72 Hours in Buenos Aires

8 Jul

Perhaps you’ve mused, while listening—or maybe you were waltzing—to Astor Piazzolla’s Spring in Buenos Aires, that it’d be nice to actually experience a spring in Buenos Aires. Or, maybe been hypnotized by the sensuality of one of Carlo Gardel’s tangos and, being fully seduced by it, imagined yourself in the arms of another, gyrating, swiftly stepping, to carefully choreographed rhythms and thought: oh what it must be like…to be there, taking it all in first hand, in the hometown of such infectious music..

Sitting in a charming restaurant, Milion (Parana 1048, tel: 4815 9925) in one of Buenos Aires’ popular Barrios, Recoleta, I’m stunned by the fact that I’ve finally made it here, Argentina, Buenos Aires to be precise; the fantasy’s now reality and it’s a little surreal. To be sure, it’s a pretty short trip –roughly 4 days- but what the hec, I’m here and I’m going to make the most of it.

You have to understand, the love affair from afar begun as pure fascination. Maybe it’s something about its uniqueness: the mesh of two worlds – old world Europe, seen in the magnificent structures that dot Buenos Aires’ grand boulevards and plazas, and the South American culture the pulsates through its inhabitants, Portenos, as people from BA are known (meaning people from the port—being a port city), or the openness of the people (Argentines are a pretty friendly and hospitable lot), whatever, I’d certainly been intrigued and now satisfying my curiosity.

Sure, it’s a long haul from my home base of NYC (roughly 10 hrs) but with Buenos Aires being a mere 1 hr ahead, there’s absolutely no jetlag to contend with, compared to flying east or west the same duration. And if you’re one who’s able to sleep on planes, taking the redeye from NYC to Buenos Aires is a breeze, relatively speaking, of course. American, AA.com, runs a direct route from JFK on their more comfortable flagship, the 777 Luxury Liner featuring 3 classes of service, First, recently refurbished Business–with sleeper seats–and Economy. Connections are also possible via Miami or Dallas and Atlanta on Delta, or Houston via Continental. I flew coach having been able to book Award seats (a mere 40K miles round trip — American does have one of the better mileage programs — no surprise there being pioneers of the scheme with the AAdvantage program). Meal service in coach is decent: departure dinner (though entrees run on the smaller side), and pre-arrival snack — usually a warm croissant, yogurt, orange juice and coffee or tea.

Arrival in Buenos Aires is at Ezeiza (EZE) and is approximately 50 mins outside the center, so plan accordingly. American tourists should be aware that the Argentinian government imposes what’s called a ‘reciprocal’ entrance fee of 140 USD upon arrival (payable in cash or credit card—Amex, MasterCard, Visa). The silver lining: the fee is good for 10 years. So if you plan on returning multiple times within that time period, you don’t have to fork out such amounts of cash each time you plan to enter the country.  A taxi into town (no subway or rail service linking the city and airport) will run you approx. 40 USD. VIP Car ( tel: 54-11 5480-4594, which can be booked right at the airport is a pretty decent alternative and costs a little less–around 35 USD (130 Pesos) as of this writing. As you may have surmised, this isn’t a luxury car service given the price point (as compared to a regular taxi) but it’s just as efficient and the big kicker is you can arrange a return with the same company for less at–around 98 Pesos (roughly 27USD).

Buenos Aires is divided into Barrios (neighborhoods), each with its own distinctive character. Palermo is by far the largest and is further divided into sub quarters, if you will, Palermo Soho (which has a sweltering nightlife scene and trendy eateries), Palermo Hollywood (dubbed as such, for its movie production scene), and the main Palermo to the south which is pretty lush and green due the various parks that can be found there like Parque 3 de Febrero  and Jardin Zoologico, for instance. And, just to the west is historic Recoleta, one of BA’s exclusive neighborhoods. Here you can find Cemetario de La Recoleta, resting place of famous Argentine, Eva Peron, museums like Museo Nacionales de Bellas Artes, and several embassies.

Other notable Barrios are a couple of some of the city’s oldest, San Telmo and La Boca. These two neighborhoods embody the very spirit of the Portenos, given their proximity to the port and not surprisingly, some of the first inhabited areas of the city. San Telmo is also pretty close to one of the city’s important landmarks, Plaza de Mayo. This historic square marks the spot where the Argentinean revolution began in the people’s quest for independence from the Spanish crown, May 25th 1810. Check out the European Beaux Arts style architecture that flanks its corners. There are also various government buildings and religious houses in the area. It is said that the popular style of song and dance native to Argentina, (but of course known and waltzed to the world over), the Tango was born in these very neighborhoods. And thus, do not be surprised if on a market day outing in San Telmo (typically weekends), you happen upon full on Tango performances to gathered crowds on the street. Same goes for areas in La Boca as well.

On the banks of the Rio de La Plata sits one of Buenos Aires’ exclusive neighborhoods, ritzy Puerto Madero. Constructed in the late 1800s, it was designed by British Architect, Sir John Hawkshaw and overseen by Argentine business man, Eduardo Medero. Today fancy restaurants and cafes flank the banks of the port and newly constructed modern high rises, mostly condos, are beginning to form the area’s skyline. While in Puerto Madero you cannot miss famous Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava’s structure, the pedestrian only bridge, Puente de la Mujer (or ‘Woman’s bridge—the English translation).

Lodging options are plentiful, so finding something decent and within ones price range shouldn’t be a hardship. In San Telmo, Juan Julio’s hip Axel Hotel (other locations in Berlin and Barcelona) is a good choice–though I’d highly caution that you watch your step in the bathroom if you happen to be in one of the city facing rooms as the floors tend to get slippery post lathering up. I’m afraid Axel may have focused a little too much on design here at the compromise of safety (to be sure, some of it is pretty striking and ingenious, especially the see-through indoor pool). A couple important valuable frills to note: Rooms come with Free wi-fi and daily breakfast buffet. The Hotel InterContinental close by on Moreno St (809 Moreno St, Tel: +54-11-4340 7100) is also a pretty decent choice especially for Priority Club Rewards members, and the Hilton in Puerto Madero is also a  safe bet as well for HHonors members, if you’re a points junky like yours truly.

Food is absolutely scrumptious and relatively inexpensive. No doubt this is meat country, so carnivores rejoice. The steaks here are indeed all the rage, so you’re in for a treat, if you happen to enjoy a nice carne. Alas, as a non-meat eater, I cannot attest to this; however, I thoroughly enjoyed other options on the menu. There are indeed a plethora of vege, seafood and fowl options. Million, mentioned earlier in this article, is a great choice for a nice relaxed meal with a decent wine list showcasing some of the regions finest.  If you aren’t quick ready for dinner, drop in for drinks and tapas at the bar. It’s usually frequented by locals and the wait-staff there are very friendly and eager to make you feel very welcome.  As an alternative, I’d also recommend Palermo Soho as a good area to seek out dining options as well. There are several decent restaurants in the neighborhood and you can sample BA’s nightlife post dinner as there are several trendy bars and clubs in the area.

Indeed, it certainly goes without saying that when in Argentina, you must experience the culture and soul of the country through one of the best gifts it’s given to the world, Tango. No doubt you’re bound to happen upon street artists swaying to its rhythms while out and about or while sipping a coffee in a café (historic Café Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo is known for this), or dinning out in one of the numerous superb restaurants; however do yourself a favor and make sure you catch the full spectacle (dinner included and the wine free flowing) at the popular Esquina Carlos Gardel. The price is about $110 and totally worth every penny. The dancers are simply sensational and every seat in the house gets a good view. Plus the food is pretty tasty and varied; there’s something on the menu for everyone. If you do one thing while here—make sure you catch this show.

Well, I went; I saw, and hopefully will return—at some point. If you’re at all curious, it’s a city that’s worth checking out. And, better yet, with more time see other areas in the surrounding regions-or nations-Uruguay, Chile, and Brazil are all within easy reach. Pack your bags, your Buenos Aires moment awaits.

*Article originally written by author September 2010*

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