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Admiring the Houses of the Dead

Wandering the La Recoleta Cemetery

sunny 77 °F

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I had read that the La Recoleta Cemetery was an atmospheric place to wander on your visit to Buenos Aires, so that was the destination for Day 3. Another short subway ride and a nice walk led to its gates. Even though there were a few tour buses parked outside, the vastness of the cemetery swallows up visitors. It seems most groups make a beeline for the family tomb of Evita Peron, so I set off in the opposite direction. There is no way to check out every single tomb, so I would wander the aisles making my way through each area, hoping to spot the most interesting ones.
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The mausoleums that the Argentine families have constructed here range from simple to massive and elaborate. Some are done in a Graeco-Roman style, others in 18th or 19th century fashion. Statues of angels, soldiers, and the deceased look out serenely over the packed rows. One even showed a naked Classical Greek man wrestling a female centaur. I would be VERY interested to hear the story behind that symbolism! Some statues feature family members somberly mourning the departed. Others have beautiful stained glass windows that burst into color in the bright sunlight.
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The really cool part of exploring La Recoleta Cemetery is the sheer variety of mausoleums. You thread your way through row after row, investigating spires, statues, or the tops of tombs that caught your eye. There are more than 6,000 of them, and many contain Argentina's formerly rich and famous. Hundreds have been declared historic monuments. It reminded me a lot of a cemetery I visited in Ukraine, Lychakivske, in Lviv. However, that one had more of an outdoor feel. With all the stone and marble and paved walkways, this had a very "city" feel to it.
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After more than two hours of prowling the cemetery, my feet and back had enough. It was time for a break, and the brewpub just outside the entrance sounded perfect. I learned later that evening from an Argentine friend, Florencia, that microbreweries are becoming quite the craze of late. Refreshed, I headed out again to check out a church that overlooked the cemetery. The Basilica del Pilar was first built in the 1700s, and you can tour its whitewashed interior. Gregoria's chant wafted through the stone interior, and numerous signs explained the relics and artifacts along the walls. Disappointingly, there was no place to get a good picture of its tiled belltower, which I'd seen while touring the cemetery.
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A final stop was the 66-foot tall aluminum Floralis Generica. It is a giant flower whose petals used to open and close every day. Now, apparently , it is stuck in the open position. Its brightly reflective surface brought to mind Chicago's "bean." It was another gorgeous, sunny day, and the sun shone off its metal surface. As it was heading on to late afternoon, it was time to go back before rush hour jammed the subway cars. Once in my hotel room, I downloaded my pictures onto my iPad, picked out my favorites, then took a quick nap.
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I ended the evening meeting Florencia and her husband. They were great hosts, and we swapped travel stories and they told me more about life in Argentina. Both are well travelled, and Florencia has lived in the U.S. and even Syria, years ago. We'd met years ago through an online travel forum, Travelpunk, but had never met in person before. She'd been ribbing me for years about not visiting Argentina. I had a great time chatting with her and Pablo. I think getting to know locals on a visit to a new country provides a new depth and dimension to learning about a place. It was great to get to know both them and Argentina more.
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Posted by world_wide_mike 09:15 Archived in Argentina

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