ARGENTINA #6 . . . IF YOU'RE GOING TO SPEND A MONTH IN BUENOS AIRES, THE "PARIS OF SOUTH AMERICA" . . . Here's a post with a lot of pictures, summing up some of the things we've learned about Buenos Aires during our month here. Although we saw lots of Buenos Aires, we sort of followed our own interests as first-time Buenos-Aires tourists in deciding how to spend our free time. That's why you won't find anything in this post about certain elements of Buenos Aires that are emphasized in the travel books, e.g., soccer, polo, tango, mate, or the all-night-long nightlife. (We're not opposed to all-night partying--it's just that we were traveling with a four-year-old and he had to get to bed. Next time we'll stay out all night, in addition to, possibly, watching some soccer and drinking some mate).
This post is loosely organized around themes -- walking is the first.
1. WALKING --Buenos Aires has a population of about 13 million people. If you go and want to get a sense for how the locals live, you'll be doing a lot of walking. Although taxis are everywhere, you'll get to see a lot more of the city if you walk as much as possible. The city is nicely laid out in easy-to-navigate, grid-like city blocks, so it's easy to take a different route every time you leave your hotel or apartment. At the end of the day, you might find yourself completely exhausted from the exercise. If you're like us, you'll use this an excuse to get some ice cream. Ice cream is very popular in Buenos Aires, with fancy ice cream stores every three or four blocks in any direction.
Here's a shot of Andrea and Sam, walking in the streets around our apartment in Recoleta.
More after the break, including a look at the law school in Buenos Aires (number 10) . . .
Below, more walking. That's a produce store on the right--they're all over.Things are set up in Buenos Aires so that no matter where you live (on every street, there are apartment buildings; the stores are on the ground floor), you can get your basic necessities by walking. No matter where you're at, you'll have a couple of grocery stores nearby, a laundromat, a dry-cleaners, a hair salon, a hardware store, cafes, restaurants, bookstores, toy stores, pharmacies, etc.
2. TRAFFIC. As with all big cities, there is a lot of traffic in Buenos Aires. Don't visit if you're bothered by traffic noise. If your hotel is on the street, bring some earplugs just in case. The biggest traffic problem isn't the noise but the dangers the traffic presents--the taxis and buses barrel down the roadways and if you walk off the curb at the wrong moment, you could be smashed like a bug. We were especially worried about Sam, who is prone to wander. We spent the entire month holding his hand tightly on the street. (Some American students we met said they narrowly escaped getting run over; a bus driver flashed his lights to warn them but never slowed down as they jumped back to the curb at the last moment.)
Below is a photo of a major east-west thoroughfare, Avenida del Liberator, taken from the pedestrian walkway near the law school. This is at a time of light traffic. Most of the streets aren't this wide, but one -- Avenida 9 de Julio -- is even larger, with about twenty traffic lanes. It's a street so wide that it has its own Wikipedia entry.
3. NEIGHBORHOODS: LA BOCA. No matter where you stay in the central part of Buenos Aires, most of the popular sites can be reached by means of an inexpensive taxi ride. The neighborhood called La Boca is one example; it's in all the guidebooks. You can read about it at Wikipedia. La Boca seems most well-known for its brightly-painted buildings, which reminded us of parts of Mexico. I mentioned La Boca in another post. We never returned there, as we did to other areas, because it was so crowded with tourists trying to force their way into look-alike souvenir shops.
Below is an old car painted like it belongs in La Boca. The more interesting old cars can be found across the River Plate (el Río de la Plata) in Uruguay, where we saw cars from the 30s and 40s still in use.
4. NEIGHBORHOODS: SAN TELMO. San Telmo is fun on Sundays, when people gather there for the weekly antiques fair, which is supposedly regulated by the government to insure that are the antiques are really antiques. Below is a photo of one of the booths.
Here's another San Telmo street scene--people giving away free hugs (abrazo gratis). These two guys didn't have many takers, but the girl on the far right was more popular.
Another look down a busy street near the antiques fair--
Here's Sam giving some money to a street performer--
5. NEIGHBORHOODS: PALERMO Palermo is a large neighborhood that is divided into sub-districts and features one of the nicest parks in Buenos Aires, Parque Tres de Febrero. Wikipedia entry here. In Palermo you'll see new developments like the apartment building shown set amidst more traditional Buenos Aires structures.
A typical street of recently-constructed apartments.
On a corner, the Kentucky Bar Pizzeria. We felt right at home. Actually, there aren't many true "bars" in Buenos Aires--that is, a place where you can sit on a bar stool and "belly up to the bar." Instead, you'll find tables and a rather limited selection of spirits. Buenos Aires is not a good place for drunks of the type I like to write about.
Here's a small slice of Parque Tres de Febrero, which is in the northern part of Palermo--
A little forest within the park--
The U.S. embassy, which sits across the road from Parque Tres de Febrero--
6. NEIGHBORHOODS: PUERTO MADERO Once a working port, Puerto Madero is now a residential boomtown within Buenos Aires. There is new high-rise residential development, lots of restaurants, and the city's ecological reserve. We liked this area and returned a couple of times.
Here's Sam, walking near Dock 1. There is new residential construction in the distant background.
The view near the Hilton hotel--
I think the tall building on the left is an office buildings, while the brown one in the middle is apartments--
One of the area's two museum-ships. This one is the ARA Presidente Sarmiento (link in Spanish).
Here's a closer look at new construction, looking over a gun on the ship--
A new high-rise apartment building--
One of Puerto Madero's top-notch green areas--
In the next photo, we're at the edge of Puerto Madero, walking along the Costanero Sur. At one time, water from the River Plate came up to the left edge of this walkway. This was years ago; the water was filled in with dredge to create some space for buildings, but this plan was left unfinished and the area became an ecological reserve when plants started growing and birds moved in.
Now Sam and I have turned left from the Costanero Sur and are walking towards one of the walkways in the ecological reserve--it was over by the row of trees in the distance.
Now we're on a path within the ecological reserve. Sam is pretending he's a train; meanwhile, on the left, is a young couple kissing. You see this everywhere in Buenos Aires, but especially in the parks.
A view within the ecological preserve looking away from the city and towards the River Plate (not seen in the photo), which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.
The next photo shows the Buquebus ferry station at Puerto Madero. If you go to Buenos Aires, you'll go to this station if you're taking the Buquebus ferry to Uruguay, where there are a number of other interesting travel destinations. Buquebus is not only a ferry company, but also a travel agency--you'll find locations throughout the city, and the employees are professional, courteous, and competent. We used them to plan a number of day trips.
7. NEIGHBORHOODS: RECOLETA Offically, Buenos Aires has 48 neighborhoods ("barrios"); only a few are mentioned in this post. Our own neighborhood was Recoleta. It's the area of Buenos Aires that the travel books say looks the most like Paris. We were just a block from the famous Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron and many other famous Argentinians are buried. In the photo below, the cemetery wall is on the right. To the left is Village Recoleta, an area with restaurants, a modern auditorium-style multi-screen movie theater, a bookstore, and a McDonald's.
A view inside the cemetery --
A typical Recoleta street scene on one of the few rainy days (during October, it's Spring in Buenos Aires; our first two weeks here were a little chilly, while the past two weeks have been warm, with highs of 70 or 80 degrees in the afternoons)--
One of the old mansions in the northern part of Recoleta; many of these are now embassies--
One of the many restaurants/cafes/bars around Recoleta Cemetery--
8. NEIGHBORHOODS: OLIVOS In Recoleta, everyone lives in apartments; there aren't any houses. But you can find houses near Buenos Aries, like the ones below in Olivos, a suburb of that's part of the Buenos Aires metro area. The pictures in this section were taken as we were walking from one train station to another, switching lines on our way to Tigre (see below).
A house in Olivos--
We were told the dog-walkers were usually found only in Palermo and Recoleta, but here's a dog-walker in Olivos--
9. APARTMENT LIVING As I pointed out in my first post, living in an apartment forced us to live pretty much like the locals do. We found our apartment through a company called Buenos Aires Habitat and didn't have any problems at all. Here's the view of our kitchen (from the living room), where we cooked a lot of steak (the grocery-store steaks tasted much better than in the U.S. and were very cheap, about $3-4 for two large steaks)--
A look out the window from the master bedroom. Although we didn't have much of a view, that's a good thing--the nearby buildings cut down on the traffic noise at night.
This is a look out the bedroom window at a school across the street. In this photo, the kids are at recess--on the roof of their school building, about five floors up.
10. THE LAW SCHOOL The law school, called the Facultad de Derecho, is located in Recoleta and is part of the University of Buenos Aires.
Here's a view of the front entrance of the law school--
The next photo shows a sign inside the law school commemorating the law-school students who were murdered or who disappeared during "the last military dictatorship." The last lines of the sign says, roughly, "They lived to create a new reality; they lived for a university for us all; they lived to build a new country; they didn't live to die" (translation suggestions welcomed) (more details here)--
11. PARKS AND PLAYGROUNDS There are plenty of parks and playgrounds in Buenos Aires, for which the city government is justifiably proud. If you're not traveling with kids, you won't even notice them; if you are, you'll be spending some time there, since your kids will notice.
Here's Sam at the playground in Recoleta that turned out to be our favorite, at Plaza Vincente Lopez (surrounded by expensive-looking apartments, and where dogs aren't allowed)--
12. BUENOS AIRES FOR KIDS More on the last point--if you come to Buenos Aires with your kids, you'll find plenty to keep them entertained. Here are a few ideas: (1) The parks and playgrounds, as mentioned above; (2) the zoo; (3) the subways, trains and boats, which are a constant source of entertainment, at least for our four-year-old; (4) the Children's Museum at Abasto Mall (we went there twice and it's top notch; just try to get there after 4 p.m., when there won't be as many schoolkids) (in Spanish, it's called el Museo de los Niños); (5) the amusement park within Abasto Mall; (6) Recoleta Cemetery, where children will appreciate the wild cats; (7) movies, if they are in English and subtitled in Spanish. There's also a Six-Flags-style amusement park near Tigre called the Parque de la Costa, but we didn't go there and so can't vouch for it.
Here's Sam, looking out a window at the Children's Museum--
Sam at the Children's Museum, having a minor "disputa" with another boy over their right to work the cash register in the pretend grocery store. Neither could speak the other's language, and the taller boy won the argument--
13. DAYTRIPS: TIGRE Though there are a number of daytrips recommended by the travel books, we liked Tigre and the Delta, the subject of a previous post, as well as Colonia, Uruguay; we did both of these twice. The trip to Tigre required us to take a train, which wasn't very hard to figure out how to do; the trip to Uruguay required a one-hour Buquebus ferry ride across the River Plate. We recommend them both.
Here's Andrea and Sam walking along a sidewalk in the Delta, where there aren't any cars and all the travel is by boat--
Another view of the Delta: a house built along one of the canals, as seen from a boat--
14. DAYTRIPS--URUGUAY The other daytrip we recommend is to Colonia, Uruguay, also the subject of an earlier post. Of the two competing ferry companies, we took Buquebus and had no problems. All of the Buenos Aires travel books tell you how to get there; it's best if you spend a night or two. We stayed at the Sheraton, which seemed a little disappointing as you approach from the front but which was pretty stunning in the back. When we returned a second time, we rented a car and drove to Carmelo; this we won't do again, as the roads are dangerously designed. The main highway, Route 15, has narrow 1-1/2 lane bridges that don't allow you to see what's coming at you when you approach due to blind curves on the other side of the bridge. Sometimes what's approaching might be a giant produce truck.
Here's the landscape behind the Sheraton in Colonia--
Finally, a few other tips--
- Language. If you stay in a hotel and keep to the touristy locations, you'll be able to travel to Buenos Aires without speaking Spanish. If you get stuck, ask whether someone speaks English; someone usually will, at least well enough to get by (English is taught in all the schools). On the other hand, there are plenty of situations in which knowing some Spanish will help a lot--in taxicabs, stores away from the tourist areas, and for speaking with people on the street (for example, when you need to get by and no one seems to see you). However, remember that Argentinian Spanish has some pronunciation quirks that will make it difficult to understand if you don't practice beforehand; there are also some different verb forms. Study-up first.
- Money. There is a shortage of change and small bills in Buenos Aires. In a lot of circumstances, if you don't have the right change, you won't be able to make your purchase. (This shortage is caused by the tendency of residents to hoard their coins and small bills, which they do now precisely because of the shortage; I don't know why the shortage started). What this means is that you should always use the largest bill you can, thereby making change for yourself whenever possible. Usually you'll be asked for something smaller, but when you aren't, you'll get the change you need for the next transaction.
- The best street map is the "FlexiMap" published by Insight; you can buy it from Amazon. The best travel book is Fodor's Buenos Aires; I also liked the Rough Guide book.
- Leave your jewelry and expensive watches at home. No one wears it, at least during the day, and if you do, some kind citizen will recommend that you take it off; the concern is theft, although we never saw anything that concerned us and always felt safe.
- A final note on restaurant and cafe etiquette. There isn't any "waiting to be seated" -- just enter and sit down. A waiter will come around eventually. You won't necessarily have a single water; often, a number of different waiters will be taking care of you. When you are finished, don't except anyone to come around and ask you if you're ready for the check; they won't, and there won't be any rushing you out of the place. When you're ready for the check, get someone's attention by waive then ask for "la cuenta." If you're paying with a credit card, you might not be able to add your tip to the credit slip as you do in American restaurants. In this case, just pay the tip with cash.