Plenty of passion: Buenos Aires, Argentina
PUBLISHED: 13:27 12 October 2012 | UPDATED: 21:54 20 February 2013
While Buenos Aires may not have a surfeit of iconic landmarks it has more than 40 neighbourhoods, bursting with colour and life. Karen Bowerman explored the Argentine capital
Coca Cola willing to change
Amusingly, the colours of the teams main rivals (River Plate) are red and white, which is also the colour of Boca Juniors sponsors, Coca Cola.
The drinks manufacturer apparently agreed to change its signage on the stadium to black (and not red) and white so as not to upset Boca fans.
While La Boca is a tourist hotspot some areas arent safe to visit.
If you head to Recoleta along Avenida Figueroa Alcorta youll hit United Nations park wherell you cant fail to miss Floralis Generica, a gigantic steel and aluminium flower with petals that open and close with the sun.
La Recoleta: crowds look for Evita
This and La Boca were the highlights of my city tour. But while La Boca was bursting with energy La Recoleta won me over with its sense of calm.
The district is famous for its impressive cemetery, home to the rich and famous. They wanted to be buried in the same way they lived, Yuna explained.
We wandered through the fantastically carved tombs to find that of Eva Peron (theres always a small crowd). A Brazilian father was lining his family up for a photo.
Do we have to? His teenage son moaned. I mean, why did we really have to come here?
Because she was the best woman that ever was, his father replied.
It led to Yuna and I discussing the film, Evita. Not many Argentines like it, she said, because it was a musical. Eva Peron had no association with music. It was ridiculous. I could see her point.
I could have spent longer in the cemetery, but we still had Palermo to explore, known for its street side cafes and boutique shops.
Lets hang out! is a typical Argentine expression and stopping for coffee is a favourite pastime of portenos. If you join them, make sure you try dulce de leche, a sticky caramel spread that you smother on media lunas (croissants).
While the small plazas of Palermo are the fashionable places for coffee, if youre in the city centre, you could try the coffee shop said to have been frequented by Einstein!
Its Caf Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo and is easily recognisable by the queues outside.
Is it really that busy? I asked Yuna, as we counted at least 30 people lining the pavement.
No, she replied. Its popular, but you dont really need to wait that long. The owner does it to impress the tourists!
With that her face broke into a grin. She suggested we gave up on coffee and got a dulce de leche ice cream instead, which, given the heat, sounded a great idea!
SayHueque www.SayHueque.com organises daytrips, city tours and holidays to Argentina. Yuna Castano is one of their senior guides. Itineraries can be organised via the efficient and friendly Ana: firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay in: the spacious self-catering Forcadell (F) Apartments www.forcadellapartments.com, the classic Savoy hotel www.savoyhotel.com.ar or the boutique Duque Hotel, www.duquehotel.com, with spa and pool in the fashionable Palermo Soho district. All can be arranged via SayHueque.com
While Buenos Aires may not have a surfeit of iconic landmarks it has more than 40 neighbourhoods, bursting with colour and life. Karen Bowerman explored the Argentine capital.
My guide, Yuna Castano, got our driver to pull over. This is the widest part of the widest street in the world, she said, beaming from ear to ear, her grin summing up the pride portenos (residents of Buenos Aires) have in their city.
We were in the middle of Avenida 9 de Julio in the capital of Argentina. The 16 lane street (its 142m wide, with a 68m obelisk at its centre) links the tree-lined neighbourhood of Recoleta in the north with one of the poorest districts, Constitucion, in the south.
The fact we were talking about a road, just minutes into our city tour, seemed to suggest, as guidebooks claim, that Buenos Aires is a city that lacks iconic landmarks. But while it may not excel architecturally, it has plenty of passion and soul.
A city of steaks and soul
This is a city synonymous with tango and football, and where both are pursued with zeal. Carnivores are exceptionally well catered for and wine lovers can enjoy full-bodied reds.
Theres a vibrant nightlife, a range of accommodation and plenty of portenos, most of whom are friendly and happy to help.
Theres no denying the citys huge, its home to around a third of the countrys 40 million population, but luckily for visitors, most of the must-see sights are centred in a few, easily accessible, neighbourhoods.
Buenos Aires: getting around
Buenos Aires is made up of 48 barrios (neighbourhoods) built round the Microcentre or business district. Make sure you have a map, but dont fret if you get lost. The citys built on a grid system, so you can always go round the block!
Just south of the Microcentre is Plaza de Mayo, where youll find the citys main historic landmarks. To the northeast is swanky Puerto Madero, to the northwest Recoleta with its famous cemetery (home to Eva Peron), while south youll find perhaps BAs most well known neighbourhood, La Boca, famous for its brightly painted houses made from corrugated metal.
The pink presidential palace
The focal point of Plaza de Mayo is a small obelisk (Piramide de Mayo) built to mark the citys first anniversary of independence from Spain, but its the Casa Rosada or Pink House, the ceremonial home of Argentinas president that attracts most attention.
The faade overlooking the square is actually the back of the building, but the balconies are what everyone wants to see, since it was here that President Juan Peron and his first lady Eva (plus Madonna in the film Evita) rallied the crowds.
There are a couple of explanations as to why the palace is pink one a lot more palatable than the other!
Some say President Sarmiento (1868-1874) blended the red of the federalists with the white of the Unitarists (those who wanted to join forces with Europe) to try to bring about peace during his tenure.
Others claim it was painted with bovine blood, which wouldnt have been unusual in the 19th century!
The silent protests of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo
Every Thursday, the Madres (mothers) de la Plaza de Mayo hold silent protests in the plaza, demanding the government is held accountable for the atrocities of the Dirty War (1976-1983).
It was a time when at least 13,000 leftwing activists, students and journalists disappeared during the military dictatorship.
Catedral Metropolitana: home to a hero
The citys baroque cathedral, Catedral Metropolitana, is another must-see. Its opposite the Plaza de Mayo and contains the tomb of one of countrys most revered heroes, General Jose de San Martin (1778-1850).
The Argentine general played a key role in South Americas struggle for independence.
One bridge: two interpretations
West of the Microcentre youll find Congreso, with its Avenida 9 de Julio, the landmark Teatro Colon (the largest opera house in the southern hemisphere before Sydneys was built) and the colossal Palacio del Congreso, Congress building, modelled on its counterpart in Washington.
East is one of BAs newest districts, Puerto Madero, where brick warehouses have been converted into classy hotels and prime real estate.
Dont miss the futuristic looking bridge, Puente de la Mujer (womens bridge) designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava who created a similar bridge (the Samuel Beckett bridge) for Ireland.
Yuna told me a fabulous story: that while Calatrava told Buenos Aires the design resembled the flicked leg of a tango dancer, he convinced Dublin it represented a harp!
La Boca: home to tango, soccer and colour
The neighbourhood of La Boca, meaning mouth as it was once at the mouth of the river Riachuelo, is known for tango, soccer and colourful buildings.
The brightly painted houses came about in the 1880s when Italian and Spanish immigrants who worked in the shipyards used left over paint to decorate their corrugated metal clad homes.
Tango came with the brothels, when men used to partner each other to entertain the women. Youll find the dance practised everywhere, especially in Caminito, the districts most popular street.
La Bocas also a good place to pick up local handicrafts. Many of the shops are in conventillos (tenements), created in the late 19th century when local mansions were divided up for rent. Some homes were split into 170 rooms making for very uncomfortable living.
Yuna put it bluntly. Tourists think the area is colourful and pretty but the sad truth is that round the corner (in San Telmo) people still live in conventillos, in the same cramped conditions but with less hope, than 200 years ago.
A few blocks from Caminito is the home of Boca Juniors soccer team. Their stadium is knicknamed La Bombonera, the chocolate box, as it was built in several stories (or layers), so planners could squeeze it in to an already crowded city.