Enormous, snow-capped mountains tower over Santiago. They follow you all over town — sublime, snow-capped, and surreally high; a perfect home for the Abominable Snowman.
Santiago was a bit chilly when we arrived. Apparently it´s very hot in the summer. The architectural history ´was great — lovely old colonial buildings, Victoriana, Tudor, hacienda-looking homes, art deco, and lots of other styles mixed in. Some parts are well restored, some shabby. A church near our lodging looked like pastel confections with white icing.
The visit began with a three-day Spanish language crash course. Jason is a "natural;" I am not. I suppose this makes up for his "special needs" scuba diving. Jason is now vaguely fluent; I am studying.
We visited Santiago’s Museum of Pre-Colombian Art, considered the best on the continent. There were many more cultures on this continent than we’d realized, and the artifacts show diverse aesthetics. Unfortunately, some of the artifacts are a mystery, as the Incas and Spanish wiped out many of the cultures. We also saw our first human mummies — apparently there are many more on display throughout the continent, which should satisfy our interest in the macabre. The tiny bony hands and fingernails were the most disturbing part.
Chile is the home of Pablo Neruda, so it was fitting that we ate at the Casa Nerudiana one day. The food was great, and I loved the interior. It had this great rough wood framework that looked hand-hewn, and the walls seemed to be made of packed earth. Big, rough wood planks made up the ceiling. Another day, we ate at a Bolivian place, with similar construction, and lots of yellow. The furniture was also rough-hewn, yet had a certain grace. Some old saddle made of a hide was part of the decor. Oh, and the food was wonderful. Another memorable restaurant was Patagonian, with similar construction, and antiques and old Chilean packaging ephemera. I could see this kind of interior design going over well in NYC.
It was at the Patagonian place that we had our dulce de leche revelation. For the uninitiated, dulce de leche is a gooey liquid caramel that seems to be used for many confections, and at breakfast, in South America. And it´s amazingly delicious and gloppy, especially if homemade. If Santiago is any indicator for the rest of the continent, we need to learn portion control fast.
Near our lodging was at an elegant 125 year old place that´s been lovingly restored, and recently reopened. The owner took to us, and came over to talk several times. He loves the US, and modeled the resto after Balthazar in New York. Jason’s abalone chowder was divine. After dinner, the maitre’d took us downstairs to show off the private banquet room and large wine cellar. Did I mention the wine was great in Chile?
And I’ll take this opportunity to mention we’re also enjoying pisco sours — a drink made with pisco, a local brandy, and sugar and lemon juice.
The Andes are so huge that regular mountains are just hills to Chileans. Santiago is built around several of them. We took a funicular (yes, a funicular) railroad up one called St. Cristobal.
From there, you can see much of sprawling Santiago, and a great view of the Andes. At the top is an immense statue of the Virgin Mary.
While searching online for an English-speaking chiropractor, I ended up writing a Santiago resident who offered her help to visitors on a travel website. We ended up chatting a bit via email, and she offered to take me to some shopping streets in Santiago. That was how we met Carolina, who was kind enough to show us around her city for a day. After checking out the Providencia neighborhood, she took us to her masseuse, as we were both feeling a bit broken. That evening we had traditional Chilean dishes for dinner — comfort food. My pastel de choclo was so good — like a shepherd pie made with cornmeal, olives, chicken, raisins and spices. We also had vaino, which is an eggnog-like drink made with wine. Mmmm. And we really enjoyed hearing Carolina’s perspectives on Santiago, etc. that day.
The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a lovely building based on one in Paris. There was a good exhibit of a contemporary Chilean abstract artist on when we visited.
Santiago also has some chic little neighborhoods, shops and restaurants. It has a large number of people with the chunky, dark, rectangular glasses that architects wear. And large, docile stray dogs. And sweatered dogs of various sizes. And they like their penguins sexy.