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Booming Buenos Aires

Source: MSNBC.com
By: Pauline Frommer
03.12.2008

Go now. That's the key point about travel to Buenos Aires.

In December of 2001, an economic crisis sent Argentina's peso tumbling. What was once the most expensive country in Latin America was suddenly one of the cheapest, and tourists flocked in to feast on $3 filet mignon, to bargain hunt in sniffy boutiques and live large in luxury suites (paying a third of what they'd pay in any of the other great cities of the world). They also came to take advantage of BA's archetypal delights: it's wide boulevards lined by neo-classical buildings, its sexy milongas (tango salons), its museums and theaters. Happily for the Argentineans, the economy is improving, with the peso now trading at about 3.10 to the dollar. But with this good news comes bad news for the visitor: prices are rising, and sharply. So, to repeat, go now-help the economy continue to rebound by spending your dollars in BA ... while at the same time helping yourself to a vacation that will be much cheaper today than it will be in a year.

9:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.: Ask for the table that famed author Jorge Luis Borges once occupied (there's a plaque), order a café cortada and medialuna (basically a croissant and a small coffee with lots of milk) and then sit back and simply bask in the Belle Epoche splendor of the famed Café Tortoni. Founded in 1858, its been the haunt of the city's intellectuals and top tango singers ever since. Sure, it gets a lot of tourists nowadays, but not enough to kill the ambiance (especially in the evenings, when tango is performed in the basement; you may want to come back. Don't come back for a full meal, though. The food is mediocre.)

10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.: Admit it: part of the reason you're in Buenos Aires has to do with a certain glamorous blond, once First Lady, who inspired a wildly popular Broadway musical. Don't fight it. Instead, spend the morning paying your respects and learning more about Eva "Evita" Peron. Begin with a visit to the Recoleta Cemetery, BA's most prestigious address...at least for the once rich and famous. Many big names are buried here, often in fanciful mausoleums shaped as pyramids, Greek temples, you name it. Peron's grave is a standout, however, always piled high with flowers and notes from her tireless fans. Head next to the Museo Evita, a highly personal tribute to the lady (her grandniece is President of the Museum), filled with perfectly preserved clothing, toys made in her image, even her voting card (Eva pushed for women to get the vote). While it's not the most er, impartial retelling of her story-it downplays some of the more horrific aspects of the Peron era-it makes for an intriguing tour through the whirlwind life of this charismatic figure.

Morning Alternative
Get into leather at the Tienda Puro Diseño Argentino. An off-shoot of the design Expo of the same name, the store features Argentinean designers using only Argentinean materials (hence the abundance of cow hide). Superbly crafted housewares, jewelry, clothing and toys are all for sale. If that's not enough of a shopping fix for you, put your mighty dollars to good use at the Patio Bullrich, one of the city's most famous malls, and still a bargain thanks to the weakness of the Peso.

1:30 - 3:30 p.m.: For Argentinean food with a twist, make it Pampa for lunch. An elegantly roughhewn eatery, it takes a countrified approach, mixing in many of the flavors and spices of the Argentinean Indians into its food. Specialties include Patagonian salmon and housemade sausages.

3:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: Back to Evita territory you'll go when you stroll the Plaza de Mayo; it was here, from the balcony of the Casa Rosada, that not only Eva gave her speeches, but Madonna sang her heart out in the movie version of Evita. Of course, the area's history and interest goes far beyond those two bombshells. Lined with imposing buildings from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the Plaza is both the historic and political heart of the city. Every hour on the hour, you'll see a ceremonial changing of the guard, far more solemn than the one in front of Buckingham Palace. On Thursday afternoons, the Association of Madres de Plaza de Mayo gathers to protest the tragic, politically-motivated disappearance of their children in the 1970's and 80's (if you're not here on a Thursday, be sure to visit their headquarters on the Plaza Congreso to see exhibits and films on Argentina's "Dirty War".) You may also want to tour the Metropolitan Cathedral, begun in 1745; as well as strolling the grand boulevards that abut the Plaza.

Afternoon Alternative
Wander through the soaring, ultra-modern galleries of the Malba-Colección Constantini and take in a boffo retrospective of Latin American art. Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Antonio Berni are only a few of the marquee names on display here.

8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: For your first dance experience of the night, get tickets to Ballet Argentino, an internationally renowned company that combines classic ballet with tango. Not to be missed, so get your tickets well in advance.

10 p.m. - midnight
Unbuckle your belt, it's time to consume a cow. Well, almost, and there's no better place for meltingly tender, grass-fed slabs of Argentinean beef than the famous parilla, Cabana las Lillas.

Midnight on ...
You're second dance experience of the night, and you can participate in this one if you have the skills (and the guts). There are many famous milongas (tango salons) you can choose, but we'd recommend either El Nino Bien, a fin de siecle beauty with a grand dance hall; or the more intimate (and less touristy) La Viruta, which occasionally strays from just tango to host folkloric dance contests and the like (so call first).

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

Café Tortoni, Av. de Mayo 825 at Esmeralda, Microcenter, phone 11/4342-4328

Recoleta Cemetery, Calle Junín 1790 (the administrative office is next door at Calle Junín 1760) at Plaza Francesa, phone 11/4804-7040, 11/7803-1594. There is no admissions charge.

Museo Evita, Calle Lafinur 2988 at Gutierrez, phone 11/4807-9433l; www.evitaperon.org/. Admission is $2.

Tienda Puro Diseño Argentino, at Av. Pueyrredón 2501 in the Recoleta Design Center, under the arches (Terrazza), phone 11/5777-6104 or 11/5777-6107.

Patio Bullrich, Posadas 1245 at Libertad, with the historic facade facing Libertador, phone 11/4814-7400.

Pampa, Honduras 5143 at Humboldt in Palermo, phone 11/4832-6487

Casa Rosada overlooks the Plaza de Mayo on Calle Balcarce, at intersection with Yrigoyen. Museum entrance at Yrigoyen 219, phone 11/4344-3802. Open Mon-Fri 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., free admission.

Association of Madres de Plaza de Mayo, Hipólito Yrigoyen 1584 at Ceballos, phone 11/4383-0377, 11/4383-6340; www.madres.org/. Generally open Mon-Fri 10 a.m. -10 p.m.; Sat 10am-9pm

Metropolitan Cathedral, San Martín at Rivadavia overlooking Plaza de Mayo, phone 11/4331-2845.

Malba-Colección Constantini, Av. Figueroa Alcorta 3415 at San Martín, phone 11/4808-6500; www.malba.org.ar/. Admission $1.75, free admission on Wednesdays. Open Wednesday through Monday noon-8 p.m.

Ballet Argentino, at the Centro Cultural Borges, within Galerías Pacífico at the corner of Viamonte and San Martín, phone 11/5555-5359; www.juliobocca.com/. Tickets are $5-$19.

Cabana Las Lillas, Alicia Moreau de Justo 516 at Villaflor in Dique 3, Puerto Madero phone: 11/4313-1336; www.laslilas.com/

El Niño Bien, Humberto I no. 1462 at San José (the building is called the Centro Región Leonesa.), phone 11/4483-2588.

La Viruta, Armenia 1366 at Cabrera phone 11/4774-6357.

© 2008 MSNBC Interactive

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