In this post Verne kicks it off by talking about our first day in Buenos Aires and by boring you to death with exchange rates, and Jules gets your attention back with tales of giant Argentinian steaks.
I’ll start with the bad, because there’s so little of it: Buenos Aires is cold and expensive. Both are our own fault: Winter is arriving to the Southern Hemisphere (contrasting with Lisbon’s beach craving weather), and we brought plastic to a place that only has eyes for cash (more on Argentina’s blue dollar later).
After a late night taxi trip (use the airport’s official white taxis, the yellow and black ones are a sure way to get ripped off), we got to our apartment near Teatro Colon. Our second experience with AirBnb also went perfectly: our cute studio apartment was smack in the center of town and costed less than a hotel or hostel.
The following morning we got our first real taste of the approaching southern hemisphere’s winter: the day was cold, damp and foggy. As we tried our first ‘medialuna’ (the city’s famous croissants), the coffeeshop owner told us that there was a ‘paro’ (general strike) going on that day. As we wondered through the empty but trash littered ‘Avenida 9 de Julio’ (the widest avenue in the world, impossible to cross in one go on a normal car-packed day), we kept an eye out for places with free Wi-Fi (ubiquitous in Buenos Aires) so that we could read a bit more on what was going on.
The strike that stopped Buenos Aires on its tracks was to protest against Argentina’s high inflation. Workers argue that the real inflation (~40%) is much higher than the government’s official numbers (~24%), severely affecting purchasing power. Cooked inflation numbers have an impact on the unsuspecting traveler as well: Argentina’s fixed exchange rate is pegged to the official inflation number and lags the real inflation. Had we brought hard currency (dollars, euros, pounds) we could have exchanged them in the ‘blue market’ for a far better rate than the official one we got at the ATM machine.
Weather and inflation aside, we were really digging the charm of Buenos Aires and the straightforward nature of the ‘porteños’ (the city’s locals) as we strolled through the Metropolitan Cathedral (where Pope Francis was previously the Archbishop), Casa Rosada (the official residence of Argentina’s President) and Puerto Madero (a waterfront swanky neighborhood). We wrapped the day with a visit to Mafalda’s statue in the San Telmo neighborhood. It’s a small thing sitting on a bench, but everyone that grew up with Quino’s most famous character will love it.
Let me start by saying that I fell in love with Buenos Aires right from the start. And if you feel like this for a city when it’s rainy and foggy, chances are you’re going to get hooked once the sun brightens up. And that’s exactly what happened on our second day there. We woke up for a beautiful sunny day (but still cold) and went for another of our long walks. Transports in Buenos Aires are pretty efficient and safe, but somehow we always start thinking that it’ll be just a short walk, and always end up walking half marathons!
Overnight, the streets that had been completely littered the day before were now totally clean and inviting. We went all the way down to the United Nations park, where the amazing ‘Floralis Generica’ posed for our pictures, like a prima donna. Our next stop was the Palermo neighborhood, following a friend’s tip of a nice place to have lunch. And Don Julio totally lived up to it’s recommendation. Amazingly delicious Argentinian meat, topped with a humongous portion of French fries and a nice glass of red wine. We were set for a long walk in the afternoon, after this 🙂 And indeed, we took our time around the Japanese gardens and the ‘cementerio de Recoleta’, before heading home.
Our last day in Buenos Aires was spent eating the best ‘medialunas’ ever at café Ibérico (I’ve been craving about these since) and amazing ouserselves in the ‘El Ateneo Grand Splendid’ library. Books have finally found a place were they are treated as the preciosities they are!
One last word of caution: ‘porteños’ are super nice and friendly people… Except on the crosswalks. Don’t ever expect them to stop and let you pass 🙂
Now heading to Santiago. We’ll be back to Buenos Aires in five days, for the most anticipated tango and milonga show!