Buenos Aires without reservations
Our winter vacation was our first adventure in South America. What took us so long? After more than half a lifetime we finally agreed it was time to explore this continent and that our visit would give us the optimal temperatures since it was summer during the holiday period in December and January when we visited Argentina and Chile.
Now we are known for not making reservations but we thought it wise to book the first days in Buenos Aires given that we were novices at travelling in South America. We were wrong. The bed and breakfast we booked on line, in San Telmo, an antique lover’s dream neighbourhood, was more expensive than it was worth ($75) and two flights up, even though we had specified we wanted ground floor.
We loved the area though, especially our favourite restaurant just down the street. El Desnivel is a parilla or steakhouse, a dream for meat and pasta lovers at 855 Defensa. Tourists and locals pack the place, drawn by the open-air grill just inside the doorway. Irwin gorged on a steak about two inches high and four inches in circumference and Barbara ran out of superlatives as she slowly emptied a huge plate of homemade spinach pasta topped with some of the best pesto sauce ever. We had been warned about being vegetarian in Argentina, but the threats were unfounded. Barbara sampled fresh veggies and fruits, quinoa, pizzas, pasta, soups, paninis, cheeses, and salad bars. In other words, don’t let those carnivores scare you. There are even all-you-can-eat by weight vegetarian cafeterias that outdo Canadian counterparts for quality and price.
After three nights in San Telmo, we happened upon the Tango hotel in downtown Buenos Aires where we found an awful lot more for $82—an elevator, flat-screen TV, air conditioning—all a hop, skip, and a jump from several subway stations.
We spent the entire six days in BA boldly boarding one subway train after another, holding on tightly to our knapsacks as we had been instructed and touring many of the famed areas including upscale Recolletta, where the best museums are located, the lovely and more modern areas of Palermo, the traditional Jewish area of Once (pronounced Ohn-say).
That is where the community’s AMIA headquarters, located in a high-rise, was the victim of a terrorist bombing in 1994 that killed 87 people and wounded 100 others. The community’s archives were destroyed and many of Argentina’s 250,000 Jews felt under assault.
It was nearly impossible to visit inside the building, even with an invitation. We visited one of the oldest synagogues there, among about 50 in the city. At night, we booked a tango show at the famed Tarantino Restaurant, and it was truly a treat. We also saw a free tango show at a park in San Telmo.
One afternoon we toured the spectacular Colon Theatre with a group. Unfortunately the theatre was closed for concerts because of the vacation, which equals our summer vacation for school children and universities. It boasts a La Scala style, horseshoe-shaped auditorium with 2,487 seats, standing room for 1,000 and a stage 20-metres wide, 15 metres high and 20 metres deep, with apparently superb acoustics. The Petit Colon coffee shop nearby is a classic, right out of 1930s Paris.
At night, Buenos Aires can become a bit intimidating and we stuck to short outings with only a minimum of walking and taxis.
During our first week, we visited Plaza de Mayo to witness the continuing protest of the Mothers of the Disappeared, which takes place every Thursday at 3:30 pm, rain or shine. They walk around the square carrying pictures of their children, brothers, sisters who were taken from them in the 1970s and early 1980s.
They were swept up in the dirty war, and their “crime” was to be active politically in unions, student groups or political parties. We interviewed one or two of the mothers in the smaller group, which walks in silence. They are asking that the bodies be identified in the mass graves through their own DNA. Another group of mothers is more political, louder, better organized but run by a “grandmother-dictator,” one of the women told us. They denounced the government and some identified themselves as being radical Peronists. They run a booth selling T shirts and other memorabilia. The pain and injustice live on.
Next month: The glories of Iguazu Falls.