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El Centro de Buenos Aires

Written on: Thursday February 28th, 2008

A journal entry from: Kevin and Julie's RTW

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina 

Author: Julie 

Hola! 

Our first full day in Buenos Aires (meaning "Fair Winds") had us visiting the Centro district; home to the world famous Casa Rosada, immortalized on film by Madonna singing "Don't cry for me Argentina" from it's pink balcony.  The walk from the San Telmo district to Centro took about 30 minutes along large boulevards that had seen better days with the colonial buildings needing a good scrub and paint. Little cafes lined the streets with an old fashion feel, immaculately dressed waiters in white shirts and black bowties waiting in the door to serve you. Many cafes were decorated in their original wooden tables and a long dark wood bar, with Portenos (people from Buenos Aires) reading the newspaper while a cigarette in the ashtray would curl smoke into the air. On the menu were gourmet sandwiches, pizzas, coffee and tea. Next door would be an antique shop crammed full of forgotten treasures and knick knacks. Their display windows showcasing old record players, three wheelers, costume jewellery, 60s armchairs, and the occasional naked clothes dummy. The sidewalks would change shape, tile patterns, and evenness as we passed each storefront. The stores were responsible for the upkeep of the sidewalk. Our walk became a little dance as we avoided the poop dropped by the cute little dogs being walked at all times of the day by residents. 

Our first view of the Casa Rosada was across the Plaza de Mayo. We could hear loud chanting and yelling coming from the street corner. We approached slowly to see what was happening and saw many people walking down the street, arms linked, waving signs. Across the plaza, riot squads were gearing up. The plaza was divided in the middle by a semi-permanent security barrier, proving the tumultuous years of the crashed economy was still on-going. The barrier was covered in socio-political statements, screaming for change and improvements for a people who remembered a better, brighter past. Buenos Aires was a favoured destination for immigrants from Europe in 1920s, as well as from the poorer provinces and neighbouring countries. Large shanty towns started growing around the city's industrial areas, leading to extensive social problems, which contrasted sharply with Argentina's image as a country of riches. Buenos Aires and the Plaza de Mayo was the cradle of Peronism: the now-mythical demonstration of October 17, 1945 where more than a million inhabitants came to listened to the impassioned speech given by President Peron and his wife, Evita. Industrial workers of the Greater Buenos Aires industrial belt have been Peronism's main support base ever since, and Plaza de Mayo became the site for demonstrations and many of the country's political events. 

The protest was peaceful and the riot squad lounged around the plaza, in their bullet proof vests, shields, and helmets while the protesters remained on the other side, chanting together, asking for change. We walked to the security gate and gazed upon the large mansion made of pink-red bricks that earned its name of the Pink House, officially known as the Casa de Gobierno or Palacio Presidencial. It is the official seat of the executive branch of the government of Argentina. The second level had large windows and balconies running along the front. The building dates back to 1873 and was constructed over the foundations of an earlier customs house, post office, and fortress. Its balcony, which faces the square, has served as a podium for many figures, including Pope John Paul II, who visited Buenos Aires in 1998. We wanted to do a tour of the small presidential museum that was located in the basement of the palace but we couldn't be admitted without photo ID which we hadn't brought with us that day. 

We walked around for a better part of the day, looking at the modern highrises of the business district intermingling with the historic buildings. We crossed 9 de Julio Avenue, named to honor the date of Argentina’s independence date. The 12-lane boulevard spans across the width of one city block and is one kilometre long. In the middle of the boulevard, at the intersection of Nueve de Julio and Correntes avenues, is the Plaza de la Republica, located in the center of the city. It marks the location where the flag of Argentina flew for the first time in Buenos Aires. It is now the home of the Obelisk of Buenos Aires, built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the city. 

Our next stop, that I had anticipated greatly, was the Teatro Colon, one of the world's major opera house. It opened in 1908 after 20 years under construction. Unfortunately, our only view of the opera house was from the outside as it is closed for renovations since 2006 and is only planned to be opened in 2010. Our last stop of the day as we wandered was to the Congress building, but it too was closed. 

The sun was setting and we decided to return to our hostel in San Telmo for supper. There was a small grocery store near us and we stopped in for a few supplies and bottle of Argentine red wine.