Recoleta to Palermo – Buenos Aires, Argentina

14 Feb

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J.J. and I woke up with a day plan for Saturday based on some recommendations he’d received from a former co-worker of his that had lived in Buenos Aires. His friend suggested we visit the area of Recoleta for the day so we hopped on the bus deciding to fit in as many of his friends recommendations as we could.

Our first pit-stop was a giant reflective flower sculpture in the middle of the park, that also happens to host a number of bright yellow lawn chairs and matching beach umbrellas where a number of locals were sitting out in their teeny bikinis and barely-there bathing briefs sunning themselves.

Then it was off to walk through the maze of local artisan stands that get set up only on the weekends. We browsed, looking at everything from antique telephones to hand-crafted shoes and jewellery to tye-dyed clothing. When we reached the end of the line of Saturday exhibitors we found ourselves outside a large church that we wandered around, staying behind those praying in the front few rows of pews.

Next on our list was the Cementario de la Recoleta which is rows upon rows of mausoleums. As soon as we stepped through the doorway J.J. was convinced by a woman selling maps at the entrance that this was something we absolutely needed. 8 pesos later, we were walking through the little alleys of mausoleums, trying to push out of our minds the number of bodies laid to rest in each one and instead focusing on the details of the architecture.  What amazingly eerie photos we got! (Note: the map of the Cementario is not required – we looked at it once only to find where Evita had been laid to rest.)

After the cemetery we opted for a less morbid activity: finding “the big tree” (not its official name, I’m not even sure if it’s got one). This tree is located in the center of a small park and has a massive and intricate trunk and branches to match. In fact the branches weigh so much that they’ve got to be held up by support posts!

Our final 2 destinations for the day were to find J.J.’s friend’s favourite gelado spot and a bookstore that he mentioned. We found the bookstore, El Ateneo, and were completely in awe – it is the most beautiful bookstore I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t look like much from the front but walking just a few steps inside, you can see that it was once a grand theatre.

Shelves and shelves of books are in the middle of the room and what was once a beautifully ornate stage, complete with rich red velvet curtains, has been converted into a café. People of all ages can be found in the balcony seats reading and enjoying a late afternoon cup of coffee.

The postcards sold at El Ateneo were stunning, worlds apart from anything I’d seen in the souvenir shops with lots of white space and bright colourful images in the center and I couldn’t resist buying a few of my favourites. I absolutely loved every minute being there.

The gelato shop, Volta, was just a few doors down. The ceilings were high, the floors dark wood and everything else was white and modern looking. I got us a table and gave J.J. carte blanche to place my order. Success: new favourite raspberry gelato. We sat in the open space of Volta writing our postcards and enjoying our late afternoon treat.

We walked back to Millhouse to get ready for a night out as we had plans to meet up with our Kiwi friends, Rachel and Pete, for dinner in the area of Palermo followed by a night on the town. Rachel had been playing polo for the day and tasked Pete with choosing a restaurant. Being without cell phones and not staying in the same hostel as Rachel and Pete required us to rely on Facebook and it was that way that we knew to meet them at the restaurant in Palermo at 10:30pm.

We left Millhouse to catch the subway that would take us to Palermo and were pleasantly surprised to find that it seemed to be free. There was no one there to collect fares and the doors to the trains were wide open. Once inside we had trouble making sense of the confusing signage. We must have appeared lost because an older man approached J.J. and led us to our train, saying that that was also the train he needed to take.

Once on the subway the older man talked J.J.’s ear off in rapid Spanish and from what we could piece together his grandfather escaped a life in the Sicilian mafia by coming to Argentina in the early 1900s. He shook J.J.’s hand as we parted ways at our destination station and when we looked back we found him rummaging through the trash.

The walk to the restaurant took us about 10 minutes and when we arrived we were greeted with a fairly intimate restaurant of wood floors, exposed brick, windows that looked out across the street (later Tal saw a naked man dancing alone in his living room) and shelves of empty wine bottles that had the tipsy scribbles from past customers on each of the labels.

The food was delicious and the company, as always, was fabulous. After our meal, Pete treated the boys each to vanilla cigars he’d purchased earlier that day to have with the scotch they ordered to drink on the patio.

After cigars had been smoked and scotch had been sipped, we decided to try a speak-easy bar that Tal had heard about called 878, which was the address. Because it was a speak-easy bar (ie had no sign outside and you would never know it was a bar if you weren’t specifically looking for it) and because Tal thought it was called 879, when we got there we found what looked like a darkened apartment building. Jonny asked Tal if she thought maybe it was called 878 because there was a large man of bouncer stature wearing a suit and tie standing across the street at the 878 address. It took her a minute to concede, but she ended up agreeing that it may in fact be called 878.

The bouncer led us to a booth in the back where we sat for 3ish rounds of cocktails, most of which were the cost of an entrée at many of the restaurants we’d been to. The vibe was that of a dark lounge with an enormous selection of liquor bottles mounted on shelves behind the bar and I can’t think of a bar in Canada to compare it to really.

Come 4:45am Rachel and Pete decided not to join us on our quest to find Roxy, the bar we’d decided to hit. We hopped in a cab and for the first time had a female driver and for the first time J.J. was asked to give up his usual seat in the front and sit in the back with the 3 of us.

The cab ride was fun with the driver pointing out this, that and the other thing, one of which was the planetarium – she had to clarify to Jonny that it was not the disco, despite it looking like a large lit-up disco ball.

We arrived at Roxy and the bouncers were turning people away, saying it was too late as they stop serving there at 5:30am. We were in the mood to keep the night going though and Jonny even offered bribing the bouncers to let us in.

Finally we wore down one of the doormen and he escorted us into the bar, single file. I was at the back of our party of 4 and before the doorman left us he tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to come closer. When I did he whispered, “it’s gay night”.

And was it ever. I have paid a visit or 2 to the nightclubs in Toronto’s gaybourhood and with the exception of during PRIDE, never have I seen so many public displays of affection, let’s call them. Nevertheless, the music was pumping, the beers were cold and we had a fantastic time taking it all in. Tal and I were even hit on by an intoxicated girl, clearly looking to cash in on her last chance for romance before the bar closed.

The bar itself was Toronto’s Picadilly Circus circa 2007 (I don’t even know if it still exists) meets Waterloo’s Loose Change Louie’s – concrete, beer covered floors, cheesy lighting, horrible washrooms, etc.

At 6:00am we decided to call it a night and high-tailed it out of the sweat factory, also known as Roxy (which we later discovered is actually called Pound). We for once, didn’t stop at Riko’s for ponchos and instead took many, many photos out the cab windows of the sunrise.

Epic night, Buenos Aires, epic night.

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