Lucky you! You get to go to Buenos Aires. What drew you there? I am always curious and fascinated to people’s response when I ask why they want to take the arduous (and sometimes) 20 hour plane ride to a remote land far away that not many people know very much about. (Seriously. I’ve heard things from college graduates like “Do they ride to school in donkeys? Do they have houses? Do they go to school on a vine?)
Buenos Aires holds a certain charm about it. Maybe its the Argentine people’s relaxed attitude. Their impetus to enjoy life. They don’t live to work, they work to live. In Argentina, it is not uncommon to spend 5 hours having lunch on a Saturday. Or having a 2 hour lunch break on a Tuesday. The work will get done, but the Argentine will, in fact, enjoy himself while doing it. Here are a few other things that the Argentine people love: meat, mate, and their families.
After all, Argentina boasts some of the best meat in the world, and Argentine’s are one of the world’s largest meat consumers. (Vegans take note: you may have a hard time in Buenos Aires.) Argentine’s call barbecues “asados”. They cook meat on a “parilla” (a wood burning fire). An array of different cuts of meat are placed on top of the parrilla and cooked slowly. During that time, you pass the time along by sipping a good Malbec and maybe having some provoletta (a cheese lover’s dream).
Now, let’s talk about something so engrained in Argentine culture it is a way of life. It’s is not mearly a drink, that you consume Willy-Nelly. No, there is a straight-up ritual to this thing. The thing, my friends, is mate. Not necessarily the mate that you’re thinking of. The watered down, what the heck is this-really, mate that they sell you at Starbucks. Argentine mate is pure mate leaf, intensely strong, bitter, and you usually drink it out of a gourd.
You cannot walk more than five feet in Argentina without seeing someone holding a mate in one hand and a thermos in the other. Right after I arrived in Argentina the last time, I was stuck in traffic. When I looked to my left, I saw a bus driver drinking mate, the guy driving the scooter drinking mate (while driving the scooter), and a truck with 10 people on it passing a mate around. “Welcome to Buenos Aires,” I thought.
There was once a friendly argument among a group of friends about the proper way to cure a mate. The discussion was amongst one Uruguayan and a group of Argentines, while the Uruguayan was curing my mate. (To clarify, a mate is both the herb itself, as well as the gourd you drink it out of.). The Uruguayan claimed you had to put a hot coal from the parrilla inside of the gourd along with some sugar, put a lid over it, and shake. The Argentine’s looked appalled. One of them took me aside, “Listen, just throw some mate in there, some water, and let it soak. Let it seep overnight, take out the mate, and repeat for several days.” Anyway, I could write a whole post on mate alone, so suffice it to say the mate is passed around a circle of friends and refilled with hot water from the thermos over long, afternoon get togethers.
In any event, what should you visit while you’re in the city?
Puerto Madero was only incorporated into the “barrio” network in 2007. Because of that, it’s really one of Buenos Aires’ underdog neighborhoods. A few years ago Puerto Madero was nothing but a grungy fisherman’s marina. The city turned this neighborhood around and turned it into one of the trendiest and most desired areas to live in the city. Take a walk the streets that line the marina and dine at your restaurant of choice (you really can’t go wrong). As a matter of fact, if you happen to be in BA (Buenos Aires) during New Year, this is a good location to spend it in.
Plaza de Mayo is the square directly in front of La Casa Rosada (Argentina’s version of the White House). Built in the 1800s, this is where the president holds his meetings. If you’ve watched Evita, you undoubtedly recall La Casa Rosada “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” (On a separate note— please stop singing this to me the first time you meet me and find out I am from Argentina). From La Casa Rosada, walk down the Avenida de Mayo, stop at Cafe Tortoni (arguably Argentina’s most authentic, oldest tango cafe bars, opened in 1858), and walk then keep going towards…
Avenida 9 de julio
The widest avenue in the world got its name after the day in 1816 that Argentina declared independence from Spain. For the most part, you don’t go to Buenos Aires without going to Avenida 9 de Julio. Crossing the avenue is not for the faint of heart— remember: in Buenos Aires, pedestrians do not have the right of way. In the center of the avenue, you can’t miss the Obelisk, which towers over the city center. It is an iconic figure of Buenos Aires and events, concerts, and rallies frequently occur there.
As a matter of fact, Teatro Colon is ranked among the top Opera houses in the world (3rd in the world by National Geographic). In addition to opera performances, it features classical music, theater, ballet, and special events. Completed in 1908, it feels like a structure that you would find in the midst of Europe.
Stereotypically, when you think of Buenos Aires, this is probably what you’re thinking about. Old cobble-stone streets, colonial houses, tango dancers around each corner, and markets selling trinkets. The markets vary from the typical souvenir fair, to “antique relics” not worth a dime, to beautiful one-of a kind antique jewelry). I recommend you go on a Sunday, when the antique fair is in full swing.
El Rio Tigre
Buenos Aires features a Delta river not far from the city center. Simply hop on a train in Retiro (Buenos Aires main train station) towards El Tigre. This is a wonderful place to visit on a sunny day when you need to escape the city life. Grab some mate and some friends and spend an enjoyable afternoon here. You can also take a calm boat ride throughout the delta itself, and witness lush surroundings you wouldn’t imagine possible coming from the dense city of Buenos Aires.
Finally, if are you fortunate enough to spend a significant time in Buenos Aires, it is in your best interest to make a trip to Uruguay. For more information about Punta del Este, Uruguay, just a short distance from Buenos Aires, click here.