Abandoned building in the old city
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 unkept. 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 one of my favorites, 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.
People fishing off the wall by the old city
I say newer but most of the buildings seemed to have been built in the ´70s and had 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 that Uruguayans can do everything one handed came about.
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.
The first skyscraper in Montevideo
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 skyling 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.
Ironically 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.
Main hallway in the Legislative Palace
There tours practically every hour but it is rather far from the city center and not any of the free maps they give 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 is built using 23 different colors of marble from Uruguay, a mesmorizing mixture of colors and patterns artistically deployed over the vast interior. In addition to the marble there are various adornments of wood carvings, paintings, and mmurals, and mosaics that create a lavish environment. Even the exterior of the building had been carved and painted, though the paint had long since faded away under the 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, and it was probably more ceremonially than anything else.
The new Antel Building
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, which was what my guide really wanted to know.
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, although on the second night a group of 20 Mexican students studying abroad in Argentina arrived but they just went out to some magic show. The next day I decided to head up the coast to Punta del Diablo so I headed off to the bus station with one other person from the hostel that was leaving as well.
The view from the observation floor of the Antel Building
We had some time before the bus left so we went to the stadium that was built for the first World Cup in 1930. Even today with its huge tower the stadium is quite dramatic and seats about 60,000 people or so. And amazingly for such a small country it was built in only 8 months or so. There is a small musuem with all sorts of soccer stuff from Uruguay and Argentina and a replica of the first World Cup trophy. Only a replica because the original was stolen long ago and they melted it down for the gold in the trophy. There was photo on the wall of Maracana stadium in Brazil from the 1960s or so 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 130-140,000 for really big games. Unfortunately Uruguay doesn´t seem to have as much soccer spirit as the Classico match between the two big Uruguayan teams the next day wasn´t even going to sell-out the stadium.