Thursday, July 18, 2024

Montevideo's magic: history, stately buildings and many free attractions

This group of students came to our aid when they saw us looking at our city map.
This friendliness is typical of Uruguayan people, we found in our 10 days there.

Montevideo is often overlooked in favor of larger, more visited South American cities.
 It has much to offer, though, including  stately architecture

Top photo:Above, tasty chicken salad
garnished with apples, walnuts, sesame seeds.

THE MOST appealing aspect of Montevideo is the friendly, welcoming feeling one gets while strolling its streets, visiting a museum or enjoying a beverage.
Perhaps it's the yerba mate, an herbal tea that nearly every Uruguayan drinks.
Our splendid tour guide Pablo enjoys
his mate during a break on a day trip.
It's their equivalent of coffee, and imbibers believe it is both calming and "calmly energizing," as our guide Pablo told us. Mate contains adaptogens that help keep cortisol
levels from rising too high. Its millions of consumers also believe it provides a gradual, smooth energy boost along with vitamins, minerals, and superfoods to encourage relaxation and immunity.
Mate thermoses and cups adorn many shop
windows.  The national drink is much enjoyed.
  SO WE settled into the calming vibe in this lovely city, settled in  1724 by a Spanish soldier. As the capital of this small South American country, most Americans pass it by, in favor of the larger and glitzier Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
Happily, we spent eight pleasant days in Montevideo, with side trips to nearby villages, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Montevideo's laid-back atmosphere includes a lively café culture, and well-preserved old town in the Ciudad Vieja. We enjoyed strolling this area, which is receiving a wave of immigration primarily from its neighbors—Argentina and Brazil—but also from Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela. Our guide, in fact, was born in Cuba and came here with his Cuban wife and his mother-in-law.  All are assimilated in Montevideo and love it.
Montevideo's streets are neat and welcoming,
with pretty shops, art displays and usually few
crowds.  We were up early for a peaceful walk.
Carrasco International Airport is a pleasant contrast with other more hectic South American ones.
Its family-friendly nature is typical of Uruguay. Free strollers were available for use within the airport. Family bathrooms and baby rooms for feeding and changing are plentiful and easy to access.
Most everyone speaks English and young people are polite and friendly. We encountered a group of students who recommended a tango show and fun inexpensive restaurant.
Museums and cultural centers/events offer free admission for kids under 12 and reasonable student rates. 
Montevideo's imposing equine statue features the
national hero of Uruguay, José Gervasio Artigas
(1764–1850), who led the fight for independence
 against Brazil and Portugal.

Life in Montevideo revolves around cafes, many spread out around the Plaza de la Independencia, once home to a Spanish citadel. This plaza leads to Ciudad Vieja with beautiful art deco buildings, colonial homes and landmarks including the towering Palacio Salvo and neoclassical performance hall Solís Theatre. Mercado del Puerto has trendy steakhouses, in a gentrified area of the old port market which celebrates its history.
Shady, welcoming cafes, clean streets
and attractive architecture mark 
Montevideo, with many free offerings. 
Montevideo and its rich cultural life offer the pleasures of a vibrant city such as Miami or Malaga. Both south Florida and the Costa del Sol came to mind during our time in Montevideo, which shares the same rich cultural and ethnic background as Miami in the U.S. and Malaga in Spain.

More info: Dream Tour Uruguay and guide Pablo are highly recommended. Tours of Montevideo, Punta del Este and Colonia are all offered by Dream Tour Uruguay.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie"
Meyers enjoy a day in Colonia, with its
historic architecture and charming shops.

UP NEXT: While we're in Uruguay, we visit two very different cities: Punta del Este, with its lively beach culture, and the historic town of Colonia. It was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 on the Río de la Plata, and the city quickly came to be of strategic importance in resisting the Spanish. We found Uruguay welcoming and clean, friendly and reasonably priced.  Its stable economy and kind and gracious people are appealing reasons to plan a trip.  It's also very family friendly. Children are welcome, and often invited free to museums and other venues. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, nature, food, performance, family and more:

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Casapueblo with its Santorini look attracts nature lovers to Uruguay



Top photo: The colors and shapes of Casapueblo
remind of Santorini, which inspired the architect.

From the air, Casapueblo spreads out above the sea.
Hotel rooms have ocean views and are not numbered.



AN ARTIST'S vision became his  fascinating summer home, now an international destination for those with a sense of adventure and a yearning for invention. Casapueblo looks like nothing else we've seen in several South American forays. Its winding cave-like corridors and white free form architecture remind more of the Greek Isles its designer loved. 

If we didn't know better, we wouldn't believe we were in Uruguay, thousands of miles from Greece. Once inside, dozens of artifacts and artful lighting add a mysterious feeling.  It is an intriguing building complex constructed by the Uruguayan artist Carlos Páez Vilaró.  An African ant hill he observed also inspired his magical creation.

Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" Meyers
outside the museum at Casapueblo.
HIS EXQUISITE use of materials mostly in white, seems both whimsical and "alive." It almost undulates in a soft breeze and is beautifully integrated with the landscape of this arid area.
EVEN THOUGH the property is expansive, the stone carved buildings give the feeling of  "areas" -- comfortable, welcoming spaces. It is located in Punta Ballena, 13 kilometres from Punta del Este, where until Vilaro's death in 2013, it was his summer home and workshop. It now includes a museum, an art gallery, a cafeteria and an unusual hotel.. The museum showcases the artwork of  Vilaró, whose paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and tapestries offer visitors a glimpse into his extraordinary artistic journey.
The museum at Casapueblo offers insight into the
exciting life of Uruguayan artist Carlos Vilaro.

Vilaró was inspired by the mud nests and houses of Santorini's Mediterranean coast when designing Casapueblo, a fairytale house and museum near Punta del Este. The nests, which are typical of Uruguay's hornero birds, have a side opening that resembles an oven's mouth. Vilaró described the style as anarchic and avoiding sharp lines.

Carlos Vilaro was inspired by Santorini, and its whitewashed
Mediterranean look.  He also loved bright colors. 
LOCATED ON a high rocky point jutting over the sparkling water of Punta Ballena,  Casapueblo sits majestically as both a magical sculptured hotel and a museum. It is referred to as the “Greek island of Uruguay” or the “Santorini of Latin America.”
The nicknames are apt because the structure’s Cycladic-inspired architecture enhances Punta Ballena’s sunset views to remind of the villages of Santorini which inspired Vilaro. He shared his passion with the world, christening it "house town" or "house of the people."
The original white building constructed in 1958 is the centerpiece of the complex which also houses a tribute to Carlos Miguel, the artist's son. He was one of 16 survivors of flight 571, a Uruguayan Air Force plane which crashed in the Andes on Oct. 13, 1972.
THOUSANDS OF visitors come to enjoy the place every year. Hotel rooms don't have numbers. Each key has a unique tile design which matches corresponding tiles on the guest room door. Unique -- as was Vilaro.

How to get there: Casapueblo is located in Punta Ballena, about nine miles (14.5 kilometers) west of Punta del Este,  a 15-minute drive. It's a bit over two hours from Montevideo. We highly recommend Pablo of Dream Tour Uruguay.

Montevideo's winding streets and beautiful
gardens are complemented by historic
buildings and classic architecture.

  Uruguay's capital city Montevideo beckons, then we visit historic Colonia and Punta del Este. While Uruguay is overshadowed on most tourists' lists by the flashier cities of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Montevideo has its own charms and is home to nearly 1.5 million people -- a third of the country's population.  The city is an exciting place to spend a few days, with a fascinating past and many convenient side trips an hour or two away. The strategic placing of Montevideo gives it an interesting history, situated on the southern coast of the country, on the northeastern bank of the Río de la Plata. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live. Catch us weekly for a fresh spin on travel, performance, nature, family and more: 

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Lady Liberty, Ellis Island, World Trade Center honor best of New York


Highlights of New York include a visit to Tower One, the Empire State Building, Ellis Island
and the Statue of Liberty, holding her torch high in this montage for the Fourth of July.


Tower One in the World Trade Center viewed from the water near sunset,
  shows the single tower standing where the Twin Towers once stood.



Bruce Keller and Christene "Cookie" 
Meyers beneath Lady Liberty on a recent trip
NO MONUMENT in the country better represents American independence than the Statue of Liberty.

Did you know that the tablet she holds in her left hand is symbolic? On it, in Roman numerals, is inscribed: July 4, 1776.

The statue -- a gift from the French people -- commemorates the alliance of France and the United States during the American Revolution.

IN A VERY different way, the World Trade Center Memorial  represents unity, too.  Its striking architecture speaks to our desire for world peace and understanding.

Its tranquil and stirring architectural theme make one ponder, remember and give thanks for all that is good about America.

A TRIP TO New York is not complete without a visit to these places that symbolize life, talent, loss, endurance and values of the United States.
Our visits often include a return to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island Museum and One World Trade Center. Each one symbolizes America's resilience and endurance, its strength, universality and global reach.
n trips since 9-11, we never fail to be moved by the beauty of One World Trade Center. Built in the grounds of the Twin Towers' destruction on that dark day 23 years ago, water creates a soothing ambience for visitors. Architect Michael Arad, describes his unique pools as
The National Immigration Museum offers an insightful look at
 the challenges and protocol of our ancestors' entry into the U.S. 

representing “absence made visible.” Although water flows into the voids, they can never be filled, he says. The sound of cascading water makes the pools a place of tranquility and contemplation away from the noise of a bustling city. We  linger with others to pay our respects to the victims.

THE WORLD Trade Center complex includes the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is both
The approach to the Statue of Liberty at dawn is a moving experience.
 memorial and museum -- part of the World Trade Center complex -- created to remember the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001, which killed 2,977 people,

find it too emotional to visit World Trade Center, Lady Liberty and the immigration museum on the same day. We broke it up, spending one day at the Trade Center and museum then buying a roundtrip ticket on the historic ferry to visit both Ellis Island and the Liberty Island, home of the Statue of Liberty.
To get to either of the islands you need to purchase a ferry ticket.
It will include stops at both Liberty Island for Lady Liberty, and Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration.
THE MUSEUM is in the former immigration complex's Main Building. It is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument, under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service. A piece of history itself, both memorial and museum.
Visitors approach Ellis Island on Circle Line, with a
CityPASS ticket that stops at the Statue of Liberty, too.
Ferry stops between the two islands are staggered to give passengers time to take photos and visit both, returning at nicely spaced intervals for both brief and leisurely stays.
SAILING TIME to each island is about 15 minutes. If you take the ride only without visiting either monument, you'll be gone one hour and fifteen minutes. If you visit both islands, time depends on the length of each visit.
Since we are all immigrants, we found Ellis Island an insightful look at the American dream. From the massive entrance hall, to the medical stations, video and digital exhibits, the experience is both interesting and emotional.
 WE RECOMMEND CityPASS for your visit to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. You'll have a
The 9/11 Memorial is a moving place to visit, where family
and friends of those lost place flowers on etched names. 
bird's eye view of both Lady Liberty and the immigration museum
from a Circle Line tour, part of  CityPASS and its New York ticket book. A Circle Line ride is a fun money saving way to see highlights of one of the world's great cities, including Rockefeller Center and the Empire State Building, plus other world class museums and attractions.
You can visit One World Trade Center and the 9/11 museum on your own, or book a guided tour.
And don't forget the July 4 celebration on Washington, D.C., mall, broadcast live on PBS. 
We recommend visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island with CityPASS, which offers a Circle Line tour stopping at both historic
Or go to:  
For tours of the 9/11 Memorial and tickets for the 9/11 Museum and One World Observatory.

Casapueblo intrigues, looking like a Moorish village, but
it's in South America, and awaits your visitation

UP NEXT: Come with us to explore lesser known yet equally fascinating villages near Montevideo.  Although the country's capital is the largest and most visited city, it takes just two hours to drive the interesting road to artful Casapueblo in Punta Ballena, and sunny Punta del Este, worlds away from the busy city.  Casapueblo's museum, art colony and luxury hotel make fascinating touring. Nearby, an intriguing beach town awaits --  internationally famed for its shopping, glamorous nightlife, and dining for every budget.  There's plenty to do in Punta del Este while the sun shines and more when the sun sets. During the day, we found people dozing on the beach, browsing high-end shopping streets, visiting museums, and enjoying some of South America's finest restaurants. Meanwhile, explore, learn and live and catch us weekly for a fresh slant on travel, nature, the arts, family and more: