Just a few days in Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the many parks you find as you wander around the city…and this is a city you should make a point to wander around in.

Earlier this year, when my friend asked me to join her on a trip to Argentina to visit her cousin who was on exchange in Rosario, I jumped at the opportunity.  I had been wanting to visit Buenos Aires for awhile.  I’d heard mixed reviews…it’s gritty and overwhelming…it’s beautiful, awesome, so much fun.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I approached it with an eager but open mind.  In the end, I found this city delightful, even in the midst of cool, often cold and rainy, weather of May, their winter.  It is gritty, but it’s full of life, and history, and beauty, and cats, and crazy cab drivers, and delicious beef, and really cool graffiti art, and on and on.  I really enjoyed my time there…maybe it was the company of my friend Terra and her cousin Ted, who both entertained me to no end…but I spent a day in the city alone…and it was still great.

In Buenos Aires, these high rise buildings are not supposed to have windows along the side walls, in order to allow for cramming several buildings side by side. As a result, what you see is the hodge podge appearance resulting from miscellaneous building dwellers popping out their own windows in search of a little light.

Sleep.

In Buenos Aires, there are many barrios, or neighborhoods, that are great home bases for the traveler.  We chose Palermo Soho with its relative vicinity to the city and its trendy and young vibe.  This sub-barrio within Palermo in the northeastern portion of the city is littered with cafes and boutiques.   (Note that this neighborhood is a bit pricey, but definitely a fun one.  If you are staying in the city longer than a week, you may want to rent an apartment; it is usually cheaper.)  While we wanted to do some sight-seeing in other parts of the city, we knew we wanted to stay close to where we were going to eat, shop and drink…and Palermo Soho it was.  Luckily one of us (not me) was worried about something other than what we were going to eat (food is my obsession).  Terra, one of my travel buddies, found us a clean and affordable room at BASoho, a cute little bed and breakfast  with a great location, delicious coffee and pastries every morning, and the loveliest manager, who sat down with us at Time Zero and marked up a map with all of her favorite places to eat, drink and shop…super helpful.  Rooms are priced from $40-$85, depending on number of beds and whether the bath is shared or private, and based on location, cleanliness and comfort, they are worth it.

Eat.

During planning of this trip, Terra liked to joke that we were a great team…she was concerned about where we laid our heads (I was totally unconcerned), and I wanted to make sure we knew where to eat.  To be fair, Argentina’s food scene is pretty meat-focused…and we had a vegetarian in our midst…  So, I was a little more obsessed with ensuring a good food experience than usual.  There are so many places to eat in Buenos Aires.  I’m only going to tell you about some of the places where we ate, but there are loads of resources out there.  I relied heavily on word of mouth and the Gringo in Buenos Aires.

First up, La Cabrera.  This is not the first restaurant we visited, but it may have been my favorite.  My mouth is watery just thinking about it.  La Cabrera is a parrilla, a steakhouse.  There are many parrillas in the city, and this one is not the cheapest.  But, it came on recommendation from several contacts I have who have lived in BA or visited recently, and it was highly recommended in online sources, such as Afar.com and Gringo in Buenos Aires.  This is one of the best known parrillas in the city, thus there are many tourists dining there at anytime and you need reservations.  (They have an off-shoot nearby, La Cabrera Norte if you can’t get in.)  But, we only had a few nights in the city and really only one to torment our vegetarian travel buddy in a steakhouse, so we went with the sure bet.  And, it was to die for…

We started with a bottle of wine and the fried provolone topped with prosciutto and sun-dried tomatoes, de-assembled and re-assembled onto each of our plates with great care…Ted served last, which made Terra and I quite happy.

Our waiter was ADORABLE! He took extra care to ensure that we had an amazing food and dining experience. His manners were above anything I’ve experienced. Here he is preparing our main dish of (way too much food) ojos de bife and bife de chorizo with all the accoutrements. The food was so good that even the non-meat eater couldn’t keep his fork out of the mix.

If anyone ever meets my friend Terra, you should ask her about the lemon sorbet and champagne dessert at La Cabrera…but only if you have 15 minutes to talk about it!

Buenos Aires has a whole scene of closed-door restaurants, or rather not-restaurants…kinda like supper clubs.  Often times, they are located in the home of the chef, are open only a few days per week, and have space for a limited number of guests.  The chef sets the menu as he pleases.  But, what you get is an intimate setting with amazing food created by a chef who is not constrained by all the food preferences of his guests…quite liberating from an American’s perspective!  We hit up Casa Felix, a well established closed-door restaurant in Chacaritas.  Diego is an amazing chef who opens up his home to 15 diners, 3 nights per week to serve a 5 course pescatarian menu for 230 Arg pesos, an experience that is delightful, if I do say so myself.

Just after arrival…Terra and I are already quite happy with our choice. The ambience was cozy and intimate from the get go. Photo taken by Ted Sieving.

The evening begins with cocktails and hor d’oeuvres in the courtyard. I think this scene transpired as Ted swiped a tasty treat from Terra’s hand, but you never know with these two.

The menu. The only menu negotiations in this place are to accommodate food allergies and vegetarians.

Diego, our wonderful host and chef, explaining the second course, and Ted sitting still and listening intently…for once! The setting here was so intimate that a solo traveler and a couple on their honeymoon spontaneously pulled their tables up to ours…to join the party, apparently! We were having too. much. fun!

Desert. The close to a great meal and a really nice evening.

Other places we hit up for some eats along the way, included:

  • Mark’s Deli (El Salvador 4701 in Palermo), a delicious establishment, from the perspectives of both the food and the people, who are the epitome of Argentine beauty.  This place is pricey, but the sandwiches are delicious and quite hearty.  We grabbed take out and ate our sandwiches as 2 meals.  You can get free wifi here as well.
  • Sarkis (Thames 1101 in Villa Crespo, just outside of Palermo), a simple and budget-friendly restaurant serving very tasty Middle Eastern food and a great option for vegetarians.  This place is large but fills up quick, so expect a short wait.

The ever-moving Ted ensuring that we all kept hydrated as we pounced on these scrumptious Lebonese eats. There was so much noise and bustle at our table that the older couple next to us kept watching us. In my attempts to get the man to school Ted in romance, I figured out that they did not speak English…so we were safe, because at this point, we were hours of travel and a few bottles in for the day, and who knows what we were talking about!

  • Krishna (Malabia 1833 in Palermo), a hippy-dippy little establishment serving only vegetarian food.  The place is quite inviting and the ambience is quite soothing…well except for the television running images of odd images of Hindu gods that, I think I can speak for all of us, we found kinda creepy.  Either way, if you are looking for good veg-friendly food, come here.  The Indian-inspired menu is quite good.  But, note, no alcohol served.
  • …and several random bakeries, pizza joints, and cafes along the way.  Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.

The threat of a camera did not stop this showdown between me and this cupcake. I don’t mess around with cupcakes. We were wandering around rainy Palermo. The sight of these beautiful cupcakes drew me in, and the smell sold ’em. A delicious treat in the midst of the cold, wet day. I just wish I could remember the place, so I could share it. Photo taken by Terra Carey.

Do.

There are so many things to do and sights to see in Buenos Aires.  We only had a few days, and we chose not to spend all of our time sight-seeing, so we missed a lot…but we still had a ton of fun!

Just a few hours after our planes landed, we had showered up, grabbed a bite at Marks’s, and headed out to the meeting spot for the Graffitimundo tour we’d signed up for in the hopes to not have to think or make a decision for the first several hours after arrival.  Graffitimundo is an organization which is committed to raising awareness of rich heritage and dynamic culture of Buenos Aires street art scene by, among other projects, offering guided tours within different neighborhoods highlighting the historical and cultural context of the scene and the art itself.  Our guide was passionate and captivating as she told us all about the street art scene, its importance to the culture here, the artists and the context of many of the pieces themselves.  I’ll devote a whole post to this in the future, but just know that this ain’t no average graffiti.

One of several stops we made during the Graffitimundo tour. Our guide was so passionate about the topic; I have so many photos capturing her story telling abilities. I can’t remember which artist was responsible for this piece, but it looks like the work of Jaz, who is well known for his large scales and unconventional pieces.

Just because I love it, I want to share this piece of stencil art, probably 2-3 times the size of my face! I just love the expression on this man’s face, a moment of pure joy.

We spent the afternoon of our second day with our local friend for rent, Giselle, a journalist and tango instructor from Brazil.  She took us around La Boca and San Telmo neighborhoods, teaching us about the history and culture of each neighborhood.  While I enjoyed our time with Giselle, I thought Caminita in La Boca was over-rated.  It felt like a tourist trap, but we checked it off our list.

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Caminita in La Boca, one of the city’s over-rated attractions. La Boca is situated at the mouth of the Riachuelo River is the home of some of the city’s most colorful buildings, made from the scrap metal from the ship yards where its inhabitants worked. It is quite colorful, but it feels like a movie set…full of tourists and souvenir hawkers.

 We missed market day (famous antique flea market on Sundays), but San Telmo was quite nice to walk around with its cobble-stoned streets and beautiful old faded buildings.  This barrio is the oldest in the city, but it is not out-dated.  It is a hotspot for tango, antiques, bohemians, and some truly delicious places to eat.  It is a very interesting place to wander, doesn’t matter which day you visit.

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Even with its cobble-stoned streets and faded granduer, San Telmo is still a bustling enclave within the city… You just can’t escape Starbucks!

Any visit to Buenos Aires should include a stop at Recoleta Cemetery, a truly impressive mausoleum-style cemetery containing over 4000 vaults, many of which are extremely elaborate.  I enjoyed wandering around the walkways, peering into the vaults, and admiring the opulence.  Make sure not to miss the tomb of Eva Peron.  It’d be a shame to walk past it and not stop to take a peek.

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If you’re up for a nice walk, you can stroll through the Jardin Botanico (Av. Santa Fe near the Zoo) and the Jardin Japones (Av. Figueroa Alcorta y Av. Casares) on the way to Recoleta from Palermo.  Both are very nice.  The Jardin Botanico contains thousands of plant species, several sculptures, reflective ponds, greenhouses, the mansion which a housed a park directors family long ago…and several cats.  The Jardin Japones is not free, costing about 10 pesos.  However, it is a lovely traditional Japanese garden with a lake, bridges and tea house.

Part of the nice thing about walking through the Jardin Botanica is watching the other people passing through and enjoying a bit of solace from the bustle of the city.

The botanical garden houses a ton of cats, but don’t worry…they aren’t feral. They are abandoned by their owners, sometimes as frequently as one per day. Since removing the cats from the park will not solve the city’s cat problem, they are left alone to roam and are taken care of by volunteers in the animal protection community.

One of the first sculptures I saw as I entered the Jardin Botanica. I thought the setting within the reflective pool decorated with several lilies growing in the foreground was quite pretty.

I loved how this sculpture was literally engulfed by its neighboring tree.  Jardin Botanica, BA.

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I stood and watched this cat stand guard on this bridge for quite some time, and don’t think he budged for any passerby! Jardin Japones, BA.

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Jardin Japones, traditional tea garden, perfect area to take a stroll and do some people watching.

Buenos Aires is a bustling city full of things to do and stuff to see.  This post is by no means all-inclusive, missing, for instance, Puerto Madero, Avenida 9 de Julio, MALBA, El Ateneo, and so much more.  Pick up any guidebook or refer to several available online resources, such as Gringo In Buenos Aires, Afar.com, Lonely Planet Travel Forum, etc. for more information about the possibilities.  But, make sure to leave time just to wander around, do some window shopping, sit at a cafe and people watch…and, if you are a night owl, this city is for you with its renowned nightlife scene.  The best memories tend to be those that you stumble across.

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ArteBA 2012, a massive contemporary art exhibition housed annually at the convention center. We came across hoards of people swarming in and out of this place on our walk to Casa Felix. (In hindsight, I think we were going the wrong way!) We were killing time and thought why not…there’s a bar, lots of fun art, and loads of great people watching. Great memory.

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