Sunday, August 30, 2009

Buenos Aires in retrospect

If Buenos Aires had a theme song, it would be “Cite Tango” by the Gotan Project.

The city is sexy and cosmopolitan, yet a little rough around the edges after emerging from a long history fraught with political upheaval and strife. Though the government is relatively calm now compared to the days of Peron et. al., the financial situation still weighs heavily on the country, with unemployment very high and inflation quite rampant ($1 equals about 4 pesos). While this doesn't bode well for Argentinians, for Americans it's a dream come true. You can live like a king on almost nothing here, especially in the trendiest, hippest neighborhood of Buenos Aires: the Recoleta district. Here is where Santa Fe Avenue lies, with its endless boutiques, cafes, book stores and restaurants that stretch for miles both ways. I stayed in an apartment just around the corner from Santa Fe, and when I wasn't visiting the usual sights, everyday was spent shopping here or on Calle Florida (another long street filled with retail in both directions), drinking espressos at corner cafes.

During my stay I bought a black peacoat ($30), a black wool trench ($50), a real(!) leather handbag in the style of Balenciaga's motorcycle bag ($55) and knee-high leather boots ($60). In other words, prices here are ridiculous compared to what I'm used to -- especially for quality leather items. The unspoken uniform in Buenos Aires (at least in the fall/winter) is knee-high leather boots, whether flat or heeled. Every woman is wearing a pair, so to blend in with the locals and look stylish, a pair is necessary. Speaking of style, I found the women here to be more stylish than anywhere I've seen in Italy, France or NYC, and they pull it off with ease and the knowledge that designer labels aren't needed to look good. Sometimes it was fun just to people watch with a cappuccino because of all the great oufits that passed by.

Our apartment was beyond charming, and true to most of the architecture in the city, was impossibly French in every way. It felt like a flat in Paris, but was instead nestled nicely in the Recoleta district, and came out to only about $100 per night. (For a two-bedroom/two-bath with modern kitchen, it was a steal.):

I fell in love with the building's French cage elevator just outside our
front door. It was like a scene right out of "Amelie".

San Telmo:

Every Sunday there's a big artisan's fair in the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires. It's called the "feria de San Telmo" and is filled with tables of arts, crafts and antiques from local artists and collectors. Fun to peruse and soak in the culture, as San Telmo is a historic district known for its tango and tango dancers it used to house:

The city:

Me in front of the Casa Rosada (or "pink house"), where the president's office is.

Calle Florida (or "Florida Street"):

A group of tango dancers on Florida Street continuously perform for tourists and passerbys near the entrance to a mall called the Galleria Pacifico.

The entrance to Galleria Pacifico (above). This mall is incredible. I've never seen any like it.

I couldn't help myself.

Recoleta Cemetery:

On our way to the cemetery (above). I really want to own that building with the for sale sign behind us. According to real estate rates quoted by an agent I spoke with, it probably costs about, oh, $200,000. I don't know what I'm waiting for.

Now I don't usually visit cemeteries on my off days...or any days for that matter. Frankly they creep me out (as do most things that are tied to death), but the one in Recoleta is world famous so we had to pop by for a visit. It's exactly like the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris (you know, the one from the Oscar Wilde vignette in "Paris Je T'aime"), and in true cemetery fashion, is pretty eerie:

Many of the tombs had glass doors, and you could see the coffins lined on shelves inside. I'll be honest, it was ... different. After we visited Eva Peron's grave (above), we hightailed it out of there. The feeling of just how mortal we were was a little too palpable for our tastes.

El Ateneo:

I've heard it said that Buenos Aires is one of the most literary cities in the world, and the many book stores I came across was evidence of this. I couldn't go more than three or four blocks without stumbling upon another hole-in-the-wall bookstore or behemoth that could easily rival a Barnes and Noble at its best. For a bibliophile, I was in heaven. In fact the most stunning bookstore I've ever visited thus far was the El Ateneo on Santa Fe Avenue. Even if you could care less about books, you MUST visit the El Ateneo. The giant space is an old majestic theater converted into a modern bookstore, where a cafe sits in the stage area, and the tall red velvet curtains, frescos and gold trim detailing along the eaves have all been kept in immaculate condition. Where else can you spy readers lounging with their books in historic opera boxes near the stage area?:

The restaurant scene:

If you were to live permanently in Buenos Aires, you would easily be able to afford eating out almost every night -- and you wouldn't have to rely on fast food to get you through your journey. Locals go to dinner around 10pm, and often stay out enjoying their food and drink till midnight. Going out to eat is an event here -- something to look forward to in your day. Even the most upscale restaurants in the city only run about $10 to $12 a plate – the same kind of restaurants that in the states would cost $30+ per entree. And bottles of wine, both ordered in restaurants and bought in grocery stores, is a pittance compared to what we're used to paying. If dining out is your thing, this is the city to do it in:

A dinner show (above and below).

A charming fondue restaurant (above) we ate at one night in the Soho district. Below, Restaurant Cabernet, a romantic bistro with candlelit seating in a courtyard inside the stucco walls.

If you love Italian food, you have to try the fresh handmade pasta at La Baita (above), also in the Soho district. During our dinner two opera singers came out among the tables and sang while customers enjoyed food and wine.

Evita Museum:
I know she was corrupt and all, but I'm obsessed with Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical "Evita" and have always been intrigued by the cult status of Eva Peron, so we visited her museum during our stay. Though it's small, it's definitely worth a visit and houses many relics like her collections of hats and dresses:

All in all, Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, and I can't wait to go back and stay longer. It's an interesting hybrid of the old and new, of antiquated Europe and modern Manhattan. It has all the conveniences of an American city, but with the charm and sophistication of Paris. Best of all it's 10-folds more affordable than any other city I've ever visited. If Carrie Bradshaw had lived here instead of the Big Apple, her clothing and shoe addiction on a columnists' salary would have been much more believable. ;)


Stephanie said...

It looks like a very beautiful and interesting city. What a great post. I always tune in for Buenos Aires episodes of house hunters because of the prices. I can't believe how affordable it is!

vilkri said...

Great report. It almost felt like I was there again. Buenos Aires is one of my favorite cities in the world.

Mandy said...

What a fabulous trip! I loved your descriptions of the different areas you visited - almost made me feel like I was there with you.

That apartment is amazing and beautiful. I loved that artisan district. I could see myself spending hours there.

LOL on those huge sun glasses! You should have bought them. Add some feelers to your head and some extra arms and you have the makings of a great Halloween costume, ;-) (bug, insect of some sort, lol).

That bookstore and stage is amazing! You could read Shakespeare then stand up to act out a scene! :-)

Oh, and I’m happy to see you salvaged your photos! Welcome home.

Janine / Being Brazen said...

Wow, that all looks and sounds so amazing.

The apartment looks fabulous.

Andi said...

I need to visit that city!! It sounds like a place I would love! AND with that bookstore, I am sure to convince my bf he wants to go too! ;)

The Depressed Yogi said...

Welcome home!!! I've missed you, you gorgeous gal! Love reading all about your adventures and seeing all your fab pics. Keep em coming!

Tami - fete a fete said...

welcome home! :)
man, this city makes me miss Paris even more...sigh!! so glad you made it home in one piece!

Kat said...

I can't believe I haven't been to Buenos Aires yet. I feel like I'm really missing out. Thanks for the recap and pics.

Carrie said...

Beautiful!! I am so jealous. I sooo want to go south of the border!

paisley penguin said...

I have never really been interested in visiting Argentina. After reading this its now on my list!

Unknown said...

Wonderful pics of Buenos Aires!
I spent a great time last month in Buenos Aires. I rented a furnished apartment in Recoleta, Buenos Aires, near the down town. I suggest that service called ForRent Argentina: Buenos Aires apartments For Rent

Blog Widget by LinkWithin