Posts Tagged With: Provinces

Buenos Aires: A City Of Contradictions

Mixed Messages: Old meets the new

So what’s it been? About a month? For me, that’s a long time in one place. I didn’t plan to stay this long in Buenos Aires, but that’s the way it goes in the world of no-hurries, no-worries travel. I get to any given place, remove my hat, wipe the sweat from my brow, look around, survey, take stock,  go!

I should have been gone for weeks from Buenos Aires. Instead, I stuck around, looking for something more, something extra or extraordinary out of the place. I’m not always sure just what that one thing more might be. That’s Buenos Aires. You get a sense that you’ve had enough of the place, but you stay one more day, and another for something you fear you may have missed or could miss or absolutely don’t want to miss.

On the "A Line" old wooden trains from a bygone era are still in use

Look at me, talking about “you”. That “you” is of course me. There is something about Buenos Aires that I simply  have found mysterious. In one month, just when I think I have my finger on  South America’s second largest city, it’s a faint beat. Is Buenos Aires dead to me or to die for, I ask. I want more, I want to hear more, experience more, and the more I do and see, the more I want to do and see. So I stick around.  It’s hard to leave.

And what have I learned about Buenos Aires?

I’ve already written about the peopleof Buenos Aires. That still stands. I’m not going to rehash that. I’m all about the place this go round. And what I’ve seen is a great city. Truly one of the best. Striking architecture. Imposing. A mix of styles and eras. I love the buildings in Buenos Aires.

Unusual Sight: A deserted subway. This almost never ever happens in the second largest city in South America

If you come to Buenos Aires, look up! You will see buildings straight out of Europe. There is good reason Buenos Aires is labeled “the most European city in South America.” Hands down, it is! Walk the city – it’s easy to do, but while you are casually strolling looking up, every so often glance down – the sidewalks are unfortunately a minefield of dog poo.

I could live in Buenos Aires. That’s a huge endorsement, people! But I don’t think I could do it forever. Some cities I know I could spend a lifetime there. Buenos Aires is not one of them. I don’t exactly know why, I just know. Like every large city, there are good things and there are bad things about the city. I believe the good outweigh the bad, but the bad – for me the lack of diversity, for instance – is a biggie. I am currently in the city next door – Montevideo, Uruguay– much smaller than Buenos Aires, but far more diversity of people. You see a spectrum of people and that makes Montevideo a warmer, more inviting place.

Evita's final resting place, in the Recoleta Cemetery, a tourist mecca!

That is of course my opinion. For others, the fact that they can go all day without seeing a black person is just fine, even welcomed. I think Montevideo is a richer place because of its diversity. And it’s just across the La Plata River, the widest river in the world. It took three hours to cross the river by ferry and every time I look at the river it feels more like an ocean. You cannot see the other side from one shore to another. Amazing.

Anyway, the bottom line about Buenos Aires is that it’s a world-class city with Third World oddities. You will still see horse and buggies driven by men who go around the city rummaging through trash to find cardboard and other recyclable. On the subway trains and buses, peddlers peddling everything from bootlegged movies to chewing gum; and people riding outside overcrowded trains, hanging on for dear life! And yet, you can spend a night at the opera in one of the finest theaters in the world. Spend time in some of the most beautiful parks. Dine at a myriad of super fancy restaurants. In short, Buenos Aires is a city of contradictions.

So come to Buenos Aires and spend a little while. You might find it hard to tear yourself away. I did.

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Santiago, Chile: Ignore The Naysayers

The Titanium: The tallest building in Santiago, Chile, currently under construction. When completed, it will be more than 60 floors of office and retail space.

I thought I was going to the worst city on Earth. To hear Chileans describe Santiago – as dirty, polluted, ugly, traffic-clogged and a lot of other negatives – is to imagine urban hell. Most of them said the city was not worth more than a couple of days. Some struggled to come up with things to do and places to visit in the city other than the Cathedral. And yet, I am loving Santiago.

I think it’s clearly an anti big city thing. People don’t like big cities. At least the people who don’t live in them. Big cities generally have big problems, such as traffic congestion and public transportation choked with people. Some people see city living as Hell on Earth. They prefer smaller towns with lots of green spaces and such. So a place like Santiago, to most Chileans who live in ideal outlying provinces, urban living is the worst thing imaginable.

When I was in Salta in northern Argentina, I had nothing but negatives about Buenos Aires – from Argentinians themselves. They basically described their country’s famed city in much the same way as Chileans described Santiago. I am glad I did not listen. I was determined to visit Santiago. And I am glad I did. It’s a vibrant place with lots going for it. Sure, it’s not Paris or Rome, but the city has great neighborhoods in which to hang out, sit and have a good breakfast or enjoy lunch. Based on what I had heard about Santiago, I had planned to stay only two days.  I’ve extended my stay by two days.

Of course I wasn’t about to have Buenos Aires-bashing Argentinians keep me from visiting the city. I have long wanted to visit Buenos Aires. And I will stay as long as planned, perhaps longer. I guess I am a city person at heart. I love cities. And sure, I like spending time in the great outdoors, in small towns, but I don’t mind urban living and all the insanity that comes along with it.

I grew up hearing all the negatives from Americans about New York, the largest city in the United States. People in other parts of the United States love to hate New York. Even some who have never been there. They’re just not city folks.

So I say to you, dear reader, listen to the criticisms, but take them with a grain of salt and go see for yourself.


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