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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?"