So this is the end. Te amo Buenos Aires.


I’ve been postponing writing this last post for some time now, as it means the official finale of my charmed life in Buenos Aires. I’m now back in Sydney, for a month already actually, and have finally found the words to close my career break chapter.

I cannot describe to you how happy I am to have trusted my intuition and to have come to Buenos Aires. My four months of career break brought me all I expected, and more. I lived the porteno culture, I learned Spanish, I danced tango, had great food, long city walks, beautiful random discoveries, tried new things, made great friends. They say any travel experience is very much defined by the people you meet. It’s true for me, and I’m grateful to all the people who crossed my path in the last 4 months.

But it’s also something about this city, something about Buenos Aires that makes your time here special. I loved it so much I cancelled my other travel plans and stayed for longer than I planned in BA (hence the 108 days of posts instead of what the title suggests).

It’s the energy of the megapolis, the fact that so many people here try to do something on their own, it’s the spirit of trying new things, always. It’s the European influence in architecture and food crossed with some undeniably latin american behaviours. It’s the traffic, the street art, the creative drive; the city life that never stops, even at 4am the show goes on somewhere. It’s the beautiful and the ugly together, the rich and the simple life, all existing and moving together in the wonderful grid of tree-lined streets.

I’ve been in Buenos Aires in the best of time, spring and summer, and I saw the city come to life even more. I saw the outdoor tables in Palermo cafes getting busier, family asados filling up the holiday calendars. I witnessed the summer heat, and the spring bloom of jacarandas, and the summer rains.

I loved it all.

I was as happy as I haven’t been in a long time, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I loved my Downtown and Recoleta walks, the green city plazas, the cobblestoned streets, the corner cafes, the talking to friends and strangers for hours, just because I could. I loved the cocktails on balmy nights, the calmness of the river, the black & white tiled floors in the restaurants, the fact you can sit in a café for hours and waiters will still smile at you. The music, the milongas and the spirit of tango piercing the city everywhere, the parties till 6am; the empanadas, the parrillas, the coffee in the evening; the little discoveries awaiting around every corner if only you open your eyes. 

I love you, Buenos Aires. I have a sea of positive emotions to last me a long time, and I will forever be grateful for all the wonderful memories.

It’s time for me to close this chapter, but as many people who came to BA and were conquered by its vibe, I don’t say good bye forever. I say, till next time…


Last sunset in Buenos Aires…

Last sunset in Buenos Aires…


Red meat, red wine, parrillas, perfect

I’m a carnivore, and this is the ode to the amazing grilled beef served in porteno restaurants.

When I travel, I love to eat the local food. On arrival to Buenos Aires, I made a commitment I’ll only have Latin American staple. And I have to tell you, it wasn’t that difficult at all - because I love red meat and vegetables and baked stuff that constitutes most of the cuisine. And the meat - oh the meat… I realized I haven’t had a great steak until I ate in Buenos Aires. The way they cut here, the way they grill, is perfect. Bife de lomo (tenderloin) is my favourite cut, and I still remember the day I had my first - it was a celebration of taste!

Afterward there were many a dinner of bife de lomo, salad and malbec (another great product of Argentina, the smoothest red wine), and I couldn’t be happier. The meat is served simple, just the cut, no sauces, and most people eat it like that - ketchup would be a crime, in fact I’ve never seen it at a table in a parrilla.

I declare my universal love for all things meat in Buenos Aires. I tried offal, and best cuts, and average cuts, and had choripans and bondiolas and got obsessed with empanadas… All in all, Buenos Aires is a meat-lover paradise, and I was culinary perfectly happy here!

Now, parrillas (steakhouses) in Buenos Aires are a separate universe on their own. You can get great food often in an unpretentious local eatery, but there are a few popular restaurants, and they are very well worth trying in my opinion.

My favourite ones (where I had the most spectacular food) in the order of awesomeness: Calden del Soho, Don Julio, Desnivel, Las Lilas, La Cabrera. They range from expensive ones to the cheaper options, in Palermo, San Telmo, Puerto Madero.

But the most fun is to get out there and try the different local restaurants, in Palermo, Almagro, Las Canitas, and non-central suburbs - often the most spectacular meals are found in unexpected places!

Photos:

  • El Bonpland parrilla in Palermo Hollywood
  • Table spread in La Cabrera, Palermo
  • Poeple waiting outside Desnivel in San Telmo
  • Bife de lomo + a glass of malbec
  • Queue outside Don Julio in Palermo
  • My first proper steak
  • La Brigada in San Telmo
  • Las Cholas grill, in Las Canitas


A different kind of home
There is not only glamour and pleasantries on Buenos Aires streets. As any big city, it has its own set of issues, from traffic to rubbish (un)collection to an occasional petty crime. And quite often you’d see homeless people, especially in downtown.
But the peculiar thing I didn’t figure out is that you’d almost never see a homeless person beg actively. Instead, they construct they semi-permanent homes and just seem to habituate some areas peacefully. Like the guy in the photo - a sleeping place, and a bedside table…
On Scalabrini Ortiz & Santa Fe corner, there is a permanent couch, equipped with a little TV that runs local programs, complete with a big pregnant dog peacefully sleeping next to its homeless owner! It literally looks like some kind of make-shift-home. And no one, including the police, seems to have a problem with that.
Sad and amusing at the same time - the tale of modern cities, porteno style…

A different kind of home

There is not only glamour and pleasantries on Buenos Aires streets. As any big city, it has its own set of issues, from traffic to rubbish (un)collection to an occasional petty crime. And quite often you’d see homeless people, especially in downtown.

But the peculiar thing I didn’t figure out is that you’d almost never see a homeless person beg actively. Instead, they construct they semi-permanent homes and just seem to habituate some areas peacefully. Like the guy in the photo - a sleeping place, and a bedside table…

On Scalabrini Ortiz & Santa Fe corner, there is a permanent couch, equipped with a little TV that runs local programs, complete with a big pregnant dog peacefully sleeping next to its homeless owner! It literally looks like some kind of make-shift-home. And no one, including the police, seems to have a problem with that.

Sad and amusing at the same time - the tale of modern cities, porteno style…


Eva Peron and the Porteno women

Much was said and done on the subject of Eva “Evita” Peron and her impact on the Argentinian history and the collective psyche of the country.

My own ‘a-ha’ moment was, strangely enough, in the wardrobe section of the Evita Museum in Palermo.

I looked at her hats, beautiful dresses, cute shoes, and realized, here is the role model for female leadership. Perhaps we don’t need to compromise after all - be a man in a skirt to be successful (it’s still pretty much a man’s world out there), or be feminine and be destined for the sidelines.

Eva Peron seemed to have it both ways - the undeniable leadership role in the country, and yet, at the same time, she was unmistakingly a woman. A beautiful, feminine woman, with beautiful dresses and shoes… And a massive influence - her story still means a lot in Argentina.

And interestingly enough, may be it’s the legacy of Eva Peron’s memory, may be it’s the reason for her success, but in my opinion, women in Argentina (at least in Buenos Aires), seem also to have the best of both worlds. They are beautiful, feminine (some would add hysterical), they get admiration and attention from guys - and at the same time they know what they want and are strong enough to make their own decisions.

I wonder, is Eva Peron’s story and the porteno women are a template for the future, or a specific of Argentinian culture?..


The Ice-cream Dream


Portenos have a massive sweet tooth. There is no other conclusion one can possibly draw from seeing an abundance of bakeries (confiterias) and especially ice-cream shops (heladerias). Especially so in Recoleta and Palermo and surrounding barrios. Even their staple Christmas dessert is a fruit salad with ice-cream… Enough said.

I did my regular runs to confiterias for empanadas and facturas, but have largely ignored heladerias, as I’m quite indifferent to ice-cream (more of the savoury type). Even though some say Buenos Aires has the best helado after Italy, it didn’t really rock my boat - I had helado at the main chains, Freddo and Persicco, and wasn’t too inspired (however the passion fruit, or maracuya as it’s known here, is a great flavour! Must try). 

But one fine day, almost at the end of my stay in BA, everything changed. Randomly walked with a friend into a nearby heladeria on Scalabrini Ortiz after dinner, ordered dulce de leche and blueberry flavours - and that was it. As much as I don’t care about ice-cream, that was DIVINE. We finished every last drop and I had to restrain myself from licking my fingers. 

So this is really true - Buenos Aires does have some amazing ice-cream. You just need to go to the local artesanal heladerias, and perhaps try a few (what a good excuse!) to find your favourites.     

And the signs that portenos are universally obsessed with ice-cream - they’d go far, truly many suburbs away, to get the best helado from that one neighbourhood shop that does it best.

And they can often be found queuing at one of ice-cream chains after midnight (!) With their children in tow. And then consume it sitting outside in a park on a balmy night. Now, that’s the ice-cream dream come true…


Tango Moments in Buenos Aires

  • La Catedral, probably the funkiest, underground-feel tango hall in BA - taken at my first ever tango outing!
  • Me at my tango class practice
  • Dance crowd at Sunderland, a famous milonga a bit off the city circuit
  • La Glorieta, a wonderful free outdoor milonga in Belgrano
  • Musical performance by Orquesta Victoria at Cafe Vinilo in Palermo
  • A couple in a dance embrace at Sunderland
  • Busy dancefloor in Salon Canning, a classic milonga, in Palermo

Tango, tango and more tango


Of course, no story about Buenos Aires is complete without tango. It is everywhere - the street performances, the music pouring from the record shops, the classes, the teachers, the shoes, the milongas. There are tango bars and tango museums; in fact, whole suburbs living in the spirit of this world-famous dance. 

When you are in Buenos Aires for just a few days, you more often than not would be exposed to the glitzy, overly touristic side of tango. You’d buy one of those show+dinner packages and will be shepherded from your hotel to the venue where you’d see a choreographed beautiful performance; you are also likely to witness a street show if you are to visit Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, as every guidebook suggests. And you’d be forgiven for leaving thinking that this is it, nice dance but overall a tourist trap using the image of Buenos Aires as a tango capital.

But trust me, tango is much more than that; in fact, the tango spirit of Buenos Aires has nothing to do with the above.  

The tango I fell in love with, that tango lives in small local group classes’ studios; in milonga venues where on any night of the week you’d find young and old and everyone in between taking their turns on the dance floor. It’s the small shoe shop tucked on Suipacha street in Microcentro selling custom-made tango shoes; it’s the local band playing tango in a corner bar in Almagro. The soul - the real spirit of Buenos Aires tango, in my opinion - is not about performances or World Tango Championship (however glorious they are). The real tango is the social tango.

It’s happening in milongas all over the city, and it’s where normal people, mostly portenos but also some dedicated foreigners, put their dancing shoes on after work (literally, you are better off dancing in tweaked for tango shoes) and enjoy tango into the wee hours of the morning. There is no choreography in social tango - it’s all about the improvisation by the male lead, and because of it the dance is alive, it’s real, because even with the same song you won’t find two couples doing the same dance. You just follow the music and let it take you to wonderful places. 

And tango is also so real in Buenos Aires because it’s the normal people, like you and me, who dance it. From a dorky IT guy taking group classes; to the young mother dancing away in La Glorieta; to the grandpa who was coming to his local milonga for many years and only dances to his favourite tunes. I absolutely love it - you can be a banker or shop assistant, but when you are on the dance floor, all bets are off and the only thing you are judged by is how well you feel the music (well sometimes also how attractive you are however that’s a different side of tango! But believe me a good dancer matters more than a good-looking one…) 

I absolutely LOVE tango, started dancing it by accident and ended up taking private classes and going to milongas all over the city. And I cannot imagine my life in Buenos Aires without it - I met wonderful friends and interesting people through tango, and I saw the side of the city tourists often miss. 

Tango was a soundtrack to my 4 months in Buenos Aires; if you are visiting the Argentinian capital, do yourself a favour and go beyond the dinner show experiences. Go to milongas, go to tango bars, see the social tango. It really is the musical heartbeat of Buenos Aires. 

I wrote about tango before: my first milonga evening; how I realized I love tango; about La Glorieta, the free outdoor milonga, and La Viruta, the iconic Palermo spot. And of course, my perfect tango night


Flor and Diego
This banner was hanging - may be still is - at one of Palermo Soho streets. It says:
Flor, nunca olvides lo mucho que te amo. Diego
Flor, never forget how much I love you. Diego
I found it incredibly cute. Latin american passion, or Palermo Soho creativity, whatever it is, one thing for sure - it’s romantic. Guys, take notice :)

Flor and Diego

This banner was hanging - may be still is - at one of Palermo Soho streets. It says:

Flor, nunca olvides lo mucho que te amo. Diego

Flor, never forget how much I love you. Diego

I found it incredibly cute. Latin american passion, or Palermo Soho creativity, whatever it is, one thing for sure - it’s romantic. Guys, take notice :)


Don Quixote at the Evita Museum in Palermo; I’m sure you can read into the double meaning if you know a bit of history…

Don Quixote at the Evita Museum in Palermo; I’m sure you can read into the double meaning if you know a bit of history…


Palermo Botanic Gardens

A quaint and green refuge between the main avenues of Palermo; the botanic gardens are not spectacular by any means - but still a very nice option to take a break and get a feel of nature in the midst of the city chaos.


Las Puertas Magnificas de Buenos Aires

Have you noticed the many wonderful creations that are the doors in Buenos Aires? It’s one of my favourite architectural things in the city - the endless variety of building entrances, especially in Recoleta.

There are literally no two doors alike - the colour, the handle, the lock, the materials, the style - something will be different from the next door. My favourite type is the heavy wooden one, with big bold brass handles, you feel as if you are entering a sorcerer’s castle by knocking on one of those…

And beyond the doors you often see black & white checkered hallways and marble stairs, leading deep inside or up - combined with the grand doors, these house entrances might make you feel as if you are in Alice’s Wonderland!

Next time you are strolling through Buenos Aires streets, look at the doors you are passing by - they might be new or old, stylish or not so, but never the same and never boring!


Clasica y Moderna - the grandmother of all bookshop cafes in Buenos Aires. Hosts musical evenings too, I hear it’s a great jazz/tango spot.


February is the Carnival Time


February is a Carnival time in Buenos Aires. Not the Brazilian type, not that big and colourful (however I’m told in a town a few hours up north in Misiones you’d find the full deal, feather costumes and all).

Buenos Aires does the carnival differently. Many barrios have their own separate events at various times during the month, and you can see small groups practicing their routines in parks and plazas now and then. And then at night they come together to create the spirit of the carnival in their suburbs, with music and dances. You’d have to look up the city government site to find what and where though.

I came across an Almagro reincarnation of the carnival one Saturday night. We walked out of the tango bar we had our dinner at and just walked towards the noise and the smoke and the music that was coming from the main avenue, Corrientes.

I was thinking to myself, wow, I’m about to witness a carnival in Latin America. We turn the corner and what I see: groups of kids and teenagers running around spraying each other with foam;  people randomly walk around; choripan stands smoking meat; and a small stage with a few dancers wiggling along to the drums, looking exhausted in their costumes clearly not made for the hot weather… The salsa-samba music was good though! My friend and me joined an older not sober lady dancing at the stage fence, and had our share of good times - hot nights tend to bring it out in you!

But frankly, the foam action was the best part. It seems every public carnival function has specifically arranged supplies of this stuff sold at the events. You literally see blocks and blocks of the spray bottles, selling out like hot cakes! The rules of the game are as old as the world - boys and girls run around screaming, spraying each other. A part of me wanted to join in, but I needn’t have bothered - you can’t avoid getting some foam on you anyways if you are in the crowd :)

So basically, have no expectations of Buenos Aires carnival - and you might even end up having a good time :)



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