A September 2001 trip
to Buenos Aires by billmoy
Quote: Buenos Aires, the sprawling, bustling capital of Argentina. Buenos Aires is sometimes referred to as the "Paris of South America" because the city features buildings, monuments and parks that are reminiscent of the French capital.
Buenos Aires consists of many districts with strong individual characteristics. La Boca, for instance, is a working-class Italian neighborhood where the locals reside in wildly colored corrugated metal homes. The bright reds, greens and yellows of these buildings contrast sharply with the chocolate color of the sludgy Rio de la Plata which forms the shoreline of the city. Nearby is the famous soccer stadium where the powerhouse Boca Juniors club plays its home games.
Palermo and Belgrano are more upper-class, with wider streets and fancy boutique stores. Their residents are really immersed in the art of fitness, jogging and exercising in designer garb to keep up appearances with the other upper-crusties. La Recoleta features many fine restaurants (lots of steak), ice cream shops, art galleries and the cemetery where Eva "Evita" Peron is entombed.
I am not the biggest red meat eater, but I ate quite a few steaks in Buenos Aires. Even the average local restaurant will turn out a serviceable steak dinner for you at a reasonable price.
Seemingly every park is crawling with huge stray cat populations. You can find lots of these fat cats even at the botanical garden or the cemetery.
There are several reputable bus companies that will transport you between the international airport and central Buenos Aires for a reasonable cost.
The Marriott consists of 9 floors and 325 rooms. My room was very comfortable, though my view was a mediocre one looking into a courtyard. Try to ask for a view overlooking the lush park of the Plaza San Martin across the street. The king bed had plenty of pillows, and the marble bathroom was well-stocked with toiletries. My daily newspaper was a "fax" containing excerpts from that day's edition of the New York Times (in English). There is a fitness center within the hotel, but the outdoor pool was not in operation during my temperate September stay.
The Marriott is very close to a pickup point for Ecuador Bus, one of the bus companies that run shuttle buses to and from the two main airports. You also have ready access to taxis and a nearby metro "Subte" station.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 7, 2002
Marriott Plaza Hotel
Buenos Aires, Argentina C1005AAU
+54 (11) 4318-3000
The "all-you-can-eat" barbeque special, which is ordered by practically everyone dining at this place, features a selection of meats along with a decent salad bar (or you can order fries instead) and a dessert (I had the tasty bread pudding). The beverage is not included, so this would put your bill over the 10-peso level, which is still not a bad deal. You can choose from over one dozen meats, and your selections are served to you at your table. You can try typical meats (steak, ribs) or try more exotic selections like spicy chorizo or morcilla (blood sausage).
My waitress enjoyed trying out her English with me, as I remarked to her that her English was better than my Spanish! She was friendly and kept asking if I wanted to try another cut. The meats were a little on the fatty side, but L’Alliance is still a good place to try a variety of grilled meats in a casual local setting. Judging from the girth of some of its customers, this restaurant has a loyal clientele.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 11, 2002
Av. Cordoba 945
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54 1 4327 3016
Restaurant | "La Convencion"
The menu of La Convencion specializes in French cuisine. I enjoyed a set menu lunch special that was reasonably priced and efficiently served, although it seemed more continental than French. My cold appetizer of sliced ham was paired with a dollop of Russian salad; both were tasty. The main course was a thin slice of lightly breaded milanesa neapolitana, tender and flavorful. The dessert was a small slice of flan, a delicious way to end the lunch. The house wine or a soda accompanies the lunch special. The well-dressed server was efficient and unobtrusive.
I did not make a reservation, but La Convencion looks like a place that can fill up so I imagine businessmen may want to make a reservation ahead of time.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 4, 2002
Carlos Calvo 375
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54 11 4300 9246
Restaurant | "La Farola"
I had wanted to order a set menu lunch, but the somewhat gruff waiter said that was not available (apparently the lunch specials are on weekdays only). Therefore I ordered something called "pollo calabrese", and it was delicious! I was served a quarter roast chicken with a heaping side of garlicky potato balls. The portion was tasty and enormous, perhaps from the largest chicken in Argentina. I did finish my serving of chicken, but not all of the potato balls. The style of cooking is similar to Chicken Vesuvio if you have had this before. My meal was accompanied by a small basket of crusty bread; the Pepsi was for an additional cost. The extensive menu also features thin-crust pizza.
The crowd was not too bad on a Saturday afternoon, so this was a good place to have a relaxing weekend lunch. This was the place I entered after my notorious "sliming" incident (see "I've Been Slimed !" article below). I tried to mop up my mustard stains with the small paper napkins. El Farola looks more like a local hangout rather than a touristy restaurant, so that is usually a good thing if you can find it.
Avenida Almirante Brown
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Restaurant | "Los Portenos"
My personable waitress looked like Penelope Cruz. Actually, half of the women look like Penelope Cruz to this observer. Anyway, back to my lunch special. The starter was a big bowl of garden salad with a light dressing, which could be a light meal in itself or a sufficient side for two diners. The main course was a decent portion of steak, medium-well done, juicy, delicious and not too fatty. The dessert was a slice of flan (one of my all-time favorite desserts) with a nice splash of caramel sauce.
I found the wait for my check to be a few minutes longer than average, because it looked like my Penelope was out on her lunch break and the covering waitress was in no hurry to push the tab into my face. This is typical for service in Buenos Aires, as you are supposed to have relaxing meals and so you will have to usually ask for "la cuenta" (the check). This is a perfectly unpretentious place for a meal or a drink, which makes Los Portenos an appealing place for me.
Avenida Las Heras 2101
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54 11 4809 3548
I ordered a cup of split pea soup, warm and thick if not the most flavorful soup around. The grilled chicken sandwich was served with cheese on a crunchy toasted baguette. This is not the most innovative or interesting place to dine, but it is a comfortable place for a quick bite to eat if you do not want a typical greasy fast food burger.
Bonpler is closed on Sundays, and they do not accept any credit cards.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 4, 2002
Calle Florida 481 at Lavalle
Buenos Aires, Argentina
+54 11 4325 9900
One of the marshy areas is being maintained as the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, a large wildlife reserve within the city limits. I spotted ducks with bright red bills, floating in calm waters and intermingling with patches of reeds and grasses. The maritime swagger of Puerto Madero is emphasized by the construction of sleek bridges (one of which was designed by the great Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava) and new buildings, like the interesting Divino Buenos Ayres restaurant/club. They create a vibrant old/new attitude that makes this district my personal favorite in Buenos Aires.
My last stop in Buenos Aires was a bench in Puerto Madero, my second visit, where I people-watched and enjoyed some precious sunshine after my "sliming" incident (see I’VE BEEN SLIMED section).
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 8, 2002
Avenida Alicia Moreau de Justo 200
Capital Federal, Argentina 1007
Attraction | "Cementario de la Recoleta"
This cemetery, which covers over 13 acres of ground, contains an amazing cornucopia of grandiose tombs and mausoleums. It is said that the cemetery occupies the most expensive plot of land in Argentina, and this is reflected by the fact that many great political figures, war heroes, athletes and writers are laid to rest here. The clusters of mausoleums, shaped like classical temples and pyramids, are impressively enormous and form claustrophobic "avenues". Some are as large as houses and have several "floors" within them. Casually stroll down the passageways and just gawk at the remarkable assortment of sculptures and detailed adornment. Near the entrance, there is a large general plan of the cemetery that indicates the locations of the memorials of many notables including Evita Duarte de Peron, embalmed in the Duarte family tomb. Gray skies and a slightly coolish breeze intensified the somber mood throughout my visit to this historic cemetery.
Ironically, the cemetery is home to its own living population of stray cats who seem to be well fed by some local custodian. Seeing cats of all shapes and sizes materializing from between mausoleums and dashing towards the custodian gives a true meaning to the term "feeding frenzy".
The admission hours of the cemetery (which dates from 1822) are from 10AM to 5PM. The interesting La Recoleta neighborhood surrounding the cemetery features many fine restaurants (lots of delicious steak places), ice cream shops (almost as good as the gelato in Italy), boutiques, trendy art galleries and the like. Wandering through a dark cemetery is not for everybody, but this is a very interesting excursion and one can comprehend how Argentines deal with their cities of the dead.
La Recoleta Cemetery
Junín 1790 Recoleta District
Buenos Aires, Argentina 1116
+54 (11) 4804 7040
There is also a small museum in the lobby of the Teatro Colon, containing a collection of costumes, photographs, musical instruments, and other artifacts. Public tours of the museum and theater are generally available, mostly in Spanish or English. You can take a look behind the scenes and under the scenes, with a stop at workshops nearly 50 feet below street level.
I was fortunate enough to attend a free concert recital in the Sala Dorado, one of the auxiliary rooms of the Teatro Colon. There was a piano and violin duet, followed by a clarinet player. I would have stayed longer, but the elderly host droned incessantly in Spanish between musical interludes, and I would have fallen asleep if I had to listen to his monotones any longer. As good as the acoustics were in the Sala Dorado, the sound must be extraordinary in the main auditorium. The building’s landmark status in Buenos Aires was magnified by a group of architecture students who were diligently documenting the edifice with photographs, sketches and field measurements.
Capital Federal, Argentina 1012
+54 11 43787132
The original building was modeled after the fashionably famous Gallerie Vittorio Emanuele shopping complex in Milan. The building actually served as the headquarters for a railway, and was converted into a stylish shopping center in 1992. Its interior central dome has skylights and is decorated with some colorful fresco murals created by several notable Argentine artists in the "New Realism" style. Alas, most people are too busy to admire the artwork as they concentrate on their shopping.
Once you step outside, you can usually enjoy a bit of street entertainment along the pedestrians-only Calle Florida. Large crowds gather to watch local street musicians, spray can artists, and tango dancers of variable talents.
Buenos Aires 1005
+54 (11) 55555110
Attraction | "La Boca - Caminito"
The tourist-friendly Caminito is definitely the most colorful area of La Boca. The cheap corrugated metal constructions of the Caminito are elevated to artistic prominence by boldly painted surfaces. The simple shacks feature a patchwork of cool tropical colors; it is almost hard to believe that people actually live in these modules. In this "outdoor museum", artists showcase their wares for sale, while performers entertain families in a small open amphitheater. There are plenty of souvenir stores to spend your pesos in as well. At a nearby corner across from the Parque Lezama, there is an amusing fake-façade sculpture that parodies the metal shacks of the Caminito, with cartoonish people sticking their heads out of imaginary windows.
The Caminito is about a two-mile hike from the closest Subte station. It is very close to the mouth (or Boca) of the sludgy Rio de la Plata, part of which is paralleled by a wide promenade. Locals cross the river via the rustic Puente Avellaneda (one has to take an elevator up one side, walk across the top pathway, and then head down the other side). They can also cross the river via little boats for a small fee.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 11, 2002
Caminito Pedestrian Street/La Boca District
La Boca, Buenos Aires 1166
The Plaza de Mayo is surrounded by the pinkish Casa Rosada (the Argentine equivalent to the White House), the main cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) with the bank-like neoclassical facade, and other important banks and institutions like the Cabildo. The wide Avenida de Mayo connects the plaza to the grandiose National Congress (Palacio del Congreso) to the west.
The spacious Plaza de Mayo is a frequent location for political protests. I witnessed a slew of protesters (September 2001) who had paraded down the Avenida de Mayo and then congregated in the Plaza de Mayo. It was rather festive, with drummers drumming and chanters chanting, but not violent. Perhaps this was a sign of things to come later in the year, as the fragile economy in Argentina collapsed.
Plaza de Mayo
Avenida De Mayo 800
Capital Federal, Argentina 1084
Attraction | "Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes"
The large museum has an interesting mix of artwork by European and Argentine artists from the last two centuries. The lower level features second-tier works by Renoir, Monet, Rodin, Van Gogh, and other European masters. The upper level concentrates on important Argentine artists like Lopez, Forner and Pueyrredon. Candido Lopez was a soldier whose gory and detailed scenes of the Paraguayan War are showcased in one hall. A newer expansion to the museum added a wing that features contemporary Argentine art as well as special exhibits.
Since the admission is free, the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a good place to go if the weather turns bad. The museum store has your typical selection of books and souvenirs. It has fairly late admission hours (between 12:30PM and 7:30PM) and is closed on Mondays. You can store your backpack at the storage area, also at no cost.
MNBA - Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
Avenida Del Libertador 1473 Recoleta
Buenos Aires, Argentina 1425
+54 (11) 48030802
This massive government complex is modeled after the US Capitol in Washington DC. Completed in 1906, the Palacio del Congreso is not quite as majestic as the US Capitol, probably because it is not based atop a "Capitol Hill". However, the neoclassical design of the structure is certainly grandiose enough. An elongated dome with a light green exterior caps its central rotunda.
The granite steps that form the base of the building are said to represent the Andes Mountains. The fancy fountain fronting the building represents the vast Atlantic Ocean. The surrounding Plaza del Congreso is not as revered as the Plaza de Mayo to the east, but it is well populated by locals and pigeons hanging about. One block to the south is the Biblioteca del Congreso, a research facility that is open to legislative members as well as the public.
Palacio del Congreso
50 Entre Rios Ave.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
PLACE: Buenos Aires, Argentina
TIME: September 2001
I was riding the aged but serviceable Subte subway towards the San Juan station on the Green "C" line. In a portend of things to come, a young nino accidentally squirted me with Coca-Cola while we were in the same train. The bottle of pop had apparently been jostled on the moving train such that when he opened it, the liquid refreshment burst out of its containment. The boy's parents (especially the mother) wore expressions that combined regret and bemusement. I had a half-smile on my face as well, as I dabbed myself with a napkin (helpful hint: always carry a spare napkin or tissue just in case you need one!). I figured that this was not a scam, as everything happened in front of me.
The very busy San Juan station lies between the San Telmo and La Boca districts. From the station, I intended to walk the two miles or so through La Boca, with the final destination to be the colorful Caminito area. On a major street in La Boca, I encountered two innocent-looking women, one of whom was holding a map. She asked me in slightly accented English for directions to Caminito (this thought did not pass through my mind immediately, but why would these two Latinas ask for directions from the only Asian person walking in La Boca?). I hesitated slightly, pointed towards the general direction of Caminito, and continued my walk. Then the same woman with the map yelled out "senor!" and said that I had some substance on my back. NOTE : this is a SCAM !! I was splattered with some pungent mustard on the back of my jacket, my light blue jeans, my backpack. I just sat down on the stoop of an apartment building and started to clean myself with napkins. The map lady offered to pitch in with her own napkin, but of course I declined and waved the two women off. I have no visual proof, but if you are as sharp as Angela Lansbury you will have deduced that the slimer was the silent partner of the map lady. This is an impressive scam, because my attention was on the map lady for about two seconds, just enough time for the slimer to bathe me in mustard.
For about ten minutes I was unsuccessfully wiping my stains as I sat on that apartment building stoop. Several people walked in and out of the building; are these local residents aware of this scam? I then headed to a nearby restaurant to mentally regroup, and I ate a delicious lunch there. In a nearly unbelievable scenario, I saw those same two women on my return trip towards the San Juan Subte station! They were on that very same street where they had tried to scam me several hours earlier. I just stared holes through them. They noticed that I had spotted them, and they scampered along quickly and reshuffled themselves into the crowd. Who else did they try to scam that day?
Incidentally, I had checked out of my hotel already, as I was flying out of Buenos Aires late that night. I discarded my stained jeans at the hotel restroom (I had intended to toss this old pair anyway), but my jacket and backpack reeked of mustard throughout my flights home. Oh well...
These slimers and scammers are not violent (at least the ones I have encountered), so I was more annoyed than afraid when I was targeted in this manner. Please pass this bit of information amongst your travelling associates. Information is power!