I often find that one of the most interesting questions to ask a new acquaintance is “what is the first thing you do when you arrive in a new place (after dropping your bags, of course). I find that what people are drawn to when they are confronted by entirely new surroundings says a lot about them. When I was young and on family vacations, my mother’s arrival ritual was to send us all off with our father while she took a bath using “someone else’s hot water.” As a child I thought this was a very logical, fiscally responsible thing for a mother of three to do. As an adult, I realize the hot water was the least of it.
his being my first trip to Argentina and subsequently, Buenos Aires, I employed my own arrival ritual – one less solitary than my mother’s. Because I have a New Yorker’s fear of ever looking lost and a strong desire to experience culture like a local my arrival ritual usually happens in the following order: set out on foot, look for landmarks along the way to orient myself for future reference, find a local spot for coffee, lunch, and/or (let’s be serious, this is most likely top billing) a glass of wine. Then head off toward whatever neighborhood is known for shopping!
In Buenos Aires, this neighborhood is known as Palermo. It is a wealthier part of town known for its established porteño familys (literally translated as “port people,” porteño is a colloquial term for natives of this port city). I stopped first for fuel at Ninina, a wonderful bakery and light-bites place the serves breakfast through late lunch (lunch if often late here because dinner does not truly begin for any self-respecting porteño until 10pm). After a salad and a glass of Malbec (another fun fact, since wine is locally made and plentiful in Argentina, a glass is usually about the same price as a soda… so drink up!) I was off on foot again to see if I could spend some of the pesos burning a hole in my pocket.
To my extreme excitement, shopping in Palermo was similar to shopping the streets of Paris. A few American brands infiltrated the storefronts but a good many local brands occupied the chicest real estate. CHER was my first stop with a mix of elegant basics and some grown up boho pieces. The store was beautiful with an accessories wall to die for. The next stop on my journey was to the boutique one of Argentina’s top designers, Jazmin Chebar. Her edgy but luxurious collection includes fringy sweaters, fur hats, and studded hanbags. Think Mui Mui meets Prada. Lastly, I buzzed into Cora Groppo as their white crackle painted handbag and deconstructed tops caught my eye. The store was clean, industrial, and a perfect setting for their architectural collection.
The following day, after getting my high-end shopping craving satisfied, it was time to see some of BA. A walk around San Telmo (think Soho before it got super popular) produced gritty street art dotted with cool cafés. Craving a café con leche, a stop at Café Lumio got me properly caffeinated before popping across the street to the San Telmo Market. Located on Calle Defensa, stalls of vintage clothing, jewelry, art, and china packed the square block structure. Vintage finds were abundant but this is not a market for the faint of heart – digging through a lot of junk is mandatory in order to find the gems. Getting peckish, I wandered out one of the side entrances onto Calle Carlos Calvo and in an outside facing stall a small line was forming for choripan, an Argentine version of a street vendor hodog… but a million times better. I hopped in line and got myself a delicious smoky grilled sausage split in half and smothered in chimichurri and sandwiched on a fresh roll. At 20 pesos (approximately $2), it was one of the best lunches I had during my trip. After lunch it was off to Recoleta, a neighborhood north of San Telmo known mainly for the Cementerio de la Recoleta. The Cementerio, more a museum of memorials that a solemn graveyard, is a wonderful place to pay quiet homage to Argentinian culture and dedication to family and history. Many famous Argentinians have plots there, but perhaps the most visited is that of Eva Duarte de Perón or “Evita.”
The next day, after morning coffee on my apartment’s brightly colored terrace – a perfect example of BA’s cross cultural roots that are both Latin and European in nature - it was off for another day of wandering and shopping. A quick trip north again to Recoleta for some vintage shopping at on of the best shops in town, Juan Perez, did not disappoint. But, all that spending works up a huge appetite. Thank goodness for long summer lunches. Back in San Telmo, Bar El Federal is a classic. One of the older bars in the neighborhood, the wood paneling and tile floor are the perfect ambiance for wine, picadas and people watching. Feeling full and flushed, a long walk took me past BA’s Teatro Colón, the massive opera house that cattycorners the Obelisco de Buenos Aires, a memorial for the 400th anniversary of the founding of BA and is the heart of the microcentro and a symbol of pride for porteños.
Finally, Sundays in BA are like Sundays anywhere else – slow. Nothing really starts until about 10 or 11 but once up and moving there is a lot to do. The Feria de San Telmo (not to be mistaken for the San Telmo Market located up the street) is an outdoor market on Sundays in the Plaza Dorrego and contains vintage treasures of all kinds. Just watch your jewelry and wallets – the place is packed and San Telmo is a bit of a fringe neighborhood. After that, any bar with a TV will be showing fútbol and it’s a great time to grab a bite, a beer and cheer with the locals. Later, Back at the Plaza Dorrego, an open milonga fills the square with avid tango dancers and novices alike. Jump in or just watch, with a small band serenading the crowd it’s a fantastic night regardless.
Next time you are itching for a grand adventure, BA has it all. Shopping, sites, great food, excellent wine, vibrant culture, and lovely people. Happy travels, loves!
Photo Credits: P.F. Albertson