a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘santiago’

trying to be cool :)

I grew up as one of those geeky egg-head types who didn’t care if I was cool.  I absolutely was not!  Over the years, though, both the world and I changed significantly so I have had accidental moments of coolness and have a lot better instincts.

While I still love Argentina and want to return at some point, I was really happy to see Santiago again!  Since it was my birthday, I splurged on an even swankier hotel for my last few days in Chile.  Not five star chain swank but rather super cool entrepreneur-run boutique hotel in trendy neighborhood.

nicer than my real home |:)

The Aubrey is set in a 1927 family mansion lovingly restored by an ex-pat couple.  It’s especially well-suited to couples.  It has a bit of a gated community feel, which I found a bit unsettling but it’s located in Bellavista, which is possibly the most fun neighbourhood.  It felt perfectly


safe and the gate seemed unnecessary.  It’s a gorgeous space and you get wonderful staff, free breakfast and some other perks like a welcome cocktail.

fancy some seafood?

I finally made it to the Fish Market.  You can walk from Bellavista and I would recommend it as you will see the history of Santiago, from the colonial era treasures through the fin de siècle opulence to the shiny glass surfaces of prosperous, modern Chile.  The Mercado Central is a zoo but definitely worth checking out.  One lovely fishmonger even took a tourist photo for me.  It’s also close to the Plaza de Armas.

Nearby is the Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino, a

shiny objects from the past

definite must-see for anyone interested in history or anthropology.  The exhibits are well curated and there are all sorts of ancient treasures where you can learn about the indigenous tribes of Chile and the Americas.

All the walking meant a few blisters but I sucked it up and walked the streets a bit in the evening to try and find something interesting.  In the Latin world, the night starts late so that can be challenging as a tourist.  I finally settled on La Casa en el Aire.  The friendly tout outside assured me there would be music and that is a great choice when you are travelling alone.  He didn’t lie and the featured artist was very good so it seemed an excellent way to spend the night before my birthday.

I was fine sitting alone and enjoying the music and my pisco sour but a woman spotted me and came over to ask if I was alone.  She then invited me to join her and her friend.  They were both lovely and it meant that my birthday started at midnight on a spectacular note.  Melissa spoke English but her friend did not so we used her mobile phone and a translation app to have a pretty sophisticated conversation.  The ways of the modern world 🙂

Her boyfriend was at an Iron Maiden concert so they had come out instead to listen to Cuban music.  I would be in Cuba a short time later so it was especially poignant.  And they were both Marxists!  How many Marxists do you meet these days?  But Marxism brought benefits to Chile so it was intriguing to see it was still part of local politics.

We hugged on the street and I thanked them for such an amazing night.  One of the greatest things I have learned from travel is how many kind, friendly, interesting people there are in the world.  This seems especially true in Latin America.

It’s an excellent place to celebrate your birthday!

the ambassador of pisco :)

Donald Trump might hate Latinos but I love them.  The love affair started in Mexico.  My grandmother used to buy me Seventeen magazine.  I was probably eleven years old when it started but a precocious old soul.  One issue changed my life.

Back when the internet was only used by egghead scientists, you had to write letters to communicate with people in distant places.  My parents love living in small towns and I had been dragged to a rural farming community by my father, uprooting me from the surprisingly cosmopolitan small town in which I had started school.

These weren’t my people and I spent most of my time studying and plotting my escape as soon as my secondary education was complete.  I devoured books and loved the encyclopedia so, when I read in Seventeen, about the concept of pen pals, I felt as though a fairy godmother had just handed me a way to survive my teenage years in the wilderness (figurative AND literal :))

Most of the options cited in the article cost money and required international postal coupons so I opted to write to the United States Committee for UNICEF.  They collected information from any children who wrote to them and would send you a copy of the list for free.  It was a single page.  I still have it and see that they misspelled both my first name AND my last name.  I’ve become used to it… but what was exciting was that there were 20 other kids from nine different countries who wanted to explore the world via air mail.  They also sent suggestions on how to get started, what to write about and how to be courteous to other cultures.  There was a third sheet that listed all sorts of other pen pal agencies, which proved to be one of the most important pieces of paper of my teenage years.

First, though, I needed to take action and select one person from the list as the recipient of my very first missive.  A lot of the names were American.  Some were from states that seemed exotic to me at the time but a culture with which I was very familiar.  I wanted exotic so I chose Gloria from Mexico.  One of the best decisions I ever made!

I finally found a teenager I could relate to.  We wrote in both English and French to practice and I bought a book to teach myself Spanish and she sent me back corrections to my entertaining attempts at her native language.  We wrote each other regularly for over ten years.  She constantly invited me to visit her in Mexico but I couldn’t afford it.  Tragically, as I finally managed to get to the stage in my career where I could have financed the trip, she died in a car accident.  I learned this because we were both so obsessed with writing to foreigners that we had forged an international group of people who were all connected even though none of us had met.  My friend Despina (who started as another youthful pen pal) did actually meet Gloria and she was the one to tell me of the tragic accident.  To see Mexico City through her eyes had always been one of my dreams.

Someday I will go but I know it will make me sad.  Instead I have channelled the love I had for my very first Latino into exploring other countries where her native tongue is spoken.  It has just reinforced the generous spirit that I saw in her letters.

People are friendly, open and fun.  If you bring those qualities to the table, too, you will be making friends without even learning Spanish.  I DO want to eventually learn Spanish as I am sure I will have an even better time.  This time I had to just appreciate the people who were able to speak my lingo.  One of the most memorable was Sebastian.

pisco with a flourish :)

pisco with a flourish 🙂

I learned about pisco in Peru, where they had insisted Chile was copying them and Peruvian pisco was superior.  The history is not absolutely clear, especially as present day Peru and Chile once had totally different borders, but it seems likely that Peru invented both pisco and the pisco sour.  Sebastian convinced me, however, of the present day superiority of Chilean pisco.

If you would like to judge for yourself, you should head to the Lastarria district in Santiago de Chile and look for Chipe Libre – Républica Independiente del Pisco It’s a great name – what lured me 😉  Then I luckily sat in Sebastian’s section at the bar.  He spoke English quite well and I told him about my Peruvian pisco experiences and he took it upon himself to convert me 🙂

If you enjoy pisco, it is a heavenly place.  (They also have excellent food).  I can’t remember exactly how many varieties of pisco they have but well over fifty – and there are several different pisco flights.  That is where I started.  Since I was in Santiago for several days and it was really close to my hotel, like some German tourists before me, I started showing up most days to try a different flight.

showing off my pisco knowledge :)

showing off my pisco knowledge 🙂

What is lovely is that they write the name of the pisco on a paper circle that is wrapped around the glass so

the view at the end of the world

the view at the end of the world

you can just collect the ones you like and take them with you for the rest of your Chilean tour.  That’s what I did.  I impressed a few bartenders with my newly acquired knowledge of Chilean pisco.  My second most memorable pisco experience was in Puntas Arenas where I discovered the Sky Bar at the Dreams Hotel.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great the night I went but it was still spectacular.  You have an overview of the Pacific Ocean without horizon at the end of the world.  You don’t have to drink pisco 😉

But – if you want to learn more about Chilean culture – check out Chipe Libre.  If you get lucky, you will

the ambassador of pisco :)

the ambassador of pisco 🙂

meet Sebastian.  He is passionate about pisco and has an encyclopedic knowledge.  He also apparently has good taste as we generally agreed on the best pisco in each flight 🙂  I told him he should be a pisco ambassador!  It’s become common in the world of whisk(e)y – some lucky soul who roams the world promoting the attributes of the distillery and its related wares.

Chile should really consider it.  My favourite pisco was Mistral Gran Nobel Elqui/Limari/Choapa.  Sadly, you need to go to Chile to buy it.  Perhaps, someday, Sebastian will change that 😉






Houston, we have landed :)

I still have some nice things to say about Bucharest and had some other fun travels in Europe in 2015 so we will get to them over time.  First, though, I have decided to dabble in a more recent adventure…

A really long time ago I read a very well-written travel piece about a trip to Cape Horn around New Year’s Eve on a small ship.  It sounded like an adventure and I knew that someday I wanted to complete the same voyage.

Luckily, the internet came along between the time when I read the article and now.  I may still have it somewhere in my house.  I have folders of travel dreams that I used to rip out of magazines when I was younger and had the desire – but not the funds – so folders full of dreams were all I could afford.

I figured out that the company that runs the ship he was talking about is called Australis.  They now operate two vessels custom-built to explore Tierra del Fuego where the climatic conditions are not for the timid.  It is one of those trips of a lifetime things as the price tag is steep but it’s not too often you really feel that you are at the end of the world and can see some of the same sights as Charles Darwin.


Of course, getting to the end of the world takes some planning…

First you have to get to Santiago.  From there, you likely want to fly to Punta Arenas where you will board the ship.  You can then decide if you will get off the ship in Ushuaia, Argentina or if you will stay on board and return to Chile.

The only thing I had seen of Chile was a short passage through Santiago airport on my way to Buenos Aires so I was anxious to spend some time in Santiago and Punta Arenas in addition to the journey on the ship.  Most people just use Santiago as a point to connect with flights to other parts of Chile but I wanted to spend at least a couple of days there.

I managed to find a great deal using airline points to fly business class all the way to Santiago and back.  It meant a little more time in airports most likely but the price was amazing and I rarely get to fly business class so I decided I would just spend a few extra days in Santiago to get the deal.

One of the parts of travel that I love the most is the mystery of what will happen… hopefully good things… but often the bad things make the best stories… and you need to be prepared for uncertainty as soon as you leave the confines of your own home where you have more control over what will happen.

Of course, flying on points means you are more of a second class citizen to the airlines so it’s best if nothing goes wrong.  I have been incredibly lucky and that has normally been the case.  This time my luck looked in jeopardy…  The first flight was fine.  I got to Toronto with plenty of time to clear US customs and get on the next plane without stressing out.

But then the stress began as the plane’s departure time kept getting delayed.  On the plus side, at least I would be the first person off the plane if and when we got to Houston.

I was pretty sure I would be in Houston for a night if I couldn’t make the connection.  The challenge was more that I might lose my business class status on the long, important leg of my journey and I might be paying for a hotel room in Santiago I wouldn’t be using.

I have not yet set foot in Houston but I have been through the airport a few times and have been really impressed.  Luckily, I had already cleared US customs and didn’t have to switch terminals so would just have to run fast with my bags, something I have experience with 😉  The flight attendant was especially wonderful so it was a delightful experience despite the stress.

And I got on the flight to Santiago!  And finally got proper business class service.  Booking on points can mean you don’t get the best flight or plane… Santiago airport was a total gong show.  I think Chile hasn’t quite adapted yet to its economic success.

To its credit, there are strict agricultural controls.  They just need some better procedures to enforce them.  I breezed through passport control and got my special paper that I knew I had to keep and present back when I left Chile.  Luggage wasn’t as efficient but it wasn’t until I finally discovered the end of the gigantic line to deal with customs, present my declaration and have all my bags scanned that the time really dragged.

Thank god Mario hadn’t abandoned me.  He did consider it and I couldn’t blame him as it was well over an hour from my arrival to my scrutinizing the ginormous crowd for a sign with my name on it (or at least an approximation… )  They really could do some work on scheduling flight arrivals.  It was insane.  I found Mario but then had to search for him again as we both disappeared into the crowd and I couldn’t track his movements.

a true room with a view!

a true room with a view!

I had chosen to stay in two different neighborhoods in Santiago pre and post ship so my first day in Chile would be spent in LaStarria using the Ismael Hotel 312 as a starting point.  I had found them on the internet and it was a risk but, now that you don’t have to take that risk, it is definitely where you should stay in Santiago!


It was one of the best hotel experiences of my life.  It’s a small boutique hotel with lots of modern design and creature comforts.  There is a park across the street.  LaStarria is a delightful neighborhood full of cafes, restaurants and bars.  It’s only a few minutes from the metro, which is a cheap and efficient way to get around.  I didn’t figure it out until my last morning but they will also make you all sorts of items for breakfast in addition to what you see on the buffet table.

gorgeous lastarria

gorgeous lastarria

They were also the ones who sent Mario to pick me up at the airport.  Since I travel alone most of the time, I normally have the hotel organize an airport transfer so I don’t have to navigate the myriad systems in foreign countries.  It’s more expensive but I am a fan of reducing my risk.  It’s also proven to occasionally be delightful.  This has been especially true in Latin countries.

If you haven’t spent time in South America, you should really correct that 🙂  It would also be really helpful to learn some Spanish… but there are enough people who speak some English that you will still have a good time.  If you’re really lucky, you will meet someone like Mario.  He had worked in California so has really good English.

There was enough time between the airport and the hotel for us to have a great conversation and I booked a private tour for Saturday so there will be more of my adventures with Mario… stay tuned…



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