The next day we only had a couple of hours in Buenos Aires since we were catching our bus to Iguazú Falls. That adventure really needs a post of its own so I’m going to skip over it for now.
We reached Buenos Aires in the afternoon after our trip north. Since we were tired from the 18.5 hour bus ride we decided to take it easy for the rest of the day. After dropping off our stuff at the hostel we had some lunch and then checked out some bookstores.
OH. MY. GOODNESS. I WAS IN HEAVEN.
Finding bookstores in Buenos Aires–whether old or new, in Spanish or in English–is as common as walking into a protest (i.e., really common). I would have easily spent all day bookstore-hopping if I could! It’s not like Chile doesn’t have any books, but since they’re taxed (pretty heavily) they’re really expensive. The other day I was at a librería in Santiago and saw that a 100-page paperback book was selling for $40. For me this is the definition of insanity. I love used bookstores; I’m considered a regular at four different ones in Berkeley. Seriously, I love used bookstores.
The following day we decided to take a walking tour around the city. Most places around the world offer something like this: a native of the city takes you around key/interesting places and at the end you can tip him/her what you thought the tour was worth. Our guide was hilarious and shared really cool facts about the city. My favorite ones were:
- Buenos Aires was originally called Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Ayre (literally: City of our Lady Saint Mary of the Fair Winds”), who acted as a patroness saint for sailors coming into the port from Spain.
- The city is home to the oldest subway in the southern hemisphere (it was inaugurated in 1913).
- Buenos Aires has an insane coffee culture. Cafés (coffee shops) are just as common as bookstores and protesters. However, this isn’t like the trendy/hipster coffee culture that unitedstatesians are familiar with. “If you see someone walking with a Starbucks cup in one hand, there’s probably a camera or a map in the other,” said Gaston, our tour guide. In other words, porteños (literally: people of the port; a.k.a. people from Buenos Aires) who are serious about their coffee will never take it “to-go”–those would be the tourists. Porteños take the time to sit down, order a cup (or two, or more) and enjoy it in peace.
After the two-hour tour ended we had seen a good chunk of downtown Buenos Aires, but nowhere near everything. I used to think Santiago was big…this place was ginormous (the hop on-hop off bus tour alone nears three hours if you don’t get off)!
We had some lunch and then, because it was raining, decided to do some indoor activities like visiting museums. I don’t care what people say about museums being boring and blah blah; I absolutely love them. We took the subway and then walked a few blocks (in the pouring rain) to Museo Evita, a museum dedicated to Argentina’s former First Lady Eva Perón (who was affectionately called Evita). It was a tiny two-story museum filled with her personal effects (e.g. clothes, accessories), portraits, photos, and quotes from her autobiography La razón de mi vida (The Reason for my Life).
We ended our self-guided tour just in time for tea time (this Chile onces thing is very addictive). Earlier on our walking tour we had stopped by Buenos Aires’ most famous and oldest cafe: Café Tortoni. Founded in 1858 its design was inspired by end-of-the-century French cafes. It’s a large establishment, very pretty, and includes a basement for tango shows and poetry readings and contests. We felt very under-dressed when we walked in, but we supposed that they’re used to seeing plenty of disheveled tourists. Gaston (our tour guide) recommended we order the submarino: a glass of hot milk accompanied by a chocolate bar shaped like a little submarine. You melt the chocolate in the milk and ta-da! you get chocolate milk :P It tasted good, but wasn’t amazing; the stirring-in-the-chocolate part was the fun bit since it was a novelty. We also ordered churros and chocolate espeso (dense chocolate). The two made a fantastic combination! Definitely worth reordering :)
I think what we did next was by far one of the most fun things I did in Buenos Aires: we went to a tango club! There was a fee to enter and for a few pesos more you could also take part in a one-hour tango lesson. Since learning how to dance the tango was on my travel goals list, how could I resist? Obviously I didn’t become a pro–we only learned a few basic moves–but I had a great time trying it out and meeting fun people!
*pictures courtesy of Kelly :)
Our next day in Buenos Aires started with a ride on the city’s oldest metro train. While the outside of the train is made from metal, the inside is made from wood and velvet. The doors on this train aren’t automatic, so there’s usually an attendant that stands inside each door and is responsible for opening and closing it. If there wasn’t an attendant it’s the passengers’ job to physically open and close the doors.
We got down in San Telmo, one of the city’s major neighborhoods, for lunch with Isabel, a friend we had made on our tour. Naturally this meant more delicious steak :) After eating to our hearts’ content we headed back to the metro in search of used bookstores! We were able to find a couple we liked and after browsing our guts out we took a tea break!
The following day was our last in Buenos Aires so we tried to see as many things as we could. We spent the morning and early afternoon in Palermo, another Buenos Aires neighborhood. It was known for its bohemian vibe and there were quite a few cute restaurants, cafes, and shops all around.
We ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant since it had been a while since we had had any Mexican food (California withdrawals).