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Cunard Queen Victoria 2017 World Cruise
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Buenos Aires, Argentina - Tuesday 7 February

As expected, the weather overnight was calm and the QV arrived on time in the Cargo Port. It is a very busy area and there is a compulsary internal port shuttle bus which took us out of the Port Gates, along the main road outside (wide, lots of lanes, lots of traffic) then back into the Cruise Terminal Benito Quinquela Martin where everyone got off, walked around three sides of a square inside the terminal building then got on to a Cunard Shuttle Bus which deposited us all at the H Stern jewelry shop at the Plaza Hotel which is where the Calle Florida joins the Plaza San Martin. The journey was not very pretty, passing the Retiro Bus and Railway stations. There are three railway station buildings, Retiro Mitre, Retiro Belgrano and Retiro San Martin. The Retiro Mitre is the biggest. At the time of its completion in 1915, it was one of the largest in the world, and is typical of old European railway stations with its French-style cupola and English framework. Pictures of the inside show it has a grand main hall with a circular ticket area. The gardens of the Plaza San Martin opposite were very pleasant. There is a monument, a black wall unnveiled in 1990, which honours the 649 soldiers who died in the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict.

At the Plaza Hotel a local guide pointed us in the right direction to head south along the Calle Florida. Having been described as a shopping street in one of our travel guides we expected a street like Oxford Street, but this was pedestrianised and much narrower, more like Carnaby Street. Lots of locals were muttering "dollar, cambio" as we walked by. It is said that you can get a better exchange rate on the streets but we did not change any money. Most shops took credit cards or would accept US$ notes but not at a good exchange rate. If we come again then we will change some money before we arrive.

The first interesting building was the Galerias Pacifico shopping mall. Our DK Travel Guide had a large photo of the inside. It is easy to find and is on the corner of the Avenida Cordoba, between the Calle Florida and the Calle San Martin. It was built in 1889 by Francisco Seeber and Emilio Bunge as a shopping centre for the elite. It later became the state railroad offices. In 1945 it was remodelled and the central cupola was decorated by a series of striking frescoes by leading Argentinian artists: Berni, Castagnino, Colmeiro and Urruchua. In the 1990s the building became again an upmarket shopping mall and is also the home of the Centro Cultural Borges.

We continued along the Calle Florida, then turned along the Calle Levalle. This is a wider road with cheaper shops including a version of Poundland (everything less than 10 peso), and a CD and music shop. There are lots of little shops selling souvenirs and food and wines. We soon reached one of the most important main roads, the Avenida 9 de Julio. It was busy and has six lanes in each direction. At the junction there is the Teatro Colon to the right, and the Obelisco in the distance to the left. Crossing the road with care eventually found the main entrance to the theatre on the opposite side, and two smaller entrances on the sides. Posters outside advertised tours of the interior. It is still the holiday season at the theatre so there are no performances, and tours are every 15 minutes. The tours in English are every hour, on the hour, and cost 250 pesos. The Teatro Colon is the main lyric theatre and is much larger than the Teatro Amazonas. The interior is modelled on European opera houses, and our guide made comparisons with La Scala in Milan. Work on the theatre began in 1888 and the opening performance was given on 25 May 1908 with a performance of Verdi's Aida. All famous performers have been here, starting with Caruso and more recently Domingo, Carreras and Pavarotti. Many famous conductors have played here, including Daniel Barenboim, the husband of Jacqueline du Pre, who has recorded CDs with the Teatro Colon resident orchestra; he is a native of Argentina. The tour ticket office accepts credit cards, but the souvenir shop does not, and tried to charge us US$25 for a CD marked 240 pesos. We bought the CD later from a music shop who charged more in pesos but accepted our credit card and so it should be a better price. We shall see ! The moral is to be careful when using foreign money.

One side of the Teatro Colon is on the Avenido 9 de Julio while the main entrance is on the other side, on Calle Cerrito. Contrasting the views shows how the roof of the main auditorium is visible from the Plaza Lavalle. Both sides have iron porches to shelter people who are arriving. The Plaza Lavalle honours Juan Lavalle who crossed the Andes with the hero of national liberation, Jose de San Martin. The Palacio de Justicia on the other side of the Plaza Lavalle was built during the 1890s and is home to the Supreme Court. The front of the building is currently a major construction site. The area also includes the Appeal Court.

The tour began with careful security checks on us and our bags. There were no limits on photography, but as is usual no flash. The history of the building is summarised at http://www.teatrocolon.org.ar/en/content/history. The building is large. It covers 8,202 square metres, of which 5,006 are part of the main building and 3,196 are underground annexes which extend beneath the busy Avenida 9 de Julio. So there are now lots of photos of the main staircase and the main auditorium and boxes. There was a small display of costumes from past performances but they are behind glass so photography is very difficult. The building was refurbished from 2004 to 2010 and the chandeliers, statues of famous composers, ornate columns, stained glass, marble and gilding are in excellent condition. We presume the pink colour of the outside, still seen on some postcards, was changed then. The staircase is white Carrara marble, with a central red carpet. The drawing rooms on the first floor were visited, concentrating on the Golden Room (Salón Dorado) and then it was back down to enter the auditorium through the main doors.

The Grand Hall houses three floors of boxes and more storeys including standing above, interestingly we were told the acoustics are at there best at the top in the cheapest seats! The horseshoe is 29.25 metres wide at its narrowest point and 32.65 at its widest, and 28 metres high. It seats a total of 2,478 people, and has standing room for around 500 more. The main Royal Box is above the main entrance, with a perfect view towards the stage. Other boxes have angled views, until the row of boxes next to the stage which look down onto the orchestra pit, and are the property of high ranking public figures including one reserved for the mayor and a second for his deputy - neither have any real view of the stage but politicians have no interest in seeing what goes on in front of them! There were also closed in boxes with no view in or out at all for widows who were supposed to not even listen to music for 2 years.

Typical standard boxes seat 6 people on moveable chairs whereas the large boxes have chairs and benches and can easily seat 10 people. It is possible to have a meeting at the back of the box while listening to the music. The stage is much larger than the main hall, and is 35.25 metres wide, 34.50 metres deep, and 48 metres high. The dome with its large central chandelier measures 318 square metres and had been painted by Marcel Jambon but it had deteriorated by the thirties. In the 1960s the task of repainting it was entrusted to Argentinian painter Raúl Soldi, and it was finished by 1966. The theatre was the first place in Buenos Aires to have electricity and the chandeliers with their thousands of bulbs must have made a spectacular sight - it is still very impressive today.

When we arrived in the area there had been a group demonstrating in the area of the obelisk, but that had ended. The Avenida contains several restaurants offering dinner and Tango shows, but nothing at lunchtime. The obelisk was designed by Argentinian architect Alberto Prebisch and was erected in 1936. Each of the four faces illustrates an important historical event. We crossed at the Plaza de la Republica and continued to the Avenida de Mayo whereas a shortcut would have been to take the diagonal Avenida R Saenz Pena which goes directly to the Metropolitan Cathedral. However we would have then missed the old buildings, including La Prensa, the newspaper, and the Cafe Tortoni. Opened in 1858, as proclaimed above its entrance, the Cafe Tortoni is named after a cafe of the same name in Paris. The first floor is occupied by the Academia Nacional del Tango including a Tango Museum. Many famous writers and artists met in the cafe at the end of the 19th century and one corner of the cafe is called the Rincon de los Poetas (Poets corner).

The Metropolitan Cathedral is on the corner of the Plaza de Mayo, and is a substantial Greco-Roman building. It was built between the 16th and 19th centuries. Key features inside are the venetian mosaic floors, silver plated Rococo altar and a life-sized Christ made of local carob wood. The mausoleum on the right of the nave was guarded by two soldiers and contains the remains of General Jose de San Martin.

Crossing the road to the Plaza de Mayo it was disappointing that the central pyramid was covered and there was restoration work. The pyramid commemorates the Revolution of May 1810. The important pink building directly ahead is the Presidential Palace, the Casa Rosada. It is part of every visitors list, especially if they have an interest in the Peron time of governing. It was built between 1862 and 1885 on the site of the main fort. The Museo de la Casa Rosada on the south side can be visited at weekends. Other monumental buildings on the square are the Banco de la Nacion with its huge dome, the Ministerio de Economia, the Palacio de Gobierno and the Cabildo de Buenos Aires. There is also the Legislature de Buenos Aires, built in the 1930s with an octagonal tower with five bells which rang the hour as we turned to leave. The bells are La Pinta, La Argentina, La Nina, La Portena, and La Santa Maria.

The Calle San Martin gave an alternative shopping street back towards the Plaza San Martin. It was interesting, with monumental banks and museums, and a derelect "Harrods" which was modelled on the design of the famous shop in London. When it opened in 1914 it was one of only four Harrods shops outside London - the other three were in Manchester, Berlin and Paris. It is a grand belle epoque building and has been closed since 1998 because its owner could no longer afford to keep it open. There was an excellent CD shop, whose door opened only if the owner was prepared to unlock it, like an expensive jewellers. There was the glimpse of a garden in the grounds of the monastery attached to the church Santa Catalina de Siena opposite Galerias Pacificos. The nearby Galería Güemes was designed in the art nouveau style by Italian architect Francisco Gianotti in 1913.

Just a few minutes later we were back at the shuttle bus and shortly after were on our way back to the port. The return journey was very quick, there was less traffic and the route did not pass next to the bus and rail stations which were visible across the park in the distance. There was a good view of the Torre Monumental, a red-brick Palladian clock tower which was presented to the city by the English expatriate community in 1916. Our bus drove directly into the shuttle bus stop and we knew our walking route, so it was easy to get to the port shuttle bus with a line of people following us like ducklings. We expected to be back at the ship for tea and instead arrived much earlier at 1500, at the end of lunch.

It was still a lovely afternoon and we lay in the sun for a while and then took our cameras up to 11 Deck to watch the departure and get some pictures in the glow of evening light. We have got blasé and no longer watch every sail away but it is always nice to watch the passage in and out of a new port.

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Content revised: 17th July, 2020