss everyone who is in the same room. At first, for a Finnish person, this felt a bit awkward but after couple of months we’re getting used to it. There is no personal space and on the rush hour you can find yourself squeezing in into a metro that is already packed with people: People just push in as long as the doors can close.

Before we arrived here we thought that Buenos Aires would be a city full of traffic and pollution. The streets aren’t as clean and in good condition as in Finland but we were surprised how green this city is: There are a lot of trees and parks. Parks in Palermo are a perfect place to go jogging of for a picnic.

We’ll try to enjoy our last month as much as possible and keep you posted.

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Easter at Easter Island

We have been a bit busy with school as its nearing the end of the semester, but finally here is our holiday post:

Our vacation started off with a flight from Buenos Aires to Cuzco, Peru through Lima, Peru. We arrived to Cuzco with nothing but our backpacks on our backs and a mood set for adventure. The moment we stepped out of the terminal we were overwhelmed by the amount of people offering different kind of treks and packages to Machu Picchu. Once we got out of the airport dozens men started offering taxis for ridiculous prices (20 soles (almost 6 euros) and more) what is known to be the cheapest country in Latin America. We decided to walk for 1km to our hostel. The guy at the hostel was incredibly nice. He offered us some coca tea, it helps with altitude sickness, since it was our first time so high. Cuzco is elevated about 3.5 km. He advised us about where we should shop for souvenirs and where to eat for cheap.  We spent a few days getting used to the altitude in Cuzco and enjoyed the scenery until the hard part…

One morning we jumped on a bus and met 24 people, of which 10 were tourists. This was the beginning of our Inca trail. We took a bus to Ollantaytambo for a last moment of civilization for 4 days. We continued to road marker 82 to start the hike. The Inca trail is a legendary trail that originally starts at Cuzco (the ancient capital of the Inca empire)  and leads to Machu Picchu, unfortunately the start of the trail is not restored to its former glory. The trail we took was roughly the last 40 kilometers. Over the days we walked in the valleys, on the same stone steps the Incas used. We visited several ancient archaeological sites along the trail, most of them are thought to be some kind of resting places along the way.

The path that took us 4 days, the Incas did in 1-2 days, including the alpacas or llamas they had with them carrying fresh food or offerings to Machu Picchu. On the second day we reached “Dead Woman’s Pass” – the highest point of our trail, over 4200 meters high! After reaching this, it became much easier as the rest of the trail was mostly downhill or very slight uphill. During our trail we had a team of local people trekking with us. On top of our 2 guides, we had a team of porters carrying all the food for 4 days and the tents for the whole group (mattresses and sleeping bags we had to carry ourselves). One guy was the cook and he was very good. The cook made us a breakfast, lunch, “teatime” and dinner every day. Lunch and dinner had a starter, main course and a dessert. On the last day he even made a huge chocolate cake!

Our Inca trail ended on the last day hiking up to Inti Punku, The Sun gate. We woke up on the last day before 4 and reached Machu Picchu upon sunrise. The sight was simply breathtaking. We could see the city light up along the edges, It was so early that there were no tourists and you could really see the glory of the city it once had. We really recommend anyone to do the Inca trail and enter the city in this way, because it was really great and it gives you the perspective of the Incas. We walked down to get the famous postcard photo took a little bathroom break before starting the tour inside the city. We walked through the city and after the tour spent a little spare time there to enjoy after the hard task we had done. The weather was perfect, but we knew our train left back to Cuzco at 2pm, so we decided to grab something to eat at the nearby tourist city, Aguas Calientes. Finally after 4 days we were back to civilization, but we would have wanted the trail to continue endlessly. It was time to relax for a day in Cuzco before our next adventure.

Stretching our legs for a day in Cuzco was good for our sore muscles, but then it was time to jump on a plane again and head to Chile. Our first stop was in Santiago where we were supposed to just change planes and get going. We sat on our connecting flight when the captain announced “Dear passengers, we have to change the plane due to a technical difficulty”. Everyone had to get off the plane and back to the terminal only to be told that they are investigating and we would get more information in 2 hours. They offered us lunch in a terminal cafeteria. After 2 hours we headed back through security and waited for an announcement at the gate. Shortly few flight attendants, accompanied with 3 security guards, walked to the desk. One of them started the announcement saying that our flight would leave in 6 hours and as soon as he said that the local people started to yell and shout.

No one heard what he had to say after that. At the end they told us that we will take you to a hotel, where you will have a room to sleep & shower for the time you wait. We thought “Oh wow, any hotel they take us is probably better than the forest we called home for 4 days”. They took us away from the airport, deep in the center of Santiago de Chile to a hotel called Crowne Plaza. We felt a bit out of place with our backpacks and hiking shoes 🙂

This was one of the fanciest hotels we had ever seen. After serving us a three-course dinner we went to a hotel room to take a warm shower and relax. Crowne Plaza was nice, but it was also very nice to finally get on board the plane. We were in total 9 hours late but the destination was worth the wait: the Easter Island!

We arrived to the Easter Island, an island of 3000-4000 inhabitants and 1 plane arriving every day, almost at midnight. Our airport pickup from the hostel was waiting for us at the airport and soon we were on our way to the hostel. The next day we were both very tired from walking and traveling so we decided to just walk around the city of Hanga Roa for awhile and look for opportunities to rent a car, scooter, bicycle or even a horse for the following day to go around the island. We decided on a scooter, because it was simply the easiest, fastest and the most comfortable way to travel. On top of that it also was twice as cheap as a car.

It was time to see the Island. Isla de Pascua is not too big so you can definitely go around it in a day, but we would recommend to take 2 days for seeing the Moai, maybe 1 day to see the city of Hanga Roa and another 1-2 days to relax on the magnificent Anakena Beach. We started off on our trip to see the Moai and had lunch at Anakena Beach. We went to try the waves and try the silky sand beneath our feet, it was one of the coolest beaches we have seen. We finished the day by stopping at few more Moai platforms called Ahu and as the sun was setting we reached the final Ahu next to Hanga Roa. We were very pleased. The weather was once again perfect for us and the day was simply one of the best during our entire Latin American trip.

Flight home was just around the corner, but first we had to stop at the Santiago Airport – again. Good news first: Our connecting flight wasn’t late. Bad news: Our connecting flight was in 18 hours. We found kind of an “abandoned” place, it was in the international side of the terminal, we put 2 airport benches together and we had a double bed 🙂

The flight took us back to Buenos Aires, which felt like home after a long trip.


Vacation time!

Just a quick post letting everyone know that we will be away for 2 weeks and won’t be posting anything.

 

You will hear from us again between 9th and 15th of April, then we will let you know where we went and what we did on our vacation.

 

Happy Easter to everyone 🙂

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Roses, roses and the Zoo

The days are getting cooler and the Fall, according to Argentinians, started officially 21st of March. This means that during the days the temperatures are between 20-25 celcius but during the nights, it can even drop to 10degrees. For me, the Fall starts when the Autumn colors will show up, but now the trees are still green. Nowadays it’s a bit more comfortable to do outdoor activities than it was a month ago when the temperature was reaching 40.

On Friday we visited a park in the Bosques de Palermo, called El Rosedal. It is a park full of roses, inaugurated in the year 1914. The park has 15,000 different rose bushes and 1,189 species of roses in every color of the rainbow. The entrance was free and I really enjoyed the park! El Rosedal is the park for people who love roses.

Today, on Sunday, we visited Jardín Zoológico de Buenos Aires, the Zoo located in Palermo. It is a really old Zoo, that was inaugurated in the year 1888. The entrance pass was 40pesos per person (6.90e), which was not bad price at all: We spent 3hours walking around the park, seeing monkeys, parrots, giraffes, a polar bear, a lion and many other animals! At the park there was also a possibility to buy Animal food to feed animals, but we didn’t choose that option.

My favorite animal was a small Meerkat (in Spanish: Suricata):

I also liked a lot of rabbit-like animals that were running free in the Buenos Aires Zoo. We found out, that the animal is called Mara and it is related to guinea pigs. They weren’t so afraid of people and one of them even had courage to come closer to our camera:

Julius’ favorite was Hamadryas baboon’s: Those are monkeys that have pink bottoms. Especially the baby monkey was really cute 🙂

The weather forecast says that it is going to rain tonight so we will spend our evening in our apartment watching movies.

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Horses, horses and more horses!

Yes, You read right: Horses.

So this Sunday we had planned to extend our weekend with horses and go to Hipodromo Argentino de Palermo to see real horse racing (not the one you can see in Finland, but the kind that they race in the USA). Maria met a woman called Wendy when she was an Au pair in the states. She’s from Belgium, but now she moved to Buenos Aires. We asked her if she wanted to join us at Hipodromo, but instead she offered to cook us a Sunday brunch and then go see the racing.

First we dressed for the occasion, because horse racing is taken very seriously in this part of the world we thought that I should at least wear long pants. Then we took a bus to Wendy’s place and had a great Sunday brunch there. After few hours of catching up we left for the Hipodromo.  Horse betting is very popular here, there was a race every 30 minutes for the whole day from 3 pm all the way until the last race at 9 pm. For every race people were shouting the name of the horse or the jockey and after every race 30 % of the people were cheering and the rest were shouting something we didn’t understand, but perhaps its better that way.

All in all, yet another great day outside with little clouds in the sky, Unlike tonight. When I started to write this, the sky was clear and the sun was shining. When I got to the middle part, it started to hail. These huge chunks of ice fell from the sky and everyone was running on the street. You could hear cars being hit with these big balls of ice and people honking so they may get out of the way to a garage. Gratefully we weren’t outside during this time and we didn’t get hurt, but I’m sure someone did.

I ran outside to grab couple from the street and took a “reference picture” of them 🙂

 

 

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Western-style riding

Today we had an awesome day! Julius had found a website of a place, that offers western-style horseback riding near Buenos Aires. (http://www.caballos-alapar.com) At first, he was thinking that I should try it, but I suggested that maybe we should do this together and he agreed to join me.

At 3pm in the afternoon we were at the intersection of Av.San Juan and Lima. There we met Miriam, a woman who gave us a ride 30minutes south from BA. We were a bit surprised because she spoke English so well. (She is originally from Holland)

She drove us to a place where she and his business partner Adrian had a stable of horses. We had some maté together and then we jumped on to saddles. We rode across the Parque Provincial Pereyra Iraola. It’s a UNESCO natural park, because of it’s unique biodiversity. We rode in the woods around 3hours: old trees, bambu -jungles and palm-trees were just so indescribably beautiful.

I had a really nice horse called Pintado: It wasn’t too lazy and it loved cantering! Julius did cantering with his horse too: even though it was his first time on the horse, he enjoyed it. Miriam and Adrian were surprised on how good first-timer Julius was 🙂 Western-style of riding is a bit different from the English -style that I’ve used to, but after getting used to it, it feels so comfortable and easy way to ride the horse.

The day was quickly over, way too quickly! I would have wanted to last it forever! When we were returning back to the stables it was already sunset. On the field we cantered for the last time. Our guide Miriam took nice photos and couple of videos, here is one of them (Works also as a proof of Julius’ riding skills):

At the stables, we went inside to have some pastries and a hot drink. We got some feedback from our riding techniques and tips on how to improve, before Miriam drove us back to Buenos Aires. When we got back home around 9pm, we were so tired, but today we truly had a blast!


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