A few weeks ago, I got honest about my feelings towards Buenos Aires, and I wrote about how I will not be returning for a long, long time. It turned out I was a liar, because I returned exactly 2 weeks later.
Our long journey back to Southern California from Montevideo was one that took us across 5 countries in 36 hours, including a 7-hour stopover in Buenos Aires. Hmmm… what to do when you’re stuck in a city that you didn’t particularly care for?
After stressing about it for a while, D found the perfect solution! To make the most of our time, we hired a private tour with SilverStar Transfers & Tours to take us around before driving us to the airport.
The mission: to hit up sites that we had stupidly missed the first time (due to my poor planning skills).
The real goal: can Buenos Aires win me over this second time around?
In just 4 hours with Katrina, who brilliantly planned our day’s itinerary, we managed to get up to some great adventures around town.
First up: Silvia y Mario Leather Factory
This high end leather goods store is famous for their custom leather jackets, including ones from lambskin and goatskin. We had fun trying on different jackets, but they were definitely not in our price range (and the pushy sales associates were kind of a turn-off). However, I was most impressed by the fun street that the store was on (Marcelo T. de Alvear). It was full of shops and restaurants, and of course rows of beautiful old mansions that you can expect from BA. I made a note to myself to explore this area more in depth should I come back!
El Ateneo Bookstore
Holy crap!! Why did I not know about this?! (See what I mean about my total lack of planning skills? I really need to fix that.) First of all, it’s a bookstore, so I’m already bound to love it. But it’s a FREAKING BOOKSTORE IN AN OLD THEATER!! It’s absolutely grand and beautiful, and I can’t even… !
“The El Ateneo bookstore is converted from an old theater (which originally opened in 1919). Later on in 2000, the seating was removed and bookshelves installed in its place. I guarantee that you will never see a bookstore quite like this! It still retains the old world glamour of a theater, with its balconies, painted ceiling, and heavy red curtains (the old stage is now a cafe), but now with a modern, bookish twist.”
JUST LOOK AT IT!
Buenos Aires may be far from my favorite city in the world, but I think I have just found my FAVORITE BUILDING IN THE WORLD!
Phew! Time to calm down, so we’ll move on to something sadder.
We deliberately chose not to go to La Boca the first time around because it’s basically just one huge tourist trap in the midst of the poorest and most dangerous neighborhood in BA. However, since we got a second chance for a do-over, why not hit it up?
Tourists flock to La Boca to see its brightly painted houses (turned tacky souvenir shops), live tango dancers, smiling mannequins of historical figures, and maybe to buy art from the many street artists. It was pretty empty when we went because the angry grey clouds were threatening to dump rain. Sure enough, by the time we walked around and finished eating at one of the parrillas (I couldn’t tell you its name), the rain came out HARD in a non-stop stream of violent downpour. We hightailed it out of there and back into the safety of the car.
I know that picture doesn’t look sad at all. That’s because there’s more to La Boca than what you’re seeing, so I’m deliberately keeping this brief and I will be writing more about it in the next post. However, there’s no denying that La Boca is the most colorful neighborhood in BA.
Plaza de Mayo
Next we were off to the main plaza, and I finally got a decent unobstructed picture of the Casa Rosada (the gigantic PINK presidential palace). The whole month we were in BA, whenever we stopped by here, it was always covered by something ugly.
So finally here’s a picture of it for the blog! Oh, and note how the left side and right sides are just a little different. That’s because they were built during different periods. They are actually 2 completely different buildings!
But the real reason she took us to Plaza de Mayo is to visit the Metropolitan Cathedral – the main Catholic church of Buenos Aires. D and I had walked by it quite a few times on our own, but never even realized that this building is a church. Probably because the exterior does not look like the typical church, with spires and whatnot. Instead, it has 12 roman columns to depict the 12 apostles.
I find that it’s usually worthwhile to enter churches in other countries because they are usually some of the most ornately decorated structures in a city. While this one wasn’t anything to make me tear from amazement, it certainly didn’t disappoint either. The gilded altar is stunning.
Our last stop was the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires (located on 825 venida de Mayo). It opened in 1858, and has been named as one of the top 10 most beautiful cafes in the world. We were encouraged to pop in and take a look. But we ended up staying for a coffee and hot chocolate (though the churros leave more to be desired). The cozy atmosphere was just what we needed after getting caught in the downpour earlier.
Again, this was a place that I wished I had know about sooner, because they have reasonably priced tango shows in their velvet covered back room. I bet that’d be really fun!
In the end, I decided that Buenos Aires has a lot more to offer. And even though I don’t feel warm fuzzy feelings towards the people, maybe that’s not a reason to entirely stay away from the city. Katrina showed us a side of Buenos Aires that we didn’t experience the first time, and I realized just how much cool stuff we missed…. and how much cool stuff there is waiting for us to discover still.
So if you’ve read my previous (obviously incomplete) post of things to do in BA, make sure to add these to that list now!
Have you been to a city that you didn’t like the first time and later liked it? What made you change your mind?
Silver Star Tours – a quick introduction
Silver Star Tours is a husband and wife team (he from the States, and she a native Porteño) dedicated to providing visitors the best BA experience possible. We had such an amazing time! Karina was extremely professional and so, so friendly. It felt like being taken around the city by an old friend, instead of by a stranger. But she still insisted on doing things like getting out to open the car doors for us!!
And yes, their pricing matches the 5-star service they provide. A private tour like this does not come cheap. We negotiated a price of US$250, including pick-up from the Buquebus terminal, a 4 hour private tour of BA, and the final airport transfer. This made for a pricey day, however, it was absolutely the best thing we did since this allowed us the chance to see Buenos Aires differently!
Disclaimer: I am not being compensated in any way to talk about Silver Star Tours. I just honestly loved this experience and Katrina!! And of course, I couldn’t not write about all the new amazing sights we saw. :)
This post is part of #SundayTraveler with Pack Me To and others, and don’t forget to support all the other participating blogs (links at the bottom of post)!