I kicked off my six-week adventure in Buenos Aires, the cosmopolitan capital of Argentina. Buenos Aires feels more European than Latin American, so much so that it’s often referred to as “the Paris of South America.” After checking into my hotel in the historic Monserrat neighborhood and drinking a cafe con leche at a nearby cafe, I joined a free walking tour for an introduction to the city.
Starting at the Congress Building, our guide slowly led us nearly a mile down Avenida de Mayo, stopping at the historic sites to share the city’s history and culture. I was prepared to bail on the tour if it was uninteresting, but our spunky guide kept me entertained. Tour stops included Plaza del Congreso, Palacio Barolo, Tortoni Cafe, Plaza de Mayo, Cabildo, Casa Rosada, Metropolitan Cathedral, and the Obelisk.
The most practical thing that I learned from our guide was how to order a cafe con leche using hand gestures, which I put to use most mornings while in Argentina. She also talked me into trying her favorite drink, a submarino. After ordering a submarino at the historic Tortoni Cafe, the waiter served me a bar of dark chocolate and a glass of hot milk. I dropped the chocolate bar into the glass, stirred the drink with a long spoon, and savored the hot chocolate.
I enjoyed the morning walking tour so much that I decided to join my guide’s afternoon tour of the Recoleta neighborhood. Recoleta is one of the most affluent communities in the city, with grand, French-style palaces and buildings. The tour stops included Plaza General San Martin, Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands) War Memorial, and the La Recoleta Cemetery. Eva Perón’s (Evita) grave is at the cemetery, and we learned about her extraordinary life on the tour.
In the evening, there was no question about what I was eating for my first dinner in Argentina: a steak, the country’s most famous dish. Whereas most American cattle feed on grain on feedlots, Argentinian cattle graze on grass in the Pampas, fertile plains in Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Brazil. Argentinians cut the steaks based on the texture of the different parts of the cow and then slow-grill the meat over briquettes. The result is tender steaks with very little fat.
After dinner, I went to an Irish pub next to my hotel, hoping to meet fellow travelers. There were no other gringos at the bar, but an attractive Porteño smiled at me. I was too shy to say “Hola,” but she eventually sat next to me at the bar and started speaking Spanish. After I replied with “No hablo español,” we talked in English until the pub closed at 2:00 am. Wendy offered to take me sightseeing later in the morning, but I had already booked a ferry to Uruguay. Sigh. We exchanged numbers on WhatsApp and chatted for a couple of weeks, but sadly, I never saw her again.