Local Culture

It's Here!

Today it’s here.  Autumn in Montevideo.  Cold, rainy and windy as all hell. I knew it would be on it’s way, but not quite so soon. Last year this time was still warm and mild, a late summer after we’d first arrived here.  It was glorious.

Today, after two full days of rain, the winds really picked up.  I do love the leaves blowing about and the amazing pink-flowering trees that have been all aglow in blossoms.  I’ve intended to get photos- but alas, the high winds today have probably stolen my opportunity.  Much the same thing happened with some glorious purple-flowering trees last spring. We shall see them again, I am sure.

I really look forward to this winter with roaring fires in our fireplace (note to self: order more firewood), knitting in earnest again, crisp sunny days when I walk G to the jardín, and a plethora of warm beverages. After a year here, I am finally ready to take up the habit of drinking mate.  It makes complete sense to me now. Cool, damp, blustery days were made for mate.  Just to refresh your memories: Mate is the drink typical of Uruguay and Argentina that is served in a hollowed out gourd and carried with a thermos of hot water, ready for the refill.  It is a perfect way to maintain a toasty drink at the ready all day long and with minimal effort.  I’ve got a feeling that my winter will be much more comfortable!

Looking back on it, I am so thankful for our amazing getaway on one of the last perfect beach weekends this summer. Yes, I know, I still have two more parts to write about that saga, but hey, now that it’s cold, I’ll definitely spend more time indoors writing.  There’s just so much LIVING to do, it’s hard for me to sit and journal everything.

It all boils down to this: Another season, another change, another side of Montevideo.  We learned from last year.  We'll do a few things differently this fall and winter.  Just try to avoid falling branches in this wind...

One Year Ago Today

We arrived in Montevideo on March 26, 2009. What a year!! We've had the opportunity to explore so many corners of this great city.  We've learned more Spanish and met lots of wonderful people- both Uruguayos and extranjeros.  As many Uruguayos don't seem to understand, we like it here.  We have chosen to come here.  It was not a mandated move due to work or education, we chose Uruguay as our home and we really love this little country.

We've grown as a family over this past year and while we don't have a baby on our hands anymore, she has grown into a very capable toddler. We still adore Jardín Caminito, our daycare, and how loving and supportive they have been for us.

The lease in our current house has been extended for another few months (was set to expire on April 20th).  So it is another winter in our cute but drafty home!  This time we won't be so thrifty (jaja!) and we'll be using our grocery store loyalty points to get a space heater.  This is a supplement the fireplace and bedroom electric units.

Come spring, who knows what we will do.  It'll be a perfect time to travel a bit without the expense of an empty house. Maybe an extended stay travel with 3-6 months somewhere?  Maybe Bariloche, Argentina?  The world is our oyster and we are going to treasure every moment here!!

Artwork by Uruguayo Joaquin Torres-Garcia; Upside Down Map (1943).  Uruguay is located at the coordinates, near the top line.

A Weekend Away

We are planning to take a series of short road trips- just a long weekend each time to explore more of this great country. Having been to Colonia, Piriápolis and Punta del Este already, we're looking towards the eastern coast before it gets cold and the interior with possible trips to the hot springs and a wine tour in the fall. We wanted to pose the question to our readers: Where should we go for a short exploration trip this month?? Where To Go For a Weekend Getaway?


"Bueno, entonces"

The challenge of learning the language  in Uruguay is that you have to use a local tutor, text or program.  Rioplatense is the local dialect of Uruguay and parts of Argentina.  There are some big differences between the Spanish here to that spoken in Mexico or other parts of Central and South America. You cannot learn Rioplatense from the huge online language program Rosetta Stone, or books published for other areas. We just signed up for a new Rioplatense program called "Bueno, entonces".  This is in addition to our normal private tutoring in Uruguay.  "Bueno, entonces" is a completely irreverent, crass, cheeky language program that makes you laugh out loud- along with learning.  They describe themselves as Rosetta Stone meets South Park.  Word of warning: this is not for the easily offended. If you think you may be offended, you probably will be. If you want to check it out, don't say that I didn't warn you.

We think it is funny, interesting and certainly will not put you to sleep.  After the first few lessons, we're hooked and can't wait to see what happens next.  Kind of like a steamy latino-telenovela: very fun and a surprise at every turn.

Bueno, entonces is available in DVD's or download to PC/iphone/ipod touch.

If you want to learn more about Rioplatense Spanish, click here.

Remate- The Craigslist of Uruguay

Except in Uruguay, it is a physical location and not an online 'for sale' ad. You can find any assortment of thing for sale at these remates (or auction houses). There are everything from antiques, to rugs, small appliances, farm equipment, architectural salvage and even cars.  Yes, you can even buy 'normal' furniture and housewares, which is a great resource for an expat trying to set up a household here.

One of the best remates that I know of is Castells. I've been told this remate is most often frequented by Uruguayos, and as such, is not as expensive as some of the extranjero remates.

Castells is located at Galicia 1069.  It's about a 10 minute cab ride from  the Pocitos/Punta Carretas area. The main furniture sale is every Tuesday at 2 PM. When I've been there, this sale has been very informal and in a large back room. The front main auction room is full of antiques and fine art pieces, with everyone sitting down and was what you'd envision of a "civilized" auction. The back room was with everyone standing, crowded around a given piece of furniture and the auctioneer on a small podium. You can visit early on Tuesday or on any other day to see the sale items ahead of time. Occasionally the rooms for the separate sales are reversed, so keep your eyes open.

There are other rooms as well, one upstairs and another in a garage area, full of items that sell on different days. Some is household goods and small appliances (upstairs) and outside has everything from architectural artifacts, to farm equipment to cars and all sorts of random junk.

There are no numbers or paddles for bidding, you just raise your hand. If you are the highest bidder, someone will come over to you and take your information and a deposit on the piece (30% of the sale price).  You get a receipt and can pay the balance and pick up your purchase the same day or within 24 hours.

A few notes before you hit the remate:

  • The auctioneer shortens all his numbers for speed so the current bid may come out as "ochen" instead of "ochenta".  Be aware- especially if your not so fluent in Spanish yet.
  • The upholstered pieces can occasionally be of questionable quality and I have heard stories of items having bugs. Check out a piece carefully before bidding/buying. You wouldn't want to get it into your house and find out that you have 10,000 new friends.
  • There are taxes added to the final sale price, to be paid when you pick up your purchase.  This is  a total of 16.5% unless otherwise specified.

Even if you're not in the market for new stuff, the remates are a great place to go and experience a part of Uruguayan culture. Have fun!

Expo Prado 2009

September 12 Prada
September 12 Prada

Another day in Uruguay- another adventure. Yesterday we went to Expo Prado 2009 for their "Day of the United States'.

We hopped the 522 bus on 21 se Setiembre for 16 pesos each, which dropped us off at the edge of Parque Prado in half an hour. Thank you montevideobus for helping plan our adventure!

Expo Prado 2009 is a fair celebrating Uruguay, it's rural culture (fitting, because 'prado' means 'meadow' in English) and showcasing artisans, manufacturers and even exhibits of other countries. This is the 104th year of the Expo and it has been held in the Parque Prado since 1913. It almost like a state fair in the USA- except at a state fair you don't have buildings featuring Argentina, Brasil and Mexico. Since it was the Day of the United States,  the US Embassy had an area selling some products that we can't normally purchase here, like donuts, Dr.Pepper and Starbucks coffee. Is that what the USA is all about?

We entered the Expo for a mere 95 pesos each (adults) and wandered through the exhibits and buildings for 4 hours.

The most fun we had was seeing the animals. Since beef is a huge industry here, the cow was well represented, with some gorgeous Angus cattle and many other varieties, housed in three buildings. The many cows, horses and sheep that we saw were all impeccably groomed, both for judging and for sale. Uruguayos love their pork as well, but funny that there were no pigs, except the ones seen cooking...

Pork Roasting
Pork Roasting

There was a rodeo with steer-roping demonstration, an American football 'game' being played poorly, lots of farm equipment on display and plenty of food (unfortunately not on a stick).  It was a great time and so easy to get there and navigate the park.

The great thing about taking the bus and exploring some new areas of town is that you are free to look around and dream. The route to Parque Prado wandered through Centro and then headed north. The neighborhoods immediately surrounding the park are amazing, with gigantic homes built in the early 20th century. Many have fallen into disrepair, but are still really beautiful examples of the boom in Montevideo between 1900-1940. At that time, there was plenty of affluence and money and Prado was the place to be. I hear that the Uruguayan President's home is also in the Prado area although we didn't see it.

Even if you miss the Expo for this year, still wander through Parque Prado and the surrounding neighborhoods. I can't wait to go back and explore.  The expo takes up only a portion of the park- so it'll be great to see the rest.

Expo Prado 2009

September 9th-20th

9 AM-9 PM

U$95 adults

U$50 kids 6-12 and adults over 65

Free for kids under 6

Cattle Barns
Cattle Barns
Prado Central
Prado Central

Our 'Noche'

The 'Noche de la Nostalgia' festivities are done and while we had a little time to rest today, it's not a US holiday so we both had to work today.  It is was an extremely quiet morning, as I think the whole city was asleep after the late night/early morning celebrations. We had a great time last night but feel quite pathetic in comparison to the hearty Uruguayos who partied the night away. We can claim that we started early.

Our first stop was to the home of an Expat family. They always throw the best family-friendly shindigs and last night was incredible. There was a huge Asado, with plenty of food and dessert, but the element that puts this party well above any normal house party was the dance floor. The center of the house has a very high ceiling with a huge skylight (this is customary in many older Montevideo homes- it gives an atrium feel) and it was turned into a dance floor with disco ball, strobe light, confetti, smoke machine and a great mix of songs from the 80's and beyond.

We were with these friends for about 4 hours, leaving at around midnight (we took Geneva home to meet the babysitter partway through). A group of six of us then took taxis to Centro and I was amazed by the number of people out on the streets.  It was the most people I had seen out in UY at one time. We have not been here for the Christmas parades down La Rambla but I imagine these crowds are a close second.

Alexander PosterMidnight is too early to go to the clubs so we grabbed some beers and sat down to drink some time away. We had tried to get into a few places just for drinks and they were all full, so we settled for an out of the way restaurant. At about 1 AM we went to Club Alexander, a large gay club (straight-friendly) on the main level of Palacio Salvo- the most recognizable building on Plaza Independencia. We had signed up in advance for tickets and arrived at the door with Alexander regulars so we paid out U$Y100 each entrance price (if arriving before 2:30 AM) and were inside within minutes.

The main floor of the disco was small with a bar that stretched nearly the entire length of the club. The crowd was predominantly young and Emo, both straight and gay, but there were people of all ages. Many of Alexander's crowd were looking sullen with Flock of Seagulls hair and all black attire.  The music was electronica with some fun "nostalgic" mixes that got everyone dancing.  After about 45 minutes there, a sea of people flooded towards the doors- it was in fact- towards the stairs. They had just opened up the lower level.

The lower level was FAR better than the main level. The 20 foot+ ceilings and exposed foundation of the historic building made for some great architectural detail and nice acoustics. The bar was in the center of the room with dance space all around and up onto raised steps a the far end of the room. As we walked through, our hosts, the regulars at this club, gave greeting kisses to the DJ and we found a spot to dance.

Unfortunately, our time to depart came way too quickly and we had to leave as the party was just ramping up at 2:30. We walked out the door to find a mass of people waiting to get in and a line of cabs right across the street. It was a prefect set up and we were home to relieve the babysitter by 3 AM.

We definitely want to go back to Alexander when we can spend more time. It was a very fun night and I am happy to have experienced my first Noche de la Nostalgia in Montevideo!