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The Obelisk and the Avenida 9 de Julio

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Selection of Buenos Aires Travel Guides

Avenida 9 de Julio, which cuts north-south through the city is one of the world’s widest avenues. Where it intersects Calle Corrientes, the city’s most emblematic symbol shoots grandly into the air: the Obelisk of Buenos Aires. The phallus-shaped monument is the perfect symbol for a country that so proudly basks in machismo.

Obelisk Buenos Aires

My, that’s quite an impressive… monument you have there, Argentina! Reaching 67 meters in height, the obelisk was built in 1936 by German engineers to celebrate the 400-year anniversary of Buenos Aires’ founding. Throughout the years, it’s been the scene of protests, vandalism, concerts and speeches. During Isabel Perón’s tyrannical presidency, a banner was hung on the obelisk that read “Silence is Healthy”. Ostensibly a message to keep traffic noise down, it was actually a thinly veiled warning that it might be smart for political opponents to keep their trouble-making mouths shut.

Biggest Street in the World

Crossing the street to get to the obelisk is an exercise in bravery. The Avenida 9 de Julio, at 140 meters of width (460 feet), is insane, with four separate lights to get across the street, and about 20 lanes of traffic. Well, “lanes” is an abstract term, as nobody pays the slightest bit of attention to the lines painted on the pavement. Cars weave in and out, passing perilously close to one another at speeds that make you sick. Velocity is the name of the game for pedestrians, as well: if you want to get across the avenue in one go, you have to jog.

Loud, crowded and stressful, I wouldn’t want to spend a whole day near the avenue, but every time I had to cross it, I became energized. With the obelisk towering high overhead, and cars zooming recklessly by on all sides, it’s tough not to be impressed.

Location of the Obelisk on our BA Map
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Buenos Aires Obelisk
Avenida Julio 9
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May 5, 2011 at 5:48 pm Comments (0)

Café Tortoni

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Buenos Aires Travel Guides

Buenos Aires’ oldest and most famous coffee shop is Café Tortoni, just a few blocks west of the Plaza de Mayo. A gorgeous space which has been serving porteños since 1858, the café is usually toward the top of everyone’s “must-see” list. For good reason.

Reading the Menu

The oft-photographed Parisian-font logo above the front door betrays the café’s origins. Tortoni was founded in 1857 by a French immigrant, who named it after his favorite coffee shop in Paris. It quickly gained a foothold among the people of Buenos Aires, and was the first of many cafés that would sprout up around the city toward the end of the 19th century. A host of famous people have been patrons, from Borges and Federico García Lorca, to Albert Einstein and Hillary Clinton.

Inside, Tortoni is spacious and beautifully decorated with stained glass windows, wooden furniture and old pictures on the walls. There’s a billiards room, and a couple smaller salons used for concerts and tango performances, as well. The cafe has done a splendid job maintaining its spirit of authenticity, despite the crowds and camera flashes. If possible, try and go on a weekday; there are still a few hours when Tortoni calms down, and you can fully immerse yourself in its charm.

Café Tortoni
Av. de Mayo 825/29
Location on our Buenos Aires Map
Tel: 4342 4328

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April 30, 2011 at 7:08 pm Comments (0)

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
Location on our Buenos Aires Map
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April 27, 2011 at 10:44 pm Comments (2)

Puerto Madero

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The Architecture of Calatrava

Buenos Aires’ trendiest residential neighborhood is probably its most bizarre. Even though it’s physically close to the historic center, Puerto Madero almost feels like a completely different city.

Puerto Madero

The narrow port for which the neighborhood is named opened in 1882 to help serve Buenos Aires’ shipping businesses. But it was in use for only sixteen years. Before construction even completed, Puerto Madero had been rendered obsolete by the sheer size of the newer, larger barges. For most of the 20th century, the warehouses sat unused and the area around Puerto Madero was abandoned to urban rot.

But that’s changed. About ten years ago, a concentrated effort was made to modernize and clean up one of the city’s best-located and most-neglected neighborhoods. With its location along the Rio de Plata, and the ecological reserve of the Costanera Sur, it’s amazing that Buenos Aires took so long to make proper use of Puerto Madero. Wealthy porteños, both young professionals and retirees, have moved there en masse, and property values have shot through the roof. To accommodate the new residents, a number of restaurants have opened up along the old port, which itself has become a place of touristic interest.

We’re in Puerto Madero constantly, usually for jogging, but also taking advantage of the cheap and modern Cinemark theater. There’s still a lot of room for improvement in Puerto Madero — the newness of the buildings and shops is too apparent, and the large, expensive restaurants are almost always empty. A stroll through the neighborhood can be a surreal experience; where the nearby streets of Monserrat are noisy, dirty and gloriously alive, Puerto Madero is clean, quiet and desolate.

Still, walking along the old port as the sun behind the city, its rays reflecting off the water and giant glass buildings, is one of the more pleasant ways to spend an evening in Buenos Aires. We’ve gone to bars along the port for happy hour, and perhaps there are some treasures hidden in Puerto Madero that we haven’t discovered… does anyone have a suggestion?

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April 27, 2011 at 8:43 pm Comment (1)
The Obelisk and the Avenida 9 de Julio
For 91 Days