Buenos Aires is one of those cities I could never visit, let alone stay in for months, until I figured out how to deal with all the stress it causes me!
Many people say Buenos Aires is a great place to visit, but let me explain why you shouldn’t believe me. If you absolutely insist upon going to Buenos Aires, at least read this post so you’ll know what to expect.
Here are a few reasons that should stop you from going to Buenos Aires. Dare to prove me wrong.
1. Open-Hearted People Who Make You Feel at Home
Let’s face it, even the customs officer in Argentina will welcome you with a big smile. Then he will laugh with you when you show horns behind your wife’s head while he struggles to take a photo of her. Would you trust a customs officer that laughs with you?
So here comes Argentina…
Whether it’s because of their screwed up political/economical situation or because of some historical reason, Argentines are very welcoming and caring towards other human beings. It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?
In the culture I grew up in, people were hammered with all sorts of problems. One social disaster after another, bullshit propaganda, corrupt police, political instability, hyperinflation, food coupons that give you the right to buy milk in a supermarket, I’ve seen it all. Needless to say, in such a toxic environment, at some point even vodka stops improving social interactions and overall positivity.
In this sense, I don’t get Argentina. People here are open-minded, good-hearted and genuinely nice.
Kristina came pregnant to Argentina. Her appearance, at a supermarket, or on public transportation, or just on the street, stalled all other activities in their tracks. Everyone would give her the right of way and a first-class treatment. People would literally grab her hand at the end of a line in supermarket and walk her towards the cashier, cutting everybody off. She didn’t have any issues during her pregnancy and none of this extra attention was strictly necessary. Still in all, she was happy to get that much help from complete strangers.
When Eva was born, the neighbors in our building brought a bunch of gifts for her. We even didn’t know these people. Our landlady keeps bringing gifts for Eva: blankets, clothes, and most recently this white sweater which she knitted. She said it was getting cold and Eva needed some warm clothes:
One might think: ok, Argentines just like pregnant women and kids. That’s right, they do, but it’s not only that.
We celebrated the arrival of 2014 in a quite unusual way.
The first reason for this is that Eva had been born just a week before.
Secondly, we had no electricity for 36 hours over the holiday. Our neighbor, who we didn’t know at the time, knocked on our door and offered to store all of our perishable food in his fridge. For whatever reason, he still had electricity. (Another reason to stay away from Argentina is because of its inequality:))
We had bought a bunch of organic products that morning, just before the outage, so the neighbor’s offer was accepted with a big smile.
After our candle-lit New Year’s celebration, another neighbor approached us, saying, “Hey, I bought this extra-long power cord. The next time electricity cuts off, you can use my fridge too.” We were happy to take him up on his offer the next time our power went down, a week later.
I could continue forever with stories like this.
There’s the cab driver who gave us his cell number and invited us to his country house for an authentic argentine asado (an Argentine-style BBQ) with his family. He only knew us because we happened to be in his car on the way to the airport!
Or, the time the Immigration Office required us to submit a letter in Spanish. It would have taken us hours to write something up and we were short on time. We asked a clerk at the counter for help and she spent fifteen minutes of her life writing it up for us.
Why would you ever want to visit a place where people treat you like you’re at home? It could get ridiculous, so that you’d never want to leave, right? It could be a life-wrecking experience, don’t ever do this.
2. Steaks that Will Ruin Your Palate Forever
Dear vegans, vegetarians and raw food lovers. I am sorry to have to bring this up, but there’s something nasty that needs to be said. One simply can’t ignore how harmfully tasty Argentinean meat is. I might consider starting a vegetarian diet if I had to eat meat anywhere else in the world again.
Argentine have a love affair with their meat. It seems as if they eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Though they’re among the cheapest options on the average menu in Buenos Aires, the steaks here are the best in the world. A dinner for two will cost you anywhere between $15 and $40, tips included.
La Cabrera restaurant runs a 40% off happy hour special on weekdays from 7pm to 8pm sharp. A small or medium portion of steak will keep you running till the next evening! The service is exceptional, courtesy of old-school waiters who know tons about the business.
After Argentinean steaks, your favorite steakhouse back home will look like an enormous rip-off! Now you see why it’s a good idea to eat locally instead of flying across the world for Argentinean steak.
3. So Business-Unfriendly!
Buenos Aires is very business-unfriendly. That is, it’s new business-unfriendly. Meaning, I don’t know how one would go about opening a shop next to ten other established shops of the highest quality, and trying to win their business. It’s so much easier to enjoy establishments already built by others, than to work your butt off building something on your own.
Palermo Soho in Buenos Aires reminds me of the West Village of Manhattan or Williamsburg, Brooklyn—on steroids. Every other door here is a business. Cafes, restos, design and furniture shops, hardware stores, kids’ stores, barbershops, pharmacies, convenience stores (kioskos), and more. This barrio (that is, neighborhood) has it all. We really don’t need to walk more than three to five blocks to run any errand.
Back in 2010, during the big recession, I got pretty sad watching how small shops in the West Village shut down and were replaced by chains. Despite all their economic difficulties, though, business owners in Buenos Aires keep their spirits up and welcome you with a smile, day in and day out. Oh, and they give you discounts for paying in cash, and punish you with higher prices for paying with a credit card. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here, but one that Visa, MC and AMEX won’t like.
Here’s a few neighborhood finds that will keep you distracted from all the work you need to get done:
On Saturdays, you may run into a Cannoli De Palermo pastry bike, parked on the sidewalk of Thames at Nicaragua Street. Here you can buy the most delicious cannoli and cream puffs, for less than a dollar.
The barista at LATTEnTE cafe, in front of the Cannoli bike, makes the best coffee in Argentina. This is where I typically start my morning and check my emails.
On that same corner, you’ll find a unique place, a mix of bookstore, cafe, photo gallery and concert venue. DAIN Usina Cultural is proof that art can attract good business and business can attract great art.
Street fairs and produce markets are very common here. People just hit the street to sell what they’ve made with their hands (all Argentines are potential Etsy clients), or grown in their gardens. This builds a great sense of community and has the potential to become a great tourist attraction as well, like the San Telmo street fair.
All of the world’s celebrated cities have some personality quirks that differentiate them from the rest. I will remember Buenos Aires for its rounded street corners, which provide more space for pedestrians. I haven’t seen such a consistent trend anywhere else in the world.
Here’s how it looks from above, with green lines indicating building footprints:
Here are some examples of how this looks at street level:
Shop on the corner
Eva Peron heritage in the middle of Palermo Soho
Until I came to Buenos Aires, I didn’t realize that I was afraid of 90-degree corners. I am. I usually walk very fast, so every time I turn the corner, it’s a challenge not to run into someone coming the opposite direction. This fear was sitting so deep inside me. Buenos Aires fixed it for good.
Putting in rounded street corners is the most people-friendly thing Argentines have ever done.
First, you can see around the corner better. Your chances of accidentally hitting someone drop to zero.
Second, this type of street plan makes every intersection into a miniature plaza, with extra space for people to enjoy the neighborhood: to stop, look around, have a cup of coffee or watch street performers.
One funny thing is how some newer buildings still follow this tradition by rounding only the ground floor, with the corner forming a sharp right angle starting on the second floor and continuing upwards.
5. Handcrafts and Street Art
If graffiti makes you angry, Buenos Aires is a perfect place to feed your rage.
Most of the time, though, calling it graffiti would be too ambitious. Ugly tags are all over buildings in this city. It’s sad. Some very nice buildings have been literally trashed by these notorious artists. It’s an epidemic here.
However, some of the graffiti and street murals are quite impressive. Small businesses often invite artists to paint awesome murals onto their walls. Kudos to these guys!
Mural can also go on the ground
Hardware Store at the corner of Nicaragua & Borges
Mural on the cafe wall in Palermo Soho
Guess who is more popular?
Amazing mural on Victoria Brown coffee shop
6. Cab Drivers
Cabbies in Buenos Aires are their own separate topic, but deserve mention here nevertheless. Nowhere else in the world will a cab driver give you the whole history of every neighborhood you drive through, complete with textbook facts and juicy gossip. A typical cabbie will have the best advice about free cultural events in town, show off his incredible knowledge of architecture and art, and then tell you about his experiences living in Italy, Germany and Spain.
Isn’t it quite intimidating to admit that a cab driver possesses so much knowledge that it’s hard to keep up? Why would you put yourself in such a position?
Plus, they are very nice, and don’t mumble on the phone with their imaginative friends all the time. At the end of a ride, you may receive a book in Spanish as a gift. Every time you take a cab in Buenos Aires, be sure you’re ready for some exciting experience.
Are you sure you want that?
7. Football Hooligans
It’s unnecessary to remind anyone that Argentines are crazy about their national sport. It’s called football. Yes, the same word spoken everywhere in the world. In Argentina whether you’re a guy or a girl, it’s not appropriate to say you don’t like football. The thing is, you do like football, you just may not know it yet. And anyway, the people have their passion and it’s best not to incite their wrath.
Sometimes this passion escalates into nasty fights between hooligans of the biggest rival clubs in Argentine football, Boca Juniors and River Plate. You definitely don’t want to get involved in that.
On the other hand, the experience of attending a football match is one of a kind. Fans never stop chanting, dancing, throwing confetti and cheering their team. It’s such a cataclysm of energy that River Plate and Boca Junior fans are no longer allowed in each other’s stadium. The arena turns into a battlefield.
The image below could be easily tagged as a drone view of the battle of Waterloo. You got the point!
8-12. Tango, Parties, Culture, Being Green and Beautiful
There are plenty of other -1’s that make Buenos Aires such an unattractive place to visit.
You want to learn tango in three days, say, but you don’t want to dance it till 8am. But you will, if you start at midnight. Buenos Aires will make you do things you’ve done when you were 18.
You won’t be able to sleep on Saturday night, as everyone is up till the following morning, even kids.
Back home we always hear about making cities green, but there is always a but. The lack of public funds makes everything so difficult. While corruption in Argentina isn’t necessarily under control, the city of Buenos Aires doesn’t seem to have any problems with the upkeep of its parks, zoo or botanical gardens. The garbage men come a couple of times each night.
Walking around I can’t get rid of the feeling that Buenos Aires is the city made by people for its people.
You will be torn apart trying to decide where to go and what to see first.
Liliana Porter installation in MALBA museum
Then you realize that you need to care your camera anywhere you go in Buenos Aires. With all its authentic colors and signs of its age the city is remarkably photogenic (Paris, be jealous!).
A blue devil that is still running
Colors of La Boca
El Ateneo bookstore, a theater converted into a bookstore
Once upon a time in La Boca barrio
San Telmo backdoors
A cafe in Palermo Soho
The port of entry to Buenos Aires
P.S. Now It’s for Real!
Are you still interested in visiting Buenos Aires? Here’s my last attempt to discourage you. Dog poop is everywhere here. You will most definitely step in it, especially if you get new shoes.
Parisians , no more complains from you, ok?
Dog poop as you stroll by
Interior design inspired by dog poop
Dog poop by the tree
To sum things up, the best way to visit Buenos Aires is to be prepared to not want to leave. You just might end up like this, hiding from the rest of the world in a century-old apartment in the heart of the one of the most beautiful city exists today. I’ve been there, I’ve done that.
Today is Saturday, March 29, 2014 and it’s my wife’s birthday. For this occasion I made a promise to myself and to her.
From now, on instead of working every Saturday, I will spend all time with my lovely wife Kristina and our adorable daughter Eva. For the last decade I worked pretty much every day. I’ve been especially diligent since I switched to my startup full time three years ago, not missing a single day of work since. One amazing thing that I’ve observed over that time is that, whether I work or not, there is never less work to do. So I’ve decided to have a break every Saturday, and my wife will monitor my schedule closely. It is my commitment to her. If I break this promise she can leave a comment here for my public embarrassment:).
Also every Saturday for the next year, we will write an article together and publish it on Monday. It will be about our life going around the world and experiencing different cultures and places. Feel free to subscribe to this blog, so you will get some insight on places like Argentina, Chile, France, Spain, Costa Rica, Panama, Uruguay, Brazil, etc.
I usually take tons of photos but never publish them. I always wanted my photos to be perfect before anyone can see them. From now on, I won’t care if they are perfect or just simple photos. They will be up here as long as they describe our journey and things we see.
Here’s a few words about the Osses
Eva was born three months ago in Buenos Aires. Yes, she is Argentine, or, more specifically, she is porteña. That is, she is from a port city, Buenos Aires. Eva doesn’t speak any human languages yet, but she can already say agua. Perhaps it means something else in her language, but our landlady likes to think that Eva has already picked up some Spanish due to being Argentine.
Eva likes the ceiling lamps in our apartment here. She giggles and makes fun of them as she rests on her back all day long, observing her surroundings .
Because she is so little, Eva can completely get away with ignoring the genius of Francisco de Goya, the great Spanish painter of the 18th and 19th century. She sleeps pretty tight in her sling while her dad studies Goya’s drawings in El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes.
Kristina was born and raised in Moscow. She loves art and cinema, but more than anything she loves Eva. When she has time she makes toys for kids. You can check her work at krixy.com. Kristina likes to walk and it’s astonishing how far she can make it without any help from public transportation or a cab driver. Just think about it: walking from downtown Manhattan to Central Park and back would be her laid back kinda afternoon.
I had never imagined that I would meet my wife in a nightclub. It happened, though, five years ago, when I visited Moscow. Kristina came to the club for a late dinner and stayed for the performance by the english drum’n’bass DJ LUKE VB. When we met that evening she told me that the lamp fixtures above the bar had smiley faces. There were a dozen of them and they all smiled. Kristina never stops smiling herself, and this is something that keeps me loving her more and more. On our first date we went to Winzavod, a new center for the contemporary art, converted from Soviet-era brewery buildings. She paid for my ticket because I didn’t have any small bills.
Then I returned to the states, and over the next six months we met a few times in Europe. Then she visited me in San Francisco. I proposed to her while we were skydiving, 10,000 feet above the island of Kauai. That was both exciting and beautiful. We got married in Albion River Inn in Mendocino with my parents and a couple of friends present.
Kristina loves warm water and sun and never complains about visiting Hawaii, Costa Rica, Panama and such. Pichilemu was brutal on her…
My life motto is to never stop exploring. I love to discover new places and experience life in different cultures as a local. I’ve visited over 40 countries, speak four languages, and have lived in stimulating places around the world: Moscow, San Francisco, New York, Paris, Costa Rica, Santiago, and now Buenos Aires.
There are two things that make me really happy: having Kristina with me and having Eva with us. The rest is my journey, and I also find it quite exciting. I work on my startup, eat organic food, mostly walk everywhere, and surf when I can. I invested in a few real estate gigs and that keeps me going.
Did I say that I evaluate my travel destinations based on proximity to the surf breaks? Now I did.
We live in Palermo Soho in an authentic two-story apartment. With a skylight instead of a ceiling, white walls covered with art and photographs, and a great patio upstairs, we think this place is absolutely gorgeous. I even have my own office upstairs, which I will abandon every Saturday from now on:).
The neighborhood of Palermo Soho is absolutely amazing. It’s like a mix of New York and Paris, with some Latin flavor. Most of the buildings here were constructed in the early 1900s, and the ‘hood is filled with different types of cafes and restaurants.
We absolutely love it. We wouldn’t mind, though, if someone were to fix all the sidewalks around here.