Valparaiso, an hour north of Santiago, is a city with soul. It is so different then any of the other Chilean cities we have visited thus far. The population is approximately 800,000 so it is not like the small towns we have been visiting in Chile. It is an important port for Chile and also has several large navy ships docked in the bay. Keith and I sat and stared at the activities at this port for a couple of hours and it was quite interesting. The city is broken up into several different neighborhoods they call Cerros. We stayed in Cerro Concepcion. “Valpo” – as people call it – is riddled with hills divided into neighborhoods that climb up the side of the bay. The streets are labrynth’s of cobblestone, winding up and down each neighborhood. Additionally, Valpo is a cultural mecca for artists and the city allows them to freely express themselves on the city walls and coloring of the homes. It’s all very cool and is what I think gives Valpo it’s soul. The weather was a perfect 70-80 degrees so much of our time was spent purposefully getting lost in the maze of these neighborhoods. The art was so impressive. Another interesting factor was because of the steep incline of some of these streets there are close to 30 feniculars to more easily get around taking a direct route. We stayed four days in this unique area at a charming B&B. As we sat sipping on cocktails during a fantastic seafood meal one afternoon we looked out onto the bay and commented how lucky we were in life.
I was very excited to visit Santiago because Dave and Rachael Schmitt, college friends of mine, live here and we were going to have the pleasure of staying in their home. We had not seen them since our trip three years ago to visit them in Moscow, Russia. I always get a bit intimidated when entering a new city especially a large one such as Santiago. You just don’t know your way around so it takes me a bit to get my bearings. With Santiago it was WAY better than expected. This city of 6 million was the easiest yet to navigate. They have an easy subway (metro) and bus system that made me wish I utilized mass transit more in Denver. Rachael and Dave lived up in the hills which is the suburbs of Santiago so we were able to easily use this transit system to explore all we wanted. We took an excellent free walking tour of the city and learned about the history of Chile and walked four hours to all the different iconic places Santiago has to offer. The city is sprawling but because it’s split out into different areas it makes it less overwhelming. In some parts of this city we felt like we could have been in California or Colorado. I’m talking Applebees, TGIF, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks….you get the picture. There is a lot of University life so in many areas like Bella Vista the crowds were young and the bars open late! We took a fenicular up Cerro Cristobal to see the views (noted in picture above), we ate amazing seafood at their fish market and the most fun, for Keith, was our run in with a tear gassing. Currently there is rioting about the education system (fighting for public education to be on par with private education) throughout Chile and demonstrations are common. This occured one day as we were riding the subway. They told everyone to shut the windows of the train and as we walked up to the city you could see the cloud of tear gas and people’s eyes tearing and noses running. It stung my eyes a bit but nothing terrible. Of course, Keith wanted to go directly towards the rioting and I said “no way!”
We had heard throughout our travels that Santiago was somewhat of a boring city in comparison to some of the other South American cities but I have to say we really liked it. Surrounded by the Andes the views cannot be beat, the ease of travel in and out of the city center was unmatched and the people continuously surprised me with their kindness. I mean everyone even said thank you to the bus driver as they got off the bus! It also was wonderful to have a home to chill out and we did that ALOT. Many days we just sat around in our PJ’s to feel the normality of not planning a darn thing, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and having a beer on the patio. It was great to spend some time with the entire Schmitt family. I would disagree with people who indicate that Santiago is nothing to write home about…I absolutely think it’s a place well worth the visit. As we said to Rachael and Dave…very liveable city!