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Ciudadano Restaurant in Santiago Chile gets a lot of love for two reasons: it’s good, and it’s cheap. What more could you ask for in a restaurant, right? Well, how bout putting it in a funkily decorated old house smack in Barrio Italia, a district filled with some great Santiago restaurants and boutiques?
I’ve been here three times now, and the first two times both I and everyone I was with loved our dishes. This time, unfortunately, things weren’t so great, although I’m willing to take some of the blame for my choices. I guess I shouldn’t have gotten so excited to see fried mozzarella sticks on the menu, but I haven’t had those forever, and they sounded good. The breaded, only semi-melted cheese sticks we got weren’t exactly what I’d hoped for. I guess delicacies like deep fried cheese are best left to the gringos.
Ciudadano Restaurant is known for its pizzas. At under US$8 for most of these large, thin crust pies, it’s hard to imagine a better deal. I decided to branch out and try smoked salmon and capers, and I think that combination was to blame for my so-so feeling about this one. Then again, the cheese and sauce didn’t seem like anything special either, so it might have just been an off night for the kitchen.
Rodolfo’s ossobuco pasta sounded delicious, with a mushroom and champagne sauce to compliment the strong flavor of ossobuco-filled raviolis, but the sauce was thin and insipid, with none of the bold flavors the ingredients led us to expect. And this one certainly wasn’t my fault.
This probably all sounds like a list of reasons never to go to Ciudadano, but the truth is that I’d still recommend it on the strength of previous visits. Anywhere can have an off night, and I’m willing to give Ciudadano the benefit of the doubt. With a bill under US$40 for two raspberry mojitos (no complaints here, the bar was working just fine), a starter and two mains, it’s a risk I can afford to take.
1. Because to get there, you have to walk by the naval monument
The monument itself is big, and there’s a flame to honor the unknown dead (please note I do not call it an eternal flame as it was not in fact burning when Laura and I were there). As far as monuments go, it’s a solid one. But the real draw is that there are often little mini-sailors around with their silly pants looking totally out of place among the crowds of tourists.
2. You also might just have to walk by some chinchineros
Chinchineros are, as far as I know, unique to Chile. Not only do they play a drum strapped on like a backpack with their hands and a cymbal with their feet, they do it all while dancing and spinning around like whirling dervishes.
They’re always male, and the art is often passed on from generation to generation, but I’d never seen such a tiny chinchinero as this little guy who couldn’t have been more than four. (He recovered just fine from his fall, by the way, and seemed more embarrassed than hurt)
3. Boats are picturesque
I really don’t think I have to spell this one out, they just are. Even if they smell not-so-faintly of gasoline and fish.
4. Orange is a really flattering color
These life jackets would not in a million years have saved our lives. Mine didn’t even fasten properly, so in all likelihood I would have just ended up getting tangled in it and suffocating even if I managed to avoid drowning. These also smelled like fish and gasoline. Have I convinced you that this is a good idea yet?
5. It’s nice to get a new perspective on the city
Valparaíso’s views from above are hard to beat, it’s true. But after a while, those photos of hillsides covered in colorful houses, sloping down to meet the see? They start to look a little bit the same. Switching things up with a sea-level view allowed us to appreciate all those hills we’d been climbing.
6. Sea lions!
And you get so close to them! These do not smell like gasoline. They do smell like fish, but that’s understandable.
7. More boats.
Naval boats. Boats that look like they came out of a history book.
Most exciting to us, however, were the container boats. It’s not as if my nerd-dom was ever in doubt, but let’s just solidify it, shall we? Laura and I were fascinated by the process of getting the containers off the ships, wondering how long it must take them to unload, unpack, repack and then reload all those containers, where the ships had come from and where they were headed next. It was cool, ok?!
Seven is kind of an awkward number, but that’s all I got. I’ve been to Valparaíso a bunch of times and never taken a boat ride, but the success of our Iquique boat tour inspired me to give it a whirl this time. For $3.000 (US$6), I’m glad we did it – even with that whole gasoline and fish thing.
Torres del Paine. Chilean Patagonia. The end of the world. For so many people, it’s a once in a lifetime destination which requires significant time both to get there and to enjoy being there. Luckily for us, it’s a bit closer, so we took advantage of a sale on flights and decided to make it into a little weekend getaway.
Perhaps because our trip wasn’t the usual jaunt to Torres del Paine to hike the multi-day W circuit (or even longer O trek), I didn’t find all that much information online from people who’d done something similar. We more or less decided our destination on a whim based purely on the cheap flights and the fact that Rodolfo had previously wanted to go, and all I really did in advance was book our lodging. In the end, we can’t imagine how things could possible have turned out better, and if you ever find yourself with a spare 3 days in Santiago, you too can have a fabulous long weekend in Patagonia.
We flew LAN from Santiago to Punta Arenas with a stop in Puerto Montt (4.5 hours total). There are several flights a day, some of them direct. Sky Airlines also makes the trip.
We rented a car, which was essential for such a short trip. We chose to stay in the national park itself in order to maximize time there, and the first bus leaves Torres del Paine at 2pm each day, which would not have gotten us back to Punta Arenas in time for our flight. By car, it took us 2.5 hours from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales and another 2 hours between Puerto Natales and the Laguna Amarga entrance to the park.
The car cost us $80.000 (US$160) for 2 days because the windshield had a crack in it. It was literally the only car left in Punta Arenas though, and we were actually quite happy to take the crack – which we were told posed no danger of exploding glass into our faces – in exchange for deal on the price. Renting a car isn’t cheap, and if you plan to do it during high season I’d book in advance, but it was what made our trip possible and was well worth it.
We were pretty sure the buses were out due to our flight schedule, but we wanted to check before spending money on a car. The owner of the guest house in Punta Arenas said not to bother going to the bus companies early in the morning since they opened at 9. Lies – the first bus to Puerto Natales leaves at 8, followed by one at 9, and then only Buses Pacheco has an 11am bus while others wait until 1pm. Since you have to get to Puerto Natales, which is a 3 hour trip, by 2:30pm in order to catch the last bus to Torres del Paine, you need to be on one of the earliest buses if you plan to do the entire trip in a day.
We spent our first night at a guest house in Punta Arenas since we arrived at 11:30pm. I made a reservation at a place my in-laws had recommended for its low prices only to be told by the owner that we had no reservation, there were no rooms available, and it wasn’t her fault. We ended up staying next door for twice the price. It was fine, but I’m sure you could do better.
I booked Refugio Las Torres well in advance since a lot of online information warns that the refugios book up during summer, and we wanted to spend two nights in the park in order to have a full day for hiking. I think this may be more for the refugios along the W and O trekking routes since there was plenty of space at Las Torres – we were even moved from the older (cheaper) Torre Norte building to the newer and nicer Torre Central building at no cost.
It’s still ruinously expensive as it’s your only non-hotel/non-camping option – $25.000 (US$50) per person for a shared 6-bunk room – but I was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming it was. We also paid for dinner both nights – again, crazy expensive at $10.000 (US$20) each – and were happy to find that it was actually quite delicious. The current chef is on vacation from his normal job working on cruise ships, so we may have gotten lucky.
I’m no Torres del Paine expert after 3 days, but things worked out pretty well for us, and I’m happy to share tips or answer any questions if you’re planning a trip of your own to Chilean Patagonia. And stay tuned for the rest of the week to see some more gorgeous countryside and a very lucky clear view of torres themselves.
Now, I am supremely grateful. With our usual dog walkers currently all out of Santiago, I was struggling to think of who might have the flexible schedule and a thing for dogs. My in-laws are making my life much easier. But who does that? Who drives 2.5 hours back from hanging out with family to drive an hour round-trip twice a day to take care of someone else’s dog?
|These people. The people who took the doggies to the river over Christmas.|
|And especially when there are little drowned-rat-looking dogs who would like their grandparents to take them for a swim.|
After spending over 4 years total living in Santiago, I managed to understand most things about Chilean culture. Now, I’ve gotten to the stage where I understand most of the headlines of satirical paper The Clinic which pretty much means that I’ve got Chile down.
|You’ve got to be up on your current events and Chilean slang to have a prayer of catching the jokes|
There is, however, a rather large blind spot in my otherwise decent knowledge of Chilean culture: the essentials of childhood. I will never forget the day Rodolfo asked me over and over again if I had REALLY never heard of El Chavo del Ocho, a popular TV show that every Chilean grew up watching. “But it’s from Mexico!” he insisted. “You live right by Mexico!” I had to explain that while Californians may love our Mexican food, for the most part we don’t pay attention to the rest of the culture.
It’s not just a TV show. I had to have the phenomenon of albums explained to me. These apparently were little magazine-type books that you could buy at the local news kiosk. You’d then buy the corresponding sticker package to try to “illustrate” the scenes in your album…I think. To be totally honest, I’m not 100% clear on the concept because while I’m sure it’s great fun as a kid, as a grown-up it just seemed a little weird. I think albums are still around, but from what I’ve gathered they are no longer the craze they were when Rodolfo was younger. But don’t trust me on that.
Luckily for me, I can get through about 99% of my daily life without knowledge of things people did when they were 6. And over time, as they come up, I am learning about those references to childhood, it’s just that they don’t come up very often, so I’ve still got plenty to learn.
Case in point: yesterday at soccer practice, our coach explained that we would each have a ball and need to dribble inside a certain area. One person would paint, and when she painted someone, that person would paint too. I’m sorry – what? Turns out that pintar in that context means tag, as in “tag, you’re it.” A lesson I learned when the coach blew the whistle, I stood still waiting to see what everyone else did and was promptly the first person to be tagged.
I have also learned through soccer that what I would call monkey in the middle is known here as tontito, which translates to “dummy.” I don’t know that two kids keeping the ball away from a third kid being referred to as dummy would fly on the PC playgrounds in the US these days.
So I admit it: I have a weak spot when it comes to thinking I’m an expert on Chile. Luckily I have already found a solution. Yesterday I was playing with a friend’s 2 and a half year old daughter, and she is pretty much the most adorable thing in the world and decided I was her friend, so I will steal her and learn about childhood through her eyes. It’s a foolproof plan!
Lola and I just went for a walk to pick up sushi, and once again I found myself thinking how much I love my barrio.
Barrio means neighborhood, and just like in English, the word doesn’t simply refer to a physical location. It evokes the vibe of a place, the neighbors and local businesses, everything that comes together to make a simple collection of streets feel like a cohesive area.
Santiago’s got plenty of great barrios. When we were looking at apartments, we loved the Parque Forestal/Lastarria neighborhood, and although for me it’s been a more recent discovery, Barrio Yungay was appealing enough that I didn’t even mind getting lost there — if you look at these pictures, it’s not hard to see why.
That said, although I’m sure there are plenty of places in the city where we could live, we were lucky enough to buy an apartment in the exact area that I’d dreamed of calling home. For me, much as I enjoy other areas, the sector of Providencia that I currently live in is the perfect balance of quiet and residential but also well-connected and full of things to do.
It’s not just about the tree-lined streets or the nearby good restaurants, however. We’re talking about the neighborhood feeling, and after two years here, I still love running into examples of it.
I like that the guy who sells newspapers on the corner knows me, as does the taxi driver who is often parked there. Having a dog is a great way to meet neighbors, and it’s fun to run into fellow dog owners and chat about how the pups are doing. The owner of the aforementioned sushi restaurant recognizes us, as do the doormen of neighboring buildings.
Perhaps my latest and greatest barrio-esque moment happened this weekend.
I tweeted “Advantage of buying at the neighborhood minimarket: when you’re $700 short, they let you take your food and promise to pay later.” I had gone to buy an empanada for lunch and once there decided I really wanted two empanadas.
I was on my way to the park with Lola, and rather than having to go home to get the equivalent of US$1.50 right that second, the guy behind the register — who again, knows Lola and me — told me just to pay him sometime before he closed at 11pm.
He knew I was good for it and that in the absolute worst case scenario I have to walk by the minimarket every day and could be apprehended, and it made my afternoon so much more enjoyable. I really appreciated it, and that’s not something that happens at your local faceless supermarket or in a place where you don’t have those neighborly connections.
I’ve been thinking about this feeling of barrio a lot lately, probably because Rodolfo is gone. Even without him to make my apartment feel like a home, I find myself starting to smile as I get closer to my building.
Of course it helps that I have an adorable pup waiting for me and that my apartment is looking good these days, but it’s more than that. I’m in a good mood as I take Lola on her walk and run into people I know or just see the neighborhood characters. I feel like I’m a part of the daily routine of this little section of the city I call home, and that feeling of belonging, especially of belonging to an area I love so much, is pretty special.
PS. Sorry for the lack of photos… Rodolfo currently has the camera with him in Sweden and is probably using it to take pictures of snow and boys playing practical jokes on each other.
In high school, for three months a year, life pretty much revolved around soccer. With my dad as my coach, not only did I go to practice, I also spent every car ride home, dinner and evening discussing the sport with him. I loved it.
|Blue suit and grey suit ready to take on rivals Cal Poly. Yes, our sweatsuits had official names.|
|Ahh college and the binge drinking…of water. I am wearing that same shirt right now|
|Playing assistant coach because I kind of sort of got a red card in the previous game. Oops.|