Savouring Santiago

>> Friday, September 28, 2012

I didn’t quite know what to expect when we first decided to go to South America. Most people I know went to Peru for Machu Picchu or Rio in Brazil. So it was a bit more complicated to figure out our itinerary for our Chile and Argentina trip. Not so much that nobody travels there because that’s just purely not true, but more so because the countries are huge! I’m used to traveling to places like Europe or Asia where most of the time you cross borders if you drive or take the train for more than 5 hours. So you can see how perplexed I was when we found out that 5 hours on a plane will only take you half way through Chile.

Since I couldn’t ask for more time away from work, which is my usual number 1 strategy (has yet to work). I figured we’d just have to narrow down our trip and be a little less ambitious, plus now we have an excuse to go back (like we really needed one). We finally decided that our first destination in the South would be to the capital of Chile, Santiago. Known for a city where you can surf and snowboard all in one day, we were curious what we should focus on, but that really didn’t take long because the seafood and wine quickly took over.

After landing in Santiago following an excruciating 20+ hours of travel, we slowly meandered our way to our hotel. Lucky for us, our hotel was fairly central in the Providencia neighbourhood close to many restaurants, shopping and sights. We immediately listened to our stomachs and headed down to the famous Mercado Central which is very well known for their fresh seafood market. Inside it also houses many different small restaurants that serve fresh seafood and their menu changes regularly to reflect the catch of the day. We were able to try some succulent Chilean sea bass and sweet razor clams, all topped off with their famous Pisco Sour. If you’ve never had a pisco, it’s a completely different experience.

Made from grapes, pisco is a hard liquor drank mainly in the countries of Chile and Peru. It’s usually mixed with pineapple or mango juice, but can be found in a number of different styles. If you’re adventurous you can even have it straight (I do advise against this since the hubby took a while to recover from heartburn after it) or simply with coke or tonic. The feeling after drinking pisco is very similar to wine, a simple mellow buzz, we liked it so much we had to bring some home.

Another very famous drink that we were able to sample at the famous El Hoyo restaurant was the Terremoto, which literally translates to earthquake in Engligh. They call it this because when you’re done consuming the drink you walk around like you’re experiencing an earthquake on your shaky legs. We didn’t quite get that feeling but we did enjoy the terremotos themselves, made up of pisco, white wine and pineapple ice cream. You can also make it with just white wine and pineapple ice cream or substitute the pisco with another hard liquor.

This was definitely not the last of our great seafood experiences while in Santiago. We also ventured over to Patio Bellavista, which is a touristy area situated well within the college community. Just outside the patio area you can see many students gathered there for the cheap eats and beer. Inside the patio area however houses higher end restaurants and bars. We found an amazing Peruvian restaurant there that had the best ceviche I have ever eaten! Even when compared to the rest of the ceviche we tried throughout the country and trust me, we had a lot of ceviche (a foodie must!). It was perfectly balanced, not too sour or salty. It enhanced each piece of fish, scallop and other seafood they put in there. It was so good we had to go back twice. Email me if you’re looking for the restaurant and I can see if I can scrounge up the name…maybe even do a post later on.

We also managed to get out to visit the Undurraga vineyards which was a recommendation from a friend. He mentioned that the wine was one of his favourites when he lived in SA and you can’t find it here in Canada! I really didn’t need that much convincing to visit a vineyard, wine tasting anybody? I’m there! It was really interesting being able to compare this winery to some other we also visited later on in the trip in Mendoza. Undurraga is a mid sized vineyard producing wine that’s more locally consumed and within SA. They specialize in Carmenere, which is a grape that can only be found in Chile. It was also our favourite. A smooth velvety mid bodied wine, tasting of strawberries and chocolate made for a really great drinking wine and also paired nicely with some of the lighter fare we were enjoying during this portion of our trip. We liked the wine so much that we ended up almost going over our liquor limit on this one tour. I highly recommend doing a Chilean wine tour for those not overly familiar with their varietals.

Of course we couldn’t miss the sights in the city as well. The famous Cerro San Cristobal that leads up to the Virgen de la Immaculada (the virgin) which over looks the city and gives a great view of the entire Santiago area. Close to the hill is also La Chascona, which was home to the famous Nobel winning poet Pablo Neruda. He has three houses throughout Chile (we were fortunate enough to see them all, the best being the one in Isla Negra). When touring through his house, you see very odd relics and collections that the poet has spent numerous hours assembling. He really is a collector of everything.

Downtown Santiago also has amazing sights including the Plaza de Armas – the pedestrian area, the Catedral de Santiago, La Moneda – the courtyard of the Presidential house of Chile and much more. If you’re looking for something different Barrio Bellas Artes and Parque Forestal are places Chileans usually visit to enjoy street performers, which is best on Sundays. If you’re in the shopping mood, Parque Arauco is similar to a North American mall. Although we did notice a new shopping complex in the El Golf neighbourhood, which is where all the new high rise buildings are being built.

Essentially what I’m trying to say is there is no lack of activities in Santiago and if you ever stop to wonder what there is to do. Just walk around and you’ll find something that might just peak your interest. If you’re still struggling after that…stop in at a coffee shop, order a Café Cortado (similar to a cappuccino) slow down and just enjoy the view.


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