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Posts Tagged ‘Pacific Ocean’

Viña del Mar and powerful seas

January 24th, 2016 No comments

Today we took another day out of Santiago and busy city life to visit the coastal town of Viña del Mar, which came highly recommended by everybody from Chile that I spoke to before travelling. It was another long and exhausting day, just like Saturday when we went to Valparaíso, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Viña del Mar is close to Valparaíso, in fact when you are in one town you can see the other on the far side of the same big bay, and they also share a tram network but they have completely different atmospheres. Valparaíso, as I described in my previous blog post, is a good place to visit if you are looking to learn more about Chilean culture and history, see some street art, learn more about the Chilean government etc and Viña is the place you go if you want to take in the coastal way of life and visit the beach, although it does have museums and is the location of the world famous Viña del Mar music festival so you can take in plenty of culture there.

We decided to take a different coach company today as the prices with the company we travelled with to Valparaíso, Tur Bus, were a bit more expensive to Viña for some reason. This meant leaving from a different bus terminal a few minutes walk away from the main one, but the journey time was no different. Overall, as long as you don’t take one of the ultra-cheap companies, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between coaches. Both Tur Bus and Condor had comfortable seats, with plenty of leg room, left on time and seemed efficient. Steven says there are plenty of budget coach companies who have various levels of service, punctuality, and safety so it’s probably best to stick to the bigger operators where possible.

After arriving at the bus station in Viña del Mar we headed straight to the town’s most iconic and recognisable sight, the Reloj de Flores (Flower Clock), which as its name suggests is a working clock but with a face made up entirely of flowers. Here you will find locals and tourists alike taking photos and selfies while enjoying the sun and the atmosphere, and of course we followed suit taking some photos of ourselves. This seems a good place to start if you are visiting the town by bus as it is very close to the beach, bus station and a number of shops / restaurants.

Selfie in Viña del Mar

Selfie time

Flower Clock, Viña del Mar

A photo of the flower clock later in the day when it was better weather.

The beach was our next stop. Unfortunately, there have been some storms out at sea caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon so the sea was unsafe to swim in, in fact there is a large part of the coast in the town that is completely closed off due to large waves which have been causing flooding and even overturning cars. We decided to walk north along the coast road to this area, near the casino, to take a look at the waves and while the conditions are much better than they have been in recent days they were still powerful enough to get us wet while we were watching from a high vantage point.

Watching the Pacific Ocean

Watching the seas from our “safe” vantage point

Pacific Ocean

…we got very wet

Viña del Mar Casino

The whole area near the casino was closed as the waves kept flooding it.

Since I would not be visiting Easter Island on this trip one place I definitely wanted to visit while in Viña del Mar was the Museo Fonck. This is a small museum within an old colonial house with two main sections, one dedicated to Easter Island and another dedicated to natural history, which while small is well worth a visit. Like many of the smaller museums in Latin America some knowledge of Spanish is definitely helpful, in the case of Museo Fonck they had attempted to translate a number of information boards into English but appear to have done so using an online translator so some of it I couldn’t understand and I just read the original Spanish text instead. We spent some time looking at the exhibits and learning more about the history and culture of Easter Island, and visiting has definitely renewed my interest in travelling there during a future trip.

The natural history section upstairs is fairly boring and standard but it did have a large collection of deadly spiders and various bugs, as well as a two-headed sheep, and it’s possible to waste some time here if you need to before going to your next destination. Overall I found the Easter Island exhibits, and the Easter Island statue in the grounds outside, much more interesting.

Easter Island statue

An Easter Island statue outside Museo Fonck

Easter Island culture

Learning about Easter Island culture

Two-headed sheep

The two-headed sheep

Empanadas were on the menu for lunch today, as they have been many times since I arrived in Chile. In The UK the thought of having pastry repeatedly wouldn’t seem like a good idea but they are a convenient traditional Chilean snack, generally of good quality, affordable and quick to eat. However, the main reason we chose them today was because I read online that one of the best Empanada cafes in the region was in Viña del Mar and so I wanted to try them. Overall they were nice, and they were definitely the best I have had so far on my trip, but I wouldn’t say that they were “out of this world” or any other similar catch phrase.

Viña is one of those towns where you can easily people watch and soak in the atmosphere and so we decided to rest our feet and regain our energy at the local Starbucks near the casino. Starbucks in Chile is a similar price to Starbucks the UK so by Chilean standards it’s extremely expensive, but as is the case with most international brands it is always really popular and so there has been a queue every time we have stopped at one. The atmosphere in this town is really nice and, although it is very touristy and full of gypsies, I would highly recommend a visit here if you are looking for a break by the sea for the day or a weekend. Chile has a very long coast line so there will be areas which are more pristine but Viña is very close to Santiago so is convenient if you won’t be in the region for long.

Viña del Mar, Chile

A view of Viña del Mar

Sea birds

Sea birds in a feeding frenzy after fishermen dumped loads of fish bits on a viewpoint.

Viña del Mar

The beach at Viña del Mar

We didn’t want today to be too rushed and so spent most of the rest of the day just walking around and taking in the sights before relaxing in the Quinta Vergara, home of the famous music festival that I mentioned earlier. It is a nice place to relax, go for a walk, have a picnic or just to get out of the sun and I enjoyed my time here waiting for our coach. It was definitely a lot more preferable than waiting in the coach station for an hour. There is a little train that does tours of the park so it must also be very popular with children, although most of the people there when we visited were older.

Viña del Mar

Busts of famous Chilean people in Quinta Vergara.

Yay, trains!

The little train

Tomorrow begins part two of my time in Santiago, and the final stretch before I unfortunately have to return home.

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A day in Valparaíso

January 23rd, 2016 No comments

Today is a bit of a rest day, due to the long day yesterday. Steven has gone back to his house for a little while and I have decided to do a bit of walking around on my own for the first time since arriving. I didn’t stray too far from the apartment as I have the only key but I reloaded my payment card for the Metro, did some walking around the local area and I am now in Parque Forrestal eating some lovely ice cream from Emporio La Rosa and thinking about the really fun day yesterday in Valparaíso. My plan after here is to walk back to the apartment, look at the craft market near Cerro Santa Lucía to see if I can pick up some souvenirs, and buy some more fruit from one of the street sellers.

Emporio La Rosa

Emporio La Rosa

The coach journey yesterday was fairly painless, much to my surprise. I am tall person and in the majority of public transport in The UK I never have enough leg room, regularly having to sit sideways in seats or endure the backs of seats smashing into my knees, but this was not a problem in Chile. The coach that we took was very comfortable, had plenty of leg room, and made the journey to Valparaíso enjoyable. Even though we only travelled 90 minutes outside of Santiago it was nice to see more of Chile and the scenery, although not as breath-taking as what I saw from the plane, was really nice.

Chilean Scenery

Scenery on the way to Valparaíso

Chilean Scenery

Some more Chilean scenery

Valparaíso was a nice town to visit. The main bus station is a little way outside of the main area of the city so you either have to catch a trolley bus or walk, but either are good options. We decided to have some breakfast in a food court above a market very close to the bus station before walking into the historical areas.

The walk into the main part of the city takes you past a lot of industrial units, so I really wouldn’t recommend it at night time, but it gives an insight into the origins of the city. Dating back to colonial times Valparaíso has always been an important port and industrial centre, although this has somewhat declined in recent decades which is why the Chilean Parliament was moved here some time ago in an effort to promote regeneration. Although even in the industrial areas something that is very apparent is that the city is full of street art. I will call it street art as opposed to graffiti because this genuinely is art as opposed to the random mess that can be found sprayed around European cities.

Valparaíso food market

The food market in Valparaíso

Walking around Valparaíso

Walking towards the centre of Valparaíso.

Valparaíso

A plaza in Valparaíso

Valparaíso street art

Art is everywhere in Valparaíso

One thing that proved very helpful in Valparaíso is that there is a company called “Tours for Tips”, and they run two different tours of the city in both English and Spanish. As the name suggests you can give them what you want, based on how you found the experience, but most people gave in the region of 10000 pesos (approximately 10 pounds) each. I believe that they also operate in Santiago but I won’t need to use them there.

We decided to go on the afternoon tour, but there was still some time before it started and so we decided to go on a boat tour of the harbour. There are a few companies that provide this service and they all depart from Muelle Prat, very close to Plaza Soto Mayor. Live commentary is provided only in Spanish but from the boats you are able to see the city from a very different perspective as you are told about the history of the city, have landmarks pointed out, are told about the Chilean Parliament and shown the Navy ships in the harbour. It was definitely worth doing, but the only problem was the leg room in each row was probably 15cm less than what I needed to be able to sit comfortably and as a result I was in some serious pain by the time we returned to dry land due to my knees being badly crushed by the seat in front. The average person would most likely find the leg room adequate.

Valparaíso port

Valparaíso port

Valparaíso by sea

Valparaíso as seen from the boat tour

Valparaíso boat tour

On board the boat

Chilean Navy Ships

Ships of the Chilean Navy

Cargo port in Chile

Valparaíso cargo port

There was time for some souvenir shopping and a cold drink in Starbucks before it was time to head for our walking tour. No booking is required for the tour, just wait next to the Monumento a Los Heroes de Iquique at the prescribed time and keep an eye out for people dressed up in red and white striped tops which make them look like Wally (Waldo for any Americans reading this). They will divide the groups up accordingly depending on how many people require each language and you will then head off in different directions. Our tour guide was a very knowledgeable young lady who had recently returned to Chile after some years living in Spain, as was obvious from her accent even before she told us.

The walking tour lasted a few hours and took us up into the UNESCO World Heritage area which is extensively covered in street art. After riding the funicular up the hill you are told a lot about the history of the area and how the people pushed for UNESCO recognition in order to preserve the character of the area but how this has backfired. I won’t go into too much detail as you should go on the tour yourself, but to cut a long story short the UNESCO recognition requires that any building work be done in the original style using original materials. This has helped to maintain the unique character of the area but has resulted in building work being prohibitively expensive for many people. We also saw an example of the damage it can do to the area – there is an area which burnt down some years ago but where the owners have been unable to rebuild due to the cost of original materials and as a result the area has been left as a wasteland.

Overall the walking tour was very enjoyable. We saw lots of nice sights, saw some great art, were introduced to local delicacies during a rest stop half way through, and heard a lot about the history of the area. The only part that I thought was unnecessary was the final stop of the tour, at Tours for Tips HQ, where they do a presentation to try to sell you other tours and try to bribe you to sign up with homemade spirits. There is no obligation to sign up, and for us it would have been pointless as we were only in the city for the day, so we just tipped our guide and left.

Queen Victoria Funicular, Valparaíso

The Funicular, named after Queen Victoria.

Valparaíso

A view of the hills behind Valparaíso

Valparaiso coastline

Looking towards the Pacific Ocean

Valparaíso street art

More street art

There were still a couple of hours remaining before our coach back to Santiago but by this time our feet were hurting, so we decided to catch the trolley bus back towards the main bus station and to try to find something to eat. Even though it was not very late we had trouble finding anywhere that was still open so, after taking some photos of the Chilean Parliament, we made our way to a shopping centre in order to grab some food for the apartment and have some snacks in the food court.

Trolley Bus

A Valparaíso trolley bus

Chilean Parliament

The Chilean Parliament building

The remainder of the day was fairly uneventful, except for seeing a street musician dressed up with a scary mask. Apparently he is well known in Chile, or at the very least infamous, so he was interesting to see. The coach ride back to Santiago was smooth and after eating the empanadas we bought in Valparaíso we had an early night in order to not be exhausted today.

Valparaíso musician

The scary musician

I am not sure what we will be doing later today when I meet back up with Steven but it is likely that we will just take it easy. We have done a lot of walking over the last few days so it will be nice to take a break from it and have an early night in order to conserve our energy. Tomorrow we travel to Viña del Mar and as we will be out of the city for the whole day it is likely that we will end up exhausted again.

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