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Thursday, December 07, 2006

NOW THAT I'M HOME

THURSDAY, Dec. 7/06

I've landed, with the usual 'thud' and cultural shock that follows every trip away to exotic destinations. First, the weather. After enjoying the glorious sunshine (30+) of Chile and Argentina, almost forgetting it was actually December, and nearly Christmas -- reminded of it only because of the Christmas decorations and music in the malls of Santiago and Mendoza,-- it was somewhat of a shocker to arrive in Toronto to -3 and snow flurries. (I was grateful that the weatherman cleared the snow away in Vancouver for my arrival and the temperature here was a balmy 5 C)

In Toronto, Patrick and I bundled up and went about town in spite of the climate change, braving the weather like Arctic explorers. The first 'hint' we'd landed in another culture was when a woman emerged from the metro station cussing aloud to no-one in particular. I always notice, when I return to Canada from abroad, the potty-mouths of the people here. It's quite astounding that the "F" word has become common usage in our language. Second reality shock: seeing people actually lying on the sidewalks in that freezing weather. Well...here we are back in the affluent land of Canada surrounded by beggars and homeless folk. We had just come from a country where there is extreme poverty, but frankly it wasn't 'in you face' like it is here. Yes, there are homeless (lots of them) in Santiago. I know because my friend Cecilia feeds the few who 'live' on the park benches near her cafe, and every Christmas Eve she opens up her cafe to cook meals for the poor street people. I also know that in the '70's before the junta, she and Anibal worked in the shanty towns with the poor. And I saw for myself some of the corragated tin shacks and hovels where the poorest of the poor live on the outskirts of Santiago and in Valparaiso. But Chile is a country that has gone through great struggles over the past years and is overcoming them. This is Canada, an affluent land with a supposed democratic government. A country where the rich keep getting richer and there are more and more poor and homeless and desperate people on the streets. (Just saw a TV program on the news last night about this very situation. It's appalling and disgusting what is happening here in my beautiful city, and elsewhere across the country.)

In reflecting on my Chilean travels, we were so impressed with the dignified, courteous manner of the Chileans. There were no obviously 'angry' or distrubed people in the throngs we passed daily. Never once did we feel threatened though people would actually stop us sometimes and reminds us to carry our back-packs in front to avoid thefts. Once a woman even pulled her car up to a stop and called out to us. People CARE about others in Chile.

In all our rides on the metros I was almost always offered a seat. And the crowds getting on the off the train cars were courteous and patient - no pushing and shoving, everyone acting in an orderly fashion. In spite of the poverty, no obvious beggars and spare changers that you get every few feet when you walk the main streets of Vancouver. Only once did we see anything that was distrubing: and that was the night we went late to Baquedano metro station. There was an odd character standing on the corner with a plastic bag over his head (obviously a mentally ill person), and shortly after this weird sight, a guy came off a bus doing karate kicks. The last night in Santiago, again at this metro station, we saw a man lying on the curb (probably drunk). Honestly, that was the only time we encountered this sort of thing which is so common here on our streets. (In Valparaiso, a sea port, which is a little scruffy and run-down in the port area, we did feel a bit wary but nothing actually happened to provoke this.) In general people were very helpful and friendly. There were many acts of kindness and generosity, especially from our gracious hosts, Cecilia and Mommy and their family members who were kind enough to fetch and deliver us to the airport. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality. And my lasting impressions of this beautiful country are all the most pleasant.

There were tears when we had to say goodbye. "Next time stay two or three months!" Cecilia said. Actually we do plan to return, and we will stay longer. She suggested that when we come again she'll travel to the south of Chile with us. That's really something to look forward to!

Monday, December 04, 2006

HOMEWARD BOUND

SUNDAY, Dec 3/06

Our last day, and I'm soaking up the moments, keeping them for memory. I feel sad we are leaving. We have been made to feel so very much part of the family here. We have stayed pretty much at home today, resting up for the long trip home. This morning we stopped in to have a look at the Catholic Cemetary which is on the road near the General Cementario. It's like a big fortress with a high stone wall around it. Inside are incredible tombs, some dating back to the 1800's, and a lot of fancy statuary. There is big chapel inside and a Mass was being performed. The church was full of people and on the streets and inside there were crowds buying flowers (for here and the General Cementary). We bought grandma and Cecilia huge bouquet of orange and yellow lilies and white and blue roses, then went home to spend a quiet day visiting. Cecilia had prepared a delicious steak and vegetable plate for our last special lunch.

At the moment in Santiago there is much rejoicing at the emminent death of the old Pinochet who was taken to the hospital in serious condition this morning, and supposedly is to have a heart surgery any time now (which likely he won't survive). Too bad we'll miss all the joyful street demonstartaions when he finally kicks to the bucket.

"Are you excited to leave?" Cecilia asked
"No. I was excited when I was coming here. I am sad to leave," I replied.

But our time is up. And even the beauitufl Lose Andes came out to say goodbye. It's the clearest we've seen Aconagua since we got here! What a lovely send-off!

Cecilia's brother Enrique came with his car to drive us to the airport along with his lovely wife Marisol. She brought us each a present and we were very touched. Then we all (except Grandma who stayed home to look after gato) got in the car and we headed off for the airport. I have to admit there were tears when we left. We will never forget this wonderful holiday, the generosity and kindess that was shown us and we are forever grateful. "Come back soon and next time stay a longer time," Cecilia said. We certainly will!

LATER

We are in Toronto now, Monday Dec 4, after a very good flight from Santiago. No bumps or scary bits this time, and actually it was quite restful. Doing a bit of sightseeing around Toronto and homeward bound tomorrow. I'll post another blog when I return with recaps of thoughts and things I might have forgotten.
You can be sure, as soon as I can, I'll head back down to Chile!

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: A DAY TRIP TO VALPARAISO

SATURDAY, December 2/06

Today we caught a bus for a daytrip to Valparaiso on the coast. Only 1000 pesos return ($10) on a very nice airconditioned TourCan bus, one of many which run frequently between Santiago and the Coast towns. The hour and half trip heads west through the lush green countryside and coastal hills to the seacoast. Valparaiso (nicknamed La Perla Del Pacifico = the Pearl of the Pacific) is the second most important port in Chile, with a population 260,000. It's considred one of the most uniqure cities in Chile and certainly one of the most unusual. It was named a Unesco World Heritage site in 2003. It could be described as Latin America's San Francisco because most of the city is built on the many 'cerros' (hills) that surround the harbour. The flat city centre, which we found rather shabby and in places run-down, didn't have the grand old buildings that Santiago has and what were there seemed mostly neglected with little restoration evident. Where the city has its charm is on the ceroos.

The hills are so steep you must take an ascensor (funi cular elevator) that creks at 40 degree angles up the hillside. On these cerros, with their labyrinthine roads, houses build on stilts, one on top of the other it seems, some of them new, others crumbling mansion, all of them painted vibrant colours. And then there's the stunning panoramic vistas down across the city rooftops, the scoop of the wide harbour with its navel ships and freighters, and the vast Pacific beyond.

The town has a unique faded grandeur and on some of the cerros, a bohemian charm. (In the lower town, we noticed the many criss-crossed electrical wires , the crumbling pavements, the narrows streets many of which are dirty and run-down. Obviously they lack the constant cleaning crews that sweep the streets clean in Santiago). Some of the cerros house the countries poorest shanty towns, houses made of corrogated tin, many of them ramshackle and ready to cave in. Apparantly petty crime is common in Valparaiso. And here we saw some unsavory characters lurking, felt a bit unnerved at times, which we never did in Santiago. (Perhaps because it's a seaport?)

In the distant past, the city was the first port of call for ships coming round Cape Horn and became a commerical centre and hub of Chile's banking industry. In 1906 a major earhtquake destroyed many of the downtown buildings so only a few of the impressive 19th C. architecture remains. Once the Panama Canal opened, Valparaiso suffered an economic decline and it didn't recover til after WW II. It's still an important port and the navy's presence is an important factor in the city's economy. (Note: don't get caught photographing the naval ships down at the harbour or you may end up in a Chilean prison!) In recent years, Pinochet decided to move the seat of Chile's govenrment to Valparaiso and had a new presidential palace built on property his own family owned. Apparantly the government is (or will be) now moved back to it's original site in Santiago. ***note: the following day, Pinochet was taken to the hospital in serious condition. Aged 90, he is not expected to survive. Before we left there Sunday there were already crowds gathering downtown by the Presidential Palace, waiting to cheer the moment of his death. As yet unpunished for his crimes against the people of Chile, perhaps he'll end up finding the Golden Gates locked when he arrives!)

Patrick and I wanted mostly to see the third house of Pablo Neruda. So we took an ascendor from Espirito Santo up Cerro Bellavista where the house, La Sebastiana, is located. The colourful hodge-podge of houses provided a lot of Kodak moments. We found our way through the maze of narrow lanes to a beauitufl blue and yellow building which we first supposed was the Poet's house. It turned out to be a rather interesting cafe and boutique mall where I did a little more shopping. Then we were directed to where La Sebastiana is located farther up the h ill.

You definitely need a good pair of legs and feet to transverse the cobble and cement byways of the cerros, mostly all uphill by road or steps. People here are very courteous and helpful so in no time we got directed to the right road up the hill. At one point we stopped at a kiosk to buy water and the kindly gold gent who ran the shop brought us out a couple of chairs to sit on under a shadey tree so we could rest awhile before proceeding on our way. The radio was playing a song that Sumalao often plays at the Latin Quarter and I know it was one of Anibal's favorites. So the brief time we spent there on that corner on cerro Bellavista was quite memorable.

Just up the hill a little way farther we located the house. Pablo Neruda didn't spend as much time at La Sebastiana as he did at his other two houses, but he always went there for New Years to watch the annual fireworks from his lookout. The house, which was built by an Italian carpenter named Sebastian (for whom it was named) who Neruda said was a 'poet with wood', like the other houses follows his style of the eccentric layout and the ship motif. The first floor was owned and occupied by two of his friends and the ceiling murals and beautiful stone mosaics were done by the woman, who was an artist. In the lobby are two paintings by Neruda's second wife, w ho was an artist twenty years his senior.

The house of Neruda starts from the second floor, ascending several floors up to the top room which was his study and lookout, with a broad specatacular view of the whole harbour and ocean. Each room in the house is full of the usual trinkets and beauitufl knick knacks he loved to collect and there are some lovely stainedg lass windows. Visitors are given booklets (in your own languat) to read describing the history of each room and the furnishings and objects, and you can wander around at will. No photos of the rooms are allowed but photos of the many vistas are permitted. One of my biggest thrills in this house, as in the others, was to stand by Neruda's desk and look around at what he could see from there when he was writing. In all three houses it was a magnificent view. And surrounding him are all the objects he loved including his books and manuscripts.

After our tour, we tried phoning my friend Hector who was to have arrived in Valparaiso the day before, but he wasn't home, so we decided to walk down the hill back to the city centre. The roads are at such an incline it's dizzying and difficult to walk without feeling like you are tilting forward and falling down and by the end our legs were shaking. (Amazingly, no still muscles the next day!)

We walked along the harbour looking for a cafe and eventually found a funky little diner where we had quite an interesting meal. I wanted fish, and ordered an dish called Chupa, which was a very thick seafood chowder with lots of cheese in it, and a Chilean salad and papas fritas. Patrick had beef dishes. We were both stuff afterwards and by then it was time to head back to the bus depot for the trip back to Santiago.

The ride back was very scenic. We pased by acres and acres of vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards. The valleys between the green hills of the coast and Santiago are stunningly beautiful.

Once we got back we headed for the supermarket where we had accidently left a bag of groceries the night before. Amazingly, they had recorded in a big log book, all the items left behind by customers, and we were told to get the stuff we'd forgotten from the shelves and it was given back to us. No exctra charge. Would Safeway ever do that? We were so impressed.

This is our last night in Santiago. By this time tomorrow we'll be homeward bound. I'm sorry to leave, but know even the best of times must come to an end.

NEXT: HOMEWARD BOUND

Saturday, December 02, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: Cementario General, The City of the Dead

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 1/06

Christmas music is playing in the malls and there is a festive spirit in the air. It seems odd, in this hot summery weather to see the Christmas decorations up.

We went to the Artisan Market in Banquadano this morning for some last minute gift shopping. Then to Cafe Cecilias for lunch. We took pictures of the crewÑ Cecilia, Mommy, Marisol and Leonardo. Then Cecilia took us for a tour of the Cementario General, a sprawling mtropolis of graes -- really, a city of the dead. La Ciudad de los Muertos. Hundreds and thousands of tombs, some incredibly ornate, mausoleums dating ack tothe early years of Santiago, rows and rows of wals of tomb about 2X2, graves of the poor marked with their plain metal crosses and the ordinary man{s simple grve with modest stones decorated with flowers, artificial and real. Some like mini condos for the dead or aprtment blocks. Quite an incredible sight. Here is the final resting place of political figures and Chilean folk heroes and musicians.

As we entered the cemetary there is a high wall engraved with the thousands of those missing and presumed dead from the 1973 military junta and another triple height long wall containing the tombs of those killed and spcaes for those unidentified dead. A very moving sight in memory of those who were murdered during the military regime of Pinochet. It is called Memorial del Detenido Desparecido y del Ejecileto Politico and was opened in 1994.

We visited the graves of Violetta Parra, a beloved Chilean singer´; the impressive monument and tomb of Salvatore Allende; the mordern metallic engraved sculputre marking the grave of Glady Marin, leader of the Communist Party of Chile who died recently, and far back by the graves of the poor and working class, the simple square red painted 2X2 tomb of the famous folk singer Victor Jara, one of those incarcerated in the stadium along with all the thousands of others that had been rounded up during the junta. When he refused to stop playing his songs for the detainees the soldiers smashed his hands and beat him to death.

It was interesting to note the group of young people, some who wouldnt have even been born in Sept 1973 who had come to pay homage to these national heros. How many thousands of those dead or missing were just the same age as these young men and women, because a great many of them were students.

After this interesting tour, Cecilia had to return to work, so Patrick and I went shopping to a big supermarket in Las Condes to buy some special goodies for Cecilia and grandma. They have been so generous and kind to us and refuse to let us treat them. So we loaded up on groceries that we know they like.

When we got back home Cecilia´s oldest son, Carlos was there so we were privileged to meet him. Cecilia was upset with us for buying her those treats but we insisted we wanted to reciprocate for her generosity. We are going to miss our little ´family´here I am invited Ceciia to come and stay with me a few days if she decides to come to Canada next summer. I told her we´d get into mischief!

NEXT: A TRIP TO VALPARAISO AND THE POET´S #3 HOUSE

Thursday, November 30, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE; BACK IN SANTIAGO, THE KISSING CITY

THURSDAY, NOV. 30/06

Here we are back in Santiago Chile, which I have dubbed the ¨Kissing City¨because one thing that has impressed us since arriving here were the numbers of times each day, everywhere you go - in parks, on park benches, on the grass under shady trees, on the street, the metro, the bus...absolutely everywhere, there are couple (young and old) embracing and tenderly kissing. It´s a lovely sight to see and lends a very beautiful, personal atmosphere to this otherwise bustling city.

Our return trip from Mendoza, Argentina was spectacular. The bus came on a different route through the Andes than on our first trip. All the way along we were gawking out the windows, snapping dozens of photos of the amazing scenery. It was a warm, clear day, blue skies and no clouds sheltering the snow caps. It turned out we actually passed by Puente del Incas where we´d intended to go yesterday, although we couldn´t see the Ínca bridge´from the bus. Later on, coming down from the highlands on the twisty ´carocal´´ highway, we reached the green lush valley where herds of hores grazed. I saw several groups of pack horses all geared up and ready for their mountain treks. Eventually after passing through a very long tunnel we were at the Chilean frontier.

There is good security but little hassle at the border crossings here. They have sniffer dogs and lots of police patrols, but there is none of the tension and paranoia you meet at American borders. We had to give up the left over fruit from our lunches but that was about it. Otherwise we passed through with no problem, everyone being friendly, calm and polite.

Later we passed by the town of Los Andes which was founded in 1791 by Ambrosio O´Higgins, viceroy of Peru. The town is near the spectacular ski runs of Portillo near the Argentine border and is noted as the home fo two famous women; Nobel Prize winning poet Gabriel Mistral who taught here for a time, and Saint Teresa de los Andes, a Carmelite nun beatified in 1993.

Back in Santiago by 4 p.m. and happy to be ´home´´ again with our ´family´who were excited to see us so we were greeted by lots of hugs and kisses.

We are down to our last few days now and feel sad that soon we´ll be leaving. The next couple of days will be devoted to seeing some more sights and shopping and on Saturday we plan a day trip to Valparaiso. Tomorrow Cecilia says she´ll tour us around the General´s Cematery near her house where Allende is buried and there is a memorial to the disappeared.

NEXT; More about Santiago

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

ARGENTINA: THE BEST LAID PLANS...

WED. NOV 29/06

Okay..the best laid plans...We got up early this morning planning a day trip to the Andes to see Puente del Inca, which is four hours from here. It´s a natural geological formation called "Bridge of the Incas" because they believe this was the farthest point south in the Andes that the Inca people migrated.

Unfortunatey, our plans went astray when (1) we couldn´t flag a cab. (2) the bus driver said he was going to the terminal when in fact he wasn´t, and we ended up in an entirely different direction out in the suburbs of Goday Cruz. We had no idea where in heck we were or how to get back and furthermore had no change for the bus and couldn´t find a shop to provide us with any. This is an on going hassle here - nobody has coins. Patrick said probably the reason we´ve not seen any beggars is that nobody has change to give them. (Eventually, later that morning, we went to a bank to change some bills and even the bank was short of change.) It reminded me of what it was like Greece during the ´80´s - nobody could provide change ( a good way of overcharging) and consequently I recall sneaking lots of rides on trolleys with less than required for the fares. Anyway, we eventually got back into town (the driver let us on with what coins we had) and we decided to go for a walk to the big Central Park of Mendoza - San Martin Park.

We had actually had pased right by it on the bus returning to Mendoza but didn´t get off, so we had to walk about 10 blocks or more back, however it offered an opportunity to explore some differet areas of the city including the posh residential area bordering the park.

San Martin Park was designed by using English, French and Italian traditions to develop the 400 hectares which includes rose gardens, a park lake, a museum of Natural Science, a zoo, amphitheatre and a football stadium. It is said to have around 500,000 trees of various species including palms, plane tress and various flowering shrubs.

After our park stroll we stopped at an Italian restaurant-bodega for our lunch. It was another gourmet treat although I had to pass on the wine because of my touchy digestion. I ordered an appetizer plate of proscuitto and provolone cheese and a main entree of lasagne neopolitan. It only cost about $8. for the meal including tip.

We came back to the hotel footsore and exhausted and decided to have a nap (all sensible folk here opt for the afternoon siesta) and later we went out to walk around, stopped in at the super market to stock up on goodies for the long bus ride back to Santiago tomorrow. I enjoy visiting super markets in other cities . This one as excellent and had shelves and shelves of wines and liquor as well. (The one we went to in Santiago was just as nice as any I´ve been in, quite exclusive in fact.)

We actually visited the local McDonald´s tonight and I had a big Mac which tasted fine - good Argentine beef. (the meds I got for the touristas seems to have worked okay). And after the blogging we´ll head back to the Plaza and do some last minute shopping from the craft market vendors. Tomorrow it´s up and away early for the 7 hour bus trip back to Santiago. Hopefully we´ll not mess up in the transport to the depot t his time and will make our connections on time! Hasta luego. More to come from my adventures in Chile. Maybe I´ll even spot those elusive condors on the trip back!

ARGENTINA: VISITING THE WINE COUNTRY

TUESDAY, NOV 28/06

MENDOZA: Gran Mendoza is the regional metropolis of the Cuyo Area of Argentina. It is the most important city in the west of Argentina and one of the most affluent with a wide cultural, commercial and industrial development and of course all those vineyards producing the country´s best wine.

The distant view of the Andes, thelarge swathes of green spaces and tress on every street create a beautiful natrual and urbanlandscape. Mendoza is laid out flat so it make it easy and pleasant for strolling on the neatly paved avenues which are lined with restaraunts, shopping malls, street markets and many well kept hotels.

The viticulture regions arund Mendoza include Goday Cruz, Guaymallen, Maipu and Lujan de Curyo. There are hundreds of wine cellars that welcoome tourists and also a number of museums and historic sites. The area produces grapes of the highest quality because of the exceptional landscape and climate conditions.

THE VINEYARDS

Today we headed out early for a visit to the National Wine Museum at Maipu, a small town abut 16 k. from Mendoza. We managed to find our way by local bus, the only hassle being that they require exact change fare and it is nearly impossible here to get (and keep) small change in coins. Some kindly passengers contributed to what we didn´t have and were very helpful showing us where to get off the bus. From the highway it was a short walk down a tree-lined lane to find the Museum. There are tours (free!) at various times so we didn´t have long to wait.

It was an interesting tour explaiing the history of wine making in Mendoza. The first vines were brought from Italy in the 1700´s by an Italian named Felipe and now the vineyard (San Felipe) has over 250 acres of vines. The entire production from old times til now was explained by the guide, a fascinating and interesting tour, seeing the wine making equipment and giant vats and hearing how the various wines are produced. After the tour you get to taste some of the vino tinto and cabernet savignon which they don´t export. I bought a couple of bottles to keep for a special occasion.

After the tour we went back down the road to a very appealing little bodega we had spotted earlier. This turned into a fabulous meal extravaganza, and all for 25 pesos including the tip )which is about $7.50)

This was a day for remembering Roberto Hallberg, my soul-brother and Gemini friend who I spent so much time with during my stays in Athens. He, like Anibal, was an exile from his country due to the military junta in 1978 and always longed to return. He spoke constantly about his country and in particular regaled us with stories of the great wine they had in Argentina. This day brought back so many fond memories of him. Robbie always raved about the food, and food service in his country. He would often cook for me when I was away at lessons, and when I returned home he´d produce thee marvelous gourmet meals served like they did át home´ So today it was a feast to honour Robbie. First, the salad bar which was offered free and had a wide variety of salads and relishes´; next we were served baskets of delicious warm sliced bread, then plates with 3 types of sausages: one plain, one stuffed blood sausage and one I´m certain was pig´s tail (a bit too chewy for my liking). Next came a plate of hot little pastries stuffed with spicey ground meat; then a dish witha piece of veal and a tender slice of beef steak followed by a plate with pork. All the while we were reminded to fill up at the salad bar Finally, a dessert which was half a pear and half a peach with a dollop of caramel syrup on them I had a glass of good red wine with my meal. We were amazed at the service and the elegant way it was prepared (just like Robbie used to prepare meals). I talked about him to Patrick while we dined. I really felt his spirit there today and felt sad to think he never lived long enough to share this adventure with me. Nor, like Anibal, did he ever return to his beloved country, but died of cancer in Athens six years ago.

The only thing that spoiled our wine tasting morning and the fabulous feast at the bodega was when I suddenly got an attack of touristas. Oh my god! What a problem that ended up causing me all day. How embarassing and inconvenient. I wondered how I´d make it back to the city and our hotel and actually I didn´t. It was all quite a disaster. Patrick had some pills on him and I hoped they´d help but it was quite a long seige. Eventually we did get back to Mendoza, took a cab from the bus depot to the hotel. Cleaned up, got some meds at the pharmacy and took a chance of going off to find a craft market we wated to visit. Got there OK and did some shopping, then had to hurry back to the hotel.

Eventually the attacks began to lessen and we went out to stroll in Independence Plaza, a lovely park across from our hotel. There were lots of craft stands set up there, better marchandise than the market we had been to, so we did more shopping for Christmas gifts and souveniers. (I forgot to mention that just before I had gone shopping in one of the many terrific shoe stores they have here and got myself some nice pant boots for only $30. This really is a shoppers paradise and the shops are full of beautiful, stylish clothes and shoes.)

Then, back to the hotel for a good nights sleep and hopefully an end to the stomach troubles as in the morning we plan a trip to the Andes.

NEXT: LOS ANDES and Puente del Inca

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

ARGENTINA: LOS ANDES

MONDAY, Nov 27/06

In an earlier blog when I was planning this trip I wrote extensively about the Andes Mts. and Mendoza, Argentina where we were headed today. I was not disappointed. It was a spectacular journey through Los Andes climbing a switch back narrow highway up to 3,680 meters before descending the valley where Mendoza is located at 6 metres.

Leaving Chile, the fertile Aconcagua Valley is fed by the Rio Aconcagua which flows west from the highest mountain in the Americas. The scenic highway runs the length of the valley and across the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina.

Los Andes are a formidable rocky spine running the length of S. America. They are the second highest range in the world, perpetually snow capped and if one is ´lost in the Andes´it´s a mghty difficult task getting found.

The journey from Santiago took seven hours including a stop at the frontier for passport control. I now have Chile and Argentina stamped in my passport and our arrival here marks the 30th country Patrick has visited, and for me the 16th.

Once we started our ascent from the rocky tors of the Andes, we passed green meadows with herds of beautiful horses grazing, then toward Mendoza, acres and acres of vineyards. Everything is so green and lush in the valley after the bleak snowy landscapes of the mountains. The city is ringed by low foothills, the Andes rise behind. It´s a fairly spread out city (800,00 in the greater area) The streets are lined with grand old shade trees.

We took a taxi from the bus depot to a very nice hotel I had located on the internet, The Hotel San Martin which is on a main boulevard across from Independence Plaza, a beautiful park.
The hotel is charming and costs us only $50 US a night for a very comfortable room, including breakfast. It´s centrally located and all down the boulevard are stylish shops, banks, restaurants and lots to see. The exchange rate is good here, 2.60 pesos per dollar or 3.20 US )more or less) but things are inexpensive and its a good place for shopping and getting bargains.

I must make a note here that the bus service here was excellent (and cheap! about $45 return fare) except the air conditioning wasn´t working and it got mighty stuffy with the sun beating in. We hated to closed the curtains for fear of missing the spectacular scenery along the way. The bus guy comes around with chocolate covered cakes and soda pop for refreshments. At the border there were no hassles, everything orderly and polite. Note: Both the bus depots in Santiago and Mendoza are impressively large and clean and well organized. No problem finding your way around.

After a little look round the centre of town we retired to catch up on much needed sleep and to plan our next day´s excursion.

NEXT: A TRIP TO THE COUNTRY: The San Filipe National Wine Museum at Maipu

Monday, November 27, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: A DAY AT THE BEACH

SUNDAY, Nov 26
CARTAGENA, CON´D

A misty, cool morning. It´s a lot cooler here (cold at night= than in the interior, but so nice to breathe the fresh sea air and hear the roar of the distant waves on the shore. We´re going to the playa later and then returning to Santiago. We´ve already said our goodbyes to Anibal, lit the white candle and wished him adios, until we meet again, my beloved friend.

In the early afternoon we headed for Playa Chica although we didn´t stop as it´s not the best beach so we went on to Playa Grande and decided it was too chilly for a swim but good for wading, so I rolled up my pants and went down to the water´s edge. Brrrr. The water was icy cold, like the ocean in early June in Canada. There were lots of people swimming and jumping the big breakers that come crashing in. The kids and dogs were having a fine time running along in the surf. I was too, and got caught unawares by a big whitecap that smashed in and wet me up to my knees. We enjoyed an hour or so of just walking up and down the beach watching the locals have fun, kids getting themselves buried up to their necks in the sand, dogs leaping and frolicking in the waves, some people with body'boards surfing in on the breakers.

While we were enjoying the ocean, Cecilia and grandma waited on a bench and talked to the waiter of a nearby cafe. We decided to go there for lunch and were treated to such an amazing, delicious meal of avocado-tuna salad, clam/mussel soup, and fried fish (merlusa - pike) with patatas mayo. I had a taste of the Santa Rita wine too. (about $6 each)

Then it was off to the city again. We got back home about seven and later Patrick and I went searching for a web cafe. Ended up downtown at Palace de Armes where there is a Sunday flea market and loads of entertainment on the pedestrian mall. The big Christmas tree in front of the Cathedral is now all decorated. Someone had done an impressive chalk drawing of Christ on the sidewalk in front of the cathedral. There were no end of entertainers and the families all come to stroll up and down the mall enjoying the sights. What you see when you don´t have your camera along: a troop of young men break dancing and doing phenomenal gymnastic tricks; a bride mime who was so petite, like a doll all in white, and moved like a music box figurine. ( later the silver cowboy guy was there too). They had set up disco lights and kids were dancing. There was other stuff too: clowns, balloon men, hawkers. Even a guy with a pet llama all dressed up to have its photo taken. Why can´t Granville mall be like that? Great free family entertainment on a Sunday evening.

We eventually took the metro to another part of town, got to a web cafe just before closing and with little time left before the metro closed down too, so there was no time to post blogs til today, at Mendoza. That´s the Chile adventure news up to now. The next few days will be devoted to Argentina, and remembering my dear friend Roberto who would be so pleased to know I have finally arrived!

NEXT: LOS ANDES and MENDOZA, ARGENTINA

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: ISLA NEGRA, Neruda´s refuge

SATURDAY, NOV 25, con´td

We caught an early busy Saturday morning from Cartagena to Isla Negra which is just a few miles up the coast. This is Pablo Neruda´s most extravagant house.

The house is located on a rocky headland overlooking the Pacific. The original stone buildings were erected in the late 30´s and were completed in the 1950´s. Neruda added to it bit by bit including various rooms to hold all his eccentric collections. During the junta, when Neruda was dying of cancer, the miitary stormed the house but it has been mainly preserved just as it was, intact with his marvelous collections (even more fantastical than those at La Chascona). It is exactly as it was when Neruda ad Mailde lived there, even to the place settings at the dining room table : place mats of sailing ships and one (the captains) of nautical instruments. "I am the captain and the guest are my crew," he would say. In the middle of the table is a large crystal brandy snifter still containing brandy, because Neruda lost the key to open it.

This house is also built to resemble a ship like the other two, even to the low doorways, and being so near the crashing waves of the ocean it has a realistic effect. Neruda´s impressive collection of ships figureheads decorate nearly every room as well there are masks and other wooden carvings from various places in the world. An entire room is devoted to his massive shell collection, even the tusk of a narwhal which he brought from Norway. The bedroom impressed me with its windows facing the sea and the bed at an angle so the ocean could be clearly viewed.
An interesting side note: Neruda was actually afraid of the sea and never traveled by boat unless necessary. He instead had bought a small wooden hull boat which sits on the rocks beside the house and here he would entertain his friends with drinks while viewing the sea from the shore.

Neruda and his third wife Matilde are both buried here at Isla Negra. He died in Sept 1973 and she died in 1983. Their tomb faces the ocean and is on a round stone platform surrounded by beds of flowers.

After our interesting tour of the house we caught another country bone shaking jitney bus on to the town of
San Antonio where Cecilia needed to do some business. This is Chile´s largest sea port so there were many fishig boats in the harbour, though only a couple of larger ships. We strolled along the pedestrain wharf with the townsfolk and looked over the souvenier shops. We didn´t realize it but there´s a sea lion refuge just down the quay. We browsed around the town and ate lunch at a very interesting fish cafe that was full of curios like Neruda´s house, including big portraits of Victor Jarra (the poet-singer who was murdered during the junta), Che Guevera, Pablo Neruda and Salvadore Allende.
"The owner is a Communist," Cecilia said. I had already ugess that and thought immediatly that this was the sort of place Anibal would have enjoyed.

Then we caught the bus back to Cartagena and took the friendly taxi up to Cecilía´s house.
Tomorrow we´re going to the beach, maybe to swim, though the waves look pretty daunting and it´s not quite as hot here as it is in the city.

NEXT: A DAY AT THE BEACH AND THEN BACK HOME

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: CARTAGENA, A Weekend at the Coast

SATURDDAY, Nov 25/06

Last night (Friday) we caught the 6 pm bus to Cartagena, a lovely trip through the Chilean countryside to the coast. Acres of vineyards, orchards and farmland, sleek beautiful horse grazing in the fields. The highways are excellent, the bus service effient and comfortable. The country buses have the front cab shut off so you can´t bother the driver. The assistant comes through selling cold pop and at one stop a girl got on with a basket of goodies. Bus fares between towns are very cheap (about $45 return).

We got to Cartagena after about an hour and half, then waited in the town square while Cecilia got us a cab- Coming up the hill to the house she asked if we had sleeping bags and did we mind sleeping on the floor? Of course we said it ws okay, though I´ll admit I was somewhat surprised. But it turned out her house is huge, 3 bedrooms and a loft. (She´s such a tease!) The house is located high up on the hillside overlooking the San Sebastian River delta and valley with a panoramic view of the coast. You can hear the ocean from the house and the view is magnificent. We head have our own rooms. Cecilia´s is in the loft and up there she has has made an interesting retreat with a lot of curiosities and mementos she´s collected and some of her own paintings. We teased her that it is "Cecilia Neruda´s" house. It is there she has made the memorial to Anibal, with various photos of him and a little table with mementos including the small box of his ashes. I brought a white candle embedded with seashells to place on the shrine.

This is such a special time for me. I happen to rememer that several months before he learned he had cancer, Anibal told me that he was trying to get a ticket home to Chile, in particular he was planning to go to Cartagena where he said his ´family´had a house. (I know that Cecilia had urged him to come there as he could live there undisturbed because she only goes to the coast on some weekends, the she plans to retire there. Apparantly one of his brothers also had a place in the town.) Such a turn of fate that it is I who have come to Cartagena, and he never did return.

Cartagena is a small town (the part where Cecilia lives iso like a village and in fact reminded me somewhat of being up in Lala in Greece, looking down toward the sea at Karystos. The town is, as Cecilia described it ¨for the poor people¨and also for ¨the golden years people¨. It isn´t a fancy resort area and so not popular with tourists or the wealthier chileans.

The house is large, built up on stilts to take advantage of the spectacular view. Cecila said she first bought the lot ¨for cheap" and about 8 years ago started to build the main floor, later adding the loft. All around it are gardens and grape vine and there´s a large porch wrapping around so you can see the view from every side. Certainly a beautiful "refuge" and one she built and paid for herself, no help from anyone.

I am amazed by this woman, her generous loving heart, her resiliance, her strength and will'power to do all she has done. It is such a joy to know her and to think I actually did get to meet her after having read about her in the book about th exiles. (Anibal did not talk much if at all about her and only because she came to see him when he was dying did I get to meet her) We have talked a bit about their days together working in the shanty town, before the junta.
"We were young and idealistic then," she said. And they made many personal sacrfices because of it.

After our busy week sighseeing in Santiago we are looking forward to a relaxing weekend here at the Coast.

NEXT: ISLA NEGRA, NERUDA´S REFUGE

Saturday, November 25, 2006

ADVETURES IN CHILE: Getting Around Santiago

THURSDAY, NOV. 24/06

Oka, my feet are wor down to the andkles and I have a huge lister on my big toe. My ankle has a twinge and m legs are aching but still, we soldier on, determined to see eerything we can in he short time we are here.

Getting Around by Bus
There are a abundancer of rickety old ellow ¨micros¨that rce up ad dow the avenues as if they are on a speedway. The city has replaced some of them with sleek new green double length buses which will cut down o the chaos and pollution, but there are still swarm of these anceint yellow Mercedes Benz speedsters spewing exhaust and racing to pick up passengers along their routes. This morning we took our second bus ride down to Santiago Cetro with grandma. The bus was alread full when it got to our stop but we jammed on, backpacks and all, and found a place to stand up front clinging on for dear life as the bus hurtled down El Santo Avenida through the morning traffic. Amazingl it picked up at each stop and more people pushed their way on til it was so crammed full the doors wouldn´t shut. Then içoff we went careening down the avenue dodging thrug the heavy lines of traffic. At each jolting stop I was sure Íd be grown through the windshield but we somehow managed to arrive at our stop in one piece. Pretty exciting, like being at the midway!

Patrick and I have preferred t take the metro which is sleek, clean and efficient )so clean hat I defy anyoe to find so mch as a crumb ont he floors of the stations.) Santiago metro has four lines, three of themm )green, yellow and red= merge with the forth newer line. The fare is reasonable too, less than a dollar except duriing peak periods. There are also plenty of cab, and taxi colectivos which run on a ixed route.

Today´s city exploration tour took us to Barrio Brazil, was an area once occupied by the wealthy but after they moved to newer areas, for years was neglected but now is enjoying a new popularity as many of the yonger well'to'do are treturning to create a lively bohemian atmosphere. There is a charming plaza with a towering monkey pzzle tree, various beautifu palms and other ornamental trees. The park is popular with students and today there were many folk sitting on benches reading newspapers. We discovered that there were a lot of Chinese restaurants in Barrio Brazil which was quite unusual.

One of he landmarks of Barrio razil is the newo Gaothi Basilica de Salvador which dates from 1892. We missed that one, but saw another newer church that was worth a photo op. Then we walked around enjoying the various other architectural delights that grace this tranquil area of the city. We walked around and came across tiny Barrio Concha y Toro, a little cobble stone square with quaint buildings and a gushing fountain, a little oasis at the edge of Barro Brazil

We decided to stop by another area, Barrio Patromato, where there is an enclave of Palestinian and Korean people,but we found it rather run down and uninteresting, so returned to Santiago Centro, back to Cafe Cecilia where we were treated to a delicious lunch of bean soup and tomato salad and another tour around the Station with grandma(this time with Patrick in tow). It´s quite amusing these round'about treks to the washrooms, as everyone along the way seems to know grandma and she stops to introduce us to everyone. They were again setting up for another extravagent banquet and again we went out to the the little plaza in back to see the memorial for the poets and writers.)

Next: off to the the ocean

Friday, November 24, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: BARRIO LASSTARIA AND A BEAUTIFUL PARK

THURSDAY, Nov 23-06

Barrio Lastarria is on the eastern fringe of Santiago Centro, just beyond Cerro Santa Lucia. It´s an oasis of architctural, culinary and cultual delights with Parisian style buildings, tree'lined streets and shady plazas, a tranquil pleasaant partof the city and the hub of Santiago´s cafe culture.

We visited the Musio de Artes Vusuales and the Museo Arqueologico which are housed in brand new quarters. We watched an interesting film about Easter Island (which is part of Chile although several thousand miles off'shore. ) The museum has artifacts dating back to the earliest inhabitants of Chile and ester island which included the tiny mummy of a child. These people were the first in the world to mummify their dead, going back to 5000 BC. Among the artifacts was pottery fromthe Incas, and objects fromthe Mapuch0 people incluidng curiously, items used for smoking, pulveriziing and storing hallucenogenics and other drugs and colorful bags carried by the men to hold their coca. There were also indigenous carvings and beautiful silver jewelry (earrings, necklaces and belts= worn by the Mapucho women.

After our tour around the museum we headed back to santigao Centro the Cafe Cecilia by the river. She had prepared a most delicious lunch for us which we really appreciateñ
grandma took me on a tour of estacion Maphocho to find the toilet. They were setting up for a huge anquet of 3,000 men )alumni and stdents= to celebrate the 100th anniversary of
San Ignacio school, a wealthy Catholic boys school. Grandma book me through the banquet hall, introducing me to people along the way, and ushered me out the back to a little plaza wherethere is a memorial to some of Chile´s poets and writers. Of course she waned me to see Pablo Neruda. And there was a plaqu honoring him and his ¨Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair"

After that rather comical excursion Patrick and I headed back to Barrio Lasstaria with a quick stop at the Mercado Central right across from Cecilia´s cafe. It wasn´t asinteresting as the big market we had gone to theother day so we didn´t stay to browse long but got the metro back to Cerro Santa Lucia.

A 19th century city mayor, Benjamin Vicuna Mackenna, wasinstrumental in transforming Santa Lucia Mt. from a rocky hillinto a beautifullylandscaped park. Its footpaths and stone stairways lead you up to the top of the mountain where there are castle turrets and a magnificent viewpoint of the city (and today the Andes were visible again!) At the entrance is an ornate fountain Terraza Neptuno and up he curved staircase you come to the tomb of the mayor, Mackenna. The vista from the top isone of the best, as commented on by Charles Darwin whose signature appears on a plque emedded on the rocks commemorating his visit there in the 1880´s.

Back to Recolta and a little visit with Cecilia and grandma before bedtime. Plans made for our trip to the Coast, leaving Friday evening. Both Patrick and I are very excited about this trip and looking forward to a few days by the sea enjoying a swim and a visit to Isla Negra to see another of Neruda´´s fantastical houses.

NEXT: Travelling around by bus, metro and by foot and a visit to another barrio or two.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: EXPLORING THE BARRIOS

WED. NOVEMBER 22/06

TOURING AROUND SANTIAGO:

Santiago is a city of lovely parks, plazas and tree'line boulevards. The weather right now is like Greece in June or late summer in Vancouver : hot but not reall unbearable although today I regretted not bringing my sun cap, and of course the sun screen is necessary as well as the important bottle of water (mostly the fizzy mineral kind here).

Cecilia´s barrio, where we are staying, is called Recoleta and it´s quite near the edge of the city, a humble older part of town with little houses that remind me of the old parts of Athens, and sidewalks with wonky, uneven pavements. There´s a lot of character in both the narrow alley'like streets, the little houses with the inner courtyards, and the pleasant folk who live there. Patrick and I both felt immediately comfortable being there and have been made to feel like visiting royalty by both Cecilia and her adorable little mother. I said it reminded me of Greece, and if you have been to the villages in Greece you will understand my fondness for it, and why I feel so comfortable here. It has that ´village´flavour which I love.

Today we decided to stop first the Cemetary of the Generals which is nearby, but when we got there and saw what an awesome place it is, we decided instead to wait til we could get a tour around it.

So we set off on the metro to tour around some of Santiago´s ritzy districts starting with Las Condes, the city´s financial district where there are ultra modern buildings, some skyscrapers, though none higher than 30 stories, condominium buildings, fancy restaurants and upscale hotels. The world´s embassies are located here as well as Chile´s World Trade Centre.

When we got out of the metro station we followed along the avenue stopping for the many ´Kodak moments¨there are in this city. I was amused to find a display of painted horses placed in various places all along the avenues in the same way we in Vancouver have the spirit bears and orcas. I took a nice collection of photos of them as they were very pretty.

There´s quite a different atmosphere here than in other parts of the city. It´s a very elegant, exclusive district. The people on the street are well'dressed and stylish, obviously the ´monied´class of Santiago. As Cecilia remarked, "The people look different, their clothes, even their skin....even the GRASS is different in Las Condes.

We spent a lot of time walking around there before taking the metro to a different part of town, one we had visited yesterday, Barrio Bellavista the bohemian district. This time we were heading for Cerro San Cristobal and the Parque Metropolitano. First we stopped to visit the Jardin Zoologico which houses a collection of exotic animals and birds.

Cerro San Cristobal is Santiago´s largest open space. A 14 m. statue of the Virgin del la Immaculada Concepcion towers on top of the Cerro San Cristobal. We took the funicular up to the top, a climb of 485 m. from the Plaza Coupolican at the north end of the Pio Nono, a treelined street where there are a lot of craft shops and sidewalk cafes popular with the young crowd.

The climb up the mountain stops at the Terraa Bellavista where you get amazing views of the city. Today Los Andes were visible though still smog shrouded. We stopped to rest our weary feet at one of the concessions on the terrace then took the funicular back down and walked through the barrior, across the river to the metro station.

By the time we reached Cecilia´s home it was after nine and she had stayed up to greet us, and had prepared a delicious chicken and rice dinner for us.

It was a rather exhausting day. I don´t think I´ve ever walked up so many flights of stairs as I have here in Santiago, nor put in as many miles per day trudging around the city streets, but it´s worth all the effort. Tomorrow we´ll do some more touring around another barrio. Time is passing so quickly and we´re only just getting used to the idea that we are actually here!

NEXT: ANOTHER BARRIO AND A BEAUTIFUL PARK

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: LA CHASCONA, The Poet´s House

TUESDAY, NOV. 21
SANTIAGO, CHILE

We wondered why we couldn´t see Los Andes these past few days and now we know it is because of the dense smog over the city. We had planned to go up the funicular to Cerra San Cristobal today but were advised to wait until the mountains were clear. In the morning we went with Cecilia to the Comunidad Mercado De La Vega which is just across the river from her little cafe. It´s a vast sprawling market offering a kaleidoscopic selection of fruits and veggies as well as every kind of meat, spices, condiments and just about anything else you can imagine. ( I saw some sticks of cannella = cinnamon, the size of tree branches!) We were fascinating and busily snapping photos of all the colorful sites in this hub of activity when a security guard stopped us and said we were prohibited from taking photos. (Odd that yesterday at the Presidential Palace there were no such restrictions!) Anyway, Cecilia explained we were foreigners on our first trip to Chile and we were sent to an office and issued an official permit to take pictures. Quite a novel souvenier! After Cecilia had purchased her groceries for the shop, we went backto the cafe and had some yoghurt and sweet pastries called "broken underwear" that Marisol had prepared for us. Then we set off an another adventure by metro.

We intended to visit Pablo Neruda´s house and then go up the mountain as both are in close vicinity. The walk through Barrio Bellavista was so pleasant. It´s quite a bohemian area with craft shops and sidewalk cafes where the young folk from the local university hang out. It´s a community of artists, writers and craftsmen. The streets are shaded by trees and there are interesting shops and buildings..(I guess you could compare it to Greenwich Village in New York). We found an artisans market where we went later on and I bought a few very nice little souveniers. There are also lots of lapis lazuli shops on that street (only Chile and Afghanistan have major deposits of this semi precious gem.) I´m definitely going to look into purchasing something with lapis before I leave here!

It wasn´t too difficult to find the Poet´s house, named La Chascona after Matilde, his third wife, who had a tumble of wild hair. (That´s what the name means: wild hair) In the paintings and photos of her, the hair reminds me of Monica at the L.Q.!) Before I describe the house, I must introduce the Poet.

Pablo Neruda is not only Chile´s Nobel Prize winning poet but also a political icon. His poetry is the soul of Chile and his own life played an important role in Chile´s recent history.
He was awarded a diplomatic post and his subsequent travels brought him international fame. Despite his leftist beliefs he had a flambouyant life and was friends with artist such as Pablo Piccasso and Diego Rivera whose paints hang in his houses. He was also friends with notable political figures including Salvadore Allende. Only a few days after Allende´s death in the bombing of the Presidential Palace on Sept 11, 1973, Neruda died of cancer and a broken heart. His will left everything to the Chilean people through the Neruda Foundation.

I was introduced to the beautiful poetry of Neruda by my friend Anibal. My favorite collection is Twenty Love Poem and a Song of Despair. And what a thrill to see the original publication of it in Neruda´s library collection!

Like all of the other houses own by Neruda (he had 3, one here in Santiago, one inValparaiso and the most extravagant on at Isla Negra down the coast) this house is built like a ship. Nerdua was obsessed by the sea and even wrote his poetry in blue and green ink, sea colours. There were some of his hand'written poems on display as well as his books. Neruda was also an obsessive collector of curios and odd items = everything from ash trays to figure heads of ships.
The house used to be crammed with these treasures until the military coup and it was ransacked by the military and partly burned (resorations have been made but many of his precious collections were gone.) What is left is an amazing assortment of curios and whimsical items which kept us entertained for the whole tour. The house has tiny rooms, so only a few people at a time are allowed in with a guide who explains everything in a most enjoyable and informative way, telling little anecdotes about the Poet who was a fun'loving and whimsical guy just as he was a serious political and literary figure. The Neruda Foundation maintains the house and has it´s headquarters here.

We are really looking forward to visiting the other two houses in Valparaiso and Isla Negra, possibly next weekend. So look for more about the Poet here. And be sure to pick up a book of is beautiful poems. You´ll understand how I have grown to love his work!

Footsore and weary we ended up back in Recoleta where Cecilia lives by early evening. She had cooked us a delicious Chilean meal and we enjoyed our amusing chats with her and grandma.
Then it was off to bed early to get some rest for our next day of adventures.

NEXT: EXPLORING THE BARRIOS

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ADVENTURES IN CHILE: ¿HABLA ESPANOL?

MONDAY, NOV 20

First impressions: I´m grateful to have Patrick along as interpreter as you really do need to speak Spanish here. Somehow my small vocabulary has vanished and I´m doing my best to remember things I learned before but somehow, perhaps because so much here reminds me of Greece, that every time I open my mouth to speak Greek comes out. Oh well, keep trying and eventually I will increase my basic vocabulary to a little more than buenas dias and gracias.

This is a country of small, dark people and without a doubt me with my white blonde hair and the gentle giant Patrick stand out conspicuously wherever we got, but people are gracious and friendly and only once did I hear someone remark ¨gringo!"

We`ve mastered the metro in just one day. It´s slick, modern, clean and very efficient. Some of the stations have archaeological displays (like the metro in Athens), most play music and all are orderly and easy to board the swift, comfortable trains. We feel like experts already! Patrick is great to be with as he can translate when necessary, ask directions and this it´s a lot easier to get around.

Yesterday we set off in the morning with grandma. Cecilia´s mom is 86 yrs old, a tiny spry woman with a gold'toothed smile and boundless energy. Trouble is, she´s a bit forgetful, though she did ask us if we wanted to walk to Cecilia´s shop or take the bus. We opted to walk. She said it was a long way and it was but so interesting to stroll through the residential areas of town. They live in Recoleta, one of the many barrios of Santiago. Yes, it was a long walk, and it turned out Cecilia had left her the bus fare but she forgot. Oh well, fun anyway. Cecilia has a small cafe by the river where she sells fast food and snacks and does a brisk business with passers by. It´s right next to the old train station the Estacion Mapocho, which is now an exhibition hall and Santigao´s main cultural centre. The Rio Mapocho runs swiftly through the city, rapids and muddy water. We ate lunch at the cafe then set off to see the Presidential Palace.

Palacio de la Moneda (literally named "the coin"as it was once the mint) has been the government palace since 1846´s. It was designed by Italian architect Joaquien Toesca in the 18th centre. It was here, during the junta of 1973, that the army under General Pinochet, aided by the US and CIA staged a coup and bombed the palace. From here Salvadore Allende, the elected socialist president delivered is final speech as the bombs rained down and killed him.
"May you go forward in the knowlege that sooner than later, the great avenues will open once again along which free citizens will march in order to build a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers! These are my last words, and I am sure that this sacrifice will constitue a moral lesson that will punish cowardice, perfidy and treason.¨ As of today, Gen. Augusto Pinochet is still to be tried for his crimes against the Chilean people.

We were able to go inside the palace courtyards and look around. The president doesn´t live here now as in Allende´s time. And now they have a woman president, Michelle Bachalet, and there are hopes for a better and more progressive Chile which certainly seems evident to us observers.

After this little tour we took the metro over to the Plaza de Armes which is a central square surrounded by colonial architecture. A fountain dedicated to Simon Bolivar is in the centre of the square and a mounted figure of Pedro de Valdivia who founded Santiago in 1541 stands before the main cathedral. Tje Cathedral Metropolitana is aneoclassical church built by the same architect who designed La Moneda. The interior is lavishly decorated with carvings, stained glass and plenty of gold and silver. (These Catholic cathedrals always astound me filled with their priceless decor and relics in these countries where poverty abounds.)

Outside the cathedral they are erecting an emmense Christmas tree out of a frame made of steel wires. Workers climb up the frame to hang the plastic garlands that will make up the tree´s boughs and on top is a huge star.

We got oursleves back to Cecilia´s house with no problem. And spent the evening visiting and relaxing. We considered our first full day in Santiago quite a successful adventure.

NEXT: The browsing the market and house of the Poet

Friday, November 17, 2006

FLYING ON A WING AND A PRAYER: Chile Here I Come!

The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step." Lao-Tzu 604-581 BC
The Way of Lao Tzu

Just a few hours left to departure. It's been storming here for days, everything flooded with the incessant rain. I'm hoping for a little bit of clearing before I set off tomorrow morning. I hear it's stormy in Toronto to. But at least, we'll be flying into the South American sunshine.

As usual, it's another of my "flying on a wing and a prayer" trip, never certain til the last moment how it will all come together (the money that is) but it always does. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" they say. And I guess that's my motto alright. Always a leap of faith, but never one I regret taking.

All the packing is done, everything is ready, the last minute details that almost get forgotten, like photo-copying important papers. I've had a busy week getting it all together, finishing up classes, visiting friends. And now I'm ready to go! I wonder if I'll spot any condors in the Andes?

Watch for the news reports along the way. This is going to be another unforgettable adventure!

"The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, to feel, to do just as one pleases."
William Hazlett 1778-1830 "On Going A Journey".

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A JOURNEY TO THE ANDES: More Trip Preparations

"Andes" a native word, meaning unknown.
The Andes Mountains are the longest and one of the highest mountain ranges in the world, stretching 7250 Km (4500 mi) from North to Sound along the West Coat of the South American continent, from the warm equator in the north to Cape Horn in Patagonia. The southernmost tip is not far from Antartica. The tallest peak is Mt. Aconcagua, a giant towering volcano 6,959 meters (22,831 ft) situatiedn near the Chilean/Argentine border. The Andes are rich in minerals: gold, silver, tin, copper, platinum, lead and zinc. The most famous bird is the Andean Condor. These immense birds that live along the Andean chain now face extinction.

I've been doing more research for our trip to Chile, and proposed visit to Mendoza, which is just across the border in Argentina. Mendoza is situated at the foot of the Andes Mountains and is the most imortant city in western Argentina. It's a popular tourist destination because of various interesting activities in the region. Because of the mild climate, it's the fruit and vegetable growing area, famous for its vineyards. Mendoza is a beautiful city with many historic traditions. (Anyone I 've spoken to who has been there have raved about the city so now, more than ever, I'm excited to visit there.)

Mendoza was founded in 1561 by Pedro del Castillo, who named the city after the governor of Chile, Don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza but after only four years, just twelve Spaniards remained and the governor of Chile stepped in and offered compensation to the local natives who farmed the land and soon the Spanish population increased. Most of the residents were Huapes Indians and Incas and Puelches. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1861, then rebuilt and became a regional metropolis with imortant commercial, industrial, financial and cultural development. Currently the population is 130,000 (800,00 includig Gran Medoza.)

Besides the attraction of mountain hiking, horse-back riding, skiing, spas and other outdoor activities there are some interesting museums and things of cultural interest such as the many craft and artisan markets.

I'm most excited about visiting some of the wineries, most imortantly the Bodega La Rural wine museum. Mendoza wineries produce some of the countries best wines. The sunny days, termal dry, arid climate result in it being an oases for the highest quality of wine-making.

In the city there's also the Museo del Area Fundacional, which has relics from the city's beginnings.

I hope we get a chance to go up into the higher mountain areas. I remember seeing some photos of my friend Anibal's brothers up in the Andeas with the condors soaring around. That would be quite a thrill. The trip over to Argentina is also a sentimental journey in memory of my soul-brother Roberto Hallberg who was from Buenos Aries, and who, like Anibal, educated me about his country. He'd be pleased to know I am planning a visit there.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

PREPARING FOR THE GREAT ADVENTURE

A wise man travels light on the road trip of life.Wisdom is his map, wonder, his fuel,and a good story, his favorite souvenir."

I went to an information workshop about Chile last week and learned some important facts, like North Americans entering the country have to pay $135 U.S. entry fee. Well, that cuts into my travel fund somewhat but it's just one of those facts. No visa necessary though.

I'm also still trying to find out about the ATMs. According to the tourism people you can only use debit cards with a "cirrus" logo and this presents a problem as my card doesn't have that. And I simply have to be able to access my account while I'm there. I checked the internet and also my bank. Both say the ATMs in Chile accept cards with both Visa and "Plus" logos. But just to be sure I'll visit the Chilean consul this week and double-check.

Ah...there's always some little hassles that travellers must be confronted with and at least these are fairly simple to deal with. No innoculations necessary. Anyway, I've had all mine since I went to Malaysia and I even have some of the stomach medicine left over just in case.

We were shown some beautiful films of Chile at the presentation. In particular I was impressed with the film about Patagonia. Too bad we're only going for two week and will just travel around the Santiago area and Coast...but we do plan to take a bus trip across the border of Argentina to Mendoza, the wine-growing area. And on the weekend I spoke to a man who has spent a lot of time there (he was a mountaineer) and he assured me that we would have a marvelous time as it is quite spectacular.

My good camera has been broken and I neglected to get it repaired til now, debating on buying a digital, but realized I couldn't afford one just yet. So it's going to cost me to have it fixed but I need to take lots of good photos while I'm there. And my travel partner is a very talented photographer too, so Patrick says he's thinking of buying a digital which would be super then we can exchange photos.

I'm on the count-down now...only two and half weeks. It still seems incredible that I'm actually going there. I'm already getting butterflies in my stomach at the thought of it.
Pre-preparations? I'm trying to review what little Spanish I know. Couldn't get into any of the classes so I have my tapes and text books. But I'm still getting muddled up with Greek.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

CHILE: A Sentimental Journey

"Night, snow and sand compose the form
of my slender homeland,
all silence is contained within its length,
all foam issues from its seaswept beard,
all coal fills it with mysterious kisses."
Pablo Neruda

In just a month from today I'll be embarking on a long-awaited sentimental journey to Chile. Who would have guessed a year ago that all this would happen, and all because my special friend was dying of cancer.

I had heard Anibal talk many times about his country. He was an exile here, and always longed for his homeland, just as my dear friend and soul-brother Roberto (my friend in Greece) longed to return to Argentina. Both of them died before their wishes could be fulfilled. And now it's me who is heading to South America to follow in their footsteps. (Although I can't get to Buenos Aires this trip, I do plan on crossing the Andes to Mendoza, Argentina's wine country. As Roberto was so very fond of wine, this will be my tribute to him.)

While Anibal was in the hospital his ex-wife came to visit him from Chile. She and I formed a bond of friendship out of the love we both had for him, as did his daughters and I. My friend Patrick, who had made a special trip from Germany to see Anibal, but who sadly arrived too late, also became friends with Anibal's family. So we were invited to visit Cecilia in Santiago. It was an invitation we both knew we could not refuse.

Anibal had educated me about his country's political history, told me many stories about Santiago and how he'd worked in the shanty towns there, and he introduced me to his beloved favorite poet Pablo Neruda. Now I'm reading more to learn about the history and geography of this fascinating land.

Some facts I've learned:
Chile is the longest and narrowest country ini the S.A. continent (6,965 mi in length and an average of 285 mi in width) Chile has long had a history of democratic governments. (This was shattered in '73 by the CIA-U.S. backed military coup that saw thousands of Chileans killed or 'disappeared' and drove my friend and his family into exile) Chile is a land of extremes -- from the Atacama Desert in the north to the fjords and icefields of Patagonia in the far south of Antartica.

We will visit mainly the central valley and west coastal areas of the country beginning with Santiago, Chile's capital, founded in 1541 by the Spanish Captain Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago was Anibal's home and I am looking forward to retracing his footsteps there, sharing the memories of his life, meeting his family and seeing all the places where he and Cecilia and their children lived, worked and played.

On the Central Coast we'll visit Valparaiso, "Pearl of the Pacific", Chile's premier port, which may soon be dedicated as a World Heritage site. Close by are the seaside resorts of Renaca and Vina del Mar. I believe Cecilia has a beach house at Renaca where she has made a little shrine for Anibal so he can rest in peace and quiet solitude by the sea.

The Nobel Prize winning poet, Pablo Neruda, had three houses: one in Santiago, one in Valparaiso and one in the town of Isla Negra. This will be a highlight of my pilgrimage.

Besides these historic cities and the beautiful Pacific seaside resorts, I hope to visit at least one of Chile's famous vineyards. There are several wine tours offered near Santiago. The central Valley boasts an ideal climate for winemaking and Chilean wines are renown.

We plan to take a bus from Santiago to the Andes to cross the border into Argentina. The Andes Mountains rise to peaks of over 6,600 meters. the landscape is semi-arid in the foothills
with permanent snow-capped mountains. There are beautiful forests, canyons, glaciers, lakes and white water rivers. The city of Mendoza, in the Argentine wine region is a short distance from the frontier with Chile. It was founded in 1561 and was originally an Indian settlement. Besides the wineries, there are spas, and plenty of cultural activities and sightseeing as well as adventure sports. The town has good craft markets and we must sample some of the famous Argentine gastronomy specials such as fried pastries, casserole meat, and the classic tenderloin (beef sandwiches) together with the best beef and pork cuts and free-range farm chicken. And, of course, the wine!

Next week I'm attending an educational workshop about Chile to learn more about Chile's culture, history and entertainment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

THE GUGGENHEIM: DAY FOUR, PART TWO

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum began in 1937 as the Museum for Non-Objective Art, but was renamed after its wealthy founder, a copper magnate, and was then refered to as a "Museum of Modern Art". In 1943 Guggenheim commissioned renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright to erect a new museum, his first in NY. It took sixteen years to complete because of ongoing building restrictions, and by the time the museum was finally opened Wright was 88 years old! Unfortunately, the innovative concrete struction has been plagued by surface cracks almost since it's opening in 1959. Beginning in 2005 twelve layers of paint were removed and the building's concrete surface was revealed. The repair and repainting is expected to be completed by the end of 2007, in time for the building's 50th anniversary.

This is the only NY musuem as famous for its architecture as for its contents. Wright designed it as one single large room on one continuous floor that spirals, helix-like, on a ramp 432 M (473 yds) long. Visitors start at the top and wind their way down the whorl. The only natural light comes into the museum from the glass roof. There are no windows. It feels much like being inside a snail shell, certainly one of the most unique buildings I've visited.

The Museum puts on five or six special exhibits a year, many of which occupy the whole museum. There are a few permanent collections including those of Kadinsky, Jackson Polloak and paintings by Klee and Picasso and others shown in the extension rooms built in 1980.

The exhibit on show to Oct. 25 was titled "Thirty Years in Architecture" a most amazing display of work by the Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid who is known as one of today's most innovative architects. Born in Baghdad in 1950, Zaha Hadid studied in Switzerland, England and Lebanon. She pursued studies at London's Architectural Association and later joined the Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA). She opened her independent practice in London in 1979 and got international recognition in 1982 for her submission The Peak which won a competition for a leisure club in Hong Kong. Although this project was never completed she has since then designed several other buildings and has been awarded the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

This was truly one of the most remarkable exhibits I've ever seen. Zara Hadid says "My ambition is always to realize theoretical projects that seem difficult at the time." Her designs are exciting and impressive. My favorite was The Dancing Towers" a model of the three towers she has built in Dubai that, instead of standing erect, intertwine with each other. Her designs distort perspective creating an unorthodox viewpoint with fractured forms that give way to fluid and undulating shapes.

By the time we returned to our hotel later that afternoon, we were both exhausted, our minds crammed full of all the wonderful and unforgettable sights we'd seen that day. It was our last night in New York. We'd only had a few days but we had savoured a delicious slice of what the The Big Apple has to offer.

The next morning we set off to do some shopping but unfortunately didn't make it to Macy's or Bloomingdales we we'd planned. Instead went to some local shops, then, because the day was hot, humid and we were tired of ploughing through the crowds in Times Square, we hung out in the hotel lounge sipping lemonade until it was time to board the shuttle to the airport.

That morning Seventh Ave was blocked off with a street market and Fifth Ave was blocked off with a long never-ending Labour Day Parade (all the trade unions). The cross streets were open but the whole thing created a traffic gridlock the likes of which we'd never witnessed before. Luckily the conceirge had suggested we take the 2.20 pm shuttle to JFK, allowing us plenty of time to arrive at the check-in. The traffic was literally bumper-to-bumper all the way out across the Queensborough Bridge. Strangely, we didn't notice any road-rage or horn-honking which the New Yorkers have been famous for in the past. I've learned since that the City had passed a by-law against horn-honking! We weren't too worried by the delays but one woman in the shuttle anxiously asked the driver at ten minutes to four when we'd arrive at the airport. We were still quite a distance away and her plane was due to leave at 4.45!

We got to the checkin in good time and I was impressed to see how well things went at JFK compared to the nightmare that was LAX when I'd returned from Malaysia in the Spring. We went through the security quickly, and had lots of time to relax in the waiting area before boarding our Harmony flight home at 7 p.m. Unlike LAX it's a bright, airy building and didn't seem to exhude the paranoid and hustle-bustle of L.A.'s infamous airport.

Recapping our short, sweet adventure in Manhattan: We had agreat time, saw lots, walked our feet off and had nothing but excellent experiences which left us impressed and happy.
There was so much more to see, and it would have been nice to have had a bit more spending money, but I managed -- spent it all to my last penny -- and have gained a wealth of memories.

I have to say a big thanks here to the B.C. Travel Writer's Association who provided me with the winning door-prize, to Harmony for the airline tickets, N.Y. Tourism for the City Tours and to all my friends who contributed to help make this a wonderful holiday in the Big Apple!

CRUISING AROUND MANHATTAN ISLAND: DAY FOUR, PART ONE

SEPT. 8/06

We were on the go early today, headed for the Port Authority (Pier 83 at the foot of W. 43rd St) a good walk from our hotel. Along the way we noticed a group of police officers from Toronto who had arrived that morning to attend a ceremony at Ground Zero. The city was beginning to fill up with visitors that weekend, most of them there to attend the anniversaary of 9/11. We had considered going to Ground Zero but changed our minds, because of the crowds, and decided it would be best to leave this emotional time for those who had come to mourn or pay their respects.

We had tickets for the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan Island, a pleasant three-hour boat trip which I'd recommend to anyone who's never visited NY before. The view from the water gives you a magnificent perspective of the city skyline, offering views of many different points of interest. That morning, as we slowed down nearing the Statue of LIbery, the guide pointed out the exact location where the World Trade Centre towers had once loomed over the other skyscrapers. Now there is a wide void, a chilling reminder of the tragedy of 9/11.

The little tour boat chugs down the shore of the Upper Bay, past the tall, impressive Statue of Liberty, circling around so you can get a good close-up view of it. The statue was given to the U.S. by the people of France in 1886 to commemorate the alliance of the two countries during the american Revolution. It was the work of of French sculptor Auguste Barthode with the help of Alexandre Gustave Eiffel who built the supporting framework. The statue's face is apparantly modeled after the scultpor's mother. She stands 152 feel high, the pedestal is another 150 ft., the uplifted arm holding the liberty torch is 42 ft. and the head is large enough for a couple of people to stand inside. I recall on my first trip to NYC in 1968 that I actually climb up inside the Statue to the observation deck which is the Lady's "crown".

Just a hundred yards north of the Statue is Ellis Island, the portal through which more than 12 million immigrants entered the U.S. between 1892 and 1954. The buildings on the island have been restored in 1990 and now house a museum.

The boat tour, narrated by an amusing and very informative tour guide, cruises up along the East River, under the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, by the former Brooklyn Navy Yard. The guide points of places of interest such as the wharves where "On the Waterfront" were film, and the berth where the Titanic was supposed to land. Along the East River we passed the splendid glass buildings of the United Nations, headquarters for almost 6,000 men and women from all over the world who carry on the work of the Secretariat of the General Assembly. You can actually get tickets to attend the General Assembly, free of charge.
Next to it is the home of Koffi Annan (one of my heroes) and just below, other notables such as the actress Signoury Weaver has a vine-covered house by the River. Farther along is Gracie Mansion, home of the NYC mayor. Apparantly this mayor who is a billionaire, does not reside there but has opened it for tours, and because of his wealth, has contributed his 'salary' to the City. Past here, the East River merges into the Harlem River, and the boat sails north through Hell Gate to the Hudson River, under the great lattice-work of the George Washington Bridge, by Riverside Park and all the docks of the big shipping companies where the great liners like QE II birth.

The cruise was certainly a highlight of our short stay in NYC and a refreshing way to spend a warm, sunny day away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square and downtown Mahattan.

We bypassed a tour of The Intrepid sea-air museum, the aircraft carriet docked alongside Pier 86. This ship wis a veteran of air and sea battles of the South Pacific during World War II and later Vietnamn and is now converted into a fascinating floating museum of naval history and technology. Instead, we headed uptown for a visit to the famous Guggenheim Museum.

(**See Day Four, Part Two)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

MAMA MIA! WHAT A DAY! (Day Three, Part Two)

You see Pedi-cabs all over Manhattan and we'd been curious about them, so when the guy approached us in Central Park and offered his services for a pedi-cab tour to the Strawberry Fields, the Dakota Apartments, the Lincoln Centre and other sites along the way right to the discount ticket place in Times Square, for only $55 (plus tip) we agreed. And we certainly weren't sorry we did, nor did we begrudge the fare. After all, our City Pass tickets to all the other sites had been donated by New York Tourism as part of the prize I'd won, along with the airfare to NY. So we hopped in and off we went.

Straberry Fields is the living memorial to John Lennon set in the park opposite from the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West at 72ns Street where Lennon was slain on December 9, 1980.
Established in 1985, five years after the tragic event by his widow Yoko Ono who donated $1 million to the project, it grew into a peace memorial with contributions of plants and trees from countries all around the world. Known as the "International Garden of Peace" it is a round slab of black marble with the word "Imagine" set in a starburst of black and white mosaics, contributed by Italy. All around it are planted river birches from the Soviet Union, maples from Canada, cedars from Israel, daffodils from Holland, dogwood from the late Princess Grace of Monaco and other plants and trees forming a shaded bower around the memorial.

Across the street, the Dakota Apartments, built in the 1880's, designed by architect Henry Hardenberg for Singer Co. heir Edward Clark, was the first luxury apartment building in the Upper West Side of Manhattan and still probably the most famous apartment building in the city. Our pedi-cab driver, William, took us to the exact spot by the side entrance where John Lennon was shot down by a crazed assassin who had lurked by the building waiting for him to come out. That man is still in prison. Yoko Ono still lives in the Dakota and William pointed out the entire floor where she resides. Lauren Bacall also lives in the Dakota. Marily Monroe lived there for a time. Peter Tchaikowski did too. And Leonard Bernstein died there.
Boris Karloff's ghost is said to haunt the hallways.

We cycled down Central Park West toward the city centre, passing the Juilliard School, the most prestigious music institution in the country, which is located near the Lincoln Centre of Performing Arts, composed of many buildings that house permanent companies as well as venues for world class performances such as the Metropolitan Opera, American Ballet Theatre, NY City Opera, NY City Balley and NY Philharmonic. We were told by William that there are excellent jazz concerts at Lincoln Centre and we wished we'd had time to go back there one evening.

As it was, we were pretty thrilled to get a close-up look at the Met and while we were sitting there in the pedi-cab a man came along and asked if we'd like him to take our photo. It turned out he was one of the tenors from the opera company and he told us if we came there Saturdaywe could see a performance of Carmen for just $25. What a thrill that would have been! Unfortunately, so much to do, so little time!

Right across from the Lincoln Centre is the fabled Trump Tower, a black glass sky-scraper, and nearby is Columbus Circle with a tall statue of Christopher Columbus directing the traffic around it. It was thrilling to ride in the pedi-cab right in the middle of the New York traffic, weaving in and out. William dropped us off at TKTS (Times Square Theatre Centre) at Broadway and 47th St. so we could pick up our half-price tickets for a show. He recommended we see Mama Mia as he said he'd seen it three times and loved it. I'd always wanted to see this show too, as I enjoy ABBA's music and was curious to see how they would work it into a Broadway musical. So, without even having to wait long in the line we scored tickets for $76.
The tickets are generally sold for that night's performance and go from 25% to 50% discounts. Ours were 35% discount. We thanked William for his informative, interesting tour of Upper Manhattan, tipped him $10 and went back to our hotel to prepare for an evening at the theatre. We decided to dress for it, and treat ourselves to a lobster dinner at The Oyster Bar
then we headed off to the lovely old Cadillac Winter Garden Theatre for the evening's show.

NYC is the entertainment capital of the nation and here you can catch not only Broadway and off- Broadway theatre performances, but opera, musicals, dance, and shows from all over the world. (I was disappointed to find I'd be missing a performance of Aescylus' The Persians by the Greek National Theatre Company, peformed in Greek with sub-titles on Sept 15.) The city has hundreds of theatres, some of them dating back to the turn of the last century, and these include the many off-Broadway theatres such as those in Greenwich Village where the Pronvinceton Playhouse started up on MacDougal Street to show the works of a young playwright, Eugene O'Neill. These off-Broadway theatres became popular during the '50's and '60's, known as The Golden Years of Circle in the Square, the Theatre de Lys and the Cherry Lane Theatre. It was at these theatres that the late Geraldine Page rose to stardom, Edward Albee tried out his early work, and names like Ionesco, Beckett, Bertoll Brecht and Kurt Weill became household words. The longest running show on Broadway or off was The Fantastics that ran for over 30 years.

I had done some research on the current productions before going the NY, but we were happy we'd settled on Mama Mia! because, just as William had said, "You'll come out of there singing and dancing!" And we did! Mama Mia! What a day!

Next: A Circle Island Tour

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

COSMIC COLLISIONS AND DINOSAURS: Day Three in NYC (part 1)

Thursday, Sept 8
During our short time in the Big Apple we managed to cover a lot of territory, and this was one of those days so I'll break it down into two parts for easier reading.

We made our way by subway to Upper Manhattan to visit the Guggenheim this morning, after sleeping in late, and arrived only to find it was closed on Thursdays. So we decided to walk through Central Park to the American Museum of Natural History instead.

This has to be one of the most famous Parks in the world, located between Ffth Avenue and Central Park North. The Park was laid out between 1859-1870 and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Veax. It was referred to as "The Greensward Project". It's a magnificent garden park, 19 acres in total, 5% of the total area of Manhattan, extending 4 kms in length and 500 meters wide.

When I visited NYC in '68 and in the mid '70's the Park wasn't a safe place to wander about, though in '68 I definitely went there and enjoyed strolling by the lake and visiting the Zoo. Since Guilliani's reign as Mayor, the Park has been made safe and is the most pleasant respite, a cool, green patch among Manhattan's concrete canyons. We wandered the shaded paths, enjoyed a bit of time to relax, hear the birds sing, breathe the fresh air. The park is popular with joggers, strollers, cyclists. You can rent bikes or go rowing on Conservatory Lake or have a picnic under the trees. And a romantic way to see the Park is by horse drawn carriage or pedi-cab.

The Museum of Natural History is only a short walk through the Park from the Guggenheim. It happened that our ticket included a show at the Hayden Planetarium as well, making it a very interesting morning and quite unexpected.

The Museum is another one of those magnificent historical NY buildings, and happens to be one of the greatest scientific museums in the world. Besides the impressive natural history collections and dinosaur halls, it includes the Rose Centre of Earth and Space, the Hayden Planetarium show, and other space exhibits such as the Big Bang Theatre which recreates the birth of the Universe. The Museum was founded in 1869 and it would take hours to see it all, so we focused on only a few of the exhibits.

First stop was the Hayden Planetarium show "Cosmic Collisions" a virtual reality experience that takes your breath away! The show "launches visitors on an awe-inspiring trip through space and time exploring the hypersonic impacts that drive the dynamic and continuing evolution of the universe." You witness collisions past, present and future including the creation of our Moon, a re-creation of the meteorite impact that ended the Age of Dinosaurs and "a nail-biting future scenario where humanity desperately attempts to divert the path of an oncoming asteroid on a collison course with Earth." Whew! It missed by a heart-beat!

After that breath-taking show finished we walked along the spiral "Cosmic Pathway" down to the main level, chronicaling 15 billion years of evolution of the universe, to the Hall of the Universe were there's a 15 1/2 ton meteorite, to the Hall of Planet Earth which focuses on the geological process of our home planet.

By the time we'd finished viewing all this brain-numbing, awesome stuff, we were a bit too exhausted to tour too much more of the museum, but we wandered through the displays of the African mammals and the outstanding dinosaur halls were there were immense reconstructed skeletons of every type of prehistoric creature immaginable. Wow! When you see those creatures up close and personal, it's amazing. A tall man would only come up to the knee-bone of one of most of them. Pretty scary!

After we finished that tour, we decided to take another stroll through the Park to find the Strawberry Fields memorial to John Lennon. And that's when another fine adventure began...

Part Two: Strawberry Fields by Pedi-Cab.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

GREENWICH VILLAGE: Day Two, Part Two

The first time I visited NYC, I went to stay in the West Village where my girlfriend lived. At that time I didn't know much of the history of Greenwich Village, only that this was where my litarary hero Jack Kerouac and the Beat Poets such as Allan Ginsberg had hung out during the '50's. I thought I'd died and gone to Beatnik Heaven. At that time the Village was at the height of Flower Power, and there was a lot of buzz about an event called Woodstock that was about to take place just outside of New York City. I had no idea what this was. I just knew I was there, walking around those tree-lined streets, sitting on the stoop in the evening, watching the crowds go by. My friend lived on MacDougal Street. I didn't know then that this was the street were Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) had also lived.

This time when I was preparing to return to NYC, I did some research, mainly about the literary history of the Village. I wanted to visit every home, pub and theatre where famous writers had lived and worked. Greenwich Village has always been a symbol of NYC's artistic and literary history. The Village was largely developed in the late 19th century so the streets aren't laid out on a grid system and have names rather than numbers. Washington Square was once one of Manhattan's first prestigious residential neighbourhoods. The Park was established 1828, surrounded by Greek Revival townhouses. Several of the oldest of these are still standing as is the Stanford White designed archway in the Park. Henry James lived here, also Edith Wharton. In the cluster of rooming houses on West 10th St. writers such as
ee cummings and Theodore Dreiser lived.

Eventually the Village attracted a more bohemian group of writers, among them Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and O Henry. And during the 50's and 60's it was popular with the existentialists and Beat generation writers as well as poets like Dylan Thomas.

The Village was also the centre for theatrical experimentation. Playwright Eugene O'Neill got his start at the Provincetown Playhouse on MacDougal St. For over 40 years the Sullivan Street Playhouse was home to The Fantastics. And Edna St. Vincent Millay founded the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Nowadays the Village has become more upscale with trendy boutiques, antique shops, night spots and cinemas. We window-shopped as we walked through the shaded streets in search of
The White Horse Tavern which opened in 1880 and gained a name for itself in the late '50's as a haunt of Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer and poet Dylan Thomas. Inside, the snug little booths and polished wooden bar are perfect for the literary crowd to gather for discussion along with their pints. On the walls are portraits of Thomas who collapsed and died on the sidewalk outside the pub after imbibing a vast quantity of whiskey (the accounts run from 7 to 19 shots! Apparantly he was diabetic.)

We sat at one of the little tables outside and ordered burgers. Of course I had a pint of Guiness in honour of Dylan.

A few blocks from here on Bedford St. is Chumleys. It was a little hard to find because it used to be a speak-easy and there is no sign outside, just a big old wooden door with the number 86. Here's where Kerouac hung out. It's long been known as a writer's hangout. John Steinbeck used to come here too. And F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of The Great Gatsby here. It was also a favorite haunt of actor Humphrey Bogart.

I stepped inside only long enough to take a photo or two of the interior. The walls were covered with photos of authors and book cover illustrations. It's a dining place so the tables were full. If we hadn't already chowed down on the burgers we might have stopped here for a bite to eat and another pint. But it was time to head for The Village Vanguard for an evening of cool jazz.

This is one of the oldest jazz clubs in NYC and known as "New York's most prestigious jazz club". It's located in the West Village on Seventh Ave S. down in a dim-lit basement.
There is limited seating and though we'd booked our tickets ahead, we were advised to get there early to find a good table. We were lucky to get seated near the front. The $35 admission includes $10 toward your drinks. We ordered and sat back to enjoy the evening.
This show featured Paul Motian (drums), Joe Lovana (sax) and Bill Frisell (guitar).
One thing I liked about it was nobody talks while the performance is on so you can really enjoy the quality of the music. When the first show over you can pay another $10 to stay for the second show and this would cover your drinks.

We opted to leave and take the subway back to Manhattan, just in time to browse through Times Square enjoying the excitement of the night-time crowds, and stop of Lindy's for some of their famous cheese cake. Yum!
I have never tasted cheese cake like it! A thick, rich slab that melts in your mouth.

We got back to our hotel at midnight, exhausted but happy with our day. Even our misguided little adventure on the subway when we were heading for the Village, had turned out to be fun. (We took the wrong train in the wrong direction. The folks on the train were helpful and polite, showing us the way to go -- back to Times Square and then down a different set of steps to get the Downtown train. ) Remeber this about Manhattan: Central Park and north are Uptown.
Times Square is Midtown. Greenwich Village and south is Downtown.

Next: Dinosaurs at Central Park and a Pedi-cab ride to Strawberry Fields!