We stayed in the Emperador Hotel on Ave Libertador which was within walking distance of quite a few sights of Buenos Aires such as May Square, the Harbour area and the pedestrian shopping streets such as Florida St.
On our first day we had an official city tour which began in May Square ( Plaza de Mayo) which was named to commemorate Argentina's independence from Spain which began in May 1810 .We took the obligatory photo of the famous (Casa Rosada) Presidential Palace from where Evita stood on the balcony to talk to the people. We saw the white scarves painted around The Piramide de Mayo which is an obelisk in the middle of the square, this is where the wives and mothers of 'the disappeared' march every Thursday in memory of their relatives who disappeared up until 1983 and still haven't been found, alive or dead. There was also a group of Falklands veterans with banners protesting about their lack of recognition but it was obviously a long term protest as they were sitting and the banners looked fairly long term. Apparently most days there is some sort of protest in this square and there were huge metal fence panels all around which are put up as soon as there is any sign of trouble in the area.
We also visited La Boca and saw the famous football stadium, La Bombonera but did not go to watch the game later as it cost a small fortune - I think the tickets were black market too and besides I'm not a huge football fan anyway. We went to the main area including La Cominito, near the waterfront where the main streets are with the colourful houses. It is quite touristy now but I guess that is what happens when something interesting becomes well known. This area was where the original Italian immigrants settled at they were mainly fishing families and so settled near the seafront areas so they could continue earning their living doing what they knew best. The story goes that they had such colourful houses because they bought paint firstly and foremost for their boats and what was left over was used on the houses, hence they were often lots of different colours. The houses were built of wood and then had corrugated metal placed over the wood presumably for weather protection. They were low houses, mainly two stories and were very colourful and quaint on very narrow streets. I not sure how many of the houses are lived in as many are shops and cafes now.
It was a bit like Montmartre in that there were many artists displaying their paintings all along the streets. It was all very busy, colourful and tango music played from several of the shops and stalls. There were also large painted boards with tango dancers and the holes you could poke your head through to have your photo taken, I suspect you had to pay but we didn't bother. You could easily pass an hour or two wandering up and down the two or three streets as there were so many little shops, many stalls and quite a few cafes where you could enjoy a coffee or an alcoholic drink either inside or outside and watch all the activity in the area. It is busy and there are lots of tourists but you can still see the charm of the area and enjoy the artists work on display despite this.
Our next stop was the Cementario de la Recoleta, the cemetery where the body of Eva Peron has been laid to rest after its world tour. I have never seen anything quite so ostentatious as this cemetery. There is a high wall around the cemetery so that those wealthy inhabitants can rest in ornate luxury. The mausoleums were huge marble buildings with statues and plaques; some were big enough for a family to live in. Eva Peron's family mausoleum was quite plain in comparison to some of them and was not the biggest but it is the only one that always has fresh flowers on it, according to our guide. Mr Peron is not in this mausoleum as it is Eva's family mausoleum and after her death there was some dispute between Peron and Eva's family. Eva Peron is either loved or hated by the local people but her picture is on postcards everywhere and there is a statue of her in the city but it could be anyone really - it is not obviously her.
We were in the Recoletta area of the city now and on Sunday there is a big flea market but we were not greatly interested in this. This is also the area where there are lots of restaurants but we didn't eat here so I cannot say much about them really. This is the upper class area of Buenos Aires with large houses, nice shops and posh restaurants with plenty of green park areas to relax in.
We decided we wanted to visit a cafe called the Ideal Cafeteria on Sui Pacha where we had heard the local people meet to tango so we set off with our map in our hands looking for it. It wasn't too far to walk, about 9 blocks away from our hotel but when we got there we were an hour too early as it didn't open till 3 o' clock on Sunday. We found a cafe with tables outside on Ave 9th July and enjoyed a few beers before trying again at the Ideal Cafe.
We paid about £2.50 each to go in. The cafe was decorated in an art deco style with carved ceilings and columns. There was a bar at the back, tables round a central dance floor. Most tables were reserved by regular customers but were lucky and did get a table with a great view of the dance floor. We ordered beers and sandwiches and then the music began. I was a little nervous that someone would come and ask me to dance as I would not have had a clue what to do. It is extremely complicated and very nostalgic. It was amazing watching how a man asked a lady to dance. He sort of looked at her then walked over in of macho way - no words were exchanged and then the lady came to meet him and they began dancing. The hold is very close at the top heads touching but hips not and the foot movements don't always seem to follow each other. It was fascinating. We sat next to a lady from North Carolina who was by herself and in between dances told us she had been having lessons for 2 years in N. Carolina and she didn't think she was very good, she looked pretty good to us and she was in constant demand as a dance partner - she was possibly the youngest lady there!! There was one old man who looked about 90 but he was giving it a pretty good go. It was extremely interesting and the whole afternoon including the food and drinks only cost us $9 US about £4.50 depending on your exchange rate.
In the evening a group of us walked to Las Nazarenas restaurant, just opposite the Sheraton Hotel as we had been told they had excellent Argentinean streaks. It gets pretty busy later on a night but even at 7.30 it was quite full. There were other things on the menu, different pasta dishes and fish options but there was a double page spread of the various steaks with their weights as well. I ordered a small 480g sirloin and between us we ordered a side salad and plate of fries. I only managed half my steak. It was about 6 "long by 4" wide and 2" thick and beautifully tender. My husband's was twice the size and he did manage to eat his but couldn't help me out. We declined the desserts and carried our stomachs back to the hotel round the corner. This meal including beers and wines cost about £35 for the two of us which we felt was great value for such an amazing steak and excellent service from a very friendly and helpful waiter. He was delightful and as we were a group of 9 people he was quite busy with sorting drinks and food for all of us. We did help by having one bill and splitting the cost rather than asking for separate bills.
The next day we wanted to see the old wooden underground carriages on line A of the underground. We walked from our hotel up Ave 9th July till we reached Peru station. We bought our 0.90peso ticket ( about 15p) and we could go as far as we liked but we got off a couple of station later at lima station which was near May square as we wanted to visit the Tortoni cafe which we had read in a blog on the internet was worth a visit. Again it has become somewhat of a tourist attraction but this does not detract from the decor of the cafe. You are greeted at the door by a very smart waiter who escorts you to a table, set with a maroon table cloth. The whole cafe is decorated with tiffany lights, paintings of all types decorated the walls and again a sort of art deco look to the whole place. We enjoyed very nice hot chocolates and coffee with small chocolate biscuits while looking around the cafe. On venturing to the toilet we discovered there were other rooms similarly decorated, one had a few men playing a board game, another room had a stage at one end with a dark red and black tango picture as a backdrop. The toilets were nice and clean with marble basin surrounds. All in all it was a very interesting cafe and made a very pleasant break and cost us about £3.00 .
We wandered down Florida Street looking at the shops until we met another couple from our group who told us they had been down at the waterfront area and there were lots of restaurants along there in converted warehouses. Florida Street is fine if you have a lot of money and want to buy leather coats or designer items but mu husband's interest in this sort of sight seeing is limited to about 15 minutes maximum and to be honest mine is not much longer as I think there are much more interesting things to see and do than look in shops.
We decided this would be a good place for lunch so we headed off in that direction, once again with our map in hand. The area looked very clean but otherwise the buildings were quite true to their original look as warehouses there were a couple of cranes cleaned up and placed on the harbour front too to add to the feel of a marina. We struggled with the choice of restaurants we wanted to eat at because there were so many and they were all quite similar. Most of them were Italian and to be honest I can't remember what the name of the restaurant was but it had tables outside overlooking the marina as well as a large restaurant inside. We started off outside but as it was quite windy we moved inside with the help of the waiters carrying our drinks etc. My husband had spider crab crepe and I had lemon sole with sweet potato mash covered in a creamy caper sauce, another friend had a prawn and rocket risotto, all meals were delicious and once again I couldn't eat all mine. The staff waiting on were so friendly and helpful and very patient with our non-Spanish explaining some items on the menu for us. One person in our party had a dessert which looked very nice and was also huge and chocolaty, we had two small beers each so 8 in total and a coffee and the bill was £12.50 each person including a tip which was fantastic value for the food and service we received.
In short we had a wonderful time in Buenos Aires but we were warned to be very careful as there were a large number of pickpockets and opportunist thieves and con people. One trick was to spill ice-cream or squirt tomato sauce from a hotdog there as they were cleaning you up 'helpfully' they cleaned you up financially at the same time. Fortunately we escaped this and had an incident free time wandering around the sights both in our group and by ourselves but we walked with purpose and did not carry anything unnecessary or of value. Just be aware I think and you can still enjoy walking to see sights and the wonderful food.
© Catsholiday Also on Ciao under my name
There are many fascinating places in the world that everyone should see at least once but I usually shy away from cities. City life is not my idea of a relaxing holiday but I do make one exception there. The most intriguing city I have ever visited is Buenos Aires which is also known as Eva Peron City.
Everyone here seems so animated and does whatever they have to with passion and a certain amount of grace. The taxi drivers have little Argentinian flags in their cabs and small religious icons to keep them safe. They all talk football and ask questions about David Beckham and Manchester United football and I just say whatever comes into my head because neither holds much interest for me and I don't even know who plays for which team, let alone the workings of the off-side rule.
The first place to go here is the place where Eva Peron is buried, the Recoleta Cemetery. This important cometary includes the graves of all Buenos Aires' rich and famous, including president, famous scientists and wealthy landowners. The layout of the cometary was designed by French engineer Prospero Catalin and remodelled in 1881. It has a strange mix of architectural style. There is also a colony of feral cats living within the grounds. They gather in groups at dusk but can be seen at any time in ones and twos wandering around inside..
The Plaza de Mayo is the main square in Buenos Aires and it has, historically, been the site of several major events, including the May Revolution of 1810 from it gets its name. In 1974 Eva Peron was expelled from La Plaza by members of the Montaneros. In 1982 people stood in this square and hailed President Leopoldo Galtien for starting the Falklands War.
The Obelisk is a venue for various cultural activities is an important cultural icon in the city and the Teatro Colon, the Opera House also has a character that is specifically Argentinian.
Eva Peron Museum and the Presidential Palace shouldn't be missed but most important of all is La Boca, the Italian quarter for excellent food, wine and fantastic architecture. It still has an early European character to it. Caminito is not to be missed while you are here. It's a little street in La Boca which retains the architecture and flavour of early settlers from the Italian city of Genoa.
If you only visit one city that you wouldn't normally go to, make it this one. Eva Peron City has a very special flavour of its own and the experience is quite unforgettable.
This is, of course, very much a visualy stimulating city and to appreciate it you have to see it. The mixture of 'Spanishesque' styles and colours is amaing. A really beautiful city steeped in history.
A great summation of La Recoleta, a truly impressive cemetery. One little mistake however: Juan Manuel Fangio, F1 Champion, was not buried there but in Balcarce. See towards end -http://www.museofangio.com/biografia/biogra_6.html
We take a yellow and black painted 'radio taxi' to the docks area, near the Pink House. The Pink House is where the executive branch of government meet. Exactly opposite, at the very end of the long July 9th avenue (the widest in the world, lined with hundreds of matching trees and some of the city's more upmarket shops), is the nation's congress. A massive obolisque stands in between the two. It's also where Eva Peron stood and spoke to the Argentinian people during her show of power in 1951. This is a famous scene in a certain Madonna film as well, but not being a fan, I havn't watched it.
It is, to say the least, very pink, and is apparently so because it merges the colours of the two opposing political parties. At the back there's a courtyard, trees and park area. It's all very quiet and.... quaintly Argentinian, or at least what I might have expected. The colonial influence is obvious, yet it's more of a welcome mutation than outright Spanishness itself.
The people (despite the hotheaded reputation) are generally friendly and quite welcoming. Although I notice a few tourist police on the beat, the renowned threat to personal safety never feels terribly relevant. There are some beggars, especially following the collapse of the economy in the early 2000's. They tend to approach you in a way no more threatening than in Europe. It was great to be out and about in Argentina's capital, especially on foot.
We walk around gardens' and square's, enjoying the relaxed Sunday atmosphere as well as to the harbour area. As I drifted through the Buenos Aires streets, it was still hard to believe where I actually was and what I was actually experiencing. On the way back, we see a man on the street lieing with a woman aiding him. He had blood coming out of his side, from what appeared to be a number of bullet holes. Police and an ambulence crew were rushing to meet him.
We pick up on a tour, on which we are joined by citizens of Peru, Colombia, Paraguay, Ecuador and England! It basically provided transport to the different neighbourhoods such as San Telmo and La Boca and left you to wander around.
We walk through a series of latin market areas - each meant to be less than secure - although this edge of danger almost makes the experience more visceral. In La Boca, everything is brilliantly colourful.
Old men sit with cigars playing chess on the corners of streets, kids play table football by the side of the road, posters and murals of every possible political, religious and even musical persuasion cover the cracked walls. There is a strong old town feel, like you really are stepping back in time.
We stop off to visit La Bombonera Stadium (or the Chocolate box), home of Boca Juniors, which to football fans is the famous blue and yellow seated arena, still half terraced.
The city centre itself is a case of 'see how many streets you can cram in', yet it has an undeniable character and essence. The wider streets remind me of more grand European boulevards, while the congested inner city definatly feels darker, more dirty and less safe.
I wouldn't say Buenos Aires is the Paris of the south, simply because it doesn't have as many obvious sites. But in terms of atmosphere, people and culture, it equals and surpasses many. There is a definate trend of modern development - seeing a flashy Microsoft skycraper next to a filthy old colonial building sums it all up perfectly.
But for some, the change is far from adequate and there is a lot of visible poverty, especially in the form of slums towards the outskirts.
Argentina appears to be closer to a 'second world' country, a universe away from the mud hut starvation of Kenya, but clearly not Europe. You still see guys with torn clothes trying to sell week old newspapers and silly toys at traffic lights.
Buenos Aires is a chic cosmopolitan city that bristles with sensual elegance - a place of smoke-filled tango halls, wide leafy boulevards and street art of a myriad of genres. The city is divided into districts, or barrios, each with an individual style and character. One of the most popular barrios for visitors is exclusive Recoleta, a thoroughly well-heeled area which fronts onto the Rio Plata.
Porteños, the residents of Buenos Aires, seem to have three great passions in life - tango, football and Evita, and it is in this district, in the vast Recoleta Cemetery, that the remains of Eva Peron found their final resting place. For many people Evita is the only reason to visit Recoleta, for some the only reason to visit Buenos Aries. The popularity of this remarkable lady, still intense a half century after her death, has made the cemetery a mecca for thousands of people every day.
GETTING TO RECOLETA
Buenos Aires is easily negotiated by any method of transport - bus, taxi, underground train - but as most tourists stay downtown around the Centro area, the smart streets of nearby Recoleta, are most simply navigated on foot. Alternatively, all organized city tours tend to terminate outside the cemetery, due to its status as the number one tourist site in the city, and also the high concentration of quality cafés and restaurants nearby.
Since its establishment in 1822, an estimated 350,000 people have been interred at La Recoleta Cemetery. The name Recoleta derives from the meditation and recollection which occurred at the Franciscan monastery which stood on the site in the 1720s. The cemetery was began when the Argentine government banned burials in churches and convents, and its unusual origins means that Recoleta is quite extraordinary. Not only is it one of the finest architectural marvels in the city, it is the resting place of some of the most important figures in Argentine history.
Grand neo-classical gates guard the entrance to the cemetery, and an eerie peace welcomes you as you step through. A long paved avenue stretches out transecting the length of the cemetery, passing through a central plaza. To either side, seemingly never-ending rows of large stone mausoleums stand to well above head height. These are the family tombs of Buenos Aires wealthy elite and favoured sons.
The central plaza is a restful place with grand old trees shading a prominent statue of Jesus. Its the perfect place to take a break from the stresses of city life on the cool stone benches, while the scrawny feral cemetery cats wind about your feet. From here numerous sun-drenched bricked streets radiate off like spokes in wheel, and in turn lead into grids of tiny alleys which are barely wide enough to squeeze between the tombs. All manner of architectural styles can be found here on the 5,000 or so tombs, from neoclassical to art nouveau and neo-gothic. The layout of the cemetery gives it the feel of a mini-city within a city.
So who is there to see? Well, unless you are an Argentine history and elite society buff, there will not be that many names to recognise. Presidents, politicians, writers, artists, sports stars, Nobel Prize winners, architects, etc. are interred here by the dozen, but very few are known to the average tourist. There are a few familiar faces, including Susan Barrantes, (mother of Fergie, Duchess of York) and the F1 Champion Juan Manuel Fangio. Otherwise the main draw for me, and the majority of visitors, was the grave of Eva Perón.
María Eva Duarte de Perón, rose from an illegitimate birth to a cook, through acting and modelling, to become one of the most powerful South American women in history. As the wife of President Juan Perón, she became the highly influential Spiritual Leader of the Nation in 1946, and became famous for championing the rights of the underprivileged. A vast cult grew around her, which since her passing from uterine cancer in 1952 at the age of 33, has never faded.
However, the interest around this burial site, lies not only in the living Evita, but also the controversy surrounding her burial. During a period of hysterical mass mourning across Argentina, a military coup overthrew Peróns government. Evitas body was stolen and defiled to prevent rebellion, and then secretly buried in Italy. Once this was revealed, her exiled husband had the corpse dug up and placed in his house in Spain. When, in 1974, he was reinstated as President, Evita was brought home to Argentina and eventually buried in the tomb of her fathers family, the Duartes, where we find her today.
The small art deco tomb is by no means the grandest in the cemetery, being sandwiched between larger tombs in a densely-packed side alley. Subsequently, the narrow space is permanently packed with groups of tourists jammed like sardines between the towering mausoleums. However, the atmosphere is respectful, and every visitor gets the opportunity to have a good peer, pay respects or take a photo. Many people choose to bring small floral tributes to fix to the heavy, ornate bronze grill door. A plethora of remembrance plaques adorn the ornamental black marble façade. Unlike many of the other tombs, the view of the interior is completely obscured, and not wanting to lose her a second time, the government are rumoured to have made the mausoleum able to withstand a nuclear bomb attack.
So, is it worth a visit?
Recoleta must be counted as one of the great cemeteries of the world, and is a must-see in Buenos Aires for that reason alone. It is unique in style, but most easily comparable with Père Lachaise, the formidable cemetery in Paris. I found Recoleta lacked the magnificent ambience of Père Lachaise. Maybe this was because the names were not so well-known to me and could not compete with the likes of Oscar Wilde or Jim Morrison, or maybe because the atmosphere was far more clinical, it failed to stir my imagination as much as the arty air and rampant decay of its ramshackle, quirky Parisian cousin.
However, the architecture of Recoleta is far grander than other cemeteries I have visited, and it is far better kept. I would absolutely recommend it, even for people who have little interest in Argentine history. La Recoleta Cemetery is certainly a unique place to visit - a huge outdoor art gallery with a deeper significance.
La Recoleta Cemetary, Calle Junín 1760, is open daily, 7am-5.45pm, free admission.
I would recommend one hour minimum to have a good stroll around and to absorb the cemeterys unique character, but if short of time it is worth even a quick ten minute visit.
Friends of the cemetery harass visitors to buy a map for Arg$4 (£0.75) and make a donation at the gate, prompting most visitors to break into a fast trot to avoid parting with any unnecessary pesos. However, if there are particular graves you wish to see the maps are detailed and better than aimlessly pottering around the tiny aisles for hours. To find Eva Perón, either follow the tourist hoards, or ask a friendly gardener.
ALSO IN THE AREA
The cemetery may be the most visited site in Recoleta, but this charming district is not just a one horse show.
In front of the cemetery, on Junín 1904, is the 1732 church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar. This tiny whitewashed church was so unlike others I had visited in South America. Its simple airy colonial style, with pretty stain glass windows, made it serenely relaxed and the perfect place to reflect. Whilst still having the massive and stunningly ornate gold and silver baroque altarpieces so popular on the continent, it was far less ostentatious than usual, and definitely one of my favourite churches in South America.
Admission is free, and the church is open 8am-9pm.
In front of the church is the vast grassy Plaza Francia, which hosts la Feria de Recoleta - a large handicraft market on Saturdays. With hippy sing-ins, street tango and buskers entertaining small crowds all around the fringes of the market, there is quite an atmosphere. Well made glass, woodwork and jewellery items can be purchased from the craftspeople reasonably cheaply, alongside incense, casual clothes and hand made toys. The market is popular with locals, and whilst not stocking a vast range of typical souvenirs, many of the items carry a lot of local flavour. I found it far cheaper and less oppressive than the street markets in La Boca, the most popular district with visitors, which are essentially mass market tourist traps.
Recoleta is also home to several art museums, including Museo de Arte Decorativo, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, and the Cultural Centre (Centro Cultural) which neighbours the cemetery on Junín 1930, and hosts musical, theatre and creative art exhibits.
Across Plaza Francia from the church, stands a row of good continental-style restaurants, all with umbrella-ed garden seating areas bustling with birdlife.
I was particularly impressed with Bullers, a micro-brewery / pub / restaurant, which offers a large selection of unusual beers, such as honey and Oktoberfest style, and an extensive range of light meals, including spectacular salads complete with inventive homemade breads. It has a relaxed, yet still chic (this is Buenos Aires after all), atmosphere and is highly competitive in price.
For more information see http://www.bullerpub.com/comollegar.htm#
The only restaurant to be avoided in the row is the renowned La Biela - hotspot of the rich and famous - which despite its prestigious historic connections and comprehensive, reasonably well-priced Parisian café style menu, has unfortunately developed a rather pompous Parisian style attitude to go with it. I have never before seen customers at such a high-falootin establishment have to get up and ask their waiters to please come to the table. Even worse, the snooty waiter attending to us nonchalantly picked a large piece of debris out of a hot chocolate with his fingers, before casually slamming the glass down in some manner of presentation. I couldnt quite believe my eyes.
For more information see http://www.labiela.com/, but dont be fooled by the nice pictures!
The district of Recoleta is one of the most elegant and charming in Buenos Aires, and is certainly worth exploring for its refined atmosphere, boutique stores and some of the finest dining in the city. Despite the never ending coaches regurgitating endless hoards of tourists, who have come to tick off Evitas tomb on their must do in Buenos Aries list, the barrio of Recoleta still retains a gentile, relaxed air, which reminded me a little of the Left Bank in Paris. Any visitor to charming Buenos Aires will no doubt at some point find themselves in Recoleta, and I can certainly recommend it highly.
© 2006 V.L. Collyer