Buenos Aires is a city like no other I’ve experienced. Cobbled streets, tango, neutral Parisian styled apartments, wide squares and the brightly coloured houses of La Boca…it can only be described as the perfect blend of South American and European architecture, ideas and cultures.
Sadly, it rained for four days straight and so we were unable to make the most of the city and see it to it’s full potential. Sadly, we were unable to enjoy the parks or witness any Tango in the square. ‘Singin’ in the rain’ very much became the anthem of this trip. But to still enjoy a city so much even in this dismal weather is a very good sign indeed. Despite the constant (and often torrential) rain, Buenos Aires had a unique vibrance and energy that was impossible not to love.
We stayed in the San Telmo region, the oldest neighbourhood in the city. San Telmo has a rich history. Originally in the seventeenth century it was home to dockworkers and bricklayers who had arrived from Europe (which consequently gave the area its name- San Telmo, after the Patron Saint of Seafarers). It started attracting a more affluent class until a cholera outbreak occurred in 1871, when this relatively new upper class relocated to the North of the city. This paved the way for a new wave of European immigration to San Telmo neighbourhood, which continued up until the Second World War. This culturally diverse melting pot of all classes and cultures is still very much reflected in the neighbourhood. Along narrow and cobbled streets can be found crumbling grand houses from its brief affluent period, uneven European styled apartments and a huge variety of antique stores (or mazes) selling everything from furniture to art, vintage clothes and jewelry down narrow winding corridors. In the corner of Plaza Dorrego, one of the most famous squares of San Telmo which puts on free Tango shows is a bar called Bar Plaza Dorrego. I guess one silver lining of the bad weather in a city means that we had to have many bar and café breaks along the way. This particular bar was like stepping back in time to whatever I imagine 1920’s Buenos Aires would look like. The dark wooden furniture, high ceilings, black and white tiled mosaic floor and dim lighting was the perfect place to relax with a drink, a book and a pack of cards after a tough couple of weeks holiday-ing.
Another area we particularly enjoyed was tree lined, cosmopolitan Palermo, the upmarket bohemian shopping and café zone. We ventured over to this area on the third day of rain, when it was clear we would have to continue finding ‘indoor activities’. Shopping as a group of 7 is a nightmare as anyone can imagine, but Palermo suited our needs just fine; countless alternative cafes all with distinct and beautiful interiors lined the street, providing a respite from shopping if required. The shops themselves were not cheap; the most reasonable pair of jeans I could find were around £70 (even in a 50% off sale). But the individualism of every shop down the main shopping street of Palermo, along with the numerous café’s, bars and restaurants immediately confirmed its popularity amongst students and the young middle class.
And then, in complete contrast to the cosmopolitan and European elegance of the centre and Palermo, was La Boca. We had been advised not to visit La Boca after 16:00, and to keep a watchful eye on our valuables, and so with slight trepidation we ventured to this area. What we found was a bizaare mismatch of higgledly, brightly coloured buildings, twirling Tango dancers and slightly unnerving statues of Maradonna and Pope Francis standing side by side as unlikely friends. The words ‘tourist trap’ have to be used to describe La Boca; countless shops selling La Boca Juniors memorabilia, Argentinian fridge magnets and even the One Ring to Rule Them All lined El Caminito, the main street running through this district. La Boca has certainly retained its working class roots far more than San Telmo, with a strong Italian influence hailing from the first immigrants who settled in this area from Genoa. La Boca has a turbulent history and a very strong identity; a history of radical socialist politics and a thriving Tango culture. But what was perhaps most striking from just a morning spent in La Boca, was how this area lived and breathed football. Home to the Boca Junior Football team, it was clear that football is almost a religion in this area, with Maradona taking on the title of God. Everywhere you looked were shops selling Boca Juniors merchandise, with street art, statues and even a few tea towels covered with Maradona’s beaming face.
Buenos Aires was a beautiful mish- mash of different cultures and architecture, which reflects its varied history. Strong French and Italian influences combined with its Latin American identity has created a city that is bursting with life at every corner. Other attractions we saw in our short trip included Plaza de Mayo, the Recoleta Cemetery, a bookshop in a theatre and the Eva Peron museum. Four days was not enough in this city. But next time hopefully we will be able to experience some more ‘outdoors’ activities.