For me, so much of travel is lifting up the soggy log of my presuppositions to discover a whole hidden world, squirming and alive, beneath. And such was the case in Buenos Aires when we arrived, dry-eyed and hungry, in November of last year. I had thought it would be a slightly dirty city, gritty and a bit dilapidated. I actually don't know why I thought that, but there you go.
Imagine my great astonishment from the plane when we flew over the city, and dotted throughout were bursts of purple blossoms: the beginning of the great spring unfolding we'd discover over the next few days.
The trees were called the beautiful word Jacaranda.
Rewind! So, we land at the airport, our first steps ever in South America. The mass of people rushing down the hall was like a fire hydrant unleashed. No lines, just errant flows of people everywhichway. We pushed our way forward into the customs 'line', and waited more than an hour, inching forward. Luckily, we made friends with the couple near us (from Kentucky, but originally from BA) who gave us BA tips we'd use for the next 3 days--and even our very first stop post-hotel, the restaurant Aldo's. We beelined there after dropping bags at our cute hotel, Casa Sur Palermo, in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. Aldo's truffle risotto was my first taste of a city of refined, elegant dishes.
CasaSur was a bit spotty on service, but the view out our window (below, right), and the morning twirls of birds outside made us feel like we were in a treehouse. I loved waking up to the men chatting on the street below, and the light through the trees. And much of Buenos Aires was the same: tall, deeply green trees lining nearly every street.
After the necessary mini-nap for jet-lag dizziness, we started off toward the Palermo Woods park.
And the walk was mesmerizing. Some streets felt European, with coffee shops and tables lining the streets.
The green canopy, by this time, later in the afternoon, cooled the broken, tiles sidewalks.
A bit of dust on the road, a bit of an inkling of grime, and then the fat avenues of which BA is so famous.
By the time we arrived at the Palermo Woods park, there was not time to go far, and we ended up walking past what appeared to be a Brooklyn-inspired train-terminal-turned-foodie-destination, and a gathering of pit bull owners and their dogs.
We went to iLatina for dinner, which featured ingredients and tastes from South America, and again, felt a little Brooklynish. And of course, we slept very soundly indeed, commenting to each other how restful the city seemed, a bit technologically behind America, with dimmer lights, and few people on phones. Refreshing.
Next morning, our guide, Michaela, who had also escorted us to our hotel the day before, met us at the hotel to take us on our tour of the city. She was perky and friendly, and one of my favorites on the trip. We drove to the Jardin De Las Roses (Garden of Roses) for our first stop of the morning.
I discovered that it was not the norm to walk on the grass to see the roses more closely with a very mild reminder, but we loved the fields of roses, which were such a contrast from the drab of NYC in late November.
Michaela even brought churros and mate for us to try. Mate is hard to describe but ubiquitous in Argentina. It's basically a small cup (made from a type of gourd). They fill it up with dry, loose, powdery herb mix, from the yerba mate plant, and then pour hot water on top, about a quarter of a cup.
They sip the tea through a metal straw with a filter on the end of it, before refilling with water and . . . passing to the next person for sip. Which we had to try. Our American germ sensitivity made it a bit tough, and the taste was very much like drinking dry grass to me, but it was fun to experience a true Argentinian pleasure.
They all drink it all day; everywhere we went, drivers and guides shared, and we politely declined.
Next up, and the most famous part of the city, was a visit to the Opera House, the Teatro Colón, which many people told us was one of the top three in the world. We joined a tour and learned about the history of how it was built for the wealthy at the time to mingle and enjoy the opera--they even had their own entrance, which others were not allowed to use. The entry was absolutely stunning.
But in a funny moment, when we went inside the actual theater, it was pitch black and a single flashlight guided us to seats. Apparently, they were working on lighting for a show, and the lights weren't allowed on while they were fixing the settings. The cynic in me wondered why they charged for us not to be able to see the actual theater, but the rest of it was so hermosa that we didn't really mind.
Fast forward a little drive, and we visited (to me) the most fascinating part of the city, the Recoleta Cemetery. I'm not usually one for cemetery visits, but this was endlessly intriguing. Wealthy families (are you sensing a theme) own little burial houses/huts, and each is decorated totally differently. There are streets upon streets, and looking at each one tells another page of a story--religion, career, time period: people of all types depicted by their graves.
The biggest crowds were around the relatively moderate tomb of Evita Peron, credited with being one of the first royalty of the country to help the poor. And the subject of the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical.
Another short drive, and we were in the San Telmo neighborhood, home to government buildings and a lot of jacaranda trees,
where we did a quick walk through the national cathedral. This is the tomb of the general said to have instigated Argentina's freedom.
At the head of the square is the Casa Rosada, the "pink house," Argentina's version of the White House.
Yet another drive, while I pondered how European the city felt, and there we were in the Casinita neighborhood, famous for one colorful 'little street', and it felt how I had imagined South America to: warm, bright, a bit chaotic, totally endearing.
Just like the cemetery, we could've stayed longer here, watching tango in the streets, stray dogs, marionettes, trash barges.
But it was late, so we raced to a late lunch at the acclaimed Mishiguene, a hybrid Argentinian-Israeli spot that had delish halva dessert. We won't mention the chicken hearts, which we didn't all understand the translation of when ordering.
Our last attraction of the day was back at San Telmo for the street market; since it was early evening, the open air market was wrapping up, but I managed to snag some freshly sliced palo santo wood to burn at home for that smoky scent of the woods nonetheless.
Our last two highlights were comida-related: our very favorite meal of the trip was dinner at Chila in the more modern and sleek neighborhood of Puerto Madero. Everything was beyond amazing (including a pink, spiky meringue dessert shell with treats hiding under it), and for a fraction of the same meal, if it existed, in the States. Plus, a view over and across the river, which we walked along past midnight. Excuse the iPhone photos since we don't bring the camera to dinner--but you can see the horse hoof mate cup, starter, carob-shelled ice cream, and the infamous meringue here.
And the next morning, brunch at Casa Cavia, a cafe almost too hip for itself in the ground floor of a hip publisher. I tried to explain I also worked at a publisher, but I think they had no concept of the difference.
While I thought Buenos Aires was more of a jetlag recovery spot on the way to Patagonia, I found myself in the park across the street, soaking in rich greenness and sunshine, and a twinge sad to leave. We loved our quick glance and really can't wait to return someday. What a glorious, quaint, gentle place. Have you been? What were your highlights?
And as always, thanks to our generous sponsors, my in-laws, who made this whole trip possible. Here's another iPhone shot of us all in Caminito.