San Martin’s City

5th Dec. 2016

I'm in denial over ChristmasWe’re not good with shopping malls – especially those decked out with Christmas decorations. As we have no house and 99% of our belongings are in storage, we have learned to do without stuff. We don’t want to think about Christmas being so close and we’re not interested in the latest fashions (I know this will come as a surprise to folk).  So, although there is a glitzy shopping mall just a block or so from our hotel it is with trepidation that we enter – even if it is housed in a 19th century French architecture building. What it does have is an art gallery / cultural centre on the top floor and a Starbucks on the ground floor so there are a couple of reasons to head in.

Esternal flame (I'm sure it wasn't lit last time!)Actually, our plan for today is to explore (on foot) more of Buenos Aires. The map we picked up from the hotel has suggested walking routes through some key districts in the city and these are a good starting point for us. As we get through the day, it quickly becomes apparent that the day is going to be all about El Libertador – Don Jose de San Martin. Everywhere we have been in Argentina there have been museums, statues and other memorials to San Martin. He is easily the most famous historical figure here, much more so than Eva Peron – possibly because she is more contentious / divisive as well as being more recent.

San Martin's tomb under guardSo, we head to the cathedral which is hosts both an eternal flame for San Martin as well as his tomb. The cathedral was on our list of places to visit anyway but the San Martin connection is just a bonus. We had read previously that San Martin had died in France (Bourgogne Sur Mer) and so were a little confused as to a) why he was in France; and b) why is he not buried there. Once again, Wikipedia has an explanation – essentially after the liberation there was a civil war in Argentina between federalists (including San Martin) and Unitarians. San Martin was on the losing side and so took himself off to exile and, although he moved around, died in France. It was only 30 years later, in 1880, that his body was returned to Buenos Aires. Unlike Evita, his body is permanently guarded in the cathedral.

In case we forget where we areHaving filled a key gap in our BA sightseeing – for whatever reason, we didn’t get into the cathedral on our previous visit to BA – we headed off to see ‘The Obelisk’ (built in 1936 to mark the centenary of independence) which is set in the middle of the ultra-wide Avenida 9 de Julio. This is one of the tourist hearts of the city and we want to balance admiring the architecture of the beautiful buildings with avoiding the crowds and the fast food cafés. A good example is the Teatro Colon (Columbus Theatre), the main opera house in Buenos Aires and supposedly one of the best concert venues of the world. Guided tours are usually available but didn’t seem to be on offer today as there seemed to be an event of some sort on (with TV cameras lining up outside). We had to content ourselves with the exterior which was impressive enough.

Teatro Colon - supposedly even more spectacular insideInside Estacion RetiroEstacion Retiro is another example of the architecture on view in the city and we have to head in hoping to get some glimpses of the choo-choo trains. No such luck, this is a modern, busy station on the inside with some distinctly 21st century ticket barriers preventing access to the platforms and the (in any case) modern trains behind. Having failed to get a satisfactory photo composition of the rows of barriers, I settle for pictures of the interior before we head back towards our hotel.

Our man on his horseThe route back takes us past the Torre de los Ingleses (officially renamed to Torre Monumental after the Falklands War, but everyone still uses the old name) and the more poignant memorial to the Falklands war. Both of these, though are sited in the Parque San Martin at the head of which is an enormous statue to old Don Jose himself. (Now that we know his history, this disproves the old ‘horse has only two legs on the ground therefore the rider died in battle’ theory). Still, the statue is impressive enough, and the penny slowly drops that he is looking down an avenue of trees (on the other side of the road ringing the park) as if heading towards his old house (Palacio San Martin, of course!) – which is now home of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

Looking back from Palacio San MartinBesides steak (which is now booked for tomorrow night), Buenos Aires is known for tango. Last time we were here, we had a mixed experience at a tango show – looking back at our blog post, it seems that Janet had to (nearly) rugby tackle the waiter in order to get a refill of wine. Overall, though, we thought the dancing was spectacular and so we sign up for another (different) show and this time push the boat out by signing up for a ‘VIP’ package – which gets us front row seats and champagne with the show.

Torre de los InglesesOnce again, I’d have to say that the experience was mixed. The food was good – I even got a nicely cooked steak; there was plenty of wine and only a little reminder was needed for the champagne; we were seated right up at the front; the band was good; and there was more variety in the show. But we both felt that the balance between ‘tango’ and ‘show’ had been tipped too far in the direction of show and that whilst the tango dances were good, they just weren’t quite as good as last time. Perhaps what tipped me over the edge was the singer dressed as Eva Peron singing ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ in Spanish – too schmaltzy and definitely not as good as Julie Covington.

Waiting for the show to startStill, this is a minor quibble. We had a great evening to cap off another good day in a beautiful city. Today we revisited streets and parks that we had walked down last time we were here. Then, however, we were newly arrived in Argentina and didn’t really understand what we were seeing and, especially, who San Martin was and why all the fuss was being made about him. Now we tracked him from Mendoza to Buenos Aires we appreciate the city all the more.

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