Last year was rich in Bucket List travels for me. After 2 decades of dreaming about this place, I finally managed to visit the capital of Argentina for a couple of days.
Buenos Aires was everything I imagined and saw in the soap operas of my childhood. The most European South American capital, it met me with sun, amazing food, great vibes and lovely colors of a late spring. If you rarely travel across the equator, the simple fact that they have summer when we have winter is kind of mind-blowing. I honestly had to laugh, when people told me they don’t like celebrating New Year’s in the city because it gets too hot. Remember Berlin? After months of grayness and cold, I’ll take Argentinian “too hot” any time.
I went to Argentina as a part of small instagramers' group (other than me all male) with Buenos Aires being only a small part of our travel itinerary. Nevertheless, for me it was a definite highlight, since so many childhood dreams and memories were connected with this place.
The first thing which really surprised me about Buenos Aires (since I also visited other parts of South America, including Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil) is how European-looking majority of the population is. Blue eyes and blond hair are as common on the streets as they are in Berlin and this is the 2d South American city (the other being Sao Paolo) where I easily mixed with the crowd. I am not going to get into history of colonialism and European immigration, but the consequences of these processes are quite obvious.
The weather in late November-early December was perfect, with temperature ranging from 24-28C. November is also a peak season for the jacaranda trees blooming, so if you’d like to see the city in the blue-lilac-whatever shade of violet these flowers are in full gorgeousness – spring (or Northern hemisphere fall) is the time to go.
We stayed in the popular upscale neighborhood of Palermo – boutique hotels, fancy restaurants and lively nightclubs are concentrated here. I have to admit, that 3 days is not enough time to discover the city thoroughly, but what I saw – I enjoyed to the fullest.
Even though Buenos Aires is situated in a close proximity to the ocean, there are no decent beaches in the city other than Buenos Aires Playa beach on the shore of the Rio de la Plata. Generally, despite a long coastal line, Argentina is not the place to go for a beach holiday – even locals prefer to go North to Brazil.
Most tourists are attracted to the colorful districts of La Boca and artful San Telmo and for a good reason. La Boca, which used to be a rather poor working-class neighborhood, consisting mostly of early Italian immigrants, acquired cultural significance for its brightly pained houses and tango places. The famous tango “Caminito” (1926) composed by Juan de Dios Filiberto was inspired by the street of the same name in the heart of La Boca.
San Telmo is the oldest neighborhood in the city, famous for its art scene and a regular Sunday market. I really enjoyed strolling on the streets, looking at all the colorful facades, bookshops and cafes.
Recoleta is a downtown residential neighbourhood, with a long history and European-inspired architecture. Here you can find the beautiful Recoleta cemetery, where Evita – Eva Peron, the most famous First lady and the Spiritual Leader of the Nation, is buried. National Fine Arts Museum as well as the National Library of Argentina can be found here as well.
Palermo, where we lived, is the biggest barrio or neighborhood in Buenos Aires, divided into many smaller areas, named quite distinctively Palermo Chico (“chic” Palermo), Palermo Viejo (“Old” Palermo), Soho, Hollywood etc.
Buenos Aires is the most visited city in the South America as well as the most well-to-do, ranked 93 in the list of cities around the world for the quality of life.
The city is also famous for its vivid theater scene (with over 280 theaters, it is also known as “the theater capital of the World”) as well as for the most bookshops per capita in the world.
I cannot avoid talking about food scene of course. Argentinean steak is world famous, but the city has a huge variety of restaurants, ranging from local to international cuisine. I’ve visited a few and was not once disappointed.
The places I went and can recommend are:
El Muelle – situated on the bank of Rio de la Plata in a beautiful mansion, which belongs to the fiherman's club (Club de Pescadores) it is a great place to eat sea food and enjoy the view of the river.
La Mar – easily the best ceviche I've ever eaten as well as one of the most popular restaurants in Palermo. Huge outdoor area, big portions and amazing fresh fish ceviche.
Chori – an upscale take on the traditional sausage sandwich.
Grappa Cantina – located in a huge ballroom, it is a nice place for a late dinner. Their sirloin stake was superb.
La Popular – colorful interior, international cuisine (we ate schnitzel) and huge portions
Avant Garten – restaurant and a bar with a big outdoor area, which turns in a popular night hang-out spot.
We were lucky to get onto couple of taller structures in the city, to catch a glimpse of Argentinean capital from above. One, situated in a private residential building in Palermo Chico is unfortunately inaccessible to the general public, but another viewpoint – the top of the Palacio Barolo in the Monserrat district, is a great place to view the sunset over the city.
Palacio Barolo is also a beautiful place for a guided tour. Built in 1923 as an office building in a cosmology with Dante’s Divine Comedy and filled with Masonic symbols, it used to be the tallest building in South America. It is topped with a lighthouse, which was supposed to send light signals to its twin-brother – Palacio Salvo in the Uruguayan capital – Montevideo. Unfortunately, the Italian architect Mario Palanti didn’t take the curvature of the Earth into account, so physically it proved impossible to connect these two visually.
Buenos Aires obviously has a lot of “mosts” in its description – most theaters, most bookshops, most European, etc. Let me also add the oldest subway system in the Southern Hemisphere as well as the oldest in the whole Spanish-speaking world, dated back to 1913. The Linea A is the historical one, with its station kept in the “belle-epoque” decorations. Another reason, why they call Buenos Aires “Paris of the South America”.
I was lucky and excited to go to a polo game, while I was visiting. It is the most popular sport in the country – after football of course. I find it quite weird and complex (hitting a ball with a wooden hammer, while galloping on a horse – what?) but Argentinians I talked to explained the popularity by the huge amount of horses and vast territories with green fields, which kind of made sense…oh well. It is not a cheap sport, since a price for a decent horse can be as high as $200K.
Another weird but popular thing in the whole Argentina is the tradition of drinking yerba mate on the streets. One can order this energizing drink in a café, but many people carry a special mate cup (calabash gourd), propped with a special metal straw (called la bombilla), as well as a package of yerba leaves and thermos of hot water, everywhere and prepare a drink on the go. I drank mate tea before, but never in an Argentinean way. For me it was similar to seeing an Italian carrying a machinetta around and cooking a cup of espresso while waiting for a bus.
I went to Argentina with a bunch of other instagramers and I was surprised to be interviewed by the biggest national newspaper – called accordingly La Nation. They described me as a “professional comedian” – which I proudly accept, even though I only had one stand-up gig by now. The interview and the article about influencers promoting Argentinean tourism was published in print and online, resulting in hundreds of mixed comments on social media. At least I’ve learned, that in the case of bashing people on Facebook Argentina is no different to any other country in the world=)
Generally, Buenos Aires met and acceded my already high expectations. I would love to go to the city for a longer period of time to explore its underground cultural scene.
For now this is it, but I will soon write another post about my experience in the Tierra del Fuego – literally the southernmost town in the world Ushuaia and its surroundings.