Thursday, June 20, 2013

Santiago: A lot to take in in a very short time

We are on a private tour that began in Valparaiso and Viña del Mar and then moved across two valleys into the Santiago Basin, and we’ve already seen about half the sites we will see on this tour in Santiago. We have just seen La Moneda (The Mint) and the Catedral that borders the Plaza de Armas as well as the other buildings that surround the Plaza.

We then entered Parque Metropolitano (Metropolitan Park) following Pedrode Valvido Street through the park. At the website, YahooTravel , there is a great description of the Park:

Santiago, Chile has one of the largest urban parks in the world (722 hectareas or 1785 acres), just located in the downtown of this cosmopolitan 6-million people metropolis. It's called "San Cristobal Hill" ("Cerro San Cristobal") . This lush park includes a 4.5 hectareas zoo (Jardin Zoologico), a cable car, international gardens and restaurants. Ideal for tourists, outdoors sports, trecking, hiking, mountain biking, panoramic swimming pool (Chilean summer, seasons are reversed). At the top of San Cristobal Hill, there are spectacular panoramic views of the city. Crowning the hilltop are beautiful tiered gardens and an impressive 45ft statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception that can be seen from most points in the city.

It is the most visited park by residents because it is ideal for jogging, mountain biking, bird watching, or just enjoying the panoramic views. The park was teeming with activity when we visited.

The funicular railway that brings people up to the park was opened in 1925, and it is still being used today. At , the funicular railroad is described in some detail:
To visit this beautiful urban site, tourists must pay a rate to take the historical funicular railway of two cars capable of carrying a maximum of 50 passengers, for a ride of 485 meters on an inclined plane of 48 degrees as far as the first station, standing at 860 meters from the base of the hill. This is an amazing experience and we could say that this tour takes tourists a step back in time, until the year 1925, when this funicular railway was opened to the public.

We parked near the top of Metropolitan Park so my wife could take pictures of all parts of the city—all directions. There are small souvenir shops and a little restaurant at the top, as well as many couples expressing their affections for each other.

One perspective of Santiago that served as a comprehensive (yet superficial, to be sure) overview, was our drive along Av. Providencia (Because it changes names, it was Av. Apoquindo when we got on it, and it was Av. Liberta dor Bernardo O’Higgins when we left it.) We began in the Alonso de Cordova area, the most exclusive shopping street in all of Santiago, and we drove to the Museo de Artes Visuales, where they have a collection of modern and contemporary art from Chilean artists. Next were the Catholic University, the Cerro Santa Lucia—a hill where Pedro de Valdia (Santiago’s conqueror) founded the city on February 12, 1554. The hill was used as a fortified lookout post by the early conquistadores.

As an aside, in 1872, Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna, the Mayor of Santiago, developed Cerro Santa Lucia (the hill) into a park which now includes Castle Hidalgo (completed in 1817), and a statue of Caupolicán (standing on a rock). Caupolicán was a Toqui, the famous Mapuche leader (the Mapuches are an indigenous group that make up about 4% of the Chilean population). Wikipedia says this about Caupolicán:
Caupolicán as an Ulmen of Pilmayquen won the position of Toqui by demonstrating his superior strength by holding up a tree trunk for three days and three nights. In addition to proving his physical power, he also had to improvise a poetical speech to inspire the people to valor and unity.Caupolicán's death came in 1558, at the hands of colonizing.  Spaniards as their prisoner.  He was impaled by making him sit on a stake while his wife was forced to watch.  After his death he was relaced by his son Caupolican the younger. 
Also in Cerro Santa Lucia (the hill) park can be found the fountains of Terazza Neptuno and the chapel where Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna (1831-1886)—a Chilean writer, journalist, and historian, as well as the former mayor of Santiago—is buried.

In addition to all these sights, we saw the National Public Library (Biblioteca Nacional)—built to celebrate the Santiago centennial in 1910—the Intel Communications Tower (980 feet tall), and Santiago’s tallest building (completed in 2012), the Costanera Center Hotel, at 344 feet tall.

We saw the Chilean University—the number one state university—the University of Santiago, the pedestrian-only streets in central Santiago, the Estacion Central (Centrall Railway Station), and the very large hospital as we were leaving Santiago’s central area bound for the airport.

One of the goals of my chronicle of sights seen in Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and Santiago, is to support the value of a private tour. It can be argued, of course, that such a cursory look at any city—especially by a person who is neither a resident nor even a person who speaks the local language—does not (cannot!) capture the true culture, history, or background of a community; however, we received a "feeling"—as we have for the previous places we have visited on this cruise—for these 3 areas, and our intent has always been—in all our travels—if we like a place enough, we can someday return. (But I repeat here, and for the record, that when we were in Punta Arenas, I did not kiss the shiny, brass toe of Calafate, one of the Fuegian statues at the base of the Hernando de Magallanes monument, which would, if kissed, bring me back one day to Punta Arenas!)

I realize that it isn’t terribly realistic to think that if we like a place enough that we can someday return because we have so many places left in the world we want to see. How would we even have the time to return to certain places if we wanted to?

We have now taken private tours (all arranged by Princess Cruise Lines) in Beijing China, in Rio de Janeiro, and now in Santiago. Admittedly, they are not cheap; however, we have taken enough bus tours (excursions) to know what we like and why we like them. We saw so many sights in Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, and Santiago, and I was able not just to take an enormous number of notes, but I had the opportunity, as well, to ask questions, assist in the development of an itinerary, and stop at many points to take photographs. We have been lucky to have highly educated, knowledgeable, intelligent, and passionate guides who wanted us to know more about their countries and to learn more about their culture. Would we take a private tour again? For us, it’s a no brainer!

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The Wikipedia website on "Santiago" is informative and useful:

Wikitravel is an excellent website for information on Santiago, Chile, too:

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Copyright June 20, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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