Touring outside BA

I can’t believe how fast the time is going by. There is so much to see and do in Buenos Aires, but there are also some easy day trips that are worth checking out. I joined up with new friends from the English Group of Buenos Aires for a tour of La Plata on the hottest Saturday of the entire summer. It was blistering, but good fun. La Plata is the capital of the Province of Buenos Aires, while Buenos Aires City is the capital of the country – sort of like the difference between Toronto and Ottawa. Despite the heat (36C), we managed to walk all over the city and take in the racecourse, the cathedral and the museum of natural science. The train from BA, which you can get at the Constitucíon station takes about an hour and a half, and is so cheap. A return ticket cost less than 6 pesos – or about $2 Cdn. Unlike many cities, La Plata was designed and planned out before it was built in 1832. Our first stop was the racecourse, where I made friends with this beauty.

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After a lovely lunch with the group at La Trattoria, we walked to the cathedral that sits in the centre of the city. It’s the largest church in Argentina.

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The natural science museum is known for its collection of dinosaur bones. It’s not the best laid out design, but you can see the influence of the 19th Century when the emphasis was on collecting more than on display. At the moment, parts of the museum are being renovated, like many things in Argentina, but it’s a really interesting collection of artifacts from all over the world.

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After a full day of wandering the city, the group headed back to the train station for our return to BA. 

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The following weekend, I went off with some friends for a tour of Tigre, a small city an hour outside of BA. It sits in the delta of the Paraná River, which eventually empties into the Rio de la plata. You can take any number of boat tours along the river. We chose one that took us an hour out and an hour back. We took the train from Retiro station out and the more scenic Tren de la costa back. If I were to go back, I would hire one of the private boat tours that go up the smaller channels. The wooden tourist boats are loud and smelly, but it’s an interesting experience. They stop along the way to drop off and pick up locals, many of whom have summer homes along the river.

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You buy your ticket to a given destination and once there, they call out your stop. We got off at a place with no markings and nothing really to distinguish it from any of the other wharves along the way. Undeterred, we followed the stone-lined path until we came to a German Gesthaus with a lovely deck by the river where we stopped for lunch. The food wasn’t great, but the company was. Camila and Belinda are my flatmates and Susi and Nicola are English travellers I’ve met along the way. Image

 

After the bustling urban landscape of BA, the trip along the river at Tigre is like being in an entirely different world. The natural beauty of the place is really worth seeing.

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Well, my time in BA is winding down, so I must head out to catch a few more sights. Off to the milonga tonight, and then looking forward to a private tango lesson tomorrow! 

buena día mis amigos.

Among the Porteños

Buen dia mis amigos y amigas. BA is beginning to capture my heart. It’s more fun, of course, to have company while discovering the city. Last Sunday I wandered the San Telmo flea market with a fellow traveller I met at the English meet up group. The flea market happens every Sunday in the San Telmo neighbourhood. The street is closed to traffic – including buses! – and you can walk and shop for miles. The place is crawling with tourists (like me), but also filled with Porteños (Buenos Aires locals – so named because they live in a port city). There are the usual stalls of second-hand junk as well as many kiosks of works by artisans. The people watching is great fun. It was a scorching hot day, which most in high summer here are, so the key is to have plenty of water, or stop at one of the many cafés for a snack and a cold beverage. 

Of course, because it’s Argentina, there is a proliferation of tango. This couple was dancing in the square. Clearly they are much more accustomed to the 30+ temperatures than this Northerner.

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Completely by happenstance, we stumbled upon this tango band just starting up along the way. They were incredible!
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The singer handed out fliers to onlookers that advertised a particular milonga (tango bar) where they play regularly on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Needless to say, my new-found fellow traveller and I immediately decided to make a visit to La Maldita the following Wednesday. If you go at 9, like we did, you get an hour’s worth of tango class before the regulars start showing up to dance. The band then came on to perform for the dancers at 11:30. It did not disappoint. So now I’ve had my first tango lesson, and inquired about taking private lessons with the instructors from the club. Who knows, I might pass for a Porteño yet! I will require a few more lessons before I can join the other dancers on the floor, but even just watching them was breathtaking. There are many styles and levels of accomplishment. The band finished playing at 12:30, but the dancers continued to recorded music. They were still going strong when my companions and I left at 1:30. No wonder everything opens so late in the day here

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So, on that note everyone, feliz san valentin. haste pronto.

So much to see in BA

Well, I’m finally getting to know my way around Buenos Aires. The Palermo neighbourhood where I’m staying is fantastic. It’s close to everything, with a great transit system for getting around, and it’s got a terrific walking culture. And really, the best way to get to know a place is to walk it. I’ve been putting many kilometres on my shoes – may have to buy new ones! What a hardship :). My spanish improves by small increments each day, and now I have two roommates where I’m staying who are helping me with that. Two sisters in their early twenties from Honduras arrived on Monday evening, one of whom speaks English very fluently. They are so lovely. We went for a long walk around the neighbourhood last night so they could get their bearings. Because I’ve been here a few more days than they have, I acted as the tour guide! How’s that for irony? It was a lovely evening for a stroll, with lots of people out and about in the cafes. 

So, after visiting the Caminito area the other day, I explored the incredibly massive Cemeneterio de la Recoleta. It’s the oldest cemetery in BA, first opened in 1732. On 14 acres of land in the middle of the Recoleta neighbourhood, it contains nearly 5,000 above-ground vaults. Some are very old, of course, and have fallen to decay, while others are still maintained by area families. It’s like a small city within the city. I walked through it on my own, but there are tours in both Spanish and English. The famous and the not so famous can be found here. Most tourists are routinely directed to the grave of Evita (Eva Peron), and people here still come to pay their respects and lay flowers. For anyone interested in the history of this place, it’s a must-see. Here are just a few of the many photos I took.

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This gives a bit of an idea of the scale of the cemeneterio.

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Some of the tombs are quite grand and ornate; this one is modest compared to some. Others have been left derelict…

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After visiting the cementerio, I met up with my new friend Maria Luisa, who I met at the English Group of Buenos Aires (TEGOBA), and we went on a tour of la Casa Rosada, the presidential palace that stands at the apex of the Plaza de Mayo. There are tours in both Spanish and English. We took the Spanish tour, and while it was a real test of my Spanish, I was able to understand enough to get a feel for the history of the place. You can see where it gets its name by the colour of the building:

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From the front balcony, it’s easy to imagine Juan and Eva Peron addressing the thousands of people gathered in the plaza.

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The palace is still used for state functions, and boasts a beautiful inner courtyard and is, of course, very grand in all aspects. This is one place that continued to be preserved throughout the difficult political and economic crises the country has endured.

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Well, it’s time to head off into another day. Next time I’ll post some photos of my trip to the Sunday flea market in San Telmo. Until then…

ciao!

Getting a feel for Buenos Aires

Well, it was a shaky start to Buenos Aires, but I’m finally getting my sea legs as it were. While my accommodation had a beautiful terrace to sit out on, the neighbourhood was far removed from any of the usual tourist points of interest, which can be both good and bad. The biggest problem was the promised wifi that never materialized, and the constant excuses from my host about this. Needless to say I have moved to another locale, and can now blog to my heart’s content, that is when I’m not wandering around some of the more interesting and beautiful parts of the city. 

Speaking only the most rudimentary Spanish is a bit of a handicap, but it really forces you to dive in! The locals have been nothing but kind and helpful with my stuttering attempts, and for the most part I have been able to make myself understood, particularly when asking for directions to places – a very important skill! I also finally connected with a group of expats and locals who meet regularly for conversation in English. Thanks again to Chris for putting me onto Meetup Groups online. I met with the group last night and got more information in one evening from them than I had during the entire week previous. I now know where to go for tango lessons – and who the best teacher is – how to get a bus pass for the ‘colectivos’, where some of the best milongas (tango clubs) are, and how to survive as a foreigner. all good information. I had so much fun, that I’ve signed up for a bus trip with this group to La Plata next weekend. For me, finding ways to meet people in an unfamiliar place is essential to avoid being isolated. Knowing what to ask and who to ask for help is also key. But I digress. In the midst of figuring out how to get my way around, I did some of the regular tourist things that were a lot of fun. One good way to get a good overview quickly is to take a city bus tour. Buenosairesbus.com has a pretty good one, with headphones that provide multiple languages. The only small downside is that half the time the bus has gone by the sites being described in the audio! Still, it was interesting, and the day was beautiful. Here’s some evidence:

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The Argentinian national flag flies in the plaza at the Congreso.

The best part of the tour was in the Caminito, part of the original port neighbourhood of la Boca. This is said to be where the tango was born. Originally a very working-class form of dance and song, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the local gentry accepted and embraced it. Now, of course, the tango is THE national cultural icon of Argentina. 

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The colourful buildings are typical of the Caminito, and of course, tourists like me flock there.

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Traditional dances are also popular, and a good draw for buskers. The Gato is one dance that primarily displays the skill and equestrian dexterity of the gaucho, who plays a game of cat and mouse (hence gato) in his pursuit of the woman. Today the tradition, with its Creole roots, is typically handed down through the generations. The girl dancing in this photo is only 5 years-old, and could she move! The beat is kept here by the woman playing the bombo, a percussion instrument that originates in Santiago del Estero.

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