There are two fundamental reasons why Buenos Aires is so inviting to those who enjoy exploring on foot. First, it is a city which evolved as a cluster of almost self-contained villages; each with its own particular airs and ambience, and it is a place where the walk or “paseo” is woven into the fabric of everyday existence. Strolling through a particular quarter will give visitors more than a glimpse of barrio life.
Each “barrio’s” main interests are highlighted: these include not only museums and monuments but the no less venerable shrines of pastries, wine and pasta.
The first stop is the city centre, the hub of hotels, steak houses and foreign exchange. The “Casa Rosada” (Government House) is the area’s heart; nearby are the Congress Building, the Colon Opera House, and some of Buenos Aires’ stateliest coffee houses, cinemas and bookstores, many of which are open all night.
The “barrio” of San Telmo is the city’s Soho, a charming quarter where old architecture serves as a backdrop to post modern art and attitudes. It is a neighborhood of cobbled streets and crumbling villas, of tango and jazz clubs and “underground” theatre.
La Boca is the old port area, settled by Italian dock workers at the turn of the century, renowned for its pizza parlors and flashy cantinas. The corrugated tin houses painted in bright primary colors give the neighborhood a carnival atmosphere, but it is a residential neighborhood still strongly influenced by its Italian heritage.
In glittering contrast is “Barrio Norte”, an elegant neighborhood built around a cemetery. This “barrio” of Parisian-style houses, boutiques and continental restaurants was built at the height of Argentina’s Gilded Age, and retains a good measure of its aristocratic grandeur. Adjacent is Palermo the home of Italiante villas, parks, a turn-of-the-century racetrack and a world-class polo field.
The “Costanera” is the river coastline at the edge of the city. It is too long to walk the entire route; a pleasant way to see it is to spend a late morning strolling on the old-fashioned promenades, then taking a taxi to one of the riverside restaurants for lunch.
Suggested day or weekend trips from Buenos Aires include an excursion out to the villages and ranches of the “pampas”, to the river delta at Tigre, or to neighboring Uruguay by river ferry.
Inside every “porteno’s” head is a picture of Buenos Aires which resembles the famous New Yorker drawing of Manhattan. Looming large in the foreground is his “barrio”, his favourite cafe and the 24-hour “kiosko” (sweet shop) nearest his front door. On the horizon is Avenida General Paz, the city limit, beyond which are endless pampas and foreign countries. In the middle distance is El Centro, the city centre, where he spends a large amount of his spare time.
Buenos Aires is a city of fervent neighborhood loyalties, but the centre belongs to everyone. No matter what the “porteno’s” political persuasion or economic situation, there are certain landmarks – the bright pink Government House, the gilded and crumbling Cafe Molino, the closet-sized book-stores on Corrientes – which he loves passionately. Never try to tell a porteno who is showing you around downtown that the landmarks do not belong to him personally, or that there are other citizens of Buenos Aires who love them equally. He will only smile at you in disbelief. He is not just pointing out buildings; he is telling you his version of the city’s history, which is as vivid and as intimate as a wonderful, recurring dream.
The following walking-tour encompasses four important aspects of life in the city centre: politics, entertainment, cafes and shopping. Begin at the Plaza de Mayo, follow Avenida de Mayo to the Plaza de los dos Congresos, then double back down Corrientes and Lavalle to Florida, the main shopping promenade. The walk takes about two hours, but you should allow a bit more time for coffee and pastry in one of the old confiterias along the way. This tour also takes advantage of the flow of traffic. So if need be, you can take a taxi or “colectivo” up Avenida de Mayo and then back down Corrientes to Florida.
The Plaza de Mayo: Buenos Aires began with the Plaza de Mayo. Today it is a strikingly beautiful plaza with its tall palm trees, elaborate flower gardens and central monument, set off by the surrounding colonial buildings. The plaza has been and continues to be the pulsating centre of the country. Since its founding in 1580 as the “Plaza del Fuerte” (fortress) many of the most important historical events have had physical manifestations here.
The most eye-catching structure in the plaza is unquestionably the “Casa Rosada” (Pink House), the seat of the executive branch of the government. Flanking it is the Bank of the Argentine Nation, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the City Council and the “Cabildo” (Town Council).
Pink House: The Casa Rosada was originally a fortress overlooking what is now the Plaza Colon, but was at that time the river’s edge. When the Indian attacks subsided, the plaza became “Plaza del Mercado”, a marketplace and social centre. The name and role of the plaza changed again with the British invasions of 1806 and 1807, when it became the Plaza de la Victoria. Finally, following the declaration of independence, the plaza assumed its present name, in honor of the month of May, for it was in May 1810 when the city broke away from Spain and became an independent democracy.
The date also marks the first mass rally in the plaza, when crowds gathered to celebrate independence. Subsequently, Argentines have poured into the plaza to protest and celebrate most of the nation’s important events. Political parties, governments (de facto and constitutional), and even trade unions and the Church, use the plaza to make addresses or appeals to the people, and to gather support for their various causes.
Salient events in the history of “Plaza de Mayo” include the 1945 workers’ demonstration organized by Eva Peron to protect her husband’s brief detention. Ten years later, the airforce bombed the plaza while thousands of Peron’s supporters were rallying to defend his administration from the impending military coup. In 1982, Argentines flooded the plaza to applaud General Galtieri’s invasion of the Malvinas/Falkland Islands. A few months later, they were back, this time threatening to kill the military ruler for having lied to the country about the possibilities of winning the war with the British. More recently, on Easter Sunday, the population responded to President Alfonsin’s call to defend democracy with a turn-out of more than 300,000.
The mothers’ vigil: but the most famous rallies have been those of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, whose Thursday afternoon protests, demanding information on the whereabouts of their “disappeared” children, and punishment of those responsible for the kidnappings, still go on today. Their presence in the plaza is perhaps the best illustration of the symbolism of rallying here. During the last years of the military regime, young people accompanying the mothers would chant at the menacing army and anti-demonstration units: “Cowards, this plaza belongs to the mothers…”
Leaders traditionally address the masses from the balconies of the Casa Rosada. This building was constructed on the foundations of earlier structures in 1894. Sixteen years earlier, President Sarmiento had chosen the site for the new Government House. There are several versions of why he had it painted pink, the most credible of which is that it was the only alternative to white in those days. The special tone was achieved by mixing beef fat, blood and lime. Some insist that Sarmiento chose pink to distinguish the building from the U.S. White House. Still others say that pink was selected as a compromise between two feuding parties whose colours were white and red.
There are many more you can see in Buenos Aires but I will talk about them later. One thing is sure; you will never feel bored in this city!!!