Monday, August 5, 2013

Back Home

We're home!  It feels so good to be back.  Although with school just around the corner the to-do list and schedule are both filling up rapidly.  And 12 hours after we walked in the front door, our clean and tidy house left by the housesitters was a disaster.  The kids were so excited to see their toys everything was strewn from one end to the other.  And with suitcase contents spread everywhere and laundry piles growing, it's just plain depressing.

Our last day in Argentina we headed back downtown to visit the Opera House.  This was a magnificent building.  It's almost pointless to post pictures because they just don't do it justice.  But I'll put a couple up anyway.  We had a guided tour in English that took us through the main foyer, up the grand staircase, into the reception room, and finally the main hall.  It's a stunning room, and we happened to be there during a rehearsal.  So we sat in a box seat and listened to some beautiful singing and orchestra music.  I'm glad we were able to fit it in before we left.

Marble from Sienna, Italy.
The "Times Square" of Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Drawing to a close

We're cleaning out the fridge and the cupboards, packing up the suitcases, and looking under beds for lost Legos and socks.  The adventure is coming to an end.  I think we're all a little excited about heading home, back to familiar faces and things, but it's also a little sad as we say good-bye to people and think about the things we will miss.  We've made some wonderful memories.  Thanks for visiting and following along on our adventure. 

Over the last few days I've thought about some of the things I'm excited to be going back to, and some things I am sad to leave behind.  Here are a few, in random order.

11 things I look forward to:

1.  My own bed.2.  A hot shower.  Warm just doesn't cut it. (Although I'm sure this won't seem quite as desirable when I'm back in 95 degree weather.)
3.  Peanut butter, whole wheat, Mexican food.
4.  Sam's Club and my van trunk (i.e. once a week grocery trips)
5.  The family pediatrician.
6.  Running/walking/biking in my neighborhood without stoplights
7.  The garbage disposal and dishwasher
8.   English
9.  Other children's books besides the 20 we brought
10.  Friends
11.  My kitchen pots and pans and well stocked pantry

11 things I will miss:

1.  Having my family all to myself.  Spending almost every evening together.
2.  Pastries, fresh bread, fresh empanadas, dulce de leche, alfahoras.
3.  Walking 3 minutes to get fresh bread, fresh pastries, fresh empanadas, fresh produce, the supermarket,  the pharmacy, etc.
4.  Having my bathrooms cleaned, floor mopped, and laundry done for me.
5.  No phone calls
6.  Having Bryan do the grocery shopping
7.  No to-do list.  No schedule.
8.  Not paying for gasoline
9.  Public transportation
10.  Free health care
11.  The friendly people we've met at church, at parks, on the bus, etc.

And now for a few pictures from the last couple days:

We went by the National Library.  It didn't have a children's section, so I decided not to tour the inside while trying to keep five kids quiet.  It was a funky looking building, so just playing around the outside was good enough for me.

More time at the playground.  We met an English speaking mom from Mexico, staying here with her two boys while her husband works.  Her seven-year old played tag with the kids while we visited.

This "Floralis Generica Homenaje" sculpture is in a big park and seems to be a postcard-worthy, tourist-must-see landmark.  So we went, although there wasn't much to do but walk around a bit and take pictures.

We're hoping to make another sight-seeing trip downtown tomorrow before we catch our evening flight.  So I might have one more Argentina post to make... from Tennessee.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Estancia El OmbĂș

This weekend we spent a night at Estancia El OmbĂș.  It is a working ranch that now also does tourism.  We had such a great time!

It started early on Friday with a subway ride, a 2-hour double-decker bus ride, then a 15 minute taxi ride.  The kids thought sitting on the top level of the bus was pretty neat.

The whole atmosphere of the Estancia was great.  We were definitely out in the country, with horses, cows, sheep, and dogs everywhere.  We stayed in our own building, that used to be the kitchen.  We had a living area to ourselves with two bedrooms.  An Estancia employee kept the fire burning continually in the fireplace.  Everything had a rustic feel, yet it was comfortable and cozy.  The main building had more hotel rooms, as well as a common area with a pool-table and couches.  The front porch was awesome.  I kind of wish we could have seen the whole place in the summer.

Our own building.

The front porch of the main building.
"Sunbathing" out front.

The food was also incredible.  We had empanadas when we arrived, then a huge barbeque lunch an hour later.  The servers kept bringing more and different types of meat to our table.  "Tea time" a few hours later included pastries and hot chocolate, then a tasty dinner at 8:30.  Our stomachs weren't used to it all.  Breakfast the next morning was also a yummy buffet.  The main meals were served to all the guests in the dining room, and the snacks were served in our own building.

A gaucho (cowboy) did a short horse demonstration for us.  It was slow and graceful, almost like a dance with his horse.

The gauchos took us horseback riding twice, Bryan went with the older kids on Friday and I went with them Saturday.  Mostly the horses just walked along, but they would trot a little now and then, and more often if they had an experienced rider.  The rides were a little longer than an hour and went on roads through the Estancia.

Dallin thought he would go with Daddy and got on for a picture.  Once the horse started moving around under him though, he opted for the buggy ride instead.

 Ashley went on a horse with Dad the first day, then her own horse tied behind a gaucho horse the second time.

Sienna and Colby were tied to gauchos on Friday but had free horses on Saturday.  The kids loved the horseback riding.

It was such a great getaway for our last weekend in Argentina.  

Sunday, July 28, 2013

This One is for the Birds

Here it is, the post you've all been waiting for...  Birding in Buenos Aires!

Sienna, Colby, and I (Bryan) have been keeping track of the new birds we've seen.  And pretty much everything is new -- even the robin-like birds are not robins, but rufous-bellied thrushes.  So without further ado, here are some of our sitings:

Monk Parakeets and Shiny Cowbirds.  There are lots of parakeets in the city -- especially monk parakeets -- but we've also seen some black hooded parakeets (below) and yellow-chevroned parakeets.

Black Hooded Parakeets

Two Southern Crested Caracaras:  These large birds look like a cross between an eagle and a chicken, yet they scavenge around like vultures. These ones are walking through a park in downtown.

Rufous Hornero -- the national bird of Argentina. They build little circular houses with clay.

 Chimango Caracara.  Outside of the city, these small hawk-like birds are everywhere.

White faced whistling duck.  Ducks don't excite me too much, but these were pretty neat -- they made a lot of noise and flew around in herds of 20 or so. We saw lots of other ducks, particularly Muscovy Ducks (which are so annoying that they don't deserve a picture), but a lot of them look like ducks you'd see in a park in the US, so we didn't try to identify them.

Here is a Neotropic Cormorant sitting on a boat rope.

Southern lapwings.  These are quite common once you get outside the city.  We also saw some black-necked stilts which are about the same size and look somewhat similar, but are just white and black and have longer legs and a longer beak.

Coscoroba Swan. This is in a park -- we don't count clearly tame birds (like the peacocks at the zoo) or birds in exhibits (like the toucan at the zoo that defecated on Colby or the parrot that climbed onto Kristen's head), but this swan is free to go wherever it wants and is native to the region, so we counted it.

Rufous Collared Sparrow.  Not the most exciting, but hey, they don't live in Tennessee.

Neither do Cattle Tyrants.

Green Barred Woodpecker.  Ashley -- our birder in training -- spotted this one.

Chalk Browed Mockingbird.

Great Kiskadee.  These birds are pretty cool, with bright yellow breasts, and a black stripe on their faces.

 One of our best finds was this Blue-and-Yellow Tanager.  Too bad our camera isn't better.

 Snowy Egret that Sienna and Colby saw in a park and photographed without me. We all saw a cattle egret -- looks similar but smaller -- at a ranch outside of the city.

We've seen a lot of pigeons (rock doves) -- nothing exciting about that, as they're also everywhere in the US.  But the Picazuro Pigeon, below, isn't something we see at home.  Instead of mourning doves, they have Eared Doves (one whoo-whoo-whoos every morning outside our apartment), and there are lots of small doves called Picui Ground Doves (pictured below).

Picui Ground Doves.

And last, but definitely not least, is the Guira Cuckoo.

We also identified, but didn't take or post a photo of saffron finches and a bare-faced ibis. Sienna and Ashley also saw a barn owl at the ranch.
Yes, I admit, birding is a little geeky.  Kristen rolls her eyes as we take photo-after-photo of little sparrows. But it's been a fun thing to do with the kids, and it definitely makes us more aware of our surroundings.  I've been to Buenos Aires twice before -- before I became a birder -- and never noticed that there were parakeets everywhere in the city. 

So in case you're counting, that's 29 new birds (30 for Sienna and Colby) and puts all of us over 100 for our lifetime birding list!

Art and cold weather

Last week the kids and I tried to go see a free magic show that was happening during winter holiday.  We got there too late to get a seat, but we enjoyed seeing the nifty scrap metal sculptures outside.

We also went to visit the Malba (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires).  There was a special exhibit by a Japanese artist named Yayoi Kusama.  She did a lot of stuff with polka-dots.  We waited in line for an hour just to get in.  The exhibit was pretty neat, although any museum with kids (especially 1 and 3 year-olds) has to be a short visit.

This was a polka-dot covered living room set-up under black light. All of our pictures are pretty awful since you can't use flash and we have a simple snapshot camera.

A mirror encased walk-through room with hanging, changing, Christmas lights.  The lights seem to go on forever and it was pretty cool to be immersed in.

Every visitor to the museum gets a sheet of stickers so they can add to the art of this room.

It also turned cold last week.  Like highs in the mid 40s cold.  So not unbearable, but not super pleasant to be out and about.   We still went places, except for one day where it just felt too cold to be a tourist and we stayed home all day.  We had an epic battle instead: Sienna and Colby with rolled paper swords, Ashley with Karate Bunny, Dallin with red-light-green-light-choo-choo-scarf, and Paul and I with a hanger. It was never really clear who was battling against who, but I think we all won in the end.