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The Parks of Palermo

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Parks in Books

The largest barrio of Buenos Aires is also its greenest. A number of parks stretch between the residential streets of Palermo and the Rio de Plata, greatly improving the quality of life for those lucky enough to live close by.

Love Bridge
Los Bosques de Palermo

The Parque 3 de Febrero is more popularly known as the Palermo Woods, and is one of the largest parks in the city. With a artificial lake as its centerpiece, a rose garden and an Andalusian courtyard, it’s one of the most popular spots in Buenos Aires to spend a lazy summer afternoon. On weekends, the park is packed with families picnicking, while joggers taking advantage of the plentiful tracks.

You can take a paddle boat out to explore the lake, or rent rollerblades for the recreational circuit that surrounds it, which is what I did. The rollerblades cost just $10 (US$2.50) for a half hour, and although they weren’t exactly top quality, or even matching, it was nice to get some exercise. For a more serene time, you can stroll around the rose garden which juts into the lake.

Japanese Garden
Jardín Japones

We chose a weekend to visit the Japanese Gardens, which was a poor decision. The gardens are supposed to be a tranquil oasis, but on weekends, hordes of people suffocate the place, making any sort of relaxation an impossibility. We headed toward the exit almost immediately after entering.

During a weekday, though, the garden is supposed to be great. The Japanese landscaping includes bridges, a bonzai section and ginko trees.

Planetario Buenos Aires
The Planetarium

Looking like a spaceship that crash landed in Buenos Aires, the gleaming, circular Planetarium sits next to a pond. It’s more an attraction for kids, who can learn about the cosmos, but the park surrounding it is as nice a place as any to lay down with your thermos and mate.

We passed through the parks of Palermo countless times, cutting through them on the way to some museum or event. But somehow the parks make us lazy, and we always ended up sitting on the grass for an hour, happily cancelling plans in order to spend a little more time in the sun.

Locations on our Buenos Aires Map of…
The Rose Garden
The Japanese Garden
The Planetarium

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Do Not Aks
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May 2, 2011 at 7:44 pm Comments (3)

Palacio Paz – A Private Home Fit for Kings

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The most expensive Hotel in Buenos Aires

Fleeing the yellow fever which was devastating the city’s southern barrios at the beginning of the 20th century, Buenos Aires’ most wealthy families established fabulous residences around Retiro’s Plaza San Martín. None were more extravagant than the Palacio Paz.

Dome

José Camilio Paz was the founder of La Prensa, the city’s most influential newspaper, and a man whose success brought him to the forefront of Porteño society. He was Argentina’s ambassador to France, and harbored aspirations to the presidency. Clearly, he regarded himself as a man of much import, and so ordered the construction of an outrageous private home in the heart of the city.

Like many Argentinians of his day, Paz was obsessed with Europe, and returned to France to choose an architect and materials. Construction on the palace stretched from 1901 to 1914, but Paz died in 1912 without ever seeing the completed work. But his widow and family happily moved in, and enjoyed a life of absolute splendor.

As we were taking the tour, our guide stressed that the Palacio Paz was for a family of nine. Yet, regardless of how many times I heard that, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the idea. This was a place fit for royalty. At four stories and 12,000 square meters of space, the sheer size of it is incredible. The nine family members had sixty servants at their disposal. There are seven elevators. Seven.

Our tour started in the reception area, moved into the ball room, then a long gallery, decked out with wooden benches and velvet walls. We continued through the dining room of honor, where each guest had his own personal waiter, the smoking room, the ladies’ room, and the music room. At this point I was starting to lose my orientation; every room was just as gorgeous as the last. But on we marched, through the waiting room, to the music room and then into a round room which shattered my conceptions of what kind of things private wealth could actually purchase.

This was the formal reception room, meant to leave guests astonished, and it accomplishes its task handily. A perfectly circular room over 21 meters in height with statues, paintings, marbled columns and a ceiling fresco dedicated to Louis XIV, the Sun King. From here, we were led into the garden, and had the chance to admire the iron wrought sun room on the palace’s back side.

After the Paz family moved on, the palace was purchased by the Círculo Militar for private functions and, except for the unfortunate addition of a sporting area which replaced the garage and stables, it’s survived almost completely intact into the modern day. The tour costs $40 (US$10) per person, and is a wonderful chance to see how magnificently rich porteños of the early 20th century were able to live.

Palacio Paz
Av. Santa Fe, 750
English-Language Tours at 3:30pm, Wed & Thu
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April 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm Comments (2)

Casa Felix: Great Food & Company Behind Closed Doors

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Since opening a couple years ago, the closed-door pescaterian restaurant Casa Felix has built a name as one of the best dining experiences in the capital. Chef Diego Félix and his US American wife Sanra welcome guests into their charming Chicarita home for an evening of excellent cooking and conversation. In the garden and around the dining table, it’s not uncommon for total strangers to quickly become friends.

Casa Felix

Concentrating on ecologically-friendly, organic foods and produce from their own garden, Diego invents dishes which are both delicious and beautiful to look at. Ingredients are selected from across South America, such as plantain leaves, manioc and an Argentine mint called peperina. Unless you’re a professional gourmet deeply familiar with the continent, you’re going to be discovering a lot of new tastes during the five-course meal.

Casa Félix is a secret underground restaurant, but breathless reviews in publications like the New York Times and Condé Nast Traveler have made it a rather poorly-kept secret. Which is good. We visited on a warm late-summer evening and, sitting in the garden for a drink before dinner, fell easily into conversation with other guests. Everything was so relaxed and casual, it really felt like you were over at a friend’s for dinner. If you had a friend who was an amazing cook.

The restaurant is just one piece of Diego and Sanra’s culinary project called the Colectivo Félix, which seeks to promote eco-gastronomic through meals, investigations and photography. We didn’t get to meet Sanra, who was occupied with their recently arrived newborn, but Diego was a gracious host throughout the evening, eager to explain the various herbs and ingredients, and clearly happy to have us in his house. Besides, meeting Sanra would have probably just ratcheted up our envy of her… a gorgeous home, a highly-praised closed-door restaurant, the attention of the world’s best food critics, and a handsome Argentine husband who just happens to be an incredible cook. Quite the life, there!

Check out their website, and make reservations when you’re in the city! The five-course meal is just 150 pesos (US$38); an incredibly fair price for an unforgettable evening out.

Colectivo Felix’s Website
Tel: 11 4555 1882
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April 1, 2011 at 11:49 am Comments (0)

The Carlos Thays Botanical Garden

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The most striking aspect of the northern barrios (Retiro, Recoleta, Palermo), especially in comparison with their less affluent southern counterparts, is the number of beautiful parks and green spaces. One of the most remarkable is the Carlos Thays Botanical Garden in Palermo.

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Found near Plaza Italia, adjacent to the zoo, the Botanical Garden is triangular in shape, and home to more than 5000 species of plants. Entrance is free, and upon stepping foot inside, you start feel all the stress of the city slowly fading away. Cars and trucks zip loudly down the bordering avenues, so it’s not exactly silent, but the garden still imparts a sense of isolation and peace.

The garden is nothing if not diverse. Walking along the paths, you encounter a number of different landscaping schemes, from perfectly symmetrical to untended wild growth. Usually, there are signs which indicate the type of plant you’re looking at, and its country of origin. Long paths lead along fountains lined by statues, and around greenhouses, one of which was shipped over from Paris after 1889 World’s Fair. A healthy population of feral cats roams the grounds, keeping a careful eye on visitors, most of whom are porteños enjoying a short break. When we went, almost every bench was occupied by people drinking mate and reading.

Carlos Thays perhaps did more than anyone else to beautify Buenos Aires. Born in Paris in 1849, he was invited to the city at the age of 40 as an expert landscape artist, and immediately set about improving what he found. Thays was responsible for developing a number of new parks, and redesigning existing ones. In fact, almost every green space in the city has felt his influence, from the Centenario to San Telmo’s Parque Lezama. Thays promoted the planting of trees along city boulevards and demanded more walkways and public plazas. But the Botanical Garden was his pet project, for which he petitioned the city for years.

Buenos Aires is hectic. Even if you’re not going far, getting from one spot to the next can be exhausting. And amid the unceasing horns and the shouting, the smell of trash and never-ending drizzle from overhead air-conditioning units, it can also be enraging. But before you snap and go all Falling Down, grab a book and take a long walk through the Botanical Garden. If that doesn’t calm you down, then fine, you can go shoot people. You have our permission.

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March 10, 2011 at 9:54 pm Comments (5)
The Parks of Palermo
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