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March 2010

La Boca

La Boca, Buenos Aires, was originally settled in the mid-19th century by immigrants from Genoa, Italy, who worked in the local meat-packing plants. Legend has it that they were from humble means, and used leftover paint from the docks to color the corrugated metal they used to build their houses and brighten their neighborhood.

Today, La Boca is still a relatively depressed area (lots of crime reports; tourists are warned to stay where the crowds are), best known for its colorful street museum, Caminito. Here you still see the brightly colored, metal buildings, along with handicraft stalls, work by local artists, outdoor cafes, and of course, tango dancers. It is also well-known among futbol fans for La Bombonera, home of the Boca Juniors (winners of a record 18 international titles).

Take a look:









That's it for the highlights from Buenos Aires; see the full photo set below or on Flickr (there are a lot more than what's appeared here!). And stay tuned for upcoming posts, where we encounter penguins, llamas, and the ghost of Butch Cassidy in the region of Chubut. 


San Telmo

Puerto Madero



San Telmo

San Telmo is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires, and is known for its Sunday antiques market in the Plaza Dorrego, featuring all kinds of jewelry, glassware, leather goods, trinkets, art and tango dancers. It is really quite amazing - about four city blocks of outdoor stalls, plus a few big warehouses and numerous storefronts full of larger and/or more valuable items (furniture, jewelry). And tons of people...a pick pocket's dream.

We'd been warned of the pick pocketing threat here (and in BA in general) and took proper precautions, but didn't realize the magnitude of the problem until this day. At one stall I stood by a man who was lamenting that his backpack had just been pilfered and he lost his wallet and passport (note: never wear the pack on your back! It's too easy for the ill-spirited to quietly unzip it and remove your belongings without your knowledge).

Moments later, we were alarmed to witness a melee between one woman wielding a butcher knife and another slapping a large chain on the ground. All the while screaming at each other in Spanish. We learned afterward that this is a common ploy to distract tourists: while their attention is focused on the mayhem, the pickpockets quietly lift their valuables. Crazy!

Despite his best efforts, TJ was not able to snap a pic of the knife-wielding crazy lady, so these more tranquil shots will have to suffice...



We brought home one of these great old bottles:


And I picked up these old coins/medallions at different stalls, and subsequently put them on a long chain:


Tango! The national dance.


Stopped in at La Resistencia (a bar with an interesting history) for a cold beer and papas fritas (french fries, for the uninitiated). 


After spending the morning here, we headed over to the colorful La Boca neighborhood, which I'll feature in tomorrow's post.


Puerto Madero



Puerto Madero

Puerto Madero, a waterfront neighborhood along the Rio de la Plata in downtown Buenos Aires, is known for its trendy boardwalk and swank nightlife. We made sure our first visit there was over dinner and drinks.

All of the streets in Puerto Madero are named after women who were involved in political, cultural, or other public activities. The Puente de la Mujer ("Women's Bridge") is a pedestrian, cantilever footbridge (to let boats through) that connects the eastern and western docks and provides the best views:


We made dinner reservations (long in advance, I might add) at Cabana Las Lilas, famous for its grass-fed beef sourced from the owner's estancia (ranch). We feasted on anti pasta, a Mendoza Malbec, steaks, butternut squash, creamed corn, mashed potatoes with almonds, espresso, flan, and cookies.



I went with the petite filet, but TJ opted to go large...


Afterwards, we strolled over to the Faena Hotel + Universe, the first hotel designed by renowned product designer Philip Starck in South America, and had a drink in the opulent Library Lounge (picture from their site). Amazing people watching here...from club goers dressed to the nines, to show girls who've seen better days.

Screen shot 2010-03-15 at 4.42.35 PM

We had the chance to see Puerto Madero again by daylight on our last day in Buenos Aires. They were setting up for a big bicentennial celebration and the tall ships were in town.



Stay tuned for coverage of San Telmo and its famous antiques market next.





While Palermo is edgy, the Recoleta barrio in Buenos Aires is refined: its wide boulevards are lined with affluent residences, upscale shopping and luxury hotels. This is where many of the government buildings are located, and the architecture resembles old world buildings in Paris.

We happened upon a very cool craft market along Avenida del Libertador, full of jewelry, knits, leather goods, paintings, and the famous mate gourds out of which the Argentinians drink their Yerba Mate tea. It's the national drink here, and you see people carrying their gourds, along with thermoses of hot water to refresh the leaves, all over the country. We picked up a cup here (plus another one in Iguazu) to bring the tradition home:

The most famous site in the area is La Recoleta Cemetery, which includes the graves of the most influential/famous Argentinians in history, including Eva Peron ("Evita"). The cemetery is like a walled city - you enter through elaborate, neo-classical gates, and the interior is laid out like city blocks lined with mausoleums. You can look into them and see the coffins, urns, and flowers from recently visiting family members. Lots of marble and statues...it's wild.





Walking around the rest of the barrio, we were delighted to see a parrot nesting in the trees near Mitre Plaza:


A palace [who's name escapes me...] Update: I was just informed that below is El Palacio de Las Aguas ("The Water Palace"), which is now a museum. Note that it has a rather interesting history, and it is built with over 300,000 multicolored faience bricks made by Royal Doulton and shipped from Britain! Amazing.


El Obelisk built in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the city's first founding:


We stopped for coffee and dulce de leche panqueque (caramel crepes...these guys serve caramel with everything - even on the plane! I ate tons of it) at El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookshop, originally opened as a theater named Teatro Gran Splendid in May 1919. It is beautiful, with the original theater design still in tact, but the balconies are now lined with books and the stage is a cafe. Great place to rest your weary feet!


On our last night in Buenos Aires, after returning from Chubut and Ushuaia (which I'll feature in future posts), we also hit this spot in Recoleta: El Cuartito. On that night, we were so exhausted from walking, and so full of heavy, steak meals, that we opted for a casual bite at this famous pizzeria. Like Pizzeria Regina in Boston's North End, this place had a long line of people waiting to get in. The inside was decorated with famous boxing match posters (think Tyson at Caesar's Palace, Merryweather at the MGM Grand), as well as Argentinian cinema and futbol favorites. The pizza was good...heavier on the cheese than we do, and always with green olives.

Next up: Puerto Madero. Stay tuned.




On our first swing through Buenos Aires, we stayed in the barrio Palermo, a chic and bohemian section of the city full of cobblestone streets, bars, and clothing shops. It's reminiscent of New York's East Village [but way cooler because it's in Argentina! ;) ].

We stayed in a beautiful loft apartment that we found on Flipkey (of course), owned by our gracious host, Carlos Padin, and wonderfully decorated with an Asian theme.

The patio:


The living area:


Sleeping area:




Carlos met us at the apartment to give us a quick tour, as well as provide maps and other helpful information about the city (and on checkout, he surprised with a box of Havanas alfajores, probably the most popular dessert item in the country...we ate tons of them during our stay. More on that later).

Once we were settled in, we headed out to explore the shops and streets of Palermo. Some of the highlights:

Graffiti. It's everywhere in Buenos Aires. And while this sounds disheartening, a lot of it is actually quite beautiful. Graffiti has been elevated to such a high art form here that there is even an official tour you can take compliments of Graffitimundo, an organization that promotes urban art in Buenos Aires. Here are some of the works that caught our eyes:




Palermo is also full of funky shops, particularly in the Plaza Serrano area, which is known for its weekly independent artist's fair. This store made us laugh:


Here, we also visited the Buenos Aires Botanical Gardens, home to about 5,500 species of plants, trees and shrubs, as well as a whole bunch of abandoned cats (they're not feral, mind you, but domestic ones that have been abandoned by their owners and now rely on a volunteer committee which feeds and vaccinates them).



I should note that there are tons of dogs in this city country as well...both well cared for and seemingly homeless. You see them everywhere, especially at the outdoor cafes.

As you can imagine, there tons of great places to eat + drink in Palermo. Here are a few of the spots we visited:

Restaurant Cluny, which came highly recommended by two different friends back home. It's a wonderful spot for a leisurely lunch after a long walk through the barrio. We sat in the outdoor garden area, where we were introduced to the wonders of the Malbec Rosada...a lovely rose wine that is perfect on a hot summer day (did I mention that it is currently summertime in BA, and the temperature was sunny and in the 80s every day?). Also, before you gasp, the below prices are in Argentinian pesos, currently about one fourth of the US dollar).


We also had a beer at El Alamo (a/k/a Shoeless Joe's), a sports bar run by a US ex-pat which is the place to go to catch up on the NBA, NHL, NFL, and FIFA (and consume a killer plate of nachos). UPDATE: my bad...this bar is actually in the Recoleta barrio, which I'll cover in a separate post. Sorry...so many pix I got confused!


Lastly, we had a wonderful dinner at Lo de Jesus, not far from our apartment. We sat outside and enjoyed a great meal (Pacu - a local river fish from the Rio de la Plata, spinach ravioli, and of course, a bottle of Nomade Malbec Rosada) and even better company.

Sitting next to us was Paulo Prada, a Wall St. Journal correspondent based in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who was trying to get to Santiago, Chile, to file a report on the recent earthquake (but the flights were a mess so he was spending the night in BA).

Behind us were a couple of snow birds from the state of Washington, who have wintered in Buenos Aires for the last six years. The gentleman is Sam Hamill, poet, activist, and founder of Poets Against War (he told us to Google his name for some interesting stories!). Lovely couple and we really enjoyed chatting with them.


That's it for Palermo. Stay tuned for updates from the other barrios - Recoleta, Puerto Madero, La Boca, San Telmo - as well as such far flung places as Chubut, Ushuaia, and Iguazu!