South America Diary: Day 18

Monday, 2 May, 2011. 17:21

Plaza de Armas, SantiagoWe are relaxing some more in our room after an easy day wandering around central Santiago. We got up late, a bit after 09:00, and went to the breakfast buffet. We had cereal, bread rolls, and M. had a freshly cooked fried egg to order and a pancake with jam.

A bit later, we went for a walk, heading north into central Santiago and the Plaza des Armas. On the way to the plaza, we saw a CD shop where I stopped to see if they had any CDs of the Latin American covers of U2 songs that I’d been hearing everywhere in Peru. The old lady in the shop spoke no English but I managed to get her to pull out half a dozen real U2 albums. But when I tried to indicate that I was looking for their songs by other groups—Latin American groups—she was boggled. She called a guy who came from somewhere a minute later and who spoke a bit of English. I think I got my request across, but when he explained it to the lady, they both looked at me seriously and said no such thing existed, at least not in Chile, as if they were denying any association with scandalous bootleg cover versions. Disappointed, we left to continue onto the Plaza des Armas.

Metropolitan Cathedral, SantiagoThis square was smaller than I expected, smaller than the one in Lima, and more cluttered with objects: trees, benches, statues, etc, that blocked sightlines across the square. There was also a line of marquees set up along one side and a bit around the corner in front of the cathedral. It appeared to be a book publisher exposition or something, as all the stalls were full of new books.

We went in the Metropolitan Cathedral to look around. A sign outside seemed to say restoration work was planned and sadly it looked like it on the inside. It could have been beautiful, but the paintings on the ceiling vaults and walls looked dusty and dull, and some small parts of the ceiling were patchy and broken. We walked around inside, including going down into the crypt, where there was a large space with a crucifix sculpture protected by bars. One of the chapels around the sides of the cathedral contained an altar dripping with silver. Part of the right side of the main aisle was cordoned off and there was scaffolding there, so maybe they’d started working on it already.

Mercado Central, SantiagoFrom the cathedral, we continued walking north to the Mercado Centrale. This turned out to be a mixture of seafood market and touristy seafood restaurants, each of which had numerous spruikers trying their hardest to get us to eat lunch in their restaurants. One guy spoke to us at length in English, telling us his restaurant was the best one in all of Santiago. Well, with a recommendation like that, how could we pass it up? We left the market and walked back towards the hotel, picking up some bread rolls and cheese at a small grocery mini-market. The bread rolls were still hot from being baked, and the cheese was sliced and tasted good when placed on the bread. We took it to the plaza and sat on a shady seat provided by the brickwork around a tree to eat it. Not far away, in a raised rotunda, there were dozens of men and one old lady playing chess on tables set up in rows. Around a couple of tables were hordes of men in suits, standing packed tightly, the outside ones craning necks to see the games in the middle, which were being played with chess clocks at a rapid rate.

Chess SquareAfter eating and taking some photos of the chess, we walked to the Basilica de Merced, hoping to see inside. Alas, it appeared closed. We went around to the entrance to the attached Museo la Merced instead, but found it closed too. Though this time with a sign indicating “ora de colación: 14:00-15:00”. It was just before 15:00, so I figured this was some sort of siesta break, so we waited, and the ticket window opened promptly at 15:00. Admission was only 1000 pesos each (about AU$2), and this let us into the small museum, which was a collection of mostly religious iconography in seven display rooms. The first room contained items of pre-Columbian religion, mostly from Easter Island, but also a few items from various other cultures such as Nazca, Moche, Chavin, Inca, etc.

Spear ladyFollowing this were rooms of Spanish and cross-cultural Christian items, paintings, chalices, crucifixes, sculptures, sceptres, reliquaries, and so on. One room was full of dozens of wooden sculpture dioramas of the baby Christ in various scenes, with nature and animals, covered by large glass domes. A plaque said they were made by artisans in Quito. A wall map showed this was not Quito in Ecuador, but roughly somewhere in northern Chile. Another room contained about 18 different paintings of various kings of Judea and Israel in octagonal frames.

The museum done, we exited and decided to check the northern side of the basilica to see if there was an open entrance there that we’d missed before. As we passed the previously closed main western door, we saw it was open now, presumably the basilica also closed for colación. We entered and had a look around, but this was also dim and dusty. None of the churches we’d seen here have been bright and clean like ones in Europe.

From the basilica we walked towards the hotel, keeping an eye out for bookshops to buy M. a new novel to read during relaxing times and on the flight home. We passed the hairdressing district (about eight hairdressers in a row), the lighting shop district, the furniture shop district. We figured we just needed to find the bookshop district and there would be eight bookshops in a row.

Santiago marketWe turned a corner and found a large bookshop. We went in and asked if they had an English section. The guy answered no in Spanish, but gave us directions (in Spanish) to an English language bookshop, apparently just around the next corner and down a bit. We walked a bit and found another bookshop and repeated our inquiry, getting pretty much exactly the same response. We turned what we thought was the indicated way and found a comic shop and another bookshop, and antique one, which was closed. Wandering the area a bit we found yet another bookshop, but it was small. Then across the way was another, larger bookshop! We had clearly found the bookshop district! We asked in this one for English books, and again got the answer, in Spanish, that there was an English bookshop just around the corner somewhere. We left, looked down the arcade, and saw just two shops away a “Libreria Inglese” – English bookshop! We went in and found it was mostly full of learning materials for Spanish speakers wanting to learn English, plus a lot of simple English literature such as children’s novels. But there was also one shelf of English novels, and M. checked this and selected a crime thriller.

Shoe!We walked back to the hotel to rest for a little bit, noticing that just down the block a bit was what looked like a market. Of course we had to head out again to check it out. It turned out to be a neat little artisan market, full of tidy stalls of people selling all manner of handicrafts, bags, clothing, shoes, musical instruments, and so on. We browsed around for a while, and M. found a woman doing leather work, incuding a rack of colourful belts that she liked. She selected one with a flower pattern and we bargained the woman into giving it to us for somewhat less than the initial asking price. We’d noticed that the belt was quite long and didn’t have holes punched where M. needed them, and after settling a price the woman selling us the belt realised this too. So she offered to punch some new holes in it then and there. She used a leather punch to create a couple of new holes, then tried it on M. again, and found it still couldn’t be buckled tight enough for her. So she punched a couple more holes, and tried again. She had to have a third go, punching a total of six new holes in the belt before it could be buckled at a comfortable place for M! This all took her about ten minutes, during which she had to put aside the other item she’d been wokring on when we’d arrived. She was very helpful and friendly, and I felt a bit bad about having bargained her price down!

This done, we went back to the hotel to rest for a while before dinner. It was getting late in the afternoon already. We’d managed to spend most of the day out. After some relaxing, watching episodes of House on TV, we went to dinner about 19:45 in the hotel restaurant. M. had gnocchi with tomato sauce, I had salmon coated with an olive tapenade, with roast potato wedges. We also had a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc to go with the food, which was nice. I had a pumpkin brownie for dessert, which came with a white chocolate mousse. The brownie was a bit hard and solid, but tasted okay.

After dinner, it was retiring to our room for another good night’s sleep.

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