Uruguay Weekend Getaway

Trip Start Aug 26, 2009
Trip End Aug 26, 2010

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Where I stayed
Balmoral Plaza Hotel, Montevideo

Flag of Uruguay  , Colonia Department,
Sunday, November 8, 2009

It sounds very exotic, or European at least, to say that I left Buenos Aires for the weekend and just popped over to Uruguay...

Itīs very close though, just an hour across the river on the ferry and youīre in Colonia. Thatīs the same as going to Manly and back from the City!! Admittedly this ferry was a bit faster than the Manly ferry, but you can see Buenos Aires from some parts of Colonia so its pretty close. Itīs a favoured weekend destination for the people of BA because the water is very clean, shallow and the beaches are beautiful. Itīs strange to think of a river having a beach but I can confirm they were very nice, white sand beaches.  

I donīt really have a lot to say about the weekend, or much of a story. I was incredibly tired for no particularly good reason, and so I spent the weekend just wandering around looking at īthingsī, at nothing in particular... I did a couple of city tours which helped me to cover all the important and main sights, and tried some more beef in a couple of nice little cafes. 

Colonia is a very small town, maybe of 20-30 thousand people, however its very unique and therefore quite interesting. It was the first town founded in Uruguay, by the Portuguese I think (I was tired so the details are a little sketchy...), however the Spanish and Portuguese fought over control for the city for over 100years because of its location directly opposite from Buenos Aires. Because of this there is a mixture of development and architectural styles throughout the old town of Portuguese and Spanish - 2 town squares, spanish colonial and portuguese colonial styled houses sit side by side, a Spanish colonial church with Portuguese style artefacts inside... even a traditional old Spanish street nearby to a traditional Portuguese street (who built their streets sloped to the middle for centre drainage). The town is heritage listed so there are a lot of buildings in tact and well preserved, even the trees add to the beauty, all the streets are lined with sycamores that they arenīt allowed to chop, ever, and being spring everything is bright and fresh. Itīs a delightfully charming town...

After I had climbed the old town wall, the lighthouse, visited a museum and a church I headed across town to visit the beach and just wandered there for awhile. Nearby is the newer area of town and the old ītourist parkī. There was this guy at the turn of the century who decided to build an entertainment district, including a bull-fighting arena and a casino. As entreprenurial as his thinking was it didnīt work out for him unfortunately; bull-fighting for example was banned 2 years after his stadium was built, and they introduced taxes on gambling. The buildings are still there though and at least now serve as something interesting for tourists to look at.

Late that evening I caught a bus to Montevideo, it was about 2 1/2 hours away. Monetevideo was also nice but is a lot more modern than Colonia and many of its historic buildings no longer exist. My favourite part was really the obsession people had with their mate (pronounced ma-té)which I found quite humurous. Mate is a type of tea, you put all these herbs in a cup and then add a bit of hot water and suck the water through a metallic straw with a filter on the end. Its a traditional custom in Argentina, Uruguay and some parts of Brazil, and normally you would serve mate from one cup to all your family and friends, passing the cup and adding more water for each person. The bit I found humurous was that people seem to be absolutely attached to their mate - they carry their thermos and cup everywhere. I saw people on their way to work, on the bus, even going out at night with their thermos under their arm... Iīve seen people drinking mate in Buenos Aires but its mostly in the mornings and you donīt really see people walking around with their thermosī... :)

Oh, and the other thing I found some sort of humour in: the current president, who may or may not still be the president in a few weeks because of elections, was a doctor in his previous profession and during his first term has outlawed smoking in public. I find this funny because in Argentina its unusual if you donīt smoke. Everyone does it, on the streets, in cafes, everywhere (Iīm not sure if they know its bad for you yet). I imagine Uruguay would have been exactly the same a couple of years ago and I can imagine the outrage when this happened...

I stayed an extra night in Montevideo and flew back to Buenos Aires the next morning for another week and a bit of exploring the city. Maybe a bit more Spanish too.

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