Archive | March, 2012

Exploring South America – Punta del Este

18 Mar

My last stop on my adventures through Uruguay was Punta del Este, the spot where the Río de la Plata officially meets the Atlantic Ocean. The city has become famous as a popular vacation destination of the rich and famous. It’s easy to see why: Punta is lined with mile after mile of pristine beaches (plus good nightlife, food, and safety). I arrived just after high season, to a quiet resort town (the only real visitors were from a cruise ship docked off shore).

Mansa beach

Mansa beach greets me in Punta del Este

mercedes taxi

You know the place is fancy when the taxis are Mercedes

I was immediately excited to see the Atlantic. Growing up next to a large body of water (Lake Michigan) you tend to take such things for granted, that is until you find yourself without them. It was awesome to be awed by endless water and powerful waves.

Atlantic Ocean

Atlantic freaking Ocean. Yippee!

Punta is neat because it is a peninsula that sticks out into the ocean and river. The beaches on the western river side are better for swimming, with calmer water, and the eastern ocean side has great rolling waves that are good for surfing.

After getting over the pleasure of just watching water lap on sand, I did a walking tour of Punta’s peninsula.

I saw some neat sculptures and other art installations as I walked along the nice waterside rambla.

hand sculpture

Giant hand sticking out of the sand (La mano by artist Mario Irarrazabal)

Grotto

A waterside grotto (Image of Our Lady of the Candelaria by Mario Lazo)

Rambla

Waterside path along the peninsula

mermaid sculpture on the point

Mermaid sculpture on the tip of Punta del Este

There were also loads of seabirds.

egret

An egret hunting for food

Cormorants

Cormorants hanging out on the rocks

more birds

Seagull hanging out with a neighbor

stilt

South American stilt

I also stopped off to see the point’s lighthouse and local church (which is an odd baby blue color).

lighthouse

Punta's lighthouse, from 1860

church

The parish church on the peninsula, matches the sky rather nicely.

inside the church

Inside the church

A visit to the artisan’s market in Plaza Artigas led me to discover an adorable older man who made pendants by carving out old coins.

Plaza artigas

Plaza Artigas, home to the artist's market

pesos

Carved out Uruguayan pesos. These new pesos feature cool animals. I was very tempted by the capybara and rhea!

centimo

I ended up going for this French 20 centimo piece

My wanderings eventually led me to the port, where there were some interesting buildings, pretty views of the nearby island, and a man feeding a giant sea lion.

boats in harbor

Boats in the harbor

National armada

National Armada building

sea lion show

Some sort of waterside sea lion show

Back on the river side of the peninsula I enjoyed the sunset from Mansa Beach.

me mansa beach

Me on Mansa Beach

sunset

Sunset on Mansa Beach

skyline sunset

Sunset with the skyline

The next day I headed out on a rented bicycle to explore the coastline. I ended up riding to La Barra, about 5 miles east of the peninsula. Along the way I stopped to enjoy the beaches and saw a sea lion relaxing on the sand.

Atlantic boardwalk

Boardwalk to the water

sea lion

This cutie was just sitting on the beach

sea lion punta

Sea lion with Punta in the background

I also got to ride over the very fun Leonel Viera bridge, which has a wavy design.

Leonel Vera Bridge

My first look at Leonel Vera bridge

wavy

Wavy!

I ended up back on the Mansa Beach in the afternoon to relax and swim.

beach

All the clouds magically went away so I could enjoy my swim.

Then I headed to Punta Ballena (whale point) to visit Casapueblo, a fantastic building built by Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró. The buildings is a house, museum and hotel, in a style I’d describe as Antonio Gaudí meets the Greek Isles. I explored the museum, then headed down to the waterside restaurant to catch the sunset.

me at casapueblo

Me at Casapueblo

torre

A whimsical tower

museum

Inside the museum at Casapueblo

restaurant view

View of the building from the restaurant patio

table view

Sunset view from my table

It was a perfect end to a memorable week. Check out all of my pictures from Punta del Este and Punta Ballena on flickr.

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Exploring South America – Colonia del Sacramento

13 Mar

After leaving Montevideo, I traveled two hours by bus to the town of Colonia del Sacramento. Colonia is the oldest town in Uruguay (founded in 1680) and has a rich history. The city is located on the Rio de la Plata, across from Buenos Aires (1 hour by boat). The location was deemed an important strategic asset and was fortified. The town passed between Portuguese and Spanish hands many times in its history, eventually becoming part of Uruguay in 1828. Colonia has a charming mix of Spanish and Portuguese influences, which make it a fascinating place to visit.

The Barrio Histórico (historic quarter) of Colonia is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It features cobblestone streets and interesting buildings (many dating to the 17th century).

Calle de los Suspiros, a typical street in the historic quarter

trees on bulding

These trees grow up the sides of many of the town's buildings.

The historic quarter was once surrounded by a city wall and an imposing gate (complete with moat).

gate/moat

The Portón del Campo, city gate, featured a wooden drawbridge

city walls

The old city walls, with cannon, and a view of the Río de la Plata

Inside the Barrio Histórico, there are a number of sites to see, including a lighthouse, basilica, museums, a cultural center and an old wharf.

Lighthouse and ruins

The lighthouse, behind the ruins of an old convent

basilica towers

The front of the Basilica de Santísimo Sacramento

View of basilica from lighthouse

The view of the basilica from the top of the lighthouse

portuguese museum

The Portuguese Museum entrance

Amy on sculpture

Me lounging on a sculpture at the Cultural Center, with a view of the 1866 wharf in the background

View of wharf and cultural center

View of the wharf (built in 1866) and Cultural Center

Another charming sight in the historic quarter are a bunch of classic cars (some working, others not-so-much) scattered along the streets.

car

A red car brightens this street.

Car and cafe

An off-white beauty next to a sidewalk cafe

car as planter

This car isn't going anywhere: it has trees and other plants growing out of it.

Amy in mirro

Me in the mirror of one of the old cars

Just outside the quarter is the old train station, complete with roundhouse and turntable.

old station

The former train station

platform sign

The Colonia sign on the station platform

turntable and roundhouse

The old turntable and roundhouse

The city, like so many in Uruguay, also has beaches and waterfront paths.

sunset on beach

Sunset along the Río de la Plata

Bastión del San Pedro

The Bastión del San Pedro

Another highlight are the ruins of an old bullring (1910), abandoned after bullfighting was outlawed in 1912.

bullring

View of the bullring from the street

inside the ruins

Inside the ruins of the bullring

In the ring

Inside the ring itself (looks like someone is still mowing the lawn)

The town, though often overrun with daytripping Porteños and tourists visiting from Buenos Aires, is a joy to explore. The sense of history is palpable, and the small architectural and cultural details that surround make for an immersive and unforgettable experience.

sun gate

A sun motif on a gate

bike cafe

A bicycle planter decorates this outdoor cafe.

Streetlight

Streetlight, tile sign and flowers

hand door knocker

Hand shaped door-knocker

Check out all of my photos from Colonia del Sacramento on Flickr.

Exploring South America – Montevideo

11 Mar

I just got back from a week long vacation in Uruguay. This lovely South American country is sandwiched along the Atlantic coast between Argentina and Brazil. It is home to 3 million people, and is the second-smallest country in South America (Suriname=smallest). The country is very developed and is the 9th “most livable and greenest” country in the world according to Reader’s Digest. In short, it’s a gem on the Atlantic, full of laid back people, beautiful beaches and interesting history (they also historically have great soccer teams).

I started my journey in the capital, Montevideo, a town founded in the early 18th century by the Spanish. The city is situated along the Río de la Plata (why this is translated as River Plate in English makes no sense to me). They have a path that runs the length of the river, perfect for a morning run or an afternoon stroll.

Running path montevideo

My morning running route along the Río de la Plata, complete with distance markers!

View up the River

View of the river from the waterfront path

The town also has a beautiful district of old, grand buildings, the Ciudad Vieja.

Teatro Solis

The city's marquee theater, Teatro Solis, on the edge of Ciudad Vieja

bookshop

Fountain and bookstore along the pedestrian mall in Ciudad Vieja

Iglesia Matriz

Iglesia Matriz, in the middle of Ciudad Vieja

City gate

Puerta de la Ciudadela, the gate to the old city

I stayed in this neighborhood in a fantastic hostel, Posada al Sur.

amy on the roof

Me on the rooftop lookout at Posada al Sur

sunset from roof

The view of the sunset from the hostel's roof

Montevideo also has lovely plazas, parks, and tree-lined streets all over town.

Fountain in Plaza de la Constitución

Fountain and trees in the Plaza de la Constitución (Ciudad Vieja)

Plaza Fabini

People stroll and relax in Plaza Fabini

statue in Plaza Cagancha

Statue in the center of Plaza Cagancha

Plaza de los 33 orientales

Fountain and statue in the Plaza de los 33 Orientales

Their public transit is an efficient, extensive and clean bus system that makes it easy to get around town (and around the country). Fares were typically about a dollar.

On the bus

A typical city bus: clean, efficient, on-time

They also have a beautiful airport terminal.

airport Terminal

MVD - Montevideo's international airport terminal

The city also has all the regular city things like cool buildings, botanic gardens, monuments and malls.

Amy in front of Palacio Legislativo

Me in front of the Palacio Legislativo (home of their legislative branch of government)

abandoned train station

The beautiful, yet decrepit, abandoned General Artigas train station

Fountain at botanic garden

Heron fountain at the botanic garden

Punta Carretas mall

The Punta Carretas mall entrance. The mall was built on the site of a former prison.

Artigas statue

Statue of General Artigas in Independence Plaza

Palacio Salvo

Palacio Salvo, once the tallest building in South America

Plus, there are kilometers of beaches to enjoy all along the coast.

Playa Ramirez

Playa Ramírez, near Parque Rodo

Pocitos Beach

Pocitos beach and the Rambla

Another highlight is an abundance of street markets all over town, selling everything from antiques to fruits and cheeses.

fruit market

Street market for fresh fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses

Tristan Navarja market

The famous Tristan Navarja street market

All in all, a lovely place to relax for a few days, and a great place to embark on other Uruguayan adventures. Check out all the photos from my Uruguayan trip on Flickr.