When we traveled to Portland Oregon a few years ago, I was very impressed with the Saturday (under the bridge) market. I love street markets and I especially love street entertainers. Roaming about these venues is a sort of happy place for me. It is so easy for me to lose track of time and without difficulty spend all day there wandering about. It’s a euphoria I just can’t explain, just something I love to do. Armed with the camera I’m never disappointed by the vast amount of cool things to photograph. Until now, all other street markets have been held up to the standard of Portland.
When doing our homework on things to do in Buenos Aries, Cindy our Entertainment Director discovered street markets. The tourist’s reviews suggest going twice to a couple of the markets due to the huge scale. Cindy blocked out a couple of Sundays for street markets on our very loose agenda. We opted to do the largest market first, the San Telmo Feria market, which is located on Defensa Street followed by a market in our Recoleta neighborhood the following weekend. This is turning out to be my kind of town. Now we are here and I find myself waking on a Sunday morning with a bounce in my step anxiously anticipating a great day. We are off to Plaza de Mayo.
Mostly, we are using Uber to get about Buenos Aries. The public transportation here is incredible. The city boasts an underground train system and a very efficient bus service. Both will easily transport a person about the city at rocket pace. I swear, the buses move at bullet-train speed. They often have their own lanes and can avoid the traffic snarls. The best part: public transportation is dirt cheap! The basic fare for either the bus or train is AR$16.50 (US$0.30). The public transportation is accessed using an electronic card (no cash). The SUBE card has a cost of AR $ 85 (US$1.50) and can be easily recharged at kiosks all over the city. Our apartment came with a card making it that much easier. All we had to do was put some funds on it.
If the trains and buses are so cheap, why are we taking Ubers? Because, Uber is also dirt cheap. A 30-minute ride about halfway across the city, our most expensive far to date, was AR$300.00 (about US$5). Most of our Uber rides are in the AR$150 – $200 range (US$2.60 – 3.50). Our Uber expenses average about US$5 per day. We find about half the Uber drivers speak English as it is taught at every level of school in Argentina. Also, we discover a lot of the drivers are displaced Venezuelans. Venezuelans lucky enough to have a passport from can live and work freely in Argentina as part of a union of South American nations.
If the Uber driver is from Venezuela, we give them an extra tip, sometimes tipping 100% of the fare. They often have family in Venezuela who they are helping support. One driver told us about his parents. He said, although they have always had enough food to eat, his father has lost a lot of weight from too much worry. The worry is about whether they will be enough food next month, or the month after. And, he worries about the family’s personal safety. Locking the doors at night and placing barricades over the windows, they try to stay safe. Our driver tried to get his parents to move, but they do not have passports. The issuance of passports has now stopped. Our driver is in a program to become a citizen of Argentina. He still has a couple of years to go.
We are dropped at Plaza de Mayo, the location of the Presidential Palace, the famous pink Casa Rosada. Ambling about, we spend a little bit of time taking in the sights of the plaza and the palace. It’s impressive. But, all the time we are walking the plaza; I can feel the market calling my name.
The San Telmo Feria street market runs from the Plaza de Mayo along Defensa street to Ave. San Juan, a distance of about 1.7 kilometers (a tad over a mile). It often spills off Defensa into adjoining streets and squares. It is packed! Like most touristy areas in large cities where a person should be aware of their surroundings, we take precautions against pick-pockets. An estimated 15,000 people visit this market on any given Sunday. As we are bumped into, I can’t help but wonder if it is a failed attempt to grab my wallet, or if the person like me is having trouble walking the cobblestones.
The old cobblestone street is closed to traffic and vendor booths line both sides. The pace is slow as people meander along the old historic street. There is an awful lot to look at. Coming to this market, my expectations were high. I am thrilled the market still exceeded them. Portland Oregon: You have some serious competition in the southern hemisphere.
At the end of the market is another market, Mercado San Telmo. This is an indoor market open 7 days a week. Our plan was to grab a bite to eat at one of the many little cafes located inside. But after entering, it didn’t take us long to realize the 15,000 other people visiting also decide the same thing. Inside, it is shoulder to shoulder people. We quickly decide we’ll save looking at this market for another day. It’ time to begin the daily routine of looking for a place to eat lunch. We stumble across a restaurant called, La Brigada. It is packed! There is no way we were going to wait in the long line of people. We’d starve. We ate tacos instead.
When we arrived back at the apartment, I looked up the La Brigada restaurant to see what all the fuss was about. Google tells me, it is a popular steak-house. Yum! The upper level of La Brigada has all sorts of football (soccer) paraphernalia. Some of it is pretty awesome. It includes some actual balls used in the FIFA World Cup. We decided to give it another try but this time, not on the weekend.
Returning the following day to the indoor market, we were shocked by the contrast. The day before it was jammed full with barely room to walk. This day, it’s empty and we can stroll about taking in the massive structure and appreciate the architecture. The restaurants, who resemble food trucks, are preparing lunches and we contemplate eating at a couple of the places. It all smells very good. However, we opt to walk the neighborhood further and then try our luck getting a table at La Bragada.
It about 2:15 pm and we’re getting a little hungry. It is not uncommon for restaurants to close between lunch and dinner. We have seen popular restaurants close between 3 pm and 8 pm. This doesn’t fare well with our normal eating habits. Both of us typically like to eat a late lunch and then head back to the apartment or boat where we’ll have a light snack for dinner. We like doing this because most of the restaurants during our travels are almost empty in the late afternoons and we don’t have to wait for food. Unsure if La Bragada is going to be open or not, or if they have the room we figure it’s worth a shot. We get lucky.
The maître d tells us the restaurant stops seating people at 3pm. He says it is not a problem to eat and to take our time and enjoy the lunch. He shows us to our table. Again, what a difference a day makes. During the Sunday market, I think there might have been a wait to get into the line for waiting. And, then a couple more hours of waiting. Today, we waltz right into one of Buenos Arie’s most popular restaurants. Yey!
After we were done perusing the La Brigada menu, Cindy let out a little gasp. She pointed over my shoulder. I turned to see an Argentina football jersey autographed by one of the most famous players in the world, Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini or just Messi to his fans. Not only is Messi captain of the Argentina national team he is also the captain of the powerhouse football team, FC Barcelona. Last year Forbes ranked him as the highest-paid football player in the world-beating out other superstars such as Ronaldo and Neymar earning a whopping US$127 million. Not too shabby! We both love football. If you remember, we extended our stay in Curaçao last year because we had great Wi-Fi and could watch the World Cup.
Then, the food arrived. The waiter trimmed our steaks tableside using a spoon to cut away the fat. Yes, a spoon! The meat was cook to perfection. I have to admit here, I cook a pretty mean steak. Cindy never orders steak out at a restaurant because she says it is just not as good. My first bite: I’m impressed, very impressed. It’s not as good as Don Julio’s steak but it’s darn close. We both ordered New York Strips, different cuts from Don Julio so it not really fair to compare.
Taking the maître d’s advice, we enjoy our meal and take our time. We order champagne and dessert, both of which are unusual for us. At 4 pm, we pay our bill (again very inexpensive) and give the waiter a very generous tip since our waiter, the chef and us are now the only people still in the restaurant. The chef waves goodbye from the kitchen. Our waiter shows us to the side exit. The front door was locked more than an hour ago. No-one seems to mind. Although, when Cindy orders the chocolate volcano (30 minute preparation time) for dessert, we think we may have heard a whimper from the kitchen.
Our thoughts so far on Buenos Aries: we both really like it here. The city has culture, it is clean, easy to get about, we feel safe here, there is interesting architecture, tons to do, fantastic food, many people speak some English and it all very inexpensive. Is it the Paris of the Americas? I don’t think so. While the city has a lot of European influenced old buildings, that’s pretty much where the similarity stops. I am of the opinion Buenos Aries deserves its own designation. It is a very unique place and should be on the must-do list of everyone who likes to travel.
Most streets in the city are lined with trees. Sometimes this makes walking down the sidewalks interesting. We notice a lot of people with dogs. It is a very pet-friendly city. There are tons of parks. Some are the size of city blocks; others are massive and include small lakes. People with dogs pick up after their pets. There is a city ordinance requiring them to do so. I read how the law is rarely enforced but we both note every person with a pet is obeying the requirement and never see dog poop in the sidewalk.
One park we visit has an enormous rose-garden. On one side of this park is an elevated train line. Normally, in most cities, anything near a train track is a hangout for undesirables and derelict. Buenos Aries made very good use of this space turning an old railroad bridge into a desirable shopping and restaurant center. Sitting in Rock And Ribs, our table shakes every few minutes as train pass overhead. Again, the food is delicious. The American Classic rock music seems a little bit out of place. I realize how often we hear music with English lyrics in public places.
Near our apartment is a graveyard. Just about every city has a historical graveyard, but this one is surprising. It is surprising not just because of the fancy mausoleums but because of the sheer number of people walking about. Because of kids and tours, it has a park-like atmosphere. As graveyards go, this one is pretty awesome. Is it politically okay to call a graveyard awesome? Some of the structures set up in the never-ending maze are impressive. Real estate for some is a challenge. I swear some of these people rest standing on end. A couple of the mausoleums are open or have broken windows. I am able to peek inside at the hundred-year-old coffins. One particular mausoleum had a basement. I think this is very clever of the architect to take advantage of the underground space. Then I wonder where the steps go. Our next hour roaming about the graveyard is spent with Cindy trying to avoid a conversation with me ranting on and on about how cool it would be if this were the gateway to hell. A person simply needs to go down the steps. She is not amused.