Today was a jam-packed day, especially compared to yesterday. We did a walking tour of central Santiago that lasted about four hours, then Alana and I made a relatively last minute decision to take the rest of the day to explore the city of Valparaiso, a tourist city on the coast of central Chile. Since Jess went to Valparaiso yesterday, she opted to stay in Santiago for the rest of the day.
We woke up early as our tour started at 9:00 a.m. We were up late last night, so the early morning start (to get ready and eat breakfast) was a little difficult. Anyway, we met up with our tour guide, Al, and our driver, Sergio. Both were very friendly and easy-going, which was nice. Once Al found out our plans to go to Valparaiso after the tour, he even helped us figure out where to catch the bus that would take us there and gave us pointers as to where to go and what to expect.
We started with Santa Lucia, which took us up a hill to see some interesting old architecture, statues of various historical Chilean figures, and some fantastic city views. We were even able to see San Christobal hill, which we visited on our first day in Santiago.
After, we headed back down and visited the San Francisco Church in central Santiago. It’s the oldest church in the whole country and features beautiful colonial-style architecture and paintings.
A little further on, we visited a small street nearby. The two streets are named after Paris and London. Part of the street is dedicated to people who were tortured and killed by the dictatorship government. There were small metal plaques imbedded into the cobblestone road with the names, ages, and party affiliations engraved in each of them. Some were as young as 19.
We moved on to the financial district and got to see the room where people trade stocks. They were all on lunch break, though, so the room was pretty empty. It was a very pretty room, though.
Then we were treated to the infamous “coffee with legs”. In Chile, many cafes serve primarily a male clientele and the waitresses wear extremely short skirts and tall heels, so they can show off their legs, hence “coffee with legs.” Us three were the only females in the whole cafe, excluding the staff. Still, it was a good break from the sun and we got a small caffeine boost, as we hadn’t had the time to finish our coffees at breakfast.
Refreshed, we moved on to the Moneda Presidential Palace and took obligatory pictures of its impressive white facade. We walked through the historical district, noting more colonial-style buildings for everything from the courthouse to the post office. We visited another beautiful church, as well, before moving on to the central market, where they sell fresh seafood and have a few restaurants, too.
Our driver the picked us up again and our guide was kind enough to have us dropped off in the Bellavista area at our request, as it was an easy and familiar place for us to find a place to eat lunch, as well as access a major subway station. We stopped for some pizza and we got free beer samples, too (although we didn’t really like them; I’m not much of a beer drinker anyway).
After lunch, we parted ways at the subway station. Jess returned to the hotel to rest while Alana and I headed to another station to catch a bus to Valparaiso. Let me say right now that we were not totally prepared for this trip, as it was a relatively last minute decision to go. Valparaiso was always on our list of places to see once we decided to go to Chile, but it wasn’t included in any part of our tour (we opted for the winery tour instead). As a result,most research was quite limited and this is not a good thing when practically no one can speak English and we can’t speak any Spanish.
But somehow we made it and got to Valparaiso without a hitch. The bus was quite comfy and the scenery was beautiful – lots of mountains.
Alana had found a basic walking tour map of Valparaiso. Again, though, it was a bit of a struggle to find the starting point from the bus terminal when we had no idea where we were and spoke no Spanish to ask for directions, so we ended up grabbing a taxi to just take us there. It wasn’t terribly expensive, anyway.
We did a lot of walking but it really is the best way to explore the city. The city features lots of tiny cobblestone roads, winding stone staircases, alleys, and funiculars that would be impossible to experience from a car or bus. Much of the city is covered with colourful graffiti and murals, and because the town is so hilly, there are great viewing points around town that look over all the colourful houses and over the water. It’s interesting and unique, I think.
Alana and I decided to walk back to the bus station since we had the time. Again, somehow we managed the bus navigation thing without knowing any Spanish and made it back to Santiago with no major mishaps. The only hiccup was that the bus stopped at a terminal that didn’t look familiar but the bus driver assured us we were at the right place. Turns out he let us all off just outside the station since it was a chaotic mess by the platforms – a huge gridlock of busses going nowhere (busses don’t appear to have assigned platforms; they just take whichever one is free). I guess our driver made a good call there.
Anyway, we were exhausted but we still took the subway back to our hotel. By this point, it was nearly 11:00 p.m. Long story short, we’re exhausted…and we have an early start tomorrow morning because we leave for San Pedro de Atacama. Still, I have no regrets since Valparaiso was a “must see” kind of place.