After a nice long sleep and a hearty breakfast, we took a taxi to Plaza del Congreso, the location of Argentinean parliament building. Our intention was to join a free city tour by Buenos Aires Free Tour. For that we had to be at their meeting point near Plaza del Congreso at 11am.
The taxi driver was a very chatty old man who didn’t speak any English. “Hablo Español un poquito (I speak very little Spanish)” I told him, but he didn’t seem to mind. He kept talking non-stop about places we should visit, things we should do, tips to travel cheap around the city and so on. At times he would ask me “¿Me entiende algo, no? (You understand me a bit, don’t you?)” to which I had nothing else to say but “Sí (Yes)” because I didn’t want to hurt an old man’s feeling!
We arrived at the meeting point pretty early, so we did our own exploration around the area to pass the time.
Behind me was Congreso, the parliament building, where the politicians gathered and debated.
Across the street was Confitería del Molino, which was once a café where politicians met. The word molino (windmill) was a reference to the windmill on its roof. It was built in 1917, now closed to public, awaiting restoration.
The people sitting on yellow chairs underneath the tree were government health officers providing free health checks to the elderly.
Homeless people making themselves pretty much at home around the plaza.
We walked all the way to Plaza de la República. There was a big Christmas tree and some super huge decoration balls opposite the Obelisco.
Every time the traffic light turned red the guy would stand in the middle of the road to show his advertisement board to drivers…
…and when the light turned green he would help pedestrians with directions ;-)
We walked past several theatres along Avenida Corrientes. One of it, Teatro Lola Membrives, was showing Chicago El Musical! We quickly bought two tickets for the following night!
Then we returned to Plaza del Congreso to begin our free walking tour. Our tour guide was Gaston, a true blue Porteño. Buenos Aires natives are called Porteños (people of the port), as the city is a port city facing Río de la Plata. We were joined by about 15 other people, mostly from US and UK.
Waiting to start the tour. Gaston was the guy in green t-shirt.
The tour began at Plaza del Congreso itself, during which Gaston explained the significance of the monuments there. Want to hear how Argentineans speak? Here’s a video of Gaston telling us about the homeless people living around the plaza.
The statue that Gaston was standing next to was carved with Argentina’s map. It marks kilometer zero - the starting point of the country’s road system. You have to look closely underneath the graffiti to see it ;-)
A video of us crossing the wide lanes of Avenida 9 de Julio. That was Fiza showing peace sign. The guy in blue shirt came from Holland, fully sponsored by his employer to learn Spanish in Argentina for two weeks. Lucky him!
Next stop was Café Tortoni, the oldest café in the country. It was founded in 1858, more than 150 years ago, still operating!
Then we went to Plaza de Mayo, where Casa Rosada (the President’s office) was located. The building’s color gave it the nickname “Pink House”. Why pink? Nobody knew.
Anyway, it was at Casa Rosada’s balcony where Evita Perón infamously gave her speeches that gathered thousands of people from all over the country. Like Gaston said, “The balcony where Evita spoke and Madonna sang. I wonder which one made it more popular!” :-D
Across the plaza, located facing Casa Rosada, was the white building of Cabildo de Buenos Aires. It was the former seat of Spanish government when they colonized Argentina. Now a museum.
Argentina has a female president, Cristina Fernández. That’s her.
The little flag underneath the big flag meant that the president was in the office. Too bad she didn’t stick her head out of the windows for us to see ;-)
Plaza de Mayo was also the gathering site of Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo). These are the mothers of children who “disappeared” during Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983. Every Thursday at 3:30pm, these mothers would walk around the plaza wearing white scarves to remember their “disappeared” children. They had been doing so for more than 30 years, even till today.
Drawings of white scarves on the plaza’s floor, symbolizing the mothers’ fight.
According to Gaston, people often organized protests near Plaza de Mayo to get the president’s attention. So much so that the police decided to keep that removable black fence there all the time, so that if a protest happened they could just stretch it across the road to control the crowd.
A protest was going on (albeit a small one) as we walked along Avenida Presidente Roque Sáenz Pena towards Obelisco.
Guards guarding the office of the governor of the city.
Can you see the house on the top of the building (near the Chicago billboard)? It was built in 1930s by the building’s owner who was tired of having to travel from his office to his house (away from the city) every day after work. So he built a new house on the top of his office!
The free walking tour ended at Obelisco. Us with Gaston, our witty tour guide!
We then went to El Ateneo, a huge bookstore that was formerly a theatre.
Had some coffee at the café on the stage.
We bought some books and returned to the hotel to freshen up. In the evening we went out with Ramiro, Fiza’s colleague in Buenos Aires. He was kind enough to take us for a walk around Puerto Madero (the city’s riverfront district) and a nice seafood dinner afterwards.
Puerto Madero during sunset.
Me, Ramiro and an old ship which had been made a museum.
I’m watching you!
Puente de la Mujer (Woman’s Bridge). Every street in Puerto Madero was named after women, so did the bridge.
A hungry Ramiro was about to stab a flan :-D
After dinner we headed back to the hotel and were done for the day.
Well, that was our first day exploring Buenos Aires!
P.S.: I went a little overboard with the pics, didn’t I? Maybe I should put less pics and more words in the next entry, eh?