We finally managed to settle all our things in Vienna and prepare for our first trip to the Southern hemisphere. It seemed that we'd started off on the wrong foot, since we contracted a stomach bug even before beginning our travels. Nevertheless, by the time of our approx. 25 hour flight to Santiago (Vienna-Madrid-Miami-Santiago), we were feeling quite all right. The flights were nice, but exhausting, which may have contributed to what happened next. Namely, within the first hour of arriving in Chile, we were "relieved" of one of our phones in the much too crowded Santiago metro. Since then, things have fortunately gone smoother. We've gone on a couple of walking tours in downtown Santiago, walked some more on our own, relaxed and have by now gotten used to the six-hour time difference.
Santiago is a city of about six million inhabitants that is surrounded by mountains, some of which exceed 6000 meters in altitude. It suffers from a major earthquake once in about every five years, and the buildings seem to be relatively well protected against potential damage. We ventured mainly in downtown Santiago, which contains the old colonial buildings, but currently houses primarily the less well-to-do inhabitants of the city. The more affluent population lives in the eastern part, and apparently, this division is so strong that some people living in Santiago never cross this imaginary east-west border.
We visited the numerous market, including one where families have had their small fresh produce stalls for over a hundred years. Talk about a family business! We had lunch at one of the markets, and were served by a lady speaking in a manner that we could not identify as Spanish. It has been much easier to understand some other people on the street, so I suppose that like Vienna, there are several dialects spoken in Santiago.
|Central market of Santiago|
Our walking tour also took us to the central cemetery. Apparently, the cheapest way to get a spot in the graveyard is to rent it for four years. If wanted, this contract can be prolonged on a yearly basis, if not, the coffin will be removed, the body ends up in a mass grave, and the spot is freed for someone new. We also heard about animitas - people who lived an innocent life, but experienced a violent death, and thereby became direct channels to the Almighty. People go to the graves of the animitas and ask for favors, and once these are granted, a thank-you plaque is added to the wall of the grave.
|Rented spots at central cemetery|
We really liked to walk up and around the San Cristobal hill, which used to be a quarry (all of Santiago's cobblestones are from here), but is now the Santiago Metropolitan Park. This is one of the largest urban parks in the world: it's about twice the size of Central Park in NYC, but only slightly larger that the Prater of Vienna.
More pictures of Santiago can be seen at our picasa.
Last evening, after spending three days in the capital city, we took a bus to Valparaiso, where our two-week language course will begin in about 90 minutes. More on that later.