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Published: February 23rd 2015
Buenos Aires, the city of Tango, Evita Peron, amazing cemeteries, coffee shops, outstanding bookshops and an amazing atmosphere. I can tell you that this city is by far the best city I had the pleasure to explore in South America. Having spent only 7 days there, which is not enough in my books to really get to know this town, I can tell you that I would be more than happy to live there. Well, that is from a tourist’s perspective and I am aware that reality is different. But what a place…..
Carla and I took the plane from Brasilia to Buenos Aires early on Sunday morning. We didn’t fly together as Carla’s flight was purchased with points and I had to pay for mine. So Carla's flight departed at 5.00 in the morning and mine was scheduled at 7.00 in the morning. With a 4 hour stopover in Sao Paulo I finally made it to Buenos Aires at 15.00 and went to the hotel where an exited Carla was waiting for me, barley letting me put my backpack down before we were out the door to explore the city. You see Carla has been in BA a couple
of times and it is one of her favorite cities in South America. And I can now fully understand why….
The first thing I wanted to do at arrival was change some money. As I mentioned in a previous report that Argentina has a parallel money exchange systems; one is the official, and legal, way to change money and that is you go to a bank or money exchange office to change your hard earned cash, or you turn to the ‘blue market’. And of course the blue market is illegal, but it is so ingrained into the Argentinian economy that even the newspapers and other media outlets report the ‘official’ blue exchange rate.
The ‘blue market’ exists since years and is a reaction to the official Argentinean policy that normal citizens are not allowed to keep foreign currency. This is because the government tries to pay back their foreign depth back in US dollars so they try to get their hands on as many dollars as they can. But they also devalued the peso so much over the years that the Argentinian population desperately want to exchange every penny they can into US dollars. And that is
why when one comes to Argentina they should carry as much US dollar with them as they need. The official exchange rate is about 9 pesos for one US dollar, but on the blue market you get 13 pesos for it.
Beside the US dollar the Argentinians are also after the Euro and the Brazilian real. Carla exchanged 100 reals for 430 pesos and she was pretty happy with that considering that the official rate would have pocketed her 320 pesos. That is one of the reasons why you find a lot of Brazilians in Argentina
Now considering that Argentina is a rather cheap place as it is and take the blue market rate into account you can live here like a king. Its simple incredible. But with changing money illegally comes risk as there are many unscrupulous money exchange people that give you fake money. So when changing the money always try to find a place that is in a fixed location, like a shop or one of the many kiosks around town. Also never change a huge amount at the beginning. Just start with a hundred bucks and see if they are trustworthy and do the
right thing. And trust me it is an experience to blue change money. We found our place at the back of a small news agency and it is funny to be in a cramped place with stacks of money around you……..
We were lucky that our hotel was right in the center of BA and everything was pretty easy to get to. The city was pretty dead on the day we arrived, as it was Sunday, and I was amazed on how wide the main boulevards were. Not far from the hotel was the Plaza De Mayo and the Casa Rosada, translated pink house, which is the presidential palace. The colour of the palace is pink because when they build the palace they mixed blood of bulls into the building material as a symbol of strength.
The plaza is also well known for the place to demonstrate against anything and everything. There is a permanent tent from the Falkland war veterans that were not on the Falklands but supplied the troops from the main land. They want to be recognized by the government as Falkland veterans but as they were not on the island and only served as
supply units they are not considered veterans. Pretty screwed up if you ask me…… But it was interesting to speak with the veterans and get a bit of an insight of the conflict.
Now Buenos Aires has a hell of a lot of places to see and one of them are the cemeteries; they are simply amazing. One of the main cemeteries is located in Recoleta, a very upmarket neighborhood, and here you find the mausoleum of Evita Peron. Evita Peron was, and still is, idolized by the Argentinians and treated like a goddess, so it was surprising to see her mausoleum being rather simple and without the pomp you expect. The money the people have spent to build themselves these fantastic tombs is amazing. Huge building with bigger than life statues, marble palaces, grandiose monuments. Just walking around in these cemeteries is an experience that is unique and if you ever go to Buenos Aires it is a must see place to go. And it is interesting to read about some of the stories behind the mausoleums, like the story about Rufina Cambaceres, a girl that was buried alive by accident. When she ‘woke’ up she scratched the
coffin to the point of breaking but she couldn’t get out and she ‘died’ again, just this time forever. A statue shows the 19 year old girl holding the handle of the tomb, symbolizing that she either wanted to get out or enter at(get rid of at) the world of the dead. Just interesting…….
Another great place to visit is Palermo, a very sophisticated neighborhood where you can find the Japanese Garden and the Evita Museum. The Japanese Garden is beautiful full of bridges, bonsai trees, festive shrines and pagodas and was donated by the Japanese community. Interestingly here you find about 170 trees which “survived” to the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and they are called "Hibakujyumoku”. The museum of Evita, formerly a lodge for Argentinian women who moved to Buenos Aires to find work, is full of personal stuff from Evita and videos about her speeches and achievements. As I mentioned before she is a goddess here in Argentina.
In BA you also find one of the biggest Opera Houses in South America, called the Teatro Colon, and I can only recommend to do one of the guided tours. This place is amazing and shows you how
rich that city must have been at one stage. Because of its acoustic, the architecture and for the size of its horseshoe-shaped auditorium, with more than 2000 seats and standing room for 1000 people, it is considered a “rival” of the Alla Scalla Theatre, in Milan, Italy, and the Opera in Vienna. Something that is amazing is the area with sculptures of famous composers like Beethoven, Bellini, Bizet, Gounod, Mozart, Rossini, Verdi and Wagner. It doesn’t matter if you are an opera fan or not, this place is a must see and money well spent for a guided tour.
Now people who know me know that I am a bit of a bookworm and love bookstores. And I heard that they have some pretty cool bookstores in town so off I went to find out how cool they are. And oh boy was it amazing. Here you find bookstores that are specialist in only art books, foreign languages, paintings, antiques, etc. One of the bookstores I went to was the El Ateneo store which is over 100 years old. The ‘store’ is an old theater full of books, reading rooms and a pretty cool café. Man, I wish I
could own a place like this…… Amazing.
I mentioned the Falkland war before and I can tell you that this war is far from over for the Argentinean. I have spoken with a lot of the Argentinians here and it doesn’t matter if they are left or right, rich or poor, they all believe that the Falklands is theirs and not English. The government has opened its own Falkland museum and if you want to see propaganda in action go there. The museum is located inside the former headquarters of ESMA, which today is memorial to those persecuted in the Military Regime. Now I believe that the Falklands belong to Argentina, but after a visit to that museum I was about to change my mind. The aim of the museum to underline the claim to the Falkland is just over the top. Before you do the tour you have to watch a propaganda movie that includes several images of the Queen of England covered in blood and English soldiers being monsters. What the museum showcased very well was the reactions of Argentinians in 3 moments of the conflict; at the beginning, when the people were very excited because they
wanted a victory over the British, during the conflict when the media lied through their teeth saying that the Argentinians are close to victory; and at the end, when the than General Galtieri couldn’t continue the war anymore and the people got pissed off. The people wanted to continue the conflict until the end and considered Galtieri a “coward. Ah well, state propaganda in action. I have to ask myself what has changed in all these years. Remember the weapons of mass destruction?
One of the most impressive buildings in BA is the Barolo Palace whose symbolism is based on
on Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy”. The Lobby arcade displays dragon heads, hellfire motifs, gargoyles and verses. The building itself is divided into Hell, Purgatory and Heaven. And everything is in the Neo-Romantic and Neo-Gothic style - very impressive. Unfortunately the daily tours that show you the whole building wasn’t operating on the day we were there, but there is always a next time.
Now everybody who knows a bit about Argentina knows that the Argentineans are not only passionate about football, but also about Tango. And that is very evident when you walk the streets in BA. In
nearly every plaza or big sizable locations you find people dancing the Tango. Now I am not a dancer myself, but watching the couples dancing the Tango makes me wish I could do that. Carla and I went to one of the oldest Tango theatres to watch a show and it was rather impressive. Argentinians are nuts about Tango and you find many museums dedicated to the dance and its famous dancers and composers, like Carlos Gardel. His museum is rather nice, but what I find cool is his tomb at one of the cemeteries. Here he is in a lifelike statue and people put a cigarette in his hand and take pictures with him. Like it… By the way, I still think that the Tango was the dirty dancing of its time……..
So after a week of seeing some amazing museums, walking through cemeteries, browsing bookstores, eating in some amazing restaurants and walking the streets at night it was time for Carla and me to part ways again. Carla had to catch a flight back to Brazil and I had to continue with my trip up to the cold north. The night before she left was also Valentine’s
Day so we booked a nice restaurant and had some fun. Saying goodbye wasn’t easy, but it never is…………
So here I sit in Villa Maria in the north west of Argentina on my own again. And guess what; I have caught up with all the travel updates. I have to admit it was a struggle to keep up; so much to see, so much to do. But I will try to stay on top of it from now on……
Hope you enjoyed this update and as usual leave a comment or two. And if you ever have the chance come to Buenos Aires. This place is great…….
Enjoy life my friends………..
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