BEYOND THE GUIDEBOOK: DISCOVERING BUENOS AIRES, PART I

Forget London, Rome, Paris or Madrid. Buenos Aires does not follow an architectural script like most standard European cities do. If you happen to visit the Argentinian capital, you will struggle to find the historical heart of the city – in fact, there isn’t one -, and no logic rules seem to have been applied when developing this metropolis. In his movie Sidewalls (Original title: Medianeras; 2011), Gustavo Taretto gives a crisp and cynic introduction to Buenos Aires and its illogical way of being. While I highly recommend the entire movie, this short extract will give you an idea of what we’re talking about.

People tend to compare Buenos Aires to cities like Madrid and Paris, especially because of the similar architecture. In The Old Patagonian Express (1979), Paul Theroux talks about the pride of Argentines, and how some of them wished not to visit the French capital, describing Buenos Aires as the Paris of South America. More realistically, Theroux summarised it as the “most civilised anthill”, where one can enjoy relatively cheap steaks (at the time of writing) and a sunnier weather than the French one.

Personally, I see where the comparisons come from: corners of Buenos Aires easily trick you into thinking you’re in Paris or Madrid – for example when you’re sipping a coffee at the Madame Croque, in the courtyard of the former Palacio Errázuriz Alvear, now the National Museum of Decorative Arts (Avenida del Libertador, 1902; Entry fee: 20 ARS / 1.06 GBP / 1.21 EUR ; Tuesday free). However, this is limited to small parts of the city, often sitting next to totally cluelessly built buildings.

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Although describing a big city such as Buenos Aires in one single post is an impossible task, in these two articles I will outline some of my favourite places, most of which are often excluded from the usual itineraries (the must-see places are described in the first post I did about Buenos Aires, in October).

Let’s start exactly from Recoleta, one of the most beautiful neighbourhoods. Apart from the famous cemetery (which hosts former first lady Evita Peron’s tomb and, on a slightly different note, the grave of Rufina Cambeceres, the girl who died twice) and the Museo de Bellas Artes, this part of the city has a lot more to offer and is one of my favourites places.

Not too far from the entrance of the cemetery there is Centro Cultural Recoleta, where free temporary exhibitions can be found on a regular basis. Its beautiful terrace is brought to life at night with food trucks, an open air cinema, and other events. However, the highlight of this place (and of Buenos Aires in general, in my opinion), is Fuerza Bruta. When I was in exchange in Sydney some of my Australian classmates, who had spent their year abroad in Buenos Aires, recommended this show, which they were unable to describe. I got so intrigued that I couldn’t miss it, and now I know what they meant! It’s a unique and mind-blowing combination of musicians, dancers and acrobats, who interact directly with the spectators, representing the nature of Buenos Aires as a hotbed of ideas, artistically speaking. (Wednesday to Sunday at 8:30 pm, 350 ARS / 18.62 GBP / 21.21 EUR ; at 11:30 pm, 380 ARS / 20.21 GBP / 23.03 EUR , including DJ set)

If you want to grab a beer before heading to the show, I highly recommend Camping, an outdoor bar among the complex of Buenos Aires Design, where you’ll find excellent beer, food, music, and an overall buena onda, i.e. good vibes.

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Camping – Photo credits: http://www.campingba.com

In addition to the famous Avenida Corrientes – the Argentinian version of Broadway – and the majestic Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires offers a wide range of affordable shows and cultural events. An interesting place is Teatro Ciego (Blind Theatre) where you need to wholeheartedly trust a member of staff who will conduct you to your seat, from where you will “watch” a show in complete darkness, using your senses other than sight.

The Centro Argentino de Teatro Ciego opened in 2008, and provides a source of income for the visually impaired actors, but also helps to knock down prejudices on blindness. It’s located in Zelaya 3006, in Abasto, the most tanguero neighbourhood of the capital. It’s the place where Carlos Gardel – the king of tango – grew up, also known as El morocho del Abasto.

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Photo credits: http://www.alternativateatral.com

Not too far from the Teatro Ciego you’ll find the Centro Cultural Konex, where every Monday their most famous show, La Bomba del Tiempo, takes place. Grab a litre of Quilmes beer and enjoy the magic of the drums (100 ARS / 5.32 GBP / 6.06 EUR if bought in advance on their website, 140 ARS / 7.45 GBP / 8.49 EUR  on the door, 2×1 with La Nación subscription).

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Centro Cultural Konex – Photo credits: http://www.vuenosairez.com

Another great place that Abasto has to offer, if you want to experience a milonga (a tango dancers meet-up), is La Catedral. This warehouse-looking place is stuck in another time, with its smell of humidity and a bohemian feel (entry fee: 100 ARS/ 5.32 GBP / 6.06 EUR). If, instead, you’re looking for quality and affordable tango shows, check out the Centro Cultural Borges inside the beautiful shopping mall Galerías Pacífico (prices vary – 2×1 with La Nación). 

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La Catedral – Photo credits: http://www.girabsas.com

Getting around

Travelling around Buenos Aires is not an easy task and can be quite confusing for a tourist – no timetables are available and the city is huge. What’s easy however, is the SUBE, the Oyster-equivalent card for public transport, that you will need to pay for your fares on the metro, trains, buses. You can’t buy tickets from drivers or pay for a single fare without the SUBE, so make sure this 25 ARS (1.33 GBP/ 1.51 EUR) investment is one of the first things you do in Buenos Aires. Unless you can afford regular taxi journeys (Uber is also available in the city), you will often use the bus. A single journey costs roughly 6.5 ARS (0.34 GBP / 0.39 EUR), depending on the distance you cover. Here’s the link to the interactive map of the city.

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