Well my trip to South America got off to a bit of a rocky start. First I got stuck beside a VERY grumpy man on my trip from Seattle to Miami. He refused to get out of his seat when I tried to sit down (had to climb over him), then he refused to help the flight attendant pass me my dinner and drinks and then he did not say thank you once to the flight attendant when she gave him a towel, his meal and his drink. As we were leaving the plane I told him it was absolutely lovely to have shared 5 1/2 hours with him, and I hoped to never see him again. (Seriously what an ass.)
The day in Miami was actually quite lovely (how can you go wrong with a spa day??), but then came the eternal wait at the airport. Yep. My lovely 7:30 p.m. flight to Santiago was delayed for an hour, then the plane was pulled out of service, then we had to changed terminals, then we had to wait for two more hours and then I got stuck behind a group of six people (business class on the plan was configured 1 2 1 so the two rows in front of me and the two middle rows in front of me) who were drunk and loud. One guy refused to get off his phone while we were taxiing to the runway – the flight attendant threatened to have the pilot turn around; and another guy refused to stay in his seat. What a gong show. We finally took off at 11:00 p.m. Once in the air, I got up and asked the flight attendant if I could move to an open seat on the other side of the plan two rows in front of these idiots. After that, I put my earplugs in, eye mask on, put my seat flat and spent the next 8 hours sleeping. I was exhausted from no sleep the night before. The flight attendant finally woke me up about 45 minutes before landing.
Once on the ground, I made it through immigration and customs in record time with my luggage (always a YAY when flying American Airlines as some of you may recall from my sabbatical fiasco Lima-Miami-JFK). Anyway, the driver from my hotel (Hotel Su Merced) was there to meet me and by 9:30 a.m. Santiago time, I was in my hotel room for a quick shower and change before it was time to explore some of the historic sites of Santiago a mere 20 minute walk from my hotel.
First up was the Plaza de Armas home to some of Santiago’s oldest buildings. (If you have been to anywhere in South America (and for that matter any of the Latin American countries, each town no matter how big or small has a Plaza de Armas (or some similar name) where many of the old historic buildings are located along with a large plaza or square with fountains and gardens where people gather.)
I spent about two hours wandering up and down the streets, looking at the old buildings and neighborhoods. Of course there were the standard churches, including the most important church in Chile, Catedral Metropolitana built right on the Plaza de Armas in 1775 (apparently the exiting structure is the 5th on the site because earthquakes destroyed the prior buildings). I actually took a walk around, but it kind of left me “meh”. It was built in the “Baroque” style and if you have read any of my other blogs you know I do not like baroque anything. TOOOOOOO GAUDY. Anyway, I also took a walk around Iglesia San Agustin, but again not to my taste.
Aside from churches, there was the old Ex Congreso Nacional (yep the old Congress Building), which looked more like a mansion with amazing gardens and trees. Not sure why there were no tours, but you could only view the outside. I also took in the Palacio de los Tribunales de Justicia (the Supreme Court Building) and the Palacio de la Real de la Audencia (the old Supreme Court building that was used until 1810 constructed on the edge of Plaza de Armas – and why they switched I have no idea because the old building was gorgeous while the “new” building was not nearly as attractive).
Without a doubt my favorite building was the Correo Central – the Post Office. It was also constructed on the edge of the Plaza de Armas, and, yep it is still a working post office. It was black and white inside, with amazing wrot iron and chandeliers. Gorgeous.
One of the cool aspects of wandering the streets around Plaza de Armas were the many pedestrian friendly roads. Many were closed to traffic and had been turned into these large promenades filled with cafes, shops and many, many, many womens’ clothing and shoe stores. YIKES. It was crazy. And since it was Saturday, the streets were filled with people.
The other cool, actually hysterically funny thing is the pedestrian lights. In Seattle, the traffic figures for walk and don’t walk simply light up red or green. In Santiago, the traffic figure lights up green and begins to walk with a timer beside the figurine. As it ticks down, the figure moves faster and faster until it gets to 10 and then it is an all out sprint. I stood and watched it for at least 10 minutes. Cracked me up every time it starts the sprint. I’m sure all the people around me wandered why the heck I was laughing. It really is funny. (I am going to take a video of it in a couple days and will post it for your amusement (or maybe just for mine)).
So with the Plaza de Armas sites done, I figured I would take in one of the famous parks about half way between my hotel and Plaza de Armas. So I walked back towards my hotel and climbed the very narrow stone stairs to Cerro Santa Lucia. Yikes. By now it was around 1 in the afternoon and it was HOT, HOT, HOT. However, the climb was worth it as the park was very pretty with various types of gardens from all over the world, fountains and the incredible Castillo Hidalgo, which was built during the Chilean Independence War between 1814 and 1817.
The pathway around the park took you all around the Castillo, but if you wanted to actually see it, you had to climb a series of very narrow stone step switchbacks. It was brutal in the heat, but I made it to the top to take in the view and then wandered back down in search of shade and water. On the way down a passed a very tiny, very pretty chapel and what appeared to be an outer wall. Entirely worth the trip!
Once back down and on the street, I decided to head to Mercado Central (yep a market). However, this was entirely a fish market built in this ridiculously beautiful art deco building dating to 1872. The walk to the Mercado took me back through the Plaza de Armas (I don’t know why I chose the order I did, but in hindsight it was a little ridiculous) and another 6 blocks to the north. I was exhausted when I reached the market, but it was worth it. The building was beautiful made of glass and iron. The interior was gorgeous and ridiculous all at the same time. Fish mongers occupied the four walls of the building and you had to wade through the water covering the floors to reach the interior of the building which is now occupied by a myriad of restaurants. (Apparently the produce guys left years ago and have their own
Anyway, I was starving so when in Rome… Now outside each little restaurant were numerous guys trying to get you to come and sit down in their establishment. I finally picked, one found a table only to discover that my waiter did not speak English and would not serve me. Uh?? Gesh. Talk about humiliating. Anyway, I found another restaurant, was assured my lack of Spanish skills would not be a problem and proceeded to order a Pisco Sour, parmesan crusted razor claims (YUMMY) and these large shrimp on a bed of salad. (Chile has tons of seafood – Bull you would not do well here.)
After a lovely lunch, I decided I had enough in me to figure out the Santiago subway system and head to the outskirts of Chile to a highly recommended handicraft market, the Pueblo Los Dominicos. I managed to figure out how to pay and then with the help of a handy dandy map, how to reach Pueblo Los Dominicos (despite the fact there was not an English sign in sight).
A half hour later I found myself wandering in front of the Iglesias Los Dominicos Church home ot the Pueblo Los Dominicos market. The handicraft market was awesome. The local artists rented space and not only showed their wares in each shop, but were actually working on projects. Believe it or not, I was so fascinated, I complete forgot to pull out my camera so the only picture I have is of the church. Gesh.
Anyway, after wandering around for about a half hour I found the holy grail. YEP. Christmas Ornaments. The streak continues, I have yet to travel to a country and not find them. And these are very cool. Hand made out of horse hair. After my big find, I figured I was done when I passed the most amazing mother and baby penguin statutes made out of Chilean pine. Ack. There goes my resolve to stick only to Christmas ornaments on this trip. (Thankfully my hotel is going to store them while I go to the Antarctica so I will only need to carry them to Easter Island.)
So with purchases in hand I got back on the subway, got off at the stop near my hotel and proceeded to get completely lost. I finally found a couple guys in a convenience store who spoke English and pointed out I should have crossed the street and turned left instead of just turning right. So an extra half of hour walking to my already long, long day left me exhausted. (And yeah, I am an idiot. For some reason I thought the time zone difference was only two hours between Santiago and Seattle. I figured since Chile was directly below Peru they would be in the same time zone. Uh that would be a big fat no. Instead Chile uses the same time zone as Brazil and Argentina and that would be 5 hours! Good grief. No wonder i was so tired. My body is completely screwed up time wise.)
Anyway, after showering, I grabbed a quick bite to eat in the little boutique restaurant in my hotel, raw tuna with some alfalfa sprouts and a glass of famous Chilean wine, and I was done. Gesh … that was a lot for one day!!