Uruguay: A Travel Highlight
Uruguay is either really low on your travel list or not on it at all, in either case that should change. I was inspired to visit after watching a “Parts Unknown” episode where Anthony Bourdain heads to Montevideo and a few other surrounding cities. To describe the city of Montevideo takes only two words, laid back. The vibe is similar to the Caribbean but with a “city feel” also. Except no one is rushing to be anywhere, it seems like the whole city is just taking a stroll.
The first stop my friends and I made after a long bus ride through the Uruguayan countryside was a small but fabulous restaurant called Los Leños. The décor was what drew us in, with its beautiful hanging green plants, industrial ceilings and exposed brick walls. What attracted me most was how eclectic the menu options were, ranging from traditional Uruguayan dishes to wood fired pizza, lamb meatballs, empanadas and of course many sizzling meat plates. After stuffing our bellies with several appetizers, four entrees, two desserts and large Patagonia beers, we walked through the many plazas scattered throughout the city. My favorite was the Plaza Independencia which connects the “Ciudad Vieja” to downtown Montevideo. Lined with palm trees and some of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Plaza Independencia is the perfect place for relaxing and taking photographs. South of the plaza are the Rambla Gran Bretaña and Rambla República Argentina which are wide streets along the beach where we walked and watched the sunset on the Rio de la Plata. Even though we are a talkative group of four, it was very easy to sit quietly and get lost in your own thoughts in this part of Montevideo.
When we reached our stunning penthouse apartment in the “Ciudad Vieja”, we were all feeling happy and punch drunk from the sun. The views from our balcony and open space living room were fantastic, overlooking the architecture of the old city. We began our evening gazing out onto the rooftops, sipping wine, and ironing our clothes for dinner. A short Uber ride away, in the heart of the city was El Fogón, a parrillada, or full grill, serving a very large selection of grilled meat, seafood and pastas. Even though there are over 400 wines to choose from, the suggested wine pairing was Tannat, the "Uruguayan Wine". Our server was so kind and helpful and made sure we chose the best dishes and wines. He also sent us home with two bottles of wine to go, which is easily one of my favorite things about being abroad.
From the restaurants to the city squares, alcohol and beaches, your days in Montevideo will feel like a summer dream. You are forced to take it easy and soak it all in. De los Pocitos Beach one of the best places to do just that. Frequented by a younger crowd because of soccer, volleyball and other sporting events, Pocitos is located along the banks of the Rio de le Plata. The beach water here appears brown due to the river sediments, which sounds unappealing, but it is warm and clean nonetheless. Here we spotted many people playing sports, swimming and drinking Tannat right on their towels.
For dinner, and conveniently two short cobblestone blocks away from our apartment was Dueto, Cocina Urbana where we had a meal that none of us will forget. The restaurant was completely empty except for our group, which in New York City would scare me right out any place. We were warmly welcomed and made aware that people mainly come in for lunch during the work days. Also, the Uruguayan summer months means many people are vacationing and traveling elsewhere. The dishes at Dueto were exquisite and prepared with love and care by an adorable couple with over ten years of culinary experience. We tried a bit of everything including steak (of course), fish, shrimp, lobster ravioli and ended with dessert, five or six bottles of wine and one more to go.
Our experience in Montevideo was truly something but Colonia del Sacramento was where I left my heart. If one day in the future you are unable to get a hold of me, I will be sitting in small cottage covered in purple flowers overlooking the Rio de la Plata in Colonia writing my memoir. Colonia del Sacramento is one of the oldest towns in Uruguay known for its historic quarter and easily accessible from Buenos Aires by ferry. Dripping with vines, palms and flowers, Colonia is one of the most "Instagrammble" and charming towns I have ever seen. The scenery from the old town to the waterfront is wonderfully dramatic and has some quite impressive architecture like the drawbridge gateway to the historic quarter called Puerta de la Ciudadela, leading into a former fortress. A perfect little place to have lunch or drinks in the old town is El Drugstore. You can probably find this place without even searching for it due to its central location facing the Basílica del Santísimo Sacramento. Walking through this town feels like time has stopped, with its old cars and even older buildings. There is definitely a rustic charm that gives Havana, Cuba a run for its money.
Hopefully this post has sold you on visiting Uruguay or at least moving it up on your travel list. To briefly sum this place up, it is a photographer and food lover's paradise. Both of the areas mentioned are beautifully vintage in their own unique ways. Keep in mind, the best time to visit these cities is between December and February during the hot summer months.
Uruguay, Ur-A-Gem and I will be visiting again.
Buenos Aires: A Travel Highlight
The Paris of South America, pulsing with the sounds and movements of the Tango. A magical destination just shy of a 10 hour flight from New York City. Buenos Aires is one of those cities that you can be lost and found all at once. The air really is good, the food is phenomenal and the vibe is extremely Brooklyn. I was lucky enough to travel here during the South American summer months with my husband and our two friends. Our apartment was off the Avenida Paseo Colón in San Telmo, a vibrant, bustling neighborhood. You can find street art on almost every block as well as a decent steak. Our favorite being La Brigada, a Buenos Aires staple and holy grail, in our opinion. While it is viewed as a bit touristy, the service, food and ambiance were unmatched, and we tried a lot of steak.
During our trip, we heard that Don Julio was the place to be as far as "parillas" go, so we squeezed our four giant American selves in a tiny Uber to the hip and trendy neighborhood of Palermo. We arrived at the early dinner time of 10 p.m. only to be told by the hostess that there was a two and a half hour wait. Luckily for us, there was a quaint steakhouse across the street called La Popular De Soho, which was fantastic although it made me sad that this establishment exists in the shadow of a place like Don Julio with their outrageous wait list. So outrageous are they, champagne and empanadas are served outside at the hostess stand to those waiting for a table. That night at La Popular we had steak, seven bottles of wine, and a long debate on whether we were going to attempt to go to Don Julio another night because clearly people are waiting for a reason. We ended up coming back to Don Julio a few days later, it was good.
In addition to all the steak and wine, we did take in the sights and culture. La Boca is one of the most colorful neighborhoods I have ever seen and we learned a few fun facts about it after visiting La Bombonera, the Boca Juniors Stadium. We learned that the original colors of the "estadio" were black and white but since the barrio of La Boca is known for being so colorful, this did not sit well with the "porteños" or a person who is from or lives in a port city. The Boca Juniors colors of yellow and blue are actually inspired by the Swedish flag because that was the first boat to sail into the port of La Boca.
I am usually not a huge fan of tours because I prefer to walk and sight-see at my own pace. However, the ranch experience that we booked was well worth seeing. A one and a half hour bus ride from the Buenos Aires city center is the idyllic Estancia El Ombu de Areco. A beautifully kept ranch, hotel and restaurant with the most delicious empanadas I ever ate in my life and even better Malbec. We spent the day eating, drinking and riding horses with the "gauchos" as well as a folklore show with dancing and live music. The staff were incredibly charming and hospitable as well.
Overall, I can say that Buenos Aires was a one of a kind experience. I personally would not recommend it to everyone I know because there are different types of travelers. For instance, if you like to sit alongside a beach all day and be served frozen drinks until you pass out, Buenos Aires is probably not the place for you. If you like to eat, drink wine and take in vibrant city culture then I suggest you find the time to head down to BA. While there were many amazing things I saw, ate and did in Buenos Aires, these were some of the few worth sharing, the rest I will keep in my heart.