Published: April 16th 2008February 12th 2008
Buenos Aires has almost everything you could want or need in a city - historic sights, restaurants to suit any budget & any taste, several football teams, several 24 hour football channels, beautiful parks, a zoo, the best steak in the world (it’s true), great coffee, shops, shops & more shops (kept Rachael quiet), a multitude of bar lined plaza’s and very friendly, helpful locals (Porteno’s) who constantly showed the patience of saints with my truly awful attempts at their language.
All that’s missing is beaches & a sea breeze! With these Buenos Aires would be the best city in the world. It’s probably not far off anyway.
Where Rio has the cool, blue Atlantic Ocean, BA (as I’ll call it from hereon in, it’s quicker) has the warm, brown Rio del Plata.
We arrived from Iguazu around 7pm and jumped in a taxi . The rides at Alton Towers have got nothing on a BA taxi journey. Most main roads here are several lanes wide yet, still, the majority of drivers decline to use them. There appear to be three main commandments on BA roads :-
1. - thou shalt squeeze into any gap, no matter how small
2. - thou shalt not indicate, ever
3. - thou shalt constanly beep the horn for no apparent reason
Somehow we arrived at our apartment in the Palermo area unscathed and were met by the owners and a representative of the agency we’d booked it through. All formalities out of the way we headed out for a drink and something to eat and first came across Plaza Serrano, a square thronged with people sat outside its many bars and restaurants.
The choice of food here and in the streets around it is amazing - Steakhouses, Japanese Sushi Restaurants, Italian, Vegetarian, French Bistro’s, McDonalds, you name it, they’ve got it.
So with all this choice, what did we have?
Yes, we arrive in one of the the worlds greatest culinary centres and eat a bowl of Nacho’s for our first meal!
And very nice they were too.
On our first full day we headed for the nearest metro stop that looked about a 10 minute walk on the map but turned out to take about 30 minutes (and it was hot).
According to the guidebook the area around Florida was where most of the shops were so we headed there
intent on finding the designer labels at next to nothing prices we’d heard so much about. We didn’t.
Florida itself is a pedestrianised shopping street populated with low end chain clothes shops no different to any High Street in the UK.
From here we headed to San Telmo, BA’s Tango Centre .
Along the way we passed Plaza de Mayo which is the plaza outside the Casa Rosada - BA’s equivalent of 10 Downing Street or the White House I believe.
Outside there was a political protest going on which is apparently the case most days. In the words of Ali G we “had no idea what was going on but there looked like a good chance of a ruck” so we hung around for a bit. No ruck though.
From here we walked down a street called Defensa which took us right into the heart of San Telmo.
This street is lined with antique shops, restaurants & independant clothes shops (mainly womens).
San Telmo’s main square is Plaza Dorrego. We sat down at a bar here (yes, honestly) where a live Tango show was due on. As someone who would rather drink his own sick than watch programmes
like Strictly Come Dancing, seeing a Tango show wasn’t high on my list of BA priorities but, when in Rome....
The music they danced to was from the 1920’s or 30’s and they dressed accordingly too. Apparently, Tango has been danced in that very spot for nearly 100 years now which, for me, made this something well worth seeing.
From here we had a wander round San Telmo and came across La Brigada, a steak restaurant where the meat is, allegedly, “so tender they carve it with a spoon at your table”.
We tried to book a table for that night but were told it was full so booked for the following night.
Instead we ate at El Desnivel, a Parilla (steakhouse) on Defensa.
After meticulously scouring the menu several times, we finally accepted that they didn’t do Nacho’s and ordered steaks instead.
This was our first BA steak experience and, while I couldn’t say I‘d ever had a better steak, I have had as good back home. The Papas Provenzal, however, were out of this world. These are chips covered in garlic and parsley, delicious.
We’d painstakingly researched which area of Buenos Aires to stay in but there is
really no need to do so if you’re only there short term.
Our taxi from San Telmo to Palermo cost 18 pesos, about £3. This is about as long a journey as you can take in BA proper and the city is so large that you’re going travel about so much that where you choose to stay is rendered irrelevant.
Taxi’s are so numerous it’s ridiculous. Step out of your front door and there will usually be 3 or 4 heading up the street so you never have to wait longer than a minute or two.
Buses are available in abundance aswell and cost 1 peso, about 15 pence for any journey.
Traffic in BA is horrendous and it did occur to me that (without wanting to sound too much like Jeremy Clarkson) maybe if there wasn’t so much public transport it wouldn’t be quite so bad?
The following day was Valentine’s Day so, naturally, I took Rachael to the zoo. Who says romance is dead?
Admission to BA zoo costs about £2.50. They have a caged condor that didn’t come out while we were there and some red panda’s which I’ve never seen (or heard of before) other than
that it’s a zoo with all the usual zoo animals.
Headed back to San Telmo in the evening for our reservation at La Brigada. Rachael ordered sirloin and me rib eye with salad and papas provenzal. Now this was the best steak I’ve ever had. (Un)cooked to absolute perfection, the texture and taste was just somehow different to what I’ve ever had before. I hate over eating in a restaurant and subsequently feeling sick through gluttony but, there was no way I was leaving the tiniest bit of this and polished it all off and Rachael’s leftovers aswell. With wine and water the bill came to 180 pesos, about £30, which is a lot for BA but, the same standard of meal in England would have been 3 or 4 times that.
In addition to the food, La Brigada’s walls are covered in sporting memorabilia. Mainly Argentine pictures of Argentine footballers but also boxers, Carlos Monzon mainly and motor racing. Loads of football scarves cover the rafters although with the glaring omission of an Oldham Athletic one (they must take some down and wash them from time to time, that’ll be why).
Next day was La Boca, BA’s equivalent of
London’s East End albeit without it’s own depressing soap opera. To get there we took the 29 bus from Palermo which is recommended in guide books as a cheap alternative to an open top city bus tour (if there is one in BA?). This all sounded great in theory but, didn’t quite work once having to stand up most of the way packed in like a sardine in sweltering heat came into the equation. An hour later, thoroughly dehydrated, we arrived in La Boca. The main tourist attraction here is an area called El Caminito which is few streets of brightly painted houses, souvenir shops and a Diego Maradona (circa 1986) look-a-like (quite a good one) who let you have your photo taken with him for a small (or probably not so small) fee.
Tango shows are on outside every bar but, whereas San Telmo’s tango bars had reasonable prices, La Boca’s tended to, as we say in Oldham, “nail your hat on”. We found this out the hard way in a bar where I was charged £3 for just over half a pint of lager! In my pidgin Spanish I enquired whether I got to keep the glass for that price but the waiter didn’t seem to understand. (Always check the menu before ordering, even when it’s just a drink). Most bars also charge you just for sitting down.
Another reason for going to La Boca that day was to get tickets for Boca Jrs v Argentinos Jnrs on the Sunday. I’d read that tickets go on sale a couple of days before each game so, this being Friday, went to get them.
By the main entrance was the club shop which had someone selling tours with hotel pick up and entrance to the match for 200 pesos (about £34). Not bad by English standards but, I’d heard the most expensive tickets cost just 50 pesos so, with that in mind, it didn’t seem such a good deal. We then queued at a window resembling a ticket office where after a while someone who spoke English advised us that this was for people picking up disabled and complimentary tickets, general tickets only went on sale on the morning of he game from 10am, however, people started queuing at 5am. All of a sudden that 200 pesos looked tempting!
On Saturday we escaped the heat of the city for the Tigre Delta just outside BA. We took the Tren de la Costa which is a tourist train that makes several picturesque stops along the way. To get this train go to Retiro station and buy a ticket to Bartolome Mitre station (about 5 stops from Retiro) then get off, leave Mitre station, cross the road and go into another station directly opposite to buy your T de la C ticket. We went for an option that included a one hour Delta boat trip for not much extra.
Tigre gave us our first close up of the Rio de la Plata. Thankfully it doesn’t smell anything like it looks like it should. The town itself is a small place, perfect for a quiet afternoon lying on the grass banks of the river but, other than that, there’s not an awful lot to do. Bars and restaurants are plentiful and oh so cheap, however, and we found a little place serving Choripans for 3 pesos (50p). These are baguettes with a Chorizo sausage filling. In the place we went they came with about 10 different sauces - chimmichuri, ketchup, mustard, salsa picante, mayo etc. Etc... For those of you that know Rachael you’ll know that, as sure as night follows day, she smothered hers in a bizarre concoction of pretty much every one of these sauces. Fearing an explosive chemical reaction I discretely went to find the toilets. Somehow upon my return, Rachael and the restaurant were still in one piece.
We returned to the city and headed out for the night. Ate in a Parilla in Palermo where I had steak (yes, really) with papas provenzal (yes, again) and a side salad. Rachael ordered Tallarines (like Spaghetti) con Salsa as she wanted a break from meat but, lo and behold, in true BA fashion the salsa couldn’t possible be served without huge chunks of steak in it! To drink we had a litre of house red which served in a metal jug (like you used to get at school) and a litre of water. All of this came to just over £7! This was just the latest in a long line of ridiculously good value meals we’d had and skipping down the street upon leaving restaurants was now starting to attract funny looks. Never mind.
Sunday morning, matchday. We’d agreed that I’d catch the good old no. 29 to La Boca on the off chance of getting tickets while Rachael would have a lie in and then watch some utter crap on TV until I returned.
I headed out at around 10am into an eerily quiet BA Sunday morning. Luckily buses were running but everything else was closed. Nobody was about. How nice that some parts of the world still do Sunday’s properly (hopefully without last orders at 2pm). I could imagine everyone had been to church & now whole families were getting together at whoevers house it was this week, the women were preparing Sunday lunch while the men were playing in the garden with the kids.
I’m sure I’ve got most of that right apart from the bit about the men. They were all queuing for Boca tickets it seemed, thousands of them! Yes, I jumped of the bus at 11am to be greeted with the sight of one of the biggest queues I’d ever seen. It snaked all along one side of Boca’s training complex (bigger than the ground itself) then turned left down another side then carried on a bit further down a road, and this was just the bit I could see.
Strangely, most of these people were sat down and the queue was obviously goinmg nowhere so I decided to give it 15 minutes and see what happened. After about half an hour (another 5 minutes, another 5 minutes) everyone stood up and started moving and all of a sudden the queue didn’t look quite as bad so I stuck with it. The heat was relentless and people were cashing in with wheely bins full of ice cold drinks which went down a treat. Altogether I queued for about an hour longer, the atmosphere was good though, loads of songs (some probably anti-English!) & laughing & joking so time passed reasonably quickly. Eventually I reached the ticket window which read “Populares 24 pesos”. I asked for “dos asiento”, 2 seats only for the man behind the window to point to another queue on the opposite side of the ground! This was for the standing area, he explained by making jumping up and down motions and saying “loco, loco” whilst making the crazy sign with one finger (did he mean the fans or me for being in the wrong queue?).
Yes, for an hour and a half I’d been stood in the wrong queue! I went to the correct one and another hour later I finally had 2 ticktets for “Platea”, the seats. (It better be a good game).
Got a taxi back to Palermo and finally arrived back at the apartment at about 3pm! Luckily for Rachael there’d been a piece of cheese in the fridge so she was only suffering from mild starvation.
Kick off was at 7.30 so we pretty much needed to make our way straight to the ground. Stopped for a drink in one bar on Plaza Serrano, the food looked uninspiring so carried on and ate in another one jut next to the metro stop we needed to get towards La Boca. In here we both had choripans again. They were a similar price to the ones in Tigre but twice the size! Sauce options were kept to a minimum in this place also so there was no need to put the BA Bomb Squad on standby. When we went to pay the waitress came back to inform us that the 10 peso note we’d given her was a fake. 10 pesos is worth about £1.60. What counterfeiter worth his/her salt would possibly bother copying £1.60 notes, and copying them badly at that?
Anyway, got to the ground about 7pm and, in a break with tradition which left me feeling a little disoriented, actually went straight in to find our seats instead of squeezing in a “quick one” in the nearest bar then missing kick off. Our seats were in the 3rd of 3 tiers and getting up there involved some long overdue and much needed exercise. The name of Boca’s ground La Bombanera translates as the “Chocolate Box” because the stands are so steep like the sides of a chocolate box (apparently). Being on the 3rd tier of one of these steep stands was especially good fun for someone like myself who is terrified of heights (or falling from them at least). Just as my initial terror was abating I was reminded of what it had said in the guide book about the stands shaking when the supporters in the bottom tier standing areas started to jump up and down. Yes, in addition to my vertigo I also had to contend with what felt like a minor earthquake, every few minutes for 2 hours or sp. Great. Anyway, by half time we hadn’t landed in a lower tier, the stand hadn’t collapsed and we were still alive. The match finished 4-0 to Boca. Although it was still slow by English standards we enjoyed it much more than the turgid affair at the Maracana. The crowd was about 40,000, Riquelme and Palermo (who’d do well in England) were good to watch, (for any Liverpool fans reading Paletta is still crap) and the atmosphere was good, non-stop singing from start to finish. Got away from the ground with no problems whatsoever other than the fact we had to walk because the buses were full and the taxi drivers didn’t want to go to Palermo for some reason.
The following day had a walk round Puerto Madero which is supposed to be BA’s exclusive marina area. The only thing that was exclusive were the prices (still cheap by UK standards). The place looked exactly like any UK waterside development, full of soulless chain bars and restaurants. What’s Spanish for “Pitcher & Piano”?
Spent the rest of the day shopping and eating. The two best shopping areas we found were Avenida Santa Fe and Abasto. There were some real bargains to be had if you had room to pack them (we didn’t), eg a Dior suit for about £150 which would have been at least £450 back home (Kristian is spelt with a “K” isn’t it?).
Uruguay next, then back here fo another few days