Steak, wine, tango, Evita and much more! We are coming to the end of our 6 day stay in the city of Buenos Aires and it has been fantastic. We decided before the trip started that we would have some time away from the group and explore B.A. by ourselves. It’s been a month since we were just on our own and thought this would be a good place to rent a small studio and in some ways restore a bit of normality.
At the end of it we feel we have seen B.A. and at least know the city a little and WHAT a city it is. Amazing. We would love to write down everything that we did, everything we saw and everywhere we went but that would take too long and probably send a lot of people to sleep, so we will try and summarize.
The first thing that hits you is the architecture and road network. Huge tree lined avenues and by huge we mean HUGE. Avenue 9 Julio is at one point 24 lanes wide, the widest street in the world. To cross it takes 4 sections of pedestrian crossings, Steve counted 186 paces from one side to the other…. he does have little legs though! The avenues are lined with beautiful buildings and after a while you get used to them and you have to stop and look around to remind yourself where you are. There are dozens and dozens of cafes with tables on the pavements and waiters dressed in black trousers and aprons with a white shirt and dickie bow. You could easily think you were in Paris as the buildings are so Parisienne in style too. That is until you get the bill and find it is much much cheaper than the French capital!
The main arteries are connected by a labyrinth of side streets. Luckily the city is mainly on a grid system so if you do get lost you know you will eventually hit a main thoroughfare and you can re-orientate yourself. On the side streets are corner cafes and bars and we found ourselves taking a rest more often than normal to have a coffee or a beer sitting on the pavement watching the world go by. We have to say the beer started to be drunk more than the coffee as the mercury rose, hitting 38 degrees on one day.
We visited Recoleta cemetery. This is unlike any cemetery we have ever seen. It’s almost like a small village, the tombs line the “streets” one after the other …. most of them very well maintained some of them not so well. The tombs have doors on them which although locked you can still look through the glass in some and see the caskets in there… a little bit creepy. The main ‘attraction’ at the cemetery is the tomb of Eva Peron or Evita as some will know her. After being in B.A. for a few days now, it is clear Evita is of huge significance in the recent history of B.A. and Argentina. Even though she died almost 70 years ago she is clearly still loved by many of the people and her tomb has to be cleared each evening of the flowers and notes that are left there each day.
OK, on a lighter note let’s talk steak. It’s a big thing here, big being the operative word! We have had a couple of steaks during our time in Argentina and they have been very, very good so we thought we would try one in B.A. We had heard of a parilla (grill) with a good reputation not far from where we were staying….. like a lot of restaurants here it didn’t open until 8pm. The Argentines are late night/early hours people. It seems common to eat dinner at 10pm, then go for drinks around midnight while waiting for the clubs to open at 2am and then head home after 6am. We have been in touch with other people on the trip and it seems some of the younger ones have adopted to this way of life quite easily! Are we sounding old?? Anyway back to the steak. We arrived at the restaurant at 8.05pm and it was already quite full we were given a table and sat down with the menu. By 8.30pm the place was full and people were constantly being turned away. It was a really authentic place, quite small on a street corner out of the way and full of atmosphere. We ordered two ‘beef de chorizos’ (sirloin steak). We also ordered some sides but the waiter thought it might all be too much so we went with his advice. Out came the food, a huge plate of grilled vegetables, a pile of fries and two massive slabs of meat, perfectly cooked, the best we have ever tasted. Sarah managed 250 grams and Steve dug in for 350 grams. We finished the night off with a couple of glasses of Malbec. Perfect.
Back on the tourist trail we visited The Congressional building in the centre of the city. A really impressive building, one of the most visually impactive we have seen. We should state here that neither of us are architecture specialists. In fact we probably wouldn’t know the difference between baroque and gothic (are gothic the scarily looking ones?). But you really can’t help being impressed with the buildings around the city no matter what your knowledge. The Congressional building is at one end of the Avenue de Mayo, a straight mile down to Plaza de Mayo … probably the main tourist street in the city. The plaza is surrounded by more outstanding buildings. The cathedral (once the home of the current Pope), the Bank of Argentina (once the home of some cash!) and Casa Rosada (the Presidential Palace). Although this building is only 3 stories high it dominates the plaza with its pink stonework and prime position. It was from here that Eva Peron addressed the nation and Madonna famously sang “Don’t cry for me Argentina” for the movie “Evita”.
San Telmo barrio was another stop on our trip. This is the old part of the city, and although it still maintains a Parisien feel the streets and buildings are much more narrow and most streets are cobbled. The area has a market every Sunday with hundreds of stalls. In contrast to many markets we have visited the vast majority of the stalls are very individual and unique. You would need to spend several Sundays here to thoroughly explore everything. We just wandered through the streets, soaking up the atmosphere eventually ended up at the main square where the market originated. By now we were pretty hot and thirsty and so we popped into a bar on the edge of the square for a beer and a burger. The place was old tatty and in need of some TLC, the burger was a bit suspect but the beer was cold and refreshing. However the best thing about the bar was a couple were dancing The Tango. It was brilliant to sit there and watch them, they were really quite good and Steve knows a bit about tango having watched several series of Strictly Come Dancing!! Yes it was a tourist area and the dancing as a bit of a tourist thing but it was still a nice touch and we both enjoyed it.
Our next stop was La Boca barrio. In a lot of travel guides La Boca is listed as a dangerous neighbourhood, working class and poor. It is the home of Boca Juniors football club, who possibly have the most notorious fans in South America. La Boca has a couple of potential sights of interest one is ‘Caminito’ a street down by the docks and the other is ‘Bombonera’ the Boca Juniors football stadium. Every city has its area which gains a “don’t go there” reputation, sometimes this is justified and sometimes not. As long as you are sensible and aware, the majority of the time you will be fine. We wandered into Boca sensible and aware…..at least for the first 5 minutes, then Steve decided to wander off the main street looking for the football stadium. Immediately the atmosphere changed, we both felt quite vulnerable as we threaded our way through run down back streets with groups of rough looking youths sat in doorways giving us strange looks. After a glimpse of the stadium we increased our pace and made our way back out onto the main street. Here we found a Police Officer and asked him directions to “Caminito” which he happily gave us and off the main road we went again! After a minute or so a woman came running up to us and told us to stop and go back. She said this was a dangerous part of the neighbourhood and if we continued there would be a good chance we would get robbed. Steve said we would be fine………….only joking. He actually said “Lets get the s#!t out of here now” and we walked with the woman back to the main street where she promptly had ‘a right go’ at the Police Officer. It was in Spanish but we got the general idea of what was being said!!
We gave Caminito a miss that day but returned later on one of the super public buses that fly around the city. It took us straight through La Boca to the docks and dropped us off right at Caminito. It was a colourful street, a bit on the touristy side, but in a very original way and after all … we are tourists. Steve bought a Boca Juniors t-shirt – he said it might help him on the way out of the neighbourhood. He bought Sarah a lovely white and red football shirt with River Plate written on it and muttered something about rivals and violence???
This was our experience in La Boca and I’m sure numerous people have wandered through with no negative issues or interactions at all, like we have done in many areas in many cities. It was perhaps just one of those days.
Whilst in B.A. we took a whole day to wander through the park areas of the city around the northern part of Palermo Barrio. This turned out to be a very unexpected bonus. After stopping for coffee and croissants (….yet again!) we crossed a road and through a fence saw some people riding horses. We continued on and saw that we were at The Polo Club of Argentina. Now Sarah is a big fan of all things horses and has been to The Polo Gold Cup at Cowdray Park in the UK a few times. So you can imagine her excitement when we not only found we were at The Polo Club but there was a tournament just starting. You can imagine Steve’s excitement when he found out it was free to get in!! We sat in the stands and walked around the pitch watching the polo on a beautiful Sunday morning for an hour or so before moving on.
We moved on through the parks and eventually found ourselves at the Buenos Aires Tennis Club. It was extremely busy and something was obviously going on. We worked out it was the ATP World Tour Buenos Aires. It was the first day and the initial rounds of the competition. Believe it or not they were letting people in for free…..We love B.A!! We sat in the stands and watched for an hour or so. It was the first time either of us had watched professional tennis. What a great experience. On the way out David Ferrer the former world number 3 tennis player was walking past after finishing his press conference. Sarah dove in for a selfie. The result of this is below !!!!
After the tennis we turned back towards our studio and meandered through the parks, out of the blue we came across a large building which was extremely grand in appearance, stone pillars, iron gates etc. On investigation we found it to be the Hippodrome Argentina Palermo, the major horse racing venue in the country, and as luck would have it there was a meeting in progress and yes you guessed it, it was free to get in!! We ventured inside and the place was magnificent, Buckingham Palace and Royal Ascot merged into one. Time was pressing on but we decided to stay for one race and have a bet. Our Spanish was nowhere near good enough to work out which were the good horses so we went for number 3 (It looked good walking around). The race set off with 9 runners and number 3 went straight to the front and stayed there as they came around the final bend, the other horses were queuing up to pass as they came thundering into the final furlong but number 3 would not give up and in a desperate lunge for the line it held on to win. Steve went off to collect the winnings and returned with a handful of pesos “How much have we won” asked Sarah. “I haven’t worked it out yet, but it’s at least a pound” replied Steve.
On our last evening we ventured out to a tango show. There are many of these shows about the city which cater for around 600 people with all you can eat and drink packages. They didn’t really appeal to us so we really looked around and found one in the basement of a renowned cafe on Avenue de Mayo. It was dark, atmospheric and catered for only about 40 people as we sat at old wooden tables and ordered a bottle of local Malbec. The show consisted of 6 dancers who were outstanding and a singer who sang in Spanish (about what we have no idea) but it was captivating. The show was absolutely fantastic – a real highlight of our time in B.A. We strolled back to our studio and stopped for another steak dinner on the way which even bigger and better steak than the last one!! A great last evening in a great city…….Buenos Aires is beautiful!