Neither of us enjoy the hustle of large urban centers and for the most part in this trip we have avoided big cities. However, by all accounts we were not to miss Buenos Aires and boy are we glad we didn't. The somewhat cliche observation of the city we heard many times before our visit is that it is 'just like Europe' and with its wide avenues, manicured parks and neoclassic architecture it is, in a way. But I don't think that sums up the true majesty of the city.
BsAs is one of the world's great cities and it is it's Latina heart that makes it so. The relaxed South American attitudes forgo the high stress, fast pace usually afforded to cities this large. The chic restaurants in the Palermo region (where we stayed) happily share their cobbled streets with open air artists markets and quirky homeward stores. Finding a table before 9pm is easy enough but come 10 or 11pm every seat is full with nocturnal locals enjoying some of the best food we have ever eaten. The more touristy San Telmo area claims to be the birthplace of the Argentine Tango, a relic of its turbulent and less prosperous past. Here it is difficult not to gain appreciation of the city' s 400 years of history, the Argentine fight for independence and the continued assertion of the democratic rights enjoyed by her citizens.
We were fortunate to visit San Telmo on a Sunday morning when the very large market occurs. What began as a small affair in the Plaza Dorrego now runs more than 2 km to the heart of the city at the plaza de Mayo. Here second hand dealers sell an odd assortment of junk and curiosities. The rows of old silverware, jewellery and furs had me imagining romantic notions of hastily snatched possession from war torn Europe, as thousands of immigrants fled to Buenos Aires and beyond in the 1940s. As we moved down the market, evidence of the gaucho culture presented itself in tooled leather goods, mate cups, and even the odd whip or two. A little further we got a taste of Paris with beautiful vintage soda siphons in every colour lined-up for sale and elaborate hand painted signs in the style of old Montmartre and Toulouse Latrec. We spent hours wandering the stalls, examining the wares of the local artists and craftspeople. A little over half way we got tired and hungry so stopped at one of the courtyard Parillas . Here we managed to catch a cooling breeze and enjoyed delicious chorripans (a butterflied chorizo sausage grilled over charcoal so the fat drains out and served in a crusty roll with a vinegary spicy sauce known as chimmichurri) while being serenaded with romantic songs of lost loves and poverty in the capital. Despite the unrelenting heat during our visit it was easy to understand why some people come to BsAs and never leave.
Another highlight for me was visiting the Eva Peron museum. I have been curious about Evita since I first heard of her through the musical. Adored to the point of saint hood by many of the argentine people, however her legacy has been clouded by political enemies and harsh biographers ( one faction even went so far as to steal her body and ship it off to Europe). The museum in her memory however is a glowing homage to her charity work and strength as a political idol for her beloved descomesados (shirtless ones). Though it was certainly bias, I left very impressed with her efforts and successes, it would have been a very interesting alternative history had she survived beyond her 33 years.
As I mentioned, we really enjoyed the food. As we approached our two month mark on the continent we could count on one hand the number of good meals we've had. The gastronomic wasteland of Bolivia and meatathon of northern Argentina and Uruguay had left us a little jaded. However here we enjoyed delicious Armenian food reminiscent of Rasha's much missed cooking, the best hamburgers we have ever eaten, ever (big call!) and amazingly tender steak perfectly cooked over coals served with a proper salad. We could have easily spent another week enjoying the town but the far south of Patagonia called us and changing seasons wait for no one. We left knowing we would return one day, but never again will we try to send a package home (that is another story in its own right).