Category Archives: Nightlife

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

How Not to Get Robbed In Buenos Aires

If Buenos Aires has taught me one lesson repeatedly, it is resilience.

Last week, someone used my debit card information to purchase $1,000 USD worth of wine from an Argentine website. It was upsetting, it was frustrating and it was wrong, but my bank luckily caught the fraudulent charges and I’m on my way to getting my money back and rectifying the situation. The incident inspired me to finally get this post up, because after nine months in the city I have experienced and witnessed a sufficient array of robberies to have figured out a thing or two about how to better prevent them.

Before I begin, I want to say first that it’s not about good luck or bad luck. I have lived in Barcelona, New York City, a Chicago suburb where things went down, as well as traveled through many parts of Europe and Central and South America without issue, while some I know lost valuables. It’s just that unfortunately, a number of people are hard-pressed for money in this city, wanting or needing things they don’t have, and will resort to taking what is not theirs.

In hopes of helping you hold onto your BlackBerry, purse, camera, watch or favorite skirt, (see: laundry section) I pass along the following information. Robberies and pickpocketing can and do happen all over, and while events in Buenos Aires inspired the following advice, I imagine it can apply to most anywhere.

Trust your intuition always

I’m sure you know that gut feeling to which I am referring, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to pay attention to it. Don’t freak yourself out, but trust that little voice. As you’ve heard a million times, you’re better safe than sorry. This entry is riddled with clichés, but is so necessary to include.

Charge it as little as possible

Since I still have the physical card someone used to stock their wine cellar, whoever obtained my debit card information did it one of two ways. A store employee either jotted down the information when I used it for a purchase, or someone had a scanner set up on an ATM machine I used that recorded my information. The latter option might sound a little crazy, but according to this recent NPR article my mom found and sent me after the incident, it is fairly common. Minimize your risk by whipping out your plastic as little as possible, and when you withdraw from an ATM opt for one in a bank where you need to swipe your card to enter. (It’s supposed to be less likely a thief would be brave enough to install a scanner so close to a bank, though you never know.) Use cash for purchases, which you’ll want to anyway as you’ll probably save money.

Only carry what you really need, and don’t show it

What do you need to go out? What do you need to go to work? What do you need for the gym? Pare it down to the necessities and bring just that. I don’t bring my phone to my gym in Buenos Aires, and I only bring my iPod if I’m going to have it in playing in my ears the entire time. I don’t bring my entire wallet to go out at night. When you have a lot is when pickpockets have opportunity.

On a related note, you want to avoid taking out your whole wallet in public, or typing away furiously on your phone while waiting for a bus or in outside around others. Some people will be audacious enough to snap something right out of your hands and take off. This happened to one friend, whose reaction was the chase the thief down like a crazy woman, and she scared him into giving her back her BlackBerry. Still, you don’t want to be in that position.

Get a different purse and keep it in your lap

It’s happened to me and three other girls I know: Something disappeared from our over-the-shoulder purses. You might think you’re safe because it zips or clasps, but when you’re dancing or in a crowd, it’s not right in your hand (clutches are advisable) or jammed under your arm, and it’s at hand-level for passers-by. If you’re going to wear one, keep your hand on it at all times, and avoid crowds, especially at clubs or nights out when you might have had a couple drinks.

Wherever you are sitting, keep your purse in your lap, square in sight and to be extra safe, hand on top. When you and your friends are sipping coffees and wrapped up in conversation at a restaurant, you probably won’t notice someone making off with your purse sitting on the chair next to you, as was the case with a friend.

Watch the language

Speaking out loud in a language other than Spanish makes others think you are a foreigner or tourist and therefore easier to rob. It might not be fair, but that is how it is.

Know how much things should cost

This pertains to avoiding getting ripped off, which I consider a sub-genre of this topic. Before you reach for a product without the price prominently listed, ask what it costs. When you are in a cab, try to have a general idea of how much the trip will run, and keep an eye on where you are. Don’t be afraid to say something if you think a price is off, because if you’re not watching out for your money chances are no one else is. You don’t have to be rude, just politely assertive.

Look like you know what’s up

If you give off the impression you’re not an easy target, you’re not an easy target. Look attentive and determined, like someone who shouldn’t be messed with, and walk with purpose. More importantly, be attentive! Keep your senses alert for anything suspicious. Avoid spinning in circles trying to orient yourself, or taking out a map. Even if you don’t carry mace or a stun gun, as some of my friends do, you can still make suspicious people concerned about what might be in your bag. Dramatic? Maybe, but sometimes it’s what it takes.

(Perhaps) Avoid traveling in groups

There is no strength in numbers if you all are talking and walking focused on each other and your conversation. People from the U.S., and even many Europeans, tend to be louder than Argentines on the street, and moving in groups heard blocks away calls even more attention to you. Make sure you’re listening to and noticing what is around.

Take extra precautions where you know it’s more risky

Way too many people have stories about losing their wallet or iPod on public transportation in Buenos Aires. During rush hours the colectivos (buses) and Subte (metro) are stuffed, people squeezed against each other such that a brush by your bag isn’t a cause for alarm, which is dangerous. Even during off hours, public transportation in the city is a place where pickpockets prey. Keep your phone out of sight, your hand on your bag and look alert.

Lock your phone

This piece of advice is especially pertinent if you have a smartphone. This way, you can at least keep the thieves from getting into your personal information, such as email and Facebook, and minimize their gains as much as possible.

Don’t trust anyone with just anything (laundromats included)

A friend’s roommates were working at a Starbucks. One had to go to the bathroom, so she asked the other to keep an eye on her laptop. Some people came up to the watchdog friend and began chatting. She tried to ignore them, but they were a distraction, and the next thing she knew the other laptop had disappeared. Avoid entrusting people to “watch” things. For the sake of friendships, you shouldn’t give others that responsibility; most thieves are just too experienced. It is best that if something happens the blame can only fall on you or no one.

Slightly related: If you have an item of clothing you spent a lot on or are attached to, consider washing it yourself. On one occasion I had a couple items of clothing not return from the laundromat, and there really is no recourse.

Research

If you’re traveling, look for hotel and hostel reviews that might mention robberies. If you’re staying more long term, try to investigate your landlord and cleaning service, anyone you don’t know who will have access to your residence or be coming by regularly. Also, keep an eye on who is in and out. One friend’s laptop was stolen when people came to check out an open room in the apartment. You don’t have to judge and make assumptions, just be cautious.

Wait for your credit/debit card

In the U.S., ATMs come to life and give you money with a simple swipe of your card. In Argentina, most machines hold onto your card for the duration of the transaction, such that you get your money and receipt before you get your card back. As a result, it’s almost a rite of passage for foreigners to accidentally walk away from the machine still holding their card. Sometimes you get your card back, (thank you, whoever you were who chased me two blocks to hand it to me that time) sometimes you are the one to find a card, (paid the aforementioned good deed forward and gave it to a trusted employee) and sometimes the wrong person will get their hands on it. My best advice is to stay thoroughly focused on that ATM machine and exactly what you’re doing when using it—type pin, click withdraw, type amount, take money, take receipt, take card! Reminding yourself throughout it, “Get your card back, get your card back, get your card back.” Really, it’s what’s required… at least for me.

Know that it happens to everyone

I told my Argentine amiga the story of how my friend’s purse was stolen when we were having coffee, and after expressing her frustration and sympathy, told me the same situation happened to her last year. I don’t say this to encourage pessimism, but to remind you that sometimes it is just going to happen, whether you are a tourist, long-term resident or Argentine.

If and when something does happen, stay calm, walk through the steps for damage control and try not to dwell. (This is me reminding myself, by the way.) Don’t blame yourself too much for the could-have-would-have-should-have, because as my mom wisely told me, you can’t accuse a person of something until it actually happens. If something happens to your stuff, it’s just that: material stuff. You will replace it, get it back or figure it out, even if it’s frustrating or annoying. This post is not intended to frighten, just help people be more aware. Living in fear is no fun, nor is it necessary.

Karina

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

What Argentines Love

Argentines do enjoy their red wine and steak. Many do tote around their mate gourds and thermoses and, for a night out, will mix up Fernet and Cokes. Perhaps a couple Argentines can slide through a few tango steps. Some of the stereotypes of this country can be true, same as for any other country or culture.

What I am always drawn to discovering when somewhere new is the more nuanced cultural affinities of the place; things beyond what first comes to mind when people hear the name of the city or country. They’re the tendencies and favorites that take some time to notice, and they’re often more insightful as to how people live their lives and what they enjoy than any stereotypes could be.

I’ve listed out some of what I find to be the most interesting, funny or unexpected Argentine favorites I have noticed over the course of my months in Buenos Aires. I’ve limited it mostly to physical objects, because I could go on forever about Argentine cultural phenomena, such as the proclivity to making and taking national holidays as much as possible, (ie: Immaculate Conception Day on December 8 when everyone puts up their Christmas trees) or the all-pervasive grungy look in vogue here right now.

rollerblading

Blissful in my first time in rollerblades in years; at Parque 3 de Febrero

The coolest, fittest way to get around is rollerblading. People rent blades for hour increments in parks, or strap on their own high-tech, aerodynamic pairs. Rollerblading lives far beyond the 90s in Buenos Aires, and I am definitely not too cool for it. One of my favorite Sundays in the city was spent blading laps around Parque 3 de Febrero.

tang

Tang, courtesy of Rejon on Flickr

Similarly, that crazy orange powder drink oh-so-inventively represented with an orangutan enjoys its popularity well past the ’90s in Buenos Aires. One common way to enjoy it is to pour it in with mate to cut the caffeinated drink’s bitterness.

stella artois

Stella Artois billboard at Humboldt and Paraguay, by Karina for TKGO

While we’re on the subject of drinks, people love their Stella here. Argentine beer Quilmes is a prideful favorite, but imbibers who want to take their drinking a step classier go for the Stella.

delivery

Volta helado delivery, by Karina for TKGO

Want to stock your departamento with Stella but couldn’t get to a market to pick some up for the night? Call delivery! Alcohol delivery, ice cream delivery, McDonald’s delivery, even one-cup-of-coffee delivery; it’s all coming right to your door.

wifi

Mama Racha, one of many Palermo establishments with free WiFi, by Karina for TKGO

Lacking WiFi (pronounced “wee-fee”) really undermines an establishment’s legitimacy, because in Buenos Aires the majority of all cafes, restaurants, bars and pretty much all enclosed indoor spaces, including the Buquebus station, offer free WiFi. I’m not sure why someone would go to a bar with a laptop, but the service is there—and not necessarily secure—if you want it.

speed

 

Speed Unlimited advertised at Club One, by Karina for TKGO

Back to the subject of drinks, Speed, an energy drink similar to Redbull or Rockstar, is a favored Argentine mixer. Speed with vodka is a frequently ordered drink for girls or guys, and people often order cans of speed with a bottle of champagne to mix together. (The champagne-Speed combination is a taste my friends and I are still trying to force ourselves to enjoy, but still just don’t understand.) Four Loko managers reading this, have you considered a foray into South America?

sushi

Kaiseki sushi, by Karina for TKGO

Sushi is so chic in Buenos Aires, just as it’s a ‘trendy’ food in many parts of the world. I am not much of an expert on sushi, but from what I have gathered from friends more knowledgeable in the field, it seems the sushi here is not all that inventive. Many of the more daring fish, like eel,  are missing from most menus, and for some reason, rolls with salmon almost always come with Philadelphia cream cheese. Still, you have plenty of options if you’re craving sushi in Buenos Aires, from the sleek SushiClub to one of the three delivery places on your block, like Kaiseki near my house and pictured above.

american skate and surf clothing brands

Billabong, courtesy of Karola Riegler photography on Flickr

Rip Curl, Billabong, Quiksilver and similar skate/surf clithing brands are everywhere, from the gyms to the clubs. Teenage boys through male 30-year-olds sport shirts with the brand names emblazoned on, usually accompanied with some artsy design.

American brands are pretty coveted in Argentina in general, as an iPhone (or any Mac product) is a status symbol and Nike sneakers are a must-have for many.

This could easily continue for paragraphs, to include things like rugby and field hockey (the former is one of the most popular sports for guys, the latter for girls), Mafalda, pool parties in the summertime and bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, but for now my list of Argentine remains curated to the items above. Been in Buenos Aires and noticed something por todos lados you’ve found interesting? Please post it in the comments!

Karina for TKGO

Buenos Aires Beach Getaways

Friends and family in the Northern Hemisphere, I see you with your long coats and Facebook statuses about snow and hot chocolate. I am currently sitting in the air conditioning, while outside it is 93 degrees Fahrenheit on the first day of summer in Buenos Aires.

You might be planning ski trips right about now, but everyone down here is all about the beach. Christmas time marks the start of beach escape season, and it seems as though everyone and his/her mom (really, though) is discussing the various towns along the water they’re migrating to and for however long. The way people talk about it, you would think the entire city is fleeing to any nearby strip of sand for the month of January.

Punta del Diablo, Uruguay by Karina for TKGO

I was a little ahead of the seasonal curve and spent last week in the Uruguayan beach hamlet and fishing village of Punta del Diablo. It was picturesque in a way unlike any other beach I have visited, with its tiny, colorful houses, rolling dunes and blue, blue skies. I returned sunned and relaxed, and also set on returning to a beach again this summer.

Below is a list of some of the most popular summer beach destinations for porteños (those from Buenos Aires). Mar del Plata (aka MDQ) and Pinamar are both within Argentina, and locals pile into buses to get there. For the beaches in Uruguay, most people take a ferry then bus.

To give you an idea about the various beaches and how they differ, I included some quotes and insight, both good and bad, heard from friends and acquaintances over the past couple of weeks. Of course, it is all hearsay and everyone’s opinion differs, so if you are planning a trip of your own, I recommend doing your own research, too.

Seeing as I just had a relaxing beach week, I am thinking my next sandy destination is one of the beach party havens. I have to get the full spectrum of the beaches people here love, after all.

Punta del Diablo beach, by Karina for TKGO

Punta del Diablo, La Paloma, La Pedrera

Prettiest and most tranquil

The “real” Uruguayan beaches

Too tiny

Punta del Este

Should really just be considered part of Argentina, so many people from Buenos Aires flock there

Expensive, and people with lots of money

Overrated

Beautiful, stylish people and parties

Mar del Plata

Best beach for people 25-35 (ish)

Most “joda” (partying) out of all the beach towns

Crowded beaches, not the prettiest

Pinamar

Like Mar del Plata, but slightly older

Like Mar del Plata, but slightly nicer and more expensive

Other beaches to consider: Carilo, Miramar, Mar de los Campos and Villa Gesell, all in Argentina. Many are in wooded areas, too.

Generally, people agree Uruguay has the prettiest beaches between the two countries, but that is not to say people do not stand by their own country’s sand and waves.

Karina for TKGO

SantaCon 2010: Christmas Anarchy in New York City

I don’t like the holidays. But I have finally found a reason to enjoy the entire month of December, and it has everything to do with the worldwide phenomenon known as SantaCon.

My SantaCon New York began at 9 a.m., when I met two friends in Union Square, pulled a santa suit over my clothes in the middle of the park and headed to the nearest subway stop. Between these activities, the three of us were stopped by a group of Argentinean tourists for a photo, countless pointing and screaming six-year-olds, three grandmas, and one lost and drunk SantaCon participant who went from “oddball” to “BFF” in the time it takes to fall down the stairs to the subway.

SantaCon 2010 NYC

SantaCon 2010 NYCFor more photos, check out the TKGO Facebook page!

To meet up with the rest of the santas, the only way is to follow the @SantaCon Twitter feed, which announces the intersection whose bars will soon be overrun, or the part of Central Park in which the santas will be playing reindeer games.

@SantaCon 2010 Twitter Highlights from TKGO

In a santa suit, it’s impossible not to make fast friends. Going to an ATM, buying pumpkin bread at the farmers market, crossing the street—all result in ridiculous conversation, laughter and Christmas carols.

This weekend, all the lucky residents of Las Vegas, Toronto, Reykjavik, Tokyo, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle and even my hometown, Appleton, Wisconsin, will get to witness SantaCon firsthand. If you plan on crashing, don’t forget the essentials: sneakers, gloves, ID, cash, and a Kleenex pocket pack for when the toilet paper inevitably runs out.

Find your nearest SantaCon location and buy your $10 suit—’tis the season!

Tara for TKGO

Side Note: For those of you in Chicago, you’ve missed your chance at SantaCon this year, but don’t miss the equally obnoxious Chiditarod in March, 2011! (Registration required!)

Saving Money in Buenos Aires

It is easy to live big on American dollars in Buenos Aires. My first weeks in the city I got continual thrills out of evaluating the prices of things in pesos and dividing by four, which is the current approximate conversion rate. But, a traveler’s mentality toward money is different from a resident’s, and I have finally begun evaluating prices pesos against pesos, rather than pesos to dollars. Now my thrills come from saving pesos while still enjoying all Buenos Aires has to offer, rather than thinking of how comparatively cheap a steak or taxi ride is here compared to in the U.S.

For all my fellow recent college graduates, and because I’m pretty positive saving money is a universal pleasure regardless of where one is in the world or how much he or she makes, I present my personal list of money-saving tips, based on my current life and experiences in Buenos Aires.

An Argentine 100-peso bill, worth about $25 U.S.

Food

Everyday

Shop often, but only for what you need. I was used to making big weekly or bi-weekly trips to the supermarket, but I have found I save more money, waste less food and eat more of what I want and need (than what’s simply around) when I shop day-to-day. I pass a small grocery store on my way home from work, and on my walk from the office I think about what I plan to eat for dinner that night and pack for lunch the next day. Then I buy what I need, and that’s that.

Break down your food shopping, and search out the cheapest produce stands and butcher shops. The general consensus is you will pay less for the same products in the smaller, individually owned grocery stores than in the big-box grocery stores. Investigate this and see what works best for you, though, because while I swear by the small places, my roommate sticks to the large Disco on our corner and often receives 15 or 20% coupons off entire grocery orders.

In Buenos Aires, produce stores and butcher shops populate every block, whereas large grocery stores are less frequen. As a rule, produce and meat in the smaller shops are cheaper, fresher and more local than what you’ll get at the larger grocery stores. Not all stands, though, sell for the same rates. I’ve located what I think is the cheapest (and tastiest) near my block. The other day I purchased a huge head of lettuce, two tomatoes, two avocados and a bunch of asparagus (about 10 stalks) for $11.50 pesos, or less than $3 USD. Also, since you’ll be buying it all ripe, it is best to follow the above advice of buying regularly.

Dining Out

Find coupons. Coupons are everywhere! I currently subscribe to Waku, Cuponica, Groupon Buenos Aires and Living Social Buenos Aires to receive their daily deals via e-mail. Some of the offers are for Pilates classes and teeth whitening, yes, but the many of them are food-related. Also — and this is particular to Buenos Aires — Guia Oleo, which is the Buenos Aires restaurant guide bible, issues a number of free restaurant coupons. You also will find food coupons in random places, like a 20% off sushi coupon with your grocery store receipt. (Note: Some Buenos Aires coupon sites, might not accept international credit cards.)

Similarly, look into what you already have going that comes with discounts. Prime example: Ironically enough, my gym membership gets me 15% off at a nearby helado (ice cream) place.

Go for local fast food. In Buenos Aires, empanadas, pizza and choripan (chorizo sausage on bread) are beloved local foods. They also come super cheap. Less than $4 pesos can get you a warm, stuffed empanada — baked here, not fried, so don’t feel too bad about it — and a piece of pizza or choripan with some chimichurri run around that price, too. Whenever I don’t feel like cooking but still want to feel “cultural” (as in not hit up Burger King or its ilk) I search out a new local empanada, pizza or choripan place.

And if you are craving sweets, visit the factura wall at your local bakery. Facturas are pastries that cost about $1.50 pesos each. Small enough to avoid guilt, big enough to satisfy a sweet tooth.

Also, choose between wine or water when dining out. I’m half kidding, but water is not complimentary here, you know.

Nightlife

Get on a list. You can find a list for anywhere if you try is a theory developed (and proved) while studying abroad in Barcelona. The same holds for Buenos Aires, where boliche (club) culture is especially strong. Club promoters do most of their work via Facebook, so a simple search for “____ lista” or “_____ invitados” (inserting the name of the club you want to go in the blank) will turn up groups and profiles with free admittance entry. Additionally, a Google search can turn up some legitimate Web sites for list information, such as this one for Buenos AIres. It doesn’t hurt to try to meet the promoters, too, because they might start to come to you with less-publicized events, such as free dinners. (Seriously!) Most of the time, finding a list also translates to skipping any silly bouncer business and lines at the door.

Investigate deals. Find a favorite bar, or many favorite bars, and look into any specials they have, like nights when girls drink free or beers are especially cheap. At many places, “happy hour” has been known to go until 2 a.m. America might be the land of deals and buying in bulk, but Argentines can’t say no to good drink specials, either.

Also, and this is probably another obvious one but I will say it anyway, cheap tickets can be found to pretty much any show or event. Just look for student deals or the cheapest day to go.

Avoid buying drinks out. This holds true whether you’re in Chicago or Buenos Aires, but drinks will always be cheaper when you make them yourself. If you plan on going to a boliche, too, you won’t be leaving until probably 1:30 a.m., so use the time beforehand to arrange a social little previa (pregame). Argentines embrace the concept of previas, so make some friends and make some plans!

Sightseeing & Events

Hold on to your student ID. That expiration date? Probably not noticeable to the woman working the ticket desk at a museum in Buenos Aires. I’ve used mine a number of times without a hitch, and it usually gets me a significant discount — often free — entry. Otherwise, look for free or discounted days.

Read local event calendars and culture sites. A good place to start would be the websites of local culture publications (the print versions work, too, but you’re more likely to find up-to-date details online), such as TimeOut. You’ll find the most interesting, in-the-know, and often free events.  Some popular ones in Buenos Aires are Vuenos Aires, the aforementioned TimeOut Buenos Aires, What’s Up Buenos Aires and (thanks to my Twitter friend @AustinWiebe), the official city agenda. In New York City I relied heavily on nymag.com for similar info. Expat forums also are especially informative in this aspect; see “ALSO:” below for my praise on that.

Talk to locals. Sure, you want to see the famous architecture and cruise through the notable museums, but when it comes down to it, sightseeing is about getting to know a place. Talk to locals to see how they spend their weekends, and that’s when you’ll do some real “sightseeing.” For example, park life is a huge part of the Buenos Aires lifestyle. People spend hours upon hours in parks on the weekends, drinking mate (read Tara’s explanation of Argentine’s mate drinking here) kicking around a ball, playing music and most importantly, just spending time with friends. And that costs nothing.

Communication

Bring a cell phone. Of all those old cell phones you have stuffed in drawers at home in the U.S., I bet at least half of them can be unblocked and used in another country. One of the biggest money wasters that comes with setting up life in a new place is buying an overpriced cell phone in the country you are in that features technology rivaling only the Nokia you used to play Worm on. Bring an unblocked cell from home and you will save money and have a nicer phone. Just make sure it operates using a SIM card, and you can buy a new card in your country for super cheap and get it going.

Get on Google Voice! And buy a Magic Jack. I do miss my family and friends in the U.S., sometimes too much. Thanks to the newly debuted Google Voice, though, I can call and text them, and anyone else in the U.S., for free (!) right from my computer. It is truly amazing. Google Voice is new, though, so it does not always work, and that is where the more reliable Magic Jack comes in. One of my friends in Buenos Aires is a flight attendant on leave; she travels often and swears by the Magic Jack. How it works is, you purchase the jack to plug into the USB port of your high speed internet-connected computer. You then plug a phone into the other end of the adaptor, and can use the phone to make or receive calls from the U.S. and Canada.

ALSO:

Use Twitter. Follow local journalists, bloggers, personalities and publications to get insight on what people are up to that sounds fun and cost-effective. People cannot help but broadcast a good deal or fun event, and I for one, do not mind! I have made a “Buenos Aires” list on my account so I can quickly check out what is going on in my current city.

Read Forums. The Buenos Aires Expat blog truly amazes me. It is a goldmine of advice, resources and tip-offs for everything related to Buenos Aires and expat life. I have posted looking for advice on buying polo tickets, best nearby beach getaways and finding Thanksgiving turkeys, and receive a slew of knowledgeable responses quickly. Additionally, because many expats are adventurous people looking to experience as much as possible, you hear about events and activities you might otherwise not have learned about. I have found CouchSurfing’s groups to be a good resource, too.

Don’t buy clothes — share. Or use cash. Living with two other girls = two additional closets, so I have not felt the need or desire to buy new clothes here, yet. If you do shop, pay in cash and ask for a discount! In many South American countries, the big secret is that the labeled price is for credit cards. Pay with cash and sales personnel will discount your purchase. Be sure to ask, though, because they will not always offer.

That’s my best advice so far, and I would love to hear any recommendations you have. Every peso saved is another peso toward travels during my time off around Christmas!

Karina for TKGO