Buenos Ares isn’t our main destination but rather a stop in the trip. We don’t have plans, but we figured we would take it easy, so we picked La Plata, a big city linked to Bueno Aires by the linea roca, the suburban train.
After China’s modern train system, the linea roca was a bit of a shock—picture old carts, cheap plastic seats, walls covered with graffiti, and trains powered by Fiat engines (that’s what it said on it, anyway). It kind of reminded me of Paris’ RER system. Tickets were dirt cheap, though: less than AR$12 for two of us (yes, Mark is still around, he just rides for free), which is about US$1.40.
I pulled my Kindle out of my bag as soon as the train started moving, to keep me busy during the 90-minute trip (or for as long as Mark would allow me to read), but one of the train agents advised me several to “be careful”, supposedly with my belongings. I didn’t see the problem, as the cart was mostly packed with families and I didn’t get the “shouldn’t be here” vibe.
We arrived in La Plata after many many stops, and found a hotel by the train station. The rooms were nicer than I had expected from a budget hotel, with high ceilings and a balcony.
It was Sunday, and as we quickly realized walking in the street, the city was dead and all the stores were closed. Feng and Mark grabbed a burger in a local fast food and we eventually found a kiosco selling drinks. That was about it.
La Plata has a unique modern city design and is nicknamed la ciudad de las diagonales because of its strict grid and its many avenues and diagonals. It’s super confusing because at each plaza, you have six or eight streets going all directions.
We walked around the city and explored its gothic cathedral (phew, opened on Sunday!) and then hung out at the plazas where there were art craft fairs, markets and other popular entertainment going on.
As the sun set, it suddenly turned chilly, and Feng wanted to go back to the hotel to get his sweater. “I’m fine and I have Mark’s hoodie,” I said. “I’ll offer to go grab your sweater but I think I’d get lost. Go alone, I’ll stay at the park with Mark. Come and get us!”
Twenty minutes later, Feng came back sans sweater. “What happened?” “I could never find my way back to the hotel!” he complained. “I walked, and walked… and obviously took the wrong diagonal.” Feng is usually very good at reading maps—and directions in general—was defeated by La Plata. It became a joke between us: never ever take a diagonal, or you will lose a chunk of time and a lot of energy trying to find your way back!
On Monday morning, all the stores were open and the city was very lively. We took care of chores—laundry and going to the bank—and spend the day exploring, stopping here and there for an ice cream, a cup of coffee or some playground time for Mark. La Plata hosts one of the most renowned universities in Argentina, the Universidad Nacional de La Plata, and it has a distinct student vibe with its many theaters, bars and fast-food joints.
I like it here. People are super friendly and life is a bit cheaper than in Buenos Aires. It’s also a great way to ease into the culture… and the local accent!