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Seasickness is not a cause for concern on the average river crossing — but the River Plate is no average river. It took my fast ferry 75 minutes to get from Buenos Aires in Argentina to the Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento on the opposite bank; on the day I'd chosen to travel this was at least an hour too long.
Argentina's poets have seen many different colours in the river — blue-grey, copper, metallic green — but I can confirm that the huge waves, whipped up by a wind from the South Atlantic were a particularly nasty shade of brown and any tinges of green were confined to the faces of the passengers.
It was not an ideal prelude to a visit to Uruguay's most popular tourist attraction. The town's mixture of Spanish and Portuguese colonial architecture stems from its chequered early history. Founded in by the Portuguese, for the next years Colonia was on the front line of a battle between Iberia's two great imperial powers. It changed hands by conquest or treaty on 10 separate occasions before finally becoming part of the independent state of Uruguay in Most of its two million annual visitors arrive, like me, from the Argentinian capital.
As a cross-border day-trip, it beats Dover-Calais. In front of you is the Plaza Mayor, originally a military parade ground but now a spacious, grassy square lined with plane trees. Beyond it a maze of cobbled streets stretches over a dozen blocks, bounded on three sides by the waters of the River Plate. I set out on a haphazard wander, trying to spot the different cultural ingredients that have created Colonia.
The evocatively named Calle de los Suspiros "Street of the Sighs" is a typical Portuguese street from the town's earliest period, with a drainage channel that runs down the middle, unlike those constructed by the Spanish, which have pavements and drainage channels at the sides. The single-storey houses with tiled roofs, painted in pink, blue and other pastel washes are unmistakably Portuguese, while many of the larger two-storey mansions were added by the Spanish.