Columns on a historic building

Abandoned building in the old city

People fishing off the wall by the old city

The walkway by the ocean

The first skyscraper in Montevideo

The Solis Theater

Decorative spur

Fancy mate drinking containers

A drinking horn

Mausoleum in the cemetery

The statue of the Gaucho

The legislative palace

Main hallway in the Legislative Palace

Interior of a room upstairs in the Legislative Palace

Main hallway in the Legislative Palace

The view from the observation floor of the Antel Building

The new Antel Building

Old photo of the World Cup stadium

Replica of the first World Cup trophy

Old photo of Maracana Stadium during the World Cup

Tower at the World Cup stadium

Site of the first World Cup

Montevideo, Uruguay

The Capital City

May 11, 2008

I changed by not changing at all

Small town predicts my fate

Perhaps that's what no one wants to see

- Pearl Jam

At first impression Montevideo seemed like a smaller, dirtier, and poorer version of Buenos Aires. The numerous old buildings of varying colonial styles were rather impressive but at the same time many were crumbling and unkempt. In the old city especially there were numerous ancient buildings that had been bricked up and abandoned, in fact most of the old city seemed to be an area where you wouldn´t want to be at night, and even during the day parts of it seemed dubious. The famous mercado by the port was very nice, packed with restaurants serving lots of grilled meat, rather touristy but still a good meal. There is a road that winds around the old city along the water with some nice vantage points of the "newer" parts of the city. I say newer but most of the buildings seemed to have been built in the 1970s and had a dirty tinge to them. But it was the old colonial architecture that really gave the city its eclectic character, perhaps in some cases it was a bit too ostentatious but nevertheless it grabbed your attention.

The mix of people in the city seemed to be much more diverse than Buenos Aires, perhaps due to the proximity with Brazil, but largely much of the culture seemed similar. It did seem like more people were carrying around thermoses and mate gourds than in Argentina, I guess that´s why the joke evolved that Uruguayans can do everything one handed.

There was a really good museum that I went to on the history of the gaucho in an old historic building near the center of the city. It had all sorts of memorabilia like grandiose mate gourds, spurs, whips, drinking horns, and other stuff historically used by the gauchos. A bit outside of the city center there is the new 36-story Antel building, a modern skyscraper of metal and glass that stands out like nothing else amidst the otherwise vertically challenged skyline of Montevideo. It is open for a few hours each afternoon for public viewing from the observation deck on the 26th floor. The views from there were quite outstanding, but the day I went it was rather hazy to the west, which they jokingly said was due to the pollution from Buenos Aires.

Not far from the modern Antel building was the old Legislative Palace, home of the senate and congress of Uruguay. In my opinion this was the highlight of Montevideo. There were tours practically every hour but it is rather far from the city center and not shown on any of the free maps given out to tourists. Perhaps because of this I was the only one there for one of the afternoon tours so I got a personal tour of the stunning palace. The interior lobby of the palace was built using 23 different colors of marble from Uruguay, a mesmerizing mixture of colors and patterns artistically deployed over the vast interior. In addition to the marble there were various adornments of woodcarvings, paintings, murals, and mosaics that created a lavish environment. Even the exterior of the building had been carved and painted, though the paint had long since faded away under the harsh sunlight in many places. The center of the lobby and either ends had uniformed guards standing at attention, I don´t really know what they were guarding, but it was probably more ceremonially than anything else. The library, though seemingly lacking in books, made up for it in decor. With decorative wooden paneling that appeared to be painted but was in fact different kinds of wood joined together. All in all it was very impressive for such a small country. I didn´t get a chance to see any of the government buildings in Buenos Aires so I had nothing to compare it with, something that my guide was really interested in knowing.

Sadly, being the off-season there were few people staying at the hostel I was at so I didn´t get a chance to go out and experience any of the Uruguayan nightlife. The next day I had decided to head up the coast to Punta del Diablo so with an early start before the bus left I went to the stadium that was built for the first World Cup in 1930. Amazingly for such a small country it was built in only 8 months and even today with its huge tower the stadium is quite dramatic, seating about 60,000 people. There is a small museum with all sorts of soccer stuff from Uruguay and Argentina and a replica of the first World Cup trophy. There is only a replica because the original was stolen long ago and supposedly the thieves melted the trophy down for the gold. There was photo on the wall of Maracana stadium in Brazil from the 1960s full with 200,000 people. A Brazilian at the museum told us that now they were no longer allowed to fill it to capacity for safety reasons and that most of the time there were only 80-90,000 people and sometimes up to 120,000 for really big games. Unfortunately Uruguay doesn´t seem to have as much soccer spirit because the clasico match between the two big Uruguayan teams the next day wasn´t even going to sell-out the stadium.