Posted by: robinson2000 | August 12, 2013

Heading to the Home of Tango – Buenos Aires

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Buenos Aires – 3rd – 5th August

After another very long and tiresome bus ride from Puerto Iguazu (Fri 2nd) that again took 2 hours more (23hrs!) than we expected, robbing us of our precious time, we reached the sprawling city of Buenos Aires and quickly caught a taxi to the area of the city or barrio called Palermo. A friend of Nicola’s had recommended a hostel called Hostel Suites Palermo, which turned out to a very good choice. The location of the hostel was key as there are some very rough areas of the city, especially with the country’s economy being down the toilet at the moment. Apparently Argentinian people are unable to change their currency into America dollars or other currencies due to the poor economic situation and are restricted to the amount of cash they are allowed to withdraw. Our double room was quite good except for the miniature bathroom and noisy Brazilian girls next door who had zero appreciation for anyone else around them. Once we’d settled in we headed down the road to a quaint cafe and treated ourselves to Nicola’s favourite drink, a Submarino, which is basically a better version of our hot chocolate. You are given a mug of steaming hot milk and a bar of chocolate which you dunk into the milk and stir it up until it is fully melted. Delicious.

Palermo is a very middle to upper class area with wide boulevards, lots of parks, plazas and fur-coated ladies walking their dogs. It reminds us of Paris and Bs As is often called the Paris of the South. It was more so a few years ago when their economy was in better shape but unfortunately on this visit we found the streets, in some areas, to be dirty, a lot of poverty around and lots of graffiti on national landmarks. We wandered the streets of Palermo until almost reaching Recoleta (another nice barrio) for a while before we met with Paola and her boyfriend Adolfo, who took us to a Pena, which is a traditional restaurant from the north of Argentina. We had an excellent evening consisting of lots of empanadas (a much tastier version of the cornish pasty and a staple part of the argentinian diet), vino tinto and folk music. It also had the added bonus of hosting a womens 103rd birthday party and with it a camera crew filming the occasion to go out on national tv. The interviewer asked the “old gal” how she reached such an age to which she replied “a glass of white wine for lunch, playing the lottery and lots of walking!”. Nicola first met Paola through the argentinian family she stayed with in 2002 and 2005, and then met her again when she came to Cambridge to study in 2006 and they have kept in touch ever since. She offered us excellent advice on the city, especially a very useful website called Plataforma 10, where you can search for all bus journeys in Argentina. Gracias por todo Paola!

Feeling the effects of a night spent on the bus and the late night from the previous evening, we took a very leisurely start to the day (Sat 3rd) by getting up for a late breakfast and generally not moving too fast. We hadn’t much planned for the day except to pay a visit to San Telmo, which is another barrio of Bs As famous for its antique flea market and the home of tango. Once again we were infuriated by the antiquated bus system that took only coins and not informing us of this anywhere. This meant leaving the bus we’d just boarded and changing our notes in a bakery before catching the next one. As usual the bus driver was as unhelpful as ever! It was worth the agro as on reaching San Telmo we were greeted with a fantastic sight of live tango shows, busy street stalls selling artisan goods and beautiful old fashioned cafes with 50’s style artwork. We spent most of the afternoon browsing the stalls and soaking up the atmosphere before heading back to Palermo for some pizza (in a local institution dating back to 1942 called Kentuckys – recommended!)and an early night.

Feeling far better from some proper sleep (Sun 4th) we took the metro to the Plaza de Mayo from where we could wander down to the swanky area called Puerto Madero. The redeveloped Puerto Madero is one of the more expensive areas of the city and is surrounded by a riverside walkway that takes you past some of the best restaurants in the city. We also came across an outdoor gym where we spent a few minutes having fun on the equipment in a desperate attempt to get fit and work off some of the steak dinners! From Puerto Madero we caught a taxi to a very poor area of the city called La Boca, which is where the famous Boca Juniors play, but it also contains a few colourful streets, the main one being El Caminito. This area was the home to Italian immigrants on their arrival to Argentina and they personalised it by painting the buildings with vibrant colours. A few of the streets are safe for tourists to wander around and enjoy and it really is worth seeing. We did walk a few blocks away from the colourful streets towards the Boca Juiour Stadium but very quickly the streets felt very unsafe as we passed a few shady looking characters. There is real poverty in this area of the city as the taxi drove us through a shanty like area before dropping us off but luckily we didn’t have any trouble.

Traveling back to the main area of the city by local bus we were prepared this time and had a stack of coins ready to give to the driver. As we boarded, the grumpy looking driver directed us to the complicated looking ticket machine and gave us zero help on how much to put in or how to even use it. Hanging on for dear life as the bus sped around corners we frantically fed our six, one peso coins into the machine but rather than printing us a ticket it started spewing out our coins in the change slot. Annoyingly it had given us our 6 pesos back but in quarters! This happened on two more occasions before the driver got fed up with us and decided it would be a good idea to help us, not that anyone else on the bus had bothered!

Once back in the micro-centro we headed to Cafe Tortini, which is a famous age old cafe in the heart of the city to recover from our bus ordeal with a coffee and a sandwich. This was a real treat with old waiters, good service and pictures of famous Argentinians on every wall such as the writer Borges and lots of tango regalia i.e Carlos Gardel. In this same place they have famous tango shows in the evening but we had done our research and had chosen another location for our evening show. To walk off our lunch we walked down La Avenida de Mayo to the Plaza de Mayo which is houses the Casa Rosada, the pink house which is the presidential palace although it was far from palacial. The square had a lot of graffiti and placards campaigning against the government. There was also a live-in protest about the Falklands war and how they are really Argentinian, yawn yawn…the same old political strategy used every time to divert the nation away from the dire situation it is in to harking back to territorial issues. This unimpressive square also houses the cabildo which took all of 5 minutes to look around and the cathedral which we couldn’t see as it was being renovated. From here we walked up another huge boulevard Diagonal Norteto to see the huge obselisk which stands in the middle of the city surrounded on both sides by 9 lines of traffic! From here we walked to Teatro Colon, a beautiful old theatre I had been wanting to visit for several times now but had not managed to see on previous trips (Nicola) for one reason or another. It’s clearly not meant to be as this time, as I enquired about a tour, we were told that all tours were cancelled because the theatre was holding the Argentinian equivalent of the Oscars. Annoyed but helpless we wandered round to the front of the theatre to see red carpets, glitter, celebrities and papparazzi. Two times now we’ve nearly made national tv! After a long day of sightseeing we got the underground called el subte back to Palermo and back to our hostel in order to change into something a little more classy for a tango show and dinner which we’d booked for the evening at La Ventana.

La Ventana is in San Telmo and only 3 blocks away from Plaza de Mayo, where we had been earlier in the day. At night they try to spruce the area up by lighting up the presidential house and nearby buildings and to their merit it did look quite nice. We arrived just after 8pm and were the first to be seated in the ornately decorated hall. The evening was brilliant from start to finish and included an excellent 3 course meal (argentinian steak, of course), red wine, a brilliant tango show, and a tradtional folklore band. The highlight was a boleadoras dancer who wowed the audience by swinging these heavy balls around his body at a super fast speed. Its quite hard to explain so have a look at the video link (Boleadoras Dancer). All in all it was a fantastic evening , topped off by the friendly Mexican family whom we got talking to. They shared their wine with us and showed us pictures of their holiday so far – mainly some cities in Chile and then their dog, called Rooney! They were so warm and friendly and gave us their contact details in case we were ever in Mexico and needed a place to stay! At midnight and a little tipsy we hailed a taxi and drove back to Palermo.

To finish off our excellent visit to Bs As (Mon 5th), we took a look around Evita Peron’s home which houses an interesting museum documenting her life. We then walked to the Recoleta Cemetary to visit her grave (and that of lots of military generals famous in the history books) and enjoyed one last meal out before we left the city. Recoleta is another upper class, very nice barrio with big shopping malls and lots of restaurants and cafes. That evening we boarded a night bus heading to the north of the country and to the city of Tucuman where Nicola had lived in 2002 and 2005.

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Responses

  1. You really are packing in loads of interesting places and experiences. We don’t need to visit these places….Keep them coming…….
    S & M x


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