Day 24: Walking tour through Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires, 25. February
Firstly, Buenos Aires is big! There are two big cities that everyone thinks about when they think of South America: São Paulo and Buenos Aires. It invokes images of Tango, football (or soccer), red wine, steak, beautiful women and music. All this is absolutely true. But another thing is true about Buenos Aires: it’s incredibly loud! To be fair, I had come to Buenos Aires from Patagonia, where the only sounds at night were the wind and waves (and possibly howling sea lions). In my first night in Buenos Aires the air was filled by honking cars, sirens, singing, talking and laughing and all the other noise that a large city produces. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep a wink. But I didn’t want to let this stop me from exploring BsAs, especially since I only had one full day to do it.
I had looked up an English-speaking walking tour (this one, in case you’re interested) and so I left the hostel early to find the meet-up spot outside the Teatro Colón. It was a sunny day, even though not as warm as the day before and I was really looking forward to explore this city that I had heard so much about. I think it’s always difficult to come to a place that everyone has told you is “amazing”, “stunning”, “beautiful”, “a must see” and “a place you’ll going to love” because that just builds up expectations that are rarely fulfilled (the same is true for books, music, movies and people, by the way). To be honest, I didn’t love BsAs but I did see what everyone loves about it. The city is a bit like a girl after a night of partying. The make-up is smudged, the hair tangled, the dress wrinkly but if you look closely, you can see the beauty of the night before behind her tired eyes. Which is a long way of saying, you need time to see the beauty. I didn’t have the time, so I only saw the noise and the business district and the smudged make-up. The next time I go to BsAs, will be at the beginning of the trip, with at least 2 weeks to spend exploring this surely amazing city. But let’s come back to the one full day I did have in the city.
I found Teatro Colón without any trouble and sat waiting in the sun for the tour guide and the rest of the group. Among the people that gathered around our guide, was a tall blonde guy. As we waited for the tour to start, we kept looking at each other, until eventually he asked me whether I was German and whether I lived in Berlin. While I could understand the assumption that I’m a pale European, I found Berlin a bit specific, after all, I wasn’t carrying an “I love Berlin”-handbag. As it turned out, we both kept looking at each other because we thought we recognized one another from somewhere. I just thought I had seen him in a hostel somewhere but just didn’t remember exactly but we figured out that we were both from Berlin and must know each other from there somehow. So for the remainder of the tour, we tried to figure out where we knew each other from but we never quite figured it out. So I guess the lesson from this day, and thus for you here today, is: the world is a small place and you never know who you might meet.
The tour led through Centro, several parks, past a building with Evita on the side and a memorial to the Malvinas (the Falkland Islands), and finally north towards Recoleta cemetery. All the while, the guide managed to find the perfect balance between talking about historic buildings, the history of Argentina and certain quirks of the Porteños and BsAs that you only find out after being here for a while. He also filled us in on the details of the blue dollar, Argentinians sudden rediscovery of their religion after Pope Frances was elected, the story about the Malvinas, secret bars and on the famous Alfajores. The highlight of the tour, however, was definitely Recoleta. I had read a lot about the cemetery but being there was more than I could have expected. I’m a great fan of cemeteries anyway but Recoleta is in a league of its own. You enter through stone gates, with busy streets behind you and streets of marble in front of you. Each tomb is a tiny world of its own with a magnificent and sometimes sad story behind it. As you can see in the pictures, some of them have had centuries to gather dust, cobwebs and patina, while some are almost brand new. I think you could spend hours, or maybe even days, walking through the eerie silence that fills those marble paths and get completely lost in it. I didn’t see the most famous grave though, the one of Evita. But I have to say, each tomb is marvelous in its own way and it didn’t matter to me that I didn’t know who the people commemorated by them were.
After the walking tour, I decided to walk to the El Alteno Grand Splendid, a bookstore situated in a former theater with a café on the stage. I had found the bookstore the night before during a search on Pinterest of cool places to go in Buenos Aires. And, never being one to say no to a good bookstore, I had decided to go there in order to see a bit more of the city. Well, the Al Alteno was splendid and exactly how you would imagine a bookstore in a theater to be. You could look down on the people in the cafe/ stage from every angle of the store which gave the people eating their cake an air of performance.
Afterwards, I walked back to the hostel through the busy streets and parks of central BsAs. I finished off the day on the hostel terrace with a couple of guys, chatting, watching the lights and listening to the sounds of the city, and, of course, drinking a Quilmes.