Montevideo: pronounced Mont-e-vi-day-o, not monty-video. The capital of Uruguay and a really arty city, filled with antiques and barbecues.
After recovering from the huge amount of food we’d eaten in the past few days, we’d caught the night bus and arrived into Montevideo at 8:00am Sunday morning. The bus terminal, we didn’t realise at the time, was at the bottom of a fairly large shopping centre. We settled ourselves into one of the cafes for some coffee and some chill time before getting ourselves back into Spanish-speaking mode, and out of Portuguese mode.
We decided for this part of the trip we would book into an AirBnB studio apartment instead of a hostel; the hostels in Montevideo were surprisingly expensive and most were not available for the entire length of our stay. Thankfully our host was happy to have us arrive in a little early than the check-in time, both of us were fairly worn out, and the weather wasn’t doing us many favours. Coming from Porto Alegre where it was relatively warm and 25 degrees, Montevideo was a little bit of a shock to the system – it was 16 degrees, windy and rainy.
After setting ourselves up and looking at what there was to do around, we decided that an asado place was the go for lunch. Asado is the Uruguayan version of barbecue, amazingly delicious and filling. The “we need to cut down on the amount of food we’re having” conversation didn’t last long at this place. We were treated with breads, wine, cross-cut ribs and steak, as well as grilled vegetables and the option for dessert (which we sensibly did not have). The food was amazing! Following our mammoth meal, we decided to attempt groceries to stock the apartment for the next few days, and then relax and catch up on writing, travel plans and all the fun serious stuff. Including a litre and a half bottle of wine for $4aud, it needed to be filtered through plastic cups to get rid of the sediment (but anywho?). Dinner was made up of the leftover veggies, blitzed up into a dip, leftover bread, meat and a glass of wine; this was date night Montevideo style.
Montevideo is quite a large city with 1.3 million people, it is the capital of Uruguay, and as we were quickly discovering, the capital of meat. We were staying in a very convenient location, close to the shipping docks and close to the main part of the city, as well as the Mercado del Puerto (the Port Markets). We had assumed that the markets would have fruit, vegetables and crafts, with a few little street stalls for a quick bite to eat for lunch. We headed to Mercado del Puerto Monday and realised that we had actually been there for lunch the day before, and there were not really any craft stalls etc. it is really just a big hall of restaurants barbecuing meat. My goodness did it smell amazing! So instead of spending the morning looking at things as we’d first thought, we spent lunch at another of the asado places, Dee trying morcilla (black pudding sausages) for the first time, and both of us enjoying a taste of the many asaduras available.
After lunch we went for a walk around to see what else was in our area. The suburb we stayed in has a lot of antique-style shops, and many artists’ galleries, as well as an array of random knick-knack shops. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t holding up its end of the deal for us, the afternoon was getting quite windy and cold, with the occasional spit of rain. Both a little exhausted from the events of the last few weeks and lacking sleep, we decided to head back to the apartment and do a little more wine research, and research about Montevideo.
Tuesday morning greeted us with icy Antarctic winds and showers, but nothing was holding us back today! Armed with jumpers, our hiking boots and rain jackets we ventured outside to find the state and national parliaments. Conveniently, the state parliament was right around the corner from us, we did take a moment of two to find it as the streets in Montevideo aren’t particularly well signed, and the buildings are all very similar in construction. Interestingly enough, TripAdvisor recommends the parliaments and the residence of the president in quite a few of the cities as a notable place to visit. We hadn’t realised when travelling around, that the mayors and president get their own residence, which contain all of their offices as well; these buildings have generally been quite large and quite old with ornate details. We happened to stumble across the president’s residence on way into the Montevideo CBD; although this one, unlike the other ones we’d come across, was a very modern building and didn’t really fit in with the other buildings in the area.
Having arrived at Independencia (Spanish for Independence Square) we had a small look around before getting ourselves back undercover, out of the little bit of rain. After a little reading we’ve found out that the guy on the horse in the middle is the Artigas Mausoluem – a tribute to the Uruguayan here Jose Artigas – it appears that he strongly opposed monarchism and ultimately led Uruguay to independence. The statue was built in the 1930’s and Artigas’s remains are in an underground room below the statue. The square itself was designed in the 1830s and originally inspired by a square in Paris; it was however redesigned 30 years later. There are many interesting buildings around Plaza Independencia, including Solis Theatre and the Palacio Salvo (the one on the corner with the really tall peak on one side). It was finished in 1928 and the corner is 95m tall, the original specifications of the building meant that the corner needed to look like a lighthouse on top of it, and that it was to be used as a hotel. The hotel part never came through and the building has been used for private residences and offices since.
Moving on from Independencia we walked along the main stretch of Montevideo, most of the streets in Spanish speaking South America seemed to be named after famous people or dates of significance. This particular avenue was called 18 de Julio (18th of July), and held much of the shopping precinct of Montevideo. Having gotten rather cold from hanging outside for a while we stopped for a quick coffee, then headed to Palacio Legislativo. The building had started being built in 1904 and was inaugurated in 1925 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of independence. There was an accident at the intersection of the parliament, making it a little difficult to get closer for a photo. We’ve noticed crossing roads in South America is like playing Russian Roulette, lane markings don’t mean anything and neither do lights – you really are taking your life in your own hands crossing the street. The rain had started getting heavier at this point, and the wind stronger; it was time to head back into some form of warmth and dryness! We caught the bus back close to our hostel and decided that a fairly late lunch was in order. We’d both heard about how good the chivitos (steak sandwiches) were in Uruguay and felt that this was the best decision for the day… we ended up back at the Mercado del Puerto. We shared a chivito, and some more barbecued meat, this asado place wasn’t as nice as others we’d been to; however, the chivito was pretty good… anything with steak bacon and cheese is always going to be good! What little was left of the afternoon was spent back at the apartment; Montevideo has been the first place we’ve been able to start properly processing what we’ve seen and done so far. Our rapid movements over the past few weeks has taken its toll on us, we’ve enjoyed every second; however, the realisation that this is life for the next eleven months has really started to sink in. Both of us had gotten to the point that we were so overload with information (and food) that we’d stopped taking our surroundings in. We were expecting this to happen at some point in our trip, a day or two of taking it easy will fix it!
Staying nice and close to the shipping port had its ups and downs, we were close to the water and got to see some pretty massive ships; we also got to hear a few of the massive ships leave in the middle of the night, and some random people yelling things in the morning because they’d had too of who knows what. Lacking sleep and trying to avoid the cold, but needing to book bus tickets, we fought with the local bus transport numbering system to make our way to the giant bus terminal. Eventually getting to the bust station, we found the ticket office we needed, and managed to get our tickets in Spanish successfully! Winning! It’d been quite cold in Montevideo and it was time to sort out this situation for Dee, having regretted not bringing jeans in the first place, James was dragged into the shops to find something warmer before we needed to head to Buenos Aires. Finding a pair of jeans, and now slightly warmer, we walked the couple of kilometres to find the Mercado de Agricultura (Agricultural markets). We had a small look around and found ‘Choperia Mastra’, a local outlet for a Uruguayan microbrewery. Enjoying a number of artisanal brews and a number of bowls of peanuts, we felt that more barbecue food was in order. James managed to successfully food coma himself, a change to the usual! We left close to 5 hours after arriving at the markets and headed toward home, checking out a few shops along the way. We were lining ourselves up for a 10am checkout in the morning to head to the bus station for another bus we felt it was probably time to head home and get ourselves rested and ready for the following day.
Thursday morning we got ourselves together enough for the bus to Colonia del Sacramento, a sleepy town on the North of Uruguay close to the boat trip across to Argentina. We checked out, made our way to the bus station by Uber, which casually just put the wrong pick up address in for us. Wonderful when you’ve got no data and an international phone number ☺ We found our car (I think probably the smallest possible car that Uber would allow!), and headed to the bus station with a very friendly driver, who helped fight off a guy hassling us to give him money when hopping in the car. Arriving at the bus station with a little bit of time to spare, it was time for a decent coffee and a little planning for the days to come.