Montevideo: Seaside Living
Uruguay isn’t a place we previously gave much thought. For no particular reason other than we naively didn’t know much about it.
She described it with an idealistic, dreamy tone in her voice. However, in words, she simply stated that it’s like a more laid back Buenos Aires. We were intrigued.
With no plans of onward travel, the deciding factor for us was that it was a quick and easy ferry ride away. Buenos Aires to Montevideo is only a two hour trip.
However, we didn’t realize that after a mere hour into the ferry ride, we were already in Uruguay. Will and I sat on the ship idly while everyone disembarked. With no further instruction, we blindly followed, getting on a bus for another hour.
Montevideo was nothing like we expected. But then again, we really had no idea what to expect.
Nearly half of Uruguay’s population resides in the capitol.
It’s the economic and cultural epicenter.
The most iconic aspect of the city is La Rambla, spanning about ten miles along the ocean. It connects nearly all parts of the city from the residential neighborhoods to the busier old town.
Locals are quite active on La Rambla, jogging, chatting, or simply walking with their mate in hand.
Perhaps what surprised us most is how European it felt. Every aspect of the city. The tree lined streets, the preserved colonial architecture for the 18th and early 19th century. The overall lifestyle.
Walking down La Rambla, there was plenty of entertainment. Organized sports were popular, particularly cricket on the weekends.
Or folks stirring a massive pot, dishing out a paella-like dish. It was clear La Rambla was a central gathering point.
However, the undeniable European feel is largely due to the influx of immigrants in the early 20th century, mostly from Spain and Italy. In fact, by the turn of the century, roughly 30 percent of the city’s population was foreign born.
One of the most significant comparisons to European life were the prices of goods. That first night, Will and I were absolutely shocked at how much a meal in a restaurant cost. It truly felt like we were transported back to Europe!
As such, we did a ton of grocery shopping and dining in. Food in grocery stores demonstrated that Uruguay is rooted in Italian tradition: pizza., gnocchi, milanese everything.
When we did grab lunch out, we found that so many of the eateries had that European influence as well. One we particularly enjoyed was the Pide House, specializing in the popular Turkish flatbread.
Yet similar to Buenos Aires, the ice cream reigns supreme. Fortunately, there were some Freddo outposts, a quality helado shop.
When I think of our time in Montevideo, I think of how we really created a home. We rented a loft studio apartment for ten nights right on Pocitos beach. The apartment building was formerly Hotel Rambla, a summer hotel in the 1930s.
Although Pocitos was more residential in many ways, we deeply enjoyed living there.
The old fashioned elevator monitors quickly learned our floor, as we shared daily exchanges with facial expressions and hand gestures. It’s remarkable how quickly it all felt so familiar, so comfortable, Plus, we had a stellar view of the sea.
And if we were up early enough, we were able to catch an incredible sunrise.
For us, stepping outside directly onto La Rambla was a real treat.
Will would go for a run, sometimes test out some of the exercise apparatuses.
While I would spend hours, days even, exploring the many, many markets.
It’s unclear if we’ve been to a country this year that has been so market rich.
Any day, any time, there was a full blown, bustling market. And thus, I felt a strong connection with Montevideo.
And they were selling everything. Fruits and vegetables of course, but also fresh fish, cheeses, hand packaged cereals and spices.
Street markets are a way of life in Montevideo. Pretty much anything you can imagine wanting, is being sold. Plants, instruments, home goods, clothes, artisan crafts.
Most notably, every Sunday, the Feria de Tristán Narvaja street market takes place in the Cordón district. It’s the largest and most poplar market in the country, with everything from homemade baked goods to antiques.
It was these ever-present markets that reminded me we were indeed not in Europe.
There were of course other daily reminders, such as Uruguayans love of all things asado, and all meat related food items for that matter.
It wasn’t only markets, either. There were tons of festivals! I’ve long had a deep appreciation of all things market and festivals. Will has been incredibly patient with me this year.
We came across a music festival, with a live tango show near the historic quarter.
It was wonderful. There was a live band and any couple could step in when they felt inspired.
Will and I spent most of our days walking in both directions on La Rambla, amazed by how quickly the neighborhoods changed. Nearby, there was the industrial port.
The historic downtown and business district, however, is full of art deco and neoclassical architecture. This was exemplified in the largest plaza, Plaza Independencia. The central building is part gothic, part art deco and was the continent's tallest building when it was unveiled in 1928.
It’s a strange juxtaposition, with older, dated skyscrapers mixed alongside.
Montevideo is financial and political heart of the country. Since the 1990s the city has undergone rapid economic development and modernization.
Southeast of the city, are the Punta Carretas and Pocitos neighborhoods, which felt more like Southern California to us.
We also spent a significant amount of our time at Parque Prado, located in the northern part of the city in the Prado neighborhood.
Established in 1873, it’s the largest of the six main parks in Montevideo.
We’d read, play cards, walk around one of the inevitable festivals being set up or torn down.
We’d grab a snack from one of the array of vendors.
We learned that like in Argentina, Uruguayans adore their sweets.
There were other similarities to Argentina as well. To many, Uruguay is considered a mini Argentina.
The most obvious commonality: The presence of dulce de leche and mate. It’s nearly impossible to escape both. However, the mate was particularly striking. Everyone had it. The kids, the elderly, folks walking their dogs, working out. Juggling one mate cup with a hot water thermos.
Montevideo was our first stop in a while that really felt like home, likely because we were able to create a daily routine. On one of my walks I came across a slice of heaven. Devoto. It walked in and the floors were white. Polished. There were clean, designated aisles. I’m not exaggerating when I say they were playing “What a Wonderful World.” I pursued each aisle for an embarrassingly long time.
We were also in town for Halloween. We were unsure if locals would celebrate, but it appeared some kids dressed up and went trick or treating in stores. We personally celebrated with a couple Kit Kats, an underrated candy, we believe.
Montevideo is an eclectic place with a rich cultural life. We found that it’s so much more than a nation in Buenos Aires’ shadow. Uruguay has a strong and stable economic system, with a well-run democracy. It truly is a joy to be there.
Montevideo was the break we yearned for, before our last, real backpacking adventure.