The Paris of the South

Today we had such high hopes.  After not falling asleep till after 3 am the night before, we had foolishly planned on waking up at 9.30 to make our free walking tour. Thanks to the single pane windows and some very loud traffic outside, we did wake up, but were way to groggy and out of it to do anything other than lay in bed. We decided that we were more 3 pm walking tour people and fell back asleep after a while. When we woke up again it was 1.50 in the afternoon – oops. We quickly showered, dressed, and headed out the door to walk the 40 minutes to our walking tour meet up.

We didn’t really have time for lunch, but we managed to find an empanada house on the way and each had a jamon y queso, both managing to drip some on our shorts in all the excitement. We got to the meet up at exactly 3.00 and were surprised at the lack of crowd.  We met our guides and were then ushered into the shade around the side of the building where 50+ other people were waiting.  That made a lot more sense.

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Lynn enjoying a tasty ham and cheese empanada.
Another day, another spill on my shorts. We're not sure if we've mentioned this yet, but hardly a day goes by that I don't manage to spill or drip some sort of food on myself.
Another day, another spill on my shorts. We’re not sure if we’ve mentioned this yet, but hardly a day goes by that I don’t manage to spill or drip some sort of food on myself.

After another 15 minutes of waiting (Argentinians are late for everything we would learn) we met Fernando and began our tour. We have both become big fans of the free walking tours many places offer and this one was no exception.  Over the next three hours we learned about Argentinean and Buenos Aires’s history from our excellent guide.  Fernando is a porteño (someone from Buenos Aires) and human rights lawyer at an NGO in his grown up life and does tour guiding part time because he likes to meet people and, in his words, “NGO’s don’t pay very well.”

Starting at the National Congress, he guided us down Avenue de Mayo and towards the pink house.  Along the way we learned about Buenos Aires’s aspirations to be the European capital of the south.  They modeled their whole city after Paris, Venice, Florence, London, and New York, but intentionally made everything bigger and so, of course, better.  They even imported and bred pigeons to give the feel of being in a European city.  We also learned about their history of military dictatorships and the Dirty War, in which 30,000 Argentinians were “disappeared.”  Learning about this is one of the reasons we love these tours, you get a chance to hear from a local about their own history and why things are the way they are today.

The National Congress. It was originally supposed to have one of the three originals of Rodin's The Thinker at the main gates but it was not allowed because it would throw off the symmetry of the building.
The National Congress. It was originally supposed to have one of the three original’s of Rodin’s The Thinker at the main gates but it was not allowed because it would throw off the symmetry of the building.
This pillar is the center point from which all distances in Argentina are measured.
This pillar is the center point from which all distances in Argentina are measured.
Avenue de Mayo is supposed to be Buenos Aires' version of the Champs d'Elysees. So much so, that they even have the same trees and lamp posts.
Avenue de Mayo is supposed to be Buenos Aires’ version of the Champs d’Elysees. So much so, that they even have the same trees and lamp posts.
Fernando doing an excellent job of explaining something to the group.
Fernando doing an excellent job of explaining something to the group.
This large neon sign of Evita was on the radio building in the Avenue 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world, with 22 lanes.
This large neon sign of Evita was on the radio building in the Avenue 9 de Julio, the widest street in the world, with 22 lanes.
A newspaper headquarters on the Avenue de Mayo. Very typical of most building in Buenos Aires. Looks just like Europe doesn't it?
A newspaper headquarters on the Avenue de Mayo. Very typical of most building in Buenos Aires. Looks just like Europe doesn’t it?
This is the central Catholic cathedral in Buenos Aires. The church couldn't afford to build it and asked the government to help pay for it when the two were at odds. As a giant middle finger to the church, the government built it in the style of the Pantheon. General San Martin is also buried here, who was a key figure in South American independence from Spain.
This is the central Catholic cathedral in Buenos Aires. The church couldn’t afford to build it and asked the government to help pay for it when the two were at odds. As a giant middle finger to the church, the government built it in the style of the Pantheon. General San Martin is also buried here, who was a key figure in South American independence from Spain.
The Pink House, the president's residence and office, is in the background. In the foreground are protest banners. On the ground are white head scarves, representative of the mothers of those who were disappeared in the Dirty War.
The Pink House, the president’s residence and office, is in the background. In the foreground are protest banners. On the ground are white head scarves, representative of the mothers of those who were disappeared in the Dirty War.
The balcony of the presidential palace from which Evita announced she was dying. Evita was a huge deal in Argentina and everyone has very strong opinions either for or against depending on how working class they are.
The balcony of the presidential palace from which Evita announced she was dying. Evita was a huge deal in Argentina and everyone has very strong opinions either for or against depending on how working class they are.

After concluding the tour with the story of Evita in front of the presidential palace, we said goodbye to our tour group walked down to find an old church and college but found you needed to pay just to see them. We decided that wasn’t worth it and made our way back home via the Teatro Colon hoping to catch a tour before they closed, but were a little too late.  We headed home and unwound before hitting the streets again to catch dinner.  Argentina, like most Spanish countries, eats dinner at around 9 pm at the earliest.  The best way we have found to cope with this is just pretend we are on Austin time and do everything three hours later than the clock says.

This awesome building we saw on our way home is simply the Department of Water and Sewage.
This awesome building we saw on our way home is simply the Department of Water and Sewage.
Enjoying an ice cream on the way home. Argentina is famous for its ice cream, which is based on gelato because of all of the Italian immigrants.
Enjoying an ice cream on the way home. Argentina is famous for its ice cream, which is based on gelato because of all of the Italian immigrants.
This is a bookstore we found on the way to dinner that is inside of an old theater.
This is a bookstore we found on the way to dinner that is inside of an old theater.
Buenos Aires is a very fashionable town, except for the girl's shoes which all seem to be gigantic platforms. Neither Lynn nor I care for them.
Buenos Aires is a very fashionable town, except for the girl’s shoes which all seem to be gigantic platforms. Neither Lynn nor I care for them.

We arrived at El Cuartito at 9.15 and just barely beat the line as we were shown to a table. We managed to order in Spanish and even modified our order a little (go us!).  We had barely eaten all day because we woke up so late and had to rush to our tour so when the giant pizza arrived (There were three sizes available: by the slice, giant, and “the little girl.”) we both jumped right in.  Argentinian pizza is very thick and has a ton of cheese on it (not quite Chicago level, but close) but we managed to eat the whole thing.  After sorting the check out we headed home for our nightly Duolingo lessons and stretching before bed.

The pizza.
The pizza.

Daily Walking Mileage: 12.0 miles

Fun Facts:

  • Buenos Aires was the largest port in the Southern hemisphere up through the 1900s and accepted about as many immigrants as New York City.  A giant wave of 3 million Italians migrated in the 1890s and has had a huge effect on Argentinian life.
  • Capitalising on the chaos created by the French Revolution, the British conquered Buenos Aires briefly for nine months before it was retaken by local militias.
  • The Subte, Buenos Aires subway system, is the oldest in the Southern hemisphere and third oldest in the world.
  • Pope Francis is from Buenos Aires and everyone is very excited to show off that they are somehow related to him.  There was a barber shop, for example, with a poster in the window advertising that they have cut his hair for the past 30 years.
Well if it's good enough for the pope...
Well if it’s good enough for the pope…

2 thoughts on “The Paris of the South

  1. Lynn should remember that she is a very distant relation to Fanny Navarro who was an Argentine actress friendly with Evita. Fanny’s mother was a sister of her Great Grandfather who emigrated from Italy back around 1900.

  2. Speaking of Italian immigrants to Argentina Lynn, we definitely have Sarcione relatives there. Your great grandfather had several brothers, some immigrated to the U.S. & some went to Argentina. I’m also brushing up on Spanish via Duo Lingo as I’m headed to Gautemala for 2 weeks. Enjoy!

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