Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar

Trip Start Feb 10, 2008
Trip End Aug 14, 2008

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Flag of Chile  ,
Sunday, March 9, 2008

We have left behind the glorious countryside and come to the coast to the west of Santiago. This area is popular with Chileans and Argentinians as a holiday destination. Not at all as we had imagined. After the peace of the agricultural areas we are now in built-up towns. The coastline has miles and miles of high rises built into the steep hills. There is so much construction going on; it is a booming area. How they build into the sides of the steep hills is a mystery. I think that ocean views are popular the world over. We are spoilt with all the beautiful beaches in Australia which must be the best in the world. Valparaiso is the old port and is rather shabby and polluted downtown but with some beautiful old buildings still in good condition. Once one travels up on one of the many old 'ascensores' (funiculars built in the late 19th century) the vistas and the colourful residential areas are a delight and one's perspective on the city changes dramatically. A whole new set of panoramas open up. We rode up on a couple of them and then wandered the  labyrinthine streets. The rainbow colours of the houses are beautiful and there seem to be lots of artists residing there with murals and interesting features. One of the 'interesting' features was the wiring overhead; just a tangle of lines everywhere.
We had eaten lunch at a British-owned restaurant called the Hotel Brighton(!);  we sat out on their patio high in the hills looking over the whole of Valparaiso and it was wonderful. In Chile lunch is the main meal of the day and one can find set meals which are good value for money. Also saves having to decipher a long menu in Spanish. We drank a Pisco Sour with a starter of smoked salmon and capers, followed by local fish baked with a sort of ratatouille and rice, fresh fruit or crème caramel for dessert then good fresh coffee and all for around US$30 for 2. The view alone was worth it and the old waiter and I had great fun conversing. He spoke a little English but I am trying to practise my Spanish.
We visited one of the 3 Chilean houses of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel prize-winning poet and that was very 'arty' and interesting. Thinking of 'arty' things we came across an interesting paved area in one of the downtown squares. It is hard to describe but blow up the photo and look at it. As we walked over it we felt quite dizzy or was it the Pisco Sour?
There is a new metro system between Valparaiso and Vina del Mar(the Las Vegas of the area)to the north  so travelling around was easy. Vina is modern and high-rise. Further north along the coast is Renaca(the Venice Beach equivalent) full of beautiful young things jogging, exercising on the outdoor machines  or just 'parading'. We are staying at the next town of Concon which is still highrises set into the hills but quieter especially now that the children are back in school. There are local fishing villages on either side of us with fish restaurants in walking distance. The apartment we rented in Concon has views in all directions around the bay and we can watch the fishermen, sailors, kayakers etc from our balcony. As we walked around we noticed signs with little people running on them and realised they were tsunami evacuation signs pointing up the steps to the hilltops. Would you run any other way? There were lots of them around the coast so they must feel it to be a serious threat.
The day we had lunch in Valparaiso we wanted a snack for dinner and as we were driving around we saw a roadside 'Tortilla' stall complete with oven. Lots of people were stopping to buy them hot from the oven so we thought they must be OK. It was nothing like a Mexican tortilla but more a pizza type of thing and we enjoyed it. Mind you we were worried when we noticed the sign next door for the dog kennels??
We are still OK so 'no worries'.
I am now writing this at the airport hotel in Santiago, having just had a refreshing swim in their lap pool after a session on the stationary bike in the gym. Have to try to work off the effects of the good life. We had a good drive in from the coast stopping for lunch at Vina Morande. Yes, another winery. It was idyllic; a very modern glass and stone building among the vines and surrounded by hills.

We have had a few comments about a certain trend in our travels but all that is about to change, for a few weeks anyway, as we fly south tomorrow to Patagonia where it is too cold for grape vines. What are we doing? We lovers of hot climates are now digging out our thermal undies and rain jackets from the depths of our luggage.
Another chapter of our travels begins.
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