Buenos Aires was a city I already loved even before visiting. Whenever I thought about it, I conjured up romantic images of quaint French style buildings, cobblestone streets, cute sidewalk cafes, and heavenly delicate pastries.
I mean, come on, it’s Paris of the South… what could go wrong? What WOULDN’T I dislike?
Yep, I was not wrong and Buenos Aires had all those things and more. The Palermo neighborhood we stayed in had quaint French style buildings aplenty. We walked on the cobblestone streets of San Telmo. We dined at cute sidewalk cafes almost daily. And we snacked on the most delicate of pastries, pies, and cakes. And they were all absolutely heavenly.
But I was wrong. Something was wrong.
I never fell in love with Buenos Aires, as I did many times over in my daydreams.
Sure, there were aspects I loved, but I couldn’t fall in love (no matter how much delicious cake I ate). As I reflect back to my time in Buenos Aires, I see it as a semi-fail mainly due to a few reasons.
So here are my brutally honest opinions:
1) I never felt welcomed
To be completely honest (even if it gets me haters), the #1 reason I couldn’t fall in love with the city is because I felt like the locals were really unfriendly. Simple as that.
I hate to compare countries (because I truly believe each country is unique in its own way), but after our month-long stay in Santiago, Buenos Aires was a poor follow-up. I admit that the abundance of delicious desserts and having hot water in our rental were a definite step-up, but the people aspects came up lacking. While Santiago was warm and inviting (from the cab drivers to the ladies at the food stalls), I found Buenos Aires to be cold and distant. Where are the smiles??
The other residents in our building passed us with wary glances, and waiters served us with stoic expressions. No one said hi or smiled or exchanged pleasantries. People went about with an air of arrogance and nonchalance. I’m not saying everyone was like this, but this was the general feeling I got.
Of course, this could very well be because of the massive inflation going on. Oh, and that little fact of Argentina being on the verge of a financial crises. Everyone’s just not happy, and life is hard. That pretty little waitress, no doubt, cannot even afford the food that she’s serving you.
But still, if I’m sitting down and paying for mandatory table service at a semi-pricey restaurant in the super lux part of town, I would really like her to not roll her eyes at me, even if my attempt to speak Spanish is pathetic.
This one is hard to explain, because it’s not like that anyone was outright rude… maybe just more like aloof. It’s just one of those gut feelings. Simply put, I never felt at home here in Buenos Aires. At best, I felt like an outsider, never fitting in. And at worst, like an unwelcomed foreigner.
I think if I were in BA for a week, instead of a month, I probably wouldn’t have noticed this as much… I probably would have filled my days with touristy sightseeing activities, and stuffed my face with meat and cakes. And I probably would have thought BA was a pretty cool city. But that wasn’t my case. I was there for a month and the poor attitudes of the locals quickly wore on me.
This brings me to:
2) It was a victim of location
We stayed in the upscale Palermo Nuevo residential neighborhood (because strangely, the rent was actually ridiculously cheap). Here, well dressed women strut around toting their designer bags and their immaculately groomed, sweater wearing, pure-bred pups. Here, doormen stand inside of marbled lobbies, looking after the residents of the posh luxuries apartments. Here, it is safe and nice, but does it sound like we fit in?!
There are virtually no tourists here. 100% locals (at least when we visited in late fall/early winter). Normally, I would have been ecstatic to be in an all-locals area, to do what the locals do, to live how the locals live. But I can’t help but wonder if this also meant that we stuck out like a sore thumb.
This isn’t to say I didn’t find anything to love here. I did love the hole-in-wall empanada shack, and we visited it often despite the owner’s grumpy disposition. I did love the corner French café, where I had the best lemon meringue pie of my life. And dining at La Josephina, the only parrilla in our neighborhood, was always an enjoyable experience, mainly due to our friendly server, Sebastian (the one shining star of my interactions with locals). Which is probably why we ate there frequently, despite the fact that it was one of the priciest restaurants around.
He almost made up for the weirdness of everyone else, but try as he might.. he couldn’t quite.
I wonder if we had stayed in the historic/downtown district, would the locals have been more accepting of tourists? Would they be friendlier there?
Another downside of this area was that there wasn’t much to do aside from local restaurants. We had to walk at least 30 minutes somewhere, or take a subway to go any of the major attractions. I think to some extent, we would have had more fun if we were downtown in Monserrat or San Telmo (because I LOVED staying downtown in Santiago). But then again, would it matter if the people weren’t friendly there either? I guess I’d never find out.
Nevertheless, after this experience.. I think that – do I dare say it? – I definitely like staying in the touristy parts of town, especially if visiting for the first time.
3) Poor planning (yes, my fault)
Buenos Aires isn’t a city with a lot of must-see attractions and must-do activities. Rather, the real experience of the city lays with the culture and its people. But what happens when you don’t feel warm fuzzy feelings towards the people?
After a couple of weeks of being here, and never having truly positive, happy experiences, I grew lackluster, and it was hard to muster up excitement to do anything.
That, combined with D having to work a lot this month and experiencing on-and-off rain, we ended up staying around our neighborhood a lot of time. And I acquired a new hobby of snuggling in bed all day.
So I can take the blame for this, but I stopped feeling motivated to plan anything. We didn’t take full advantage of the time we had there. I know we probably missed out a lot of the things that the city has to offer. Maybe we could have taken a trip to Tigre Delta, or gone to another nearby city. But I didn’t plan and sadly, didn’t even know we were missing out on those potential activities.
But do I really regret that? I don’t think so. Because honestly, I don’t feel a desire to go back and do the stuff I missed.
In the end, I realized it all came down to this: I can’t love a city where the people are unfriendly.
So by the end of a month in Buenos Aires, my thoughts were: I’ve seen everything I’ve wanted to see. I’ve eaten everything I wanted to eat. Time to move on.
Even though I didn’t have the best of times in BA, do I regret visiting it? Not at all. Each destination provides something different and I am so grateful to be able to experience Buenos Aires.
But will I return? I highly doubt it.
It’s for this reason that when I sat on the Buquebus, speeding towards Uruguay and watching Buenos Aires fade away in the distance, I finally felt a part of me become alive again. And by the time we had arrived, walked through Old Town, met our hosts, I was positively brimming with excitement for the next adventure.
Ok, Buenos Aires… I admit it, you have the best cakes I’ve ever had, and I will really miss that, but I don’t think I want to return. At least not for a long, long time. And maybe only if I need to do a visa run. But if and when I do return, you can bet I’ll be stuffing my face with cake. :)
Have you been to Buenos Aires? What was your experience?
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