Saturday, December 5, 2009

South America Day 17: A Day in Uruguay, or Meandering Through Montevideo

Note from the present day: Still doing catch-up on South America; trying to clear this out so I can write about Alaska this September!

December 5, 2009

Since this is our only day in Uruguay, we decided to make the most of it. We went ashore at 11:30 or so, and this time we didn't need to use tenders - the Sun had the first spot on the dock, right at the edge of the Ciudad Vieja (the Old Town). As you can see by the Bridge Cam

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we were practically parked on land.

At the end of the gangplank, someone handed us a map with a very nice walking tour which we followed to see the sites of interest. The first one was very easy to locate - we had to go right through it to get to the actual streets.

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The German pocket battleship Graf Spee was scuttled in Montevideo's harbor during World War II, and a fair part of the ship is still underwater just off shore. Uruguay has been in the process of raising the wreck for several years - the thing is less than 40 yards underwater and is a hazard to navigation - and some of her salvaged parts are on display right here by the cruise ship docks. Dad was most impressed with the enormous range-finding telemeter

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which is the biggest single piece of Graf Spee debris to have been salvaged. The anchor and some massive gears are also displayed:

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We followed our map past the Mercado al Puerto and found a nice pedestrian mall lined with market stalls

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and flea-market stands selling antiques and collectibles (I think South America has decided that all weekends are Flea Market Day).

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Dad was struck by one seller's collection of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro merchandise. I think I've figured out how all those free-range South American dogs stay alive, too - one vendor had packs of dog kibble for sale. I guess you can feed them like you'd feed pigeons.

A few blocks up and over, we arrived at the Plaza Zabala, a square-block-sized park  furnished with lovely benches where we parked ourselves for a few moments.

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To one side of the plaza (far left, below) they were setting up either a wedding reception or some kind of floating restaurant operation:

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The centerpiece of this plaza is a large statue of Bruno Mauricio de Zabala, the founder of the city of Montevideo.

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As you can see, grateful Montevideans have improved the statue by personalizing it with attractive red spray paint.

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We zigged and zagged on our way out of the Plaza to arrive on a long pedestrians-only street

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lined with more commercial emporia than we had seen earlier, including some familiar friends.

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Hey - I could get Buster's prescription kibble here!

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Despite the Coke signs and fast-fooderies, this area has a real old-world feel, and the mall eventually led us to the Plaza ConstituciĆ³n, the oldest part of the Old Town. The cathedral is built at one corner of the Plaza, and since I love church architecture I left Dad for a few moments to go in and try to take some pictures.

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Apparently I took quite a while - Dad asked me if I'd been to Mass when I came out. And to top it off, almost all of my tripodless efforts were sadly out of focus. Sigh.

Dad had plenty to amuse himself while waiting for me, though, because this Plaza too was chock-full of flea-marketeers,

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plus he had a band to listen to!

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By this point we were getting hungry, so we started working our way back through town. On the way we observed that Montevideo is home to some accomplished graffiti artists

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with strong opinions on national economic issues.

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Our lunchtime goal was the Mercado del Puerto back near the cruise ship docks. The Mercado consists of an indoor maze of lunch counters, sellers of souvenirs and local crafts, and more lunch counters, housed in a single building a city block on a side. (Okay, I exaggerate - the short end of the building is only half a city block.)

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You walk in and instantly start to salivate, because you can smell this:

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MEAT! This is no place for vegetarians; the entire air is pervaded with the delicious aroma of the grill. It was a bit chaotic, and very crowded - we thought the lunch rush would be over by 2 PM, but I guess not - but Dad and I thought we'd figured out the system. Would-be diners would stand behind people who looked like they were almost done, then slip onto their stools when they got off them, kinda like when you follow somebody to their car to snag their parking spot when they leave. We were waiting behind four people who were in the process of paying up, and the counterman had caught our eye so he knew we were there. Everything seemed to be good. Then the diners got up - and this Swedish tourist guy from off to the side slipped in there with two other folks in tow. Dad was so mad I thought he was going to pop them one, but since we had no language in common there seemed to be no way to address the issue.

There was no way we were starting that game again, and besides the crowds were kind of getting to us, so we decided to go back to a sidewalk restaurant we'd seen earlier - a bit more expensive but nobody would poach our seats. We were seated almost immediately by a cute little hostess

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and we ordered a skewer of tenderloin to split between us. I tried to order the beef medium, but it arrived rather rare; I don't know if it was my Spanish that caused the trouble, but I gave Dad all the cooked bits and ate the others myself - I like them better that way anyhow. We were entertained during our meal by a passing street performance:

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The little hostess and I chatted in my bad Spanish and her bad English: I told her la comida esta deliciosa, and asked if I could take her picture, she hugged me and said I was "beautiful person" and we parted, all mutual appreciation.

Back at the pier, we discovered an internet cafe right in the looming shadow of the Norwegian Sun,

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so we delightedly spent $4 emailing John and Arlene and looking up a new sock knitting pattern for me before returning to the ship for our final evening aboard. As you might expect, we spent ages getting all packed up, and I actually succeeded in getting everything I'd need for Buenos Aires into my wheeled carry-on and my day bag; the big suitcase contains only dirty laundry. It has to be outside the cabin door before we go to bed. Sigh - tomorrow starts early.

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