January 31, 2013

Calonia ~ crumbling quaintness and McCain Super Fries

Across the river from Buenos Aires is Uruguay and the town of Colonia del Sacramento. Long a favoured getaway for portenos, Colonia boasts a population of around 25,000 and a laid back atmosphere quite unlike anything in BA.

We travelled to Calonia by the BuqueBus rapid ferry. The 52 km journey takes about 55 minutes. At Uruguay Immigration there was a discussion, in Spanish of course so I'm not sure of all the details, nor to what I might have agreed, about the fact that my passport photo does not match the present reality of my appearance. The result of three months in the Yukon perhaps. In the end there was a smile by the officer and I was allowed entry.

Calonia is famous for its historic quarter, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our inn, Posado Plaza Mayor, a highlight of our stay, is located in the quarter and was built in 1860. Unassuming from the street, it boasts charming rooms and a beautiful courtyard, to which our room opens, complete with limes and grapes.

Founded by Portuguese in 1680, Calonia changed hands between Spain and Portugal a number of times. The cobblestone streets and buildings date, in many cases to the 1600s.

Calonia is beautiful. It is also a tourist town. There are many, many restaurants, all serving McCain french fries. In fact the dining situation in the barrio historico is terrible. While it is nice to sit outside and view the crumbling quaintness of the town, eating anything but the most rudimentary of food for the masses is almost impossible. This is a problem. In that sense I suppose it isn't unlike tourist towns the world over, but with the serious dining habits of Argentinos, the town's main tourist market, this doesn't make sense.

A popular restaurant across from the Basilica is El Drugstore. In the evening it boasts live entertainment. The singer presents all the Broadway hits from 1920 to 1950. She sings with great flourish,and wearing a headset, to canned music. In a brilliant grand finale, she stands on a chair, which wobbles a bit on the uneven tiles, and sings Don't Cry for Me Argentina.

Meanwhile, inside the Basilica, and down some dark and uneven stairs, is a strange nativity display with spot lights that flash so quickly your eyes hurt.

We did find one restaurant that potentially offers an actual dining experience beyond Super Fries. The Art Gallery Restaurant is small and inviting. We managed to get there for a late night cafe con crema and brandy, and to watch a stunning full moon. When we returned for a meal the next night, it was unexpectedly closed.

In the end, sometimes a person just has to give in. Here Sherry enjoys a cool drink at a cafe, and watches as a busker auditions for the cafe's owners. He was actually quite good, no classic hits, just a simple guitar. And no, we didn't have any fries.

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