Monday, July 20, 2015

Buenos Aires: Then and Now

One of the perks of living in South America is getting to explore the rest of the continent, whether it’s revisiting old favorites or discovering new locales.  In May, Giorgio’s unexpected business trip to Rosario, combined with our one-year wedding anniversary, provided the perfect opportunity to spend a long weekend exploring Buenos Aires for a second time.  When it turned out that Giorgio’s business trips to Rosario were a semi-regular occurrence, we planned a third return visit to the Argentine capital for a long weekend at the end of July. 

We had previously visited this charming city as part of Stephanie’s 2008 “bar trip” and were uncertain as to how much it would have changed during the intervening seven years.  The superficial changes were obvious; graffiti has proliferated and exchanging dollars has become quite the adventure.  Regardless, what had initially drawn us to the city – it’s easily-walkable streets, leafy parks, abundant wine, and delicious food – remained unchanged.

Back in 2008, we made sure to stop by all the “must-see” city sites (as directed by our guidebook and various New York Times travel articles).  We had explored the cobblestone streets of the city center and the historic Plaza Dos de mayo.

We had gotten lost trying to find Evita’s grave on a rainy day in Recoleta.

Giorgio had made fun of both Borges and international financial crises.

Now that we live closer to Argentina (although not that close – it’s still a four-five hour flight), it’s clear we’ll be returning a bit more regularly and can spend more time simply soaking up the atmosphere instead of running from one site to the next.  Instead of staying in the city center, we’ve been exploring the trendier neighborhoods of Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood.  We’ve spent time simply wandering along the city streets and through the parks; the crisp fall and winter weather has been quite a treat compared to Lima´s constant warm humidity.  And taking the efficient and inexpensive subte is certainly a welcome break from being stuck in Lima´s constant bumper-to-bumper traffic.

While Giorgio has been learning how to be a better international businessman in Rosario, Stephanie has been exploring the city´s museums - one of her favorite nerdy pastimes.  Among other things, she has encountered inscrutable performance art at MALBA (the contemporary art museum) and a shrine to Argentina's most famous first lady at the Museo Evita.  She also dragged Gio to the Colección de Arte Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat in the Puerto Madero district.

Of course, no visit to Argentina would be complete without sampling a glass (or two or three) of local wine.  A key component of our 2008 visit had been wine; in fact, the second half of our expedition included several days in Mendoza, Argentina’s flagship wine region. We haven’t had enough time to make it all the way back to Mendoza, but we did find plenty of time for wine tastings within the city limits.  We were incredibly impressed with the sommelier-led wine tasting at Anuva and had a great time mingling with locals at the more low-key Lo de Joaquin.  Not surprisingly, we’ve now added a few more bottles to our wine fridge here in Lima.

To go with all the wine we found at not-to-be-missed exchange rates, we of course indulged in the requisite bisteca gigante, a picada or two to sample all the local cheeses and meats, plenty of home-made pasta, and as many empanadas as we could find.

Buenos Aires is also home to plenty of more modern cuisine; finding the perfect tasting-menu only locale hidden on one of the city´s side streets is our new favorite project.  We returned to our favorite restaurant from 2008, Restó, which is hidden in the city’s architectural society, and found two new favorite restaurants, Tegui and Aramburu, hidden behind poorly marked doors.  We have discovered that many of the city's "hot-spots" are in no way ostentatious, but instead prefer to hide behind doors with dimly-lit signs or a small plaque that is practically impossible to read at night.  For the most part, you are required to ring a doorbell before being escorted into a beautifully appointed space that you would not have guessed was hidden behind the the graffiti-covered walls outside.

This time around, we even managed to find the elusive Italian restaurant recommended by Giorgio's mother, Mary, years back.  In 2008, her description of the best Italian restaurant in Buenos Aires, which was located next to the "round building" near "some highway" by "the pretty square or roundabout" had led to a fruitless search for the apparently nameless locale.  Back then, when we managed to find said "round building" that led us to a highway underpass, we thought we were destined for Italian-food greatness.  But who knew that there are about 10 different Italian restaurants under an underpass next to a round building!  We did not complete our quest.  This time, however, armed with smartphones and seven years of pestering Mary about her direction-giving skills, we finally learned the elusive restaurant´s name (Piegari); it was well worth the effort and wait since we consumed some of the best gnocchis of our lives.

(Giorgio has now spent almost two weeks in the Argentine city of Rosario, a four-hour drive or 40 minute plane-ride from Buenos Aires.  However, he has little to report, noting simply that the empanadas and wine are inexpensive and that it really is the home of Argentina’s most beautiful women.  He has yet to visit the birthplace of the infamous Che to take a photo as requested by Stephanie.  Stay tuned - he has two more business trips planned this year!)


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