On the way to the end of the Earth

Buenos Aires might be called the gateway to the end of the Earth. That is, if someone was so foolish as to call the New York-meets-Paris-meets-Madrid city of some 12 million inhabitants a gateway to anything.

But Buenos Aires is very much its own place. If it is the gateway to anything, it is to some stylish, libertine nightclub of European flair and South American drama.

Tango dancers twirl on street corners throughout the city. Restaurants don't get crowded till after nine. Outdoor cafés fill up in the afternoons with patrons sipping ruby-red argentine malbec and nibbling sharp sardo cheese, which is made of argentine sheep's milk. A sensuous city, Buenos Aires is scented with the mingled aromas of slowly grilling meats known as parilla (Argentine barbecue), women's perfume, and, in some areas, the sea.

We arrive around noon, and the first thing we do, which is the first - and last and most - thing we ever do when traveling, is eat.

Buenos Aires is a phenomenal place to do that. Its robustly flavored, grass-fed, steroid-free beef ranks among the world's best. Its Italian food, a bequest from its large Italian population, challenges Italy's. and its creamy, gelato-style ice cream is unsurpassed; the locals say the hormone-free cows produce the richest cream, which, in turn, makes for the best ice cream.

On our first afternoon, Jessica orders a coffee-flavored dulce de leche ice cream with hazelnuts dipped in chocolate for the three of us to share. Known as milk candy, dulce de leche is a type of caramel and a local obsession. We stand on the corner, taking turns licking the ice cream and tumbling into an addiction: we didn't know it then, but that would be the gelato that launched a thousand cones during our three-day stay in BA. We ate pistachio and coffee and tarta de limone (lemon ice cream blended with almond biscotti and meringue), several of the dozen different varieties of chocolate, and, of course, more dulce de leche.

In between bites, we tour the opulent multi-tiered concert hall called the Teatro Colón; take in a tango-show extravaganza (complete with horses) at a thick-draped, bordellolike tango hall; stroll the galleries and wine shops of the bohemian palermo barrio; visit the splendorous Recoleta Cemetery (its 6,000 tombs and mausoleums, each more ornate than the one before it, take up about four city blocks); meander the hilly, seaside artists enclave known as La Boca; window-shop along the sprawling pedestrian promenade that is Florida Avenue; linger at several street fairs we happen upon; and enjoy a glass of wine at one of the city's oldest and grandest cafés, Café Tortoni, the setting for conversations among the local and visiting intelligentsia (including, years ago, Einstein).

We depart Buenos Aires early one morning after returning late the previous night. We had gone to a tango show. It was 1:30 in the morning when we returned to our hotel. In Buenos Aires, read that as only 1:30 in the morning. The ice cream shops were still open. We had to go for one last cone each.