Welcome back to Travels with Irene (and Marty). This is our first trip to South America. We have just spent a couple of days in Santiago, Chile. This afternoon we will be boarding a ship that will sail down the Western coast of South America and then up the Eastern coast as far as Uruguay and then return to Buenos Aires where we will spend a few more days on our own. Should be a great trip (and if it’s not, I can blame Mel and Ruth since they went on this exact trip a year ago and recommended it. Only kidding, Ruth.)
Chile is a long (3,000 miles) very thin (only 100 miles wide) country. Santiago (its capital) is in the northern half of the country. There are about 13 million people in Chile with 8 million of them living in Santiago. As in many places in the world, the city is a mixture of the old and the new. There’s an efficient subway system and it’s been quite easy to get around.
We left NY on Thursday evening. (As some of you know, I had a case of food poisoning on Wednesday and wasn’t quite sure I was actually going to get on a plane on Thursday but luckily once everything was out of my system, all was good; thank goodness!) We flew down on LAN (Chile’s airline) (via American Airlines miles, of course!). Since we were in the front of the bus (as they say!), we had nice sleeper seats so we were able to sleep on the plane and were nicely refreshed when we arrived on Friday morning. South America is just 2 hours ahead of EST so no jet lag to deal with.
We are staying at the San Cristobal Towers which is part of the Luxury Collection (that’s the name!) from Starwoods. We’ve stayed in several of their hotels around the world and I recommend them highly. At the end of our trip in Buenos Aires we’ll be in another one. After checking in and barely unpacking (since we leave today), we were off. We did a lot of walking around to get a feel for the place.
Actually before we went anywhere, we passed a bakery which was selling Berliners which are jelly donuts. We all know how Marty feels about those. He was quite happy. Other than in Vienna we have never seen them called that (not even in Berlin).
We went first to the Palacio de la Moneda which started out as the Royal Mint and then became the Presidential Palace. To tour the palace itself one needed a reservation in advance which I hadn’t bothered to procure. The concierge at the hotel told me there were parts of the building we could see without a tour. Turned out those parts were more like a shopping mall; ah well. Then we just kept walking around Center City; saw the Plaza de la Constitution (the country’s most formal plaza), the Palacio de los Tribunales de Justicia, a pretty post office and the Plaza de Armas–the symbolic heart of Chile where the city was established in 1541. Then we went to a market which had lots of fish stalls as well as vegetables and even places to get a bite of lunch. Fun to see but not more exotic than many other markets in lots of other places.
From there we went to a different part of the city; opted for a taxi this time! We took a funicular to the top of Cerro San Cristobal for a view of the city (see below) as well as the statue at the top of the mountain of the Virgen de la Immaculada.
From there we went to La Chascona which is a home designed by the Nobel Prize winning poet Pablo Neruda for his third wife. This was the highlight of Santiago for me. There are winding garden paths, stairs, a bedroom in a tower and a secret passageway. Scattered throughout the house are collections of sea shells, wine glasses and other odd objects. I always enjoy seeing the houses of famous people; Marty not so much. His highlight came on Saturday.
At this point we were pretty exhausted; back to the hotel for a nap and then dinner which was at a restaurant called Astrid y Gaston which is considered by some to be “the best” restaurant in Santiago; you had no doubt I would find that, right? It was very nice. The outside of the building was an old house and the inside was brand new with even a huge glass window to watch the kitchen workers while you ate. Food was delicious; had a shrimp appetizer, Patagonian lamb as a main entree and a chocolate (naturally) dessert. A lovely first day to our trip.
BTW, we are doing fairly well with our Spanish. There is less English spoken here than in many places we have traveled but everyone is very helpful. Between my 6 years of Spanish (back in junior high and high school, so not exactly recently!) and Marty’s 6 months of Spanish, we are managing. You do know, of course, who is doing most of the talking (in Spanish)!
On Day 2 in Santiago we did a lot less. I tried unsuccessfully to get us into 3 different museums in the morning. There was a major earthquake here in 2010 and many buildings are under renovation. We finally wound up at the Museo de Artes Visuales which is a museum of contemporary art. We all know how Marty feels about contemporary art; not that I am such a fan myself. The museum was OK. The best thing about it was that strangely it had another museum inside it. It was a tiny Museo Arquelogico de Santiago which was excellent; very well set up with English explanations. The guide book said to judge it by its quality, not its quantity which I think is a good maxim for lots of life situations!
Walking around near the museum, we came upon a little market where I found the cutest little perfume bottle (for $4). I wasn’t going to buy any more of these but who could resist at that price. (Hedy: it actually reminded me of one you bought me.)
In the afternoon we went on a tour of Concha y Toros which we had set up in advance. Concha y Toros is the world’s 8th largest winery and the largest in Latin America (and yes, this was the highlight of Santiago for Marty). It’s about 45 minutes outside of Santiago. (In case you’re curious, the largest winery in the world is Gallo in Sonoma which some of you may recall we were at several years ago). We went on a tour of the vineyards and the cellars as well as having a taste of some of the wines. A fairly typical vineyard experience.
We had dinner at a restaurant called Sukalde. The chef trained at El Bulli in Spain so there was lots of foam, lots of unusual ingredients used in unconventional ways; a unique delicious meal.
Will try to get to a crafts market this morning. In the afternoon we have a car service taking us to Valparaiso where we will board the ship for our 2 week cruise. Not exactly clear on the Internet situation on the ship so we’ll see how these Haber Reports proceed from here.
Hope all of you are doing well. Do weigh in with your responses.
The Roving Reporter