Autumn is a particularly pleasant time to arrive in Buenos Aires. Clear skies, plenty of sunshine, the colors of fall, and daytime temperatures flirting with the 70s (20C). And if Palermo happens to be the neighborhood where you end up living and working, it really does spoil you!
Technically, I’m not even staying there. For now, I’m in the barrio of Villa Crespo, which lies just south of Palermo, but like many others on the fringe of it (Colegiales and Las Cañitas, to name a few) its gained significantly from the close proximity to Palermo.
Palermo itself is divided into several sub-barrios; Palermo Viejo, Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood, amongst them. The last of these is named so because of the sheer number of television and radio studios that call the barrio home. Soho, I have no clue! South of Honduras, perhaps?
Never mind the names though, the area is characterized by leafy cobble-stone streets; beautifully designed storefronts, chic boutiques and a plethora of inviting cafes, with a strong leaning towards the outdoors. Strolling through the laid back neighborhood is a delight – vibrant murals abound (the barrio is literally an open air gallery!) and there is nary a dull intersection to be found.
From the handful of barrios I’ve visited in the city so far, the one feature common to them all is sheer convenience. No matter how residential a given block might seem, there is a grocery store or mini mart right around the corner. Panaderías and confeitarias (bakeries) are a dime a dozen; there’s a parrilla (grill) on practically every other block, and for all your in-between needs, there’s more than likely a kiosko mid-block!
They’re all very walkable too, and if you have to get to anywhere else in the city, public transit is a breeze. Get yourself a SUBE card and your all set! To the outrage of Porteños, fares were recently jacked up and currently stand at 4.5 ARS for a Subte ride, and 3.25 for a bus ride. ~45 and 33 cents respectively!
They say comparisons are odious, but I’ll make them all the same! Expectedly, there’s a lot of European influence everywhere, from the architecture to the cafe culture. But parts of the city remind me of the older, quieter and nicer sections of a city I once called home, Bombay! For those familiar with it, think the leafier, banyan-enriched enclaves of Colaba or Bandra.
So here they are – my initial observations and first impressions of a city I am to inhabit for the next year or so, in no particular order of importance:
- There is a sizable Armenian population in the city, who would have thought? As a result, food from that region is probably the most popular after Italian, and Sarkis is one of the more frequented restaurants in BA. Its down the block from me, but the lines are always too long, and I’m still to get in. Its like Brooklyn all over again!
- The staple Argentine breakfast tends to be sweet rather than savory. That’s not quite up my palette, but the factura (and there are many varieties of this delectable pastry) is possibly my new favorite thing!
- Local grocery stores are invariably run by the Chinese, so much so that the locals refer to their mercados simply as “chino“. Even in the tiniest of markets (there are supermercados too) the wine selection is amazing, and is likely the first thing you’ll encounter as you walk in! Certainly, the Porteños seem to have their priorities sorted!
- The bus system here has been a revelation to me. Intimidating, at first, for the newcomer, you’ll soon find that its incredibly easy to use, ridiculously cheap, and gets you to pretty much any corner of the city in very respectable time. Two things to keep in mind. First, make sure you flag the bus down. Even if your standing at a stop, they’re not expected to stop for you! And second, inform the driver where your headed, so he can set the fare on the machine before you tap that SUBE card. There were several awkward exchanges between various drivers and me, before I eventually got the hang of it!
- In restaurants, cerveza is more than likely going to be sold to you by the litro! A slight problem, if you happen to be the lone drinker, and it’s the middle of the day!
- Contrary to popular belief, there is no shortage of vegetarian options in this city. In fact, there are restaurants that only serve vegetarian food here! That being said, why would anyone in their right frame of mind, turn down a perfectly respectable choripán or bondiola?
- There are more dog walkers here than NYC can boast off! The city ordinance currently limits the number of dogs per walker to ten. There is, however, no city ordinance for “cleaning up after your pet”, so watch out for that dog poop as you navigate the sidewalks!
- Yerba Mate is a communal drink, with people taking turns to top up the gourd with hot water (there’s always a thermos accompanying imbibers) and passing it around, using the same bombilla or metal straw to sip it! Often, you’ll find complete strangers sharing the drink in a public setting. Just the other day, I saw the driver of my colectivo sharing it with a lady passenger on the front seat! And, its seemingly portable too – people walk with it, carry it around on the Subte, and so on…
- It is common practice to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek. Co-workers, people your meeting for the first time, sometimes even strangers! And there is no exception to the custom, even between men.
- A welcome change since the time I visited here (over 5 years ago) is the infusion of bike lanes into the street network. These are almost always two-way, which is extremely useful to bikers, given that most streets in BA are one-way! Bikers themselves aren’t the least bit aggressive, and motorists seem to be rather forgiving too. They even have a bike-share in place! The most popular set of wheels around? The folding bike!
- Tap water in BA is potable – a big plus in my book!
- ATMs or cash points can only be found on busy commercial drags, and banks follow a very restrictive schedule (5 hours a day, 5 days a week). Meanwhile, the “blue dollar” market continues to flourish! Somewhere in between, Visa is doing a whole lot better than MasterCard! Amex? Forget about it!
- If your considering grocery shopping on a Sunday evening, bad idea! Stores seem to run out of everything by then, bread and eggs included. And on Mondays, not just barber shops, pretty much every kind of establishment is closed! Every other time of the week though, the city is exceptionally convenient.
- Palermo and Villa Crespo, the two neighborhoods I know fairly well by now, have an oddity each to their credit. Villa Crespo, which is purely residential, has the largest concentration of outlet stores anywhere in BA! Leather-seekers, this is your spot! And Palermo has a profusion of auto repair workshops, on practically every block, which are not getting Palermo-fied (yes, there is such a term!) anytime soon!
There’s a lot to look forward to in the coming months. I’ve just begun Spanish lessons, which has me excited and nervous at the same time! I’m going through the city’s many diverse barrios, parks and museums, one weekend at a time, and in the interim, charting out future travel opportunities, country and continent-wide! Tango lessons? Maybe! For now though, there’s plenty here to keep me going 😉
My wanderings around BA are documented here.