Buenos Aires! When I got the chance to go there because my friends moved there, I was excited! Then I looked up their address on google maps and while zooming out more and more to find out where exactly they were, the big circular park nearby got smaller and smaller… It was only a little flag by the time I saw the whole of Buenos Aires on my screen.
Someone I had misjudged the sheer size of the place and it was a bit of a shock to the system knowing that’s where I would be going. Certainly the biggest city I have ever been to and a huge step for a little country girl like me 😉 Also, it was my first long-haul flight alone, so another reason to be crazy excited! But once I got there, I felt great and the achievement of having gotten there was a big relief!
Here are a few of the things that stayed with me from my visit:
- It isn’t as overwhelming if you break it into sizeable chunks
Actually, Buenos Aires is made up of many different areas and because the streets are mainly creating squares, it isn’t too hard to find orientation. Just be careful: If you meet up with Argentinians, you’ll be asked to meet them at the corner of one street and another – don’t forget there are four of these 😉
- If you are a tourist, you’ll feel incredibly wealthy
You should bring dollars or euros when you arrive and have it exchanged by an Argentinian. Inflation is high and foreign currency is hard to come by, so the black market is paying much better rates. While I was there, the official rate was 1:8 – we got 1:14… Just remember that you likely earn about 3 – 4 times as much per month as the average citizen – so don’t boast!
- The people are amazing
And if you speak a little Spanish, you can go a long way, be it on the metro, in the supermarket queue or in the park. Don’t get confused if at first the Spanish sounds not at all like what you might know from your trips to Spain. The melody as well as the “ll” are different and take a bit of getting used to – but I loved it in the end because it is so lively! As a foreigner, they will try their very best to make you feel welcome and show genuine interest. Saying hello usually includes a hug and a peck on the cheek.
Also, you’ll realize an atmosphere of “live and let live” when you’re out and about and generally, people take a big interest in the way they look. There are lots of shops for tailored shirts and suits and especially the older generation dresses extremely well. The gentleman is not dead yet 😉
It’s everywhere and everyone drinks it all the time, young and old. There are thermos flasks in the park, in the car, in the bag and the ritual of sharing it with a big round of friends (old and new) makes for a special connection. The taste takes some getting used to, but it’ll grow on you if you give it a chance.
Oh, where do I start? With the fact that most fruit and veg (and of course meat) are local produce? Which makes it incredibly tasty and fresh? That there are proper greengrocers and butcher shops on every corner where you can buy the tastiest goods for a very low price (even for non-tourists)? That you can order literally everything to be brought to you, be it your mid-morning coffee, something sweet after lunch, a big box of ice cream or of course pizza? That you can (and will) eat cheese for every meal of the day? Some of the highlights:
Asado: Parillas are also on every corner and should be a must-do! Just imagine your local fish and chips shop or curry house – only with a wall-encompassing BBQ full of every part of meat you can think of! Can you smell it? Can you feel the heat? 🙂
Pizza: Different to what we know here, the main ingredient is in fact cheese – a lot of cheese! Also, pizza gets served with faina, a thin bread made out of chickpeas and that’s meant to be put on top of your pizza slice.
Pasta: The Italian influence is strong and there are lots of shops which sell homemade pasta and sauces as an alternative to the usual Sunday asado.
Empanadas: They can be filled with a lot of things, chicken, beef, vegetables, ham and cheese and so on – if you know what is what, you can identify the filling by the shape and the way in which they have been closed.
Ice cream: Another (the best!) part of the Italian heritage, Argentinian ice cream is super tasty and comes in a lot of sorts. You go to an ice cream shop and buy it by the kilo in styrofoam containers, then it gets put on the table at home and shared with friends and family.
And don’t even get me started on the wine… 😉
- Traffic is a bit mad
You might have to chase the bus to make it stop, or at least be very insistent. The metro can get very crowded and you might be waiting for the best part of an hour before you can finally get on (unless you are very relaxed about breathing and personal space). The lanes on the streets are seen as recommendations, not necessarily adhered to. Trains might come out of nowhere, bridges may open for ships and create big traffic jams – anything goes, so just go with the flow 😉
There are a lot of beautiful buildings in Buenos Aires, a lot of them resemble Parisian houses from the early 20th century. The modern buildings in Puerto Madero also were very impressive – only the obviously 1970s blocks in the middle between beautiful older houses were a bit of an eyesore. You never know what you will find just around the corner and if you are lucky enough to be invited into one of the houses, you will find they are even more beautiful from the inside.
I will not go further into the history of the country because it would be worth a lengthy post of its own – but if you’re interested, I suggest you click on Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo.
You see, I really enjoyed my time and never felt unsafe or worried while I was there. Of course I was with my friends a lot of the time, but I did spend time on my own as well without problems.