Thursday, 29 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov07: Part 4 - Torres Del Paine

Ok, so I lied. This is not going to be my last post on my Chilean hols, since between work, fighting my way through the tourists to do my Christmas shopping of a lunchtime - the Rockefeller tree lighting was yesterday, so they're out in force now snapping pics of the tree - and catching up with friends before I head to England to see the family in just over 2weeks I'm not finding the time to write it all up. Sorry about that. Hopefully you will indulge me a teensy bit longer.

So, this post is all about Torres Del Paine, a Chilean national park located 112 km north (about 69miles) of Puerto Natales and 312 km (193miles) north of Punta Arenas and described by Frommers as follows:

"This is Chile's prized jewel, a national park so magnificent that few in the world can claim a rank in its class....the park is not something you visit; it is something you experience."

I haven’t travelled as extensively as some, Melissa for example, but from what I've seen of this Torres Del Paine those crazy kids at Frommers weren’t exaggerating. Simply put, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Melissa went so far as to say she thought the Chilean scenery was way more impressive than any she'd seen on her travels to New Zealand - I can't say as I haven't been there, although I have seen Lord Of The Rings which is almost the same. Joking of course. As for Torres Del Paine, I’ve yet to see a photo that does it justice, mine certainly don’t, but I shall still inflict them on you. What can I say; I’m a point and click kind of girl, which is blindingly obvious to anyone who knows even a smidgen about photography, such as Tel Aviv who, when flicking through my photos of Chile, declared “I see you used the same setting for all of your photos.”

Hark at David Bailey there.

However it’s not *strictly* true that I used the SAME exact setting!! I think that someone will find that if he looks closely at the aforementioned photos he will find that those taken in and around Santiago appropriately used the ‘Palm Tree’ setting. Whereas when I arrived in Patagonia I immediately made the necessary climatic and scenic adjustment to ‘Mountain’ setting, so stick that in your pipe and smoke it Lord Lichfield. Don’t be trying to confuse me with your aperture chit-chat, implying I know nothing about photography. Pah!!


Where was I? Oh yes, Torres Del Paine, well actually before I launch into photos of the park, I’ll just give a brief shout out to Puerto Natales, the small town which is the gateway to Torres Del Paine, and where we stayed at the extremely clean, but paper thin walled Hotel Eberhard along with a large unruly posse of elderly French tourists. Now I’ll hold up my hands here and confess to usually being a bit of a Francophile, but these particular French sexagenarians would have tried the patience of Mother Teresa. They were so damn rude and the brief time we actually spent in their proximity was a little on the trying side…primarily me trying to talk Melissa out of shoving them into the Ultima Esperanza Sound just steps away from the hotel. I did this largely with the cunning use of cabernet sauvignon which fortunately calmed her jangled nerves :-)

Here’s the view of the sound from the hotel...

Lovely isn’t it!! I think this being on our doorstep also had something of a calming effect on Melissa.

Our tour picked us up around 8am on the morning of Thursday 15th November - early mornings were definitely the theme of this trip, it seemed like we always had to be somewhere by 8am; it was great to sleep in over the Thanksgiving weekend - for a full day tour of the national park. It was a small group tour by minivan with just seven of us including our bi-lingual guide, Rafael, the driver, Juan, a Chilean couple who were so sweetly smitten with each other we think they must have been on their honeymoon, and a single Chilean guy who the honeymooners took under their wing. We were a cosy bunch!!

It took about an hour to drive up to Torres Del Paine, but along the way you’re treated to even more stunning scenery and it’s easy to understand how the region inspired the poet,
Gabriela Mistral.

Last stop before the park was the ‘service town’ – that’s how our guide referred to it – Villa Cerro Castillo.

I really liked the setting with Mount Castillo overlooking the small town. We stopped here for 20minutes or so, our last opportunity for a few hours to buy water and nip to the loo, before driving up to the entrance to the park and paying our entry fee, 15,000 Chilean pesos for foreigners (about $30); 8,000 pesos for the Chileans.

I’ll only post a few pictures of the, literally, 100s taken, since they’re all much of a muchness to be honest and it would get too repetitive to post more than just a select few. Our tour took us on a circular route through the south end of the park – a 10hour drive with frequent stops for photo opportunities and of course lunch - stopping at scenic lakes, lagoons and waterfalls; however the drive is around the same mountain range, just seen from many different angles with different lakes.

Before reaching the park entrance we stopped to take in the beautiful view of Lago Sarmiento, shown below

This is one of my favourite photos. After that it was off to Laguna Armaga and then around to Lago Nordenskjold, shown below.

After that we drove Salto Grande and walked down to admire a waterfall flowing into Lake Pehoe. We stayed there about half an hour, just drinking in the scenery, before driving down to Lake Pehoe where the Hosteleria Pehoe, built in 1971 - as old as me - is nestled in the middle of the lake....

Gorgeous right? Imagine waking up to that view of a morning!! I inadvertently captured one of our tour companions in my photo - there he is on the right - the single Chilean guy who the honeymooning couple took under their wing

Hosteleria Pehoe was the first accomodation in the park and I believe you can stay there for around $120 per night per room, although I read it's not very comfortable and all the rooms supposedly face into an interior courtyard, but who cares, you don't have to walk far for the view. This was my second favourite sight from the trip. It was breathtaking, although the photo just doesn't capture the full beauty of it.

After lunch at Parilla Pehoe - my friends will be shocked to hear I had steak, given my pseudo veggie past - we drove on, over the Rio Paine visit the shores of Lago Grey. This required a short walk through a wood and down to a bay. Up until this point it was actually pretty warm in the park and we didn't really need to bother with all the hats, gloves, coats we'd brought with us, so I'm not sure why I grabbed all my paraphenalia for the walk down to Lago Grey, but I'm glad I did. Windiest beach EVER!!! Invigorating though. This was my favourite part of Torres Del Paine.

That's us on the lower left, freezing our arses off on the beach, that's me in the blue coat, looking like the Michelin man in my triple layers. Do you see those blue blobs in the water? Ice floes from Glacier Grey. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!! I loved it though!!

After that it was back in the minivan and onto our final stop, Lago Toro, the largest lake in the park. When Melissa perked up at the mention of the Toro, "What was that? Did he say Concha y Toro, as in the vineyard? I'd love a glass of their cabernet right now."

She's wine mad that one!!

Monday, 26 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 3 - Punta Arenas, Patagonia

We got up early on Tuesday 12th - hideously early, like 5am or something – to catch an 8.30am flight to Punta Arenas in Patagonia. You may have seen Punta Arenas in the news recently; it’s the Chilean city those passengers were taken after their Antarctic cruise ship sank and is Chile’s most southern city; although as city’s go it’s on the small side.

When we were booking the trip we found that flying to Punta Arenas from Santiago can be pricey if you try to book from outside of Chile and at the time we were looking LAN Chile were charging close to $700 for the 3½ hour flight. $700!!!! Can you believe that? Extortionate considering we’d paid less, $680, for 12hours of flying from New York to Santiago, however the good news is that you can sneak around the prices by emailing a nice Chilean travel agency, like
Cocha, and having them book flights on your behalf, as we did and ended up saving ourselves almost $400 on the prices quoted on Kayak. Bargain, well, relatively.

Anyway back to the hols recap, we arrived in Punta Arenas, or Sandy Point if you were to call it by its English name – Spanish is infinitely better, right - around lunchtime and immediately noted we were a good 20years younger than your average Patagonian tourist, many of whom were in Punta Arenas courtesy of the Norwegian Dream cruise ship. It was also a good 10 or 20degrees warmer than the brass monkeys temperatures I’d layered up for. It was breezy though and it turned out you do need to carry about hats and stuff, since it can quickly turn foul.

After a lunch of pulpi con arroz at
Sotitos we sauntered over to the travel agency, Tourismo Pali Aike, to pick up the vouchers for our tours of Torres Del Paine and Bernardo O’Higgins National Parks from Alejandra, the travel agent I’d worked with to arrange our time in Patagonia. After giving us all the necessary bits and pieces for our tours Alejandra whipped out a city map and highlighted the location of our hotel in relation to the local bus station where we’d be catching a 5pm bus to Puerto Natales the following afternoon. Alejandra then asked us if we would like her to highlight the sights of Punta Arenas on the map, to which we eagerly nodded our thanks, thrilled to get some local insight. She beamed, seemingly excited to show off her home city, and carefully circled a look out point and two museums.

We had to laugh when, after such initial enthusiasm, Alejandra paused, frowned at the map, sighed in resignation and, shrugging apologetically, told us that 2 museums and a look out point was all there was to see in Punta Arenas.

In our opinion she sold it short; Sandy Point is a cute little city...

Left, from top to bottom: Statue of Ferdinand Magellan in the town square, named after ol' Ferdinand who discovered the straits in 1520. Local custom has it that those who rub the foot of the statue will return to Punta Arenas; the historic and sumptuous Sara Braun mansion, also in the square, half of which has been converted into the Hotel Nogueira - named for Sara's husband Jose, where we later stayed for one night on our return from roughing it in Puerto Natales.

In the cellar of the hotel is a bar, La Taberna, where we enjoyed a vaina, the cocktail shown on the left in the middle, a Chilean drink made from sherry, chocolate liqueur, cognac, powdered sugar and an egg yolk.

It's a lot like drinking trifle!!

It's actually not bad as a dessert, but a bit on the sweet side and it certainly doesn't go well with cheese empanaditas. You can't really drink more than one....except we did. When our waiter came over and said something to us in Spanish which included the English word happy, I nodded and said yes we were happy, not realising that he wasn't asking us if we were content, but asking if we wanted another Vaina as it was happy hour - 2 for the price of 1. Duh!! Well who knew that the English word for 'happy' would also be used in the Spanish phrase for happy hour (hora happy? I'm not sure I didn't quite catch it). I later realised this when I checked the menu after we received our second Vaina, not by understanding our waiter after the fact. My Spanish is not THAT good. In fact my Spanish is terrible as I demonstrated when instead of telling the waiter 'no entiendo' - I don't understand - I said 'no encantado', I'm not singing!! Generally I got a lot of funny looks from the Patagonians when I tried to speak Spanish.

Unfortunately we couldn't face a second, overly sweet, Vaina so we surreptitiously poured our drinks into our empty aqua sin gas bottles and snuck them out in my handbag, intending to throw it away outside rather than leave it and risk offending our waiter, except by the time we walked the 15minutes back to our hotel by the straits a Vaina seemed like a good idea, so we drank it, as demonstrated by Melissa in the bottom left photo. We're a couple of classy birds. The main photo shows the view of Punta Arenas from the lookout point with the Norwegian Dream cruise ship in the background.

Speaking of classy birds, we got up early the next morning to visit the Otway Sound penguins, about an hours drive out of Punta Arenas. Apparently the best time to visit penguins is in the afternoon when they've come back from fishing which is when most of the tours go, however we couldn't do that as we had to catch a 5pm bus to Puerto Natales, so while we didn't see quite as many penguins, we did have them all to ourselves. So cute!!

Although these two, running amok in the grass were our favourites. I know, grass!!! Weird right? I never knew penguins inhabited grassy areas, but these particular ones, Magellenic penguins, live in small caves in a field by the edge of the Seno Otway. This pair were clearly up to no good, waddling around as fast as their little penguin feet would take them while the other penguins were out catching fish. They looked so mischievous I'm sure if they were human they'd no doubt have an ASBO or two :-)

Next and final Chile recap, Torres Del Paine and Bernardo O'Higgins National Parks.

Friday, 23 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 2 - Valparaíso, Viña Del Mar & Wine Tasting at Concha y Toro vineyard

On our second day in Chile we took a 10am TurBus Busscar coach from Alameda station for a day trip to Valparaíso, 74miles North West of Santiago on the Pacific coast; a city which once enjoyed a golden age as the principal seaport for ships sailing around the Cape Horn, that is until the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. However it’s still Chile’s most important port, and, according to Wikipedia it’s seen a resurgence in traffic over the last few decades “with fruit exports, increasing opening of the Chilean economy to world commerce, and Panamax ships that do not fit the Panama Canal.”

The trip out to the coast takes about 2hours by bus – it kept stopping to drop people off seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a bit like the scene in North by Northwest when Cary Grant is chased by the plane. I love that movie, although I’ve probably watched it once too often as I kept expecting the bus to be pursued by a crop-duster!!! – its a very scenic trip, albeit a bit repetitive, as we passed through vineyard after vineyard after vineyard, Veramonte, Morande and Casablanca to name a few. I later learned the area supposedly has the perfect climate for growing Sauvignon Blanc grapes. Melissa, however saw none of this since she was completely spark out, snoozing for the entire journey. Although I couldn’t say I blamed her, since we’d got up hideously early that morning to get the bus and the Busscar coach was extremely comfortable. She later claimed it to be the best two hours sleep of her life and says she’s considering doing research into whether Busscar also make beds. In fact so enthralled was Melissa by the comfort of these buses that if you were to ask her what her favourite aspect of her trip to Chile was I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if she said the
Busscar buses, closely followed by the Alfajores, chocolate coated cookies with a dulce de leche filling. Mmmmm!!!

…But back to Valparaíso, an interesting, if slightly run down, city of colourful homes hugging steep hills overlooking the Pacific ocean; a higgledy piggledy maze of streets and passages to explore and lots and lots of ‘ascensors’ – elevators in English, it doesn’t have quite the same ring as ascensors does it? – raising you from the seafront to the mish mash of streets above. We spent about an hour or so wandering around, trying to make sense of the suggested tour route in our guide book – it’s all very well giving us street names to follow when the streets don’t have piggin’ signs. Pht – and feeling a lot like we were lost in a giant maze. In general we liked Valparaíso and thought it was an interesting city, but we both agreed that as tourists Valparaíso wasn’t a city we’d necessarily have felt comfortable in at night, as although it didn’t feel unsafe during the day, it seemed all too easy to get lost and end up somewhere a bit dodgy.

Left, from top to bottom: Monument to the Heroes of Iquique; erm…..not sure what this is, it’s an official building, but I couldn’t tell you which one; Ascensor Peral; Pasaje Bavestrello. Main pic: a view of the hills.

Below is a view of the port from the hills. As you can see it’s quite an industrial city.

After stopping for lunch we decided we’d pretty much exhausted Valparaíso - you've seen one ascensor, you've seen 'em all - and decided to take the train to neighbouring Viña Del Mar, a popular beach resort 15minutes away.

Viña Del Mar is nice, very pretty and well maintained, but unless you are a beach person, which neither of us are, there’s not an awful lot to do there, save for the small botanical garden and a few fancy mansions built by Viña’s early 20th Century elite. We had a walk around and stopped for a coffee and ice-cream, or 'Té con leche' in Melissa's case. She drank a lot of tea while we were in Chile, although none so unusual as the one she was served in the cafe in Viña, I remember she looked at me in complete horror as the waiter indicated her to put her tea-bag in the bottom of her cup and the proceeded to pour hot milk over it. I couldn't help but laugh, which upset our waiter a bit and we had to explain to him in broken Spanish that 'Té con leche' was typically served with agua caliente y un poco de leche frio. He seemed somewhat placated, although it wouldn't have surprised me if he'd spit in our ice cream.

Anyway, here are a few pics of the botanical gardens and the beach.

Left, pictures of Quinta Vergara Park/Botanical Garden. From top to bottom: Palacio Vergara, once a home of the Portuguese shipping magnate Francisco Alvarez and his wife who created the park; a sculpture made from a tree; cutsie mum and baby elephant topiaries. Main pic: Playa Acapulco and Playa Mirasol beaches which are divided by the pier.

On Monday 12th, our 3rd day and final day in Santiago before our flight to Patagonia on Tuesday morning, we booked ourselves on a half day vineyard tour through our hotel for a cost of 25,000 Chilean pesos - about $50 US. The tour bus was scheduled to pick us up at 1pm - there were also all day tours, but we'd sampled enough Chilean wine with dinner during our first couple of days in Santiago to not be so keen on the idea of drinking before noon - so we spent the morning wandering around the sights close to the hotel in downtown Santiago including the Barrio Paris Londres (top left of the photo below), a small hodge podge of small mansion houses lining Calles Paris and Londres behind our hotel; the Plaza de Armas (bottom left), the central square of downtown Santiago where they were in the process of putting up the Christmas tree, although not a proper tree, just leaves - possibly fake leaves at that - over a frame; and Casa Colorado (main pic), the red house, one of the best preserved colonial structures in the city and former residence of Mateo de Toro y Zambrano, a successful 18th century business man, now housing the Museo de Santiago.

Afterwards we headed over to scale the heights of the Cerro Santa Lucia, a charming hill top park off the main downtown street, Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins and a stones throw from our hotel.

We'd seen all the sights with an hour to spare before the tour was due to pick us up, so we decided it would probably be a good idea to line our stomachs with a sandwich before wine tasting, and ducked into a little hole in the wall cafe across the street from the hotel on the busy Avenida Bernardo O'Higgins to order a ham and cheese sandwich each - I completely gave up on my pseudo vegetarianism - no meat, only fish, with the occasional exception for the divine pork buns at Momofuku Ssam - while in Chile. In Patagonia I even ended up scoffing beef and lamb at Parilla's when the menu was limited to that or chicken, and Melissa subtitled the trip, 'Chile, the unravelling of the vegetarian.' The coffee served in the hole in the wall cafe was divine and we rhapsodized over it being the best coffee EVER!! Melissa and I both have a few airs and graces when it comes to coffee drinking in New York, Melissa spends at least $12 on a bag of coffee and has all the paraphenalia, grinders and what not, and while I don't have all that, I love stopping by the artisanal coffee shops in the city such as Cafe Grumpy and Ninth St Expresso, so you can imagine we were quite embarrassed when we later realised we'd been drinking granulated Nescafe with hot milk. Ooopsie!! Ha ha!!

The wine tasting was about an hours drive south of Santiago at a vineyard in Pirque in the Maipo Valley, an area known for cabernet sauvignon, belonging to the Concha y toro winery, Chile’s largest, and founded in 1883 by Melchor Santiago de Concha y Cerda and his wife, Emiliana Subercaseaux.

The winery is known for, among others, its Casillero del Diablo (Devil’s cellar) range of wines and legend has it that in the 19th century, Don Melchor noticed wine was being stolen from his cellar by villagers, and to put a stop to it he spread a rumour his cellar was inhabited by the devil. At least that’s the version told to us by Kristen who took us on the tour through the vineyard. However according to our tour rep, Carolina, the unofficial story is that Don Melchor was carrying on with a woman named Ameliana and the cellar was where they met for their secret assignations. Oh, and Ameliana, she was apparently Don Melchor’s niece. HIS NIECE!!!!!!!

The dirty old bugger!!!

We also learned of Chile’s production of Carménère, a grape variety originally from Bordeaux, which was almost completely wiped out in France by phylloxera in the late 1800s, but which thrives in Chile. However until 1994 Chile inadvertently collected and pressed Carménère along with Merlot grapes and bottled and sold them as Merlot, not realising the two grapes were different varieties. It wasn’t until a 1994 visit from a French wine making expert that the mistake came to light and they realised the Carménère grape was alive and well and living in Chile – due to some vines brought over from France by early European settlers – and very nice it is too. I brought a bottle home. They also make a gorgeous cabernet sauvignon, Marques de Casa Concha. Mmmmmm!!

And on that educational note I shall love you and leave you with these photos of the vineyard. Next up, Patagonia!!

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Chile Trip Nov 2007: Part 1

So obviously I am back from Chile. I had a great time and almost wished I could have stayed a few days longer so that I could have squeezed in a visit the hot springs in Pucon, but they will save for another trip, since Melissa and I certainly intend to return.

We started our trip on Friday 9th November, taking a late afternoon flight from Newark to Atlanta and then connecting to a 9.10pm flight to Santiago and landing in Chile around 8.30am on Saturday morning. The hotel check in wasn’t until 3pm, so we figured we’d drop our bags and explore the city, but luckily the people at the hotel, the Plaza San Francisco in downtown Santiago – highly recommended – were nice enough to let us check in early, 5.5hours early, so we were happily able to shower off the flight and change before heading out to see the sights. Our first stop was the Cerro San Cristóbal, a 485m high hill – that’s about 1591feet for you non-metric types - in the Bellavista neighbourhood on the north side of Santiago city centre, which both our guide books had indicated as an essential first stop, recommending either taking the steep walk that would take approx. an hour – ha, yeah right – or the funicular that lifts visitors to the summit for ‘exquisite views’ – smog permitting – of Santiago.

It took about half an hour to walk through the centre of downtown Santiago from our hotel and my first and as it turned out, unfair, impression of the city was that it was a bit run down and not very pretty. I think I was a little spoiled with my first trip to South America being to Buenos Aires which just smacks you in the face with its beauty, Buenos Aires really is the Paris of South America; it’s a stunning city; however Santiago definitely has its charms. You just have to work a little harder to find them. When we arrived at the park – Cerro San Cristóbal is located inside Parque Metropolitano, or maybe it’s the other way around and Parque Metropolitano is on Cerro San Cristóbal . Hmmm!! I’m not sure, but either way it’s a park on a huge hill – we bought tickets for both the funicular and the cable car, or teleférico as it’s known in those parts, and loaded into the funicular with about 20 or so other people to set out for the peak.

I quite enjoyed the ride at first. It was a lovely day; the breeze blew through my hair, it was really very pleasant, but then the damn thing just kept going up and up and up and up and up…

Jesus, were we ever going to STOP!!!!

I looked down at where we’d come from and whew, omigod it was a long way down. I felt dizzy as I envisaged a freak accident with the funicular tumbling off the side of the cliff – seriously it didn’t feel like a hill anymore, it was definitely cliff-like – and us plummeting to our deaths. The fact that the funicular had functioned perfectly well since 1925 did nothing to appease the knots in my stomach and I was close to hiding on the carriage floor until we reached the top. However there were children riding alongside me quite happily in the funicular, many many children, all of them acting a lot braver than me, and…well I have my pride, so I gritted my teeth tried to focus on our destination rather than sure fire death onto the ground below.

Oh yeah, so in case I’ve never mentioned it before, I’m afraid of heights and it was on shaky legs that I finally escaped the funicular to soak up the spectacular views of the city.

Breathtaking!! I’m so glad I was so brave :-)

Santiago has a quirky, but spectacular topography. It’s nestled, snug as a bug in a rug, in an enormous valley which has the Andes to the east and the Chilean Coastal Range, to the west, however in the middle it’s pretty much as flat as a pancake, save for a couple of enormous hills.

As for the summit, well the place was hopping. Cerro San Cristóbal is clearly the place to be of a Saturday afternoon in Santiago, it was also surprisingly full of cyclists in their clingy little lycra outfits. Ooh my eyes!! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I disapprove of this fashion practice I really do. I really don’t need to see their bits thank you very much, and it certainly didn’t seem appropriate with so many children present, but I did admire their gumption in cycling up that damn hill.

After a jamon y queso sandwich and a café con leche at the café atop the hill we headed over to catch the teleférico which connects the two sides of the park for a visit to the botanical garden, a trip that nearly didn’t happen since I almost bottled it when I noted the two to three hundred foot drop beneath the egg shaped cars as they swung off the lip of the teleférico station and made their way over the hills.


However I did it, not with any dignity this time though since there was only Melissa to witness my fear. I clung on to that little pole inside the car for dear life as Melissa quite happily moved around in her seat to take in the views all around us. I felt the little car sway on its wire each time she moved. It wouldn’t have been the best start to our vacation had I shouted at her to sit still, so I kept my mouth shut, but I have to say I was close.

Anyway here are a few photos from my journey of terror. From top to bottom: The view of Santiago as we ascended the hill in the funicular; the view from the summit – can you see the mountains in the distance? It’s a bit hazy, but if you squint you can make ‘em out; the 22m high (72ft) statue of the Virgin de la Inmaculada Concepción on the summit – after the trip up I said a few Hail Mary’s to her I can tell you; the detestable teleférico – so not terrifico fun for me; a cable car passing by the botanical gardens en route to the Estación Teleférico Oasis. Do you see how high up that is? I swear those skinny wires could snap like rotten twigs. I was expecting a visit from the Grim Reaper during that little trip I don’t mind telling you.

After descending from the summit we wound our way through the streets of Bellavista, to visit La Chascona, the former Santiago residence of Pablo Neruda, considered one of the greatest and most influential poets of the 20th century, a poet that I’d…um…ahem…cough….never heard of until this trip. This despite him winning a noble prize for literature in 1971 and there being an Oscar winning 1994 movie, Il Postino, loosely inspired by his political exile in Italy. A movie I’ve heard of but have yet to see. Rest assured I’ll be renting it sharpish!! I’ll also probably be investing in one of his books. I feel quite shamefaced about admitting to having never heard of him, but hey ho, you can’t know everything can you?

Neruda built La Chascona ("woman with tousled hair") in 1953 named in honour of Matilde Urrutia his secret lover until 1955 and later his third wife. Her hair was so crazy her friends nicknamed her Medusa according to our guide. La Chascona is a quirky, but charming house built on a steep piece of land and full of knick knacks Neruda collected over the years such as sea shells and giant advertising props, such as the shoes and the clock you can see in the photo on the far right.

These aren’t my photos. Melissa took quite a few, but we’ve yet to regroup and exchange pics, so I nabbed these from Flickr and from the Neruda Foundation website. Credit where credit is due, from L-R: Rogellex, Buitycakes, Kunstmann &

Less lengthy posts on Valparaiso, Vina Del Mar, Vineyards and Patagonia to follow.

Move over Amy Winehouse

I just heard this song on Radio1 and I LOVE it. The singer is Duffy and the song is Rockferry. It's produced by the fabulous Bernard Butler. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Hola Chicos!!

So, I am back in work today after my South American jaunt. I arrived home yesterday and my God I was soooo knackered. We left the hotel in Santiago at 7pm Chilean time (5pm US) on Sunday and I finally arrived at my apartment at 1.30pm on Monday. What's that, 18.5hours of travelling? I really don't know how people make those long distance trips to the likes of Australia, especially when you factor in jet lag, at least that's not a problem with Chile, they’re only 2hours ahead of New York, but I was so tired from being scrunched up in a plane seat for 12hours, I spent much of yesterday at home trying to relax and simultaneously minimise my air travel induced cankles by lying on my living room floor with my legs up against the wall whilst catching up with my DVR. It was quite a nice way to spend the afternoon :-)

Anyway Chile was FABBO, well worth the long trip and YES, the water really does go down the plughole the other way. We were thrilled when we realised that. We tried to determine whether that was true when we went to Argentina a few years back, but couldn’t quite tell, but we discovered it is indeed a fact while rinsing out wine glasses in our hotel room – yes, it was that sort of vacation, well it would have been rude not to partake of a beverage. The Chileans are famed for their grape pressing abilities and I have to say they do a lovely line in Cab Sauv.

Anyway, I shall report on my trip in detail in the coming days/weeks. I need to plough through my notes – yes kids I made notes – and the 300 or so photos I took of mountains and glaciers first to pick out some good/decent ones, but in summary, Melissa and I both loved Chile to bits. It’s the most phenomenal country and we both definitely hope to go back in the not too distant future.

We arrived in Santiago on Saturday 10th November and used the city as a base for 3days for exploring, including a day to the coastal towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar and a half day’s visit to a vineyard in the Maipo valley, about an hour south of Santiago, before heading down to Patagonia for 4days, first stopping in the formerly wealthy port town of Punta Arenas and visit the Otway Sound penguins and then heading to Puerto Natales to experience Torres Del Paine national park (spectacular) and then taking a boat trip through Bernardo O'Higgins National Park to see a couple of glaciers. After 4days of jaw dropping scenery – seeing nature up close like that really does make you feel very small and insignificant – we headed back to Santiago for a day and a bit before our late flight back to New York on Sunday night.

As I said I am back in work today, but thankfully it's a short week since the office closes at 1pm tomorrow for Thanksgiving and doesn’t reopen until Monday 26th.

Do I know how to time a vacation or what?

I'll pretty much have time to wade through my emails, shuffle a few papers before I'm off again. Whoo hoo!!
I love Thanksgiving. It’s not stressful for me like it is for some of my American friends since I don’t have any family obligations; it’s just 2.5 lovely days off work as far as I am concerned. Tel Aviv, work-a-holic that he is, is disappointed his office is closed and is considering working anyway. Do you think he is mentally impaired? Or maybe it’s just because I threatened to take him ice skating at the free rink in Bryant Park :-)

I coerced my friend Nick into going with me last year, when he was over visiting from London. It was um…interesting. Nick is 6foot 4 and built like the proverbial outhouse and non-too steady on two thin blades, especially not after a glass of Rioja. On the other hand I err on the petite side (5ft 1), with a decent sense of balance from all the gymnastics and dance lessons I took as a kid, so while I’m not exactly performing double axels and triple loop jumps, I can usually manage to stay upright for a couple of laps around an ice rink, however being the good friend I am, I took Nick by the arm to guide him around. Not necessarily the wisest move on my part. We’d only been out on the ice 2minutes before he started pin wheeling his arms, his feet started shuffling fast and down he went with a thud. A kindly man helped me pick him up off the ice and off we went again. If memory serves I think we made it another 20yards before he went down again, almost taking me with him this time. It was at that point a little voice in my head said “you know, if he falls on you, he might well kill you.”

In fear for my life - or at least for my bones remaining intact - I decided I’d been enough of a friend and let Nick have a go on his own after that, popping back to check on him every now and again to ensure he wasn't prostrate on the ice. I did appreciate the effort though and treated him to a large martini at Employees Only afterwards :-)

This year I’m having lunch with my Brit friend Nigel. We’ve got a late reservation at Odeon in Tribeca where they’re having their regular menu as well as a Thanksgiving themed prix fixe, but happily they’re not charging an arm and a leg for a bit o’ turkey. Seriously $100 per person is not uncommon in Manhattan restaurants on Thanksgiving. It’s extortionate. Before I knew better I took my parents out for Thanksgiving at the Cub Room in SoHo and paid nigh on $400 when I factored in wine, tax and tip. Eeeek!!!

Anyway I'm off to catch up on more work emails, but here’s a lovely photo of the ice skating in Bryant Park, posted on flickr by Pianoforte. Isn’t it pretty? Nigel is non too keen on accompanying me for a spin around the ice either, but I have a cunning plan to broach the subject again over Thanksgiving dinner once his defences are sufficiently dulled by wine. Hee hee!!

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Temporary Service Disruption

We apologise unreservedly for this temporary disruption in your regular service.

Blog service will be sporadic to non-existent for approximately two weeks while our author undergoes critical maintenance for the restoration of her sanity.

We regret any inconvenience this outage may have caused and thank you for your patience and continued support.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

.....And relax

Hope you’re having a nice weekend. Mine has been very nice and relaxing so far, I had a lovely evening of ‘cherish time’ with Tel Aviv last night, who, knowing I frequently check the keywords driving traffic to my blog, has taken to manipulating my search terms to proffer invitations to meet, such as this one from Thursday…

"tel aviv would like to meet you on friday fishwithoutbicycle".

Cute Tel Aviv, very cute. Very inventive :-)

Then, this afternoon, I met Jacqui for a leisurely brunch at Public restaurant on Elizabeth St, a beautifully designed restaurant, which I love for dinner, and now a restaurant I love for brunch, especially their bellinis. Best ever!!! I highly recommend paying a visit if you’re in town. They also have a great wine bar, the Monday Room, tucked away behind an innocuous looking door behind the hostess station, which is well worth a visit. Yes, all in all it’s been a lovely and relaxing couple of days, something I was in need of after a frenetic week at work trying to get everything sorted before my upcoming trip to South America.

Surprisingly for this trip I haven’t been anything close to my typically uber-organised pre-vacation self. Usually I’m the one that’s read all the guide books, sorted the hotels, made a list of the clothes I need to take, washed and ironed everything and laid them out ready for packing into my suitcase a whole week before I go - hey, don’t mock the afflicted, I can’t help myself, I was a Girl Guide - however, not this time around. This time Melissa and I have both been so busy with work we decided the only way not to explode in a ball of stress was to take a more casual approach and not try and organise everything before we go, so other than having somewhere to stay for the first few days in Santiago we planned to book everything once we got to Chile.

Anyone who knows me will be shocked to hear this – in fact that thunk you just heard is my friend Miles fainting to the floor – since I’m such a planner at heart and if there’s one thing I like to have sorted on a trip to foreign parts, it’s where I’m going to be resting my head of an evening. I’m just not someone willing to take the risk of booking hotels on arrival, since it would be my luck to discover the world’s biggest conference is in town and the only rooms available are in some dilapidated, bug infested hotel in the dodgiest neighbourhood. Call me high maintenance if you will, but I like to stay in a centrally located, roach-free room with a working hair dryer. However this time I just didn’t have time to worry about it, so I allowed the vacation to creep closer and tried not to pay it too much mind; that is until a phone call with my client contact, Patricia, this past Tuesday.

I’ve worked with Patricia sporadically for about 3 or 4 years. She’s a very nice woman, but very focused on the job, she’s not a client who goes in for much personal chit chat, but gets straight down to business. Even though I’ve known her for a while and love working with her I don’t know an awful lot about her on a personal level, so it came as a fortuitous surprise on Tuesday to discover that she’s from Chile, and on finding out that I’m heading to her home country on vacation in a few days, got very excited and started giving me recommendations of places to visit in Santiago and Patagonia, with the warning "whatever you do don't go to Patagonia without booking hotels, or any tours you want to do of the national parks in advance. If you don’t have it booked when you arrive there, they'll see you as desperate tourists and rip you off. It will cost you a fortune"

Hmmmmm!! Time to start doing a bit more research, and as my conversation with Patricia progressed I realised that organising accommodation wasn’t the only way in which I was unprepared…

PATRICIA: Are you planning to go to Torres Del Paine?
ME: Yes, we're thinking of hiring a car and driving up to Puerto Natales and using the town as a base for exploring.
PATRICIA: You should organise your car hire when you’re in Santiago, I recommend Eco-Rent. If you wait until you arrive in Punta Arenas they’ll over charge you. I assume you have warm outdoor clothing for Patagonia?
ME: Um….warm outdoor clothing. Isn’t it spring in Patagonia right now?
: Yes, but you’ll need outdoor clothing, ideally waterproofs since even in spring there’s a chance of snow. It can snow there even in summer.
ME: It can snow in summer?
PATRICIA: Yes, occasionally. Make sure you take lots of layers as it can feel really cold in Torres Del Paine whatever time of year you’re there, because the winds blow in from Antarctica. The wind is really strong down there; the trees don’t grow upright; they grow sideways.

WHAT!!!! It’s so windy the trees grow SIDEWAYS!!!!

Gulp. Suddenly I wasn't looking forward to my inevitably turbulent flight down to Punta Arenas. Whose stupid idea was it to go to Patagonia anyway? Ahem, oh yes, it was mine!! DOH!!!!

Patricia went on to ask if I had a good pair of hiking boots. Hiking boots!! Clearly the woman doesn’t know me at all. I don't do hiking boots. Cute, trendy leisure shoes for walking around New York, yes, hiking boots no. I may have grown up in the country, but I’m a city girl at heart...when it comes to footwear I’m generally about cute heels and nice handbags thank you very much. Hiking boots indeed.

However Patricia spooked me sufficiently that when we’d finished chatting I immediately went to to order Patagonia appropriate footwear. I LOVE Zappos; it’s the best web store EVER!! If you order a pair of shoes before 1pm they’ll arrive the NEXT DAY!! How great is that? Plus the shipping and returns are FREE, it’s a boon to we shoe fixated types who work long hours, which aren’t conducive to physically visiting shoe shops!!! I also discovered that they now sell outdoor clothing. Perfecto, I’d have this outdoor clothing snafu sorted in no time.

As of Thursday I’m the proud owner of a cosy black jacket, a snugly pair of black fleecy Patagonia brand pants to keep me warm against the Antarctic winds - $75 for fleecey trousers, can you believe that? They’d better bloody launder themselves for that price – and a pair of black Italian hiking boots - yes, even my hiking boots have to be Italian, I can’t help it, I don’t believe in skimping on shoes. They’ve been taking the piss out of me big time at work for ordering everything in black, claiming that even in the wilds of Patagonia I’ll still be dressed like a New Yorker. Pht, so what!! Just because there’ll only be a few pigeons to see me doesn’t mean I can’t be a little stylish now does it? No!! Besides, if I buy everything in black I’ll be able to wear it when it snows in New York. See office piss takers, I’m thinking ahead. There’s that Girl Guide thing again.

I also heeded Patricia’s warning and made inquiries into hotels and tours, in fact the whole week has been one big internet shopping and vacation booking frenzy, with some work thrown in for good measure. I've got the trip to the Penguin sanctuary sorted, all the hotels – nice looking ones too with hairdryers. We're just waiting on confirmation of a 2 day tour of Torres Del Paine and Bernard O'Higgins - very Chilean sounding is ol’ Bernie O'Higgins eh? - National Parks and we’ll be all set!!

And now that I'm more organised, I can’t wait!! :-)