13 July 2012

Where is Buenos Aires??

I'm no expert. I've been to Buenos Aires once for 12 days. I spend time internet researching the city, but due to the lightning speed rate of social, political, economic, and everything-else change in Argentina, so much of the info out there is outdated as of this morning.
But I thought it would be helpful to do a quick overview of BA for all those friends/family/expat hopefuls who don't know a lot about where on god's green earth we're up-and-outing to.
Here are some basic stats to get started:

Buenos Aires is the largest city in Argentina and its capital, but it is not the capital of the Province of Buenos Aires. The city is an autonomous district, similar to Washington DC in the States.
Three million people live in Buenos Aires (Philly has two million), and the city is approximately 60% the size of Philadelphia in square miles. The city sits right at the convergence of the Uruguay and Paraná Rivers on the estuary of the Río de la Plata, which dumps into the Atlantic Ocean. It looks like this from outerspace:

Thanks to that sweet geographic situation, the climate is pretty medium. In January, at the height of summer, temperatures average 77 degrees Fahrenheit (though 90 degree days are not unheard of) and it's a bit humid. Winter is chilled and foggy and averages 51 degrees (again, it could get down to the 30s) in July. So the coastal climate is not far from what I'm used to in Philadelphia, but with that breeze that lives in my California bones. I'll take it.

Porteños, people from the port of Buenos Aires, are largely the descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants. The city boasts a large Jewish population and pockets of indigenous South Americans, eastern and northern Europeans, and Asian immigrants. As a modern, cosmopolitan city, it is as diverse as any other major global metropolis.

With all of those people you can imagine the language is pretty interesting (or I do at least!). Porteños speak a form of Spanish called Castellano, or Rioplatanese Spanish. This sounds like a mix of the Spanish spoken in Andalusia, Spain and Neapolitan Italian. So an ' s ' is sometimes lispy and a double ' l ' sounds something like an english ' j '. Pronunciation can be non-traditional and some verb tenses used are uncommon in much of Latin America. Needless to say, my American Spanish has some work to do!

Regarding other awesome cultural aspects of Buenos Aires:

The city is compact, dense, and full of life. The streets are narrow, cobble-stoned or paved, sometimes tree-lined, and generally one-way (except Avenida 9 de Julio, which is arguably the widest boulevard in the world with 9 lanes, garden medians, and 3 separate crosswalks to get through!).
Buenos Aires is a neighborhoody city, much like Philadelphia, where pockets of common architecture, culture, and aesthetic preferences exist, bounded my major thoroughfares or natural obstacles. Residential areas consist of a mix of older, row-like homes, and apartment buildings with restaurants, markets, and other small businesses occupying the ground floor store fronts. Neighborhoods are often characterized by their particular parks, city squares, and outdoor food and craft markets. Microcentro, or the downtown business district, owes it's skyline to regular skyscrapers, brick and mortar, and sooooo much beautiful French, Spanish, Italian, and Rioplatanese baroque style architecture. Here's some visual assistance:

Buenos Aires is super walkable and the city also offers a free, shared bicycle rental program with over 700 bicis available and 100 miles of protected bike lanes. Buses and the subway system are doable and effective when you know where you're going. Because the public transportation systems are government subsidized, a single ride costs only $2.50 ARG (45 cents USD!).

While we're talking pesos, let me tell you something else awesome:

The cost of living in Buenos Aires is, on average, 20-40% less than Philadelphia. Right now, the exchange rate is $4.5 ARG to $1 USD. Remember, it depends on who you ask, what day it is, and what you include in your living expenses. From my personal experience:
Rent on a studio/1 bedroom apartment in a decent barrio: $400-700 USD (depending on whether you're getting native or tourist rates, which depends on your landlord schmoozing skills).
Cost of dinner out at a typical Argentine Parilla: $12 USD + 10% tip per person(this includes bread and cheese, a glass of local wine, a meat-heavy entree, salad, tiramisu, and espresso).

Overwhelmed, Uruguay, August 2011

Cost of a choripan from a street vendor: $2 USD (parilla sausage on a baguette).

Cost of a beer at a bar: $2 USD (quality, local, craft brew); a bottle of Malbec wine at the supermarket: $5 USD (high quality, Argentine wine equivalent to a $20 USD bottle in the States).

Desayuno: $4 USD (breakfast at a cafe that includes three medialunas, or mini croissants, a macchiato, and a glass of aqua con gas).

Um, besides coffee, treats, meat, wine, and transportation, I am blanking on what else could possibly matter in the 'cost of living' category! If you're interested in more on this subject, go here.

I know I've dropped a lot of specific food and drink items here, and let me tell you...I only know them from the whirlwind romance we had last August. I promise to get deeper into these important subjects once I'm in BA and have had a chance to do some proper "research"!

P.S. Buenos Aires wouldn't be its glorious self without fútbol, it's history and politics, empanadas, tango, its proximity to ANTARCTICA, dinosaurs, and a million other things. But that's enough for today. So teaser...more on these soon!


  1. Hi Amber,
    I hate to be a naysayer and I've never lived in Philly, but I think you're being overly optimistic about the climate, especially given global warming. I've found the humidity unbearable at times, even in March. My porteño friend here in Massachusetts told me that this past summer, even his friends and family in Bs As who were usually impervious to heat and humidity had been getting home from work, turning on their air conditioners, and lying down on the floor until their body temperatures returned to normal.

    Also, are you two going to be living on savings from the U.S., or working for pesos in Bs As? That makes all the difference in cost of living.

    Nice photos on your blog!

  2. I hate humidity! We do experience it here in Philadelphia pretty badly in the summers, so it won't be something new for me in Buenos Aires. How grateful I am for AC though!
    We will be living off USD and hopefully supplementing it with some work in pesos. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. Hello Amber!, nice blog ! really nice, intelligent analysis you're doing on us ! I celeb that... yes... I dont know how I got here, Oh yes, I've lost my wallet in the teatro colon last night, and found that some people found it are staying in an international local hotel, which I cant reach yet, nevermind, that's another story.
    About coming here, cheers to that, it's a nice city, I dont know, I still love it with its bads and goods, about living in san telmo, I dont really encourage it, I live in palermo, and prefer it really more, may be I just simply dont feel that neighbourhood anything exotic cause I'm a 'local', anyway, anything I can help you, ask me!, I've become expert giving advises, as another girl from michigan is planning the same trip, I've helped her, ok, good luck and hope our city receive you well !,

    PD: it's wet on summer!, not to die, but, you may suffer it, and winter?, no no, If rocky movies are fair with their apparent coldness, well, we have it lot warmer than that...really not freezing...

  4. Cristian,
    Thanks so much for reading and for the great advise! We will be living in Palermo also, so it is nice to hear you like it. I don't love wet summers, but I am so happy to hear that the winters aren't as bad as what I'm used to in Philly! Thanks again, and I'll be there soon!