Buenos Aires Beat V: Buses, trains, and worn out boots

Taking a walk (or the subte) through the streets that inspired Gardel

Staff writer E.R. Pulgar will be based in Buenos Aires, Argentina until January writing a bi-monthly column for Journiest called Buenos Aires Beat. In its fifth iteration, he lets us in on the best ways to move around this romantic city.

Buenos Aires is often compared to Paris because of the architecture in the Retiro district, with its mansions and its mansard roofs. One could also think about the French capital when it comes to exploring the art scene, as well as the powerful and sprawling underground culture (as well as the fact that smoking is so ingrained here). Although most people only get as far as the mansards in Retiro for that all-too-common comparison that doesn't take into account the uniqueness and passion of this city, I do concur 100% with another parallel to The City of Lights: walking.

The first thing one will notice when looking at a map of Paris is that it looks like a snail, its arrondissements designed in a spiral that makes walking around the city easy and stumbling into a new neighborhood even more so. The Argentine capital isn't exactly a snail so much as a cluster: a map of Buenos Aires, bordered by its famous port, could be compared to a labyrinthine zig-zag condensed into a square. Like most cities, it's hard to maneuver walking until you've lived here a while, but those of us with boots worn thin by this city know well it's strange, delightful spirit. By having every district so close together, wandering somewhere entirely new and different is routine. To break from the Parisian comparisons, the architecture and attitude of each neighborhood is so entirely different that any porteño will tell you that there's more than one Buenos Aires. Now, imagine having two entirely different worlds at most a five minute walking distance from each other.

Residential Belgrano has absolutely nothing to do with ostentatious Recoleta; party and fashion district Palermo is completely unlike up-and-coming art hub La Boca. The spirit of Buenos Aires is the proximity of contradiction, of finding a villa bordering the marble splendor of the Retiro train station, the freedom of being able to walk from the government palace Casa Rosada all the way to San Telmo, where tango dancers and antique sellers flood streets dripping in old world charm. La Boca and the small villas that have sprung up in Buenos Aires bordering the marble splendor of the Retiro train station. With everything so close by, the temptation to walk everywhere is certainly there, and we're not saying don't take it, but there will be days where that party's just too far or it's late at night and you're somewhere strange. Thankfully, the city's public transportation is more than up to the task.

There's a huge collectivo culture here; since the (incredibly efficient and clean) metro system—here, subte—shuts down at midnight and the buses run all night, you will eventually board one of these bad boys like a local. This is where the true porteño city dweller moves around, taking off or putting on glitter before a night out, listening to the music the bus drivers are playing, or looking out the window very much lost. For those truly urgent times, and any New Yorker strapped for cash will be shocked by what I'm about to say, a taxi off the street is your best bet. The first time I jumped into an Argentine Uber, I found out two things: not only was this too-common alternative to a taxi from back in New York City unregulated and illegal over here, but it actually cost significantly more than you average taxi. Needless to say, breaking this habit once I get back to the states is a must—over here, I've learned the art of hailing a taxi where, in New York, I couldn't even afford to.

All this said and done, what can really beat walking around a city as beautiful, idiosyncratic, and welcoming as Buenos Aires? For those of us who earn in dollars, it's so much easier to move around; for porteños earning in pesos, this city is as expensive as New York. My advice? If you truly want to discover the city, lace up your good boots, turn off your phone, and lose yourself in this sprawling, lovely maze.


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