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Buenos Aires Insider

Ten years or so ago, on our first trip to Buenos Aires, we were greeted at Ezeiza International Airport by Sr. Pedro Baliña and his hired driver. Strangely enough, neither myself, my partner nor Pedro recall the exact details of how this meeting had been organized.

Pedro, a Fine Arts professor, would act as our cultural attaché for the duration of our stay. Although he disapproved of the accommodations we had chosen in Palermo Soho he kept this to himself, at least for a day or two. Nearly every morning he would phone and ask what he could show us, where he could take us and always make suggestions about the centerpiece of our outings: food. He gave us the lay of the land, shared some of his favorite museums, introduced us to a few antique dealers and instructed us on the proper way to order food, coffee, wine and ice cream in his fair city—really the essentials. On days we elected to wander the neighborhoods of B.A. independently he warned us about the “thieves” and “gypsies” that lurked in some doorways. He also tutored us on the finer points of choosing the right taxi to ensure that we arrived at our destination un-kidnapped! All in all, by the end of 10 days we felt like we had only scratched the gritty surface of Buenos Aires, and we were already making plans to return.

Two years later, on Christmas Eve, we returned to B.A., again greeted at EZE by Sr. Baliña. Just for some context …. Pedro is a larger-than-life, bear-like figure always dressed neatly in corduroys, button-down shirts, loafers, sunglasses and usually a fedora. I guess you’d call it “Porteño preppy.” He swaggers his streets, booms and bosses his way through cafes, always has an opinion and is never shy about expressing it. He is descended from a family dating to the 16th century. Maybe this explains the swagger. He is also generous with his time, knowledgeable about all subjects historical and cultural, and kind and caring.

We have now visited Buenos Aires a total of four times. Each trip we carve out time to be with Sr. Baliña. He has been instrumental in peeling back the layers of B.A. for us like an onion. One visit to Bs. As. centered around the celebration of a friend’s 60th birthday. A flurry of pre-arrival planning and logistics emails resulted in our hotel rooms filled with flowers (white and fragrant varieties only), artisanal chocolates and Argentine wines (based on each guest’s preference). He was a maniac with the details, the right man for the job. This guy could handle any A-list diva’s demands.

Because of Pedro, we have seen things and shared experiences that most travelers only dream of. We have visited the studio of the famous Argentine photographer Aldo Sessa, been invited for sherry with an elegant Argentine lady at her Embassy Row penthouse loaded with museum-quality antiques and Fortuny-upholstered walls, ridden horses with gauchos in the Pampas, eaten mountains of bife de chorizo steak, wrapped ourselves in his family’s heirloom ponchos at an estancia, purchased paintings at a small auction house, watched a family of silversmiths fashion a cymbidium orchid of pure sterling and lunched in the hushed dining room at the very exclusive, very private Jockey Club de Buenos Aires. We have peeked behind the curtain of this extraordinary city.

The sum of the days we’ve spent in B.A. over the years, thanks to our lovely friend and cultural attaché, are the stuff that travel memories, journals and photo albums are made of. We remain grateful that whenever and wherever we travel we’ve been fortunate to cultivate lasting relationships like the one we’ve forged with Sr. Baliña. Returning to Buenos Aires and getting reacquainted with this city, and of course Pedro, is on our short list for 2012.

Not to miss:

  • Barrio San Telmo’s Sunday Antique Market (and freak show)
  • Retiro Railway Station, a cast iron Frenchy/Edwardian architectural confection
  • Bife de lomo (filet mignon) or bife de chorizo (rump steak) salted liberally and grilled
  • A stroll through Plaza San Martin
  • Exploring the fashion and design stores that thrive in Palermo Soho
  • Savoring dulce de leche anything
  • Crossing the River Plate on a ferry to visit Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay—maybe the laziest and prettiest little colonial town in South America

You can visit Pedro Baliña’s site for more information about how you too can savor Buenos Aires.

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