San Telmo Sunday Fair / Feria

September 29, 2007 by · 17 Comments 

Buenos Aires Antiques and Beyond

Colorful Soda Siphons at the Feria de San Telmo, Buenos Aires

The Feria de San Telmo is one of the most notable and popular events that takes place in Buenos Aires. Nestled in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, the San Telmo Fair is bustling with unique artisans and antiques every Sunday from about 10am to 4pm (depending on the season and the weather). Perhaps its greatest qualities, besides the architecturally beautiful neighborhood which it calls home, are its exclusive goods and reliable nature. Never a Sunday will there be without tourists pouring into the cobblestone streets of San Telmo for one of a kind antiques, trinkets, art, tango and delicious food.

The San Telmo Fair, in Plaza Dorrego

Set your alarm, it’s morning in San Telmo

The true Feria de San Telmo is in Plaza Dorrego, although, it spills out into the surrounding blocks making it almost impossible to see the entire fair in just one Sunday. Plaza Dorrego houses mostly antique booths where one can find any number of valuables. Some, like original matchbox cars, gramophones and old telephones, which are still fully functional, may fetch a more expensive price, but the authenticity and uniqueness of these antiques make it well worth the extra pesos.

Antique telephones at the Feria de San Telmo

Many booths house truly one of a kind relics where a handmade backgammon board, full dinette sets and antique garments make you feel like you’re looking through your grandmother’s attic rather than a street fair. Antique knives, old jewelry and a myriad of figurines earn a spot in nearly every booth and soda siphons, artwork, mate trinkets and leather goods are in abundance. While the latter may begin to feel redundant all of these effects are an excellent example of Buenos Aires’ charming nature and rich history, and all of them deserve a spot on your shelf.

The Feria de San Telmo isn’t a time to speed shop, as walking too quickly through Plaza Dorrego may cause you to miss the very thing you’ve been looking for. Each booth ultimately has something different to offer and time well spent will turn up something to earn you “Ooohs and Ahhhs” the next time you have guests over.

Puppets at the Feria de San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Take a load off while you load up on anything you want

If you’ve built up an appetite, Plaza Dorrego is bordered by quaint eateries, cafes and bars. One of the varying prices and styles is sure to offer you the exact mid-day break you are looking for. For a taste of home with Argentine style, you can always meander your growling tummy down Defensa Street, an excellent way to view more of the fair. On Defensa, pick up some choripan (a chorizo sausage sandwich) to go and maximize your time munching away happily as you continue shopping (one of the few ways you’ll find mobile food in Argentina). Of course, Buenos Aires never disappoints with a lack of restaurants and a few blocks up or down Defensa and you’re sure to find a place that fits your mood.

Don’t spend it all in one place

If you need a break from the brassy pots and old-style belongings, Defensa provides a more modern attempt at souvenirs. Naturally, leather goods and alpaca furs still pop up from booth to booth, but younger artisans with interesting clothing designs and modern jewelry are a welcome change from the antiques of Plaza Dorrego and the antique stores lining Defensa. If you have room in your suitcase or a place in the corner of your room, quirky lamps and art pieces are a must see. If your outfit needs jazzing up, then the scarves, hats and purses will surely catch your eye.

Brass pots and things in Plaza Dorrego, Buenos Aires

It’s a beautiful Sunday, enjoy the view

If you happen to remember to take your eyes off of the endless maze of booths and gaze upward, the architecture of San Telmo is spectacular and a relic all on its own. San Telmo boasts extremely beautiful buildings that stand as they were, when they were built over a hundred years ago. In fact, the walk from Plaza de Mayo towards Plaza Dorrego is almost as rewarding architecturally as it is for day shopping. Another reason to perhaps leave the house early, and take your time.

If you’ve somehow managed to enjoy all the fair has to offer, and remembered to take Defensa all the way to Parque Lezama, which has its own street fair and flea market, let yourself wander through more of the surrounding blocks. San Telmo’s quaint and quirky nature is spellbinding, and a right turn here or left turn there, and a ten-man orchestra has attracted your attention.

Street entertainers in San Telmo, Buenos Aires

Many of the street performers here deserve a closer look and many of them are geared towards the kids. (It’s important to mention as well, that you certainly won’t leave without catching a street tango performance). Be sure to mark the map with any museums you pass along the way. These gorgeous buildings are eye catching and if they’re not open on Sunday they deserve a day for themselves during the workweek.

Getting there is half the fun

If you’ve taken advantage of San Telmo the way it’s intended, you might need an extra suitcase home and more shelf room once you arrive. The best way to tackle the fair is walking from Plaza de Mayo down Defensa. It’s a wonderful transition from the city and an architectural delight. However, if you prefer to start closer to Plaza Dorrego and jump-start your antique splurge, there is a Subte (subway) stop on the C line at Avenida San Juan, about 6 blocks away from the fair. Like any true gem of a city attraction, don’t expect the fair to jump right out in front of you. From the right (or rather, wrong) side street you can almost miss it, making the San Telmo fair a real Buenos Aires treasure.

San Telmo Fair, Plaza Dorrego

Location of the Feria de San Telmo

Plaza Dorrego, corner of Defensa & Humberto Primo, San Telmo

Abasto Shopping Mall

December 11, 2006 by · 6 Comments 

Grand Shopping Center in Buenos Aires

Abasto corner

The Abasto shopping center is probably the one mall in Buenos Aires that has at least something to appeal to all people, of all ages. It’s wonderful 1930s Art Deco architecture and grand size add to the experience.

As far as shopping goes, it is full of mainstream clothes stores, and it boasts over 250 brands to choose from, including major labels like Nike, Lacoste and YSL. A bit logo-happy, but the building itself quite beautiful and unique (see right). And if size matters, it is one of the largest malls in the city of Buenos Aires (along with its newer, more modern counterpart, Dot Shopping in Saavedra, and Unicenter, the biggest mall in Argentina, which is technically outside the city limits).

This area of Abasto also has played a major role in the social and tango history of Buenos Aires, and for those reasons alone it is worth a quick visit, even if you are not interested in the shops inside. And there is also a range of things to see and do inside the center, which can be found near the end of this blog post.

History of the Mercado de Abasto

Mercado de Abasto

In 1893, a market fair started in this zone, which back then would have been referred to with its official barrio name of Balvanera. This official barrio is still found on the maps, but these days it is generally split into three unofficial, but more commonly used, areas, of Abasto, Once and Congreso – all named after major landmarks in each area (the Abasto mall, Once train station, and Congress building, respectively).

By 1930 Buenos Aires needed a wholesale distribution center for its food produce, and this old marketplace couldn’t cope with the needs of a rapidly growing population, so plans were projected by the architects Delpini, Sulsio and Besque for this grand structure to be erected as a new indoor home for the wholesale food market. Building began in 1931, and el Mercado de Abasto eventually opened in 1934. It soon became the center of the noisy, busy food trade in Buenos Aires. Crowds of workers would also drink, listen to tango music and play cards in the seedy bars around the market.

Art Deco Abasto

On the structural side, it was significant as the first building in Argentina to ever use cement for both its façade and indoor finish. The original façade is still the same as ever, with its lovely five curves at the front, the central one being wider and taller than the others, as can be seen in the picture above.

The Modern Abasto ‘Shopping’

Inside Abasto shoppingThe Abasto market set the lively pace of this neighborhood until it was closed down in 1984. This was due to its position in the middle of the city, which was seen as impractical, given that all of the produce came from the countryside and it meant unnecessarily travelling through most of the busy city to bring it here. And so a new central market was instead built on the city outskirts, which is the present Mercado Central, with the Abasto building sadly left abandoned to contemplate its former glory.

However, fifteen years later, in 1999, Abasto was reborn into a shopping center (or just ‘Shopping’, as they say in Buenos Aires), as it was refurbished completely on the inside, and with additional structures at the back and side, but keeping the original beautiful Art Deco façade.

Carlos Gardel’s Old Stamping Ground

The area around Abasto also just happens to be where the most famous tango singer of all time, Carlos Gardel, lived (with his mother) for most of his life. He was so closely connected to this area, that one of his nicknames was El Morocho del Abasto, which basically means ‘the dark-haired guy from Abasto’.

Carlos Gardel in his 'hood' of Abasto

In honor of this, a nice bronze statue of the immortal tango crooner stands just outside of the Abasto building, as shown in the picture over to the right.

Also within just a few blocks distance are his former house where he lived with his mother, on Jean Jaures 735, which is now a museum about his life, a small street named after him, called Pasaje Carlos Gardel, a subway station bearing his name, a corner tango house built in an 1893 bar that ressurects his songs in razzle-dazzle Argentine tango shows each night, and even a small street called Pasaje Zelaya where Gardel’s multi-colored mug is painted on most of the walls.

Finally, just across from the side of the mall is El Progreso Bar, on Anchorena 529, which happens to be one of the few places in Buenos Aires where Carlos Gardel actually sang (among other famous tango figures such as Tita Merello), which has also been preserved in the state it would have been in when Gardel performed there.

How to get to Abasto

Getting to the Abasto mall is fairly easy, thanks to an adjoining Subte (subway) station, called estacion ‘Carlos Gardel’, on the red B Line.

Also, if you are staying in a hotel, you can ask them to call 4338 2333 to arrange you free transport to and from the shopping center, which will certainly help if you are planning on going on a big shopping spree.

Things to do for families in Buenos Aires

Big wheel in the Abasto shopping center

The Abasto shopping center also includes several activities that may help to keep families with kids entertained when on holiday in Buenos Aires, for example:

  • A 12 screen cinema, which goes by the name of ‘Hoyts’ and shows all the major American, European and Argentine release.
  • A massive food court on the top floor where you can guiltily pig out on junk fast food, if that is, like me, one of your secret pleasures. This includes a Kosher McDonald’s restaurant, as Abasto is part of the Jewish area of Buenos Aires.
  • The Museo de Los Ninos, with its massive indoor big wheel (see right) and where kids can play at being adults in a ‘city’ scaled down to child size, where they can, for example, operate cranes on a building site, run a TV studio or man the helm of a ship. Open from 1-8pm on every day, except Mondays.
  • A fairly large games/amusements arcade replete with the usual flashing lights and games machines that gobble up pocket money at a fast rate.

Buenos Aires Cinema

If you are looking for a place to go to the movies in Buenos Aires, the Hoyts cinema complex in Abasto is an excellent choice for a laid back night at the cinema. It also serves up some tasty sweet popcorn, called pochoclo in Spanish, and if you want sweet, ask for dulce, or say salado for salted.

Also, if you go to the Hoyts cinema in the Abasto mall at night, you will get to see the outside of this wonderful building at its best, when its curves are lit up after dark, to stunning effect:

Abasto mall beautifully lit up by night

And finally, if you are on a budget, the cinema offers discounts on Wednesday nights, which is the day before the big releases come out. Almost all films in Buenos Aires are shown in the original English version, with Spanish subtitles, so there will be no potential language problems.

Location of Abasto Shopping Center

Corrientes 3247 (between Aguero & Anchorena), Abasto

Open 10am to 10pm daily,  Website: http://www.abasto-shopping.com.ar/

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