March 4, 2009

Side trip: Arrival in Montevideo

Aaaah Montevideo. How we love this city.

Following a relaxing three-hour forty-knot cruise across the muddy brown waters of the Rio Plate (First Class, of course. On the Buquebus, First Class is only marginally more expensive than Tourist, and you get a comfortable lounge and free champagne), our high-speed jet boat motored in through the breakwater of Montevideo docks.

A bulk carrier was being pushed gently into position by a couple of powerful tug boats, and I noticed that construction of the promised new freight terminal was well under way. It looked to me as if it would at least double the capacity of the loading dock, and in addition there were no less than two cruise liners in attendance. This pleased me greatly, because one of the reasons that I like the choice of Uruguay as our future home is that I predict a big expansion in its container industry as the world moves away from air freight, and the country´s commodities market expands.

Light was fading as we walked up through the Ciudad Vieja, the largely abandoned old town, and the sweet wood smoke of the first parilla fires wafted down from the restaurant chimneys.


We noticed a heavy presence of 'tourist police' around the old market. This area is mildly notorious for being 'dangerous' after dark, but although we haven't exactly explored any dark alleyways we've never seen anything that we would regard as sinister. Perhaps 'dangerous' is relative, as the rest of Montevideo is perfectly safe and friendly. In any case, the tourist police seem so young... or is that my own middle age creeping up?

Ciudad Vieja was largely abandoned during the troubles of the eighties, and never really recovered. It used to be the financial and legal district, and all the impressively facaded edifices remain, although now empty and largely derelict. Here and there are pockets where the old firms linger on; our own lawyer works from an impressive building close to the edge, but in the main it's a curious little ghost town at the edge of the thriving metropolis. Property here is ridiculously cheap, and it is perfectly possible to buy an entire apartment block if you wish. However, although Ciudad Vieja will certainly return to splendour one day, and the potential for significant future profits is attracting buyers from the US and Spain, it seems to us that the payoff is decades away. Although we did view a few beautiful if run down properties here, they definitely fell under the heading of 'renovation projects' and we chose to buy elsewhere.


It's actually only a short walk from the old market to the new heart of the city, a central square dominated by the statue of the national hero Artigas which stands over an impressive underground war memorial; an amazing turretted palace; and the ugliest seventies apartment block in christendom.


Finally we arrived at the London Palace Hotel, a real gem that we discovered on our previous visit. It's small and friendly and the rooms are just big enough to sleep in comfort, without all that extra unnecessary padding that you see so often. Why would you want to sit in your room and watch TV? This is Montevideo, and everybody is outside enjoying themselves, chatting on the street or promenading along the beach on the Rambla. Of course, the London Palace also boasts the best breakfast in town, an incredible selection of freshly baked pastries and cakes, local fruit, and that inevitable staple of Uruguayan cuisine, ham and cheese presented in infinite variety. And that is where I am heading right now.

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