Finally getting Kevin’s computer back after a month without it (shipping back and forth to other continents is no joke) turned Montevideo into more of a working stop that it was planned to be. Most of our days were spent around the house/neighborhood enjoying the quiet parts of the area. When we went out, we spent most of our time on La Rambla and walking around the city rather than checking out museums or big events.
My favorite part of the city is definitely the Rambla along the waterfront. The wide boardwalk connects beaches, restaurants, and parks along 14+ miles and basically serves as the city’s living room. People hang out, fish, drink A LOT of mate, roller skate, read, walk their dogs, picnic, watch the sunset. Across the road from Playa Ramirez is Parque Rodó, with carnival rides and churros, and (naturally, because they are some type of plague on the planet) a McDonald’s. The last week we were in town marathon training was in full swing for the upcoming event itself. Its close proximity to our apartment let us enjoy it for a while almost every day.
The rest of Montevideo feels equally relaxed. Though it is the capital, largest city, business center, and main port of Uruguay, a big part of the attraction to it is being able to relax, shop, and eat good food. The stress level here feels lower than anywhere else we’ve visited, or lived for that matter.
We didn’t even need to head to museums to enjoy local art. There are murals throughout the city and sometimes even hidden in residential neighborhoods. It competes for the best street art we’ve seen anywhere. There is a lot of graffiti as well, and that does sometimes detract from the surroundings.
Montevideo is a city of pop-up markets. We discovered one on Calle Salto, a ten minute walk from our house, that magically appears on Saturday mornings. Its main focus is on food. Trailers that resemble Airstreams let down their sides to reveal fish, meat, and cheese shops; veggie and fruit stands set up under tents; a few blocks at the end are for rummage-sale type tables of clothes and repainted furniture. Unlike farmer’s markets in Seattle, the food here tends to be cheaper than in the regular grocery stores, with a much fresher selection. The best part might have been the Venezuelan empanada stand – the carne machada and carne picada empanadas were fabulous and freshly fried.
On Sundays, the side of Parque Rodó furthest from the beach has a fashion market – it was strange being there in April and seeing the winter clothes get front billing because summer was ending. This one was smaller but just as crowded with shoppers.
On Sundays, the city’s largest market sets up in Centro. It takes over dozens of streets and their sidewalks. The main ‘entry’ is full of puppies for sale; to the left is an area where it’s possible to purchase everything you need for a master aquarium setup and the fish to go in it. Antiques, records, books, tools, food, spices, mate cups and bombillas, flowers, art, lamps, furniture. Some stands seem to be just an agglomeration of whatever people found in their grandmother’s attic, others are much more curated and specific. Where prices on new items are listed, they seem to be similar no matter which booth we visited. If they aren’t, bargain at will! Thousands of people wander through with their mates in hand looking for things they didn’t know they needed.
While it was rare to find English books at the street markets, some of the larger bookstores have English-language selections. War and Peace, it’s on! Like Buenos Aires, people love to read and bookshops are scattered throughout the city. Libreria Más Puro Verso in the Ciudad Vieja is the prettiest I’ve seen here. Two stories of books in a lobby with stained glass at the center of a curving staircase makes for good photographs and good browsing, especially with a cafe on the second floor near the windows so readers can choose between books and people watching.
I think of all the cities we’ve visited in the past year+ of travel, the older neighborhoods here are among the most pleasant. Outside of the more cramped-feeling Ciudad Vieja (which built within in the limits of now-vanished city walls), the streets are wide, and tree-lined. Many neighborhoods have colorfully-painted older homes with beautiful wrought-iron bars and balconies. Coupled with the general flatness of the area, it makes the city seem Midwestern, especially now that it is autumn and the leaves are turning and falling. It is almost a daily occurrence to see people grilling over open wood fires in the street, with the whole neighborhood smelling like steak and chorizos.
Montevideo has a reputation as being the safest large city in South America. I don’t really doubt that this is true given all the stories of phone/purse/jewelry snatching we heard in Buenos Aires and the number of people both there and in Santiago that warned us of that possibility. So its mildly ironic that it was here that someone tried to snatch my purse. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t assess the situation all that well. It started as a fairly traditional scam that we’ve run into before: one person asked the time with the hope that we would pull out a cell phone and another guy could grab it and run. Instead, we simply said we didn’t know. Normally that is the end of it, but this time they let us get part way down the block and then one of the men ran after us. He thought my purse would either come off my shoulder (except that I was wearing it across my body) or that the strap would break (it did not) because he was already turning around to flee as he was grabbing onto it. Kevin had a bag with a bottle with it, and, at seeing me being pulled to the ground, took a swing with it. This was the last straw for the snatcher, and he took back off up the street. Thankfully there were no weapons involved, or we would have had to had it over. All told, it went as well as possible, and I still have all my stuff and now a slightly ripped purse.
Despite this isolated incident, Montevideo is a lovely city, and that could have happened anywhere. (Probably better here than in the US where I’d have feared a gun being pulled out.) Being in the city during Semana Santa let us enjoy the relaxed vibe even more as locals packed up and headed to the beaches. The weather has been perfect and the food has been amazing (more about that next time.)