I’m trying very hard to get a handle on Buenos Aires but there are so many things that don’t make sense. Coming from the North American propaganda of Argentina and the Buenos Aires tourism office promotion of itself I have to tell you it leaves one very confused. The real Buenos Aires is more like Havana then Paris and the food very unimaginative and underwhelming. This is far from a bad thing, its about adjusting expectations, so here is my take on the great city of Buenos Aires.
Home base is the grand Savoy Hotel on Ave Callao. It’s perfectly situated to reach the tourism destinations by foot, by bus, subway or taxi. On the flight over we lost our Eyewitness book on Buenos Aires so we were on the hunt for information.
At the airport we stopped at the tourism office and the girl was very eager to help. She scribbled all sorts of things on our map including where we would most likely find another book on Buenos Aires – in English. She also gave us a tourism book where there were brief summaries of each neighbourhood in English. We did the same thing at the hotel and got the same speeches and the same information.
We settled into the grand hotel and set out to find our way around this magnificent city. Many of the sidewalks are in grave disrepair so you need to watch where you’re walking and random water drips from above everywhere and anywhere. It makes it difficult to take in the sites around you when you’re constantly looking down. When you do look around you see remants of a great city. Rumour has it that Buenos Aires was the richest city in the world almost 100 years ago and it’s easy to see the truth in this statement in the bits of magnificence around you. In between the grand buildings are square, concrete 1950’s buildings that take away from the grandeur of its history.
Café Tortoni on Ave de Mayo is the oldest café in the city. It has 20-foot ceilings, rich columns, marble tables and colourful vitraux. This was where the nouveau rich and famous hung out and it stands today as a shrine to its former days with rooms dedicated to its history, busts honouring its famous patrons and wax statues of the original owners, the Touans – they’re still seated at their regular table in the dining room.
It was our first meal of the trip and considering Tortoni is a tourism destination today, we weren’t really disappointed with the lackluster steaks. Now that I’ve been here a few days, I have to say it’s been the best meal we’ve had.
El Patio de Montevideo is an outdoor barbecue restaurant where you go in, sit down and just order a steak. Argentinean steak is considered the best in the world and it certainly is it’s largest agricultural commodity. The barbecue pit is in the front window and the entire front wall of the restaurant is rolled up making it an outdoor place. The aromas attract your attention and the service is spectacularly friendly. Hiram our waiter helped us navigate the menu and we ended up with steaks, a litre bottle of beer and the most wonderful French fries and salad.
So far the steaks are interesting. They cut the meat less than one-finger thin and cook it until it resembles the leather gloves I almost bought. It’s somehow not what we’re accustomed in the northern part of the world but I’ll keep trying.