This morning we decided to head out to Fortaleza del Cerro before taking Chico back to Thrifty. There's a military museum there and the views of Montevideo are meant to be good. Our route took us through a different part of the city, stopping briefly at the Estacion Central General Artigas. This is now totally closed and we could only peer through locked gates and dusty, dirty windows. Its a sad sight. In its day the station must have hummed with people but now its deserted. It would make a great hotel but I doubt anyone has the money to spend on it though.
From the station to the Cerro we drove through a fairly industrialised part of town - main electricity station, oil refinery, port and docks - and then through another residential area before we got to the fort. The fort is small and it was incredibly windy. For 10 pesos you can have a look around. There's information about the various wars and battles that Uruguay has been involved in, collections of rifles, pistols, uniforms etc and a small prison in the dungeons downstairs. It was worth coming for the museum but the views across to Montevideo are stunning.
Heading back into town we passed the Palacio Legislativo before making our way to Thrifty. The traffic felt manic to me and I was glad that Stef was driving. Paperwork all completed we handed over the keys to Chico (finding the panel for the radio later back at our hotel!). He's been a great little car, not much poke but he's taken us around Uruguay with no problems at all.
From Thrifty we headed down to the port - our first trip on a bus. From the outside they look slightly dodgy and not particularly well maintained. Inside they're fine, its just a bit disconcerting that there's a policeman with a pistol on board (seems to be one on every bus).
The old port sector helps to shape our overall views of the city. Like most it could do with being spruced up - the difference here is that the city almost feels sad. There are very few buildings that look clean and in a good state of repair. Most have crumbling plasterwork and some look so dejected that you feel they'll simply give in and crumble around you. Every now and again a horse and cart comes by - the local rubbish collection service. The carts look solid enough but they're piled high with bags with more handing over the sides. The horses look thoroughly miserable and dejected.
The Mercado del Puerto isn't what we'd expected. There is no market! The building is full of parillada's vying for trade. Its a lively and colourful spectacle. Seeing so much grilled meat got Stef's taste buds going and we stopped for lunch at the place with biggest grill. They had a bar counter around the grill that you could sit at as well as a restaurant style section in the middle which was mostly full of suits from the nearby banking quarter.
At this place the grill was huge. It has joints of pork, whole chickens, big slabs of steak, chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage) and ribs as well as other bits I couldn't recognise (probably tripe and offal). There's some friendly banter as we take photo's and they let us come closer to the grill for some more shots. The grill is incredibly hot and I feel for the guy who spends his day in front of it. Every now and again he gets logs of wood from a pile at his feet and slings them onto the fire at the back. He's continually adjusting the meat, turning it over, throwing salt on it (most food here is salty) and chopping up cooked bits to dish out to customers.
Its mainly men who seem to eat the asado de tira - a selection of ribs and steak Although there's a fair amount of fat (which most people seem to eat) and bones its still a huge plate of meat. Stef was staggered that the chap next to him worked his way through 3 platefuls.
Crystal Palace, aka "the lads"
We ambled back and up through the old quarter passing squares and churches, happy just to be soaking up the place and seeing that some renovation is starting to take place. The Teatro Solis is one such place and has reently re-opened (they are still working on the ticket hall and restaurant). Tonight's performance is sold out and the next tour of the theatre is tomorrow - we seem destined not to see theatres on this trip!
On Plaza Independencia we marveled at Artigas' mausoleum. There's a high plinth with a statue of him astride a horse (with a bird on his head in the photo's Stef took). Either side of the statue, stairs lead down into an underground chamber where and urn with his remains are on display. Two soldiers were on guard.
Back towards the hotel we made it just in time to see the Gaucho museum. Its in an old building, a narrow entrance leads off the street and through an inner door. The marble staircase winds round to open up the view of the inside of the building - its stunning and took my breath away. The darkness of the entrance was contrasted by a light and airy inner courtyard, the light coming from a glass ceiling decorated with blue panels. The marble stairs double back on themselves with the next floor up being reached by an elegant flight of wooden stairs with beautiful parquet inlaid panels
I can't work out if this would have been someone's house or if it would have been offices. The rooms inside are all interconnected making me err on the side of house. There's also a huge room at the front of the first floor which would have made a fabulous reception room with views over Plaza de Entrevero.
The Gaucho collections are small, mainly intricately carved bridles, spurs, stirrups and daggers all in silver. There's a whole room devoted to maté cups and bombilla's. On the next floor down there's a collection of old notes and coins dating back to the early 1800's, charting the different denominations, styles and issuing banks over the years. Most of the rooms on this floor are closed - they seem to be preparing an exhibition about Carlos Gardel and have the same images and photos that we saw in the museum about him in the Valle del Eden.