Firstly, two fun facts about Montevideo:
- It is the ‘true’ home of tango. Apparently, the dance originated there, but then got co-opted by the city’s bigger neighbour of Buenos Aires (a short ferry ride away).
- Montevideo is also home to ‘the best beaches in Buenos Aires’. Given the proximity, this is supposedly where are the Argentine city folk come to relax in the sun.
We didn’t know these facts until arriving to the city and in fact our visit wasn’t really planned, but came about due to logistics. Essentially we needed to get from Guayaquil to Rio de Janeiro. Sure, one could pay for a direct flight between the two cities, however to do so, one should win the lottery first, as it’s quite expensive. Instead it was much cheaper to do the following:
Fly from Guayaquil to Lima, have a 5-hour layover and then fly to Santiago, Chile. Stay overnight at an airport hotel (no time to explore, not least because it took us 2.5 hours to get through customs – seriously Chile, do you want people to visit?!). Then depart the next morning for Montevideo to leave the following morning from Montevideo to Rio. Seriously, all that was much cheaper than flying direct and thus is left us with 20 hours to explore in Montevideo – score! A new country to visit as well!
Now, in all actuality, we didn’t have 20 hours to explore, since that was the time between flights (so not counting getting through customs and the time needed at the airport prior to leaving). It also didn’t count sleep – and we’re too old now to travel without that.
So in reality, we had about 7 hours to explore the city. Beforehand, we had spoken to a few people who had been to the city and they assured us that this would probably be enough, so long as we weren’t going to the beach.
Thus, we had big plans to hit Montevideo – first we would go to the famous Mercado (market) and see the lively atmosphere, then walk around the old town, visit the museum dedicated to the plane crash immortalised in the movie ‘Alive’ (they were Uruguayans), stroll along Las Ramblas (the walkway along the beach), catch dinner and then maybe see some tango. Tight, but doable.
So, we started out as proposed – we went to the Mercado and it was indeed lively – it helped that it was Saturday afternoon. We should explain, that this is not quite a market in the traditional sense.
It sells food as you would expect, but it’s also a place where people hang out, eat, and more importantly, drink. So, yeah, by the time we got there around 3pm, it was already a pretty big piss-up. There were tons of people and plenty of lively music.
As we walked around the market (and in fact when we were about to leave), we met a group of Uruguayan guys who wanted to have a drink with us. They were friendly, two had previously lived in Scotland, so could speak English well, and therefore why not, let’s have a cheeky little beer. Thing is, the beers weren’t little – they were large.
One drink led to more provided by our new friends and before we knew it, we were closing the Mercado down (to be fair it closes at 6pm).
Realising that we hadn’t seen anything else of the city, we left (with a bunch of new Facebook friends) and explored the old town (fortunately it’s not that big).
After walking around a bit, we realised a few things – we no longer had time for the Alive museum, but more importantly we were a bit drunk and starving.
So, we decided to move up dinner. Yet the problem is, in Uruguay, they eat dinner really late. Our guidebook stated that if you get to dinner for 9pm, you’ll still probably be the only one there. Most restaurants are closed between 4 to 8 or 8:30pm. But, lo and behold, we came across a cute little café advertising quiches, homemade soups and interesting daily specials. Relieved, we settled in and began to salivate at the menu. However, we were there during their ‘high tea’ time and thus, despite the great daily chicken special that Erwan was hoping for, we got to choose what type of scones, cakes and mini sandwiches we wanted for our tea. More sweet than savoury for what we would prefer as a dinner, but we went for it. . .
After finishing with one of the richest chocolate cakes that Jen has ever had, we went back to the hotel, sugar drunk and still buzzing from the beer. Considering we had little sleep the night before (seriously Chile, 2.5 hours for customs?!), we had an early night.
Thus, our time in Montevideo was characterised by beer and cake. No Alive museum, no stroll along Las Ramblas, yet we did see one couple dancing tango outside the Mercado, so we’re going to count that. . .
I guess we now need to come back to spend some ‘proper’ time in the city, particularly as we need to go to this place, where “good shit happens”. See ya next time Uruguay!