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Buenos Aires (Bs As)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Buenos Aires smells like sweet burning caramel. The street vendors roasting nuts on the street – I turn my head every time. And of diesel, and those blue gas water heaters they have in kitchens and bathrooms of Europe (and now I learn, in Bs As), and of fresh helados [ice cream] and grilled meat from the nearest parilla. And pizza, and coffee, and the roses in the Rosedal garden.
Some things I learned over our few days in Bs As:

  • South Americans dress more like North Americans than like Europeans. Meaning, like what you’d see in any U.S. city: stylish and sporty; sneakers and sweatpants along with skirts and boots, sharp suits and leather jackets. Meaning, we can blend in a bit more than in Italy or France. Most people speak Spanish to us first, which is in a way a complement (if only I could always respond … or pick up the full sentences after the initial “Buenas tardes…”)
  • There are a lot of really cute dogs here.
  • Leather goods are beautiful, amazing, and less than 1/4 the price you would find in the US. So far I have restrained myself to one lovely belt bought at a crafts market, but the gorgeous tall boots in every other store window are killing me.
  • Trust the guidebooks. If they tell you the Recolata Cemetery is the #1 tourist attraction, just go. It was incredible. Each little mausoleum its own mini showcase of architecture, sculpture, stained glass and memorials.
  • We paid to see the Jardin Japones (Japanese gardens), and it was pleasant, but we’d recommend skipping that and just going to the free and possibly more lovely Rosedal Gardens (rose gardens).
  • The beef is as good as everyone says. A perfect cut of tenderloin, large enough to share, is $20 US. Perfect with chimichurri sauce on the side and a delectable bottle of Malbec (the one we picked was $13 US and easily as good as any more expensive reds I’ve ever had in Napa or anywhere else).
  • The subway system is fast, cheap (less than $0.30/ride), safe and easy to navigate.

Rosedal gardens

Recoleta Cemetery

We waited in line for the Feria del Libro, the Latin American festival of books (ended up getting in for free thanks to Seth’s old student ID and a guard who didn’t care that I never produced a similar card). A convention center full of books, books, books. Naturally there were few in English but it was fun to browse and see the different booths featuring representatives from other countries. And to see so many people who love to read, no matter where in the world you are. Bs As is a huge reading city. Bookstores everywhere, on every block, new books, used books. We visited El Ateneo, a bookstore in an old theater. Picture it: books lining the walls of the former balcony, filling the space where the seats used to be, a cafe on the former stage. Imagine if some of those beautiful old theaters in downtown LA (or any other city) were put to such a creative use? Where you could gaze upon the painted ceiling and gilted woodwork every day for free?

El Ateneo bookstore

El Ateneo bookstore

In line for the book fair

Look who was at the book fair!

We walked around the Plaza de Mayo and stumbled into the Casa Rosada – the Pink House – the executive branch of Argentina. After waiting nearly an hour for an English tour that never happened, we joined onto a Spanish language tour of the building, where past presidents used to live and the current one holds office. Highlights: the tiled interior courtyard with palms reaching above the roof, the balcony where Evita spoke to the people, and the plush presidential elevator. And the artwork – incredible art, modern and dramatic and dark, art you’d never see in the US government buildings.

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada

Presidential Elevator

Art in the Casa Rosada

La Boca: a colorful neighborhood near the docks – you’ve probably seen the pictures. The residents begged incoming ships for spare paint and voila, each house is a stunning brilliant color. Now a busy tourist destination but worth the stroll. Outdoor cafes feature free tango shows with fantastic dancers, and skilled artists sell designer handbags and paintings mixed in with the usual tourist fare of soccer jerseys and plastic tango figurines. There’s a modern art museum there that I’d love to visit if we have more time in Bs As.

La Boca

La Boca

La Boca

San Telmo: cobblestone streets, huge indoor and outdoor flea markets and fruit markets, supposedly the heart of tango bars (though at 3:00 in the afternoon, we didn’t see much of that). An incredible Italian lunch with some of the freshest pasta I’ve ever had at Il Mattarello (thanks to our two guidebooks for both recommending that restaurant).

Markets in San Telmo

Our aunt & uncle are joining us for the week and accompanied us for much of the above touring and some incredible meals. They stayed at the Park Hyatt, which is in the former Palacio Duhau, and I’ve never experienced such first class service as the little bit we received on our stops there. The concierge did his best to help Seth set up his cell phone for use in Argentina, going so far as to call the cell phone company twice while we were at dinner to gather information. We enjoyed an impeccable meal at the hotel, thanks to the generosity of our family, and as our host Adrian announced “This is Easter brunch!” so there were vegetable buffets, seafood buffets and carpaccio and cheese buffets and hot courses and dessert buffets and a candy bar from which you could take anything to go (including chocolate eggs the size of watermelons). And of course sparkling wine, a jazz band, tea harvested only once a year from 2200 meters in the mountains of the Himalayas and so on and so forth and if it weren’t for what the shock would be of having to return to the real world eventually, I think I might like to live in that Park Hyatt.

Park Hyatt Easter brunch

More food to remember: a doughy warm bread filled with cheese, tomatoes and basil bought on the street outside the cemetery; empanadas of cheese and onions, chicken, beef and blue cheese at the cozy restaurant across the street from our apartment, and a city that embraces homemade helados (ice cream) with every corner boasting a different joint, though each seem to share similar menus, divided into CREMAS (cream based flavors like vanilla, mint, strawberry), CHOCOLATES (including dark chocolate, chocolate with almonds, chocolate with liquor) and a whole section of DULCE DE LECHE varieties. This city is obsessed with dulce de leche. With your flan, with your ice cream, in a box at the grocery store. I’m sure there are spas that would coat you in it for some kind of holistic benefit.

Sampling of the desserts at the Park Hyatt

One thing the guidebooks overstated: the need for ever vigilant awareness of taxis that will rip you off and locals who will yank your money from your hands. It’s like any big city. After trying to call a taxi (3 companies hung up on us after not being patient enough for our Spanish), we just started hailing them on the street and never had a problem (the tour books will tell you that there are a plethora of “fake” taxis that will drive you to a dangerous place, steal your luggage and your cash, and strand you). In fact, the taxi drivers we had went out of their way to provide the exact amount of change, never expecting a tip or grumbling the way they do in LA, and a few times even let us underpay if they couldn’t make change. And everywhere we’ve gone we’ve seen locals with nicer cameras, nicer handbags, more jewelry and so on. So yeah, we’re being careful, but it’s really no different than NYC, LA, Boston, etc. as far as we’ve experienced for safety.

I’m writing this on the bus to Bariloche. It’s a 20-hr bus ride. We paid for the best class, which features comfy seats that almost recline fully. Up here on the top deck we had a nice view of the Pampas, the great plains of Argentina. By tomorrow morning hopefully we’ll be in Patagonia and I’m hoping for mountains. It’s colder in Bariloche, and more like autumn there. (I have to keep reminding myself that it’s autumn here, when I see all the shops full of boots and coats instead of swimsuits and flip flops.) Bariloche is the chocolate capital of Argentina – hooray! And also next to a national park of alpine lakes and snow capped mountains, possibly a glacier, certainly great biking, hiking, and horseback riding. I haven’t done a lot of research. There are some places that I know too much about (Machu Picchu, Igauzu Falls) so I’m leaving some to be surprised by – and Bariloche is one of those places. Looking forward to waking up tomorrow to a new view.

beunas noches!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Miles Dentrell permalink
    Monday, April 25, 2011 8:59 pm

    this is outstanding

  2. Tuesday, April 26, 2011 10:35 am

    Let’s see some pictures of the cute dogs! And more pictures of you!!
    Sounds like you guys are having a great time… Miss you!

    • Kristen permalink*
      Tuesday, April 26, 2011 7:32 pm

      Thanks, Sarah! I will add more pics of me (and Seth) next time… it’s hard when we have limited internet access and between me and food, I choose the food pics. 🙂 Miss you too! hope all’s well back home!

  3. Tuesday, April 26, 2011 7:32 pm

    Hooray for bookstores in theatres, hooray for Park Hyatts, and hooray for the chocolate capital! Love the photos. Agree with Sarah, jump into some of those beautiful photos you’re taking. I’m glad Justin Bieber is doing well in Argentina.

    • Kristen permalink*
      Tuesday, April 26, 2011 7:40 pm

      Shephard, glad you are enjoying it! Miss you & B & the cats – hugs to all!

  4. Jen permalink
    Wednesday, April 27, 2011 1:22 pm

    That sounds just lovely! Pandebonos! (I think that is the soft bread with the cheese in the middle. I’m obsessed with them at this little place in LA) Can’t wait to hear more about the great outdoors!

  5. Marina permalink
    Wednesday, May 4, 2011 8:48 pm

    I’m in love with that bookstore. This entire post makes me want to move to Buenos Aires immediately. Glad you guys are having fun!

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