18th November – 24th November – Buenos Aires (and Uruguay!)

After four weeks of countryside it was time to come back to the big city. Buenos Aires really *is* a big city, with about a third of the country’s population in the metropolitan area. Like any  big city it is made up of areas or ‘barrios’ each with its own character, typical architecture etc. Like many visitors to the city we decided to stay in the buzzy, pretty barrio of Palermo Viejo which along with Recoleta is at the centre of the food revolution that’s been taking place in Buenos Aires since I was last in town. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good steak, and pasta and pizza are all fine when executed proficiently, but I do recall on my last visit being disproportionately excited when I found a restaurant that served a meal that included actual green and crunchy vegetables. Things have definitely changed, we even spotted a vegetarian restaurant or two…

Anyway, Palermo Viejo, in the south west of Palermo ‘actual’ (which is the biggest barrio in he city, hence its separation into estate-agency-friendly demarcations like ‘Viejo’, ‘Soho’, ‘Hollywood’ etc). Cobbled, tree-lined streets, pavement cafes, (mostly) low-rise buildings with a variety of interesting architectures; colonial, deco, classical, brutalist and everything in between.

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We stayed in a charming place that was somewhere between a boutique hotel and a very hipster hostel. The Hotel Costa Rica is built in an old ‘chorizo’ house, the clever architects have managed to make it feel light and airy by building the reception and rooms around courtyards and patios; cheaper rooms with shared bathrooms arranged around the leafy roof terrace, en- suite doubles accessed by first-floor suspended walkways, and the reception areas a mix of cosy armchairs and dining tables with a patio next to the bar. We would definitely stay again.

The day after we arrived was quite literally a washout, as the Buenos Aires spring was interrupted by a day of storms and torrential rain. Perfect excuse to cosy down in a restaurant and eat, drink and read for the day, before heading out in the evening to meet Helen and Santi to celebrate Helen’s birthday! We started with drinks in the bar of the swanky Sofitel before hopping in the car and driving to the astonishing ‘El Gato Viejo’ gallery/studio, where the owner and curator cooks for guests while, well, art happens. The resident artist is Carlos Regazzoni and the place is full of his art and sculpture, most noticeably the Heath Robinson metal sculptures that made me think of the Mutoid Waste Company. Dinner was accompanied by a live tango singer – all very strange and romantic.

To balance all this bohemian quirkiness we decided to take the ‘tourist bus’ the following day, which was actually a pretty comprehensive 3 hour journey (although you can choose to hop on/off) of all the main sights of the central city. First though we had to change money, obviously using the ‘blue’ dollar rate as mentioned in the previous post. After trying to find the place we had already been recommended (more later about why we weren’t able to) we started to ‘ask around’. Finally on asking in a kiosko where we could find a ‘Casa de Cambio’ we were directed to the back of the shop where a brisk business in unofficial money-changing was taking place. Such entrepreneurs, the Argentinians!

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Being tourists.
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The Casa Rosada (Pink House) – seat of the presidency.

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The ‘old’ (Spanish Colonial) government building.

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Ooh – some bits look just like Barcelona!
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La Bonbonera, home of the famous Boca Juniors.
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Painted houses in La Boca
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Painted shops and houses in La Boca

The following day on a recommendation from Helen we took the ‘Graffiti Mundo‘ street art tour – they run several and this was the ‘North City’ version, taking in Collegiales, Villa Crespo and Palermo. It was superb, a clever mix of social history and the cultural history of street art, from ‘tagging’ to murals and everything in between. Definitely recommended:

We were particularly amused by the wall of an entire street block covered in different styles of Homer Simpson, which was apparently some in-joke of the street art community.

Obviously no visit to Buenos Aires would be complete without an asado; fortunately Helen and Santi invited us around to there place where Santi and friend barbequed up a storm:

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The *other* thing you can’t visit Buenos Aires without doing is a dinner in a fancy steak place, so La Cabrera was Sunday night’s decadent diversion:

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Anticipation…
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Tucking into my Wagyu beef.
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Noah’s steak and all the accompaniments.
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Mmmmm wagyu beef, possibly the only time I have finished eating a meal before Noah.
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Look, there are even vegetables!
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Let’s just see that wagyu once again, shall we?
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Handy ‘cut-out-and-keep’ guide to cuts of beef.

On our final full day in Buenos Aires we decided to…go to Uruguay! The small town of Colonia del Sacramento is just over an hour by fast ferry across the bay (or rather the river) from Buenos Aires. It’s a pretty little town with colonial-style buildings, in fact it’s a UNESCO heritage site.

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Children going to school in the standard school uniform throughout the country: lab coats.

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Importantly, we found a nice place to have lunch.

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We were sad to leave Buenos Aires, but not that sad as the next stop is Mendoza!

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