To be fair, it’s been grey and rainy, we were fresh off the plane and it was only the first day, but Buenos Aires did not jump immediately to the top of my ‘favourite places’ list.
After arriving at Ezeiza International Airport, we found a shuttle bus to take us downtown and also provided a transfer from their central depot to our hotel, Ayers de Recoleta Plaza. I always find the time from the airplane to the first hotel a bit stressful. Wrapping your head around a language change is hard enough and then you add trying to make sure you aren’t getting ripped off by an opportunistic cabbie. Generally if you find your transport before leaving the terminal you’re pretty safe. Failing that, finding an official stand and negotiating a flat rate is usually worth a shot. We found our bus option inside after speaking with the tourist desk.
Our hotel is right beside the cemetery. I know this sounds like a strange thing to be excited about, but it’s actually an interesting place to walk around, though probably less so at night. We even managed to get a room with a view.
Despite the proximity, we decided to save the cemetery for later and, after dropping our bags off, took a taxi south to La Boca with a plan to walk back to our hotel in Recoleta while stopping to see the highlights of La Boca and San Telmo along the way.
La Boca is one of BA’s poorer neighborhoods and the one we found most intersesting. Next to the city’s original port, La Boca stands out most for the colourful buildings. Apparently the wide variety of colours stems from the original inhabitants using left-over paint from the port to paint their houses.
Today the streets near the port are filled with restaurants and stores with arts and crafts. Most of the restaurants have tango dancers who put on free shows. Fair warning, after the free show the dancers will be wandering among the tables looking for tips.
As we wandered out of La Boca, we passed La Bombanera (the chocolate box) which is the home stadium of the Boca Juniors. We had hoped to see a match, but unfortunately they weren’t playing while we were around. As we passed the stadium and started to head towards San Telmo the temperature began to drop while the threat of rain was rising.
So, here’s the deal. By my finger-on-map scale measurements, we’re 6 km or so from the hotel and it’s starting to get cooler. If you know Katy, you’ll know that being cold isn’t her favourite thing in the world. As a result, the speed at which we were seeing things was increasing in proportion with the fall in temperature. Katy’s a sight-seeing machine to begin with, but faced with the threat of cooler weather she was a woman possessed. We passed through Parque Lezama; the orthodox church, which has stunning blue onion domes that standout in the skyline; the antiques market, an odd collection of yard sale worthy items; and Casa Minima, the littlest house in San Telmo, all as the temperature dropped and a light drizzle fell.
I thought we were going to make it back to the hotel without paying too high a price for heading out the door without an umbrella or jackets, ignoring the weather forecast, but then shortly after we passed Plaza de Mayo, a large square in the city centre, the rain started to fall in earnest. Like many major cities, taxis are plentiful…until it starts to rain.
After stopping to warm up with coffee and tea at one of BA’s many cafes we decided to try our luck at finding a taxi again. We were still around 3 km from our hotel, but every corner and little piece of shelter had other unprepared people shivering and looking for an available taxi. Eventually we gave up and just started to run.
I run a fair bit, but normally I’m a little better prepared. In this case I was carrying a camera bag, wearing normal shorts, a golf shirt, and $1 flip-flops from Vietnam that offered me roughly the same traction on the side walks of BA as Bambi had on ice. To be honest it’s a miracle that I didn’t end up on my ass at some point. Or worse, on my still healing broken collarbone. Naturally Katy seemed much more graceful. In the end we managed to navigate our way back to our hotel and the warm shower waiting.
After warming up and changing into some dry clothes we decided to try one of the local restaurants. Fortunately it didn’t take long for us to find one that had steak on the menu for me and some editable vegetarian options for Katy. Now, steak in Argentina has a lot of hype to live up to so I was keeping my expectations in check. When my meal arrived I was a little dubious. For one thing, it took me a moment to figure out what on my plate was potatoes and what was the meat. When I got started though, I was pleasantly surprised, twice.
The steak was like a Wellington with pastry baked around the outside. The second surprise was even better, when I got to the center, I found that the steak was stuffed with mushrooms and a kind of thick bacon bit. Meat wrapped in meat! As some of our past dinner guests can attest, that’s one of my favourite food groups.
After a long day, Katy was ready for bed, and I had some good meat sweats on, so it was time to call it a day and get ready for one of Eyewitness Travel’s top ten things to do in Buenos Aires: go to Uruguay. More on that to come.