WALKING THE SIGHTS OF BUENOS AIRES
Trip Start Oct 05, 2009
322Trip End Oct 31, 2013
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Journey: San Telmo, Microcentre,
Weather: Sunny, about 25 degrees at midday
Buenos Aires is a sprawling city of 16 million people, divided into "barrios" which translates into “suburbs” and we sat down on Day 2, with the “Lonely Planet” and “Time-Out” magazine, and mapped out which barrios we would explore; sharing the apartment with other travellers was also a resource and we heeded advice on restaurants, areas/ streets and places of interest.
Argentinians are considered a bit snobby and they are very passionate and proud of their heritage; they are more European than the other South American countries because of the huge immigration of Spanish, Italians and some Germans and other Europeans, during the economic boom time of 1880 -1914, and the absence of African slaves being brought in for labour.
The country was very wealthy during those years as a food bowl for Europe and the elaborate French mansions and public buildings decorating the city today were built as a result of this wealth- some buildings shipped piece by piece back from France on boats empty after dropping off their cargoes of agricultural products.
Things changed and the economic crash in the 1920's brought poverty and a military government. Argentina has a history of extreme governments and an unstable economy and Argentinians seem to have a suspicious attitude towards their politicians and governments. Eva Peron is still adored as a saviour of the poor, but from 1976, a military government created the Dirty War, where 30,000 Argentinians with leftist leanings were “grabbed and dropped into the sea”, now remembered as “the disappeared”. This government collapsed in 1983 and the people of Buenos Aires now have a healthy disrespect for the military and police.
In 2001 the country experiences another financial collapse, devalues the peso and takes some tough economic decisions that improved things but, we heard stories of current 30% inflation, people afraid to put their money in the banks and a growing black market in US$. The average Argentinian says “work, spend and party and don’t get too serious”, and the wealthy save and disguise their fortunes behind not too fancy facades!!
The people are helpful and welcoming but not intrusive; they fill restaurants and cafes at all hours of the day and do dinner at 10pm+; you can dine until the early hours and the streets are busy and safe. We finally adapted to those hours during our last few days in BA.
Kath was glad that Sheila speaks Spanish, which was essential for catching buses and getting directions.
We explored the city on foot, avoiding the huge holes and piles of concrete that made the sidewalks treacherous along with piles of dog’s poo and rubbish; household rubbish, in plastic bags is dumped on the footpath and street cleaners sort it and eventually remove it. So be warned you can only look up to admire the scenery when you are stationary.
FREE WALKING TOUR www.bafreetour.com
Mostly led by university students, this tour covered the central business district, Microcenter and Congreso and contained history, politics and gossip; our guide had a good sense of humour and a quirky interpretation of life in BA.
Microcenter was busy with workers, buskers and tourists and the traffic free Florida was hectic with street sellers, shopkeepers with loudspeakers and bargains, beggars etc. The traffic on the 16 lane Ave 9 de July was terrifying as we were led to the Obelisk, built in 1923 to celebrate the anniversary of Argentina’s independence from Spain. The Congress area was all about politics and the impressive Palacio del Congreso stands proudly among the European influenced buildings of the early 1900,s.
An outline of Eva Peron graced a tall building and we headed to the Casa Rosada, pink house, where the Perons spoke to the crowds and Madonna did her balcony scene in “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” movie. The current female president, Cristina, has her offices here but lives elsewhere; according to our guide she is not “hard working” !!?
After the tour we visited the “must-do” attraction,” Café Tortini”, one of the oldest coffee houses in BA for a coffee and sandwich; the building is gorgeous but the service and food was awful, an expensive tourist trap!! A lot of these historic and traditional cafes are staffed by older men who have lost their enthusiasm for everything, except their 10% tip.
We checked out the oldest subway station but never did get to travel during our time here because San Telmo was not near to a stop
We decided to walk home along a street, parallel to the one we had accessed the city earlier and admired the architecture, sometimes faded and tired, daubed with graffiti and the way the huge city managed to be organised. Buses, taxis and pedestrians negotiate the narrow one way streets and pedestrian crossings are ignored but somehow everything works and patience and tolerance rule.
We decided that we loved the city. A quick stop at the “supermercado” for wine, olives and cheese and we limped into Piedras 1694 which was home, and joined our flat mates in the dining room. We also decided we loved Argentinian wine, especially the Malbec from Mendoza!
Tomorrow we had an early start to get to the train station by 6.30am for our trip to Tigre, so with still a small touch of jet lag we were happy to hit the sack just after sunset.