Monday, August 21, 2017

Hanging Around Montevideo. Gardens and Beach.

At Jardín Botánico in Montevideo.

Original Post Date: February 21, 2017.

After spending yesterday outside the city - we went to Colonia del Sacramento, we opted to hang back in town today.  When it comes to trip planning, I typically leave it up to my travel partners to decide on what they want to see or do when we are in the main cities.  I usually have some suggestions to get the thoughts going but today, I was a complete blank slate.

Thankfully, Bro stepped up to the plate and came up with a few suggestions.  The first was to visit the city's botanic gardens. We both enjoy seeing gardens so that was a no brainer though it is a bright sunny and very hot and humid day so I don't know how long I will last.  Then, he also came up with the idea to go to Pocitos, a suburban neighborhood that is located right along the water.  Bro will get his opportunity to swim in open water.   Bro did all his homework on how to get to the various destinations via the local bus.  Our local bus experience has been excellent so far - efficient and cheap!  Today,  I got to be the tag along which is so nice because I get to relax - someone else is taking the lead and all I have to do is follow!

We headed out right after breakfast, making a stop at the small supermarket first.  We had to buy water.


Our first destination of the day was the botanic gardens.  We took two buses to get there.  First was the CA1, a familiar ride.
 
Cheap to travel by bus.  Our ticket cost the equivalent of about 75 US cents.


Bro kept an eye on the streets, as we passed them and when we neared the intersection to catch the second bus, we hopped off and headed in search of the bus stop though here, I think we could've just flagged it down.  In any case, we did find the stand and soon enough the second bus came.  We got off somewhere in the Prado neighborhood which based on the look of the place, I would describe as a very upscale neighborhood.  Even with the bus change, I think it only took us about 30-40 minutes to get here from the old city.  Not bad.



The garden is not all that big but on a miserably hot and humid day, the last thing I want to do is walk all the way around just trying to find the entrance.  Thankfully, with the help of locals we found it pretty easily.  I was happy just to see the shade of the trees. 


Entrance to the garden is free.  Today is a work day so the place was pretty much empty.  I presume that on the weekends and maybe in the evenings, local residents would come here to enjoy a bit of nicely manicured green space.


We didn't have a map of the place so we just literally wandered around.  Garden wise, it's pretty.  Botanic garden wise, it's lacking in descriptive plaques identifying many of the plants.  In fact, I really didn't see a large collection of plants as I would have expected to.  I think we're spoiled by the botanic gardens in the US and Europe.


There's some nice statuary here though.



And a few small fountains and pools.






Like parts of California, here you can see palm trees standing alongside evergreens.  It's basically a Mediterranean climate.  Hot and humid in the summer time and just chilly in the winter - it never snows or freezes.




A variety of Amaryllis Belladonna??  Would've helped to have had a sigh.

There is a small greenhouse in the garden but it was dilapidated and shuttered up.  It's obvious that the botanic garden is maintained but not all that well.  It's not really worth a trip unless perhaps you come here for a picnic which would not be a bad idea on a nice spring or fall day.

Next, Bro wanted to check out the Rose Garden - Rosedal which is located about a 10-15 minute walk from the main garden.  I have to admit, after have seen the main part of the botanic garden, I did not have high expectations for Rosedal.  Not to mention that roses do not bloom well in the high heat of summer.  Even Bro was not expecting much.

Though it was a short walk, I did not relish it.  Too hot, too humid and it's not a scenic walk either.   We made it though.  Except for one gardener, the place was dead.....including whatever blooms there might have been months back.  The only think I did here was to escape from the sun by sitting under the pergola.  I let Bro check out the garden and report back if there was anything interesting to see...okay, correction....if there was anything to see at all.  There were some flowers but even for Bro, nothing worth leaving the relative cool shade of the pergola for.  Very sad.


We gave up on the gardens and made our way back towards the entrance of the botanic gardens.  The bus stop was there. We had to wait for a bit for the right bus number to come along but eventually it did and off we went to Pocitos.



Pocitos is an upscale beachside neighborhood that's only located about a 10 minute drive from the center of Montevideo.  It's known mainly for its beach, Playa Pocitos, and the Rambla, or boulevard, that situated alongside it.  Walking from where we got off the bus to the beach, we passed by the usual city sights.  This is much nicer place to be than in Montevideo itself.  I'm sure there are plentiful Airbnb options here. In fact, in hindsight, we should've stayed here instead of in the old city.  If any of my friends decide to come to Montevideo, this is exactly where I would recommend that they stay - it's easy enough to travel around the city by bus so you can always make your way to the old city.....though now that I've been there, I would tell people to not waste their time.  Sorry, Montevideo.

We walked along the Rambla for quite a distance.  For some reason, it reminded me very much of the board walk in Tel Aviv.  Maybe it's because similar colored stone were used in the pattern of the walkway itself.


It was nice to finally be able to see some beach.  The sand here is fine powder and it's a good stretch of beach.  It's still hard to think that this is beach on the bank of a river and not on the side of an ocean!  I guess this is a neighborhood beach and it is a workday so there are barely any people around.  Nice!


As we strolled along the boardwalk, we kept our eyes peeled for public changing rooms or restaurants or anything that looked like would give Bro the privacy he needed tochange out of his swim trunks and into dry shorts after his swim.



Just as we pretty much reached the end of the boardwalk, we came upon a small beachside eatery.  It was the perfect resting spot for me and the other plus was there were Jiffy John type enclosures for swimmers to change in and out of their suits.  These days, I don't look good in a swimsuit....even a black one with distracting lines, if you know what I mean.  I decided to just sit and relax.  We've been on the go, go, go for so many days now, it was nice to just be able to put up my feet and do absolutely nothing!


While Bro headed out for a dip in the water, I ordered some fried calamari to munch on and a Coke to wash it all down with.  Ahh....the sea...oh I mean river air.  The peace and quiet....once the restaurant owner turned down the volume.  It was the perfect place to relax and under the shade of the umbrellas, escape from the heat of the midday sun.  Yep....Pocitos was where we should've stayed.  Hindsight is perfect :-)


Bro took quite a long dip. I can't blame him.  According to Bro, the water was warm but refreshing enough.


I'm glad Bro lingered in the water.  We weren't in any rush so it was good he enjoyed himself. I most certainly did!  The calamari was delicious and the peace and quiet was much appreciated too!

When it was time to leave, we made our way back to the commercial area which is only about a block away from the beach.  We had to find our bus stop - we were catching the 116 back to the old city.  We know that bus well as it was the first one we ever took!

The stops here can be hard to find and so Bro stopped a passerby for help.  She was so kind that she actually walked us to the stop.  It was at least a two block walk!  Ask for directions in the US and someone will just point you in the right direction.  Only if they just happen to be going in the same direction, will they escort you.  We've had nothing but very friendly help here!


She dropped us off at the stop, which was for the 116 bus headed in the correct direction.  I checked the sign to make sure.  As you can see in the photo below, one stop services a lot of different bus routes.


We had taken the 116 from Ciudad Vieja to the Tristán Narvaja street market but not back which is the direction we're riding today.   That meant we did not know exactly where to get off the bus though as I told Bro, we just had to hop off near the main pedestrian only street.

So, once we got into the old city, we kept our eyes peeled for that street.  At one point though, I decided we should get off a bit early and just walk since we hadn't spent any time strolling through the old city.  So that's what we did.  Perhaps there was a part of me, a small part, that hoped that the old city was actually nicer than what I had seen so far.  Sadly.....no.  It's not.  Our short walk confirmed that this place could do with a major make over.  The bones of beautiful Spanish colonial architecture and design are all there; it just needs some cleaning up and prettying up.


It was much too early to head back to our room so once we hit the main street, we headed in the direction opposite to where our hotel is located.  We essentially continued walking up the street....away from the ferry terminal.



Unless there is a cruise ship docked, there is pretty much nothing happening here.  There are barely a handful of shops and restaurants along this stretch of street.  Even so, there is a pretty heavy police and military presence here.  We notice them here regardless of whether or not there are cruise ship tourists around.  Seeing the cops and soldiers just hanging around is both a good and bad thing.  Bad because it means bad things can happen to people here and good because the cops and soldiers are here to make sure that chances of bad things happening to good people are not so high.  For me, it just all adds up to this not being such a nice place to be.  Yes... Pocitos.  Next time, if there is one.



I had remembered seeing a park in the old city.  We had nothing else to do, nowhere else to go so I fired up Google, searched for it, found the walking directions to Plaza Zabala.  Ciudad Vieja is a small place.  It didn't take long to get to the park.  Surprisingly, the area immediately surrounding the park was quite decent - a few shops that were more upscale as were the restaurants and a decent looking hotel.  Hmmm....maybe we were in the wrong part of the old city??  In any case, we found a nice bench to sit on and watch the world go by.  There wasn't much world going by which suited me fine. Today has been a lazy kind of day with relaxation as the theme so no need to overload the visual senses :-)


I was shocked when Bro pulled out the plastic bag from his backpack. He still had stale bread with him.  I don't think he even remembered where it had come from!  Somewhere in Chile??  In any case, it was time to empty it out!



Looming over Plaza Zabala is a monument dedicated José Gervasio Artigas (1764 -1850) a national hero of Uruguay who fought for the country's independence from Spain.  A statue of Artigas, sitting on a horse, tops the monument and his remains are entombed in the mausoleum right under the statue.



One one side of the monument is a sculpture of a farmer and his sheep. To me, this speaks of Uruguay.


From the park, we took a slow walk back to our hotel.  More pretty buildings in a dilapidated state.






Even the Uruguayans are poking fun at Trump!  He's a very tragic character....in real life, I mean.


By late afternoon, the main street fills up with more people.  Most are locals and I think most are residents of the old city.


For dinner, we went to a place called Jacinto, located about a block away from Plaza Zabala.  I didn't have high expectations and I was pleasantly surprised at the meal.  I ordered the burrata arugula salad and Bro had the grilled squid.  The serving portions were not large but the food was delicious!  Still not as satisfying as our seafood meals in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales though.  We've yet to have a proper steak dinner and tomorrow is our last night here so I think we'll have to break the travel dinner budget and spring for a nice cut of meat!  I don't think we can say we've been to Uruguay and not had any bite of beef!




By the time we got back to the room, it was dark.  Time to clean up a bit and then plan for tomorrow.  We're making our way to Punta del Este!

Goodnight from Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo!