December 28, 2010

Buenos Aires Architecture: The multiple Heritage of the Western World

Having borrowed the best from Europe, from its ancestry to its grand Italian and French architecture, Buenos Aires owe little in design to their Latin American neighbors. This city has never been shy of making big, structural statements, and boasts its fair share of neo-Classic and Renaissance palaces, wide sweeping avenues, passages, monumental bridges and public sculptures.

By 1900 Buenos Aires was one of the twelve world capitals with finest architecture. In terms of growing, Buenos Aires was the third most growing city behind Hamburg and Chicago.

Throughout these years the ever-growing sophisticated architecture aimed to symbolize the country’s prestige and greatness. Back then some of the finest particular and public palaces. For instance, the National mail Postal Office building was designed by the same French architect in charge of designing the New York Postal Office. 

Architectural experts who have studied Buenos Aires buildings agree to describe the city’s architecture not as mere copies of the European designs, but a special and authentic view of world major trends that were brought to the Buenos Aires scene transgressing the Old continent’s hard and austere lines. This is a very special and unique feature, for most European architects working in BA projects “felt freer to innovate, adapt, adorn and leave their personal signature”.

The American Utopia in terms of architecture arrived to the new continent through two main port-side cities: New York and Buenos Aires.

From 1880 to 1930, the city of Buenos Aires went through a major makeover –unparalleled elsewhere-. The buildings and sculptured monuments, including public interest areas such as parks and avenues, included in the World’s patrimony list are over 200.

The main European style prevailing throughout those years was to be complemented during the early 20s with innovative styles such as Art nouveau and Art Deco, as well as an aesthetic highly influenced by the archaeological discoveries from way back then: Tutankhamen’s tomb discovery and the later discovery of Inca, Mayan and Aztec archaeological remains inspired much of the design work. Rectangles and pyramids, double and triple frames and Egyptian and Inca motifs are yet to be found and admired through several barrios that were growing back then, Flores, Caballito and Balvanera.

While this cosmopolitan style developed some local architects had also created what they described as “a nationalist architecture” invoking a sort of national style linked to some Spaniard and colonial styles, and the new and modern Buenos Aires neo-River Plate Architecture.

The city’s functional architecture evolved with its economy. Early in the 1900, La Boca and Barracas were the city’s main working class neighbourhoods, filled with joint houses known as conventillos. Very colourful constructions made out of inexpensive materials such as metal, wood. The 1940s and the increase in number of the porteños (as the Buenos Aires City dwellers are known) working class would bring to the architectonic scene mono-block serialized buildings specially around Saavedra, Chacabuco and Lugano.

The 1960s and 1970s were years of innovation in design and aesthetic linked to nature and prime materials exposed in all its basic and beautiful features. Organic and functionality is a duel that prevails in the constructions of those days.

From the 80s to our days, the eclectic feel of the city prevails, and ultra modern high buildings are this year’s main input. The late 90s and the new millennium, following a worldwide trend, express a return to some basic aesthetic, remodelling and recovering high quality constructions from demolition, in vintage modern buildings.

During the 1990s, local and foreign investments poured into Puerto Madero, refurbishing the red brick warehouses of the old port into elegant apartments, offices, lofts, exclusive restaurants, universities and luxury hotels. 

New construction also exploded, developing modern apartment complexes and skyscrapers with an international flair which attracted renowned architects such as Santiago Calatrava, Norman Foster, César Pelli and Philippe Starck, among others.

When you visit Buenos Aires, we strongly recommend you to explore the urban nature of the city with a local guide, discover the most impressive buildings and capture part of the superb architecture of Buenos Aires.


December 26, 2010

See the best of Puerto Madero in one day

To experience the full fabric-the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Buenos Aires neighbourhoods, you must walk them. Puerto Madero is one of the most successful recent waterfront renewal projects in the world and it represents the latest architectural trends in BA. 

We recommend a busy day that will take you across different sectors of this neighborhood, covering both classic highlights and contemporary culture zones.

Start your day with a Porteño breakfast (café con leche, croissants “medialunas”, toasts with “dulce de leche” and orange juice). Our favorite place in Puerto Madero is called “I Fresh Market” (1190, Olga Cossenttini street). It is a charming, clean deli that sells coffee, muffins, toasts, fresh fruits, sandwiches, salads, desserts to take out. Then, at around 11 am, you should make your way to the Fortabat Museum.

This Museum sits in a quiet sport in Puerto Madero. A long, low-rise structure, with a curved canopy for a roof that drops down on its dockside façade, this building is leading the port’s cultural renaissance, acting as a precursor to two planned centres designed by Norman Foster. It holds a substantial private art collection of one of Latin America´s richest women, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabat.

From here, we suggest a walk along the docklands and the Costanera Sur Avenue where you will find Las Nereidas Fountain, a masterpiece of sculptor Lola Mora and the Biological Reserve.

Buenos Aires Ecological Reserve is a 3.5 square kilometer tract of low land on the Río de la Plata riverbank located on the east side of the district of Puerto Madero. The entire walk around the reserve will take you more than an hour and that’s without stopping to peer through the reeds and to try and identify birds. The reserve offers several viewpoint stops that allow you a moment to pull out your binoculars and scan over the marshes that navigate through the wetlands.

The air here is cooler and cleaner than in the busy city and the grassy areas for sitting are a great place to settle down for a relaxing view.

After leaving the Ecological Reserve, we suggest a walk through Micaela Bastidas Park, the most exclusive residential area in the city. The works of landscaping in Puerto Madero also include, besides the specific works on parks and squares, others distributed in the boulevards and promenades that confer beauty to these sectors and contribute to add value to the public space as a place for walking by and recreation.

Calatrava´s Footbridge is the most symbolic monument in Puerto Madero. Opened in 2001, the Puente de la Mujer is a 102 meter-long sculptural walkway that spans the harbor and brings pedestrians from the city centre into Puerto Madero and back. The central part of the suspension bridge rotates 90 degrees to allow water traffic to pass underneath.

We suggest a riverside dinner at Cabaña las Lilas (516, Alicia Moreau de Justo street). The tables on the terrace are the best and the restaurant’s specialty is the steak, which is the icon of Las Lilas. Steak has multiple forms: rib eye steak, baby beef and steak with or without ribs; all of them large and with the quality guarantee that only cattle raised in the pampas can give. Red meat there is privilege. Our experience is that Lomo and rib eye are the best cuts that you will have in the “parrillas” of the city.

After dinner, if you still have energy and if you want to watch one of the best tango shows in Buenos Aires, head for Rojo Tango (445 Martha Salotti street). Located within the Faena Hotel + Universe, it offers the most exclusive tango show in Buenos Aires, featuring an intimate, top-notch tango show.

December 22, 2010

El Ateneo: An Exceptional Bookstore

  • El Ateneo Bookstore
If you happen to find yourself in Buenos Aires, El Ateneo Grand Splendid is the bookstore to visit. This temple of books retains all the glamour of its former life as a 1920´s theatre and it is one of the best places to have a leisurely afternoon coffee in Buenos Aires.
Situated on Santa Fe Avenue in Barrio Norte, the building was designed by the architects Peró and Torres Armengol. In 1924 the producer Max Glucksman began broadcasting Radio Splendid from the fourth floor of the building, and his recording company Odeon recorded some of the early Tango greats. In the late twenties the theatre was converted into a movie house and in 1929 showed the first movies ever presented with sound.
Saved from demolition, in February 2000, the ILHSA group, decided to rent this historical building and they were in charge of the renovation. The building kept the original structure and beauty so that it could continue its cultural purpose.

Its spectacular dome, a real masterpiece by the Italian Nazareno Orlandi, the ornate carvings, the crimson stage curtains, the auditorium lighting and many architectural details remain. Despite the changes, the building still retains the feeling of the grand theatre it once was.
The Guardian, a prominent British newspaper, named El Ateneo second in its 2008 list of the World's Ten Best Bookshops.The Top 5 bookstores are Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht, the Netherlands ( 1st place ); Livraria Lello in Porto, Portugal ( 3rd place ) Secret Headquarters in Los Angeles, USA ( 4th place ) and Borders in Glasgow, Scotland ( 5th place ).
El Ateneo Bookstore is an icon and an indisputable cultural reference for worldwide Spanish speakers: It receives 3,000 visitors per day. The most important celebrities visited the store and participated in events or presented their work: To name a few: Mario Vargas Llosa, Ernesto Sabato, Mario Benedetti, Marcos Aguinis, Felipe Pigna, Marcela Serrano, León Gieco, Gustavo Santaolalla, Fito Paez, Silvio Rodriguez among other important Latin American intellectuals, writers and singers.

The basement has a collection of local and international music as well as a juniors’ section with books and toys for the youngest generation ( Ateneo Junior ) . The second floor houses science books of all varieties as well as textbooks and more secluded reading corners. The third floor has more music and a selection of DVDs.
This is a place where you can sit in a stage-box and leisurely read a volume of Borges, or sip an expresso where Carlos Gardel once performed. In a city with a rich literary history and excellent bookstores, El Ateneo is a historical and beautiful building to visit.
If you are searching for English language books, the store where you will find a wide variety of English language books is called Kel Ediciones: on Marcelo T. Alvear 1369, 4 blocks away from El Ateneo Bookstore.

El Ateneo Bookstore: 1860, Santa Fe Avenue. Buenos Aires. Argentina.

Iguazu Falls: A great side trip out of Buenos Aires

The falls lie in the glorious setting of Iguazu National Park, up north the province of Misiones, on the border with Brazil and Paraguay (the frontier among the three countries is at the junction of Iguazú and Paraná Rivers).

Aerolineas Argentinas and Lan are the two airlines that fly daily from Buenos Aires City to Puerto Iguazú. The flight takes 1 hour and 50 minutes. These flights depart from Jorge Newbery Domestic Airport in Buenos Aires and they arrive at the airport in Puerto Iguazu.

The town of Puerto Iguazu serves as the main base from which to explore Iguazu National Park, it is smaller and safer than its Brazilian counterpart, Foz do Iguassu, and the hotels are inexpensive and very nice. On the Argentine side, the Sheraton International Iguazú is the only hotel inside the National Park, the rest of the hotels lie in the small town of Puerto Iguazu, 18 km away (11 miles) . On the Brazilian side, Hotel Das Cataratas is the only Five Star Hotel inside the Park.

Declared a World Heritage Area by Unesco in 1934, these 275 waterfalls form one of earth’s most unforgettable sights. Excellent walking circuits on both the Argentine and Brazilian sides allow visitors to peek over the tops of raging sheets of water, some with sprays so intense that it seems as if geysers have erupted from below.

How long to stay at Iguazu Falls?

Many people wonder whether they should spend one or two nights in Iguazu. In our experience you need 1 full day for the Argentine side of the falls and a half day for the Brazilian side.

Two days on the Argentine side means that you can take as long as you want, without rushing anywhere.

If you have 3 full days in Iguazu, you should consider visiting the Jesuit ruins where the missions of San Ignacio, Santa Ana and Loreto were built and which serve as a spectacular insight into the history of our country.

If you don’t have so much time and you want to visit Iguazu Falls, we suggest staying for a minimum of one night. We strongly advise you not to come and go to Iguazu on the same day, without staying overnight, because of possible flight delays. Cancellations, delays and other complications are very frequent and there is a risk of not arriving in time to explore the National Park. If you spend one night there, you have the following day to enjoy and visit the falls.

Argentine Side

Your first stop will likely be the visitor’s center, where you can get maps and information about the flora and fauna of the area. Next to the visitor` s center, you will find a restaurant, snack shops and souvenir stores. A natural gas train takes visitors to the path entrance for the Upper and Lower Circuits (1 mile path each; it takes 2 hours to walk each circuit) and to the footbridge leading to the Devil’s Throat (3 km; 1 ½ miles).

Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) is the mother of all waterfalls in Iguazu, visible from vantage points in both the Brazilian and Argentine park. The water is calm as it makes its way down the Iguazu River, and then begins to speed up as it approaches the gorge ahead. This is the highest waterfall in Iguazu and one of the world’s greatest natural spectacles. You might take a raincoat – you will get wet!!!!!

Is it worth visiting the Brazilian side?

If you want to have a different perspective of the falls, rent a helicopter or fly over the national park or visit the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant, you may consider visiting the Brazilian side.

Tourist visa fees vary according to nationality: Australia: US$35.00; Canada: US$65.00; Japan: US$25.00; Mexico: US$30.00; Nigeria: US$65.00.

Bear in mind that if you are an American citizen, you do need a visa (either for tourism or business) to enter Brazil. U.S. passport holders must pay a processing fee of US140.00 in reciprocity for an identical fee paid by Brazilian citizens who apply for a tourist visa to the U.S.

Visit the Brazilian side …

1. To experience a panoramic view of Iguazu falls you should go on an excursion over the Brazilian side of the Park.

2. To visit the Itaipu dam and powerhouse is a short trip from Foz do Iguassu (Brasil). It's only worth going if the water level is high enough for the spillway to be in use. It is an impressive feat of engineering and it is fascinating.

3. If you want to witness a beautiful aerial view of Iguazú National Park, helicopter flights are available from the Brazilian side only. It is the best way to understand the real dimension of the Falls. Another option is to fly over the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant.

4. Many visitors to the falls also take day trips to the city of Foz do Iguazu in Brazil. It’s a chance to eat more tropical food and also fly to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo or other cities in Brazil.

Iguazu Falls is, quite simply, one of the most incredible natural landscapes we have ever seen.

December 10, 2010

Welcome to Ideas Turísticas Blog

Written by experienced professional guides and packed with detailed reviews, practical advice and photos, this is your travel blog to get the best out of Buenos Aires and other destinations in Argentina. We will help you make the right choices.
In this blog you will find:  
  • Useful information about Buenos Aires must-see sights: neighbourhoods, museums, art exhibitions, galleries, plazas, cafés and markets.
  • The best hotels and restaurants in every price range, with honest reviews.
  • Outspoken opinions on what’s worth your time and what’s not.
  • Where to learn or watch Tango; where to eat and drink in Buenos Aires.
  • Trips out of Buenos Aires: beach resorts, estancias, colonial towns in Uruguay and spectacular destinations such as Iguazu Falls, Bariloche, El Calafate, Mendoza, Salta, etc. 
  • Map references, opening times, prices and transport.
Enjoy our blog, we would be glad to receive your comments.