Buenos Aires, city or province?

Plaza Moreno and the City Hall of La Plata, Argentina

Looking out onto Plaza Moreno and the City Hall of La Plata, Argentina

This Christmas, I went on a super-mini road trip to visit a friend in La Plata. For those who have never been, La Plata is to Buenos Aires what Buenos Aires is to Argentina. Say whaaa?

Pop quiz: Is Buenos Aires a city or a province?

Had I been asked this question before coming to Argentina, I would have responded with the obvious–city–and added a smug–the nation’s capital, duh! After traveling nearly 5,200 miles, I can clarify that the answer is both. To avoid confusion, you will often hear people refer to the city as Capital Federal. So, circling back to my earlier statement, La Plata is the capital of Buenos Aires (the province).

To make the most of this weekend getaway, I asked my friends what La Plata was best known for. The #1 response? All of its street names are numbered. (Side note: the diagonal streets will totally throw you off course if not careful.)

A numbered street grid is understandably important to a local, but as a tourist, I wanted more. Digging deeper, I found two other points that are a bit more enticing.

1. The Cathedral of La Plata

Simply known as La Catedral, this is the largest church in all of Argentina. I didn’t have time for a complete tour, but you can take an elevator through one of its towers for a panoramic view of the city. Looking to the front, you would find Plaza Moreno (featured in the photo above). The most central point of the entire city is marked by a statue in the middle of this plaza, looking onward to the City Hall.

2. La Plata Museum

This museum of natural history is located within the park Paseo del Bosque. It holds nearly 3 million artifacts, including dinosaur skeletons, from around South America. My informal tour of La Plata just had time for a quick drive-by of the city’s hot spots, but I do plan to return if not only to visit this museum. Yes, I am a nerd.

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Christmas, in a bikini?

Argentine Christmas 2011

Celebrating Christmas the Argentine way in La Plata.

I’m not Christian, so I don’t celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. Nonetheless, it is a very important holiday to me. Growing up in the United States, this time of year represents a break from work, time to spend with my family reunited, and the best retail sales of the year. I’m a few degrees happier from Thanksgiving day, when the holiday decorations and music breakout, to New Year’s Eve. But now living in Argentina, Christmas does not have quite the same effect.

For starters, it’s summer. The weather is so hot, you might as well set up your Christmas tree by the pool and open presents in a bikini. Without the snow storms that are becoming a little too common in D.C., it didn’t quite hit me that Christmas was coming–a valid excuse I used for having sent presents a few days late.

As for retail sales, those are practically non-existent here. Not only are there no (meaningful) sales, but there is no holiday music playing in the shops! No Spanish version of “Deck the Halls,” or “Twelve Days of Christmas,” or even “Jingle Bells.” Lighted Christmas trees spread throughout the city and in shopping centers were the only real signs that Santa was coming to town.

But all was not lost this year.

Though I could not be with my family, I did celebrate with another. My friend and co-worker, G., invited me to her home in La Plata for a traditional Argentine celebration. Unlike in the United States, the celebratory dinner is on Christmas Eve. And not for an early supper around 5 p.m., but rather 10 p.m.! Sitting outside on the patio, we stuffed our faces with a hefty turkey, mixed potato salad and an ice cream desert while watching the fireworks set by neighbors near and far. At 12 a.m. we hugged and took pictures to capture this special moment, and by 12:05 a.m. all presents were opened and the real celebration began.

G.’s brother and cousin came by with their loved ones, as did all her lifelong friends. We sat, drank, talked and laughed while listening to music until 6:30 a.m. I went to bed exhausted, but smiling nonetheless.

I thought this Christmas would be difficult to pass while so far from home, but in the end it was one of the best and most memorable. Moments like these are what keep me motivated to live abroad and experience life beyond my comfort zone. Here’s to more good times in 2012!

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Three surprises on my terrace this morning

Apartment Patio

Two towels and a dead bird (just behind the door mat).

When apartment hunting this past fall, one of the winning points for the place I now call home is the terrace. It’s quite large and secured by the buildings that surround it. Without any balconies hovering above, my roommate and I can enjoy the summer sun as we please. However, there is one downside that I had not thought of before moving in–that people will mistake the patio for an open-air dumpster to throw all their unwanted treasures.

This morning I woke up to three unexpected trinkets–two towels and a dead bird.

In D.C. my first reaction would have been to call my mom…boyfriend…random stranger…anyone to take care of the corpse. Just seeing a dead spider gives me chills, and here I had a dead bird. Since I’m far away from home, my options to call for help were limited, and my (lucky) roommate was nowhere to be found. So I grabbed a broom, closed my eyes, and swept little Tweety into a trash bag. Ah, the challenges of living abroad.

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A day of mourning for MotoGP’s rising star

MotoGP race with Marco Simoncelli in fifth position

MotoGP race with the late Marco Simoncelli in fifth position.

MotoGP’s latest race in Malaysia ended tragically today with the death of Italian rider Marco Simoncelli. Early in the race, he lost control during a turn and was crashed into by friend Valentino Rossi and American competitor Colin Edwards.

The picture above shows Simoncelli in fifth place when I attended the race in Mugello this past summer. Seeing the race live made me appreciate this adrenaline-rushing sport, but watching this video of the beloved 24-year-old crushed at the neck by another rider will keep me on edge anytime I watch another race. I wonder if that is what makes this sport so appealing to men – the danger and suspense of what might happen at every turn and take-over.

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Judgement day: A national championship in horse jumping

Le Siepi, horse race grounds in Milano Marittima, Italy

A cop competing in the national championship held at Le Siepi in Milano Marittima, Italy.

It was tough getting out of bed at 8am while on vacation, but I made it to see the national championship held in Le Siepi. This equestrian center, located close to Villa Papeete, hosts major indoor and outdoor jumping competitions throughout the year. Its colorful obstacles looked like they popped out of Candy Land, and the competitors varied from women dressed in all white to cops dressed in all blue.

The prize for this three-day event?  

€30,000!

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