After a week in Buenos Aires I’m at a loss for words. The city is one of the most fascinating places I’ve visited. I’m smitten. Nothing is straightforward here and that’s part of the mystery and excitement of Buenos Aires. There is so much to learn and digest, and every day brings new discoveries.
I continue to explore but have only seen a handful of the city’s many treasures. A big part of Buenos Aires is its complex history and friendly people whom I’ve found warm and full of life.
Big cities are valuable. They aren’t easy but teach us much if we’re patient and thoughtful enough to watch and listen. Traveling solo in South America with a minimal grasp of Spanish has tested me. What was I thinking? Would I do it again? The answer is absolutely yes – it’s an incredible experience!
In a way, not being able to understand a language very well makes you more sensitive to what’s going on around you. When you’re in your comfort zone and a familiar environment you can become less aware. Observing locals in restaurants and shops, on the subway, or just walking down the street is much more graphic when everything is new and unknown. You don’t have to understand each word spoken to pick up on facial expressions and body language. Sometimes the way something is said tells more than the words used to say it.
The last few days I’ve had trouble focusing and start the day with a list of things to see and do but often get sidetracked ending up somewhere completely different. Recently, I’ve spent time in the Palermo, Recoleta, Centro, and Almagro neighborhoods. I still get lost but am learning major streets, so it’s easier to find the way back to familiar places.
Yesterday I met a guide at Café Puerto Rico, a wonderful place in the city center near Belgrano and Avenida de Mayo, and had a fantastic walking tour.
My guide, Ceri (pronounced Cary), enlightened me on architecture, culture, and Tango in Buenos Aires. Tango is such an important part of Buenos Aires I’ve decided to visit a Milonga studio in Recoleta – a good way to see if it’s something I want to pursue. Many Tango enthusiasts say they are forever students of the dance.
I’m beginning to understand pieces of the political environment in Buenos Aires. Argentinian general elections will be held this year on October 25th. There are frequent demonstrations by activist groups. Government corruption, inflation, and the economy are some of the major issues – familiar themes throughout the world. Controversy continues over legal allegations that Argentine President, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, tried to cover up Iran’s involvement in a 1994 bombing in Buenos Aires.
State Prosecutor Javier de Luca moved to drop the case against Kirchner. The case became of interest globally In January after the shocking death of the original prosecutor who brought the allegations. Prosecutor Alberto Nisman was found dead only days after making the accusations against Kirchner. Labeled as a suicide, Nisman’s death sparked outrage and conspiracy theories throughout Buenos Aires and Argentina..
“Nisman alleged that Argentina’s government agreed not to go after Iranian suspects in the bombing in exchange for a favorable trade deal. The 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires is the deadliest terror attack in Argentina’s history, killing eighty-five people and injuring hundreds.” Buenos Aires has a large Jewish community.
I’m planning a day trip to Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay. It’s about an hour each way via boat on Rio de la Plata. Not sure yet if I will spend time in Montevideo.
Another place on the list is beautiful Iguazú Falls. The Falls are on the Iguazú River on the border of the Argentinian province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. Since I don’t have a Brazilian visa, I will stay on the Argentinian side. US citizens must get a Brazilian visa in advance in the US before entering Brazil.
These are summary descriptions of Palermo, Recoleta, and Almagro. Tomorrow I’ll visit La Boca neighborhood near San Telmo. The photos on this post are a mishmash of some places seen over the past several days. Most are not captioned, because I’m not sure of their names. Every block in Buenos Aires has exceptionally beautiful architecture – it’s amazing.
Palermo, the largest neighborhood, has two sections, Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood. Residents of the neighborhood are very stylish, and Palermo is full of hip boutique hotels, chic restaurants, and high fashion stores.
There are many beautiful parks and gardens as well as interesting plazas and statues. Small or “Chico” Palermo is the exclusive upmarket part of the neighborhood. It has “dazzling old palatial homes”.
Neighboring Barrio Parque is strictly a residential area with winding streets where many wealthy and famous people own homes. MALBA, the Museum of Latin American Art, is near Barrio Parque in Palermo.
Another area called Palermo Viejo was once a run-down neighborhood with old warehouses, factories, and decaying stucco homes. After renovation, it became one of the most chic areas in Buenos Aires with low-rise buildings, cobblestone streets, gardens, and enormous oak-trees. Palermo Viejo is divided into Palermo Soho to the south and Palermo Hollywood to the north.
The center of Palermo Hollywood is Plaza Serrano, a small oval park. Young people gather in the park late at night for impromptu singing and guitar sessions. The name Palermo Hollywood comes from the Argentine film studios who in the past liked the area for its cheap rents and easy parking.
Palermo Soho is known for boutiques owned by local designers. Historically, both Hollywood and SoHo areas were places where Middle Eastern immigrants settled. This presence is still apparent in Palermo’s businesses, restaurants, and community centers. The lakes and parks in Palermo Woods are beautiful as are the exquisite Botanical and Japanese Gardens.
Although I’m staying in a small studio apartment in Recoleta, I’ve barely explored the neighborhood but make progress every day. It’s north of the City Center and shares borders with Almagro, Palermo, and Retiro.
Recoleta is known for stately homes and plush hotels. It’s considered the most affluent neighborhood in Buenos Aires and is an area of immense historical interest.
The barrio became popular in the late 18th century when an outbreak of yellow fever in the southern suburbs forced people to move north. Those who migrated divided large estates into smaller plots in a residential barrio and built stately homes.
Ricoleta’s highlight is the Recoleta Cemetery. Covering about 600,000 sq. ft. (14 acres) the cemetery is a mini-village of tombs. Some are lavish and others crumbling. The cemetery is the resting place of Argentina’s most important families and includes the tomb of Eva Peron, Evita, and writer Jose Hernandez. Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a brilliant white church, is part of the cemetery. It symbolizes the heart of the barrio. I will be writing a separate post on this fascinating cemetery.
Some of the museums and cultural attractions in Recoleta include a center with art displays, concerts, theatrical performances, workshops and festivals. Recoleta is also home to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Ares, displaying work by Goya and Rembrandt. Like Palermo, Ricoleta has many plazas and parks. Plaza Francia is popular for its weekend artisan market Feria de Artesanos de Plaza Francia, commonly known as the ‘Hippy Fair’. Parque Thais and Plaza Justo Jose de Urquiza are also popular parks in Recoleta.
Yesterday was my introduction to Almagro, a unique area of Buenos Aires my tour guide, Ceri, knew well. The middle class neighborhood is named after wealthy Spaniard Juan María de Almagro y de la Torre who once controlled portions of Almagro. The interesting neighborhoods of Balvanera and Boedo border Almagro. Italian and Basque immigrants urbanized Almagro and today it’s a busy commercial neighborhood. Almagro is considered more authentically Porteño than other neighborhoods. It’s also known as the “real Buenos Aires”. More later….