From A to Z
Buenos Aires is a city like no other. Even if you spend just a few days roaming its streets, you’re bound to come across some peculiar sights. Here is an A-Z collection of my favorite Buenos Aires oddities.
Two great reasons to travel to the city of La Plata, about an hour from Buenos Aires, are the massive Neogothic cathedral and the museum, the awe-inspiring Museo de Ciencias Naturales. I was fascinated with the dusty taxidermy cases, peculiar fossils and relics of immense and minuscule creatures, but was most intrigued by the glyptodonts, relatives of the modern armadillo. Glyptodonts possess turtle-like body armor, tails with huge rings of bones for protection, and were the size of Volkswagen Beetles. Glyptodonts became extinct during the last ice age along with other megafaunal species, including the infamous giant ground sloths. Their smaller, more lightly-armored and flexible relatives, the armadillos, have survived.
Barra brava is a term that originated in Argentina for the organized supporter groups of soccer teams in Latin America. After attending a fútbol match sitting with the away team’s barra brava, I now know exactly what this group is all about. They stand through the match, shout, sing, cheer, and basically go crazy when their team scores or when the other team scores. I am no stranger to zealous football fans having grown up in Wisconsin, but these devotees take fandom to another level. The entire time I was afraid their innocuous enthusiasm could suddenly turn into erratic hooliganism. Since I am not well versed in fútbol culture (unlike most people I came in contact with), I could not sufficiently enjoy the game in such a gigantic, daunting setting so perhaps watching it on TV at an Argentine café is more my style.
The carnicerías, or local butcher shops, are important in Buenos Aires especially since meat is a central component to most meals. Whether it’s pollo, carne asada, bife de chorizo, steak for the parrilla (grill), the ompnipoetent breaded veal filet called milanesa, or the – lookout if you’re picky: lengua (tongue) and tripas (TRIPE), you can find it all at the carnicería. The top-hatted chickens in the picture seem pretty content to be selling their own kind which reminds me of the Suicide Food blog.
Want something in Buenos Aires? Anything? Call and it can be delivered. Ice cream, your clean laundry, your movie rental, or your coffee can be delivered to your house… they will effortlessly carry a tray of tiny coffees (through traffic, without spilling) all the way from the café to your doorstep and then pick up their coffee cups later in the day.
We’ve even seen a bottle of water and glass of ice being delivered and happened to have the camera with us. As you can seen, the woman in front of us became extremely troubled as to why we would be taking the girl’s picture. Because we’re intrigued with deliveries! But this occurrence was commonplace to her, no doubt.
Esqueletos de dinosaurios
I can’t say enough about South American dinos. The La Plata museum has a room similar to what you’d see in Paris at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. Futhermore, right in the city of Buenos Aires you’ll find the Museo Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum, notable for its patagosaurs, herrerasaurus, carnotaurus, and eoraptor fossils as well as paleontology displays from the Cenozoic Era featuring ground sloth megatherium, glyptodon, macrauchenia, and smilodon fossils.
In Buenos Aires, folks are very fashion conscious which means that even the most beautiful women will wear the latest “genie” pants and other strange sweatpants that are baggy at the top and tapered at the bottom. Also, am I out of it or did I miss this running shoe fad in North America? Anyone who is anyone has “toe” shoes like these.
The idea of “districts” in Buenos Aires has always intrigued me. There is one street with about 15 guitar shops. Then there’s the neighborhood with textile or garments shops in Balvanera. In fact, Wikipedia states that there are 25,000 shops currently registered in that neighborhood and I believe it. This garment district stores sell bolts of fabric in any texture and design imaginable. Many shops are run by Jewish immigrants and not far from the textile shops are several mannequin stores that are extremely bizarre. I never got a picture of those mannequins but if I ever get back to Buenos Aires that’s the first place I’m going. For now, here are samples from the fabric stores, party stores, and Kermit district.
I once read that the Simpsons are more popular in Argentina than anywhere in the world. That is obviously debatable, but they are on TV just as often, plus on the pedestrian street Avenida Florida you’ll see Argentine maps, postcards, pictures of tango singer Carlos Gardel and revolutionary Che Guevara, and then Homer posters displayed proudly alongside as if he hailed from Argentina also. You’ll often run across a random Homer Simpson statue in front of a bar or bakery. In fact, Argentina produces a Duff beer that tastes pretty much like its name.
One of the most magnificent natural wonders in South America, Iguazu Falls, has the greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world. Iguazu means “Big Water” in the language of the Guaranis. You can reach the falls in approximately 12 hours by bus or much quicker by plane.
One of the best-known ruins of a Jesuit Mission in South America are at San Ignacio Mini, a Jesuit mission founded in the early seventeenth century to evangelize the native Guarani Indians. Definitely a great place to visit on your way to or from Iguazu Falls since the ruins are in the present town of San Ignacio, in Argentina’s Misiones province near the Brazilian border: Thinks of the 1986 movie The Mission with Jesuits Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro who at one point scale Iguazu Falls.
Scattered throughout Buenos Aires, you will find hundreds of “kioscos.” These are small shops that sell useful products like you might find in a convenience store. Often Buenos Aires kioscos are miniature-sized with only a glass front and an open window for pedestrians to buy gum or alfajores (type of cookie), ask the operator (known as the kiosquero) for batteries, razors, soap, shampoo, deodorant, aspirin pills, cold remedies, indigestion aids, (what is the international sign for Mylanta?) pens, notebooks, stuffed animals, etc. If space permits they will also sell gaseosas (soda), fruit juice, and Quilmes beer. They usually have names like the “Melena” here. My favorite was named “Lenny.”
In the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires you will find several Korean restaurants and grocery stores. Also on your journey you might pass a prosthetic store window featuring arms and legs.
The woman who cleaned our house was our best friend. We will never forget her and her lovely family. This store sells a variety of housecleaner attire.
A very important letter of the modern Roman alphabet formed by an N with a diacritical tilde and used in the Spanish, Basque, and Filipino alphabets.
This was taken at a book fair (not a hot dog fair festival) so chancing upon this scene was entirely unexpected!
The owl (or more aptly named búhoin Spanish) as the symbol of wisdom sits atop the Museo Bernardino Rivadavia Natural Sciences Museum near Buenos Aires’ Parque Centenario. The building is lined with carvings of museum exhibits.
The bakeries of Buenos Aires are one of the best things about the city. The cakes, pies, and breads most of them filled with dulce de leche are very sweet and always “muy rico.” (Dulce de leche should really have its own letter, but Delivery won out).
Also pictured here at the Quebec Bakery is matambre which is cold cuts that are rolled up with parsley, carrot sticks, and eggs.
The most delicious snack we found was the sandwich de miga. They are usually double-layered sandwiches made from a very thin crustless white bread called “miga.” They contain thinly sliced ham, cheese, tomatoes, eggs, lettuce, and sometimes palm hearts and salsa golf. Since they are a comfort food as soft as can be, we have nicknamed them “Pillow Bread.”
Argentina’s omnipresent beer, Quilmes, is pictured here in the typical fashion with snacks such palitos, papas fritas inglesas, and manis.
I don’t know much about these “ratoncitos” (little mice) filled with dulce de leche except that the same “monitos” pictured here were labeled “negritos” at a different bakery.
Shoe displays were the very first thing I marveled over when walking down Av. Santa Fe. Shoe stores seem to put their whole inventory right in the window. Every. Single. Shoe. We. Have. Is. In. Our. Window. Some shoe store windows were worse than others. There was a store in Posadas, AR that looked like the window hadn’t been changed since 1989 and there were cobwebs in a baby shoe. I was fascinated by that shoe museum of sorts. I should also note the popularity of Converse All-Stars… Converse Chuck Taylor’s are pronounced CONE-BEAR-SAY and everyone from teenagers to older people to babies call them their favorite!
Exploring the town of Tigre and its Paraná Delta is a quick, easy escape if one needs a break from the big city. Just take a train from Retiro to Tigre and hop on a water taxi. We chose Las Tres Bocas as our stop to admire the cabanas nestled amongst the canals and take in the sunshine along the river’s edge.
The country of Uruguay is also a very close getaway. Traveling Uruguay’s coast is extremely easy by bus: Christmas time on the beaches of Uruguay (the historic section of Punta del Este, quiet La Paloma, or even the traquilo shacks and sea lions of Cabo Polonio) proved to be a delightful adventure. The historic town of Colonia delSacramento is just an hour-long ferry ride. Most tourists stick to the historic district but a jaunt around the town will lead you to amazing birds, cows, friendly folks, and the quaint Menendez Bar.
Very delicious ice cream
Buenos Aires has at least two ice cream chains that are spectacular, making a sort of gelato style ice cream. Our favorites were the dulce de leche ice cream at Freddo and Volta. When the ice cream is delivered they pack it in dry ice which adds to the fun. No picture of course, because we ate the ice cream too fast to even think about getting out the camera.
This is the wrapper for Corn Ice Cream from the Korean neighborhood. A Flickr user here has a great picture of the inside and the taste is exactly like corn on the cob with ice cream. Of course.
Sometimes in parrillas (restaurants that serve grilled food) we were given a complimentary drink before or after the meal. There was a thick syrupy lemon drink and then there was one a bit better that Patrice had tried in France called Xeres. I just found out now that Xeres, actually Jerezin Spanish, is what we call sherry in English. Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes grown near the town of Jerez, Spain. All wine that is labeled “sherry” must come from what is known as the Sherry Triangle in the Spanish province of Cadiz. Also, perhaps the type we drank was a sweetened oloroso, a sherry that is dark and nutty.
The general attitude toward American “Yankees” was pretty positive. This sign of disapproval was seen in the charming “gaucho town” of San Antonio de Areco.
Okay, I cheated. I just needed an excuse to post a picture of the sea lion from Cabo Polonio, UR that almost came home to live in my bathtub. He was too attached to his colony life though.