Santiago’s cathedral on the Plaza de Armas

Chile’s capital Santiago has a lot to offer, from architecture and museums to excellent food and a lively center.

Coming from Argentina, we expect Santiago to be kind of similar to the Argentine cities we have seen this trip. And yes, a central Plaza – Plaza de Armas -, surrounded by a cabildo – the old municipality – and a cathedral, and a wide avenue named after the local hero liberator, in this case Bernardo O’Higgins. A grid of one-way streets alternating direction, a pedestrian-only street in the town centre, a couple of early 20th Century buildings like a museum and a theatre, and a railway station or two. Ugly graffiti spoiling a lot of houses at ground level: all very much like a standard Argentine city. We even find an extreme left-wing restaurant, where earlier anti-government complots during the Pinochet years were hatched.

another view of the cathedral

which is richly decorated inside

this is what the Chileans do on the Plaza de Armas

where a chess tournament is also in progress

a shoe polisher along the Alameda, his client undisturbed

On the other hand, there are lots of differences, too. Santiago is much smaller scale than Buenos Aires, narrower streets, less traffic. A construction boom adds lots of apartment buildings in the suburbs, though, and the city is growing fast, now already some 6 million inhabitants. The people are less informally dressed than in Argentina, less shorts for men, less skimpy dresses and ultra-short shirts for the women. And, importantly, the food is different. Right, you can get your bife from the grill, but the left-wingers from our first evening served a delicious stew, and subsequent meals in the various markets were dominated by fish.

client of an extreme leftwing restaurant

and another one, note the disguise

the front of the post office, also Plaza de Armas

the iron market hall, Mercado Central

and one of the fish stalls

with inviting-looking fish

the other market hall, La Vega

more focussed on vegetables

and lemons, for the ceviche in the fish restaurants

To start with the markets, there are two in the centre of town. The best-known is the Mercado Central, with predominantly fish stalls inside a huge metal structure dating from 1868. This is our first confrontation with Pacific fish, many of which we have never seen, and never heard of. Even my travel companion, who speaks a quite acceptable Spanish, often had no idea what the various names meant, so when we stared at the menu in one of the small restaurants inside the market building, we had no idea what we were ordering. But all very nice, one fish a bit dryer than the other. Plus, our first pisco sour, Chile’s (as well as Peru’s) national drink. We have committed ourselves to determine which one, the Chilean or the Peruvian, is the best, so I think we will have to have many more, just to ensure a fair assessment. Except that the next day, when we went to that other market, the Feria Municipal La Vega, across the Mapoche River than runs through town, the restaurant didn’t have an alcohol licence. But the food we had was even more spectacular, our first local ceviche – of which, unfortunately, we have no picture, as it looked so wonderful, that we spontaneously forgot until it was too late, ie finished. Ceviche is an originally Peruvian dish of raw fish, marinated and cured in lime or lemon juice and served with onions and spicy pepper. Absolutely delicious! We will be testing this one widely, too!

one of the pedestrian streets in Santiago

and two streets in the upmarket neighbourhood called Paris-Londres

entrance to one of the ancient palaces

and decorated windows

some of the palaces house almost equally ancient institutions

not all te buildings are very old, or very new: lowrise outside the centre, and a colourful bicycle shop

the Gran Torre Santiago

and a close up of its 300 m high top

a very small sculpture in the Pre-Colombian museum

and another expressive one, same place

a selection of Mapuche wooden tomb statues, also in the museum

and this is a wholy different museum, Museo de la Memoria y Derechos Humanos, dedicated to the victims of the Pinochet era

But not all about Santiago is food- and drink-related. There is a lot to see, too, from old colonial buildings, including several palaces built for the rich and famous of the time, the excellent Museum of Pre-Colombian art – a reason in itself to come to Santiago -, and the tallest building in Latin America, the 300 meter high Gran Torre Santiago in a neighbourhood mockingly called ‘Sanhattan’.

graffiti art in an otherwise unremarkable street

the funicular up Cerro San Christobal

view of Santiago from above

and the view from the Cerro San Christobal

For the best views we scale Cerro San Christobal, a 860 meter high peak not far away from the centre. Well, ‘scale’ is perhaps too much for the effort, which was limited to standing in line for a good half an hour with lots of other people, who intended to spend their Saturday afternoon not necessarily on the peak, but in the zoo, the botanical garden or the swimming pool, also located on the hill. The line, incidentally, was for the funicular: nobody in his right mind in Santiago is going to truly scale this hill at midday with 35 oC.

the fountain at the Terraza Neptuno, in a park

a naval monument in Santiago, dating from the 1960s

the many balconies in town do support the occasional beach umbrella

Closer to the ground, a few other things were also obvious. Although the city looks very affluent, and Chile seems to do well economically, there are lots of people who are less lucky. They sleep on the benches of the parks, or have put their matrass on the street, and not because it is so warm at night. Everywhere, but especially near the busier locations, like metro stations, spontaneous street markets erupt during rush hour, with people selling second hand clothes, or old books, or anything really, from a blanket spread out on the pavement. And what is it, that the whole city stinks pee? This cannot be only from those homeless, from the beggars, this is much more pervasive. Or is this something Chilean?  – I already know that Santiago is not the only Chilean city suffering from this phenomenon.

In the evening we retreat to our little apartment that we rent, on the 25th floor of a building just off the main traffic artery, the Avenida del Libertador General Bernardo O’Higgins – even the most chauvinistic Chileans call it Alameda, much shorter and originally referring to a tree-lined shady avenue for strolling, which it definitely isn’t anymore. From where we also have a beautiful view over the city. When we moved in, we joked to the owner that we shouldn’t have an earthquake here, so high up. To which he ensured us that the building was earthquake-proof. It was, although we did feel a little nervous, when the whole building shook for almost a minute, at 10 at night. In response to an earthquake, near La Serena, 6.7 on the Richter scale and luckily far enough away not to really put the building to the test. In any case, we are moving out tomorrow.

To Valparaiso

the view from our balcony, 25 floors high

2 Responses to 11. Santiago

  1. Thea Oudmaijer says:

    Who is that man with the small beard??????

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