Travels 2012

So the itinerary is finally finalised and I’m off on this grand adventure at the end of the week. Naturally, I’m bursting with excitement. It’s going to be an amazing trip – seeing some towns, cities and landscapes for the first time, visiting many old friends, travelling with some insane and fun-filled friends, hopefully meeting some fun and interesting people, having some unforgettable once in a lifetime experiences, taking plenty beautiful photographs, tasting local cuisine, road trips, lazy beach days, crazy European summer parties, learning about different cultures, admiring art and architecture, and just having plain good-old fun and soaking it all in.

Here’s a brief run-down of where I’ll be going and what to expect over the next few months from this blog. I’m not sure if I’ll be blogging whilst on the road – I tend to not want to waste time sitting at a computer when I’m travelling – I’d rather be out, doing things, seeing things, experiencing things. So you may have to wait until I get back, sorry, but I promise to update you all as soon as possible.

Jade. xx

Italy: Milan, Verona, Venice

Slovenia: Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Lake Bohinj

Croatia: Zagreb, Otok Pag, Zadar, Tisno, Otok Murter, Sibenik, Skradin, Split, Dubrovnik

Montenegro: Kotor, Tivat, Budva, Sv Stefan, Lake Skadar, Ostrog Monastery

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Mostar, Konjic, Sarajevo

Germany: Berlin

Spain: Barcelona, Cadaques, Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Ronda, Cadiz, Arcos de la Frontera, Segovia, Toledo, Madrid

Portugal: Lisbon, Sintra, Cascais, Coimbra, Porto

Morocco: Casablanca, Meknes, Fes, Midelt, Todra Gorge, Dandes Valley, Ait Benhaddou, Marrakech, Essaouira

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Cockatoo Island & The Biennale of Sydney 2012

We couldn’t have chosen a better day to wonder around Cockatoo Island and indulge in a bit of art. Every second year, the city of Sydney hosts one of the most prestigious contemporary arts festivals – The Biennale of Sydney, now in its 18th year. The festival runs for a number of months and showcases the works of some of the leading contemporary artists from all over the globe. In addition, the festival organises artist talks, film screenings, performances, family events, and so on. This year the Biennale of Sydney is spread over five major venues, including the Art Gallery of NSW, the Museum of Contemporary Art (don’t forget to have a look at its recent refurbishment), Pier 2/3, The Carriageworks and Cockatoo Island. This year the Biennale is held between 27th June and 16th September. And since I’m going overseas for 2 months in a week’s time, and had not yet had the chance to see it, I though I better make use of this stunning day, head into the city and check it out.

Since I had never been to Cockatoo Island – my friend Kylie (a talented artist herself – keep an eye out for the name Kylie Barber over the next few – we’re expecting some amazing work from her) could not believe this – we decided to dedicate the day to exploring the island, whilst admiring the art on display.

Cockatoo Island is easily accessible from Circular Quay. For the duration of the Biennale, there is a free ferry from Wharf 6, which departs every 45 mins. The line for this ferry service tends to be rather long, especially on weekends, and there is a good chance that you may have to wait for one or two ferries before reaching the front of the line. If you do not want to wait, there is the regular Circular Quay-Cockatoo Island ferry, departing from Wharf 5, which only cost $5 each way. And for those who’d like their own silver service and are happy to pay for it, you can take the water taxi across from most of the wharfs and jetties in Sydney Harbour.

Cockatoo Island is located in Sydney Harbour/Parramatta River, about 2km west from the Harbour Bridge, between Woolwich and Birchgrove. The island has an interesting and varied history. From the first settlement of Sydney, it was utilised as a jail, where inmates were put to work building barracks, military buildings and official residences. From then it became an industrial school for girls and a reformatory in the 1870s, and a site for naval dockyards and a ship building facility from 1900. The island was left abandoned in the 1990s, until in 2001 it was taken in the care of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust and major restorations took place. Today the island is used  for art exhibitions, concerts, comedy nights and other special events, are as simply a nice spot on the harbour to spend a day (or camp out at night).

We were so incredibly lucky to have such a stunning day to visit the island. Although it was a rather cold day, the winter sun shone with all its might. There was hardly a cloud in the sky to dampen the day. Aside from some amazing artworks, most notably the works of Philip Beesley, Monika Grzymala and Jonathan Jones (see photos below). These were by far my favourites of the day. Philip Beesley’s work especially. It was absolutely stunning, and worth the visit in itself. I was fascinated with the island. Its history, its geography, its stunning views, its old industrial architecture and objects (such as the old cranes which are the subjects of a number of the photos below), I found the entire place incredible (poor Kylie had to listen to me oooh and ahhh for a good half of the day). So maybe enough of me expressing my awe and amazement for one day – instead of listening to me, take a look at some of my photos in the post, enjoy, and get out to Cockatoo Island yourself on the next sunny day you don’t have anything better to do – and hopefully that falls before September 16, so you can see the collection of artworks on display as part of the 18th Biennale of Sydney.

Susan Hefuna, Celebrate Life, 2011

Jonathan Jones, Untitled (oysters and tea cups), 2012

Cal Lane, Domesticated Turf, 2012

Philip Beesley, Hylozoic Series: Sibyl, 2012

Monika Grzymala and Euraba Artists and Papermakers

Ed Pien with Tanya Tagaq

Latifa Echakhch

Ricardo Lanzarini

Words and images by Jade Spadina

South America Wrap-Up

So to cap it off my South American adventure blog posts, here is a list of my favourite things to see and do on the continent:

Santiago, Chile:
Ice-cream at Emporio La Rosa (absolutely to die for, especially the lucuma and esencia de rosa flavours)
– The Clinic, restaurant/bar/night club – amazing interiors and great atmosphere
– Strolling through Providencia neighbourhood – tree lined streets, beautiful houses, parks
– The view across Santiago to the Andes from Cerro Santa Lucia

Cusco + surrounds, Peru:
– Mercado Central, Cusco – amazing chicken noodle soup, fruit smoothies and handcrafts
– Machu Picchu – AMAZING!
– A three-day trek through the Lares Valley – the beautiful children we met along the way – from Lares to Ollataytambo
– Manu National Park (a least 4-5 days, our 3 day trip was a bit too short) – trekking through the Amazon, seeing monkeys, sleeping in cute little cabins in the middle of nowhere
– The view over Cusco from El Christo Blanco, Cusco

Lake Titicaca, Peru + Bolivia:
– Copacabana and our beautiful hostel room at Hostal La Cupola
– Day trip to Uros Islands
– Overnight stay at Isla del Sol to experience the spectacular sunsets and sunrises

Atacama Desert, Bolivia + Chile:
– 3 day 4WD trip through the Salar de Uyuni and the Atacama Desert
– San Pedro de Atacama
– The incredible landscape at Moon Valley (Val de la Luna)

Buenos Aires, Argentina:
– San Telmo Sunday markets – and the Dulce de Leche sold in ice-cream cones!
– La Recoleta Cemetery + markets
– The interesting architecture and traditional Argentinian BBQ lunch in La Boca

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay:
– Lunch at El Drugstore
– Strolling through the cobble-stone streets of the UNESCO Heritage Listed Barrio Historico

Posadas Region, Argentina:
– The ruins of the San Ignacio Mini Jesuit Mission
– The Iguazu Waterfalls – a spectacular wonder of nature

Santiago, Chile

A bit of a haphazard collection of photographs from Santiago, Chile. But then I guess, it’s a bit of a haphazard city. From the beautiful and quiet tree lined streets of the Providencia neighbourhood, to the chaos of downtown Santiago and La Vega Central; the backwater, yet interesting markets of El Persa Bio Bio; the bohemian atmosphere of Bellavista; the green and relaxing Park Forestal and the expansive views over the city from Cerro Santa Lucia. Santiago is a city of contrasts and is often compared unfavourably to its ‘better-to-do’ cousin, Buenos Aires. Initially, I was a bit disappointed with Santiago, I guess I was expecting something more. But looking back, I actually quite liked the vibe of the city and I wish I could have spent more time there to get to know it better and appreciate it more. Spending only a day and a half there + a night, didn’t give enough it justice. I’d very much like to go back, for a least a week I suppose, so I can more deeply inhale Santiago and get a better feel for the city (as well as indulging once again in the INCREDIBLE – it deserves capital letters – ice-cream at Emporio la Rosa).

The first few nights of my stay in Santiago was spent in a lovely hostel, Hostal Romandia  www.romandia.cl in the Providencia neighbourhood of Santiago. This quiet residential neighbourhood, is characterised by its middle-class housing and wide tree-lined streets. The only problem we had was its considerable distance from the centre (although it is a walkable distance, it does take close to an hour) and metro stations were few and far between (we weren’t quite game enough to hail down cabs with our pathetic Spanish knowledge – anyway Chilean Spanish is language unto itself). But the hostel was comfortable and very homely – the owner even got up before the crack of dawn to ensure we had breakfast before our early morning flight to Peru – and I mean early, airport shuttle collected us at 4am. We couldn’t believe her kindness and dedication. One word of warning though, as for the upstairs rooms – our room was downstairs – near the kitchen, office and common rooms, and having timber flooring and high ceilings, we could hear everyone walking around and every small sound was echoed. So, we didn’t get much sleep unfortunately.

We spent our first day in Santiago literally walking around the city. We covered so much ground that our feet and legs ached for days (it didn’t help much that we were walking in thongs, rather than supportive walking shoes). We walked from Roman Diaz, up to Providencia, pass Park Forestal (passing Emporio la Rosa, and not being able to find it again, which cause great annoyance!) and El Museo de Arte Contemporaneo. Park Forestal is a lovely and large green park in the middle of the traffic chaos of Santiago – it’s located on the pain highway running from east to west along Santiago. It’s full of families enjoying the sunshine, kids laughing, riding bikes, playing on playground equipment. Being such a built up city, Santiago, surprisingly, has quite a number of large, well-maintained green spaces. Park Forestal being one of the largest and most popular. After a brief stop here relaxing in the shade, we made our way to Mercado Central. The peace and serenity found in Park Forestal, was replaced with mayhem – crowds, people bartering, and not forgetting the putrid smell of fish sitting in the sun (Mercado Central is well-known for its fish market). We bought some amazingly sweet strawberries, they were enormous too, and crossed La Costanera Norte to La Vega markets and Barrio Bellavista. We unfortunately missed the markets at La Vega, as my know it was late afternoon and they were packing up. Barrio Bellavista was interesting, with its bohemian atmosphere, outdoor cafes and graffiti art everywhere. If you’re a fan of graffiti art, I’d recommend you stop by in Santiago on any travels through South America. After seeing all this, walking a great number of kilometres, we were totally and utterly exhausted. On our way back to the hostel,we bought some measly dinner supplies, ate what we could and literarily crashed for the night.

The following morning was spent at the Bio Bio markets, which are located south of the centre, the closest metro station being Franklin. We were out of luck in choosing this particular weekend to spend in Santiago, which was only realise later – we visited on the weekend of All Souls Day – so, being a ‘pious’ Catholic nation, the majority of the population of Santiago took advantage of this long weekend and escaped the city. This had a negative affect on our visit to Bio Bio, as many of the store holders were obviously out of town, so Bio Bio became a bit of a ghost town. I was rather looking forward to perusing through the markets. But I guess it was not to be. A friend of mine who lives in Santiago took us out to lunch that day and took us to Emporio la Rosa (Yay! We found it again!). And the ice-cream was amazing, and I mean amazing. There were so many flavours which I had not tried before, including lucuma, dulce de leche (a caramel made from condensed milk), platano con miel de palma (banana with palm sugar), castana (chestnut), miel de elmo, esencia de rosa (rose water), the list goes on and on. I have to say, we I think back onto my time in Santiago, the ice-cream at Emporio la Rosa is the first thing that comes to mind. That, and the disturbing number of stray dogs roaming the city. Afterwards, we headed to Cerro Santa Lucia, a beautifully landscaped park which winds up the hill to a lookout point from which we had a panoramic view of the city and the Andean mountains.

I also quite enjoyed the nightlife in Santiago. There are a number of impressive clubs and bars in the Bellas Artes quarter of Santiago. My favourite being The Clinic, mainly due to its interior decoration – the walls are plastered with newspaper clippings, satirical writings and images about Chilean politicians, sports people and celebrities. It has a nice outdoor seating area at the rear, which is great for Sunday afternoon drinks, and the bar kicks on into the wee hours of the morning. The whole quarter is lively in the evenings, with both locals and tourist alike.

And perhaps just a very brief little geography and history lesson about the capital city of Chile. Santiago is located in central Chile, in a bowl shaped valley surrounded by mountains – with the Andes to the east and the Chilean coastal range to the west. Its geographic positioning results in smog and air pollution being trapped in the basin, resulting in high pollution levels. It is the largest and most populous city in Chile, with a population of about 5.5 million people. The city was founded in 1541 by the Spanish Conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. There was great tensions between the colonisers and the indigenous populations, resulting in a three year war. The natives were finally defeated and moved south as a result. The city thrived and in 1817 gained independence from Spain. With waves of immigration, the population boomed, urbanisation thrived and industry moved forward. Today, Santiago is South America’s most metropolitan centre and has made Chile one of the continent’s most affluent nations.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

San Ignacio Mini & The Iguazu Waterfalls

Taking the bus from Buenos Aires, I embarked on a mammoth 15 hour trip to the tropical north of Argentina, to the Iguazu Waterfalls, with a quick stopover at San Ignacio. I was initially a bit apprehensive about being stuck on a bus for such an extended of time, but to my surprise, it was a rather pleasant trip – much better than being stuck in economy class on a flight for the same length of time. I travelled with Crucero del Norte buses, whose sleeper coaches are extremely comfortable – the seats are enormous and almost recline flat, the service is great and I even managed to get a rather good night’s sleep, both on the way to Puerto Iguazu and back to Buenos Aires.

Anyway, so after departing Retiro Bus Station in Buenos Aires, I arrive mid-morning at San Ignacio (a quick detour on my way to Puerto Iguazu). The sleepy little town of San Ignacio’s claim to fame is the Jesuit Mission ruins which are located on the outskirts of the town. For those who have not seen the 1986 film ‘The Mission’, starring Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro, here’s a quick history lesson about the South American Jesuit Missions, located primarily in Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina: During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Jesuit order of priest in South America formed Jesuit Reductions, in response to the Spanish Empire’s own Indian Reductions in which they gathered the native populations into centres or communities, in order to Christianise, tax and govern them. Rather than westernising native populations, the Jesuits allowed the natives to retain their own cultures whilst converting to Christianity. These Jesuit missions gained great autonomy from the Spanish Empire and were an economic success. Fear of the Jesuits’ independence and their success heightened over time and in 1767 the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish ruled South America. The mission communities slowly collapsed, becoming victim to slave raids or being absorbed into European culture. Today, only the remains of these great missions can be see today, which they themselves are slowly becoming victims of the natural elements.

The Jesuit Mission of San Ignacio Mini was founded 1632. At its hight in the 18th century, it had a population of 3000 people, with rich cultural and handicraft activity which was commercialised through the Parana River nearby. After the Jesuits left 1767, the mission fell into decay and was finally destroyed in 1817. San Ignacio Mini is one of the best preserved Jesuit ruins in South America and in 1984 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Upon visiting the site, I was amazed at its size and construction – it was fascinating to see all the little dwelling all constructed in neat rows, their small doorways and little windows created from roughly cut local red sandstone. I could almost imagine this little community living within the parameters of the mission. I was amazed at how these Jesuit priests managed to create such a well thought out community, in which would have been dense tropical jungle. The most amazing part of the site were the ruins of the once grand church, located at the heart of the mission. It looks so grand and foreboding at the same time, especially against a menacing grey sky. It was a shame to have visited the ruins on such a grey and drizzly day (only the second day of my entire trip where it rained), as I’m sure they would have been even more magnificent in the bright sunlight. Also, if you happen to stay in the village of San Ignacio, the ruins can be visited at night, and a light show is performed for those lucky visitors.

After my pit stop at San Ignacio, I continued on to the town of Puerto Iguazu, the Argentinian gateway to the famous Iguazu Waterfalls (which can also be accessed from Foz do Iguacu on the Brazilian side of the falls). This little town, primarily surviving on the transient tourism (most people stay for only two or three days at the most – there isn’t much else to do here, except see the waterfalls, which can be done in a day), is full of hostels, hotels, restaurants, cafes, souvenir stores, you name it. I stayed at Hostel Bambu Mini, which comes highly recommended. This is actually the second half of Hostel Bambu, which is located about a few hundred metres down the road. I had a fantastic time at Bambu Mini – met some amazing people, enjoyed the BBQ dinners the hostel hosted, indulged in their tasty breakfast and home-like atmosphere – the only negative thing about the place was having to spend two nights in the same dorm room as a incessant snorer.

After getting a broken night’s sleep, like almost everyone else staying in Puerto Iguaze, I headed off the see the Iguazu Waterfalls. The word Iguazu comes from the native Guarani words “y”  meaning “water” and “uasu” meaning “big”. The Iguazu Waterfalls were first discovered by Europeans in 1541 by the Spanish Conquistador Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca. The falls consist of 270 individual falls stretching over about one kilometre, where the Iguazu River tumbles into the Parana Plateau. The park itself is well organised to deal with the onslaught of visitors – there is an exceptionally good information centre, a labyrinth of highlighted walking tracks through the jungle leading visitors to spectacular sights, raised platforms so visitors can get as close as possible to the waterfalls (and I mean close, you can actually get so close that you can be drench in water from the spray of the falls), visitors can also go on organise boat trips down the river to the base of the falls, and a train runs through the park, linking one end to the other, to assist in transporting visitors to Devil’s Throat, the greatest and most impressive of all the falls. I was so lucky to get such a perfect day at the falls – the sun shone brightly almost all day and it wasn’t too hot or humid either. Many people debate on whether the Argentinian or the Brazilian side of the falls are more impressive – many people visit both sides in order to discover this. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to visit the Brazilian side, so I had to be satisfied with only seeing the one half of the falls. Which I’m not complaining about. They were, in one word, spectacular! Definitely worth the lengthy bus trip from Buenos Aires and back.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires. Everyone knows this South American capital as the home of tango. But there is much more to this chaotic metropolitan city than tango. During the few days I spent in Buenos Aires, I have to admit that I didn’t even go to see a tango show (I’m sure one of my good friends, who is an amazing tango dancer, would be shaking his head in disgust whilst reading this). Rather, my time in Buenos Aires was filled with perusing through the San Telmo Markets, wandering through La Recoleta Cemetery, visiting the botanical gardens, ravelling at La Boca and just simple meandering through the streets of Buenos Aires, with a bit of shopping and ice-cream eating thrown in.

The highlight of my stay in Buenos Aires was by far the Sunday markets at San Telmo. San Telmo is a neighbour of Buenos Aires, located roughly between Av. Independencia, Av. Caseros, Piedras and Av Ing Huergo. It is the oldest and one of the best preserved neighbourhood in the city. It was originally an industrial area of the working class, which became increasingly popular in the mid 19th century amongst the middle class. An epidemic of yellow fever swept through the neighbourhood in 1871, which resulted in many of the well-to-do relocating to other areas of Buenos Aires. This resulted in many homes being left vacant, which were filled by British, Italian and Russian migrants arriving in the late 19th and early 20th century. In the mid-20th century, the neighbourhood’s bohemian atmosphere began to attract local artists, which resulted in growing cultural activity in the area. Today San Telmo characterised by its colonial building, cobbled streets, bohemian atmosphere, tango halls and of course their famous Sunday antique and arts markets.

The markets are on every Sunday, I’m assuming, rain, hail or shine. The markets are concentrated around Plaza Dorrengo and run the length of Calle Defensa. Plaza Dorrengo is where to head to first, especially if you’re after antiques and vintage collectables. There is everything and anything you can imagine. From vintage soda bottles, to stamps, match boxes, cameras, jewellery, porcelain, glassware, clothing, silverware, vases, phones, clocks etc, etc. The quality is good and the prices are dear. But the selection is amazing, at atmosphere un-matchable and looking at all these items makes one think of all the people who, over the centuries, have lived in this amazing city. Whilst ogling over the antique markets, the sound of tango could be heard. Right beside the antique markets was a tango orchestra – complete with pianist, cellist, and hand accordion players – who’s playing was absolutely superb. I guess I’m no authority on the matter, but from my own subjective viewpoint, I thought they played extremely well and I found it difficult to remove myself and continue up Calle Defensa to see the rest of the markets. The atmosphere in Calle Defense was somewhat different that of Plaza Dorrengo. Storeholders were selling their goods literary on the streets, instead of in well set-up stalls, antiques were put aside in favour of hand-made items, bric-a-brac, leather goods, CDs (the general things you find at markets), the cultured atmosphere was replaced by haggling and crowds and the sound of tango was overtaken by that of contemporary rock and rap music. Although this part of the markets was vastly different from Plaza Dorrengo, it still had it’s own charm. The best of which was big tubs of dulce de leche. If you haven’t been to South America, you may not know about this sickly sweet spread. It’s basically a caramel made from condensed milk. I first tried it in Peru, where it is called manjar, and instantly fell in love. I was amazed to see that they were selling big tubs of it at the San Telmo markets, or even better, served in ice-cream waffle cones for about US$1. Yum-my at a bargain! Of course I had one, or maybe two.

One of my best loved places in Buenos Aires was La Recoleta Cemetery. Like Pere Lachaise Cemetery is Paris, which I absolutely adore, La Recoleta has an unusual charm, even though some may think spending an afternoon is a cemetery rather morbid. Especially since  there are many coffins which you can actually see and touch. I was rather disturb and uncomfortable at seeing this – as you can see by some of the following photographs, there are a number of coffins which have been exposed to the elements, due to the wear and tear, as well as perhaps the odd vandalism of a number of the mausoleums. It was interesting to see how these tombs were constructed – many were build above ground, but a few of which I peeped into, seemed to have stairs leading downwards, beneath the ground. Some were simple and plain, and others were very ornate, lined with gold and marble. Many mausoleums appeared to be well maintained and lovingly cared for, whilst others were obviously forgotten and have fallen into disrepair. La Recoleta cemetery was inaugurated in the mid-19th century, taking up 14 acres of land in the middle of today’s cosmopolitan Buenos Aires. The cemetery contains many elaborate and decorative mausoleums, fashioned in may styles including Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque and Neo-Gothic.  These mausoleums, which usually house the remains of multiple members on one family, are arranged in sections, similar to city blocks, which wide tree-lined avenues, fanning off into little side streets. Many notable Argentine personalities are buried in the cemetery, the most famous of which being Eva Peron. On weekends, the parkland in front of the cemetery is home to some amazing arts and crafts markets (I have to admit I spent a bit of money and bought a beautiful stone tea set) as well as some local street food – not forgetting the famous Argentine BBQ.

Although La Boca is extremely tourist focused, I rather enjoyed spending an afternoon amongst the hoards of tourists, tango dancers, Argentine BBQ restaurants and the sound of tango being played as you stroll down the street and marvel at all the sights, sounds and smells around you. This neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, located in the city’s south-east near the old port, was originally home to migrants from Genoa, Italy. Today, the neighbourhood is well known for La Bonbonera, the home of the Boca Juniors football team, it’s colourful architecture and its pedestrian street, The Caminito. I was initially somewhat apprehensive about visiting La Boca, especially after reading my Lonely Planet travel guide warning about frequent muggings in the neighbourhood, as well as some fellow travellers relating stories about others being held-up a gun point for a digital camera or a wallet. So I grabbed a fellow traveller I met on my adventure, who looks rather scary anyway, to come with me to La Boca. But surprisingly, the neighbourhood seemed rather safe and full of life – that is to say, along El Caminito and the surrounding streets, which we didn’t stray far from, getting a taxi to and from there. The area was full of life, and full of tourists too. After taking a few typical Buenos Aires shots with my camera, we sat down to an Argentine feast of BBQ meats of every shape and form. These people sure do love their meat and take great pride in cooking and serving it to perfection.

This is only a sneak peak of Buenos Aires – there are many more things to see and do in this big and vibrant city. I only had a few short days there, so I was unable to see it all.

Words & Photography by Jade Spadina

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Colonia del Sacramento. Even the name of the town sounds beautiful.  Tucked away on the sleepy Uruguayan coast, in the Rio de la Plata region, is this beautiful little town, with it’s cool sea breeze, tree-lined streets, old colonial buildings, vintage cars and a UNESCO heritage listed Barrio Historico (historic quarter). A pleasant day trip to Colonia del Sacramento can be made from Buenos Aires – the ferry crossing takes approximately one hour with Burquebus and there are numerous ferries throughout the day. Make sure you book a few days in advance, especially if you’re traveling on the weekend, as it is a popular day trip from BA and the second class seats sell out fast – you’ll be paying about US$20 more for a first class seat. A second class return trip is about US$80 from memory. Also, arrive at least an hour before departure, as you need to go through immigration procedures before boarding the ferry, which take a while. If you’re coming from northern Uruguay or Brazil, there are also ferries from Montevideo (I traveled from Buenos Aires, so I’m not too sure about the Montevideo-Colonia connection).

When you disembark from the ferry, follow the crowds about 1km down the road to the Barrio Historico. Cross the wooden drawbridge (it all sounds very Grimm’s Fairytale-esque) and you’ll enter a different world of the historical quarter of Colonial del Sacramento. It is as though time has stood still in this small quarter of the town. There is almost no sign of 21st century modernism, aside from the click of the digital cameras of the eager daytrippers. There isn’t too much to do in this sleepy town, but that’s the charm of it. Buy an ice-cream (Colonia has some of the best ice-cream I’ve ever tasted – the dulce de leche flavour is to die for!) and wander down the narrow cobble-stone streets; sit in one of the outdoor restaurants and enjoy a lovely lunch in the sunshine (I had lunch in El Drugstore. The food was great and the interiors are even better – in three words, bright, colourful and eclectic. One of the best restaurant interiors I have ever seen); hire a bike for the day and ride along the shoreline; climb up the lighthouse and take in the view; browse through the numerous little souvenir and vintage stores – you’re bound to find a good buy (I wish I had more space in my backpack. But it’s probably better I didn’t, as I would have spent a few too many pesos); or just sit back, relax and take in the surroundings.

And just a tad bit of history about this little town: The town was founded by the Portuguese in 1680, when is was the only Portuguese settlement on the Rio de la Plata. The town was originally used as a base from which the Portuguese smuggled contraband goods into Buenos Aires, being directly across the Rio de la Plata. Throughout history, the town has been passed to and throw between Spain and Portugal, influencing the architecture in the town, which is a testament to both Spanish and Portuguese influence – the irregular and terrain fitting street plan of the Portuguese, as opposed to the wide streets of the latter Spanish conquerors. In 1777 the town was finally incorporated into the Spanish Empire. It was briefly in Portuguese and Brazilian hands, until 1816 when the entire Banda Oriental (Uruguay) was seized by the government of the United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves and renamed the Cisplatina province. Colonia del Sacramento is now part of the independent country of Uruguay. The town has expanded a great deal, but the historical center stands as it was and will hopefully remain so for many years to come.

Interior @ El Drugstore