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Buenos Aires! City of mystery! City of majesty! City of medialunas!
We’ve just finished our two month stint as Porteño wannabes and already we’re getting nostalgic for Barrio Norte, the residential area where we rented a beautiful apartment for two months.
Our focus was mainly on aprendering español and building up freelance work to sustain our new nomadic lifestyle, but we still found plenty of time to get out and explore the city.
And it’s a city worth exploring – we immediately fell in love with the beautiful streets; the well-dressed but friendly people; and the many things to do (and eat) – and we’d like to share with you some of our Buenos Aires highlights:
Exploring Different Barrios
We weren’t big fans of the busy commercial centre and so preferred to spend our time exploring the diverse neighbourhoods that surround it. Walking the streets on foot is a good way to get a feel for the city, especially if you visit some of the less touristy areas – we especially liked the pretty, tree-lined streets of Palermo Hollywood and, for a little more authenticity and fewer trendy boutiques, the dockside barrio of La Boca.
Riding the old-fashioned A-line subway to Caballito was a particular treat. They still use the original cars from 1913, so it was all wooden panels and benches with a conductor to open and close the manual doors on our 10 minute trip through time.
San Telmo is a tourist highlight and we imagine that, with colonial-style architecture and cobbled streets, it would be a very beautiful place to wander. Unfortunately, we went on a Sunday and couldn’t see any of it through the stalls and crowds of the market.
When we needed a quieter place to roam, we headed straight to the huge parks of Palermo and Recoleta. These green spaces are especially bustling on weekends when everyone gathers to play football, practice martial arts, jog, skate, walk dogs, or just lounge in the sun with guitars and mate (the local herby brew).
During the Easter weekend we went to our first Flash Mob event. Over the course of an hour, hundreds of people discreetly arrived at the park outside the Planetarium carrying oversized bags stuffed with soft weaponry.
Suddenly, a signal was given and the whole place erupted. Onlookers stood by stunned as they witnessed a great mass of people engage in a frenzy of cotton-based beatings. The bizarre spectacle ended as suddenly as it began a few minutes later, leaving the grass covered in feathers.
Buenos Aires has lots of art galleries and cultural centres to visit. We only touched the surface with explorations of Italian Futurism at Proa in La Boca, Latin American modern art at MALBA in Palermo, and a range of works from Pre-Columbian times to present day at the Museo de Bellas Artes in Recoleta.
Early on in our stay we learnt about Argentine history in the last 50 years on the fascinating Buenos Aires Traces walking tour.
We learnt about Peronism at the Evita museum in a trade union building that isn’t open to the public; about the people who were ‘disappeared’ during the military dictatorship in the 1970s at the recently discovered site of one of the detention camps; and about the protests following the collapse of the economy in 2001 at plaques commemorating protesters who’d been shot by the police.
Plaza de Mayo is the centre point for all protests in the city. There’s one happening on most days but the most moving is watching the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo commemorate their children who vanished 30 years ago. The organisation still campaigns for justice, and they meet every Thursday at 3pm at the Plaza.
We planned to learn to dance tango while we were in Buenos Aires but unfortunately a number of things got in the way. We did enjoy a few private lessons but it would take a lot more than that to feel confident on the dance floor. This didn’t stop us enjoying listening to live tango orchestras and watching locals dance at milongas.
Our favourites were the Maldita Milonga in San Telmo (great for watching dancers but don’t bother with the class) and Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro in Abasto.
The Club Atletico Fernandez Fierro was especially interesting. Set in an old warehouse, it features modern, dramatic tango acts with a focus less on the dance (there was none) and more on the music. Given how many Shows for Tourists there are in the city, it was great to see that it was still popular with a younger audience (we seemed to be the only tourists there).
La Bomba Del Tiempo
It’s easy to get a bit Tango’d out in BA so it’s worth checking out the spectacle that is La Bomba del Tiempo. Every Monday night tourists and locals descend on Konex in Abasto for a full on percussion experience. The huge, partly outdoor venue feels like a mini-festival with a hippy vibe and great big beers.
A miniature city-within-a-city, we spent an afternoon exploring the quiet paths of this famous cemetery. The hundreds of extravagant tombs located here varied greatly in size, from the modest one-coffin studio pad to massive, multi-floored Houses of the Dead that were much bigger than our Apartment for the Living.
The architectural styles varied as much as the size, with some resembling castles and others built like churches complete with impressive stained glass windows.
And when the big, busy city got too much, we found Tigre to be the perfect getaway. It’s a peaceful town an hours train ride North and the jumping off point for boat trips into the watery delta area.
It’s a bit like the suburbs, but where there are usually roads there are rivers and we spent a leisurely few hours drifting around this green tranquil wonderland.