The ever busy Florida street
The flight from Lima was pretty uneventful and soon enough we were passing through Argentine customs to the meeting point where I had to wait for the hostel shuttle service. He arrived right on time and after getting around the problem of my name not being on his pick-up list by showing him my voucher on my iPhone we were away. Everytime I go travelling I always compare the driving standards against other countries and I'd been
pleasantly suprised by the driving in South America so far, until now that is. It has to be said the drivers in BA are insane! Our driver to the hostel drove at the speed of an F1 driver and manuoevered the minibus like he was in a Hollywood car chase, not that he was the only one driving this way, they were all at it, swerving in and out of traffic like Grand Theft Auto, I was just glad to make it to the hostel in one piece and not feeling sick.
Guard at one of the banks
Next came what had to be the longest and most tedious check in ever, first you have to give your reservation number to the people on the security gate downstairs who then let you through to the main desk upstairs, the queue at the main desk was huge and the staff seemed unable to cope. To top it off I got stuck behind some slightly deranged Brazilian lady who could speak neither English or Spanish, I was starving and the straps on my backpack where digging into my shoulders but I dare not put it down for fear of not having the energy to pick it up again. Finally crazy lady got out of the way, still protesting about something or other and I had to try and explain to the girl on reception why I had three reservation numbers, my patience was at breaking point but finally we seemed to get there and off I went to check into my room.
Puente de la Mujer by Santiago Calatrava
I was glad I'd made a reservation as the place was chocca, I'd already struggled to get a reservation at the hostel I really wanted to stay in but this one had also come recommended from a friend so hoped it would be ok; Buenos Aires
just so happens to be one of those cities that is always full of visitors so reservations are essential. The only other person who was around in my room was a Brazilian guy called Leo who was over on a short break from Sao Paulo, we hit it off so decided as we'd both just arrived and were hungry to head out for dinner and agreed to venture over to Puerto Monaldo, a recently renovated area with converted warehouses full of upmarket apartments, restaurants, shops and galleries.
Looking towards the Obelisco
There weren't too many people around at this time eating out even though it was 9pm, this is because the Argentinians like to eat ludicrously late, usually say around 11pm. I had been forewarned about this already but at this point I was so hungry I really didn't care if we weren't eating at the same time as the locals. We managed to find a reasonably priced Italian restaurant after dismissing quite a few other venues for their insanely expensive prices (I was hoping to god these overpriced places weren't representative of everywhere in Buenos Aires otherwise my budget was going to be in trouble) and spent the meal discussing Brazil amongst other things, Leo wanted to know what I'd thought of Sao Paulo when I'd visited and he explained that's it's cheaper for Brazilians to travel outside of their own country(I can see why that is given how expensive I found Brazil) and take trips to places such as Buenos Aires as it's also cheaper when they get there.
World Cup fan park
I was happy to see my bed after we got back from dinner as it'd been a long day and I was ready for a good sleep.
A good sleep though I didn't get as I discovered I was sharing with two guys who were on a week long boozing and shopping bender and over the course of the week I found I seemed to be staying in a Brazilian version of Club 18-30, not that i ahave anything against Brazilians (before anyone reading this gets all uppity), in fact if you read the rest of my blog how much I love them as a people and their country, but being surrounded by too much of one nationality never makes for a great experience when travelling in my opinion, which is part of the reason I steer clear of big groups of Brits. If it weren't for a few of the more chatty Brazilians, all of which seemed to be from Sao Paulo oddly enough, and an Irish guy I met I think it really would have made for a somewhat lonely week as most of the Brazilians hung around in their own little groups not really wanting to mix with anyone else.
At La Venta just before the Tango show
Tired as I was I forced myself to walked around city centre (Leo had decided to go to Uruguay for the day to experience the football there as Uruguay were playing Holland later), first stop was Casa Rosada (government house) in Plaza de Mayo where Evita gave her famous speech. The pink colour comes from a nineteenth tradition that was particularly used in countryside. To achieve this colour Oxes blood was used as a fixative to the whitewash undercoat. Plaza de Mayo is also home to demonstrators protesting about the British occupation of the Falklands (aka Las Malvinas if you're Argentinian), being a Brit I thought it best to steer clear of them!
A friend at home had pointed me in the direction of a few modern architectural gems by the architect Clorindo Testa, one of which, the Banco de la Nacion, was close by.
Sculpture in San Telmo
After photographing the outside security wouldn't let me go in and after taking pictures through the windows I managed to get myself told off by police officer, I pleaded ignorance in my bad Spanish and flashed him a winning smile as thoughts of being arrested flashed through my mind, thankfully he rather nicely ushered me on my way. I then went back to visit Puerto Monaldo as i wanted to photograph the Puente de la Mujer (women's bridge) by Santiago Calatrava.
One of the other things on my must see list whilst in Buenos Aires was a tango show so I headed up town to check out a venue that I'd seen advertised in a backpacker magazine in the hostel. The venue was absolutely beautiful however even with the 15% off I'd get from using an offer in the magazine it still seemed a bit on the steep side so I said I'd let them know if I wanted to book for Friday.
It'd been a rather long walk to get there so decided to get acquainted with the metro system (Subte) and on this occassion got to ride on the oldest line on the Subte, linea A. It's the oldest metro system in Latin America (inaugurated 1913 and is based on London's underground). Linea A still uses the original wooden carriages and you can quite easily open the doors whilst the train is moving, quaint yes, safe no.
The Subte led me to Plaza del Congresso where the Congress building is located, designed by same architect as Teatro Colon that I planned to visit later that day. It's been the site of many political demonstrations and is also known as kilometer cero, the point from which all roads in BA are measured. I then took a stroll down Avenida Corrientes, which is previously known as being the hub for leftist cafe society in the city, but is now lined with bookstores and shops.
One of the most famous Tango venues in Buenos Aires
After all the walking i'd done i was starving and took a late lunch at Chilquilin so that I could watch the footy at the same time (I think I was the only person in the restaurant supporting Holland). It was a really amazing place inside with beautiful decor, it had a certain French air to it and although the waiters were dressed in white shirts and bow ties they weren't in the least bit snooty. After the game had finished and I'd enjoyed a deliciously filling lunch I went off exploring again, firstly to the nearby Teatro Colon which is supposed to have some of best acoustics in the world unfortunately it was closed for refurbishment. It's a shame as I'd read that interior is supposed to be very oppulant, i did however manage to capture it's exterior which is modelled on a French Renainsance opera house.
Next up was the Obelisco, standing 67m high, it lies at the intersection of 9 de Julio and Corrientes and makes for a great photo at this busy junction. By this time it was already dark so I knew it was too late to visit the Tango museum, I'd have to try and fit it in later in the week.
The following day I decided to walk through one of the suburbs, Recoleta, where I checked out some of the well-healed leather shops there. I walked past a building called Edificio Kavanagh built in 1935, the AIA called it at the time "the worlds best example of Rationalist architecture", I call it
bobbins. It was too late at this point to get to Cultural centre before lunch (most museums and galleries close for a few hours over lunch) so instead went to Romarios pizza near Recoleta cemetery.
The Pink House where Evita gave her famous speech
I debated going into the cemetery itself as I would have quite liked to have seen where Evita was buried but decided that I'd rather check out the Recoleta Cultural Centre instead which houses modern art, photography and audio visual exhibits. It was originally a home for Franciscan monks and one of the oldest buildings in the city. I couldnt work out why some of the areas were off limits and couldnt understand the staffs heavily accented Argentine Spanish.
I then made a beeline for the National Library, also by Clorindo Testa, but sadly missed the free guided tour as it's only on Mon, Tue & Thurs. The library is situated on a controversial site that was originally home to the palace that housed Juan & Evita Peron, after the 1955 revolution, when Peron was ousted from power, the government was frightened it would become a shrine to Evita and had it demolished and planned a library on the site.
Malba art gallery
Although it was designed in the 1960s construction didn't begin for three decades due to various financial and political problems and it wasn't finished until 1992.
Visiting the leather stores earlier had wet my appetite for shopping and decided i wanted to spend some of my birthday cash on a nice pair of leather boots, i'd read though that in one of the suburbs there were leather outlets. Although there are only three or four streets of shops if you're looking for coats, jackets or bags this is the place to go. I struggled to find any boots while resisting the urge to 'invest' in a new leather jacket but finally struck gold in the last shop I went in, I saw them in the window and they said 'buy me' and who am I to resist my inner shopaholic? With a feeling of satisfaction at nabbing a bargain I set off back to the hostel.
Street scene, Caminito
The following day I went to explore another suburb this time Palmero, home to the Evita museum. The museum is housed in a building owned by Evita's Social Aid Foundation and I found it a really interesting experience as well as furthering my knowledge of a great lady that I'd originally only known a small amount about previously. What impressed me most was all of the charitable work she did as well as being a great embassador for Argentina and decided that she made it onto my list of heros along with fellow countryman Ernesto 'Che' Guevara.
Palmero is also where MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) is located. The new building itself was worth the visit and the exhibits were also pretty exceptional. The museum was set up to showcase the Modern art movement in Latin America that started between 1910-1920 which allowed a sense of regional identity to develop.
Colourful buildings in Caminito
I spent the evening and early morning drinking with a few guys from the hostel but couldn't be bothered to go clubbing with them so at 3am called it a day.
I'd planned for Friday to be relatively low key as it was Indepedance day and I knew most things would be closed. I wasn't sure what to expect from Independence Day in Argentina, and if it was it going to resemble that of our American cousins and be a day filled with parties and fireworks displays but it appeared to be a rather low key affair with families and people in general just enjoying the pleasure of a day off and being tourists within their own city. I went and sat in front of the Casa Rosada in Plaza de Mayo enjoying the reasonably warm winter sun. I just didn't feel like doing much as the days so far had been crammed full of doing stuff as would the next few, besides I quite enjoyed lying in after the previous nights drinking.
Maradona mural Caminito
The highlight of my day though had to be going to watch a Tango show in the evening at La Ventana in San Telmo, the setting was exquisite, the three course dinner was fantastic and there was so much food and also my glass of wine was never allowed to go empty. Let me not forget the show itself which was just stunning, the dancers were incredible and they also had this guy on who performed with some kind of bolo I think, swinging the thing around in ways you wouldn't have thought possible and to music as well. I love the fact that Tango is such a passionate dance and the fact it had such ellicit beginings in BA's brothels almost makes it seem like an embodiment of sex itself. I also managed to get chatting to a lovely couple from Chile who were on holiday and certainly got my Spanish practice in for the night as neither of them spoke English.
Home of one crazy Boca fan
I walked back to the hostel topped up on a red wine and the sound of Tango still in my ears.
Saturday morning started with a visit to the district of San Telmo where i took a walk down Pasaje San Lorenzo to see Casa Minima, the narrowest house in BA at only 2.17m wide. Two storeys in height it was built by liberated slaves on land they were given by their former masters. Exploring San Telmo further I stumbled across El Viejo Almacen, a famous tango bar started by one of Argentinas most famous tango singers, Edmundo Riverio. I finished up by visiting Iglesia de San Pedro Telmo with its eclectic facade, before heading back to the hostel as I was off to watch a rugby match in the afternoon.
The tour company picked me up and as it turned out I was the only one taking the trip with Juan and his girlfriend.
Flying over Patagonia en route to Sydney
The game was being played in San Isidro at Casi, and was Casi vs Alumni in Voltswagen Cup. Rugby in Argentina is still very much an amateur sport and there were only approx 1000 at game I watched and even at a Pumas game they will only get about 5000. Like hockey and polo it's a very much a middle class sport and I saw lots of well dressed private school types wandering around with hockey kit just before the game started.
After the match persuaded myself that I finally had gotten to grips with the concept of eating late so i went back to San Telmo for dinner at a place called El Desnivel that I'd been wanting to check out. It was popular with both locals and tourists alike but thankfully I pretty much got a table straight away. El Desnivel is known for it's good but straight foward food off its huge pardilla (grill) and combine this with the bussling atmosphere it made for a great meal.
People were still piling in after I left sometime after 12.30am.
Sunday was my last full day in Buenos Aires and I'd planned to go back to San Telmo to soak up the atmosphere at the Sunday market which culminates around Plaza Dorrengo. I also wanted to visit the barrio of Boca home to La Bombonera ('The Chocolate Box'), where Boca Juniors play. Although the stadium itself isn't much to shout about architecturally from the outside (I refused to pay for the overpriced tour of the inside of the stadium), what makes it and the surrounding area so interesting is the sheer fanatism of the fans who paint their houses and shops with Boca colours (blue and yellow) and the murals and statues of heros past and present. Boca is also home to a unique type of architecture in BA; coloured profile metal sheet housing, all of the houses are different colours making for an interesting and varied streetscape. The best example, and most famous street in Boca is Caminito. In and around Boca there are intersting little cafes, live Tango performances and street performers, a lot of which is put on for the tourists benefit I suppose but it really does create an ambiance which is quite special. I could have wondered around Boca all day even though the weather wasn't that great, Boca and San Telmo proved to be by far my favourite neighbourhoods much more so than the over gentrified areas such as Palmero, I really liked both the scruffy chic going on and the general vibe, I was certaintly wishing I'd booked into a hostel in San Telmo instead.
I got a cab back to San Telmo to wander around the market some more before heading back to the hostel. I'd already decided to go back to Desnivel for dinner and persuaded Brian (the Irish guy I'd mentioned previously) to tag along.
I'd really enjoyed my week in Buenos Aires and it's the first city I've visited in South America that I could see myself living in, providing I could get my Spanish up to scratch of course. For me Buenos Aires is a city that ticks all of the boxes, they're sport crazy, theres a thriving arts scene, interesting architecture, good wine and food, good shopping and a feeling of suaveness and sophistication in the air, these Portenos are a stylish bunch!
Monday was back to the airport for my flight to Sydney and I had to admit although I was sad to be leaving South America I was really excited about the prospect of Australia.
The flight turned out to be a pretty enjoyable one; we had good weather so the captain came on the PA system to tell us we'd be flying over Bariloche and would be able to see the glaciers and snow capped mountains of Patagonia as we flew over. It was so incredibly pristine and beautiful and the sheer size of the glaciers blew me away as they were significantly larger than ones I'd seen in New Zealand. It was also nice to hear English speakers on the plane, even though I wasn't heading back to the UK it still gave me a sense of reasurance that I could communicate with people a bit more effectively but I'll definetely keep working on my Spanish that's for sure. Hasta Luego South America, I'll be back!