We arrived late to BA and pretty much started our trip as we meant to carry on; with great food, great drink and great music. We ate at a fab family steak restaurant that was cheap as chips but DELICIOUS and on our way home we got our first taste of street tango.
We had chosen to stay in San Telmo a shabby chic (maybe more shabby than chic) area of town renowned for its lively atmosphere and fab (more importantly cheap) food. Over the 10ish days we were in BA we sampled a number of great eateries here and around the city. From hole in the wall local grills (Parilla) to smart corner cafes serving strong coffee and incredible croissants (medialunas). We had trimasu to die for, the best empanadas yet, and watched locals eating pizza and beer standing up, in a rush to get back to work. We stumbled across an amazing tapas restaurant opening with an exuberant owner, incredible patatas bravas and live tango music. Tango was everywhere, just having a drink in the local square (maybe trying the popular fernet or having posh cider) we were treated to tango shows and live music.
Our hostel (Terranova) was great too and very much in keeping with the rest of San Telmo. They held tango lessons and Asados (Huge BBQ’s) every week where you can grab a quick choripan (spiced sausage in a bap), drink enough alcohol to loosen the limbs, dust off your dancing shoes and dive into Tango. We ‘mastered’ the basic steps however progress was soon halted as the beers started to catch up with us – we still had great fun. As did our flamboyant tango instructor (female) who took a particular liking to Mike.
So wanting to see how the true professionals tango we headed out for dinner and a tango show, we opted for a more intimate local show rather than the super swanky touristy ones that have steered away from the traditional dance. It was a good night but we still reckon some of the best tango we saw was on the street.
One of our favourite days in BA was market Sunday (Defencia Street) when San Telmo held a massive antiques fair filled with vibrant colours and quirky finds. As per usual, we were merely spectators in this hustle and bustle, however we were still very well entertained by the numerous street entertainers including a puppet show to rival Punch and Judy and magicians.
While strolling around taking it all in we came across a fantastic smelling carpark. No, not a typo, realising they wouldn’t get any business on a closed market road, many carparks had been transformed into BBQ restaurants where you could grab a choripan and a glass of Malbec before sitting down to watch yet more tango.
Later that day we were treated to a different type of dance- samba. We stumbled across a mini parade where dance schools were competing carnival style. The street was blocked off allowing locals to dance and party in the streets. It was good fun to watch and a great warm up for Rio Carnival in a few weeks.
On to the sight-seeing……
As many people know, Argentina has not had the most stable of governments in the past. One of their darkest periods was during 1976-1983 when the dictator General Jorge Videla took reign and established a military dictatorship. It was during this ruthless period of rule known as the ‘Dirty War’ that many anti-governmental figures ‘mysteriously disappeared’. The mothers of the disappeared gathered and began to march in Plaza de Mayo outside the presidential palace (Casa Rosada) in public defiance of the governmental regime. They still to this day march every week outside Casa Rosada and are now known as the ‘Mothers of Plaza de Mayo’. We witnessed one of these marches, with most of the mothers in their 80’s it really hit home how long there struggle to find the truth has been.
On a brighter note we visited Teatro Colon, a tourist favourite and a must see when in BA. It opened in 1908 and is BA’s main opera house, it is also acoustically considered to be one of the five best concert halls in the world. We took a guided tour and were stunned by the beauty and intricate design of the building, the most impressive part was the concert hall itself. Our guide showed off the acoustics with her rendition of some popular tango song- very impressive!
Buenos Aires is divided into a number of Barrios (neighbourhoods) that are all very distinct, with their own culture and identity. Having seen much of the shabby chic San Telmo and the stereotypical city centre we decided to explore a few others.
First we took a walk around Puerto Madero which is a new area of the city built on reclaimed land. The area has lots of green space, including a wetland ecological reserve, a requirement of the work going ahead. The area is a great place for locals to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and if they’re lucky enough to be living in one of the shiny high-rises then they can enjoy it on a daily basis.
Recoletta is by far the swankiest barrio in town, with sleek malls, plush housing and upmarket restaurants it’s easy to see why the richest of the rich choose this as there dwelling spot. And there is no need for their glamorous dwellings to end when they pass away. Recoletta is also home to a lavish and rather extravagant cemetery, where the city’s most elite go to rest, including the much loved Evita. Families can buy a patch in which generation after generation can be buried. Some of the most impressive ‘graves’ were over 2 stories high and equivalent to a mini church! We wandered around for a while before following some crowds which would inevitably lead to Evita’s last resting point.
Outside the cemetery there was a large park where the city held another one of its famous markets, where you could buy anything from Justin Bieber hoodies to vintage antiques. We decided to grab some sugar nuts from one of the many street vendors and set up on the hill for some more open air live music – bloody love BA…
This was all tied in with an attempt to master the Spanish language with daily lessons. This was hard work (especially as they were in the morning which is not exactly in keeping with the Buenos Aires way of life- they are pretty much nocturnal) but we did feel we got a better grasp of the language by the end.
Fal came to town! It was soooo nice to see a face from home but all a little bit surreal at the same time. We met her and a friend to catch up with all the gossip from home over a few (maybe too many) drinks before excusing ourselves as we had one more Spanish lesson to make in the morning.
However the next day we moved into her more lively (if not a bit more touristy) hostel- The Millhouse Avenue. In the day we went and explored another barrio together- the beautifully colourful La Boca. This is a working class area of town and unfortunately, due to safety, tourists are confined to a rather small area of it. Caminito (the ‘tourist safe’ area) is a small pedestrianized street that an artist decided to paint the entirety of in bright block colours. I can imagine it was an experience somewhat like when you go to clear out your wardrobe the ‘shit I wish I never started this’ sentiment. But really it is a very impressive sight and worth all the hard work. From here it is also easy to see Boca Juniors stadium, arguably the most famous football stadium in BA, which is also very cheerfully coloured.
In the evening we had a night out in Barrio Palermo, and despite a drinks order mix up (three grim caiproski instead of three yummy caprianhi) we had a great night out. We finished it all with a drunken walk to Maccy D’s and back.
So the next day was a bit of a failure, although not totally due to hangovers they definitely had a part to play. First we tried to visit Casa Rosada (Pink House)- the presidential building- but tours had stopped for the day ‘because all the lights were being turned off’- peculiar. We then went for a wander around the botanical gardens in Palermo (not before stopping off at Subway), however our wander soon turn into a sit and a moan about how awful we felt- ah well! The rest of the day was spent eating yet more crap before making a beeline to the cinema where we ate yet more crap. Turns out we are just useless people on hangovers. I almost ate my entire bodyweight in Alfajores- two sweet biscuits sandwiched together with dulce de leche and bathed in chocolate- or as I like to call them my quick route to obesity!
The very next morning we all hopped on a bus, destination Iguacu Falls, a short 17 hour ride away. It was a bit sad to be leaving BA, possibly our favourite city so far, but Rio was waiting for us…