Tag Archives: cathedral

Tunisia

Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa with a population of a little over 12 million. It is bordered by Algeria (west), Libya (southeast) and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It also shares maritime borders with Italy and Malta.

Like most of the nations around the Mediterranean it has a long and potted history about who controlled the area that is now Tunisia. And this recorded history starts with the Berbers before the 12th century BC. In 146 BC the Romans defeated the city of Carthage and had control of the place for the next 800 odd years. In the 7th century AD, Arab Muslims had their turn and conquered Tunisia, moving in in huge numbers over the next few hundred years. In 1546, the Ottoman Empire took control for the next 300 years, until 1881, when the French conquered Tunisia. In 1956, Tunisia finally gained independence as the Tunisian Republic.

Tunisia has odd currency laws and will confiscate cash if you get them wrong.

Most countries allow you in and out of the country with the equivalent of USD $10,000 and more so long as you declare it.

But not here.

  • Here you are allowed to bring in 10,000 dinar (about $3300 USD) and
  • must declare amounts over 5000 dinar.
  • It is a criminal offence to export Tunisian dinar
  • so make sure you change everything back before you leave
  • any unchanged dinar will be confiscated
  • Anything over the 5000 dinar (equivalent) will be confiscated
  • about USD $1500 or 1300 euros

We found this out the hard way when I got my bag deconstructed by the agent (on the way out of the country) looking for cash. In essence, if I had any Dinar left over or more than about USD 1500 or 1300 euros in cash on me, they were within their rights to confiscate it from me. There are grounds to get it back if you get a receipt and return to the country within 3 months. However, nobody who had tried this (based on online commentary) could locate where the money could be collected from due to Bureaucratic runaround.

Tunis

Tunis is the largest and capital city of Tunisia with about 2.7 million residents in the greater Tunis area.

And is a great place to kick back and chill.

The biggest surprise for me was the cab drivers. As any regular traveller knows, cab drivers in almost every nation are as sketchy as hell and are always trying to rip you off. Yes, there are some exceptions, but for the most part, we have stopped using taxis (even in Australia) in favour of ride-share apps.

But that was not the case here. The cabs all used meters, without being asked, were reasonably priced and did not try and tout and prey upon unsuspecting tourists. A refreshing and pleasant change.

The Tunis Medina is (apparently) the best preserved in all of North Africa. It is the historical and cultural heart of the city, with buildings dating from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is home to the souks, the markets, workshops and ateliers. Allegedly there is a pecking order to such things and therefore they are arranged hierarchically around the Great Mosque.

The souk is nowhere near the bedlam that was Marrakesh, but there is still plenty going on. And the available artisan work is of the highest quality. It is cleaner, quieter, has less touts and is generally much more manageable for the shy tourists.

The Jamaa ez-Zitouna mosque, or ‘olive mosque’, is the oldest in the city. It was founded at the end of the 7th century or in the early 8th century, but its current architectural form dates from a reconstruction in the 9th century. The mosque is said to be one of the most important in all of Islam and covers 5,000 square metres, with nine entrances. The building includes many antique columns reused after the destruction of Carthage. Due to the nearness of the souk in the Medina, you only really get to see some columns and arches.

Being non-Muslims, we typically just admire the outside of mosques and rarely enter. In many cases, we are not allowed in anyway, but even when we are we tend not to. Some of the rooftops around the Medina offer amazing panorama views over the Medina, and some even stay open for after dark shots.

The Sea Gate (also known as the Bab el Bhar and the Porte de France) is the entrance to the Medina from the new part of town.

New Tunis

East of the Medina, is the modern part of the city called “Ville Nouvelle”. This area is often referred to by media and travel guides as “the Tunisian Champs-Élysées. It is a grand avenue lined with colonial-era buildings.

While Tunisia has had its share of security issues over the decades, at no point did we feel unsafe or uneasy. There was an off-putting security presence in the new town area that seemed extremely over the top for what was going on. Armoured vehicles, heavily armed military and blockades were everywhere and there was nothing going on.

A more timid day I had never seen, clear blue skies and almost nobody on the streets, but the grand avenue had a visibly present and unnecessarily confrontational security presence.

Doors

For some strange reason I found myself taking photos of the doors (especially in the Media) of Tunis. They were truly stunning. Some huge and ornate, while others simple but there was something about the doors in this place that just grabbed me.

Carthage was a city I had heard mentioned in documentaries and the like, but never really knew where it was or much about is. As it turns out it is here on hte outskirts of Tunis and was one of the most important trading hubs of the Ancient Mediterranean and one of the richest cities of the classical world.

It has a history dating back to the 12th century BC. and between 650 BC to 146 BC, it was the most powerful trading and commercial city in the Mediterranean.

It had a sophisticated 200-dock circular harbor and the funds earned prompted investment in a sprawling metropolis of temples, markets, and estates.

And all of this is just a 20-minute drive outside modern day Tunis. It was quite the sight until 146 BC when the Romans came an lay siege to the place for 3 years.

Today there are 7 main sites that are left to see in Carthage and one ticket ($6 each) will get you into all the sites. The place is about 15-20 km out of town (a $7-8 cab ride) and our (flash) hotel was charging exorbitant rates for their tour (over $150 a head). So we hopped a cab and headed to the ruins.

But be warned the 7 places are a fair distance between each other. We made the mistake of thinking it was like the Roman Forum and was within an easy strolling distance. We got dropped off at the archaeological site and found ourselves stranded.

So we hiked about 1.5km to the Cathedral remains (Saint Cyprien) that were both shut and quite unimpressive. And then another 1.7km walk up to the roman houses and villas. The lady at the gate at the villas entry was busy talking on her phone. So Jill stood in front of her and waited, and waited and put her money on the counter and waited. After quite literally 12 minutes of this, she picked up her money, turned around and walked away. With some choice words.

Unsurprisingly, as soon as she took her money and turned away the girl got off the phone and was ready to serve Jill. Some more choice words and we continued to walk away from her, with some more choice words. About 500m further on we found ourselves at the Roman Amphitheatre where we paid our entry and entered with no issues whatsoever. And across the road was some more ruins.

Another 1.5km walk and we found ourselves atop Byrsa hill at the Saint Louis Cathedral and the acropolis of Byrsa. This is the site of the Carthage Museum and an impressive number of pieces of Roman Columns and the odd statue.

About 2km down the hill was the last of the sights (given that we boycotted the Roman Villas due to the attitude of the girl on the counter) the aqueducts. Built in the 2nd century BC by the emperor Hadrian, they brought water more than 100kms from Zaghouan to Carthage.

Ramadan

For some reason, Jill has taken to booking us into Muslim countries during Ramadan. Last year it was the Maldives and this year it was Morocco and Tunisia and later in Istanbul. This is a forced alcohol detox as the nations typically do not serve alcohol anyway and during the holy month there is no chance.

The other thing it means is that almost every restaurant is closed and by the time the sun goes down, you tend to be a bit peckish. Thankfully we found a little joint that served brilliant local dishes for a song. Our (flash) hotel was offering a set (abridged) menu for 100 dinar ($50) a head, so we hit the streets hunting for better. And did we find it.

A little hole-in-the-wall joint, with a huge upstairs terrace, great food and entertainment for 45 dinars ($22.50) a head. Dinner was salad (more dips really) and bread, traditional soup, and the main (that came cooked and served in a weird shaped pot) was a hearty stew type thing. We went looking the next night for something different but ended up at the same joint and had a seafood main and some form of crispy egg crepe in place of the soup.

We had planned a trip to Dougga, which is lauded as “the best-preserved Roman small town in North Africa”.  But I guess this will sit high on the list of things to do next time we come.

The Amphitheatre of El Jem is an amphitheatre in original town of Thysdrus although now known as El Djem. It was built for the usual roman spectator sports (gladiators etc) around 238 AD and is one of the best preserved stone in the world. It was one of the biggest amphitheatres in the world with an estimated capacity of around 35,000.

And sadly, this is one of the many things that we did not get to. So this (along with a bunch of other reasons) rates as a pretty good reason to come back.

Tunisia was great and there was so much more for us to see and do. It was a great pity that the currency issue as you leave puts a bad taste in your mouth. Other than this we really enjoyed our time here and will be back.

Portugal

Portugal is the westernmost country of continental Europe and includes the island groups of the Azores and Madeira (both autonomous regions in the north Atlantic Ocean.

It has existed as a country since the 12th century (originally as a monarchy) but has evidence of civilisation dating back beyond 10,000BC. The nation was integral in the discovery and exploration of Africa and South America.

The Portuguese empire differed from the Spanish empire because the Spanish conquered large areas of land while the Portuguese preferred to control only major trading ports. Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailed the coast of Africa, establishing trading posts for commodities, ranging from gold to slavery.

The Portuguese empire created colonies in Africa including Angola, Mozambique, Guinea. Added to this was the islands of the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of Mauritania-Senegal), and Sao Tome and Principe (islands in the Gulf of Guinea). Then there were the major ports of Cochin, Goa (in India), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Macao (China) and Nagasaki (Japan) in East Asia and of course Brazil.

Lisbon

OK, so we have been to Europe about 6+ times now and this was our first foray into Portugal. How stupid are we? This place is fantastic. We got off the plane and grabbed (a really cheap) Uber to our hotel. The driver was the nicest and most helpful person we had ever met, to the point where we both commented on it. Until the next day when we got our next Uber to the Monastery when the same thing happened, and then again on the way back.

These people are just super friendly and want to ensure that everyone who visits enjoys their time. Add to this that the pricing is more than reasonable for everything and the sights have a nice mix of natural beauty and old world charm how can you go wrong here.

We were not really blessed with the weather here, it rained for two and a half of our three days here. We got the odd glimpses of sunshine (particularly on day one) and in between there were some some pretty soggy days. Our day two was on and off sunny with the skies changing every 10 minutes or so until it finally settled in.

Our hotel was perched high on the hilltop in oldtown, which sadly had been built on the side of a damn mountain. As beautiful as the views were, it meant that everywhere we went was either up, or down, a ridiculously steep hill.

Finding your way around the old town could not be simpler, just follow the tram tracks. Be sure not to be run over by cars, trams, tuk tuks, bicycles, vans etc, that are all competing for the narrow road, but just follow along and you will pass pretty much everything that there is to see.

The tram goes past almost all of the tourist spots in the old town and centres around the main square, Praca do Comercio. This will include the churches, palace, castle, bars, cafes and restaurants. As long as you can see the tracks, you will see the bits.

Jammed in the middle of the tracks you will find Sé de Lisbon. This cathedral started being built in 1147 and ended in the first decades of the 13th century.

The tram tracks quite literally split and run either side of the triangular street entrance.

Castelo de S. Jorge Stands on Lisbon’s highest hill and offers panoramic views of the city. The fort dates back to Moorish times (11th century), and has served as military barracks and royal chambers. Currently, it functions as a national monument, museum and archaeological site, with fantastic views and great gardens. And if this is off season, I hate to see the lines in peak times.

Lisbon’s central park is named Edward VII Park taking up 26 hectares in the middle of town. It was named as a tribute to the British Monarch.

Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (Jerónimos or Hieronymites Monastery) was originally donated to the Order of the Friars of St. Jerome. Construction began in near the launch point of Vasco da Gama’s first journey. Its construction lasted for a hundred years and was funded by a tax on the profits of the yearly Portuguese India Armadas. The day of our visit the weather kept coming and going, alternating between blue skies and torrential downpours.

To say this place is impressive is a massive understatement. Everywhere you look is a different aspect of the place and the intricately carved windows and openings act to frame the next amazing sight.

Portuguese Custard Tarts (Pasteis de nata)

Lets not be silly we have all eaten these. Whether it is the cheap boxed up ones in Costco, or the ones after a Chinese Yum Cha (bearing in mind that Shanghai was one of the Portuguese territories), or just from some dodgy bakery that does them. And they are always good, even the shitty ones are great, with their signature flaky crust and sweet custard filling they are world-famous, and incredibly delicious.

But now we are at their point of origin, and sadly, all others pale by comparison to the original version. It was created by monks at the Jerónimos Monastery and has certified origin. The original recipe is called Pastel de Belém and we found our way to Pasteis de Belem which is right next to the monastery and is recognised as their true home. And in case you were wondering, they were good.

Literally across the road from the Monastery is a park and the Discoveries Monument which serves as a monument to Portugal’s Age of Discovery on both land and sea.

The monument was reconstructed in 1960 to mark 500 years since the death of the Infante Dom Henrique (Henry the Navigator).

A few hundred meters down the bank of the Tagus River you find yourself at Torre de Belém. This is a 16th-century tower that is a mix between a medieval keep tower and a modern bastion. It was built to guard the river entrance into Lisbon’s harbour.

That evening we found our way down to Praca do Comercio which is one of the biggest squares in Europe, this stylish area in downtown Lisbon often displays beautiful works of art and sculpture and is a great place for a leisurely stroll.

The Aqueduto das Águas was built in the 18th century to supply water to the town. Its construction was funded by special levies on meat, olive oil and wine. It stretches 14 kilometres and can now be visited as a tourist attraction.

The blurb for the Museu Nacional do Azulejo said that it was a must-see for people interested in the history and design of ceramic tiles. Now lets be serious here, that is not a title that I have particularly aspired to. But being in Lisbon, you do get a fair old appreciation of the ceramic tile as almost every building is finished (on the outside) with them. Looking at the photos of the museum, if it is your thing, then this specialty museum does house an impressive collection of decorative tiles dating from the 15th century to now.

The Coaches Museum is one of Lisbon’s most visited attractions, and is a collection of fairytale type carriages that have been used by the royalty and nobility of Europe over the centuries. While most European royal carriages were destroyed over time (especially in Paris after the French Revolution), in Portugal they were preserved. Most of them date to the 17th to 19th centuries, but the oldest example dates back to the late 1500s.

Brazilian BBQ – Portuguese Style

On our third Uber ride, our driver asked us if we liked seafood, which of course we do. He then went on to tell us that in Portugal, they do a similar thing to the Brazilian BBQ but instead of using meat, they do it with seafood. He told us the best place in town and the price came out to about 450 Aussie per head. Well if that is not a done deal then I don’t know what is.

So we headed down to the main square, took our happy snaps of the square and then headed to a little wine bar (as we were early for our reservation. A funky little place called shoes and booze. We had a drink and watched the waitress just dancing around having a great time enjoying her work. When we ordered the second round she asked Jill if she just wanted the bottle as it was 4.50 for a glass or 12 Euros for the whole bottle. The chat continued and we got invited to a private party back at the bar (with live music) the next evening.

Anyway back to the seafood, we made it to the restaurant and ordered the all-you-can-eat thing and it arrived with some interesting fare. The prawns, mussels, crabs and clams were all good and even the crab head mousse was good, but it was the whelks and barnacles that threw us a little. We had to seek guidance on just what part and how to eat the barnacles.

The construction of the Christ the King monument was approved on 20 April 1940, as a plea to God to release Portugal from entering WWII.

The monument consists of a 82 meter pedestal with a 28 meter image of Christ.

Perched on the opposite side of the river the figure of Christ has its arms extended out facing the city of Lisbon, as if to embrace the city.

Long story short, apart from the weather, Lisbon was fantastic and we will need to come back as there is so much more to explore and do. It became very clear that the time that we had allotted was insufficient for the amount to see and do. This was further hampered by the rain that kept us hiding more than exploring.

The prices are more than reasonable and the friendliness of the people was just amazing. And I think that both Jill and I can fit another egg tart or two in, and for the record, even the shitty ones remain good. And there is so much more that missed out on seeing.

Bolivia

Bolivia is a landlocked country in South America that is bordered Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Peru.

The administrative capital (and seat of government) is La Paz. The constitutional capital is Sucre (the seat of the judiciary). While the largest city and main industrial center is Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Before Spanish colonisation, the area that is now Bolivia was part of the Inca Empire. But in the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors took control of the region and found it to be rich in silver deposits. Spain built its empire, in large part ,upon the silver that was extracted from Bolivia’s mines.

Bolivia was named after Simón Bolivar (officially José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar Palacios Ponte y Blanco) who was a Venezuelan leader that led the majority of South America (Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia) to independence from the Spanish Empire. Bolivia gained its independence in 1825.

Lake Titicaca is about the only thing I had heard about from Bolivia and we didn’t get near it. It is the largest lake in South America and sits high in the Andes mountains on the border of Bolivia and Peru. The western part of the lake lies within Peru while the eastern side is located in Bolivia, near La Paz.

Five major river systems feed into Lake Titicaca (Ramis, Coata, Ilave, Huancané, and Suchez) and more than 20 other smaller streams also empty into Titicaca. There are 41 islands on the lake, some of which are densely populated.

Most importantly, Lake Titicaca is the legendary birthplace of the Inca civilization, and is also believed to hold precious Inca treasure.

The other thing that I had seen about Bolivia was about the Yungas Road. This is more commonly known as death road. I had seen documentaries of cars, trucks and buses trying to navigate (and pass each other) on this stretch of road, often in pouring rain, with landslides taking place underneath vehicle tyres. All of this on the side of a cliff with inches to spare.

The steep slopes, lack of guardrails, narrow width of the road (3 meters in some places), weather conditions (rain and fog would reduce visibility), muddy terrain and loose stones made it the most dangerous road on the planet. It was infamous for its dangerous conditions and deaths. Before an alternate route was built it averaged 209 accidents with 96 deaths per year.

In July 1983, a bus fell from the Yungas Road into a canyon, killing more than one hundred passengers (I am still trying to work out how you get 100 people in a bus) in one of the worst road accidents in Bolivia. Until the mid-1990s, 2-300 drivers fell off to the cliff each year.

When it stopped being used as a vehicle road (due to the danger) it has now become a 60 km downhill mountain biking route between La Paz and the Yungas region.

Even as a cycle path, at least 18 cyclists have died on the road since 1998.

Santa Cruz de la Sierra

This mouthful translates as the Holy Cross of the Mountain Range and is the largest city in Bolivia, with a population of around 2.4 million.

The city was first founded in 1561 by Spanish explorers and remained fairly small until the mid-20th century.

But now it is the most important business center producing nearly 35% of Bolivia’s GDP, and receiving over 40% of all foreign direct investment in the country.

Our arrival here was great. We checked in to a local hostel that was right in the middle of things (restaurants, clubs and bars) and a relatively short walk (1.5 km) to the heart of town. Having arrived fairly late (and not that hungry) we settled into a local cafe for some refreshing beverages and a light snack. As it turned out our snack was quite considerable and our beverages were very refreshing.

As we finished up and returned home, a great storm hit that dumped rain for about the next 10 hours or so. So the next day we kicked back waiting for the rain to ease before starting our schlepp around the tourist sights in town. The first thing that we hit on the walk was the Parque El Arenal which is a park with a large lake, fountains, and an epic mosaic mural by artist Lorgio Vaca.

After the park I saw the local barber and decided it had been a while since I had been Manpered.

So I pulled in for a haircut and a straight razor shave.

I still highly recommend these.

Next stop was the main square (the Plaza 24 de Septiembre) which is a large square filled with plants, tall palm trees and benches. Until recently, sloths were hanging from tamarinds’ branches bordering the square. They are now in the zoo. And they had the coolest little old dudes wandering about in yellow offering to sell you a coffee.

The square is dominated at one end by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Lawrence.

The rest of the square is surrounded by government buildings and shops. There is an artisanal alley close by with very cool local handicrafts. Which i would have got some if space was not an issue. 

Plaza Calleja is a huge fizzer, billed as the centre of South America.

It is just a tiny park with the centre allegedly marked with a wooden cross and a sign with city names and distances.

If you take a good look at any map it is not really the at the centre of South America.

The tourist blurb billed a Christ the Redeemer, similar to Brazil, right here in Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Needless to say we were underwhelmed when we found it holding up traffic as a roundabout, at a busy intersection, just North of town.

Having blitzed town we opted to take a private tour that cost us about $100 for the driver for the day but involved a 6am pick up and a whole day exploring with a 5:30 pm drop off. So for almost 12 hours of his time and the fuel and guidance $100 (for the two of us) it was a steal.

Samaipata 

About 120 kilometres (and over 3 hrs driving) to the southwest of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in the foothills of the Andes (still at just under the height of Mount Kosciuszko) is the small town of Samaipata.

The town itself is seriously nice and small with colonial buildings and narrow cobblestone streets. The centre is set around a really nice, and seriously well used park, which seems to be the focal point for all activities in the tiny town (under 5000 people).

But the main reason for coming was to see the El Fuerte de Samaipata or Fort Samaipata. But before we did, a quick pop into the Archaeological Museum (a four room display) for a poke about (one $11 ticket does both) before heading up the mountain to see the main attraction.

But before you get to the site, you are met with some pretty spectacular mountain, farmland and jungle views from the foothills of the Andes.

This is a UNESCO listed pre-Columbian archaeological site. The site encompasses buildings of three different cultures: Chané  (pre-Inca), Inca and Spanish. It is believed to have been started by the Chané but there are also ruins of an Inca plaza and residences, from the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

The archaeological site is about 20 hectares (49 acres) and is divided into a ceremonial sector and an administrative/residential sector. The ceremonial sector is a large rock (220 x 60 metres) that has been almost completely covered with carvings of both Inca and pre-Inca origin. At the highest point of the rock you find “coro de los sacerdotes” (choir of the priests) . This is 18 niches carved into the rock, that were believed to be seats.

The residential and administrative sector is believed to have been an Incan provincial capital. It has a large plaza about 100 metres on each side bordered by a “kallanka,” (rectangular building typical of Inca cities). The kallanka is 70 metres long and 16 metres wide and was typically used for public gatherings, feasts, and housing visitors and soldiers. The kallanka at Samaipata is the second largest in Bolivia.

Having milled about taking photos for a few hours we headed back to town for some well-needed lunch and a look around the tourist shops in the rain.

This was a fantastic day that saw us hiking up and down the side of a mountain and checking out some Incan ruins. I did not know it existed before now, but really loved the opportunity to get out and about amongst it.

About 35 minutes from Santa Cruz you can find the Biocenter Güembe Mariposario, which is a combined eco-park and a pool complex. The park is home to the world’s largest butterfly sanctuary and houses a diverse collection of orchids in its “orquideario“. There is an aviary where you can see scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, peacocks and other colourful tropical birds, along with the odd monkey. Having seen birds, butterflies and not particularly being into pool developments we passed on this, but by all accounts it is ok.

On our middle evening in Bolivia we had a very ordinary meal that we decided to top off across the road with an extraordinary dessert.

It was extremely decadent, totally unnecessary, over the top and was magnificent.

Well Bolivia has been great. This goes on the list of places to come back to to get up high in the mountains to La Paz and Lake Titicaca. We did not make it this time as time was tight and we both knew full well the effects of altitude after our earlier Everest adventure.

The next trip will include the long awaited Machu Picchu in Peru which sits at a similar elevation as Lake Titicaca and Cusco. If you want to play about at decent elevations we found last time around that it is best to spend some time acclimatising. So it may be a nice trip to bounce about at the 3500-4000 meter elevation level for a while doing so.

Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is the capital and main city of Argentina. The city is located on the western shore of the Río de la Plata, on the southeastern coast. “Buenos Aires” is Spanish for “fair winds” or “good airs”.

According to the blurb it was the Spanish coloniser Pedro de Mendoza (in 1580) that established the first settlement there, which he named Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire (“Our Lady St. Mary of the Good Air”). Buenos Aires locals are referred to as porteños (“people of the port”) because so many of the city’s inhabitants historically arrived by boat from Europe.

Our arrival into Buenos Aires was similar to those, and we came in through the port. We were just one of several ships in that day, and to say that the port was bedlam, would be an understatement. We had teamed up with our dinner buddies (Kurtis and Mark) who had a thing for gardening, so we got out of the port and Ubered our way to the botanical gardens (for about $4).

I am much more a statue guy than a garden guy, and the photos clearly reflect that. That said, the gardens were nice, with the exception of the mosquitos that absolutely loved by high quality Aussie blood. There were trees aplenty and even a butterfly garden buried among all of the foliage.

To say that Buenos Aires is a dog friendly city would be an understatement. The sheer number of dogs in public parks and on leashes wandering the city was astounding. And these pooches are seriously pampered.

Sadly the wealth and influence of the city far overshadows the rest of the country. But as with all cities Buenos Aires also reflects Argentina’s economic and social problems. Homelessness and drug use were evident, although at no point did we feel unsafe or uneasy.

After the gardens we found a few little holes in the wall that fed and watered us for a ridiculously cheap price. Jill and I had 3 empanadas each washed down by a pint of the local brew (and a sampling of some others – including an on tap gin and tonic) for the princely sum of $8.40. After that we found a local deli and then a bakery, damn I think I might be falling in love with Argentina.

One of the major attractions of the city is the Recoleta Cemetery. In 1822, the former garden was turned into the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires. Known as the “city of the dead” or “city of angels”, Recoleta cemetery has a layout similar to a city with one main street, diagonals, narrow corridors and internal passageways.

 It is set in an area of 5.5 ha (14 acres) and you will find around 4800 vaults and mausoleums. The cemetery is more of an open air museum than anything else. As soon as you walk through the doorway you are met with amazing architecture, works of art and sculptures.

More than 20 presidents, 25 city mayors, 40 governors, Nobel prizes, writers, politicians, engineers and even a caretaker are buried at Recoleta cemetery. But the most famous is that Recoleta Cemetery is the resting place for María Eva Duarte de Perón (known as “Evita”).

Outside the cemetery is a park known as Intendente Torcuato de Alvear. This area turned into a huge market on day two of our exploring.

Plazoleta Chabuca Granda (the oldest tree in town) also sits in the square outside the cemetery. It even has a statue of a dude holding up one of the super heavy branches.

Just next door to the cemetery you can find the Nuestra Señora de Pilar church. Built in 1732 it is one of the oldest in the city.

In reality I got a bit turned around when exploring here. On day one we were at the cemetery and on day two we were at the Nuestra Señora de Pilar church (to follow). In reality these are side by side but I entered and exited the cemetery from the same way and did not even realise this. The next day we came at it from the opposite side and took a photo of the church that I had almost sat on the steps of the day before.

Buenos Aires is an amazing city with wide avenues and a true cosmopolitan flair that feels more European than Latin American. There are some huge colonial landmark buildings but the real feel of the city is the differences between the individual neighbourhoods. Each one has its own distinct feel and have their own meeting places, generally coffeehouses or bars.

At night Buenos Aires’s nightclubs (boites) come alive as people flock together to dance the tango.

This famous dance originated in the lower-class areas of the city and is said to ‘reflect the soul of the Argentina’.

While we didn’t go to a tango club, the ship did bring some of the best dancers on board that evening to put on a show.

If you want to do the full tourist thing there are any number of these boites that will offer you dinner and a tango show.

But in reality, if you wander about a bit at night, you almost cant help but run across random tango breakouts.

As we were in town for two full days and day one was taken up with gardens and the cemetery, day two saw us hitting the major sights and the neighbourhoods. Lets say up front, two days was not enough. But it was what we had, so we hopped a cab ($5) to Plaza de Mayo which is the oldest public square in Buenos Aires.

The square is named after the Argentine revolution, which began on 25 May 1810. It has been the scene of many of the most important events in the city’s history, from the second founding of the city in 1580, through the revolution of independence, to more recent political demonstrations.

Around the square are several important buildings: the Cabildo (old town hall now national museum), the Metropolitan Cathedral (where Pope Francis conducted mass for 20 years), the Casa Rosada (Pink House or Presidential Palace and site where Evita gave some of the more famous speeches), the national revenue office, the national bank and the intelligence secretariat.

As a random bit of knowledge, apparently, they used to do a version of running of the bulls in the square, prior to the revolution.

The Pirámide de Mayo is at the hub of the Plaza de Mayo and is the oldest national monument in the city.

It’s construction was ordered in 1811 to celebrate the first anniversary of the May Revolution.

It was renovated in 1856 and in 1912 was moved 63 metres with the idea that a much larger monument would eventually be constructed around it.

Having done the plaza we walked past the bank and along one of the many parks to explore the city more fully. We wandered along wide avenues and took in the interesting mix between the old and new parts of the city.