Montevideo - May 3-6
May 6, 2010
|May 3, 2010
Thankfully today wasn’t one of those stupid early flight days and we got up at a normal hour, had breakfast, packed up and checked out before getting a taxi to the airport. We had just a 90 minute flight to Aeroparque, the mostly national airport in Buenos Aires and then another of those enjoyable long waits. This one was only about 7 hours so would be a breeze compared to those we’ve had recently and some we have coming up at the end of this week, too!
Montevideo is our last destination in South America (for now!) and we have just 4 nights there before a monumental set of flights which goes from Montevideo to Santiago to Auckland to Sydney to Honolulu and includes a 10 hour stopover in Santiago and 12 hours in Sydney! If nothing else, it will really test how much Elizabeth and I can argue in a 48 hour period with not much sleep! I’ve already christened it Flightmare!
Argentina has been fun despite the frustrations of Buenos Aires’ museums and the new-found tackiness of Iguazu Falls. There is a lot of stuff to see and do in this huge country and I definitely think it will be on our itinerary if we come back but it will be more of the southern part of the country rather than coming back to Iguazu or loitering around the big city again!
The flight to Montevideo is only about 30 minutes so it hardly seemed worth the 7 hour wait but at least we had time for some food at the nice airport at Buenos Aires. I feel like an expert on airport food. We arrived quite late in Montevideo and when we collected our bags we found they had been opened. We were not very happy with this as it was obvious they had taken no care in rifling through our bags. We have a first aid kit which was left open with the contents everywhere, including things like bandages and plasters. We complained to the airport and airline staff and they understood our feelings and we pointed out to them that our bags should not be searched without us being present. We only noticed at first our bags had been searched as they had not been strapped up properly. There was no sign of notification of a search – at least the TSA in the US leaves a note to say your bag was randomly selected for a search. As much of a concern here, rightly or wrongly, was that we lacked trust in the baggage handlers and the like and were conscious of carrying bags through customs which had in our minds been tampered with. When you check in, they ask if you packed your own bags and you of course answer yes. I’m not sure I’d have been happy just walking through customs without having registered our complaint first. Fortunately we had no problems but I felt comfort in the fact we had reported it first.
Outside we tried to get a taxi but the taxi stand miraculously didn’t have the cheaper mini-bus option available (about $10 each) but were gracious in offering us the more expensive private car option which was a whopping $50! They also lied when we asked about a cheaper option telling us there was no other option and no buses running. At the tourist info desk we asked and the really helpful lady (the same one who had helped translate our baggage problems) gave us details for getting a bus into the central terminal and then a short taxi ride from there. This was obviously not as easy as a direct taxi but considering it cost us under $10 in total we weren’t complaining. The bus ride took about 30 minutes and dropped us right next to a taxi stand. In no time we were at the Palacio Hotel.
We checked straight in and went to our room. The lady didn’t speak any English at all which was fine as it forces us to try and understand more. Thankfully, the word passport is quite noticeable in Spanish, too and she didn’t try and say much more to us!
May 4, 2010
We weren’t in a rush to get out this morning as we didn’t have a whole lot we wanted to see here. Many of the museums might have sounded better had we not already seen so much similar stuff in Santiago, Lima and Buenos Aires, particularly the pre-Colombian artifacts which seemed exactly the same everywhere. We have both also suffered in South America from a variety of ailments which seem to be attributable to the rooms and hotels we’re staying in. Except for the obvious altitude sickness we suffered in Cusco, we have both spent a lot of time sneezing, coughing and with watery, sore eyes in much of South America and here was no different. Whether it is the damp, mouldy old buildings or dusty rooms and bedding, something is irritating our senses and it seemed here and Buenos Aires were definitely the worst. Elizabeth certainly got it worse than me too and her eyes were really causing her problems and neither of us slept very well.
We started off in the main square right near our hotel, called Plaza Independencia and the mausoleum here to one of the old generals. Unlike Lenin and Mao, the body was not on display but they graciously displayed his ashes in a room which timelined his life on the walls. It was really well done and not at all like the freak show factor involved in some. This was probably how Lenin would’ve rather been displayed, too!
From there we wandered around some of the nearby shops and decided to pop into the Torres Garcia museum. This wasn’t on our list but it looked quite cool and it was free. Garcia is known for his simple yet striking paintings using just primary colours. The exhibit showed how his works advanced from his early life and more classical works to the later works he is more known for. One particular picture really jumped out and the bright colours made it stand out from the rest of the room. We’d seen some of his works in the museums in Buenos Aires but it was more interesting here to see his progression. They had another display here which contained ceramic and pottery works from a local woman. Some of them were really interesting seeing how she had blended the colours in the ceramics with one particular spherical vase looking like the earth with a volcano having blown a hole in the top.
From there we walked to the Mercado del Puerta, which is a large market area by the port where a load of restaurants have gathered. Here we had lunch at a café called Roldos where we had sandwiches and fries accompanied by their speciality - Medio y medio. This is a mix of sparkling white wine and a normal sweeter white wine. It was really refreshing actually and given how little we had to do we managed to go through two bottles of it!
Needless to say after a lunchtime drinking session and a bit of a restless night, we ended up wandering back to the hotel and having our afternoon siesta, sleeping just long enough to get hungry again!
For dinner we headed to Don Peperone, a lovely Italian restaurant near to our hotel. There we both had homemade pastas with excellent sauces, although Elizabeth did get the wrong sauce to start with and it was really fishy – something she hates! The really helpful and friendly staff quickly rectified the problem and at the very least we enjoying good food and drink in Montevideo even if the museums had little to offer.
May 5, 2010
Given our long afternoon nap yesterday, we both ended up staying up quite late last night. We were certainly grateful to the TV in our room and the handful of English language channels at least showed films which were marginally watchable! So having had a late night we also had a long lie in and again neither of us felt great when we did finally awake. We decided to make our first stop a coffee stop and I got some caffeine inside me!
We then walked through the main square and along one of the main shopping areas. This was also where the first museum stop of the day was and this was the Museo del Gaucho y de la Moneda. As well as some funny exhibits showing items used by the cowboy-like gauchos and an interesting collection of money throughout the country’s history, there was also an art exhibit by Norman Bottrill, a local artist. His paintings were quite weird and showed many examples of humans almost with their skins peeling away, almost seemingly being blown off their bodies. It was also interesting how he never drew the eyes completely, leaving them blank and without pupils. I had never heard of him before but it was a great exhibit. The museum was also housed in a really cool, old building with high ceilings and highly decorative staircases.
After that we found an indoor art market called Mercado de los Artesanos. The handicrafts here were all much better quality than we’d seen elsewhere and they market was really well setup. You picked what you wanted, got a slip from the seller and took it to the cashier where you paid and had your goods wrapped and bought to you. Sometimes this is the cue for a scam whereby the goods wrapped aren’t what you expected but thankfully I had Elizabeth and her mis-trust checking out our purchases! We ended up buying a cool hand-painted magnet and a shot glass here – we didn’t want to go over the top on souvenirs seeing as we weren’t spending very long in Uruguay although we could quite easily have bought much more! We picked up a couple of postcards while we were out, too. We have continued to send postcards to our parents from every destination we have been to and sometimes this has been difficult when we haven’t had very long in a destination. Some of the countries haven’t made it easy to buy stamps or even post the postcards but South America seems pretty good in that there are post offices or post boxes at most airports so we can post them as we leave!
For lunch we found a nice little café offering a set menu which included a main meal, bread, a drink, dessert and a tea or coffee. The choice for main meals was either “wok vegetables” or “pastel de carne”, meaning meat pie. Elizabeth went for the stir fry and I opted for the pie. Mine turned out to be an excellent shepherd’s pie and Elizabeth’s veggies were really tasty too. Set menus are definitely the way to go in South America! Dessert was a crepe filled with dulce de leche, which is caramelized evaporated milk. It is really nice but very sweet and sickly and half way through my crepe I was struggling to finish it!
We were stuffed by the time we finished but unfortunately both starting to feel crappy again. Elizabeth’s allergic reactions to South America had turned into more of a cold so we stopped at a pharmacy and used pointing at noses and making sneezing noises to tell the pharmacist we wanted cold medicine!
We didn’t want to go back to the hotel and feel sorry for ourselves as we feared the hotel was part of the problem. We stopped at a couple of museums, the first being the Centro Municipal de Fotografia. It sounded quite good in the guidebook and what they had was indeed good. The museum was free but it was just one small room and around the walls there were about 15 pictures showing the last few months in the life of a man. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer and the photographer took pictures of him as he fought his battle against it. Four months later and the man had died. It was really sad seeing the way the pictures progressed and seeing some pictures brought back memories of my own grandfather who had died of similar. I am often a little torn when I see displays like this as to whether it is something I really want to see and whether it is something I could do myself. I would like to think that these kind of exhibits help highlight issues and illnesses rather than being merely voyeuristic.
The next stop was the Museo de la Historia del Arte. The Uruguayans like to use acronyms for all their museums and this one being called MuHAr was somewhat amusing to me! Anyway, inside we found a full range of historic art with barely a single original to be seen. It was really funny though walking around and seeing where the real copies actually were and working out how many we’d seen or would be going to see during our trip. There seemed to be hundreds of copies from the Louvre and the British Museum (Venus de Milo, Elgin Marbles, that kind of stuff) as well as items from the Berlin Museum, Athens and Florence – all places we are due to visit later this summer. As we walked around we noticed groups of schoolchildren being taken around and shown things and it made us both feel quite humble that we were privileged enough to have seen so many of these items in these far flung places while many people will only ever see copies. I think having travelled for so long we sometimes take certain things for granted but we both agreed how lucky we are.
In the evening we again had dinner locally to the hotel, stopping at a place called Café Bacacay which had a large window on one side which overlooked the wonderful Teatro Solis, the recently renovated national theatre. Having had a big lunch we settled on something a bit lighter although my sandwich was huge and Elizabeth’s onion soup came complete with about half a pound of cheese on top! We splashed out a little and shared some tapas-style patatas bravas as well. I also tried one of the local beers, called Patricia. It was pretty drinkable but I wouldn’t be rushing around searching for it in the future given other options!
May 6, 2010
We woke up today with little planned and feeling pretty bad. We decided to just hang out in our room and watch TV and see how we felt later. We opened the doors out to the balcony to let as much fresh air in as possible and we both felt a little better as a result.
We had lunch at a little nearby café, foregoing the tasty looking set menu for a more restrained sandwich! We followed this by more rest and relaxation in the room before heading out to Café Bacacay again for some dinner. We again had sandwiches and more patatas bravas, deciding that we’d probably have fries once or twice in the course of our two days of upcoming Flightmare!
Montevideo seems like a nice city but in reality it is just a smaller version of Buenos Aires and a little bit rougher around the edges. Had we started here we may have had a different feel for the place and had we felt better I’m sure we’d have ventured out more, too. It’s probably a little unfair to judge too much but it was a good place for a short visit.