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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 a shot.

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 ofDowntown Buenos Aires 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

Catedral Metropolitana 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.
Catedral Metropolitana

Casa Rosada 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.

Nereidas 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.

The Nereidas

Eating and 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.

Buenos Aires Cabildo 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 deep.

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.

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