South America | Argentina | Atlantic Coast and Inland | Buenos Aires – The wonders of Buenos Aires
I spent the last few days walking around in wonder at the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires. I came across many grand buildings of architectural splendour, a glorious reminder of Buenos Aires’s proud history.
From Santiago in Chile, I caught my scheduled flight to Buenos Aires in Argentina. The flight took under two hours. When I arrived I engaged a taxi to take me to one of the hotels listed in my guidebook. The young streetsmart driver, Damian, informed me that most of the hotels in Buenos Aires would have been booked out as it is a popular tourist destination. He offered to phone around for a few hotels, and found me a cheap one right in the centre of the city.
The hotel was old but comfortable and refurbished on the inside. I also discovered what must be the most ancient elevator in Argentina, which fit only a maximum of two people, had a grill door which had to be opened by hand, and took an eternity to descend. I took the stairs for the remainder of my stay there.
After dropping my backpack, I ventured out to explore. I was immediately struck by the magnificence of the splendid buildings on the streets. Around the corner of my hotel stood the imposing Congreso Nacional, resembling Washington DC’s Capitol building. Its large dome towered above while a statue of a triumphant rider on a horse-drawn chariot posed high on the roof.
In the city centre, I came across the pink presidencial palace. I spotted the famous balcony from where Evita Peron had enthralled the masses in her heyday. This was also where Madonna filmed her scenes for the movie Evita. The palace overlooks the Plaza de Mayo, and radiating out from it are streets lined with more splendid architecture.
Widest street in the world
As I was walking to the city centre I soon came to the Avenida 9 de Julio, supposedly the widest street in the world. It is impossible to cross it at a normal walking pace without the red light starting to blink. I always noticed that pedestrians would start to scurry towards the other side before the traffic started to bear down on them. As I crossed I counted the lanes of traffic, and noted that there were eight lanes in one direction and eight in the other, making sixteen lanes wide in total.
Interestingly, I also spotted some kids who would wait for the lights to turn red. They would then dash out in front of the cars and put on a juggling act, one of them standing on the shoulders of another. After a few seconds, they would scurry out to the cars to pick up any tips, then dash back to the sides when the lights turned green. Very enterprising, but what a thing to do all day.
While on the hunt for dinner one night, I stumbled across one of Buenos Aires’s famous tenedor libres, or all-you-can-eat buffets. These would have to be the best value meals anywhere. For six and a half pesos, or just over two dollars, I was unleashed on a smorgasboard of more than seventy dishes. Needless to say I couldn’t try everything; even if I tasted one item from each dish I would be fully stuffed before I got to the last one.
On another occassion I indulged in Argentina’s famous parilla, or succulent grilled meat. These are also generous in proportion, and excellently grilled to perfection. While on the subject of food, I must also mention that I discovered my new favourite ice cream flavour, white chocolate. This heavenly flavour seemed to be quite common at several ice cream places here, and as I indulged in it countless times I lamented that it was not more commonly found elsewhere.
In search of Evita
One morning I hiked up to the trendy elite suburb of Recoleta. The residents here appear to be so busy with their social and business affairs that they have to employ other people to walk their fine pedigree dogs. I had to smile as I spotted one of these dog walkers, holding on to about thirteen mutts of all shapes and sizes on leashes around him. I don’t know what his contingency plan was if they all suddenly dashed off in different directions.
I soon came to the Recoleta Cemetary, where only the elite citizens of Buenos Aires are allowed to be buried. The cemetary is like a mini-city, surrounded by walls six metres high and with a layout of paths like a city plan. Giant mausoleums and tombs of rich families line every path, and I had a rather morbid time walking between them and reading the names of the dead. A lot had ornate statues and carvings adorning them, as if they must also rest here in luxury as they did in life.
I soon found what everyone comes here to see, Eva Peron’s tomb. By sheer chance, it happened that I came here on the 26th of July, the anniversary of her death in 1952. Wreaths of flowers by her devotees lined the path, and her personal fan club had gathered in front of her tomb, waving flags and chanting prayers. As they departed there was a steady procession of Evita devotees filing past her tomb to pay their respects.
Buenos Aires had a lot to offer that most of my days were filled wandering around looking at different things. It has a long pedestrian mall filled with shops and crowds, as well as a pleasant antiques fair in the working-class suburb of San Telmo on the weekends. It was here that I also witnessed some of their famous tango dances on the main square. Great and affordable food clinches the deal, and this is one place I would definitely come back for another visit.