Yesterday I took one of my rare South American bus trips – usually I have my own car but in Buenos Aires, I don’t need it and, when I cross the river to Uruguay, I’m dependent on public transportation here. That’s why, at mid-morning yesterday, I boarded a COT coach from Colonia to Montevideo. After the three-hour trip and a short taxi ride from the Terminal Tres Cruces, I left my gear in the hotel and set out for the Ciudad Vieja , the colonial core that’s become the city’s top attraction, even if there’s not much truly colonial remains except for the narrow streets and sycamore-shaded plazas.
Unexpectedly, as I walked along downtown’s Avenida 18 de Julio, I found the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo  open – every other time I’ve been here it’s been closed. This time, though, there was a special exhibit on painter Juan Carlos Martínez Zorrilla , about whom I knew nothing, and I found the canvases by Carlos
Páez Vilaró  and his brother Jorge Páez Vilaró  more interesting. It’s an interesting space, though, and worth a look for anybody who’s in town.
Proceeding down 18 de Julio, I crossed Plaza Independencia and entered Sarandí, a narrow pedestrian mall that fills with a Sunday crafts and flea market that also occupies most of the nearby Plaza Matriz. I was hungry, though, and continued toward the Mercado del Puerto , the picturesque home to a gaggle of grill restaurants where Uruguayans and tourists scarf down artery-hardening quantities of beef and other meats, plus the occasional fish dish, in lively surroundings.
On this particular Saturday, there was live music as a local samba band drummed its way through the market in what, on the face of it, looked like a tourist trap promotion but, before long, Uruguayan diners were up and spontaneously dancing to the drums, trombones, and rectangular chapas – improvised from bottle caps, the chapa appears to be a functional equivalent of the tambourine here. Oddly, as I watched, they were playing a version of “Cielito Lindo.” 
Unlike most diners at the Mercado, I decided to forgo red meat and went for a sweet-and-sour chicken that was more on the sweet side than I would have preferred. Afterwards, walking slowly back to the hotel I stumbled upon yet another art event, the recently inaugurated Bienal de Montevideo o, taking place at several sites in the Ciudad Vieja – Bolivian artist Sonia Falcone ’s “Campo de Color” was a cluster of colored and conically piled spices on the floor of former Iglesia San Francisco, a church with no priest or congregation that’s to be redeveloped as a cultural center; Falcone’s exhibit appealed to the nose as well as the eye The venue is interesting in its own right - Uruguay must lead the world in aggressive secularization, as not even Xmas is an official acknowledged holiday; here, it’s Día de la Familia, “Family Day.”
Most of the Bienal exhibits, though, were in the Ciudad Vieja headquarters of the Banco de la República, a landmark structure that I had never entered before. The building’s central atrium, with its gilded teller booths on both sides of the floor, made a magnificent site for a diversity of creative pieces.
Sunday was a little more relaxed, as so many thing are closed in town. I did manage to have one of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed in Uruguay, a seared tuna with sesame at the 62 Bar  in the Pocitos neighborhood. I also took a look at the new My Suites  hotel in Pocitos, a wine-themed boutique whose every floor is dedicated to a different Uruguayan winery. Unfortunately, public tastings take place every night except Sunday, so I won’t get to appreciate it fully this time.
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For additional photographs of the weekend in Montevideo, please visit my own Southern Cone Travel  blog.