Electric City

Julianna Barnaby
Filed on November 27, 2009

With its beautiful buildings, lively social life and colourful history, itís no wonder that Buenos Aires is fast becoming South Americaís favourite capital

Electric City (/assets/oldimages/trav_26nov09.jpg)If you want an idea of what to expect from the inhabitants of Buenos Aires (commonly called portenos), you can’t get any better than the common saying “Portenos are Spanish-speaking Italians, educated by the British and who want to be French”. They are the city’s life force, filling it with a lively (and distinctive) Spanish that’s unlike any other in the world and making the city the eclectic and enjoyable place it is today.

Soaring colonial buildings line the picturesque avenidas, flanked by numerous cafés and it’s easy to see the European influences on the city. But that’s where the similarities end — this is a city in which nights out rarely start before midnight, and last well into the early, or late, hours of the morning. Where tango rhythms float round corners leading to cafés where portenos, old and young, show off their skills.

It can be a difficult city to get to grips, so the best thing to do is to take a tour. Opcionsur’s Live Buenos Aires is an interactive tour that informs visitors about the history and peculiarities of the different areas (or barrios, as they’re called in Spanish). With videos incorporating footage from the past with commentary on the city as it is today, the tour is a must-do for those that don’t have time to discover Buenos Aires at leisure.

Plaza de Mayo is often recognised as the city’s most important plaza and should be the first on any visitor’s list. It’s played an important role in history, housing government buildings, witnessing protests and quirks of the ever-changing city surrounding it. It’s the place where Eva Peron (or Evita), the nation’s ever-continuing idol, made several of her public speeches to thousands of citizens.

Next up: the bohemian district of San Telmo home to Argentina’s beloved dance, the tango. Like the dance, San Telmo is beautiful to see and pulsing with emotion. Count yourself lucky if you’re in town for the weekly antiques market on a Sunday when the streets are lined with stalls selling everything from antiques to handmade jewellery and ponchos sold by artisans.

From there, it was on to La Boca — traditionally one of the Italian quarters of the city and the home of one of its main football teams, Boca Juniors. Every Sunday, the city grinds to a halt while fans dressed in the distinctive blue and yellow uniforms flock to the stadium to watch the beautiful game. But there’s more to La Boca than a kickabout — it’s also where you’ll find Caminito, the street that was turned into a work of art by Benito Quinquela Martín, one of Argentina’s most famous painters.

The houses and shops have all been painted different hues and colours, and there are several cafés dotted around, great for taking in the surroundings and having a few empanadas, a traditional Argentinean snack.

It’s only over the last few years that the Puerto Madero area has made it onto most peoples’ radars. Prior to an extensive redevelopment in the 1990s, it was a largely abandoned port area. Now, it’s home to some of the city’s finest restaurants, including the famed steakhouse Cabana Las Lilas. A nation of meat-eaters, the Argentine love of steak hearkens back to the days when gauchos ruled the plains. La Cabana, another famed parrillada (steakhouse) restaurant, serves up huge cuts of beef, paired with one of the country’s tasty Malbecs.

Not many cities can boast a graveyard as a central attraction, but Recoleta Cemetery isn’t like many others. Home to the (deceased) who’s who of Buenos Aires society, the mausoleums are a work of art in themselves. Past presidents, writers, politicians, Nobel Prize-winners are buried in the mausoleum, as is Eva Peron.

Places to stay in Buenos Aires are plentiful, no matter what your budget. The InterContinental is a top choice. It’s located in the heart of the city, a few blocks from the Avenida de Mayo. The perfect option for those who are looking for a luxury option at the centre of the action, the hotel has long been one of Buenos Aires’ leading properties.

With 19 floors, bagging a room with a view isn’t a problem, and seeing the city unfurl before your window is the only way to truly appreciate its size.

I’ve been told that Buenos Aires is a place where time disappears. All too soon it was time to leave the city behind and pack my bags with a sigh of regret. But I’d learnt a few lessons along the way, the first being, one visit to Buenos Aires is definitely not enough.

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