Saturday, January 31, 2015

ARGENTINA: FAVORITE BARRIOS IN BUENOS AIRES


             
           
WELCOME TO BUENOS AIRES AND A FEW OF MY FAVORITE BARRIOS!

Buenos Aires is a complex, energetic, and seductive port city which stretches south-to-north along the Rio de la Plata and which has been the gateway to Argentina for centuries. Porteños, * (see following notation), as the multinational people of Buenos Aires are known, possess an elaborate and rich cultural identity. They value their European heritage highly where Italian and German names outnumber Spanish and their lifestyle and architecture are markedly more European than any other in South America.



*Porteño (feminine: porteña) in Spanish it is used to refer to a person who is from or lives in a port city, but it can also be used as an adjective for anything related to those port cities. The largest city to which the term is commonly applied is Buenos Aires, Argentina and since the end of the 19th century Porteños has come to be the name of the people from that city



     Meeting the Porteños, the locals of Buenos Aries, is part of the magic of living in Argentina.


   A very large portion of the population of Buenos Aries have four legs and dog walkers are a thriving profession!


Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is a vast mosaic and is as varied and diverse as its culture. It is a large and grand city with great architecture, beautiful parks, stylish people, a rich cultural life, an easy-going way of living, wonderful food (especially for carnivores!), Argentinean red wine, and of course, the tango. Buenos Aires is, without a doubt, my favorite large city that my husband and I have lived in during our "nomadic" years and writing this blog posting is bringing back nothing but wonderful memories and nostalgia.


  Buenos Aires is known for its "cafe society" culture and here it is very evident as seen in San Telmo on their Sunday Street Fair market day.


To appreciate Buenos Aires, along with the rest of this large South American country, it is vital to
have an understanding of WHO ARE ARGENTINES?  I have heard a number of descriptions of this colorful nationality, but in essence they are Italians, living in Argentina, speaking Spanish, thinking of themselves English and living in Paris.  Whew!  As if that isn't enough for a visitor to comprehend, it is also important to understand that Argentines are a very proud people, warm, friendly, and easy going, with a great sense of style, loving late nights and dining, and devoted to tango.   If you can embrace this multiple personality and lifestyle, then you will enjoy Argentina and all of its magic.


   Much of the life of Buenos Aires is found in their cafes, their tango venues, and their parks


We caught this couple practicing their tango routine while we enjoyed our lunch - a show on the house!

Buenos Aires is often called the "Paris of South America," for its grand architecture and rich European heritage. But the city and its people are a study in contrasts. Buenos Aires which sprawls over 78 square miles (202 square kilometers) and has a population of approximately three million, is a mosaic of distinct neighborhoods called barrios from the frenetic downtown and working-class neighborhoods such as LA BOCA and SAN TELMO, to wealthy districts such as RECOLETA and trendy Palermo, to middle-class barrios such as Belgrano and Caballito.



   The architecture of Buenos Aires is very impressive and the streets are always busy with activity


Now that we have met the Porteños, the people of Buenos Aires, I would like to invite you to visit three of the many barrios (neighborhoods) that make up Buenos Aires. The city's neighborhoods are highly individualized and each with its own personalities and lifestyles. Three of our favorite barrios were RECOLETA, SAN TELMO, and LA BOCA. So if you are ready, let's go!  



BARRIO RECOLETA:


RECOLETA is the upscale district of Buenos Aires which combines Parisian architecture with expensive high rises and a variety of cultural venues.  The Recoleta neighborhood is distinguished by its great cultural spaces. In addition to historical monuments, it is home to the National Fine Arts Museum or Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, the National Library of Argentina, and the Recoleta Cultural Center.



         
The upscale and fashionable barrio of Ricoleta reflects the strong European influence in the Buenos Aires.


Many cafes can be found among the beautiful and distinctive old homes and buildings. And like the Porteños, we enjoyed the outdoor cafe culture by having a cup of coffee with a traditional pastry and people watching.  Recoleta is definitely where the city's wealthy congregate. We, however, enjoyed this barrio principally for its large beautiful park where outdoor weekend fairs were held and for the incredible Recoleta Cemetery.  The Recoleta Cemetery is one of the main tourist attractions not only of Recoleta, but of the city of Buenos Aires. 


RECOLETA CEMETERY:
 *Please see Note at end of this posting)


 Recoleta Cemetery is not only a feast for the eyes, but it reflects the complex history of Buenos Aires and Argentina                                         
                                     
                                           
The monks of the Order of the Recoletos arrived in this area, then the outskirts of Buenos Aires, in the early eighteenth century. The cemetery is built around their convent and a church, Our Lady of the Pilar, built in 1732. It was designed by the French architect Prosper Catelin at the request of President Bernardino Rivadavia and was dedicated in 1822 after the Order of the Recoletos was disbanded. The Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Pilar located in The Recoleta Cemetery is also a national historic monument.


The Church of Our Lady of the Pillar (elevated to the status of Basilica in 1936 by Pope Pius XI) is the second oldest existing church in Buenos Aires. In 1942 it was declared a National Historic Monument.


Set in fourteen (14) acres, the Recoleta Cemetery contains 4691 vaults, all above ground, of which 94 have been declared National Historical Monuments by the Argentine government. The entire cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks, with wide tree-lined main walkways branching into sidewalks filled with mausoleums. The cemetery is a labyrinth of haunting, gorgeous mausoleums belonging to the city’s rich, famous, and powerful families.


  One of the "streets" of Recoleta Cemetery which has been referred to as "The City of the Dead."  




The mausoleums in the Recoleta Cemetery are absolutely stunning and a guided tour is highly recommended in order to appreciate and understand its history
                     

The entrance to the cemetery is through neo-classical gates with tall Doric columns.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.  Recoleta Cemetery includes graves of many of Argentina's historical figures, including Eva Perón, several presidents and scientists, as well as many from Argentina's most influential families.  The cemetery is truly a remarkable venue and one not to be missed while visiting Buenos Aires. 




Walking the "streets" of the Recoleta Cemetery,  the "City of the Dead," in Buenos Aires  is amazing and an absolute must



BARRIO SAN TELMO:



       Tango, tango, tango:  the heart and soul of Argentina!


The barrio of SAN TELMO could not be more different in character and lifestyle from the barrio of Recoleta and is one of my favorites neighborhoods of  Buenos Aires.

San Telmo* is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Buenos Aires.   The multinational heritage of Buenos Aires is embodied in the varied architecture of San Telmo including Spanish Colonial design coupled with Italian detailing and graceful French Classicism.   San Telmo is also steeped in the city's history. It was a fashionable district for years until a series of yellow fever epidemics in the mid to late 1800's drove the inhabitants north into what is now the upscale barrio of Recoleta and the lower classes and immigrants moved in. 

 * from "Saint Pedro Gonzales Telmo" go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Gonz%C3%A1lez



  The architecture in San Telmo and in much of Buenos Aires reflects the European heritage of Argentina


   San Telmo's weekly Street Fair is extremely colorful and fun with something for everyone to enjoy. 



      Live music can also be enjoyed on Sundays in San Telmo during their weekly Street Fair

San Telmo is now a well-preserved area with cobble stoned streets, low buildings and residential areas, antique shops, and cafes which are often filled with artists and tango dancers. Other attractions include old churches including San Pedro Telmo, museums, and the famed Sunday antique fair (FERIA DE ANTIGUEDADES) in Plaza Dorrego, the main square.  San Telmo's many tango bars are an excellent place to learn and dance the tango.



An unbelievable amount of "antiques" and memorabilia can be found in San Telmo if you have the patience!


Meeting the artist in action is always special and a great way to appreciate the art offerings.


            Mimes are also found in San Telmo entertaining locals and visitors alike.

 

On Sundays, San Telmo’s main street is closed to traffic and the street becomes a sea of both locals and tourists browsing craft stalls, waiting at vendors' carts for freshly squeezed orange juice, poking through the antique glass ornaments on display on Plaza Dorrego, and listening to street performances by a variety of music groups.  San Telmo is lively, somewhat crazy, and definitely the happening place to be on Sundays in Buenos Aires.



BARRIO LA BOCA:



La Boca's pressed tin houses are painted a rainbow of colors and muralists have turned the district's side streets into avenues of color.  Wow!


LA BOCA, in my opinion, is the most picturesque of all the barrios in Buenos Aires. La Boca retains a strong European flavor with many of its early settlers being from the Italian city of Genoa.
This working class area, originally populated by Italian dock workers, has bloomed into a colorful center of art, restaurants, and the colorful metal houses which are in total contrast and a pleasant change from the rest of the city. And yet this old port district still maintains its 19th century 
ambiance.


                             To live and love in Argentina is to tango!


The La Boca neighborhood was so named for its position at “the mouth” of the Rio (river) Riachuelo and its role as the port of call for thousands of immigrants from Italy, Spain, and other European countries.  Those settlers struggled, starved, hoped, and celebrated in this rough-and-tumble barrio.
Today, La Boca is the domain of the working class, bohemian artists, rabid soccer fans, and tango artists.


La Boca is a very popular destination for tourists and nationals visiting Buenos Aires with its colorful houses and the pedestrian street, the Caminito, where tango artists perform and tango-related memorabilia is sold. The name "Caminito" means "little walkway" or "little path" in Spanish and is both a traditional alley and a living street museum. This walkway as is the soul of La Boca and it has also acquired cultural significance because it inspired the music for the famous tango "Caminito."


To tango is to dance wherever and whenever the mood strikes!  


The brightly pained houses on the Caminito are stunning and a main attraction of La Boca. The painter Benito Quinquela Martín was a leading influence in the use of color and his home, now the Museo de Bellas Artes de La Boca, displays his paintings of dock workers.


Also found on the Caminito is a handcraft fair during week-ends and holidays with plenty of handcrafts, paintings, and souvenirs. It is not unusual to hear tango music and singers with tango dancers also during the weekends. La Boca is a small cultural refuge with many artists, bohemians, and craters having settled in the zone. There are also educational centers offering photography classes, cinematography classes, and a variety of art studios. Visiting La Boca is fun and a great change of pace while visiting Buenos Aires and highly recommended.


Come to La Boca and celebrate the joy of its culture!


And last, but certainly not least, among sports fans, La Boca is best known for being the home of the world recognized futbol (soccer) club the Boca Juniors. The club plays their home matches in the impressive Estadio Alberto J. Armando which is popularly known as La Bombonera (the chocolate box in Spanish). If you can obtain tickets for a game, I am betting the experience will never be forgotten!


    What's not to like about futbol (soccer) in Argentina!   


    GETTING AROUND BUENOS AIRES:

Buenos Aires, for the most part, is a very walk able city and the majority of residents in Buenos Aires use public transport including the fabulous underground subway system known as the SUBTE. The Buenos Aires Underground (locally known as subte from "subterráneo" meaning underground or subway), is a high-yield system providing access to various parts of the city including the barrios we have visited.  Pedestrian zones in the city center like Florida Street are partially car-free and always bustling with access provided by bus and the Underground (subte) Line C.  


   Check out this fabulous street mural as seen at one of the SUBTE'S entrances in Buenos Aires!  





The underground subway system, the "Subte," is fast, clean, easy, and efficient.  What a way to go!


These amazing murals are only a few of the  many fabulous works of art as seen in the underground subway, "Subte" system in Buenos Aires. Don't you wish that all large cities had such a wonderful transportation system? I do!





















*SPECIAL NOTE:   My sincere thanks and appreciation to Tom and his wonderful web site which rescued me when I discovered many of my Buenos Aires photographs, including the Recoleta Cemetery and La Boca, had been lost.  Fortunately for me, I found Tom's great website in my time of desperation.  Without his generous sharing of his beautiful photography I would not have been able to complete this posting.  The following is the link to his website. Please enjoy and un mil gracias!   http://www.amazing-world-in-free-stock-pictures-and-photos.com/

To me Buenos Aires is beautiful, exciting, challenging, and never boring! I hope you will be able to join me again when I share more of Buenos Aires and other fabulous and colorful areas of Argentina. 

You will notice that I am closing this posting with a few photographs taken at the wonderful Jardín Zoológico de Buenos Aires (the Buenos Aires Zoo) which is located in the large and multi-faceted barrio of Palermo. You will also find many more animals in my Web Album which is found at the bottom of this page. Here are a few samples:


Rhinos living in the urban "jungle" of Buenos Aires - what a lovely habitat if you have to live in a zoo!  


These elephants feel "right at home" living near the India-inspired "Elephant House" - how beautiful!  



At the reptile exhibit we not only viewed this incredible creature, but caught on film the hatching birth of its young. What a surprise! 


Now that you have visited my three favorite barrios in Buenos Aires, I hope you still have the time and the energy to sit back, relax, and view the following BUENOS AIRES WEB ALBUM

I hope you have enjoyed this mini-introduction to Buenos Aires and I look forward to seeing you again soon.  Gracias,  Laura


                                                        Memories are just a click away!





















































Saturday, January 17, 2015

CUENCA, ECUADOR: THE LAND OF SPRINGTIME



It was time to re-visit Cuenca in the highlands of southern Ecuador.  Our first trip to Ecuador was in the l990's when we were still working, raising children, and living in Southern California.  We were tourists/visitors in a Spanish speaking country in the southern hemisphere and we were definitely out of our comfort zone.  Even though I remember feeling unsure of what we were doing, I was also very excited by the challenge and  the unknown.  

Our month long exploration of Ecuador commenced in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, where we rented a car and headed north.  From there we backtracked and headed south through the lovely central highlands of the country until we reached the charming colonial city of Cuenca.  From Cuenca we then headed east up and over the Andes and down to the amazing Amazon rainforest. From there we returned to Quito where we were forced to face reality and our return home.  But what an adventure!  



Springtime flowers are found daily in the plazas for all to purchase and enjoy!

I remember finding Ecuador not only beautiful, but fascinating with the Spanish colonial cities and the influence of the indigenous cultures.  Please remember that this trip was before we had retired and decided to move to Mexico on a permanent basis.  It was also before we had subsequently lived in many interesting places and countries and become “nomadic” in our nature.  We were then still Latin American novices.  With the passage of time, I started wondering about my memories of Cuenca.  It was time to return to Cuenca and check it out which was what we did  four years ago.  So please join me in this most recent visit to Ecuador and  my “re-discovery” of  Cuenca.  


Cuenca has at least eighteen churches to be visited and admired

Of all of the cities in Ecuador, Cuenca is the most charming with its cobblestone streets, old-world cathedrals, colonial parks and urban rivers.  Cuenca, capital of the province of Azuay and the third largest city in Ecuador, is located in the sierra of the Andes in the southern region of Ecuador. It is approximately nine hours south of Quito, the capital of Ecuador, and four hours east of Guayaquil, Ecuador’s large Pacific port city. 



  Caballos waiting patiently on Parque Calderon, the main plaza, for their masters to return


Two generations of local women as evidenced by their dress

The elevation of Cuenca is approximately 8,200 feet and features a subtropical highland climate. Like the rest of the Ecuadorian Andes it is said that Cuenca enjoys a mild climate year-round.  Days are generally warm and nights are cool enough that sweaters or jackets are needed. Ecuador has been called the land of Springtime.  Having said that, however, I personally found the “mild climate” often chilly and a challenge for my southern California bones! But as my husband tells me, I have no tolerance for cold whatsoever!


The lovely blue towers are the highlight of the New Cathedral which took over one hundred years to build!

The dominant features of the city's geography are also the source of its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca (meaning a basin made by a confluence/or junction of rivers). These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Inca culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara, in order of importance.  These four rivers are part of the Amazon River watershed.  Cuenca is surrounded by mountains on all sides, with passes to the west, south and east.  From downtown, looking southwest, you can see the beautiful Cajas mountains.  Everywhere you look in Cuenca, there are flowers, blooming trees, grass and rushing water.  Cuenca’s setting  is truly lovely.


The four rivers of Cuenca set this colonial city apart from many others in its natural beauty.



A woman's work is never done as shown here with a local woman washing in the icy river waters of Cuenca.

As I have mentioned before, I am a  firm believer that having some knowledge of an area’s history is a very good thing.  It makes me appreciate where I am and what I am experiencing.  So here is my mini-mini summary of Cuenca’s history:  

Cuenca’s history began long before the arrival of both the Spanish and the Inca. The city was originally a Cañari settlement called Guapondeleg, “land as big as heaven,” which is believed to have been founded around 500 AD. In the 1400’s the Inca ruler Tupac-Yupanqui invaded the region from the south.  Shortly after the defeat of the Cañari, Tupac-Yapanqui ordered the construction of a grand city to be named Pumapungo,“the door of the Puma,” whose magnificence was to challenge that of the Inca capital of Cuzco in Peru.

Fast forward to the arrival of the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, who landed in Ecuador in 1532 accompanied by 180 armed men with a strong lust for gold. Several years earlier, Pizarro had made a peaceful visit to the coast where he had heard rumors of inland cities of incredible wealth. This time he intended to conquer the Incas just as Hernando Cortez had crushed the Aztecs in Mexico.  However, by the time the Spaniards found the legendary city of Pumapungo all that remained were ruins which left the Spanish wondering what had happened to the fabled splendor and riches of the second Inca capital.


What a contrast in hat styles - traditional vs modern!


After being abandoned by the Cañari and then the Inca, Cuenca was sparsely populated until the 1550’s. The Cuenca that exists today was founded by the Spanish in 1557. Spanish governors ruled Ecuador for nearly 300 years, first from Lima, Peru, and then later from the vice royalty of Colombia. The Spanish introduced Roman Catholicism, colonial architecture, and today's national language. Independence from Spain was won in 1822 when the famed South American liberator Simon Bolivar defeated a Spanish army at the Battle of Pichincha. Cuenca’s population and importance grew steadily during the colonial era and reached the peak of its importance in the first years of Ecuador’s independence.  


The busy and attractive historical district in downtown Cuenca is great to explore on foot



Shopping for farm fresh produce on the downtown streets of Cuenca is a fun experience


Now to current “history.”   In 1999 UNESCO designated Cuenca a World Heritage Trust Site. The city center of Cuenca was honored by UNESCO because of its many splendid historical buildings. In addition, Cuenca has also been honored by being named the Cultural Capital of the Americas for the year 2002.  it takes no more than a leisurely stroll through the city’s narrow cobblestone streets or the beautiful surrounding countryside and mountain areas to appreciate the unique and lovely amenities of Cuenca.  


Doesn't everyone walk their goats to town for a visit? Hope it's not to the local butcher shop!



More street activity in Cuenca's centro downtown with a march for human rights.


From the traditional agricultural practices of the ancient Cañari indigenous people which are  still practiced  in the area’s lush surroundings, to the splendor and mystery of the preserved Inca ruins, to the architectural grandeur of the towering Cathedrals built by the Spaniards, Cuenca is a tribute to all the peoples who have inhabited it.  What little of its cultural heritage that can’t be admired from its bustling plazas and verdant parks can be seen in the  many museums that are found in Cuenca.



Women in Cuenca are very much involved in the cultural, religious, and political life of the city.


The indigenous peoples of Ecuador as depicted at the Museum of Aboriginal Cultures


Most tourists visit the historic area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, between the river Tomebamba and the streets Gran Colombia to the north, General Torres to the west, and Hermano Miguel to the east. This area's compactness, grid-like layout, and numerous monuments make it easy to navigate.  Outside this central historical area the city can be confusing as there are dozens of narrow colonial streets with similar buildings. I, however, think it is fun to wander around without a map, get lost, and discover unplanned surprises!  


Here is a list of the most important and visited sites in Cuenca:

  • Old Cathedral (Iglesia de El Sagrario).  Built in 1557, the Old Cathedral eventually became too small for the town's parishioners. Construction of a replacement cathedral commenced in 1885. The old cathedral, no longer consecrated, has been restored and used as a museum and is very beautiful. 


     The beautiful interior of the Old Cathedral in Cuenca



      Spanish architectural detail as seen in the historical center of Cuenca


  • New Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de la Inmaculada Concepción). The New Cathedral took over the function of the nearby Old Cathedral that had become too small. Construction lasted for almost a century. This building combines many architecture styles including Baroque Revival, Byzantine Revival, and Romanesque. It’s blue and white domes are a striking feature of the New Cathedral.

     The blue domes of the New Cathedral against the blue skies of Cuenca is certainly beautiful


   The contrast between Spanish colonial architecture and modern murals as found in Cuenca is a delight!

  • Parque Calderon is the main plaza and is located in the center of Cuenca between the old and new cathedrals. The park is a popular meeting place and a lovely location to rest for your explorations, watch the the local action, and enjoy a ice cream cone!



Parque Calderon, the main plaza in Cuenca, is ready for Navidad!




Lighting a candle in honor of Gabrielle Dee "Gabby" Giffords and the other victims after the tragic Arizona shooting in the United States of America.


The following are additional attractions which should not be missed while visiting Cuenca: 
  • Monastery of El Carmen de Asuncion. In the atrium a colorful flower market supplements the beauty of the church which was founded in 1682. A sculpted stone facade and a golden pulpit make the church very attractive. 
  • Monastery and Museum of La Concepcion with 17th-century tombs and a complete collection of religious art. 
  • House of the Ecuadorian Culture 
  • Municipal Museum Remigio Crespo Toral
  • Museum of the Central Bank 
  • Museum of the Aboriginal Cultures



Masks are found in many indigenous cultures and used on special ceremonial occasions.





 Modern day masks are very popular for New Year's Eve celebrations and even include some blonds! 

In addition to the many public venues to be visited and enjoyed, Cuenca has some amazing processions during the year which celebrate both religious and sectarian events.  They include the “Mass of Children” that is celebrated on the day of the arrival of the Three Kings (January 6th - Epiphany Day) and Cuenca’s Independence day celebrations (November 3rd) during which processions, cultural presentations, and dances are performed. 



Epiphany Day celebrations (Three Kings Day) in the historical Parque Calderon area are truly special with the children and their horses.



The children and their horses are dressed in their finest in honor of the Three day celebrations in Cuenca.




 This senorita was our favorite with her incredible demeanor, dress, and black lace mantilla (shawl) are simply lovely.



    The Three Kings Day parade in Cuenca is wonderful. 

In recent years, Cuenca has become a popular place for expatriates and retirees to settle down to live. With its charming colonial city center, beautiful outdoor attractions, low cost of living, and a pleasant, although slightly cool climate, Cuenca has attracted many expats to this Andean city. We enjoyed our three month “revisit” to Cuenca and found it much as before with the exception of the inevitable growth in and around the city. I would not hesitate recommending  a visit to Cuenca for those who are interested in experience a traditional Latin  colonial city with modern and attractive amenities.  Cuenca to me represents something for everyone.

    Someone I know taking a break on one of the colorful street corners in Cuenca.  



    Exploring the Ninth of October Municipal Mercado in order to satisfy my Cuenca hunger.  


I will never forgot the following words from a very senior traveler we met while visiting funky Montezuma Beach in Costa Rica. This man was in his late 80’s and on honeymoon with his second wife who was also in her 80’s. They appeared to be so out of place we approached them and asked what they were doing there.  His immediate response was:  “If you want to know about a place go there!”  These words had been his life-long motto and he was still living by them.  I doubt if he had given his bride much say regarding their honeymoon destination, but his words have definitely been an inspiration to me.  And maybe they will also be an inspiration to you.  
  

           

I remember hearing many, many years ago that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, I am a believer so following is the link to my  CUENCA, ECUADOR WEB ALBUM which has additional photos for this posting. 

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any comments, suggestions, or questions. I may be contacted directly by email or by posting a comment on this blog page. Gracias, Laura 


                                                    Memories are just a click away!