Friday, November 29, 2013

Buenos Aires (October 23rd - 29th, 2013)

"I wanna be a part of B.A. -- Buenos Aires -- Big Apple". And we were a part of it! I absolutely loved Buenos Aires, and could imagine spending a much longer time there.

Buenos Aires street art: this bench looked really soft and comfortable, but was actually rock-hard. 

While preparing for our stay there, we read that there are many things you can do for free in the city, and we were happy to take advantage of this. Thus, after getting settled in at our hostel, we headed to the Museo de Artes Plásticos Eduardo Sívori, with free entry on Wednesdays. We enjoyed the museum, but liked walking in the nearby park and rose gardens even more.

Rose garden

In the afternoon, we joined a free walking tour through the Retiro and Recoleta districts. This area of Buenos Aires has a strong European influence, numerous French-style mansions, and many ladies wearing expensive clothing and a surgically-enhanced surprised facial expression. We were told that plastic surgery is very common in Argentina, because it is included in many private health insurance plans, but "only" once every two years. The tour was very entertaining, and we consider it one of the best city tours we've been to in South America.

The next day, we first had a look at the main square - Plaza de Mayo - and the surrounding presidential palace (Casa rosada), cathedral and old town hall building. We said a quick "hi" to the Argentine National hero San Martín at his current home within the metropolitan cathedral, and then hurried to the Recoleta cemetery.

Casa rosada - possibly painted with cow blood

Cathedral and final resting place of San Martín

We had read that in the Recoleta cemetery, there are free guided tours in English on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11. We arrived a bit before the usual starting time, but were told that the tour would be delayed for a half an hour. We spent the thirty minutes exploring the neighboring Jesuit church (Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar) and the rooms of its previous cloister, now transformed into a museum. It had a collection of religious art, which was not particularly interesting for us. In fact, within the cloisters, we most of all liked an old door with a hole in the bottom corner, meant to let cats through.

A door for monks and cats

Back at the cemetery, our guide arrived and apologized for being late - she was ill, and her replacement needed an even longer time to get there. She started the tour, but fortunately after some time, she could go home to bed as the other guide finally arrived and took over. During the tour, we learned truly a lot about Argentine history, because the country's best and most famous are buried in this cemetery. Perhaps the most interesting and gruesome story was about what happened to Evita Peron's body. The first lady traveled much during her life, and afterwards as well; she arrived in her current resting place more than twenty years after death. We were very happy about the tour, but to our surprise, we didn't even get the chance to thank our guide properly - at the end of the tour, our guide thanked us instead, turned around and left.

Mausoleums at Recoleta Cemetery

The dogs nose is shiny because touching it is said to ring good luck

After the tour, we went for a quick lunch, and then headed towards the Czech embassy, so that Radek could vote in the Czech legislative elections. There we learned that his vote came at a high cost for Czech Republic: the officials at his hometown did not send the necessary documents to Argentina, but rather to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who then sent them to Buenos Aires using DHL. The delivery costs were 1500 CZK (about 60 EUR)!

Radek voting in the Czech embassy

We later returned to the city center and went to the Museo del Bicentenario, also with free entry. This museum is located in the old customs building, and has a part dedicated to each major phase in Argentina's history. Afterwards, we walked to and through the Puerto Madero district, with magnificent high-rise buildings. While walking back towards our hostel, we also stopped by the Argentine energy company YPF's building, where there was an exhibition of old and new posters promoting personnel safety in the petrol industry.

Puerto Madero district

On the following day, we went on another free walking tour, this time in the city center. We saw many - a total of five - demonstrations during the walk. Some people have been protesting for a long time: the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, for example, have been meeting since 1977. At that time, public gatherings of groups of four people or more were illegal, so these women, with an aim to learn the whereabouts of their children gone missing in the Dirty War, decided in their protest to march in groups of three on the Plaza de Mayo.

A head scarf, symbolizing the Mother of the Plaza de Mayo, painted on the main square

Rodin's Thinker in front of the Congress

In the afternoon, we wanted to exchange some more dollars to pesos. This turned out to be more complicated than expected - a couple of days earlier it had been effortless, but on that afternoon, we were really not having much luck with finding the right person offering the right exchange rate. We were later told that this was because the elections were planned for the next day, and police surveillance was exceptionally high. I got a bit tired, so I went to a café for a cup of tea, and Radek continued to search for a money exchanger. Eventually, he was directed to a guy who at that time was working from a barber's shop (on other days, he was at an official-looking exchange office). He gave us an OK rate, all things considered. We could then buy boat tickets to Uruguay, where we were planning to spend the upcoming weekend.

We took it a lot easier when we returned back to Buenos Aires. We just visited the San Telmo district and its market, which would have been a lot busier and more interesting on Sunday. We also had a peek at the Jesuits' Illuminated Block, but could only go to the courtyard: the buildings were closed at the time.

At the courtyard in the Jesuits' block

With that ended our stay in this beautiful city, of which we have more photos here.  

1 comment: