Category Archives: Art/Architecture

Falling Under the Spell of Barcelona’s Tibidabo

Below is my latest Huffington Post Travel post, Falling Under The Spell Of Barcelona’s Tibidabo. You can see the full article (with my favorite photo!) here.

Before touching down in Barcelona to live and study for four months I had never heard of Tibidabo. I was familiar with Barcelona’s major highlights otherwise, such as Gaudí’s masterpieces and the smaller mountain of Montjuïc. I would only see that episode of Friends later, and though I had briefly visited the city before, I had somehow missed Tibidabo entirely, an impressive feat considering it is the highest point in the city.

In one of my first weeks in Barcelona I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s amorous ode to Barcelona and its wiles. I remember the sepia-tone scene on Tibidabo most clearly and fondly of all: An angelic Scarlett Johansson walks past the rides of one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, meters and meters above the city, conversing with the irresistible Javier Bardem and pulling at tufts of feathery cotton candy. Even dubbed in Catalan, it was perfect. I remember feeling bittersweet and nostalgic, though I was in Barcelona and had never been to Tibidabo before. It looked and felt like a place I had already visited, a place to where I longed to return.

Within the week I was on Tibidabo. I ended up there in one of those opportune moments that materialize during travels when curiosity, boldness and serendipity coalesce, when circumstances just lead you there and you cannot say no, because you would only regret it later. They are the moments that you call upon months and years afterward, often with stories that begin with, “Remember that time…” This was that time I ended up on top of Tibidabo, otherwise hushed and empty except for us, with all of Barcelona sprawled at our feet, shimmering in the night right down to the edge of the Mediterranean. I sat on a bench of the cathedral, chills from both the temperature and the scene. Craning my head all the way back, the enormous Jesus figure topping the basilica seemed to touch the sky. Slightly below I could make out darkened outlines of the still rides.

I would return to Tibidabo on other nights, though not as high as to look straight up and see a stone Jesus embracing the sky, but far up still to the few bars perched on the mountain. They were my favorite nightspots in the city. While maybe only a few people knew each other, it always felt like some sort of intimate party thrown for those of us who had made it all the way up there. We were on top of the city and therefore we felt like we were on top of the world, but at the same we were in awe of it all. Conversing or dancing we would forget where we were, and then one spin or a glance to the side and there was the entire city spread out front for our admiration.

Below were the tiny, twisted alleys of the Gothic Quarter, the turrets of Catalan Modernist architecture poking into the sky and that arresting creative energy. Maybe those details were indiscernible from such heights, but it was there in Barcelona all the same and we knew it.

I wrapped up my time in Barcelona with a daytime visit to the Tibidabo amusement park. The place was classic, spellbinding and so old that no one was too old. Small families, affectionate couples and clusters of friends were zigging in and out of the antique rides, riding to the pinnacle of the Ferris Wheel, passing warped fun-house mirrors and circling on the carousel. In it all, behind and below it all was the grandeur of the city; the history of the park, mountain and Barcelona.

I snapped one of my favorite pictures at the end of that day right after the sun had set. The photo remains as the background of my computer, and I think it might always be. For me, Tibidabo became emblematic of Barcelona and of what made me fall in love with the city. Since Barcelona I like to think there is a Tibidabo everywhere I travel, that one place that can come to represent my connection to the destination and some of my favorite moments there, and I always try to find it.

Tibidabo Barcelona at Night

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Tango and Salsa in Buenos Aires

From the packed and thumping boliches (nightclubs) to the sultry tango, dance is an important facet of Argentine culture. While I didn’t grow up in tutus or performing in dance recitals, I do love to dance, and living in Buenos Aires has given me the opportunity to indulge that and attempt to actually add some technique to my grooving. Buenos Aires is the birthplace of tango, and while it is the obvious choice for shows and lessons here, it’s salsa I have gotten into dancing. Latin Americans from all parts live in Buenos Aires, and salsa, which is hugely popular, is a dance that seems to unite them all.

Below are my recommendations for where to watch, try and appreciate both tango and salsa.

To See Tango

Most visitors to Buenos Aires make it a point to attend a tango show, and rightly so, as the city is the pulsing heart of the dance, the “vertical expression of horizontal desire.” Problem is, for every quality tango show in the city, there are perhaps two to three tourist trap attractions. Therefore, when my family came to visit I was careful about selecting what show we would attend. The BAExpats forum guided me to Tango Emoción on a small stage at Centro Cultural Borges in the heart of downtown. The above video clip is from the show, though unfortunately a little too shadowy to see the fancy footwork in all its glory. There was not a bad seat in the house and the show’s patriarch, an elderly Argentine man plucking the piano with gusto, interacted with the audience and made the whole event even more intimate and entertaining. Check the Centro Cultural Borges site for information about similar shows and other events. It boasts some great art programming.

To Dance Tango

I can only provide limited guidance on this front, because while I am the first to stop and admire tango dancers, I’m not particularly drawn to learning the dance myself. (I think I’m intimidated by the technicality of it all.)

Tuesday milonga at La Catedral, by Karina

Still, I can attest that La Catedral is a popular spot for dancing tango. The space is a converted theater with a laid-back vibe and art hanging from the walls and high ceilings. I’ve been and felt just as comfortable sitting at a table, downing some of the tasty vegetarian grub from the kitchen and Argentines’ favorite Stella Artois as my beginner friends participating in the milonga, which is the name for a place/event where people dance tango. La Viruta (mentioned below) also offers tango lessons and holds milongas.

My roommate, who studied dance in college in the U.S. and has been taking tango (as well as salsa) classes regularly recommends the following:

Best place to take lessons for beginner-intermediate level: DNI-tango. They have a good beginners’ milonga the last Saturday night of every month and also have a nice weekly milonga on Saturday afternoons from 4 to 7 pm.

For a classic and traditional tango milonga visit Salón Canning on Monday or Tuesday night when they have a beginning/intermediate class at 7 pm, advanced class at 9 pm, and then milonga.

La Catedral has an excellent tango night on Tuesdays with a class at 8:30pm and then milonga. They also have good milongas on the weekends. There also is a good tango class at Zarasa Tango at 7:30pm on Wednesday nights.

For tango nuevo check out Villa Malcolm on Friday night when they have a class and then milonga 11:30-3am. Then head over to La Viruta for more tango/salsa dancing from 3am-6am.

Other places that people have mentioned to me that are good for tango but I have not seen yet are: Práctica X, Boedo Tango, Confiteria Ideal, El Beso and Asociación Armenia on Thursday and Friday nights.

To See and Dance Salsa

Every Tuesday you can find me at La Viruta, a space (bar-equipped) in the basement of an unassuming Aremenian cultural building on Armenia street in Palermo Soho. For AR $25, you gain entrance to three hours of salsa cubana lessons and practica, or free-dance sessions. The structure of the night is lesson-practica-lesson-practica, which gives dancers the chance to dance with partners in any level and practice their newly learned moves. I love La Viruta because I find it to be a relaxed, friendly environment to learn and practice salsa—the practica is key—and on Tuesdays it is filled with people shimmying and shaking across the dance floor. Go to both learn salsa and observe some impressive dancers at work.

Azucar Belgrano is another favorite salsa spot. I have only been on Mondays, though, on which there is no practica. After attending classes with the free-dance portion at La Viruta, I have realized that really makes all the difference in learning, because there won’t always be a teacher there calling out your next steps.

I also have heard good things about Hanoi and Cuba Mía, though both are still on my to-do list. Hanoi apparently is smaller than La Viruta, which gives students more one-on-one time with the teachers. In addition to lessons, Cuba Mía is supposed to make for a fun, happening Friday night out of salsa.

One More Place to See Dance

Teatro Colón before a show, by Karina

You might not catch tango or salsa on stage, but perhaps you can snag tickets to a ballet at the majestic Teatro Colón, what I consider the city’s most impressive and opulent building. If you plan to go I urge you to spring for the pricier tickets, because many of the seats, even if only AR $20 less than the best, are often uncomfortable have obstructed views.

Also: Don’t be surprised if you hear of Argentines taking flamenco classes or see posters advertising flamenco shows. I have a couple Argentine friends who take flamenco lessons, and its popularity makes sense in a city where almost half the local population claims Spanish heritage.

Karina

The Buenos Aires Podcast

I’m keeping today’s post short, because I’m directing you instead to a place that has already done the work of packaging up Buenos Aires insight and condensed into podcast form for your listening pleasure. It’s called the Buenos Aires Podcast, or B.A. Cast.

I stumbled upon the B.A. Cast a couple months into my time in Buenos Aires and listened to all the (as of then) released episodes in one sitting. The hosts of the 20-ish minute podcasts—which are in English—are Dan Karlin, a Buenos Aires transplant originally from the U.S. and Fernando Farias, a B.A. local. They work into the episodes such varied topics as Argentine history, current events and Spanish slang (lunfardo) lessons, as well as cultural happenings and the need-to-know, all while achieving that perfect tone and balance between the informative and funny.

I have now met both the hosts, but I didn’t know either of them when they found my post right here on this blog, Joining a Gym in Buenos Aires, and quoted it on their show. They often include interviews with other expats or locals on their show, and draw on stories and posts by others about the city, as they did with this blog. One of the most fascinating episodes, in my opinion, is Episode 20 of Season 1, in which discuss body image in Argentina and bring in some female guests to share their opinions.

Check out the YouTube B.A. Cast trailer here:

Even if you’re not living in Buenos Aires, if you’ve just visited once or hope to visit one day, I encourage you listen to some of the episodes. At the very least you’ll leave more knowledgeable about this crazy, pulsating city in the Southern Hemisphere, and the mama of a country in which it’s located. You have time to start and finish Season 1 before Season 2 debuts. Do it!

Karina

Buenos Aires Carnaval Murgas and Corsos

This year was an important one for Carnaval in Argentina. In 1976, the Argentine military dictatorship, the same one responsible for the country’s devastating Dirty War during which thousands disappeared, eliminated the nationwide Monday and Tuesday Carnaval holidays. La Presidenta Cristina Kirchner re-instituted them as public holidays at the end of 2010 to take effect this year, so March 7 and 8 were days off. Party!

Below is a clip of the Palermo corso, complete with murga, that took place on March 7, 2011.

Now, to explain the related tensions and complicated side of the all the dancing, drumming, singing and celebrating, I bring in Elena Pinsky’s expertise once more.

While murga as an art exists as a form of popular expression, and of parody and celebration (à la most celebrations of Carnaval in the world), the reality of murga, as with so many other things, is that it is a vehicle for exploring other social and political tensions in the city. Because murga in Buenos Aires is not highly institutionalized the way it is in New Orleans or in Brazil (nor is it as popular, in the English sense of the word, among porteños), there are some interesting class implications about murga, best highlighted by the fact that murgas do not form in the [upper class] Recoleta or Puerto Madero [neighborhoods], though Palermo does have a few. The navigation of murgas in the city is rife with drama — groups that think that murgas should be organized by some entity and groups that don’t, and the relationship between the murga community and the government is tenuous.

Additional information and resources Elena recommends:

One group of organized murgas

More background

Soy Murguero

City of Buenos Aires Carnaval site

Plus: The first TKGO Buenos Aires Carnaval post

-Karina, again with the contributions of Elena Pinsky. Additional thanks/credit to my friend’s novio, Maxi, and this Expanish blog post for the history.

Carnaval in Buenos Aires

The world’s biggest party — Carnaval — culminated and concluded Tuesday. While Rio is the number one Carnaval destination, Argentina throws some serious celebrations of its own, from non-stop Gualeguaychu madness to dances in the streets of Buenos Aires.

The Carnaval celebrations in Buenos Aires consist of murgas and corsos. The corsos are the parades, and murga refers to the art, or the song and dance, and the community-based groups that perform it. The celebrations are a mix of loud drum beats, singing, flamboyant costumes laden with fringe and people moving in what looks like a mix of fluid break dancing and capoeira, touching the ground and kicking high. People of all ages come out, and children, as well as some adults, sprint around the periphery, spraying each other mercilessly with foam, shrieking and giggling. (Enter corso/murga territory at your own risk. My friends and I were doused, but it’s all in good fun and quickly dissolves without a trace.) The photos below are from the corso I attended in Palermo, on Darwin between Gorriti and Cabrera streets.

Carnaval in the Streets Buenos Aires

Drums Carnaval Buenos Aires

Street parade Buenos Aires Carnival

Corso Buenos Aires

Carnaval Buenos Aires

One of my good friends from college, an anthropology major, wrote her senior thesis about murga, based on research she conducted and collected here in Buenos Aires. Funny enough, she is currently living in another Carnival capital, New Orleans. While she understandably couldn’t send me an email on Mardi Gras, she was kind enough to send me one the following day. Here’s an excerpt:

Murga is a form of popular art — that is, of the people. Murgas are groups that form according to neighborhood, and largely represent the neighborhoods from which they come, though people from all over the city are welcome to join. Murgas come together year-round to practice murga, which involves dancing, drumming and singing (less musical, more parody-esque; one song type of song that murgas sing is called a crítica and jokes or parodies current events and figureheads). In one way, the goal of a murga is to salir en las calles durante todo el Carnaval (go out on the streets for all of Carnaval). But the community that forms year-round through a murga is also essential.

Coming Friday: Video of the Palermo murga from March 7, 2011 and information about cultural tensions related to murga, thanks to our resident scholar and my friend, Elena.

Karina for TKGO, with the much-appreciated expertise of Elena Pinksy

All Aboard: Cusco to Aguas Calientes

Half the magic of Machu Picchu is getting there. While most would refer to the Inca Trail with that statement, I say look to the train!

Train from Cusco Cuzco to Aguas Calientes Peru Machu Picchu

The less affordable tourist train service starts at roughly US$50 each way on PeruRail. If you’re on a budget (and a more flexible timeframe) there’s also an incredibly unreliable local train that runs between Cusco and Aguas Calientes on the older train tracks. Be sure to check weather conditions and train schedules in the month before you leave and the day before you leave, as train service is often discontinued for months at a time without much notice.

The local was undergoing extensive repairs (read: no one moved blockage from the tracks for months) but we didn’t mind spending a little extra cash for the comfortable seats, shorter travel time and prettier route.

Train from Cusco Cuzco to Aguas Calientes Peru Machu Picchu

Schedule your four-hour train ride for the afternoon before your Machu Picchu visit and reserve space in a hostel in Aguas Calientes for the night you arrive. If you reserve tickets at least a few months before your trip, you won’t have to worry about a sold-out train. However, if PeruRail is fully booked from Cusco to Aguas Calientes by the time you make your reservation, just book from nearby Ollantaytambo, the first stop on the train from Cusco to Aguas, where many passengers will get off to see ruins (and make room for you!).

Train from Cusco Cuzco to Aguas Calientes Peru Machu Picchu

When the train stops to pick up cargo, mail, and additional passengers, some enterprising locals would walk beside the train cars selling homemade hot meals, breads, snacks and even flowers.

Train from Cuzco Cusco to Aguas Calientes Peru Machu Picchu

Sunrise over Machu Picchu cannot be missed, and you’ll need your beauty rest for that 5 a.m. bus departure to make the 5:30 a.m. daybreak. (If you want to go the lazy route, the best part of the sunrise happens between 7 and 7:30 a.m. so you can catch a slightly later bus up the mountain. However, the lines of tourists will be so long you may just have to leave at the same time!) Grab the bus at the Machu Picchu Pueblo Train Station at the center of the city.

From there, you’ve got nowhere to go but up.

Tara for TKGO

For additional trip planning help, I recommend PeruTreks.com’s helpful maps and information. Or, continue your trip to Machu Picchu with TKGO!

Shot of the Week

The Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) in Paris features an underground tunnel built by soldiers in 1807 to evacuate the city government, protecting them from invasion during the Franco-Prussian War. The French Renaissance-style building now houses the city’s first openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoë. Click to take a digital tour of the Hôtel de Ville.

Tara for TKGO