Friday, September 7, 2007

At last! Buenos Aires

When we were planning this trip, Buenos Aires and Rio were the two South American cities I was most looking forward to. While I was a bit disappointed with Rio, I was not at all disappointed with BA. After just three days, I think it’s a place we will definitely come back to, and could even imagine living here for a while, should the opportunity ever arise.

We stayed at the Claridge, a lively, urbane hotel that we booked through Wotif, our favourite hotel reservations site that we had not been able to use for some time. From our central location, we could walk to Florida Avenue, the major pedestrian shopping street, where dancers performed the tango while nearby stores sold leather coats and jackets. We tried to buy some leather jackets because it was cold...10 degrees one morning. But we couldn't really find what we wanted, and weren't sure we needed the extra baggage. We bought long underwear instead!

Near the hotel, Sally came across a kiosk selling maps. She was surprised to discover on one world map, that within Canada, one of BC's five major cities was...are you ready?...Richmond. We decided that the map must have been printed in China by a man whose brother lived in Richmond.

We would have gone shopping at the only branch store of Harrods outside of London, but it had closed down. While we couldn’t find out why, it may be because BA is a relatively inexpensive city, especially compared to most of the places we have visited. The best deals are in the restaurants where we generally paid a third of the price for a similar meal in Vancouver.

A few blocks away, we walked along Avenue 9th of July, the widest street in the world. It takes a few minutes to cross! Like many other streets in the city, portions are lined with magnificent old buildings, including some excellent examples of Art Nouveau.

Buenos Aires is a very big, lively and busy city. To get an overview, we took a bus tour and learned about the city in Spanish, Portuguese, and English. Sometimes, I couldn’t tell which language was being spoken. We saw some very elegant old and new apartment buildings, and impressive public buildings, usually well guarded by waiting police officers.

However, two highlights were the Recoleta Cemetery where Eva Peron is buried; not because she was buried there, but for its amazing layout with row upon row of large mausoleum structures. It had a nice urban feel!

I also enjoyed Boca, a poorer Italian neighbourhood, with colourful painted buildings and lots of art for sale in the streets. I was tempted to buy a painting of tango dancers, but Sally had already purchased a small 'tango' painting, and didn't want our house looking like a dance school. There was also a lot of work in local galleries that I would have liked to have brought home. This is a city that places a high value on the arts.

The Teatro Colon Opera House, considered by many to have the best acoustics in the world, was near our hotel. I walked over to buy tickets for an evening performance, unaware it is closed until May 2008 for renovations. I suggested to Sally that we see Cabaret instead; but she wasn't as keen to hear 'Money Makes the World go Around' in Spanish, as I was.

Fortunately, there was a Tango recital in the hotel bar that we watched instead, before heading off to dinner at a nearby Argentinean Grill house, which served some very large steaks.

We traveled around by Subway. BA has a very extensive system with four lines, and an excellent mapping system which helps tourists get around. Our favourite line was the first one, which still uses old wooden cars with wooden seats.

On the third morning, we came upon a large Travel Agency. We needed to get to Lima, our final destination. While we had investigated flights on the internet, I wasn't sure we had found all the options. So we went inside and met a very knowledgeable English speaking agent, Florencia Vallarolo. She had a very lovely and professional manner, and within no time she had found a better flight, and suggested we consider a tour package for Lima, Cusco, Aguas Calientes, and Mach Pichu. Thinking a tour package might eliminate some of the customary drama from not knowing if we'd get on the train, or have a place to sleep each night, we booked it. We even purchased altitude sickness pills, so we are ready for all eventualities during our last five days.

But first, we have decided to take a 3 day side trip to Uruguay. We are traveling by fast ferry from a terminal in the revitalized waterfront area, where there are some very large and beautiful new residential and mixed use buildings, and some of the city’s most expensive waterfront restaurants.

After Uruguay, we'll have two more nights in Buenos Aires, before flying to Lima. This time we will stay in another part of the town and hopefully see more of this lively, sophisticated city that feels a lot like Paris and New York. I may even look for a leather coat.


Anonymous said...

In today's Sun (Saturday, 22nd Sept. you mentioned the pedestrian-friendly corners in Aukland, New Zealand. When I lived in Saskatoon in the early 60's, they were called 'scramble corners' and they worked very well indeed. I understand they no longer have them. It would be of interest to check with Saskatoon to find out why they were eliminated - as they were so sensible. Maybe some day in Vancouver the scramble corner can be re-discovered.

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