From Bariloche to Puerto Varas

We were forewarned: this OAT trip would include several long travel days, some by plane, some by bus. Today’s transfer from Bariloche to Puerto Varas was expected to take from 8 AM to 4 PM, including the border crossings. We need to pass thru security for BOTH Chile AND Argentina, and depending on the mood of the guards, that could be brief or it could take hours.

Our route. Laura thoughtfully marked it with yellow “stickies” We started in the lower right hand corner and ended in the left lower corner, going up and around.

But that’s okay. Days in transit allow us to see the country and decompress. Our time in Bariloche was so jam packed, a day to chill was most welcome. The beautiful pool, spa and terrace at our hotel? I had no opportunity (and no energy) to try them

During our stay, we were treated to two very interesting lectures. The first, a talk by Hans Schultz about Nazis in Patagonia, was fascinating. The second took place the next morning. We learned about the “people of the land” from a member of the Mapuche tribe.

I can’t do either speaker justice blogging from my iPhone, so those stories will have to wait till I get home. I’ll also be sure to include the stories our local guide, Fernando, told us during our bus ride. Coming attractions include highlights of those two lectures plus stories about a Texas cowboy (Jarod Jones) the famous bandits, (Butch and Sundance)and a local boy(Ernesto Che Guevara).

But let’s get back to our second day in Bariloche . After the Mapuche talk, we ALL decided to take the optional trip: a float down the Limay (Crystal) River. Our group of 12 is very cohesive and very active. We all are opting to do EVERYTHING together!

Could that be a Moai atop that mountain?

Mike and I went in different rafts so we could photograph each other and our friends.

In addition to gorgeous scenery and crystal clear water, we also saw beautiful birds, like this kingfisher that Mike photographed.

I was never fast enough. My bird photos are mainly empty branches!

We were told that at the end of the trip, we would have a “snack”. Well, that “snack” turned out to be delicious quiche, the very best empanadas we’ve had (so far), delicious fried dough pastries, breads and jams, AND a wine tasting.

Next stop, horseback riding at a family owned ranch.

Mike’s horse allergy meant that we had a skilled photographer taking shots of our group.

By the end of our ride, we were all pretty hungry. What could be better than authentic Argentinian barbecue of beef, lamb and chorizo.

What is Mike doing? He’s throwing meat on the roof of the barbecue.

Why? To get this bird to come out of the tree so we could photograph it.

Fortunately, he stayed still long enough so that even I could photograph him!

By the time we returned to the hotel, I was as too tired to take advantage of the two for one drinks at the hotel bar!

What about that long ride to Puerto Varas? It wasn’t boring at all. The scenery was beautiful, plus Laura had a few surprises for us.

First was our celebratory drink when we crossed the border into Chile. Their Dulce de Leche is their equivalent to our Bailey’s Irish Creme.

Then, our lunch stop provided more than just great food. It was also the site of a self described car museum.

But it was so much more! There was also a model train village and ancient household tools that made out grandmothers’ lives “easier”

An old fashioned wringer washing machine

My favorite part, however, was hanging with this sweet little guy who wanted me to admire his hot wheels collection.

Can you figure out why I decided to end this post?

Santiago, Day Two

We started our second day in Santiago by congratulating ourselves on our wise decision to take it easy on day one. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a pair of weary travelers.

First on our list was La Chascona, one of the three homes of Pablo Neruda. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is. I certainly didn’t, and this is the second time I’ve been in Santiago. Not only was he a Nobel prize winning poet, but he was also a politician, and a very quirky collector. What did he collect, you ask? Well, clearly houses, given that he had three of them, all kinds of art, books, knickknacks and women. I’ll let you read about the women and all the steamy stuff on your own. I’m doing this post on an iPhone so have to stick with the essentials, because I am so high minded.

La Chascona is now a very well run museum, complete with a short, but very informative video about Neruda’s life. You also get one of those “press the button” audio guides, which explains what you are seeing as you move from room to room. What makes this house so fascinating is it was built according to Neruda’s specifications and it is multi level.. Big deal, you might be thinking. LOTS of houses are multi level. Yes, but do you have to go outside to get from one level to the next?

No ranch style living for THIS aging Chilean!

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but I was able to get this shot of the dining room from outside. The table is very narrow, to facilitate conversation and extends almost the entire length of the room.

What I loved most about the dining room is something I unfortunately couldn’t photograph—the back wall. The left side was occupied by a hutch containing china and crystal. what looked like paneling on the right was actually a door to a secret passageway, with a spiral staircase leading to Neruda’s bedroom. The treads on the staircase were so small, I was afraid by very tall, very big footed husband wouldn’t be able to climb it, but he did. For him, the outside staircases were far easier to navigate.

See, I wasn’t kidding about multiple levels!

La Chascona is close to Cerra San Cristóbal, so even though we fully expected it to be a tourist trap (thank you, Esther, for the warning)it made sense for it to be our next stop. We rode the funicular to a viewing area for a look at the HUGE metropolitan area of Santiago. I knew the city was big, but didn’t know HOW big till then.

At the summit is an enormous statue of Mary. It appeared some sort of religious service was taking place there, so we climbed the 6o steps (yes, I counted) to ride the cable car. Although you get even more views of the city, to me it wasn’t worth waiting in line. And yes, the hill IS a bit of a tourist trap, although most of the tourists appeared to be South American.

On our return trip, I noticed a couple of clearly North American ladies in our funicular car. What are the odds, that among all the thousands of visitors to Cerra San Cristóbal, those two random strangers we encountered would be two of the other five travelers on our OAT trip? A quick question got us the answer. It was 100%. They too had come in a day early, and had been touring via the Hop on Hop Off bus.

Returning to the hotel, we met the remaining three OAT travelers who had arrived at the normal start date. Our guide took us on a short walking tour, which ended at Chile’s “ground zero”, the Plaza de Armas, where the Spaniards initially settled. At one corner of the square is a statue of the Moche’s leader, Caupolicán,

and diagonally across is Pedro de Valdivia, the Spanish conquistador.

Isabel Allende’s wonderful book “Inés of My Soul”, gives a historically accurate, but fictionalized account of the founding of Chile, as told by Inés Suárez, the only known female conquistador, and mistress of de Valdivia. It is well worth reading.

Our day ended with a fabulous welcome dinner at Casa Lastarria. We were the only patrons because we were dining at the ridiculously early hour of 7 PM, to make it easy to get up for our 6:45 AM departure for Easter Island.

Pisco Sours for all!

And if all goes well, my photos will upload.

Santiago, Chile

Expect to find these words carved on my tombstone: “She never passed up the opportunity to use a clean bathroom”. Good thing, because it took us two and a half hours to get our butts off the plane, thru Santiago airport and into a taxi. The airport’s long lines would have been even more of a challenge with a full bladder.

One reason it took so long was the computers at passport control went down for 30 minutes. Can you imagine what the crowd would be like if that happened in a NY airport? But here, everyone chilled. No groans, cursing or eye rolls. Free Wi-Fi helped. It gave everyone an opportunity to check in with friends and family.

Was this a regular occurrence? We will soon find out, because over the next six days we will be experiencing Santiago airport three more times: back and forth to Easter Island and to Buenos Aires.

Another reason for the long lines is Chile seriousness about not allowing agricultural products into the country. If the dogs don’t get you, the scanning equipment will, so there were no nuts or granola bars in OUR luggage.

We followed our tour guide’s instructions, paying for our taxi inside the airport. 20,000 pesos sounds like a lot, but it is only about $30, and they accept credit cards, so I didn’t need to stop at the ATM to the right of immigration, but I did anyway.

Although we don’t usually stay at Crowne Plaza Hotels, I signed up for their loyalty program when I made our on line reservation. Not only do loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, they also can request early check in. By the time we arrived at 10 AM, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was ready.

A less pleasant surprise was how very tired we were. Or maybe we are just having to acknowledge that we no longer have the stamina that we did in our younger days. Back in “the day”, we would have ignored our weariness and started checking things off our (actually MY) list. Instead, our goals for day 1 are: eat, walk a bit, rest, get acclimated to the new time zone. That was ONE To-Do list we completely accomplished!

By 1 PM, we were so hungry that we ended up having pizza and beer at La Junta, a bar with outside tables. I tell you the name so that if you are ever in Santiago, you will avoid it. The only problem with outside dining—that’s where all the smokers hang out. We ate inside.

Yeah, it was every bit as bad as it looks.

Thanks to the OAT Forum and Trip Advisor, we fared MUCH better for dinner. Both recommended Boca Nariz, a wine bar offering tapas and entrees.

If you don’t have the time or the energy to tour a Chilean vineyard, this is a great alternative. Here, you can choose from a wide variety of wine flights. We opted for wines from the Pacific coast and were pleased with our choice.

Although it looks empty, that appearance is deceiving. Those empty tables are reserved. If you plan to visit, it is wise to make a reservation. We lucked out. Initially the hostess seated us at the only available table, one designed for munchkins. Poor Mike looked like he was at an elementary school parents’ night, sitting at his kid’s desk. The hostess took note and moved us to the big kid’s table as soon as one opened up.

Once again, my blogging is lagging behind our experiences. More about Santiago next time we encounter cooperative Wi-Fi

The Divine Duomo

See how happy she is, wearing her new dress?

We’ve all been told you have to dress appropriately if you want to tour the Duomo.  That isn’t entirely true.  If you happen to be wearing something a bit too revealing, no worries.  The Duomo staff will give you a lovely, suitable outfit to wear.  Best of all, you get to keep it when you leave.  Take a look.

If you have been following this blog, you’ll recall that I toured the Duomo a few days ago, while in Milan on my own.  I am now on the OAT trip, which started with a walking tour of Milan, including a guided tour of the Duomo.  I’m glad I did both, because different tour guides emphasize different things, so YOU, dear reader, get the benefit of both, without having to endure an overnight flight.

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Both guides cited identical facts and figures: when construction started (1386), how long it was under construction (centuries), and on and on.  The main fact I retained was the Duomo has 52 columns.  Bet you can figure out why.

As you can see, each column is topped with statues of saints, but I have no idea who is who, and neither guide (quite wisely) bothered to tell us.

Only one called our attention to the beautiful marble floor’s embedded sun dial, with figures of the zodiac appropriately placed.  Check out Aries the Ram.

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As usual, the Duomo showcases art representing saints that died horrific deaths.  Catholics seem to have a deep appreciation for pain and suffering.

I missed the portrait of St Agatha on the first tour.  We had seen many portraits of her in Sicily, in the process of having her breasts chopped off.  In Milan, the painting isn’t quite so graphic.  St Agatha is shown being healed by St. Peter, who visited her in prison.  As you can see from her bloody garment, he is just starting to work his miracle.

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BOTH guides made sure we saw the statue of St. Bartholomew.  HE  was skinned alive and HIS statue leaves little to the imagination.

In case you’re wondering, that’s his skin draped over his shoulder.   Look to the right of his elbow.  His face managed to stay intact, and every hair on his head and beard is still in place.   Pretty terrifying for young Catholic children, wouldn’t you say.  No wonder we grew up so twisted.

Those Romans certainly dreamed up creative ways to launch Christians into the afterlife!

While touring the Duomo terraces a few days ago, I noticed what looked like a rooftop restaurant.  I figured it was probably super expensive and rather exclusive. 

What a nice surprise when  our OAT guide brought us over there for a drink and cookies.  We enjoyed yet another view of the Duomo, while sipping our cappuccinos. Here’s Elisa, our guide, explaining where we are going next.  Check out the chocolate shoes for sale  at gourmet chocolate shop inside.

 

Time to stop blogging and start experiencing…so I leave you with some Milan highlights.

 

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Two Days in Milan

Day One

I’ll be honest.  The first day of every overseas trip is always a wipe out, which is exactly why we  try to arrive before a tour begins.  So, not too many photos from day one, but a couple of tips.

The train from the airport to Milan’s central station is an easy and inexpensive option.  Just be sure to buy your ticket in advance.  We were feeling pretty smug when we walked by the long line at the ticket window.  Although you select a particular time, fortunately you don’t have to get it right.  You can take any train within a three hour window of the time on your ticket.  Our flight arrived early (how often does THAT happen?), so we were able to board an earlier train than the one we were ticketed for.

We stayed at the Hotel Sanpi, which is within walking distance of the train station, although we opted to take a taxi.  Those €6 were well spent!  We were TIRED.  The Hotel Sanpi was recommended by one of the posters on the OAT Forum (thank you, Ted).  It was a great choice.

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After a quick nap and lunch, we headed to the nearby public gardens.  We walked past an art museum,  a planetarium, and the Museum of Natural History, whose exterior reminded me of a Muslim mosque we’d seen in Spain.  We didn’t have the energy to go inside ANY of those places.  In fact, a good part of the afternoon was spent on a park bench, staring glassy eyed at I can’t remember what.  

There are lots of restaurants close to Hotel Sanpi.  We didn’t like Il Carpaccio, where we had our first bad meal in Italy  (I make better risotto), but the Azzurra Grill more than made up for our lousy lunch.  The veal chop with white wine and artichoke sauce was amazing, as were the profiteroles.

Day Two

Mike was up and out early, headed to Cremona to spend the next three days hanging out with his violin buddies.  As for me, I planned on going wild in Milano.

Step 1: purchase the €4.50 24 hour metro pass, and head for Milan’s hot spot—the Duomo.  Hey, you go wild YOUR way, and I’ll go wild mine.

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My Destination

With my iPhone in hand, eyes fixed on my downloaded google map, I was able to find my way to the metro station a few blocks away.  For a normal person, it would have been an easy task, but I have always been directionally challenged. 

As I was headed toward the Duomo’s ticket window, a young woman representing Gladiator Tours, wearing killer palazzo pants (I really should have gotten a photo of them) sold me a package tour, including  “skip the line” for the terraces, the cathedral and the museum, all for €30.  E1D4D8B3-8E8B-42D7-A247-4166AF23807CWas that a good deal?  Initially I didn’t think so, after I saw the prices at the ticket window, AND learned that my ticket didn’t include the elevator.  (180 steps to the top).  BUT, I was mistakenly sent to the wrong door, so as an apology, Gladiator Tours gave me the elevator ride for free.  All good, so far.

But wait, there’s more.  “Skip the line”doesn’t mean that you actually don’t wait in ANY line.  You still have to go through security, being wanded, one by one, AND then you wait for the elevator, which fits ten people at a time (one of the ten being a staff member).  THAT took almost 20 minutes.

Here’s what I saw when I exited the elevator.  

Yep, lots of repairs.  After walking as far as I could, I encountered yet ANOTHER line.  This one was for the elevator down.  Well, I backtracked, and when I did, I discovered you could walk through a passage to get to the Duomo’s OTHER side, which was FAR more interesting. If you took the stairs up, that is the side you would have initially encountered.  

If you are so inclined, you can climb 80 more steps to get to the rooftop.  (Yes, I have a thing about counting steps.  I can’t help it.  It’s what I do.)  

Ready for the GOOD photos?

I decided to REALLY skip the line, and walk down the steps to meet the Gladiator guide for the tour of the interior of the Duomo.  She was FANTASTIC, even though she wasn’t wearing gorgeous palazzo pants. Of course, our OAT trip will include a Duomo tour, (but not the roof), so I can do an instant replay.  I’ll wait till then to share my interior photo, even if I decide to skip the tour and go to the mall for gelato and people watching.  It never gets old.

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Wonder if they do your “make over” while still on skates? I wasn’t curious enough to find out.

Anyway, after the interior tour (with “whisperers”, so we could easily hear the guide), I figured that the €30 was not such a bad deal.  I skipped the Duomo museum, opting instead to take advantage of my metro pass to cruise around Milan on the tram and underground.  

I THOUGHT I’d prefer the tram.  Nope.  You can’t really see THAT much.  It is impossible to understand what the conductor is saying, plus there are no maps on the trams, AND the stops are not clearly marked.  So yes, I got lost.  But no big deal. I hopped off, crossed the tracks, and kept walking till I found another stop.  I had MUCH better luck with the subway, which WAS clearly marked AND had maps.  

Rick Steves suggested visiting  Naviglio Grande, which he described as “Milan’s old canal port — once a working-class zone, now an atmospheric nightspot for dinner or drinks”.   Who am I to ignore a recommendation from Rick?  So, off I went.  

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The canal was interesting, for about five minutes.  I admired the “love locks” that European cities seem to fancy. 

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Not so sure about the nightlife.  Maybe I was too early.

Here’s the only other patron at my sidewalk cafe.   Looks like he is also drinking an aperol spritzer.  

Check out the buildings across the way.  Don’t you want to do unspeakable violence to the inventor of spray paint?  (And I’m a pacifist at heart.)  What possesses someone to mark up buildings and other random surfaces?  Makes me think of dogs,  trees, and fire hydrants.  But I digress.

Including my little jaunt to the canal, I ended up getting 5 trips out of my 24 hour pass.  That’s much better than paying  €1.5 per trip, wouldn’t you say?  Bet you didn’t expect math would be in this post.

I’ll leave you to ponder graffiti, sidewalk cafes and metro passes.  On to Tremezzo…