My trip to Buenos Aires: March-May 2011

17-lane Avenida 9 de Julio, Centre of Buenos Aires
After throwing myself into my business of teaching Spanish for 2 years and helping many people prepare to move or travel abroad, I decided it was time to take a break, do some travelling and practise the language I love. I chose to visit Buenos Aires, Argentina as I had always wanted to travel to South America and it sounded a fantastic city to visit! Here is my account of what to expect from a trip to Argentina.

The sights

La Boca

Buenos Aires has a mixture of influences; some areas are typically European, hence the nickname “Paris of Latin America”, while other areas are authentically South American. There are 48 districts in Buenos Aires, each with its own distinct character; from working class La Boca’s brightly painted shacks, to Recoleta’s impressive French-style palaces, to Palermo’s parks, gardens and designer boutiques to the centre, bustling with office workers, tourists and traffic hurtling down 17-lane avenues.

Jardín Japonés (Japanese Garden) Palermo

The food

• Dulce de leche (sweet milk): a delicious caramel sauce. They spread on bread, biscuits, used in cakes and ice-cream. If you are sweet-toothed this is heaven in a jar. ¡Riquísimo! (Delicious!)
• Alfajores: 2 round cookies, sandwiched together with dulce de leche. They come in a variety of styles and are eaten at any time; breakfast, dessert or an anytime snack!
• Steak: Argentina’s steak is extraordinarily delicious due to the quality of pasture cattle feed on and how cows are raised. Visit a traditional parrilla (steak house) for a “tenedor libre” (buffet-style feast). I recommend “Siga la Vaca” on the Costanera. If you can, go with locals as you need to ask for the specific cuts of meat. They eat absolutely every part of a cow. I would rather not think about the parts of a cow that I ate that night! A 3-course buffet is just £13. Another highlight is the “Gran Parrilla del Plata” in San Telmo, try the “Ojo de bife” (rib-eye) – the thickest and tastiest steak I have ever eaten!
• Ice-cream: Because of the huge Italian influence, there are many top quality ice-cream parlours serving rich creamy ice-cream. The best being “Altra Volta” and “Freddo”.

Tango

You cannot go to Buenos Aires without experiencing tango music and dance. Either go to an evening show or experience a free after dinner show at a restaurant in La Boca. If you want to dance tango yourself, head to a “milonga” or book some private lessons.

Getting around

The quickest and cheapest way to get around is on the “subte”, the underground. Just  £0.17 per trip. As well as a means of transport, for me, travelling by subte was entertainment. Like going to the theatre – you didn’t know who or what was going to happen next! It was also like your local mobile shop – people sold EVERYTHING on the subte, from guide books to chocolate, even knickers and socks!
Catch a bus (colectivo) if you dare! Be sure you know where to get off, don’t expect any help from the driver and get on quick before he pulls away at top speed!

The people (los porteños – people of the port)

I found the “porteños” to be spontaneous and very open with their feelings. They say exactly what they think. They are very proud of their country. They also seem to be obsessed with keeping fit, massage and psychology. They are always late, even more so than the Spanish. If you think everything in Spain happens “mañana” (tomorrow), in Argentina it happens “la próxima semana” (next week).

Oddities

• Men as well as women kiss each other on both cheeks.
• Seeing dog-walkers walking about 20 dogs at once, virtually all identical too! I have no idea how they get the right dog back to the right owner, but this is Buenos Aires, does anything matter?!
• You can home deliver virtually anything in Buenos Aires, even ice-cream.
• 24-7 lifestyle: seeing women in their 60’s on the colectivo at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night was really bizarre!
one of the frequent  demonstrations
• Never knowing what is going to happen next – strikes on the subte, roads cut off by a demonstration, power cuts, leaving you with no light or water.

What I liked most:

• A beautiful cloudless blue sky virtually every day.
• The spontaneity of the people – they never worry, and of the place – “anything goes”.
• Dulce de leche.

Dislikes:

• The poverty – children begging in the streets, disabled people begging on the subte, and the way everyone seems to just accept this.
• Customer service – people are not always particularly willing to help you.
• Traffic everywhere – cars often do not stop even at zebra crossings. Crossing the road is a challenge in itself. Some avenues are so wide you do not even get enough time to cross before the red man starts flashing again.
• Awful pavements – uneven and full of dog muck. I often saw people trip and fall and even had to pick a lady up who had fallen over and couldn’t get up.

All in all, Buenos Aires is a great place to visit and to “get away from it all”. Apart from encountering a few scary incidents, I believe it is one of the safest cities in South America. Although good for a trip away and to experience a different culture and way of life, I could never live there.
Best time to go: March-May and September-November before it gets stiflingly hot between December and February when the locals escape to the coast to avoid the sweltering city heat.
Getting to Buenos Aires: You can now fly London-Buenos Aires direct with British Airways (approx. 13 hours)

If you would like to brush up your Spanish or learn a few phrases to get more out of a trip to Spain or South America, feel free to get in touch via the website or call Fiona on 07870699404.

 
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