Montevideo - it's not yet changed to Monte-DVD!

Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 14, 2010

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, November 20, 2009

Montevideo lies on the opposite side of the River plate to Buenos Aires and was therefore  an easy to organise next step on our travels. The cheapest (and quickest) way is to take a short crossing by boat to Colonia and then take a bus into Montevideo (Uruguay's capital). We however, had been beguiled by the poetic description in another traveller's blog about turning from the brown water of the river into the sparkling blue water around Montevideo and seeing the city shining in the sunset. We therefore decided to make the whole journey by boat. As we approached the harbour it was clear that this traveller had not made the crossing on a day similar to us when it had rained continuously, the sky stubbornly remaining a leaden gray and the waters seemed uniformly muddy. Although it was technically sunset, in fact most would call it dark, the skyline of the city barely discernable through the murk.

We made our way off the boat and found ourselves trying to make our way through the port, obviously not designed for pedestrians. We trudged the few blocks to our hostel across the usual broken pavements (although mercifully less dog poo than in BA). If our spirits had been dampened by the rain, the hostel soon changed that as it was clearly a small gem of place. The friendly receptionist showed us our delightful room, the lounge with plenty of comfortable furniture and the attractive shared kitchen we were welcomed to use at any time. She also pointed out the staircase to the roof terrace but we didn’t go up at that point to see the rain from a different height.

Later that evening, the rain had cleared and we went out for a stroll. Our hostel is in the old city, close to the docks and originally encircled by walls of which only a tiny section now remains. This area has suffered the fate of so many such areas and many of the houses, once proud and substantial, are now reduced to semi derelicts. However, a few have been restored and there are plenty of restoration projects underway although too late for some buildings that seem inevitably destined only to collapse. We visited the main square of the area, Plaza Independencia, with the obligatory man on a horse statue, surrounded by some historic buildings housing government offices etc. One of the buildings was the tallest building in South America when it was completed in 1927. It is now dwarfed by some new stuff such as modern hotels and apartment blocks.

Some of the grand houses have been given new lives as museums. For example, the next day we visited a museum dedicated to the Gaucho and Money (which was also showing a collection of record sleeves from the 'golden age of records’). No we weren’t able to get the connection between all these things either!   The house, dating from 1886, was amazing, grand staircases, beautiful craftsmanship seen in immensely decorated walls and ceilings (often over 8 metres high!) The owner had been a politician from a ‘simple country family’ who had defended the gaucho way of life. An exhibition (yes, another!) about his life included an unflattering obituary and it was hard to see how a politician could come from nothing to this level of affluence without at least a bit of corruption!

Other houses in the old town have been restored to illustrate the history and way of life in the early stages of colonisation. Some of these had samples of the splendid furnishings and pictures and eclectic collections of stuff which various donors had given them.

Just a few of the houses have taken new lives such as bookshops, cafes and galleries. A particularly interesting example is the Spanish Cultural Centre. Behind the original façade, now completely painted over, lies a massive and radical reworking of a big house to open up the interior to form several floors of exhibition spaces, multimedia centre, library and of course the obligatory café.

We finally made a visit onto the roof terrace of our hostel and we were very surprised. Firstly to find a large shed type building on the roof which is obviously where the girl who works in the hostel lives. We had seen her going up some stairs near our room but didn’t realise that these steps went up to a living space on the roof! The second surprise was to find a two level terrace with a lookout platform built over the shed!

The Uruguayans seem to keep even later hours than the Argentines. There’s usually a flurry of people coming out to eat after 11 at night and into the early hours. Lots of bars still seem really quiet this late but show no sign of closing so we assume that there is an even later crowd that comes out. We were returning home in the early hours one evening and went past a little bar near us that was just taking the shutters off and opening. We visited a café near the Theatre Solis for a small jazz gig on our final night. The details said 10 o’clock so we arrived then to a fairly empty bar. The band didn’t start until gone 11, when more people were arriving.

We have therefore not been early risers but on our final day we were up early and out and about. Unfortunately, nobody else was and nothing was open yet. We decided to have a coffee but couldn’t find a café open, even the ice cream shops were closed! So we had a last look around the town including some markets and shops we hadn’t visited properly before. Finally, however, places opened and we visited the Carnival Museum before taking a cab to Tres Cruces bus station to take the bus to our next stop, Salto.
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grindrodkaz on

hey, I always wanted to go to montevideo when we were in BA - but we never had the time, so feel like I ave been there with you now ... don't worry its raining as bad at home .... just think allthe rain will make Iguazu Falls even more specatcular with all that water

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