On the first day here I joined a freebie walking tour which lasted 4 hours, and our guide Franco kept us all very entertained for the entire time and told us all about the history of Chile - much easier than trying to digest the info from the Lonely Planet! By the end of the day the tour had turned in a culinary tour as Franco showed us the best places to go for ice-cream and food and drinks and told us exactly what we should be ordering... Chileans really love their food!
I went back to the ice-cream shop a couple of times, and had the most amazing lemon, mint and basil sorbet which tasted just like a mojito, so Franco definitely got something right :o) He had also warned us as well that the river running through Santiago is the ugliest in the world - another point that he had spot on - I've put in a photo just so you can see!!
The next few days were filled with lots of sightseeing, wandering the streets aimlessly, and lots of people watching in Plaza Armas - the central square surrounded by beautiful architecture, and full of palm trees and artists and musicians and street performers, and even daily competitive chess tournaments.
You're pretty much guaranteed that where there is music playing somewhere on the square and people dancing along to it, so its incredibly easy to waste away an hour or two here! Amongst the streets and squares I also went to get higher views of the city from Cerro Saint Lucia, a small hill in the centre where they fire a cannon at midday every day,
and to the much higher San Cristobal, where the Virgin Mary overlooks the city. I think it's from here that you see the most famous views of Santiago, with the city being surrounded with the backdrop of the Andes, although I have now come to the conclusion that every picture you see like this has been photo-shopped as there is so much smog that the Andes are barely visible, and my photos do it even less justice!
One thing I have to mention is that if you don't like dogs, stay away from Santiago! (Even though they are the friendliest stray dogs in the world!) They are literally roaming the streets everywhere, and on the walking city tour we started with one dog in the group and ended with 5, following us all the way! Thankfully there's a charitable group that look out for them, providing food on a daily basis and looking after any that fall sick, and all the locals seem particularly fond of them too, giving them lots of attention, so I guess that is why they are so friendly. They do make you jump though when you're sat quietly in a park reading a book and one sneaks up behind you and gives you a massive licky kiss on the cheek!
Of course one of the most famous products of Chile is the wine, so I also went to go and visit the Concha y Toro vineyard one afternoon for a tour and tasting - it seems to be the one thing I seem to do in every country I visit so far! The wine was pretty good, and after tasting a few good ones I went back to the local supermarket and stocked up ready for the BBQ we were having in the hostel that night. As our tour guide said - " A good wine is not an expensive wine. A good wine is one you can afford to share with friends and family". Couldn't put it better myself!
Final note about Santiago, although I'm hoping that it's around everywhere in Chile, is you have to try the Mote con Huesillo. It's a drink (non-alcoholic for a change!) that is made by filling the glass a third full with wheat, and then topped up with a sweet peachy syrupy liquid, and a whole rehydrated peach thrown in... it may sound a bit weird, but one of these for lunch is surprisingly refreshing in the 30 degrees heat, and fills you up for the rest of the day!
I took the first week easy in Santiago trying to get back into the swing of staying in hostels and thinking for myself. and trying to remember a little bit of Spanish after feeling pampered spending a couple of weeks in family luxury in NZ. Santiago has turned out to be a surprisingly cosmopolitan and modern city, nothing like the cities I visited in Peru and Ecuador and that I had expected to see in other SA countries, and actually feels pretty safe and very friendly.