We loved Buenos Aires. I mean we loved, loved, loved, loved, LOVED it. LOVED IT!
I know we rave about lots of places where we travel, but the Argentine capital is the only place we’ve been on this trip, to which we would want to move. Sure, we would go back to lots of places, spend more time, visit for another week, etc, but for Buenos Aires, if London ever gets us down (Brexit?), we could seriously see ourselves upping sticks and settling there.
A lot of this sentiment just comes from the ‘feel’ of a place and is a bit difficult to fully describe or get across via some words on a screen. However, below we try and thus, list out the eight main reasons why we want to move to Buenos Aires.
Firstly, we should explain the frame of mind when we got to the city. We spent a little over a week in Buenos Aires, beginning at the end of December. It was the last part of our trip that was planned from London and after two months of largely go, go, go, we booked eight days in an Airbnb flat, thinking such a length of time would be nice to enjoy the city leisurely, relax a bit and take care of some admin (for instance, planning the next couple of weeks). And we were largely able to do this – we even spent almost a whole day doing not much thanks to a late night out (us oldies stayed out past 3am!) and a bit of a hangover.
Ok, so the reasons we would move to Buenos Aires. . .
1. Great neighbourhoods
As stated previously on this blog, we are city people, with Jen being a card carrying urban dork. Thus, we love exploring city neighbourhoods. Jen loves the architecture and the street art; Erwan loves figuring out the transport and sampling the cafes and restaurants; and both of us love just urban wandering, soaking up the vitality of a place.
We also like it when a city has so many different neighbourhoods – creating a varied, yet rich tapestry of places to explore – and that sums up Buenos Aires.
Firstly, there’s Recoleta (where we stayed), with it grand Belle Époque mansions and its swanky apartment complexes, you’d think you were walking around the 16th arrondissement of Paris. One of Erwan’s friends, who used to live in BA, upon hearing that we had booked a flat here, told us that as an area it was posh and boring. To which, Erwan replied, “after Rio, that’s exactly what we need.”
And yes, the area, was posh, but we dispute the boring bit – while the luxury shopping street of Avenida Alvear, was a bit dead (supposedly the Champs Elysees of South America, but the only similarity when we were there was the expensive brands of Cartier and the like), the rest of the place was still quite fun to explore. The area had tons of cute little (if pricey) boutiques, plenty of people out and about (including the friendly doormen of the swanky flats) and the best street furniture we’ve encountered on this trip with these little numbers. . .
Recoleta also has the most beautiful cemetery to explore (appropriately called Recoleta Cemetery). It’s famous because Evita is buried there, but more so it just has fantastically designed tombs – mostly classical in style, but several were art nouveau or even Modernist. . .
Finally, everywhere you went you would also see professional dog walkers with herds of pooches. Turns out, in BA this is a full on professional job that doesn’t just include walking, but grooming and general care as well – with many of the individuals being trained as vets.
Next to Recoleta, was Retiro, which is similar in style, but a little bit more edgy in feel – particularly around the bus terminal. It also had a few more art deco buildings than Recoleta and another grand shopping street, Calle Florida – but one more populated, as it catered more to the average folks’ wallet.
Retiro also had a few more monuments – including two that create an international standoff. There’s the Torre de Los Ingleses (English Tower) – basically a gift from the UK to celebrate the city’s 100th birthday years ago. However, during the Falklands War, many wanted the tower to go. Decorum won out, but instead, directly opposite the tower, they erected the memorial to commemorate the Argentine soldiers that died in the war.
South of Retiro and Recoleta and connected to them via the grand boulevard of Avenida 9 de Julio (huge monumental axis in Jen’s architectural speak), was Centro.
This is basically where all the government and institutional buildings are – including the Casa Rosada (pink house), the residence of the president.
Like a lot of capital cities, this area is interesting to see for the history and architecture, but didn’t quite have the life on the streets as some of the other areas. It probably didn’t help that we were there on January 1st, so a lot was closed and the streets were pretty dead. At least there were fewer people in Jen’s photographs. . .
Between Centro and the water, is Puerto Madero area. To be fair, we didn’t get a chance to see this place during the day, but came here on New Year’s Eve to watch the fireworks.
It seems similar to many reclaimed urban docklands – pedestrian paths around the water, old warehouses turned into restaurants and flats and the large cranes looming overhead to ensure one recalls the area’s history.
Like many such places, Puerto Madero appeared a bit overly sanitised from its industrial past and we heard could be quite dead to walk around during the day – however we never found out. . .
Compared to the deadness of Centro and (maybe) Puerto Madero, San Telmo, was anything but – street performers, tango dancers in the squares, and a lively little market that stretches along one long street (mostly on Sundays). Whereas Recoleta and Retiro, were quite established neighbourhoods, San Telmo, was hipster South American style – fun little cafes, trendy boutiques and run-down buildings that have been given only a slight make over.
Yet, even edgier is the area of Boca. With its famous soccer stadium, colourful streets of corrugated metal buildings, and restaurants that spill out into the street, it was quite a vibrant place.
However, it has a bit of a bad rap or as the locals, say of an area – it’s a bit picante (spicy). We were warned not to go to this area at night and following Rio, we duly complied. We saw a bit of the area on our own, based on the warnings, we booked a street art tour to explore it further. The tour not only came with a guide, but also a security guard. The area didn’t seem too bad, but these reputations can be hard to beat – we enjoyed it none the less. . .
And the final neighbourhood, we explored – Palermo, which due to its size is actually a few different neighbourhoods rolled into one. Some of Palermo is similar to Recoleta with expensive new flats and nice, tree lined streets. However, there is also Palermo Soho – a trendy, gentrified area of chic boutiques, hip eateries and cool street art, including this very topical one. . .
There’s Palermo Viejo – similar to the Soho part, but not quite as cutting edge and a bit calmer at night. And Palermo Hollywood – so named because there’s a lot of cinema arts companies here – although from our experience it felt more residential. Palermo was also where most of the big parks (including the rose garden and the botanical garden) and the pretty cool MALBA museum or Museum of Latin Art.
With all these different neighbourhoods, we were spoilt for choice and thus spent hours just wandering around, exploring – and we probably didn’t even scratch the surface of the city. We loved it! With the varied immigration history of the country and city, some parts of it felt distinctly European, with others feeling distinctly South American. Yet all of it was wonderful and we could not get enough. Thus, we would love a chance to live in the city and truly get to know the neighbourhoods better.
2. Urban parks
While we like the urban, it doesn’t mean that all we like is bricks, concrete, and steel. In fact, all of our favourite cities are very green – cue Buenos Aires’s tree lined boulevards, little green plazas with their shady playgrounds and dog parks and, of course, the large, lush urban parks (particularly in the Palermo district). True some areas are greener than others (Palermo and Recoleta vs. Boca and San Telmo), but we were impressed with the level of vegetation everywhere.
The greenery is particularly demonstrated in the private gardens between flats. Despite the dense city blocks and the small distance between flats, there would still be fully grown trees in private gardens – as seen from our Airbnb flat’s balcony. . .
And even in the neighbourhoods where there was less space for full gardens, there would be plants, herbs, and even some veggies, growing from terraces and balconies. As urban gardeners, we love this!
3. The best bookstore in the world
Jen’s favourite bookstore used to be Powell’s in Portland – not only is it big (largest in the world?), but it has so many fun little nooks and crannies to explore or settle with a good read (oh and the antiquities room is pretty cool). Well, move over Powell’s, cause Jen’s got a new favourite book store – El Ateneo!
El Ateneo is in a former theatre and upon entering it is just majestic – just look at it!
And it makes full use of the various parts of the theatre. Several balconies are little reading nooks and the stage is now the café area.
We spent a morning perusing the shelves (good design section, albeit in Spanish) and enjoying some coffee (hot chocolate for Jen) in the café – if we lived here, this would be her second home.
To prove the point, when we returned to Buenos Aires briefly to catch a cruise to Antarctica, the first place we visited was El Ateneo. It was a Friday night – we know how to roll large. . .
Ah empanadas! If either of us were poets, we would have written several lovely little odes to these tasty little morsels of goodness. We are not poets, so this section of the blog will have to be enough. . .
We have eaten empanadas in several places on this trip, yet our favourite have been in Buenos Aires by far. Not only does the city host the restaurant with the best empanadas EVER (Sanjuanimo in Recoleta), but even at average little hole in the wall cafes, we had good quality empanadas. We, thus, ate empanadas every day that we were in Buenos Aires – either for lunch or as a snack.
Thus, during the week, when we found a class teaching us how to make these yummy packages of joy, we jumped at the chance.
At the class, we not only learned how to make empanadas,
but also flan and dulce de leche.
Oh, and it was all paired with a wine tasting of three different Argentinian wines (more on that below). We also learned a few tidbits about the national treat:
- While there’s always the usual fillings of carne, queso, etc, this varies by the region and traditionally, fillings were based on whatever was available (it being a ‘working man’s food’). Therefore, in the wine region, you will find empanadas with grapes in them; in areas by the sea, you will get seafood ones; and in places in the lake region, you will have various river fish, like trout.
- The way an empanada is folded should denote the filling inside. We only learned two folding techniques (the one for carne and the one for vegetables), but there’s always YouTube for the others. . .
At the class, Erwan was also able to show off his culinary skills. While we were kneading the dough, one of the other participants, impressed with his technique, asked if he had ever worked at Dominoes. . .
Even if we never move to Buenos Aires, we will now be celebrating International Empanada Day (April 8th) every year. . .
5. Wine and steak
Sticking with the culinary theme, Buenos Aires is fantastic for wine and steak. Now together we only enjoy this combination as a single person – Jen, as a vegetarian, doesn’t eat the steak and Erwan, as a broken Frenchman, doesn’t drink wine.
Yet that didn’t stop us from enjoying our respective part. Erwan had a steak almost every day we were in the city. I mean, you can’t really come to Argentina and not do so – the culture is pretty much entwined with beef and the different ways to grill it. Whether you choose Bife de Chorizo (Loin) or Oro de Bife (Ribeye), Argentinian will always cook it to perfection, with just salt rub and little (or nothing) else. The meat is so tender, it just melts in your mouth – nom, nom, nom. And with portions between 400 and 600g, you feel stuffed at the end of the meal. Erwan always talked of having a steak as long as his forearm, and Buenos Aires delivered beyond expectations. Although, he claims that his favourite steak was actually in Puerto Iguazu (yet, this might be because it was the first he had in Argentina).
However, despite all this meaty-ness, the city still had a few really nice vegetarian cafes or restaurants that we checked out – particularly in the trendy neighbourhoods of San Telmo and Palermo.
As for the wine, oh, the Malbec! Like Erwan’s steak, Jen had wine everyday (pretty much every day in the country, not just the city) and much of it was Malbec.
Yet she also learned of two other great Argentinian wines:
- Torrentes (which interestingly, is actually the only native grape to the country) – makes a lovely light, crisp white that’s perfect for hot days
- Carmenere – a red that’s similar to a Petit Verdot
Not only was the wine good, but also quite cheap (although not as cheap as some of the bottles you’ll find in Italy) – a very good bottle could be had for $10-$15. Perfect for when we live here!
Ok, here’s where we differ in opinion. Jen likes the Tango and Erwan, well not so much. Yet, even he realised that when in Buenos Aires, the home of the Tango, one needs to check it out. So, we booked our lesson in conjunction with one of the many evening tango shows.
From the lesson, we learned the very basic steps and we’re proud to say that we both graduated. . .
We then watched the tango show and while, Jen enjoyed it and Erwan didn’t, we both admit that it’s quite touristy.
Instead, we preferred the milonga – where the average Argentine actually goes to dance. These traditionally are held in a plaza in the afternoon (for the older generation) or at a dance hall late at night (most get started around midnight). Given the late hour, we only went once, but we got to show off our new skills to the friends who joined us.
Jen also danced with a few other partners that were much happier to oblige than Erwan (particularly as one was a tango instructor looking for new clients). Although, as it was a holiday week, it wasn’t as crowded as it supposedly normally is. We’ll just have to come back. . .
Did you know that the Argentines are the best in the world for polo? Neither did we, but while there, we learned that just like golf, players get handicap ranking, 10 being the best handicap. Argentina has the most players in the world with 10 handicap. Thus, to avoid Argentina winning all international tournaments, there is a cap at 36 on combined handicap a team can have – basically, it’s like asking a football team to field at least 2 amateurs, because the rest of their team is that good.
With this dominance in mind and knowing it was one of the national sports, when we found an opportunity to watch and then learn to play polo, for probably a fraction of the price of doing so in the UK, we had to take it. Our polo day was one of the best we spent in the city. We were taken out to a beautiful ranch, just outside the city, where we were fed excellent empanadas (here we go again) and watched a professional polo match (when Erwan made a new friend).
We then had an asado lunch (more steak for Erwan) and then got to the business of learning how to play.
And how fun it was! And unlike tango, both of us loved it! Neither of us were very good, as you can see from this video, the US Polo Association won’t be calling Jen up any time soon.
However, in the match that we played with the other participants, both of us scored, despite Jen’s horse, Picante (named by Jen, as she couldn’t pronounce his real name), not really wanting to move half the time (although he found his speed when we went for a ride following the game). In the end, Jen’s team won and we then went and relaxed by the ranch’s pool with some wine.
Such a fun game! We have no idea how we will play it again, as a horse is pretty near impossible to keep in London, so again, a reason to move to Buenos Aires. . .
8. Friendly people
And finally, the friendly people of Buenos Aires – after all they’re the true reason the city is buzzing and so alive with life. And they’re great! Everyone seemed to be really friendly and generally happy – from the uber drivers, to the door men, to just average people on the street. People were always ready to give each other help when needed – for little things or for instance when during New Year’s Eve, when couple of people were trying to set off a floating lantern, about 10 other people immediately came to help get it in the air.
They all seem like great future neighbours. . .
So, to sum up Buenos Aires is awesome! And above are just the eight main points, we didn’t even mention the great ice cream (thanks to the numerous Italian immigrants), the plethora of small, local shops, cafes and restaurants that litter the city, the fact that any building older than 50 years old, would have its architect’s name inscribed near the entrance, or the Palacio Barolo, the fantastic urban office block, with a lighthouse on top that’s built full of allegories to Dante’s Divine Comedy and has beautiful internal design details.
Or all the other fun little public realm design treats we found. . .
Oh, such a great place! Even if we never move to the city properly, the next time we feel like we need some time out, instead of travelling around to a bunch of places, we’ll just rent a flat here for a few months. We’ll learn Spanish, we’ll tango and play polo, and we’ll eat, drink and be merry.