Colonia del Sacramento: Uruguay’s Historical Gem

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

When I started to plan my trip to Argentina for my trek, I thought maybe I’d arrive a couple of days early and do something other than eat and walk in Buenos Aires.  Don’t get me wrong, nothing wrong with those things!  Those are indeed very noble activities in my book in that great city.  But I was looking to just do something different.  I looked at one-day or half-day tours, and I looked at museums and other similar attractions.  One thing caught my eye due to my eternal wanderlust:  Uruguay was just across the river and it would be really easy to cross by boat.

I was aware of Montevideo and Punta del Este.  The latter seemed to require an overnight.  Montevideo seemed a tad boring but I thought, “why not?  it’s the capital?”  And then I ran into Colonia del Sacramento (or simply, “Colonia”).  I had never heard of this place.  Quick research led me to find out it was listed in “1,000 Places to See before You Die” so I had to learn more.

Funny how history runs its course…

Colonia del Sacramento was established by the Portuguese across the river from another small town called Buenos Aires in the late 17th century.  The town was part of a ping-pong match in terms of who ruled it:  Spain, Portugal, Spain, Portugal, …, Brazil, and then independent Uruguay.  Must have been exhausting!  The modern town’s old quarter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has a population of roughly 25,000 folks.

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French map dating from the 1740s made into a mural

Getting to Colonia del Sacramento

Certainly one can get there by road from Montevideo but, if you are in Buenos Aires, the Buquebus ferry leaving from Puerto Madero is quite efficient and convenient.  There are fast ferries that make the crossing in one hour (the river, at that point, is really no longer a river but the sea meeting the river) and slow-poke boats that make the crossing in three hours.  Needless to say, three hours on a boat when I can do it in one was a no-brainer….  The one hour ferry was at 8:30 AM so that was a bit of a sacrifice since there was a line or two to make at the port… But it was the right choice.  On the way back, since we wanted to have dinner in Buenos Aires, we took the ferry that arrived around 6 PM.  One thing to mind is that there IS a time zone difference between Uruguay and Argentina (crazy).

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The walkway to the ferry in the port in Buenos Aires

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Welcome to Uruguay!

Oh, and another thing to mind is that you MUST bring with you the reciprocity fee receipt for Argentina (if you are a U.S. citizen)… When you leave Uruguay, right at the port in Colonia, you will go through BOTH Uruguayan and Argentine immigration officers.  When you get to the Argentine officer, if you do not have it, you are in a for a nervous wait to see what the officer will do with you.  No, it did not happen to me, but it happened to a friend.  Note:  the other friend hanging with her volunteered to the officer “Oh, I don’t have mine either” – lol!  Somehow, the officer did not care about her but did about the other one.

The town – ruins

The thing to see in Colonia is the old quarter.  When you exit the very modern port facility, you go out of the port and go on that same street uphill and, eventually, you will hit the main street where you will make a left and walk for like five minutes before you hit the old quarter.  (There is a tourism info office outside the main building of the port but I did not go in.)

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, map

The old quarter is on the left side of the map

The old buildings have been beautifully kept up or maintained and the quarter is easy to walk around in.  The old quarter is in a peninsula so you can’t go too far without hitting the water except in one direction (as you can see in the map above).   The old quarter has ruins of fortifications from those centuries when the European powers were trying to take control of the river.  You can also see parts of the foundation of the former Portuguese governor’s house and ruins of the old convent.  Most of these ruins are, one could say, ruins of ruins but, nevertheless, they help understand how the town was set up and defended.

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Ruins of San Francisco Convent in front of the lighthouse

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Ruins of Bastión de San Miguel

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture, ruins

Ruins of the Portuguese Governor House in the Plaza de Armas

The town – buildings and structures

There old church, the Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento (Basilica of the Sacred Sacrament) was heavily restored starting in the 1950s.  It is simple in its design and decor.

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Basilica del Sagrado Sacramento

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, basilica, church

Inside of the basilica

The town is clearly oriented to visitors from Uruguay and abroad with many cafés, restaurants, gifts shops, and art shops.

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Local shop

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Outdoor café near the basilica

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, café

Eclectic café chair and table

But the best this charming town offers is just the simple yet beautiful architecture of the streets in or near its old quarter.  A peaceful setting graced by history and architecture!

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

House near the lighthouse

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

Shop in Calle de los Suspiros

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

House in Calle de los Suspiros

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

Detail of the local architecture by the Plaza de Armas

Colonia, Sacramento, Uruguay, colonial, UNESCO, World Heritage, Places to See, travel, photo, architecture

Home

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A local street right outside the heart of the old quarter

Lunch time in Colonia!

Of course, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch where I enjoyed an incredible pasta dish and we all enjoyed trying Uruguayan red wine – an unexpected treat (later followed by a cup of Freddos ice cream!)

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Lunch was this delicious butternut squash gnocchi in a pancetta cream sauce!

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Surprised at how good the local wine was!

A resident enjoying summer…

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Dog days of summer in Colonia are awesome!

 

 

Buenos Aires Re-Visited (Again)

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When I sat down to write this post, my first thought was:  “What can I possibly write about Buenos Aires that has not been written before?”  Good question.

My visit there was triggered by its being the location of two children’s homes we were going to help via a trek to Patagonia with Trekking for Kids.  I was not disappointed in that being the location as my prior visits to Buenos Aires, even the overnight trip one, were always good:  good city, good vibe, good food, and good wine.

I decided to go two days ahead of the official start of the group trip so that I would have some time to tool around some.  Tooling around soon turned out to include a day trip to nearby Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, across the river from Buenos Aires.

So, I turned my attention to determining where to stay.  I had already paid a good bit to be able to trek in Patagonia after the time in Buenos Aires so I was looking for a good alternative to just paying a hotel room.  Two others from the trek decided to come early too so, immediately, I decided that an apartment rental was the best option.  Using FlipKey, I found a great 2 bedroom apartment in Palermo on a high floor and with some good views.  Mercifully, it had A/C as it was summer in Buenos Aires.  (FlipKey did a great job of showing me apartments based on my criteria which included not only location and price point but availability of A/C and wifi!)

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My room at the apartment: nice corner and a balcony!

The landlord was very friendly and flexible but was spot on on restaurant recommendations – bonus!  And when I looked out of the balcony, I recognized the small square by the building as one I had seen on HGTV’s House Hunters International a couple of years ago.

After the couple of days on our own, we moved to the hotel were the group was going to stay while we worked with the children’s homes outside of Buenos Aires in Moreno.  The hotel was located in Recoleta, another nice neighborhood in Buenos Aires.  The hotel was located across from the Recoleta cemetery where Evita is buried.  I lucked out with the room assignment and had a great view of the cemetery and could even see the ocean, er, the river.

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The Recoleta Cemetery

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Typical scene at the Recoleta cemetery

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Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Pilar right at the cemetery’s entrance

I had visited the cemetery in 1991 but still went back in to look for Evita.  Of course, there is a sign indicating where the famous’ tombs are but if you look for Evita under “P” for Perón, you will not find her.  You must look under Duarte, her maiden name.

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The family mausoleum where Evita’s remains rest

Eva looms large in the Argentine psyche – and on the side of buildings too…

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That’s Evita up there

The other plus for the hotel -and another thing that loomed large for me- is that it was a few storefronts down from my favorite ice cream place in Argentina: Freddos, first discovered by me in 1991!

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I could not even wait to snap a photo before taking a bite (or 3)

Oh, the food in Buenos Aires…

Maybe the city should be renamed “Buena Comida”, instead of “Buenos Aires”…  In my time in Buenos Aires, I probably gained weight.  The likely contributors certainly included my almost daily Freddo’s ice cream cup but it also included the incredible beef, pastries, desserts, and wines enjoyed at places like Cabaña Las Lilas (which serves some of the highest quality of beef I have ever had as well as an incredible appetizer plate), Campo Bravo (where we enjoyed a highly diverse plate of cow components…), El Trapiche (a locals place with not only great beef but amazing pasta), and even Biking Buenos Aires (a bike tour that provided delicious pastries during our break)!

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The appetizer plate at Cabaña Las Lilas was a home run!

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The parrillada at Campo Bravo:  name that part

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Butternut squash stuffed pasta with an outstanding blue cheese sauce

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Pastries served as a snack during the bike ride

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Mate cups

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Don’t forget dessert: this beauty courtesy of Cabaña Las Lilas

A place to stroll around – and bike around!

Buenos Aires is such a walkable city.  Trees and parks everywhere and, as I shared before, PLENTY-O monuments in this South American metropolis.  Walking down Ave. Libertador, which is bordered by a park between it and the river, is a good way to stretch the legs after an overnight flight – or after a massive lunch on beef and wine…  #justsayin

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Ave. Libertador is good for walking, jogging or riding!

One thing I had not contemplated to do is in Buenos Aires is to ride bicycles.  I mean, ride a bicycle in a large metropolis in Latin America?  Nuts, right??  Well, let me tell you, it was so much fun and, actually, safe!  I did not realize it but Buenos Aires has built bike lanes in some parts of town which meant that about 80% of the bike tour I did with Biking Buenos Aires was on bike lanes.  For about 13 of us, we had the main guide who shared a lot of great information about the sights, and two additional guides who supported the group, handled crossing intersections, and were just great guys.

I had never visited La Boca (more on it later) and got to re-visit the Plaza de Mayo and ride around the Casa Rosada.  We rode around Puerto Madero were we had a snack.  And then we hung out at the bike tour office to eat delicious empanadas that we had bought.  Enjoy these final pictures of what we saw during my bike tour and don’t forget to eat and explore to your hearts’ content in incredible Buenos Aires!

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The Buenos Aires Cathedral in the back and the old Cabildo on the left

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The Women’s Bridge by Calatrava in Puerto Madero

 

Monticchiello: Charm in the Middle of Tuscany

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A few years ago, in one of my trips to Italy, we spent a few days in Tuscany.   We opted to rent apartments in a small mountaintop town called Monticchiello, a charming place, sandwiched between Pienza and Montepulciano (lucky folks!!!).  Montecchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, food, pasta, truffles, Palm Sunday, photos, travel, exploring

We truly lucked out:  the town was quaint, quite small, and its location was central and offering greats views. The place we stayed at was an awesome building a few hundreds of years old (but, the landlady mis-led us in terms of it sleeping all of us – I ended on a cot by the dining room).

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What a real person’s room looked like in that apartment!

A meal to remember

One of its gems was the only restaurant up there, aptly named Osteria La Porta (the gate).  There was a wait so we went to stand outside.  Not a few minutes later, the owner came out with a bottle of wine and five glasses for us to entertain ourselves with, courtesy of the house.  Yea, like THAT would happen in the U.S.!  We immediately knew we were at the right place.

La Porta, foodie, food, restaurant, Monticchiello, delicious, pasta with truffle, Italy, Italia

THE right place!

And we were not disappointed.  We made it inside and began studying the menu.  However, the waiter advised us that the pasta with truffle was very special.  That was a plate with no meat of any sort.  Just fresh pasta, fresh truffles, and a trickle of plain butter sauce.  I decided that if it was being recommended, I ought to try despite its lack of meat or any veggies I normally like (mushrooms do not fall under that category).  It was simply a superb dish.  I can safely say top 5 ever eaten by me without any fear of exaggeration.

La Porta, foodie, food, restaurant, Monticchiello, delicious, pasta with truffle, Italy, Italia

5 very happy campers

A special coincidence

We traveled to Italy during Holy Week which led to a few opportunities for good timing to happen.  Such was that Sunday at Monticchielo:  we were there on Palm Sunday.  We went to church that Sunday and it was neat to hear Mass in Italian.  But  bigger surprise awaited us:  the procession around town.  All 40  or 50 of us followed the priest around this neat little town.  I normally don’t spend enough time researching places to find out if there are local events that could be of interest – I just explore once I get somewhere.  Maybe I have missed some things with this approach but, I have to say, it makes running into these local situations so much more fun.

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The faithful getting their palms before the procession

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

The priest leading the procession

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

Walking down the narrow streets of Monticchiello

Monticchiello, Tuscany, La Toscana, Italy, Italia, Palm Sunday, Church, Catholic

Headed back in to the church at the end of the procession

What experiences have you had were you as pleasantly surprised while traveling?  (Except the part about me in a cot next to a kitchen!)

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