Business Travel Show Europe Kick Off, 23 February,
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ON TOUR: The Editor”s sojourn in South America was completed with four nights in Buenos Aires.
It was not something he was particularly looking forward to. Nothing could compete with 14 days on Regal Princess around Cape Horn and onward to Argentina via the Falkland Islands. Or could it? (also see Down South America Way and Down South America Way part II)?
Argentina seems to have got over its latest crisis and Buenos Aires, at least on the surface, is once again a booming city. It is clean and there is a vigour about it, clearly living up to its motto of ”Paris of the South”. People are friendly, want to speak English and there are no obvious rip-offs. It is a bustling port city. You do not have to be politically correct, as the locals will probably mention The Falklands first and not use the Spanish name for the islands. The city has wide avenues, extremely cheap taxes and an interesting and colourful history. Argentina is the land of beef and the tango. You can see this most exotic of dances even on the pavements where free shows entice people into the restaurants and clubs.
Sadly it is not one of the most accessible cities in the world from London with only a four times a week BA flight via Sao Paulo and is crying out for more capacity. Iberia goes daily from Madrid, with good connections from around the UK offering an excellent business class service, and new ”flat beds” on the overnight flight south. Aerolineas Argentinas, now Spanish owned, has a ”sort of” service with a change of gauge in Madrid. With TAM about to offer non-stop Brazil flights to London there is a possibility of the British airlines having a closer look at South America. LAN Argentina is also established, with its Chilean owner, a member of Oneworld, already into Europe.
Where to start? Difficult. Evita was on our mind and the wonderfully ornate Recoleta Cemetery is a ”must”. Her tomb just one of thousands in a massive walled off garden of remembrance with family areas and enormous mausoleums in what has become a fashionable part of town with elegant restaurants (inevitably), confiterias and exclusive boutiques. The zoo is nearby. Next stop and just two pounds in a taxi including a tip is 9 de Julio, and said to be the widest avenue of any of the world”s great cities, ten lanes either way with a grass knoll in the centre. Surprisingly it is easy to cross with plenty of traffic police at all the major junctions. At this point you are not that far from the Plazo de Mayo, where it all began 450 years ago. Poignantly the square serves as a living memorial to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group of women with "disappeared" children from the 1970s dictatorship. In the square the Cas Rosada (Pink House) is the home of the president of the Republic, and also the Metropolitan Cathedral. Both have tours but whilst security is not on the high level of European cities carry your passport. It always helps if there are any problems. If you are into museums Buenos Aires is well organised, from natural history through to the military. There is even one that depicts Argentina”s chaotic economic history.
We never used the Subway. With about three pounds the maximum for a taxi ride it was never necessary but you have to be prepared for an exciting drive. Fangio may have passed on but his successors are getting in practice.
Eating out seems to be one of the great pastimes of Argentineans. Maybe they like to spend whilst they have the money. The old British built Puerto Madero dock area has been revitalised in recent times and consists of a single two - mile long man - made waterway with on one side eating places sited in remodelled warehouses and on the other futuristic, and sometimes preposterous, buildings housing yet more restaurants (left). All seem to be good, catering for various tastes. Prices are well under half of what you would expect in the UK. Near the Alvear (see below) and at the posh end of the market La Cabana, is an outpost Orient Express and dates from 1935. It has a guest list of just about everyone in ”Who”s Who?” in entertainment and politics of the twentieth century. There are a series of beautifully furnished private rooms available for business meetings and dining and beef naturally dominates the proceeding. Close by ”under the flyover” is the home of five eateries, each outstanding. Two minutes from the Four Seasons just off the Avenue del Libertador. It did not sound promising but we were wrong.
Where to stay? Just like the eating places the choice is tremendous and the prices very reasonable when compared with London, except the local VAT, presently at 22.5%, which you notice. The Alvear in (the already mentioned) fashionable La Recoleta is a grand hotel in the classic tradition, but with flat screen television actually in the bathrooms. 210 elegant guestrooms, 24-hour service and the stylish Orangerie for the inclusive breakfast, lunch and classic tea. There is a butler stationed on every floor to look after specifics and courtesy trouser pressing and shoe shine. Just by the main railway station the Sheraton (700 rooms in this skyscraper) is an excellent four-star property and adjoins the Tower, upmarket with butler service (this seems to be the thing in BA), the two sharing a splendid outdoorpool and Argentina”s largest conference centre. The Sheraton even has a money exchange at the same rate as the banks. The English Tower,an elegant caricature of Big Ben sits in the Plaza St Martin opposite the hotels.
Besides eating what to do in the evening? A must is tango and ”Chanta Cuatro”. Good dining and a terrific show. Perhaps a bit of a tourist trap but nothing wrong with that (left). BA also houses the world”s largest opera house, the Colon Theatre.
Four days is not enough for one of the world”s great capitals but we did find the time to take a 45-minute crowded local train to the little town of Tigre and The Delta, an amazing stretch of waterways, somehow a cross between the Norfolk Broads, Fort Lauderdale and Venice with small one room cottages and at the other end of the spectrum massive colonial mansions, Hollywood style. Tigre itself has a bustling open market, casino, naval museum and large amusement park but it”s the complex river network that people come for, a waterbus service linking the many island and staging posts. You can get off, preferably where there is an eatery at the end of the track.
Shoes and leather goods are what to bring back from Argentina. Prices,according to the locals, have risen, but by London standards there are quality bargains galore. Galerias Pacifico (left) is a shopping mall with a difference, covering as it does an entire city block. Originally built in 1889 it was revitalised in 1992 and features magnificent ceiling paintings by some of Argentine”s finest artists. Air-conditioned. Prices are reasonable but for real bargains you need to stroll down the pedestrianised Calle Florida and haggle. A taxi ride to Camininito Street in the old dockland area of La Bocca brings you to yet more shops, outdoor eating and tango. Bocca Juniors, whose 90,000-seat stadium is nearby, top the national soccer league, are well worth seeing for the stadium experience alone, but tickets are not easy to acquire so speak with your concierge. Maradona ”hand of God” played for them and nobody had heard of Rattin, one of Alf Ramsey”s ”animals”. The Mempo Municipal de Golf is the city centre golf course and the Hippodrome offers regular horse racing.
Keep nagging the airlines. Argentina and Buenos Aires must be the next ”In” place for British tourists. And for the businessman too.