A to Z of Adventure Travel: S is for Santiago

22 05 2009

Santiago is the capital of Chile and is surrounded by sweeping vistas of snowcapped mountains. An ancient colonial city and thriving modern cosmopolitan centre, Santiago is an excellent destination in its own right or the perfect place to spend a few days before or after some travelling.

Settled by Spanish conquistadors in 1541, a number of buildings from that period survive to this day, despite being located in a significantly seismic area. One in particular is the Church of San Francisco which was built between 1586 and 1628 and is the oldest building in the city. The neighbouring convent is home to the Museo de Arte Colonial and its unmatched collection of colonial art and artifacts. The courtyard with its lush garden and wonderful tranquility also provides a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the busy city.Santiago 2 mw

There are enough museums and galleries in Santiago to occupy a week without seeing anything else. Whether your taste lies in mystifying pre-Columbian treasures or modern art, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Sadly, with only a handful of notable exceptions, Latin American art is generally overlooked and neglected by the rest of the world and Santiago’s museums provide an excellent crash course with some of the finest collections anywhere.

The Presidential Palace, or Palacio del Moneda, is not only an impressive building and worthy home to the country’s seat of power but has also featured prominently in the country’s history. In 1973, the forces of General Augusto Pinochet shelled and bombed the building in an effort to remove President Salvador Allende from power. The coup was successful although the palace suffered considerable damage in the process. Fully restored now and featuring works of art in the palace’s courtyards, the only evidence of its violent past lie in photographs and displays. Unlike many similar buildings throughout the world which keep its citizens well away behind barbed-wire topped walls and concrete tanks traps, Chile allows anyone to stroll past the ceremonial guard and through the palace’s gates to show the openness and democracy that replaced years of totalitarianism.

For an overview of the city, visit Cerro San Cristobal, the highest hill in Santiago and one that provides panoramic views. There is a funicular that operates almost to the top and the hill also offers beautiful botanical gardens and other sites of interest. At the foot sits the eclectic Bellavista neighbourhood with its studios and great bars and restaurants.

And of course, Chile is renowned for its wines and there are several vineyards within easy distance of Santiago that offer tours and tastings including Vina Concha y Toro, Vina Cousina Macul and Vina de Martino.

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

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One Night In Bangkok…or Dubai…or Santiago…or…

31 03 2009

dubai2

 

I once spent 26 hours in Santiago, Chile. It’s not that I didn’t want to spend longer or that I was deported for being drunk, simply that I had the opportunity for a free stopover. Okay, so it wasn’t quite free as I had to book a hotel and then discovered the Pisco Sour (the national cocktail), but still, it’s not every day I find myself in the Chilean capital! And in fact, in addition to the free stopover I also got an extra hour free because the clocks happened to turn back that very day!

 

After collecting my bags, I arrived at my hotel late one Saturday night. At check-in I booked a 4-hour city tour for the following morning, had a quick bite and my first Pisco Sour and enjoyed a good sleep. I had the tour, had a Pisco Sour or two with lunch, explored some more on my own, had an early dinner – avec Pisco Sour – and then headed to the airport for another Pisco Sour and my onward flight home. Curiously enough, my memory of the flight is a bit fuzzy, but I do remember that May 16th is Chile’s Pisco National Day.

 

I always keep my eyes open for free or cheap stopovers when travelling. I’m not saying that I’d fly Air Dodgy just to have a bargain stopover in Ouagadougou, but if it’s more or less on my route and I get the chance to see somewhere I’ve never seen before – and may never see again – then I’ll jump at the chance. And the more exotic, the better!

 

There are many excellent airlines that offer service via exotic cities and some of the best are based in the Middle East. One of these is Etihad Airways of the United Arab Emirates who fly to Asia and Australia via Abu Dhabi and Dubai. While you could just head straight for your final destination, why take the chance that you’ll miss out on your very own Pisco Sour?

 

In recent years, the UAE has become one of the ‘in’ places for celebrities, the rich and anyone simply seeking endless warm sunshine with a difference. Although hugely popular in Europe, it hasn’t really caught on yet in North America – which gives it a certain cache and the opportunity to casually boast to friends about the great weekend you spent there!

 

Some people head to Dubai and never venture away from the beaches and shopping, but there’s a great deal more to offer including markets and museums. For the more adventurous, there are desert safaris which head inland to a luxury camp for dinner and entertainment, or possibly for an overnight stay. And of course there’s the opulent Burj Al Arab hotel which is so luxurious that they charge admission to non-guests just to take a look around!

 

Pre-arranging a stopover package that includes airport transfers, accommodation and perhaps a tour are usually considerably less expensive than if bought separately. Although Dubai is a great destination in its own right, it’s even better when you get it for next to nothing as a bonus on your next trip! And if you don’t have time to enjoy a few days, you can simply connect through the UAE and use your two-hour stop to impress friends at Christmas with a cornucopia of exotic gifts like dates, hand-woven rugs and sheesha pipes!

 

 

Post by:  Simon Vaughan

Photo by: Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Travel Photography 101 2.5/18

24 10 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.

“Okay, you pose for the photo and I’ll arrest him”  (Presidential Palace, Santiago, Chile)

Always be on your guard.

 

The guards at Buckingham Palace or Washington’s Arlington National Cemetery are likely amongst the most photographed individuals in both capital cities, but always be careful when taking snaps of anyone in uniform. In many countries it’s not only illegal to photograph police or military, but there’s little hesitation in confiscating your camera and film/memory card and even prosecuting you. Although a night or two in jail can be an interesting cultural experience for some, it’s preferable to do your research before you go and familiarise yourself with the dos and don’ts of your destination.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan





Travel Photography 101 6.5/18

26 09 2008

Confessions, musings and tips from a snap-happy wanderer.

Let your photography be a reflection of yourself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

…or a reflection of things around you. Whether a window, a gleaming metal surface or a mirror, always keep an eye open for an interesting reflection. Once you find a good surface, move around until you find something good to capture in it. Some of the best results come from a juxtaposition of old and new or from two very different materials or structures. But remember to focus on the reflected image and not on the reflecting item itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

 

 

What a pane!             (Santiago, Chile)





Room With A View

26 06 2008

Santiago

Who put that there?

Sometimes, the anticipation of the unknown is better than the actual discovery itself. A carefully wrapped birthday present bound with ribbon and topped with a bow is a prime example. You hold it, shake it, listen to it and feel it. Your mind spins faster than a supercomputer with every possible gift or surprise that someone could imagine. When you open the box and wade through the mountain of Styrofoam nuggets and find… a porcelain ice hockey player with a bobblehead and no teeth…you deftly hide your rampant disappointment and smile appreciatively. You then take the bubblewrap to a corner and pop each bubble to your heart’s content in a form of therapy.

 

But sometimes, the contents exceed your wildest expectation, the grin is genuine and your head bobs like a bobblehead for days afterward.

 

Arriving anywhere after dark is much like receiving a wrapped present and it’s not until the following morning when you draw back the curtains of your room that you find out what it’s like outside. Sometimes it’s a litter-strewn graffiti-decorated brick wall. But sometimes it’s like Santiago, Chile and you become the bobblehead.

 

The drive from the airport had been long and arduous. Construction had closed the main highway and left the detour restricted to one lane. It had been dark when we landed and although usually possessing a decent sense of direction, I didn’t have a clue where I was or where we were heading. The traffic was bumper-to-bumper and there was nothing much to see except for red taillights. After an hour we arrived at our hotel. As we were only in Santiago for a brief stopover and had booked a city tour for the following morning before returning to the airport, I must confess that for once I hadn’t done much research and really didn’t know what to expect.

 

We went to our room and I immediately headed for the windows. I drew back the curtains and gazed out at a vast inky darkness with a vague grid of streetlights and a scattering of home or office lights. Exhausted, we went to bed.

 

The next morning light shined around the curtains. I glanced at the clock and rolled out of bed. Habit propelled me to the window, although I wasn’t expecting much after the previous evening’s disappointment. I pulled back the drapes and stood there, the proverbial grinning bobblehead myself.

 

The entire window was filled with the Andes Mountains, close enough to touch. They were snowcapped, rugged, their base shrouded in cloud and seemed to be violently shouldering each other as if the tectonic plates were still driving and grinding them upwards. The light had a muted early morning glow that dabbed delicately at the snow line. As it was Sunday, the streets were quiet and nothing competed for attention with the natural skyline.

 

I stood and gazed in wonder. The Andes would be spectacular under any circumstances and serving as a backdrop to a city like Santiago would always make them special, but to draw back the curtains and see such a vista moments after rolling out of bed was completely unforgettable.

 

What a way to start the day!

 

 

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008