Saturday, March 29, 2008

the size of a cow ...

Remember when the e-commerce revolution promised us the convenience and service of on-line shopping?

It's a shame no-one told the ferry company that runs between Buenos Aires and Uruguay.

After an hour of trying to order the tickets on-line I resorted to the call centre - quite possibly the single most frustrating experience of my life.

The next 18 hours involved regular phone calls during which I would correct the previous operators spelling mistakes, before returning to my vigil at the internet cafe as I waited for the e-tickets to arrive in my inbox.

Forty minutes before we were due to sail they finally decided to let me collect them at the port and I discovered the most recent translation of my surname. Fretweoo.

After I had painstakingly provided examples for each letter (e.g. "L is for Limbo") I can't understand how there can be any ambiguity left, but in the interests of my sanity I've decided to let it go.

Suprisingly the e-tickets still haven't arrived.

Our first stop in Uruguay was the old Portuguese smuggling port of Colonia del Sacramento (above) where we spent th afternoon exploring the cobbled streets and plazas of the old town to the sound of parrots squawking loudly from the orange trees.

It was impossible not to relax in a surroundings like this and the frustrations of the morning were soon forgotten.

In the evening we set to work at one of the pavement cafes, sampling the local beers and wines, accompanied by nibbles in the form of a Picada - basically a wooden platter with a shovel-sized heap of crips, nuts, olives, ham, cheese and salami.

After a while we noticed the music in the bar was strangely familiar - familiar, yet somehow not quite right. On closer attention we discovered the female vocalist was singing the back catalogue of Guns and Roses to the sound of a casio keyboard and panpipes. If you can imagine The Cardigans covering Metallica's greatest hits you've probably got the general idea. It was so rubbish you couldn't help laughing.

The next morning we hopped on a bus for the drive around the coastline to Montevideo. The buildings in the capital seemed to either be superb colonial era buildings (albeit in varying states of disrepair) or the kind of 1960's concrete buildings that make Coventry such an appealing tourist destination. Throw in the odd horse and cart moving through the city centre traffic and you complete the picture of a eclectic city - modern on the surface but with it's rural roots showing through.

Beef is big business in Uruguay and we couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit one of the cities biggest tourist attractions, Mercado del Puerto - an enormous glass roofed building where just about every stall is home to it's own woodfired parilla, or barbeque. Just pull up a stool at the counter and choose from the extensive chalkboard menu of cow parts.

I think my steak deserved to be reclassified as a Sunday roast.

In a small concession to healthy eating I decided to avoid the chips and go for one of the foil wrapped potatoes I could see cooking in the embers of the fire.

Not having yet learnt the word in Spanish for jacket I started scanning the menu and was suprised to find them described as Papas a la Plomo or in other words, Potatoes in Lead.

Mmm, how tempting.

Perhaps this is what the staff at Buquebus have been eating?

Uruguay offered us 3 new beers for the league - the best being Patricia Rubio at 81%. It will also be the last brand new country we visit on our travels, so the league is now somewhere near approaching a completed work.

I was especially pleased to hear that one of my readers has been putting the league to good effect, trying out a bottle of the highly rated MAC Spring Tide on a trip to New Zealand. Best of luck working through the rest of the NZ list Paul ...

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