Episode 194 – Surprising Montevideo

February 13, 2022. 71°F/22°C

#myvikingstory

We were really happy to step onto land today, after 5 days at sea including our Cape Horn circumnavigation.

After being in cool springlike weather at the southern tip of Chile, it’s also nice to be back to summer temps here in Montevideo. The average temperature in February is 80°F/27°C, also known as “perfect”, although it was slightly cooler today. The city is at about the same latitude as Cape Town South Africa and Sydney Australia. (Remember that when we talk about wines.)

We’d learned in yesterday’s port talk that Montevideo’s natural harbour made it an ideal military stronghold, but today it is a commercial centre that competes on a par with Buenos Aires.

Since 2005, Montevideo has been consistently ranked as having the highest quality of life of any city in Latin America. It’s a thriving metropolis that is home to more than half of the entire country’s population, a financial hub, and a cultural centre. Since its founding in 1724, the city was alternately under Spanish and Portuguese rule, regularly flipping between the two. The official language in Uruguay today is Spanish, but there are schools that teach French, English, Italian, and more.

I have to say that this city surprised and wowed us. It is beautiful, clean, interesting, and friendly. Add it to our list of potential winter getaways!

A few examples of the city’s varied architecture, featuring everything from colonial to art deco to ultramodern. The opera house (top left) is named after the Spanish explorer who “accidentally” discovered this area, thinking that the Rio de la Plata estuary was the southern tip of South America.
The “sail”, which was erected 35 years ago, was designed by Carlos Ott, the same architect who was later involved in designing the much bigger version in Dubai! Fun fact: Carlos Ott lives in Canada now, although he winters in Punta del Este.

Our guide shared that this country of about 3.5 million people (1/3 of those live here in the capital) is also home to 9 million dogs, 12 million cows, and 20 million sheep! Since there are no mountains, and a temperate climate, the country is able to produce enough food for 10 times its population, making it a huge exporter. Although there are no mineral deposits here, the agriculture, 95% literacy level, high tech industry, stable government and economy combine to make it – in our tour guide’s words – a “pearl” among the countries of South America. Demographically, about 16% of the population is considered poor, 18% very rich, and the balance middle class. There is almost no homeless problem.

We drove through several upper-middle class neighbourhoods, which were lovely. Uruguayans love houses and, although there are many beautiful apartments, prefer to live in a single family home with a yard – not the least because they also love adobo, the famous Uruguayan barbecue!

A selection of “typical” upper middle class homes.

We stopped at Batlle Ordóñez Park, where La Carreta Monument (below) is a highlight. This life-size bronze was created by Uruguayan sculptor Jose Belloni working in France, and shipped back to Uruguay in sections. It honours the gauchos who were instrumental in creating Uruguay.

It really was worth looking closely at the detail in this work of art.

The city is home to countless parks, many of them with beautiful bronze sculptures.

At the Plaza de la Armada, on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, is a monument to lost sailors. The park afforded us a panoramic view of the city’s waterfront.

That same park was filled with the sound of dozens and dozens of green parakeets!

The Monument to General José Gervasio Artigas, Uruguay’s national hero, is in the centre of Independence Square. He fought to give the country independence from both the Spanish and the Portuguese.

The statue is really imposing, surrounded as it is by a large park right in the centre of the city.
The architecture around Independence Square is just magnificent. The building at the bottom is Estevez Palace, the home of the President.

The Legislative Palace of Uruguay (below)is a truly awe-inspiring building. The lower portion is made of granite, with the building above staircase level made from 52 kinds of Uruguayan marble. Although interior tours are no longer allowed, our guide mentioned that one of the highlights is a 24 karat gold embellished ceiling.

Ted was able to zoom in on some of the spectacular carved marble.

Outside the Legislative Palace are more huge bronzes.

Across the street were just a small sample of the city’s vibrant murals.

We also attended a tango performance at Baar Fun Fun near the Rio de la Plata. This bar is the oldest in Montevideo, established in 1895, and still run by the same family. They are famous for their Uvita, a grape-based liqueur whose recipe is a closely guarded secret. Ted and I both thought it had a hint of coffee in its flavour.

La Cumparsita, possibly the most recognized piece of tango music, was written by Uruguayan musician, composer, and journalist Gerardo Matos Rodríguez. Look it up – you’ve definitely heard it before.

This evening we got a second dose of tango via a performance by a larger group of tango dancers (some of whom came from Baar Fun Fun) and a vocalist who were brought on board as one of Viking’s “Destination Performances”. Our Cruise Director Aaron described it afterward as “the sexiest show Viking has ever presented.”

Uruguay was the very first country to host a FIFA World Cup Soccer tournament, back in 1930, but it was North American football that was on everyone’s mind this evening. Today was Superbowl Sunday, so Viking made sure they had the rights to broadcast the game on the big screen on the pool deck. Naturally, Viking went all put with the game-day snacks: beef and pulled pork sliders; beef, chicken, and chili nachos; wings; chili dogs; jalapeño poppers; chips & salsa; popcorn; giant cookies, and lots and lots of beer, including a Chilean light beer. There were even Doritos, brought on board just today – a whole skid of them!

A completely irrelevant aside: our very first home was in a little enclave off Montevideo Road in Mississauga, Ontario. I never gave much thought before today to where the road’s name originated.

We had a wonderful day in this wonderful city. We’re here overnight, so will have a chance to explore a little further afield tomorrow with a vineyard tour.

6 comments

  1. Wonderful post! It brought back beautiful memories of our visit there in March 2020 (before the shutdown). It’s also nice to know that Viking does a great Super Bowl party! As someone from Cincinnati, the big finish was disappointing last night, but hoping our Bengals will be in the Super Bowl again next year during our World Cruise!

    Liked by 1 person

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