Monthly Archives: February 2012

Montevideo: Small City, Big Happenings

Tango music fills the streets in the Pocitos section of Montevideo

It’s a river so vast it resembles an ocean. And it sometimes behaves as such. Fed at times by the salty waters of the South Atlantic Ocean – depending on shifting currents – the La Plata is the widest river on Earth. From one shore to the next, there’s no sign of land. Just water all the way to the distant horizon. Add fine-grain white sands to its shores¬†and you have a beach.

MONTEVIDEO: Reflecting the old and the new

On the two sides of La Plata’s shores rise two great cities. One of them on the Argentina side – Buenos Aires – is known throughout the world as a desirable place to visit. The other, on the Uruguay side – Montevideo – one might say lies in the shadows of the much larger and better known Buenos Aires. Uruguayans acknowledge their capital city is not exactly the destination that is Buenos Aires. But they don’t seem to mind. They like Montevideo for what it is – small with easy access to just about everywhere – and full of laid back and very friendly people.

But to me, Montevideo is much more. Like Buenos Aires, it has some amazing classical architecture; good transit system – although no subway – great nightlife; worthy museums and historic sites to see; and all the great restaurants you will ever need. It also has something Buenos Aires does not have: beaches.

VEGANS LOOK AWAY!: Meat-eaters, you MUST have a chivito canadiense when you come to Montevideo: beef, ham, fried egg, lettuce, tomato, bacon, cheese, mayo, yum!

I fell in love with Montevideo. To me it’s a smaller version of Buenos Aires – sorry Uruguayans, I know you don’t like that comparison ūüôā – but with people who can’t wait to show a stranger genuine hospitality. So for me, ¬†Montevideo struck the ball out of the ballpark. I say to you, go ahead and visit Buenos Aires. That is an absolute must. You would be a fool not to. You will find much to enjoy. But do not overlook Montevideo. Hop on the BuqueBus – the very comfortable ferry – and go across the La Plata to Montevideo. The crossing is three quick ¬†hours, as the ferry has food, drinks, televisions, wi-fi, and much more to keep you busy during the crossing. Or you can just sleep :).

The BuqueBus also travels between Buenos Aires and¬†Colonia, Uruguay. Spend a day or two in this beautiful, historic city, then take a bus – again with free wi-fi – to Montevideo. That’s what I did. And when I got to Montevideo, intending to spend just a couple of days, I stayed for weeks!

The BuqueBus: Ferry crossing the La Plata River, the world's widest river, from Buenos Aires (in the background) to Colonia, Uruguay. That's the Uruguayan flag fluttering in the wind.

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Buenos Aires: A City Of Contradictions

Mixed Messages: Old meets the new

So what’s it been? About a month? For me, that’s a long time in one place. I didn’t plan to stay this long in Buenos Aires, but that’s the way it goes in the world of no-hurries, no-worries travel. I get to any given place, remove my hat, wipe the sweat from my brow, look around, survey, take stock, ¬†go!

I should have been gone for weeks from Buenos Aires. Instead, I stuck around, looking for something more, something extra or extraordinary out of the place. I’m not always sure just what that one thing more might be. That’s Buenos Aires. You get a sense that you’ve had enough of the place, but you stay one more day, and another for something you fear you may have missed or could miss or absolutely don’t want to miss.

On the "A Line" old wooden trains from a bygone era are still in use

Look at me, talking about “you”. That “you” is of course me. There is something about Buenos Aires that I simply ¬†have found mysterious. In one month, just when I think I have my finger on ¬†South America’s second largest city, it’s a faint beat. Is Buenos Aires dead to me or to die for, I ask. I want more, I want to hear more, experience more, and the more I do and see, the more I want to do and see. So I stick around. ¬†It’s hard to leave.

And what have I learned about Buenos Aires?

I’ve already written about the peopleof Buenos Aires. That still stands. I’m not going to rehash that. I’m all about the place this go round. And what I’ve seen is a great city. Truly one of the best. Striking architecture. Imposing. A mix of styles and eras. I love the buildings in Buenos Aires.

Unusual Sight: A deserted subway. This almost never ever happens in the second largest city in South America

If you come to Buenos Aires, look up! You will see buildings straight out of Europe. There is good reason Buenos Aires is labeled “the most European city in South America.” Hands down, it is! Walk the city – it’s easy to do, but while you are casually strolling looking up, every so often glance down – the sidewalks are unfortunately a minefield of dog poo.

I could live in Buenos Aires. That’s a huge endorsement, people! But I don’t think I could do it forever. Some cities I know I could spend a lifetime there. Buenos Aires is not one of them. I don’t exactly know why, I just know. Like every large city, there are good things and there are bad things about the city. I believe the good outweigh the bad, but the bad – for me the lack of diversity, for instance – is a biggie. I am currently in the city next door – Montevideo, Uruguay– much smaller than Buenos Aires, but far more diversity of people. You see a spectrum of people and that makes Montevideo a warmer, more inviting place.

Evita's final resting place, in the Recoleta Cemetery, a tourist mecca!

That is of course my opinion. For others, the fact that they can go all day without seeing a black person is just fine, even welcomed. I think Montevideo is a richer place because of its diversity. And it’s just across the La Plata River, the widest river in the world. It took three hours to cross the river by ferry and every time I look at the river it feels more like an ocean. You cannot see the other side from one shore to another. Amazing.

Anyway, the bottom line about Buenos Aires is that it’s a world-class city with Third World oddities. You will still see horse and buggies driven by men who go around the city rummaging through trash to find cardboard and other recyclable. On the subway trains and buses, peddlers peddling everything from bootlegged movies to chewing gum; and people riding outside overcrowded trains, hanging on for dear life! And yet, you can spend a night at the opera in one of the finest theaters in the world. Spend time in some of the most beautiful parks. Dine at a myriad of super fancy restaurants. In short, Buenos Aires is a city of contradictions.

So come to Buenos Aires and spend a little while. You might find it hard to tear yourself away. I did.

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