Italian food, French buildings and Spanish nightlife tell the story of a city with one foot in Latin America and the other in Europe. Derek Miller writes from Dover.
Walking the streets of Buenos Aires gave me all of the sensations of being in Europe. It didn’t take long to see that this stylish Latin American capital was loaded with European flair. Old world blends with new in Buenos Aires, Argentina’s bustling metropolis. I marveled over the city’s romantic restaurants, architecture, cobblestone streets, charming boutiques and barrios (neighborhoods) bursting with high energy and personality.
As a first time visitor, I tended to associate Buenos Aires to a hotbed of three items; Tango, steak, and wine. However, the Italian food, French buildings and Spanish nightlife also tell the story of a city with one foot in Latin America and the other in Europe. Tree-lined avenues, a thriving nightlife, great food and wine make the Argentinean capital one of the most exciting cities on the continent.
After spending time in Buenos Aires it was clear to see that it is the fashion capital of South America. The locals all seemed to be in tune with the latest fashions and stylish wardrobes. I often heard references to Buenos Aires being the “Paris of the South.”
Even the buildings had a strong European fashion sense. Grand old colonial buildings -many of which were actually built in Europe and assembled in Buenos Aires - stood next to sprawling malls and modern condominiums.
Although the city was rebuilt in the early 20th century and modeled after Paris and Madrid, when I visited Buenos Aires I saw the city buzzing with a passion entirely its own. This dynamic city is home to three million people, mostly very good-looking with great style and demeanor.
While there are key sites worth checking off the must-see list, such as the Teatro Colon Opera House or Casa Rosada, the essence of Buenos Aires is browsing the latest exhibit at a hip gallery, drinking coffee at a barrio café, or watching the world saunter by before
The capital and largest city in Argentina is located on the western shore of the estuary of the Rio de la Plata, on the South American continent’s southeastern coast. Buenos Aires can be translated as “fair winds” or “good airs” by the founders in the 16th century.
Buenos Aires is the most visited city in South America and the second most visited city of Latin America behind Mexico City.
Looking out of my ninth floor hotel window, I couldn’t stop gawking at the hustle and bustle taking place on the Avenida 9 de Julio. This thoroughfare is the widest avenue in the world. It consists of seven lanes in each direction and is flanked on either side by parallel streets of two lanes each, 18 lanes in total. Yikes.
The name of the avenue honors Argentina’s Independence Day: July 9, 1816. Many of the city’s major landmarks are along the avenue. Flashing in my head as I crossed the extra-wide boulevard was the once popular video game – “Frogger”. I certainly would not recommend jaywalking this avenue.
In addition to seeing the hustle and bustle going on below, my eyes became fixated on a very tall and very impressive concrete obelisk. As the Eiffel Tower is to Paris or the Colosseum is to Rome, the Obelisk is to Buenos Aires. Looking out of my hotel window, it was impossible to miss this iconic sight and symbol of the city. Built in 1936 to commemorate Buenos Aires 400th anniversary, the Obelisk is in the center of vibrant Plaza de la Republica at the crossroads of two important boulevards: Avenida 9 de Julio and Corrientes. On each side of the Obelisk, illustrations portray historical local events.
It was such a treat to be able to look out of my hotel window and see so much amazing imagery, like the Obelisk, the Opera House, tango dance studios, Michelin Star restaurants, and the hectic Avenida 9 de Julio. But one image stood out from the others – as I would look out my window towards the Obelisk I could see the portrait of Evita on the side of a nearby skyscraper. Eva Peron (affectionately known as Evita) was the second wife of Argentine President Juan Peron and was the first lady of Argentina from 1946 until her death in 1952.
In 1952, shortly before her death from cancer at 33, Eva Peron was given the title of “spiritual leader of the nation” by the Argentine Congress. Eva Peron has become a part of international popular culture, most famously in the musical, Evita.
The Teatro Colon is the main opera house in Buenos Aires and is considered to be one of the most important opera houses in the world. Its rich and prestigious history and its exceptional acoustics and architectural features rank it among theatres, such as Teatro alla Scala in Milan, the Paris Opera House, the Vienna State Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
Plaza de Mayo
The city’s main square, Plaza de Mayo is flanked by the Cabildo and the Casa Rosada, which are past and present government headquarters.
The cathedral on the square is famous as Pope Francis’ former parish.
The square has a long history of being the main stage for major political events. It was from the Casa Rosada’s balcony that former presidents, and beloved first lady Eva Peron, addressed the Argentinean people. The Plaza de Mayo was where various protests took place, including the tragic marches of the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo, who to this day march every Thursday, still looking for their children, the ‘desaparecidos’ who disappeared under the 1970’s dictatorship.
During the “Dirty War” in Argentina, waged from 1976 to 1983, the military government abducted, tortured, and killed left-wing militants and anyone they claimed were “subversives,” including all political opponents. Many of the dissenters were young people, students and other youth trying to express their dissatisfactions with the government.
The kidnapped people became referred to as the “disappeared.’ The government destroyed any records that would help the families find the bodies or reclaim their grandchildren. In addition to the above atrocities, the government stole babies born to pregnant prisoners.
The Cabildo is adjacent to the Plaza de Mayo and is the oldest building in the city. The Cabildo was built in 1751 as the original Spanish seat of government, and was later an important meeting place leading up to Argentina’s declaration of independence from Spain. Today it houses a small museum with colonial paintings and furniture and artifacts from the May Revolution of 1810.
The Pink House
Directly across from the Cabildo is the Pink House. The Pink House, or La Casa Rosada, is Argentina’s current seat of government.
There are two theories about the stunning building’s pink color:
1) It might have been an attempt to unify the two combative parties at the time it was built (blending Federalist red with Unitarian white).
2) It may have been painted with cow’s blood (a common practice at the time), which later dried to today’s pink.
Either way, the building is marvelous to behold from the outside, and even more interesting on a guided tour of the interior – which will take you to the famed Evita balcony.
The Recoleta Cemetery
The rich and famous in Argentina believed in being stylish even in the afterlife. The Recoleta Cemetery, where the who’s who in Buenos Aires are buried, is testament to this.
It has to be the most bizarre place that I’ve ever visited. Rows after rows are lined with huge, in some cases, tacky tombstones. It was a bit creepy walking in and around these elaborately decorated, artistic structures knowing there were coffins inside.
The Recoleta Cemetery is not only a tribute to some of the major figures in Argentina’s history, but many of its statues and stone coffins are works of art in themselves. Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Modernist, it seemed all of the artistic periods are represented in the cemetery, built in 1822 as the city’s first public cemetery.
It was easy to get lost within the narrow paths, as I tried to imagine and piece together the histories of those buried here and enjoy the peacefulness of this place.
The most popular gravesite is that of Evita, who is buried in the Duarte family tomb.
Another interesting gravesite is the tomb of Jose Hernandez. He was the composer of the epic poem, “Martin Fierro.” It evokes the rural life of gauchos (cowboys) and is said to be the “national book” of Argentina.
Basilica de Nuestra Senora Del Pilar
The basilica is beside the Recoleta Cemetery. It is beautiful in its simplicity, and at the time of its construction in the 18th century, it was the tallest structure in Buenos Aires.
The charming colonial structure is bright white, with beautiful interiors featuring colonial artwork and a baroque altar plated in Peruvian silver. A small museum, Museo de los Claustros Del Pilar, is in the former convent and displays religious artifacts and stories about the history of Recoleta.
It’s hard to talk about Buenos Aires without discussing food and the beloved tango.
One of the best ways to experience both the food and dance is to attend a genuine Buenos Aires dinner show. I was spellbound at the elegance and the choreography displayed from the dancers. It was a skill set that I couldn’t comprehend.
I constantly found myself reaching for my camera yearning to capture this amazing art form for later viewing. Somehow I fought off the urge, especially knowing that taking pictures and video was prohibited. Either way, I will never forget how seductive and captivating the dance and music performance was.
If the tango didn’t blow me away, the amazing Argentine cuisine certainly did. To this day, I remind myself that the steak I had at that Buenos Aires dinner show was the best steak I’ve ever had, by far. I quickly realized after consuming my steak the significance and importance that meat, especially beef, has in the Argentinean culture. I was also a big fan of Argentinean empanadas, which are pastries filled with meat or vegetables.
It is no wonder that the cuisine is heavily influenced by its European roots. Some of the more popular regional variations that are found throughout Buenos Aires include asado, dulce de leche, and yerba mate.
Like the romantic and emotional dance that originated here, the streets of Buenos Aires tell stories of immigrants, passion, love, struggle, sorrow and magic. It’s all this, along with magnificent architecture, delicious food, and lovely people, that make local residents (portenos) and tourists alike fall madly in love with Buenos Aires. I know I did.