Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day 8

Didn't do a lot on day 7--it had been raining all day on and off, so we had a lie in, took our laundry to be done, had some nice gelato, and chilled out in the apartment most of the day before heading out for the bus to show 4 .(Review in the post below.)
Today was a day off--no show tonight. I'd read on Trip Advisor that of all the things to do in Buenos Aires, the number one thing was actually free! A local company offered free walking tours of the city. One tour left at 11 A.M., took around 4 hours, and showed you most of the major sights, while the other left at 5 P.M., took around 2.5 hours, and was more about the city, the people, and the culture.
We left the apartment around noon and had a wander around some streets by our apartment. There are lots of little side streets, and just when you think you've been down them all, you see another and anothe.

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I'm not sure what the shrine to bottle tops was all about, or the couple of cars that were for sale on the side of road and had half-filled large bottles of water on the top of them!
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We took the 108 bus down to the area of Retiro around 2 P.M., then spent a couple of hours wandering around and looking at stores.

Today's bus stop
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This area was one of the main shopping streets-- everything from clothes, shoes, and regular regular necessities, with a few unusual places sprinkled in. Many stores were selling Roger gear and various Wall paraphernalia, too. You could buy McDonald's, a pair of shoes, a new jacket, and, of course, a new machine gun! I wonder what Roger would do if we pulled one of these out during In The Flesh!

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There was a HUGE banner unveiled last week for Roger's tour. It wasn't far from where we were, and it was said to be 10 stories high and totally cover one of the office blocks down the widest avenue in the world. It didn't take us long to find it! I'm thinking of going back later on with a pair of scissors and a black hoodie-- I hope it fits in my checked luggage! :)

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We started the walk back to the area where the tour left, wandered though the busy shopping streets, and got to the meeting point 5 minutes early. All I knew about the tour was that it left from the large statue of San Martin on horseback. I’d no idea who or what to look out for, or exactly who was taking the tour, but a few minutes to five, a girl arrived in a green tank with Free BA Tours written on it. She came over to Kami and I, introduced herself as Sol, and said we’d be starting the tour shortly.

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Within the next 5 minutes about 40 people had gathered by the statue, and she sat us all down and gave us a brief introduction about herself and what the tour would entail. She also went around everyone there and asked us to introduce ourselves. It didn't take as long as you'd think. The first thing she told us was that on the monument in front of us, we would see that one of the statues was missing off the fourth plinth. It had gone missing a few weeks ago overnight, and no one seems to know what's happened to it. She said it's not uncommon for people to dress up as police or officials and steal things. The statue was made of bronze, and all the city was just hoping it had been taken to be cleaned and would return soon!
Sol was very informative but in a comedic way that kept your interest as she was talking.  Our next stop was a vantage point over the clock tower that was a centennial gift from the UK to Buenos Aires. It was given to them in 1916. She said that locals like to think that it's a replica of Big Ben in London. It has a bell; it's a tower; it's a clock, and it came from England; it must be Big Ben! She saw me laugh and said “What's wrong Simon? Don't spoil it for us! You and I  know it looks nothing like Big Ben, but most people don’t!”

“Big Ben” Buenos Aires style                      A gift from the UK
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Next stop was the Falkland Islands memorial. It's guarded during the day by two guards, and it is honoring the deaths of the Argentinians that died in 1982. She told the story in brief, and told how and why Galtieri  started the war to to get the Islands. Kami and I both had the line “Galtieri took the Union Jack,” playing in our heads. She told how the two main things that Argentinians are passionate about are football and politics. She relayed the story of the “Hand of God” incident in the World Cup, and how Maradona does, indeed, actually think he is God sometimes. He even has a church nearby!

Falkland Islands memorial                 Lowering of the flag at 6 P.M.     
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Sol then took us around some of the streets of Retiro and Recoleta, which are home to some of the wealthiest areas and most expensive places to live. There are a lot of buildings that look very French or otherwise European. Sol explained it's because they pretty much are! All the materials and furnishings were imported from France and other European countries!

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Apartments in the building above range from 2 to 3 million US$!

We then headed over to  a small park behind the Four Seasons hotel. This had an exact replica (unlike the Big Ben!) of the fountain that's on La Ramblas in Barcelona. It's said that if you drink from the fountain in Barcelona, you will return there one day. A lot of the monuments, buildings, and sculptures around Buenos Aires are donated and brought from other countries. That's why it looks like such a mixed area. Sol summed the people of Buenos Aires  up really well when she said “Buenos Aires people look Italian, speak Spanish, live in a French city, but like to think of themselves as being English.”

Fountain            I think Kami wants to come back!                        Trompe L’oeil painted windows on the flat wall
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We then headed round the corner to see some of the few large family homes that were left in Buenos Aires. There are only 32 left now, but most have been turned into Government buildings,clubs, Embassys,etc. Only one large home or "palace" is still used as a family home. That one is owned by a family in New York, and it is known to the locals as the haunted mansion. You can see why in the picture below!

Former home, now the Hyatt hotel            Another,  now the Vatican Embassy        Haunted mansion!
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We walked over to the entrance of Recoleta cemetery where Kami and I had been a couple of days ago. On the way, we stopped outside the most prestigious hotel in Buenos Aires, the Alvear Palace Hotel. As the hotel was being built, they ran out of money, so they sold one half of the building off as apartments. Then they carried on with the other half and finished the hotel. It's not very visible on the picture, but there's a definite line down the middle where, on one side, the hotel has kept up with the renovation and maintenance of the exterior--it looks brand new--and on the other side, the people in the apartments haven't! She also went deeply into the economy here in BA, explaining how people are not lavish with their money in the same way they are in other cities. You won't see any Ferraris, Helicopters, fancy dress and jewelry, as ALL people here like to portray themselves as middle class. The may have their money in property and art--things that can't usually be seen. However, one guy who owns an entire floor as his apartment couldn't find room inside for one of his pieces of art, so keeps it on the balcony!

Alvear palace Hotel                  Look closely on the balcony                   There's a cow!
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At our last stop, Sol told us the story of Evita who is buried in Recoleta cemetery. It's a bit too long and involved to type out, but you can read about it here. At the end of the tour, we were able to ask questions, and Kami and I asked the best place for steak, since Argentina is very well known for its beef. She suggested a place in San Telmo, and we took the bus over. This story will have its own blog entry that I'll type up later on!
I cannot recommend Sol and the free tour highly enough. Both Kami and I thoroughly enjoyed it, and there were so many facts and interesting things about BA that I've forgotten most of them! The tour is free, but you can tip at the end if you want. We did, as it was worth every peso.
You can view details online about the free Buenos Aires tours at the link below and also read the Trip Advisor reviews. You can add the Free BA Tours on Facebook here: Free Walking tours of BA on Facebook

Full album of today's picture:


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