Monserrat & Palermo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I booked my flights to Buenos Aires about a month before I was due to leave – the ultimate in spontaneous trips! I have always wanted to visit South America and when I was able to make the most of ridiculously cheap flights, I jumped at the chance!

My flight wasn’t until 10pm on a Friday evening so I decided to try and preserve as much as my annual leave as I could so I went into the office in the morning. At around lunch time I came home and packed; to say I was excited would be a massive understatement…!

I arrived at the airport and made my way to check in. I was flying standby which was a completely new experience for me. It was strange turning up to the airport, all packed, still not 100% sure that I would actually make it on the plane. Luckily for me the flight was super empty and I was allocated a seat – Buenos Aires I was on my way. Even better for me, once I got on the flight I was upgraded… 13 hours of luxury! Yesss

Admittedly I slept for the majority of the journey, however I wont lie, I definitely watched a bit of Evita on my iPad to get me into the Argentine spirit!

The flight actually went pretty quickly (all that sleep) and before I knew it we were descending through the morning sky down into Buenos Aires.

The exact time I landed in Argentina and was queuing through customs and passport control, it was the beginning of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding back home; I couldn’t resist connecting to the WiFi and caught a glimpse of all the celebrations going on.

As soon I made it through the airport, I hopped in a cab and made my way into the city centre to my hostel – a drive which took 45 minutes or so. Within 5 minutes of being in the city centre I caught my first glimpse of Eva Perón blazoned across a tall building – Argentina I had arrived!

I was dropped off outside my hostel; the Portal del Sur, which actually was much nicer than I expected. Basic, of course, but I had my own room with a private bathroom up on the fourth floor with lovely views down out onto the courtyard. It was also ideally located in the city, just off one of the main avenues and a stones throw from the famous Obelisco de Buenos Aires.

I must admit, by this point I was completely knackered so I opted for a quick power nap before having a shower and getting out to explore. I picked up one of the maps from reception and noticed that I was only a 5 minute or so walk from the famous Casa Rosada; the seat of the Argentinian government. Without linking all of my Buenos Aires experience, or knowledge, to Evita, I must admit, the Casa Rosada was one of the few Buenos Aires landmarks I really knew of so I couldn’t wait to get my first glimpse.

Something that instantly struck me whilst walking down the streets towards the Plaza de Mayo was how cosmopolitan the city was, and just how much the city reminded of me of European counterparts such as Paris or Madrid – it was lovely!

Just outside the Cabildo (the mid 18th century town hall) there was a gathering of people wearing traditional Argentinian clothing, draped with long roles of the Argentinian flag colours. The longer I spent in Buenos Aires, the more I realised that there would be some sort of procession, festival, or protest in the streets at all times. I did find this one particularly interesting to see!

From here I walked across square and got my first glimpse of the imposing Casa Rosada. Unfortunately there were quite a lot of building works taking place on the grounds outside the house, however it didn’t dampen my mood – I was so excited to see this building right in front of me.

The Casa Rosada was constructed on the site of a fort established by the Spanish in 1580 and used by the Colonial Viceroys. After independence, the fort was redeveloped into a customs house by British architect Edward Taylor and in 1862 as chosen by President Bartolomé Mitre to be the seat of his government. His successor Domingo Faustino Sarmiento later expanded the building and is believed to have ordered it to be painted pink in an attempt to diffuse political tensions by mixing the colours of the opposing political parties (the Federals used red, whilst the Unitarians used white).

The balconies of the Casa Rosada are of course instantly recognisable as the place where Evita and Juan Perón addressed the masses during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Oh Evita. Ok I’ll stop….

As you can probably tell – I was SUPER excited to visit!

From the Casa Rosada I started treading the pavements again and wandered across to the iconic Obelisco which is located in the middle of the huge Avenue 9 de Julio. The Obelisco is somewhat the icon of Buenos Aires and was erected in 1936 to commemorate the quadricentennial of the first foundation of the city. There’s a really good photo op at one side of the Obelisco with huge big foliage letters of BA standing proudly with the Argentinian flag waving behind – if you can dodge the crowds of tourists it’s definitely a worthwhile little stop off.

As I wandered back down the heaving Avenue I caught another glimpse of the tall building, again with a depiction of Eva Perón addressing the nation with one of her powerful speeches. There’s no denying it; even after all these years she is still a monumental, and very present, character of this city.

Having wandered for a good couple of hours, I made my way back to my hostel to dump my stuff and waited to meet Juan-Ramon for the first time as he was coming to pick me up.

Before I flew to Buenos Aires, I was told by Dave at the law firm I work in that I ‘must meet up with Juan in Buenos Aires!’ Juan is from Buenos Aires and, alongside his two brothers, operates a law firm in the city. Through a legal network 7 or 8 years ago, Juan made contact with my firm (long before I started there) and came and worked for 6 months or so in our office.

Dave put the two of us in touch and Juan very kindly offered to give me a quick tour of the city and asked whether I would like to come to his flat for an ‘asado’ (a traditional Argentinian BBQ) – of course, I jumped at the offer!

Juan came and picked me up from my hostel and we proceeded to walk towards his flat in the Recoletta/Palermo area of the city, however we spent a good hour or so wandering, with Juan pointing out many places of interest!

We made our way back down to the Plaza Mayor for a second glimpse of the Casa Rosada whilst Juan pointed out other notable landmarks in the square such as the Cathedral Metropolitana and the Banco de la Nacione Argentina.

We popped into the Galerias Pacifico Shopping Mall which is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts building. Originally constructed in the 1890s as the headquarters for the Parisian department store, Le Bon Marche, this prime spot on the Florida pedestrian street, although having changed throughout the years, still retains a nostalgic elegance which was certainly a dazzling place to visit.

At the nexus of the galleries you will find impressive murals painted on the interior dome – it is stunning! Commissioned in 1947, these Murals were painted by five of Argentina’s greatest artists at the time; Antonio Berni, Juan Carlos Castagnino, Manuel Colmeiro Guimaraes, Lino Enea Spilimbergo and Demetrio Urruchua.

From here Juan and I headed towards the area of Recoleta where we set out about buying all the meat ready for the asado. We went to this amazing little shop which Juan described as ‘walking back in time’  – I could absolutely see why! Juan was clearly an expert so stood I and watched in awe at the amazing selections from meat in front of me!

Having picked up the meat, we popped to the bakery and then on to the supermarket to pick up the rest of the essentials, and of course the wine! I met Juan’s friend, Martín at this point, who was a political journalist in the city. Juan has an incredible top floor apartment complete with outdoor terrace, huge bbq and even an outdoor shower – living the dream. Juan fired up the coals and whilst they heated he introduced me to my first taste of mate.

Mate is a caffeine rich hot drink prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water. Mate is served with a metal straw (the ”bombilla”)  and drank from a hollow calabash gourd. I’m not kidding when I say you will see people drinking mate EVERYWHERE in Buenos Aires; apparently it’s a really social drink with the bombilla being passed around and shared. Juan showed me how to prepare the mate before offering me my first sip. It’s definitely an acquired taste; it’s quite bitter, but actually I was pleasantly surprised. One tip; if you do decided to try some mate whilst in Argentina (which you absolutely must!) don’t be tempted to stir the drink with the straw – I was told in no uncertain terms ‘do not do that!’ by both Juan and Martín… haha!

Juan’s girlfriend Mercedes (‘Mechi’) soon returned back to the flat so it was super lovely to meet her. Mechi and her friend own clothing store in Recoletta called Primo Mihi. They design all their own clothes and I’m not kidding when I say they are beautiful! I’ve already told her she will have to open a store in London.

More and more friends of Juan and Mechi soon arrived until there was quite a group of us sitting out on the terrace, listening to music, sipping fernet and waiting eagerly for the asado!

Fernet was another drink that I was introduced to by Juan and Mechi – this is absolutely something I had never heard of, let alone tried, before! Fernet is a bitter, herbal, liquer – similar tasting to the like of Jaegermister. It’s incredibly popular in Buenos Aires – normally served with coke. I must admit, on my first taste I wasn’t sure, however I became a full on fan by the end of my trip  – I just wish that I had brought some back to the UK!

Soon enough bits of the food were soon ready, and I cannot say enough how INCREDIBLE it all was. We had peppers stuffed with eggs, traditional grilled provolone cheese, all of the most delicious beef you could ever want, delicious chorizo sausage and even sweetbreads. The sweetbreads were actually delicious (Juan covered them in lemon slices and cooked them in lemon juice) – the thought of what they were definitely did freak me out about, however I cannot deny that they were actually good!

After the food was finished, a huge big cake was brought out. I wont lie, this cake was one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted – chocolate brownie base, dulce de leche centre and gooey meringue on top – wow! You see these types of cakes a lot around the city and they are literally amazing. That says a lot coming from someone like me who really doesn’t have a sweet tooth!

After the food, the party really got started with lots more fernet, lots of games and of course, some of the best live, improvised, music I have heard in a long time. It was literally the most fun and I genuinely don’t think I could have asked for a better introduction to Buenos Aires with the nicest group of people – I instantly felt at home with them all.

At about two am, feeling pretty merry, we all left flat and made our way to Palermo to visit a couple of bars. We ended up in this cool little bar called Shambala. Juan and Mechi know the owner; apparently the bar used to be his family house growing up but when he bought it from his parents he decided to turn it into a bar. It was a pretty cool place, you wouldn’t know it was a bar from the outside and you can still see all the features of its time as a house.

After a couple of rounds of fernet and a bit of a dance, the time was fast approaching 6am so we all decided it was time to go and grab some pizza for, erm, breakfast. We headed to Kentucky and ordered various slices which were absolutely delicious and exactly what the doctor ordered after such a fab evening.

Interestingly, in Argentina, pizza is served with fainá. Faina is a garbanzo flatbread made from chickpea flour. It’s served on top of the pizza – making a type of pizza/pancake sandwich. It was definitely an interesting experience, but totally delicious! All the carbs..!

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