Calle Lanin, Barracas

November 29, 2007 by · 10 Comments 

A more colorful Caminito, without the hordes of tourists

Calle Lanin in Barracas, Buenos Aires

Calle Lanin is a beautiful little street in the barrio of Barracas, in the south of Buenos Aires. If you are going to La Boca to see the colorful and historical Caminito Street, then you might also consider taking the time to explore some of the neighboring barrio of Barracas, where you will find the quieter, shady, yet extremely colorful Lanin. (Don’t try this at night, it’s not really a safe place for tourists to be after dark). The murals there, created in the year 2000 by local artist Marino Santa Maria (who actually lives on this street), are definitely worth the trip to take a look.

Being such a colorful street, the best way to give you an idea of what Lanin street is like is with some photos…

Photos of Calle Lanin

House on Lanin Street, Buenos Aires

Project Calle Lanin

Street murals on Calle Lanin, Barracas

Colorful Calle Lanin

Hope you enjoyed the photos.

You can also check out this post on Calle Lanin by Argentina’s Travel Guide for some more info on this sightseeing attraction in Buenos Aires.

Location of Calle Lanin

Lanin 1 – 200, between Brandsen and Suarez, Barracas

Buenos Aires Zoo

November 22, 2007 by · 10 Comments 

It’s all happening at the zoo…

Elephants at Buenos Aires Zoo

The Buenos Aires Zoo is spectacularly charming for anyone with an afternoon to spare. Located in the heart of Palermo off the Plaza Italia subway stop, the zoo spans the distance between Avenidas Las Heras and Libertador. Home to over 350 species and known for some of its exotic breeding, the zoo is the perfect place for families, a romantic date or an afternoon alone.

On sunny weekends this attraction is packed full of children, which isn’t always entirely different from the weekdays, when many school field trips attend. Nevertheless, the best time to visit the zoo is on a sunny weekday afternoon, when you can lounge in front of the white tiger enclosure or elephant house with few others peering over your shoulder.
Feeding time at the Buenos Aires Zoo

Buenos Aires Zoo details

The zoo’s entrance is located on the corner of Avenida Las Heras and Avenida Sarmiento. Cost varies depending on what you want to see and how much you want to spend. General Admission (Entrada General) gives you access to most of the zoo. However, there are several exhibits requiring the more advanced pass (Pasaporte), which gives you access to exhibits such as the Aquarium, Reptiles and Rainforest, as well as the ‘Dragon House’ and a boat ride on the lagoon.

The General pass shouldn’t be overlooked however, as the majority of the zoo is indeed found within the General layout. Meanwhile, the Aquarium has penguins with both fresh and saltwater fish (including piranhas) in large tanks and the reptile area is eerily captivating (especially for the boys). However, if after purchasing the general pass and you find yourself thinking that the Rainforest exhibit looks too good to pass up, a few pesos extra at the entrance to each additional exhibit will grant you entry.

Nice views in the Buenos Aires Zoo, Palermo

Don’t feed the animals (or do!)

OK, so you have your pass… now, where do you begin? Upon admittance you’ll see a large entrance where you can purchase disposable cameras, snacks and also rent lockers. They also have professional photographers if you want to capture the moment without any blurs or overexposures, which is ideal considering the entrance is next to a picturesque lagoon where flamingos lounge on the far side of the fountains. (Look closely and you’ll also see snapping turtles!)

The entrance area is also an excellent chance to buy some animal food (Comidas Animales) – throughout your journey you’re welcome to feed elephants, alpacas, monkeys, camels, deer, zebras and other feed friendly animals. The food bags are affordable, as are the larger bins. While you’ll find yourself wondering how it’s possible that all of these different animals eat the same food (maybe save yourself some cash and try it out on the kids… just kidding!), it’s a wonderful way to interact and gain the attention of the more commonly aloof critters. Some of the animals will even play up to the food, with elephants raising their trunks and monkeys motioning for you to throw more.

Some of the enclosures are so close to the animals themselves that sneaking in some petting (while you’re feeding the camel, for instance) isn’t difficult. Naturally, it’s important to be socially conscious of the safety of the animals and yourself, so be mindful when you’re petting the zebra. If the kids are complaining that you’ve run out of food, then there are stations located throughout the Zoo where more can be purchased.

Also, if the Comidas Animales didn’t go over so well as the kids’ snack, then there are stands where popsicles and other treats can be found. However, like most zoos, these are extremely overpriced… so, if you go over to the sides of the zoo (by the fence) you will often find street vendors that will sell you a larger variety at half the price, right through the gaps in the fence! In Buenos Aires, where there’s a will, there’s a way .

A Camel has the hump at Buenos Aires Zoo

You are HERE

The layout of the zoo is simple so you don’t have to worry about missing anything. Posted maps along the way indicate your position, but by following the main path you’ll surely see it all. If you’ve taken this zoo-pert’s advice and headed RIGHT upon entry, your first stop will be the polar bears with their large swimming pool and the Aquarium, should you choose to view it.

The elephant house is enormous and the elephants seem to spend most of their time near the perimeters in hopes of catching some snacks purchased by zoo goers. Again the intimacy of the Buenos Aires zoo is spectacular and it’s breathtaking to see these amazing animals up so close.

The zoo is also known for its success in breeding white tigers and these, along with the other large cats (pumas, cheetahs, jaguars and lions) are all in well built enclosures where they’re easy to spot. Each enclosure lists the animal with some basic information for those wishing to educate themselves on the wildlife. Information such as where you can find them in the wild, the types of food they eat (interestingly enough, none mention the Comidas Animales!) and other key characteristics about each inhabitant is listed.

If the white tigers aren’t impressing the kids and they’re getting rambunctious, not to worry. The middle of the zoo houses a playground fully equipped with swings and slides for them to exert all that extra energy. The zoo also has two carousels located at the back and far left. The one in the rear is always running and is nearby a rest area with food. It’s a great halfway point and the perfect load off.

Zoo and more

The region dedicated to Africa is located on the left side of the zoo which again bodes spectacularly intimate views of anything you’d hope to see. This gives way to a petting zoo where at the end of your journey (you’re actually allowed to here!) to pet a family of goats, donkeys and Shetland ponies.

If you haven’t had your fill by this time, take another loop. Or, if you have, you’re back at the lagoon and ready for home… Once you’re home and realize that house cat of yours isn’t exactly living up to those white tiger cubs, visit the zoo website to see what other activities and adventures the zoo has to offer. This includes information on birthdays, guided tours and other specialized events: www.zoobuenosaires.com.ar (one such specialized event at the moment is night time zoo opening, as reported on here in Buenos Aires Weekly).

Giraffe at Buenos Aires Zoo

Location of Buenos Aires Zoo

Corner of Avenida Las Heras and Avenida Sarmiento, Palermo

Website: http://www.zoobuenosaires.com.ar/

Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

October 7, 2007 by · 8 Comments 

A quiet nature reserve just steps from the city

Viewpoint in the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

The hustle and bustle of the City Center are lost in the cooling mood of the only ecological reserve in the city, the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur. A stone’s throw away from the trendy, modern neighborhood of Puerto Madero and you find yourself walking along the park’s boardwalk littered with nuzzling couples, parillas (steakhouses), and more pigeons than you can throw a stick at.

The Costanera Sur’s walkway borders the front of the reserve and from there you can see the greater landscape that opens up into the park. The boardwalk itself is entertaining, with beautiful architecture and sculptures, casual eateries and dozens of pickup games of futbol. Your initial examination of the swampy marshland is only an introduction to the many more birds and interesting views that await you upon entering.

Patio area in the Costanera Sur nature reserve

Buenos Aires grows its own ecological reserve

The city of Buenos Aires has seen its fair share of change over the years, and the history of the reserve is part of this constant transformation. During the city’s modernization in the mid-20th century, remnants of demolished buildings and construction debris were discarded into the Rio de la Plata. Gradually the debris, mixed with sand from the river began to create the marshy foundation for what is now the reserve. Soon, the plants began to grow, and not long after the birds followed. The ecological park is the result of this interesting history, and a great location for observing that fascinating border where city and country convene.

So although you may see more than a few empty bottles and wrappers that have been thrown all over the small concrete divider at the start of the boardwalk, just remember that debris and waste is the reason you’re there in the first place! And don’t worry, once inside, the heart of the park is much cleaner and well kept.

Nature consuming the city at the Costanera Sur?
[Photo Credit: jmpznz, under this CC licence]

Rent a bike to help explore the nature reserve

The park has two entrances. The main entrance is located on the southern side of the boardwalk and is an excellent place to rent a bicycle for the afternoon. This isn’t a bad way to go if you want to maximize your time bouncing around from view to view.

The entire walk around the reserve will take you more than an hour and that’s without stopping to peer through the reeds and to try and identify birds. The reserve offers several viewpoint stops that allow you a moment to pull out your binoculars and scan over the marshes that navigate through the wetlands. If you forget to bring your own, a few monedas (coins) will allow you a peek through the public binoculars that are placed along decks that skirt out over the marshlands.

Spectacular views with interesting backdrops

The views in the reserve are spectacularly endless. From the parks entrance a quick look back gives you a different view of the boardwalk with the city stretching up behind it. Wandering through the dirt laid paths are benches that offer a brief rest while you take in the quiet escape you’ve earned from your walk.

Perhaps most breathtaking are the views on the eastern side of the park. The Rio de la Plata borders this edge of the reserve and boats can be seen sailing in the distance. The air here is cooler and cleaner than in the busy city and the grassy areas for sitting are a great place to settle down for a relaxing view…

Costanera Sur View in Buenos Aires

This side of the reserve not only boasts amazing views of the river, but one of the best of the city. As you’ve chosen an afternoon away from the crazy downtown streets, it’s more than rewarding to see the city settled in the distance among a foreground of reeds and cattails.

Hide away from busy Buenos Aires down by the river

If you’ve entered the park from the south your walk continues past more scenes of the city and river. The river offers a true boardwalk where with some innovation and a keen eye you can find the entrance from inside the reserve and walk out along the river. On a hot day, or if you’re looking for a truer sense of solitude, this is one of the best hiding places in the city.

A closer look at the passing barges and water below will bring you even further away from the demanding pace of downtown. The northern side of the park offers many other surprises for those with a sharp eye. If you’re riding your rented bicycle too fast you may miss the small veterinary clinic and adoption center at the northern entrance of the park. Designed to offer veterinary assistance to the many birds that inhabit the reserve, you can see hawks and larger birds of prey that may usually be flying too high overhead for such a close examination. The small building also houses some wayward dogs that are now up for adoption; probably a better bet if you’re a Buenos Aires inhabitant rather than a traveler.

The Rio de la Plata as viewed from the Costanera Sur

The end of a relaxing day at the Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires

From here, you’ve almost completed your circle. Your choices of return are to take the northern exit and walk back using the footpath, stopping for any number of snacks along the way (sure to be meat). Or, heading back from inside the park instead gives you a chance to prolong your afternoon oasis and take in more of the reserve.

When you do in fact decide to head on out of the nature reserve, Puerto Madero and the water diques (canals) are your transition home. You’ve probably found yourself hours later and the countless restaurants and bars located here are a perfect way to end your afternoon, or begin your evening. Whether you’re a Buenos Aires native or first time visitor, the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur is an ideal way to escape from the city without the headache of organizing day trips or the burden of their cost. Whether you’re a country mouse stuck in the city, or simply looking for an afternoon off, put this attraction near the top of your list.

Location of Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

Av. Tristán A Rodríguez 1550, near Padre M Migone, Puerto Madero

San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo Church

January 26, 2007 by · 3 Comments 

San Telmo’s Picturesque Church

You don’t have to be a Catholic to appreciate the beautiful colonial churches of Buenos Aires. God generally inspires some of the best architecture around, and in Buenos Aires it’s no different.

The San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo church is also known as the Nuestra Señora de Belén (Our Lady of Bethelehem) church. A good church can never have too many names.

A Little Church History

Some Jesuits named Blanqui, Bautista, Primoli and Schmidt designed the original and kicked off the building in 1734. That makes it one of the oldest churches in the city (but not the oldest, which is the San Ignacio church, just off Plaza de Mayo). The church’s architecture was then added to and restored a fair few times up to the present, which accounts for it’s lovely eclectic style. By the book, its style is ‘neo-colonial,’ but can also be described as ‘fancy iced wedding cake.’

Church of San Pedro Telmo

It’s very hard to get a decent picture of the church because the street is of the normal narrow, cobbled San Telmo ilk, and there are large trees getting in on the act – so bring your wide angle camera lens.

Of course, it is a National Historic Monument, which may sound impressive, but is a title that is awarded to almost anything of minor importance here in Buenos Aires.

San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo

Up the top of the church, in the center, you can see San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo himself. He was a Spanish Roman Catholic priest, born in Astorga (Spain) in 1190, and devoted his life to enlightening the poor. Old Pedro Telmo may not condone  all the saucy Tango dancing that goes on in his barrio nowadays… however, he is also the patron saint of Spanish sailors, so he may not be so easily shocked.

The inside of the church isn’t all that extravagant compared the the beautifully decorative exterior. It does display some nice oil paintings, your usual pulpit… it is more the quiet and peace that draws passers-by within churches such as this. And that’s not something easily found in Buenos Aires city.

Yellow Fever

Of course, life is not all lovely architecture and peaceful surrounds. On the outside of the church a plaque is found, commemorating the San Telmo locals that died in the terrible yellow fever outbreak of 1871:

Yellow Fever notice on San Telmo church

It was that outbreak that also changed the face of Buenos Aires a little. Previously, San Telmo was home to the rich elite of the city. The yellow fever outbreak forced them out of the area, and they found a new home slightly further north, in Recoleta, which remains the home of the extravagantly wealthy to this day. San Telmo turned into an area of fading grandeur that now makes it so attractive to visitors, while in Recoleta the dazzling French architecture that delights tourists in equal measures was erected by the upper classes.

Location of San Pedro Gonzalez Telmo Church

Humberto 1º 340, between Defensa & Balcarce, San Telmo
[Open Monday – Saturday, 8:30am to Midday and 4pm to 7pm. Sundays, 8.30am to 8pm – times are more restrictive in January and February however.]

Caminito

December 13, 2006 by · 28 Comments 

Touristic Hotspot in La Boca

Great picture of a taxi near Caminito

NOTE – if you would like to book a private guided walking tour in Buenos Aires that includes a visit to Caminito and the surrounding area of La Boca, please click on the following link for information on our San Telmo & La Boca Tour.

Quite possibly the biggest mainstream tourist hotspot in Buenos Aires, the colorful Caminito street in the otherwise run down barrio of La Boca has an unfortunate reputation of being commercial, touristy, tacky, tango-ey rubbish by locals and travel guides alike.

However, although it is trendy to say such things, this small road and the immediate area around it do in fact have both an interesting history and the opportunity for taking some great photos, even if you have to push past several American and Japanese tourists to get the experience.

But give Caminito a chance! You might just like it…

What does Caminito mean anyway?

The most famous corner in Caminito

Camino literally means ‘way’ or ‘walkway’ in English, and the -ito or -ita ending tagged onto Spanish nouns means little or small. And so Caminito is often translated as either ‘little walkway’, ‘little road’, ‘little path’, or ‘little street’.

All of these are correct. It is little. At less than 100 meters long, it was never going to win any awards for size, but then Buenos Aires claims to already has those in the bag – Avenida 9 de Julio for world’s widest street and Avenida Rivadavia for world’s longest. However, Caminito certainly makes up for its shortness with its amazing colors, and probably has won some kind of award before for greatest concentration of Japanese tourists per square meter.

But there is more to this small street and tourist attraction than first meets the eye.

Caminito street and the ‘colorful’ history of La Boca

Around 6 million foreign immigrants poured into Argentina between the years 1880 and 1930, in which time Buenos Aires quickly turned from small town to heaving city. About 50% of these people were Italian, and many of those were from the port town of Genoa, Italy. Genoa was a port, La Boca was a port… things seemed familiar, and so the Italian immigrants did not move far from the immediate area where they first stepped onto Argentine soil, the port of La Boca (which means ‘the mouth’, as in the mouth of the Riachuelo river).

Shopping galeria that used to be tenement housing, La Boca

What has all this got to do with colorful Caminito, you ask? Well, the majority of these Italian immigrants in La Boca worked in the port, just as they had done in Genoa. The Genoese proudly brought their unique identity to La Boca, and one of their old traditions was to paint the outside of their homes with the leftover paint from the shipyard – as nothing else was available or could be afforded.

Conventillo Housing

However, they took things one step further in La Boca, and actually built the houses almost completely from materials found or discarded in the shipyard. This was because of the huge population explosion due to the immigration at the turn of the 20th century – there just was not enough homes for all of the people in Buenos Aires.

The answer to this problem was conventillo (tenement / shared) housing. Conventillos were long houses with small rooms that opened out onto a central outdoor common patio. Whereas in somewhere like San Telmo, for example, conventillos were generally old converted mansions large houses, in La Boca they had to be more inventive. Here the conventillos were hastily constructed from scrap corrugated metal and wood from old ships, and to spruce them up a little, the façades, doors and windows were then decorated in the famous bright color combinations with the leftover paint from the port, that tradition brought from Genoa.

Colorful shopping in Caminito, La Boca

Caminito is not strictly ‘authentic’, but ‘representative’

The main accusation that Caminito’s detractors throw about is that it is not authentic – in its current form, the street does not date back to the turn of the 20th century when the real conventillos were first built and lived in.

Instead, the history of Caminito is basically as follows:

  • Early 1800s onwards: a small stream flowing into the Riachuelo river ran along the same route where Caminito street is now found
  • Later that century, this area of the stream became known as Puntin, the Genoese diminutive term for bridge, because a small bridge allowed people to cross the stream here
  • When the stream dried up, the General Roca railway to the provinces that ran past here (you can see the disused tracks at the end of Caminito, along Garibaldi street) a deviation from the track followed the dried-up riverbed, and was where train repairs were carried out
  • In 1954 the train line went out of action, and the area where Caminito now is became a landfill and a bit of an eyesore
  • But soon after, probably the most famous Argentine artist of all time came to the rescue…

Benito Quinquela Martin, The Architect of Caminito

By the late 1950s, La Boca had drastically changed from the turn of the 20th century – most of the colorful, ragtag conventillo housing that had been spread throughout most of the barrio had been pulled down, being replaced by dull houses and blocks of flats. But this was the very essence of La Boca being destroyed, its history, and not everybody was going to sit back and watch that happen.

Benito Quinquela Martin, an abandoned orphan who was adopted by a Genoese immigrant couple in La Boca, was the man to take action. He had become the most significant painter in Argentina, with his dramatic paintings of the port of La Boca, and achieved worldwide recognition. But as La Boca was his inspiration, and had provided him with family, friends and shelter after having been orphaned at an early age, he felt he owed the barrio something in return.

Conventillo Housing in Caminito, La Boca

And so in 1959, Quinquela Martin and his artist friends created the street of Caminito, as a means of recreating the way old La Boca used to look – a reminder of where everyone had come from, not just in La Boca, but Buenos Aires, and Argentina, because this barrio and its port had been the gateway for many immigrants into this city and country (up until Puerto Madero & then Puerto Nuevo were built as replacements in the early 1900s), who then went on to make Buenos Aires and Argentina what they are today.

Palm Tree near Caminito, La Boca

The World’s First Outdoor Pedestrian Museum

What Quinquela Martin did was to rescue bits and pieces of the original immigrant conventillos that were being torn down and replaced, and used them to create a concentrated conventillo community around this small street, in what is essentially an uninhabited open-air art and history exhibit, and officially the world’s first outdoor pedestrian museum.

And so Caminito is really a boiled-down representation of the old immigrant La Boca, and therefore, recreated by a master artist raised just around the corner, and so Caminito is actually a lot more authentic than most people will tell you.
It is still an exhibit, and so nobody actually lives in the Conventillos along Caminito. You will see washing lines strung between walls in the stereotypical Italian way, but they are just for show, and all part of Quinquela Martin’s intended work of art, which should be respected for acting as a reminder of this barrio and city’s immigrant roots.

Tango on Caminito street

Tango dancers in Caminito, La BocaYou will probably notice a lot of Tango around when you visit Caminito, in the form of street performers, tango dancers and musicians, tango music drifting through the air from bars and restaurants, and tango souvenirs sold by the dozen in most of the shops, some of them situated inside the actual conventillos. Of course this may all seem a little tacky. And of course, it is! However, there is a reason why the Tango is associated with Caminito and La Boca.

Tango music was born in Buenos Aires in around 1870. However, it is still open to debate exactly where in Buenos Aires the tango originated from. Many say the arrabal (the suburbs / frontier between the city and the fields of the pampa) has the strongest claim. However, La Boca’s claim is up there with it, and also back in those days the arrabal would have started just south of La Boca, and so there was probably some crossover.

It is agreed that tango music first came out of the environment of immigrant-packed conventillo houses, where many different cultures and their respective types of music mixed in such close proximity, and from the melting pot of styles from around the world, tango music arose. It was on the outdoor patios in the center of the conventillos, where immigrants socialised together and played their musical instruments to each other after a hard day’s work, that this most probably occurred.

And so, as Caminito is representative of the old immigrant La Boca, it is also a representation of the genesis of Tango music that occurred at the same time here in history. And in keeping with the Italian tradition of the neighborhood, tango is full of passion, style, arrogance, showmanship, and feelings of nostalgia and longing (possibly for the Italian homeland). And of course, the lyrics are usually infused with lunfardo, the porteno slang dialect of Spanish corrupted with the Italian language and accent.

Caminito, more than just a ‘small walkway’

There is a little more to the naming of Caminito than it being a literal description of the small street. It also has a tango influence behind it.

The name Caminito was in fact first famous for a very popular 1926 Tango, by a famous La Boca musician and resident, Juan de Dios Filiberto. As the conventillos of La Boca were perhaps the true home of Tango, and the Caminito street was to be a representation of this, artist Benito Quinquela Martin felt it highly appropriate to name the street after a tango, and even better, one by a famous local resident. The name of the tango just so happened to also literally describe this very small street perfectly.

Filete sign of Caminito

Another reason for the naming was that musician Filiberto had just fallen seriously ill at the time, and his good friend Quinquela Martin thought this homage to him would be the best way to try and cheer him up. These days, there is also a street in La Boca very close to Caminito that is named directly after Juan de Dios Filiberto, and of course, the lyrics to his tango song are also famously written on a plaque up on the first wall you see as you approach Caminito (although Filiberto only wrote the music, it was the Mendozan poet Gabino Coria Penaloza who added the words).

Weekend Feria in La Boca

In and Around Caminito

If you come to Caminito at the weekend, you will also be able to do a little souvenir shopping the Feria de la Ribera arts and crafts market, which starts at the front of Caminito and goes around in front of the Riachuelo river. Here you will find handmade crochet scarves and shawls (see picture), traditional mate gourds and bombillas (the metal straws used for drinking mate), jewellery and lots of other interesting craft pieces, all at reasonable prices, especially if you are coming to Buenos Aires from the United States or Europe.

And if you work up a hunger after traipsing around Caminito and the feria, stop in at an authentic Italian Pizzeria nearby in La Boca – Banchero Pizzeria. The restaurant also happens to have been a favorite of Benito Quinquela Martin, the architect of Caminito, so it is a fitting end to the outing – and delicious too.

For more information about La Boca, including a little something about the famous Boca Juniors stadium and football team, the Argentina Travel blog adds some nice details about the neighborhood of La Boca.

Interested in seeing some great tango? Then please click the following link to book a Tango Show in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Location of Caminito street

Don Pedro de Mendoza, corner of Del Valle Iberlucea, La Boca

The Buenos Aires Japanese Gardens

December 12, 2006 by · 8 Comments 

Escape to the Jardin Japones

Japanese Gardens, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Tucked away in the Bosques de Palermo (Palermo Parks), you will find the peaceful Japanese Gardens, an oasis of calm and serenity in the middle of the crazy, busy, noisy city of Buenos Aires. The gardens are also recommendable as a nice place for couples to go when in Buenos Aires, or to take a date on if you are lucky enough to charm an Argentine while in town.

To be fair, you can just about hear the drone of cars on the main avenues in the background, which spoils your zen a little, but not completely. Also watch out for the occasional school trip of noisy children, or young family, partly because the abundant koi carp and ducks are happy to be fed by visitors, which kids usually seem to enjoy.

Koi Carp in the Japanese Gardens, Palermo

Beautifully Maintained Gardens

Me and a zen stone in the Jardin JaponesThe park itself is wonderfully kept and very pretty all year round, as the different plants, trees and bushes show their lovely colors at varying points in the calendar. Apart from the koi carp and ducks in the cutely landscaped ponds, there are other easy on the eye features such as sculpted shrubberies, ornate arched red bridges, pattering mini rock waterfalls and zen-like stone and sculpture formations (see right).

Apparently the horticulture on show includes black pine trees, gingko, sakura, and of course, the ubiquitous bonsai trees, that will impress all budding gardeners and karate kids alike.

In case you are wondering ‘why exactly are there Japanese gardens in Buenos Aires?‘, well, they were given as a ‘thank you’ to Argentina, by Japanese immigrants living in Buenos Aires, when they constructed this lovely five acre park in 1967.

Japanese Tea Room & Restaurant

Attached to the gardens, in a pagoda style building, a Japanese tea room and restaurant combo is found (closed on Tuesdays). During the day this offers a range of oriental brews, green teas and cakes, and then during the evening it transforms into a restaurant with authentic Japanese food, specializing in sushi. (If sushi is what you crave, look on Saltshaker for reviews of the best sushi spots all over BA).

Additionally, there are sometimes exhibitions and shows of Japanese culture held inside the same building – try calling ahead to find out if anything like this is happening, on 4804 9141.

Getting There & Getting In

The Jardin Japones is open from 10am to 6pm daily, year round, and costs a small fee to get in. To get there you can take a number of buses, including the 10, 37, 67, 102 or 130.

Failing that, try a taxi, or take a pleasant walk to get there – either through the rest of the Palermo Parks that run along Avenida Sarmiento, before turning onto Avenida Berro, or if you are starting from the Palermo Chico area (where the Malba art museum is located), you could walk along Avenida Figueroa Alcorta, turning onto Avenida Casares to reach the Japanese Gardens. Well worth a sightseeing visit, however you arrive there.

Location of Japanese Gardens / Jardin Japones

Corner of Av. Casares & Av. Berro, Palermo

Buenos Aires Flashmob Pillow Fight

November 18, 2006 by · 26 Comments 

Lucha de Almohadas!

Pillow Fight in Buenos Aires

Today Parque Tres de Febrero, in front of the Planetario building (Palermo), descended into pure feathery chaos, as Argentina’s 1st ever flash mob event took place – a ‘Lucha de Almohadas’. Basically, a massive outdoor pillow fight between a group of total strangers, arranged over the internet.

There must have been thousands there*, pillows in hand and ready for the fight, and possibly almost as many taking pictures and videos with their cameras. I brought both camera and pillow, and did a little bit of pillow fighting, and a little bit of pillow recording, sometimes simultaneously 🙂

*EDIT: Update – Clarin newspaper on Sunday (whose front page photo of the pillow fight is no way as good as mine above 😉 ), estimated that over 3,000 people attended the pillow fight, with no injuries (although I saw at least one very bloody nose). That’s a lot of pillows!

For those seeking instant gratification…

If this post is too long for you to read it all, and you only want to see one thing, I URGE YOU TO SCROLL DOWN TO THE FINAL YOUTUBE VIDEO (it is the fifth embedded video), which is of a ¨horse¨being ambushed by crazed pillow-wielding maniacs. It is hilarious. Trust me.

For those that would like the full experience, I hope you enjoy my story of the day told in in photos and videos…

Calm before the (feather) storm

Calm before the pillow fight feather storm

Pillow Fights are a dangerous business

Buenos Aires Ambulances

And they need to be closely controlled. With tape.

Buenos Aires Lucha de Almohadas Security

(Does he, to the right, think that pickaxe vs pillow is a fair fight?)

Battle plans are made

Buenos Aires Pillow Fight Battle Plans

Early Skirmishes Occur

Kids pillow fight skirmish Buenos Aires

Kids will be kids…

The old guy in the short video above, kitted out in a karate costume, was trying to take on all 3,000 people singlehandedly, before the event started. Obviously he’d watched one too many Bruce Lee movies. Did you see the one where he killed 9 men with a single swing of his pillow? 🙂

The ‘Guerra de Almohadas’ of Argentina Begins

Guerra de Almohadas Begins

And battle rages on…

Buenos Aires Palermo Pillow Fight rages on

And on…

And oon…

And ooon…

And ooooon…..

Buenos Aires Pillow Fight

Every war has its casualties

Lost Shoe in Pillow Fight

Be they shoe… (this man was pillowed to death. All that remained is shown in that harrowing picture)…

…or horse! The horse above was in the middle of an interview with the media, quite normal really. Do pillow fighters have no manners? (sorry for the bad camera work!)

What goes up…

Feathers go up at Pillow fight

…must come down…

Feathers come down at Buenos Aires pillow fight

Get it? Feathers….down…? OK, bad joke, sorry!

Palermo Park ends in quite a state

As you can see, it all ended in a big old mess. Hundreds of pillows bursting all over the place also played havoc on me and my allergies, but still, it was amazing fun, for me, and the other thousands of people there. It lasted well over an hour, and probably a lot more than that (I gave up and went home, there is only so many unexpected blows to the back of the head a man can take), but I’m guessing it will take Parque Tres de Febrero and the Palermo parks people a lot longer than that to clean up. Sorry guys.

If anyone else that reads this went to the Pillow fight, please post your experiences below in the comments, and feel free to link to your blog with comments and pictures, or YouTube for videos or whatever. And if you link to this post, I of course cordially invite you to ‘trackback’ (sorry for the netgeek blogspeak). Until next time, pillow fans…

Postscript: How the Buenos Aires Pillow Buzz Began

I first noticed the plans for this crazy event in a blog post by Diva, one of my favorite BA bloggers, pointing to the blog that had the idea and organised the whole thing. I knew immediately I had to go, because I like to hit random strangers with pillows, only modern society is not usually so forgiving to such tendencies. However, I thought it was likely to be a small affair with maybe 100 people max turning up. How wrong I was to be!

Soon after I saw that Global Voices Online had posted a link to a post in a well-known blog (outside of the Buenos Aires Blogosphere), Blogher, by Liz Henry, talking about this event, so at this stage it had basically gone ‘international’. What’s more, that blog post drew my attention to the fact that the Buenos Aires City Government blog had posted about the upcoming Pillow Fight too! That’s some real official recognition, and obviously this was going to be bigger than I thought. Another post from Buenos Aires Weekly, yet another great Buenos Aires blog, confirmed the news was spreading fast.

In the thick of the Buenos Aires Pillow Fight

Soon after it actually became real news! Argentine newspapers and Buenos Aires media all over the shop started picking up on the story, in order: 26 Noticias, Clarin Suplemento SI!, Perfil, Clarin newspaper, Infobae, and even the very respectable La Nacion! After 20,000 people had visited her blogspot blog, organizer Marina Ponzi then decided to get a new website, and even started to claim that this was no longer a flash mob event, even though the name of the new site suggests so. All a little confusing, but it didn’t stop the press buzz rolling…

And then, the pillow fight REALLY hit the big time: I posted about it in this blog the other day. That must have driven at least, oooh, one more person to go along 😉

It was interesting for me to watch this internet meme grow in front of my very eyes, as described above, and then be there as the event occurred, so successfully, all starting from one simple idea and a free blogspot blog. And thanks, of course, to Marina for that idea 🙂

Palermo Hippodrome Horse Racing

November 13, 2006 by · 16 Comments 

Palermo Hipodromo Horses Action Shot!

The ‘Hipodromo Argentino’ in Palermo

For fans of horse racing, the ‘Hipodromo Argentino’ (Argentina’s Main Racecourse) is definitely worth a visit. If you are here in mid-November, you may even be able to catch the most important event in the racing calendar, the ‘Gran Premio Nacional’, which is sometimes also known as the ‘Argentine Derby.’

You may expect the Hipodromo to be full of annoying, snooty, better-than-you upper class people, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Just like race meetings in the UK or US, there is a mix of all types of people there, including many families, enjoying the day out in the sun.

The history of Buenos Aires Hippodrome

Palermo Hipodromo winner

This beautiful race track was inaugurated on 7th May 1876, when a horse called Resbaloso took the honors in the first race, watched by 10 thousand people. These days, in addition to this sport being called ‘Turf’ here in Argentina, almost all of the horses have English names, which means it is often fun to hear the racetrack announcer try and fail with the pronunciation.

The main entrance and stand was built in 1908, with a capacity of 2,000, by a French architect named Faure Dujarric, in the usual lovely Art Nouveau style of that period that is seen all through Buenos Aires, especially in Recoleta and along Avenida de Mayo in the city center.

The Hipodromo has been privately owned since 1992. That probably goes some way towards explaining the over-zealous security guards there who will no doubt harass you not to take pictures.

Palermo Hipodromo Argentino - Main Building

Also inside that building are seemingly miles and miles of underground slot machines. There are in fact more than 2000 of these automated money grabbers – and they are more popular than the horses, in fact that part of the Hipodromo is open 24 hrs a day, 365 days a year. It’s one of those places where can’t tell what time of day it is if you lose track of time, or just lose yourself among the miles of slot machines. There is certainly a lot of money in this building, which again may explain the tight security.

The ‘Gran Premio Nacional’ of Argentina

The Argentine equivalent of the Derby is called the Gran Premio Nacional, running on a chosen Saturday every mid-November. It was first run in 1884. The best horses in Argentina compete in the race, for the honor of being the best in a country that has some excellent horses.

Another nice touch you may get to experience at a historic race such as the Gran Premio is the performance of the national anthem before the main race by the Granaderos, the Argentine horseback regiment formed by General San Martin, who is the main Argentine independence hero.

Granaderos playing Argentine National Anthem at Palermo Hipodromo

The Hipodromo – Getting there and getting in

The Hipodromo is not too easily reachable by public transport, but it is definitely doable. You can either get the subway Line D to the Palermo stop, and then walk about 5 blocks along Avenida Intendente Bullrich  (pass ‘Jumbo’ supermarket) until you reach Av. Dorrego, where you will see the Hipodromo across the street and to the left. Or you can get either bus 10, 36, 160 or 166, which all drop you off in that area. But it is probably easiest to get a taxi there and back.

Entrance to the Hipodromo has varying costs, depending on the day you go and the importance of the race. Not very much for what is a very nice, long day out – races usually start around noon and go right the way into the evening. You can check ahead when races are held by calling 4778-2800 (if you speak Spanish) or on www.palermo.com.ar – click ‘Informacion Hipica’ followed by ‘Calendario y Resultados’ for a list of all the race meeting dates, which continue all year round.

Location of the Palermo Hippodrome

Avenida del Libertador 4100, between Avenida Dorrego and Olleros, Palermo

Buenos Aires > Things to do Buildings and Architecture > Palermo Hippodrome

 

Plaza Dorrego

November 7, 2006 by · 22 Comments 

Buenos Aires “Must Do”

San Telmo Outdoor Market

Spending a Sunday in and around Plaza Dorrego is one of the few things that ranks as a ‘must do’ sightseeing attraction for visitors to Buenos Aires. On the seventh day of the week, when the rest of the city is resting, the city closes much of neighboring Defensa street to traffic, and this part of San Telmo explodes into a mass of around 8,000 people, locals and tourists alike. They come to peruse antiques and knick knacks, watch the outdoor tango dancing and other performers, sit for a coffee or beer outside a classic old cafe, or just aimlessly wander around the interesting chaos. This, more or less, is the Plaza Dorrego Sunday market, also known as the Feria de San Telmo.

Some San Telmo History

The Dorrego Bar in San Telmo

Plaza Dorrego is one of the oldest public spaces in the city, dating back to the 18th century, when it was an area reserved for the wagons that brought in produce to Buenos Aires from all over the country. Just before the turn of the 19th century it was turned into a public square. The coffee shops and bars surrounding the Plaza only sprung up in the 1930s, when it became an area for wine, song and dance, as it remains today. Bar Plaza Dorrego is the most famous of these establishments, with its lovely old wooden fixtures and counter, although the former has been etched with graffiti over the years – but then many would say this adds to its charm.

Plaza Dorrego Sunday Market / Feria de San Telmo

Tango Dancers in Plaza Dorrego, San TelmoThe market started in 1970, and it is still going strong with more than 270 stands offering antiques, phonographs, period clothes, jewelery, old books, crafts items and other knickknacks. It is open on Sundays from around 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. While this fair is going on, Argentine tango and folklore singers and dancers, and other performers, put on outdoor shows throughout the day.

If you have no more than a casual interest in tango, then Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday is an excellent time and place to enjoy an introductory sampling of the dance, if you don’t want to go full-out and pay for a proper Tango dinner-show in Buenos Aires. Also, in the late afternoon and early evening, after the stalls begin to pack up, free impromptu outdoor Tango lessons are often given in Plaza Dorrego, which can be quite good fun if you are not ashamed of making a fool of yourself in public.

If you don’t want to get that involved, it is nice just to sit at one of the bars that surround the Plaza and take in the action from there, while partaking of your favorite liquid refreshment.

Antiques Fair

Initially the outdoor market was antiques only. These days, to cater for visitors, all kinds of other knick knacks and local crafts are available in addition to the more expensive antiques. But despite this small change in the outdoor market away from tradition, this area of San Telmo still remains very much the antiques quarter of Buenos Aires.

Odds and ends in Plaza Dorrego Market Stall

San Telmo Indoor Market

Keeping up the antiques theme, nearby to Plaza Dorrego, surrounded by the streets Bolívar, Carlos Calvo, Defensa, and Estados Unidos, is the San Telmo Indoor Market, a massive iron structure built back in 1897, which fills the whole block. Back then it was a produce market, but when the outdoor fair started in 1970, it soon shifted to antiques, and these days it is just as interesting to wander around as the outdoor version. It is also quite poignant to see a few of the food produce stalls holding on to their past trade, side-by-side with the antiques. Some of the smells are not what you would usually expect when looking at such valuable old pieces.

San Telmo market

[Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/denise_mayumi/3216605354/sizes/m/in/photostream/ CC BY 2.0 ]

Defensa Street

The nearby street of Defensa is also full of antique shops, most of which contain items far out of many tourists’ price range. However, they still make for a nice spot of window shopping, looking through the Argentine and European period pictures, 18th and 19th century furniture, jewelry, colonial silver and classic toys. In fact, this area of San Telmo is now considered one of the most important antiques centers in the whole of Latin America. And yet strangely, there seems to be an obsession with selling plain old soda siphons, as pictured below (although actually, they can be quite beautiful when many different colored siphons are all displayed together on one stall).

Soda Siphons in Plaza Dorrego Market Stall

Whether or not you do buy anything, you are still sure to have a great time in and around Plaza Dorrego on a Sunday – a true Buenos Aires experience.

Location of Plaza Dorrego

Corner of Defensa and Humberto Primo, San Telmo

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