Montevideo


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Published: July 4th 2011
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I opted for a reasonably early bus out of Sao José, just to be on the safe side. I preferred to wait at Sao Paulo airport than miss my flight because of being stuck in traffic. So I ended up having a few hours to kill before boarding, but it was no big deal. Soon, I was up in the air and before I knew it, I had landed in Montevideo.
I was pleased to be back in Spanish speaking territory and after some difficulties at the airport (the cash machine gave me bills of massive denomination and nobody would give me change so that I could pay the 31 pesos (£1) bus fare), I finally managed to get into the city. I had found online a hostel that sounded cheap and good, in the historical centre. Only problem was that the area was supposedly unsafe at night, so when I got off the bus and it was dark (although it was only 6.30pm), I wasn't overconfident on my walk. The hostel wasn't too far from the terminal, but after about 3 blocks along the empty street and the sight of a couple of dodgy looking guys (who probably just were inoffensive beggars), I decided that it wasn't worth risking either my life or my belongings for the sake of a taxi fare. I flagged a cab and for 42 pesos (and a 5 minutes ride), I was dropped off by the door.
The guy at reception spoke funny and I wondered if he was Argentinian, but I soon discovered that it is just because the Uruguayan speak like the Argentinian. In normal Spanish, you have a sound like the “ye” in onion, but instead, they pronounce it like a “sh”, which gets very confusing when you're not used to it. Add to that the fact that they have completely different words for “you” and “are” and the fact that I had spoken no Spanish for weeks, and I felt like I was back to square one.
I wasn't planning to stay in Montevideo for too long, but it was Friday night and when the receptionist informed me that there was a football game at the Olympic stadium on the Sunday afternoon, my plans changed very quickly. I spent the first night at the hostel quietly, enjoying some food and TV before going to bed. I had a busy day planned for the Saturday, so I wanted to get a reasonably early start. I was up and waiting at 7.30: breakfast time. I enjoyed extra servings of cereal, bread and jam and even smuggled some bread back upstairs to have for lunch. When I came back downstairs, all my plans vanished. One of the girls working at the hostel had turned on the TV and Manchester United were playing. If we didn't lose that one, we would win the league, so I was going nowhere yet! A couple of hours later, after watching the game, the celebrations and making a quick call home to chant “Champions! Champions!”, I was finally ready to go and explore Montevideo.
The staff had recommended a walk along the seafront and a visit to a market, so I decided to follow their advice. Before going to the seafront, I had a walk through the historic centre. It was pretty but very quiet and I put it down to the fact it wasn't 10am yet. I had a look at the main square, surrounded by some interesting buildings, including the tallest one in the city (Palacio Salvo), the Palacio Estevez and to the side, the beautiful theatre. I was starting to like the city already... From there, I walked to the sea. This wasn't as good. I knew there wouldn't be a beach but it didn't smell too pleasant either, there was a big avenue going right past the promenade and tall tower blocks all along the front. It wasn't too warm either, but I decided to make the most of it and pushed on. I walked for ages along the sea, stopping to watch a small football game, visiting a lovely park and eventually getting to the location of the market. There were a few stalls selling food, but most traders were selling crafts, souvenirs or clothes. I strolled up and down the alleys, enjoying my Saturday afternoon, buying some fresh fruit from the market for my lunch and saying no to everyone trying to sell me all sorts of things far too expensive for my budget or far too big for my rucksack...
After having a good look at the market, I decided to make my way back towards the hotel. I went through the city but making sure I went through the park I had enjoyed that morning. On the return leg, I stumbled across the audiovisual museum and as the entrance was free, I decided to have a peak. There wasn't a lot going on, but it was pleasant enough and killed half an hour. I then decided, to walk through what seemed to be the main shopping street in Montevideo. It was Saturday afternoon and not even 5pm, but the streets were empty and most of the shops closed. I couldn't work out why, but this seemed to be a recurring theme during the few days I spent around the city. The only corner of town that seemed busy was the cinema. There was a festival about comics that week-end and the square where the cinema was had been invaded by teenagers in super hero outfits. At least it brought some life to the city and cheered up my afternoon. That was pretty much all that happened that day as I had another quiet night at the hostel, chatting to some other guests, including a Spanish guy who was a Barcelona fan (and with the Champions League final looming, that made for an interesting bit of banter).
The following day was Sunday: day of another big market but also day of the football game. I set off mid morning for another walk around the historic centre. There were many beautiful and interesting buildings to snap away and the sun was out, so it made for a nice outing. I eventually arrived to the market at around lunchtime. It was a mish mash of food, souvenirs and car boot sale, and some of the second hand items for sale really made me laugh. Back home, people would not have dared tried to sell some of those goods, but here, it seemed perfectly acceptable. The place was packed with locals, all hanging on to their mate (pronounce “maté”) supply. Mate is a local herbal drink that tastes a little bit like super strong Earl Grey. People drink it all day long: you fill a little pot with the herb and hot water and drink it out of a sort of pipe. Everyone, male, female, young or old, walks around the streets of Uruguay with their pot in hand and thermos bottle under their arm.
I really enjoyed the buzz of the place, but after an hour or two, it was time to leave and head to the Olympic Stadium for some football. Uruguay was where the first football World Cup was played, so the stadium was a must see. I intended to visit the museum but because there was a game on, it was closed. I had found out about the day's game: Penarol vs River. Penarol (it has ~ on the n and is therefore pronounced Peniarol) is one of the Montevideo team, but it is huge all around the country, with yellow and black flags hanging out of windows in every corner of Uruguay. I had established that the “Amsterdam” stand was the place to be (cheapest, behind the goal and best atmosphere). That day's game was unimportant and therefore I was able to buy a ticket at the gate. I was early (because I had planned on visiting the museum) and was one of the first to enter the ground. I was a little bit surprised at how basic the place was. A lot of the stands had no seats, just concrete steps for people to sit on, without seat numbers (I wondered what happens when it's full) and the facilities were basic to say the least (with a few little shops selling drinks and toilets that had definitely seen better days). The Amsterdam stand also happened to be the highest, so I was able to climb to the top for nice views over the city. I spent the rest of my waiting time watching the serious fans arriving with all their giant flags and banner and getting everything ready. By the time the game was about to start, our stand was reasonably well filled (pretty much everything else was empty – really not a big game) and absolutely everyone apart from me was wearing the Penarol colours (which made me wish I'd bought a shirt). Everyone apart from me was also chanting (I wanted to but I didn't know the words, so I just clapped along) and being very excited. The noise, given the size of the crowd, was more than impressive and the UK fans could take a lesson or two from the Penarol supporters. The game itself was rubbish (which I guess means the fans that turned up deserve even more credit), kind of league one level and I was seriously disappointed to think that was the level of Uruguayan football. Little did I know that the team I was watching was probably the C team, due to the club being involved in the quarter final of the Copa Libertadores (equivalent of the Champions League for South America) at around the same period. Despite a heavy loss (4-1 I think) and terrible play, the fans were still chanting all the way through at the top of their voice and by the end of the game I had become a Penarol fan...
The game ended as the sun was setting and the temperature dropped, so I hopped on the bus to get back to the hostel. I think even though they lost, I probably had a smile on my face all the way home and it was also nice to have been to a game. This was going to be another chilled evening for me, as the next day, I was setting off for a road trip around the Uruguay countryside...



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work in progress
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penalty...


5th July 2011

pas aussi joli que ce que je pensais... la description ds le LPlanet etait meilleure

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