Tuesday, 25th November
We got up after a good night’s sleep in our new apartment (which we have for the week) and after breakfast of cereals that we bought at the supermarket the night before we made a rough plan for our week here in Buenos Aires. This included things we wanted to see, neighbourhoods to visit and tours to take. We already have an evening at the football booked for later in the week but we also wanted to go to a tango show and check out the sights as well as some of the famous districts, such as the notorious ‘La Boca’. First off for today though, we thought we should explore the neighbourhood in which we are staying, ‘Palermo’. There are lots of shops, bars, cafes and restaurants around here and we feel like we are in the thick of the action which is nice. In walking through Palermo we made our way to ‘Villa Crespo’ and the area known for it’s leather goods shops. Kirsty had some shopping in mind and this area is the place to go for leather. We had a good look around and made sure to go back more than once to places to haggle on the price. They offer a ticket price which is often discounted without even asking, then they offer a cash price and a price for US Dollars. She found a couple of leather jackets she liked but thought about it over a lunch before making the purchase. We managed to get even more off the price this way so it was a good tactic. The jacket only cost around US$100 in the end, a good price for leather. For lunch I tried a local classic which is basically a schnitzel and chips but they call it ‘Milanesa’ here and you see it advertised everywhere, from roadside carts to restaurants. Clearly a popular dish, it was tasty but like a lot of food we have eaten on this trip, very fried.
After the leather expedition we meandered our way through the side streets of Palermo back towards our apartment. On the way we picked up som gluten-free pasta which would go with a bolognese sauce I would make for dinner later on. It’s so nice to have your own space in which to base yourself for the week. Added to that a kitchen with no-one else in it and you really feel like you are at home for the moment. We are staying just off ‘Avenida Santa Fe’, one of the main streets in Buenos Aires and a major commercial street. Something like an Oxford Street. On the way back to the apartment we stopped off in a shopping mall and I found some clothes to buy (a much needed lounging tracksuit) although would have to come back with more cash. With the exchange rate being so good on the ‘blue market’, when you do the conversion clothes here are pretty cheap so I might stock up on some before heading home. Next stop was the infuriating experience of a Argentinean supermarket. We have found the supermarkets to be slow at the checkout in general on our trip and wander if we are simply too efficient in the UK and Australia but this is a new level. The cashiers, chat, take their time, rarely have enough cash for our change and people like to pay in more than one transaction for their shopping (haven’t worked out why yet). Overall it drives you mad, this time it easily took just as long to pay or our shopping as to find it in the shop. Anyway, we came out with all we needed for the bolognese sauce and were looking forward to a home cooked meal in the evening.
For the evening we relaxed in the apartment and thought some more about our plans for later in the week. We also enjoyed a bottle of Malbec given to us by the ‘Trout and Wine’ people who ran our wine tour in Mendoza with our bolognese. We had thought about venturing out in the evening but were so knackered from all the walking in the afternoon and also, knowing we are here for the week, decided to take it easy for tonight. A good first day getting our bearings in this massive city.
Buenos Aires is the second-largest metropolitan area in South America, after Greater São Paulo, with a population of around fifteen and a half million. Interestingly, the city of Buenos Aires is neither part of Buenos Aires Province nor the Province’s capital; rather, it is an autonomous district. In 1880, after decades of political infighting, Buenos Aires was federalised and removed from Buenos Aires Province. The 1994 constitutional amendment granted the city autonomy, hence its formal name, ‘Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires’ (Autonomous City of Buenos Aires). The city was first established as ‘Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre’ (literally translates as ‘City of Our Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds’) in 1536 by a Spanish expedition led by Pedro de Mendoza. The settlement founded by Mendoza was located in what is today the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires, south of the city centre. Skipping forward to the second half of the 19th century, the wealth generated by the Buenos Aires Customs (being a major port city) and the fertile pampas, railroad development increased the economic power of Buenos Aires as raw materials flowed into its factories. A leading destination for immigrants from Europe, particularly Italy and Spain, from 1880 to 1930 Buenos Aires became a multicultural city that ranked itself with the major European capitals. This feels more like Europe than any other city we have visited and when you think about the immigration, this makes sense. The majority of Porteños (come body from Buenos Aires) have European origins, with Italian, German and Spanish descent being the most common. We would learn more about this from a ‘Porteño’ during our walking tour.
Wednesday, 26th November
They do free walking tours here in Buenos Aires like other cities we have been in but we missed the one we thought we might get today after ‘sleeping-in’ until 9am. The tour started a fair walk away so we decided not to rush and do our own thing today, one of which was to go to the bus terminal and book our onward-bound tickets back to Santigo in Chile. After breakfast and showering which we did quickly knowing a cleaner was on their way to the apartment, we ventured onto the metro system here, called ‘Subte’ (for subterranean, I think) and after topping up the pre-pay card that our AirBnB hosts left us, hopped on a train that would take us to another station where we changed lines to get to ‘Retiro’, where the ‘terminal de omnibus’ is located. The trains here are good, only 5 pesos a ride, frequent and there’s a pretty good coverage to take you places. We knew the layout of the bus terminal from arriving there just the other day so found the ticket desks easy enough but we had to visit a few before we found a company with direct buses to Santiago, with most operating two buses, connected in Mendoza n the way. We preferred the idea of one bus all the way through. We found a company ‘Cata Internacional’ which offered such a bus and we paid our 2,100 pesos for the two of us to get from Buenos Aires at 5pm next Monday (1st December) to Santiago by 12 noon the next day. That’s not a bad deal considering the distance, around US$170 for both of us with the blue market exchange rate. We paid in cash to take advantage of this rate.
Feeling good about sorting that out and not being stranded in Buenos Aires, we walked a short distance to ‘Plaza San Martin’, a nice green and tree’d space in the centre of the city and over the road from the chaos of the Retiro transport terminals (buses and trains). This plaza has a memorial to the Falklands War with a couple of dressed up army guys standing to attention. Their uniforms are curious, wearing top-hats with a feather in them. I guess all army smart dress is odd though. Of course, here they refer to the war as ‘Guerra de las Malvinas’. I made sure I didn’t refer to the islands as the ‘Falklands’ too loudly so as not to offend. We wandered through the plaza some more and, taking lots of photos, was stopped by a ‘helpful’ gentleman who gave us lots of information of where to take good photos of and from and what to see around the area. Of course he was also collecting for a charity so after being so helpful I couldn’t not give him some money. A good tactic and we kind of knew something was up when he approached us. Anyway, it was for charity….. we hope. If not he did well.
The area around here feels very business and formal and near to the park there was a cafe we stopped in for a traditional brunch of coffee and some medialunas. The cafe was very ornate and had people in it looking like they were businessing about the place. Medialunas are basically small croissants with a sweet glaze on top. Quite a nice snack and these ones were excellent, much better than the one I had at the bus station the other day (as expected). We rested our feet for a while here and took in the nice ambience of the place before heading on to ‘Florida’ street. This is another main commercial street but this one is pedestrianised and clearly a magnet for tourists with all the associated money changers and tour guides about the place. We ran the gauntlet of the touts and along the way went into the ‘Galerias Pacifico’ to take a look at the painted murals on the ceiling, pretty impressive. They also had a Swarovski decorated Christmas tree there measuring at least 50 feet in height. Things seem a bit more christmassy here than elsewhere we have travelled. I guess we are getting close to the day now though. Near to where we ended up there was a ‘Celigourmet’, a branch of the chain of gluten-free bakers that Kirsty had researched into, so we headed there for a snack. Kirsty got herself some gluten-free empanadas and I went down the road for some gluten-filled empanadas. We sat on the street eating them. They were delicious, I think they make the best empanadas here in Argentina, of all of South America, or at east those places we have been too. Very good. Full from our budget lunch on the hop we made our way north to the Museum of Latin American Art (MALBA) to check out some art. We had heard this one was the gallery to go if you only get to one and it was a good tip as it turned out. We had to catch a metro there but that only took as far as where we had come from so we had to walk 20 minutes or so across town to get to the gallery. The metro lines all span out like with one line crossing the others like a quarter spider web so it’s good but not comprehensive by any means.
MALBA was excellent, they have a great permanent collection including some names we have seen before on this trip – Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera to name a couple. There was also an exhibition by an Arngetina artist by the name of Antonio Berni who created interesting works, or ‘assemblages’ as he calls them, out of paints and everyday items. We always like taking in a gallery and this one was good. A great space and good art to fill it. We didn’t take long to get around though and were done within the hour. Afterwards we wandered back to our apartment and rested up for a few hours. In this time I ate the best ‘alfajores’ I have had so far. These are shortbread biscuits sandwiching a generous layer of dulce de leche (caramel) and this one had a very generous layer or caramel and was coated in chocolate. It cost 18 pesos, about US$2, but worth it. I will have to get another one sometime here.
Thursday, 27th November
We thought we would go on a walking tour today, one of the free ones that takes in a few of the city sights. This started at 10:30am so we had to get up fairly early and have breakfast before leaving our place before 10 o’clock to make it. We have a metro station quite close to our apartment but we walked there only to find it was shut. In the morning there was a power cut and I assume that this caused issues with the trains also. Anyway, all the stations in this area stop along Avenida Sante Fe so we simply walked another 200 metres or so to the next one and was able to get onto the platform there where we crowded onto the train with all the other commuters. It was a squeeze, but we got on and managed not to get crushed for the five or so stops we had to travel before getting off. The walking tour started at the ‘Teatro Colon’ in the fancy northern part of the city. This tour would be walking us through the more upmarket neighbourhoods of the city and looking at a lot at the architecture on the way with some background into Argentine history and the settlement of Buenos Aires. It was a great tour, as they always are, but our tour guide, Mariano, was especially knowledgeable. He provided some insight into some observations we have noted, such as the Italian way the Argentines have of speaking (very sing-song). It comes dow to the fact that during the immigration wave into Buenos Aires of 1900 to 1914, the city had up to 25% of the total population being Italian, around 300,000 people. This affected the language and also gave rise to the ice-cream shop on the every street corner situation. These days, up to 60% of Argentines have Italian decent.
During the tour we check out the Teatro Colón, Plaza Lavalle, Avenida 9 de Julio (the widest street in the world, apparently), Plaza San Martín, the Retiro neighbourhood, the Torre Monumental, Avenida Alvear, Plaza Francia, Iglesia del Pilar and we finished up at the Cementerio de la Recoleta. This is a the famous cemetery in the neighbourhood of ‘Recoleta’ where amongst others Eva Peron is buried. The tour lasted around four hours and we were very much in need of lunch by the end point so we didn’t hang around too long in the cemetery, just long enough to find the tomb of Eva Peron We then made for Palermo and a gluten-free restaurant that Kirsty had researched called ‘Sintaxis’. We walked, caught the metro and walked to this restaurant and got there around 3pm, so a latish lunch was had. The whole menu is gluten-free which Kirsty delighted in and we both had a delicious beef loin sandwich.
We were tired out from the walking tour and having just had a late lunch were keen for sit down and a rest, so not being too far from our apartment we wandered back and had a lie down. I had a brief nap before going out to print off some forms for the election people in Australia to let them know we are overseas so as to not to get fined in the upcoming state election. We had seen a place on our walk yesterday that looked like a good option for dinner and a traditional parilla called ‘Lo De Bebe Parrilla’. A parilla is a grill that is used traditionally to barbecue meat in Argentina. We were going to try an upmkaret version of this style on sunday at ‘La Cabrera’ but wanted a point of comparison with the more down to earth version so we opted for dinner here tonight. We didn’t want to get there too early though as dinner doesn’t really get going until 9pm here so we shared a bottle of wine at ‘home’ (Alta Vista 2013 Malbec) bought from the supermarket for only US$10 then at around 8:30pm went out for dinner. This place is only around the corner so was a short stroll and we nabbed a table on the pavement ouside, being a nice evening. There was a football match going on tonight, River Plate versus Boca Juniors. It was the second leg of the game I watched in Mendoza and you could here shouts, screams and yelps coming from apartments all around as people were watching. Both teams are from Buenos Aires and it’s a great rivalry with a lot of history. They had the game on in the parilla as well so we could keep tabs on what was happening, or why people were shooting and screaming, through the window. I had the ‘bife de chorxzo’ (sirloin) and Kirsty had a beef cutlet. Both portions were massive and cooked to perfection, juicy and pink in the middle and charred on the outside. The juiciest steak I have had in ages. I had a litre of beer to wash it down and Kirsty had a miniature bottle of wine (187ml) to go with hers. They looked quite odd side by side, like an opposite picture. It was delicious and a good find of a restaurant. The kind of place that could become a regular haunt if you lived here I think. It was clearly popular as not too long after we got there people started to queue for tables. And the best part, it only came to around US20 dollars for both of us.
Overly full from dinner (the steak was massive, the size of a dinner plate) we went for a bit of a wander after paying our bill and on the way back to our apartment indulged in some of the ubiquitous ice-cream. The football match was over by now and cars were honking horns, people were sticking their heads out their front doors or windows and shouting and screming in joy (or anguish, not sure which). River Plate had won. The passion everyone shows towards football made us excited about our game we have organised for Saturday night. For now though we walked home and to bed, with a plan to lounge around the apartment tomorrow morning.
Friday, 28th November
We lounged in bed a bit before getting up today. We are enjoying having our own place and when you are in one place for more than a few days you settle into more of a rhythm with sleeping which makes it easier to feel rested after a night. We had our breakfast in our apartment again then decided on taking a walk to the Recoleta neighbourhood and have lunch in the grounds surrounding the ceremtary. Sounds creepy but it’s a lovely area around there and really nice and green so we were sure we could find a nice patch of grass to enjoy some lunch on. It was around a half an hour walk there and it was hot today, close to 30 degrees which in a city feels hotter for some reason. As luck would have it there was another branch of ‘Celigourmet’ (the gluten-free bakery) on the way so we stocked up on empanadas and a few biscuits to take with us to Recoleta. Recoleta is a residential neighbourhood and is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires. You can clearly see this as you walk around. We found a nice patch of grass in the shade and lay down for a bit, eating empanadas and watching the world go by. We have a tango show booked for tonight and knowing that it would be a late night didn’t want to do that much today, quite content to wander around and relax. We feel like we have seen a fair chunk of Buenos Aires anyway by now and still have a few days to go so it’s nice to slow the pace down for a couple of days. The empanadas were delicious, very good for a gluten-free snack.
After lunch we walked back to our apartment in the neighbouring suburb of Palermo, along the Avenida Sante Fe with all it’s shops so Kirsty could find a couple of necessities which she did successfully. It seems that if you want anything you come to this street and you can find it. Mainly clothes though. We got back to the apartment and kicked back for the rest of the afternoon. We had a pick-up arranged for 7pm for a driver to take us to the tango show so we had a few hours to rest and take it easy. Sometime in the afternoon I went out to try and find a postbox which are helpfully located just inside post offices, which are few and far between. I found one however, the first one I came to was shut so I had to walk a fair distance in the heat to come across one that was open. They obviously don’t use their national mail services that much here.
We got ready for our evening dinner and tango show and were picked up at the not so prompt time of 7:30pm. We had booked this through an agency and they offer a package of a driver, dinner with drinks and show, all in the price of the show. Our driver picked up another couple then drove us to ‘El Viejo Almacen’ in the neighbourhood of San Telmo. Tango (possibly from Latin tangere, meaning “touch”) is a partner dance that originated in the 1890’s along the Río de la Plata, the natural border between Uruguay and Argentina, and soon spread to the rest of the world. It was originally a dance of the lower classes and thrived in the working class districts of Buenos Aires and Montevideo with a music formed by the fusion of various European styles. San Telmo was a poor area, but during the middle of the 20th century it starting attracting artists, taking on a bohemian vibe and establishing the area as a hotspot for tango. The ‘El Viejo Almacen’ venue was setup in the 1960’s and has been working as a tango venue ever since.
We started off in one building for dinner, which was setup as a restaurant. It was a lovely dinner and great for the price we had paid. It was a three course meal, chosen from the menu, with all you can drink in the way of wine. We only managed one bottle between us though, not wanting to get too tipsy before the show. I chose a steak (making the most of being in Buenos Aires) and Kirsty had the chicken. Overall I would rate the dinner quite highly and was surprised as usually these types of packages can be a bit on the ropey side. After dinner, our waiter ushered us from the dining room, across the road and into the venue where the tango would take place. Our seats were close to the front with a great view and we shared our table with three ladies from Zaragoza in Spain. Our Spanish proved better than we thought I think and we (Kirsty more than me) chatted in a combination of Spanish and English before the show started. We had a couple of glasses of champagne whilst they got everyone settled into their seats. It was a full house and everyone was in a great mood to see some tango. The show was fantastic and was a combination of music, with a band backing the dancing and playing some solo numbers, singing and of course, dancing. There was even an indigenous band wheeled out for a few numbers mid-show. I rated this show very highly, The standard of the dancing as far as I could make out was excellent and the musicians were really getting into it, especially the lead accordion man. The show lasted around one and a half hours and we were picked up by our driver afterwards and after dropping others home were back at our apartment by around mid-night or just after. A great way to spend the evening and a box ticked in the ‘must-do’s’ whilst in Buenos Aires – seeing a tango show. Tomorrow would be another ‘must-do’ going to a football match.