I always like to prepare for a trip to a new country, so when I was invited to speak at .NET Conf UY in Montevideo, Uruguay, I decided I should learn some Spanish. I taught myself how to say "Buenos Dias" and "Adios". Unfortunately, I neglected to learn the many things I should talk about between these two phrases. But it worked out. Most of the Uruguayans with whom I interacted spoke at least some English and the conference provided real-time translation of all presentations, so that I could understand the Spanish speakers, and the audience could understand me.
I arrived Tuesday morning 2 days early. Originally, I thought I might deliver a workshop, but my first session was not scheduled until Thursday afternoon. It was an all-night flight from Miami to Montevideo. Fabian - one of the conference organizers - picked me up at the airport. He recognized me from my photograph, despite my disheveled appearance. Exhausted from the flight, I checked into the hotel and slept for a few hours; then spent a few hours catching up on work for my day job.
In the evening, I walked around the hotel neighborhood. I hoped to find some dinner, but I discovered that Uruguayans eat later than Americans and most restaurants do not serve dinner until at least 7PM. I settled for a salad in a nearby hotel restaurant.
I passed the Uruguayan World Trade Center - a cluster of office and retail buildings, tallest of which is about 40 stories. Then I made my way to the Río de la Plata - at 120km, the widest river in the world.
I did not realize until Wednesday morning, that 2 hotel reservations had been made for me - one by me and one by the conference organizers. I went to the Sheraton to cancel my reservation. They allowed me to cancel the week, but charged me for 2 (expensive) nights, so I decided to spend Wednesday night at the Sheraton. It was a nicer hotel, and I had already paid for it.
In the afternoon and evening, I walked around a different neighborhood and a different part of the river, exploring parks and side streets and beaches. Nearly the entire riverfront of Montevideo is public space, featuring beaches and parks, so one can walk for miles along the shore. I had heard of the fondness South Americans have for beef, so I ordered a filet in a nice restaurant.
Late at night, I stopped at a beachside tavern to try a Uruguayan wine. The waitress spoke no English, and I speak almost no Spanish, but she managed to recommend a good local wine as we typed our conversation into my phone and let Google translate for us.
.NET Conf UY
The breakout sessions of .NET Conf UY took place Thursday and Friday. I delivered 2 sessions - "Adding Image and Voice Intelligence to Your Apps with Microsoft Cognitive Services" and "Big Data Solutions in Azure". The first presentation went very well, and many attendees approached me afterward with session. A demo failed in my second presentation, but I managed to recover.
I met many new people at this conference. My teammate Shahed flew down from Virginia and I had corresponded briefly with Fabian, but I knew no other speaker, organizer or attendee before I arrived.
I recorded 2 interviews for my show, including one with keynote speaker Carolina Banales. The conference hired a video crew, and they interviewed me on camera.
Thursday evening, Kiezen - one of the conference's main sponsors - hosted a speaker dinner at their new offices. A brick grill graces the roof of this office and we were treated to Uruguayan asade, which is meat grilled over a wood fire. I ate too much.
Friday evening featured an attendee party high above downtown Montevideo. This gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of new people. The language barrier sometimes slowed communication, but I found everyone I met to be very engaging.
Tour of Montevideo
The day after the conference, the organizers reserved a bus and took us around Montevideo to show some of the major sites. Highlights included:
Estadio Centenario, where the first World Cup tournament was held (and won by Uruguay)
The Fortezza General Artigas, which sits atop a hill overlooking the city from across Montevideo Bay. The fort is primarily dedicated to General Jose Artigas, who led the Uruguayans in their battle for independence in the early 19th century; but it is also a museum of military history. As a bonus, it offers a spectacular view of the Montevideo skyline.
We finished with an asade lunch at an outdoor cafe in the Old City. A Brazilian band stopped by to serenade us while we ate. From there, we went to the Independence Plaza, where a parade was about to start.
I spent Sunday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, which is only 200 km from Montevideo. There are several ways to make this journey. I chose to travel by bus from Montevideo to Colonia, Uruguay to see some of the Uruguayan countryside, which is mostly flat farmland with a few rivers and isolated woodlands. Buenos Aires is a short ferry ride from Colonia.
I was only in Buenos Aires for a few hours, but I managed to visit Casa Rosado, where Eva Perrone famously addressed her people from a balcony; Iglesia de St. Ignatius, the oldest church in the city; and the towering Obelisca de Buenos Aires that commemorates the city's 400th birthday. Lunch at Cafe Tortoni - the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires - was very good. In between, I walked through numerous public parks, side streets, and riverfronts.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city. The architecture reminds me of a modern European city. I hope to return when I have more time.
My flight home was scheduled for Monday evening and I made no plans on Monday. After sleeping in, I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and checked out of my hotel. There is a small zoo just 2 blocks from my hotel, so I decided to spend some time there. Sadly, the zoo is closed on Mondays, as was the planetarium next door. Instead, I walked to a section of the riverfront I had not yet visited, took some photos, and stopped at a small cafe for a cappuccino and a light dinner.
Fabian was kind enough to pick me up and drive me to the airport.
A Few Facts
Here are some things I learned about Montevideo and Uruguay this past week.
- Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America.
- Over half the country's population lives in the Montevideo area.
- There are no giant skyscrapers in Montevideo. The tallest building is 35 stories - not much bigger than my apartment building in Chicago.
- I cannot verify this, but I was told that Montevideo comes from the following words:
"Monte", meaning "small hill"
"VI" for the Roman Numeral
"deo", which is short for "de Este a Ouest", which means "From East to West"
In other words, the city sits on the sixth hill from east to west.
- Many of the city's sidewalks are made of bricks, which is probably why so many Montevideo sidewalks are broken.
- Uber is available in Uruguay. I never had to wait more than 5 minutes and never paid more than $7US for a ride.
I am grateful I had the opportunity to come to South America and see the sights and meet so many kind people. I enjoyed the experience, and I hope to return. And I even learned a few extra Spanish words.
Hasta la vista.