Mixed Review of the Sixth Hill to the West

Trip Start Apr 15, 2009
Trip End Jun 17, 2009

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Flag of Uruguay  ,
Friday, May 22, 2009

Since we began planning this trip, we have received mixed reports on Montevideo from people who have visited the city. Most of the reports were negative, but a few people were quite enthusiastic about the city.  After 2 nights and 1 day, our opinon (or at least mine) is that the reports were right - there are both negatives and positives.

Most of the city is quite run down and not attractive at all.  Like many American cities, it seems Montevideo's life has been desiccated by the suburbs. The main plaza, Plaza Independencia, is a very nice urban space.  Currently there is an exhibition of "peace bears" sponsored by the U.N.  Each bear represents one country and is painted by an artist of that country. 
A young woman from Berlin; cute, articulate even in English, and covered with tattoos, took pictures of us at several of the bears representing countries that we have visited.  She had been in Montevideo for a few months, but was leaving because she did not feel safe in the winter.

Surrounding the plaza are several important buildings, including the Teatro Solis (actually adjoining the square at one corner), the 5-star Hyatt Hotel, and an administrative building for the Uruguayan presidency.  The most interesting of these buildings is Palacio Salvo, the sister building to Palacio Barolo in Buenos Aires.  Unfortunately, the lighthouse has been removed from Palacio Salvo, and the building looks like it has a bad haircut. 

A few blocks away is the old port area.  Here, one of the old warehouses has been turned into the home of several restaurants and a few shops.  Each of the restaurants has a parilla for grilling meats.  Parillas (pa-ree-shas) are everywhere in both Argentina and Uruguay, and this photo is a typical view.  We enjoyed a nice lunch here, sharing an $11 steak that was all the meat the two of us could handle. 

We did not take photos to illustrate the decrepit nature of much of Montevideo, but the icon of the problem is surely the horse-drawn cart collecting trash along the city streets. 

On the other hand, Montevideo has some good features.  First, it has several miles of beautiful beaches along the Rio Plata.  We were told that the water is safe for swimming; a rare luxury for a national capital. 

The city also has a very extensive park system that is generally well-maintained.  These big parks provide well-landscaped open space and recreation for each of the main neighborhoods in the city.  The parks are often enhanced with beautiful sculpture, including these two examples.

Montevideo also has two very nice residential neighborhoods, Pocito and Carrasco.  Both of these neighborhoods were once beach resorts but have now been overtaken by the city.  High-rise buildings line the beaches, but behind these towers, the neighborhoods have some lovely homes and are quite low density, given their proximity to  the historic business center.  These neighborhoods seemed to offer a pleasant, un-crowded lifestyle totally divorced from the gray city center.

The city also has a free-trade zone that was described to us as a little piece of the US transplanted to Uruguay.  Here, many major U.S. corporations have their headquarters in state-of-the-art office buildings.   We did not see this zone, but we did see evidence of high-quality contemporary buildings in the headquarters of the Uruguayan telephone company.

Despite these good points, we were ready to put Montevideo behind us, and move east to Punta del Este.

Oh, yes; the title of this posting.  We were told that as the Spanish and Portuguese explored this area, they identified landmarks on their maps.  One of these landmarks was designated as the sixth hill from the ocean, i.e., from east to west.  Written in Spanish with Roman numerals, this was marked on the maps as Monte VI, de este  a oeste (Hill or Mountain 6, from east to west), and was abbreviated as Monte-VI-d-e-o, or Montevideo.  Another story about the naming of Montevideo is that the ship's lookout who first spotted this hill shouted out, "I see a hill," which in Spanish and Portuguese is something like "Monte veo."  So the mixed reports about Montevideo extend even to its name.

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