Mi Buenos Aires Querido, a.k.a. A Shortlist

From asado to ferias to museos to amigos, the list of attractions in BA is endless. Nevertheless, we have endeavored to present our shortlist....

Hotel Plaza Francia

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Hun Ohm on November 20, 2005

Hotel Plaza Francia
By Hun Ohm

We decided to go to Buenos Aires more or less on a whim, i.e., less than two weeks in advance, so were a little hard-pressed to find an accommodation that was in the neighborhood and price range that we desired. A few of our first choices were fully booked, so we looked for suitable alternatives and settled on the Hotel Plaza Francia.

The Hotel
Located on the corner of Avenida del Libertador and Eduardo Schiaffino, the Hotel Plaza Francia is a small, European-style hotel that will give you easy access to the offerings of the well-heeled Recoleta neighborhood (e.g., the cemetery where Evita lies, restaurants, shopping). The staff was friendly and helpful and can assist you with any questions you have for things to do about town. You also have free Internet access in the small business center, in case you want to do some last minute research or need to e-mail. The small lobby is flanked by a decently stocked bar, so it’s easy enough to take a seat after a day of sightseeing to have a quick drink before heading up to your room or heading back out to explore Buenos Aires. A small restaurant serves breakfast (included in our rate), which is convenient; however, the “buffet” was somewhat unimpressive: two kinds of scrambled eggs, bread, a small selection (i.e., one choice) of cold cuts and cheese, yogurt, etc. We didn’t even check to see whether other meals were served at the restaurant, as Buenos Aires has scores of more appealing dining options that will compel even the most sedentary traveler to get up and explore.

The Room
We opted for a “deluxe” room that had windows facing out toward the city. Although a little noisy given the close proximity to Avenida del Libertador, the view was decent, overlooking the Palais de Glace and Plaza Francia, where a large feria (a.k.a. “hippy fair” where various handicrafts and other trinkets are sold) is held during the weekends. You can also see the buildings of Palermo Chico in the distance. Our room had a comfortable king-sized bed, television, private bathroom and safe. Décor was tasteful if unexciting, e.g., standard framed prints, dark wood touches. To be honest, it appeared that it was about time for a new carpet.

The Price
Your one larger expenditure in Buenos Aires will likely be on accommodation. Although definitely not outlandish in comparison to rates in, say, New York City or Tokyo, we still paid approximately $94 for our room, breakfast included. Hotel Plaza Francia was perfectly adequate, especially given our expedited travel planning schedule, but we feel there are better options available. For example, we stayed in the Hotel Etoile in Recoleta during our previous visit to Buenos Aires, which was a little more expensive, but overall a more enjoyable experience given the size of the room and amenities.

For more information, check out www.hotelplazafrancia.com.
Eduardo Schiaffino 2189
Tel: 4804-9631
Plaza Francia
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Oveja Negra and Parrillada La Chacra (Uruguay)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Hun Ohm on November 20, 2005

Shopping and Eating in Colonia del Sacramento: Two Brief Anecdotes
By Hun Ohm

We designated an entire day for Colonia (a short boat ride from BA), which is more than enough to explore the historical section (“Barrio Historico”) of the town and to walk along the pleasant Rio de la Plata shoreline. Indeed, we are fairly certain we meandered along every cobbled street at least twice (more efficient visitors may be inclined to use a map). However, walking about at a leisurely pace can often result in stumbling upon unexpected pleasures, two of which we note below.

Black Sheep
One such surprise was Oveja Negra (or “black sheep”), a charming boutique owned and run by the artist/designer Silvia Sarti. It was the adorable sign and desire to escape the stiff Colonia breeze that compelled us to enter, but it was the wool that kept us (well, my wife) there for some serious browsing. From sweaters to scarves to jewelry to stuffed animals, this small shop is stocked full of high quality handmade products. A handmade, intricate cable-knit sweater will cost you about $70. If you’re in Colonia on an early spring day in September and underdressed, one of these numbers will be a welcome addition to your immediate wardrobe. A number of interesting, slightly Chagallian paintings and pastels by Silvia also grace the wall. Although we didn’t inquire, we suspect that you could make an offer on those if so inclined.

Address: De la Playa 114, Barrio Historico. Tel. 052-21323. There is a branch in the beach playground of Punta del Este.

Chivito: Not always a kid
Believe it or not, we were a little hard-pressed deciding on where to eat in Colonia. There are numerous restaurants in the Barrio Historico as well as along General Flores, but not much distinguished one restaurant from another. We finally settled on Parrillada La Chacra, located just off the main drag General Flores and a few blocks before you hit the Barrio Historico. This traditional restaurant has a slight “estancia” but otherwise no frills feel, perfect for a sturdy meal.

We both ordered the local favorite, chivito, which literally means “little goat.” In Uruguay, however, it means a steak over potatoes affair. Our dish was the classic artery clogger: fried potatoes topped with a thin steak, which in turn was topped with fried ham, cheese and two eggs, along with a simple salad. Perhaps not a meal that we would want to eat on a daily basis, but after a few hours of walking through the windswept streets of Colonia, it definitely hit the spot, especially when the egg yolk runs a bit and creates a god-awful but flavorful mess that soaks into the fries below… well, okay, maybe not the prettiest picture, but definitely worth a go. Two chivitos and two Pepsis will run you approximately $8-9. Avoid the restroom out back unless it’s an emergency.

Address: Ituzaingo 190. Tel. 052-24374
Oveja Negra and Parrillada La Chacra (Uruguay)
Barrio Historico
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Malba: A Must

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Hun Ohm on November 23, 2005

Malba: A Must
By Hun Ohm

If you stay in Recoleta, you will have easy access to a number of notable sights in Buenos Aires, including some of the more prominent art museums, and if you’re a fan of contemporary art, Malba (Museo Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires) is a hands-down must.

The Art
Sponsored by the art collector Eduardo Constantini, Malba opened in 2001 and has been a hit with locals and foreigners alike. The space is wonderfully airy, with contemporary lines highlighted by natural light that pours in from a wall of windows. We found the size of the galleries to be perfect—large enough for approximately 90 to 120 minutes of casual but focused viewing, but not nearly as overwhelming as, say, the MOMA in New York (which, don’t get me wrong, is a great museum but requires multiple visits to do it right). Anyway, we were also impressed by the breadth of Contantini’s collection. The main gallery on the second floor houses works by modern Latin American artists who were largely unfamiliar to us but whose works were strong and provocative. However, some of the larger three-dimensional installations were a little hit-or-miss.

There were also two special exhibits at Malba while we were there—an Andy Warhol film exhibit (the smoking man clip is particularly mesmerizing) and a fabulous Frank Stella “Moby Dick” print series on the top floor. If the Stella exhibit is still up when you visit, be sure to check out the film in the small room at the far end, which gives you a tantalizing peek at the numerous steps that go into making a print that the artist will sign.

The Café
Make sure that you don’t eat too much before taking a peek at the Malba collection, as there is a fine café attached to the ground floor. Take a seat in the sleek indoor setting or, if weather permits, dine al fresco on the small patio. The dishes are a notch above the standard museum fare and perfect for post-museum unwinding and planning your next stop in the city.

The Walk
If you’re staying in Recoleta and have some time, consider walking to Malba. Stroll along Avenida Libertador, bearing north until the avenue branches off into Avenida Figueroa Alcorta. Stay on this avenue, taking note (or a photo) of the enormous Floralis Generica metal sculpture in the Plaza Naciones Unidas, which blooms each morning with the sun and closes at sunset. Continue on and you will soon find yourself surrounded by some of the beautiful edifices of Palermo Chico. For the return trip, cut up away from the river to Avenida Libertador and then turn left to make your way back to Recoleta. Along the way, hit the numerous plazas to get a sense of why Buenos Aires is famous for its green parks. Beware: the orange rock path will cover your shoes in a fine yet stubborn dust.

Malba Details
Address: Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415
Admission: Seven pesos.
Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA)
Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415
Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1426
+54 (11) 43624583

The Sunday Square: Feria de San Pedro Telmo

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Hun Ohm on November 29, 2005

The Sunday Square: Feria de San Pedro Telmo
By Hun Ohm

You will have no trouble finding shopping opportunities in Buenos Aires. Contemporary Argentine designs are becoming increasingly impressive (and progressive), with something for every discerning shopper. From the upscale stores of Patio Bullrich to the hip designer boutiques lining the streets of Palermo Viejo, you will have countless chances to make the most of the favorable exchange rate.

Antiques, antiques, and more antiques
That all said, you might find yourself looking for something that is not quite so contemporary. If so, then the antiques fair known as Feria de San Pedro Telmo is the place to go. Every Sunday, the Plaza Dorrego (located in the heart of San Telmo) fills up with vendors and shoppers, each with antiques on their mind. At last count, there were more than two hundred stalls from which vendors display wares as varied as old soda hoses, glassware and cameras. The trinkets at this fair make for fun perusing (and, possibly, purchasing) for the casual shopper. However, serious collectors will probably find the shops surrounding the square to be more suitable. Before noon is probably the ideal time to hit the fair if you want to avoid the throngs, but things weren’t that bad on a sunny Sunday afternoon in early October.

Given the sheer number of vendors, it’s not surprising that there are multiple booths that carry similar wares. Consider doing a quick survey before plunking down any pesos. You may be able to negotiate the price down a bit, especially if you buy more than one item; however, make sure you maintain your good humor and politeness when doing so. Our favorite stand was filled with gaucho accoutrements and manned by an older gentleman in a gaucho outfit. A true salesman, he was happy to explain in great detail the "history" behind various pieces, and a hammered silver mate was the end result of his efforts. Other available items included boleadores, knives and stirrups. If you can’t make it out to the pampas, this stand can help ease the heartache a bit.

The Quick Extras
Once you have had your fill of the bustle of Plaza Dorrego, it’s worthwhile to mill around the surrounding area rather than heading straight for a taxi. Check out the brick and mortar shops around the square for a more tranquil browsing experience. On the streets near the plaza, there will likely be a few pairs of tango dancers that will provide a taste of the dance’s possibilities. If you’re lucky, you might come across a puppeteer whose little friend may not tango, but is expressive enough stringing about in his own wooden sorrow. Or if shopping, browsing and street scene watching become a bit too repetitive, stop by the Iglesia Nuestra Senora del Belen on Humberto to take in its interesting architecture and decor.
Feria de San Pedro Telmo
San Telmo, Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, Argentina

Shopping and Strolling along Calle Florida

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Hun Ohm on December 1, 2005

Shopping and Strolling along Calle Florida
By Hun Ohm

You may think that we spent most of our time shopping during our visit to Buenos Aires. You would be partially correct. One of us did shop, while the other dutifully served as bag carrier, coat rack and ATM, often in rapid succession…all kidding aside, shopping opportunities abound, and here are a couple well known venues that can be hit in one long walk.

Calle Florida
This extended pedestrian street is not the subtlest of places. Rumor has it that Florida used to be the place for porteños to promenade up and down if you were a somebody, or at least aspired to be. An enormous number of people still frequent this street on a daily basis, which generates a certain como se dice that is either vibrant or suffocating, depending on your mood. The upscale history of the street, however, has been replaced by a more mundane commercial feel with street acts and garish signs vying for your attention, and many stores seem to specialize in clothing, leather goods and souvenirs geared primarily for tourists. If you are in the market for these items and want to get it all done at once, then this might be a street to consider. It seemed that typical tourist items, e.g, mates, were a bit marked up. Nevertheless, we did purchase a leather wallet and small travel bag and were satisfied by the quality and price.

Address: Entire length of Calle Florida, Microcentro, Buenos Aires

Galerias Pacifio
If you start at the south of Calle Florida and head north, you will eventually hit the grand old building that houses Galerias Pacifico. Although consumer consumption is still the name of the game at this large mall, the interior is rather aesthetically pleasing. The focal point is the beautiful ceiling gracing the vaulted atrium. Be sure to take a moment to look up and take in the splendor. Once you have had your fill, you can commence serious shopping. Slightly more upscale than the shops lining Florida, Galerias Pacifico houses stores like Mimo & Co (children’s clothing), Sibyl Vane (shoes) and Prune (leather purses, bags, etc.) along with more well known brands such as Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren. The Centro Cultural Borges art venue is also in this space.

Address: Calle Florida 737

I’m just a fella
Look, I’m not really much of a shopper, but sometimes a fella’s gotta do what a fella’s gotta do. So guys, if your significant other indulges you by, say, researching options to travel to Buenos Aires on a whim, doing most of the Spanish talking, and politely refraining from comment when you eat magnificent Argentine cuts two times a day for a week and wash it all down with some fabulous malbecs, then the least you can do is hold the bags, nod, and pull out the pesos as needed. Or you can travel alone….
Calle Florida (Florida Street)
Buenos Aires, Argentina


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