Friday, May 2, 2014

Buenos Aires : The Paris of South America?

Famous for its steak, cowboys and tango, Buenos Aires is a cultural and artistic hub often called the "Paris of South America".

buenos aires header

We arrived in the charming and cosmopolitan Buenos Aires a few days ago. Every tourist book and guide I've read has referred to Buenos Aires as the "Paris of South America", so I've made it my task to find out why! Even though its not my first time here we've been doing the typical "tourist activities", such as taking the tour bus and ticking off places in our local guide. Feeling overwhelmed by the numerous landmarks and the large distances between them, we found the tour bus the easiest way to get around and see almost all the places listed below.


WANDERING THE CITY CENTRE


Before doing anything else, I've always found the best way to get a feel for a city is to jump right in and start wandering the city centre. Unlike Peru and Mexico, Buenos Aires has a distinct modern European flavour. While Mexican and Peruvian architecture have an old colonial Spanish feel, Buenos Aires felt like a district in modern Paris with a Latin American twist. Cafe culture is thriving in Buenos Aires, with countless outdoor cafes and pastry shops open all hours of the day. For the most authentic Argentinian cafe experience, you can't go wrong with Alfajores - the most delicious dessert you've probably never heard of - two biscuits joined in the middle with dulce de leche usually covered with sugar or chocolate. Really gonna miss these when I get home!

buenos aires street architecture

French architecture mish-mashed with modern shopping arcades was common in the city centre. Browsing many of the local shops we discovered that leather and fur are somewhat of a specialty in Argentina and their products are sold here at bargain prices with top-notch quality. While there are plenty of exclusive malls such as Patio Bullrich, it is better to go local and look for something you can't get anywhere else in the world.

buenos aires street architecture


AVENIDA 9 DE JULIO


Strolling around the city it's pretty much impossible to avoid the impressive Avenida 9 de Julio. Spanning 1km in length and 110m in width, it is the widest avenue in the world. Sitting in the centre of the avenue is the Obelisk, 71m in height, to commemorate the first foundation of the city. The obelisk is a rallying point for all sorts of public gatherings and demonstrations- we saw a protest on our first day right under the obelisk. Along the avenue are various landmarks, including the Teatro Colon, one of the best Opera Houses in the world.

buenos aires obelisk avenida 9 de julio


GRAND GOVERNMENT BUILDINGS


Buenos Aires is home to some of the most stunning government buildings. I saw the Congreso from our tour bus only, and was impressed with its size and detail. We were too lazy to get off the bus and explore, but we were told by the bus operator they do frequent free guided tours.

buenos aires congreso archecture

On the other side of Avenida 9 de Julio is La Casa Rosada and Banco de la Nacion Argentina. La Casa Rosada, or The Pink House is the house of the Government of Argentina. It was painted pink to defuse tensions between opposing government parties represented by red and white. Across the road from the Pink House is Banco de la Nacion. A gorgeous old building in classical style, it is not your typical banking branch. Don't try changing cash here though, they won't do it unless you have an account with them due to the financial crisis.

buenos aires national bank


LA BOCA AND EL CAMINITO


The tourist bus took us away from the city and to the neighbourhood of La Boca, which is home to La Bombonera and and El Caminito. We saw La Bombonera stadium from the outside but since none of us are football fans we didn't bother to get off the bus (there are tours avaliable for diehard soccer fans however). We took the bus to the next stop, the lively and colourful El Caminito. Filled with restaurants, souvenir shops and entertainers, this area is basically an outdoor pedestrian museum, representative of the old European immigrant atmosphere the area once had.

buenos aires caminito colourful building

Walking around this area you will notice that there are figures standing from balconies, washing lines hung between walls and rainbow metal buildings. Some might say this is not "authentic" and a little bit tacky, but what it really represents is what La Boca used to look like when the first Italian migrants arrived in Buenos Aires in the late 1800's.

buenos aires caminito colourful wall


PUERTO MADERO


Puerto Madero is another neighbourhood the tour bus took us to, and since it is close to the city centre, we often found ourselves wandering into this area. It is a modernised upscale neighbourhood with luxury hotels, waterside restaurants and bars. Unlike some other areas, it is perfectly safe to walk here at night - we came here often for dinner for authentic Argentinian steak. A cute fact I learnt about this area: every street in this neighbourhood is named after women, including the Puente de la Mujer (Women's Bridge).

puerto madero bridge of the woman


RECOLETA


Recoleta is an upscale neighbourhood that was recommended to us by many locals and tour guides. Home to the most exclusive shops and restaurants, what we loved the most about this area was the Recoleta Cemetary. Containing the graves of Argentina's most notable people, it is really more than just a cemetery. Rows and rows of exquisite tombs, we finally found the tomb of Eva Peron. There were so many people there though it was almost impossible to get a photo.

recoleta cemetary


FLORALIS GENERICA


Not far from Recoleta Cemetary we found the Floralis Generica sculpture. Representing a flower, the sculpture was made to close its petals every night and reopen in the morning, representing rebirth. Apparently the residents of Buenos Aires love this sculpture so much they want it to become the symbol of their city.

floralis generica sculpture


TASTE OF TANGO


If you come to Argentina it is mandatory to see a tango show! Being one of the most recognisable hallmarks of Argentinian culture, tango is thriving in the streets of Buenos Aires. If you want to find a tango show the best way is to ask your hotel concierge or go wandering in the city streets and find a tourist vendor. We chose a random vendor who sold us a show to the La Ventana Tango Show. A couple of show packages were available, and we decided to pick the one that included a tango class, 3 course dinner and the full show for $90AUD each. A bit pricey, but we thought it was worth it. We were taught the tango basics for an hour in a dancehall, then we were ushered to a large dining room and had 3 courses of Argentinian cuisine which included empanadas, steak, flan and red wine. The show wasn't all about tango though, there were gauchos, Andean music and a bit of gypsy flamenco.

buenos aires tango show


IMMERSED IN THE ARTS AND CULTURE


Arts and culture is omnipresent in every corner of Buenos Aires. Not only do they love their high culture, the streets are inundated with art installations and aesthetic graffiti. The locals are passionate about politics and you are guaranteed to see a demonstration with elaborate monuments and posters near the popular spots - every time I've been here I've seen at least one demonstration. The elaborate meshing of urban decay and high culture, classical architecture and contemporary structures is what makes Buenos Aires the Paris of South America. It will remind you of how Paris may have been in another timeline, which is what makes it so nostalgic and enjoyable.

buenos aires street music harp

Image attribution:
"Buenos Aires" by Rodrigo Paredes // CC BY 2.0 * ; "The Obelisk With Avenida 9 de Julio" by Richie Diesterheft // CC BY 2.0 *
* changes were made to the original materials

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