Travel Dates: May 31 – June 5, 2016
Must See: Obelisk, Buenos Aires sign, Evita Peron’s burial place, Florida Street, Casa Rosada, barrio of La Boca
Must Do: Walk the barrios to experience the city
Must Try: Empanadas, coffee, dulce de leche, pizza, tortas
Want to read more about this trip?
Buenos Aires was like any metropolitan city: busy. The streets were littered with vendors selling fruits, pastries, stray dogs, tall buildings, buses, taxis. People walked with a purpose – something I adapted to and have adapted in all my travels. I couldn’t decide if Buenos Aires (BA) was like New York or Los Angeles. It exudes Europe with an air of Western culture. The primary language is Spanish.
From the airport (EZE), I chose to commute (Manuel Tienda Leon – http://www.tiendaleon.com/resultados/busqueda/bus/) by bus, which took me about 45 minutes to Retiro Station (near Sheraton). You can buy the bus ticket at the airport after exiting Customs. The bus plus taxi combo (taxi will take you to your hotel from Retiro Station) was $185 Argentinian Pesos per person; however, if you plan to take the bus on the return, ask for ida y vuelta fare (cost $340 Pesos without the taxi combo). Manuel Tienda accepts Argentinian Pesos, USD, US credit card as payment.
BA is/was a walkable city so bring comfortable shoes. Using a fitbit, I was averaging 10-11 miles per day of walking. The subway was visibly marked by letters but its accessibility to where I was staying was not near. I stayed at the Hilton Buenos Aires in Puerto Madero (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/argentina/hilton-buenos-aires-BUEHIHH/index.html) and it was “central” to the neighboring barrios (or neighborhoods).
One day, a walk took me from Puerto Madero to Recoleta to Palermo and back to Puerto Madero. A major street such as Paseo Colon crosses over to another barrio thus, making the trek easy to follow. Plus, I got to see the streets of BA instead of riding the subway.
Communication was a challenge throughout my stay in BA particularly with people on the streets. Hotel staff understood and spoke some English and I was able to communicate with them. Gestures and pre-Elementary Spanish were my saving grace when asking for directions. On the subway, I experienced the generosity of a man who let me through the turnstile without paying. He spoke very little English and couldn’t tell me how and where to buy a ticket. Despite my prior knowledge to look for a vendor with a SUBE sign, I didn’t know how to ask where to buy a ticket.
The weather upon my arrival was Spring or Fall like compared to the (US) Midwest. June 1st was the start of Winter and a light coat was necessary. I brought a hat and gloves I typically wore during the Winter months in Ohio and that kept me warm (the gloves were not used as much). One night, I strolled along the river in Puerto Madero and noticed the restaurants open but absent of people. After beer and pizza and conversation with the waiter, I found out that residents of Puerto Madero traveled North or in Europe during the Winter months in BA. I also noticed that porteños (locals) ate dinner much later than Westerners. I was at the restaurant around 5:30ish in the evening and for BA this is early.
Exchanging money in BA could be a challenge according to the multitude of reviews I read prior to leaving. I exchanged $100 USD (equivalent $900 Pesos) at the Atlanta airport and received a decent exchange but paid a $10 fee. On Florida Street, you will find people yelling “cambio”. Locals say not to exchange money with these people as they may give you counterfeit money or could harm you. But, there is a reputable place in that area (Galerias Pacifico) where you can exchange your USD. Your USD are accepted in BA but expect to receive Argentinian Pesos in change. I never tried this so I have no opinion to share. The next hotel I stayed in San Telmo was Anselmo Hilton (http://curiocollection3.hilton.com/en/hotels/argentina/anselmo-buenos-aires-curio-collection-by-hilton-BUEBAQQ/index.html). The hotel was able to exchange $100 for an exchange rate of $13.50 Pesos and no fee.
The food was commendable and the coffee kept me going. I tried empanadas, croissants, dulce de leche, gelato, and more coffee. Dulce de Leche was like peanut butter to the US. It taste like condensed milk with a hint of caramel or toffee. It was delicious on bread or by itself. I had dulce de leche flavored gelato in Uruguay but thought it was too sweet. I had lunch at El Obrero in La Boca one day and ordered calamari, fried potatoes, and beef with crushed tomato sauce (think chicken parmigiana). El Obrero is famous in this barrio and it was evident by the famous people on the wall. Plus, La Boca is the barrio that is home to CABJ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boca_Juniors). The barrio is not safe to walk around at night so go for lunch and walk off what you eat. Coffee places and panaderias were abundantly scattered in BA. Potatoes were served with many dishes so if you’re watching your carb intake, this is your warning. Bacon was another thing that was notable; they call it pancetta but unlike the pancetta I was familiar with in the US. Their bacon is not cured or smoked and is not as salty as the pancetta in the US.
The local beer, Quelmes, was good. It reminded of Stella Artois. BA offered an abundant of carbs: pizza, pasta, and potatoes. The pizza I ordered was delicious but the amount of whole olives on a few slices was quite overwhelming and overpowering. People walked around eating sandwiches, which reminded me of Paris. They drink lots of coffee and wine. Water can be purchased sin or con gas (with or without bubbles); the choice is yours.
I felt safe walking the streets of BA. I saw a family of 3 plus a dog living under a tent in a plaza. It was raining that day and the mom was changing a baby’s diaper on a small sofa in the rain outside their makeshift home. I saw homeless people make homes in the sides of buildings though I rarely saw their faces. On Florida street, I saw vendors selling their wares and trying to get tourists (and locals) to buy them. I saw people making life choices as they go through their day, just like in Ohio. There was police presence and traffic people were poised with orange letters on their coat jackets. They were sometimes my go-to people to ask for directions. Traffic was not bad.
I met the chef at Anselmo Hilton and found out he’s American from D.C. I was talking to the waitress about bacon and he chimed in. He’s lived in Latin America for 2 years and 17 months in BA. He traveled by car with his wife and a dog in a Toyota Tacoma. In his words, he loves it in BA. I often wondered what motivates people to leave their home country for another life in a different country, with a different language.
I would like to return to Argentina and make Buenos Aires as a stopping ground to another city. The 3-4 days in BA was enough to see the barrios and to get a glimpse of their life. Ciao!