Buenos Aires in 3 words: Colorful, diverse, gritty
Personal Highlight: Getting invited into a wine store by the store owner as I was taking pictures on the street outside his store. Flavio was his name and he was Italian. He proceeded to teach me all about the indigenous grapes of South America and 'insisted' (!) I try a few different ones. As we communicated through broken English and Spanish, I got so caught up that I missed one of my tours. But as always, these kinds of moments are the reason I travel as they give me a much more authentic and fulfilling experience.
I had received a lot of contradicting information about BA before I arrived - safe, unsafe, dirty, Euro, modern, arty, cold & welcoming. Now I understand why. All of these things exist. It's a big city, and so it has multiple personalities. I personally loved the juxtaposition of the grit and the bold colors, and I equally loved the people.
My two weeks there was definitely not enough time, as there is so much to see and I only scratched the surface. But my goals for my stay there were to study Spanish, start planning the next couple of legs of my journey and to launch this blog. At some point, I also decided I wanted to learn how to take better pictures. Given I don't have any room in my suitcase to bring any pieces from the road home, I want to have pictures that really capture what I see/feel/hear everywhere I go.
So with that full plate, I didn't have as much time as I would've liked! However, I feel like I got to know the city fairly well - spending nights out with various classmates, wandering in different neighborhoods after class to snap some pics and trying my damnest to converse with the locals to practice my Spanish. I think that is the best way to see a city; it's much better than hanging in all of the tourist traps!
The coffee: Very difficult to find a good cup. But after mucho research, I found three amazing places: Cuco (Palermo), Lattente (Palermo), and Coffee Town (San Telmo).
The food: Sooo much bread and meat. This is typical Argentinian. You have to work a bit harder to find a big, colorful salad or veggies but it's definitely doable. I loved Funk & Deli and Vive Verde for healthy bites and for a good burger - Burger Joint. Jury is still out on the quality of the meat here (with respect to grass fed v. factory farmed). The majority I've talked to believe cows are grass fed, and that's what I believed as I was tucking into that juicy burger.
And thank goodness for Pick Up The Fork, an amazing blog about finding good eats in the city. See her hilarious review of Burger Joint and pics of the funky spot here.
Accommodation: I stayed at an AirBnB in San Telmo for 10 days. When I decided to extend my stay there, I had to change apartments and stayed an additional 4 days in Palermo.
Tours: Day Clicker Tours, Free City Walking Tour
Side story: Changing Money in Buenos Aires
I did have one of those moments where I felt like I was in the beginning of a movie. You know, the one where the solo tourist gets lured into a back alley by some charming shopkeeper, offering them to show them something unique.
"Don't do it, you idiot!"
You know how the movie goes.
I had done my homework and talked to many other travelers at Spanish school, but I was still not prepared for what transpired as I went to get Argentinian pesos. Let me explain...
Basically, in May 2012 the government restricted the ability for ordinary Argentines to purchase dollars, which was a very common practice as no one wanted to save in pesos because they were losing 30% per year to inflation. Ever since that point, the black market for dollars, actually called the 'blue rate' has soared from the official government influenced rate. While trading with the blue rate is technically illegal, it is very much in the open. The difference from the blue rate to the official rate is astounding - I looked at rates at the airport, and it was 1:9. I got 1:15 with the blue rate. While the rate fluctuates daily, you could be losing as much as 60% on your money if you use an ATM or credit card versus exchanging cash on the blue rate.
So in order to get the blue rate, I was instructed to head to Florida Street and look for any of the guys that yell, "Cambio!" As I was walking down Florida, I was trying to discern who 'looked' most honest. I saw a guy who had a respectable scarf wrapped around his neck and decided he was my man.
I walked over to him and in my broken Spanish I said I'd like to exchange my USD. He said "bueno!" and asked me to follow him. We walked a half block and turned into a plaza type building, walked past all of the storefronts and into a side door. We walked past a desk where two men poked up their heads to look at the vulnerable tourist who was trying to look cool and collected but might have looked like a deer in headlights. We turned into a tiny office where a man was sitting at a desk with just a phone and a couple of papers on it. He stood up to greet my guy and they exchanged a fist bump and a bro hug.
Like he just congratulated him for a fresh catch.
My guy stayed while the whole ordeal happened. It lasted only 3 minutes, but it felt like an eternity. I wonder if I even breathed the entire time. In the end, we exchanged bills, I got an amazing rate, we shook hands and we were done. My guy walked me out, told me to be careful with my backpack, particularly on the subte (subway), gave me a kiss on the cheek, said thank you and safe journeys.