After a couple of flights and not enough sleep, we landed in the Paris of South America, Buenos Aires. We arrived at our Airbnb on the edge of Recoleta. A cute little studio with a great balcony and view of the neighbourhood. Everything we could need for our first few days exploring.
The jet lag hit pretty hard for both of us this trip so the next day was spent catching up on some much needed sleep. When we did venture out for food, we learnt quickly that while the roads have pedestrian crossings painted on them, the cars don’t stop. Pedestrians give way to cars. Drivers also don’t seem to adhere to the lane markings on the road. What should only be a 1 lane road, turns into 2. A road which has 4 lanes, turns into 6.5 lanes. There wasn’t too much order in their driving but it didn’t feel completely unsafe.
It’s incredible the amount of dogs in this city. Apparently about 80% of residents here have a dog. When you go walking, you see these dog walkers with about 10 – 15 dogs on leashes wandering about. When the dog walker wants to rest, each dog gets their own tree to be tied to in the park. There are so many different and interesting breeds, plus many that just look like a dog.
On our second full day, we were out exploring. We decided the best place to start is to check out some of the tip based walking tours the city has to offer. We went with the City Centre walking tour with Buenos Aires Free Walks. We started outside the front of the Congress Building and wandered through to Plaza de Mayo.
It’s an election year in Buenos Aires so the city is being beautified. Roads being fixed, statues being restored and gardens being cared for. The only problem is that the government doesn’t just section off the worked on part, it cordons off the entire area which is to be finished. So while they might be working on only a small section of a park, they will fence off the entire park and sidewalk. It makes getting around a little bit harder. But the government seems to think that voters will see the beautified city and vote them in for another term. I guess we will see if that strategy works once the election takes place.
As you wander the streets you can really see why it had been dubbed the Paris of South America. The architecture of the buildings definitely reflects this, as do the wide tree-lined avenues which mark the newer sections of the city. It does have a European feel.
The reason for the Parisian influence has nothing to do with the history and development of the country, rather that when Argentina was going through a time of prosperity and growth in the agricultural industry in the late 1800s, they looked to cities that were considered modern and sophisticated. And for that time that was Paris. So a lot of the wealthier residents, took their design cues from Paris and built these incredible mansions (which later on where either sold to the Government or converted into apartments).
After learning a bit more about the architecture of the area, we made our way to the start of Avenida 9 de Juilo. This is an incredible avenue. Again it is tree-lined, with about 10 lanes of traffic and 2 bus lanes. It is a sight to see and a bit hard to work out, especially when you are not used to cars driving on the right hand side.
The guide stopped us here to show us a mural of Eva Peron (or Evita). Not knowing much beyond a universally panned movie with Madonna, it was interesting just hearing a snippet of the history and the love a lot of the people still have for Evita. You can see this below (with a bonus picture of me).
We turned onto Avenida de Mayo, towards Plaza de Mayo and Casa Rosada (or the Pink House). In Plaza de Mayo, we learnt more about the Mothers of the May Square and also the dictatorships and miliatry coups which have plagued Argentinian history.
The Pink House is an interesting place, many stories have been circulated about why it is pink. One theory is that the pink of Casa Rosada is the result of the mixing of cow’s blood into white paint. This supposedly protected the building from the humidity of the Buenos Aires’s climate. The second possible answer is that they chose pink because of Argentine politics. By mixing the white of the Liberal party and the red of the Radicals, it was hoped that it would diffuse political tensions and symbolise the harmony of a great nation.
In the late 70s, Argentina was in the middle of a military government, they targeted left wing guerrilas, supporters and anyone who they believed to be involved with socialism with death squads, detention camps and death flights over the Rio del Plata. The tour guide said there are up to 30,000 people who disappeared over this period. Many still don’t know what happened and they are simply marked as missing.
The increase in missing people, brought the mothers to the Plaza de Mayo armed with photographs of their children, wanting to know answers. They are easily identified as they wear a white cloth diaper on their heads. They would march in protest around the circle. The Mothers of the May Square still march these days on every Thursday afternoon, still wanting answers.
There is also another group called The Grandmothers of the May Square. In addition to all of the deaths and disappearances of sons and daughters, there were also women who gave birth in these detention camps and the babies were often adopted out illegally to military families. The Grandmothers of the May Square are in search of their possible grandchildren which were stolen and by using DNA they have found more than a few.
No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without trying an empanada. Pretty much the same as a pasty, they come in a range of flavours. The best ones we have tried are the Carne Picante ones from a place in Recoleta. These are beef with a bit of spice. The Argentinians don’t seem to like spicy foods so this was a nice surprise to find. Mind you, it still wasn’t very spicy.
We have also been indulging in the delicious wines and very cheap beers. You can get a litre of beer from the supermarket for just $3 and it doesn’t taste too bad. The wine has been amazing. Again it is so cheap and you can buy a great Malbec for $10. We’re looking forward to heading up to Mendoza soon so we can tour a few wineries and try more of the selection.
We decided to take the train to Tigre, just over an hour out of Buenos Aires. It’s a town which is on the Delta River. It also has fruit markets on the weekend and an amusement park open in the Summer. As we visited on a Monday in Winter, there wasn’t too much to do.
We wandered along the river trying to decide if we should take a cruise to further explore the Delta, but we found all of the good tours took a full day to really explore and unfortunately we hadn’t allowed the time. The river had a rather pungent odour as well, that no matter how long you stood beside it, the smell never stopped overwhelming you.
It was nice to get out of Buenos Aires for a day but this little city would definitely been better on a weekend in warmer months.
We explored Recoleta a lot on our own but to get a bit more history of the place, we joined another free tour.
We learnt a little about the Falklands War outside the memorial and was interrupted by a passionate soldier who fought in this war. This lead to a bit of a heated discussion with our tour guide. It was more the soldier wanting to express his opinions and wanting us to understand his perspective of the war. It ended fine, our tour guide was just a bit shaken, although, when you had a group of men surrounding you in a foreign country you can’t help but feel a little intimidated. The Falklands War is a very controversial topic in Argentina.
Recoleta is one of the most affluent areas in the city and you can easily see this through the maintenance of the streets, the people walking past and also the architecture. It is very French, once again. There are a lot of embassies in this area. There is even one for Vatican City. Basically it is just the residence for when the Pope is in town.
We also saw a lot of Moreton Bay Figs around the neighbourhood and in parks which is something I didn’t expect. They where very big and some of the ones we passed we over 200 years old.
The tour ended in front of Recoleta Cemetary. We decided to explore the cemetery with a bit more time after we returned from Iguazu. Instead, we went back to Recoleta for delicious empanadas and beers for our last night in the suburb.