Buenos Aires, Argentina

by Neil Bostock. Neil attended the University of Leeds before falling in love on the island of Aegina and moving to the states permanently. He is a court stenographer by day, midnight travel writer by night, in upstate New York. He’s a Bob Dylan aficionado, pop-culture enthusiast, audiophile and insatiable international traveler. His favorite cities include Prague, Rio de Janeiro, Heidelberg, and of course, Buenos Aires.

It wasn’t that long ago that the words “South America” were synonymous with “military dictatorship” and “economic collapse”,  but on a recent visit to Buenos Aires it became abundantly clear that that was then, and this is now. From the bustling business activity,  gentrified docklands, and new skyscrapers,  this is clearly a city, and a country, poised to take advantage of the 21st Century.

It would take a couple of weeks to explore all of Buenes Aires distinct neighborhoods, but you could do worse than starting in the cobbled streets of the San Telmo market on a Sunday afternoon, a mile long sensory assault of trinkets, leather goods, street performers, and delicious meat filled empanadas, ending in a market square where folk culture, and real Argentine Tango can be experienced firsthand.   We found the improvised dancing and insistent music so intoxicating that our first order of business the next day was to take tango lessons, and there are no shortage of possibilities in Buenos Aires.

On good advice we settled on Confiteria Ideal, about a 10 minute walk from Plaza de Mayo, the central square.  A magnificent salon, embodying the elegant  19th century architecture that is found everywhere, and a three hour beginner lesson, in English, that taught us enough of the basics that we ended up taking two more private lessons while there.  If you are lucky the Tango will ensnare you and not let go….you’ll find yourself leaving the city with a stack of CDs, handmade tango shoes, and a new obsession.

Although too short on time to visit the Pampas  and experience Gaucho culture firsthand, we sampled the magnificent world renowned Argentine beef at La Brigada where the Sirloin steak was simply out of this world.  Served with a simple salad and parsley-garlic sauce, the quality of the meat takes central stage…but if you’re averse to still mooing meat go with medium to well done.

The extensive Italian influence on Argentine culture ensures that a good wine will accompany your meal, and the strength of the dollar against the peso guarantees you won’t mind returning to try a different cut of tender beef a day or two later.  In the meantime you should experience one of the many top class Italian restaurants in the city, a testament to the adage that “an Argentinean is an Italian who speaks Spanish”.

High summer in February brings in more American tourists, we found the spring weather  in early November to be inviting, the huge parks packed with people enjoying the blooming Jacaranda trees. The tourist culture here seems to be built around surrounding South American countries rather than US patronage.   That is not to imply any anti-American sentiment – on the contrary we found the people to be, without exception, friendly and accommodating – but expect to spend some time with the Spanish phrasebook.  But, after all, you are in a foreign country, a feeling sometimes lost in Europe nowadays with the ubiquity of spoken English.

You cannot leave the city without visiting both Eva Peron’s tomb and the Ayuda Social Maria Eva Duarte de Peron. It’s a small gem of a museum that will explain Eva’s continuing iconic status 58 years after her untimely death.

A good map and a willingness to negotiate the inexpensive radio taxis and subway system is a must in a city of three million people, but you shouldn’t miss the quaint shops and tango salons of La Boca, the upscale shopping of Palermo Chico, and the chic bars and restaurants of Palermo Soho.

A big city requires a luxurious retreat, and the Faena Hotel , near Port Madero, lives up to its international reputation for quality and uniqueness.  Rates start at $450 a night and you won’t regret a single penny.

Before leaving this elegant city your last stop should be the tango show at La Ventana, where the live band, sporting four bandoneon players,  and magnificent dancers, tells the story of Tango’s roots from humble beginnings to international fame

9 de Julio Avenue is the largest street in the world with sixteen lanes and 140 meters wide…and as your taxi turns off it, heading out of town, you’ll be muttering, “Buenos Aires, I’ll be back.”