To start our month of city & culture features, we’re heading first to the beguiling capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires…
Buenos Aires. Just say it. Let the words roll over your tongue. Buenos Aires. It just sounds promising, doesn’t it?
In my travels across South America, I had heard whispers of all kinds about Buenos Aires. Some people loved it, others hated it. Opinion after opinion was foisted on me, all the things I had to do when I got there, all the places I should avoid. It became a mythical place, somewhere I had no real idea about, but which was constantly spoken about. Nearly every traveller on the South America circuit has been to Buenos Aires, many have spent a few weeks or even months there, so every time I bumped into one of them, I heard about Buenos Aires.Finally, the day came when I boarded a plane from Lima and arrived, a few hours later, in the fabled city. It was love at first sight.
Partly this was because for the first time in months, I was in a big, modern city with a European feel to it; territory I felt at home on.Partly it was because Buenos Aires is beautiful, with grand buildings and wide boulevards. I was staying just off the Avenida Corrientes, not far from the Obelisk, in the microcentro. It is theatre district – busy, bustling and bright. I could have skipped with happiness.
Over the next few days, I explored the city. I did a lot of pavement-pounding and yes, I did get lost a few times. It is a decent-sized capital city and though it has a grid system, the orientation is all a bit strange and a couple of times, I struck out confidently, only to find that I had walked miles down one of the North-South Avenidas in the wrong direction.
But it didn’t really matter; during my time there, I found my way to the barrios of Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo, La Boca and Puerto Madero. Each has a distinct identity, with Recoleta and Palermo the well-heeled, educated, designer-boutique neighbourhoods, while San Telmo and La Boca are the working class districts. Puerto Madero is the coolest new hangout – the once working-dock area, which, like many across the globe, is now refurbished and trendy, with docklands apartments and after work wine bars.
In many ways, Buenos Aires was my ‘holiday’. It seems absurd to use the term during a long period of travel, but I had spent most of the last three months working and the rest of it pushing myself into challenges and to remote places. It was all completely wonderful, but in Buenos Aires, I relaxed. I wandered in the Botanical Gardens of Palermo, visited the famous cemetery in Recoleta. I learnt the tango in San Telmo.
I spent afternoons browsing in one of the many second-hand bookshops or writing in a cafe. It was absolutely blissful. I even spent a day with Victor, my hiking partner from the Inca Trail, who lived here. He showed me around and took me to the trendy bars of Puerto Madero. I felt like I fit in here, everything about the place, from the graffiti artworks, to the tango, to the love of literature so evident in every part of society, made me happy.
I can’t speak for anyone else, or give you a judgement on this city; all I can say is go and see for yourself. It seems to provoke strong opinions, but to me, it was just lovely.