I wasn't sure what I expected from Santiago. The word on the street is that there's nothing to "see" here, it's a city you'll pass through. Not for me, I've now been here for 4 days.... I like getting to a city and settling myself into ONE hotel, unpacking and doing everything I can from one localized city. It's not as hectic a pace, not as harried a schedule, and you get a better feel for the places you're visiting, as opposed to only tastes of more cities. At least, that's what is working for me. I'm taking day trips to Valparaiso and Vina del Mar (beach towns outside of Santiago) and took a day trip to the vineyards the other day. It's just easier than being go, go, go, every 2 days. So, hi from Santiago, Chile!
Santiago is VERY modern, very clean, and feels very American. The American brands are everywhere, posted on billboards, on street signs, it's omni-present just how westernized Santiago is. It reminds me a little bit of Washington DC, at least in the "Gringo" parts of El Bosque and Las Condes and Vitacura. It's very much high-rise, glass buildings, interspersed with leafier streets and older, little townhouses that house restaurants and residences. For some reason, I'm channeling DC a bit. It actually felt kinda nice to be in a city when I first got here, the familiarily of seeing AT&T, Hooters and Ruby Tuesday, Starbucks and Jeep. I felt very "city girlish" and when I saw a Starbucks, ran for it with a pace that I haven't hit since my last jaunt on my treadmill as Sports Club LA. But, I'm over it and excited to go to Valparaiso/Vina del Mar tomorrow which supposedly have a little more culture. Then, down to the lake region of Chile for some Andean mountain time in the outdoors on Sunday. Modern is good, in doses, I'm finding. But, the more rewarding places have been those I don't know as familiar, not the ones that I'm too comfortable in.
Also, the people in Santiago are more conservative than in other cities. The city, the people just lack a little passion as far as I've seen so far. And, they admit that. They know that the city is just a little more hands-off than the rest of South American in many ways. Their lifestyle is more sedate, there's more quiet, there's less flavor. I like Santiago, it's just a little bland.
On the first day here, I just kicked around town, exploring (on foot) Gringo land. I met up with a friend of a friend who lives down here, is Chilean, Tony. We met for coffee on what might as well be the Miracle Mile of Santiago. LV, Hermes, Longchamp, Burberry. Boy, does he know where to take the NY girls... I had my first Cafe Helado and just explored the city on foot. I wound up stopping for a glass of wine at a bar, unbeknownst to me at the time, called, of ALL things, Publicity. Go figure......
My second day here I took in more of the sights, riding a funicular up to the top of San Cristobal, overlooking the city, seeing the snow-capped Andes in the backdrop. It's easy to tell direction here (thank you, Brett Isaccson), if you see the Andes, that's the east. Helpful to know. VERY helpful to know. San Cristobal is part of Parque Metropolitan, which is in Bellavista, the more bohemian section of town. Colorful little homes, tree-lined streets teeming with cafes and outdoor restaurants. Here, I stopped for a conger eel soup, which is a whitefish that they serve locally. Then, onto La Chascona. The Santiago home of Nobel prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda. His homes (there are 3) are attractions here in Chile, they are all VERY eclectic, he was a collector of everything and his houses are amazing to see. What struck me is that they let you sit in the chairs, touch the books, and things stored in the house. Imagine going into, like...Roosevelt's Oyster Bay house, and dilly dallying with the mooseheads he killed on African safaris. Right..... So, La Chascona is named after his lover, Matilde. It literally means BAD HAIR. The guide, a funny little man with a fantastic ranchero mustache that you see in my pix (couldn't pass up a photo of his 'stache...) told us that Matilde had big bushy hair and they called her La Chascona or Medusa, hence the name of the house. Granted, I have a japanese treatment on my hair now, but can you imagine if my famous poet husband of my future decided to name our house after my old hair...? I mean, talk about the most heinous of insults!!?!?! Then, to meet Ike's brother Brett who lives here and is a TWIN for Ike, but bigger. Very weird to meet someone's sibling in Santiago for the first time. He took me to a place for the typical Chilean sandwich, which are everywhere down here. Very good, but not sure how many more Chilean sandwiches are in my future. ;)
On the third day, I had a debaucle with the Sheraton, as I used AmEx points for my room there the first two nights but try explaining that to the Spanish desk guy who could give a shit about you and your American Express card and tries to make you pay double. I mean.... Then, my Treo spazzed (in a modern city like Santiago of ALL places) and so, I spent part of the day, trying to get back online with that. Then, I put hot milk in my Cocoa Puffs knockoff b/c I didn't the sign on the breakfast buffet that said HOT MILK and then, they didn't have anymore cereal left and the eggs looks like vomit and so I didn't eat breakfast before heading out. Again...stupid issues but frustrating, nonetheless.
Headed then, to the vineyards. Concha y Toro, the #1 exporter of Chilean wine to the States. I tried it in Costa Rica, and have since been hooked, so it was great to get to tour the vineyard, send home a ton of rare bottles that I can't get in the States and get out of the city for part of the day. I even, GULP, mastered the Metro here. The subway is amazing. The MTA should take a few tips from the Chilean government on how to create worthwhile, clean and efficient public transportation systems. It was fantastic and I went to Conchy y Toro on the subway, then to a bus, and back....EFFORTLESSLY. I arrived at the Plaza de Armas, which is eye-candy with all the performance artists, kiosks of Chilean art for sale, chess players in various stages of games and other such distractions. Pretty wild scene, you don't know where to look first. There's a lot of dirty old men with bellies overhanging their pants on the Plaza, waiting for girlies like me to ask them to take a photo, at which point, they harass you to join them for coffee, a drink or whatnot, following you around the Plaza like a lost puppy. But, I digress....
I lunched at Mercado Central, which is the fish market. It's exactly how South Street Seaport used to be with the open air fish vendors selling their catches of the day everywhere. But, here in the middle of the market, is a huge restaurant called Donde Augusto that sells lunches, dinners of the fish from the market. Total tourist trap, but fantastic fish and atmosphere. Worth the trip. The waiters all bum rush you as you walk in, trying to get you to sit in their section (ummm, what are they all freaking out about, it's the SAME restaurant) and then, bombard you with choices to eat. It's overwhelming but kinda fun to play with them all. I sat overlooking the whole market and my waiter (didn't catch name) decided to fall for me, wrote me a love letter on the tourist post card and then, proceeded to get a guitarist to accompany his "Ode to Marie" in the middle of the whole place, and SANG TO ME loud and passionately for all to see. He said "Amor" in the song like 50 times. I was....MORTIFIED. You think getting a meek rendition of Happy Birthday by 2 waiters in ---enter your favorite birthday restaurant here----- is bad. Go to Donde Augusto, I promise, it's much much worse.
So, that's where I'm at..... now, I'm signing off to go shower for some dinner with Tony, who's going to take me out local Chilean style in Bellavista. Then, tomorrow, I'm off to the beach towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar to work on my jacked tan . . . I'm VERY uneven b/c of Peru. I'll report more soon... Hope you're all doing well.