Thursday, November 12, 2015

Santiago: A Modern Metropolis at the Foot of the Andes

When John Deere scheduled a week of trainings in Santiago right before a long weekend, Stephanie decided it was the perfect time for her to book tickets to Chile as well.  We ended up spending most of our trip touring Chile’s wine country, but had just enough time for a full day of explorations in the capital city.

If you only have one day to explore Santiago, we would certainly recommend our itinerary of sightseeing and wandering along the city streets.  We were also excited to check out the city’s well-organized metro system, which was at least as nice as Boston’s T (not that it would take much) and definitely nicer than the graffiti-filled subte in Argentina.

From our hotel in Bellavista, we took the metro to the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos.  The museum is exactly what it sounds like – a memorial to the victims of Chile’s brutal dictatorship and a detailed history of the events leading up to, during, and following Augusto Pinochet’s decades-long rule.  We were particularly captivated by the multimedia exhibit detailing the events of September 11 (1973, not 2001) – the date of the military coup in Chile when Pinochet assumed power.  Although not directly addressed in any of the exhibits, we found ourselves pondering, as we had in Phnom Penh and Phonsavan, the role the U.S. has played in the domestic politics of foreign nations.

From the museum, we set off in a more somber mood in the general direction of Santiago’s Plaza de Armas.  While not as pretty as Lima’s own colonial central square, we enjoyed our stroll through the city’s diverse neighborhoods and parks.

Back in Bellavista, the next stop on our itinerary was a visit to one of Pablo Neruda’s homes, now a museum.  (We also wanted to take the funicular to the top of the Cerro San Cristobal, but were informed it was out of service.  We’ll have to save that for our next visit!)

Although Giorgio was absolutely convinced that he had previously been to the poet’s Santiago home, upon arrival, he determined that he had never before set foot on the premises.  During the course of the tour, he decided that all of Neruda’s homes look the same and that he had instead visited the writer’s seaside house in Valparaiso.  Regardless, our self-guided tour gave us insight into Neruda’s life and style; it turns out that Neruda had quite the unique sense of mid-century design.  (Unfortunately, photos of the premises were not allowed, so you’ll have to make your own trip to see what we mean.)

Of course, no explorations of a foreign country would be complete without trying the local cuisine.  When we first started reading about Santiago, we were perplexed that so many articles recommended meals at Peruvian restaurants.  Did we really need to fly all the way to Santiago to eat at Astrid & Gaston or Osaka?  It turns out those reviewers must have known something that we didn’t – Chilean food is not great.  We’re starting to think that we should have just followed the recommendations for Peruvian restaurants, which were bound to have served better food than most of the fare we encountered.

However, we were quite entertained by our theatrical meal at Borag√≥, allegedly the best restaurant in Chile (at least according to the San Pellegrino list).  We aren’t precisely sure what many of the items we ate were, but they were presented with flair and enthusiasm by the restaurant’s many sous chefs.  Plus, we got to drink wine out of a horn.

During our strolls through the capital, we also noticed several bars advertising Chile’s “signature” alcohol – pisco – and a “signature” drink – pisco sours.  However, as previously discussedChilean “pisco” is most certainly NOT pisco.  Giorgio banned any taste tests of the Chilean imposters and we contented ourselves with the local wines, which we concede are definitely better than their Peruvian counterparts.


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