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Rainy Day Activities in Buenos Aires

It’s a rainy Monday in Buenos Aires. Luckily, there’s still plenty to do. Here’s our list of “Rainy Day Activities.” Many of these activities are the sort of luxuries I don’t usually allow myself when traveling since I’m on a budget. But a little treat on a rainy day is always welcome. Some of the others are free or cheap, for those counting their pesos.

  1. Catch a Movie
    I love watching movies in other countries. Moviegoers around the world have different customs. For one thing, you can order your popcorn (popchocle) either sweet (dulce) or salty (salado) and you can also have a beer with it. But the main reason I like seeing movies in other countries is because our culture determines how we react, or don’t react, to different parts of the story.  I’ve often found myself laughing out loud when everyone else is silent and scratching my head when the people next to me are cracking up. You can find a list of cinemas in Buenos Aires at Time Out Buenos Aires.Another reason to go to the movies is that it’s a great way to practice your Spanish (castellano). If the movie is in English, it’s typically subtitled in Spanish. It’s two hours of entertainment and a language lesson all in one. And if you really want to test your language skills, check out a local film.
  2. Visit the MALBA
    Museums sometimes make me sleepy. I think the maximum amount of time I can spend looking at art is about two hours. This is why I love the MALBA (Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires). The collection is just the right size for me. After wandering through the rooms, I could have still seen another room or tow. I wanted more because I got to see works from artists I’ve long admired like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and because I’d never even heard of some of the other artists like Antonio Berni, Jorge de la Vega, Joaquin Torres-Garcia (from Uruguay). The size of the collection meant that I had the time to stay, observe, take in, and enjoy the works without rushing to the next room because my niece was going to run out of steam. Even my 15-year-old niece loved the art.

    The MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires

    The MALBA Museum in Buenos Aires

    She did run out of steam before the rest of us. So, she went to the cafe to catch up on her summer reading. We found her there pretending to be a local and sipping hot chocolate. She couldn’t stop talking about how it was the best hot chocolate she’d ever had in her life. Then she begged us to stay there for lunch.

    Lunch at Cafe des Arts

    Lunch at Cafe des Arts

    I was skeptical because museum food is often touristy and, well, bad. Not the Cafe des Arts. The chef, Jean Paul Bondoux, is from Bourgogne in France. Not suprisingly, every plate was fantastic. From the sandwiches with fresh salad and crisp french fries to the plate of pasta with mushrooms. It was all delicious.

    Arab Lamb Sandwich

    Arab Lamb Sandwich

    Croque Monsieur at Cafe des Arts

    Croque Monsieur at Cafe des Arts

    Penne con Funghi

    Penne con Funghi

    The museum is open from noon to 8PM, Thursday to Sunday and from noon to 9PM on Wednesdays when entrance to the museum is free (they ask for a 5 peso donation). Otherwise, it costs 15 pesos to enter. MALBA is closed on Tuesdays. From Thursday to Sunday, MALBAcine shows artsy films starting at 2PM until midnight most days.

  3. Hit the Mall
    I’m not much of a shopper, but shopping in Buenos Aires is a cultural experience and I’m all for cultural experiences. If it’s raining outside, you’ll probably want to take shelter in one of the many shopping centers. Here are the two I’d go to because you could spend the whole day there even if you don’t like to shop.
    I’d probably start at Galerias Pacifico because the turn-of-the-century building is gorgeous. The frescoes on the ceiling were painted by five Argentinean muralists.

    Fountain at Galerias Pacifico, by lrargerich on Flickr

    Fountain at Galerias Pacifico, by lrargerich on Flickr

    You can sit in the cafe down near the fountain and people-watch all afternoon, but the main reason I’d choose this shopping center is because on the top floor you’ll find the Centro Cultural Borges. There are art exhibits, live performances of music and dance, and showings of independent films. It’s open from 10AM to 9PM, Monday to Saturday and from noon to 9PM on Sundays. Tickets cost 10 pesos.

    The second shopping center I want to mention is Abasto. While I would prefer to go on a sunny day so that I could wander the streets of nearby Once, if you’re short on time and it’s raining, Abasto is a great option. I like Once, the nearby barrio, because it reminds me of the huge market in Cairo, although it looks nothing like it. But there are blocks devoted to textiles, others devoted to electronics, or to houseware, or to handbags. It’s lively haggling and full of energy. And there are some great Jewish delis in the neighborhood (try the empanadas arabes). Ok, so now that I’ve sold you on Once, let me sell you on Abasto.

    Abasto at Night, by Concepciones Relativistas on Flickr

    Abasto at Night, by Concepciones Relativistas on Flickr

    First off, you’d likely be the only tourist in the mall. Secondly, the building is amazing. Abasto is in the old tango district of Buenos Aires and the shopping center is housed in the old market, El Mercado de Abasto. It’s a very creative way to preserve old buildings whose purpose needs to be reinvented.

    Abasto, by puroticoricoon Flickr

    Abasto, by puroticoricoon Flickr

    Years ago you’d find produce, meats, and flowers. Today, in this beautiful example of Art Deco architecture from the 1930s, you can find Nike, Puma, and many other brands. There are over 200 stores, likely the most diverse shopping center in the city, so there’s something for everyone. For more on the history of the area and the building, read the Buenos Aires Argentina Guide.

  4. Get Pampered
    Well, why not? I’m the kind of person who puts off pampering myself. I say I’ll go, but I really only treat myself when someone else gifts it to me. That said, the only massage I’ve had in Buenos Aires was at Valle Tierra (it was a gift from my swamp sister, Natalia). The massage was excellent. I also liked the decor. It was calming, but not sterile. The furniture, rugs, and pieces of art come from the northern regions of Argentina (think Santa Fe, New Mexico). Lots of earthy tones.

    A couple the stayed with us a few weeks ago on their honeymoon spent a day at AquaVita. After months of planning the wedding and a weekend of serious celebration, a spa was what they needed. They had very good things to say about AquaVita. But I found a review from the Times Online where a commenter had a less favorable opinion. Since the complaint was about the customer service, and since I know that the idea of customer service here in Argentina is very different from the US and the UK, I’d take that complaint with a grain of salt. Or better. If you’re going to a spa, focus on the facilities and the quality of the massages. Ignore the service because you may not be able to relax unless you do.

  5. Have a Tea Party
    Indulge yourself at the Alvear Palace Hotel, one of Buenos Aires’ most beautiful hotels, for afternoon tea. this is a seriously decadent, albeit hoity-toity, experience. L’Orangerie is the restaurant in the hotel that serves high tea. Rule #1: ignore the snobby socialites looking at you because you are clearly nobody they recognize as important (besides, you are important, they just don’t know it). However, if fitting in matters to you, get dressed up and be sure to wear your pearls. Rule #2: only order one full tea for three or fewer people. One is plenty for three people.

    The Spread

    The Spread

    Rule #3: take your time. Just when you think they’ve brought all the goodies to the table and you’ve stuffed yourself full, out comes another plate.

    And then theres the cake

    And then there's the cake

  6. Browse Bookshelves
    I love books. My sister’s attic is full of boxes of books I just can’t part with. One day she’s going to make me decide. To keep my book collection manageable, I now check the book out thoroughly before buying it.  I can spend hours browsing the bookshelves, flipping the pages, asking myself if I can live without this book. My favorite bookstores for a rainy afternoon are El Ateneo, in Barrio Norte/Recoleta, and Boutique del Libro, in Palermo. They offer very different experiences.
    El Ateneo is the most beautiful bookstore in the world. I’m not exaggerating. They took an old theater where tango was once danced and turned it into a massive bookstore, leaving the balconies, the stage, the lighting for the most part, and the magic.

    El Ateneo Bookstore in Recoleta, by longhorndave on Flickr

    El Ateneo Bookstore in Recoleta, by longhorndave on Flickr

    You can have a coffee or tea at the cafe on the stage. I don’t recommend ordering food though. It’s mediocre, and that’s being kind. Check out Argentina’s Travel Guide’s write up on El Ateneo (by the way, Argentina’s Travel Guide also has a pocket guide BA’s bookstores in .pdf format which you can download here).

    If you’re in a more chill mood and if you’re hungry, I’d recommend el Boutique del Libro. The food is much better and it has a grab-a-book-and-a-cup-of-coffee atmosphere.

    Boutique del Libro on Thames in Palermo

    Boutique del Libro on Thames in Palermo

    Plus, they’re usually playing great music. In fact, if you hear something you like, just ask the cashier in the music department what’s playing. The music selection isn’t large, but it is good. I could spend all afternoon here.

So, what are your favorite rainy day activities in Buenos Aires? Did we miss something? I’m sure we did.

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San Telmo or Palermo Soho: Traditional vs. Modern

I’m often asked which neighborhood (barrio) is better, San Telmo or Palermo Soho.  Here’s a brief description of the two barrios from an insider/outsider point of view to help you decide.

El Federal

San Telmo (above) is tango and the past; Palermo Soho (below) is hip and modern.  Choosing between the two is really a matter of what you most want to experience here in Buenos Aires. San Telmo is New Orleans; Palermo is Miami. Or something like that.     

 Cluny from Above  

 San Telmo is walking distance to most sights; Palermo requires a taxi ride or a walk to the subway. Sights Nearby: Within walking distance from San Telmo are the Plaza de Mayo, la Casa Rosada, the cabildo, Cafe Tortoni,  Avenida Florida (the famous pedestrian street for shopping), Avenida Corrientes (loaded with theaters…. BA’s Broadway) with its obelisk, and Teatro Colon (although it’s currently being remodeled). 

  Blue and White  

In the area of Palermo, you’ll find: the Botanical Gardens, the zoo, the hippodrome, the polo field, major shopping centers on Avenida Santa Fe, the Evita Museum, MALBA (the museum of Latin American Fine Arts), and many gorgeous parks.  

Polo Field 

Prices and Restaurants: San Telmo is cheaper than Palermo in part because it has more variety. You’ll find more inexpensive traditional parillas, pizza joints, choripan stands on the road, rustic eateries with wooden tables that have been there for ages, more Italian restaurants, a fantastic market for buying fresh produce, more bars and milongas (tango dance halls), and more traditional cafes.

Antique Market  

In Palermo, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires where the menus are more modern and innovative. Cafes and restaurants are trendy and pricey. There are more outdoor cafes in Palermo Soho than in San Telmo. It’s more difficult to get a traditional parilla (Argentinean barbeque) in Palermo. Some of the hottest nightspots are in Palermo, but there aren’t as many bars where one can stop in for a drink and a game of pool.

 El Ultimo Beso  

The Streets and Shopping: Palermo is cleaner and has less riffraff than San Telmo. San Telmo is more crowded and more bohemian than Palermo. Both areas are very active on weekends.  The antique fair in San Telmo brings in hordes of locals and tourists. Streets are filled with live performances that are out of this world. Palermo’s weekend fair is for designers. The square is filled with stands where you can buy jewelry, shirts, etc. 

 Tango in the Street  

Shopping is better in Palermo than in San Telmo, but it comes with a higher price tag. San Telmo is changing though. A few stores that are in Palermo are opening in San Telmo, too. But for clothes, shoes, jewelry, and art, Palermo has more to offer.

Designer Interiors 

So, do you want a filet with a dijon sauce and fancy table settings or some empanadas, pizza, and  steak served on wooden plates? Answer this question and you’ll know where to stay. 

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Ten Things to Do in Buenos Aires

I’ve been living here for just over a year and have had lots of visitors of all sorts–those who love museums, those who love wine, those who just want to know what it’s like to live in Buenos Aires, those who want to shop, and those who love music. Here are ten things I would do with any of these visitors. There are, of course, hundreds of things to do in Buenos Aires, but these ten would give you a pretty good idea of the diversity of this amazing city.  

  1. San Telmo Antique Fair – On Sundays, San Telmo fills up with tourists and locals and vendors galore. The fair has grown in recent years so you’ll find much more than antiques, but in Plaza Dorrego it’s antiques only. The collections are fascinating. If the crowd starts to get to you, head off of Defensa (the main street through San Telmo) to Peru or Balcarce. Balcarce is a small street with some of the best preserved San Telmo architecture. Peru is more busy but there are several good cafes and bars where you can hide out until you’re ready to fight the crowds again. Whatever you do, don’t miss the old-fashioned market in San Telmo. it’s between Carlos Calvo and Estados Unidos just off of Defensa. Sifones 
  2. Tango at Confiteria Ideal (on Thursday for the orchestra) – My favorite tango experience because I don’t dance. If you’re a tango dancer, you’ll want to go elsewhere. But if you want to watch others dance and hear a live orchestra all set in a ballroom of faded decadence, Ideal is the place to go on a Thursday night when the live orchestra plays. Get there early enough to get a good seat (say 10:00 pm) or call to make a reservation. They’ll go all night. Tango Show 
  3. Cafe Tortoni (but not to eat) – Ok, so the food leaves a lot to be desired and in a city like Buenos Aires, there’s no sense eating mediocre food. But do go there for a coffee or a refreshing drink while you’re out and about in the downtown area. Cafe Tortoni takes you back in time. You’ll see tons of tourists taking pictures (inside and out), you may have to wait outside for table to free up (but not usually a long wait), and the wait staff is, well, rude. But once you get past that part, linger at your table as long as you like to watch the comings and goings and imagine you’re visiting Buenos Aires 100 years ago. Tortoni 
  4. Recoleta Cemetery and Avenida Alvear (visit the fancy hotels) – Obviously you have to visit the cemetery. It reminds me of cemeteries in New Orleans. Little cities of elegance and history. But you should also stroll down the street Alvear to see the mega-fashion houses (Gucci, Armani, the like), and to visit two hotels: Alvear Palace Hotel and the Park Hyatt. Alvear Palace Hotel is old-fashioned elegance while Park Hyatt is modern perfection.  Hyatt Entrance
  5. Milion (cocktails and appetizers with the hip crowd) – On Parana (1048 just off of Avenida Santa Fe), this is the place to go for cocktails. The attraction isn’t the cocktails themselves,  it’s the restored mansion that houses Milion. Sit down and imagine what it must have been like to live in such a place. Such elegance. The garden is stunning. The staircase to the garden is also, and it’s a good place to sit to have a drink if you happen to go when there are no tables available. Divine experience all around.
  6. Palermo Soho (shopping and eating) – On Saturdays and Sundays, there’s a fair in Plaza Serrano. It’s not a great fair, but it brings a lot of people to the area. Most of the restaurants here are exceptional so you’ll want to have lunch or dinner. This is the part of town that has the most interesting shops. Local clothes designers, fantastic paper stores, interesting home decor designs, unique and affordable jewelry and shoes. Any day of the week it’s interesting, but it’s most lively on weekends. Palermo Soho
  7. La Peña del Colorado (folclore and food) – I love Argentine folclore (a type of music more popular in the Interior than in Buenos Aires). It’s boisterous, rhythmic, and reminds me of bluegrass and country music from back home. Located in Barrio Norte on Guemes (3657), this place makes me feel like I’m in Cordoba or Santiago del Estero, eating meat and french fries on wooden tables surrounded by people I don’t know and listening to a live show of chacarera or zamba. The show at La Peña del Colorado starts early for Buenos Aires (9:30), so get there even earlier to be sure you get a seat. But stay later. Once the show is over, groups sitting at tables throughout the restaurant will start up their own juntadas (a gathering of people to drink and sing). While you’re there, you might want to try some mate (the haylike infusion Argentines drink out of a gourd). Add sugar if it’s too bitter for your taste. Folklore in the Capital 
  8. El Ateneo (most beautiful bookstore ever) –  On Avenida Santa Fe near Callao and Riobamba, this is the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen. El Ateneo is housed inside an old theater. There’s a cafe on what was the stage, you can sit in the balconies to read for a spell, or you can just wander around and look at the amazing lighting and architecture. 
  9. Tigre (a bit of nature and more shopping) – Go on a Saturday so that you can head to Mataderos, Soho or San Telmo on Sunday. Why I like this trip? The train ride is great. It takes you along the coast (although you don’t see the river) up through the northern suburbs of Buenos Aires. You might even want to get off the train and see San Isidro if you have time. It’s a gorgeous suburb, hilly, green and with spectacular views of the kite surfers down on the river. Tigre itself can take the full day, so head out early. Stop by the tourist information office near the McDonalds. They’ll give you information about boat rides you can take through the river and to visit the islands if you want to get off the boat and walk around. You can also rent bicycles or canoes. Then save enough time to head over to the port and the Fruit Market. There’s much more than fruit. See Gift-Buying in Tigre for more information. And if you do go on a Sunday, buy a roundtrip so you don’t have to wait in the lines to get your return ticket. Tigre  
  10. Mataderos (folclore, meat, gauchos, and shopping) – Mataderos is a barrio in the west of Buenos Aires. It’s a hike, but it’s worth it. In summer, they move the fair to Saturday evenings, but during the rest of the year it’s my favorite activity on a Sunday. The fair itself is interesting and prices are about 1/3 cheaper than in the center. But it’s the live music and dancing that I like. There’s a huge stage in the main square with one performance after another of Argentine folclore. Couples dressed in traditional clothes dance in front of the stage. Grills serving up choripan (Argentinean hotdogs that are way better than hotdogs) or grilled meat of just about any kind encircle the dancers and musicians.  And in the afternoon (usually at about 2:00 pm) there’s a gaucho show on the same street as the stage just after the last stands. Young and old gauchos ride their horses under an arch trying to pull off a ring with a small stick. Talk about horsemanship. Gaucho on the Run 

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