City of Color – City of Murals – City of Hills
Today I fell in Love! This city is amazing – it has character, a rich history, and beauty. What more could one ask for?
Our day started as promised with a wonderful breakfast on the veranda. We feasted on eggs, fruit, ham, cheese, tomatoes, biscuits, juice, and coffee while We thrilled at the views of the beautiful ocean and hillsides which make up this fascinating city. I think if this was all I saw of Valparaiso I would be satisfied.
But this was only the beginning. Today we hired Oliver, our cute hippie host, to give us a tour of the area. Oliver is a German teacher who came to Chile to study the culture. Like his ancestors he fell in love with a woman and with the city so remained here to teach and to give tours. He was the ultimate tour guide.
First he took us on the winding Cinturon street (these people do not slow for curves). He stated that most tourists do not see this area but he wanted us to see the real Valparaiso. All of the hills in Valparaiso are made of stone and the houses are built right into them. It seems like they will crash on top of you but surprisingly, they stay put and what a pretty picture they make – every color imaginable, so vivid! Valparaiso has a problem with graffiti so many homes paint murals on their walls to protect them. Graffiti artists (Oliver’s son being one which Oliver is not too happy about) respect art so will not touch the murals.
Oliver stopped at his favorite spot to let us snap pictures of the panoramic view – breathtaking. As he drove on he began filling our heads with facts about Valparaiso – my head will not retain all of them so I will rely on Wes’s fine memory. I do remember that this city was founded in 1536, possibly the earliest colony in Chile. So it is an old town and yes, gritty in places, but it lacks not in color and character. It’s all part of the charm of Valparaiso.
Our next stop was the home of Pablo Neruda, one of my favorite poets and characters. He has 3 homes in Chili: the Valparaiso house called La Sebastiana, the Isla Negra house, and the house in Santiago which I hope to visit tomorrow. His homes are full of interesting artifacts, many of which are gifts from friends. Neruda never liked to eat alone so he would always have friends over who, like good guests, never showed up empty handed. And Neruda was not shy about suggesting the types of gifts he would prefer.
Neruda was a politician as well as a poet but he was also a child at heart and enjoyed his toys. The wooden carousel horse was my favorite. He was also a romantic. He lived at La Sebastiana with his 3rd wife, Matilda, the love of his life. They only lived on the top 3 floors while his good friends who were artists dwelt on the bottom two. Of course it was fun climbing the 5 flights with my foot but I was rewarded for my efforts. The rooms were so interesting and the views some of the best in Valparaiso. The audio tour was first rate as well – clear, interesting, and short. And in a place of honor was a great portrait of Walt Whitman who Neruda considered to be his father in poetry. There were also several before and after pictures of one of Chile’s greatest earthquakes, the earthquake of 1906. Too bad I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the house :(
When we left La Sebastiana we drove by 3 of Chile’s oldest cemeteries where some of the victims of these quakes rest eternally. Of course, Chile has had many earthquakes since then. Luckily, Oliver had repaired 15 of the 30 columns on which his house was built right before the last quake in 2010. These columns help the house to sway during earthquakes which I guess is a good thing although I would not like to be sitting there if that were to happen! And I forgot to mention that the house was built in 1910 as part of the French embassy. Of course, much renovation and decorating has been done by Oliver and his ex-wife. And of course, a mural is painted on the fence of the house to help protect it. Oliver is sending his son to art school so he can be a real artist and paint murals instead of graffiti (although much of the graffiti in my opinion is art).
Art abounds in Valparaiso. Our next stop was at the top of the sky museum, an outdoor museum filled with all types of colorful murals, twenty in all, many of which are abstract. We traipsed slowly down hill snapping pictures of our favorite ones along the way. Wes and I have decided that every city needs a sky museum – free, interesting art that can be enjoyed by the masses. At the bottom of the hill, we walked to another Ascensor to ride back up to pick up the car.
Next, Oliver drove us by Plaza Victoria named after the queen herself. Standing on each corner is a lovely bronze woman, each depicting one of the four seasons. These statues are all that remained of a grand theater that was destroyed in the quake of 1906. The plaza was beautiful and certainly drew the the locals – people selling their wares on the sidewalk, teenage boys practicing break dancing in the gazebo, and musicians playing for the pedestrians, hoping for a tip. Oliver didn’t stop but Wes and I visited the place on foot in the evening and even purchased some souvenirs.
Our last stop with Oliver was Cerro Concepcion (Cerro meaning hill). Here he bid us farewell at Cafe de Pintor where we enjoyed a scrumptious fish dinner, a wonderful 3 course meal at dirt cheap prices. I have to say that the food and transportation in Chile and Argentina as well have been so great and so inexpensive. Being a retired school teacher, I appreciate that!
After dinner, we climbed halfway up another hill to enjoy a glass of wine at Hotel Fauna – great views! Thanks to Oliver for his great tips as well as a wonderful tour!
By this point I was so relaxed. There was only one more Ascensor we wished to ride so we rode back down Ascensor Reyna Victoria and got a cable trolley to the other side of Valparaiso to try and catch the tallest one, the Ascensor Polanco. Unfortunately, this one was out of commission so we trollied back to Plaza Victoria and strolled around for a while. Neither of us were really hungry so instead of a big meal, we settled for an ice cream- wasn’t sure what I was ordering but ended up with a cinnamon ice cream with meringue. What is it that Forrest Gump always says? “Life is like a box of chocolates – you’re never sure what you are going to get!” Well, my ice cream was certainly a pleasant surprise – just perfect!
Our tummies satisfied, Wes and I taxied back to our home in Valparaiso. Again, we sat on the veranda for an hour or so just chatting and enjoying the view before calling it a night. Te amo, Valparaiso – so thankful that I was able to spend a few days in paradise!