Montevideo Museum Day

When my parents were visiting we decided to check out some of the museums that Montevideo had to offer. We started off the day by walking down 18 de Julio, the major street heading towards Ciudad Vieja (old town). The street hits Plaza Independencia, which contains the mausoleum of General José Artigas topped by a magnificent statue of him on a horse.

Palacio Salvo on one corner of Plaza Independencia

Statue of General José Artigas in the middle of Plaza Independencia.

From the plaza we took Sarandi Street, a pedestrian walkway, and wandered into the heart of Ciudad Vieja. Sarandi is full of shops, restaurants, and people selling things from stands. We made our way to 25 de Mayo which is apparently a street of museums.

Our first stop was the  MAPI (Museo de Arte Precolombino e Indígena) ,which contained precolombian and indigenous art from South and Latin America. The collection that was open was fairly small, but well taken care of. The building in which the collection is housed was beautiful with a marble stairway leading up to the second floor and skylights in the ceiling. It appeared that the museum’s collection was much larger than what was on display and that they were renovating the second floor to house the rest of the collection. Thoughts: Small, but educational, cost = $30 pesos.

Our second stop was Museo de Artes Decorativas at the Palacio Taranco. This collection is housed in a beautiful mansion that was constructed in 1907 by the Taranco family. It was converted into a museum in 1972, and in 1975 was declared a historic monument. The collection was composed of numerous paintings and sculptures, furniture, tapestries, and musical instruments mostly of a french style. Another part of the museum is a fine collection of classical art and archeology in the basement. The specific exhibit contained artifacts involved in the making and storing of perfumes. Thoughts: Lavish, free.

Our third stop was Museo Romántico housed in yet another old house. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but once you go through the doorway it opened up into a beautiful courtyard. The museum (or at least the accessible parts) are in the upstairs living quarters. The collection is very lavish and has a couple of things I was not expecting including: an old opened music box, an old toiletry kit for traveling, and some nice pieces of furniture with inlayed wood. Thoughts: Small, free.

Our fourth stop brought us back to Sarandi street and the Museo Torres García. Torres García is one of Uruguay’s most famous artists. Born in Montevideo, he and his family moved to Spain where he settled for a time in Barcelona and attended art school. He moved to New York for a period of time and eventually came back to Montevideo. He wrote numerous books about art theory. For more information on Torres García, check out wikipedia. The museum had a great collection of his sketches, water colors, paintings, and toys spread out over three floors. Thoughts: Interesting, bigger, cost = $60 pesos.

One of Torres García's most famous drawings.

By this time it was well into the afternoon and we were exhausted and happily museum-ed out. There are many more museums in Montevideo that we’ll hopefully be able to experience before we leave.

Bouza Bodega Boutique Winery

When my parents were in town they decided that they wanted to get out of the city a bit and sample some of Uruguay’s fine wines. Luckily there is a small, yet popular, winery and vineyards about 20 minutes from downtown Montevideo called Bouza Bodega Boutique. They specialize in low quantity, high quality wines.

Bouza Bodega Boutique

They made a reservation for the three of us to get a tour of the winery and vineyards and then do a tasting. We headed out there in a taxi, only having to pay about $15 US. The sky was blue and the grass was bright green. It was a perfect day.

View of the old church turned fermentation room and cellar at Bouza.

The property was built in 1942 as a small farmstead and church. It was refurbished in 2002 to it’s present state consisting of a restaurant and fermentation rooms. They have also expanded their operation to have a small farm where they produce milk and raise chickens and cattle (all in small quantities). The vineyards produce grapes of 5 different varieties including two whites and three reds: albariño, chardonnay, merlot, tempranillo, and tannat. Tannat is a varietal famous in Uruguay.

The tour started off with their classic car collection. The Bouza family has a collection of more than 30 vehicles representative of those driven since the 1920’s in Uruguay and  includes Fords, Fiats, Vespas, and Volkswagons. They even have an old railcar from 1929 on display in the gardens.

Just one of the cars in the classic car collection.

From there the tour went into the vineyard where the tour guide discussed the different varieties of grapes that were grown and how and when they are harvested.

View of Tannat grapes. They are harvested in February/March each year and in August the vines are cut and treated with an anti-fungal because of the humid weather.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the tour was all in spanish. The tour guide knew english very well and told us that if we didn’t understand (we told her we spoke a little spanish) to ask her and she would explain in english. I must say that I understood the majority of what she was saying and relayed to my parents when needed. Progress is being made on my spanish skills.

The next stop on the tour was the primary fermentation room where they have wines fermenting for up to 8 months in steel, cement, or oak barrels. The differences between the containers being the amount of oxygen and flavor (in the case of the oak) imparted to the wine.

These are the stainless steel barrels for primary fermentation.

Following that, we headed to the cellar where the wines undergo a secondary fermentation in american and french oak barrels for up to 3 months. This is also where they store bottled wine for at least 6 months before it is sold in stores. There is also a special section of the cellar under the floor where the winery maintains about 40 bottles of it’s wine from each harvest year for posterity. For being a small operation, there were quite a few barrels in the cellar.

Barrels of wine in the cellar undergoing a secondary fermentation.

That ended the tour and we were led back to the restaurant and seated at a table dressed with one large glass and four smaller glasses at each place-setting. Pretty soon a setting of bread with various cheeses and meats was brought to the table along with four bottles of wine. The man leading us through the tasting spoke very good english and did a great job explaining each of the wines to us. He went through each wine individually, explaining and pouring, until he had gone through all four wines and then left us alone to taste them. It was much nicer tasting at a table with snacks than the usual tasting standing up at a bar.

These are the four wines we tasted. From left to right: tannat, merlot-tannat mix, merlot, vino blanco (which I already drank most of before I remembered to take a picture!).

The wines… The first was their “Vino Blanco” which was a special mix of albariño and chardonnay grapes that they make only for their tasting room and for sale at the vineyard (i.e. it cannot be bought in stores). The second was a merlot. The third was a merlot-tannat mix and the fourth was their special 2011 tannat. This wine was special because it was purportedly the best grape harvest in the last 40 years for taste, and because of this they did not apply a secondary fermentation to it. The result is a very strong-flavored, crisp, 15.5% alcohol content wine.

We enjoyed all the wines, but my favorite was the tannat, my mom’s was the merlot-tannat mix, and my dad seemed to enjoy all of them (especially toward the end, wink wink!). Of course we couldn’t leave without purchasing a few bottles, especially because they were cheaper than expected (in the $12-15 US range).

We had them call us a cab and we made our way back to the city, tired and a bit tipsy, but very happy!

Espiritu Sudaka 2012 Tournament – Video

Just a quick post for anyone wanting to see a bit more from the ultimate tournament we attended recently in Buenos Aires. This is a little film put together by one of the girls on our team. Enjoy!

Update: We’ve been told this video doesn’t work in the US due to copyright from the audio. Anyone else, enjoy!

An Asado and Fireworks on a Birthday Cake

The easiest way to sum up the night of the Asado: rain, alcohol, darts, slippery floor, firework candle, grilled meat, fun time!

When we meet people and they find out we are vacationing in Uruguay, there is always a list of items they ask if we have done yet. Depending on the person, it might be culture related, nature related, clubbing related, or something based on there interested. In general though, there are 2-3 things that always come up no matter what the person likes to do.

The three main things that people ask us if we’ve done yet are:

  1. Tried maté
  2. Eaten a chivito
  3. Had an asado
We have tried maté. We even bought everything to enjoy maté. We also bought ceramic maté’s to drink tea out of.

We LOVE Chivitos!

When we ask people about asados, they say it’s a very fun thing to do and it’s important we go to one. That sounds great to me!

Then, I ask what it is. I always get a similar response about cooking meat on a grill, having a get-together, and drinking beer.

My response is: “So, it sounds like grilling out at a barbecue? I like those. Count me in.” …But, it’s not like what I’m used to. When I describe an afternoon barbecue, they all say it’s way more important and extensive. It’s a special way of cooking, a celebration of something, and a get-together.

So an asado isn’t like grilling steaks on a grill at the house… After attending an Asado, here are the main differences I noticed:

  1. The meat is cooked over the coals of wood and not directly over the fire. Nicer Parrillas (grills) have a separate section to burn the wood
  2. You can raise and lower the meat as needed (raise to add and move coals around and lower to cook directly above the coals)
  3. It’s meant for get-togethers of people and not just grilling out with a friend.
  4. There is a large variety of meat. Different cuts of meat from sausage, steak, ribs, and other cuts that I didn’t know what they were, but tasted great.

I was invited to an Asado when I was in Buenos Aires, Argentina with the Ultimate Frisbee team that I was going to play with on Sunday.

The asado was a blast and more like a party. We had beer, wine, snacks, music playing, people sitting around talking, and darts. We played five person darts where everyone throws with their off-hand to get their number, then needs to hit their number three times to get three points before they can be a killer. If you’re a killer, every number you hit takes a point off of their score. If you hit your own number, you remove a point from your score. When you reach a negative number, you’re out of the game. When you are under 3 points, every number you hit adds a point to the score. The goal is to eliminate the other players.

Buenos Aires Asado with Darts

It was fun since it was raining so when it wasn’t my turn, I would be hiding under cover, but when it was my turn, I’d run outside, throw the darts and try not to slip and fall with the darts in my hand, and then throw the darts. A couple of times, people almost fell, which added a couple seconds of excitement to the situation.

The Asado grill (Parrilla) and meat

There is a special part of the grill that is only used to burn the wood. The coals fall down and you carefully spread them under the meat.

Here’s a picture of Maxi working with the wood on the left, while the meat cooks over the coals on the right.

Maxi creating some coals to cook on

The cooking lasted for about 2-3 hours while wood was continuously burning to create coals and meat was slowly cooking. Maxi would lower the meat as much as possible on the coals, then raise it when more coal was ready to put under the meat.

Maxi and the Asado Parilla

Iron Chef Maxi says, "Let's eat!"

Once there were enough coals and the first batch of meat was ready, everyone stopped playing darts and sat down around tables while Maxi brought food out in batches, letting some of the meat cook a little longer.

Maxi would grab a bite to eat, run out to move stuff around, and bring in the meat if it was ready.  Each piece of meat tasted really good. The ribs, chorizo sausage, steak, and some other cut of meat for asados were all good.

We all had a great time talking about different subjects, happenings, etc. Sometimes it’s hard for me to understand when everyone is talking very quickly, but in general, I could pick up conversation and occasionally contribute.

I was able to chat a good amount about American Football and the Falcons so that was fun.

Fernando’s Birthday!

Fernando’s birthday was also on the same day as the asado. It was perfect timing!

After we were finishing eating and almost too stuffed to eat more, Fernando brought out two desserts for his birthday. One with dulce de leche layer in a thin cake and cheese cake with strawberries.

A large candle was used in the center of the cheese cake with strawberries. I thought it was an abnormally large candle.  It wasn’t just a candle, in fact, once lit, it shot a stream of sparks straight up about a foot higher than the cake. What a surprise! I didn’t expect it at all.

Fernando's Birthday in Buenos Aires

Pre birthday candle ignition

Sparkler on cake in Buenos Aires

Birthday Candle on Steroids

The funniest part of the night happened right after the firework display started. I’m sitting to the right of the camera in the picture with the sparks shooting up. Fernando is sitting in the gray shirt with green sleeves.

He goes to blow the large candle out, as anyone would do with their cake, and the sparks started to come my way. Instead of everyone around me jumping back, 3-4 people jumped in front of me, like they were the secret service diving to take a bullet for the President,  to shield me from the sparks. It was extremely funny and made for some hilarious conversation for the next 30 minutes.

I hope there is a picture or video of it!

The asado was a really fun event despite the rain. I really appreciate being invited and having a great time with the group from Disco Sur. I also really enjoyed playing Ultimate Frisbee with them on Sunday in their league games in Argentina.

To Disco Sur, thanks for letting me play with you guys Sunday. It was a lot of fun.

To Maxi, thanks for my first asado and everything else!

To Fernando, thanks for not killing me on your birthday with fireworks and thanks for the great hospitality!

TIMEBOMB! La Bomba De Tiempo

To me, traveling isn’t about seeing the super touristy stuff and leaving. It’s about experiencing the culture, meeting people, and having great adventures.

As part of my time in Buenos Aires, I was trying to find fun things to do that aren’t super touristy. I’m not a fan of going to look at a building, taking a picture, and then walking to the next one (it doesn’t mean I haven’t done that, but it doesn’t really excite me).

As I was looking for fun things to experience, a friend told me about this party/concert/rave every monday night with drums that was called “La Bomba de Tiempo” which means, Timebomb. Since I’m a drummer at heart and I love good rhythm and a funky beat, I thought it would be awesome and decided to do.

It was at this place called Konex. They play every Monday, but sometimes they play indoors and sometimes they play outdoors.

We went with a group from Couch Surfing that Matias, a local guys who plays Ultimate Frisbee puts together. We went to the meet up spot across the street and waited. Slowly, about 10 people showed up from Couch Surfing. They were from Brazil, USA, Columbia, Australia, New Zealand, England and Argentina. When enough people showed up, we went inside. Tickets were $50 Argentina Pesos each (about US$12).

Once you were in, you can show them your ticket stub and get a pass for next week to be 50% off in case you want to go again.

The show started with some really cool solos and group drumming instructed by a few different people. About 30 minutes into the show, they invited two guitarists onto stage and played a lot of awesome rhythms behind the guitars and vocals. They started getting the crowd jumping around. Some songs, the crowd would chill out, stay planted and just sway side to side. Some songs would be so full of energy that the crowd would end up jumping up and down, clapping to the beat, and dancing around.

La Bomba de Tiempo Drummers

They look a little like Mario on stage in red and black outfits.

There were three distinct segments of the crowd:

  • The back. This is where the people were standing around drinking and socializing more than paying attention to the music
  • The front right (looking at the stage). This is where people were really only paying attention to the music, but a little too scared to let loose, jump around, and dance.
  • The front left (looking at the stage). This is where the party animals went. The people wanting to let loose, jump around, maybe form a mosh-pit, and go a little crazy. Just like any rock concert, this is where the crazies and the fun is at.

So where did we go?  We started at the front right and inched towards the front left. Near the very end, I made my way into the mosh-pit after being warned to guard my wallet and cell phone in my pockets…

 
 
Here comes the rant…

This seems like a normal thing in Buenos Aires. Nothing is safe. The general idea is that everyone, everywhere is trying to steal stuff from you. I’m all for being smart about where I am, how I dress, and what people see I have, but I couldn’t live in fear everyday. If you have a backpack on, you wear it in front of you. Not because it’s better for your back (is it?), but because people are going to open it and take your stuff in under 2 seconds.

You don’t speak english out loud at night when you’re not in large groups (it’s not so bad since there are a lot of tourists and expats in Buenos Aires). When you are out in public, you’re constantly observing everyone around you the whole time because you’re scared someone is watching you, waiting for you to let your guard down.

The whole time I was in Buenos Aires, people were trying to be nice and warn me, but it was always “watch your stuff”, “are you trying to stand out?”, “don’t walk near them”, etc…

Thanks for the advice, maybe I’ll just stay away from Buenos Aires and go somewhere else like Bali or the Philippines.

A lot of people say it’s not as bad everyone makes it out to seem, but I know two people that were robbed the week while I was in Buenos Aires. One on the subway and one in the busy streets at night.

I know there are problems everywhere, but even in Columbia, friends said the main cities there are safer than the main city of Buenos Aires.

…okok, I’m ending my rant about Buenos Aires. Back to the drums!

 
 

So, I worked my way towards the front left. Small steps turned into larger steps, larger steps turned into dancing with the people around me, and the dancing turned into jumping. Jumping/dancing, whatever you want to call it with cute girls from London and New Zealand.  The show was da bomb! Literally.

Here’s a video clip someone else took of them. I don’t feel like it does it justice because if they took this video on the night I went, most of the crowd in front of them would be going crazy.


 
 
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For more of Buenos Aires, check out Randi’s posts around the city: Walkabout Buenos Aires and Wandering Alone in a Huge City.
 

Wandering Alone in a Huge City

On monday Asa had some work that he wanted to do so I decided that I would go ahead and explore more of Buenos Aires on my own.

I spent a while reading reviews of tourist attractions and figuring out when things were open. I decided to head out walking toward the botanical gardens. It sounded like a nice quiet spot where I might be able to do some drawing. Monday was an Argentinian national holiday so everything was closed, but that didn’t stop the still numerous people on the streets from window shopping.

It took me almost an hour to walk from the downtown area to the botanical gardens, but the weather was nice and the walk was pleasant.

The botanical gardens are free, which I found can have its ups and downs. An up is that it’s free! A down is that anyone and everyone can get in. When I got there almost every bench was full and only the ones in front of mud puddles or in the sun were empty. There is a central building and a greenhouse, but the day I was there both were closed. There were several sculptures and water features, but none very impressive. It was just a nice fenced-in park. I walked through and went on my way.

I strolled back toward the cultural center and Recoleta cemetery. On my way I passed by the city’s central library and an impressively large sculpture of Evita in front of it. I wandered through the street fair in the park again and centered my sites on the cemetery, this time with the desire to do some drawing. I meandered through the rows of mausoleums and finally settled on some nice statues. About an hour later, with pictures drawn, I headed back to the hotel by way of the grocery store again.

The next day, a tuesday, the Museo de Nacional de Bellas Artes was open. I headed there after an adventure to the post office which was around the corner from our hotel. I was delayed there for about 20 minutes because I had to take a number and wait in line to send my 10 postcards to the states. For anyone interested, it cost about $1.50 US to send each post card and hopefully they will get to you lucky ones soon!

Anyway, back to the art museum. I was impressed with it’s collection. Although small, it was well-rounded and interesting. They had a very nice collection of small Rhodin sculptures (about 15 in total), and paintings by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Degas, Gauguin, and Renoir to name just a few. They also had an interesting temporary exhibit featuring drawings and paintings from the “Claridad” magazine which featured prominently in the socialist and anarchist movement in Argentina in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This museum is well worth the free entry fee!

This sums up my tourist activities in Buenos Aires. Things that I would like to do if we get a chance to go back include a tour of the Casa Rosada (which are given in spanish or english), explore the sunday market/fair in San Telmo, and see the La Boca neighborhood with it’s brightly painted houses and street performers. Until next time!

Exploring Buenos Aires

We had another full day of exploring Buenos Aires together. The first thing we decided was that we weren’t really interested in figuring out how to take the bus or the subway yet and that we’d rather walk.

So we set off with the goal of going to the MALBA, Museo de Arte Latinamericano de Buenos Aires, which is suppose to have art from all of Latin America from 1945 – present. We walked down Avenida del Libertador which is lined by numerous green spaces and tourist destinations.

Our first stop was the Plaza Naciones Unidas which is park containing a very large metal sculpture of a flower standing 75 ft high called Flores Genérica. The flower was designed and donated by artist Eduardo Catalano. The flower opens and closes mechanically each day, mimicking a real flower opening and closing with the sun. It was quite stunning!

Our second stop was the MALBA. Their collection of Latin American art could be described generally as modern art. They had some cool pieces including: a wooden bench whose ends curved up and around and down the wall, a set of moving malleable metal circles whose shadows made intriguing designs on the wall, some painted metal figures, a seascape whose bottom portion was a functioning fish tank, and a work with large prisms.

Other sections of the museum were filled with special exhibits. One called “Bye Bye American Pie” which documented an American view of war in the U.S. (including the war on poverty, drugs, welfare, abroad, etc…) through the pieces of 6 U.S. artists. The other was an exhibit of work by León Ferrari depicting an odd mix of religious artwork with erotic and war based images superimposed. Both of these exhibits had warnings stating that children under 18 should be accompanied by an adult. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen such an odd mix of art under one roof before.

Nothing was planned after that so we just started to wander. We found ourselves playing on some exercise equipment in a park and wandering through a mesh of street vendors near the Cultural Center of Buenos Aires. They were selling everything from leather book coverings to jewelry, to maté paraphernalia, to clothes, to artwork. It was all very beautiful.

By the time we navigated all the little booths we found ourselves at the entrance to Recoleta Cemetery, the main cemetery in the city. It is filled with mausoleums, both old and new, made up of concrete and marble and any building material in between, and in various states of disrepair. The mausoleums usually had ornate iron doors with glass to protect the shrines inside. All the shrines were different, but most had some kind of religious ikon and decoration. Below these would sit the actual coffins or small urns. Each mausoleum had a staircase leading below-ground. I couldn’t figure out if this was for more storage, as each mausoleum could be for an entire family or set of families, or if it was for drainage purposes. We wandered around for a while, enjoying the relative quiet in comparison to the rest of the bustling city.

In front of the Recoleta Cemetery and the Cultural Center in the park is a magnificent tree. Its branches stretch out  about 50 m in every direction and are supported by large beams that keep them up off the ground. A fence of about 15-20 m in diameter surrounded the trunk. It was incredible, but alas no picture. You’ll just have to use your imaginations!

On the way back to our hotel we stopped by a grocery store and picked up some sandwiches which we later consumed in our hotel room as a reward for our new discoveries!