Buenos Aires - the home of Tango

Trip Start Apr 05, 2008
Trip End Mar 20, 2009

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Flag of Argentina  , Capital Federal District,
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Arriving early on a Monday morning into Buenos Aires we were expecting the traffic to be chaotic, yet we found the streets completely void of traffic and people and arrived at our hostel in no time at all. Figuring that maybe as the Argentinean's in Buenos Aires are renowned for partying hard, they must all start their day later than by normal London standards so we thought little more of it. That was until heading out in the afternoon (after some much needed sleep, given that we had been awake all night for our 2am flight), we were surprised to find the streets still very quiet and the shops still very closed. We realize that siesta time is a key part of life here but seriously this seemed like a long one. Later we were informed by our hostel that it was a national holiday basically to celebrate pre-Xmas (in London known as a Xmas shopping day) this explained a lot. Setting out on foot we explored the San Telmo area and enjoyed lunch along the waterfront of Puerto Madero, unimaginative sushi but with a superb view. We spent the rest of our day, what was left of it, walking the streets seeing all that San Telmo has to offer.
Over the next couple of days our focus was primarily on sorting out where to go for the Christmas and New Year period. It's a mission at the best of times but given that we have no current abode it was more of an issue than usual. Finding anywhere firstly with availability was hard in itself, secondly finding somewhere that hadn't sky rocketed it's rates by over 100% - impossible. In between our time surfing the net for a viable solution we explored the city by foot, a weary task as Buenos Aires is a never ending sprawling mass. We took a city tour that touched on the key areas of BA as well as visiting the renowned area of La Boca. Home to the Boca Juniors Football team it was an eclectic mix of art and poverty. As a tourist there are only a handful of streets that are safe to visit and in any case there's not much to see outside of these. The draw card to La Boca is not football (unless you're a football fanatic), but more for the Carminita street market, where the houses are painted in a rainbow of colours and talented artists crowd the street selling their paintings. You can watch live street shows of Tango whilst enjoying a drink or just peruse the shops with their colorful wares. No matter what you choose it's an interesting and memorable place to visit. No visit to BA would be complete without strolling along the shopping hub of Florida, the Oxford Street equivalent. Amidst all the sightseeing I managed to squeeze in some much needed maintenance time to shrug the 'manky' traveler feel I had acquired. Mucho depilacion, a Pedi and a hair-cut (well just a trim) I soon felt human again. With silky smooth locks and legs we set out for a tango show as a visit to Buenos Aires would not be complete without having seen the Tango. Astor Piazzolla was responsible for revolutionizing traditional tango into a new style. Piazzolla theatre was named in his honour and is an intimate beautiful theatre on the main pedestrian street of Florida. Packaged as a tango and dinner show, the dinner was excellent with superb staff, although one cow per person was OTT. When the show finally kicked off it was like watching a combination of ballet, acrobatics and dirty dancing, all fluidly combined into an elegant leggy dance. let's face it, this dance is all about the legs, they seem to be everywhere and if not controlled they could certainly limit a man's future potential at being a Dad. Their dancing is like liquid gold pouring through your fingers. It's so elegant and effortless like watching a leopard stalk her prey. Not enough praise can be sung for how talented these dancers truly are, and to think it used to be the dance of whores and laborers. Finishing our evening thinking of our good friend Carol, we sat at our table long after the show had finished, cleaning up the half finished bottles of red wine on the surrounding tables.....waste not, want not! That was until we were rounded up for our awaiting taxi home. What a superb evening!
Half way through our stay in Buenos Aires we needed to change hostels and decided to get the full Buenos Aires experience and move into the Palermo district - it was like a home away from home. Vivian's is a boutique guesthouse decorated in French décor with original wooden floorboards, super comfy beds and attentive staff. The outdoor patio and garden area are a haven away from the manic streets and noise and a luxury to relax in. San Telmo was a fun area but after all the loud buses clambering to a shuddering halt outside our window regularly the sound of birds and the cool breeze were a welcome retreat. In Palermo the streets are wider, greener and the shops are more up-market - think Sloane square. Although on the fringes there are still your bargain stores which offer great value especially with the sales (alas no luck for me). This is where we found the dog walkers we had heard so much about trawling the streets in packs no less than 5 and very obviously forgetting to use the pooper scooper. Yet another day spent walking the streets and putting our feet to the test.
After completing yet another postage mission (bit like living in Amsterdam where it was the three visit rule) we finally had shipped off all our cold weather gear as from here on it it's hot, hot and hotter. One of the things I had wanted to see in Buenos Aires was the grave of Eva Peron (Evita). Evita's final resting place is in the Recoleta Cemetery, home to some of Argentina's most important people from politicians, military men, poets, priests etc. We can honestly say we've never seen a cemetery like it. Set in over 54,000 square meters and with 4,800 vaults it's like a city within a city. It's simply incredible with amazing works of art and architectural magnificence. There were hundreds of tourists like us walking the cemetery's streets specifically interested in seeing Evita's vault. We continued wandering around the leafy suburbs of Recoleta enjoying the flea market and cooling our heels at an outdoor café with comfortable loungers. In Latin America the culture is to take a siesta, snack around 6pmish and then eat dinner around 10/11pm at night before carrying on out to party. Well we managed dinner at 11pm on Honduras street, one of the prominent areas for bars and restaurants and then finished the evening off checking out the local bars. Definitely a party town but we needed more lingo to truly get the full BA experience.
Completing our Evita experience we visited the Evita Museum. It lacks atmosphere but it was interesting to learn what she achieved for Argentina in her very short life and to see some of her wardrobe. We then wandered round the more greener areas of Buenos Aires until GT's knee started playing up and we had to take it easy - so I took him shopping instead ;-) One pair of 4 inch heels (which after 8 months of flip-flops I'll be unlikely to be able to walk in) & a party dress and the wardrobe had been upgraded enough to be able to party in Punta del Este, Rio and where-ever else the occasion may arise. Whilst we were in the area we went to check out Café Tortoni, Argentina's oldest coffee house, established in 1858. We were asked if we were here for the Tango show and soon found ourselves settled in the intimate theatre within the café. Never tiring of watching the Tango it was a superb evening and a completely different experience to Piazzolla. This show took you through the age of Tango with the music and dancing. Seating only about 50 people you really felt a part of it and the singer and musicians truly made it a memorable performance.
The Argentinean's know how to shop. Our first priority of the day was to purchase yet another camera, our third one this trip. Needing a 'point & shoot' that is water resistant for such places as the Amazon and Iguaçu we went to the Alto Palermo mall to buy this. The best thing about it is that we were well rewarded for shopping at this mall. When you spend over a certain value you get a free bottle of champagne so we happily walked away with 2 bottles - now this feels more like Christmas! Sunday is the day to visit the San Telmo antiquities market. All I can say is 'rent me a ship'. I could have made a lot of people very happy with my purchases. It's like stepping back in time where they have all the beautiful colored glasses, original kitchen scales in copper, timeless jewellery and my all time favourite, chandeliers. There's also the stunning artwork of the beautiful Parisian buildings that adorn the city of BA and of course Tango dancers. It wouldn't be complete without the talented street performers from Tango dancers, to musicians to puppeteers and of course the statues. With Gareth keeping me in check we managed to leave empty handed and finished a leisurely Sunday afternoon over an Argentinean lunch of meat in the Puerto Madero area. This area is reminiscent of the Docklands & Butlers Wharf with refurbished brick warehouses set along the water-front. A perfect note to end our BA experience on.

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