Barry's Travel Journal: Buenos Aires

Posted by Brandon Vasquez on Tuesday, March 13th, 2012 at 9:33am.

Please enjoy the following excerpt, the first in a series from Barry's travel journal having spent the month of January in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

"By way of preface, it’s useful to share my personal biases/objectives/perspectives, which underpin my responses to the places I visit.  I’m an inveterate walker, who generally loathes public transportation, loves art and architecture, music, history and politics.  I travel to expand my world view, to experience and discover the heart and culture of different societies.  While I consult guidebooks in advance and visit popular tourist attractions, I especially seek the intimate local byways and haunts. 

  I love hearing foreign accents and detest the franchising of the world. Where possible, I’m inclined to engage locals in dialog…as a source of enrichment and reference, as well as a trigger into a more personal and memorable experience."

Neighborhoods. Most tourists will limit their visits to these neighborhoods, which are contiguous and contain the majority of the sights one is likely to visit in a few days in the city.  All are entirely safe at all hours, with the exception of La Boca and San Telmo. 

Retiro. In New York terms, think of this as a cross between the Upper West Side and Chelsea.  The Plaza San Martin is the hub of this area and contains many handsome buildings.  Avenue Santa Fe terminates or begins here (depending upon perspective), as does Calle Florida, the pedestrian mall which you’ll inevitably encounter.  This is the neighborhood which reputedly gave the city its nomenclature of “Paris of South America”, although I found as many or more superb architectural properties elsewhere (Recoleta in particular).  The monstrous “9th of July” is the northern boundary of the neighborhood…you’ll cross 9th of July repeatedly, but there is little noteworthy for a pedestrian here, aside from the various monuments visible from the boulevard.  Retiro has some of the better art galleries and lots of ATMs. It is central to the city, but I found the neighborhood unmemorable by comparison to other areas.

Recoleta. This neighborhood rightly enjoys its reputation as a wealthy enclave of handsome apartment buildings, small vest pocket parks, patisseries, high end boutiques, and several of the city’s most expensive hotels (including the Alvear Palace, Park Hyatt, and Four Seasons).  It also houses Recoleta Cemetery and the French Embassy, among notable sights.  Although it extends west of Santa Fe, there is a visible and abrupt difference in the ambience and evident money immediately east of Santa Fe.  At all hours, this is a wonderful area to walk, but think of it as New York’s Upper East Side, replete with old money and some of the worst and most brightly lit restaurants in the city (there are exceptions).

Palermo. By far my favorite set of neighborhoods (there are subsets of Palermo, including Palermo Hollywood, Soho, Chico and Nuevo, as well as Las Canitas), think of these as New York’s East and West Village, as well as Soho and Tribeca.  The area has a youthful vibe, changes by the block (some of which look quite dubious, but you may be amazingly surprised), has in my judgment by far the best restaurants and variety of them, and has terrific boutiques, as well as several of the better museums (among them MALBA and Evita).  If I didn’t spend part of each day in Palermo, I felt deprived of the BA I most enjoyed.  Prior to arrival, I’d planned to stay in Recoleta, but the apartment I’d planned to lease there evaporated.  I’m sure I would have liked that apartment and neighborhood (far better than the clean dive I leased for a comparable sum in Retiro, in a building whose shabby Plywood Minnesota lined lobby reminded me of campaigning for office in Stevens Square in the late 1970’s), but I would much have preferred options I declined in Palermo…it’s hard to judge distances from afar, and I was given to believe Palermo would read as “suburban” and distant…it’s neither, and I absolutely loved the area.

Barrio Norte. To me, this small but lovely area is an extension and blend of Recoleta and Palermo. Good restaurants and beautiful streets, with pleasant architectural surprises at every turn. 

Monserrat. This is the core of the city (I think of it as El Centro), its spine being Avenue de Mayo, along which are the city’s most significant government buildings and the Plaza de Mayo.  This is a day time “must see”, but avoid it at night.

Puerto Madero. Just like Minneapolis rediscovered its waterfront 11-12 years ago, BA rediscovered the area east of its docks along the Rio Plata in the past decade and has enjoyed a building and restoration boom here on a scale far more significant than Minneapolis.  Its condo buildings are reputedly the most expensive real estate in the city and there are lots of restaurants along its docks.  I found the area sterile and charmless, but recommend visiting the neighborhood to see Calatrava’s sensual “Woman Bridge”, two of the best art museums (the Fortabat and Faena), and the Faena Hotel.  The latter is non descript from the exterior (it is a renovation), but with rooms that start at $1000 USD nightly, you’ll understand its cache when you enter to sumptuous rooms like the all white dining room anchored by 6 crystal chandeliers (which I watched being daily polished) and walls  lined with unicorns.

San Telmo. This neighborhood of narrow streets and old structures is a
“must see” in particular on Sundays, when its heart becomes home to a flea market, clearly catering to tourists.  Stalls apparently change frequently, but you’ll see spontaneous tango dancing (especially later in the afternoon), some great street music, adequate if not inspiring cafes, and a vibe that is simply delightful.  Considered questionable at night, I wasn’t too concerned, especially if in the company of others.

La Boca. Visit only in the daytime! But do visit and enjoy the wildly colored buildings along Caminito and Boca Junior soccer stadium.  Again, do not visit this neighborhood at night!"


Please link to the following website to tour the neighborhoods Barry has mentioned above,

**Next excerpt: Buenos Aires Art Scene 

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