Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, I could not help feeling slightly overwhelmed. Not, however, in a bad or stressful sense, but rather in the way one is overwhelmed at a music festival or at a carnival: there were just too many things to see, to do, to hear, to experience. There were beautiful people everywhere, and I had to meet them! There were fantastic restaurants where I had to dine! And there were cafes, bookstores, antique galleries, and tango lessons, all of which I had to be a part of! On my first walk through the streets of San Telmo, where I was dropped off in the taxi from the airport, I decided that I needed to stay in Buenos Aires for a long time, in order to experience all of this. It was that kind of overwhelming.First things first: I had to find a place to stay. I slept first in a cramped but acceptable hostel in San Telmo, Hotel Nomade. But after four nights of a six-bed dorm (two of the five of my roommates snored) I decided to set out on the inevitably frustrating and hectic mission of finding an apartment in a foreign city. Looking for an apartment in Buenos Aires is like hunting for seashells on a tropical beach: you know there are countless gems out there, but you must walk far and dig through much sandy rubbish to find somethings that suits your fancy.
The best thing to do first is to explore neighborhoods in order to find one feels like the best fit for you. (Reading descriptions of the neighborhoods from travel books will not do, for that is like ordering clothes that will not fit from a catalogue. Instead you must try on the neighborhoods as if they were dresses or slacks, making sure they fit well for your style and your sense of self.) I spent my first week in Buenos Aires walking the streets of various neighborhoods and figuratively trying them on, noting how each one of them made me feel. Of course, this was overwhelming as well, due to the fact that I fell in love with every place I went. Palermo, with its tree lined streets and darling shops, made me feel classy and luxurious; La Boca made me feel colorful and stripped down; San Telmo, with its antique shops and wood-paneled corner cafes, made me feel authentic and European. I eventually settled on San Telmo, known as the ¨Bohemian¨quarters, which struck me as the most real of the neighborhoods in my initial explorations.
There are a few ways to go about finding the apartment itself once you have narrowed down a location. You can use tourist websites such as Stay in BA or Departamento Turismo(in spanish) which will provide you with fully furnished and equipped apartments that are meant for shorter stays (anywhere from one week to six months) and are often reasonably priced. Another option is visiting a local real estate agent (you can find these by simply walking around and looking for pictures of apartments hung in the window of the store). This will allow you to sit with an agent (sometimes it is nice to actually talk to a person instead of corresponding via email) and discuss housing options in the neighborhood of your choice. Although you will be charged a fee for renting through an agent, you will have the opportunity to view a variety of places and have a better handle on your options. Another great way to find a place is by making friends. By talking to local Argentines you will gather much useful information about apartment hunting, and many people even have friends or acquaintances that might rent you a place.
Much of finding that gem of an apartment comes down to luck, of course. I went through all of the motions of real estate agents, Craigslist emails, and awkward phone calls in Spanish, and I found my apartment via a random internet posting for an 8 person house in San Telmo filled with people from all over the world: one of a kind, really. In this sense, finding my perfect place in Buenos was like finding the perfect seashell: a combination of luck and of keeping my eyes open.
Once settled in my apartment, with its high ceilings and tall windows, I felt a little less overwhelmed by Buenos Aires. With a place to lay my head and a feeling that I was part of a neighborhood, I felt free to explore my Bohemian quarters at my leisure: systematically discovering who served the best cafe con leche in the area, peeking into art galleries and strolling through the local San Telmo market on a Sunday, and starting to call my new (although very old) apartment my home.
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