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Fair winds in full colour
Article By: Courtesy travelideas Magazine
Mon, 27 Aug 2007 12:08 AM
The droning voice of the captain came acutely into my awareness as I opened my eyes and I surveyed an overcast and humid summer morning in Buenos Aires. I had embarked on a two week holiday with my girlfriend and father setting off from Cape Town to Argentina?s capital via Sao Paulo in Brazil. I had boarded the plane with nothing on my person but a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin and my iPod walkman, not knowing what lay ahead. I knew little of the city besides its reputation for dancing the Tango and cooking a great steak.
Buenos Aires (in English, 'Fair Winds') with a population of just over 13 million people is the financial, industrial, commercial and cultural hub of Argentina. This capital city has become one of the most developed and sophisticated cities in Latin America since being discovered by Spaniards in search of gold in 1536.
Unlike most of South America, Buenos Aires is extraordinarily organised, squeaky clean, and runs as smoothly as an old Rolex. The bustle of commuting, trade and locals nattering can be heard from every street corner in the city. Transport is exceptionally efficient in the city. I found the cabs the most handy with thousands of them circling the grand avenues constantly, the going rate being around four pesos a kilometre, the equivalent of about R8.50.
'Colectivos' (Buses) are also a cheap way to get around and are very reliable. The underground Metro is another way to travel but it does not go to all parts of the city. However, unless you really need to make use of public transport, walk. This way you?ll get a better feel for the city and its various districts.
Hotels, food and entertainment are generally very reasonably priced. Buenos Aires is also one of the fashion capitals of the world, making it a great place to shop for the latest season trends, even though you may find yourself window-shopping more often than not (clothes, unlike nearly everything else, are rather pricey). Shopping can be done by day or night as shops close at around 10pm, some at midnight.
Hit the shops...
The most popular shopping areas are Florida Street and Santa Fe Avenue. A good way to shop for those without too much buck in their back-burner is to take a stroll down the lengthy Santa Fe Ave, where shops are not all designer boutiques and are generally reasonably priced. Every Sunday, there is an enormous antique market in the San Telmo district. This very intriguing market is held in Dorrego Square, the second oldest square in the city. Most of the people who live in the square have recycled their homes into liveable antique shops.
For Porte?os, cafes are a definitive aspect of the social life of the city, and an invitation between Porte?os for a coffee may lead to a friendly chat, a love affair or a business deal. A favourite Cafe among many Porte?os is 'El Tortoni', which attracts few tourists but is said to be archetypal of Porte?o cafe life.
However, this is not to say that there isn?t a great deal to do in Buenos Aires, there are a myriad of activities and places to visit in this eloquent city. During the day, one can visit the Teatro Colon, one of the world?s most famous opera houses.
A night at one of the city?s many theatres is also a great way to spend an evening. There?s a world renowned zoo, several botanical gardens and architecturally exquisite churches, such as the city?s oldest, San Ignacio's Church. One can buy a take-away lunch and eat in the many lusciously landscaped parks and squares all around the city, or walk along one of Buenos Aires?s most attractive avenues, the Avenida de Mayo.
This avenue is an integral part of the history of the city and also serves as a landmark of the numerous waves of immigrants that fled into Buenos Aires in past centuries, and also the starting point of Congress Square, where the Government house ('Pink House') is located. Another place I found of particular interest was Puerto Madero, which was once a section of old docks and warehouses but has recently been renovated into modern offices, lavish restaurants, cinemas, a remarkable exhibition centre and a floating casino.
The Eiffel Tower of Argentina
Another site of interest, which is very hard not to notice is the Obelisk, erected to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Buenos Aires, and is a common symbol of the city, the Eiffel Tower of Argentina you could say.
There are just as many things to get up to at night in Buenos Aires. Porte?os eat extravagantly and party hard ? sleep is for the dead. A tango show is always a very popular option; perhaps cliched but unarguably impressive. There are many places one can watch the tango, especially in the tango district, San Telmo. Many tango clubs include a dinner along with the show.
Porte?os don?t usually eat before 10pm at both restaurants and at home. Watch out for an immense contrast in price from one eatery to the next, which is not always apparent in the way the restaurant or cafe presents itself. Often a rather exclusive looking spot is cheaper than a more inexpensive looking one, and vice versa. One can avoid making the wrong decision by perusing the prices on the menu which nearly always stands prominently outside or in the window of the establishment.
Argentina is famous for the quality of its meat, so try not pass it up. A very popular meal is Parrillada, a mixed grill of steak, intestines, kidneys and blood sausage. This meal is accompanied by chimichurri, a delighfully sweet marinade, the recipe of which, despite my efforts, no Porte?o would disclose.
Whilst having a distinctly South American flavour, Buenos Aires boasts the organisation and conveniences of the First World. It is a great holiday destination and has something to offer everyone. I recommend any holidaymaker put it on their to-do list without question ? you will not be disappointed at this South American gem of a city.