Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Santiago in 24 Hours

I faced a challenge: to explore Santiago, the capital of the 6,000-kilometre-long shoestring of Chile, in only 24 hours.

My travel group raced up San Cristobal Hill to the gleaming white statue of the Virgin, a focal point of the city. Surrounded by parkland, the site is popular, and I loved listening to rolling Rs and sibilant S sounds of Spanish. Panoramic views of the city and Andes foothills lay before us with the 64-storey Costanera Centre skyscraperthe continent’s tallest edifice—sticking up like a sore thumb. A slight haze hung over the valley, for Santiago is known for smog.

We lunched at an outdoor patio in the fashionable Lastarria district. Platters of ceviche, fried Conger eel, and pulmay, a stew of mussels, pork, potato and lamb were accompanied by fine Chilean wine. Unusually, the chairs had clips to prevent purses and backpacks being snatched.

At Santiago’s historic centre, the balconies and columns of Spanish architecture reflected the city’s long history (founded in1542). In the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, I gazed at the vast ceiling and ornate design while enjoying the dark coolness. A short walk led to La Moneda Palace (the president’s place) fronted by an expansive parade ground and guarded by soldiers in crisp uniforms, who eyed us suspiciously.

Next was the Central Mercado, one of the world’s best according to National Geographic. I wandered amongst aromas of exotic spices, meats and cheeses; in another section a kaleidoscope of colourful woolen scarves and handicrafts were displayed.

We stopped at the Park Forestal, one of many green spaces lining the Mapocho River. I strolled along the tree-lined walkways, admiring the statues donated by other nations to honour Chile’s 100th anniversary of independence.

From my hotel window, I could see Providencia Avenue below. A mariachi band blared as businessmen in dark suits and ladies, chic and attractive with dark, sensuous Spanish features, flowed to and from the subway entrance. I could see why Chile’s economy is considered the most dynamic in South America.

My best memories are of fine Chilean wine and superb cuisine. We arrived at W Santiago Hotel’s
Noso Restaurant after 9 pm. Excellent Sauvignon Blancs and Cabernet Sauvignons flowed during a dinner of salmon ceviche, pumpkin soup with prawns, and ribs dripping with succulent barbeque sauce.

After, we headed to Bocanariz, a wine bar in the trendy Lastarria barrio, which reputedly serves every Chilean wine. While sampling their best seller, a Pinot Noir Refugio 2012, produced by Montsecano y Copains, we pondered the places we didn’t have time to visit.

The Casa Blanca Valley wine region, for example, is only 40 minutes away. With about 20 wineries, it produces Chile’s best white wine. You can sample cool chardonnays beside green vineyards marching like military platoons up the dry, brown slopes.

We could have visited Valparaiso, a UNESCO heritage city situated on the coast, a mere 1.5 hour drive away. Famous for its multi-coloured houses, numerous art galleries and coffee houses, it enjoys a bohemian, laid-back pace of life.

Leaving, my head was spinning. In spite of a Herculean effort I had only seen a fraction of the exciting, vibrant Santiago.

Currency: 1 $ Canadian = 521 Chilean pesos
Electricity: Chile uses 220 Volts. Bring a transformer & plug adapter.
Chile Information: www.turismochile.travel
Santiago Information: santiagotourist.com

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