Best Sight Seeings:

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Buenos Aires "Best urban adventure"

Buenos Aires (official name Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, also called Capital Federal ) is the capital of the Argentine Republic. The name means fair winds in Spanish. It is one of the largest cities in Latin America, with a lot of cultural offerings, and is the point of departure for travelling to the rest of the country. Inhabitants of Buenos Aires are called porteños, "people from the port". Buenos Aires is a singular, open and integrating destination that allows the visitor not only to view the city but the opportunity to have an exceptional urban adventure.

Cementerio de la Recoleta | Recoleta Cemetery
Even if you land in South America knowing nothing about Buenos Aires, a likely first stop will be the Cementerio de la Recoleta. The cemetery is world famous and is the pride of the city’s living and dead. And why not when it is so glamorous and appeals to art lovers and weirdoes alike? It is also one of the few ultra user-friendly attractions in Buenos Aires, going so far as offering guided tours in English. The cemetery in Recoleta is the hippest zip code in town and there have been blood, sweat, and tears in this city’s history vying for a space.

Casa Rosada
Built under President Julio Argentino Roca in 1882, the Casa Rosada has been the center of presidential activity ever since. With the pink side facing the Plaza de Mayo, and the beige sides calling less attention from surrounding streets, it is Buenos Aires’ version of The White House.

El Obelisco | The Obelisk
How does one digest that a smooth 223 ft. column stretching to the sky is the representation of a city and its people? The Obelisk of Buenos Aires has little historical significance and no real purpose of function in the city, unlike its national symbol counterparts worldwide including US’s Statue of Liberty, Italy’s Vatican, or England’s Big Ben.
Its lack of utility does not stop the Obelisk from being one of the main tourist attractions since its completion in 1936 and a fun conversation topic amongst mixed company. Porteños really do claim the phallic tower as representing their society.

Congreso
Congreso is a dense downtown area of Buenos Aires that houses the legislative branch of government at the opposite end of Avenida de Mayo from the "pink house" seat of the executive branch.

Boedo
One of the main Tango and historical spots in the city, the streets of Boedo offer to native and tourist public a huge variety of cafes in the best “porteño” style, cultural centers , Tango houses, libraries, theaters and nice pubs and restaurants. Places that please people from all ages and tastes.

Puerto Madero
Just like the London docklands, the antique port of Buenos Aires has been renewed and now represents the latest architectural trends of the city. It has a mixture of restaurants (ranging from high end to american chains such as Hooters and TGIF, as well as apartment buildings and a few expensive hotels. The Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur , an excellent alternative for nature lovers, lies nearby.

Centro Cultural Borges | Borges Cultural Center
The Centro Cultural Borges boasts some of the best exhibits in Buenos Aires. Not limited to simply still art, the center hosts a variety of events from modern dance to theatre and independent films. Here’s is where one can find the big-name exhibits combined with up-and-comers. Some of the most recent exhibits include war photographer Robert Cappa and painter and sculptor Salvador Dali.

Centro Cultural Recoleta | Recoleta Cultural Center
Since its recent inception in the 80’s, the Centro Cultural Recoleta has become one of the city’s most important resources. The center is housed in a former convent and is conveniently located just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Recoleta Cemetery. The inside of the building has been gutted and renovated to include large, modern exhibition halls with rotating and exceptional exhibits (check website for details). There is also a cinema and a large auditorium, which hosts events for the Tango Festival when it rolls around. Upstairs scores of enthusiastic children enjoy the hands-on Museo Participativo de Ciencias.

Feria de Mataderos
20 years ago, the Feria de Mataderos (Mataderos Fair) brought the best of the pampas to the outskirts of the city – just an hour by bus from Microcentro and all the richness of Argentinean gaucho and folk culture awaits you. Every Sunday more than 100 artists and craftspeople cram the Mataderos barrio on the corner of Avenida Lisandro de la Torre and Avenida de los Corrales. Most people just get off the bus and follow the hypnotizing smell emanating from the parrillas.

Tierra Santa
Tierra Santa is almost too strange for words. This is the place where visitors can, “visit Jerusalem in Buenos Aires all year!” From the sand covered alleys, 18 meter high mechanical Jesus (resurrected for your viewing pleasure every 30 minutes!), to grubbing down in the Baghdad Café, the world’s only religious theme park really delivers. The strange blend of the commercial and religious reaches terrifying new heights here as tourists stroll by a life size statue of Jesus being flogged in the street next door to the kiosk where you can purchase “authentic” handicrafts made right there in the holy land.

Caminito
Caminito is compiled of three streets that join up along the river in La Boca - one of the more working-class neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, tucked away behind San Telmo and sitting on the filthy riachuelo. It is also one of the most high-traffic tourist zones in town. Here poverty is colored - literally. The corrugated tin, two and three story houses are painted brilliant colors while life-size caricatures sit on balconies, peek out of windows, and wave from steps. They mock tourists walking by who can’t help but snap photos. Meanwhile, the people behind the plaster figures sit and watch from their homes in this poor neighborhood hidden from and the wealth of the Buenos Aires that tourists enjoy.

Galerías Pacífico
Galerias Pacifico is the downtown mall with entrances on both Avenida Córdoba and Calle Florida. With bookstores, wine shops, leather boutiques, and cafés Galerías Pacífico has it all. High glass-paned ceilings create an expansive area for strolling, shopping and sipping espresso. The spectacular building was built in the late 19th century and inspired by Paris Bon Marché. High glass ceilings with gothic-style arches line the multi-floored gallery, and sit above wide walkways and open-air center space. On the outside, the Parisian influence oozes out the high walls, tall windows, and stately roof.

Floralis Genérica
The Floris Genérica is one the most recognizable images of Buenos Aires. Walking along Avenida Figueroa Alcorta from the Facultad de Derecho (University of Law) to the MALBA, it is not unheard of to be asked directions to “the big metal flower”. Standing in the center of the Plaza Naciones Unidas (United Nations Plaza), in a 40-meter reflecting pool, the flower was erected in 2002 as a gift from architect Eduardo Catalano. The use of the term 'Genérica' in its name suggests that it is a symbol of all flowers in the world. Opinions differ about it’s beauty but there is no questioning that the flower is a powerful, modern symbol of technology and nature.

Teatro Colon
This theater is a metaphor for Argentina. Not to be mistaken for the Paris Opera House, the exterior is a classic, grandiose, old building modeled after European greats and taking up an entire city block. Once one gets inside for a closer look, the great beauty, elegance, and grace are both humbling and spell-binding.
El Teatro Colon is a major source of Argentine pride. It is second in size in the Southern Hemisphere only to the Sydney Opera House as a venue. The Colon can seat up to 2500 people with standing room for 500 more. This is the central venue for performing arts in Argentina. For musicians, dancers, and actors alike, an opportunity to perform in the Colon is a once in a lifetime experience. Equally, the opportunity to attend a performance is a must for visitors.

Museo Ernesto Che Guevara | Ernesto Che Guevara Museum
The first thing visitors will realize about the Museo Ernesto Che Guevara is that it is not a museo at all. In fact the museum is located inside a shop (Bagatela) owned by one of the founders of the original museum, which was located just a few blocks away. When hard financial times hit Buenos Aires, the museum – one of the only true landmarks to the memory of the famous Argentine doctor, soldier, and political revolutionary – was forced to close its doors. The ever dedicated and hard-working Eladio González (whose English is far better than he claims) scooped up some treasures and moved them to his store. These days, the reason to visit is ‘Toto’ himself, who believes that Che was a man full of love and that the world is full of ‘Ches’.

Buenos Aires Design
This is the theme park of home decorating, the center of the shower curtain universe, the place to sort through piles of sheets in search of the perfect shade of green, the place to find antique-looking new furniture, and the place where one can find classic clear wine glasses seated next to over-the-top beaded pillows.
Buenos Aires Design seems to always be full of people, both locals and tourists, shopping for the necessary items of day to day life. Somehow shopping here is nothing of a chore but rather a destination. Porteños often come to spend a full day or afternoon plotting out the perfect bathroom or bedroom. Clearly, Argentine style extends well beyond clothing as much energy is put into bedclothes as into an outfit destined for the Teatro Colón.

Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
The 32 rooms of modern and classic, tragic and beautiful art can keep one awe-inspired for hours. Roam through Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh, then note the big-name Argentine artists including Xul Solar, Candido Lopez, and Eduardo Siviori.
A trip to the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is necessary for any visitor to Buenos Aires, if only to marvel at yet another impressive and important pink building. Formerly located on Avenida Florida, the current building was designed by architect Alejandro Bustillo and inaugurated in its current location on May 23rd, 1933. Its stately front columns, high staircase, and widespread wings welcome visitors with open arms.

Bosques de Palermo
The park is not only an attraction in itself, but contains many of the popular visitor sites in Buenos Aires like the Rosedal, the Galilieo Galilei Planetarium, the Eduardo Sívori Plastic Arts Museum, and is only a stone’s throw away from Plaza Italia, the Japanese Garden, Zoo, and the Botanical Gardens. Designed with the help of prominent French landscape designer Carlos Thays, the park was first inaugurated in 1875 and has since provided porteños a place to exercise, relax, picnic, and play for over a century. As the “Central Park” of Buenos Aires, the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods) encompasses an impressive 198 acres on the northwest side of the city. Besides expansive green lawns dotted with everything from pine trees to palms, the park contains two manmade lakes, sculptures, rose gardens, and both running and biking paths, enclosing much of the Parque 3 de Febrero, the largest individual park within the Palermo Woods.

Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo | The Mothers of the Plaza de

While it could be argued that a person or people cannot be considered an attraction, there is no doubt that Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayoare a “must see” of Buenos Aires. These courageous and diligent women (and men) are a living, breathing, fighting reminder of the atrocities of the military dictatorship that grasped Argentina from 1976 to 1983. During the years of the dictatorship, many oppositionist were murdered or “disappeared” and while exact numbers elude, estimates range to 40,000. On Thursday, April 30th, 1977, some mothers of young men who had disappeared congregated and marched in front of the Casa Rosada in the Plaza de Mayo to show their solidarity and demand answers. These women, many of who are now very old, along with family, friends, fathers, brothers, sisters, and supporters have congregated every Thursday since to continue their plight and finally find what became of their children during what is now known as La Guerra Sucia (The Dirty War).

Planetario Galileo Galilei Planetario Galileo Galilei | Galileo Galilei Planetarium
The planetarium is impossible to miss as it rises out of Palermo’s busy and popular park district like a spacecraft or a giant eggcup. Between the appropriate architecture and the giant hunk of space rock on display outside the front door, those on the lookout can’t miss it. The Planetarium has been a popular attraction since it opened in the late 60’s – particularly with the youngsters. On any given day the place is stowed with eager young minds.
Inside the giant dome there is an auditorium displaying the night sky and it seats a few hundred for regular shows. There is also a large telescope for a more hands-on stargazing experience. The planetarium offers a wealth of fun and educational free activities – though most are in Spanish, many are visually focused – including the night sky show, astronomy courses, and interaction with visiting scientists. Schedules vary but check their informative website for current schedules.

Plaza Francia
During weekends, this is a popular porteño destination for lingering over mate and listening to whichever informal band has set up shop in the grassy areas. Extensive people-watching is openly indulged as crowds wander through the park, especially when the weather is agreeable. During the week Plaza Francia is merely and obstacle on the way to other places, but on Saturday and Sunday it becomes a destination in itself. The long, circling pathways are lined with artisans selling their crafts. Almost everything sold here is handmade and sells at all-too-reasonable prices. From wooden toys to jewelry, artwork, handknit shawls and sweaters, shoes and silver-crafts, tourists are bound to find a trinket to take home with them.

Museo Participativo de Ciencias | Children’s Participatory Science Museum
Though it’s tucked away inside the Centro Cultural Recoleta, all the way up on the 2nd floor, the Museo Participativo de Ciencias cannot be missed – mostly thanks to the throngs of screaming children bulging at its seams. Visitors should not fret, as the screams are generally jubilant. What else might one expect from a place whose motto is Prohibido NO tocar (Prohibited NOT to touch!)? During the school year kids flock here by the classroom to listen, learn, and play.

El Rosedal | Rose Garden
El Rosedal, also known as the Jardín de las Rosas or simply the Rose Garden, is the picturesque centerpiece of the sprawling Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Woods) in Buenos Aires. Winding red gravel paths guide park-goers through more than 15,000 different rose bushes and 1,189 species of roses in every color of the rainbow. Each brick-colored walkway is lined with green wooden benches, offering plentiful places to stop and enjoy the scenery. From evergreens to palm trees to islands of perfectly manicured lawns, the Rosedal forms a small oasis bursting with greenery amid the concrete jungle of the city.

Biblioteca Nacional | National Library
Apparently there were a great many problems leading up to the opening of the National Library in 1992. How else to explain the 30 years leading up to the inauguration? Tours are offered in Spanish daily except Sunday and they will tell you all about it. Designed by beloved Buenos Aires architect, Clorindo Testo, the building now begs the question: work of art or urban disaster? It’s worth taking a stroll through the Northern part of Recoleta to decide for yourself. The structure might remind visitors of an orange on a toothpick. However, it is surrounded on all sides by plazas and parks making it a peaceful rest stop, stowed with studious youngsters even on Saturday afternoons when they should be drinking mate and making party plans.

MALBA – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires
MALBA, or the Museum of Latin American Art in Buenos Aires, is a good crash course in contempory art from all over the continent for the unfamiliar. The building is beautiful, modern and feels huge making the permanent exhibition deceptively small in an attractive gallery space of wood floors and muted lighting. Argentinean architects Atelman, Fourcade, and Tapia created the impressive glass on steel edifice. The work mostly spans the 20th century and is displayed chronologically to allow visitors to muse over trends and artistic influences in Latin American culture. The gallery is filled with porteños visiting for the umpteenth time that just can’t get enough. Artists range from celebrated Argentine surrealist Xul Solar to the incomparable Mexican tag-team of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The variety is conducive to learning some lesser-known geniuses of the continent. Several mediums are explored from traditional oils to giant sculpture and modern light installations. At couple of hours should be allowed for wandering through the permanent collection.

Hipódromo Hurlingham
With all the hoopla in Palermo, it is hard to ignore that Argentina is a great country to enjoy the pleasures of putting a little green behind your favorite horse. The European influence in the form of the love of cricket, horse racing, polo, and other wealthy, outdoor spectator sports is alive and well in Hurlingham, which is widely known as an English barrio. Hurlingham is a great choice for beginners and seasoned gamblers alike and manages to set itself apart. The Sunday races in Hurlingham are for chariot racers instead of traditional jockeys so visitors feel immediately like they stumbled into a time machine to the 19th century.

El Ateneo Gran Splendid
El Ateneo is Buenos Aires' premier bookstore, and the largest in South America. El Ateneo is a popular and well known bookstore with several locations throughout the city, though a far cry from the omnipresence of US bookstore chains.
The main store on Avenida Santa Fe is worth a visit for the unique architecture and design. Some say the interior resembles theTeatro Colon, with its three-story balconies wrapping around the center floor, all lined with literature from around the world. It was originally known as the Teatro Gran Splendid, built in 1919 by Max Glucksmann, with a capacity of 1050 spectators. It was also a popular cinema before being converted into a bookstore.

Parque Rivadavia
Covering four city blocks, parque Rivadavia is a generous green space amidst an area that hives with porteño activity. While most tourists will be attracted to the range of greenery available in the Palermo area, Parque Rivadavia provides for a relaxing alternative with few other tourists in sight. As always the park is in honour of an Argentine political or military hero: this time Bernardino Rivadavia, Argentina’s first president. There are a few slabs of towering stone depicting his glory and honour. Besides the marble and granite, the park offers sumptuous shade beneath mighty macrocarpa. At the south-east end of the park there is a small play area where frazzled house-wives chase their various progeny, and these same progeny chase the pigeons, and the pigeons chase the bread that the pensioners fling on their way about.

Abasto Shopping Ciudad de Compras
A mall is a mall, and I hate malls. That said, Abasto Shopping is an incredible mall. The imposing façade on Avenida Corrientes looks more like Union Station or some huge train terminal than an upscale centro de shopping, but inside this multi-storied structure occupying a square city block, visitors will find a luxurious and elegant palace of consumerism. In the nature of all malls, one can obtain just about anything he or she desires, from brand name apparel like Puma, Adidas, Levi’s, and Wrangler (actually very fashionable here, not like the in US where it’s only sold in places like Sears and Big R), to cell phones, flat-screen TVs, perfumes and colognes, banking services, and concert tickets or bus tickets to destinations around the country.

Calle Florida | Florida Street
When the giant South American cruise ship tours dock in nearby Puerto Madero, most tourists alighting head directly to Calle Florida. This is where the tourists of Buenos Aires come to shop for fur, leather, souvenirs, and whatever great deal they can get their hands on. A trip down the pedestrian-only street could take up a couple of hours, an entire day, or multiple trips depending on a person’s affinity for sideshow style street performance, battling for sidewalk space, and, of course, shopping.
The strip begins at Avenida de Mayo just west of the Plaza de Mayo where the seemingly endless array of kioskos, retail stores, and street madness begins. In the evening, local artisanos gather here to sell their wares from blankets. As the walk continues the stores unfold in the many galerías leading off the street and major retailers like the department store Falabella hold fort. Shoppers can stop and rest at many of the cafes like Havanna or the famed Café Richmond. Anyone taking a stroll is likely to find street tango or some street performance on the corner of the other intersecting pedestrian street, Calle Lavalle.

Museo de La Casa Rosada | Casa Rosada Museum

Located inside the Casa Rosada is the Museo de la Casa Rosada. Here you’ll find the presidential seat of Santiago Derqui, the presidential banner of Juilo Argentino Roca and many other expected items such as flatware, furniture, and dolls of past presidential families. Temporary exhibits frequent the museum including a remembrance of Eva Perón 50 years after her death, performance by the National Folklore Ballet, an exhibition of ritual Bolivian clothing, and 100 years of history inside the Casa Rosada. Exhibits often change, so call ahead for more information.
Tours of the house and museum are offered, both of which will inevitably provide you with some fun presidential facts. Ever wonder why the Casa Rosada is pink? Historically, it was painted with pig’s blood. Thankfully they have abandoned that tradition and today traditional paint is used. No matter what your pleasure, the Casa Rosada is great entrance into the complexities of Argentine culture and politics and a good step towards making sense of it all.

Plaza de Mayo | May Plaza
One could easily call the Plaza de Mayo the heart of Buenos Aires – the streets on all sides the arteries, the drums of the piqueteros (protesters) the beat, and the pink walls of La Casa Rosada the (literal and figurative) blood. Indeed, the plaza is often number one on the destination list of visitors to the city. The plaza gets its name from the date in May when the city declared independence from its Spanish roots in 1810. May 25th is still a national holiday.
Depending on the day and time, there are a number of experiences to be had at the plaza. It is sometimes referred to as the Plaza de Protestas due to the seemingly constant throngs of protestors bused into the city from the provinces to demand justice for one thing or another and make their voices heard. To this day, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo meet every Thursday at 3:30pm to make their walk of protest around the Pirámide de Mayo – a small obelisk in the center of the plaza to commemorate a year of independence.

Estadio Alberto J. Armando - La Bombonera

As interesting and encyclopedic as the Museo de la Pasion Boquense may be, there is no substitute for the first-hand experience of a Boca Juniors game inside Estadio Alberto J. Armando, more commonly and affectionately known as La Bombpnera. A large proportion of what one is likely to read and hear about this stadium is devoted to the inherent dangers of coming here as a foreigner, to the point of outright injunctions to stay away unless escorted by some tourist agency. While there is certainly plenty of evidence to justify these warnings (a friend of a friend of mine was followed into the bathroom in the middle of a game by five guys, who pinned him against the wall and fleeced him for everything he had, included the hat off his head), with some planning and prudence it is not only worth a visit, it is a must.

Get Around
The public transport in Buenos Aires is very good, although crowded during rush hour. The metro (or underground railway, called the "Subte") network is not very large, but reaches most tourist attractions of the city, and there is a large range of bus routes and several suburban railways used by commuters.
Finding your way around is easy. Most of the city grid is divided into equal squares with block numbers in the hundreds. Most streets are one way with the adjacent parallels going the other way, so beware that the bus or taxi won't follow the same route back. If traveling by taxi, you simply need to tell the driver the street and block number, eg. "Santa Fe 2100"; or two intersecting streets, eg. "Corrientes y Callao".
City maps are issued by many different publishers (Guía T, LUMI) and the local tourist authority. They are indispensable for those wanting to use public transportation, since they include all bus routes. Be aware that some maps are bottom up (South on the top of the map). This is true for the maps at the official taxi booth at Ezeiza airport.

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