Monday, December 28 was our first full day in Buenos Aires. After having plotted out a rough plan for the week the night before and getting some much-needed sleep, we woke up mid-morning and started walking west down the Avenida Santa Fe with the aim of checking out a few things in Palermo. A lot of things are closed on Monday, so this was our day of more casual exploring. Our first order of business, however, was to find me a pair of more suitable shoes. I did a really aggressive purge of my possessions about two months ago and failed to think ahead to this trip, which resulted in my disposing of almost all of my summery sandals because I either didn’t wear them enough or they’d reached a point of being worn beyond repair. I literally didn’t own a pair of flip flops to bring with me; I spent Sunday afternoon walking around in strappy, low-heeled sandals which are fine fashion-wise but not the best in terms of long-distance comfort. Anyway, we thankfully found a store selling [real] Havaianas flip flops a few doors down, and I gratefully removed my loafers. Alas, Havaianas (as I remembered too late) usually need to be broken in, and pretty soon we were stopping to buy band-aids for my blistering feet. Take note, fellow travelers, that it’s always a good idea to have anti-blister ointment in your purse! I’m never traveling without it (or throwing away all of my flip flops) again.
But I digress. Aside from my injured feet, we had a lovely several hours wandering in the western part of the city. The expression in Spanish is “dar un paseo” – it’s hard to translate literally, but it’s the equivalent of “taking a stroll” – and Palermo is the perfect place to do so. There is a cluster of parks and green, leafy plazas filled with tropical foliage, and these are one of my favorite features of South American countries. (Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely adore the style of the Parisian parks and the gardens at Versailles, but the difference in the types of trees and plants in this part of the world makes you feel like you’ve truly escaped to some sort of urban oasis.)
We particularly enjoyed the Japenese Garden, which was established by the Japanese community here. There’s a very large koi pond in the center, and the usual features of Asian gardens surround it. I always love looking at the fish!
Next we went in search of a store called the Casa de las Botas (House of Boots), which specializes in equestrian boots of all types and colors. We were expecting to find a store selling all the genuine leather boots our wallets could handle, but instead it turned out to be a workshop where they really do make all the boots that they had in the showroom – all custom made. I had forgotten that polo remains a big thing in Argentina, and from what I can tell this place outfits all of the polo players in the country – with boots in all sorts of colors, including yellow, purple, and turquoise!
At this point it was about 3:00, so it was definitely time for some lunch. We wandered through an area home to many bars that we will visit at a later time and ended up at a restaurant we’d heard about called Miranda, which had outdoor tables on the shaded sidewalk. Our cold Quilmes beers provided a quick relief from the heat, and our steaks arrived in short order thereafter. My first bite of my “ojo de bife” (ribeye) was overwhelming even in the face of the fact that the meat was thoroughly cooked – not pink at all! There were so many flavors, and supplementing with the little pot of oil and onions made it absolutely incredible. (I can only imagine how good it would have been if it had been medium, which is what we thought we ordered!)
Following lunch, which was filling but not stuffing, we made our way back to the Subte and traded the heat of the streets to the refreshing cool of the pool. 15 minutes was plenty to leave us feeling cooler and ready to take on the evening, which promised to be an entertaining one. We had heard about a Monday-night-only drumming concert at a rather hipster event space about a mile south of our neighborhood and figured it would be a good way to meet locals. It turned out to be what I decided was the Argentine equivalent of going to a baseball game: no one was there for the music; it was just an excuse for being outside and drinking beer in a crowd. We ended up meeting one other group of tourists at the end of the night, but otherwise this was a locals-only affair. Mary and I bought a couple of beers (the second of which was, by a rule imposed on the particular line we were in, a one-liter bottle poured into a larger-than-usual Solo cup – needless to say, we didn’t drink beer the rest of the trip). We didn’t end up meeting many locals; two guys approached us towards the end of the event and were extremely persistent at trying to get us to come to a different part of town to have dinner with them, but we weren’t quite interested enough to be adventurous.
There’s a video of the drumming on my Instagram page if you’re interested!
Tuesday brought two things I’d been very excited to see: Evita’s grave in the famous Recoleta cemetery and the Museo Evita afterwards. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been fascinated by Evita, even aside from loving the musical. I read a lot about her in college; did you know that her body was embalmed and then stolen by the political enemies of Peron so that it was secretly buried in Italy for a while? She was that powerful of a figure and symbol that she posed a threat even in death. Because she’d been embalmed, when they finally got her body back, she looked almost exactly the same as she had the day she died, other than some damage apparently due to rough handling by her kidnappers. If you delve into things she wrote or records of people who interacted often with her, you can’t help but be convinced that this was a woman who could have written a book about the art of propaganda… and at the same time, you won’t know if she was a brilliant, scheming political mastermind or if she just did genuinely think and feel all these things she expressed… or both! I won’t say more here, but I suggest you do some research for yourself. She’s still such a big figure – I saw her book on sale at a few bookstands in the San Telmo market, and postcards of her are everywhere too.
Evita’s grave is in the Duarte plot in Recoleta. (If I recall, there’s a story there too – of course her family was neither rich nor from Buenos Aires, so a lot must have happened to secure them such a prestigious burial spot.) Recoleta is the Buenos Aires equivalent of Père Lachaise in Paris; all the famous people are buried there. Here it is from the vantage point of a mall across the street:
Mary and I, not being particularly familiar with any of those other famous people, made a beeline for Evita and then did a casual loop through the rest of the place. Here’s what Evita’s grave looks like:
The Museo Evita is over in Palermo, in the building that used to house women and children receiving add from her charitable foundation. They have a number of her outfits on display, which was cool to see because as much as I am aware that she was a real person, sometimes her story takes on such epic proportions that it’s hard to believe that she existed in real (and relatively recent) life, so seeing something that she actually wore was a step closer to believing she was real. There are also a lot of pictures of her and excerpts from her writing, both formal and informal. The way she and Peron wrote to each other is fascinating – despite the gap in their ages and their completely disparate backgrounds, they wrote incredibly flowery things to each other about their undying love. And, as I mentioned before, you get a real sense of how much Evita lived and breathed her work. I’m reading a biography of her now, and apparently in the time leading up to her illness, she routinely worked 20-hour days. Pretty incredible.
Tuesday night proved to be my favorite of our nights out in Buenos Aires. We set off for Palermo with plans to go to a wine bar called Trova but arrived to find it, and another wine bar nearby, both closed despite the fact that they are usually open at that time. We decided this was just a sign that we were meant to do something else that night, and sure enough not five minutes later we happened to walk past a restaurant called Olsen that we’d both heard about. It’s a Scandinavian restaurant (random I know) famous for both its food and its vodka selection. It should also be famous for its beautiful outdoor garden – they had soft lanterns hanging from trees, making for a very romantic effect in the summer evening! We scored two seats at the bar (right in front of the bartender, my favorite spot), and after much perusal of the cocktail menu and patiently waiting for the young man in front of us to make a bunch of drinks (he was the only one making cocktails in the whole place, and because he was making them well, it took a while), we ended up with our drinks. I got a dill martini out of curiosity and loved it:
We also couldn’t help but take advantage of the vodka flights and canapés; they just looked too cool. We got a “3 + 3”, which meant three shots of vodka (three different types) and then three canapés (two of each for us to share). We weren’t entirely sure what all the food was, but it was absolutely delicious, and the vodka was a lot of fun too!
It’s a good thing we got that little bit of food because we never ended up having dinner. One of my chief anxieties about coming to Buenos Aires was about the timing of evening activities: as someone who can’t drink caffeine and is generally more of an early to bed, early to rise type, I feel a bit intimidated by places where going out before 1 a.m. is “early” and where dinner is supposedly not until 11 or so. Mary and I were determined to be on BA time, which is how we fell into the routine of eating lunch between 3 and 4 and then not having dinner until at least 10. That night, though, we waited too long to have dinner and learned that, most bizarrely for a place with such a nightlife (on weekends you might not get home until 7 a.m.), there are no options for late-night eating (like the kebab shops of London or the pizza joints of DC). We left Olsen still not feeling hungry for a full meal even though at that point it was about 11, so we followed the recommendation of the bartender and went in search of a bar called Rey de Copas that had not been in our guidebooks.
Rey de Copas means “king of cups”, and the place is aptly named. We bypassed the people sitting at tables in the patio areas of the old house in which it is located and went straight to the bar, which we had to ourselves – along with the five (five!) bartenders. Their cocktail list was full of mysterious ingredients, but fortunately they immediately presented us with a tasty and free cocktail to help us make a decision. We both ended up with unique and very well-crafted drinks, and we started chatting up the bartenders while we sipped them. I am not sure to what extent I have really conveyed in prior posts how much I appreciate really good cocktails and bartenders who are true artists and take real pride in their craft; in fact I am thinking of starting a separate blog just to review cocktail bars in different cities I visit. At any rate, we really enjoyed talking to these guys, and one in particular whose name we sadly never learned – to us he will always just be that cute bartender in the red shirt (la camisa roja). In my experience, the best bartenders will always respond favorably to being invited to craft something unique, and he was no exception. I told him that we’d decided to give him the honor of creating our last drink of the night, something we’d never have had before. He gave us a wicked grin and put the team to work, and five minutes later we had two exquisite cocktails. I have no idea what was in mine other than that it was something herbal and native to Argentina.
We got a few other samples of local drinks along the way, so needless to say, these guys took great care of us. Our only regret of the night is that they never asked us for our numbers! Other than that, I can’t recommend Rey de Copas enough – it’s the Buenos Aires version of my favorite bar in Paris/the world, Le Calbar.
By the time we left Rey de Copas, it was after 2, and dinner was no longer an option… so we got in a taxi and came home to eat a Luna bar before falling asleep. As you can perhaps guess, Wednesday wasn’t the easiest start for us…