The capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, is called “The Paris of the South”. Having lived in Paris for half a year a few years back and having visited it frequently as its only 4 hours driving from our home, I could not wait to finally visit this city and figure out what this whole comparison is all about. In hindsight we can say; yes, it definitely does have a lot of characteristics in common with Paris. It is actually incredible how many times during this week we compared it to something we experienced or know of Paris. The beautiful old buildings in every other street, the passion for food and drink, the careless driving of the inhabitants and the abundance of green in the city. And in addition to what there is to compare, Buenos Aires has so much extra to offer, let alone the friendliness of the people. I am going to try to take you along during our week in Buenos Aires, and maybe, I will be able to convince you to put this city on top of your bucket list (you should). Press “Continue reading” to read about our experience!
An unexpected break
If there is one thing you learn when travelling, it is to deal with the unexpected and just go with the flow of this unpredictable river which brings you through all these amazing places. No pretty river is perfectly smooth however so sometimes forces you through its rapids or leaves you stranded ashore. Pretty much like life itself. After receiving bad news from home we chose to take the trip back home to say goodbye to our good friend Balou. A sad chapter of our otherwise wonderful journey, but the most important part to the story is that we will never forget him. Circumstances did give us the chance to spend time with our families and friends during the holidays, an opportunity we received with open arms. Now, however, we are ready to take the plunge back into the river and find out where it will bring us. One thing is for certain, we will start in Buenos Aires!
We were lucky enough to have a direct flight from Amsterdam Schiphol (KLM) being the cheapest option for starting our trip, so the way there was pretty chill. The usual; watching movies, getting food and drinks once in a while and forcing yourself to try to get some sleep. I must say, installing Roller Coaster Tycoon (classic) on my phone just before the flight was not a bad decision, but it did cost me a few hours of sleep. Once at the airport, we had to find a way to get to the city. Buenos Aires has quite a good public transport network, however, the network has not found its way to the airport yet. We met a Norwegian girl who happened to live in Buenos Aires, and a Turkish guy who hoped to become a Tango professional and we decided to share a cap as this turned out to be the cheapest option. Getting dropped of a few blocks away from our hostel we walked up to our first sleeping place. Even though the walk was only a few minutes, the walk left us incredibly sweaty as it was about 25 degrees with full sun and we were carrying backpacks with a weight of around similar numbers in kg‘s. A bit different from the wintry state we left our own country in. I guess we have to get used to that again. But there we were, in Buenos Aires, checked in at Back in BA hostel in the neighbourhood Palermo. Ready to explore the city.
In terms of doing research beforehand we at least got as far as googling “What neighbourhood to stay in”. The result was Palermo. So that is that, here we are. After some relaxing in our (private!) room, we asked for some information and for a map and found a big green area on it. As we were still in the recovery stage we decided to head there and just chill and read a book. The city really feels like Paris, the infrastructure has a very similar feeling to it and the atmosphere is so alike, just as the temperature. Buenos Aires is filled with little stores where they sell vegetables called Verduleros, where we bought a cucumber and some strawberries and then headed for the park. On the way we managed to spot a giraffe at the zoo we passed by and experienced some of the beauty of the city. Buenos Aires is a city that represents greatness, including a great history of booms and depressions in both economics as (international) relations. Reminders of this can be found throughout the city where beautiful and impressively sized statues of either celebration or memorial can be found at numerous intersections. Arriving at the park one thing absolutely caught attention; walking dogs as a service is a big business in this city. After some reading and chilling we checked out the rest of the park and found many nice little lakes and beautiful large trees. Such nice parks make a city easy to love as you always have an easy way for escaping from the fuss of the city. Later we headed back into town, bought some groceries at a giant super market which we found and Anne prepared us a nice risotto back at the hostel. It keeps surprising how Anne manages to create an awesome dinner out of some basic ingredients. This day soon came to an end as we were exhausted by the flight, but on other days we discovered more of the charms of Palermo. The center of Palermo has a very welcoming atmosphere with is abundance of little shops and nice and cozy restaurants with teraces where you can just sit and enjoy the lovely weather and good food and drink. Twice during our stay at Palermo we found ourselves at one of these and ordered a nice bottle of Argentinean wine with some delicious food, and just sat there for hours playing card games or chatting about people who passed by or about our impressions of the city and what more was to come. Definitely an enjoyable time and we felt very welcome in this beautiful neighbourhood.
One morning during our stay in Palermo we set out to explore Recoleta, which is known as one of the fancy neighbourhoods of the city, but definitely worth a visit for reasons you will find out in a bit. We walked a lot during our stay in Buenos Aires, at least 10k a day I would say, but this day absolutely topped it all. It is however not that much of a punishment to walk when your surroundings are so beautiful. Additonally, we can of course see it as a training for the hikes we are planning to make later in our journey (Patagonia). On our way to Recoleta we discovered beautiful streets and parks and passed through the neighbourhood where all international embassies were based, which is always an impressive sight. For lunch we prepared sandwiches with stuff we bought at a little supermarket while chilling in a park which was filled with statues and massive trees, Recoleta really represents richness.
Afterwards, we made our way to the main sight of Recoleta; Cementerio de Recoleta. This cemetery (graveyard) contains the graves of notable people, such as the one of Eva Perón, various Argentinean presidents, Nobel price winners and a granddaughter of Napoleon. A good line-up right, and wow, the cemetery itself is definitely a place which leaves an impression. We first visited the associated church which was very pretty, and the nice thing was that you could explore the “behind the scene” cloisters as well for only a dollar. It is small but it gives you a better impression of what life used to be like. From the windows of the three-story building we could already see the cemetery, and seeing this made us really excited to visit it ourselves. Once at the cemetery, we did not really know where to start as it is so big, but we just started to explore the place. Graves as I had seen before in my life where just small memorials which can be visited by friends and family. I did visit the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris a few years back, but even that was very modest compared to this. You walk over 2-3 meter wide paths which bring you passed 4691 vaults covered by memorial sculptures which reach up to I would guess 15 meters high, it is incredible. Each memorial has its own shapes and styles using different materials and colors, and of course a different story behind it that we can only guess for. Most of the memorials have glass windows so you can actually see the coffins inside the vaults. A very interesting experience altogether.
Last on our Recoleta list was La Floralis Genérica, a symbol of hope that was given to the city as a present by an Argentinian artist. A 23 meter high sculpture of a flower with petals of 3500 kg each, which automatically close at sunset and will open up again at every sunrise.
The second picture includes someone who has colleagues throughout the whole of Latin America. People who bike around with their cooling boxes yelling “Helado Helado” all day long trying to sell their ice cream, beautiful.
Sabor a Tango
As Buenos Aires is the birthplace of the Tango, we definitely wanted to witness a performance. Our hostel informed us of a show which had been going strong for quite a few years already and we decided to visit it. It turned out to become a very romantic night together. First, we got a tango class taught by two tango professionals and they taught us some basic tango moves. We were impressed by the smoothness of their moves, but were not too bad ourselves either; as you may have expected. Afterwards, we were seated in the oldest opera house of Buenos Aires and received a lovely three-course dinner with an entrecôte as a main and freely flowing wine. With mostly the latter making for the perfect atmosphere, the one and a half hour show was about to start. The show was amazing, we had just tried it out a little ourselves but it was incredible to witness the tango skills of these performers. Insane how fast these people can move around. In addition to the tango, the show also contained some kind of opera singing and various other types of traditional dancing. The most surprising was the one where they had strings with balls on the ends and where the Gauchos would dance and make music by smashing the balls into the floor… probably not a very good explanation. But anyway, it was a fun night, and that is all that matters!
As the city is so huge, we decided to move to another part of town for exploring the rest of the city. Where Palermo is more the cool new area a bit to the west of the city, we now moved to BA Stop hostel in the middle of the city centre. From here we would easily be able to reach the areas of the city that we had not explored yet, quite a good strategy right. This new hostel is actually really nice, it is based in a classical Paris-style house with high ceilings and those huge white doors. With that, there is a nice living room with a ping-pong table, there are hot showers and a decent kitchen. They even have a few free-to -use computers, which is great as it saves me from writing this on a tiny laptop. And last but not least, we met some nice people to have a good time with, ao the great Horse Race Narrator Milo (who I promised to mention in my blog). Only disadvantage, no private room anymore.
La Boca, a neighbourhood famous for a number things. It is home to a well-known soccer team, and it is the birth place of the Tango! As if that is not enough, what La Boca is the most famous for is El Caminto. In 1830 a large group of Italian immigrants arrived in the area. The new arrivals made use of scrap metal and leftover marine paint to liven up the area which at that time did not have the best reputation. Immigrants arrived from Spain, France, England, Ireland, Eastern Europe and Greece and this mix of cultures soon resulted in the birth of the dance that is now known as the tango. The area is now of course very touristy but its a beautiful memorial of the time in which port and factory workers would gather in halls to dance in an attempt to get the attention of woman. It is a true joy to just walk around the area and perhaps have a little beer at one of the many teraces while people are dancing tango around you.
To get to the port (that is what puerto means) from our hostel you get past Plaza de Mayo, which has been as Wikipedia puts it “the hub of politcal life of Argentina since the revolution in 1810”. The plaza is surrounded by beautiful buildings, with the most noteworthy building being Casa Rosada.
Puerto Madero was originally and obviously a port, and now it is known as the most modern part of the city. It actually does not look anything like Buenos Aires at all to be honest. The port is now packed with company buildings and restaurants. It is actually quite a good solution as of course a city needs its business and in this way the skyscrapers are easily pushed away from the beautiful and more traditional city centre. The port itself is everything that you would not expect from a port, except from the fact that there is water. There are no ships except from a giant three-mast which has been turned into a restaurant and it’s actually all quite peaceful. On the other side of the port an immense natural reserve is located which as we were told is home to more than 300 different species (mostly birds). It is accessible for visitors if they behave well and many locals use it to have a run and escape from the city. It’s not as beautiful as the parks inside of the city, but that is also not really the point of a natural reserve. The street that borders with the natural reserve is packed with food trucks and is nice way to have a cheap and quick lunch. We were told by the Norwegian girl from the taxi that we should definitely try out the Choripan, and it was delicious! It is actually just bread with a big chorizo sausage, but you can dress it up with any type of salsa or salad that they have, so that is good.
From El Centro to Retiro
More and more of the map that we had got covered everyday, but there was one particular area that we did not cover yet, so we decided to head in that direction. First we got past the main opera house in Buenos Aires, Teatro Colón. Unfortunately we do not have the financial means to visit a performance in this theatre, but I guess we can come back for that in a few years. From there we walked through the rest of the centre of the city and eventually got to a park with a large tower in it and made it to the Retiro district. Retiro is the centre of transportation of the city, and it seemed to be a good place for having a hotdog. That‘s all I have to say about that.
The San Telmo Market
Something you just have to visit if you are in Buenos Aires is the San Telmo Market. Every Sunday in one of the oldest neighbourhoods of the city, thousands of artists and antiquarians gather on the some-hundred meter long street to sell their trade. Its marvellous. I‘ve been to a bunch of markets around the world and most of the time it’s just a long street with people trying to sell their touristy factory produced material. Of course you will find some of that here as well, but majority is beautifully made handicraft. In addition to that, musicians make music, there are barbecues and orange squashers on the street and there is just so much to see around you. You can easily spend hours strolling around the market and it is perfect for buying some original souvenirs.