Buenos Aires Part 2 – Recoleta Cemetery, an amazing library and then heading South….

Tuesday 28 February

Our first big day in Buenos Aires had ended quite late, with it being 11pm by the time we’d made it to bed. Not great for jet-lagged travelers, but we were both so tired that we got a great nights sleep and didn’t wake up till 6.30am, smugly thinking we’d gotten over the jet-lag!

It was down to breakfast again at the Blank Hotel, in time for a delicious array of sweet treats and terrible eggs. I was missing my freshly laid eggs from our chickens, but compensating with dulce de leche breakfast treats.

Despite a very long list of things I still wanted to see in Buenos Aires, we had limited time to tick them off the list, as we had a late afternoon flight down to Ushuaia. Our 2 walking tours from our first full day in Buenos Aires had covered a lot of ground, but also broken Di’s feet. That, combined with the heat, meant the new plan for the day was to check our Recoleta Cemetery that we’d not spent any time in the day before (and is the number 1 tourist attraction in Buenos Aires). Following that we planned a wander past the Floris Generica sculpture and then checking out the amazing Ateneo Grand splendid library that I was keen to see.

It was another hot day, so we headed out straight after breakfast, trying to get the bulk of the walking done before we cooked. As I’d mentioned in the previous blog, dogs are very popular in apartment dwelling Buenos Aires, and there is a thriving dog walking business. We loved seeing the huge groups of dogs obediently wandering the streets and waiting outside apartments as they were collected and returned on their scheduled outings. It was definitely a sight to behold!

La Recoleta Cemetery

It was a mere 800m stroll from our hotel (located in the Recoleta Barrio) to the famous Recoleta cemetry. The walls of the cemetery grounds started just around the corner and made for an easy navigation. We never had managed to get back to get data sims, but now at least had our bearing in Buenos Aires.

A cemetery seems an odd tourist attraction, but this is one special cemetery. It spans 14 acres and contains the graves of notable people, including Eva Perón, presidents of Argentina, Nobel Prize winners, the founder of the Argentine Navy, and military commanders like Julio Argentino Roca. It has been rated as one of the world’s best and most beautiful cemeteries.

Our morning walking tour the day before, had finished at the gates of the cemetery but did not go inside (there is an entry fee). We were happy to return ourselves and spend bit of time wandering around. We’d noticed plenty of tourist buses, so were happy that when we arrived at around 9am there were very few people to be seen.

We were presented with a map and left to wander. The cemetery was built around the convent of the Franciscan Recollect monks in the early 19th century, and was opened as the first public cemetery in 1822 when the order of monks was disbanded.

The cemetery is massive and we spent ages wandering around admiring all the different vaults. The cemetery contains 4691 vaults, all above ground (although some seemed to have large sections underground with row upon row of family caskets). There are 94 vaults that have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentine government and are protected by the state.

The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums. These mausoleums are still being used by rich families in Argentina that have their own vault and keep their deceased there. While many of the mausoleums are in fine shape and well-maintained, others have fallen into disrepair. It is sad seeing many with broken glass and weather destroyed.

The variety of architechture was amazing. The cemetery contains many elaborate marble mausoleums, decorated with statues, in a wide variety of architectural styles such as Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Neo-Gothic. Materials were imported from Paris and Milan during the 19th century and there was plenty of marble and gold to be seen.

The wealth and stature of some familes was obvious. With some very impressive tombs and excessive amounts of marble. Some had glass doors and you could see the coffins of many generations stacked down marble lined vaults.

Some had their own gardens which were cared for, and were maintained with fresh flowers, alters with plants and gardens inside and fresh linen. It was in stark contrast to those in disrepair.

We did locate many of the famous Argentinians although couldn’t find Eva Perón (not enough coffee that morning perhaps?).

The gold and brass staircases leading underneath the vaults were impressive, as was the sheer size of some of the mausoleums. It would take hours to wander the entire cemetery but we did cover a reasonable proportion of it in a bit over an hour. A very interesting wander and definitely worth a visit.

While we could have stayed for several hours, we had a bit more ground to cover before it got too hot, so out of the cemetery we went and our next stop was the Floris Generica sculpture.

Floris Generica

Still in the Recoleta neighbourhood, we retraced our steps somewhat from the day before and walked back through some of the gardens towards Plaza San Martin. The pink lapacho trees were definitely a sight to behold. We headed down towards the Facultad de Derecho (Faculty of Law) building of the University of Buenos Aires. An impressive and imposing building from a distance, but covered in graffiti up close!

There were some interesting bridges and sculptures and the Peunte Peotonal bridge was an interesting one to walk over.

We also curiously found some kangaroo sculptures with no explanation or signage!

Our main reason for the visit though was to see the Floris Generica Sculpture, a 20m-high, 18-tonne aluminium and stainless steel sculpture in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas.

The Floris Generica sculputure was installed in the year 2002, and was reportedly the world’s first mobile public sculpture to be controlled by hydraulics and photoelectric sensors. The six steel petals open at 8am each morning, and close at midnight. The petals also close in high winds in order to protect the sculpture, while on patriotic holidays they remain open all day.

There were plenty of tourist buses coming to see the sculpture and it is definitely worthy of a visit. We wandered around all sides as the light was different in each spot, making for beautiful colours!

I’d originally planned on visiting the previous night to see it illuminated, but our 20km of walking meant the extra few kilometres in the opposite direction would not have been welcome! Not to worry, it was still very pretty in the sunshine.

Our hotel check-out time was approaching so we wandered back past the cemetery and through Recoleta and managed to navigated without maps (yes even Di!). As it was already hot out we briefly enjoyed some of the hotel air-conditioning before checking out and getting them to store our luggage for a few hours, while we continued our sight-seeing.

Ateneo Grand Splendid Library

I’d originally hoped to get to the La Boca neighbourhood and Peurto Madero (the modern port area) on today’s adventures, but there was a little too much walking involved to safely be back in time for our hotel transfer.

Instead we decided we’d stick closer to the hotel and continue to explore the Recoleta neighbourhood. I’d been keen to check out the Ateneo Grand Splendid library, and even more so when it was recommended by our morning tour guide, Victoria, the previous day. Renowned as one of the world’s most beautiful book stores, it was definitely worth a visit.

It is actually a commercial bookstore rather than what we know as a ‘library’ and the building opened as a theatre in 1919, when Buenos Aires was booming as a major port and center of commerce. The theatre had a seating capacity of 1,050, and staged a variety of performances, including tango. In the late 1920’s it was converted to a cinema and then in the early 2000’s it was converted to a bookstore – selling thousands of books, CDs and DVDs.

The building is very reminiscent of the Palais Garnier in Paris. The store is almost entirely Spanish language books. Victoria had even mentioned that the ‘English section’ was a crate of old stuff they’d probably found out the back, and not to bother buying anything unless you can speak Spanish! We did like that there was even an extensive ‘Harry Potter’ section in Spanish.

The building was definitely worth visiting, and was quite packed with tourists. The cash registers were buzzing, presumably those customers had better Spanish than us! There is a cafe in the store, but we decided we’d wander and see what we could find for lunch.

We’d spied several interesting cafes on our many circumnavigations of Recoleta. Somehow though the one we picked did not live up to expectations. We had what was probably the least inspiring meal of our entire 3 week trip, but it did provide some calories and a place to sit down out of the heat briefly. It was so bad we declared it not even phone photo worthy!

Farewell Buenos Aires

We headed back to the hotel and waited in the pleasantly airconditioned foyer for our airport transfer to arrive. Unlike on the way into Buenos Aires, the hotel had got it right this time!

We left Buenos Aires with a fairly long list of things I still wanted to see, but we’d covered plenty of ground in well under 48 hours. I would be keen to return one day though, it was definitely an interesting and vibrant city.

Our taxi to the airport was fairly efficient and we zipped through the traffic and past many now familiar sites. It took awhile to find our check in gate, and as we’d come to expect Aerolinus Argentinas were far from efficient.

We were heading from Buenos Aires in the North of Argentina, 3100km South to Ushuaia in Argentine Patagonia. Ushuaia was the departure location for our Antarctic voyage and we were allowing ourselves some time there in case of delayed flights or lost luggage and to hopefully do some scenic hikes.

Our flights within South America were booked on separate tickets and this was technically a domestic flight, limiting us to 15kg luggage. We’d tried to buy extra bags before hand, but Aerolinus tell you that this is possible and then it never works! We had a contingency fold-up bag inside Di’s suitcase and were prepared to buy an extra bag at check-in. As it turned out they were treating all our internal flights as international (through some form of magic we didn’t really understand) but we had to keep handing over our passports, and gaining stamps, when others didn’t. It did give us extra luggage though!

All checked in we grabbed a coffee and watched our luggage being loaded onto the plane and enjoyed the air conditioning.

It was after 5pm on Tuesday in Argentina, but Wednesday early morning back at home. I started getting messages about Astrid being sick, vomiting and poor Anto had a day of running the primary school swimming carnival, and needing to sort kids into 3 different locations. Literally the worst day for it to happen. I was unfortunately totally useless 12,000km from home. A whole lot of messages to kids and husband while were trying to board, and fingers were crossed they would all survive while we were in the air!

Ushuaia and no more hot!

By 5.45pm we were in the air and it was again a full plane. With no in flight entertainment we took the opportunity to read for the 4 hour flight, resting our legs after 2 days with a lot of walking. We’d been pretty vigilant with masks, not wanting to risk Covid infection and missing Antarctica. Our 72 hour pre-departurne RATs were negative and were keeping it that way, but it was hot on all those flights with masks.

Every Aerolinus Argentinas flight we got the exact same snack – a fruit museli bar and a packet of peanuts noone on the plane could open! By our 4th flight we’d almost figured out how to open the damn things.

We were both tired so reading was hard work but we did get some spectacular sunset as we cruised South. At almost 9.30pm we could spot Ushuaia, the plane tracking the coastline and then coming in for a rather scenic landing. Ushuaia is in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost province of Argentina and the town borders the coastline with mountains behind it.

The airport and runway are on a small peninsula and you land parallel to the city. With the sun rapidly setting it looked like we were landing on a tiny strip in the ocean!

The wind sheer as we approached was impressive, with the plane lurching violently from one side to the other. The pilot got raucous applause as we landed safely. We were definitely out of the big city now, the airport isn’t that big and our flight was one of the last in for the day. Everyone was donning coats as we got off. I’d brought a jumper but regretted leaving my cold weather gear in my suitcase as it was a mere 3 degrees as opposed to the almost 35 degrees in Buenos Aires upon boarding. It might have been the last day of Summer in Argentina but it was not hot in the most Southern city in the world!

Our luggage was almost last off the plane, and by the time we got our bags the taxi line was enormous. It was now dark and there was an icy wind, so it was an unpleasant wait for a taxi to appear. We eventually got to the front of the line and managed to communicate our hotel to our taxi driver with our poor Spanish (thank goodness being able to show itineraries on phones). We were staying an extra night in the hotel Intrepid had booked for our pre-departure day. We had realised it was a fair way out of town and our taxi driver informed us we were going ‘up mountain’ and indeed it was a very dark and winding drive up the mountain.

The same drive up and down the mountain we did several times over the next couple of days, but it seemed to take forever that night, maybe it was just because it was 10pm and we were tired and hungry!

Finally we arrived at the Wyndham Gardens (along with several others from our flight). As nothing in Ushuaia is cheap, we were sharing a room for our extra night, which confused the hotel staff thoroughly as we had our own rooms booked for the folllowing nights due to us having single cabins on the ship, meaning they’d given us a room each for our pre-departure night. I was the one having to move the next day but for now we were just happy to finally be at the hotel.

The hotel was full of wood panneling and leather couches and was definitely welcoming on a cold night. It was now after 10.30pm and our terrible lunch was a very long time ago. We saw people in the bar eating and drinking, so dumped our bags in our room and decided to head down. It’s Argentina so they were still serving full meals at 11pm!

I’d been in South America for over 2 days now and hadn’t yet had a pisco sour, so pisco sours and empanadas it was! My goodness they tasted good. With drinks, food and some wifi to check on the dramas at home, we were starting to feel a bit more relaxed. Tired I was, but it was definitely a good end to the day.

When you don’t get dinner till after 11pm it makes for a long day, but the view out our hotel room window was impressive. From the hotel you could see back down to the Port. In less than 2 days we’d be boarding the Ocean Endeavour and heading further south to Antarctica, but first we had plenty of Patagonian hiking to keep us busy.

Up next, exploring Ushuaia and a stunning hike to the Emerald lagoon (Laguna Esmerelda). If I didn’t break Di on our Buenos Aires walking, Patagonian hiking was going to do it!

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