I love Buenos Aires.
I thought I should let you know how partial I am about the city before even beginning to write about it, so that you would be warned. Because I am (impartial) and because I do love it very much. True, I have never lived there and I have only visited it as a tourist, but I have always had such a great time and I find it so incredibly beautiful, stimulating and full of life that I can’t imagine NOT liking it for any reason.
The first time I visited I was 7 years old and, when I went back to Córdoba, I asked my mum on the plane back home, full of guilt, why Córdoba was not as beautiful. Since then, I have gone back several times, mostly on short trips, and every time I go I am amazed at how beautiful the city is-at least, for me.
As I mentioned before, I have been to Buenos Aires mostly on short trips, so I explored the city little by little. Back in 2002 to 2004, I used to travel every 15 to 30 days, for 24 hs. I would take the bus at night, and arrive to Buenos Aires at dawn, when shops were opening, cafés were getting their delivery orders of medialunas from bakeries, apartment concierges were washing the sidewalks and streets were beginning to get crowded with cars full of people going to work or taking their children to school. I like watching cities wake up, I find the early hours of the morning very magical so it was a special treat to see a city I love get ready for the day.
In those trips, I would generally have a meeting in the morning and then I would take the rest of the day to explore the city by foot, before taking the bus back to Córdoba. My meetings would generally take place downtown, and from there I would walk wherever I wanted to go that day. This is how I visited museums such as the wonderful Museum of Latinamerican Art-MALBA, or the National Fine Arts Museum , as well as landmarks such as the Recoleta Cementery, the Botanical Garden, the Japanese Garden,and the Floralis Generica.Sometimes I attended free lectures at Universities, or literary gatherings at local cafés, but most of the time, I just took pleasure in strolling the city streets. I never bought anything because I didn’t have any money, nor did I take pictures, because I didn’t have a digital camera (and buying and developing films was expensive) but, to be honest, I didn’t miss either. Being there, surrounded by all that beauty was enough to feed my soul.
Buenos Aires is big, huge even, but I find it very walkable and it is easy to move around using buses or the subway, for longer distances. It is a very green city, with plenty of trees lining its streets, and big parks where people sunbathe in the summer (yes, they do!), run in the afternoons, grab a bite at lunch time or have a picnic during weekends. The city’s rhythm is hectic and everyone seems to be always in a hurry, yet I have always been greeted with a smile (some say I was lucky, but I can only speak from my own experience, which was always positive). Taxi drivers love to discuss politics, to talk and to make recommendations, to ask where one is from and to give their opinion. I find this very funny and always enjoy my taxi rides because of this reason- but I must confess my husband doesn’t find it that amusing (insert smile)
Buenos Aires has plenty of cafés, some of which are important landmarks and are not to be missed, such as Café Tortoni (which is 150 years old) Café de los Angelitos or La Biela (which was my father’s favourite)- so please, avoid the local Starbucks if you are ever there, and get a real “café con medialunas” in a place that feels like Buenos Aires and not like any other café from the same chain in any other city of the World. The local magazine Planeta Joy made a selection of the 10 best traditional cafés of Buenos Aires, if you are ever in the city, which you can find here.
Buenos Aires is also a very cultural city, full of libraries (like the incredibly beautiful El Ateneo Grand Splendid) where it is a pleasure to browse for new and old books alike. The city also has one of LatinAmerica’s most important Opera Houses, the Teatro Colón (which was recently refurbished and restored) and there is always a large offer of theatre plays, concerts, talks, seminars, art expositions and other interesting activities such as philosophical cafés (or café-filo). Musicians and artisans populate the streets and the city is famous for its interesting finds in design and vintage objects.
When we started planning this trip, we had originally envisioned spending a week in Buenos Aires. I had already been there with my husband after we got married, and we were looking forward to showing it to our children. We wanted to rent an apartment, to be able to move freely and to explore the city by bits, so as not to end up with cranky toddlers. Unfortunately, this wasn’t possible. Finding a rental apartment was so hard, and prices so exorbitant that, 3 months before the trip, we gave in and decided to change our tickets to spend a mere weekend there, and we booked a hotel.
In the end, this was the best decision because, 5 weeks already into our trip, Luka and Zoe had become exhausted, wanted to come back home and were in an almost permanent state of crankiness. So we kept our outings really simple, leaving all the explorations for another time and focusing on keeping them happy and meeting a handful of friends only.
We stayed in Recoleta, because of easy access, safety, close friends who live in the area and proximity to parks and museums, and we limited our outings to it (on Saturday) and Palermo (on Sunday). There are many other neighbourhoods we could have visited, and I do know the ones we chose are the two most touristy there are but, when travelling with small children, options are not as large as when one travels alone.
It was early December when we were there and the Spring weather was absolutely delicious, which was great for walking. Luka and Zoe travelled in the double stroller while we walked around, sleeping on occasions, lullabied by the breeze.
One of the places we visited was the Recoleta Cemetery which dates from 1822 and where all Presidents and other important persons such as writers, artists and sportsmen are buried. It was the first and, for many decades, the only cemetery the city had (until the creation of the Chacarita). Its most visited tomb is probably the one of Eva Perón but, to be honest we didn’t visit for the famous names. We visited, instead, because the whole place is a work of art and I find it particularly fascinating to see how a person’s character and taste has been portrayed by its survivors. There are heroes carried by crying angels, militars handing over their swords, journalists being shown their way to heaven by angels, and even couples giving their back to each other because the wife had stopped talking to her husband after a discussion and had requested to be portrayed in this way since “she would still be angry at him after death” (It’s true! Look for the tombs of Salvador Maria del Carril and Tiburcia Dominguez!). In order not to miss the funny anecdotes, it is better to take the official guided tours, but if you don’t have time or money to do so, a simple walk around the place will prove interesting nonetheless.
In the Cemetery’s surrounding area there is also the famous Iglesia del Pilar ( del Pilar Church), the Recoleta Cultural Center, the National Library, several museums (such as the Palais de Glace, the Museum of Fine Arts or the Xul Solar Museum) as well as plenty of restaurants, cafés, shopping malls (such as Patio Bullrich and Buenos Aires Design) and open fairs (during weekends). And if you like (and can afford) high-end shopping, this is your area as well.
On our second day in Buenos Aires, we chose to visit Palermo, mainly because my husband had never been there, and I had been so long ago that I could hardly remember anything.
Palermo is a neighbourhood that has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Different parts of it have been popularly renamed according to their new vibe, and we can now find places known as “Villa Freud” (where there’s the highest number of psychologists and psychiatrists)”Palermo Soho” (the more bohemian side of the city) or “Palermo Hollywood” (where local TV stars live), for example. Unlike Recoleta (which is more conservative), Palermo has an artsy, laid-back feeling. There are artists selling their handicrafts on the streets, independent designer shops, as well as vintage and antique products, some cobblestone streets, and a myriad of cafés with tables on the sidewalks. Palermo is also the neighbourhood where the Japanese Gardens (which has a restaurant where you can order Tea served with the traditional Tea Ceremony), the Zoo and the Botanical Gardens are, as well as the Planetarium and the MALBA.
We kept our day very simple: we strolled around Recoleta in the early morning and then joined a dear friend for lunch at a Lebanese restaurant in Palermo, followed by a quiet walk, and some mandatory ice cream in Un’Altra Volta (seriously, ice cream in Argentina is so delicious it’s a crime not to have as much as one can. I’m not kidding!). By middle afternoon, we joined a big group of friends who had organized a meet up in the Japanese Gardens (travelling even from other provinces). We were around 10 families, with our children, talking,laughing and hugging each other in what was a real goodbye treat and a perfect way to bring our trip to a close.
The following day, we took the plane back to Paris-Belgrade, and two days after that, we arrived back home, to Cyprus. Exhausted but happy for what we lived and happy to be back home as well. Our time in Buenos Aires was short and quiet, but we left knowing that there will be future trips where we will be able to explore other places (like La Boca, San Telmo, Tigre) and to do other fun activities. This trip to Argentina was not about exploring, it was about family and friends and, like that, it was perfect.
Have a beautiful weekend and get ready for some serious sugar rush, because in my next post I will start showing you Argentina’s traditional sweets!