I’m now sitting in the hotel lobby in Buenos Aires
, a bit bored really…waiting for Georg to come back from the conference. We have been here for about three weeks now, and it’s time for us to go home. We had a wonderful time here, seen a lot… almost everything in Buenos Aires
, and had time to relax. Georg has been to a summer school and a conference and he has learned a lot. Now we are looking forward to getting home, to our bed and of course my “tiny thing” (Inu).
Buenos Aires is covered with dogs, they are everywhere, I think almost everyone has a dog, so it is easy to miss Inu seeing them. When people are at work they have dog walkers that walk the dogs and keep them engaged all day until they get home. One dog walker can have more than ten dogs, and they behave remarkably well. Also, many of these dog walkers meet up in certain parks and let all of the dogs run around together. They seem to have a great life here. I really just wanted to cozy up with all of then, but I have resisted the urge as we did not take shots for that.
It is winter in Argentina and we expected the worst. Well, we heard that it was normally around 5-15 degrees Celsius. Last year they even had a bit of snow! So we brought winter jackets. The first week was mostly cold and foggy, with nice weather on some days. After that, the temperature went through the roof. Really warm, almost as warm as a Norwegian summer gets. T-shirt weather, so really nice, we were lucky.
The first week we browsed through most of Buenos Aires, drank a lot of wine, went shopping and had a great time. We walked a lot since we weren’t too sure about the taxis, they can try to rob you. A Peruvian from the summer school got his luggage stolen this way – be careful when you put your luggage in the trunk! – and a French guy almost got robbed by the old you-gave-me-a-five trick.
But we also love to walk and it is the only way to really get a feel for the city, together maybe with biking. Buenos Aires is about 20 km x 20 km, so in the center you can really get by by walking. Of course after walking all day we were exhausted and went to bed quite early. People here do not eat dinner before eight, and we are used to eating at five every day. Combine that with a jet-lag, and we ended up eating in an empty restaurant every evening – at least the first couple of days.
Everything is very cheap here, especially food. You get BIG meals with a LOT of food. The first evening Georg and I went out to treat ourselves a bit with delicious Argentinean food and wine. And that we got. I ordered a meat platter for one person. I thought that was a good idea, because I would then be able to taste many different meats so that I could taste a bit of the local specialties. I have never gotten this much food in my life. I got two BIG plates of meat I plate of fries and all I could eat of salad. The whole meal could easily feed a small family of five… for days :).
The hotel is very nice. We live on the 9th floor with a view of Plaza Republica, which is easily recognized because of the huge obelisk in the middle. Several roads emanate from the plaza, the main of which, 9 de Julio, having seven lanes in each direction. Although this made quite some noise, it also provided an amazing view of continuous stream of taxis passing the hotel.
Even better, almost every day the people of Buenos Aires had some sort of demonstration outside. In the beginning of the millennium Argentina was hit by an economic crisis, of which they are slowly recovering. In the weeks that we were there the parliament voted for a new law on export taxes, and this created huge demonstrations … These were, naturally, right outside of our building, where people sprayed their (for us incomprehensible) message on El Obelisco. The police handled the crowd very well, so that everything went peacefully and nobody got hit by a taxi. When we saw the first bus of special units arrive we thought they would arrest the whole bunch, but instead they let them do their thing and protected them along the way.
So even though I had to stay inside quite some days, being hit by the Spanish flu, there was much to see outside… Quite some action :). The hotel also has its own spa, with a swimming pool, hot tub, sauna and a training room, which we used frequently until I got sick. All the walking, waking up early, and running in the mornings might not have helped.
The Home of the Rich and the Dead
One of the first days we walked to Recolleta, “home to the rich and the dead”. This area is very rich, with only high end stores and expensive hotels. The main street is claimed to be impeccably clean, so the first thing I did was stepping in dog-poo!! Clean ha! Good start:) After that we visited the Recolleta cemetery… It is truly an amazing place, probably modeled after a similar cemetery in Paris. Each grave is like a small house. Lots of famous people are buried here, among whom most famously Eva Peron (Evita). It was really a wonderful and peaceful place.
After strolling around the place we walked south towards the parks and the railway tracks. On the other side of the tracks is Villa 31. This place is not as fancy as it sounds, since it is probably the biggest slum in Buenos Aires. People living here made their own houses, and one such villa can house over 15,000 people. Surprisingly, it turns out to be well-organized with its own elected board and president. Getting to the end of the parks and closer to the railway it suddenly got very poor and not so nice a neighborhood, so we turned around.
The next thing on the agenda was the marked. Outside the Recolleta cemetery, on Saturdays, there is a big arts and craft marked, and they cell amazing things. They are really good at making things with leather, stone and clay. We bought a lot of nice stuff and headed home.
The next couple of days we walked through Palermo, a hip neighborhood with lots of bars, restaurants and high end stores, but also lots of nice parks and open spaces. We also went to the Sunday market in San Telmo. The market is known for antiques, but also for tango and lots of street musicians. It was quite touristy, but authentic nevertheless. People were dancing and playing music on the street, very rural and warm. It seems that the people here know how to have a good time, and almost all of them are honest and friendly.
Of course I had to do a bit of shopping here. I love to shop, and things here are relatively cheap, especially shoes. So I was really out to shop some nice shoes. But the thing that annoyed me a lot was that the stores are quite small and full with people, not with shopping people but with people working there, usually five people in a very small store. So you are trying to look at something and you just keep bumping into the shop attendants. And of course they follow you around, in case you want help, getting exactly in front of the shoes that you want to look at. It’s Japan all over again! Even if I intended to buy those shoes, I got so annoyed that I ended up buying nothing… I guess I shouldn’t complain too much sitting here with five new pairs of shoes :).
A Tango Show
One other thing we did was going to a Tango show that came with a course in Argentinean tango. The tango show was fantastic and it was fun to learn how to dance, we are so going to learn more when we get back to Oslo. Too bad the whole evening was very touristic. We booked the tour through the hotel, and they are probably used to people looking for that kind of evening… well we are definitively not one of them. We were picked up at the hotel and driven to the theater… Because of all the traffic it took some time, and we could have walked there faster :).
On arrival, the first thing they did was leading us into the souvenir shop, where we had to wait for all the other people joining us in our tango course. Once there, they kindly pointed out that it was much better to buy something right away, because after the tango show there would be way-too-many people shopping. Quite funny really, as long as you don’t have to put up with it for too long. Learning some of the basic tango moves was a lot of fun. We were in good company of many middle-aged ladies that seemed to have started the party early, laughing hysterically and going bananas!
After the lesson we went to the show room and had dinner. Although Argentina is famous for its meat, which it produces in humongous quantities, I have never ever eaten that bad meat before; I could hardly bite through it… At least the show was really good, and we definitely had fun, but both of us are convinced we should stay away from organized travel groups. :)
The Other Side of the Delta
At the end of the first week, we took the boat over the Delta to Colonia, Uruguay. Its newly build departure port looks a lot like a mini-airport, with security checks, gates and, unfortunately, queues. Partly because of the sunny short-sleeves weather, this was probably the best day we had. Add to this the many friendly loose dogs in the old city centre, and you get an oasis of peace and silence contrasting the busy and car-flooded Buenos Aires. Something that we had never seen before, was the possibility to rent a golf cart.
Unfortunately this was also the day that my mum and dad had to put Bastian to sleep… I was devastated. It was hard to not be able to say goodbye to him, but on the other hand, I think it would probably have been worse if I had been there. At least here I could try to focus on something else. So it was a beautiful day, with a lot of tears :(.
As Georg sot sick before I did, I had a few days to myself. One of these days I walked around Puerto Madero. This is a newly developed waterfront district with a lot of restaurants and bars, right next to a big nature park. A lot of people walk and run in the park every day. It is huge with its small lakes, and it stretches out to the sea. It was an invigorating walk, refreshing to get away from the city and the noise for a short time. I walked around for a bit and ended up on the docks with ice cream. They have the best ice cream here. Never had a better one than the one I have tasted here. Ice cream is as big here as it is in Italy, which is because of the Italian immigrants. They have this ice cream that tastes a bit like caramel called “dulche de leche”. It’s very South American and they are very proud of it, for good reason, as it is the best ice cream I have ever eaten. And it had few calories! It really was a nice day :).
San Telmo and La Boca
One of the days we visited La Boca. We started our day in a historic museum in San Telmo, which I had looked forward to seeing, but which was very small and only in Spanish. This was a disappointment, to say the least. Then we walked towards the big football stadium in la Boca. Since it was full of football fans and tourists, we didn’t spend much time there and took off towards the centre of La Boca.
Or so we thought. We managed to walk in a totally wrong direction and headed right into the slum of la Boca. La Boca is an old neighborhood of Buenos Aires, and it is also very poor. That’s why the guide books warn you against going outside the tourist areas in this part of town. And this was of course exactly what we were doing now. We felt that this part was getting unfriendly and very poor. But luckily it was mid day and a lot of people were out. We are also fortunate that we do not look that much like tourists, being frequently taken for being Argentinean, and being careful about when to take out the camera and map and when not. In the end we found the centre without being robbed or anything, lucky us! The centre is beautiful and colorful. Even if the houses are not expensive, they have painted the houses with pretty colors to brighten them up. Unfortunately this is the day that I got sick. It felt like I was getting the flue and we had to take a taxi home early.
Many Argentineans look very European, maybe a bit Italian or Spanish, but some could easily have been British or German too. So we tend to blend in with the people. There are also parts of the population that do look very South American, but I’m not sure if they are Argentinean or just moved to Buenos Aires from Peru or other countries. In the suburbs, on the other hand, most of the people look very South American.
The next week we had planned to travel a bit around Buenos Aires, but unfortunately we both were ill with a fever and a bad cold – so still not well – and we kept within Buenos Aires so that we could sleep in and take it easy.
The Market of Mataderos
The last Sunday we went to one of the suburbs called Mataderos. The subway did not go this far so we first took the subway and then walked the last bit. The problem was that we didn’t have a good map of the location, only in the direction we should walk. We walked about an hour or so, through kind of rough neighborhoods, which seemed to be very poor. We had to stop and ask for directions but in the end we found it.
We also had a bite at a bakery nearby. The Argentineans love cookies, chocolate, ice cream and pastries. So not very healthy, but of course we had to taste. Then we headed off to the market. It was a very nice and cozy market with a stage with people singing, people riding horses while standing on top of them, lots of food to try and of course arts and craft. I bought this amazing purse there… so pretty! In the pubs people were dancing, old and young together, they were crazy, and had so much fun. It was a great day, that ended with a quiet night with pizza in bed :).
More pictures here.