Thank you Kathy for coming to visit us and providing this guest post:
On our first full day in Chile, we ventured to Valparaiso for the day. Alison and Bill had a friend who rented out her place, so we rented it for the night. They also rented a car so we could make the drive out there on our time.
As we were leaving Santiago, we witnessed what we believe was the ending portion of a big protest. Students in Santiago have been protesting for free education. Here’s an interesting New York Times article from August 2012 that also talks about the “helmets” at the protests.
After the action in Santiago, the rest of our trip was fairly uneventful. We listened to the new Mumford and Sons release for the hour-long drive. Thank goodness Alison and Bill had been to this house before, because it was truly hard to find and we traversed some crazy hills with a manual car. I would not want to get lost because it would be hell to turn around. The house we stayed in had 5 stories and had a beautiful view of the eclectic and supposedly sketchy neighborhood (more about that later).
Alison did some research and we found out about a free walking tour of the city. If you haven’t heard of free walking tours or taken advantage of them, I highly suggest looking into them for future travel. Our guide was from the States (Virginia or somewhere near it). At first I wasn’t so sure about him, but he grew on me. We learned a lot about the wonderful city of Valparaiso including its history as a vibrant port city prior to the Panama Canal. Since then, the prosperity of the city has declined significantly, but it’s slated to be the most popular tourist destination in Chile (at least according to our guide).
Valparaiso is very hilly and is made up of different hill neighborhoods. We visited a few and our guide also advised us to not visit a few—including the one we were staying in—for our own safety. Supposedly, tourists are targets for their cameras and purses. I personally wouldn’t have wandered around too much because the roads winded a lot and people drove fast. Anyway, because people live up in the hills and many of the stores and other places are in the main part of the city, there are lots of sets of stairs leading up and down the hills.
There are also about 15 ascensors or funiculars; however, only about 5 work right now. There are no real plans (or money) to fix those that are down. It’s really a shame because it reflects a lot about the city: things are falling apart, but there’s not enough resources to maintain the original ornate buildings or fix things that are breaking. We had the opportunity to ride an ascensor and it was fun!
What was so cool about the city is the street art. There’s some debate about whether it’s graffiti or art, but either way, it’s cool. We saw more paintings on the side of buildings than I ever could have taken photos of. We learned about how the artists don’t paint over other artists’ work and how they are other general rules and etiquette about art.
After our tour ended—with a complimentary pisco sour from guide—we called a trusty taxi driver Bill had used before to take us back to our home for the night. We played some cards, drank some wine, and got ready for dinner. It was technically Thanksgiving, so we found a nice restaurant for the occasion. I ordered the most delicious seafood risotto with octopus. Alison ordered scallops that had some funny thing attached to them. She definitely made a face when she peeled that part off. We honored a tradition I have, by going around the table and sharing what we were thankful for. It was the perfect way to celebrate our American holiday abroad.
After dinner, we decided to hit the bars and party! We first went to a hillside bar we’d seen along our tour, Fuana. They were about to close, but we snuck in for a drink. The first thing I noticed was the smoke, since people were allowed to smoke indoors. I also noticed it didn’t just smell like cigarette smoke. The place was filled with mostly younger people who were in big groups of friends. We next ventured to The Cat in the Window (El Gato en La Ventana) to listen to a live band. Pat and I ordered two huge bottles of Cristal, because we’re big time like that. The band was fun and we enjoyed the chill feel of the bar, but we moved on. We tried to go to a bar called Illicito that I thought was going to be very illicit, but it turned out to be a normal bar that was very crowded. Truthfully, I don’t remember the name of the next bar we went to, but I do remember ordering piscolas, which is a lot of pisco with a bottle of coke. I think the glass was mostly pisco and some coke; they even gave us the leftover coke in our bottle so we could pour it in after drinking some to even it out. It was at this point, that we decided we were really going to party, party, party! We finished our drinks and then headed to La Piedra Feliz. It was known to be kind of a touristy bar, but we had fun there. The one thing I thought was weird, but I guess is fairly common, was that we had to buy our drinks from one counter and then take our receipt to the bar to get our drinks. I guess it is a way to ensure bartenders aren’t handing out free drinks or something. Anyway, we drank, talked about life and marriage, and a bunch of other stuff. Alison and Bill salsa danced, and we closed down the bar. We went to call our cab driver, but got no answer. Alison somehow managed to talk a point-to-point driver (someone who will pick up people and drive them to a few specific location listed on the car) to drive us home. Without that luck, I’m sure we would have had a long walk home.
The next morning, we packed up everything and cleaned the house. We headed to Casablanca to visit Casas del Bosque, also known as the most amazing vineyard ever. We arrived late for our tour, but luckily we could take a later one. In the meantime, we ordered lunch which was delicious and then lounged (literally) for an hour outside on the most gorgeous day. The lounge chairs were so comfortable and with the sun, atmosphere, and previous late night of partying, it felt great to relax. We went on a brief and frankly underwhelming tour before our tasting. The wines were delicious, but the booklet describing the wines was ridiculous. It said certain wines had hints of rocks and leather. How does wine have a rocky essence? It was a little strange.
After the tasting, Alison graciously helped Pat and I with a mini photo shoot. We planned to use pictures from the vineyard for our Save the Date. This one was the winner:
Our trip to Valparaiso and Casablanca was amazing and definitely one of my favorite parts of our vacation in South America!