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Buenos AiresFebruary 1, 2007 By: Stasha Mills Home-Based Travel Agent
This sophisticated South American city lives up to its hype
Judging From The Reviews, I think I was one of three people who thoroughly enjoyed the 1996 movie, "Evita." I watched it with my mother, who was such an ardent admirer of the eponymous 1978 Broadway musical that she saw it several times, and the cast recording was rarely off the turntable in our household. My mom and I are also big tango and polo fans, even bigger shoppers, and I haven't met a steak I couldn't devour like a lumberjack—so we decided to trade turkey for porterhouse and spend Thanksgiving in Buenos Aires.
Sometimes a movie or book gets such an avalanche of praise ("Best movie of the year!") that you can't help but be disappointed once you see or read it yourself. I was worried that Buenos Aires would fall into that category, with all the press it's been getting and the build up I've had being an Evita fan, but I was wrong: It did live up to its hype.
A sprawling city of 12 million people, Buenos Aires is sophisticated, clean and easy to navigate. The Recoleta neighborhood is easily compared to Madison Avenue in New York. But more about shopping later. One of the city's most visited attractions is the Recoleta Cemetery, where you can follow the tour groups (or tip a cemetery attendant) to Eva Peron's grave, which is labeled Duarte (her maiden name).
La Boca, historically an Italian neighborhood, is worth an hour's visit for a stroll past colorfully painted homes, a peek into artists' workshops and a coffee break to people watch and perhaps enjoy a steel band as it makes its way through the streets, followed by dancing children.
Puerto Madero is an emerging destination with restaurants, bars and hotels on both sides of a canal. Each side has a wide promenade for an after-dinner stroll, linked by a stunning modern bridge designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.
Comparable to New York and London's SoHo, Palermo SoHo is a happening neighborhood with trendy boutiques and lively restaurants tucked into tree-lined streets.
Across the street from my hotel (the Park Hyatt) in Recoleta was a Ralph Lauren store that was interchangeable with the designer's flagship—gorgeous white townhouse and all—at 72nd and Madison. Another top hotel, the Alvear Palace, is two blocks away, and both are in Vuitton-wallet throwing distance to the likes of Hermès and Cartier. Regretfully, prices at these luxury retailers were U.S. prices. But because the dollar is so strong against the peso, there are bargains to be had elsewhere.
In the Retiro neighborhood is Florida Street, a pedestrian mall where if you—men and women alike—can't find a pair of shoes or a bag (or 20) then there's something wrong. This is the place for all things leather—jackets, pants, belts, slippers. Handily, stores also sell luggage to cart it all home. As if more shopping was needed, on this street is also the Galerias Pacifo mall, which is very tourist friendly and has a food court.
For a different type of shopping experience, make sure to stay over on a Sunday so you can visit two colorful flea markets. The wonderful but touristy San Telmo is known for its antiques and La Feria de Mataderos—a gaucho market on the outskirts of town—has handtooled belts, handmade silver jewelry and ponchos, as well as live music and dancing and llama rides for the kids.
Argentina produces the world's top polo players, so there's no better place to see the best of the best play on home turf. The season runs March-May and September-December and the sport is played in two places in the city—Campo de Argentino de Polo, a stadium in the city; and La Dolfina, about a half hour from the city center. I went to a match at La Dolfina, which is on the estate of the number-one player in the world, Adolfito Cambiaso. It was a small, casually elegant affair: You drive up to the field and there are lounge chairs on the sidelines in front of a tent with chandeliers, Oriental rugs and a champagne bar. Waitstaff come by to proffer drinks, sandwiches and sweets while players' children create their own horseplay.
And what of the melancholic, expressive, seductive dance that originated here—the tango? There are scores of options for watching a performance and even taking a spin yourself. I attended a packed-to-the-rafters dinner show at Esquina Carlos Gardel, named for the country's most famous tango singer, who died in a plane crash in 1935. The well-staged show coupled with an accomplished orchestra and singers proved enjoyable, but the food was pedestrian. A well-versed travel agent or concierge can describe the shows and help you pick one; plus, it is possible to see couples dancing (for free) on the streets in neighborhoods like La Boca and San Telmo.
My mom and I made the pilgrimage to Evita's grave. We also had the taxi drive by Casa Rosado (the balcony where she gave her "Don't Cry for Me" speech); and spent an hour or so at the small but worthy Evita Museum, where we saw clips of her films from her early days as an actress and coveted her clothes—but mostly her accessories—that were on display.
So we got our Evita, shopping and polo fixes and I consumed as much steak as I could handle, at old-line tried-and-true spots that generations of beef lovers before me still recall fondly. The city has its trendy side, too, but I passed on sushi and Scandinavian hot spots. The herring might live up to its hype, too, but I'll take a plane to Sweden—or go down the block to my local New York City deli—for that.