Kind of Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires feels like it was made by and for the rich.The city is full of grand buildings that stand tall and proud, still holding the air of economic prosperity this city clearly enjoyed when they were built. The best places to walk around and see these incredible structures is the areas of La Recoleta and Retiro.
To familiarize ourselves with the different neighborhoods, we started off the trip on a hop on hop off bus. Ignore the insistence to consistently play the same music on repeat and the often too detailed unnecessary history about random roads, and pick up the crux of the neighborhoods and you are good. There is value in the tour though, its a quickest way to get to see the different neighborhoods, and its helpful that the tour points out most of the points of interest that tourists may otherwise have missed so that you can orient yourself. What I always find interesting in these tours though are details that are not necessarily highlights. For instance, we drove by a circular building which evidently was built as a ice skating rink for the elite. It has since been turned into an art museum, but the fact that a grand ice skating rink was built at all, at that point in time, exclusively for the elite to enjoy their pseudo European lifestyle says more to me about Buenos Aires and the people who have come to build it, than the general touristy spots.
Evita Peron is a world phenomenon but she is the spiritual mother ship here in Buenos Aires. People flock to the La Recoleta Cemetery to see her grave site, strewn with prayers and flowers and the love of so many who come to see her. There are no signs on how to get to her specific grave so just follow the crowds or dig a little deeper into the alleyways and you'll find where she rests. I must admit I didn't know much about her, so I read up on her life afterwards. The 24 year old wife of the 48 year old Juan Peron, an actress and a musician, born out of wedlock, in destitution, a 15 year old run away, who went on to lead two government ministries and fight for workers rights, the rights of the poor, the "descamisados" - the shirtless ones, and women's rights in Argentina before she died of repeated bouts of cancer at the age of 33. What an incredible life lived. This is one more tick to a theory that good people die young, because they have already done so much. She is the "Spiritual Leader of the Nation" and oh so rightly so. Where she lies in rest, La Recoleta Cemetary, is by itself an incredible space to experience. The mausoleums of the different families, all these people lying in rest - it makes you think about your own mortality and the life that you live. Holiday fun memories worthy? Perhaps not, but if time off isn't the perfect time to reflect on what we are doing with our lives - when else is it I ask.
Just a few minutes drive from the city center with all its beautiful buildings, and you'll find yourself at The Boca in the south of Buenos Aires. It's basically what used to be the ghettos of Buenos Aires, but now its a neighborhood of colors - colorful history, colorful art, colorful houses and colorful people. The Boca Juniors is the football team, and the neighborhood lives and breathes it. Interesting fact - No one could decide what the color of the Boca Juniors would be so they made a decision that the colors would be that of the flag of the first ship which came into port. It was a Swedish ship, so even today the colors of the Boca Juniors is yellow and blue! It's an interesting area that used to be the homes of the forgotten, the poorest residents of the city who very likely built all those grand houses you see in la Ricoleta and Retiro. The houses colorful because they were painted back then with left over paint and there was never enough of one color, with small rooms which housed entire families. Souvenir stores today, homes of the descamisados of the yesteryears.
The main shopping draw of Buenos Aires is called Florida Street. Nothing exciting here, but its a good place to pick up a few souvenirs.
We didn't get to spend a lot of time there but the Puerto Madero Ecological Reserve is also a gem only minutes from town. Sprawling green areas, birds chirping while you can also see the sky scrapers lining the horizon. It looks beautiful, if I come back I will spend more time here.
Walking around Buenos Aires, I came across many more people living, begging on the streets than I had anticipated. Raising whole families on sidewalks, sitting right outside grocery stores...its just not something I had anticipated from a country I perceive to be much more economically developed than other places where I have seen this phenomenon. But perhaps the nature of inequity is just different here. Perhaps there is just more urban floating population here than in other poorer countries, like Mexico, so you see it more...Whatever it may be, its heart breaking. If you see them when you are here, help them out. Buy an extra loaf when you go to pick up your water at the supermarket and give it to them. It'll make a big difference to them, and you will feel different too - more grateful at the privilege we enjoy, more humbled by the opportunities we have, like being able to eat when we want to.
Argentina is tango and tango is Argentina, so not catching a tango show while in town would be criminal. I picked this group called "We are Tango" which promised front row seats and TripAdvisor said it would deliver - and boy did it deliver. Extremely talented musicians and dancers, the organizers walk you through the history and different stages of the development of tango, while loading you up on the best cocktails, wine and empanadas. You can't go wrong. Plus they enthusiastically give tango lessons after the show. So intimate, so wonderful. It's an entrepreneurial bunch of kids who have taken on this initiative and what a great show they put on. Don't ask questions, just go and feel that which is tango. It very likely is the best show in town.
Anyone who like a a steak consider Argentina their food mecca and I can see why. Everywhere you go, they serve steak. At least 5 different cuts of different weights and consistencies. Sides and sauces are entirely discretionary and often discouraged, the meat is the star and the pleasure is in how perfectly it is grilled. One of the best meals we had was at this restaurant called Fervor. The waiters are somewhat fake polished and are quick to remind you to tip (always hate that), but the food is on point. We got a tenderloin ("lomo") grilled medium well, provencal potatoes on the side and for variation, an order of beef raviolis to share. I have never tasted meat this good. The outside with char marks, salted to perfection and the inside tender as butter. And even the ravioli was done to perfection. We finished the meal off with an orange lava cake, which also exceeded all expectations - but I am a huge orange / clementine fan. Anyway, one heck of a beautiful lunch.
For "helado" or ice cream, Freddo serves up the most delicious milk shakes and ice cream. Special nod to their Dulce de Leche, they serve 4 / 5 different kinds of it here - you can't go wrong. I think they are a chain and can be found all over the city, but we went to the one near Freddo.Tortoni's so I never made it to the cafe. It's touristy yes, but must also be really god to have held its name and position for so long. Next time I will make the time. I peeked in when I walked past it and the inside looked like it was a trip back to a time when men wore hats. Love it.
Would I go back? Meh, maybe. To Argentina, yes definitely, I think there is a lot to see around the country and I haven't even barely touched the surface by seeing Buenos Aires, but to Buenos Aires...meh - not entirely convinced but maybe after many years when it has undergone all the unknown changes that time brings with it.