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The First “Run” to Colonia, Uruguay

19 Jan

The little town of Colonia (officially, Colonia del Sacramento), Uruguay, gets a lot of airtime among the expat community in Buenos Aires. For those of us staying in Buenos Aires on the three-months-at-a-time tourist visa, Colonia is the most popular destination to make a “visa run.” At minimum, we just hop on a short ferry ride to Uruguay in the morning, eat and wander around Colonia during the day, and then return to Argentina in the evening with a new three month visa tourist stamp.

Seeing the “Colonia run” as a task, many expats complain about the little town. “There’s nothing to do.” For us, “nothing” sounded amazing — a much-needed break from our first three months of diving straight into local life in Buenos Aires.

So we turned our visa run into a 4-day, 3-night vacation. We are so glad we did. This trip to Colonia turned out to be about as close to our ideal vacation as we’ve ever had, as it provided us everything we always want in a vacation:

  • a daily activity schedule centered on great food and when to eat it
  • plenty of “down time” to read and unwind
  • a large body of water
  • perfect weather for staring at the water all day
  • a comfortable bed
  • a clean and beautiful pool
  • minimal people, minimal noise
  • free live music
  • motorbikes or scooters for rent

We loved Colonia so much we thought about moving there to get out of the big city, but later realized that we just needed to move out of our tiny BA apartment. More on that later. For now, enjoy the pictures.

**Fellow expats, scroll to the bottom for some suggestions and helpful tidbits about your visit to Colonia.

Here are some of our thoughts on how to enjoy Colonia.

General Advice:

Relax. Seriously. Bring a book and enjoy doing nothing. Plan on staying at a restaurant or cafe for at least two hours. Drag the most out of every corner and crevice of the town.

Restaurant Advice:

Trust the TripAdvisor reviews. They are spot on.

El Buen Suspiro” only serves picadas, but the cheeses, meats, and setting are stunning. We didn’t have a reservation, but it was a good thing we arrived “early” at 8:30pm to snag one of the small tables.

Lentas Maravillas” was by far our favorite daytime location (open 2pm – 8pm) that we went two days in a row. The owner, Maggie, prepares tasty and unique sandwiches to enjoy out in her backyard overlooking the docks and river. The name of this place, “Slow Wonders,” defined the whole trip for me. Come ready to relax and read and stay a while.

La Bodeguita” surprised us. It was the busiest place we ate at the whole time and quickly figured out why. Go just before sundown, get a table out on the back patio and watch the sunset while greedily eating a $100 Uruguayan peso pizza (that’s US $5). We originally order two, but loved them so much we ordered a third.

Hotel Advice:

To have the good food at your fingertips, stay in the historic district.

We couldn’t afford the Radisson, but stopped by to see what the hype was about. It looked amazing. The pictures online didn’t do it justice. For our next run, we’ll be staying there for sure.

While it gets a number of bad reviews at TripAdvisor, we stayed at Hotel Italiano and enjoyed it. The rooms are smaller than the average hotel room, but the bed was comfortable, the room was quiet, the shower has pressure, and the two pools were beautiful and clean.

Ferry Advice:

While SeaCat and Colonia Express are often cheaper than Buquebus, they are smaller boats (and not as comfortable) which means that if you are like me and get seasick quickly, you want to avoid them for journeys over 30 minutes. Whatever you do, be sure to at least take the one-hour ferry, as opposed to the 3-hour ferry, on your return trip. Do it both ways if possible.

Things we wanted to do but didn’t:

On a future run, we’ll go further out into nowhere land and stay at El Galope, a hostel and ranch, where we’d have access to ride horses, bike to a deserted beach, visit Victoria’s goat (and cheese) farm, and enjoy more of “nothing.”

Also, we’d love to take a day trip to the Uruguayan wine country in Canelones. Winery info here.

Our 5 Best Moments of 2011

31 Dec

Tonight for New Year’s Eve we’ll be heading out to celebrate with our friends, so last night we went out on our last date night of 2011.

We splurged and took a taxi from our place to Las Cholas in the foodie neighborhood of Las Cañitas ($8.84, but worth it over the 58-cents-for-two-people, 1-hour bus ride). We arrived early at 8:30pm and placed our order for a bottle of malbec wine, a grilled sausage link for an appetizer, a salmon and spinach casserole, and the classic Andean stew, locro.

The locro was originally my dinner, but Maggie kept reaching over for more as she was profoundly amazed by the texture of the hominy and the overall flavor. By the end of the dinner, I was eating the casserole and she was savoring the locro.

In between switching dishes, we reflected on the year and just how crazy it was that we actually made it to Buenos Aires. With the crayons on the table, I wrote down each of our 5 best moments of 2011, in no particular order.

Stephen’s 5 Best Moments

  1. My farewell from South Pasadena Christian Church. Not many people leave a job with the gift I was given that day. To not only have people like me even though I was leaving them, but to have them express their appreciation one-by-one over a home-made Argentinean lunch still brings tears of gratitude to my eyes.
  2. Arriving in Buenos Aires. It really happened!
  3. Getting The Culinary Institute of America website gig. This project stands as the marker for when I realized that I’ll be able to earn enough money for us to keep this dream alive for a while.
  4. The garden at SPCC. I loved that garden and was thoroughly impressed that we were able to grow some good stuff back there after that area had served as a junk yard for decades.
  5. My family’s recent visit to Buenos Aires. As I wrote about, it was perfectly timed and simply refreshing to have us all together again.
  6. Runner-up: Justo and Marie’s wedding. I got to be with the boys again and get the last of us married off. What relief I felt afterward!
Maggie’s 5 Best Moments

  1. Overall decision to come to Buenos Aires. The exact moment the decision was sealed is elusive, but the feeling of no turning back now and repeated confirmation that it would all work out stands out.
  2. Christmas Day. This was her first Christmas not to wake up in her mom’s place, so she was missing it. The day turned out to be amazing as we celebrated together in the morning and later with friends.
  3. Crab in San Francisco. Her favorite meal in San Francisco, which is saying a lot because we ate amazing food the whole time.
  4. New Year’s Eve 2010. This hits her list because it marked a time when I was introduced to the Ohio family traditions and was the last significant time she was able to spend with her late grandmother.
  5. Studying Spanish at Verbum. Being a student again and having the perspective to truly appreciate and enjoy it after 5 years as a teacher.
  6. Runner-up: Emily and Ryan’s Wedding. Little Emilita all grown up now and got herself a good man.

We’d love to hear about some of your best moments of 2011.

Our Christmas Story

26 Dec

‘Twas Christmas day, and all through our home

candles were burning of cinnamon and plum.

The stockings were hung over the bed-couch with care.

While a fire roared for that holiday flare.

Stephen in his new slippers prepped dinner to keep pace.

Maggie decorated using her new vintage vase.

The table was set

with tastes from back home.

Merry Christmas to all and God bless us everyone!