Text and photos by Major Rogers
fter traveling to 23 countries and visiting a majority of our states, I have to say that I have found my new favorite city: Buenos Aires, Argentina. I turned 50 in January. My close friend Sheldon, who now lives in Houston and who I’ve known since second grade, would be turning 50 in February. He’s visited twice the number of countries I have. We tried to figure out a place neither of us had been. South America would be a new continent for both of us, and Buenos Aires a new city for us to celebrate our half-century mark.
People had told me that they thought I’d like Buenos Aires because of the city’s European feel, something for which I have developed an affinity. I could understand what they were telling me, referencing some fine architecture, cuisine and wine opportunities, along with cultural arts. However, I thought to myself, it’s not Europe, it’s South America. Regardless, we set our date and bought our passage. One fun fact about the timing: They spend summertime in our winter, a bonus while planning the trip on a foggy Valley morning.
It was peak traveling season south of the equator, but I paid a surprisingly low $800 for my 12-hour flight. Along with the low airfare, the dollar is strong in Argentina. You get a lot for your buck, not the other way around, which is the case with many travel destinations. (Google the Argentinean Blue Market for an interesting financial travel tidbit.)
There are roughly 10 districts or boroughs within the city proper. Five of them have some sort of “must-see experience.” Mercado San Telmo is a market area of the district San Telmo. Here you will find a large warehouse with charm, filled with everything from small shops selling antiques and nostalgic items to beer and wine bars, or sit down and have some of the best cuisine around. Argentinean empanadas are the shiznit. A flaky pastry shell filled with fruit or meat is baked right behind the seated counter. Or have a hot pan of fried cheese, potatoes and prosciutto, garnished with pickled cocktail onions, delivered to a café table within the market. On Sundays, the market spills out into the streets, with more of a local artist feel, selling creative and colorful works. Pour a beer into a plastic cup inside the market, then feel free to walk the city streets, taking it all in.
Recoleta, possibly the most Parisian and posh part of town, has manicured parks, exhibit halls and a national library built within a national treasure. I was moved by the Recoleta Cemetery, arguably one of the finest in the world, ranking up there, or above, the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Here are many of the memorable ones — generals, performers, politicians. The most visited of the mausoleums is that of the family tomb where actress-philanthropist First Lady Eva Peron lay. Most of you know her for Madonna’s portrayal and song rendition, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” However, I found another mausoleum that had a story that captured my heart, that of Liliana Crociati de Szaszal.
Liliana was a beautiful and vibrant soul, who at 26 years of age was on her honeymoon in Austria when her cabin was hit by an avalanche and she was killed. Her mother designed her tomb in a neo-Gothic style, which is a stark contrast to most of the neighboring tombs. A life size statue of Lili stands outside it; her hand gently rests on top of the head of her beloved dog Sabu, who reportedly died soon after from grief. A poem written by her father in Italian asks, “Why?” I returned to the spot one more time before I left to lay some flowers at her feet.
In the nearby district of Puerto Madero, you can take a river walk, stopping for a coffee along your stroll while taking in a view of the town’s newest bridge, Punte de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge). It’s a beautiful walking bridge that is reportedly styled after the entangled legs of tango dancers. Here you also see newly erected gleaming glass skyscrapers, designed for both business and residential. You can also walk to the close-by Casa Rosada, which is the executive mansion of the president of Argentina, the equivalent of our White House. There are other inspiring archeological opportunities in this area. The historical obelisk towers over much of the area’s buildings serve as a marker that celebrates through art, history and politics the country itself. There is also the Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires (it sounds better than Metropolitan Cathedral). This majestic Roman-columned church is something to see. Twelve towering neoclassical columns representing the 12 apostles of Christ hold up a biblical frontispiece depicting Jacob and Joseph in Egypt.
Taking a hop-on, hop-off upper-decker touring bus is a good way to experience each borough. Locals stand on the sidewalk and warmly wave to the buses as they pass. On these adventures, you may discover the Don Carlos steakhouse, the last Argentinean steakhouse where Anthony Bourdain dined. It can be found in the colorful and artsy district of La Boca, which is kind of a “little Italy” area. On the other end of town, your bus will pass through Belgrano, where you see the nation’s premier soccer and event stadium, which holds 70,000. The horse racing track and polo grounds are also found in this area.
Now we come to my favorite district in town, Palmero. This district is split with two titles, Palmero Hollywood, which gets its name from the fact that it’s an area oftentimes used for Argentinean as well as global movie shoots. Its streets are cobbled and lined by 60-foot groomed maple trees. By day, the trash-free district appears business casual, or business chic, with a feeling of peace and sleepiness. At night, you can safely walk around and experience different pubs, boutique restaurants and steakhouses. Beef is the national dish, and here you can sit down for a midnight dinner at a fine but relaxed restaurant and fork out $12 for a tomahawk steak. It’s tough to walk around this district without passing a couple of great places to take in the culture and cuisine every block you pass.
Which brings me to neighboring Palmero Soho, where you can’t walk a block without passing an opportunity to take in the scene in practically every storefront. Cafes, bars, restaurants, modern retail shops. The district gets its name from the trendy New York district, but they didn’t just copy the name; they have the experience down pat. During the day, you can catch up on your reading in the sun, while grabbing a coffee or designer donut (a trend catching on there). In the evening, lights are strung from many of the bars and cafes. I struggle for words to describe a scene so vibrant, alive and colorful. One is surrounded by healthy and happy living, chatter and laughter, candlelight, music, mural art and moonlight. This to me was one of the most fun social settings I have seen anywhere.
Buenos Aires is safe, it’s clean, it’s beautiful. But something to keep in mind, when viewed on a globe or map, Buenos Aires looks like it is right on the Atlantic. But, in fact, it’s at the mouth of a river that runs into the Atlantic. There is no “beach scene” here. What you do get is more parks than I’ve ever seen in a city. They are maintained with well-managed lawns, ponds and other flora. They all contain fine and impressive examples of structural art and statues. They are filled with happy people and schoolchildren, and are utilized the way parks should be. On weekends, these parks are often occupied with crafts and artwork of area artists. And although as always whenever traveling to a large city, you should be wary of your belongings and surroundings, I covered a majority of the city on my tour of the “places to be” and never came across spots where I wouldn’t walk at night. Doing pre-travel research, or communicating with hotel or Airbnb staff, will assure that you won’t end up in a place you shouldn’t be, and keep you in the spots to be.
A century-plus ago, the elites of Buenos Aires sent their children to Europe to be educated in architecture and design. They returned and delivered, leaving behind countless examples of neoclassical and neo-Renaissance architecture throughout the city to be enjoyed by
generations to come.
Buenos Aires is beautifully diverse with its inhabitants as well. Since World War II, the country has taken in the second most immigrants in the Western Hemisphere, next to us. It’s created a beautiful melting pot of cultures and experiences or, as Hemingway would describe, “a movable feast.”
Buenos Aires is every bit that. So get there and take it all in.