5 days in Buenos Aires and many reasons why we would go back. Make sure to check this article out to read (and see photos) about empanadas, parrilla, the chhhchhh accent and the best place to learn tango…
1. Walking tours (City Centre + La Boca)
There are a few companies that organise free walking tours in Buenos Aires. We chose to join the morning tour offered by “FreeWalks” (http://www.buenosairesfreewalks.com/) which took us from the Theater Colon to the Recoleta cemetery in about 3.5 hours. We learned about the foundation of Buenos Aires, its aristocracy, the architecture, the Jewish community and the Malvinas war. With the same company, we joined the La Boca Walking Tour (paid tour) and we don’t regret our choice.
For both tours, our guides were great. Sharing their local knowledge and anecdotes with a funny twist ! We really recommend it as a way to get your bearings around this big city. Our tour took place on a Sunday which meant the city was a lot less busy. We felt that it was more enjoyable to walk around without the crowds.
2. San Telmo – the antiques market
During the week, the indoor market displays fruit and veg stalls but also antiques shops that seem to all be specialised (advertising posters, photography, dolls, army clothing, etc.). Steven found a few creepy stuff while Jenny only had eyes for old film cameras and Polaroids.
We went to the market on a week day, but Jenny who travelled to Buenos Aires a couple of years before, visited the famous San Telmo flea market. Situated just outside the indoor market, on the Plaza Dorrego, the market is filled with buskers, tango dancers and painters, reminding Jenny of a Sunday afternoon in Montmartre, Paris.
3. Great coffee
Passionate for speciality coffee, Steven found a great coffee place right inside the San Telmo Market. Coffee Town was the first speciality coffee café and coffee roasters in Argentina, so while we were in Buenos Aires we made sure to make an early trip to San Telmo for our morning coffee fix. We really enjoyed the coffee there and we bought some beans to brew in our travel v60 so we could be the envy of every trekker in Patagonia. What’s better than waking up on a frosty morning, hopping out of your tent and making an excellent coffee?
Coffee Town – Bolivar 976, Mercado de San Telmo, Buenos Aires
4. French inspired architecture
During our free walking tour (see #1.) we were amazed by the European architecture style of all the monuments situated near the plaza San Martin. Some being exact replicas of existing Parisian and Italian buildings !
5. Recoleta cemetery
At the end of the 18th century, right after an intense Yellow fever epidemic, high-class families moved to the neighbourhood of Recoleta. The cemetery initially public, became the last resting place of powerful families giving it its glory. The street like alleys topped by massive mausoleums can today be considered as an outdoor art gallery. It displays different types of architectures and hosts presidents, celebrities, war heroes, and artists along with Argentinian aristocrats and general public (the grandmother and aunt of our host in Buenos Aires are buried in this cemetery). No surprise it was ranked within the 10th most beautiful cemetery in the world.
6. Hipsters in Palermo Soho
Palermo Soho is the Bohemian sub-barrio of Palermo Viejo. Its cobblestones streets are highlighted by numerous colorful graffiti and new businesses. On the weekend, it’s customary to be seen drinking a cortado, eating a helado at a table of the hip cafés / restaurants or browsing some new fashion clothing at the market stalls. The area hosts most of the good hostels and is renowned for its nightlife. The area is pretty laid-back where it is nice to chill and stroll with friends and lovers.
7. Ice-cream (per kilo)
Argentina is the Italia of South America. The millions of Italian migrants who arrived in Buenos Aires through the area “La Boca” (see #8) brought with them a Gelato culture. What a delight to eat ice-cream almost as good as in Italy. I say almost, because nothing will ever top the ice-cream we had in Sorrento, Italy last year… though, here, in Argentina, the Ice-creams are not singular pleasures that last a couple of minutes. Argentinians buy their ice-cream by 1/4, 1/2 or kilo… we are absolutely amazed by this.
8. La Boca
This La Boca district of Buenos Aires used to be the heart of the city where the migrants settled early 19th century and started building the capital. Nowadays it is a very touristic area, well-known for its colourful houses and street tango. By joining a walking tour, we managed to overpass this money-making appearance and got to learn about the place and liking it for its true-self.
Behind the famous colourful houses and the story of the painter, Quinquela Martín, who gave La Boca its glory back, remains the story of migrants painting their houses with whatever colour was left out at the harbour that day. Behind the houses filled with china-made souvenirs, remains the history of dozens of migrants leaving together in 20m² rooms. Finally, behind the gorgeous tango dancers inviting the tourists for a picture, remain the true story of how Tango really started, a battle between men disguised under the shape of a dance.
Going to La Boca is not only trying to replicate the world-famous picture of the Caminito but understanding the History of Buenos Aires, and its inhabitants. La Boca is also home to the Boca Jnrs Football Club, more on that in #16.
9. Tigre by boat
As a day trip excursion we took a train to go to Tigre. This city is quite touristy and many boats offer a tour on the river. There are different routes and we didn’t take the one we thought we had but the tour is relaxing and allowed us to see all the houses built-in the delta. When the hour was finished, we walked around the very large market and ate a lot of Chinese food in the “Chinatown” building. There is also a fair and a water park that seemed to be quite fun !
10. The accent
Once you get it, it’s fine, but before that it is quite complicated to understand Argentinians. Contrary to the rest of South America (except Uruguay maybe) and Spain, in Argentina the “LL” is pronounced “CH”. A bit like the “X” in Catalogna. So for a chicken empanadas, it’s necessary to say “Una empanada de Pochhhhho” (pollo) and to request a chair, ask for a “Sichhhha” (silla).
Argentinian speak also a lot with their hands. Something they owe to their Italian inheritance ! So no worries, if you don’t speak Spanish, you will quickly understand if you pissed off someone !
11. The Pizza
Another thing Argentinians owe to their Italian ancestors… Pizza ! And they are really good. Just need to find the right place. We looked for one which was recommended, but never found it. Instead we had a corner shop pizza where you can use some “ass spice” (see picture below). We also had the chance to taste a couple of amazing home-made pizzas on the “Parrilla” (pronunced parichhhha – See 14)
12. Bife de Chorizo
Argentina is very famous for its beef. Seriously, don’t go to Argentina and miss out on the Bife de Chorizo… It is simply a “Sirloin strip Steak”, but it may also be the best you will ever have. At least for us it was ! On our first night, our host bought lots of meat : Bife de Chorizo, Lomo, Chorizo and cooked it on the parilla (see 14). We were delighted. For an amazing gastro experience, add some “Chimichurry” and your taste buds will thank you !
The empanada is a stuffed pastry baked in the oven (at least in Argentina, in Chile they fry them). They can be filled with ham and Cheese (jamon y queso), Vegetables (verdura), Chicken (Pollo “pochhhho”), Meat (Carne) or Spinach and ricotta (very Italian). I guess it is like a small calzone, easy to eat on the go and quite cheap (€1.60). We usually bought them in the street or in a bakery but we also learnt how to make them ourselves or ordered delivery from the nearest pizza shop…
A Parrilla (don’t forget the chhhh) is a barbecue. It is a specialty that is served in many restaurants across Argentina and Uruguay but the best is the one that is made on Sunday by local families. As described quickly on topic number 12, Argentinians cook the amazing Bife de Chorizo and Lomo (or whatever the butcher has), Chorizo (sausages) but also black pudding (morcilla), thymus glands (Mojellas) and small intestines (Chinchulin). It is surely the best BBQ you will ever have.
15. Street art in Buenos Aires
Like in many big cities, street art has reached Buenos Aires for the past few years and beautiful pieces are bringing the streets alive. There is even a street art walking tour. We didn’t join this one but managed to see a couple great ones in the areas of San Telmo, La Boca and Palermo.
16. La Boca Junior
The world-famous Boca Juniors football team’s history was explained passionately to us by our guide during our tour of La Boca. In 1906, Boca played a rival team, both teams wore so similar shirts so the match was played to decide which team would get to keep it. Boca lost, and decided to adopt the colours of the flag of the first boat to sail into the port at La Boca. This proved to be a Swedish ship, therefore the yellow and blue of the Swedish flag were adopted as the new team colours. It is also thought that the colours where also chosen by an Irish priest from Tipperary who helped with coaching.
It is well-known that gentlemen walk into the stadium and as soon as the first whistle is blown they turn into animals. spitting, throwing bottles and consistent jumping owes to the Colosseum atmosphere that the stadium in known for. However this proved to be a fear, as architects thought that the stadium would eventually collapse under the pressure of constant jumping. So innovative methods were used to insure safety and allow the animals to continue with their chants.
La Boca famously turned down sponsorship from Coca Cola as the red and black colours are the colours of their main rivals, so deep is their hatred.
17. Tango classes at “La Viruta”
Our first dance class as a couple was laborious. We learnt a couple of tango moves (that we have now forgotten) and really enjoyed our night out at “La Viruta”. This very welcoming Milonga is a perfect place for beginners like us but also for all level dancers. While not learning or practicing, we enjoyed watching the more experimented tango dancers whirling (and flirting) around the spacious dance floor. Our class was in English and lasted about 1 hour.
18. Library El Ateneo
This bookshop located on Santa Fe avenue is probably one of the most beautiful bookshops in the world. Why is that ? Probably because it is in a former theater where shelves of books have replaced the seats and the stage by a coffee shop. It is a very special place.
19. Murgas in the streets
A “Murga” is a percussion-based rhythm from Argentina and Uruguay played during the carnival month (February). In Argentina, Murga’s are found live in the streets. The lyrics usually criticise corrupt politicians and are used as a popular resistance. To read more and watch a short video, check our full article about the Murga of Buenos Aires.
20. The Yerba mate
Mate is very important in Argentina and Uruguay. Unlike his Paraguayan cousin, the Terere which is drank cold, the Yerba mate is served hot. Preferably in a calabash with a bombilla (metallic straw). Sometimes the Argentinians add orange juice in case of a heat wave. The drink can be sweet, but most Argentinians prefer it bitter.
The mate should be shared… When a person fills a calabash with hot water, it is customary that he or she sips the liquid completely before passing it to his or her neighbour, who will typically do the same. Mate is an excellent way to integrate.
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