Buenos Aires! Also called the Paris of South America, and famous for its tango. We were lucky to spend a week in this beautiful city last week. We arranged an AirBnb in the ‘barrio’ (neighborhood) called Recoleta and booked Spanish lessons at Vamos! Spanish Academy. We had 4 hours of classes per day for five days, which left plenty of time to explore the city. Buenos Aires is a very pleasant city for walking around and exploring. It is also very big! Almost 16 millions people are living in Greater Buenos Aires…We have made lots of kilometers! And still many places remain to be explored another time :). Even though you read and hear a lot about the city being unsafe we never felt so. We did choose wisely where we walked at what time of the day and made sure only to carry the necessary items with us. But in the end it’s not different to any other big city, just use common sense and there is not too much to worry about :-).
A couple of things we explored and learned during our week in BA (besides a lot of español!):
Porteño: ‘Porteño’ refers to someone who lives or is from a port city, and it is also used as the name for the people that live in Buenos Aires. Almost 90% of the Argentinians are actually descendants from other countries; most Argentinians are descendants of Spain and Italy or other countries. This really helps giving this city a European feel. And even a couple of blondes on the street here and there, so it was easy for us to blend in!
Dogwalkers: Or ‘paseadores de perros’, are very common to see in Buenos Aires. Porteños love dogs, and many have dogs, but apparently not the time to walk them. So in the morning and the afternoon it’s a very common sight to see lot of guys walking a pack of at least 10 (well-behaved) dogs 🙂
Cartoneros: Another common sight in Buenos Aires: When the sun sets the ‘cartoneros’ appear on the streets pulling carts full of carton or other recyclable articles from the trash. This is something that has been going on for years: litter pickers or ‘cartoneros’ will collect recyclables and try to sell it to dealers to earn some money. Nowadays some of those cartoneros receive a subsidy from the state for the work they do.
City Center: The City center: in most cities this is a nice and expensive neighbourhood where you would like to stay as a tourist. But not in Buenos Aires. The city centre, around the Plaza de Mayo, is a bit of a shady area with lots of homeless people in the parks. In the evening and night, when the tourists disappear, this is not really a part of the city where you want to be. However, during the day it is a great experience to walk around and learn about the history of the city and the country, as we did by joining a ‘free’ walking tour (www.freewalksbuenosaires.com). We had a very enthusiastic guide telling us about the history of the city. Buenos Aires is not really the colonial city you might expect knowing its history. The city used to have colonial building from its Spanish colony times, however they decided they don’t want to be reminded about this history, so most of the colonial buildings were demolished. They were replaced by ‘Parisian inspired’ buildings and more ugly residential buildings. This makes the city a bit chaotic and unordered but that its charm :-).
Recoleta: Recoleta is the ‘barrio’ where we lived for a week. We had a small studio apartment in a residential building with a nice pool and sundeck on the roof. The area is quite quiet and safe to walk around. It is a very local area where you don’t find a lot of tourists and where you feel like a local. Recoleta is also famous for its cemetery: Cemetario de Recoleta. Many famous Argentinian people found their place to rest here like Eva Peron (Evita), presidents of Argentina and Nobel Prize winners. It is also the place with the highest density of sculptures outside a museum. Even though it’s a bit creepy to walk around at a cemetery (especially when you can see the coffins of which some almost open..) it is definitely a beautiful place.
Palermo: Palermo is the ‘barrio’ adjacent to Recoleta, and the place to go for a drink or a nice meal. Palermo is a very large neighbourhood, but is subdivided in varies sub-barrios, from residential to the super hip Palermo SoHo. We have spend a couple of nights in Palermo having drinks and dinner. From a dinner with Mathieu (a friend from Amsterdam who happened to be in BA for a couple of months) at La Cabrera, a famous ‘parilla’ (grill), to live music in a cosy setting while enjoying a local craft beer.
La Boca: La Boca.. what shall we say about this area? It is a neighbourhood that has without a doubt a lot of history. It is famous for being the home of Boca Juniors, the club where Maradona played. But La Boca is also quite a tourist trap. Known for its colourful houses it attracts lots of tourists. While at ‘caminito’, the small area where all the tourists go, you can eat or drink at the many touristic restaurants, shop in all souvenir shops or take a picture for a tip with some tango dancers or Maradona lookalikes. The tourist area is very small. Outside this area La Boca is a very poor neighbourhood with a lot of crime. Yes it is colourful, but you could spare yourself the bus ride (good thing busses are very cheap in BA).
Futbol: Last, but definitely not least: futbol! We learned quickly how important this is for the Argentinians. During our week in Buenos Aires two important football matches were played: River Plate – Boca Juniors (the two clubs from Buenos Aires) and the final for the Copa Argentina. We somehow did not know about the games until it was happening: the streets where empty and whenever a goal was scored the cheering went as a big wave through the whole city!