Monday, March 30, 2009

The Devil went to Santiago, Chile and all he got was this lousy posting


Destination: Santiago, Chile

Number of Days: 3

Times we took the: Boat/Ferry - 0 Bus/Minivan - 1 Train/Subway - 4 taxi/car - 1

Where we stayed: Greenhouse - $40/night and not worth it, this place had very friendly hosts and a decent breakfast with free Wifi but it definitely could have been cleaner, especially the shared bathroom.

Favorite Restaurant: Gatopardo - amazing set menu, at least some times. For $10 you get a trip to their yummy salad bar, an entree, dessert, a pisco sour (the national drink), coffee or tea and a soda, draft beer or a glass of wine. The pork we had the first day was the best we have had in South America, it had this amazing honey sauce on it. The second day the choices weren't as great, it was either an onion quiche or congrio (eel). So make sure you look at the menu of the day before you go in.

Best of: Good views from the top of the Cerro Santa Lucia looking out over the city and beyond to the mountain tops.

Worst of: The city really has no feeling, good or bad. It's a big city that could exist anywhere in the world and other than the language spoken, you would not know the difference.

Something unexpected: The city was hotter than the beach, and on average always is. The Chileans have a strange dialect of Spanish. They blend words together and drop syllables making it especially difficult for us to understand.

Santiago is the capital of Chile and between here and Valparaiso/Vina del Mar nearly half of the entire population lives. A sprawling concrete jungle complete with an extensive subway and the transit hub for all of Chile. Unlike other places we have visited, Santiago seems to be missing something. It's not beautiful, charming or too cosmopolitan. Nor is it edgy, dangerous or appalling. Perhaps if we spent more time here, we might draw different conclusions, but given first impressions - this city lacks character; it refuses to be labeled or defined.

Our first stop after arriving by bus in the morning from Vina was to find some lunch. Gatapardo ended up being our highlight of Santiago, at least the first lunch there. After stuffing ourselves, we hiked to the top of Santa Lucia for a overlook of the city and to burn a few calories. After wandering around for a while checking out Barrio Lasatarria, one of the slightly more upscale areas with lots of bars and restaurants, we ended up right back at Gatapardo for a happy hour (pisco sours), which here lasts from 6-9pm. May seem late to us, but dinner does not start until 8pm around here and goes until midnight!

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We hopped on the subway and rode it all the way till the end of the rails the next morning for a tour of Concho y Toro (Shell and Bull) Bodega. This region of Chile is ideal for wine growing with little rainfall and lots of days of sunshine. The largest wine producer in Chile, Concho y Toro's most familiar label in the States is Del Diablo (The devil) and the facility is first class all the way. The grounds are spectacular and it was a different experience than most of the smaller vineyards we have visited in the States. The aging of the wine is controlled by a computerized inventory system that has a bar code on every barrel of wine giving all its vitals. The highlight of the tour (other than the obvious tastings!) was the original wine cellar. The Devil's wine got it's name when the owner, fed up with the locals breaking in and stealing his wine, made up a rumor that the devil lived in the cellar. Completing the hoax, a silhouette of the devil shines in one of the back corners aided by a well placed red light. Silly story, but it makes for a great name for a bottle of wine and made Concho y Toro what it is today.

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Back in the city, we made the rounds of the museums, plazas and government buildings. We checked out the Bella las Artes art museum. Ok, but nothing too special. The special exhibit was underground political comics from the dictatorship years of the 70's and 80's which would have been more interesting had we been able to understand not only Spanish, but the people and politics of the time. We took a stroll through the crowded Plaza de Armes, the heart of downtown, anchored by the massive Cathedral Metropolitana. We also took a stroll through the Constitution Plaza which sits in the shadow of the Presidential Palace, their version of the White House. Oddly enough the rest of the government is in Valparaiso. We finished our stroll through the financial district with poking our heads (well, just Jason) into one of the odd businesses known as Cafes con Piernas (Legs Cafes). While we assume they actually serve coffee, the draw is the strip club atmosphere complete with loud music, dim lights and half naked women. It seemed like the fitting way to end our time in this quirky city we still can't define.

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Having got our feel for the city, we packed our bags and headed back into Argentina. Next stop, Mendoza!

To see more photos of Santiago, click here.

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