Tango, Evita and even More Steak
21.07.2010 - 25.07.2010 7 °C
We arrived in Argentina's capital city after another mammoth 14 hour bus journey across the whole width of the country. Luckily this bus was pretty much on time and we were at our hostel in time for breakfast. We sat down to plan the next few days activities and soon realised it was a tough task, as Buenos Aires is MASSIVE! After a good few hours of leafing through the guide books we had our rough itinerary and headed off to San Telmo, a part of town known for its colonial-style houses along narrow cobblestone lanes and a leafy plaza where there's usually some street tango. As we're getting used to now, it was yet again freezing. This meant there wasn't any tango dancing in the street, but it was a nice part of town, and we bought some tango photos off of a friendly old photographer who we chatted to for a while in our perfect Spanglish.
In the afternoon we wandered across town taking in a few of the sights before joining a FREE tour of another area of the city! We found this highly recommended company on the web that works only for tips and it was fantastic. The guide spoke great English and gave us a real insight into the Argentinian culture as well as showing us parts of town we never would have found. We walked around the rich part of town with loads of enormous mansions and found out why Buenos Aires feels far more European than South American. Apparently between 1850 and 1900, 10 million Europeans moved to the city and basically rebuilt it in their own style. It's quite surreal walking around, as it really doesn't feel like South America at all. Our guide recommended her favourite steak restaurant to us, and even though we're trying to cut down on the meals out, we couldn't help having one last Argentinian steak! It wasn't a dissapointment either. They cut the steak for you with a SPOON! Amazing!
The next day we went for a day trip to Uruguay! It's only a few hours on the ferry across the Rio Plata to the pretty coastal town of Colonia and meant we could get another couple of stamps in our passports! There's not really much to say about the place other than that it was a very quaint and peaceful little town with not a lot to do other than stroll around in the sunshine check out all the small colourful colonial buildings. It was a world away from the bustling Buenos Aires, whose skyscrapers you could just about make out across the river.
Back in Buenos Aires the following day, we went on another 'free tour', this time of the main tourist sights in the center of town. We visited the congress building and a few other historic monuments and then finished by walking down the main 'avenue de Mayo' to the large 'Plaza de Mayo' where the president building (known as the 'casa rosada' or 'pink house') is.
This building is the home of Evita's famous balcony, and as Argentina are currently celebrating 200 years of independance from Spain, it's open to the public for tours every weekend. We queued up for ages thinking we were just getting to go on the balcony, but it turned out we were getting a tour of the whole building (basically the equivalent of taking a stroll around 10 Downing Street!). We saw all the conference rooms and offices and then finally were escorted into the president's office! It was all a bit unbelievable, and the tour was in Spanish so we didn't really know what was going on until we saw a sign saying 'presidential office'!
In the afternoon we took a trip on the subway, which doesn't sound that exciting but was actually really cool because the subway was built in 1913 and on one line they still use the original carriages! You have to pull open the doors manually and the inside is still exactly as it would have been almost 100 years ago. The interior is all wood, and the lights flicker on and off as the carriage rattles down the tracks.
That evening we had our first taste of Buenos Aires' most loved past-time and national dance, the tango! We went to an old French style theatre where we took a quick tango lesson before watching how it was really done. Obviously we were both complete natural's but admittedly the proffesionals were slightly better! They pulled off some amazing moves, twirling around passionately to the music played by a live orchestra. It was a really fun night, and the dancers were awesome.
For our last day in BA we'd planned a packed day of on foot sight seeing but sadly it pouring with rain. Undettered, we forked out a fortune in taxi fares, and made it round all the places we wanted to visit. In the morning, we headed to Puerto Madero, the docklands of the city, where the most modern buildings are. Our guide the previous day had recommended a place in this part of the city where you can get the tastiest snack in town called a 'Choripan'. This not just any sausage sandwich...this is an Argentinian sausage sandwich! A juicy fat chorizo sausage grilled on a BBQ in the street crammed into a toasted roll, yum! It doesn't quite beat the steak, but it's definitely close!
Next stop was a district called 'La Boca'. Home of the country's most famous football team, 'Boca Juniors'. (also the club of it's most adored player, Diego Maradona)
At night, it's the roughest, most dangerous part of town but during the day it buzzes with tourists who all come to see the streets full of colourful buildings and practicing tango dancers. The bright colours of the buildings didn't quite have their full effect in the rain, but it was still nice to see.
After snapping a few photo's under the umbrella it was back in the taxi for the long ride all the way across town to the Recoleta Cemetary. The weather suited a trip here, and it definitely added to the super spooky atmosphere as we walked around the enormous mausoleums. This was the resting place of the rich back in the early 1900's, so each mausoleum is the size of a small room in a house, sometimes filled with creepy cobweb covered coffins of a whole family.
We ventured up and down the 'streets' of tombs until we found Evita's grave (the main reason the place is usually so full of tourists). I found it really interesting but Dani was creeped out by all the eerie half open tombs so we didn't stay long! Feeling very soggy, we hopped back in a taxi to visit Cafe Tortoni (a conveniently indoor attraction!) which has been almost unchanged from the day it opened back in 1858 by a French immigrant. We had to queue for half an hour just to get a table for a drink, but stepping through the doors was like stepping back in time. The waiters (some of whom looked unchanged from 1858 themselves!) were in tuxedos, and the walls were covered in beautiful old paintings and wallpaper. We tried an Argentian speciality called a 'submarino' which is a mug of hot milk that you drop a submarine shaped bar of chocolate into to make a delicious hot chocolate!