We arrived in sunny Buenos Aires where it took a good 1 1/2 hours to get through immigration and customs and then about a 40-minute ride into town to our hotel. Driving into the hotel we got a good look at the city, a very vertical city of 3 million, a mix of old, Soviet style concrete block high rise apartments, modern high rise buildings, elegant colonial structures and shanty towns that are built between the highway divisions. Some area had a lot of greenery and I suppose those are the wealthier areas of town. It is not an attractive city and spreads out into suburban areas that house an additional 12.5 million people. Needless to say traffic is a nightmare.
We arrived at our hotel downtown and were greeted by a charming young lady named Sol and indeed she was a ray of sunshine. Sol gave us a brief overview of the area, currency exchange (that’s a long story) and she addressed safety concerns before we took a walk around the area near the hotel.
We were just a few blocks from the main plaza, the president’s residence, the opera house and Puerto Modero, an upscale area along the waterfront with restaurants and shops and Florida street, a pedestrian shopping area filled with shoppers.
We congregated in the afternoon to meet our guide, Eduardo, and the other travelers then were given a briefing of what’s to come before being thrown right into our first tango lesson. Tango’s passion and grace exemplify the spirit of Argentinean culture; the instructors were a father and daughter who made this complicated dance look easy. Once we were on the dance floor this beautiful dance was no longer a beautiful, graceful or sensual dance and there are no photos here for very good reasons. Suffice it to say that you will not see us on “Dancing with the Stars” anytime soon but we did have fun and with practice it became easier but still was not pretty. The instructors were very patient and rewarded our efforts performing a few dances for us.
After dance class we walked to a nearby classic Argentine steak house and sampled first an empanada appetizer and then a delicious, grilled-to-perfection steak, served with french fries – odd – and a nice Malbec. So sorry, did not write down the name of the restaurant but it was crowded by the time we left. Argentineans eat late so we became accustomed to arriving at an empty restaurant for dinner at 7 p.m. and watched as it began to fill up around 8 or 9 p.m. I asked Sol why they eat so late and she explained that when they get home from work around 6 p.m. they eat a pasty and drink their mate, a bitter tea-like drink made by an infusion of dried leaves of yerba mate, more on that later.
The next day we did a walking a tour of Buenos Aires, an elegant mixture of Spanish Colonial architecture and several traditional European styles along with very plain unadorned and drab buildings.
Also in the historic center is the beautiful Colon Theater, built in 1908 and one of the world’s most famous opera houses; international stars vie to perform here because of the perfect acoustics on par with Milan’s La Scala and Vienna’s State Opera House. It is an imposing building reportedly beautiful inside but with limited tickets sold each day we never saw the inside. There is a large plaza on one side with an enormous screen streaming past performances so you can sit in the plaza and enjoy a little opera.
The city is made up of interesting barrios or neighborhoods one of which is La Boca, famous for two attractions that visitors come to see: the fútbol stadium ‘La Bombonera,’ and Caminito, the colorful artists’ street by the water. La boca means ‘the mouth’ in English and the barrio of La Boca is so named because it is situated at the mouth of the Riachuelo river and was once a port consisting mostly of shipyards and of the houses of people who worked in them. Today La Boca remains a rough, working class neighborhood.
A local artist, Benito Quinquela Martín, transformed Caminito in 1960 when he painted the walls of what was then an abandoned street, erected a makeshift stage for performers quickly transforming it into a haven for artists. Today it’s pretty much a tourist trap, full of touts, hawkers, hustlers, overpriced knick-knacks and restaurants. There is lots of open-air tango on display to entertain the patrons at the outdoor cafes, which is fun if you haven’t seen it before and the colorful buildings are fun but there’s not much else.
La Boca is also home to the soccer stadium La Bombonera meaning ‘the chocolate box’ due to its unusual shape, a flat side and three steep stands around the rest of the stadium; colorful murals cover the exterior walls. The stadium is home to the Boca Juniors soccer club. Locals either supported Boca Juniors or rivals River Plate. Boca Juniors are said to be the most successful soccer team in Argentina and one of the most successful worldwide having won 51 National and International titles. Our guide was a passionate supporter of the ”other” team.
La Boca Stadium