Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: South America 2009

Getting to know Buenos Aires

I got up just before 7 and had a refreshing shower. When we were both ready, we went up to the Club Lounge for breakfast. A quick return to the room to get organised meant that we were ready to get started on our sight-seeing programme by 9 o'clock - not bad at all! During the planning phase of this trip, it had quickly become apparent that there was a great deal to see in the Argentinian capital and, as such, I'd sketched out a plan for two full days' worth of city sight-seeing. Today's agenda consisted of a lengthy walk around the city centre, taking in the Microcentro, Tribunales and Congreso neighbourhoods, followed by dinner in San Telmo. The first part of the route involved heading in the direction of the Plaza de Mayo, and it was good to see that there was plenty worth photographing within a few steps of the hotel. The Plaza de Mayo itself was the city's first main public square and it is home to the Casa Rosada (the Pink House, containing the Presidential offices), the cathedral, the seat of the old Spanish colonial government and other important buildings. We wandered around some nearby streets, soaking up the atmosphere and coming across some unexpected architectural gems. As we walked, it became apparent that the area was a good deal more compact than the maps seemed to suggest. This was excellent news, as I had originally feared that we might be trying to do too much.

Plaza de MayoBruce taking a breather in the Plaza de MayoCabildo - the colonial seat of governmentGraffiti painters don't hold back hereExample of the type of architecture that crops up during a walk through the MicrocentroRather unusual looking Metropolitan CathedralCasa RosadaPiramide de Mayo and typical stray dogStart of the Avenida de MayoBeautiful church near the City MuseumSmall chapel near City MuseumEntrance to Cabildo building

The plan was carefully designed (if I say so myself ) to have a break point at a Buenos Aires institution since 1858, Café Tortoni. The city has a strong Italian tradition as part of its make-up and this has led to an established coffee shop culture of the non-Starbucks variety. Most fortuitously, we reached Café Tortoni just after 1100 - perfect timing for morning coffee. We knew what to expect from the guidebooks : a traditional coffee shop that is now an almost compulsory tourist trap. While the place was certainly full of tourists, it didn't seem to detract unduly from the atmosphere. We enjoyed our coffee and a few churros (sticks of fried pastry - not very healthy!) before having a good look around the interior.

Strengthened by the snack, the caffeine and the opportunity to sit down for a bit, we then set off again along the Avenida de Mayo and then the Avenida 9 de Julio, a breathtakingly massive boulevard designed to get the city's traffic moving, but created at a terrible cost in terms of the loss of some grand old buildings. We quickly found the Plaza de La Republica with its great obelisk, and the nearby Plaza Lavalle, home to the Supreme Court and a number of theatres, including the magnificent Teatro Colon opera house. Well, it would have been magnificent, had it not been largely obscured by scaffolding.

Av 9 de Julio and the ObeliskPlaza LavalleSupreme CourtInteresting fusion of old and newTeatro ColonExample of one of the multi-lingual signs explaining interesting buildings

We then made our way back to the Avenida de Mayo and along to the Plaza Moreno and Plaza del Congreso, and at this point lunch moved right to the top of the agenda. We quickly found an attractive-looking café on a corner of the Plaza Moreno.

Palacio BaroloLunch stop

Having eaten our fill, we had a good look around the twin squares, the main feature of which is undoubtedly the magnificent Congress building itself.

As the plan was now complete and we had time in hand, we simply strolled back in the direction of the hotel via the main pedestrianised shopping street, Calle Florida. Close to the Sheraton, we went into the impressive Pacific Galleries shopping mall and found yet another little café in which to have a relaxing afternoon cocktail. As I sat there, observing the servers in their traditional black and white garb, as well as the well-dressed, stylish and thoroughly civilised porteños (as the city's inhabitants are called) quietly enjoying some afternoon refreshments, I realised how wide of the mark some of my preconceived ideas had been. Certainly the city centre has its problems, with homeless people inhabiting many of the open spaces, semi-wild dogs roaming the streets, too much graffiti for my liking and some buildings that looked as though their heyday had passed. But the streets were also full of quiet, courteous people who took obvious pride in their appearance, and the number of bookshops also hadn't escaped my eagle eyes - always a good barometer of a civilised society. Drained glasses marked the end of these musings and we walked the short distance back to the Sheraton Libertador for some further relaxation, a freshen-up and ... erm ... another tipple

Tonight's dinner was to be in the San Telmo district, at a little-known restaurant rejoicing in the name La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar, that had been recommended by one of Bruce's friends. We decided to take the subway to San Telmo, despite the unwelcome light rain, and were amused to find a stray dog fast asleep on the floor of the train, by the door of one of the cars. Finding the restaurant proved to be no easy matter, but we eventually tracked it down. It didn't look much, but as the evening unfolded, the recommendation proved to be absolutely sound. We enjoyed an amazing eleven-course tasting menu with matching wines - thankfully not on a 1:1 basis!   Mercifully, the portion sizes were sensible and, perhaps surprisingly, I didn't feel overly full at the end of it all. We effortlessly caught a taxi back to the hotel and, after a long but immensely enjoyable first full day in Argentina, fell quickly asleep.

Sunday 17 May

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