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Cunard Queen Victoria's Exotic Voyage 2018
Discovering South America Part 5
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Buenos Aires, Argentina - Day one - Tuesday 6 February 2018

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 shuttle bus which took us out of the Port Gates, along the main road outside (wide, lots of lanes, lots of stationary traffic) then deposited us all at the H Stern jewelry shop at the Plaza Hotel which is where the Calle Florida joins the Plaza San Martin. Compared with our experience in 2017 it was a very slow and difficult journey - we discovered later that the lorry drivers were on strike and were parking their vehicles in the road and causing chaos. 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 the Plaza Hotel 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.

From the Plaza Hotel the pedestrianised Calle Florida had lots of locals 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. The first interesting building was the derelect Harrods department store 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. Just beyond is the Galerias Pacifico shopping mall 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 turned along the Avenida Cordoba to the wide Avenida 9 de Julio. At the junction there is the Teatro Colon and the Obelisco in the distance to the left and we turned right searching for the Teatro Nacional Cervantes. It is near the Plaza Libertad but is hidden behind major reconstruction works. In contrast, the famous Teatro Colon is a beautiful building. 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.

Work on the Teatro Colon 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. It has a splendid auditorium and we paid for the guided tour in 2017. A description of that visit is at Buenos Aires and Teatro Colon Tour on the Queen Victoria in 2017 but we have included some of the pictures here as it is a highlight of any visit to Buenos Aires


The Avenida 9 de Julio contains several restaurants offering dinner and Tango shows including the Tango Portena where our Cunard Full World Gala event will be held. It is near the obelisk which 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 Ave de Mayo to see the Teatro Avenida and the Palacio Barolo.


Our ticket from the Palacio Salvo gave a small discount at the Palacio Barolo and we reached the building to find that tours were hourly and the next was in English. It cost US$15 for two tickets. The building was designed by Mario Palanti for Luis Barolo, a rich textile manufacturer who saw an opportunity to build an office building which could be profitably rented. It was completed in 1923, before the Palacio Salvo, and was just shorter at only 100 metres. The two buildings are very similar but also very different. The building is used as an office building as originally designed with many small offices and there are no central communal meeting rooms and no need for hotel services. The Palacio Barolo was designed to mimic concepts of Dante's Divine Comedy which has 100 cantos. The building has 22 floors. The basement and ground floor represent Hell, floors 1-14 are Purgatory and 15-22 represent Heaven. The lighthouse at the top of the building was supposed to be seen at the Palacio Salvo but it is too far. The number 9 is significant to Dante; there are nine steps of initiation and nine hellish hierarchies. In the building there are nine vaults in the central passage which had nine lifts (only 7 now) and a central brass sculpture of a condor with the body of Dante taking him to paradise on a wooden base which was said to originally contain Dante's ashes. The floor mosaics had images from Freemasonry and the staircases had motifs of arrows. The tour used a small lift to climb to floor 13 where there was a large courtyard with good views, especially towards the Palacio del Congresso. There are then steps to reach the lighthouse and Heaven, although there was a very small lift for those who could not climb. The views from the intermediate circular balcony and the narrow surround of the light were spectacular.

Having seen it in the distance the next stop was at the Palacio del Congresso and the statue of the Thinker by Rodin. This was our turning point along the Ave de Mayo which joins the Palacio del Congresso to the Plaza de Mayo and the Casa Rosada Presidential Palace. The Ave de Mayo has many significant buildings : the Palacio Salvo, the Teatro Avenida, 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 surrounded by restoration work and the entire park was fenced off. 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 around 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, including the Banco Central de la Republica Argentina, and we visited the Museo Historico y Numismatico Hector Carlos Janson. There was the glimpse of a garden in the grounds of the monastery attached to the church of 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 but there were no Cunard buses because of the traffic disaster. After a long wait a Silversea bus arrived and proposed that Cunard passengers could use it. The return journey was still slow 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. There was also a view of another monument to those who died in the Falklands War next to a static aircraft. On the return the shuttle buses all go to the Cruise Terminal, where everyone gets off and walks through market stalls and bags are inspected. There are then different port shuttle buses to the different ships. We expected to be back at the ship for tea and instead arrived much later. The traffic congestion was a big problem in the evening for the 18 coaches who were taking the first group to the Cunard Full World Gala event at the Tango Morena. We were pleased we had booked to go on the second day and hoped the traffic problems would be better once the strike had ended.

Buenos Aires, Argentina - Day 2 - Wednesday 7 February 2018

The next morning the traffic was much better and the shuttle bus chose a different route which used the motorway to pass a favela district next to the railway lines. However the temperature was much hotter. Unable to exchange our money at any of the Banks because a passport was required and the minimum exchange was US$100 we continued our exploration from the Plaza Hotel to the cathedral area. The first visit was to the Cabildo de Buenos Aires. Built between 1725 and 1822 the Capildo was the first brick building in Buenos Aires and includes a cobbled courtyard. Between 1748 and 1821 the city was managed from here and it was the place where the first anti-Spanish junta met in 1810 that led to Argentinian independence. The Museo Historico National del Cabildo y de la Revolucion de Mayo explains the events.

While searching for the Museo de la Ciudad we first passed the Colegio Nacional de Buenos Aires and then the church of San Ignacio which dates from 1734 and is the oldest in Buenos Aires. These are together described as Manzana de las Luces. The Museo de la Ciudad is nearby, on the first floor above a pharmacy building which we spotted in the distance because of its green light. Only a small part of the first floor can be visited; the rest is all offices. There was a display of sculpture and some furniture but overall it was disappointing but free. On the opposite corner was the Basilica San Francisco which was closed and under serious restoration and on another corner was a glass monument to the Argentine Heroes who died in the Falklands War.

It was all too hot and after a few moments in the air conditioning of the Galeries Pacifico where we browsed the Winery shop in the basement it was back to the shuttle bus. The cruise terminal however had a kiosk where we could change a small amount of our money with only QV ID but at a worse rate than at a proper Bank. We have two more ports in Argentina before we get to Chile so some money for museums and souvenirs is essential and the next port will be Puerta Madryn on a Saturday when banks are closed.

After a late lunch there was plenty of time to get ready for our special Gala event at Tango Porteno. Tango is a spectacular dance which has been popularised by the TV dancing shows and the history of the tango was explained in both Montevideo and Buenos Aires. The tango arrived in the brothels of both port cities in the 19th century and is a fusion of African, Creole and European cultures. The couple, embracing on the dance floor, improvise to the influence of the melody and the rhythm of the music. It was much later, from the 1950s, that it changed and became a respectable dance for married couples. In Uruguay, Carlos Gardel was the creator of the lyrics for the tango song, and the famous La Cumparsita was composed by G Matos Rodriquez and performed in 1917. In Buenos Aires their traditional tango was derived from the African Candombe which is also found in Brazil. This tango is dated from 1850 to 1890. At Tango Portena it was said that La Cumparsita was originally by Julio Sosa, from Uruguay who settled in Buenos Aires in the 1950s. The gauchos of Argentina also danced the malambo to the beat of the drum from the 1600s. More recently, new music which blends jazz and classical music into tango was invented by Astor Piazzolla. He died in 1992 but his music is alive through many CDs - we bought three tango CDs in Montevideo. The Tango Portena has a small typical orchestra to explore these different styles of tango and dance and Mora Godoy presents her tango company in the tango dance and its folklore. She is a famous and well-respected dancer of tango ballet and has danced with many famous people including President Obama and Mick Jagger. The event was in a good venue with unlimited white and red wines and plates of canapes and desserts. We enjoyed the evening and the journey back to the ship was good, considering there were 18 coaches, 700 people, all moving together.

The next part continues at Puerto Madryn

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Content revised: 28th March, 2018