Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chile, Day 4

Halfway up Cerro San Cristóbal.

Another day in Santiago, another late start. Last night there was construction going on outside my window until after midnight – complete with an American or Canadian man yelling, with the occasional F-bomb thrown in, at the workers to shut up – followed by music in some apartment nearby. Then a laundry machine started thumping against my wall at 7 a.m., followed by more music blasting from outside. I lay comatose in bed until after 10, then decided to skip breakfast, slathered on some sunscreen, and went for a really long walk.

I was going to take the funicular from the Plaza Caupolicán, at the bottom of Cerro San Cristóbal, and then take cable cars to different parts of the park I wanted to visit, but the funicular was apparently closed and I never saw a single cable car during the two hours I wandered uphill (284 m) and through the Parque Metropolitano. Luckily it’s wasn’t too hot, and after 45 minutes of climbing up the switchbacks to the top of the hill there was occasional shade to protect me from overheating.

The park was stunning, and for anyone wanting some good exercise while in Santiago I really recommend walking through Barrio Bellavista, up the steep hill, and following the main road until it exits the park and becomes Avenida Pedro de Valdivia on the other side of the hill, in affluent and, at times, Pasadena-like Barrio Providencia. The roads in the park are popular with bikers and stray but friendly dogs, and on a clear day – unlike today – you’d have spectacular views of Santiago and its environs. Cerro San Cristóbal is dotted with small, well-maintained parks, including Jardín Botánico Mapulemu and Jardín Japones, as well as a wine museum, botanical garden, two giant and beautiful swimming pools ($10 entrance fee), and a fancy-looking restaurant.

Entrance to Jardín Botánico Mapulemu.

There was also a kiosk near the top that was a lifesaver for me: for $1.30 I refueled there with bottled water and a banana.

That horse was eyeing my banana, so I had to eat it fast.

The botanical garden and wine museum were closed, presumably because it’s the last day of the year, but the small gardens were open and they’re all free.

My main destination was the Japanese garden.

Heavily perfumed with wisteria, the Japanese garden was rather small, but it was also very tranquil.

The scent of wisteria hung heavily in the air. It was great.

At least it was until a group of about a dozen people sitting to the side of the garden started performing charades – then the tranquility was shattered. But it was still a nice place to go – it would have been perfect for a picnic.

I had no idea where I was when I got to the other side of the hill, so I decided I’d just keep walking and see where I ended up. Eventually the street I was on appeared on my guidebook’s map of Santiago, and I figured out how to get back to my hotel – though it took a good hour.

There was an impressive sculpture garden along the river on my way back.

Actually, I didn’t go straight back to my hotel but, since it was already 1:30, had lunch at Emporio la Rosa, which was on the edge of a park – Santiago is filled with parks, which are invariably clean, beautiful, and centered around sculptures or monuments (or both). I took a seat outside and ordered a smoked ham, cheese, and tomato sandwich (4000 pesos, or about $8) and a fresh squeezed orange juice (1600 pesos, or about $3.15). Both were good – I guess I was hungrier than I realized – and since Emporio la Rose is actually better known for ice cream than sandwiches, I also had a cone with a double scoop of pistachio and mojar chocolate ice cream (2200 pesos, or about $4.30). Kind of expensive, but hey, it’s my last lunch of the year and I skipped breakfast…Emporio La Rosa is at Merced 291. Tel: 638-9257.

Not long after this I decided that I really needed coffee, so at around 3 p.m. I went down charming Mosqueto Street and settled on Melinka Café, which has outdoor seating. (Santiago has so many restaurants and cafés with outdoor seating – I love this about the city.)

Although I ordered a double cappuccino, what I got looked more like a dessert, which I didn’t want after two scoops of ice cream. So I drank around that mountain of whipped cream and shaved chocolate and got my caffeine fix for the day.

When dinner rolled around, I found myself in the fix I was expecting – everything was closed for New Year’s Eve. After walking around Central Santiago for 20 minutes, I realized that the only places that were open were Chinese restaurants. So I settled on Restaurant Kuan Ming, about a block away from where I live.

I turned out to be the only one eating there – the place was much, much bigger than my photo shows – though they had at least six employees shuttling back and forth (only one was Chinese). I ended up ordering a congrio fuyon, what I thought was a vegetable soup, and a pisco sour.

Not what I'd call vegetable soup...

I’m finding out that in restaurants where people are very friendly, this is an indication of not very good food. It’s as if they think that by making me feel welcome and comfortable at my table I might overlook the fact that their chefs need retraining. Honestly, these people were so nice, and I wanted to like their food so much. However…My pisco sour came first, and it tasted very much like the salt-rimmed glass of a margarita. A more accurate name would have been pisco salty. I drank it all, but that’s only because it cost me nearly $4.

Pisco salty...

I immediately ordered a Royal Guard beer (it’s Chilean) after that, which was necessary to help counteract the additional salt that came from my entrée: the conger eel “quesadilla” – which turned out to be a conger eel omelet.

Egads, I can still taste the salt...

The problem with this was that it was basically just overly salty eggs. Like most fish cooked with eggs, the fish flavor was almost wholly absent. Again, all I could taste was salt. At least the rice was good. At the end of my meal, which cost 9600 pesos (US$18.91), I was given a complimentary shot of brandy. I’m fairly confident that Kuan Ming does better with other, more obviously Chinese dishes than with conger eel, so I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m giving them a bad recommendation. I’d go back if had to. I just wouldn’t order conger eel or a pisco sour. Kuan Ming can be found at Merced 551, and they do delivery. Tel: 639-5984.

I’m not sure what I’ll tonight for New Year’s. I’m tempted to sleep through it, though if I can stay awake long enough I’ll either climb up to the rooftop pool and look out for fireworks or else I’ll actually brave the crowds about five blocks from where I’m staying and watch the show in person.

Happy New Year Everyone!!

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  1. A belated Happy New Year to you & your partner!!!

    I wish you safe & fun travels, lots of lovely foods & lots of cultures to discover!! And great health of course!

  2. Sophie: Thank you! And I wish you all of the same -- all of the very best -- for the new year, too!