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Santiago Surrounds | Snow + wine

the-majestic-andes-mountains-santiago-de-chile-june-2016

Part of the motivation for our South America holiday was to celebrate our birthday in a new and exotic location. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, we share a birthday in addition to an apartment, a car and a life. Colin is a year older than me which means that he was blowing out a candle on his first birthday cake at the moment I emerged, squalling, into the world. It took another 15 years for us to fall in love at high school, and only another 25 for us to celebrate our weirdly conjoined birthday in the Andes Mountains on the other side of the world.

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The mountains to the east of Santiago are very accessible from the city. We booked a tour which departed early and it didn’t take long before the landscape changed from houses and streets to barren hillsides dotted with cacti as the bus steadily climbed upwards. The tour guide, Daniel, kept us entertained with stories and amusing anecdotes about the history of the area, spoken alternately in Spanish then English. Unfortunately much of the entertainment was lost on me as I concentrated on sipping water to suppress nausea and dizziness, thanks to a fourth long night of little to no sleep (jet lag is a bitch). Luckily for me our first stop at Farellones, a small town and ski resort, came within an hour’s drive of central Santiago. Finally, the solid ground and crisp mountain air revived me and I began to enjoy the day.

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In Farellones, looking back to Santiago in the distance. This photo clearly shows why Santiago experiences so much haze and smog, as it sits in a basin between the Andes to the east and the Chilean Coastal Range (Cordillera de la Costa) to the west.

Shortly after Farellones we stopped again next to a pristine stretch of snow. Much of the time our journey was flanked by rocks on one side of the bus and a steep drop on the other, but here the land had flattened out providing the perfect spot for snow play. Despite growing up in New Zealand, we lived a long way from the mountains further south and had never really spent time in the snow. Feeling like a couple of kids, we crunched about, threw snowballs and took multiple selfies against the bluest sky I have ever seen. On the road again, the tour guide discovered that it was our birthday, which prompted the jovial passengers to sing “Happy Birthday to You” (in Spanish, of course!).

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By late morning we had reached our destination, the ski resort Valle Nevado, where we enjoyed a leisurely four and a half hours to explore. We had promised ourselves a bottle of champagne for our birthday, so we made our way up the hill to a restaurant overlooking the ski field. There we had our pick of the tables and selected one outside in the full sun with the beautiful mountains as our backdrop. Time slowed right down in that deliciously lazy, holiday-at-last kind of way. The hours slid by and then, out of nowhere, I suddenly felt chilled to the bone. It was time to head back to the bus anyway so we bought large, steaming hot chocolates and defrosted in the heated lobby until it was time to board. On the drive back down the mountains the tour guide actively helped the driver to navigate the hairpin curves of the road. When we reached the bottom he congratulated us on making it safely down one of the world’s top 10 most treacherous roads.

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My last significant birthday, of the mid-decade variety, was celebrated in steamy Bangkok at the tail end of a three-month trip around South-East Asia. Our wonderful day in the Andes Mountains had a different vibe but was equally memorable. I won’t forget the feel of dry, powdery snow or the stillness of the frozen landscape in a hurry. Best of all, thanks to the sun, fresh air and wine, that night I broke the back of my jet lag and slept solidly for nine hours.

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If you’re in any way interested in wine then no trip to Santiago would be complete without a winery tour. One of Chile’s main wine regions, the Maipo Valley, is located just to the south of the city. With limited time to explore, we elected to visit the Concha y Toro winery which is the largest producer of wine in South America. It might be a global conglomerate (Concha y Toro exports wine to over 140 countries) but on a softly-lit winter’s afternoon, the vineyard felt like a beautiful, rustic parkland.

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As the sun began to set over the vines we tasted a crisp Sauvignon Blanc before heading underground. The vineyard was founded in 1883 and wine production long outgrew the capacity of the ornate cellar. Although it is still used to store some special wines, the cellar is maintained for its character and historical value. We were treated to a a vivid representation of the story behind the Casillero del Diablo brand, created over 100 years ago when founder Don Melchor de Concha y Toro spread a rumour that his cellar was inhabited by the devil – a strategy which, as planned, protected his wines from theft.

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Emerging from the cellar we tasted two red wines, a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2014 Carménère before settling into the adjoining bar for a cheese platter and a glass of delicious Pinot Noir. Back on the bus with the heating on, we settled in for a cozy 90 minute drive back to the city. It was rush hour by the time we arrived, and the bus crawled off the motorway, stuck in traffic. Suddenly a shower of glinting glass fragments appeared. Hooded figures had smashed the passenger windows of the two cars in front of us, reached in, pulled out bags and sprinted away into the dark. The tour guide and driver barely noticed; it happens, they said.

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Roasted Rhubarb Compote + a few good reads

Food for spring - roasted rhubarb and strawberry compote served with oat porridge

It’s been the winter of soup for us. Most weekends have found me in the kitchen at some point, throwing vegetables into a large pot of boiling stock. No recipe most of the time, just faith in my knowledge of flavours and methods, and inspiration drawn from whatever odds and ends lurked in the fridge. One with chicken, fennel and barley was particularly good and I almost wrote up the recipe to share here. But all of a sudden it’s too late. Spring is officially here and I am officially over soup.

Just when I was also getting over mandarins and apples the markets became stocked with rhubarb and strawberries. I’m normally reluctant to eat rhubarb due to the excessive amount of sugar that it needs to become palatable, but roasting it with strawberries, a little honey and orange juice produces a delightfully fragrant, subtly sweet compote. The recipe comes from My Darling Lemon Thyme, a wonderful gluten-free food blog by New Zealander, Emma Galloway. I use Emma’s recipe as a guide really; one time using the spicy liquid left over from poaching pears in place of the honey and juice, and another time including cinnamon and a finely sliced apple that was getting old in the fruit bowl. In the photos I’ve paired it with oat porridge for breakfast, but my favourite way to eat it is with creamy coconut yoghurt. It would be fantastic used as the base for crumble.

Spring food - rhubarb and strawberries roasted in orange zest

I almost didn’t post this recipe because last weekend at the market there wasn’t a stalk of rhubarb to be found. However, I learned from Mum that, despite signs of spring in New Zealand, the rhubarb and strawberry season hadn’t yet begun. This recipe is therefore for friends, family and readers back home; Australians may have to wait another year. I’m always waiting for specific ingredients to come into season before trialling recipes. Northern hemisphere food blogs are deep into the tomatoes and peaches of summer when we’re slogging away with pumpkin and apples down under. I have hundreds of recipes bookmarked and these are a great repository of ideas, but there’s nothing like seeing a recipe, being griped by inspiration and having the ability to act immediately.

Spring food - Roasted Rhubarb & Strawberry Compote with oat porridge

Australian and New Zealand blogs make up a sizeable portion of my regular reads so fortunately for me, I can experience this frequently. I recently updated my Link page to organise my favourite reads geographically so this is a good place to start if you are looking for local blogs. If you have an interest in nutrition, as I do, then I recommend Apples Under My Bed (try Heidi’s tasty yet virtuous Banana, Fig & Walnut Bars) or the ever creative Sarah at Highgate Hill Kitchen (I love Sarah’s method for crispy lentils in this recipe). Lucy at Nourish Me doesn’t post very frequently these days, but her blog is still a major source of inspiration. I make her Red Lentil & Lime Soup and Quinoa Millet Pilaf several times a year. Food from Michelle’s Kitchen is another favourite (try the tasty Roasted Cauliflower & Za’atar Carrot Salad) and Wholefood Cooking is a new and welcome discovery. I have my eye on Jude’s Easter Fish Pie and Beetroot & Lentil Hummus.

Rhubarb and strawberries after roasting - soft and juicy but still intact

My other favourite Australian and New Zealand food blogs may not be so explicitly focused on wholefoods but they are no less inspiring. Genie’s Bunny Eats Design is my go-to place for foodie news and fresh ideas and frequent appearances from Tofu the Rabbit keep things not-so-serious in a quintessentially-kiwi way. Foodwriter Lucy Corry blogs at The KitchenMaid and is a great source of recipes, both nostalgic (try her DIY Vogel’s Bread) and new (Black Doris Coconut Ice Cream). Sandra at Please Pass the Recipe brings a lifetime of cooking and travel to her interesting recipes, like the delicious-sounding Olive Oil & Fennel Seed Wafers. Finally, Stephanie’s The Dessert Spoon is a great blog for decadent desserts and cocktails such as the aptly-named, Brisbane Daiquiri.

Really, I could go on. There are so many creative people out there. Happy reading, happy cooking, and happy spring to all my friends, family and readers in Australia and New Zealand!

Roasted Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote for breakfast

Roasted Rhubarb & Strawberry Compote

Adapted from My Darling Lemon Thyme

250g rhubarb
250g punnet strawberries
zest and juice 1 orange
1/4 cup runny honey
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 200°C / 395°F.

Wash the rhubarb and cut into 3cm lengths. Wash the strawberries, hull them and halve any large ones. Combine the fruit, orange zest and juice, cinnamon and honey in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to a large, flat ovenproof dish and spread out in a single layer.

Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving over porridge. Alternatively, chill completely and serve with yoghurt (coconut or regular).

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No More Innocent Blood | Santiago street art

No more innocent blood - street collage, Santiago Chile

Above: Paste up in Lastarria, Santiago de Chile (artist unknown) “No More Innocent Blood”

Australia and New Zealand don’t have much of a street art culture. Some parts do (Melbourne is probably the street art capital of Australia), but it’s not something that you commonly see, possibly because our communities don’t have a clear understanding of street art as distinct from graffiti or tagging. In the cities we visited in South America it was clear that a vibrant street art scene helps to express the soul of a city and its people. Street art can be irreverent, subversive, political, mind-bending and disturbing – sometimes all at once. Street artists use their chosen medium to comment on or satirise society, to commemorate historical events, or simply to create beauty and colour in the urban landscape. It’s democratic, accessible and free to view at all times – an art form of and for the people.

Our interest in street art grew as we travelled. At our first stop in Santiago we weren’t looking for it and so we only photographed the art that we happened to chance upon. This is a shame, because I now know that Santiago is home to some incredible street art, particularly in the neighbourhood of San Miguel where local artists have worked to create an open air art museum. It is also possible to take tours of the local street art scene (by foot, by bicycle or by car) through this company. If only we had known! Still, I’m grateful for the little that we did see so that I can share our modest collection here. More street art will come when my blog posting catches up to Buenos Aires and Valparaíso. For general travel notes on our Santiago visit, click here.

Note: I have attempted to identify and credit the artists for each piece but I was unable to identify most pieces. If anyone recognises a piece or notices a mistake, please let me know in the comments. Most photos are mine; a few are Colin’s. He used an iPhone 6 and I hate to say it, but I dare you to detect any difference from mine – taken with a Canon 7D, which weighs a tonne.

Girl with two plaits - street mural, Santiago Chile

Above: large mural by Javier Barriga Meersohn in Bellas Artes, titled “Ganza”.

You are what you eat - street collage Santiago Chile

Around Lastarria the paste-up (like a collage) seemed to be the predominant stye of street art. These are usually small art works, and they decay much more quickly than painted murals, which adds to their charm. The art above and below are by Caiozzama (except for the one of Salvador embracing a football player, which is by Luis Bueno). The ghoul above is titled “The King” – a reference to Burger King and (presumably) the notion that ‘you are what you eat’. The salmon below is titled “Do Not Eat Shit”, and is a critique of the Chilean salmon industry. The sad birthday boy is titled “Without Facebook No Birthday”, although the Facebook reference wasn’t clear when we saw it due to the deterioration of the image.

Decaying paste-ups near Lastarria, Santiago Chile

Santiago street art June 2016

Pinata - collage Santiago Chile

Convict 13 below is a paste up that I spotted three times in different parts of the central city. Titled “The Usual Suspects”, it is by the artist Phantte.

The Usual Suspects collage, Santiago de Chile

On our last morning in Santiago we walked over the Mapocho River to visit the bohemian suburb, Barrio Bellavista. The river runs through the centre of Santiago and there are murals along both sides of the canal as we discovered while on board a bus heading out of the city. The mural on this small segment of the depicts the 1973 coup led by the CIA-backed General Augusto Pinochet, which overthrew the democratically elected Marxist president, Salvadore Allende.

Political mural, Santiago Chile

We arrived in Bellavista at about 8am when all of the shops and cafes were still shut. Although the streets were almost deserted, one advantage of being there so early was that the doors in front of each shop were still rolled down. If it had been later in the day we would have missed a multitude of colourful, retro artworks like the one below. Elsewhere in Bellavista we saw mural upon mural upon mural and spent a pleasant hour taking photos, wondering what the next bend in the street would reveal.

Skull and roses - street art, Bellavista, Santiago Chile

Aliens Attack - street art in Bellavista, Santiago Chile

Aliens Attack - street art, Bellavista, Santiago Chile

Bellavista street art, Santiago Chile

Black and White - street art in Bellavista, Santiago Chile

Russian Dolls - street art in Bellavista, Santiago de Chile

Something smells fishy - street art, Bellavista, Santiago Chile

Windswept - street mural in Bellavista, Santiago, Chile

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Travel Journal | Santiago, Chile

Entrance to Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, Chile

We flew into Santiago in the early afternoon after a dark night suspended over the Pacific Ocean. Our breakfast had just been cleared and then all of a sudden the plane dipped below the clouds revealing the towering Andes Mountains and the city sprawling at their feet. A short taxi drive later we arrived in the CBD and checked into our hotel. We had been given a room on the 22nd floor: “the penthouse”, we joked with staff; but the joke was on us, as the room turned out to be shabby and poorly cleaned with a pungent smell lurking in the hallway outside. Thankful that our long flight was over, we decided to overlook these discomforts and soak up the amazing view from the tiny balcony:

Andes Mountains, daylight and dusk, Santiago de Chile

After a short rest we headed out into the streets to explore.  We ordered large coffees and then wandered about, taking in the feel of new city streets and unfamiliar faces. We soon found ourselves in the main square, Plaza de Armas, which bustled with locals on their way home from work. A crowd had gathered around a pair of dancers; a young huaso (cowboy) wearing a poncho and hat, whose formal movements were answered gracefully by his parter, a woman wearing jeans and waving a white handkerchief (cueca – Chilean folk dance). It wasn’t until the dance ended and the woman kissed another man that we realised she wasn’t officially part of the act, but a stranger pulled from the crowd.

The sun was low and the temperature falling so we decided to head home. We thought we knew the way back (the streets are organised in a grid after all) but we spent a good hour trying to reconcile our tourist map with the landmarks etched into our memories. We were cold and hungry by the time we found our hotel but restaurants typically don’t open until 8pm or later. At a supermarket nearby we stocked up on fruit, crackers and a bottle of Chilean red wine, which I soon spilled all over the bed. One bar of soap later, wet sheets were draped all around the room, but then…finally, the Japanese restaurant across the street was open and we were face down in bowls of steaming udon soup. 

Street dog near Santa Lucia, Santiago de Chile

Palacio de Tribunales de Justicia, Santiago de Chile 3

Street scene, Merced, Santiago de Chile

After a sleepless night we headed out for breakfast then met up with Chloe from Foto Ruta whom we had booked for a photographic tour of the city. For the next few hours we enjoyed the warm winter sunshine as Chloe dispensed creative tips and local knowledge in equal part. From Chloe we learned how to buy still water (sin gas, not con gas) and why many of the street dogs wore little jackets (a local charity funds this every winter). At the end of the tour we sat in a cafe with glasses of wine while Chloe critiqued my photos, drawing attention to many little habits that I hadn’t noticed before (like forgetting to ensure that my shots are straight!). It was a beautiful day and the tour was a perfect, relaxing way to get our bearings and learn about the city. Some of my favourite shots from the day include:

Street dog guarding his patch, Barrio Lastarria, Santiago de Chile

Calle José Victorino Lastarria, Santiago, Chile 2

Santiago shop windows and Centro Gabirela Mistral

Pet dog relaxing on a street-level balcony, Barrio Lastarria, Santiago de Chile

Colourful church in Lastarria, Santiago Chile

Stained glass ceiling dome, Santiago de Chile

Flowering yucca at Santa Lucia, Santiago de Chile

Later that night we headed to the Costanera Centre in Providencia to meet up with Marta and Werner (we had met Marta five years earlier when travelling in Halong Bay, Vietnam). We enjoyed a fantastic dinner at the Peruvian restaurant, Tanta, sampling ceviché (raw fish), octopus with fried potatoes and pesto, an outrageous dessert platter, our first pisco sour (the first of many), and delicious Chilean Carménère. That night Chile beat Mexico 7-0, winning the semi-final of the South American football championship. The taxi ride home was punctuated with cheers and tooting horns, as the locals took to the streets to celebrate.

After that first day, Santiago was enveloped in dense smog which prevented our planned visit to Cerro San Cristóbal, the steep hill in the centre of the city. Instead, we roamed about the city, usually with no real plan in mind. We moved to a better hotel (sans stench and dirt), took a half day tour to a winery (more on that later) and a full day tour to the Andes Mountains (more on that later too). It was very cold and we were glad that we had invested in thick winter jackets and scarves, even though the sight of homeless people sleeping on park benches and shivering street dogs invoked the inevitable pangs of guilt. We gradually grew more confident to navigate the streets without a map (well, at least Colin did) and we worked on our meagre Spanish every time we stopped for hot coffee or steaming empanadas.

Metropolitan Cathedral, Plaza de Armas, Santiago de Chile

Nuevo York, Santiago de Chile June 2016

Palacio de Tribunales de Justicia, Santiago de Chile

I finally got over my jet lag five (!) days after we landed. Despite my exhaustion, I loved Santiago and wished we could have stayed longer to see more of the sites and museums. The morning after that blissful sleep (the sleep of the dead) we were due to fly out to Buenos Aires. We had a couple of hours to spare and squeezed in a walk around Barrio Bellavista, a bohemian area just across the Mapocho River. It was early for Santiago (nothing really opens until 10am) and we had the colourful streets almost to ourselves, except for a few elderly ladies walking dogs and a friendly chap who offered to sell us weed. All too soon, we were in the taxi heading for the airport, already nostalgic for Santiago de Chile.

Mapocho River, Santiago de Chile

Street art in Barrio Bellavista, Santiago de Chile

A few travel tips for those headed to Santiago:

  • Few people speak English in Chile, but we managed to get by with the Google Translate app. Hotel staff and tour operators are generally bilingual; waiters generally aren’t.
  • Bathrooms (baños) are hard to find when out and about. Stop for a coffee and use the patrons bathroom. Public bathrooms are sometimes available in the CBD. You’ll have to pay to use them, but they are scrupulously clean. Don’t flush the paper – use the waste baskets provided.
  • Taxis are notorious for ripping off tourists. Uber is widely available and a safer option.
  • Free wifi is readily available at all cafes and hotels (just ask for the password), but when we were out walking we had to go low tech and use maps. We did buy local sim cards (cheap) but never found a way to purchase pre-paid credit (the sim card vendor couldn’t sell credit).
  • Santiago was more expensive than we had expected, especially eating out. It’s possible to save a little money by buying snacks at the supermarket and empanadas from local bakeries. Complementary bread and spread (usually a mild pickle or fresh cheese) are provided at every meal, so after a while we started to order less food with this in mind.
  • We loved the second hotel we stayed in, Hotel Altiplanico Bellas Artes, which was a beautifully restored colonial building. The best food we ate was at Tanta (Peruvian cuisine).

Barrio market, Santiago de Chile