Valparaiso

I don’t know how to title this post without sounding like a smug, privileged North American tourist. Valparaiso is both picturesque and impoverished. It is a World Heritage Site, so they can’t change or update the buildings; but without funds to maintain them they are falling apart.

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The city is, indeed, unique. It has a history of bohemian culture which is still present. The buildings are built on steep hills of streets, the best of which overlook the harbour. The city has an ocean-going history. Men would be off at sea for long periods of time and the women would party, according to our guide. Sounds like a fun place to be a woman, as long as no one came along to rape and pillage!

The city enjoys some beautiful views, but is home to more stray dogs than anyone could ever count. Some of the lovely buildings, which are becoming a little worse for wear, are used as hostels or bed & breakfasts. World class artists have painted murals in Valparaiso and they are amazing.

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Valparaiso was the departure port for our cruise. We enjoyed some fresh empanadas and proceeded to the dock for our check in. Our pre-cruise tour of Santiago and Valparaiso was so worthwhile, we would definitely do it again!

 

 

Santiago: who knew?

IMG_7540 Our first full day day in Santiago, after the previous day of no sleep, got off to a great start. Our hotel had a lovely breakfast, included in our room package. Our van, with driver and guide, picked us up promptly at 9 am and we began our tour of the city. We started with the walking portion to beat the midday heat. Santiago was a pleasant surprise to all of us. I realize we were in quite a nice neighbourhood, but we were impressed by the number of healthy trees and beautiful parks.

Chile has had a lot of earthquakes. They don’t even call the small ones earthquakes anymore, they call them tremours. As a result of all these earthquakes, at least the major ones, there are many newer buildings among the “survivors”.

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Due to Santiago’s location, between ocean and mountain ranges, Chile’s political history, and their geological history, the city has its very own, distinct vibe, and comes across as very modern, resilient and forward thinking. I think part of the reason we enjoyed it so much is because Chile, like Canada, is a mosaic (or melting pot, if you prefer) of so many cultures. It has the “new world” feel, but with a darker history and a much stronger European influence. The climate is fantastic. Although the summer temperatures can get pretty hot, it’s a dry heat. People come to Chile from all over the world and many of them never leave.

It’s hard to believe, even for a resident of the Cayman Islands, that the country is run without income tax,  In Chile, they sell institutions, such as the airports, to investors, who then commit to maintaining them for 20 years. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The petty crime is a problem, because the jails are too full and they don’t have an investor in the jails.

IMG_7492Plaza los Armas

Our tour of the city included a walk through downtown and Plaza los Armas. We had time to explore the indoor market.

 

IMG_7519This market is considered to be among the top five in the world!

 

IMG_7545At Cerro San Cristobal, you can walk, drive or take a funicular to the top. We took the funicular, it being a very hot time of day. We couldn’t drive up because there was a walk or run going on, as there often is in Santiago. As we drove around the city we often saw areas cordonned off for a bike race or similar event. The views from the top were fantastic. We could see the Andes on one side and and by walking around we could see the whole city. We had to do some climbing,as the funicular doesn’t go all the way to the top, where the statue of the Virgin Mary watches over Santiago.

We returned to our hotel with time to go for lunch, catch up on our emails and relax by the pool. One of the problems we had in Santiago was finding cash. Having spent most of our cash at dinner the previous evening,(and that’s another story!) we split up the group so some of us could find a place for lunch and some went looking for a place to exchange money. We had a two counts against us. It’s summer in Santiago, which means one third of the population is on vacation. The banks were closed for the weekend, and no exchange places were available in the neighbourhood.

We had a short walk to a shopping and restaurant area, but it was very busy and we were lucky to get a table for our large group. On the Sunday, we found many places were simply closed for the afternoon.

We could have returned to one of the museums that our guide had pointed out to us, but I think we were all pretty tired by afternoon. I am beginning to understand the siesta! Some of the museums were on strike, as well.

By the end of our 3 days in Santiago, which also included visits to wineries and a walking tour of Valparaiso, we were joking about buying a place and moving there.

 

Miami to Santiago, in a sardine can. My kingdom for a bed!

I was so looking forward to the overnight flight to Santiago. “Why?” you may ask. Well, I guess it’s because I thought an overnight flight would provide a little more leg room. I guess I was thinking about my last overnight flight to London. I guess I was looking forward to an airline giving me free food and wine. I guess I forgot about the flight we took to Amsterdam many years ago where I felt like one of those chickens. You know, the ones that aren’t “happy hens” or free range or “free to nest”; the ones that are crammed together and force-fed?

I didn’t feel quite like that on our flight to Santiago. After all, I had an aisle seat and the only person next to me was my husband. He slept the entire flight, except for the meals. He had space under the seat in front of him because he doesn’t carry a “small personal item”, in my case, a purse. He also didn’t have a huge metal box under the seat in front of him. I did. I had a purse and a metal box of unknown purpose  (although I’m sure someone knows the purpose) firmly attached to the bottom of the seat, leaving me with a few inches of space overlapping into my husband’s foot space. Or, I could have tripped people in the aisle.

On the positive side, the jack-in-the-box in front of me, who seemed to be someone known and revered by the flight crew, was able to change her seat to join her travel companions near the back. The fact that they didn’t have seats booked together and that the flight attendants were fawning over her suggests to me that she probably didn’t have to pay for her seat. (I digress.) We still don’t know who she was.

When a late arrival, a very tall man, took her place, I was sure he’d put his seat back into my lap as soon as he was allowed. I was wrong. He was very considerate, especially considering that his knees were probably pressed up against the seat in front of him.

On the other hand, for all the stretch-out room my husband had under the seat, he also felt as if he and the woman ahead of him were sleeping together.

I also appreciated the free food and wine. The E terminal of the Miami airport is a sad place for a hungry traveller. We were very hungry!

Fortunately, the flight to Santiago was only about 8 hours.

We’d booked a special pre-cruise package with our friends for the 3 days in Santiago. This began with a transfer from the airport to our lovely boutique hotel. On the ride to the hotel, our guide gave us very interesting insights into the modern history of Chile, as well as some useful tips about being tourists in Santiago.

Our hotel was lovely. We were the first of our party to arrive. It was especially fortunate that they had a spacious lobby, a good restaurant where we could get breakfast, and bathrooms we could use while we waited for our rooms. It was fortunate because we waited for our rooms for over 8 hours. We were told that check in time was 3. Our rooms would be ready at 3, unless we wanted a room with twin beds. We’d booked a room with a queen sized bed, so we said we’d wait.  The first couple arrived, close to noon. They were told the same thing. We’d already had breakfast but we walked with them to an area we’d been to earlier and had lunch. We waited a little longer. The rest of our group arrived about 3:30. The rooms weren’t ready. “Five minutes, ” we were told. There was a shift change at the desk.

Finally, our friend who had booked the package approached the desk and firmly asked about the rooms. He was given a vague answer about the rooms not being ready. He got out his phone and started to call the travel agent.  We were almost immediately called up to the desk. There was a problem with the double rooms. Would we take a suite for the same price? That was a no-brainer. We all checked in and discovered that 2 out of the 4 couples had a suite. Score!  We agreed to meet for a drink later in the bar by the pool.

It seems that one of our group later overheard a very angry Englishman complaining that he had booked a suite and didn’t get one. Sir, if I was in your suite, I apologize for the inconvenience, but seriously, I was just happy to get a room!

One big boat, some birds and a lot of ocean

IMG_8546We are back from our South American cruise, so I’ll be writing all about it over the next little while. It was an amazing vacation. I love to visit places I’ve never been.

Why go away when it’s so beautiful here? I asked myself the same question, but our travel companions are from Canada and it’s their chance to escape winter.

Our winter right now feels a little chilly, but if you’re in Canada you won’t be very sympathetic to  a bunch of warm weather wimps! The thing is, our apartment is designed to stay cool to minimize the air conditioning bills, the same way homes in Canada are designed to be warm. On a hot day in Canada,our house always felt a little suffocating. On cool days here, the tiles and open spaces seem to emphasize the fact that we don’t have any blankets on our beds!

I can handle a swim in the unheated pool, (although maybe not today), but I don’t like to be cold when I’m sleeping! I never thought we’d need a blanket on our bed, but after turning the fan off we were still cold in the night. How cold is it? I’m embarrassed to say, it’s about 23 Celsius inside!