My husband and I are older, semi-retired cruisers, who were accompanied on this trip by our almost 21 year old son, referred to here as DS. I hope you find this helpful.
We quickly found our bags and started looking for taxicab to take us to Vina del Mar, where we were staying. I asked one of the people working there and he pointed to a parking area. We started walking there and at the entrance a guy came up to us and asked if we needed a cab. He quoted a price for Vina which was too much, but I told him we wanted a metered cab and so he showed us that his friend's cab had a meter, which was then turned on. I suspect the friend didn't have the proper sticker to be parked in the Terminal area, and that is why this guy helped him find a fare. The cab driver himself, was very nice and drove us without a problem to Vina. He called the B and B to figure out where it was located, drove around a traffic jam caused by a polling place for the National Election, taking place on this day, and missed our street (necessitating a ride around the block), but was otherwise fine.
Our B and B owner, Brian Genross, was outside to welcome us to his beautiful home, which he assured us would be our home for the next three days. We quickly found Brian, who is Canadian, and his lovely Chilean wife, Lya, to be kind and congenial hosts, eager to be helpful and ensure that our visit would be a good one. Throughout our stay Brian was very helpful in making restaurant suggestions and booking our remis back to the airport. We enjoyed chatting with both Brian and Lya about our trip, politics, and a wide range of topics… great hosts.
After some unpacking, we took a long walk over to the seafront and around to San Martin, which is the major avenue parallel to the sea. We saw the flower clock and the lovely park area and then walked above the sea. The seafront in Vina is wonderful. The surf crashes into the rocks and the beach area is sand. Because the water is cold, only a few hardy souls were in the ocean during our time in Vina, but others hung out on or near the water and picnicked on the sand. The weather during our stay was perfect – warm and sunny with a nice sea breeze to keep the air from getting too hot. Brian said it's like San Diego, and although we were only there for three days, that is how it felt.
DH and I strolled along, enjoying the sunshine and the ocean, looking for a place to lunch. I had the restaurant called Enjoy in mind, and although it looked very nice when we found it, it was closed for the National Election Day. We then walked to a place Brian had recommended, an Italian restaurant that several of his clients had frequented and recommended to him earlier in the week. On the way, as we checked various possible places (either closed or packed with people), an older woman (older that is than I which means quite old) asked me in Spanish if I needed help. I explained what we were doing, and she recommended another Italian restaurant she likes. We stopped to check at the one Brian had mentioned only to find they had a long wait … something about the kitchen being backed up with orders. We then walked with her to her favorite, only to find that it, too, was closed for the day. I thanked her profusely for her assistance, and we started to walk back, looking for a likely place. Eventually we got to a coffee café with cold coffee drinks. Having gotten beyond hunger, and booked for an 8:30 dinner, I decided a cold drink would suffice and DH decided to have a pastry, along with some snacks picked up at a bodega, which we also purchased for DS, back at the B and B taking a nap. Since he had gone to bed at 4 a.m. on the ship and gotten up at 8, he needed his sleep.
Returning to the Hotel Genross, after our longer than expected walk, and exhausted from our trudge back up the hill, we, too, took a nap before dinner.(N.B. I knew Valparaiso was set on a hillside, but somehow didn’t realize that Vina del Mar is, too. The downtown area is flat, but the most of the residential area is uphill. In the case of our B and B, this necessitated a one-block climb up a fairly steep hill.)
Later we set out for the Cap Ducal, which Brian thought would be the ideal venue for a first night dinner in Vina – seafood on the oceanfront. When we arrived, the view was stunning and we were seated at a window table. A few minutes later two friends from the ship came over to inform us that they had been waiting for half an hour and had just been told that they wouldn’t take orders until 9 p.m. or serve until 10 because of the Election restrictions. We had been told they wouldn’t be open until 8:30 for dinner, so the fact that they had gone at 8 made us think there was some miscommunication somewhere. Soon after, they left without eating. We stuck it out. Candles were lit on the table as the sun set, and soon after they took our order. They brought out delicious warm rolls and we were served cokes. We knew there could be no alcohol sales until after 10 p.m. because of the election and quickly discovered that the fish options were limited (perhaps because it was Sunday, but more likely also because of the Election). We ordered three appetizers and three entrees in order to try a variety of dishes. For the starters, we had Machas Parmesana, Parmesan Marisco and a Congrio and Calamari Brochette Fritti. For the entrees we shared A Reineta y Corvina Prima Pasto, Corvina Vasco, and Congrio Erisa.
Dinner was disappointing. Cap Ducal has a great location and apparently the owner doesn’t feel the need to serve anything more than average food. The seafood was fresh and tasted good, but there was nothing exceptional about it, and every fish dish on the table was drowned in sauce. The bill came to 43,700 Pesos (at almost 500 Pesos to the Dollar, this dinner cost over $90 for the three of us with no alcohol... definitely too expensive!)
On the way back to the B and B, we viewed many cars with flags, honking their horns and celebrating the election which had just taken place. We were told that there had been a big rally in one of the parks and I guess it ended as we were finishing our meal. It was great to be in Chile on such an important day, even if it had caused us a little inconvenience. We walked back to the hotel and were happy to go to bed early since we had another big day planned for Monday.
Monday, January 18 – Valparaiso
Michael Arnold, alias the German Pirate, had arranged to pick us up at our B and B at 9:30 this morning. He was on time and while driving us over to Valparaiso (I thought he was going to take us on the bus or train but he changed the plan and brought the car in the interests of time), he told us that he was expecting a group of German travelers from either the Sun or the Infinity plus two people from Luxembourg and a woman from Melbourne to be with us. That was way more people than I expected since when he and I had arranged the day he told me there was a possibility of another couple, not a crowd. Also, he did not reduce the cost even though there were so many more people (We paid $30 apiece because he picked us up in his car.) He had also invited a German couple who were staying at our B and B (and had been on the Sun) to join us and they, too, met us at the first Ascensor of the tour. As a result, the group consisted of a total of fourteen tourists plus Michael and three assistants, whose primary job was to help keep the group together and make sure he didn’t lose anyone. One of the assistants, Luis, brought his guitar and sang songs to us at various points during the day. All three of them were working on learning English. DS spoke French with Luis. Michael did the tour in both English and German, but since there were more German speakers, he tended to say a lot more in German than in English. I know he tried to say everything in both languages, but it always seemed as though there was a lot more said in German, especially as the day progressed.
We started at a viewing area in front of the Military Museum on top of a hill at the Paseo 21 de Mayo. This is a beautiful old building and was once the Naval Academy. We didn’t go in, but it looked interesting. Along the walkway there were vendors setting out all sorts of small and well priced souvenir items. I bought some pretty magnets showing Valparaiso scenes while waiting for the group to assemble. When everyone was there, Luis sang a song. I wished Michael had taken a few moments to have the group introduce themselves to one another and did my best to learn the names of our fellow tourists. I learned that one of the German couples was staying at a well known B and B (on the tour in fact) which is the extraordinary yellow house called The Brighton, which they didn’t like very much. The couple from Luxemburg were staying at the Hotel Harrington (which we also passed on our walk), and they liked this place very much, especially the modern bathroom. We made friends with a lovely woman from Australia and spent much of the day chatting with her.
We began the walk with a descent on the first of three or four (I admit I lost count) Ascensores, called Artilleria. Throughout the day we descended and ascended by both ascensore and foot from the hills with their fabulous views and charming and delightful restored homes and inns, to the squares below where people were busy working and going about their daily lives. Michael gave us some Valparaiso history (heavy on the German and English influences as you will note), talked about some of the famous fires, and quoted lots of real estate prices. Along the way we stopped at the German Club, the German Firehouse, the English Firehouse, the old stock exchange, a pub where we heard a song and used the facilities, another pub where we had a $6 lunch (there were a couple of choices - I had chicken with mashed potatoes and everyone had fruit salad for dessert), a magician’s home (he did some tricks which we couldn’t figure out even though we attended a lecture on magic tricks a few days ago on the ship and even though he was inches away from us). We were asked to tip him for his services, which we did.)
Several of the climbs were quite steep and I would be wary of going on this walk if your legs aren’t in shape. Later Lya asked me about my impressions of Neruda’s house, which was a surprise because I thought Neruda's house wasn't in the city, but after chatting with Lya I looked in the guide book and realized one of his homes was located there. Although I checked and discovered that since this was Monday, it was closed, I didn’t hear Michael talk about the house, although he did speak of the poet. Perhaps the house part was in German or he was standing too far away for me to hear… Maybe it’s one of the houses in my photographs… I have no idea. Although I found the tour interesting, it was disappointing for the reasons specified.
After the tour we all paid up and the five of us from the Hotel Genross took one of the electric trolleybuses back to Victoria Square, in search of a pub recommended to our hotel-mates by their friend, the Director of the German School in Vina. After some strolling around the square along with lots of locals, and viewing the entertainment on offer (a Punch and Judy show for children and a mime who was pretty funny), we found the pub and were surprised to see an offer for $3000 Pesos (about US$6) for Chorianna, four Pisco Sours and a Litre of wine. This didn’t seem possible, but we ordered the special and later learned someone had erased the “1” so it was actually $13,000 pesos, which was only about $25 and still a bargain. The Chorianna arrived on a large platter – strips of fried meat, onions, egg, and French Fries. In addition, we ordered Fried Fish and Chips, our friends ordered Ceviche and the three guys also had some beer. Everything tasted good, but certainly not great.
After getting acquainted and fairly soused on all that alcohol, we found the bus for Vina and embarked on one of the funniest (and scariest) experiences of our trip. The bus driver seemed to be competing in the Indy 500 (or more appropriately the Dakar Rally). With a heavy foot on the gas pedal, he careened through Valparaiso, barely stopping to pick up passengers (who were quick to find a seat), just missing pedestrians and other vehicular traffic. Once on the highway between the two cities, he really took off and I didn’t know whether it was better to close my eyes or watch as we wove among three lanes of traffic, around cars, trucks and other buses. At one point I heard DS say from the seat behind me, “We’re all going to die!” It did seem possible for the five minutes it took to get to our stop at Agua Santa in Vina. Needless to say, we were all happy to get off the bus. (N.B.When I told this story to a friend of mine who is from Colombia, he said that was typical South American bus driver behavior and all his childhood bus rides were of the same breathtaking variety.)
Exhausted after our day in Valparaiso, we were happy to go to bed and leave the plans for our last day in Chile open.
Tuesday, January 19 – Vina del Mar
We said good-bye to our new friends at breakfast since they were headed for a final meal in Valparaiso at the Fish Market (they reported later that the Ceviche there was great and much better than at the Pub) and then a late flight to Paris en route to Munich. I went out to the garden in back of the B and B to update my report. Worried I would get too much sun, Brian brought out a sunhat and fussed over whether or not I had enough cushions. It was lovely in the garden – sunny and warm, but cooled by a nice breeze. Lya came out and the two of us started a long chat which ended only when it was time for lunch. We set off down the hill to eat at “Enjoy,” which had re-opened. Brian recommended the Barbecue/Parilla and the idea of one last Parilla appealed a great deal to all of us. As a result, we sat at a table on the terrace – gorgeous view of the sea and protected from the sun and ordered a Parilla de Carne (for two) and a Parilla del Marisco (for one). We ended up with Ribs, Steak, Sausage, Roast Potatoes, Salmon, Scallops, and Shrimp along with some excellent Chilean white wine – a lovely although fairly pricey meal. Taking care of business, we stopped off at an internet place with little booths, where DS and I checked our email and DS made a call to his college – all very cheap, and then strolled back to the B and B, deciding that a relaxing day was a good idea. Along the way we watched jugglers and other performance artists, including a set of guys tossing a girl up into the air and then catching her, who seemed to be stationed at every downtown intersection. Before the light changed, they did their little act and then collected change from drivers.
Brian and Lya invited us to join them in the garden for a glass of wine and some more conversation. They had been out to a winery for lunch and told us about their day while we shared stories of our travels and experiences. In the end, this is the main reason I love to travel – connections like these with people who live far away. Sitting in the garden, drinking wine, eating olives, and conversing about our lives was a perfect finish to our trip.
After our huge lunch, we didn’t want another big meal, so we went down the hill one final time to try a restaurant I had on my list called “Entre Masas.” I thought this place would be limited to empanadas since that is what my notes indicated, but it turned out that in addition to some 30 empanada combinations, they have a full menu. Part of a chain, the restaurant was decorated in a modern and comfortable style, and the service was excellent. I had to put my Spanish skills to the test in deciphering the empanada fillings, and ended up ordering one with crab, one with meat and olives and cheese, and a third empanada with ham and cheese. All were deep fried, very large, and delicious, with the meat, olives, and cheese the winner of the taste test.
Wednesday, January 20 – En Route to New York
Brian volunteered to fix us breakfast at a very early hour. He had encouraged us to take the bus to the airport because it’s so cheap and convenient, but with the bags from the cruise, we opted for a car and driver. As a result,he arranged a remis to pick us up at 7:30 a.m., thinking we should allow two hours to get to the airport. (As it turned out, we were there in an hour and 20 minutes with no traffic… our driver, Fabian, who was excellent, said everyone was still sleeping.) We enjoyed our breakfast, said our goodbyes to Brian, and left with Fabian, who had arrived early. The drive from Vina to the airport took us through the lovely vineyards of the Casablanca Valley and we wished we had more time to explore this area. Above us towered the Andes… a very scenic and pleasant drive.
Although many people have described a crowded and chaotic airport in Santiago, that is the complete opposite of what we experienced. Leaving early in the day on a non-cruise arrival or departure day, the airport was quiet and easy to navigate with short lines and no problems.
When planning this trip, I had debated whether to stay at the seashore, Valparaiso, or Santiago, and decided that our son would probably enjoy the beach area most. Given that we were there at the start of the summer, it was a good decision. I loved our visit to Vina del Mar and Valparaiso and would recommend that cruisers allocate some time to stay in this area either before or after taking a cruise. Now back in the New York winter, it's the time we spent there that makes me most want to return to South America.