March 7, 2012

Living Large in Buenos Aires

From Iguazu Falls, we embarked on another quintessential South American experience: the long bus ride. It’s an 18-hour overnight journey from Puerto Iguazu to Buenos Aires. We realize this may sound painful, but for many reasons, it was really the smartest choice. Busing is cheaper than an airline ticket, we don’t have to pay for a night’s lodging, and we get to see the countryside. Just like on an airplane, there are different classes of service. We decided to go 1st class all the way…for only about $20 more per person. On our double-decker bus, we had seats that folded down horizontally, wi-fi, movie screens, dinner, wine, beer, champagne, breakfast, and one heck of a sunrise along the Argentinean countryside.

Our time in Buenos Aires has been extra special because we have been staying with friends. Chris and Mary are friends of ours from San Diego who moved to Iowa several years ago. Chris’ company offered him an 18-month stint in Buenos Aires, so he and Mary moved down here about a year ago and have an adorable 8-month old daughter, Claire.

Living in a normal apartment has given us a much appreciated break from hostel life. Mary and Chris have been extremely gracious by opening up their home, their time, their tips, their food, and one of their comfy beds. We have been spoiled! Life has felt more normal here because of the little things – like sitting on a couch, going to the grocery store, cooking dinner, doing laundry, and not having to wear flip flops in the shower. We are forever indebted to our wonderful hosts!

Buenos Aires is a beautiful city – full of parks, monuments, tree-lined streets, and even purple jacaranda trees just like in San Diego. From the moment we arrived, it was obvious that Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro are very different worlds. We have traded in beaches and juice stands for parks and coffee shops. It’s cleaner and safer here, and the traffic isn’t nearly as deadly. But the main difference is that whereas Rio has a lot of iconic sites to visit, the beauty of Buenos Aires lies in everyday places. Let me put it this way…I would vacation in 
Rio de Janeiro, but I would live in Buenos Aires.

In pockets throughout the Buenos Aires, we have felt the bustle of Times Square, the trendiness of SoHo, and the elegance of the Upper East Side. Mix that with French, Italian and Spanish architectural influences, and Buenos Aires leaves a lasting impression. The city is made up of many different neighborhoods that each have their own identity and charm…

Chris and Mary live along embassy row in a residential neighborhood called Palermo. It’s a very walkable section of the city and prime people-watching territory. There are sub-sections of Palermo, and we have explored them all. We have sipped coffee in Palermo Chico, shopped the boutiques in Palermo SoHo, dined in Palermo Hollywood, and tangoed in Palermo Viejo. If we were to ever come back, this area of the city would undoubtedly be our home base.

Recoleta is just down the street from Chris and Mary’s apartment and one of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. This is also where the world-famous Recoleta Cemetary is located (more on this in a subsequent post). We’ve enjoyed walking the streets of Recoleta while admiring the fancy buildings, hotels and stores.

Microcenter is the heartbeat of the city, and you cannot help but be invigorated when you go there. Avenida 9 de Julio is one of the widest boulevards in the world and one of BA’s more iconic sites, lined with tall buildings with an obelisk in the center. We were told by our local tour guide that the obelisk is the heart of Argentina. There are so many poor Argentineans who will never make it to Buenos Aires…but if they ever do make it, the obelisk is the first place they will come. Microcenter also houses Argentina’s government, including the Congress building and Casa Rosada – Argentina’s version of the White House. The most fascinating part of Argentina so far has been learning about all of their political history. They have so much baggage! More on the drama in a later post.

Puerto Madero is a newly refurbished section that lies along the old docks. The city has turned the rundown warehouses into a hip new center for dining and strolling. The centerpiece of Puerto Madero is the Puente de la Mujer bridge, which was inspired by two tango dancers. This neighborhood is also special to us because two of our Colorado friends, Noah and Heidi, got engaged on this bridge just a couple of years ago.

San Telmo is a known for its antique stores and Sunday street market. Of course there are people hawking jewelry and local goods, but one section of the market is particularly rich with antiques. It was fascinating to see the oddities that people have accumulated. We saw collections of everything from microscopes and turtle shells to bronze sink faucets and royal crowns. There are also tango dancers looming throughout the streets and in the cafes.

La Boca is small neighborhood along the water that is famous for El Caminito – a little grouping of streets with brightly colored buildings. This area was once the city’s main port, and Italian immigrants used leftover paint from the boats to color their houses. While listed as a “must do” in most travel guides, La Boca was easily our least favorite neighborhood. It was just way too touristy. The highlight of La Boca was walking the 5 blocks from El Caminito to La Bombonera, the world-famous soccer stadium, to see their version of the Walk of Fame. 

Regardless of which neighborhood you’re in, there are so many parks throughout Buenos Aires that it seems hard to go 10 blocks without stumbling upon another one. Our two favorite parks have been the Botanical Gardens in Palermo SoHo and the rose garden in Parque Tres de Febrero in Palermo Chico. We have spent many hours in the parks reading, running and relaxing. An added bonus is that there are dog walkers galore.

Three silly observations about Buenos Aires...

First, school was just starting back up during our first days in the city. It was impossible to miss the children because they all wear little white lab coats as school uniforms. It looks like the city is being taken over by tiny scientists.

Second, public transportation is difficult. It feels like only 50% of the streets actually have street signs and the bus system is comical. There are no bus stops, just numbered stickers on light poles that are so faded you can barely read them. One night we were coming home from dinner and a local had to help us find our “stop”. It was marked by a spray painted number on a piece of cardboard that was stapled to a tree.

Third, and easily the winner…even when it’s sunny, it seems to always be “raining”. These constant drips are from one of two things: (1) the air conditioning units in sky rise windows or (2) a parasite that lives in the trees and (no joke) pees on you.

We were so happy to learn that we happened to plan our trip during a leap year. This gave us one extra day of gallivanting, and lucky us, we got to spend it in this amazing city.

Life is good in Buenos Aires!

1 comment:

  1. Katie and Steve, We are loving your blog! You adventures are so inspiring! Can't wait to see and talk to you when you get home!
    Jane and Luke