You don't think being in the country for like 8 hours makes me an expert yet? Me neither; but until today I don't think I recall ever meeting anyone who had been here longer. It sure is different from Buenos Aires! Montevideo is a kicked back town, almost rustic compared to sophisticated Buenos Aires, just down the Plata (and on the other side of that wide river).
This morning I took a fast ferry-- there's also a slow ferry-- to Colonia de Sacramento (bka- Colonia). It took an hour and it was comfy and pleasant. I met a really nice woman in the lounge before boarding, Ana, who works for HSBC. It's a whole other story but I can't emphasize enough that traveling solo affords opportunities that are rarely available to people who travel with someone. I like it both ways but I always talk with Americans who can't seem to fathom the idea of traveling alone. While I was waiting at the bus station I ran into a guy from Milwaukee named Tom who had ridden his motorcycle all the way down here. What a trip he's having!
Anyway, Colonia, which was founded by the Portuguese and chose to stay with Brazil instead of joining Uruguay-- although it doesn't share a contiguous border with Brazil-- is always raved about by everyone as a picturesque jewel of colonial architecture and so on. It's nice and it took me about an hour to see it all. I could have seen it in 30 minutes if I were in a hurry.
The bus to Montevideo took two and a half hours through the gently rolling Uruguayan countryside. It's a small rural country with 3 million people, half of whom live in Montevideo (which boasts a tree for every person, something I am willing to attest to from what I've seen so far).
Uruguay is far less cosmopolitan than Buenos Aires. Everyone looks like they came from Spain (whereas Argentina looks like a real hodgepodge-- a good one-- of Europe). Buenos Aires is a vertical city, tall buildings and stunning architecture everywhere. Montevideo's people seem less inclined to live in apartment buildings and the city is more horizontal. The public spaces are less ship-shape, although the private houses and their gardens look ver well-kept-up.
Uruguay is a social welfare state and everyone is kind of middle class. There are no great disparities in wealth apparent, the way there are in the U.S. and Argentina. I mentioned a few days ago that Argentines dress up and are ultra fashion-conscious. Here in Montevideo people are casual and even a little slovenly-- tee shirts, shorts and flip-flops everywhere.
I'm staying at the new Sheraton Hotel, which is supposed to be the best in town. The staff is friendly-- and very young. Sometimes in a new city I ask a concierge to recommend the best eating experience in town. Some concierges know; others don't. I should have been more thoughtful about this one when I realized he was the busboy and the concierge. He suggested a seafood restaurant called Francis. It's run by a bunch of kids and it isn't bad by any means but I know there are better restaurants in town. There have to be! This chef seemed to be having a good time experimenting with combining whatever came to mind. Some of it worked well, some of it worked less well. I have to admit that I was distracted from my meal by the manager furiously picking his nose the entire time I was there. No one else seemed to notice.
I've gathered that what people do here in laid-back city on a Saturday night is go for a walk along the shore (the Ramblas). The weather is beautiful and I think I'm going to do that now. After that I'm going to turn in early and soak up the Sheratoness of my new living situation. And tomorrow... they have an indoor rooftop swimming pool. I'm so glad I brought a pair of trunks!