One of the things that we’ve discovered through traveling with the family is that it is often less expensive and a better value to rent an apartment rather than stay in a hotel; especially in a big city. When in an apartment we often have 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and laundry facilities. If we are somewhere for more than three nights, it is really nice to have more space, do laundry in the building, and cook our own meals. I love to eat out, but even I get tired of eating at restaurants for three meals a day. It is also much more cost-effective to prepare our own meals for two meals a day. We hit a home-run with our apartment in Buenos Aires. I was able to find a spacious, modern, beautiful apartment in an upscale neighborhood for half the price of the hotels. It was off-season so when the owner ran a special price and I quickly snapped it up. Even the common complications of renting apartments, such as sending security deposits and making a meeting arrival time to get the keys, went smoothly this time. We really enjoyed our comfortable apartment with full kitchen, an office and desk, laundry, high-speed internet, HD TV, etc.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with a very European feel, one of the prettiest cities we’ve visited this year. We chose one evening to go on a city walking tour. We learned from our guide that many people in Buenos Aires have Italian or Spanish surnames due to the large amount of immigration from Europe in the 1900th century. Many of the large stone palaces, mansions, and even fountains were transported (stone-by-stone) from Europe, so parts of the city could pass for upscale streets in Paris. Our guide said that Portinos (people from Buenos Aires) are sometimes stereotyped as having Italian names, speaking Spanish, living in a city that looks French, and pretending to be British. We’re not sure about the last one, maybe because they play polo? At one time there was quite an aristocracy here and there are many large beautiful homes that have since been turned into embassies, apartment buildings, etc. The city is full of parks, but we only were able to visit a few. We walked down a street that is the “Rodeo Drive of Buenos Aires”, and according to our guide it was once full of shops like Gucci, Ralph Lauren etc. Apparently a few years back the government enacted laws that prevent companies from exporting profits from Argentina. Many of the foreign stores pulled out, creating vacancies for local high-end boutiques, but with few foreign brand names. Our guide informed us that Portinos have a reputation as snobs outside of BA. We found the people we met to be pretty friendly; however, once we left Buenos Aires, we encountered many Argentinians with the opinion that Portenos are snobby, wear overly trendy clothes, talk with a funny accent, and are the “most urban people in the world”.
We visited a memorial for the soldiers lost in the war over the Malvines (Faulkland Islands) that faces directly at the “English Tower”, which is a large clock tower gifted to Argentina from the UK back when they were more friendly. We learned that the people here are taught in grade school to consider the Malvines part of Argentina, and it seems that most folks hope to have it part of Argentina some time in the future.
Besides normal regional rivalry, there is contention between Chile and Argentina because Chile gave the UK a place to stage their equipment for the conflict back in 1982. We were told by our guide that the Argentinian military didn’t expect the strong reaction of the UK (Maggie Thatcher) and the US (Ronald Reagan), so they didn’t prepare for their action in the Malvines to turn into a war. They ended up sending very young and inexperienced men to battle professional soldiers without effective equipment, enough food, and warm clothing. Our guide told us that several soldiers told that they were somewhat relieved when they were captured by the British because now they would be warm and fed. Shortly before we arrived in Argentina the people of the Faulkland’s (all 2,841 of them) voted to remain a British protectorate. While we were in Buenos Aires Maggie Thatcher died – and not surprisingly Cristina, the president of Argentina, was not invited to the funeral. Our guide seemed to believe the Malvines will be used by Argentina’s politicians for the foreseeable future to divert attention away from other problems.
One afternoon we walked from our apartment to the famous La Recoleta cemetery. It is the final resting place of Eva Peron, whose body was buried here after it was subjected to a series of convoluted (and icky) political and personal antics. We hired a British expat walking guide who walked us around the huge cemetery and told us many interesting stories about all kinds of people who are buried there. It’s a very expensive cemetery, so most of the families with mausoleums are from wealthy families.
On Sunday we hopped on the subway and headed to the beautiful artsy neighborhood of San Telmo. San Telmo hosts a big antique street fair every Sunday and is recommended as a place to visit. Many of the subway stations have pretty tile artwork in the stations and most of the subway cars are covered in artistic graffiti. When we arrived in San Telmo, we walked around looking at all of the interesting antiques such as silver settings, old Coke signs, old maps, crystal, etc.
We also lucked out and were there during a Tango street performance. We really wanted to see a Tango demonstration while we were in BA. However, most of the Tango shows are performed really late at night in night clubs, and it’s probably not an appropriate time and place to have the kids out on the town. The mid-afternoon outdoors demonstration was fun to watch, it is a very intense dance with lots of eye (and body) contact.
The food we ate in Buenos Aires was delicious. Argentina is famous for its carne asada, grilled steak. We treated ourselves to a big steak dinner one night. We also found a little restaurant in our neighborhood that served traditional Argentinian food. We had some great casserole type dishes full of vegetables and meat. Yummy home-style food. Les and I especially like one that had pumpkin, corn, chicken and a bunch of other good stuff baked in a heavy stone bowl. Perfect on a rainy day. Hands down our favorite food here was dulce de leche (DDL). It’s a type of caramel, but oh so good and we put it on everything. I liked the chocolate covered cookies with DDL in the middle. Les liked the DDL empanada. Patrick liked the DDL ice cream from Freddo, and Alex took to just eating DDL by the spoonful (we put a stop to that). I will admit that one day we went to McDonald’s for lunch, something we try not to do too often while traveling. We really do try to eat local cuisine. However, our 10 and 12 year olds occasionally like familiar foods; and lets face it, we’re on a budget and McDonald’s is cheap. We learned on our walking tour that there is something called the Big Mac index. The Big Mac Index is published by The Economist and is “an informal way of measuring the purchasing power parity between two currencies and provides a test of the extent to which market exchange rates result in goods costing the same in different countries. It seeks to make exchange-rate theory a bit more digestible.” We learned from our city guide that the government of Argentina requested that McDonald’s maintain the price of their Big Mac Meal so as not to reflect Argentinian inflation in the Big Mac index. So, in Buenos Aires the Big Mac Meal is the best deal in the place, cheaper than a kid’s meal. After the kids heard this, they were on a mission to go to McDonald’s. Our guide told us that it is such a good deal that the restaurant doesn’t list it on the menu board. Sure enough, when we got there the Big Mac was not on the menu, but when we asked for the Big Mac Meal Deal, they had them. Not our tastiest meal in Argentina, but a good price.
We found the topic of the current government and the economic situation was something everyone wanted to complain about. A few years back the government froze all assets in the banks, required deposits in US dollars to be converted to pesos. The peso then underwent a huge devaluation as it was decoupled from the US dollar. The move destroyed many people’s savings. So, now many people don’t save their money in Argentina’s banks, they invest in real estate or if possible buy US dollars or Euros. On the street (called the blue market here), one can get 8 pesos for 1 dollar while the official rate was more like 5 pesos for a dollar. People just don’t trust the government. One of Argentinian in Bariloche told us that in the USA
it is clear what our taxes are used for, but in Argentina no one seems to know where the taxes go. Everyone seemed to agree that the government is very corrupt, and since the government is located in Buenos Aires, this is another reason people from other parts of the country are not particularly fond of the city.
We really enjoyed our time in Buenos Aires, we enjoyed walking along the river and sampling the many cafes and restaurants. It was a very comfortable city in which to spend time, and I wish we had a few more days to explore more of the parks, museums and interesting neighborhoods. This is a city that I would easily return to.