I have had numerous friends who are going to BA ask me for advice in day to day things. So I have written up some advice on different topics from my diary and e-mailed it out. I have received such positive feedback that I keep thinking I should post it. Then a friend who has been to BA numerous times wrote me today for the link to my blog as they wanted to read it before leaving tomorrow (jealous!!!) - so I thought I should add this in. So here it is - my observations and thoughts.
Common sense that no one tells you:
In the higher end shops they speak English, but other than that, very few folks do. Learn the basics of Spanish and if you can bring a digital translator with you, that is a good idea.
Hoard your coins. really. They have not minted coins in almost a dozen years so people are reticent to give them out. You will need them for the subte and collectivo. However, when going to the verdulerias, I always gave them exact change, and they always gave me better produce. It can be a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" society.
There is no such thing as orange juice as we know it outside of a cafe. They sell something called orange juice in the supermarkets, but it has corn syrup, starch and other shit added, tastes awful - don't buy it. But the packaged grapefruit juice is amazing, tart and wonderful. they don't add anything to that. go figure.....
If you need any soy products, go to barrio Chino to the Casa de Soya, best soy milk I every bought, made fresh daily and no preservatives, so if you don’t drink it within a week it will turn to tofu, and they carry all things soy. wonderful wonderful folks there.
don't drink the tap water. Really. Truly. buy your water.
Water – it comes two ways “con gas” (seltzer) or “sin gas” (flat) and in glass bottles which if you buy at the market you bring back for recycling.
don't tip cab drivers. it is not done there, and marks you as a tourist. That being said, some of the cab drivers are wonderful old men who will tell you all sorts of history of their city. I always added a pesos for them as they were so amusing. However, the cab fare is always rounded up or down due to the coin shortage.
Hide your money in different places on your person. We never had a problem, but we were wary and smart. I know a few people who were mugged. I kept my money in my bra, I figured I would notice if someone picked that pocket. In the milongas, don't have anything in your bag that you would mind losing. La Viruta is notorious for bags going missing. I always used the coat check at any venue that had one. usually 2 pesos (about 30 cents) for peace of mind.
At the pharmacy there are carbon pills - pastillas negra - buy them. they will cure your upset stomach and diarrhea which you will get. everyone does. most medicines can be purchased at the pharmacy without prescription, you just need to know what you want, and most pharmacists I encountered did not speak english, so you need to know what the medicine is that you need. Also, they are not like pharmacists in North America. They will not advise on what to take, you need to know what you want.
When shopping, you have to try everything on, there is no sizing regulations or consistency. I bought size 1, 2 and 3 and in shoes I bought 37, 36 1/2 and 36's.
I would strongly recommend NOT using your credit card. Only higher end restaurants and shops take them, but several folks who used them had credit theft or fraud happen. It really is a cash only society. Most ATMs will only let you take about 300 pesos out at a time, which is a pain in the ass. BUT, in the airport there is a federal currency exchange station that you can change large amounts of cash over with your passport. I would recommend doing that, and then when you need more cash going to the Bank District and changing you money at one of the major banks. But, you must always have your passport when you change money.
Also, if you do use your credit card, there will be at least a 20 pesos charge added to your tab as you are expected to pay the fee that the credit card company charges the business.
Coffee - coffee in the supermarkets is hideous. they roast it with sugar (!!!!!) and it tastes like crap. The only coffee I ever found worth buying was Bonafide and at Cafe Baraka, they have cafes all over the city, but you must ask for cafe sin sucre. crazy..... because the coffee in the cafes is wonderful – so my recommendation is to either bring coffee with you or have your coffee in the cafes.
Don't expect spice. I think that salt is considered the only spice in the city. That being said, lots of times no spice is needed as the food is really good. But, after many weeks of un-spiced food, I was dying for a curry. Also most restaurants do not have black pepper. So if you want black pepper for your food, bring it with you.
Getting around - the subte is great, just make sure you keep your belongings in your possession at all times. No backbacks on your back! Bags should be clutched to your tummy. The panhandlers are much more aggressive here. The collectivos are also great, although they look dicey. They run 24/7 and get you anywhere you need to go. You pay when you get on at this huge machine by the driver, tell the driver where you are going and the fare will appear on the machine, coins only! Keep the receipt that prints out! Often collectivo inspectors will board and ask to see everyone's receipts. You have to exit from the back door and the buzzer to be let off is at the back door. I went several stops past my stop the first time I took it before someone took pity on me and showed me how to signal the driver. Also, you have to flag them down at their stops like a cab, other wise they don't stop, and people line up to get on in a very orderly fashion, they don't clump and push like here, and if you do, they will tell you off. Be aware that sometimes they only slow down to a crawl and let you on or off, which is an adventure in itself. But always wait to see if he is really going to stop or not.
You MUST go to the Palacio Barolo on ave de Mayo in downtown
best tourist thing I ever did, and best 20 pesos I ever spent. It is an amazing tour of an amazing building built by an eccentric and inspired man. You have to book ahead though as there is a limit on how many folks can take the tour. When you reach the end, the top of the building, you will understand why. :-) It also affords the best view of the city I saw in my entire 2 months there.
Barrio Chino - I did a lot of my food shopping here. The only place I found reasonably priced fresh herbs as well as black pepper (a rare find) and curries. As well as fresh fish.
In Barrio Chino there is a wonderful tea house called Buddha Bar that you should go to. Fantastic teas and scrumptious looking pastries (which I could not have). It was a haven of respite in a crazy busy street. Also, if you shop here for your food (which you should do), go on Tuesdays, that is the morning that everything arrives fresh, so it is the day to shop. I bought a simple cloth sack from a street vendor and used it when I food shopped.
Recoleta Cemetary – this is where all the famous folks are buried, including the Peron family. It is an above ground city of the dead. Amazing and awe inspiring. Just don’t go at dusk… spooooky ;-) LOTS of cats!
Eva Peron Museum – Palermo – an amazing house that has been turned into a museum honoring Evita, it used to be a boarding house for women coming in from the country in search of a better life. Quite a good few hours.
Botanical Gardens in Palermo – AMAZING. Just gorgeous and a fantastic afternoon. It is open year round as their winter is 50’s and sunny, so things grow year round. Be aware – this is the epicenter for all the feral cats in Buenos Aires. So there are cats EVERYWHERE. Some are friendly, some are not, but they are all feral and getting a scratch from them can cause cat scratch fever – which is severely unpleasant.
Museum of Modern Latin American Art - Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415 – near the Plaza de Peru. Amazing museum filled with artists I had never been taught about. So worth the admission price – they are normally closed on Tuesdays.