Friday, 16 January 2015

Country Review: Argentina

Dates there: 1st February to 9th February 2014: 9 days

Argentina's Wonders: none

Also visited: La Recoleta Cemetery

On the Longlist:  Palace of the Argentine National Congress

Nine days isn't very much for Argentina. It's a country with a lot to offer - wine, steak... I could stop there and we'd already have a winner, but it's also got grand colonial cities, the tango (if you like that sort of thing), and astonishing natural features such as otherworldly mountain ranges, glaciers, and one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. There's a lot here to take up a lot of your time - the country is over ten times larger than the UK. But there's one thing it doesn't have, and that's a World Wonder (oh, it doesn't have the Falkland Islands either, but they don't need reminding of that as it's a non-stop constant reminder when you're there. Come on Argentina, you must have something better to do? Oh, it distracts the public from government ineptitude in handling the economy? Fair enough).

We began our all-too-brief visit with Mendoza, wine country. Duly, we went on a wine tour and drank plenty of wine. Some people may regard the following as Wonders.

Argentina's economy has crashed, which meant that a country I'd expected to be formidably expensive was instead distinctly affordable. Wine especially - gorgeous bottles of red were sold in shops for just a couple of pounds. I'm surprised we ever left.

Mendoza is a handsome city, of broad streets on a grid plan, at least around the expansive city centre. If you're not drinking wine - or beer, that's allowed too - it doesn't bombard your senses with attractions, but that's not the point. It's pleasant just to meander around the plazas, drop in at a cafe, or have a wander round the sprawling Parque General San Martin. At the top they've got an old army monument, in the form of statues bursting from a rockery.

From Mendoza to Buenos Aires, on a long overnight bus. Overnight buses don't really phase me, but by now Danielle was beginning to develop a hatred, which I suspect will last for the rest of her life. However, this one was ok, as we opted for a more deluxe bus. Obviously if left entirely to me, I'd sleep on the roofrack if it was cheap, but I thought I would treat the lady just this once. Lucky lady. And what a treat it was - (pseudo) champagne served over dinner, and even a cheeky little (pseudo) whisky before bedtime.

Buenos Aires then. It comes with a reputation, and it delivered. It's not a meek and mild city by any means, it's a muscular statement of crumbling European and bold American styles, criss-crossed by broad boulevards and teeny lanes. On a wander, the architecture reminded us of Spain, France, England, America, and probably other countries if we knew our stuff. It's packed with charm, dirt, grand edifices, and trendy districts. Very near our hotel was the Palace of the Argentine National Congress. They totally copied the US Capitol, didn't they?

It's a century younger than the US Capitol, but they've managed the nifty trick of making it look a century older.

Buenos Aires offers lots of highlights, food and drink being premier among them. Oh, the steak! We sought out a recommended steak restaurant one evening, and perhaps my memory has exaggerated things a little, but my steak was as big as a swan, and so much more tasty. I think my life peaked that day.

Aside from the steak, another highlight was the cemetery. In the La Recoleta district, this is no normal cemetery for dead people, it's a cemetery for the wealthy and prestigious, who had no qualms about building gigantic tombs for themselves. The bigger the tomb, the more you go to heaven! For some, the appeal is seeing the grave of Eva Peron, or the graves of numerous other well-known (if you're Argentine) former presidents or writers or actors. But for me, and for most others, it's simply the sheer ostentation. If you imagine a normal graveyards, with the gravestones lined up nicely, then that's the general idea, but then swap these gravestones for huge, no-holds-barred monuments. It's like wandering through a city centre for the dead, with streets and imposing structures looming either side of you.

That's it for Argentina, we only went to two cities. Blame Peru and Chile - they held us up, so by the time we were in Argentina we were chasing a schedule. Also, as far as I can tell, Argentina has nothing that even approaches Wonder candidate status. Plenty of handsome buildings and grand cathedrals, but no big biggies. Danielle and I are happy to put a tick on our "must return" list though, as our taster visit definitely gave us an appetite for more. As long as the wine and steak remain cheap.

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