Buenos Aires is one of my favorite cities in the world. Cosmopolitan, charming, with world-class hotels, restaurants and shopping, it is where South American culture meets its European roots. Vibrant and sophisticated, this is a city like no other.
Buenos Aires offers the same advantages of cities like London, New York or Paris – for a fraction of the cost. The exchange rate (as of November, 2008) was 3 Argentine pesos for 1 US dollar, a very favorable exchange rate for Americans visiting the country. To give an idea, dinner in a top restaurant, with a great bottle of Malbec wine, came for less than $10 per person. And let’s not forget the elegance and good looks of the Portenos, the natives of Buenos Aires, an extra touch of glamour to the experience of being there.
Not surprisingly, my Tango in Buenos Aires tour, last November, was great. We arrived in the Southern Hemisphere at the end of their Spring, when the hot Summer days Buenos Aires is famous for had not yet started. Coming from a cold end of Fall in New York, this sudden change of weather was most welcome – coats were off right on arrival, at Ezeiza Airport.
Our hotel was a five-star, elegant and calm oasis in the center of Recoleta, one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of Buenos Aires. Surrounded by grand French-style mansions, embassies and upscale boutiques, we were near Patio Bullrich, an international shopping center offering from Chanel and Yves Saint-Laurent to the famous Argentine leather and wool.
But the main attraction of our tour was tango, and the high point of our days were dance classes in the San Telmo studio of Maria Edith, a friendly dancer of international acclaim. She and her dedicated team of tango teachers introduced us to its theatrical movements and dramatic sounds – the embodiment of Argentine culture. Maria Edith taught us not only tango steps, but also the philosophy behind it, like the fact that women are led by the male partner and follow his moves and control. Fascinating experience, to say the least…
People in Buenos Aires are fun lovers, they seem to live by night. Nobody goes out to have dinner before 9 pm, and the streets are full until late hours. We soon adjusted, and each night took us to a different restaurant: for the famous Argentine beef we chose a traditional place in La Recova area; meat never tasted that good. For local flavor we drove far away to La Boca – a working class neighborhood where tango was born and still rules – to a restaurant that is also a ‘shrine’ to soccer team Boca Juniors, the leading team in this city where soccer is almost a religion.
The tango shows we attended were fantastic! We discovered an off-the-beaten-path orchestra, Fernadez Fierro, which is starting to attract attention the way Astor Piazzolla did, before achieving international fame. The audience at this funky and far away place was mostly young people and Europeans, who always seem to know where the good stuff is. This show was one of the best we saw.
Our excellent driver Mathias, a Porteno who knew his city well, made sure we were always safe and well-informed. He took us to sophisticated Puerto Madero, hip Palermo Viejo, busy Calle Florida, the museums Evita and Malba, all along telling us the history and curiosities of Buenos Aires like only a local could. He even took us to some ‘secret’ addresses for the high-quality leather coats, jackets and stylish boots Argentina is famous for, for a fraction of the price of the boutiques. We also fell in love with their wool and cashmere sweaters in a huge array of colors and styles not found anywhere else.
On our last day we – by pure chance – got tickets to the opening match of the Argentine Open Polo Championship, the major polo tournament in the world. The Argentines are the undisputed leaders in the so called ‘sport of kings’, and the opening of the polo season attracts a very international crowd. Nowhere in the world polo is played quite like in Argentina, Mathias explained, introducing us to some of its rules. Nothing like a driver who knows his polo, I say. Only in Buenos Aires.
Leaving the city to go back to New York, I made a note to myself: I want to come back to learn how to dance tango like a Portena, like a pro. It didn’t happen yet, but the wish is still in my bucket list.