Last weekend we left Buenos Aires to visit Montevideo, Uruguay. While checking out Buenos Aires we read that Montevideo was a mini version of its much larger neighbor, complete with tango, great meat and wine, but free of the hustle and bustle of the big city. After having visited, we can confirm that it has all of these things, and it was particularly free of “hustle and bustle.” More to the point: it was empty.
Anna and I have traveled to other countries during the Christmas and New Year holidays for 7 of the past 8 years, so we are accustomed to stores and restaurants being closed, fewer people, empty streets on December 25 and January 1, and the like. But we have never seen anything like this. Practically everything in the Ciudad Viejo (old city) neighborhood of Montevideo was closed: pharmacies, kiosks, little shops, practically every restaurant, museums, churches (!), and more. There were no people walking around going about their days. There were no people on the busses. There were hardly any busses at all. It was impressive, in a “damn, why did we have to pick this weekend” sort of way. Still, we tried to have a good time and mostly succeeded.
Ferry to the Vacant City
Our trip started with a 2-hour ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo courtesy of Buquebus. This is how all international travel should be. The customs agents from Argentina and Buenos Aires tag-teamed our exit/entry stamps so we only had to wait in line for migration once. Brilliant! Right before we boarded, helpful crew members handed us little booties to wear over our feet. Strange! Picture a shower cap for your shoes. Or picture this:
The ferry itself was very nice, with an enormous duty-free shop selling anything you could want (hello Jameson and Goldfish), full snack bar, comfortable chairs and, in their version of business class (there weren’t any regular class tickets available when we booked), complimentary champagne. We also probably saw more people on the ferry than we did in our two days in Montevideo.
Montevideo: La Ciudad Cerrado (The Closed City)
Given our late arrival, all we could do the first night was check in and find a place to eat. Anna had researched some restaurant options and found a very nice Spanish-style tapas restaurant near our hotel so we wandered over. We walked down some dark empty streets, occasionally passing a drunk staggering around only to discover that the restaurant was closed. This would be a recurring theme. In any event, we ended up finding a great parrilla (basically an Argentinian meat restaurant) where we got quite possibly the best steak on our the trip so far.
The next morning, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise that we could see from our bed, which is definitely the best kind of spectacular sunrise. And we have a photo to prove it:
After going back to bed and sleeping in a little, we set out on a self-guided walking tour we found online: Montevideo Walking Tour. Good thing most of the walking tour was focused on parks, because nearly everything else was – you guessed it – closed. This included an allegedly beautiful church which closed before noon. On a Sunday.
Among the cool things we saw were:
A part of the old city’s wall seamlessly blended with a modern wall. Montevideo’s architecture places significant emphasis on blending old and new, and this wall was a prime example.
Striking street art.
Goofy cut outs perfect for regrettable photos.
And charming old folks tangoing in a plaza:
You will notice that all of these photos were taken outside.
A Meal So Nice They Wanted it Twice
That night, faced with the impossibility of determining which restaurants were open without sweating our way up and down deserted street after deserted street in the 90-degree heat, we decided to just go back to the previous evening’s restaurant because the food was excellent and they had cold MGD. Plus, should we change our minds, there was a cafe across the street from the restaurant that looked good so we had options. Except we didn’t, because BOTH of them were closed.
Frustrated, hot, and increasingly hungry, we just gave up and trudged back to the hotel for some room service pizza and store-bought (one was open!!!) libations. Only when we called for the pizza, we were told that they were, incredibly, out of pizza. Being newly accustomed to disappointment, we quickly changed gears and found other food on the menu and settled in for some cards and what turned out to be a very fun evening.
We happened to be in Montevideo on December 29, which would be insignificant except that apparently it is a tradition on the 29th of each month to make gnocchi. We learned that the tradition started as a way for resourceful housewives to stretch their food budgets at the end of the month. Let us be the first to suggest that the 29th of every month should be gnocchi day everywhere!*
*Yes, we are aware that we didn’t even partake in the gnocchi day in Montevideo, but in our defense we were hot and pretty annoyed that day.
Even though we didn’t try the gnocchi, we did get to see a chef making it:
With no more gnocchi days for a month, we decided to join everyone else and leave Montevideo. Hopefully all of its residents find their way home soon.