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Downtown Santiago


View Chile: the Land of Contrast on bejjan's travel map.

Woke up during the night every now and then (nevertheless it’s a minus 6 hour time-different compared to Sweden this time of year). But I felt quite alert when I got up just in time for the sunrise over the mountains. The sun’s fearless attempts to shine through all smog finally gave result. Rush hour was already in full speed and lasts between 7 am – 9 am in the morning and 6 pm – 8 pm in the evening. And all the heavy traffic in the central parts of Santiago Metropolitan Region is a main cause to the smog during the winter season that lies like a lid over the city. The smog contains high concentrations of air pollutions like grime, sulfur dioxide and fog. During the winter the Humboldt Current contributes to enclose the smog in between Chilean Costal Mountain Range and the Andes which makes the air so polluted that you barely can see the surrounding Andes from the central parts of Santiago. To the negative side effects belong health issues like headaches, nausea, cardiovascular diseases and asthma, even more serious health issues like lung cancer must also be mentioned. It’s not only the smog but many of the Chilean people smoke as well. Walking out on the streets you are almost guaranteed to get behind someone that smokes. In Chile it’s allowed to smoke outside at every restaurant, but not inside. So if you want a smoke-free environment you want to sit inside the restaurant.

The plan for today was to meet up with my new Chilean friend who offered to guide me downtown during his lunch break. But to get downtown I had to take the subway from Tobalaba via Baquedano to Plaza de Armas. The subway here in Santiago is one of the cleanest and safest in the world and I totally agree. I felt safe as a tourist to get around and on top of that it was well cleaned (unlike the subway in Stockholm) and well-posted signs so even I could get from A to B without getting lost. The ticket prices are slightly different during the day, divided into rush hour and non-rush hour time. One single ticket during rush hour costs 690 CLP (0.93 Euro) and non-rush hour costs 630 CLP (0.85 Euro). If you plan to use the subway frequently you may as well buy a subway card. As a tourist I would not recommend taking the local buses. First of all you cannot buy the tickets onboard, second you really need to know which bus to take since the buses usually only have a number (no destination name) and third you can forget any kind of time schedule since the buses can’t stick to it anyway due to heavy traffic.

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Downtown has well-marked walking streets without traffic and a lot of stores. Since I was a little early I had an hour to spend and getting to know the streets. Paseo Estado, Paseo Ahumada, Paseo Puente and 21 de Mayor are all walking streets that starts from Plaza de Armas. Plaza de Armas is a square from which Santiago’s original city plan was designed after (like a grid) and counts as the heart and soul of Santiago. Unfortunately the entire square was closed when I visited Chile due to rebuild of the underlying subway system. Characteristics for the stores along the walking streets seemed to be shoes. Store after store replaced each other and it was sales everywhere - in other words a heaven for a shop-aholic! And just like the food, clothes and shoes are much cheaper here in Chile than Sweden. I took the opportunity to eat something before I met my friend. The temperature for the day was no less than +30 °C and bright sunshine, true summer temperature even though it was winter season. So the high temperature outside didn’t made you that hungry but you still need to eat something to manage the day.

So my friend and I met outside Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago situated just in front of Plaza de Armas. We walked along the streets and my friend told me a lot of facts about Chile, Santiago and the Chilean people. I don’t remember it all but it was interesting to listen and learn about another culture. We got to Museo Bellas Artes, an art museum that unfortunately looked very much closed. We kept on going towards Cerro Santa Lucía (Santa Lucia Hill) which is a small hill (69 meters high) in the central Santiago.

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The hill is the remains of a 15 million year old volcano but nowadays represents a green park decorated with flowers, stairs and water fountains. Up on the highest peak of the hill is a popular view point with a 360° outlook over Santiago Metropolitan Region. The hill was first named Huelén but got its current name Cerro Santa Lucía since the hill was conquered by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia on the Lucía day (December 13th) in 1541. Pedro de Valdivia had founded Santiago on February 12th that very same year and became the first royal governor in Chile.

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Thanks to the extreme heat neither of us wanted or had the strength to walk upstairs to the view point at the very top of Santa Lucia Hill. But we got a great view from where we did walk. By the tourist information office we asked for a map over Downtown that I could use for the rest of the week. From Santa Lucia Hill we walked along Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, via Barrio París-Londres with its narrow cozy cobblestoned alleys (well worth a visit), passing Biblioteca Nacional, Universidad de Chile and ended up near the Palacio de la Moneda (La Moneda Palace).

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La Moneda Palace (or just La Moneda) is the home for the president. The palace occupies a whole quarter in downtown Santiago in the area known as Civic District. Here I had to say goodbye to my friend since he had to get back to work. I took the opportunity to walk all the way back, which we just walked, to learn how to orient myself in the city. And proud to say, but I managed to walk all the way back via Santa Lucia Hill and back to Plaza de Armas without looking at the map once! Now the time was about 4 pm and the warm weather had made me all sweaty and warm so shopping was out of the question. I took the subway back to Tobalaba and went back home to the apartment instead. During the walk from the subway to the apartment I did have time to reflect over the sidewalks here in Santiago. Very rough, sometimes big gaps and every now and then a plate stuck up. I don’t know how many times I stumbled but I learned pretty quickly to lift my feet up high and watch out where I walked.

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Well back in the apartment I ate the food I brought home yesterday in the doggy-bag which still tasted good. Then I behold the arrival of the night from the balcony and the street lights lit up one by one. When the sun had disappeared behind the mountains it instantly got cold and chilly outside. Rush hour came and went but the traffic was still heavy afterwards. But what can you expect in a big metropolitan region with 6 million inhabitants? I must say it is generally a higher speed in the traffic than I’m used to. They almost drive like maniacs and honk all the time. But they do respect the pedestrians and I felt safe walking in the city and on crosswalks – they will stop for you.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged cities santa_lucia_hill

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