Feliz Pascua

Happy Easter from Santiago!

Life came to a standstill in Chile today.  We had not considered when we carefully planned our trip that it would end on Easter weekend.  So knowing that most of Santiago would be shut down today, we slept very late.

We didn’t expect to find any restaurants open but we knew we could depend on Starbucks right aroundimage the corner.  On the way there we stopped in front of the civic center – where the cross had stood on Friday evening, an exhibit of artfully decorated eggs now stood – a symbol of life!  After snapping a few pics we continued on to Starbucks where we drank our lattes, ate a breakfast sandwich, and planned our day since our plane does not leave until 9:55 tonight.

Parque Forestal seemed like our safest bet so we called Uber for a ride.  The Uber guy arrived slowly (not many operating today) but he kindly provided us with chocolate eggs while en route.  The park was lovely…children playing, couples snuggling on benches, and many shady trees and beautiful fountains and statues.

We were close to the Museum of Fine Arts so decided to stroll by to take a pic of the outside.  To our surprise, the museum was open and it was free! An exhibit spotlighted the work of Jose Gil de Castro, Pintor de Libertadores.  There were also many fine statues and several exhibits of Modern Art, some of them interactive.  But the best part to me was simply the architecture of the building.  The ceiling reminded me of a train station.

imageAfter browsing the museum we decided to head back to the hotel and grab a bite to eat before leaving for the airport.  As we walked in, we saw young children scrambling about hunting for Easter eggs.  Then we sat at the bar and were met by the Easter bunny himself, somewhat resembling our waiter, Benjamin.  The bunny hopped to it and brought us a chocolate egg, a drink, and some delicious guacamole and coconut shrimp.

In a few minutes we depart.  It’s been an amazing trip.  I will miss the Andes and the colorful life here, and the wonderful people we have met along the way.  Thank you South America for welcoming us….Thank you Wes for being so wonderful and taking good care of me and my ankle, and thank you, my friends for your kind comments and for sharing this awesome trip with me.  It’s one I shall never forget!

Again, in the words of Pablo Nerudo, “I confess that I have lived!”

A Walk through Pablo’s Neighborhood

Visiting Bella Vista, Santiago’s most colorful Bohemian barrio and home to Pablo Neruda was a wonderful way to spend our last full day in this eclectic city.

This was our second Neruda home to visit on the trip, our first being in Valparaiso.  Too bad we won’t be able to see the one in Isla Negra since tomorrow is Easter and it will be closed.  At any rate, I was thrilled to visit this one.

Neruda loved the sea and considered himself a land captain. This love is reflected in the small cabin-like imagerooms and wavy furniture.  Of course, the greatest love of his life was Matilde and when she was still his secret love, he found this multi-terraced hide away full of nooks and crannies far away from the center of town so as to be discreet.  Eventually, they married and lived here together.  My favorite piece in the house was a medusa looking painting of Matilde done by their friend, Diego Rivera.  It shows 2 faces of Matilda (one turned secretly to the side) and of course, her prominently curly hair which Neruda loved.  Neruda’s profile can be seen in her hair.

Neruda was a connoisseur of rare antique books, and objects from around the world, his favorite being from France where he served as an ambassador for several years.  He was also a senator for a while and ran for president of Chile at one point, but dropped out to support the other candidate.  As in the Valparaiso house, this one too was full of whimsical colorful objects such as a giant pair of shoes.  I also found it interesting that he drank only from colored glasses because he said it made the water taste better.  Think I will try that!

In the early 70′ s, Neruda was living in the Isla Negra house when his health began to fail. After the coup (military take over), Neruda’s health went downhill quickly and he died sadly in 1973.  Although his home in Santiago was vandalized, Matilde held a wake for him there to show the people how Chile’s most beloved poet was treated.  Pablo’s funeral was the first protest to be held in Chile against the military takeover.  Today I bought a shirt in honor of him.  He once said ,”Confieso que he vivido” (I confess that I have lived).  My shirt is close – it says in Portuguese, “Confesso que vivi” (I confess that I live).

This shirt as well as other souvenirs were bought in the shops in his neighborhood, Bella Vista.  I imagepurchased some earrings made of lapis lazuli, a semi precious blue stone found only in Chile and Afghanistan, and also some copper bowls since Chile is known for copper mining.  We enjoyed the day strolling through the shops and dining at one of the quaint sidewalk cafes where you can always find a musician strumming his guitar and crooning romantic Chilean tunes. Later, we had Pico sours at another restaurant. Pisco is a delicious grape-based liquor made in chile and Peru.

In the evening we enjoyed a different type of music, a musical production of “El Hombre de La Mancha” right across from our hotel at the Teatro Municipal De Las Condes.  Thankfully, we both know the story so it was somewhat easy to follow along.  The music swelled and the acting was passionate.  A great performance!  And what better way to end our evening then dining at the Estro restaurant only a few feet away.  We sat outside enjoying the outdoor firepits, sipping our wine and eating corvina, a sea bass, but not our “Chilean sea bass.”

I was tired but happy and looking forward to sinking into my cloud-like bed.  But before we dozed off we noticed that chocolate Easter eggs had been placed on the end table.  A sweet reminder that tomorrow is Easter and our last day of vacation.  But it’s not over until it’s over so I fell asleep with a smile on my face.

The Ultimate Tourists

That’s what we are today – The Ultimate Tourists

First we slept way too late, then grabbed a coffe and biscuit, and waited at the corner for our Hop-on, Hop-off City Tour bus, the Turiska.   I know….it may seem lame to some, but it does give a lot of history and an overall view of the city, plus when one is lame, it’s a welcomed sight.  And since this is Good Friday and most stores and museums are closed, this seemed like a wise choice.

imageSo I hobbled aboard and leaned back for a very enjoyable ride.  Our first stop was Parque Metropolitano, a 722 acre park, where we stood in line for an hour to ride the steepest and longest funicular that we’ve ridden thus far (seems like Disneyland ).  But the wait was well worth it!  The panoramic view from atop was grand and a large white statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception stands looking out over the city with protecting arms.

The park was a must see and was the only place where we hopped off to explore. The remainder of our tour was spent on the open top level of the bus, listening with our headphones as the narrator pointed out the most important sites and buildings along imagethe route.  So much information.  Half of our time was spent listening and half just laughing at our frail attempts to capture the sites on camera as the bus rolled by them.  Many pictures include parts of the bus and the top of my crutch :)

Santiago, named after Saint James the apostle, was founded in 1541. When the Spaniards arrived, they encountered some of Chile’s first indigenous people, the Incas and Mapuches, both proud, fierce people who were reluctant to give up their lands.  The Mapuche still dwell mainly south of here and continue to strive to retain their autonomy.

Along the route we viewed Plaza de Armas and Plaza Constitucion (both home to many important government buildings and similar to plazas we saw in Madrid), La Moneda (The Presidents Palace ), San Francisco Church (built in 1630), Sanhatten (the financial district named after Manhatten), the Mercado Central, El Golf (a luxurious business district), and a beautiful tree-lined street, home to several foreign embassies, just to name a few.

imageAnd right in in front of our hotel sits the Las Condes Civic center which contains a theater and is surrounded by an outdoor sculpture museum.  We noticed as we departed the bus and began walking toward our  hotel that a stage was being constructed.  We made a mental note to find out what was happening here.

But first things first. Since we had only eaten a biscuit and half a cereal bar all day, we were quite hungry so you can imagine our joy when we walked into our luxurious hotel and saw that it was tea time.  We immediately plopped down on some cushy chairs and began nibbling on delectable petit sandwiches and a variety of tempting sweets.  The waitress served us champagne and then expresso.  Yummilicious!

As we indulged, the concereige walked up and described what was happening outside.  A procession was starting far down the street and was moving this way.  It was a reenactment depicting the fourteen stages of the cross and in front of the civic center, just minutes from our door would be the final stage, the crucifixion.  Evidently,  several of these performances were occurring all over the city.

Most Chileans profess Catholicism so a large crowd was expected.  Wes and I walked outside to witness it – I thought it was tastefully done and the music was simply beautiful.

Before hitting the sack, we topped off our day with a glass of wine and a snack.

This was a Good Friday :)

Living the Life in Santiago

After hugging Nina, my adopted grandmother, goodbye and relinquishing my trusty cane and retrieving image“el Palo Anciano” (my ancient stick), Wes and I continued on the next leg of our journey via autobus to Santiago.  Our original bus was broken down so we had to get a refund and reserve a bus at a different company but this was a small glitch, only a fifteen minute delay.

This ride lasted only 1 1/2 hours so imagearound 3:00 we rolled into Santiago and were dropped off at a subway station.  However, we did not ride the subway but took a taxi instead since dragging luggage down subway stairs did not seem like a good idea, especially since Wes is having to carry most of it (I need to leave him a big tip at the end of our trip!).

Santiago is the capital City of Chile and has around 7 million people in the metro area.  It sits in a valley surrounded by the Andes so since the air is trapped, the city is quite polluted.  However it is a beautiful city containing a mix of both the old and new. I was impressed by the park that stretched between the main road almost the entire length of it.  Wes and I were also quite impressed by the modern architecture as we drove to our hotel.  We immediately spotted the Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest building in South America.

Then we arrived at our hotel, the Ritz Carlton.  Yes, we have moved up in the world!  Honestly, Wes got imageus 3 free nights here or I’m sure we would be at an airbnb which is more to my taste but hey… It’s nice to switch roles every now and then.  And this place is swanky!  So elegant and the people who work here aim to please.  Wes had called ahead and requested a handicapped room after my mishap.  They were happy to oblige and we were delighted to find a complimentary bottle of champagne and petit fours waiting for us in our room accompanied by a nice note from the call center lady.  Yay for being spoiled!

The concierge also found a crutch for me to use during my stay.  I feel like I have a magic wand – what shall I ask for next?

After settling in and enjoying our tasty treats, Wes called an Uber to pick us up and take us for a little bit of shopping.  It was a ways but the drive was pleasant and the driver very friendly.  So far, the parts of Santiago we’ve seen kind of remind us of Houston and there are many American restaurants and stores to be found here.  I will look forward to seeing the older parts of the city tomorrow.

But today we are being pampered.  So once we got back to the hotel, we walked over to the Terraza (terrace) restaurant where we dined under the stars on ceviche, guacamole, poached fish, rice, and wine.  I know….what indulgence!  But we will be back to reality soon enough so must enjoy it while we can!

image      So until tomorrow…

Valparaiso, The Valley of Paradise

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.

imageBut 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 homesimage 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).

imageArt 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!

Room with a View

My first impression of Valparaiso was….”hmmm, looks a little gritty” but first impressions CAN be wrong.

We swept into Valparaiso via bus around 12:30. Both of us had slept well but had not eaten. Our bus in Argentina served food but we discovered this one did not. After being on the bus for 13 hours, we were quite hungry so grabbed some French fries at the bus station before taking a cab to our new home for the next two days, Suite Mirador (another AirBnB).

We were met by Nina, the owner (Oliver)’s ex-mother-in-law who lives here and runs the place. Such a sweet lady – first thing she did was to dig in the closet and pull out a nice cane for me to use. Much easier than my walking stick although not as cool. Then Kati, who works for them, helped Wes bring our luggage up 3 flights of stairs while I carefully climbed up behind them. It was slow but the stairs were wooden, wide, and had a beautiful strong bannister so I felt safe. And the climb was definitely worth it!

The pictures on AirBnB did not do this place justice. To the left of the stairs is a lovely veranda painted a imagesponged ocean blue. The ceiling is high and cone-shaped. All three sides have wooden shuttered windows that open out to provide a spectacular view of the bay and the surrounding hills – 42 in all! There is a round table in front of the main window where we will have breakfast tomorrow as well as a wicker loveseat to relax and enjoy the view. The bedroom is spacious and also has a nice balcony. Opening the door of the balcony and the windows on the veranda creates a wonderful breeze – nature’s air conditioning. This place is truly amazing!

After oohing and ahhing about our view, we were ready to explore. I was a bit wary as Valparaiso is a city of hills but I had my trusty cane on one arm and Wes on the other, so no worries. So first off we headed downhill to find one of the 8 funiculars or ascensors that still operate in the city. Our first one was the Artilleria, built in 1893 to help students get up to the Naval school. (Before riding down we stopped for empanadas at a colorful cafe which also served as an art studio for the owner who enjoyed showing us his paintings while we ate.). The Ascensor was definitely old and creaky. It was similar to a rail car and rode on very steep tracks at a snail’s pace. But it was fun.

There wasn’t much happening at the bottom of the hill which was Plaza Aduana and the old port so we walked to the next ascensorimage, the El Peral which was built in 1901 and rode to the top. We walked up and down stairs all around the area, thinking we might eat a real meal but there were only a few restaurants and they were all closed. So back down the hill we rode.

We hailed a taxi and asked him to take us to town centre. Finally, we found some action and several restaurants around Plaza Anibal Pinto. Cafe del Poeta seemed like a good place to sit outside and people watch (fast becoming my favorite past time). The food proved to be good as well – fresh salmon salad.

After dinner, we called it a day and taxied back to our casa on the hill. Before going to bed, we sat out on the veranda to peer over the colorful rooftops to the ocean and the surrounding hills. The twinkling lights strung across the hillsides reminded me of Christmas. In fact, I kinda have that feeling like I always have on Christmas Eve – anticipation – what will tomorrow bring??? Stay tuned and until then “Buenos Noches, mis amigos!”

Lovely Puerto Varas

Breakfast this morning was a pleasant treat.  Our multitalented host, Juan,had spread the table with an assortment of tasty delights – a variety of fresh fruits, biscuits and jam, scrambled eggs, yogurt, cheese and ham, plus freshly brewed Columbian coffee and refreshing orange juice. Too much for me but I certainly made a valiant effort!  Notimagehing like starting the day with a good breakfast!

The day proceeded in a leisurely fashion.  Juan drove Wes to the bus station to buy tickets for our trip to Valparaiso this evening while I read and washed clothes.  A new couple from Australia who was

backpacking dropped off their bags, then went exploring.  Our time was running out so Wes and I decided we’d better do the same.

The best place to start was the lake and we had chosen the best time of imagethe day to enjoy it – dusk.  A decorative tiled pier filled with wooden benches juts out amidst the waves and rocks and was the perfect place to sit and soak in the clean, cool, crisp air. So serene – only the lapping of the water against the rocks or the occasional fish leaping up to say hello occasionally broke the silence.  Nearby, snow capped Volcano Orono stood guard over the lake like a sentinel.  Wooden sailboats rested in the harbor after a day of fun or fishing.  Soft golden porch lights flickered on the hillside like a colony of fireflies.  Together, they completed the picture – one I will carry with me and visit often in my imagination.  A nice place to visit on hectic days in Houston.

Time was slipping away so we ate our last meal in Puerto Varas at Cassis, a popular restaurant near the lake.  They are known for their chocolate so Wes and I topped off our meal with a tantalizing chocolate drink.

After dinner we still had a few minutes and since I couldn’t walk far we spent it at the casino (seemed strange that this quaint sleepy lake town would have a casino but it did and a very nice one at that).  Neither of us are really gamblers but we put in a few dollars each.  I walked away a winner -$3.00!  Big spender!

Then sadly it was time to go.  Our newfound friend, Juan, picked us up, took us back to his place to gather our luggage, then drove us to the  autobus station and bid us a fond farewell.  I’ll miss that guy and his funny ways, especially his fake American accent.

But it’s on to Valparaiso via a long trip on the bus.  Wes and I have decided that this is the way to travel – overnight buses.  The seats are comfy and recline way back so we can snooze all the way!  Ciao, Puerto Varas and Juan!