There’s something comforting about arriving in a big city. There are plenty of new things to learn and discover but there is also enough that is familiar. Most people that travel prefer to experience something completely different than what they know- the more unknown, the more exciting- and big cities tend not to fall under that category. That’s how I felt about cities for a while but I’m starting to appreciate that underneath the tall buildings and the endless McDonalds, Starbucks, and other global chains, there are hidden layers of history and culture.
Plaza de Mayo
We took the advice from this website and started at Plaza de Mayo and walked down Defensa to the fair in Plaza Derrago. Plaza de Mayo is where a lot of their governmental buildings are, including Casa Rosada where people who know nothing about Argentina may know it as where Eva Perón gave her balcony speech (yea, Evita!). But the history of Casa Rosada dates a lot further back than Perón. Apparently the area was first founded in 1536 and they built a fort on the site in 1594. Now it’s the office of the president.
Feria de San Telmo
Defensa was easy to find- it’s the street where the market is. All the way from Plaza de Mayo down to Plaza Derrago were lots of cool art and souvenirs. The closer you get to the fair, the more antiques you see. Some blocks had tango music playing in stalls and people dancing. Definitely a nice intro to the city’s culture.
We watched a tango show at We Are Tango. This seemed to be a much better option than the bigger shows (although a tango show is catered for tourists, no local would ever need to go to one). It was a very intimate setting with only two other couples there. The dinner was simple – cheese platter to start and three empanadas for the main dish. After the show, we took a brief 30 minute lesson.
Teatro de Colon
This opera house opened in 1908, replacing the original theater that was built here in 1857. What this theater is known for is its perfect acoustics. They don’t use speakers or amplifiers or any of the modern acoustics we are familiar with. The horseshoe shaped auditorium gives it surround sound, the soft seats absorbs the sound, the various materials used in the building help amplify and absorb sounds, and many other things give this theater its reputation as one of the top five theaters in the world.
Cementerio de la Recoleta
This was a very interesting cemetery where many of Argentina’s elite rest. The tombs are all very extravagant. What weirded us out was that a lot of the coffins inside the tombs weren’t buried but rather just sitting in the tomb within eye site. A little creepy. The highlight here is Evita’s grave. People still come here and leave flowers.
On our second day in town, we learned that the new President was getting inaugurated into office that week. One of the first things the new president intends to do is fix Argentina’s economic situation and wipe out the “blue rate”. What is the blue rate? Like most countries, there’s an official exchange rate between the US dollar and Argentine peso set by the government (approximately $9 for 1 Peso). However, because the Argentina economy is so unstable and they had a very recent debt crisis in 2001, people don’t have faith in the currency. So Argentinians prefer to hold a more stable currency and US dollars is one of the most stable currencies in the world. The problem is, they can’t officially get US dollars from banks, so people are willing to give you more Argentine pesos to buy your US dollar. Simply put, it’s the black market rate that is widely accepted and it’s a reflection of how bad their economy is.
One of our biggest struggles in Argentina was the exchange rate. I initially thought I’d just use Xoom but that didn’t work out at all. Requesting money is the easy part. They say your money can be ready in 30 minutes- not true. I requested money for the week, received a message a couple hours later saying that the money was ready, went a long way to a More Money location to pick it up (because few locations are open on Sunday) and was told the transaction hadn’t been processed. At this time, we didn’t have a lot of Argentine pesos on us so everything felt a bit stressful. It was also the weekend and a lot of ATMs run out of cash. So we tried to find places that took credit card.
The next day, I received an email asking for a copy of my passport and then was told I’d have to wait 24 hours to receive a notification. They never sent me one and I ended up not getting the money I needed until 4 days after we wanted it. So a 6 days worth of money with only 2 days left to spend it. Great. Now we are stuck with Argentine pesos that nobody wants.
We spoke with an American who lived in Argentina and he loves Xoom. It offers great rates and it makes sense if you plan to use it more than once. He also says some pick up locations are worse than others.
Lesson learned: order your money a few days in advance and not on a weekend.
Delta El Tigre
We took a half day trip to El Tigre, a town outside of Buenos Aires. This is where wealthy residents used to come to vacation, including the country’s seventh president, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento. (He was big on education and requested that his home in El Tigre be turned into a school after he died.) Nowadays, many Argentineans come here on the weekend to relax. It took about an hour and a half to get there by public transit. We took a bus to one of the stops along the Mitre train line and arrived in El Tigre at around 10am.
We wandered around the port area, Estacion Fluvial, and didn’t really know where to start. All we knew was that we wanted to do a one hour boat tour. The commuter boat was apparently full so we went to the tourist information booth to ask about our tour options. They gave us a list of tour operators that provided the one hour boat tour along the delta and we found the next earliest option at 11:45am. So note, there is no need to arrive before 11am.
The boat tour was relaxing and a great way to see the town and how people lived along the river. I could understand why someone would want to live here- it’s very serene. The delta is one of the only major deltas in the world that does not empty into a sea or ocean. It flows into the Río de la Plata, which separates Argentina and Uruguay.
We enjoyed our one week stay in Palermo at this Airbnb loft. There are lots of coffee shops, fantastic restaurants, and cute shops all within a short walking distance. It felt like NYC’s Soho except less hectic and more laid back. I would definitely recommend staying here! And as always, Airbnb was great! I had a fantastic host and it was really nice having our own apartment after weeks of B&Bs and hostels.
Off we go to Colombia!