No, Buenos Aires Is Not Paris

Written by admin on February 17, 2010 – 12:03 pm -

There are so many wonderful places to live. In reality, I could move anywhere and have considered many options. I had been thinking about Buenos Aires.

After doing considerable reasarch, I thought and the city might be my future. How many people do you know return from Argentina’s capital without raving?  The city is so charming and très Français. The cost of living is much less than the City of Light. And if I could master the very stylized steps (yes, the man leads), I could dance my last tango in Paris—and head to Argentina.

My mental bags were packed, having done a fair amount of homework. There’s a daily non-stop flight from Washington, DC, where my grandchildren (and their parents), live. Because there’s only a one to two hour time change, you don’t have to deal with killer jet lag. Since I was going in December, the forecast was the 80s and 90s, warm and sunny. There’s a lot to be said for crossing the equator in a cold, wet winter.

Well, that’s what I thought, but the weather wasn’t summer. It had never been so cold or rainy. Rarely did the sun have the courtesy of shining. Even so, I hit the streets, and wandering is a great way to see Buenos Aires. Walkers can spend hours exploring its 48 barrios, including San Telmo with its incredible stores filled to the gills with wonderful jewelry plus art deco artifacts.

No one should go to Buenos Aires and not visit the 13-and-a-half acre Cementerio de la Recoleta. It has more than 6,400 incredible vaulted tombs and mind-blowing mausoleums, 70 of which have been declared historic monuments. And yes, Eva Peron was finally laid to rest there after having made her political mark on the country.

Anyone heading to Argentina should read its history. Argentina (Eyewitness Travel Guides) gives people an excellent overview of the country and its tumultuous past and present.

Who cares if Argentina is famous for its beef, and 68 kilos (that’s 150 pounds) is the average per capita consumption? Even vegetarians can find plenty to eat. The country’s wine industry is exploding. I prefer French wines but the wines from Mendoza, San Juan, and La Rioja provinces are good and are making their mark in the global wine industry.

Why didn’t I fall in love with the city?  Why did my visit further persuade me France has a superior quality of life, albeit more expensive? Perhaps it was influenced by the fact English is not taught in the schools as a second language; or because I was depressed knowing that a third of the city’s population of 14 million people is officially classified as poor by the by the government. You can see the evidence in the presence of the cartoneros, the army of trash pickers who make the central area of the city look like an expanding landfill

If I hadn’t rented an apartment, I might have felt differently. But staying in a hotel gives people a false sense of security and well-being. That doesn’t make sense if you’re really trying to learn the city. You should feel a city, explore the grocery stores and get a taste as living as a local.

For example, after visiting the Park Hyatt – Palacio Duhau, it was clear I would have had a very different impression of Buenos Aires had I stayed in this drop-dead gorgeous hotel, which has been named one of the best business hotels in the world, and certainly #1 in Argentina.

Yes, it could have been transplanted from Paris in terms of style, incredible food and the French look and feel. But, it also commands Paris prices. More to the point, it’s not Buenos Aires, not the reality of the city. Instead, it’s a place for rich locals to gather and for foreigners to parachute in—and in which they could be anywhere where money buys everything you want.

I left Buenos Aires disappointed and with increased resolve to stay in Paris. Even though I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb in B.A., as I would if I were to live in Asia, it was clear it would be hard to assimilate in a country where families are incredibly insular and not overwhelmingly welcoming of foreigners—especially ones who don’t speak Argentine Spanish.

The Expat community isn’t as large or as active as Paris’s. It’s hard to visit the city without coming away with the impression of its  economy and the realization that Argentines have very little confidence in the country’s government and are vocal about its corruption.

It was surprising to me that real estate purchases are priced in US dollars, and a major topic of discussion is where rich Argentines can invest their money. They recall all too well when the banks closed in 2001, and the peso was devalued by 75% causing the worse financial crisis in the country’s history.

Having cited the negatives, my friends rave about Argentina and are making beelines there since they feel it’s so French and is one of the in destinations.

Now that I’m convinced Paris has the best quality of life, I can’t wait to return to Buenos Aires as a tourist, take tango lessons and spend my evenings at one of the city’s many milongas (dance halls). It will be fun to enjoy one of South America’s most vibrant cities. And, I’ll make the time to explore the countryside rather than apartment hunting.

Even if Buenos Aires is considered the Paris of South America, it simply isn’t Paris. If you’ve spent time in either city, invariably you’re going to have a lot to say.

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Posted in Around the World, Paris |

Some do’s and don’t of vacation rentals – will you fall in love?

Written by admin on December 15, 2009 – 3:21 pm -

Having written extensively about vacation rentals, I’ve learned quite a lot since I took the plunge and rented an apartment in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After years of advising Bonjour Paris readers to stay in apartments rather than hotels, in order to experience a place as a quasi-local, it was my turn.

Never having been to the Paris of South America (and speaking no Spanish), B.A. had been on my must-visit list. An acquaintance decided she wanted to perfect her tango so an apartment was the best solution. Eating every meal out is expensive and two people (who’ve never traveled together) confined to one room could spell disaster.

The Internet is a wonderful thing when selecting a temporary home. Enter vacation rentals or short-term rental apartments plus the name of the destination in the search function and you’ll be inundated by choices. Too many. The selection process is challenging, especially in this economic market, when people might opt to rent out properties rather than sell them.

Renting an apartment site unseen is akin to a blind date. Will you fall in love even if you’ve looked at lots of photos?  Wide angle lenses and photo-shop can do wonders.

Tips I’ve learned from being on the buyer’s end:

- Do initial research about the city. Decide what you want to see and study the transportation system. Opting to rent a less expensive apartment a bit out of town, may ultimately end up costing you more money if you’re wedded to taking taxis or are locked into spending time commuting to see what you’ve come to see and do. Surf the web and if you like paper, buy a guide book or two. The DK-Eyewitness Travel “Top 10 Buenos Aires” book with its pull out map was my bible.

- If you’re a woman alone – or traveling with another – evaluate your comfort level if you want to return home late from dinner, or in the case of B.A., a milonga (a tango hall) that doesn’t get started until 11 p.m.

- Reality check: if you’re going to be somewhere for only two or three days, it’s probably not worth renting digs. You’ll need to hit the grocery store and buy essentials such as soap, etc.  Consider whether or not you want or need a concierge or someone to set up tours, make suggestions and/or dinner reservations for you.

How to evaluate a property:

Make certain there’s a high-speed Internet connection if you’re off to a city. Even if you’re not taking your computer and have no need to be on-line, it signifies the landlord caters to business travelers and usually, a more upscale market. Take a careful look at the photos of the kitchen and the bathroom facilities. Living rooms and bedrooms can look charming. Photos of them can be deceptive but they can’t hide an antiquated kitchen or circa 1942 bathroom plumbing fixtures.

How soon and how thoroughly is your rental request answered? People who are professionals are very responsive because there’s so much competition.

Always ask the size of the apartment. A two-bedroom apartment isn’t necessarily spacious when it comes to Americans’ expectations. Forty-square meters is tiny (440-square-feet) and believe it or not, some apartments with those dimensions are intended to accommodate four people.

Do you want to stay in someone’s apartment or are you more comfortable staying in one that’s used exclusively for rentals? A just-rental apartment tends to be less personal. On the other hand, you may not be tripping over the owner’s belongings.

Is the apartment’s owner (or rental agency) willing to have you speak with previous tenants? Is there a manual to the property and a 24-hour-contact number in the event there’s a serious problem with the apartment?

We rented a renovated two-bedroom apartment on the 17th floor that was ideal for sharing. Its American owner emailed a response within one hour of the inquiry and his support staff was excellent. There was a car waiting for us at the airport and someone who met us when we checked in and explained everything in perfect English. There were even cards for us that included the apartment’s address and all of the telephone numbers including the cell phone that was there for our use. We had no complaints. Judy and I were able to share an apartment without getting in each others way since we kept very different schedules.

Another group of apartments that intrigued me were Apartments in a Recoleta Mansion that have been developed by a 38-year-old San Francisco native. Brent Federighi decided to restore the facade  rather than tearing down the building, which so many builders have done in B.A. since it’s easier and less costly. The 18 apartments have the  feel of a boutique hotel. There’s a lobby and a concierge on the ground floor office plus a small pool on the building’s roof.

These apartments are being sold to individuals who want to own a pied-à-terre but want to defray its cost. It’s better than a time-share for those who have money to invest and want an occasional home in Buenos Aires.

Even though where you stay for a short vacation isn’t a life or death matter, it can impact your feeling about a place. Prospective tenants need to read between the lines of rental ads. It’s not always obvious.

Do you have additional tips?  Or have you rented a place to find out it’s a dive upon arrival? If so, what did you do?

Karen Fawcett is president of Bonjour Paris.

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Posted in Consumer Traveler |