After a one-day excursion to Colonia, Uruguay a few years ago while on a business trip to Buenos Aires, I knew I needed to go back to the country for a full on vacation. I had been telling Breck how great Uruguay is, so wedecided to make Montevideo and Jose Ignacio our big trip while living in Caracas.
We flew into Montevideo, landing around 1 am. On the ride to our hotel, we were pleasantly surprised by how clean the city was. The country is also safe; there were people still out and about in the middle of the night (a clear step up from Caracas). Lastly, Uruguay has the nicest people I’ve ever met–evidenced by bus drivers who stopped the bus to give us directions (stark contrast to those jerks working for MUNI or AC Transit). Clean, safe, and friendly is my kind of place. I think of it as the Amsterdam of South America and not just because they legalized pot in Dec 2013–don’t get too excited though, it’s only for citizens.
Being the foodies that we are, our trip was dominated by eating and drinking activities. Some highlight:
- Lunch at Mercado del Puerto - Mercado del Puerto is basically just a warehouse crammed full of restaurants specializing in parilla (grilled meats). It was here that Breck discovered she hates blood sausage and intenstine. Admittedly, they aren’t very good but they come on the standard sampler platter so we had to try them. We came back here every day we were in Montevideo. Side note if you ever find yourself here, don’t get the medio y medio. It’s a half white wine, half sparkling wine drink and one of those “must do while you’re in Uruguay” things. Buuuuut they’re horrible and a waste of otherwise perfectly good wine.Parilla platter at Mercado del Puerto. So. Much. Meat. BBQ-smoke filled interior of the Mercado del PuertoMe at one of the many parillas.
- Explore Pocitos and the Rambla - Our hotel was in Pocitos. I can’t say this is the center of the action, but we were near the Rambla, a long street that goes along the water that was a great, walkable part of town with plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants. We stopped at this cool little corner restaurant/bar called Tranquilo and made a point of ordering chivitos - a classic Uruguayan sandwich of thinly sliced grilled meat, fried egg, olives tomato, lettuce, cheese, mayo, and occasionally ham. Those of you who know my disdain of all things creamy won’t be surprised that I got mine without cheese or mayo. And, of course, we sampled the local varieties of beer.
- Yerba Mate - I wish we had brought some yerba mate (a very strong tea-type drink found everywhere in Uruguay and Argentina) down to the Rambla for our walk because seriously everybody was walking/sitting/laying around sipping on their yerba mate. We bough a mate cup and some yerba to drink in our hotel room–not exactly how it’s supposed to be enjoyed, but whatever. This stuff gives an intense caffeine-like buzz which makes me wonder how anyone in Uruguay can ever get to sleep. I was completely cracked out a few days ago after drinking some that we brought back to Caracas with us.
- The Wine Experience Wine Tour – This is the number one rated activity on tripadvisor.com for Montevideo. Ryan, the tour guide, picks you up at your hotel and takes you on a tour of a couple rustic wineries in the countryside outside of Montevideo. The owners/operators of the wineries showed us the differences in different grape varieties, let us try unfinished champagne, showed us how they process the grapes, and then gave us lunch of empanadas while sampling several varieties of wine. Fortunately (unfortunately?), the Uruguayan/Argentine variety of empanadas isn’t fried like their Venezuelan counterpart. It was definitely a unique experience that I’ve never gotten from any of my many wine tasting trips to Napa Valley in California. Highly recommended.
- Montevideo Brew House – Down a little side street about a mile from our hotel was this cool little place with a cool ambiance and their own selection of house-made beers. Most of the beers were a little darker than I usually like (lots of stouts and dark ales), but there were a couple great IPA choices and tapas on the menu. It was here that I learned that in Spanish from Spain, a tortilla is a quiche-like egg/potato pie thing. Big fan. Side note – the picture I took of Breck here is now her profile pic for her new internship at apracticalwedding.com!
Montevideo Brew House also makes awesome cocktails. I asked for a recommendation and what they brought me was coincidentally MY FAVORITE DRINK. Apparently, the rest of the Spanish-speaking world outside of Venezuela calls passion fruit maracuya instead of parchita so I had no idea that I had inadvertantly ordered a parchita rum spritzer!
Aside from the foodie side of our trip, we also wandered the touristy areas of Montevideo’s Old Town. Apparently, this isn’t the kind of place where you would want to go exploring down a side alley due to the shady characters in the area. The walk street Sarandi is pretty cool during the day: outdoor cafes, bars, art galleries, and we stumbled upon an awesome flea market type thing a few blocks west of the Plaza Independencia.
I’m not usually into that kind of stuff, since I usually think flea markets as garage sales without the garage selling old, used crap but they had all kinds of cool stuff–even antique swords and guns. I don’t exactly need a vintage sword, but the thought of it was extremely appealing. If I hadn’t been worried about a run in with Venezuelan customs on our way back, I may have even gotten one.
Anyway, that’s most of what we did in Montevideo… eat, drink, and wander.