Part 3 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
March 2nd, 2015 – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Breakfast at the Ocean View Cafe on the outside deck – how we had missed it. The elongated layout of the buffet on the Millennium Class means longer ways on one hand, but we find the seating areas are also much quieter. We had already noticed and liked this on the Constellation. As usual, the choice at the buffet was rich and delicious. I made many returns to the eggs benedict stations... probably too many.
After breakfast we went to the Guest Relations Desk where we met with four fellow travelers, with whom we had connected on Cruise Critic. Together we had booked a private walking tour with Buenostours. We had soon found each other, left the ship and looked for our driver Chris and at the cruise terminal. He arrived shortly after the agreed time, took us to his car and drove us to the meeting point where we were to meet our tour guide Oliver. Chris had left England many years ago, and even during the short time of our transfer he told us a few interesting things to know about Buenos Aires.
Oliver, our guide, was an American who had lived in Buenos Aires for 16 years and was basically a Porteño himself. We met him in San Telmo, where we found Plaza Dorrego in a different light than the previous day.
Compared to the day before, the square was empty and seemed to recover from the hustle and bustle of the market and catch its breath for the next merchants, tourists, musicians and tango dancers. But with this peace and quiet it hadn’t lost any of its beauty.
Oliver took us right to the center of the square, where he told us stories of Buenos Aires and about its different faces. His storytelling was very enthralling, and from the beginning we hung on his every word. His gestures and facial expressions were unmistakable: “I am a Porteño and I love this city.”
He also took us to the covered market we had already visited on our day of arrival. We recognized the colorful array of goods which seemed like a painting under the light of the glass dome, awaiting their buyers. At this early hour on a Monday morning, hardly any tourists were to be found in the market hall, so like Plaza Dorrego, we discovered it from a more original but all the same attractive angle.
Continuing on our way, we passed more of the pieces of street art, for which Oliver had many interesting explanations.
The pieces were very different in style and color, artistic detail and especially in their hidden signs and meanings, which we didn’t perceive at first but which Oliver explained to us. Hardly recognizable details or certain color combinations were used by the artists with much skill and ambiguity, like almost invisible highlights in single letters. The references were varied – parallels with political backgrounds were represented as well as allusions to soccer clubs.
Oliver also showed us a graffiti which didn’t stand out from an artistic point of view but which we liked for its message. It applies to many situations in life, but to cruises in particular.
„All I have to offer is a smile. All I hope for is a smile in return“
On one street corner Oliver drew our attention to some colorful bars and restaurants whose tables looked very inviting in the shade of the trees where they were hiding. At the end of the 19th century, these were the city’s brothels. In the country of tango, even the oldest profession in the world was connected to this music and its passionate dance. According to tango experts, it was in places like these where men from Buenos Aires’s middle class developed a taste for tango. The lack of women at the time resulted in a boom of prostitution. The ladies of the profession were hardly able to cope with the onslaught of men who waited impatiently in crowds in front of the houses. In order to avoid a change of heart among those waiting, the ladies hired tango musicians to entertain them. Tango historians report that the men spent the time waiting by practicing the dance – even by dancing with each other – hoping to improve their chances with the women of Buenos Aires.
On the other side of the street we were greeted by the cartoon friends of little Malfalda, which we had already met sitting on her bench the other day. These colorful figures, both as paintings on house walls and as statues in the street, form the “Paseo de la Historieta Cartoon tour” – a tribute to Argentina’s cartoon artists and their characters, which are loved all over the country.
In the company of these funny figures we reached the district of Monserrat and the Convento de Santo Domingo, scene of some armed conflicts with the royal British soldiers during the war of independence, from which the Argentinians emerged victorious. According to Oliver, even today they are still quite proud of these victories.
A mausoleum inside the convent is the final resting place of General Belgrano, fighter in the war of independence and creator of the flag of the independence movement at the time, which is today the national flag of Argentina.
A warship of the Argentinian navy was also named after General Belgrano, who was once so victorious against the British. Ironically, it was sunk by the British navy during the Falkland... sorry – Malvinas War. With over 300 victims this loss represents a major part of the Argentinian war victims.
With Oliver we also passed the basilica San Francisco and visited the historical Farmacia on the other side of the street and this time, also admired the inside.
At Plaza de Mayo our guide told us with contagious enthusiasm and a lot of passion in every one of his words the partly sad story of the square, the development of Casa Rosada and the history of the Cabildo, the ancient seat of the former Viceroy.
Obviously, this tour wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the Catedral Metropolitana, where Oliver gave us some information on Argentina’s religious backgrounds and on General San Martin, who is buried in the mausoleum.
The historical Café Tortoni, whose walls have seen so much history, was where we had our well-deserved lunch break. Not only there did it become clear that our group was a well matched and fun crowd.
Madelin and Bill were from Florida – so we could exchange some stories – and Mary and Bob from Cleveland, Ohio. Throughout our cruise we kept running into each other and spent more time with all of them.
After the break we took the subway towards Plaza San Martin, where Oliver gave us a few explanations on the beautiful historical buildings around the square, which we had already admired on our first day out.
The final leg of our walking tour took us towards the Recoleta district past the elegant Avenida Alvear and various embassies in beautiful old buildings.
Recoleta is one of Buenos Aires’s most elegant and expensive residential and business districts. The most famous attraction, however, is its cemetery. It is the final resting place to many well-known and influential personalities of the city’s and country’s history. Politicians, generals, publishers, industrialists and members of wealthy families… They all take the parade of visitors passing by them every day – all of which are here more or less to visit one particular tomb. Have you guessed which one?
Before we entered the cemetery, we marveled at “La Gomero”, an enormous rubber tree. With a diameter of almost 50 meters (150 ft) it dominates the square in front of the cemetery and offers shade and refuge on benches around its mighty trunk.
Its vast network of branches is supported by beams so they can form a roof across the square. In parts this job was carried out by beautiful pieces of art.
We entered the realm of the dead through the main gate of the cemetery and thus a maze of mausoleums of different architecture. But all had one thing in common: for times to come they were to bear witness to the earthly riches and fame of the deceased and their families.
Again, our guide was in his element. Most entertaining and dedicated he showed us some tombs and knew true or scary tales to all of them.
The mausoleum of Almiante Guillermo Brown, the father of the Argentinian navy, stood out for the color of its green marble.
I found the tomb of Jose Clemente Pay, founder of “La Prensa”, once the most widespread newspaper, particularly elaborate. The former building of the newspaper is one of the historical buildings around Plaza San Martin.
Rufina Cambaceres was a young girl, and member of the aristocratic high society of Buenos Aires in 1902. When she was getting ready to go to a theatre play with her mother, she broke down and was declared dead by a doctor who hastened by. The reason of her breakdown alone is subject of many rumors, e. g. that she had learned that her boyfriend was cheating on her with his own mother.
In line with the customs of rich families at the time, Rufina was soon buried in an elaborate tomb. A few days later, the cemetery keeper found the cover of the tomb damaged and shifted. For fear of a theft, the tomb was opened. Something even more terrifying was disclosed: Rufina’s dead body with battered hands. Mistakenly declared dead by the doctor, Rufina had woken up in her coffin and had tried to free herself.
The gravesite of Liliana Crociati de Szaszak can be recognized by a big bronze statue. The young woman died in 1970, when her hotel in Innsbruck was hit by an avalanche. When her dog Sabu died later, a statue of her dog was added to her own. Obviously, the fact that the corpse of her husband, who died with her, was never found also gives rise to many conspiracy theories.
Last but not least we ended the tour by visiting the tomb which is most likely the destination of every visitor of the cemetery. You have probably guessed it already.
Eva “Evita” Peron is buried here in the tomb of the Duarte family, after it was long hidden in Italy by political opponents.
Leaving Argentina’s probably most famous personality also meant ending our walking tour of Buenos Aires. Our fantastic guide Oliver handed us over to Chris, who was already waiting for us at the cemetery gate to take us back to our ship.
This day, like our entire stay in Buenos Aires, was a full success. We also liked that we had already explored the city on our own prior to the tour and gotten some first impressions. This allowed us to easily take in all the incredibly well presented explanations which Oliver delivered.
We left Buenos Aires with a feeling of great content. We liked the city a lot, and following the motto “Off to new horizons” we were looking forward to all the other destinations to come.
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