T and I got back on Sunday from an excellent tourist trip to Buenos Aires! The past few times we’ve been there, we didn’t really see any of the tourist sites (and the immigration office sure isn’t a tourist site). We had a few days off due to Paraguayan holidays, so we decided on a whim to buy bus tickets and see some of the more famous sites. I’ll probably break the trip down into a few posts.
First, the bus. We took the bus from Ituzaingo to the Retiro Bus Station in Buenos Aires. All in all, it was about a 13 hour trip. The long-distance buses in Argentina are less of the sketchy Greyhound variety, and more of an Amtrak train that just so happens to have wheels. There are different levels of buses, and each bus tends to be all of the same level. We chose a “cama” option, which meant that our seats were much larger than normal, had a foot rest that folded down, and reclined to a nearly flat position. You can go even higher to the “cama ejecutivo” option, which allows you to completely recline your seat into a bed in your own pod (something we may consider for the next time). We also got dinner and breakfast, plus drinks while we rode. They showed a movie–one the way down to Buenos Aires it was some unidentified movie in English, and coming back we saw “Captain Phillips”. The buses are all double decker, with a bathroom on the lower floor and an RV-style kitchen on the top floor. We had the front seats on the top level, so we had a birds-eye view of the road, when we didn’t have the curtains drawn. We found the bus to be a good option–significantly cheaper than the flight to BA (which is about $345USD round trip) and much more comfortable. We had plenty of places for our luggage, and could stretch out fairly well. T was still uncomfortable in the seat and didn’t get much sleep–which is why we may just suck it up and try the “cama ejecutivo” the next time.
We got to Retiro Bus Station at about 8am, and walked from the station to the Sheraton Convention Center, which was only a few blocks away. If you visit BA and decide to take a bus, do know this–the bus station backs up against a favela, a highly impoverished shantytown. There’s a wall that separates the favela from the actual bus station, but I can’t imagine it’s a good place to be at night. In general, watch yourself and your personal belongings well at Retiro–I counted no less than five people actively begging, and a few other suspicious characters roaming around.
The Sheraton, on the other hand, has become one of our favorite experiences. We got a good deal on the club level rooms through Travelocity, which affords us snacks, breakfast, and some excellent views. The Sheraton is well appointed, most staff speak English, and in general is a lovely experience. Also, the breakfast is American-style (which means eggs, bacon, sausage–PROTEIN!). Normally, an Argentinian breakfast is all about the pastries. The breakfast on the bus, for example, was crackers and alfajores.
One of the places on our list of “things to see” that came highly recommended by our Argentinian colleagues was Puerto Madero. Indeed a port, the area was used in the 19th century to accept cargo ships, but was phased out when the Port of Buenos Aires was finished in the 1920s. It quickly fell into neglect, and for quite a while was an unsavory neighborhood, although only a few blocks away from some of the most important government buildings near Plaza del Mayo. In the 1990s, a massive redevelopment effort was launched, and today Puerto Madero is the most modern portion of the city we’ve seen. It feels strongly like Inner Harbor in Baltimore–even down to having TGIFriday’s. (For those interested–the menu is exactly the same to that as its US version.) We were appreciative of the clean, new walkways, the nicely spread out benches, and the gleaming buildings–but it felt a little too much like the US at times. (Perhaps this is why our Argentinian colleagues liked it–several lived in the US for a few years, and remark about how they miss some of the commercialization.)
It was pretty interesting how they left a lot of the cranes intact around the port–giving the area a very old-meets-new vibe. There were also a lot of little “extras” in the neighborhood–like a fitness park on one side for able-bodied people and one on the other focusing on those who were handicapped.
While we were at Puerto Madero, we paid our two pesos each and visited the Buque Museo Fragata A.R.A. “Presidente Sarmiento” which is a museum ship in Puerto Madero. It was built for the Argentinian Navy, and is one of ht elast intact training ships from the 1890s. It is named after Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, who was the seventh president of Argentina. We had a good time walking around the ship and exploring, and of course T spent a lot of time in the engine room poking around at the boilers and bearings.
The Sarmiento went on a number of cruising voyages in its career, including a number to the US. There was a picture of President Taft with the ship’s crew in one of the exhibitions. Also, there was a mildly creepy taxidermied dog (T: “That can’t be a dog. That has to be a wolf.” S: “Nope. Perro. Mascota. Dog. Pet. Totally lived on this ship once.”) as well as a single torpedo.
Of course, we got an exciting photo of T steering the ship.
There was a barbershop on the ship, with some rather scary looking grooming tools. It definitely made T feel better about using his electric razor!
After we were done with our adventures on the ship, we decided to explore the Puente de la Mujer, or Women’s Bridge. The focal point of the Puerto Madero barrio, or neighborhood, it was designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect. The internet tells me that it is a Cantilever spar cable-stayed bridge–but all I know is it is a nifty looking footbridge with some character.
Finally, because we are us:
I’ll add more on our Buenos Aires adventures later.
I did find an old picture on the camera, though! To clear fields here, they burn them in controlled fires. A few months ago, the sky was constantly filled with smoke because of these fires, which led to some pretty cool pictures. This actually isn’t uncommon–we saw the same thing in Romania.