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krisek Buenos Aires - A travel report by Krys
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Buenos Aires,  Argentina - flag Argentina -  Distrito Federal
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krisek's travel reports

World’s End. Argentina Trilogy 1. Divine Buenos?

  16 votes
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Argentina’s capital has many faces. Some of them are new, perhaps still in the making. Some are older and engineered to make a great impression. Some are colourful and grand. Some seem to be grotesque. And some are unsafe and off limits for tourists.

Buenos Aires travelogue picture
A Polish rock band Maanam named the Argentinean capital city of Santa Maria de Buenos Aires as Divine Buenos (pol. Boskie Buenos). I am not sure why that was exactly, but perhaps I did not study the lyrics too closely. So as soon as I arrived, I was looking for the gorgeousness and divineness of the city. I looked thoroughly and intensively, but I did not find it on the streets or in the atmosphere. The only potential element of Buenos' that could make it divine was tango, of course.

For a city of 13 million inhabitants it is not very easy to maintain charm and loveliness. However, Buenos Aires maintains spots, which could be considered magical.

The capital was founded under the name of Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre in February 1536, which is now the San Telmo district. It was not welcomed by the local tribes, and had to be re-established in 1580. In the 19th century received much of European immigration, which brought multicultural diversity and art. After the construction of the railway and the industrialisation, the city established itself as a serious rival to the grandest capitals in Europe. Soon, Buenos Aires grew dramatically improving its infrastructure and housing. Grand buildings started to spring up along wide alleys. The Colon Theatre was open... All the good and beautiful things. But later, the city was in trouble. There was a dictatorship and confusion, accompanied by riots, bombing and shooting at the people. The second half the 20th century was not kind either. The economic crisis came, the country took so many loans that it was among the most indebted states on the planet. Recently, Buenos Aires started to recover. Glass and steel skyscrapers started to appear in districts, which once were monstrously ugly. And the area becomes trendy with fancy restaurants, expensive boutiques, hype clubs and pleasant cafes.

The main attractions, except La Boca (see below), I slowly explored on foot without the need of using public transport.

Favourite spots:
Puerto Madero
Puerto Madero
The regenerated Puerto Madero was my favourite spot. It was clean in fashion and safe. Several modern high-rise buildings made an attractive skyline at sunset (I loved it at sunset, just strolling along or watching it from the little bridges) - if seen from a certain angle, as the buildings were far apart from one another, and from a different angle the skyline looked a little patchy, actually. Along the canals and basins of the Rio de la Plata riverbank, funky shops, international banks, cafes, clubs and restaurants opened in the old warehouses and harbour wharves. These attracted attractive young and well situated Argentineans, who hovered around to be seen with other attractive people. But the cafes and restaurants there were really, really nice, hype with fantastic decor. Immediately at the riverfront, the new facilities have been squeezed in the red brick buildings. A little away from the water, completely new structures were erected and some for expensive apartments and combos.

What's really great:
La Boca
La Boca
Just beyond the rather ugly pedestrianised shopping Florida Street was a tango district. There were many tango... theatres, for a lack of a better word, which showed professionals dancing this dynamic and sensual dance. The majority of the venues catered for tourists, of course, and put on over-the-top tango shows that displayed completely unrealistic tango routine and technique. Just for show. But a jolly good show. I was told that no-one tangoed like the shows suggested and there were few places where the local Argentineans went boogie. Yet, these were less obvious. And ever fewer venues were the actual and proper tango schools but I did not go there. By just few days I missed the National Tango Day (11 December), which is preceded by the Tango Week, during which open for all, an open-air tango milonga goes along main streets of the city and free events open all over Buenos. The great thing was that a few dinner places combined tango shows, like: La Ventana, Bar Sur, Piazzola Tango.

Casa Rosado
Casa Rosado
As I was walking in the centre with a primitive map of the city, I went looking for the 'Don't Cry For Me Argentina' Evita Perón balcony but frankly, I forgot where I should be looking. I stumbled across Plaza de Mayo with a few historical buildings and the Casa Rosado, the former governors’ office. Later, I was told that the balcony of Casa Rosado was the building I was looking for. On the way, I passed a few interesting buildings and churches.

I had to go to La Boca, Buenos' colourful but rather poor district. It used to be home to many factories but most of them had become derelict. Nevertheless, La Boca finds itself on itineraries of virtually every tourist. This is because it features brightly painted houses made of wood or corrugated iron. The colours really hit the eyes deeply in the retina. A few places were ‘decorated’ with mannequins posing for celebrities such as Eva Perón, which I did not like at all. La Boca wasn’t considered safe to be reached by foot. I took a taxi.

Hilton at Puerto Madero
Hilton at Puerto Madero
I stayed at the Hilton in the Puerto Madero, the redeveloped part of the cargo harbour, which had been converted into a yacht port, by the way. Hilton would not be my choice of a hotel for a holiday, but I was lucky to indulge in this luxury by redeeming some of my Hilton Honors’ points. Anyway, I found out that some better hotels in Buenos could be booked more cheaply through travel agents, some of which operated at the airports. Unfortunately, foreigners were asked to pay higher prices for accommodation in Argentina, usually quoted in US dollars, excluding any additional charges and taxes, which may increase the total by as much as 25%! Also, the star rating did not correspond to any of the international standards.

Anyway, in a huge city like Buenos Aires there is a huge number of hotels, super expensive ones and dirt cheap ones. Hostels can also be found right in the centre.

At the end of Puerto Madero
At the end of Puerto Madero
Nightlife at Buenos Aires clubs, best experienced at weekends of course, does not kick off until about 2 o’clock in the morning. But before that there is obviously plenty to do. Apart from the tango shows, there are jazz clubs (Thelonious - jazz & tango; Notorious; La Revuelta), pubs (Druid inn; Porto Pirata; Buller Brewery Company), salsa bars (El Reventon; Azucar; La Salsera).

The Niceto Club at 5510 Niceto Vega is an interesting venue, because before the real boogie kicks in to electronic, dance or funk music, it puts up a live show played by a local rock band.

However, I liked (maybe because I stayed at the Hilton a few hundreds yards away...) the Opera Bay at Puerto Madero, at Dock 4. It was relatively spacious, not too overcrowded and attracted good looking people. Yes, the clubbing scene of Buenos was transformed after one Thursday night, one night before the end of the year of 2004, when fire at Republica Cromagnón killed almost 200 clubbers. Overcrowding is a no-no nowadays.

Caminito, La Boca
Caminito, La Boca
The art market along Caminito pedestrianised street of La Boca district was a great place to hang out. Apart from tacky art for tourists, the area actually boasted a number of authentic Argentine bars. La Boca was not considered safe, but I had no problems wandering around and stepping in for a couple of drinks. Although, there were a few shops and bars which had been set up specifically for tourists and these were rather boring, but those that looked more inconspicuous were the authentic ones. La Boca is an old port district, which is still rather poor and certain parts looked rough.

Of course Puerto Madero was great for coffee and beer in the afternoon and sunset, but so was San Telmo district, south of Plaza de Mayo. This barrio had a good number of little art galleries, antique shops and cafes, and on Sundays there are apparently live music and tango shows.

Buenos Aires travelogue picture
Eating out was pretty fabulous as well since the value of the peso was not great. When exchanged from any hard currency, the money could buy a lot. Even the expensive trendy restaurants at Puerto Madero (Bice - good for Argentinean steak; Katrine; La Parolaccia - both excellent for seafood) did not look prohibitively expensive. But if one wanted try something really truly cheap, there was a plethora of snack stands along the Florida Street, although every district (even Puerto Madero - next to the historic sail ship Fragata Sarmiento) had places offering cheap food.

And by the way, the upscale restaurants, particularly those in the international hotels, did brunches or business lunches for about $5-$8 including a glass of [cheap] champagne or wine!

Argentina is famous for its steak and wine, so going to the country and not sampling the giant cuts of beef washed down with a velvety Malbec is officially a crime ;)

Other recommendations:
La Boca
La Boca
Had my flight into Buenos Aires not been delayed, I would have gone to see Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, just a quick ferry hop across Rio de la Plata. I planned to go for a day, but I landed in Buenos too late to catch the late morning ferry and the afternoon ferry would be too late, giving too little time to visit this UNESCO-listed gem and come back the same day. It was a pity, but I kept myself busy in Buenos Aires.

If I were to recommend anything else to do in Argentina’s capital it would be shopping along Florida Street. It was not the best looking street of the city, but the attractiveness of the prices was blinding everything else. Even the top fashion labels were incredibly cheap! It was truly fabulous for footwear, business wear like suits, ties, shirts, and... almost everything else, apart from electronics, which were priced at the same level like in the US or Europe.

Published on Wednesday April 2th, 2008

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Thu, Apr 08 2010 - 10:19 AM rating by sujoy

Gud report and comprehensive

Sun, Oct 26 2008 - 08:23 AM rating by gloriajames

Beautiful report and some brilliant colourful pics!

Fri, Apr 25 2008 - 01:06 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Muy bien escrito, amigo!

Thu, Apr 03 2008 - 06:14 PM rating by eirekay

Krys, up to your usual extremely high standard! Love the food tips!

Thu, Apr 03 2008 - 02:53 PM rating by rangutan

I loved this metropole of my S.Am, this goes beyond our experiences. Restaurants stops plenty too and the beef steaks specially never ever forgotten. [4.6] Well done Krys!

Thu, Apr 03 2008 - 01:25 AM rating by davidx

A particular feature of your reports that I like a lot is that you always point out the defects of a place as well as its good points.
I shall not be adding Buenos Aires to my wish list but this is a most informative report.

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