Saturday, April 21, 2012

Santiago de Chile

Santiago is the capital of Chile. One third of population lives here. It has a similar vibe as the other two capitals we have visited - it feels European, but with less polish and more grit. Of the three, Santiago has the least touristic interest. Downtown is centered on Plaza de Armas, which looks great with its historical buildings and a fountain and palm trees. The rest of downtown has a number of pleasant pedestrianized shopping streets, but is architecturally bland.

The Bellavista neighborhood on the other side of the river is the hip nightlife location, with many restaurants, pubs, boutiques, and small shops. It borders on the San Cristobal park, which rises over 300 meters above the city. There's a funicular that takes visitors to the top in five minutes. You are supposed to see Santiago in front of the snow-capped peaks of the Andes, but there's too much smog to see more than a faint outline of the mountains. According to the tourist Info guy in the mobile info booth mounted on a Segway, that's it for worthwhile tourist sights in Santiago. But I like the place anyway.

There are tons of Farmacias in Santiago. We went into one to buy some lip balm. Turns out it's just a front for a much larger sex shop.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Valparaiso, Chile

The hillsides are extremely steep in Valparaiso, so the houses seem to cling to the hillsides rather than being built on a level foundation. Some are brightly colored, others are rusty corrugated metal. A maze of twisty little stairways connects them all. Just two days ago they had an earthquake here, it's a miracle that it didn't all end up in a big pile at the bottom! San Francisco is essentially flat in comparison.

We spent most of the day exploring the hills to the north, and climbed some ridiculously steep streets to reach the top. Even the stairs that often replace the sidewalks are dangerously steep in some places. But the views are amazing, and the hillsides are wonderfully tranquil and free of traffic.

The town is full of dogs sleeping on the pavement, and cats in search of anyone willing to stroke them. I don't know how we would have found our way back without GPS and OSM maps...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Valparaiso, Chile

Other side of the continent: Valparaiso is a coastal town not far from Santiago, with an old town perched on a very steep hill, criss-crossed by ancient steep stairways and cobblestoned streets that are often so steep that the sidewalks are stairs too. It's the ultimate wheelchair-unfriendly place. It's an UNESCO world heritage site.

On our host's recommendation, we had dinner at a hidden little restaurant that turned out to be a treasure chest of thousands of knick-knacks from tiny figurines to a meter-tall wooden dog and a huge bomb suspended from the ceiling. The food was great and the owner sang love songs to Chile and Valparaiso.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Montevideo is Uruguay's only large city. It's about three hours from Colonia del Sacramento by bus. The city lacks Buenos Aires' monster streets but feels nicer - at least downtown, we didn't have time for the suburbs. We mostly explored the old town with its grid of quiet and partially pedestrianized streets. The old town doesn't feel all that old though. And Montevideo sadly lacks Buenos Aires' trees. Overall it feels like Buenos Aires' poorer brother.

Colonia del Sacramento

Google's Blogger app is broken. Trying to add the missing photo...

Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

Colonia is a very quiet little town with simple old whitewashed houses on cobblestoned streets, shaded by large old trees. Very pleasant, especially after the chaos and smog of downtown Buenos Aires. Colonial sleepiness ends when the ferries from Buenos Aires arrive, spilling crowds armed with cellphone cameras into this little town. We decided to leave.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Buenos Aires to Uruguay

<p>As boring as the downtown of Buenos Aires is, as interesting are the suburbs. Palermo is another shady and quiet neighborhood with restaurants, cobblestoned streets, and the huge old trees that give Buenos Aires its charm. La Boca has an artist community with associated tourist hell that reminded me of Copenhagen. </p>
<p>In the evening we took a fast ferry across the bay of the Rio de la Plata. As the boat arrived, everyone was rushing to the buses to Montevideo, but we'll stay a night. I am writing this in little Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay. Not much to do, it's dark and they have chosen not to invest in street lights.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In 2009, I wrote this blog when traveling in Asia. After two years in Marseille I am on the road again. From a strictly geographical point of view, Buenos Aires is not in Asia, but bear with me, I'll be in Asia soon...

Anyway, Buenos Aires is surprisingly European. Downtown, ugly concrete buildings crowd out the old colonial houses, and 20-lane roads cut through the city. There's generally far too much asphalt here. But ten minutes walking takes you to suburbs with beautiful cobblestoned streets shaded by huge old trees. People sit on the lawns in big parks, street artists draw crowds, and there are lots of restaurants. The national dish appears to be pizza, but we found good steaks.