Driving fun in Santiago

As we’ve been here for nearly two months (unbelievable!), we’ve started to get used to getting around in a big and busy city.  Before we start to find it ‘normal’, here are a few observations we’ve made about driving around Santiago thus far.  Thoughts about bus and metro will come later,  Achim will be the tester for those. 🙂

Streets change directions at different times of the day

Do not take for granted that if you turn down a one-way street in the morning, it will still be going in the same direction in the afternoon. Despite what the street sign says, streets change directions.  First, I have turned down a busy 4 lane street in the wrong direction, and then, have been on the road going in one direction when the road was changing to the ‘other’ direction.  Nothing like driving down a 4-lane highway to notice cars in the distance, in all lanes, coming screaming toward you.  You’d think it would be really well highlighted, with flashing signs, but often you just get a faint sign on the opposite side of the crossing letting you know of the rules.  That leads me to number two…

Street signs are small. Very small.

In order to avoid the aforementioned drama, you have to pay very special attention to any sign on the road that might indicate that between certain hours, the streets run in opposite directions. Often the sign is on the far side of the junction, mixed in amongst all the other signs and lights. Very easy to miss. Not that I could read it in the first place (note to self: up your Spanish lesson hours).

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Apparently if you use your 4-way lights, you can stop anywhere

I cant tell you the amount of times I’ve been driving down a busy road when someone in front of me has stopped randomly and put on their 4-ways to either take a call, let someone out, decide to look at map, or wait to pick someone up.  Chileans don’t seem to like it either, with all the horn-blaring that ensues, but it doesn’t seem to stop people from doing it.

“Merging lanes” is really a game of Chicken

To be fair, it was like this in Melbourne as well. But, when two lanes ‘merge’ that really means whoever plays chicken the longest (or has the most screwed-up car) will get the spot. When it comes to ‘merge-chicken’ I always suss up how damaged the other car…someone with a duct-taped bumper and an indented door will have no problem playing bumper-cars. They can therefore go first.  At some point though, you have to pull-out the aggressive side of you.  I suggest a driving playlist that includes lots of gangsta’ rap.

Traffic busking must be profitable

In the city-centre, traffic isn’t exactly great, which has given rise to the past time (or profession?) of traffic-busking.   Given the pure number of them you see around during the day, they must make a decent living from performing in front of stopped cars. I’ve already posted about this here, but it’s worth another mention. Check out the act I saw this morning – awesome.

 Traffic busking

Do NOT leave your purse on the passenger seat

This hasn’t happened to me (knock on wood) but when driving in certain areas of the city it is very important to keep your purse hidden in the car.  The wife of one of Achim’s colleagues had her passenger window smashed and her purse stolen off the seat while she was in traffic. NOT a nice experience to go through, and it’s made me paranoid. While I’ve never felt ‘in danger’ when I’ve been driving, it is worth being mindful that it can happen so don’t be careless.

Goodbye parking meters, hello green men

One thing I’ve noticed is that there aren’t any parking meters to be found. Instead, when you park in a paid parking zone, a guy with a green shirt will scurry up to give you a ticket. Then when you leave, he scurries back to collect the fee. Simple!  Although due to my fear of communication in Spanish I’ve been parking far away and walking so I don’t have to figure it out in person. Will attempt next month 🙂

 

 

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Montreal Bagels…in Santiago

My family would agree that I’ve been known to love a good bagel. Starting in highschool when the first “Canadian Bagel” opened up in Belleville, my love affair continued when I discovered the real bagel when I moved to Westmount (in Montreal) in the early 2000s. On the walk to work I’d pick up a fresh bagel every morning. Dangerous things, those bagels.

For Emily it all kicked off in Melbourne, when we’d go for morning walks to the closest Glicks on Balaclava Rd, in St Kilda East.  While Glick’s Australian bagels really don’t compare to the real Montreal Bagels, they did have a mean Halal bread.  I miss those days of fantastic Jewish bakeries.

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Now, alas, here in Providencia I’ve rediscovered montreal bagels again!  One of the things I will miss the most about living in Providencia (we’re just about to move to Vitacura, another area of Santiago) is, the little shop called Montreal Bagels.  A friend of mine’s father opened up this little bagel shop, and they’re absolutely fantastic (not to mention, the owner Mark is a great guy and tour guide!).  Since we’ve arrived, I’m pretty sure (and slightly embarrassed to admit) that the three of us have gone through 50 bagels…at least.  The Montreal Bagel shop is located in Nunoa, a trendy little area of Santiago, and offers: sesame, cinnamon, plain, poppy seed, everything, onion, and a house recipe of caramelised cranberry bagels. You cant eat-in, it’s for take out only – a pure bakery. The shop opens its doors at 10am, and the bakers now recognise my car parked outside desperately awaiting the doors to roll up.

While as of tomorrow it will no longer be at our doorstop, we’ll continue to make the trip in to re-stock the freezer on a regular basis. Nothing like a hot fresh bagel…pure, delicious carbs.

IMG_3040Montreal Bagels

The tourist bus

Sorry we’ve been silent for the past little while – we had our first houseguest!  Jenn flew in from New York for 5 days to see a bit of Santiago and have a good catch-up for the first time in a few years. Very exciting. And with a houseguest, it actually forces you out of your little bubble and into the world. Yes, we finally did some of the real tourist attractions in Santiago. I’ll do a few posts over the next few days outlining some of the fun 🙂

First off, we decided to first go for the gold of brazen tourist experiences – the “Tourist Bus”. Given that I’m a blatantly obvious foreigner (and tourist), I shouldn’t be so painfully embarrassed to drive around in one of those sight-seeing, roofless-double-decker buses. You know the ones I’m talking about – they’re in New York, and in London. Bright red, two-storey bus that seems to beckon out “hey you out there, come pick-pocket my riders”.

The bus-card

The bus-card

The bus is quite practical, it goes every-half-hour from 13 different spots, and does loops around Santiago. It’s not fun to drive around downtown on your own as a newcomer to this city (more about that later).  You can get on and off as often as you like. We hopped on the bus, and went up to the top level to get the ‘front row’ seats. Great seats for being paraded around Santiago, but also great seats for the locals to glare at you like you’re their tourist attraction. At traffic lights I couldn’t help but stare at my feet and avoid any eye contact. Why is that embarrassing? I don’t know, but it is.

Turistik Bus map

Turistik Bus map

All in all it was interesting as an overview of Santiago – the more developed richer side, to the downtown. Make sure you allow a full day so you can get on and off at many stops (to make it worth your $$!). We didn’t have enough time so really only got off to see a few things.

A few shots from the bus:

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Plaza de Armas – the ‘centre’ of Santiago

Views from the Turistik

Just off Plaza de Armes

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driving through downtown Santiago

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The ‘more expensive’ side of Santiago

For more info:  Turistik, cost: $40

Found: Coffee!

While I’m not originally from Melbourne, I’d say my coffee addiction definitely comes from living in Melbourne. I’ll be honest: I’m in currently in full withdrawal for a soy latte. We’re talking headaches, sweating, grouchy, don’t-offer-me-nescafe-or-you-will-get-a-slap, desperate for coffee. It’s not just about the coffee of course, there’s something about the atmosphere of a good cafe in Melbourne that I crave.  Could also be that I had friends to go to these cafes with at one point in my life. I now have a toddler to drag there. She’s definitely cute, but not such great conversation.

So we’ve been on a mission to find good cafes in Santiago since we’ve arrived.   In the past few weeks I’ve tried 6 cafes, but so far only these two make the cut to be recommended –  they whisk me back to Melbourne both in atmosphere and in taste. Of course, I haven’t found soy lattes, which is a big disappointment – but I’m trying to wean myself onto cow’s milk again. Yuck.

1. Sabores de Buenos Aires ( Republica de Cuba, Providencia)

Cute little cafe tucked away off the main drag. The coffee isn’t as strong as you’d get in Melbourne (I like that, Achim doesn’t), but they offer lots of options: cappuccino, latte, and several others I wont understand until I learn Spanish.  You sit on the terrace under the trees, listening to chilled-out South American lounge music. They have lots of little sweet things to eat, sandwiches, etc.  It seems pretty un-touristy – mostly locals, as it’s not so easy to find and not close to any major shopping area. Also it is very child friendly – every time we go there are a few kids, and nobody minds at all having a few little-ones running around. They also welcome dogs and put out a little drinking bowl for them. Love it. Furthermore, the staff are always friendly, and they have no hesitation to make a “baby-chino” for Em (who starts calling out for it when she sees a cafe, poor thing knows the drill). Seem to be the only cafe who can do just milk-foam, not a cup of hot milk for her. We go back often.

Prices:  1 croissant, 1 latte, 1 baby-chino = around $5

Sabor de Buenos AiresCoffee timeBaby Chino

2. Cafe Wonderful (Lastarria, and also in El Golf) 

This cafe is decorated just like a more modern Melbourne cafe – slate chalkboards, high ceilings, exposed walls, glass showcase displaying tasty desserts and sandwiches. The cafe on Lastarria is even home to an old arty theatre. It’s in the more touristy region of Santiago, but felt like the clientele was a mix of both locals and tourists with their guidebooks (yup, I fit into the tourist classification).  The latte below was tasty – very smooth. A little higher milk to coffee ratio than I’m used to, so again it didn’t taste too strong (which I liked!). Poor Em; they didn’t really get the concept of the baby-chino (just milk-foam), but they did attempt and brought her some warm milk which was nice. Friendly smiley staff.

Coffee price:  1 latte = around $3

WonderfulCafe wonderfulCafe Wonderful

There are definitely more to come over the next few weeks as I drive around randomly hunting for my next shot of caffeine!  Yes, in case you wondered,  I do have time on my hands these days.

Santiago traffic busking

You know when you’re at a traffic light and a guy comes up offering to wash your window for a few coins? Well Santiago takes this to a whole new level.

It’s common in South America to be offered many things when stopped at traffic lights – from drinks and snacks, to mobile phones, toys, lottery tickets (from what I can decipher), fruit and farmers goods, etc.  However, the entertainment options have caught me off guard and I love it.  While walking/driving around Santiago, it’s not uncommon to see really creative ‘traffic busking’.  So far we’ve seen: jugglers – with balls, bowling pins and even fire sticks, dancers, a gymnast doing backflips and cartwheels, and today I saw a guy doing magic tricks! They do their little show and then run around to collect some coins from the cars.

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Seriously creative. I wonder what the local tip should be for such entertainment? Certainly makes the traffic more bearable. I gave 50 cents today – that could be great, or really, really cheap. I guess in a few months I’ll know, but for now I’m still a newcomer who gets pretty excited by things like this.

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House hunting in Santiago: Part 1 – Locations

House hunting is both fun and frustrating at the same time. Great fun in that you get to check out houses all over, but frustrating in that you actually have to make a decision on one. And drive around a lot…toddlers dont like carseats, especially getting Into them several times a day. Yay tantrums 🙂 Food bribes have worked well, whoops – bad parents.

We’ve chosen to live on the North/east side of the city which heads up into the Mountains – and therefore is a bit out of/above the air pollution (not that you really escape it, but you can try!) It’s also where most of the expats live. I know I know, not the ‘real’ Santiago…but close enough.

Where we're looking for houses

Where we’re looking for houses

The trouble is that there are lots of different communities and suburbs out there to pick from, all having their own pros and cons. If you actually live in a place it feels different, but here is our overview of the areas, and a little summary of our feeling of what it’s like for us (from driving around and checking out some houses for rent, and of course hunting for good coffee).

House hunting areas

House hunting areas

  • Vitacura: A fun, posh little area with nice shops, cafes and restaurants. Older-style houses, mostly un-renovated (when renting). We’d love to live there, but so far it is really tough to find a big house – particularly one with a yard. They do come up every so often but go quickly. You can definitely find cool apartments though, and you can walk to shopping, parks and cafés. Vibrant area.
  • Santa Maria de Manquehue: The residential part of Vitacura. No shops at all in this area, but nice houses (some renovated, some not) with yards, at least one park and school in the middle, and if you go up the mountain a bit you get some awesome city views. Downside is that it doesn’t get much sun in winter as the mountains block it out (=high heating bills and lots of complaining!). Need to drive everywhere as there is minimal public transport, but city and cool Vitacura is very close (5 mins drive) – short commute for Achim. Quiet area.
  • Los Trapenses: A newer area, with big new gorgeous houses. You’re sure to get a massive house with yard up here, and great views. It seems pretty far from the city and a lot longer commute (probably minimum 20 minutes more than Vitacura). Your shopping is centered around a shopping-mall that sits in the middle. Quiet area.
  • La Dehesa: There is an older part and a newer part. La Dehesa (Lo Barnechea) is a big town of its own really. There is a great shopping mall – no real “street shopping” that we can find yet, dozens of schools and daycare centres, and things to do. Great city views from gorgeous houses on the hill. For us it just feels pretty removed from the city and mall-centred, despite the fact that it doesn’t take long to get there on the highway.
  • Las Condes: Loads of expats with school-aged kids live in Las Condes and in La Dehesa for the massive variety of school options. Las Condes is huge – there is an upper and a lower part. Lower part is apartment-living, with access to loads of parks and shopping, and it’s the central business district for international companies (Achim’s company is there). Upper part is big houses with yards and views. It feels pretty modern and new. For us, the upper part (where the houses are) is again, bit too far from the vibrant part of Santiago.

So, while we’d love a house in Vitacura it seems too tough to actually get one (with a big yard, which we really want for Em), so we are now aiming at the next suburb out – Santa Maria de Manquehue. Quiet and residential, but pretty close to it all with a car. Stay tuned for house details…

First thoughts about Santiago

Here is a little collection of my first thoughts and/or experiences in Santiago after 4 days. Big disclaimer:  these are not a good representation of Santiago as they are based only on a few days of jet-lagged dazed Santiago living – in the more modern part. Plus we’ve not done any touristy things yet, as it’s really tough to get out with Em in a perpetually under-slept cheery mood. But for fun, some things I’ve thought over the past days.

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The “reciprocity” fee.  Annoying. When you get off the plane in Chile, as one of around 5 specially chosen nationalities (Canadians, Americans, Australians, and a few others), you get the opportunity to line up and pay a “reciprocity” fee of a $132. They even take cash or card – how helpful.  Of course, Achim doesn’t get this special treatment as a German.  Bah, Canadians must really screw the Chileans with their visas. Cant we all just be friends?

People like kids.  I know, I know, you cant help but think “Australians like kids! Canadians like kids!” But not like this – I swear. Every day (in my massive 4 days of experience) I am surprised by the child-friendliness of Chileans. It started right from the get-go. As soon as we walked off the plane, we encountered the customs line which was at least 1.5 hours long. Groaning, with an overtired and cranky child, we got into line. Promptly, we were plucked away to the family-fast-track line while all of the customs officers smiled at Em. When you walk into a store, you feel like people are more excited to see you because you have a child, rather than rolling eyes thinking “just spend your money and get that toddler out of here before they smear cheese on my walls.”  In the grocery store yesterday, I even caught the 20-something guy restocking the veggies making funny faces and waving to Emily. And not in a creepy pervy way, in a genuine “your little girl is adorable” way.

Grocery stores are great. This is relative of course. Compared to Coles in St Kilda, or maybe Valumart in Tweed, the grocery store options are really fantastic. Fresh produce, massive variety of foods, cheese, bread – you can buy fresh ceviche and have a little snack while you shop. I was expecting the opposite.  I have never ever seen a grocery cart contraption like the below, which was a blessing and a curse. Blessing in that Em LOVED shopping and didn’t fuss at all. Curse in that she must actually leave the car at the end of the shopping trip (insert massive, massive tantrum).

Awesome grocery cart

Awesome grocery cart

Malls.  In the ‘newer’ end of town, people love their shopping malls. Apparently there are many massive malls where generally people do all their shopping – and the malls are open until 10pm. We even discovered a “Home Depot” (called something else here) in a shopping mall – go figure. Compared to Melbourne there is very little ‘street shopping’ in the new part of town- but it does exist in a few suburbs.

Cheap fantastic wine. Ok I did expect to get decent wine, but great wine for $12 a bottle is a girl’s dream, no? An Argentinean Chandon brut is around $15 – a bargain, and delicious. And I’ve only tried a few random wines…thousands more to try! Worth delaying baby #2 for that, no?

Air Pollution. I think you get used to it after being here a while. But the mountains (gorgeous, snowcapped Andes mountains) are literally a few kilometres away….and since we’ve been here (again, 4 days, so what do I know, really), I’ve not seen much of them. They’re a dark outline behind the city – covered in haze. The pollution does clear in the evening so you get a real view…but it makes me sad. I wish the government would do something about the pollution – this could be such an amazing city but there is that constant “will this do harm to my child’s lungs?” feeling sitting in the back of my mind. And this is summer – apparently its way worse in winter. I think I’ll have a few posts on that in the future!

There are mountains back there...

There are mountains back there…

Service service service. For a small tip, people pack and carry your groceries or pump your gas, and it’s common in Santiago for people to have cleaners, and full time nannys or housekeepers, etc.  A full-time nanny/housekeeper costs about the same as a 2 days of childcare in Australia.  It’s not just the ‘rich’ that get this service……it’s going to be a little too easy to get used to, me thinks.

Initial ramblings, and lots more to come when we settle in a bit more and have the chance to explore.