Montevideo - Beef town!

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Monday, November 24, 2008

The bus takes us though countryside reminiscent of England  - rolling hills and lots of cows (at least England as I remember it as a child!).    We reach Montevideo bus station and our first job is to find a place to stay.  We go to at the tourist information office to enquire about a hostel only to find that every single hostels and hotels are booked up as there is a big convention in the city for the weekend.  There are 2 rooms left in the city and that it all.   They manage to secure one of these for us  -  it is a small and cheap hotel called Casa Amor - (loosely translated = Love House.  Interesting!!).

We grab a cab to the hotel which is right in the centre of the city and fortunately it is not the brothel we were semi-expecting but a nice enough place and, after turning down one room because of the smell, we settle into one on the 4th floor which is reached by one of those old, french style cage lifts.

Early the next morning, we are awoken at 4.00am by the sound of the TV in the next room.  It was unbelievably loud.  Being Saturday night we thought that maybe it was some students that wanted to carry on partying after getting back from a nightclub so I banged on the door and got some shouting through the door in response. Not being able to understand what was being said (mainly because the TV was so deafeningly loud) I continued banging on the door until eventually it was opened. Imagine my surprise when I was confronted, not by a drunken student, but by a little old lady in a hairnet and dressing gown!  Clearly hard of hearing, she apologised and turned the TV down.

Montevideo is best described as a city of faded elegance. It has some wonderful architecture if a little run down in places and some great shops and restaurants. We spend our few days here just wandering around the streets and trying out a few of the local "delicacies" in the many restaurants. Determined to try something new in every place we stay, we pop in to one restaurant which specialises in the "chivito".  Not sure exactly what this is we order a Chivito para dos (i.e.for two), the waitress points out that we may be better off just having one portion between us, so we take her advice.  A very cold and very good Uruguayan beer arrives and a bit later our gigantic chivito on a steel serving dish.  Basically,  it consists of a huge pile of chips, salad, Russian salad, mushy peas which is then topped off with thin slices of steak, ham and finally grilled cheese -  a coronary on  a plate! Very nice it is too , although a salad would be nice now and again! We are really looking forward to cooking our own food in BA and start day dreaming about what we miss most....  

Determined to see the best of the city, we head off to the market in the port area of the city which again, has some beautiful if crumbling buildings many of which seem to be in the course of renovation (this is probably one of our favourite cities in South America but, does not seem to get that many visitors (presumably because it is so close to Buenos Aires).  Being the port area prices are high as it is frequented by passengers from the cruise ships. We wander in to the covered market area and find not market stalls, but wall to wall parrilla restaurants.  Even in Argentina, we have never seen so much meat! These gigantic barbecues are literally covered in meat.  Mostly beef but also lamb chicken with the odd half goat thrown in for good measure.

Unlike the rest of the world, Uruguayans and Argentines eat virtually all of the cow.  Not only are the cuts of the beef totally different from the UK and the US, but as an entree you also get to eat most of the insides and dangly bits (e.g. tripe, sweetbreads, intestines, pancreas and even the udders!)  The only part we have not yet tried is the udder which is considered a real delicacy and as such I think the Uruguayans keep it for themselves rather than waste it on foreigners (still we live in hope of trying it!)

We pick out the busiest parrilla, sit down and still being unsure of the correct names for each bit we simply point at what we fancy and a chunk of meat is delivered to our plates. My favourite of the achuras is the chichullines or intestines which are grilled until crisp on the outside - absolutely delicious but a bit like pate de fois, very rich!

We like Uruguay as a country.  It is the most stable and, according to various international agencies, the least corrupt country in South America (often described as the Switzerland of South America) and has one of the highest literary rates in the region and certainly the best health service but I suppose it lacks the spectacular scenery of the surrounding countries (although it does have some wonderful beaches).

Uruguayans, it seems love to shop. One of the most controversial shopping centers is Punta Carretas Shopping all.  It originally served as a prison up through the dictatorships of the 1970s and early 1980s and all tourist guides say that a visit is a must.  So off we go.  Getting there by bus was interesting as we pass through the upperclass area (Carrasco) where all the embassies are based, along with the wealthiest of Monetvideo residents.   The prison/shopping centre is in a beachside suburb of town and as we walk along the wide boulevard, which seems to run for miles, we feel that we could almost be in the South of France.   This area of the city lacks the colonial architecture but is a lot more upmarket than the centre with lots of wonderful house and apartments.  I can think of worse places to live! 

Apparently the road streches many more kms to Punte del Este which is the Monte Carlo of South America and where many wealthy Brazilians and Argentines go for their holidays.  (We are also told this is the preferred destination of absconding Argentine Presidents and the like and that real estate in Punte del Estate is astronomically priced).  We are to find out later from other travellers that there are many other great places in Uruguay that we did not get to visit due to time constraints.     
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