Saturday, January 28, 2017

Hanging Around Santiago.

Neptune's Fountain, Cerro Santa Lucia.

Today was a kick back day and it started with a lazy wake up this morning. The street traffic outside our apartment is constant and so it's been a challenge falling asleep. Luckily, we had nothing on our agenda today but wander about Santiago on our own.

I rented our apartment on Airbnb and spacewise, it's the smallest one we've stayed in so far but it has all the modern conveniences we need and it is very well located for tourists - we're maybe 3 or 4 blocks away from the main square, Plaza de Armas.  We always refer to the apartments by the host's name so this is Raul's place.  For $50 USD a night, it was a bargain!


Unfortunately, once we got settled in to the place, it quickly got a bit messy, especially the kitchen!  The best thing has been having the freezer.  I've been boiling water to drink and every night, I fill up  our water bottles and  put them in the freezer so come morning, we have two blocks of ice that over the course of the day, melt and become ice water.  It's been perfect for cooling off in the heat of Santiago!



Breakfast was scrambled eggs served with the steak brochettes left over from last night's dinner, some fruit, yogurt and toast. Simple breakfast but it was enough to fill us up.  Bro often does the cooking duties when we travel which is a nice treat for me.  Mind you, when I visit him at his home, I take on the role of cook.             


We started our sightseeing day around 10am. We set our first destination at Plaza de Armas. Pretty square. I decided that today, I would not take photos with my Nikon dSLR as carrying around the camera called way too much attention to me the other day. I didn't want a repeat of the spitting incident. So the photos today are not up to the same quality as they were taken with my Samsung Galaxy S4 cellphone but they will do.  I had brought along my Olympus point and shoot camera as a backup. In hindsight I should've have used to day.  As the day progressed, I realized how much I miss my telephoto zoom lens!

Ironically, our walk today took us through a nice part of the city. It looked to be the financial district. There did not look to be anyone, walking the streets, who would've cared about my camera but I was not about to risk it so my Nikon stayed safely nestled inside my backpack.

Eventually, we made it  back to Plaza de Armas, a lovely square flanked by several historic buildings.


The one that immediately caught my attention was the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago. We had already been inside the other day so today, we just stood to admire the exterior of the building.


It's not a large cathedral but I think it's got a very pretty facade.



The old Central Post office building also flanks Plaza de Armas. 


The yellow building next to it is the Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago (Royal Court Palace). The building was built between 1804 and 1807 to serve as the home for the royal courts of justice. Since 1982, it has been home to the National History Museum of Chile.


There's also a bronze statue of Pedro Gutiérrez de Valdivia (1497 1553), a Spanish conquistador, the first royal governor of Chile, and the founder of the city.


From Plaza de Armas, our plan was to head to Cerro Santa Lucia but before we were even able to leave the square, we bumped into another free tour group. We decided to listen in for a bit before walking away. Neither Bro nor I have had much interest in seeing the landmarks here. I think we've seen way too many Spanish churches and cathedrals over the trips we've done together. No real interest in seeing another.

Along the way, we popped into a few stores as I was in search of some SuperGlue to repair my lens hood with.  It got damaged in my tumble in Valparaiso yesterday. Worse case, I will use the tape that Bro has to bandage it up until I get home. I am really rough on my equipment.


Even though Bro's Spanish is pretty fluent, trying to figure out how to convey that we were looking for Super Glue was indeed a challenge.  He got the glue part down but how to explain we needed instant drying stuff.  In any case, we did find glue but not what I was looking for so I told him I would try to come up with an alternative solution.  It was kind of him to go on the hunt with me but I didn't want this to detract from our day so it was time to just move on.

We slowly meandered our way to Cerro Santa Lucia, a small park that occupies a hill in the heart of the city. It's a pretty little bit of green space and I was a bit surprised to not see many people there. Perhaps it was still a bit too early in the day.

It was from Santa Lucia hill that Pedro de Valdivia began founded Santiago. His troops took control of the hill on December 13th 1540, which is Saint Lucy's day (Santa Lucía in Spanish) ergo how the  hill got its name.  What was then a plain rocky mountain was developed into a defensive fort for the city. 

In 1872, under the direction of Mayor Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna, the hill began to transform into an open space for the citizens of Santiago. Mackenna was inspired by European architecture and used this style as the framework for his remodeling of the hill and converting it into a beautiful landscaped park.

From the street, we took the path that looked like it would take us to the top of the hill where Castillo Hidalgo, one of the original two forts stands - the other is Castillo Gonzales. The last Spanish governor of Chile, Marco del Pont, erected the fort during the Chilean War of Independence in the early 1800s. The fort would eventually take the name of Manuel Hidalgo, a military captain who was killed in the Battle of Chacabuco during the war. In the past, the fort has served as a museum and a library but today it serves as an events venue.



Strolling through the park, we took a cobblestone road down the hill.




That led us to the Terraza Neputuno (Neptune Terrace) where there is an ornate yellow and white pantheon surrounding a bronze statue of the Roman god Neptune, who stands atop a fountain. Construction of the terrace was initiated by French architect Victor Villenueve, whose European influence is clear in the terrace’s design.




From Neptune Terrace, we made our way down to the lower level which was the street level.



From Santa Lucia, I wanted to go to the Barrio Lastarria, a historic neighborhood that all the guide books recommend seeing.  It also happens to be located nearby.  It took some asking around to get us oriented in the correct direction to get us to Lastarria.  I fired up Google Maps but I've been having so many issues with my cellphone of late that using Google Maps proved to be useless.  I have been in denial that my Samsung Galaxy S4 has reached the end of its useful life but it really is time to think about an upgrade.  I'll think more about that when I get home.  In the meantime, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that many of the people that we stopped to ask for directions spoke very good English.  With all their help and Bro's map, we eventually did make it to Lastarria.

It is indeed a pretty area - much more upscale, vastly different from the part of town that we've been spending most of our time in. As I told Bro, rich folks live here :-)

By our standards, it was lunch time but by Santiago standards, there were still a couple of hours to go so even though some places were open for lunch, none were really doing a hopping business.  Like many people, if I'm new in town, I typically go to the places that look to be popular with locals.  Not to mention that the menu prices here were quite high and the fact that we had both agreed that we still wanted to taste the seasonal specialty here - pastel de choclo.  So, after some debating and menu reading, we ditched the idea of lunch in Lastarria in favor of going back to Mercado Central.







I was a bit disappointed to not see as many shops as I had expected. Perhaps we weren't on the main street?? However, there were a few vendors who had set up some tables.  It was nice to be able to do a bit of *window shopping*.



Map check.

I did however, cave in to my de rigeur travel desire to have ice cream and so we popped into a local coffee shop where I indulged in a large scoop of lucuma flavored ice cream. Lucuma is a fruit indigenous to the Andes and is found only in Peru, Ecuador and Chile. The fruit is never eaten fresh. Instead, it's used as a flavoring in drinks and ice creams. To me, it tasted like butterscotch.


After our short break, we walked to Mercado Central for lunch, passing by a small city park along the way.  I have to say, Santiago does have some lovely greenspaces in the city.


Entrance to Mercado Central.

I had the idea that we should pick up some seafood for dinner so as we headed towards our lunch place, we checked out some items we thought we would like to try out.


I had bought a mallet specifically to crack crab claws with so when I saw these, they immediately mad my must try list.





We made our way back to YiYi where we had lunch two days ago and where we saw them cooking up bowl after bowl of the pastel de choclo. They were cooking it for other restaurants so we assumed they must do a good job of making the dish.


Bro and I shared a single serving of pastel del chochlo as it comes in a big clay bowl. My verdict? Meh. The corn was sweet but too dry. It was a thick layer covering a smidge of ground beef, a bit of hardboiled egg, two black olives and two boiled chicken drumettes. Sugar is sprinkled on top of the corn layer and the entire dish is placed in the oven to heat up and caramelize the sugar. It's a bit strange combination of ingredients. No offense to the Chileans, but their cuisine is really not to my liking. Maybe I'll enjoy the food in the Atacama Desert or Patagonia more.

After lunch, Bro wanted to head back to La Vega market to pick up more fruit.


La Vega Market.



I always let him do the buying when it comes to fruit. Today, he wanted more blackberries so from memory, I took him back to the fruit stand that he had bought the fruit from the other day. Sadly, the woman did not have any blackberries.


We walked to the next stall over and the man was selling his raspberries, blueberries and blackberries like hot cakes. Bro was hoping to get a half kilo of raspberries and a half kilo of the blackberries but the guy was not willing to do half kilos. We had to buy a whole or nothing. At first we were reluctant to get a full kilo of just one kind of fruit so we wandered about a bit checking out some of the other fruit vendors. Eventually, we came back to this guy, who we nicknamed the Blackberry Nazi, and for 1400 pesos, got a kilo of the fruit. They are perfectly ripe and absolutely delicious and as I told Bro, I cannot get such nice blackberries at home, no matter what price I am willing to pay.

Next, Bro wanted to get some small calamantsi type limes to flavor our water with for when we are in Atacama. We both grew up with the fragrant flavor of the calamantsi limes and while we thought we had seen some, we actually saw something called limon pica which is a small green lemon (or maybe it is a lime) that Chileans use for either adding a tart taste to foods or as a cooking agent e.g., in ceviche.  We headed to a part of the market that we had not explored two days ago.  It was huge area filled with one produce vendor after another.



Bro auto turned into a bargain shopper and when he found the cheapest deal, we bought a bag's worth for about 475 pesos. Looking at the size of the bag, we realized that the young man who sold it to us probably misweighed the bag.....I don't know how but we were undercharged. Bro wanted to go back and get more but we had plenty.


A melon vendor also caught his eye and before you know it, Bro had handed over 750 pesos for a small melon, the same type that we've been enjoying these past two days. So, you might wonder if we're going to be able to eat all these fruits before we leave Santiago tomorrow for San Pedro de Atacama and the answer is No. We'll eat up the blackberries before we leave but the lemons and melon will be flying with us tomorrow :-)


With our fruit purchases in hand, we decided it was time to leave La Vega.

Heading back from La Vega to Mercado Central which is just across the bridge that we are about to walk over to.

First, we had to return to Mercado Central to buy some clams and stone crab claws that would be our appetizer for dinner. We just picked a vendor and got a half kilo of each.


With fresh seafood in hand, we decided it would be best if we immediately head back to the apartment. There, we rested a bit and gulped down a lot of cold water!!

In the late afternoon, we ventured back out. First task was to find an ATM machine and withdraw more pesos. We've not spent a whole lot of money since we've been here but we wanted to make sure we had enough to cover us in San Pedro de Atacama.

Next, it was to get some food for tomorrow's lunch. We had decided on empanadas for lunch. We bought three from a nearby bakery. Right next door was a Peruvian sandwich place named La Gloria where we ordered two sandwiches to go. They would be our dinner, accompanying our seafood appetizer.



Back in the apartment, there wasn't a pot useful enough to steam up the clams in so I used the microwave oven instead.  Our Peruvian sandwiches had come with three different kinds of sauces (have no clue what the flavors were) which we used as the dipping sauces for the clams.  They were very meaty, salty, but unfortunately, a bit sandy.  We enjoyed them though in hindsight, it would have been better to remove the meat and quickly wash off the sand before eating.



I then nuked one lot of the stone crab claws just long enough to warm them up as they already looked to be cooked.. I didn't like the way they smelled coming out of the oven but I decided to crack them anyway. I actually got to use the crab mallet that I bought with me :-). Sadly, I didn't think the crab claws tasted fresh enough to eat so I tossed them all out. A waste but better to be safe than sorry.  Overall,  I was very disappointed with the quality of the seafood we had purchased. 


It's been a few hours since we finished dinner. I've showered and I'm slowly gathering up my stuff and packing my suitcase.  Tomorrow, we are leaving Santiago and flying to San Pedro de Atacama which will be our home base for the next few days as we explore the Atacama Desert.  Very excited to be going!

Goodnight from Santiago!