Uruguay is a very special place - calm, quiet and completely unpretentious. It's not a significant player on the world's political arena, it's a very small economy - only 3,5 million people live here. It's largely overlooked. And that's what gives it its charm.
Escapism has become somewhat of the year's theme for me, and Uruguay is the ultimate place to escape to. You really feel disconnected and distant from the world at large, but not in an isolating way. In a cozy, hidden-gem kinda way.
The city of Montevideo is stretched along the River Plate (Río de la Plata), which separates Uruguay and Argentina - la rambla, a spacious and largely empty coastal promenade, continues unbroken for 25 kilometres.
Walking along the river, the noise of the waves is deafening. Montevideo is, without a doubt, the windiest city I have ever experienced. Although, as I later found out, November is actually the month with the most wind, the rest of the year being not so bad.
The Old Town (Ciudad Vieja), starting with the port and finishing with the remains of the old wall at Plaza Independecia, is the heart of the city, the main point of attraction for visitors and an overall a very charming and pleasant neighbourhood. It has that warm, slightly shabby feel that old areas like this often have - the paint peeling off the walls, stone-paved streets, tall ceilings, tiny shops and a great variety of street art all give it a cozy, lived-in feel.
Right by the Independence square you find Teatro Solis, the cultural centre of the the city. The theatre was conceived in 1840, shortly after Uruguay achieved independence, and the current building was inaugurated in 1852. It has undergone renovations and re-opened to the public in 2004. The theatre is supported by the government and a charity foundation in order to keep performances accessible - tickets for any show rarely cost more than 500 pesos (approx. $18). Guided tours are given every day in three languages (English, Spanish and Portuguese), and they're free on Wednesdays.
I always like visiting old cemeteries in different countries (Highgate in London is so far my favourite), and there happens to be two cemeteries in Montevideo, located side by side in the neighbourhood of Buceo. The outer side of the cemetery walls makes a great canvas for local street artists.
On the Streets
One thing that lends the city a unique feel and atmosphere is the emptyness. Oh, it still feels distinctly like a capital, but after walking its streets for a couple of days you start to realise just how sparsely populated it truly is. Peatonal Sarandi may be somewhat crowded, but step off it on an adjacent street and there's barely a person in sight. The 'busy' business neighbourhoods with tall glass buildings and people walking around cover 2-3 blocks at the most. Joggers and cyclists on the rambla are few and far between. The windy beaches are mostly deserted. I'm sure it becomes a bit more lively as the season goes on, especially during Carnaval days, but for the most part you have the place pretty much to yourself. And it's magnificent.
Join me next week for a look at Colonia del Sacramento, one of the oldest towns in Uruguay and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.