Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Steak, tango and vibrance in Buenos Aires

If I had to choose one word to describe Buenos Aires, it would be vibrant. It's neighbourhoods are diverse, spanning a full spectrum from incredibly wealthy to obviously struggling, from the bright green of parks to the primary colours of houses. Some areas echo with noise, whilst others exude a quiet calm. It's all undeniably Spanish (with that South American twist of course), and all very vibrant. And I loved it.

As someone who generally sees cities as dropping off points for exploration, used to rest and recuperate before diving into smaller towns and rural settings, I was beginning to worry that the five days I'd given us there would be a little too much 'buffering' time. In reality, I could have remained for many more.
We'd arrived with very little knowledge of the city, or plans, and were happy to combine wandering around the many neighbourhoods with advice from our friendly hostel. We navigated the subway and bus system - the former a mix of modern facilities alongside gutted stations, paint peeling from bare walls, murals on tiles adding colour and interest. The buses were slightly more tricky, the complex one-way road system confusing us on multiple occasions; kind passers-by and fellow passengers pointing expressively to the right side of the road or nudging us when we were nearing our stop.

We started in the centre, the heart of BA. Plaza de Mayo, surrounded by beautiful colonial buildings acted as our reference point as we wandered the streets, passing through bustling clothes markets and trying (roughly!) to walk in a wide circle without getting too lost. Small museums popped up on our left and right, and although we cannot speak a word of Spanish, we eventually become too intrigued to pass another by, and found ourselves in an old prison, the cells showing life for the prisoners. We passed white churches glowing in the sunlight, and buildings on the same streets so architecturally diverse you could have a delicate balconied house, hanging flowers everywhere, next to a solid black tower, Soviet-style statues guarding the exterior.

On another day we joined what seemed like all the tourists in La Boca, the neighboured famed for its colourful buildings, bright greens, reds and pinks against the brilliant blue sky, packed with streetfront restaurants and tango performances. The advice given by all guidebooks, to stick to a few streets and avoid wandering further into the neighbourhood does emphasise the falseness of the show perhaps, along with the over-priced food, but it is a photographer's dream.

Another place for photography was Recoleta cemetery. Another landmark of BA, we spend a pleasant couple of hours quietly walking its 'streets', the opulence of the tombs staggering and well worth a visit. BA is perfectly situated for day trips, and after a few days we headed to the central bus station, and after an hour of wandering its halls (top tip: try to know which bus company you want to use before you arrive...), we were seated on a deliciously air-conditioned bus to San Antonio de Areco, a picture-pretty town in the pampas. Gorgeous colonial buildings sit in the centre of expanses of green, a gently flowing river finishing the scene. Unfortunately, the temperature was in the high 30s upon arrival, leaving me desperately looking for any shade I could get (of which there is very little), but it was a nice change from the city.

Combine all this with plenty of incredible food (including some steaks of course...), and the days rushed past. Naturally it's not all amazing. The habit of eating dinner at 10pm just isn't to our taste, and we were sometimes frustrated that nothing at all seemed to be open in the afternoon. But those complaints are very minor. Overall, BA was certainly one of the nicest South American cities I've visited, and we hadn't quite said goodbye to it yet...

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