Uruguay was country 5. Brian and I haven't had too many places we've disliked during this trip, but Montevideo is currently holding the top spot for most disappointing places.
We debated whether or not to even make the short, but expensive trip. Planning had been a bit challenging due to the massive shortcomings of the ferry company, Buquebus', website and also the miscellaneous online commentary concerning the safety of the city. (For the record, we never once felt unsafe or threatened. It was never any concern.)
We decided to bite the bullet and go. We are two hours away and we will know if it's worth ever coming back for.
After much confusion with the website, a trip to the actual Buquebus terminal, we booked a cheaper ticket on the direct ferry for $88/person each way. The Francisco is the newest addition to the fleet and it's extremely nice.
We caught the 7:30 am ferry and quickly went through customs on the Argentine side. Buquebus is fanatical about the cleanliness of the carpet so every person had to wear shoe covers during the crossing of the Rio de la Plata. That is quite the sight to see. There is a full duty free shopping mall on the boat and the locals go crazy during these times buying everything from Costco-branded items to iPads. Compared to American prices, everything was very expensive.
The ferry arrives directly next to the old town of MVD, Cuidad Vieja, and we immediately began our site-seeing tour. Within 1 hour we had seen all the major sites the old town held and the majority of shops were still closed.
We stopped at the local chain, La Pasiva, for their "renowned" hotdogs and mustard sauce only to be disgusted by the entire meal. We then headed to the Mercado del Puerto, known for the many parrillas, in hopes of having a better experience.
We grabbed a seat at Roldo's and ordered the special, medio y medio, a combination of white wine and champagne. It was super sweet, but we enjoyed watching the bartender pop bottle after bottle for the locals.
You could spend days in the Mercado just trying all of the parrillas with the varying cuts of meats, veggies and innards on the grill. Roldo's cut of meat was good, but it's important to understand you're not going to get a Bern's steak at Applebee's pricing. The food for the remainder of the trip wouldn't be much better, including the locally recommended Pizzeria Trouville. The two bright spots were Gallaghers Pub, which had a fairly good home brew sampler and La Otra for a decent steak and grilled vegetables.
Our hotel, El Ermitage, was located in Pocitos, the nicest area of MVD, with nothing much to do. It is a convenient walk to the Rambla, a long sidewalk lining the beach. The hotel itself is average and the staff always seemed inconvenienced to even offer an "Hola" when we arrived.
The best part of our time in MVD was an impromptu Penarol futbol game at the stadium where the first World Cup was played in 1930, which Uruguay won.
The experience was unlike any other sporting event we've been too, including college football. The chanting and pounding of the drum never stopped during the entire game. The crowd screamed and whistled during the good plays and cursed and threw things when Penarol screwed up. The intensity never let up for the full 90 minutes. We loved this experience but it's important to note: there is absolutely no order to the process of buying tickets and don't expect to sit in those seats once you have tickets. People pushed and shoved up to the ticket windows and once in the stadium, it's a free-for-all regarding seating. Really, just pick a seat.
On our second day, we walked along the beach to the famous MONTEVIDEO sign to snap some touristy pictures. The beach is wide and clean, but littered with seaglass that is smoothed on its way down the river from Buenos Aires.
On our return walk, we joined the locals on La Rambla. The walkway was packed with couples and families out for an evening walk, sipping the local obsession-mate. Mate is a loose, herbal tea packed into a small cup made from a hallowed out gourd. The locals all carry around a thermos of hot water to ensure the drink is always fresh. The metal straws have a filter at the bottom to prevent loose leaves from clogging the straw. A friendly local even offered me a taste.
We couldn't help but feeling we were missing something in Montevideo. Did we stay in the wrong part of town? Should we only have gone to fancier restaurants? Were we so jaded by our love for Buenos Aires? We never quite nailed down why Montevideo was just so-so. Even the locals we chatted with were hard pressed to give us suggestions of places to go and things to do.
We are glad we went to the city, but truly only because we can now cross it off our list. I don't see us running back anytime soon, but maybe things will be different in 20 more years.