We had planned to go on a free walking tour this morning, but Brett was feeling a little under the weather yesterday evening, and still not 100% when we woke up this morning. The tour company we were planning to use offered a second tour in the afternoon, but after checking out their website we realized that a) the tour finished at a spot about as far from our apartment as possible, and b) it started and ended too late in the day for us. Brett was feeling back to normal though by noon, so blessed with a beautiful day and armed with a map and comfortable shoes we set out to do our own walking tour of Montevideo’s Old City.
The old quarter of Montevideo is located at the south end of the city, near a natural harbor in the Rio de la Plata. Entrance to this part of the city in the past was through the Cuidadela gate of an old fort that guarded the harbor and the city. The fort no longer exists, but a recreation of the gate was erected in 2009
We began our tour at Plaza Independencia, which sits in between Central Montevideo and the Old City at the end of 18 de Julio Avenue, Montevideo’s main thoroughfare through the city (our apartment is located less than a mile from the Plaza). The center of this large square is dominated by a statue of José Gervasio Artigas, the “father of Uruguayan nationhood,” and one of Uruguay’s national heroes. His mausoleum sits under the statue and is guarded by members of a cavalry guard that has existed since colonial times. Located at the edge of the square is the imposing Palacio Salvo, built in 1928 and for a while the tallest building in Latin America. Originally planned as a hotel, the Palacio instead has been occupied by offices and private residences since its creation. The front of the Palacio at the ground level is an open galleria which currently contains sculptures created from scrap metal.
Leaving the Plaza, Brett and I headed over to check out the Teatro Solis, built in 1856 and still housing the Uruguay National Theater. Banners hanging in front advertised opera, Beethoven, flamenco and modern dance offerings, all upcoming at the theater.
It was a short walk from the theater over to Peatonales Sarandi, an old cobblestone street now closed to vehicular traffic that’s lined with beautiful old buildings containing shops and restaurants. This street runs from Plaza Independencia almost all the way down to the Rio de La Plata. A scattering of vendors were on the sides of the street selling all sorts of goods, and there were various musicians along the way too (some definitely better than others).
The Peatonales Sarandi passes by two smaller plazas: the Plaza Matriz (or Plaza Constitución) and the Plaza Zabala. We turned into the lovely Plaza Matriz to check out the Metropolitan Cathedral of Montevideo and then headed to the nearby Café Brasilero for coffee and a piece of their famous German apple pie.
Opened in 1877, Café Brasilero is the oldest cafe in Montevideo, and is also considered one of the 13 most emblematic cafes in the world. Its original Art Nouveau bar still holds pride of place in the back of the cafe. Brett and I each enjoyed the best coffee we have had so far on our trip, shared a slice of German apple pie with ice cream (which more than lived up to its reputation), and soaked in some fascinating history and atmosphere.
Then it was down to La Rambla once again, a distance this time of just three blocks. Along the way we passed the Cathedral of the Most Holy Trinity, known locally as Templo Inglés, an Anglican church constructed in the 1830s for English residents of Montevideo. Originally built next to the beach, it was moved to its present location when La Rambla was developed.
Our location on La Rambla this time was a bit further west of where we visited on Monday, in the Gran Bretaña division which overlooks the area where the Rio de la Plata feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. Long, brown streams of the river’s sediment could be seen out in the distance, and there were several huge container ships in the channel. We again took a short stroll along the Rambla, and then turned north and headed back up to the Plaza Independencia and back to our apartment.
Our little tour took us around two and half hours. We covered a little over three and a half miles of the city in that time, just enough to whet our appetites for more, especially the chance to visit some of the many museums in Montevideo. We’re even more disappointed now that we’re leaving Montevideo so soon as there is much we still want to see. I guess we’re just going to have to come back!