There is something special about Buenos Aires. In a similar fashion to our other favorite big cities (which include Istanbul and Tokyo) it plants a seed in your mind, making you slowly start to wonder, ‘maybe I should live here?’ We may have fallen so hard for the city because we spent most of our time there with family. It is easier to connect with a place when you have locals showing you the way; the way to make a proper parrillada, the way to drink mate, the way to enjoy homemade gnocchi on the 29th day of the month, the way to find the best slice of pizza with morrónes. We haven’t written in a while, but we haven’t just been sitting around either. Our last two weeks of 2012 were spent in Buenos Aires, and they flew by as quickly as the year itself.
Our bus from Bariloche arrived in Buenos Aires a week before Christmas, and we were greeted with a huge smile and hugs from one of Mike’s aunts. In true Latin American fashion, Mike has a family with countless tios, primos, and abuelos; it’s often difficult to explain connections between family members. Mike hadn’t seen his aunt in over a decade, and had never met her husband and children before, but we were welcomed into their home for a week and had an incredible time getting to know them better. For Amy, it was a long awaited immersion program for practicing lots of Castellano.
This was our first holiday season spent in the southern hemisphere, so it was a bit of an adjustment. We can’t complain about the sunny days and balmy nights, but must say that it is a lot more comfortable baking pies in the cold of winter. Hot ovens and hundred-degree weather just don’t mix. Christmas Eve tradition in Argentina includes the usual fare of family, food and gifts, with the added benefit of fireworks at midnight! The show far surpassed the size and sound of the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve in the States…combined. After a late night, we woke up “early” around 11am and headed over to another aunt’s house for a Christmas asado (BBQ). It was nice to get out of the city and explore the suburb of Escobar. It was a fantastic day relaxing in the backyard grilling, playing games, chatting and watching the children (more primos) enjoy the holiday. We were particularly excited about the number of different cuts of meat on the grill (seven!) plus provoleta cheese.
In the days before and after Christmas, we took our time exploring the various neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Palermo, Puerto Madero, La Boca, San Isidro, Recoleta, San Telmo, Boedo – each one had something different to offer. La Boca, perhaps one of the most visited parts of the city, was a hub for many early immigrants to Buenos Aires and is known for its colorful buildings. While we could have done without the hordes of tourists and very pushy business owners, it was still fun to wander the streets and pick out our favorite houses. The neighborhoods of Boedo and Palermo were a pleasant surprise to us. Neither was on our radar before we arrived, but they turned out to be our favorite places to walk, visit parks and stop for café con leche and medialunas (croissants).
We did a whirlwind, self-guided, walking tour one day from where we were staying in Boedo, through San Telmo, across the levees of Puerto Madero, along la Costanera Sur, past the Centro, down to la Boca, and over to Constitución, before making our way back to Boedo. It was a hell of a walk to say the least. We loved the antique shops in Mercado San Telmo, and think that the parrillada stands/carts that border the Ecological Reserve on the Costanera Sur are the perfect place to stop for an afternoon snack or cheap evening meal.
On another day, we made the long trek over to the Recoleta area. This part of town is filled with museums, plazas, and vast green parks. We enjoyed something very modern and something very old. The Floralis Generica, an enormous public art installation, is a giant flower in the middle of a reflecting pool, but what makes this particular piece so cool is that the petals open each morning and slowly close as the sun sets, just like a real flower. After scoping out the Floralis Generica, we walked a few blocks to the Cementerio de Recoleta. At first we weren’t sure how we felt about visiting a cemetery for purposes other than visiting a loved one, but once we arrived and saw the tour buses lined up, we knew that there would be many other tourists far more conspicuous than us wondering the grounds. The ancient Greek word Necropolis (meaning city of the dead) instantly came to mind as we entered the cemetery. The tombs, mausoleums and monuments to Argentina’s most famous and wealthy citizens are more like small houses than burial sites. Instead of a grassy space with crumbling headstones, Cementerio de Recoleta is a well-kept gated community with cobblestone walkways, polished marble structures and street lights. If ever there was a place to be buried in “style,” this is it, and following suit, it is the final resting place of Argentina’s iconic first-lady, Evita Duarte Perón.
After Christmas, one of our good friends from college, Adam, flew down to B.A. to travel with us for a few weeks. The three of us headed over to the Olivos area to stay with another one of Mike’s cousins. The next couple of days allowed us to see just a few of the areas outside of the city center. Olivos is a pretty quiet and quaint part of the city which is home to The Great Wall of Argentina. Never heard of it? That’s because most people refer to it as the Presidential Residence. We decided to go take a look at it one day, only to find that unlike the White House, the entire complex is surrounded by a three meter tall brick wall. We walked the entire length and couldn’t even get a peek at the place, so we dubbed it with a new name. On another afternoon, we took a bus to the neighborhood of San Isidro, where Mike’s cousin’s grandparents live, to celebrate the 29th day of the month. What is so special about the 29th? It’s gnocchi day! Argentinians, as well as Brazilians and Uruguayans, enjoy a meal of gnocchi on the 29th day of each month. We can’t tell you exactly where or why this tradition originated, but trust us that it’s fun. The homemade spinach and ricotta gnocchi that we ate were to die for. After stuffing ourselves, we hopped on the Tren de la Costa towards Tigre. Tigre is a small town at the mouth of the Río de la Plata and is the perfect place to walk along the water, soak in the sun, buy cheese and watch Porteños drink mate.
After some crazy New Year’s festivities in the city, and a full day and a half of recuperating, our two weeks in Buenos Aires had come to an end. We haven’t stopped talking about how much fun we had, how much we love B.A. and when we can go back to visit next. It is an easy place to fall for, and we fell hard.