Why We Love Buenos Aires
Aahh, Buenos Aires. The city of good air. We often say in our posts about cities that we are not huge fans of cities, but then go on to list all the reasons why we liked that particular city. For this post, I’m going to skip that opening. The truth is I’ve realized that sometimes cities can be quite nice. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to live in a city for more than a few weeks at a time, but sometimes a visit, especially after spending 3 months in the middle of Patagonia, can be quite enjoyable. Before we even left on this trip we knew that we were going to love Buenos Aires. In fact I have been entertaining ideas of getting an apartment and living there for years now. After spending a week in Buenos Aires, I was actually looking up english teaching jobs and trying to figure out ways to talk Luis into staying for awhile. Buenos Aires is a huge city that combines a European feel with Latin America in just the right combination to give it charm. Each neighborhood in the downtown has it’s own vibe, from the ritzy upperclass Recoleta with it’s business district upperclass feel, to Palermo with its tidy clean swept streets and trendy boutiques with price tags to make your eyes pop, to San Telmo the more middle class bohemian artsy neighborhood with its old architecture, Sunday flea market and great graffiti. There really is something for everyone to enjoy. Here are our top reasons why we loved this particular city.
Availability of Cheap Apartments for Rent
A quick google search of apartment rentals or airbnb type websites for Buenos Aires will soon overwhelm a person with the choices out there for rent. It seems to be a huge business in the city, and even better for the owners is that almost all charge in US dollars that are almost impossible to get a hold of in Argentina (a word of advice if you plan on renting an apartment get some US dollars. In fact because of the “blue” or black market exchange on dollars you really want to bring US dollars for your entire stay in Argentina. It pretty much cuts your cost in half). The options are really all over the map and in every price range, starting at very affordable prices by the day, week, or month. Our first week we rented a beautiful apartment with the Remotely’s in the Recoletta neighborhood. It was in a neat old building within walking distance of the subte (BA’s subway system) and all manner of entertainment including the famous Recoletta cemetery, great cafes, restaurants and lots of plazas. It also had super fast internet and its own “at cost” wine cellar. All for only a little more than $100 a day split between the 5 of us. After the Remotely’s headed out we found a cute little apartment for a week in the San Telmo neighborhood. If I would have had my way and we stayed in BA for 6 months this is the apartment I would have wanted to live in. It was in a super old building and was built old spanish style with a great little patio entrance and all the rooms of the house opening up off the patio. I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it. This two bedroom apartment came with the hefty price tag of $35 a night. Our third week in BA we made the mistake of not reserving our apartment in advance and we ended up having to move again to another apartment in the San Telmo neighborhood. This one was only $30 a night and was a loft only a few blocks away. It too was pretty fabulous. We did some checking on hostel prices within the city. A decent private room with shared bathroom for 2 runs about $40-$45 a night. Much better to get your own, fully furnished private place with our own kitchen and OVEN! After nearly 4 years of living out of the truck, it felt like quite the luxury to have our own private space for a few weeks.
If your familiar with our blog you probably already know that we love food. We especially love trying local food. If Argentina is the capital of steakhouses then BA is the capital of the capital. Good food is to be had all over the city, including mind numbingly good steak. Jessica did some research and discovered that the restaurant La Cabrera one of the most famous steakhouses in the city has a happy hour special. If you arrive at 7:00 -which is incredibly early in a city that usually eats around 10p.m.- you get 40% off your bill. So we set off one night in the company of the Remotely’s and the Ruineds (Brenton and Shannon of Ruined Adventures who showed up for a few nights) for La Cabrera. After we were seated we learned the real deal. You are seated at 7 and have exactly 1 hour to order, eat, and get the hell out and in exchange you get 40% off the entire bill. We took this as a challenge and ordered a ridiculous amount of food and a bottle of wine. Within an hour we proceeded to eat our way through some of the best steaks I’ve ever had, delicious (at least according to Luis and Kobus) grilled tripe (stomach lining) and the hundreds of tiny side dishes that come with each meal, washed it down with a great bottle of wine, and walked out an hour later with a $100 bill for 7 people. If you are ever in BA I highly recommend a visit.
The San Telmo Neighborhood
As I said earlier, BA has a variety of neighborhoods with a little something for everyone. Our favorite by far is San Telmo. The guide books describe San Telmo as the artsy bohemian neighborhood, and that is true to a degree, but it is much more than that. San Telmo was originally home to many of the rich in BA, and many wealthy families built huge mansions in the neighborhood. Then in 1871 an epidemic of yellow fever swept through the neighborhood and the wealthy fled to the barrio norte, north of San Telmo. Barrio Norte later became Recoleta and Palermo. The mansions that were left vacated by the exodus of the wealthy were turned into tenement housing and the neighborhood populated with the working class and immigrants. To this day, San Telmo has more of the gritty working class feel to it then the other neighborhoods, but it also has a lot of charm. Walking around there are many beautifully restored mansions as well as lots of mansions crumbling away, some great graffiti and street art, tons of antique stores and small local shops, great restaurants and sidewalk cafes and you can find tango dancing just about any time of day at San Telmo’s main plaza, Plaza Dorego. One of the main highlights of San Telmo is the Sunday flea market held every Sunday. Starting at Plaza Dorego you can peruse stands of all manner of antiques, then heading down Calle Defensa the feria continues for block after block of stalls selling all kinds of hand made crafts, leather, clothes, jewelry, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Our favorite thing was to walk and peruse for awhile, then stop and grab a ChoriPan (grilled chorizo on toasted bread with lots of chimichurri sauce) and take in a little tango before walking some more.
One of the things Buenos Aires is probably most famous for is Tango. The tango is a style of dance that came about in Argentina (and some say Uruguay as well) in the late 1800′s. The dance is a blending of styles from a variety of backgrounds including European and African. It came about in the working class neighborhoods where immigrants from all over lived side by side. Originally is was considered very risque and lower class only, but eventually it spread in popularity across all economic classes. Today Argentinians are very proud of the Tango, and one thing for certain is that you can’t spend any amount of time in BA without being exposed to Tango. There are Tango dinner theaters for tourists, tango classes, one can go to a Milonga which is a bar that specializes in Tango dancing, or one can simply watch some dancing on the street, as you can almost always find dancers performing for a crowd. We really enjoyed watching the dancing. It seems to me to be fairly complicated in the footwork but the right dancer can make it look very graceful and sexy. We talked a lot about taking some lessons, but Luis only dances when he is drunk and I have two left feet, so we decided to remain spectators. Now that we are gone I think that just maybe I should have spiked Luis’ drink and forgotten about my two left feet
Going on a tourist outing to a cemetery might sound a bit morbid, but the Recoleta Cemetery really is not to be missed in BA. The cemetery is where the city’s rich and famous are buried. Walking through the cemetery is like getting a lesson on the whos who of the history of BA. Many ex presidents as well as Eva “Evita” Peron are buried here. What really makes this cemetery special is that all the burial sites are mausoleums that resemble mini mansions. The cemetery is laid out like a small city with tree lined walkways and park benches breaking up the intersections, and pathways leading off lined with mausoleums. It seemed to us that everybody is trying to outdo their neighbors resulting in huge mini mansions made of marble with large statues decorating the outsides in a variety of architectural styles, laid out in a city grid giving the visitor the impression they really are walking through a city of the dead. Many of the mausoleums are well maintained, while some are crumbling into ruin, with broken windows and rotting doors giving a glimpse of the coffin and bones inside. As we were walking around we saw a cleaning staff going in and out of some of them, dusting and tidying up. I can’t say I would want that job. After our visit I found this website that I wish I would have known about. They profile all the people buried in the cemetery, giving a history and accomplishments of the person. It would make for a pretty interesting accompaniment to a visit: http://www.recoletacemetery.com/.
BA has some of the best and most graffiti we have seen on this trip. I’m talking about the street art variety of graffiti, where somebody has taken the time to create a piece of art on the side of a building or wall. Walking around San Telmo there is colorful good graffiti everywhere. Graffiti is so prolific in BA a group called graffitimundo has started giving graffiti walking tours around the city. We only have lame excuses why we could never manage to show up at the appointed time for a tour in our entire 3 weeks here, but looking back on it, we really wish we would have.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
El Ateneo is a bookstore chain in Argentina who did something amazing. They renovated a beautiful old theater that mainly used to host Tango shows and keeping almost everything original, including the balconies, ceiling frescos, and sculptures, put a bookstore in it. For book lovers and theater lovers alike, this bookstore is absolutely amazing. There are three levels of books you can peruse under the soft theater lighting. If you find something you like and want to check out, you can grab yourself a seat nestled in one of the balconies and enjoy your book with a view of the whole theater. If the balcony seating is full, the stage has been turned into a little cafe serving great coffee and beautiful views of the theater. We went on a rainy day and ended up spending hours wandering around the books, soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying some coffee.
Great Walking City
Sometimes when all is said and done, our favorite thing to do in places is to walk for hours and see what we can find. BA is great for this. Because of the subway system, all of the neighborhoods are easy to get to and from there you can walk to your hearts content. Some days we literally spent the entire day wondering around on foot without getting bored. There is always something to see. From great graffitti to beautiful old architecture to huge parks and little plazas to great little sidewalk cafes. We would walk until we were tired, stop for a coffee or a beer, then walk some more. Everyday we found something new, and the best part is that it is a cheap way to really get to know a city.
I’m sure I’m forgetting all kinds of things we loved about the city, and as soon as I post this, I will remember all of them. We had a great time here, taking a break from the road, enjoying a little private space, taking advantage of having an oven (I think I baked at least 3 batches of cookies ), and enjoying the sites and sounds of a splendid city. I still hold out hope that one day I will be back, and this time for at least a few months.