Buenos Aires: Frozen Tango

Tango dancers in the main junctions compete with loud tango music emanating from the neighboring music shops, short skirts and high heels represent the hopes for a better tip, and nearby barbeque joints add an additional sense to our experience: Argentina’s capital is a constant challenge to all our senses.


La Boca

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on October 1, 2007

People living in Buenos Aires refer to themselves as "Porteños," recognizing thus the port vital role in the city’s life. Among the several neighbourhoods on Buenos Aires waterfront, La Boca is the most distinctive and colourful. The name means "The Mouth" and refers to it being the meeting point between the Riachuelo (a small stream of waste delimiting the city to the south) and the mighty Rio de la Plata.

The port is not longer the main attraction but it still shapes the neighbourhood. La Boca’s wood and zinc shanty houses were built by the Italian immigrants who worked in the port and are coloured in a myriad of bright patches. The place looks as if a rainbow crashed on it. It is hard to imagine poor people living in a poor city of a poor continent spending so much on paints; actually, they got the colours free from ship repairs leftovers.

Nowadays, La Boca is known mainly for three other things. Boca Juniors is one of the best soccer teams in Buenos Aires, and its stadium is here. Its blue and yellow logo is ubiquitous in the neighbourhood. The colourful quarter and derelict port created the perfect background for restaurants, souvenir shops and cafeterias catering for the many tourists reaching the area. Unluckily, these two activities attract huge crowds on a regular and predictable schedule. Combined with the area’s poverty, this created a heaven for thieves. Visiting La Boca is dangerous at all times, but especially at night. Precautions and care should be taken everywhere, but especially so around the Caminito and the Boca Juniors Stadium.

While the main sights are available everyday, it is recommended visiting the neighbourhood on Sundays, just after a visit to the San Telmo Flea Market. Both places are close to each other and slightly off-center, hence such a tactic pays-off.

Main Sights:

Caminito Street. The most colourful street in the city is a daily artists’ outdoor exhibition open from 10am to 6pm.

Historic Wax Museum: Del Valle Iberlucea 1261. Mondays to Fridays from 10am to 6pm; weekends from 11am to 8pm. Admission 5ARP. This is the South American version of Madam Tussoud.

Vuelta de Rocha: Pedro de Mendoza Av. Corner Palos. The Vuelta de Rocha hosts the steamship La Carrera, a museum ship with a tourists’ information center and a handicrafts stalls base.

Benito Quinquela Martin Fine Arts Museum: Pedro de Mendoza Av. 1835 Tuesdays to Sundays from 10am to 6pm. The museum is named after a painter that lived here and shows his works and studio.

Proa Museum: Pedro de Mendoza Av. 1929 Tuesdays to Sundays from 11am to 7pm. A typical Italian house transformed into a beautiful contemporary art centre.

Necochea Street. The old port canteens were replaced here by restaurants offering seafood and local shows.

Boca Juniors Stadium: Brandsen 805 a must for every soccer fan, the place is known as "La Bombonera" due to its candy box shape.
Caminito Pedestrian Street/La Boca District
Calle Caminito
La Boca, Buenos Aires, 1166

Recoleta Cementery

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on October 2, 2007

A list of a city’s attractions can serve as a gauge of its health. The Recoleta Cemetery appears high on any such list of Buenos Aires. Greek temples, pyramids, and chapels coexist peacefully in the La Recoleta Cemetery, the most fashionable place for rich Argentineans to be buried in. Ornate mausoleums in a myriad of styles and separated by streets, avenues and trees create an eerie and intriguing sight. Few would argue this cemetery is one of the most extraordinary ghost cities in the world. However, they are a macabre reminder that Buenos Aires splendor is buried away in a remote past.

Surroundings
Still alive citizens favor the neighborhood as well, as the many French style buildings, large green spaces and first class boutiques, shopping centers, pubs, cafes, and restaurants testify. The neighborhood is widely considered to be one of the most exclusive ones in Buenos Aires and is an interesting addition to a visit at the cemetery.

Strangely, many night clubs find this background a stimulating one and the area is completely alive till the small hours of the night. On weekends, there is a large handicrafts market and many street performers display their crafts.

The Village Mall is a nearby upmarket shopping center with excellent coffee shops, and many cinema theaters.

History
The Recoletos Catholic Order founded the Nuestra Señora del Pilar Church and its attached Convent in 1706; much later – in 1822 – they added the cemetery and in 1871 many rich families moved into this area and transformed it into an exclusive residential one as a result of a yellow fever epidemic in the city.

Main Sights:

The most celebrated Argentineans are buried here and walking the cemetery streets makes a fascinating history lesson, as well as offers an architectural feast.

Basílica Nuestra Señora del Pilar: 1892, Junin Street. One of the oldest churches in Buenos Aires, strangely, there is an Inca Style sun made in silver in front of the main altar.

Recoleta Cultural Center: 1930, Junín Street. The old convent was transformed in 1886 into a home for aged people and in 1979 it became a cultural center. Young and avant-garde exhibits prevail at the center.

Famous Mausoleums: Eva Duarte's (also known as Evita Peron, an Argentinean dictator’s worshipped wife), Federico Leloir's (Medicine Nobel Prize), Luis Angel Firpo's, and others.
La Recoleta Cemetery
Junín 1790 Recoleta District
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1116
+54 (11) 4804 7040

Subte: Roaming Buenos Aires Underground

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on October 2, 2007

A strong, hot wind carrying a heavy stench of burned oil entered through the old styled, open windows of the underground train car. A minute before that, I reached the boarding platform through a wood-escalator; they would be outdated even in a museum. Both memories became my most vivid ones of Buenos Aires; they reflected that metropolis tired character.

Buenos Aires subways network - locally known as subte - provides the most efficient way to travel between its central attractions. Inaugurated in 1913, this underground train was the first in South America and still keeps much of the original design. It was designed as four arteries drawing an open fan through downtown, with a fifth perpendicular to the others and connecting them at their base along the extra-wide 9 de Julio Avenue. Many stations feature colorful murals depicting the characteristics of the adjacent neighborhood.

The lines are easy to identify, the perpendicular one is called "C" while the others are, from north to south, "D", "B", "A" and "E"; the last one changes it name to "P" once it reaches the outskirts.

In the downtown stations, many underground galleries host shops, art galleries and basic coffee shops, creating an attractive opportunity for a break; especially in those windy, cold days so distinctive of the local winter.

From Monday to Saturday, the network operates between 5am and 10pm and in Sundays from 8am to 10pm. There is a flat tariff of slightly above a quarter and multiple trips tickets are available. Once inside the network there is no limitation to the length of your travel or in the number of lines you cross. The main drawback is that once away from downtown it is not possible to cross among the lines.

The most useful stations are:

Independencia (Line C): The closest station to the San Telmo Quarter.

Retiro (C): This is the connection of the subway system with the main bus terminal and with the train to Tigre.

Diagonal Norte (C): The lines B, C and D connect here, it is next to Teatro Colon and to the Florida and Lavalle walking streets and thus provides a superb access to downtown Buenos Aires. The line D station is called 9 de Julio, and the Line B one is Pellegrini.

Plaza de Mayo (A, D, E): The main plaza and the location of the main government institutions. The San Telmo quarter is relatively close and may be combined in a single visit.

Palermo (D): This station provides access to the Palermo exclusive residential area, to the biggest park in the city and to some of the main shopping centers in town.

Pueyrredon (D): The closest station to the Recoleta Cemetery; from the station, the cemetery is still a ten minutes walk north through the Pueyrredon Avenue.

Alem (B): The closest station to Puerto Madero, the wide promenade just before the Rio de la Plata.

San Telmo

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by SeenThat on October 2, 2007

The best time to visit this picturesque neighborhood is on Sunday mornings when Tango dancers make their convoluted way through its huge flea market. Most of the houses belong to earlier centuries and its streets are still paved with cobblestones.

History

Aristocratic families inhabited San Telmo until the yellow fever epidemic in 1871; then they moved to La Recoleta and the new immigrants took their place, the former mansions were transformed into "conventillos" hosting hundreds of newcomers. Nowadays, the neighbourhood has been restored and is a fashionable center for artisans, artists, dancers and tourists.

Tango

This dance is distinctive of the Rio de la Plata basin and apparently has its origins in the fusion of music and dances from Europe and Africa; it is related to the milonga and the habanera dances. The sensuous dance became a symbol of Argentina and can be witnessed on all main spots of Buenos Aires, where a couple of dancers in close embrace and provocative clothes dance in small steps that captivate the audience attention.

Places of Interest:

Flea Market and Plaza Dorrego: Plaza Dorrego, Defensa corner Humberto 1°. The Feria de San Telmo is open every Sunday from 10am and offers antiques, coffee, bars and tango dancers in its almost three hundred stalls. On weekdays, the cafes set their tables on the square itself. Plaza Dorrego was the focal point of the neighborhood and the buildings surrounding it maintain their original design, thus providing a golden opportunity to enjoy the look of nineteenth century Buenos Aires.

Danish Church: 257, Carlos Calvo St. This is a gorgeous Lutheran Church built in 1931 using an easily recognizable Nordic style; at the main door the time of the next service is announced.

Modern Art Museum: 350, San Juan St. This old tobacco warehouse was transformed into a modern art museum hosting a huge collection of contemporary Argentinean art. Open Tuesdays to Saturdays and Holidays from 10am to 8pm; Sunday 11am to 8pm. Admission 1ARP, Wednesdays free.

Russian Orthodox Church: 315, Brasil St. This is a Muscovite style church which provides an intriguing insight into another ethnic group that found a new home in Argentina.

Museum of the Film: 1220, Defensa St. The museum is focused on Latin American films. The Lumiere, Pathe and Gaumont equipment make interesting sights. Open Tuesdays to Sundays from 11:30am to 6:30pm. Admission 1ARP, Wednesdays free.

National Historical Museum: 1600, Defensa St. Dating back to 1889, this museum shows key events in the Argentinean history. Open Tuesdays to Fridays from 11am to 5pm; Saturdays 3pm to 6pm and Sundays 2pm to 6pm. Free admission.

San Telmo Market: The market is enclosed between Bolivar, Estados Unidos, Defensa and Carlos Calvo. It was built in 1897 and its iron framework is a fantastic view; it offers good local food, works of art and antiques. It is open every day.

French's Mansion: 1062, Defensa St. Built in 1762, nowadays it hosts a gallery with many small antique shops.
Barrio de San Telmo
Defensa 1200
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1065

Buenos Aires: Watching a Frozen Tango

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by SeenThat on October 1, 2007

Tango dancers compete with loud tango music emanating from the neighboring music shops for the travelers attention; short skirts and high heels represent the hopes for a better tip and nearby barbeque joints add an additional sense to our experience; Argentina's capital presents a dichotomy of attractions and dangers.

Climate
Due to its closeness to the ocean, the local weather is unpleasant during the winter and the summer; both are accompanied by a high humidity that spoils any chance of enjoying the city.

Scars
The bank buildings in downtown show the signs of the riots that took place after the government confiscated the citizen's savings a few years ago. Pictures should be taken carefully there since the plainclothes policemen do not like that.

Traveling Around
Subte - the subway - provides a fast, efficient and economical connection among the town main sights. It has a bit of history as well since it was the first South American subway, dating back to 1913. Much of its cars have not been replaced since then.

The regular passengers' trains system has largely stopped functioning except for the short line to Tigre from Retiro; thus, the best way to travel overland using a public system is through the buses.

Retiro Terminus, near the port's northern side, offers bus connections to all the provinces' capitals; from them you will be able to reach offside locations. As in the rest of the country, it is a good idea to check the prices among the different companies traveling to a given locations. Each company specializes in certain destinations and thus the prices vary wildly from one to another. Argentinean buses companies sell tickets in advance and cheaper return tickets: arrive to the terminus early and take your time while shopping around; Retiro is a pleasant place to visit with excellent coffee shops and local eateries.

It is possible to continue from Buenos Aires to Montevideo by speedboat, by bus, or using a combination of the two, through Colonia del Sacramento. The last is recommended since it takes the traveler to a wonderful mixed Portuguese-Spaniard fort from the 18th century. Another option is to take the train to Tigre and from there cross the Uruguay River by boat to a port 85km north of Colonia del Sacramento.

Books
In Buenos Aires, it is easier finding English books than in other South American cities. However, most of these are new and sold at premium prices.

Shopping
The Palermo Quarter hosts the Jumbo Supermarket in its central park; with more than fifty paying stations and an endless shopping space it offers all the basic necessities a traveller would need.

Galerias Pacifico (Cordoba corner Florida) is an amazing shopping mall within a neoclassical structure and attractive paintings on its dome's interior.

Buenos Aires Highlights
Lavalle and Florida Walking Streets: these two perpendicular streets host much of the cultural activity in downtown: the main cinemas, restaurants and souvenirs' shops are concentrated in this small area.

Avenida Corrientes: Along the local Broadway, you will find the main theatres. Shakespeare, musicals and modernist plays are available all along the year.

Colon Theatre: placed along the widest city avenue, this is an impressive structure offering guided tours to its grand interior daily between 11am and 3pm.

Caminito: An old port quarter, this street has been transformed into a colorful museum in the heart of the Boca quarter.

San Telmo Flea Market: the main tourist quarter has its own flea market, in Sunday's morning free tango shows can be appreciated among the stalls.

Danish Church (Carlos Calvo 257): in San Telmo's heart there is a beautiful Lutheran Church constructed in 1931 with North-European blueprints.

La Recoleta (Junin 1760): the most exclusive cemetery in town resembles a ghosts' city with sometime macabre memorials.

Buenos Aires Downtown: the commercial centre resembles Shanghai's Bund; a truly European quarter in a foreign continent.

Boca Juniors and River Plate Stadiums: Soccer fans are here in their own celestial dilemma; which stadium should they visit first?

Probably millions of words have been written about the weird attraction of humans to phallic symbols. We would never know the reason of that for sure, but a consolation is offered in the pervert dimensions of that symbol in certain places, like the Obelisco in Buenos Aires, which at 63m is high enough to allow parachuting from its top.

Safety
One of the first things to catch my attention in Buenos Aires was its grocery and convenience stores. Despite my extensive trips in cities considered to be much more dangerous than Buenos Aires, I never spotted shops protected by solid iron bars all over their fronts. Instead of entering the shop, the customer tells the clerk his needs, hands out the money and then the clerk gives the merchandise across the bars. The locals' clear assessment of the dangerous environment is a powerful hint for the travelers visiting the city to take serious precautions.

This humble warning is doubly important due to the city general layout. The wide avenues and European styled buildings of downtown Buenos Aires may lead the traveler to think he is in London or Paris. A careful inspection reveals the buildings display a long gone splendor and a macabre danger similar to the one existing in all other South American cities surrounds them.

Lunfardo: The Proudest Spanish Dialect
The Spanish dialect of Buenos Aires is faster than most others and uses a peculiar pronunciation of the "ll" and "y" (the last only while at the beginning or middle of a word) Spanish consonants. In Buenos Aires, both are pronounced as the English "sh." Moreover, the Spanish there is heavily spiced up with a local slang known as "Lunfardo," a Creole-like casserole created with the contribution of immigrants from a thousand places.

Lunfardo words are seldom related to Spanish (and if they do, they are used with a completely different meaning); thus even a traveler with a good command of Spanish may have difficulties comprehending the locals. Argentineans are extremely proud and usually would feign misunderstanding of words pronounced according to international Spanish conventions. For example, Lavalle Street is a well known walking street in Buenos Aires downtown. Most Spanish speakers will pronounce it as "Laa-vaa-yae" while locals say "Laa-vaa-shae" with a strong emphasis on the "sh." If asking a local how to reach the street while pronouncing it with the international pronunciation, two things may happen. In the worst case, the "porteño" (as Buenos Aires residents refer to themselves) would claim misunderstanding - despite the spot being a central one. In the best case, the traveller would be asked for the spelling and then given the answer, only after having graduated a crash-course on the only correct pronunciation in the world. Telling them neither Spaniards nor Castilians pronounce it in such a way is not a good tactic for making local friends.

Foreign Languages
The proud local culture creates an additional difficulty for the traveler. Despite living in a Multi-Polar Global Village, few Argentineans bother themselves studying foreign languages. Except for downtown hotels, English is practically useless. Usually, Italian, French and Portuguese speakers can understand enough Spanish - without formally studying it - to manage around; however, the opposite is not true and Spanish speakers cannot recognize the Latin roots used in those languages. Thus such a visit is recommended only for those who command some Spanish; those who don't should at least bring a good travelers dictionary.

One way of dealing with the fast local pronunciation is structuring questions in such a way they would request a short and precise answer. Instead of asking "How do I reach the Obelisco?" try asking "Can I reach the Obelisco walking along this street?"

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