Montevideo aka Mon-teh-vee-DAY-oh

Trip Start Jun 07, 2009
Trip End Aug 23, 2009

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Where I stayed
El Viarerociudad Vieja Hostel

Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, June 12, 2009

We arrived by bus to Montevideo from Colonia in the morning then shared a taxi to the hostel El Viajero Ciudad Vieja Hostel with our new Austrian friend Martin.  Martin had been on the same ferry to Colonia as we were the prior day and coincidentally stayed in the same hostel there.  We crossed paths with him while strolling the cobblestones streets but hadn't really talked with him until breakfast in the hostel in Colonia.  We were once again on the same bus, this time from Colonia to Montevideo.  These sort of casual run-ins with travelers on the same route over the course of a few days or even weeks, are fairly common. Most of these travellers are following a Gringo Trail led by Lonely Planet.  

Martin was on a week-long holiday from his job engineering private jet interiors for an Austrian firm working with Embraer in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Despite having lived in Brazil for 6 months, Martin admitted to only being able to say "no fala Portuguese"- at work he speaks English even to his Brazilian counterparts.  When he said this, Darren joked back that of course he could also order a beer, to which he replied no.  As strange as this seemed, it was a bit difficult to judge someone who spoke flawless English and native German.  Martin´s limited Portuguese turned out to be stronger than his non-existent Spanish.  We enjoyed Martin's company but to some degree, we suspect he valued our translating skills, as limited as those were, in addition to our good company.

After checking into the hostel, the three of us set out for lunch.  We eventually settled on a confiteria, which is a cross between a neighborhood style restaurant and diner.  This one was located just off the  Avenida 18th de Julio, the principal street in Montevideo which in many parts is pedestrian only.  The restaurant was crowded with local businessman and despite being part of an Uruguayan chain felt authentically Uruguayan.  The waiters were men in their 50's and 60's, with great dispositions. They all wore white shirts with black bow ties, and were truly professional waiters who show a pride and enjoyment in their profession rarely seen in the States.  They seemed to know many of the diners at the other tables and were very attentive to all customers, including us. 

The next few hours were dedicated to wandering the streets of the Ciudad Vieja, an area west of the central downtown and surrounded on the other three sides by the water, two sides of which are the port of Montevideo.  As its name would suggest this is the historic city center, and it contains several old historical homes and buildings.  Unfortunately, most of these buildings are in seriously bad shape as this area has apparently become the home to the city's lower class (we were warned to not wander here after dark). 

Uruguay is known for its sunshine, even during the winter when temperature gets down to the 40's and 50's during the day.  We walked around in sunny weather but afterward really felt as if the sky were gray the whole time.  The cold weather called for coats, adding to the cold and gray feeling. As you can see in the pictures, many of the buildings, both new and old are dominated by gray colors. Joaquín Torres García, a cubist artist who lived in Montevideo for 15 years, had a distinct style of images created from a mosaic of blocks of primary colors.  Torres- like murals can be seen around the city and help to make the streets a bit brighter.  

We eventually made it to Mercado del Puerto, which is a large warehouse filled with restaurants selling Uruguay's primary export and most-consumed food, beef, in all sorts of shapes and styles.  Each of the restaurants had at least one wood burning grill. The meats placed on wire racks and cooked over the hot wood cinders.  It was truly a meat lovers dream.  We sat at the counter of one place and drank a beer while one of the cooks pulled cow intestine out of a bag and placed it on the grill behind him. Despite sounding a bit grotesque (at least to a non-beef eater like Darren), it was a really cool scene.  Even Darren was slightly tempted to try some of the sausage the Martin ordered.  

Something we noticed here, and continued to see throughout Uruguay, was the importance of Mate (Yerba Mate) a tea with a chemical called "mateine" (that might have been a gimmick).  To make Mate the proper way, you need a Mate (a hollowed out gourd usually covered in leather), Mate (Which is sold in large bags like flour) and a thermos.  Uruguayans are known throughout South America for carrying around all of these things during their morning routines.  It was interesting to see a man walking down the street with a thermos tucked under his arm, a briefcase, and a Mate.

We had planned to stay in Montevideo for two nights, but Katie was feeling a bit sick of being in cities so the next afternoon we caught a bus to Punta del Este. 


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