Buenos Aires: Argentina city a fitting member of Star Travel's Grand Tour club
Star travel writer Adrian Brijbassi recently returned from Argentina as part of Toronto Star Travel's Grand Tour series. Here's his final blog posting.
BUENOS AIRES — God, tango and Maradona.
The three iconic symbols of Buenos Aires are just about everywhere in this energetic city of 3 million. In San Telmo, Buenos Aires’ oldest neighbourhood, they begin to converge. San Telmo features the city’s most important churches — including San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo Church, named after the patron saint of sailors — and some of its favourite cafés, bars and restaurants. Plaza Dorrego is loaded with beer gardens, artists’ kiosks and the occasional tango session.
To get the real feel of tango in the city, though, you have to head to San Telmo’s neighbouring district, La Boca. The highlight of the artsy and sometimes rough barrio is Caminito Street, the birthplace of tango. This is where the city’s obsession with the dance is on full display as café after café has its own performers providing free shows and encouraging guests to come up and take a turn.
“The tango is part of our culture. It’s unique to Buenos Aires. It’s part of who we are in this city,” says Leo Lentulus, a public relations manager for La Yunta de Caminito, one of the more popular tango cafés on the street. “There’s nowhere else in Argentina where you will find people as passionate about tango.”
And few where they’re as mad about soccer. A couple of blocks from Caminito Street is La Bomonera Stadium, where Diego Maradona did some of his finest work on the soccer field. Murals to the superstar are on nearly every wall and on Caminito Street portly Maradona impersonators mix with the svelte tango dancers in a campy display that tourists seem to adore.
You’ll find there’s a lot more to Buenos Aires than the soccer worship, dancing and churches, though. The posh neighbourhood of Recoleta features high-end shopping, five-star hotels, terrific restaurants and the famed Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried under her family name, Duarte (see photo). The president’s house, the Casa Rosada, or Pink House, is in Plaza de Mayo, the main square in the centre of the city. The Pink House got its colour (and name) when paint that contained cow’s blood (to protect it from humidity) was first used on its façade in the 19th century. Fittingly, it is currently home to a woman, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
More great architecture is on display in the form of the Colon Theatre, considered one of the finest in the world, and the Puente de la Mujer, or Woman’s Bridge, in the restored Puerto Madero neighbourhood.
With so many great areas to explore and so much to see and do, it’s hard to believe Buenos Aires almost didn’t make it on our Grand Tour list. It was the last destination added to our itinerary, substituting in for Rio, which was crossed off because getting an entry visa to Brazil means giving up your Canadian passport for at least 17 days — not something you can do when you’re going around the world on a deadline. So the Paris of Latin America it was as the South American representative. Buenos Aires proved not only deserving, but that it should be considered second-best to no other city.