« Centro de Experimentacion del Teatro Colón | Main | No Place Like Home III - Night in Buenos Aires »

April 8, 2005

No Place Like Home II - Touring Buenos Aires

The Hotel I am staying at is the Hotel Bel Air, Arenales 1462. It's an area between the city center and the wealthy northern neighborhood of Recoleta called Barrio Norte. There's a park on the corner of the street and the area feels like the Upper East Side of New York crossed with the XVIeme arrondissement of Paris.

The view to the west.

050408 Balcony2.jpg

A building across the street - the architecture is very Parisian.

050408 Balcony3.jpg

Growing in a hole in the balcony.

050408 Balcony4.jpg


050408 Balcony5.jpg

This location is extremely convenient, only a few blocks from downtown but not in it, so it still feels like a neighborhood. The hotel itself is comfortable and modern. I opted for a Junior Suite at 280 pesos per night (it is now 330 as of this writing). This conjures up visions of luxury that aren't quite right, though room is quite nice, with a large bed and a balcony looking onto the avenue. This does mean noise; Buenos Aires is a noisy city.

Looking into the sleeping area.


The spiffy bathroom.


Breakfast is included in the price; it is a copious buffet served in a somewhat claustrophobic and overheated hall in the basement, but contains more than your fill of pastries, cakes, juices, fruits and eggs, ham and bacon. Being Jewish, I am spiritually and physically linked to smoked pork meat, so I was quite happy. The are a few small downsides to the hotel. The English of the staff is sufficient for general situations but I wouldn't want to rely on them in case of a problem. The business center, for free Internet use, consists of two glacially slow computers that probably have squirrels on a wheel as their internal processors. Update 4-13-05 - someone was working on the computers this evening. They´ve cleaned out the spyware and they are running much faster. The fitness center consists of a stationary cycle, one cranky treadmill that decelerates randomly and a nearly useless Universal weight machine.

After breakfast I made a few phone calls; one to set up a tour of the city, the second to speak to Chris (catwood for fellow Flyertalkers) to set up meeting tonight and the last to Michele. Michele is a serendipitous meeting; my friend Lori is her friend and wrote to her to ask if she could point me to good tango in Buenos Aires. It turns out that my close friend Valerie was Michele's assistant for several years. We are having lunch and touring the Teatro Colón on Sunday.

The city tour was from 2 until 5 pm, and Chris and I said we would meet after. I went for a walk randomly, walking down the Avenida Paraná to Callao. Knitters, close to the corner of Paraná and Callao (on Paraná) is Versailles, which sells high-end novelty yarn. I'll check it out if I have time later, but it's the kind of store that doesn't bother to label the yarns with prices.

From Callao I walked down Alvear to the edge of Recoleta Park. This is past the Alvear Palace Hotel (Buenos Aires' Ritz Carlton) and the high-end shops you see on Madison Avenue - Zegna, Armani, et al. Oh God, the men in Buenos Aires. Not every one of them is tall, stylish and elegant, but I keep noticing the ones that are. At the park I stopped at an amazing copse of mammoth trees with exposed roots, then doubled back to the Avenida de 9 Julio. Crossing that is a task - it is 140 meters wide. From there I took a path to the Avenida del Libertador and found a place to have lunch - Safari Café. I had a "Lomito" sandwich. That's a small tenderloin steak on a bun topped with fried ham and egg, cheese and tomato, served with fries. Lunch with a soda and a bottle of water came to 16.90 pesos. I could have eaten for a good deal less. Everyone in the restaurant seemed to be ordering empanadas; I need to try them. Also, everyone smokes. It's like Paris once again; you can't escape it.

Buenos Aires is on drag queen time. I ran to the tour site to make my 2:00 pm tour. I paid and was told it would start at 2:30. So I killed the time walking a bit down the pedestrian street Florida - do not walk to close to the stores if you don't have the time to be accosted by the salesmen. There is a cultural center in the Galerias Pacificos and once again, tons of high-end stores. I'll do my shopping closer to the end of the trip.

Todos en Buenos Aires no funcionan. Or not quite. The tour guide found me at the appointed place, but we had to wait to switch buses; the air conditioning was not functioning in the larger bus. The standard tour city tour in Buenos Aires lasts three hours and costs 25 pesos. It's worth it, especially at the start of your trip as an orientation to the city; you get a sense of the neighborhoods and the massive economic difference between the north of the city (Recoleta, Barrio Norte) and the south (San Telmo and La Boca). At the center of the tour and the city is the Plaza de Mayo. The Argentineans have a specific slurred accent, so Mayo sounds a bit like Maisho. In the plaza are the Cabildo (a colonial building now a museum), the town council, the Casa Rosada and the Metropolitan Cathedral.

The Cathedral is grandiose and marvelous, but it could be my Jewish childhood. I had no bad associations with Catholicism, for me it was weird, foreign and magical . . . like pork. A group of deaf students in the white lab coats it seems all elementary students wear here was walking out as I entered. Inside there was an enormous picture of the recently deceased pope. At the side was the tomb of General San Martin. Two ceremonial guards were posted to guard him silently. This did not prevent tourists from walking right between them to pose for their pictures.

The Casa Rosada is where the president works. It's also where Eva Peron made her speeches to the masses, from the triple arched balcony on the second floor in the right win of the building. And every Thursday in the square itself, the white-capped Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo lead a vigil for the 37,000 who disappeared during the military government in the late 1970s and the leaders who have not yet been brought to justice.

The Eva Peron monument, Recoleta.

050408 Eva Peron1.jpg

The back of the monument. Obviously someone had more pressing issues to discuss. Also, Eva´s wristlet is not an actual part of the sculpture. Someone pulled up the plastic caulking at the base of the monument and gave her a leash.

050408 Eva Peron2.jpg

A conventillo in San Telmo. The conventillos are multiple family dwellings with communal washing and cooking facilities. People still live in them.

050408 San Telmo.jpg

La Boca was a wealthier neighborhood until a yellow fever epidemic in the 19th century. The wealthy abandoned their homes and moved north to Recoleta.

050408 La Boca1.jpg

La Boca.

050408 La Boca2.jpg

The tour ended on drag queen time as well; I told Chris I would meet him at a bit after 5 pm and saw a note from him on my room door that he had come and gone, but that we were having dinner also on drag queen time, 10 pm, and then going to Palacio to gape at Argentinean men in a more acceptable environment in which to gape.

Posted by Leigh Witchel at April 8, 2005 8:27 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)