One of the things I love most about Buenos Aires is that you can be walking along on a sidewalk with tons of people, jaywalking across the street between cars, surrounded by giant buildings but then come across some little park or plaza, like a break from the city. European architecture was a major influence on the city, especially French, as can be seen by the many parks and plazas planned throughout the city. More than once, Samir would marvel and say something like ‘you know how much it probably costs the city to have this here? The land value alone and then building the park and dedicating this as a public space – it’s what cities all over should be doing’.
In the north part of Palermo, there is a large green area with the botanical gardens (free) and the Japanese Gardens (small fee). Further west of the Japanese gardens starts a huge park as well. The botanical gardens were nice to take a stroll through, though there wasn’t much labeled so we weren’t sure what we were looking at. The day we went to the Japanese Gardens was during winter holiday and was filled with kids! They had an interesting origami display for the kiddos (and us!). And another great place to go on an afternoon stroll.
On the east side of the city is Puerto Madero – a really ritzy, expat filled area. Doesn’t really even feel like Buenos Aires. But, there is a nice ecological reserve (Costanera Sur) on this side of the city. It’s a pretty large reserve and a great clean, calm space to escape from the bustle of the city. We took a stroll through about half of it. If we had planned better, we would have liked to rent bikes and ride through it as many others were doing. Given that it was winter, the ponds were dry and the birds had moved on, but still a nice place to spend the afternoon. In the middle of it, there was access to the coast as well – not the gorgeous beaches of Asia by any means, but still love sitting by the ocean! I was also really amused by the plumerillos (type of fox grass) that were everywhere!
Another park we liked was centered around a huge flower sculpture, Floralis Generica, completed in 2002. This aluminum giant flower is 23 meters high and when its petals are fully open, it is 32 meters wide. Apparently, it used to open and close with daylight, but right now that function is disabled.
One of the most famous plazas in the Capital is Plaza de Mayo which commemorates the May 25, 1810 revolution that eventually led to independence from Spain. It’s also surrounded by some interesting buildings, like City Hall and the Metropolitan Cathedral of BsAs.
The main boulevard that runs through downtown is the Avenida de 9 de Julio – July 9th Avenue (which is the Argentine independence day). The boulevard is so wide that we never made it all the way across in one pedestrian walk signal. On this boulevard is huge traffic circle with a monument in it dedicated to the exploration/creation of the city in the 1500’s. It looks like the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, though here it’s called the obelisk. It sort of functioned like a North Star for us – if we were lost nearby, we’d always look for the obelisk to point us back in the correct direction. We also happened to be there on July 9th and there was this large open concert out by the obelisk, though we never did figure out who the performer was!
There was also a cute plaza by our apartment, Plaza Armenia and of course, the spot for a bunch of restaurants and bars in Palermo Soho was Plaza Serrano. I really enjoyed just walking along and being able to stop at some random plaza that we came across. We’d sit there and soak in the sun on a cold day and watch the porteños meeting with each other and sharing their mate.
Side note on mate: Mate is a huge social tradition in Argentina, and also parts of Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. To say it’s an herbal tea oversimplifies it (I got yelled at by my Spanish teacher for calling it an herbal tea!) because it has such a social context to it. It is drank out of a hollowed calabash gourd (a type of squash I think) using a silver (or nickel silver) bombilla or straw. The straw is cool looking – it has designs on it and the bottom end is rouded and has small holes in it to help pass the brewed liquid into it while acting as a strainer for the tea leaves. There is a very special way to make mate. Essentially, you take the yerba mate (tea leaves) and fill the gourd about half way more depending on your preference. You shake the gourd upside down and right side up a few time to allow the finest leaves to surface to the top. Then, you tilt the gourd and pour in water that is not boiling (around 75 degrees Celcius). The arrangement of the leaves and how the water is poured in apparently is very important and makes a difference in taste. Then, the mate is drunk with the bombilla, and many times shared with others as part of an intimate, social activity. Once finished, you simply keep on adding water to the mate using the same tea leaves. We would often see people with their mate and thermoses filled with water having animated discussions in the park, sharing their mate. We finally bought a mate gourd and tried drinking mate – we weren’t the hugest fans of it but then later we found out that there were different flavors and it was acceptable to add sugar to it. And that the first pour was the strongest flavor and it got better with adding more and more water. Anyway, I thought it was a really cool tradition and I liked all the different designs of the mate gourds and bombillas!