Buenos Aries

Arriving in the 'Paris of South America' on a Sunday, we found most of the streets fairly deserted, and businesses shuttered.  In fact, we enjoyed a quiet city for our next two days as well, due to a two day Federal holiday.  Strolling through the Defensa Street Sunday Market, however, there were hoards of people looking, shopping or haggling at the nearly 2 km. of stalls featuring leather goods, jewelry, paintings, woven goods and assorted other crafts.  Several vendors sold cups and filtering spoons for yerba mate, a popular South American non-alcoholic herbal beverage.  Drinking the mate provides a caffeine buzz, and it's not unusual to spot people drinking from cups made primariliy from gourds, throughout Argentina.

Having reserved a room in the San Telmo/Montserrat neighborhood, we were perfectly situated to explore the most historic district of the city.  Our first evening, we were delivered by taxi to La Brigada Restaurant, considered one of the best steak places in the city, and Alan indulged in yet another premium quality steak.  Even though the menu was offered with English translations, the waiters did not understand English, which seemed to be the case at each restaurant we visited.  Alan's Spanish language skills came in handy on numerous occasions.

Hooking up with a small 'Pay what you want' walking tour the following day, our guide, Ceri, met the group at a typical Argeninian coffee shop, which offered scrumptious looking baked goods.  Moving to the nearby government district, starting with the Government House,more popularly known as the Casa Rosada (Pink House), we passed through the Plaza de Mayo, a popular area for political demonstrations.  The pink house is surrounded by high fences and armed police guard, but entry to the house was not being restricted on the day of our visit.  Across the Plaza, Metropolitan Cathedral, first established in the 1600's, and located in the Diocese of the current Pope Francis, is the main Catholic church in Argentina.  Embellished with gold-leafing, silver, 18th century statues and magnificient works of art, the cathedral is also the burial place of Argeninian hero, General San Martin, and two guards, in full dress uniform, stand over the memorial 24/7.  The government district ends on the opposite end of Avenue de Mayo, at the Capitol Building.  Several side streets in this area are blocked off as primarily pedestrian streets, and Monday-Fridays (10 AM-6 PM), only buses and taxis are allowed on the main streets.  We also took a short ride in the city's subway system, with construction beginning under Avenue de Mayo in 1913.  We were seranated by a  guitarist riding the subway to earn tips.  Our tour ended at Los 36 Billards, a cafe and billard room providing background music by a classical pianist at the back of the room. 

During the early 1900's, millions of Italians immigrated to Argentina.  The Italian impact on the city is evident by the countless pizza/pasta restaurants.  The city reflects the diversity of European influences due to the presence of Spanish, French, German, Jewish, as well as Italian, through it's architecture, art and culture.  Beautifully detailed buildings line the main avenue, accented with finely crafted marble works and elaborate wooden doors.  

Visiting a tango dance club, it was interesting to watch the dynamics of the social etiquette.  Typically, unless a couple comes in together, the men sit on one side and the women sit on the other side.  If a man wants to dance with a woman, he makes eye contact, if she turns away, he has been rejected, and he has not been publically embarassed by the rejection.  If she nods, he comes over and leads her to the dance floor.  For the price of a cup of coffee, or other items from the menu, tango music is provided for anyone wanting to dance.  In the early 1900's, tango was a dance done by prostitutes for men in dance halls.  When the dance became popular in Paris, in the 1920's, the refined population of Buenos Aries decided it was acceptable.  Lyrics were cleaned up to reflect the sensibilities of the upper class, and tango took over Argentina.  

Blue notes are a means for travelers from the USA to maximize their travel dollars.  While the official exchange rate is 8.6 Argentinean pesos for one dollar, the rate along Florida Street runs quite a bit higher.  The rate depends on the day of the week and the types of bills being changed ($50's have a better exchange rate than $20's).  On the day we made our exchange the rate was 12.8 to 1, but we heard that at some points during our stay that the rate got as high as 14 to 1.  This is an illegal/legal activity.  Exchanges are done openly along Florida, with persons chanting "Cambio, cambio" (change, change) as you walk along the street, and blue note rates are published in the daily paper.

La Boca, a artsy vicinity, was one of our next stops.  Decades ago an artist decided to paint empty warehouse buildings in the blighted area with colorful paints, within a few years this began to draw visitors to the area.  The draw of visitors increased the number of businesses, and continuation of the color enhancement of buildings.  While the neighborhood is not considered safe for tourist after dark, during the day, bus loads of tourist now arrive daily to walk the small neighborhood and buy souvenirs.

With the holidays over, the city was buzzing with activity.  Our final exploration took us to the Plaza de San Martin.  This lovely green park also contains a memorial to the Argentineans killed in the Falkland Island War of 1982.  Moving back to Florida Street, we exchanged a little more money, and completed a little shopping, including some Argentinean wine purchases.  We are now moving onto the cruise ship, which is heading first to Montevideo.  

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