We took the chance of seeing Buenos Aires prior to embarking our South America cruise. My wife has visited before and waxed lyrical about its beauty and diversity; it’s easy to see why. However, initial impressions weren’t great; a long flight did not lend itself to nearly two hours queuing at immigration and one almighty scrum to secure a taxi, even having prebooked one. Exchanging dollars generated a mountain of admin and a complete refusal to accept $20 bills (no, I have no idea why!). But then we set out exploring on foot and quickly all was forgiven and forgotten.
A few bullet points. Buenos Aires is a large conurbation and consists of numerous districts, barrios, each with a distinctive character. As we had only two full days we made no attempt to cover much of the city nor to use public transport; instead we opted for walking tours of manageable length, although on day two we covered between 11 and 13 miles (depending on whose iPhone you believe!).
On the first day we opted for the park area. This allowed us to take in the Eva Peron museum; sadly no photos allowed. This former home houses many personal items including costumes Eva wore during her time as First Lady. One can tell that the tone is largely laudatory, although the appreciation is much limited by a paucity of English labelling.
I am not of the British mentality that everyone should speak our lingo but I was surprised how little English is understood, contrary to what my guide book led me to believe. I recommend brushing up on your Spanish if coming!
So to the park areas, beautifully laid out. In a bustling, traffic laden city, green spaces are vital and Buenos Aires excels in this, from small local parks to elegant squares as well as formal designed gardens.
The most elegant space is the Japanese garden; I’ve seen it described as the most beautiful of its type outwith Japan and it succeeds in conferring much of the elegance and refinement which was clearly intended.
If you’ve read some of my previous blogs, particularly those written in Florence, you’ll have heard me wonder about whether other cities would be ‘liveable in’; for me, the presence of beautiful, accessible, peaceful green spaces like these is essential.
Throughout our routes we encountered numerous Plazas, from the grandeur of the Plaza de Mayo, to the smaller, more intimate ones. These spaces serve both as areas of tranquillity and canvases to portray heroes and important figures from history.
For most, the most iconic image is that of ‘Evita’. Walking down the main artery one encounters her image drawn large on both sides of the Ministry of Health building.
Whether from historical knowledge or enjoyment of the Evita stage musical or movie, many will be familiar with the Casa Rosada, from the balcony of which Eva addressed adoring throngs, still seen in grainy black and white images, or sings ‘Don’t Cry for me Argentina’ in our modern world. This iconic building is the focal point of the main square, the imposing Plaza de Mayo. Standing here gives one a strong sense of history, the beating heart of a nation.
Buenos Aires is often described as a European-type city, Paris being presented as a parallel; looking at the wide boulevard-like streets and buildings it’s easy to see why. There is some stunning architecture on view.
The diversity of the city comes through when one enters the Bohemian district of San Telmo, where the streets are narrower, the buildings squat and compact, the atmosphere more intimate and in some ways less welcoming.
Indeed, not all the locals are that welcoming. I’m well aware of the limitations of attempting to characterise ‘local’ residents; in our multicultural world the majority of people we interacted with could easily be from elsewhere in the world. We met some lovely, friendly people, particularly in our apartment, but had some fraught encounters with waiters who had very firm opinions of the amount of tips to which they were entitled and were prepared to chase you out if there was a divergence of opinion!
However, the city generally feels safe and relatively laid back. It’s clearly moving forward too, as all thriving cities must. The riverside areas are undergoing extensive development with modern apartments, waterfront bars and restaurants and high rise city blocks; the future of Buenos Aires seems secured. I’ll be astonished if I don’t make a longer return visit to sample further delights.