10.03.2014

A TOUR OF CULTURE AND FLAVOR

A TOUR OF CULTURE AND FLAVOR, Gönül Midesiz | 10.03.2014

After doing our first tour of South America in Peru, we decided that our second destination should be Argentina. Because we'd mostly wanted our trip to Argentina to be of Patagonia we were only able to spend two nights in Buenos Aires. As a result it was such a small visit we were only able to get the vaguest sense of the city. In December 2010 we once again went to Buenos Aires. This time, however, it was just to discover the city and really enjoy it to the fullest.

Some people who worked for Argentinian airlines that we'd met from our previous visit and gotten along really well with met us at Ezeiza Airport. We dropped our luggage off at our hotel on Florida Avenue and, all planning to spend the day together, went by car to Tigre about an hour from our hotel.

We got to the resort town of Tigre on the outskirts of Buenos Aires after passing quite a few shanty towns along the way. After chatting over a meat restaurant by the river (types of restaurants called "Parilla") we took a stroll along the river around the summer houses and villas. Then we walked around the open air market that they have on Saturdays in Tigre. After an overall great day we went back to our hotel and went to bed early.

The next day our first stop was La Boca, which is where the Genoese first landed when they came to Argentina and also home to the famous football team Boca Juniors. La Boca is one of the poorer districts of the city...

Because I'm a Fenerbahce fan and because our team colors are the same I'd really wanted to see La Bombenara Stadium. We didn't actually go inside but we did a tour around it took photos of the legends of teams past that line the walls of the stadium, though I have to admit that the stadium was a bit of a disappointment as I'd imagined it would be a bit more fabulous. We bought an official Boca Juniors scarf and t-shirt from the stores around the stadium and took a photo with the Maradona statue before continuing our walk on towards La Camino.

La Camino is a touristic street featuring colorful houses, street artists, souvenir shops, and tango shows on every corner that are full of fun. One of the symbols of the country is a colorful house where on the balcony they've placed statues of Maradona, Eva Peron and Carlos Gardel waving to the people. But once you leave La Camino you begin to see the poverty of La Boca and state that some of the people there live in. Shops close at 5:00pm and after that it can be dangerous to hang around, so it's best to visit during the mornings.

After La Boca we went to Puerto Madero. Puerto Madero is an old hall and warehouse dating back to the 18th century that has been renovated into a fashionable port district by turning it into a shopping center, restaurants, bars, and shops. There are lots of bridges connecting the two sides. On the other side are some of the new luxury residences of the city. Sitting in a cafe drinking some cool beverages and watching the sunset was a fitting way to end the afternoon, even if not quite the same as the Bosphorus. In the evening we went to a Parilla called Cabana Las Lillas along the shore and filled ourselves with another meat-heavy meal. The prices weren't crazy, a salad and drink for two people was $60-70 USD, which was totally fine for us.

You can take a bike or a walk all around the old neighborhood of Belgrano with its old buildings and the stories of the women who lost their children during the Junta who would meet in Plaza de Mayo every Thursday and the Argentine President's home of Casa Rosado. There's also an eco-park for those who are interested in environmental issues.

The next day we got on the subway in order to walk around San Telmo. This is one of the city's older parts and still has antique stores, art galleries and unusually designed stores. We walked past San Pedro Telmo Church and Spanish-style houses on lovely streets and took a coffee break across from Plaza Dorrego at a cafe called Havanna before getting permanently lost in the side streets of San Telmo.

In the afternoon we got on the metro again and went to Palermo Soho. Palermo has a ton of single or two-story houses with gardens, luxury residences, nightclubs and restaurants. We figured the best way to discover Palermo Soho is to walk around the side streets and on a recommendation we ended up in an Armenian restaurant at the bottom of a two-story house called Sarkis. Sarkis really made food just to our taste and I have to admit that the best falafel and tabula that I've ever eaten in my life was in this restaurant. You can even get Turkish coffee, though of course it's called Armenian coffee on the menu! Mr. Sarkis is no longer with us but his children continue his traditions in the restaurant.

After eating we went to Plaza Italia and walked to Palermo Park under the beautiful purple flowers of the Jacaranda trees. This park is massive with a small lake, a Japanese garden, a Spanish monument, Ecuador Square, a racetrack, a paddock for the horses, golf courses, and tennis courts. It's worth it to visit the Galileo Galilei Observatory, the Buenos Aires zoo, or the Botanic Gardens. At the other end of the park in one of the more affluent neighborhoods is the other major Argentinian football club River Plate and their stadium El Monumental. In the evening we met up with our friends and went to a cafe in Palermo that was beautifully decorated. That way we were also able to get a sense of the night life of Palermo.

On our last day in Buenos Aires we walked around the historical building of Galerio Pacifico on Florida Avenue that has since been turned into a shopping center.

If you've already come this far then there's no reason to leave without having seen a tango performance, though it can be hard to find tickets. I recommend buying your tickets well in advance. During our first visit to Bueno Aires with help from an agency we went to Esquino Carlos Gardel in Abasto. Included in your tango ticket are transfers, food and drink (we paid around $100 USD per person). After dinner the curtain rose and the tango performance began. Because we couldn't see the stage too well from where we were sitting we asked the ushers if we could move to the standing-room area and watched from there. The show was wonderful, totally unforgettable and an incredible evening. Other than Carlos Gardel there are other places where you can catch a tango performance, one of the most famous of which is Astro Piazzola's Piazzolla Tango.

On our first trip to Bueno Aires one of the touristic places we'd visited was La Recolata Cemetary. This is located in La Recolata and its small size is what makes it so special. Argentina's most famous personalities of science, art and politics are buried here. Of course the most visited tomb is that of Eva Peron. The mausoleums in the cemetery are adorned with statues and each one is like a work of art in its own right.

Travel advice for Buenos Aires:

Hotel: Buenos Aires has hotels to suit any budget. In our two visits we stayed at hotels in the main hotel district around Florida Avenue. You can also stay comfortably at hostels in Argentina, just as clean and safe as pensions are in Turkey. NH Hotel Crillon (average cost) is at the corner of Florida Avenue and San Martin Square, and the hotel manager is Turkish (Zafer Bey). The Marriott Plaza Hotel (luxury) is nice. The Dora Hotel (more affordable) was a little old but in a good location.

Food: Of course you're going to eat a ton of meat. Meat is both cheap and really delicious. There are immigrants from all over the world who've brought their own cuisines and there are restaurants to suit any taste, but make sure you at least try meat at a parilla and the pizza. I recommend you try one of the restaurants in Puerto Madro. Choose between "Bife de Lomo" or "Bife de Choriza" (400 gr). At the hotels grated tomatoes with olive oil is delicious with the tomato paste they make. Empanadas, which resemble our "puf böreks", are wonderful with fillings of meats and vegetables, fish, etc. and with the small pastries they have. You'll see everyone walking around with "Yerba Mate," the local tea, in thermoses or in cups with metal straws (Mate glasses). They take their tea with them everywhere. Like the Spanish, dinner time is around 10:00 or 11:00pm and people often eat out." "Dulce de Leche" is a caramel sweet thing made from milk that's similar to our Sarelle. We made sure to have it for breakfast every morning and made sure to buy tons of it for all our friends back home as a gift, along with "Alforejes". If you're like me and can't even begin to imagine a breakfast without cheese then fear not, they also have cheese for breakfast, but usually breakfast is similar to those in Europe.

Restaurants/Cafes: For a Parilla go to Cabana Las Lilas or La Cabrera (luxury), or El Mirasol del Puerto or Siga La Vaca. These restaurants have chains all over the city. For those who want to eat pizza, the most recommended places are Pizzeria Güerrin, Banchero, Senor Telmo, and Angelin. If you can't survive without eating Turkish food then in Palermo Viejo there are a number of Middle Eastern restaurants. An Armenian family restaurant in Palermo Soho called Sarkis is what I'd most recommend. In terms of Cafes, I recommend the Havanna chain (for coffee and alforojes), Sottovoce in Puerto Madera and Cafe Tortoni on Avenue de Mayo.

Transportation: The subway is called "subte" in Buenos Aires and the whole system is cheap and extensive, it goes just about everywhere in the city. Taxis are also relatively cheap. There are a few bus companies of "shuttle buses" from the airport to the city center, like "Manuel Tienda Leon." There are special taxis called "remis" that accept credit cards. By the way, if you are planning on flying from Buenos Aires to other cities in the country, remember that the domestic airport is AEP (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery). There are buses that offer direct transfers from EZE to AEP.

Shopping: Florida Avenue, Alta Palermo Mall, Galleria Pacifico, Palermo Soho and Recolata are the places for shopping. Shoes and leather goods are cheap. Textiles aren't terrible, especially the ones with folkloric designs. There are sweaters, knitted scarves, etc. from alpaca wool that are high quality and cheap. I think Yerba Mate tea, Alforejes filled with chocolate from Dulce de Leche, Dulce de Leche itself, Argentinian wine (especially ones from Malbecs), and football jerseys make some of the best gifts.

Places to visit: San Telmo, Puerto Madero, Tigre Delta and river tours, Tango shows, Palermo, La Boca, Recolata, Belgrano. For entertainment Recolata and Palermo Soho are the best districts.

Hint: Argentinians don't speak fantastic English. As a result try learning a bit of Spanish before you go. Argentinians are warm and fun people, don't feel like you're a stranger! Buenos Aires is an amazing city to walk around in.

Happy travels!

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