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The City of Good Airs

January 20, 2011

After a whole month of sweet carefree leisure resulting in a horrible jet leg that I’m still struggling through, plus several pounds of extra weight, I’m finally home, unemployed but happy. And while browsing through numerous job hunting websites and updating my resume, I am going to share my new traveling impressions with you.

As promised in my previous post, I’m devoting this one to Buenos Aires, the city where steaks are served rare, the wine flows freely, and tango and soccer are worshiped religiously. The good thing about traveling to Argentina is most foreigners do not need to get a visa to enter the country. And although American citizens do need one, this can be avoided by taking the trip on the Buquebus from Uruguayan Montevideo or Colonia. The journey will take about three hours, but I’m sure you will be pleasantly surprised by the level of comfort and Wi-Fi coverage on the ferry.

As soon as you get off the Buquebus, you’ll be immediately surrounded by loudmouth cab drivers. Here’s a tip—Buenos Aires is huge and your hotel can be located in one of the multiple city barrios, but whichever price they will name, be sure to divide it by four, or just catch a cab with the running meter off the road. Yep, unfortunately you have to be careful with your cash in such cities as Buenos Aires—too much pickpocketing.

We stayed at the nice boutique hotel Ultra in the neighborhood called Palermo. It is considered a wealthy and therefore safe barrio where you can freely walk at night. And there is a reason why: the area features Plaza Serrano, a concentration of bars and nightclubs where the music stays loud until dawn. All bars are located in a circle, which makes it very convenient as a never-ending bar crawl route. But I’d advise you against experimenting with cocktails (How do I put this? They were not delicious!)—you’ll be better off with good old liquors or beer.

And now comes my favorite part: gastronomy. I was craving Argentine beef ever since I knew what a steak was. Those of you who follow my blog are probably familiar with my infatuation with this type of food, so I was pretty excited about my first dinner in Buenos Aires. We decided to try out this highly recommended  restaurant called Cabaña Las Lilas, situated in Puerto Madero. I am generally a very optimistic person with an open mind and positive attitude toward everything, but I haven’t been that disappointed in my entire life. Please don’t go to that restaurant—you’ll get an average food and absolutely inappropriate service complemented by ridiculous prices. I am not going to bitch about this place; I’ll just say if I’m negative about something, it had to be really bad.

The best way to find out about better places to indulge in savory Argentine steaks and aromatic earthy wine is to talk to local people (unlike us, who decided to consult the Internet instead).  Anyways, I’d recommend checking out a restaurant called Parilla La Cabrera that is located in Palermo. This place is completely booked even for lunch, so I would advise making a reservation in advance. The steaks were absolutely fantastic; however, as opposed to Uruguayans, Argentinians don’t like to overcook their beef, they would rather undercook it. So if you don’t want to eat a rare piece of meat, ask to grill it medium. The steaks are usually served with a plate of 8 to 12 appetizers that include rice, mashed potatoes, pumpkin puree, grilled veggies and so on. And the waiters will even warn you not to order anything else, because no human stomach will be able to consume this amount of food, taking into account that your steak will probably weigh about a pound.

Buenos Aires itself is beautiful and intriguing. We didn’t have a lot of time, so we decided to spend several hours touring the city and taking a peek at the major sightseeing venues. Buenos Aires reminded me of Paris a lot because of its gorgeous mansions constructed according to the finest French architectural traditions of the 18th century. Those marble masterpieces, situated on the main avenue of the city, used to belong to the wealthy Argentine elite and now mostly serve as foreign embassies.

Among other beautiful venues, I especially liked the neighborhoods of San Telmo, Boca and Recoleta. San Telmo features a lovely square with local artisans selling their goods. It also had a specific resemblance with the chic of little Southern French towns. Boca will astonish you with its bright colorful buildings and couples swaying in tango behind every corner. It also features a soccer stadium of the famous Argentine club Boca Juniors, where national icon Diego Maradona started his successful sports career.

My favorite part of the tour was exploring the beautiful cemetery of Recoleta, which is acknowledged to be one of the three most picturesque cemeteries of the world. It was definitely something I’d never seen before. It features hundreds of family mausoleums that compete with each other for marble perfection. Eva Peron, or Evita, who is equally beloved and hated in Argentina, is also buried there.

Two days are definitely not enough to explore and fully comprehend Buenos Aires. It is the city of great history, beautiful architecture and indomitable passions. But I hope I’ll come back there one day to get to know it better. So if you’ve ever been to Buenos Aires or are planning to visit, any tips will be appreciated.

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