How do you follow an act like that of a vibrant, bustling place like Rio? You make your way to Buenos Aires. That is what Holland America’s Amsterdam did on her current World Cruise, after making a brief stop in the Uruguayan resort of Punta del Este.
Buenos Aires (meaning “good airs” in Spanish) is the capital of Argentina and one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere – it has been called “Goliath’s Head” by Argentine poet Ezequiel Martinez Estrada, presumably to denote its status as the most important part of the “giant” which is Argentina. Located on the western shore of the Rio de la Plata (Plate River), 150 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, it is a class act, often called the “Paris of South America.” Its name should be “Muy Buenos Aires,” “Very Good Airs” – as it is a very fine port of call with great sights, food and culture.
For me, who lived in Buenos Aires for two years as a teenager in the 1960s and returned twice for two-day visits in the 1996 and 2012, it was like a return home, but nonetheless my husband Humberto and I still devoted time to the city’s major highlights including the 9th of July Avenue, so called to honor Argentina’s Independence Day, July 9, 1816. This eye-popping avenue, a bit over a half-mile long, is often called “the world’s widest boulevard,” as it is 16 lanes wide in some places. It is crowned with an impressive obelisk at the intersection with Corrientes Avenue. The obelisk, erected in 1936, celebrated the 400th anniversary of the landing of conquistador Pedro de Mendoza. On 9th of July Avenue, another highlight is the Teatro Colon – named for Christopher Columbus and one of the world’s best and most elegant opera houses and a great source of pride for “porteños” (residents of the port) as the inhabitants of Buenos Aires call themselves. I attended a concert there once and the acoustics are superb.
Four blocks from the obelisk is the Plaza de Mayo, the heart of Buenos Aires, with the Casa Rosada or Pink House (Argentina’s White House) from whose balcony President Juan Peron and the First Lady of Argentina Eva Peron often addressed the multitudes of their followers in the early 1950s. It brings memories of Madonna belting out “Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” in the 1996 movie “Evita.”
In the Plaza de Mayo, visitors also find the Metropolitan Cathedral (with several monuments including the tomb of Argentina’s liberator, General Jose de San Martin, who along with Simon Bolivar helped liberate South American countries from Spain) and the Cabildo or City Hall, dating from the Spanish era and reconstructed in 1940.
Just a few blocks from the Plaza de Mayo, on Avenida de Mayo, is Café Tortoni, one of Buenos Aires’ most traditional cafes established in 1858 and a popular exponent of Buenos Aires’ café culture – where patrons love to stay for hours discussing such topics as politics and soccer. Some delightful treats at the Tortoni include chocolate con churros (hot chocolate with a fried dough pastry), Viennese coffee, croissants, pastries, and a variety of sandwiches and teas (yum).
Next door to the Tortoni is the Tango Museum. The city has a collection of interesting museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Decorative Arts and the Evita Museum with exhibits about the former First Lady of Argentina.
Other must-sees include the Argentine National Congress Building dating from the early 20th century, the Botanical Gardens, and the Recoleta Cemetery with the tomb of Eva Peron in the posh Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires.
Whenever I visit the cemetery, which has more than 6,400 ornate mausoleums of Argentina’s presidents and other notable people, Evita’s simple black tomb in the Duarte Family mausoleum (her maiden name was Duarte) is always adorned with flowers. She lies in a crypt some 16 feet under the ground to ensure the rest of one of the country’s most popular and controversial figures is not disturbed.
I try never to leave Buenos Aires without a visit to San Telmo or “Barrio Sur,” south of the Plaza de Mayo, the city’s oldest district built by Italian immigrants. A stop at quaint Caminito Street in La Boca neighborhood, a colorful area at the mouth of the Riachuelo River (Boca is the Spanish word for mouth) is fun. This is where the city’s first settlers lived and at present it is an artists’ colony. This area, famous from the tango “Caminito,” has wooden buildings painted in bright colors, many wonderful Italian restaurants and sometimes street entertainers including musicians and tango dancers. It was possible to pose for photos with tango dancers during our visit but they were not dancing.
It was wonderful to conclude our visit to Buenos Aires in the very warm area of La Boca – certainly just what we need as we have Antarctica on the horizon.
Some quick superlatives:
- Most picturesque: Strolling in the colorful La Boca neighborhood.
- Most interesting: Visiting the Cathedral where Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was in charge.
- Most nostalgic: Enjoying té con macitas (tea and pastries) at Old World-style Café Tortoni as I did with my parents when we lived in Buenos Aires in the 1960s.