Buenos Aires and Colonia del Sacramento

Let there be no mistake: Vienna is still my favorite city in the world. However, I think that Buenos Aires may have landed among my top five. It is said to be the “Paris” of South America, and I can see why: with its many corner cafés, Neo-renaissance and Art Deco architecture, lush parks, and vibrant cultural scene, it sometimes feels downright European. Over 4th of July holiday, we took a short flight from Brasília to Buenos Aires and spent a long weekend exploring this marvelous city. We also added in a day trip to Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay, a quaint, picturesque town that presented a nice contrast to the bustling city of Buenos Aires.

On our first day, we started off at the Microcentro, where the Plaza de Mayo, Casa Rosada (BA has a “pink house”, not a White House, as its executive building) and Catedral Metropolitana are located.

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Casa Rosada

These are perhaps “must-sees” for the dutiful tourist with a penchant for history, but we did not linger there too long. From this point, we headed toward the Obelisk at the Plaza de Republica and snapped a quick shot in front of the massive hedges that are shaped as a B.A. Then we ended our first walking tour at the Teatro Colón. Had we not been traveling with a toddler, who at this point was getting a bit cranky and hungry, we would have stopped for a tour of this amazing structure, because I hear it is truly impressive. Maybe next time! Just FYI though: tours are offered in English and Spanish and run for about an hour.

In need of a break, we sought out Parrilla Don Julio, a restaurant I can absolutely recommend. In fact, I believe this was my favorite meal we had in B.A. Their wine and steak were outstanding and the ambience was very unique. And bonus for us: our baby boy loved it and it was very child-friendly.

Speaking of child-friendly things to do: if you are looking for a tip, check out the Museo de los Niños in the Abasto shopping mall. This place is phenomenal for little kids—so much to do and play with (e.g. a kid-sized supermarket, bank, dairy farm, etc.), and they even have a section specifically for babies and toddlers. The place is huge, too; we didn’t have time to see everything, but our little guy had a blast there. You can also visit the indoor amusement park, “Neverland”, but we were running out of time and our baby was already exhausted.

We began our second day in an unlikely place: a cemetery, or more fittingly perhaps, a necropolis. Cementario de la Recoleta is a strange, but fascinating place to wander around. Enormous, elaborate family tombs flank either side of the small alleys leading through the grounds.

Some are well maintained, others are dilapidated with shattered glass windows that allow a glimpse inside at the coffins, faded photographs, wilted flowers and burnt candles. If the dead are alive, I imagine that they lurk here… The main “attraction” here, if you want to call it that, is Eva (Duarte) Peron’s family mausoleum, where the iconic national heroine is also buried (pictured top right).

After checking out the artisan fair set up outside of the cemetery, we headed over to the Museo Nacional de Belles Artes (the city is very walkable!). This free museum isn’t very large, but is a neat place to spend an hour or so and has a nice collection of paintings from my favorite movement, Impressionism. It turns out that a dark, quiet art museum is also a perfect place for a toddler to nap!

Though I did most of the planning this time around, my husband took it upon himself to seek out the best gelato places in the city. He guided us to Rapa Nui, a beautiful gelato café. Apparently Buenos Aires isn’t just known for its wine and steak–they have outstanding gelato as well! And who wouldn’t want gelato for lunch?!

We spent the afternoon wandering through the streets of Palermo Soho, an alternative, hip neighborhood with lots of restaurants, bars and shops. At the recommendation of a friend, we stopped at Pain et Vin, a small wine tasting bar with excellent cheese and charcuterie plates.

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Wine tasting at Pain et Vin

Later that night we dined at Mishiguene, an acclaimed restaurant that features “immigrant cuisine” and that two of our “foodie” friends recommended to us. The food was phenomenal; however, I would recommend going there sans bebe for a truly memorable (and unrushed!) experience.

On Sunday morning, it appeared as if we were the only people awake in the city (except for the tipsy patrons leaving our neighborhood dive bar at 9 am!). The first destination that morning was Café Tortoni, a famous coffeehouse by day and tango club by night. When we walked into the locale, I felt as if I had suddenly been teleported to Vienna— the ambience was very reminiscent of a Viennese Kaffeehaus like Café Sperl. If you want to see a tango show, this is the place to go–or so we were told. As much as I would have liked to see one, something tells me an 8 pm show would not have been the best activity for our toddler… Oh well, next time!

The next stop was the Ecoparque, the city zoo. We had fun wandering through the park and our little boy was particularly fascinated by the elephants. Again, the place was nearly empty, so it felt like we had the park all to ourselves. Nevertheless, I still have mixed feelings about zoos—it just doesn’t seem right to see enormous wild animals contained to such tiny areas. I am looking forward to Africa where we’ll get to see the elephants and lions in their natural habitat.

 

 

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Whoa, elephants!

We rounded out our last full day in BA in San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood in the city where a weekly Sunday antique market takes place. The cobblestone streets are closed off to traffic and are packed with Argentinians sipping their mate tea out of gourds, tango dancers, musicians, vendors and tourists. It is definitely worth a visit if you happen to be there on a Sunday.

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Tango at the Plaza Dorrego
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Street performer in San Telmo

 

 

On Monday we boarded a ferry that carried us across the Rio de La Plata to Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. As I mentioned above, Colonia is a small city perhaps best known for its Barrio Histórico, the historic quarter originally founded by the Portuguese in 1680. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this part of town still boasts the original city walls, narrow cobblestone streets and a lighthouse. It was a beautiful, sunny day with a radiant blue sky and we spent the day just wandering about the town.

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The historic city gate of Colonia del Sacramento
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The lighthouse
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Pretty street in Colonia del Sacramento

When we returned to Buenos Aires, we had our last dinner in Puerto Madero, a new, chic waterfront community where many brick factory warehouses have been converted into upscale cafés and restaurants. We selected Cabaña las Lilas and were pleased with the attention they gave our son (crayons, paper and even a balloon!). The food was great, too, and we enjoyed the view of the waterfront from our table on the (heated) veranda. Yes, it is currently winter in the Southern Hemisphere and it was rather chilly during our stay!

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The courtyard at Imagine Hotel Boutique

One last tip: if you’re looking for a great place to stay, check out the Imagine Hotel Boutique, located in Montserrat neighborhood. Fantastic service, spacious and spotless rooms and yummy breakfast.

In sum–if you are in to food, wine and culture, Buenos Aires is calling your name. Trust me, you will love it!

 

 

 

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