Buenos Aires – city of seduction

18 Apr

Buenos Aires lived up to our every expectation. Fine European architecture gracing the city could almost persuade the untrained eye that this was Paris or Madrid but a closer look at the bustling streets, frenzied traffic and pride and passion of the residents, left us in no doubt that we had arrived in Latin America.

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The city is huge and sprawling but most of the major sites are very central and easily reached on foot (perhaps with the odd blister) or by public transport. Avenue 9 de Julio (9th of July), with its tall phallic looking ‘Obelisco’, lies at the heart of the city and goes some way to capturing its spirit. The widest road in the world with up to seven lanes of non-stop, engine revving, horn honking traffic in each direction, with two parallel roads each side – sounds terrible right? But no, scratch beneath the frenzied surface and a different city is revealed – beautiful trees line the avenue and cafe’s spill out onto the pavement. Fantastic parrillas (grilled meat restaurants) where whole joints are slowly roasted over open fire pits, sit alongside fast food cafes where locals eat pizza slices and empanadas (similar to mini Cornish pasties with savoury and sweet fillings). The theatre district can also be found here showing world-class opera, ballet and of course tango performances.

The apartment we rented was tucked away in a quiet corner of San Telmo.

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A bohemian neighbourhood with crumbling, Parisian style buildings with ornate iron balconies, cobbled streets and interesting street art on every corner.

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During the 1800’s this area was home to BA’s wealthy elite but due to a series of epidemics at the turn of the century, the privileged families headed North of the city leaving only the poor behind with multiple families crammed into every available space. These days the uneven pavements are filled with galleries, antique shops, boutiques and funky bars.

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Every Sunday the San Telmo streets come alive with live music and food stalls as the antiques market gets under way. Tango, which Argentina is of course famous for, is performed on the street in Plaza Dorrego.

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One of the City’s most famous tourist attractions, Cemeterio de la Recoleta, is situated in one of BA’s wealthiest areas. It sounds a sombre affair to be wandering between graves taking pictures but this is no ordinary cemetery.

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High walls surround a vast area of marble tombs where generations of rich families are buried together, ornate engravings feature on each mausoleum and life-size statues keep demons at bay. BA’s darling, Eva Peron, is buried here and tourists and locals alike flock to see her final resting place.

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BA’ newest development, Puerto Madero, was once a bustling, working port. The whole area lay derelict for years and has recently been transformed into a showpiece for BA’s growth and new-found wealth.

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Converted warehouses resemble Manhattan loft apartments, tree-lined paths weave around the four docks and past two wooden sailing ships permanently moored here. Designer hotels and flashy restaurants serving up the finest international cuisine line the waterways. Red and yellow cranes dot the waterside as a vibrant reminder of the docks working history. Around the docks, as in many other parts of the city, dog walkers are everywhere.

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The residents of BA simply love their dogs but their busy lifestyles mean they hire professional walkers to take their pooches out each day. The savvy dog walkers, who are keen to make an extra few peso’s, are not content with just one dog to entertain but instead they handle eight, nine, even ten muscle-bound breeds – all jockeying for position and competing to see who can bark the loudest.

La Boca is one of the poorer, working class barrios of BA. Guide books and locals warn tourists to take care and not to stray too far from the well trodden paths so we entered the area with some trepidation. In the neighbourhood we saw shabby looking dwellings, homeless people sleeping on piles of cardboard and young boys rooting through the bins looking to earn a few pesos from recycling. Thankfully we didn’t feel threatened but we were reminded of the poverty and sadness that comes with every major city of the world.

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As we walked deeper into the barrio, we reached the mouth of the Rio Riachuelo, where remains of the old port still stand and a series of pedestrianised streets are home to brightly coloured corrugated-metal buildings.

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Once here it was like a completely different area again as tourists watched performances of street tango and mingled with local artists and craftsmen selling their products. At the heart of La Boca lies it’s football club, Club Atletico Boca Juniors, home of the infamous ‘Hand of God’, the legendary Maradonna.

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Football is everywhere in BA – it’s avidly watched on the TV, it makes front page news in the newspapers and it’s passionately discussed around the dinner table. After spending some time in the informative museum, we took a tour of the ground and learnt a few of the clubs secrets. The stadium was founded by five Italian immigrants in 1905 and has grown to hold a modest capacity of approximately 55,000 – with three tiers on three sides only. The plans were to expand the fourth side of the stadium, which currently only accommodates a few VIP boxes, however one local gentleman who owns a house on a large plot of land just on the other side of the wall, will not be bought out for any price, as he’s a supporter of the opposing BA rivals – River Plate. Due to one man’s pride and stubbornness, the whole club will now be rebuilt on a different site.

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We were actually thankful that it wasn’t a match day in the home supporters standing end (the area for ‘crazy fans’ our guide called it). The changing rooms for the opposing club are underneath this stand so before kick off the fans scream, roar, stomp their feet and jump up and down – most probably making the opposition feel like they’re about to enter the gates of hell!! When the ‘Juniors’ score a goal, the supporters go completely nuts, climbing the 30 foot fence in front of them and setting hand-held fireworks off!

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Buenos Aires certainly lives up to its excellent reputation. We were charmed, captivated, exhausted by its presence. A city of contrasts and something for everyone. The city has the heart and passion of a stoney faced protestor demanding rights and equality and the seductiveness of a youthful senorita wearing a low-cut dress, bright red lipstick and dancing the night away.

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