The sights and sounds of Buenos Aires

Our time in Buenos Aires has passed by far too quickly.  We are spending our days wandering around the various neighbourhoods and visiting some of the tourist sites, walking endlessly. I discovered the Reserva Ecologica which is a beautiful ecological park about 2km from our apartment and a perfect place to go for a run.

Speaking of our apartment, we are staying in a 2 bedroom walk up (3rd floor) in San Telmo, the oldest, most historical district in Buenos Aires.  Our apartment could best be described as shabby chic, with a bohemian twist, very reflective of this neighbourhood.  I must admit that as each day passes, both the apartment and neighbourhood look a little more shabby than chic, but that’s the real Buenos Aires experience. One of the best features of the apartment is its location; not only is it in a trendy, hip neighbourhood, but it is within walking distance to most tourist attractions and other equally trendy and interesting neighbourhoods like La Boca and Micro-centro.  While a bit of a hike, Ricoleta and Palermo are also within walking distance, although much easier and faster to reach by subway (when it is running that is – it was closed at least once because of striking workers).

Hanging out in the apartment. We’ve really enjoyed the space
and the location.  Aside from an infestation of ants in the kitchen
(gross!) and a roof that leaks like a sieve when it rains,
it’s been a great place from which to explore the city. 

The Paris of South America

Buenos Aires is aptly nicknamed the Paris of South America with its large, tree-lined boulevards, European style architecture, elite shopping districts and a rich cultural heritage.  This city reminded us of Havana, Cuba, the French District in New Orleans as well as New York City.  Home to hundreds of bookstores (one such gem in our neighbourhood, Walrus Bookstore, is devoted entirely to English literature), public libraries and cultural associations (it is sometimes called “the city of books”), as well as the largest concentration of active theatres in Latin America. I was disappointed to learn that the new season of the Teatro Colón, an internationally rated opera house, was beginning on March 8th, the day after we leave.  The theatre district was reminiscent on a small scale of Times Square and the theatre district in New York City.

Typical city  bus – rather vintage looking!

The Obelisk in the centre of Avenido 9 de Julio – a busy, 20 lane
boulevard (I counted) that was tricky to get across. 

Avenido 9 de Julio, near the Obelisk.

To the side of the Plaza de Mayo, where people gather to demonstrate about
anything and everything.  Since being the scene of the 25 May 1810
revolution that led to independence, the plaza has been a hub of
political life in Argentina. 

Typical architecture.

The Obelisk near the end of the day.

Grafitti is common place.  We actually saw a guy on our
street walking along with a can of black spray paint.
Every now and then he stopped and tagged a wall. 

San Telmo neighbourhood where crumbling old buildings
stood alongside newer ones.  This is the area we stayed in.

The old architecture and tree lined streets and plazas
made walking around the city a real delight. 

View of modern buildings from La Reserva Ecologica.

Waste management and recycling are handled rather
strangely here.  Garbage is put out on the street, and people
rummage through looking for recyclable materials (plastic,
 cardboard, glass).  The garbage is then left in a messy pile as shown above. 

An art exhibit at The Recoleta Cultural Centre.

One of many statues in the Botanical Gardens.

Tango music’s birthplace is in Argentina and reminders of this are everywhere, from the artwork sold in the markets, to the tango dancers on the street corners.

There was no shortage of things to do each day. Perhaps because we had two weeks to explore, or maybe we’ve just become used to a slower pace, we explored the city leisurely. We shifted our clocks to more closely align with the Argentine lifestyle, getting up late and going to bed equally late. A typical day began with us waking up around 10:00 am (unheard of for us!), followed by some coffee and breakfast at the apartment. We lounged around each morning, reading, surfing the net, researching and making bookings for upcoming journeys. We headed out in the early afternoon and usually stopped into a cafe for lunch around 2:30 or 3:00 (very typical time for lunch).  One day, we wandered into a restaurant which we were lucky to find open at 5:00 pm and were welcomed for lunch without question.  That’s damn near dinner time in Canada! Restaurants are usually closed between 4:00 and 8:00 pm when they re-open their doors for the dinner crowd which doesn’t really get going until 10:00 or 11:00 at night. Our usual bedtime was around 1 or 2 in the morning.  Quite remarkable for us!

The local beer on the counter at the apartment. Refreshing!

Enjoying a pint of “chopp” (draft) on a patio in San Telmo.

Eating out on patios reminded us of summertime in the
market in Ottawa. 

Wouldn’t we look good in this little darling?

San Telmo Market:  Every Sunday, just two blocks from the
apartment, La Defensa is closed to traffic and is transformed
into one great, big outdoor market full of antiques,
tacky souvenirs, artwork, jewellery, clothes, etc. 

Soda bottles for sale at the San Telmo market.

The market in La Boca was so touristy,
it looked more like a set for a movie rather than
an authentic neighbourhood.

More of La Boca.  We hated how contrived this neighbourhood was
and didn’t spend much time there as a result.

 Fruterias were on practically every corner and offered
a great selection of fresh fruits and vegetables
at reasonable prices.

Florida street, a popular outdoor pedestrian mall.
This place was bustling during the week but
on the weekend it was dead (reminded me of
Sparks Street in Ottawa).

Professional dog walkers were a common sight.  This
crew sat quietly waiting for the walker to return. 

The entire floor of the Metropolitan Cathedral was done 
in mosaic tiles.  It was absolutely stunning.

La Recoleta Cemetery contains the graves of notable people, including 
Eva Perón, Raúl Alfonsín, and several presidents of Argentina.

Set in 5.5 hectares (14 acres), the cemetery contains 4691 vaults, all above ground,
of which 94 have been declared National Historical Monuments
by the Argentine government and are protected by the state.

Evita’s family tomb.  Her body was finally laid to rest here
after many years of controversy and a period of interment in Spain. 

View inside one of the vaults at the cemetery.

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is home to  a permanent collection
that includes 688 major works and over 12,000 sketches,
fragments, potteries and other minor works.  

A little bit of history

The Casa Rosada (Pink House) is the building from which Eva Peron made her emotional speeches to her adoring fans in the 40’s and early 50’s. Today, it is home to the offices of the current president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who arrives by helicopter each morning during the week.  I must admit, I had a foggy recollection of who Eva Peron was and felt it worthwhile to research  this iconic figure in more detail.

The President’s Office. It seemed strange that they opened up
her office to the public each weekend even allowing us to take pictures.

Changing of the guard in front of La Casa Rosada.

A visit to the Eva Peron Museum offered a fairly accurate picture of this remarkable and controversial woman’s life story – a modern day rags to riches fairy tale.  In her short life (she died of cancer at the age of 33), she was a successful entertainer (radio, theatre and film) who then met and married a rising political figure, Juan Perón. When her husband became president shortly after their marriage, she decided not to assume the traditional role of a president’s wife. It was at this time that she began to call herself Evita.  She became a tireless advocate for the poor and disadvantaged classes.  A woman ahead of her time, she worked alongside her husband the President, rather than in a more submissive, supporting role.  It was largely due to her efforts that women won the right to vote.  She is an iconic figure in Argentine history and was adored by the masses, and hated by the elite.  Even after her death, controversy continued, and it took many years before her embalmed body was finally put to rest in her family’s vault in Recoleta Cemetery here in Buenos Aires.

Interesting art on the side of an apartment building – a tribute to Evita.

A local milonga just around the corner 

It was midnight last Wednesday night and things were just heating up as the sultry sounds of the live band enticed couples onto the dance floor to tango. Those dancing were of all ages and abilities, a blend of locals and tourists.  It was mesmerizing to watch the language of tango expressed by some of the better dancers, the nuances and subtlety of their moves, the fancy footwork, and the perfect harmony between dancers and the music.  As we sipped our wine, careful not to make eye contact with anyone lest someone might think we wanted to dance (such are the rules of a milonga), I felt transported back in time and place and was completely lost in the magic of the evening.

Video: Professional tango dancers

Video: Amateur tango dancers at a local milonga.

This milonga, a term for a place or an event where tango is danced, was the Argentine experience we were looking for in contrast to the contrived tango shows advertised on the streets and targeted to tourists. Throughout the evening and well into the early morning hours, we listened to the band play several genres of music, in the typical milonga format of four songs in a row followed by a short break. We shared our table with Grisela who had arranged the evening and another couple, Stuart and Vanessa who were from Australia/New Zealand.  And no, in case you were wondering, we did not take to the dance floor.  Porteños, as locals are called, take their tango dancing quite seriously and while dancers of all abilities are welcome on the dance floor, it is definitely not the place for beginners or non-dancers such as ourselves.

Video: The Milonga Band.

Something a little louder and hipper

What a contrast the above-mentioned Milonga was to the show we enjoyed on Monday night at the Ciudad Cultural Konex, which hosts a weekly percussion extravaganza called La Bomba del Tiempo in an old oil factory. In the summer months, the show is held outside except if it rains, as was the case last Monday night, when they quickly reorganize everything onto a stage indoors.  The pre-show (a group of energetic, lively drummers) begins just after 7:00 pm, the main band takes the stage around 8:00 and it all wraps up around 10:00, just in time for dinner, Argentine style.

Although surrounded by a much younger, hipper crowd of both tourists and locals, we had a lot of fun listening to and watching this band perform.  The band’s leader directs the group through a series of intricate hand signals that was quite fascinating to watch.  Somehow we ended up near the front and centre, right in the middle of the party where the wildest dancing was taking place.  This was the closest I had ever come to being in a mosh pit – just crazy!

Videos:  La Bomba de Tiempo

Dining delights

Beef is a mainstay of Argentine cuisine and we were determined to get our fill.  Reputed to be some of the most tender beef in the world, probably because of the grass based diet versus grain based, we ate several steak dinners with varying degrees of success. Without a doubt, the beef is very good, but we find the cuisine in general is quite bland. We had some wonderful meals and some mediocre ones. We generally ate in mid-priced restaurants, with the odd splurge now and then, and the odd cheap dinner of empanadas or pizza to help even things out.  We made a few simple meals in our apartment, but with a kitchen infested with ants, we preferred to eat out most of the time.

On Thursday night we had dinner at an underground supper club, our first such experience, but apparently a movement that is growing in popularity in many countries worldwide, including Canada. Jueves a la mesa promised and delivered a lovely plant based meal void of refined flour and sugar.  An enterprising young American, Meghan opens up her apartment every Thursday night where she cooks a tasty vegetarian meal for 13 paying guests using local, easily available ingredients.  We shared the table last night with a large group of young American university students, and a German flight attendant, Beatrice who lives in the Thuringen area in Germany, just a stone’s throw from where my cousin Detlev lives in Jena. Interestingly, Beatrice’s mother who is now 83 was originally from Königsberg, East Prussia, the same area where my mother is from.   It appears that both our mothers had similar wartime experiences where they fled from their homes, losing everything, and then found refuge in western Germany via ship passage in the Baltic Sea.

We have a couple of more days left in Buenos Aires after which we head north to Iguazu Falls, a 20 hour bus ride away.  Yes, we’re taking the bus, our longest bus ride yet, but we secured top notch seats on a first class bus, so we’re thinking (hoping) it will be bearable.  We’ll be sure to tell you all about it when we get there.

Have you noticed the change I made to our website? I have reorganized some of the information in the left hand column and added a new section called:  My travel diary.  This is where I will share my thoughts about our travels, as opposed to the blog that describes where we have been and what we have done. I have moved the “journey before the journey” pages to this area under the heading “Getting Ready” and I have added some new material about my thoughts on the last six months on the road (Checking in after 6 months).  Enjoy!




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5 Responses
  1. chris says:

    Are you, in some way trying to suggest that I’m not ‘hip’? How can that be? I do own a variety of ‘Apple’ products… that’s gotta count for something?

    Chris (of ChrisAndChrisBreakFree)

  2. Maureen Parry Smith says:

    Dear Chris’s, Thankyou for your e mail and great to hear of all your travels.Gosh! what a smashing time you are experiencing 21 days on your Antarctic Cruise how far was that? 5days camping in the Patagonia mountains,plus your two weeks in Buenos Airies. What a bustling,colourful and noisy place and full of life that was,just like anywhere else in the world!How I would have loved to have seen the Tango dancing.Surely,it has to be the very best,the king of all dances and you described it so well.After seeing the film, Oh Argentina years ago I read all about Eva Peron and what a wonderful and devoted woman she became giving her life in helping the poor.Wikipedia is great informing me too on your travels and have to thank you again for being so descriptive in all your travelling.
    Sonja has told me about you meeting up with you in Venice in June
    Which wii be great.Would be great too if you could manage aweeks Safari in Kenya.More about that next time.I think I’m limited for space.Hope you get this!
    Love from Maureen. Xxx

    • christina says:

      Hi Aunt Maureen,
      So nice to hear from you again. I love that you’re following us in our travels. If we go to Africa we are definitely going to do a Safari in Kenya and we’re going to hike Kilimanjaro too. Have you been on a safari in Kenya? Would love to hear about it.

      We’re meeting Sonja in Venice on April 10th – I can’t believe it’s coming up so quickly. We’re going to do a whirlwind trip with her for two weeks and then Chris and I are going to spend the month of May on a farm in Tuscany, working in exchange for room and board. We’re very excited about that opportunity.

      After that, we’re going to walk the Camino de Santiago. Can you believe we just met somebody tonight that did that pilgrimage walk last June, the same month we’re planning to do it this year. He gave us lots of advice for the journey. I want to do it even more after talking to him.
      With love, Christina

  3. Blair Murray says:

    Spectacular journal of your adventures you two! Having spent 48 hours in Buenos Aires a “few” years ago with super hosts I had to read your city description and got hooked on your blog – bactracking through your many adventures! I am sooo envious!
    Hope your bus ride is smooth!

    • christina says:

      Hi Blair,
      How nice to hear from you. I still can’t believe I ran into you in the parking lot at Costco just days before our departure – and it had been years since we had been in touch, in fact we had lost touch with each other. We’ve had the time of our lives during the past six months and we’re excited about what’s coming up too. I still catch myself thinking that I can’t believe this is my life right now. I’m glad you left a comment, and happy too that you enjoyed the blog. Wow, another reader – we must be up to about 46 🙂 Seriously, hope to “see” you back….in fact, I’m just getting ready to post about that long bus ride, but I won’t spoil it for you, you’ll have to read it for yourself 🙂