It Takes Two...
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Strictly speaking, you don’t have to tango when you visit Buenos
Aires, but a trip to the city wouldn’t be complete unless you at least gave it
The first place you should try is one of the celebrated milongas
or tango clubs. A really great one is the Confiteria Los Andes on the Avenue
Dorrego. If you’re not the adventurous type – or you don’t fancy your chances
competing with the real experts, who seem able to throw their bodies around
with energy and elegance at the same time, you could visit the historic Café
Tortoni: luxuriate in the rich wood-panelled ambience of this 170-year-old
eaterie and enjoy watching the dancers while you sip strong local coffee. For
the really authentic experience, wander down to Plaza Dorrego, where on Sundays
local couples practise their tango in the streets around the market stalls.
It’s a strange city, Buenos Aires. It’s been called the most
European city outside of
Europe. It certainly seems to have absorbed the highlights (and a few of the
lowlights) of some great European capitals. The traffic on the Avenue 9 de
Julio is worse than anything you’ll find even in Naples or Rome; the trendy
atmosphere of the Recoleta district is reminiscent of Barcelona or Milan, and
the Plaza de Mayo feels authentically Spanish.
Downtown Buenos Aires
It’s on the Plaza de Mayo that you’ll find two of Buenos Aires’ most famous
buildings: the Catedral Metropolitana and the Casa Rosada. The great church is
striking: it was designed to resemble an ancient Roman temple. Its gloomy and
mysterious interior is a direct and striking contrast to the bright sunlight
and palm trees of the Plaza outside – as you’ll notice when you leave, and find
yourself temporarily blinded by the sun.
The Casa Rosada – ‘the Pink House’ – is, like its white equivalent in
Washington D.C., the seat of Argentina’s presidents. The Portenos, as natives
of the city call themselves, habitually gather in front of the Casa Rosada in
times of crisis. It’s as pink now as it was when the glamorous Eva Perón lived
there in the 1950s, wife to the dictatorial president Juan Perón. It’s still a
place of political action – once a week a group of women called the Mothers of
Plaza de Mayo gather here. They are the mothers of some of the ‘disappeared’ –
the thousands of people who vanished during the 1970s, presumably murdered by
the vicious regime then in power.
Buenos Aires is a lot calmer right now, though it’s not long since the people
were last on the streets. That happened during the financial crisis of a couple
of years ago, when the Argentine economy collapsed. The country is making a
slow recovery. Buenos Aires doesn’t feel like a city beset by financial
problems – in fact, it has an atmosphere that is distinctly relaxed and
well-to-do. The economic disaster still makes its effects felt, though, and
you’ll find prices here lower than in many capital cities of comparable class.
The locals are certainly glad of tourist dollars.
drinking in Buenos Aires can be a confusing experience. This being
Argentina, beef is on the menu nearly everywhere. But the prevailing cultural
influence on local cuisine is rather more Italian than Spanish. Pasta is
ubiquitous. Try Ristorante Galani – it’s in the Four Seasons Hotel in the
classy Recoleta district. You can taste a little of all the major Buenos Aires
culinary influences here, and although it’s quite a classy establishment prices
are low. Remember that Argentinians are distinctly Mediterranean in their
eating habits. Breakfast and lunch get eaten at pretty much the same time as
you would have them in the States. The evening meal, however, follows the
traditional Spanish timing and isn’t usually served until after 9pm. Be warned,
also, that you won’t find many restaurants open on a Monday night.
It’s a split-personality city in many ways – caught between the influences of
several European cultures as well as the US. Buenos Aires has more
psychiatrists per head than any other city in the world, so this cultural
confusion seems to have rubbed off on the locals. Many aspects of the city,
curiously, have a strangely English feel. Historically Buenos Aires has always
had a large population of British ex-pats – polo, of all weird sports, is the
UK’s lasting gift to Argentina. Despite taking a few knocks during and after
the Falklands War in the early eighties, the city’s pro-British sympathies run
So, a strange and exciting place. A city that combines the oddly
familiar with the exotic and foreign. Go to Buenos
Aires – and pack your dancing shoes.