Córdoba’s Natural History Museum

As my young nephews and I walked down Poeta Lugones Avenue, skirting the lush Sarmiento Park, their excitement mounted. The boys, aged 5 and 7, live in a medium-sized town, so taking the bus sans parents to the big city to see a glyptodon for the first time was a great adventure.

The entrance. The museums is located in the north section of the beautiful Parque Sarmiento
The entrance. The museums is located in the north section of the beautiful Parque Sarmiento

Our final destination was the Natural Science Museum of Córdoba (Argentina.) The current building was opened in 2007 and is located in the tony neighbourhood of Nueva Córdoba. The circular interior was designed in the shape of a spiral in which three levels are joined by a continuous ramp. The handrail is quite wide and even has backlit displays along the top.

The interior
The interior

The collections include rocks and minerals from around the world, which alas failed to create excitement among our party. However, the local flora and fauna displays did. The absolute stars were the fossil reproductions of local Pleistocene megafauna: sabre tooth tigers, smilodons, mastodons, glyptodonts, and the like. Actually, one glyptodon shell is the real McCoy and was discovered during the construction of a dam.

Hello Mr Glyptodon!
Hello Mr Glyptodon!

On the third floor is the newest exhibition, called ‘The Rebirth of the Giants” (El renacer de los gigantes). It consists of displays of fossils found in the area and studied by the Museum’s paleontologists, as well as photos and videos of the paleontological site and the scientists’ field work. The boys and I watched the videos; then they asked questions which I tried to answer to the best of my scant knowledge and made comments about what they saw. It was lovely to see them engaged.

I love taking my nieces and nephews to museums. My mother says it is my signature outing! I firmly believe that it is never too early to acquire all kinds of knowledge. Beside, creating lasting memories is so much fun.

 

Mr Glyptodon and friends
Mr Glyptodon and friends

Museo Provincial de Ciencias Naturales Dr. Arturo Umberto Illia

Av. Poeta Lugones 395, Barrio Nueva Córdoba, Argentina

Tuesdays through Sundays 10:oo to 5;30. Summer opening hours vary

Admission $15. Free for pensioners, students and children under 18. 

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Walking tour of Old Montreal

Vieux Montreal is a safe and lively neighbourhood tucked away between the St. Lawrence River and the center of town. It dates back more than 350 years and is the city’s birthplace. The area has a long and interesting history and it helped shape the Montreal of today.

Since the best way to know a place is on foot, here is a walking tour that will take you along quaint streets and show the highlights of Old Montreal.

One of the many gorgeous streets
One of the many gorgeous streets

What better than a hearty breakfast to start the day? Head to Olive + Gourmando (351 Rue Saint-Paul Ouest) It opens at 8 and by 11 it’s already jam-packed. It’s closed on Sundays and Mondays, so plan accordingly. Their delicious cafe au lait and moist chocolate and banana brioche will fortify you for this walk and leave you begging for more. If you must inevitably take this tour on a Monday, start at the museum and then have your cafe au lait at Creme de la Creme (21 rue de la Commune, it has another entrance on the corner of Rue St-Paul and Rue Saint-Jean-Baptiste), a more traditional local cafe.

As you leave the cafe, walk down Rue St-Paul to your left as far as Place Royal. Turn right and head towards Pointe-à-Callière, Montreal’s Museum of Archaeology and History. The museum was built on the very site where Mass was held on May 17, 1642 to celebrate the funding of Montreal. Its underground archaeological exhibition covers six centuries of history: from the time the First Nations lived there to the present. You can also see the first man-made structure associated with the founding of Montreal: the city’s first Catholic cemetery discovered as recently as 1989. In the archaeological crypt you’ll find an interactive installation that showcases scenes of daily life in 1750.  There are free guided tours every Saturday, both in French and in English.

The cupola of Bonsecours towers over the street
The cupola of Bonsecours towers over the street

Walk back to Rue Saint-Paul. Amble past overpriced souvenir shops, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Soak up the European atmosphere. As you approach Rue Dizier, look out for Les Chuchoteuses, a bronze sculpture of three chubby town gossips by Quebecois artist Rose-Aimee Belanger placed right on the corner.

A few blocks further up Rue Saint-Paul you’ll see the Bonsecours Market on your right. It was built in 1847 and went through many reincarnations until the present one as headquarters of the Conseil des metiers d’art du Quebec (Quebec Crafts Council). The market houses art shops, boutiques and cafes, as well as free exhibitions of arts and crafts. Its building is considered one of Canada’s ten finest heritage buildings.

OldMontreal1
Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours

Across Rue Bonsecours is the church of Notre-Dame-de-Bonsecours. It was built in 1771 over the ruins of an earlier stone chapel. It is also known as the Sailors’ Church. Sailors have left carved wood replicas of sailing ships as tokens of thanks. Take time to visit the Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum next door (closed on Mondays, opening times vary throughout the year, adult admission fee $12) dedicated to the founder of the  Congregation of Notre Dame of Montreal and pioneer of Montreal. Through the crypt you enter an archaeological site where you can see remains of the foundations of the first stone chapel, traces of the First Nations people’s everyday life 2400 years ago, as well as artifacts that trace the history of this site. Climb to the top of the tower, the highest point on Montreal, for fantastic views of Old Montreal, the river, the Old Port and beyond.

Chateau Ramezay
Chateau Ramezay

Now walk up Rue Bonsecours as far as Rue Notre-Dame and turn left. One block over, on your left, is the Chateau Ramezay Museum (280 Rue Notre-Dame Est). A former governor’s residence built in 1706 in the French Regime style; its displays show economic and social life in the 18th and 19th century Quebec.

As you leave the museum, walk along Rue Notre-Dame to your left. You’ll see the Hotel Ville (City Hall, 1872-1878) on your right and next to it, the Vieux Palais de Justice (Old Courthouse, 1856). Almost across from the City Hall is the Place Jacques-Cartier, a pedestrian street that slopes towards the waterfront. It is lined with cafes and restaurants, park benches, artists selling sketches and paintings, and lots of flowers in the warmer months.

The amazing altar of Notre-Dame basilica
The amazing altar of Notre-Dame basilica

Return to Rue Notre-Dame. A few blocks further south west is the Notre-Dame Basilica. It was built in 1824-1829 and its interior design was inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. The nave is kept relatively dark so that the brightly lit altar stands out in all its grandeur. There is a $5 admission fee. It was built by an Irish Protestant architect who converted to Catholicism before the church was finished, undoubtedly moved by this powerful work of art.

Across the street from the basilica is the Place d’Armes. At its center is a monument to the founder or Montreal, Paul de Chomedey, Sieur de Maisonneuve (1612-1676). Old Montreal is a real gem well worth a visit.

Place Jean Cartier
Place Jacques-Cartier
Sources
Pointe-à-Callière
Marguerite Bourgeoys Museum 
Chateau Ramezay
Notre-Dame Basilica
Frommer’s Montreal & Quebec City 2009

5 day trips from Buenos Aires

Visiting a big city like Buenos Aires can be overwhelming at times: chaotic traffic, noise levels through the roof, swarms of people wherever you go. This didn’t use to bother me when I lived there; on the contrary, I rather enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the big city. I found it exhilarating. It made me feel alive.

Nowadays, however, it’s exactly the opposite. I live in a quiet suburb of Dallas, where life goes by at a more sedate pace and birdsong has replaced car horns. So when I visit my family in Buenos Aires, I need to get away from it all, even a few hours will do nicely. My parents enjoy exploring the countryside and we used to go on day trips as a family. Now, they take my husband and me to visit old haunts and new places for a fun and relaxing day out.

The Basilica's nave - Luján
The Basilica’s nave – Luján

About an hour’s drive away is the town of Luján, Argentina’s biggest pilgrimage center. Its basilica attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, both people on foot and gauchos on horseback. I visited the basilica many times; I still remember how scared I was as a child of the bayonets and crutches that lined the walls, donated by long-ago dead soldiers as tokens of thanks. Fortunately, they were removed when the neogothic basilica was restored and tarted up. Interestingly, the bells were fashioned from melted World War I cannons.

I get my history fix at the Enrique Udaondo museum complex, across the square from the basilica. The old cabildo, where much of the country’s early history took place, houses a fantastic collection of historical objects. The country’s first steam locomotive, the first plane to fly between Spain and Argentina in 1926, and Mancha and Gato, the first horses to join Buenos Aires and New York in 1933 are on display at the Transport Museum, among other historic types of transport.

View of the basilica's towers in the twilight
View of the basilica’s towers in the twilight

Not far from Luján is the pretty little town of Carlos Keen. Carlos Keen is a railway town created in 1881 as a water stop for the steam engines. The disused station houses a cultural center now. Every weekend, there’s an arts and crafts fair on the station grounds. I love to browse the stalls and chat with the vendors. The station depot went to wrack and ruin through the decades but it has been restored and is used for art exhibitions and classes.

A leisurely stroll is much needed after a copious lunch. We have been to many of the restaurants in Carlos Keen and could not pick a favourite. However, in the colder months, I would rather eat at any of the restaurants in the town centre. In warm weather, I love the rural establishments where we can sit outside, eat fabulous food surrounded by nature and a flock of ducks or a cow or two. The menu is more or less the same everywhere: a picada de campo, Argentinean-style tapas with locally sourced cold cuts and cheeses and crusty bread, followed by either homemade pasta or asado (meats grilled gaucho-style).

The disused train station now houses an arts and crafts market every weekend
The disused train station now houses an arts and crafts market every weekend –  Carlos Keen

Cheese lovers will love Suipacha and its Ruta del Queso (cheese trail). It is as delicious as it sounds. Although I adore cheese, my favorite place was probably the antiques store located at the town’s entrance, where I bought an English china tea set from the 1940s. Once we got antiquing out of the way, we visited the local boar farm, called La Escuadra. The owner explained everything there is to know about rearing boars and took us on a tour of the premises. We decided to stay for lunch. The star ingredient was boar, of course and they served dishes like boar ravioli or boar stew, using family recipes handed down the generations.

The cheese trail consists of a guided or self-guided visit to local cheese factories. Some charge a small fee and provide a tour of the facilities but some don’t. It’s not all about cheese however; there is a blueberry farm as well as the boar farm. They all sell their products there and then. My dad’s car was considerably heavier on the two-hour drive back home.

Uribelarrea, 80 kilometers southwest of Buenos Aires, is another railway town. Sadly, the town suffered greatly when some of the railway lines were closed. The disused station, red brick and dark green trimmings in the best English fashion, now houses the police station. Tourism has helped revive the town’s economy. Uribelarrea is probably my favorite rural town. Nothing beats the picada and the craft beer from the local microbrewery La Uribeña. The old pulpería, a typical bar and general store from the pampas, is also popular.

Microbrewery La Uribeña  -Uribelarrea
Microbrewery La Uribeña -Uribelarrea

On one of our visits, we went to the Escuela Agrotécnia Salesiana Don Bosco, an agricultural school founded in 1894 and run by Salesian priests. Thanks to their hands-on approach, students learn by doing, and then sell their products to the public. We bought the most delicious dulce de leche, which they are famous for, and mandarin marmalade.

On another occasion, we took our young nephews to the local goat farm, called Valle de Goñi. The boys had lots of fun trying to get into the corrals to play with the goats while we had coffee and cake in the garden.

Incidentally, some scenes of the film Evita by Alan Parker were shot inside the church built in 1890.

Capilla del Señor was the first rural town to be declared Town of Historic Interest by Congress. Its Museum of Journalism displays the printing press used to print the first newspaper of the province of Buenos Aires, El Monitor de la Campaña (The Rural Monitor) and is located in the home of the newspaper founder.

Serene countryside
Serene countryside

The local cemetery, opened in 1838, bears witness to a cholera epidemic unknowingly started by a traveling fruit seller. Visiting a cemetery may sound creepy, but this one is interesting in that some of the older headstones are written in English and in French, not something I would expect to see in the Argentinean pampas. I later learned that the Irish and French communities were very influential here in the 19th century.

The origin of Capilla del Señor goes back to the mid-18th century, when local landowner Casco de Mendoza started selling plots of his land around the church, following the traditional Spanish grid layout. The main buildings (church, town hall, school, and museum) are located around the main square, or plaza. We parked the car on one of its sides and took a stroll around, enjoying the peace and quiet while planning our visit with the help of the brochures form the Tourist Office. We then bought delicious pastries from a bakery and took a leisurely stroll along the river.

These towns are accessible by train and bus from Buenos Aires.

My neighbourhood

When we’re not travelling, our permanent base is a townhouse in North Plano, a suburb north of downtown Dallas. It is a nice, quiet place, with a commercial area within walking distance. Having shops, pubs and restaurants within walking distance is a boon in suburban Dallas, where you cannot survive without a car.

Come with me on a walk to The Shops at Legacy, where we shop, eat, drink and catch a movie.

Let's go
Let’s go
Communal mail bank
Communal mail bank
It's all apartments when we cross the road
It’s all apartments when we cross the road
Pretty square with cowboy and longhorns sculptures
Pretty square with cowboy and longhorns sculptures
Welcome to The Shops
Welcome to The Shops
Boutiques share space with restaurants and bars
Boutiques share space with restaurants and bars
The Angelika, where we can watch art-house and  foreign films, very rarely found in Dallas.
The Angelika, where we can watch art-house and foreign films, very rarely found in Dallas.
The lake at the end is very popular for photoshoots
The lake at the end is very popular for photo shoots
A view of Bishop Street
A view of Bishop Street
No a pit stop at our favourite pub
No a pit stop at our favourite pub

 

What do you like about your neighbourhood?