Christmases Past and Present

After more than 16 years of living overseas, I often struggle to remember where we went or what we did for any given holiday. Fortunately, I started this blog to act as my memory (a little too late, unfortunately). Sometimes I find it useful to touch base with the Ghost of Christmas Past. In 2012, I recapped all the holiday breaks since our move overseas in “Twelve Years of Christmas.”

Here’s an update.

During our years in India, we had three weeks off between semesters.
2013-14: We visited my sister, Megan, and her family in Seoul, Korea. Check out those posts here. Then we popped by Koh Chang, Thailand on our way home. Check out those posts here.
2014-15: We explored Jordan. Check out those posts here.
2015-16: We traveled to Florida to hang out with my parents and my sister Kate’s family. On our way home, we spent some time in Dubai. Check out those posts here.

In July, we moved to Santiago, Chile. In this hemisphere, our summer break comes in December, which is really messing with our minds! With seven weeks off school between semesters, we didn’t want to head to Michigan like we usually do in the real summer; it’s winter there. Too busy settling in to our new city, home, and jobs, we never made any plans. And so, for this first summer/winter break, we have hunkered down for a Santiago staycation.

So far, so good!

Christmas 2016 – done and dusted

We decorated.

We shopped.

We listened to Christmas music.

We exchanged stockings and a couple gifts.

It was nice and everything, but just a little … anticlimactic.

Possibly for the first time ever, we both wished we had some kids around. Not our own kids, of course, but maybe a few nieces and nephews. We missed seeing their excited little faces when they wake up at the crack of dawn to realize Santa had visited and then their disappointed little faces when they’re not allowed to open presents till after breakfast (cinnamon rolls … Dickinson family tradition). We missed playing with their new toys and hauling out our Nerf guns (Christmas War … another Dickinson family tradition).

Anyway, we enjoyed a sunny rooftop brunch with views of the Andes Mountains. And we got some good laughs watching Ella terrorize our Christmas tree. We watched “A Christmas Story” and ate a rotisserie chicken on the balcony for dinner. Really, it felt like just another day – albeit a slightly more special day – in our seven-week staycation.

The mall was a nightmare…just like malls in North America!
img_4219

Brunch at Hotel Noi.
img_0515

Ella attacks a Jolly Rancher from my stocking.

She had fun with the wrapping paper, too.
fullsizerender-1

Leading up to Christmas day, we discovered Santiago Starbucks serves up all the traditional holiday coffee treats.
img_3953

And Santa paid a visit to school on horseback while the preschool kids sang Jingle Bells. Pretty adorable!
img_4131

First trip to the coast: An introduction to Valparaiso

Despite the fact that school was about to wrap up for a seven-week “summer vacation,” we couldn’t very well hold classes on Immaculate Conception Day, could we? So that gave us a four-day weekend in early December!

Tony’s birthday was the first day of the long weekend (see my previous post). The next day, I ditched him and took off for the beach with some friends. Craig’s cousin, Leah, was visiting from the States, so he had planned a trip to Concón. Brie and I tagged along. Tony stayed home to catsit.

Less than two hours from Santiago, Valparaiso rises up from the Pacific Ocean and undulates along the coast. Estimates vary, but most travel sites claim the city covers about 45 hills. In the mid-1800s, “Valpo” was a key seaport for international trade. A major earthquake in 1906, followed by the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, struck a devastating blow to the city’s economy.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the “Historic Quarter of the Seaport City of Valparaiso” is noteworthy for three reasons, according to the UNESCO website.

The outstanding nature of the historic quarter of Valparaíso results from a combination of three factors, all associated with its role as a port: its particular geographical and topographical environment; its urban forms, layout, infrastructure and architecture; and its attraction to and influence by people from around the world. The character of Valparaíso was strongly marked by the geography of its location: the bay, the narrow coastal plains (largely artificial) and the steep hills scored by multiple ravines together created the city’s amphitheatre-like layout. Adaptation of the built environment to these difficult geographical conditions produced an innovative and creative urban ensemble that stressed the particularities of each architectural object, grounded in the technological and entrepreneurial mindset typical of the era. Consistent with its pre-eminence, the city was populated and influenced by people from around the world. The urban fabric and cultural identity of Valparaíso are thus distinguished by a diversity that sets it apart from other Latin American cities. From an urban perspective, the result of this challenging geography, modernizing impulse and intercultural dialogue is a fully original American city with the stamp of the late 19th century upon it.

Next time I visit, I will make a more conscious effort to explore more of the historic neighborhoods. This time, however, I was eager to see one of the homes of the eccentric Nobel Prize-winning poet, Pablo Neruda. Brie drove up the steep, winding road of Cerro Bellavista, and we walked in a light drizzle to La Sebastiana, Neruda’s five-story home named for the architect, Sebastián Collado. An excellent audio tour brought the house to life. As we strolled through each room, pausing to appreciate the harbor views, it was easy to imagine Neruda mixing drinks behind the bar, waxing philosophical at the dinner table, reading the newspaper in bed, and hunkering down in the leather armchair he nicknamed El Nube (The Cloud) to scratch out his powerful words in green ink.
p1080317

Photography in the house was permitted only to shoot out the windows.
p1080318

I didn’t know much about Pablo Neruda before this visit, but now I’m intrigued … possibly a bit obsessed. I just started a novel called The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, and I’m reading everything I can find about Chile’s beloved poet. I saw the movie “Neruda” in Spanish (accidentally), so I look forward to watching it again when it’s released with subtitles. I worry that words have lost some of their power in today’s information-overload society, so I am particularly fascinated by a man whose art generated such an uproar around the world. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Neruda as I get to know him better.

Cool steps near our lunch restaurant.
p1080321

After lunch, Brie and I drove about 30 minutes to another waterside town, Concón. We checked in to the Radisson Concón, where our room included a balcony that jutted out over the water. Later, salty sea breezes and the sound of waves crashing on the boulders would lull us to sleep.

This was our view!
p1080355

I was entranced by the huge pelicans.
p1080339

We walked along the shoreline and found a depot where fishermen were bringing in the day’s catch. Cats, seagulls, and pelicans kept close watch for any unattended treats.
p1080375

p1080380

Fishermen dropped bits of fish to these pelicans. Check out that one guy’s huge open bill!
p1080381

We met up with Craig and Leah for dinner at Tierra de Fuego, a beachside restaurant. I ate conger eel, a typical Chilean dish, and was surprised at how not slimy and slug-y it was. It tasted like a mild whitefish, and in typical Chilean fashion, it was pretty bland. Still, you couldn’t beat the setting of this place.
tierradefuego

The next morning, Craig drove us all back to Valparaiso – with a quick stop to clamber around the rocks at a Concón observation area.
p1080387

p1080390

p1080395

p1080396

In Valpo, Craig led us on a route he had learned from a friend, up and over a few hills. Famous for colorful homes, brilliant murals, and ubiquitous graffiti, Valpo’s hills are best explored on foot.
p1080410

p1080412

p1080413

p1080416

p1080423

p1080425

p1080426

p1080430

p1080431

At one time, 26 funicular railways transported residents up and down the hillsides. Only a handful operate today. After traipsing around for awhile, we boarded the Ascensor El Peral funicular – built in 1902 – for the 52-meter descent at a 48-degree gradient.
p1080446

p1080447

That evening, we hung out at the hotel’s waterfront bar for a stunning sunset.
p1080473

As a tag-along on this trip, I had done no research and was unfortunately uninformed about where we were going or what we were seeing. I have a feeling this is a place I’ll re-visit many times while living in Chile and I look forward to bringing visitors here, so I vow to be better prepared in the future!

Tony’s birthday: Unpacking Christmas

For years, we celebrated Tony’s birthday, Dec. 8, by hauling out our boxes of Christmas decorations and transforming our home into a winter wonderland. From Kansas to Turkey to China to Laos, we unpacked our huge Rubbermaid tubs to fill our hearts with festive cheer.

That tradition stalled in India, where our holiday stash never emerged from the storage closet during the five years we spent in Delhi. I can’t explain why we didn’t bother to Christmas-ify our apartment there, but nevertheless, we decided to get back on track here in Chile.

On Tony’s birthday morning, we went for a walk so he could test out his birthday present – new sunglasses. Good thing it was a beautiful sunny summer day! We stopped for breakfast at a little café near our house and enjoyed some chirimoya juice (my latest obsession).
img_4044

img_4045

img_4048

Then it was time to get down to business. Tony uncrated our Christmas tree, while I started digging out the decorations. Ella was keen to help.
img_4052

As young, broke newlyweds, we filled these stockings (stitched by yours truly).
img_4073

But they really couldn’t hold the volume of candy and presents we required, so I picked up these beauties when we lived in China (designed by a fellow Shanghai American School teacher out of Chinese silk and maribou).
img_4074

Since 1995, Tony and I have exchanged tree ornaments every year. Of course, this was my idea, and the intention was to track our lives through representational ornaments: home purchases, vacations, pets, etc. Tony was slow to embrace this new tradition and failed to think about it prior to the holiday season, so he dashed out on Christmas Eve 1995 to pick up this winner at a gas station near our home in Lawrence, Kansas.
p1080284

Over the years, he has put a little more effort into his ornament selection. Unpacking the holiday boxes, we reminisced about the stages of our life together.

We bought a house in Lawrence in 1995. Tony set up a workshop in the garage to play the role of resident handyman.
p1080295

p1080297

In those days, we loved seeing neighborhoods decked out for the holidays, especially the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City.
p1080288

We sold that house when we prepared to move overseas, but we later purchased a rental property in Albuquerque and a summer home in Michigan (our Michigan Christmas ornament is actually IN Michigan).
p1080489

In 2001, we hit the road. Our ornaments continue to bring back memories of those wonderful places we were lucky to call home around the world.

Istanbul, Turkey
p1080490

Shanghai, China
p1080507-2

Vientiane, Laos
p1080487

New Delhi, India
p1080495

And now, Santiago, Chile.
p1080479

Other ornaments evoked some of our fantastic trips in the States and abroad.

My sister, Kate, and I traveled to Alaska in 1999 and fell in love with the musk ox.
p1080501

We visited my sister, Megan, when she and her family lived in Korea in 2013. I couldn’t find a tree ornament, so I gave Tony a luggage tag that year.
p1080285

Wow, sometimes I can’t believe how much of this incredible planet we have explored together over the years! Here are a few glimpses into our vacation history. Can you guess where they came from?

In addition to the purchased ornaments, we still have shoeboxes full of handmade decorations that adorned our Christmas trees early in this journey. Jingle bells tied with red satin bows, small pinecones with gold glitter, iridescent wrapping paper ribbon curled with scissors … we used whatever we could to create a little Christmas.

We added a new tradition to our Christmas decorating this year. As we settle in a new hemisphere where the holiday season falls in the summertime, it felt right to prop up Santa next to a vase of fresh flowers.
img_4236

No matter where you are, what you celebrate or which traditions you embrace, may your season be merry and full of joy!

Ode to the chirimoya

As a traveller, I treasure the confusion and anticipation of encountering an unfamiliar fruit at a market or grocery store. Sometimes the fruit is simply too daunting to tackle, such as jackfruit in Thailand, which was the size of a 3-month-old baby. Sometimes the fruit lets you down, such as the popular erik in Turkey, unripe plums that left my tongue sore and my tummy upset. Sometimes the fruit represents only a minor shift from a common presence in your life, such as the tiny bananas of Laos that were far more flavorful than the oversized bunches I knew best.

But sometimes, a special fruit crosses your path – a fruit so exotic and unexpected, a fruit so well camoflaged that you nearly overlook it, a fruit that poses tantalizing questions: Does it have one pit or many? Is it juicy or dry? Should I cut it or peel it? Could something so hideous taste good?

Such was my experience recently with Chile’s ubiquitous chirimoya. I had seen it at the supermarket and even picked one up. Heavy in my hand, it felt like a lumpy softball. Green and nobbly, it intimidated me. On my next shopping excursion, I visited the chirimoya section again. I brought the mysterious fruit home and waited a few days for it to give up some of its firmness, like a ripe peach.
p1080274

I cut it open and encountered large black seeds and white sections of flesh. Picking out a few seeds, I scooped a bite into my mouth. The slightly sandy texture was reminiscent of a pear, but it was smoother, creamier, like a banana. The flavor exploded with hints of strawberry, kiwi, pear, banana, pineapple … I couldn’t find a perfect comparison. It was possibly the sweetest fruit I had ever eaten, so sweet I got a sugar headache and had to pack up half for lunch the next day. It suddenly made sense that Chileans love their chirimoya juice and ice cream.
p1080283

Chirimoya is called “custard apple” in English, and several websites quote Mark Twain as saying it was “the most delicious fruit known to men.” It definitely ranked up there for me, too.

Feeling full on our first Santiago Thanksgiving

Like most people in and from the United States, (a) I ate way too much in the last few days, and (b) I found quite a few reasons to count my blessings.

Our school gave us only Thursday afternoon off to celebrate Thanksgiving, which created widespread crankiness. That abated later in the day when we joined some wonderful people for a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner. Hostess Michelle roasted the most delicious, juicy turkey I’ve ever had (she said the secret was an overnight soak in brine – what?!), and the table overflowed with all the traditional fixin’s. It’s spring here in Chile, so we sat outside in the garden under a big sun umbrella.

Tony and I both felt deeply grateful for new friends who reach out and share such heartfelt hospitality.

Saturday, I headed back to school for Kermess, the annual international festival. Nido de Aguilas International School parents showcased their home countries with more than 30 decorated booths selling food and drinks. Children paraded in their traditional costumes, and performers gave us a tour around the world through music and dance. In my enthusiasm to visit all the places I’ve lived, I made the mistake of kicking off my food frenzy with a big Turkish shwarma. I hardly had room for anything else!

No booth for Laos, unfortunately. I would have happily scooped up some larb with sticky rice. It was fun to chat with families from my other overseas homes: Turkey, China, India, and Chile, plus I picked up a beer at the Germany booth (ahhh… high school memories).
img_3991

img_3987

img_4001

img_3985

img_3994

Looking around, I felt thankful for the opportunity to teach abroad and work in a community comprising more than 50 nationalities. This is our 16th Thanksgiving overseas, and I know immersion in other cultures has broadened my mind.

After four hours of snacking, I hauled my distended belly to meet Tony for another food-centered social event: Nido Newbie Thanksgiving.

We met at the home of fellow newbies, Travis and Laura, who live in a peaceful hillside cabin in the Arrayan Canyon. We ate more tasty Thanksgiving treats, sat in lawn chairs and chatted in the shade of a huge walnut tree, went for a short hike with false historical narration by Craig, ate some more, drank a bit, and shivered to watch some of the kids – and later, some of the adults – jump into the chilly pool.

On our little hike, looking down at the house and pool.
img_4013

For the millionth time since moving to Chile, I felt grateful for a group of fun, smart, adventurous people sharing this newbie experience. It’s reassuring to know there are others who get it, who will laugh with you and cry with you and eventually laugh with you again.

We were meant to attend yet another function Saturday evening, but Tony and I had overestimated our social stamina. We both hit the wall and had to send our regrets.

It’s always hard to be away from family during the holiday season. However, our first South American Thanksgiving filled our tummies and our hearts.

MOVInight: the making of a wine snob

You may think all I do in Chile is ride my bike and drink wine. Not true!

Well, OK, it’s mostly true.

MOVInight on Nov. 11 introduced me to a whole new world of Chilean wine. Up to now, I was more than thrilled to fill my supermarket cart with “cheap and cheerful” Chilean wines. (I have read that phrase on several websites, but I don’t know who said it first.) Ten bucks gets you a pretty great bottle of wine in the grocery store – conveniently located next to the cheese aisle! That was good enough for me.

And then I went to MOVInight, a wine festival featuring independent artisans who shared wines crafted by their own hands and poured with love. These innovative producers comprise MOVI (Movimiento de Viñateros Independientes, or the Movement of Independent Vintners in English), an organization of 32 winemakers committed to making wine “on a human scale.”

According to a 2015 article on the website Grape Collective, three huge winemakers sell four out of five bottles of Chilean wine. MOVI was formed to help the small family winemakers access resources and manage marketing.

MOVI is an important addition to the overall Chilean wine industry. There is something very underdog about them in a country where the big dog is very dominant. How can a wine lover not embrace passionate family winemakers making heartfelt artisanal wines from old vines. Now compare the story of the mass produced industrial “value” wines – which is sexier David or Goliath? When we met with Chilean wine pioneer and President of Wines of Chile Aurelio Montes, he was glowing in his praise of MOVI. While they are not fee paying members of Wines of Chile, Montes was keen to point out that they are invited to press events as their story is an important part of the narrative of modern Chilean wine.

As far as wine festivals go, MOVInight felt particularly whimsical and lively, maybe because the winemakers were so eager to share their stories. At the entrance, we received a wineglass for the myriad samples of vino. Food trucks, peppy music, a backdrop of mountains, and well-appointed port-a-potties contributed to an evening of tipsy laughter.

Look at the setting!
img_3922

img_3921

We waited a very long time for dinner at one of the food trucks, but it was worth it. Yummy gnochi.
img_3938

img_3941

img_3942

Posing with a rep from Casa Bauzá.
img_3927

My favorite wines of the night were Villard Syrah 2015 and Flaherty Red Wine (a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo) 2014. But, hey, it’s a pretty rare wine that doesn’t make me happy.

The only bummer about being a wine snob is that I can’t find these MOVI brands at the supermarket. However, I just discovered La Vinoteca, where I can shop for wine online and get free delivery with orders over 19,900 pesos (about $30). Whew!

For more on MOVI, check out this short documentary.

Santa Cruz’in for the long weekend

Less than three hour’s drive from Santiago, the world transforms from concrete and glass into mountains and vineyards. The Colchagua Valley dissects central Chile, from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Andes Mountains in the west, and boasts a perfect climate for growing grapes – particularly red wine varieties.

As it happens, I love red wine. And mountains. And four-day weekends.

Friday after school, fellow newbie Stella and I ditched our families and road-tripped to Santa Cruz in the Colchagua Valley. We encountered heavy congestion on the Pan-American Highway, but I absentmindedly followed the car in front of me, which crossed the median into a lane closed to oncoming traffic and opened to those of us heading south. We whipped past miles of standstill traffic and finally merged back onto the correct side of the highway, breathing a sigh of relief that we hadn’t missed our exit. At a big toll plaza, we waited in line while scores of vendors in fluorescent orange vests hawked drinks, bread, and empanadas.

Finally, we arrived at Vino Bello, a small bed-and-breakfast owned by a former Nido de Aguilas teacher and her husband. Surrounded by vineyards, the 1930s manor house was renovated in 2003 and featured simple but comfortable accommodations. We met the owner, Janine, at the nearby Vino Bello restaurant and enjoyed chatting with her about common acquaintances and her transition from educator to business owner.

It didn’t take long for my usual food-induced joy to surface, and after a pisco sour, a glass of wine, delicious beetroot ravioli stuffed with butternut squash, and an apple crumble de frutas, I was blissfully sleepy.
img_3725

The next morning, Stella and I lingered over breakfast and then lingered some more outside with our books.
img_3739

img_3740

img_3727

The hotel clerk helped us make arrangements for the day, and we eventually headed out to the wineries.

First stop: Viña Estampa, where Fillipe entertained us and poured samples for tasting. He told us that Estampa specializes in blends. According to the Estampa website:

The technique of blending consists of carefully combining two or more varieties to craft a single wine. Each variety contributes its finest characteristics to the blend to create a beautifully balanced wine with unique personality.

img_3760

Fillipe tried to explain the origin of the winery’s name, but I didn’t understand until I read the story online. The family-owned winery traces its agribusiness roots to a flour mill called “La Estampa Mill” in what is now the Indepencia neighborhood of Santiago. The mill was named in honor of a legendary estampa – or pocket-sized prayer card – with a picture of Nuestra Señora del Carmen (Our Lady of Mount Carmel). More than 200 years ago, the picture allegedly circled overhead for about 15 minutes before flying across the Mapocho River and landing next to a woman teaching catechism to her children. A Catholic grotto, and later a chapel, was erected at the site.

We tasted three Estampa blends:
2014 Estampa Reserve Carménère-Malbec,
2014 Estampa Fina-Reserva Carménère-Syrah-Cabernet Sauvignon,
and 2013 Gold Estampa Carménère-Cabernet Sauvignon-Cabernet Franc-Petit Verdot.

They were all delicious, but we chose the middle-range wine to take home.
img_3763

img_0012

A stroll through Estampa’s varietal garden…
img_3767

img_3766

img_3773

img_3776

… and we were off to our next stop: Montes.
img_3784

After a tranquil, tasty lunch overlooking the vineyards and hillsides, we met up with a couple from Puerto Rico and a family from Brazil for the winery tour.
img_3790

img_3793

img_3795

Our guide, Maria Angel, explained that Montes doesn’t irrigate its vines in this valley. Dry farming yields smaller bunches but higher quality grapes, she said. She took us to the roof, where ladies sort the grapes, and equipment separates the stems before dumping grapes down a hose into fermentation tanks below. She also showed us some examples of feng shui principles incorporated into the building’s design.
img_3800

img_3803

img_3804

img_3805

For our tasting, we sampled:
2015 Outer Limits Sauvignon Blanc,
2013 Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon,
2014 Montes Alpha Carménère,
and 2015 Outer Limits CGM (Carignan, Grenache, Mourvèdre).
img_3807

Note the pathetic level of pours… not cool, Montes.
img_3806

I picked up a bottle of the Carménère and another blend we didn’t sample but I know I like – Montes Twins (Malbec-Cabernet Sauvignon).

Hanging out with one of the winery’s founders, Aurelio Montes. He’s so crazy.
img_3816

The cellar holds 800 French oak barrels, arranged in a semicircle. Gregorian chants echoed off the walls, creating a spiritual setting.

Panorama from the Montes patio.
img_3825

Our little B&B was booked for the night, so we had to pack up and move across the road to Hotel Terraviña.
img_3833

img_3828

We read and snacked outside until dinnertime, when we walked through the vineyard to Casa Colchagua restaurant. My dinner of pork ribs with quinoa risotto was rich and hearty. I only wished we hadn’t pigged out on the hotel’s cheese platter beforehand.

The next morning, a cold fog had descended on the grape vines.
img_3836

After breakfast, we decided to head home a little sooner than planned with one more stop on the way out of town.

We drove to Viña Laura Hartwig, a family-owned boutique winery. According to the website:

In 1966, Laura Bisquertt receives the Santa Laura estate from her father, who had purchased it in 1928. The land, as was customary in the area, was devoted to seasonal crops and livestock. Between 1966 and 1971, Laura’s husband, Alejandro Hartwig Carte, a civil engineer, manages the estate by farming traditional crops and running a diary farm. In 1971, he decides to look for new job opportunities abroad, thus joining the management team of German pharmaceutical Boehringer Ingelheim, in Montreal, Canada. The family lives in Canada for 10 years. During that time and due to multiple trips to United States and Europe, Alejandro becomes a great wine enthusiast and connoisseur. He recognizes North America’s growing demand for classic French wine varieties. He decides to take advantage of the excellent weather conditions of the Colchagua Valley and the increasing appetite for wines from the New World (wines from Australia and California had started to become popular around this time), and develops what he calls his “Retirement Project.”

Stella and I had planned to pick up a bottle or two and hit the road, but it turned out the winery offered horse-drawn carriage rides. How could we not do that? With Geronimo in the driver’s seat, we rolled through the gorgeous vineyard. The fog had burned off, revealing a bright blue sky and a perfect backdrop of verdant hills.
img_3837

img_3846

With the long drive ahead, I couldn’t partake in a wine sampling. The shopkeeper informed us that Laura Hartwig was known for producing 100% Petit Verdot, a variety that was usually used in blends, so Stella sat down with a glass while I poked around and took some photos.
img_3849

img_3848

img_3850

img_3862

img_3865

img_3868

We both bought a bottle and then we took off for home with slim hopes of finding a restaurant for lunch.

In general, Chile shuts down on Sunday. As we drove through towns and slowed down by highway exits, it seemed nobody was out and nothing was open. Then we encountered Juan y Medio. I almost drove right past, despite Stella’s GPS directions. There was no exit, just the driveway into the restaurant straight off the highway lane (speed limit: 75 mph). The parking lot was already packed. We were fortunate to get a table, and we enjoyed tasty Chilean sandwiches. When we returned to the parking lot, we found all the cars’ windshields had been covered with cardboard to keep the interiors relatively cool in the pounding sun. Crazy.

Back in Santiago, Stella and I were both psyched to remember that we still had two days off work. Santa Cruz was the perfect weekend get-away. Great food and wine, plenty of downtime to read and relax, beautiful scenery, fresh air and sunshine, fun company … did I mention the wine? I have a feeling this wasn’t my last visit to Colchagua Valley.

Ready to roll! (As soon as the rain stops…)

After five years in New Delhi, this girl is ready to get back on a bike and enjoy some nature.

Here in Santiago, we live just a couple blocks from urban bike trails that stretch across the city, connecting riverside parks in 11 neighborhoods. On Sunday mornings, about 40 kilometers of roads are blocked off to cars and opened to cyclists.

A July 2016 article in The Guardian traces “Santiago’s two-wheeled revolution.” It’s full of interesting anecdotes about grassroots efforts to promote a cycling culture that breaks down social barriers. This little blurb confirmed my belief that I was going to love biking here:

Geographically and climatically, Santiago is kind to those on bikes. The city is backed by some of the highest mountains in the world but is surprisingly and mercifully flat, rising from an altitude of 475 metres in the west to around 700 metres in well-heeled Las Condes and Vitacura. Only in the eastern extremes, where the city extends its tentacles into the foothills of the Andes, does the going get tough. It is a dry city too, with around 280mm of rainfall a year – less than half of London’s total. For a third of the year between November and February it hardly rains a drop.

Check out this screenshot of the Mapocho42K project, a bike path along the Mapocho River. Can’t you feel the wind in your hair?
mapocho-42k

After a couple months of chilly weather, Santiago is emerging from winter. It’s time to get back in the saddle.

Life is simply too busy (and traffic is too daunting) for weekday excursions, so we had planned to shop for bikes last weekend. Then Tony got sick and spent the whole day Saturday in bed. Sunday, most bike shops were closed. So we were determined to get it done today! We had heard about “bike street,” a strip of bike shops in central Santiago (and we even saw the shuttered stores when we went to the 2Cellos concert last week). The plan for today was to visit “bike street,” although Tony and I both felt nervous about the language barrier. A quick google search revealed a Trek bike shop just a couple miles away. We decided to check it out first.

With our bike rack in the trunk, we drove to Echard Bike Center and found everything we needed. The family-owned shop featured friendly knowledgable staff, including Jean Claude, who had raced mountain bikes in California years ago and spoke beautiful English. Tony and I both found bikes we loved, and we pimped them out with computers, water bottle racks, kickstands and Kryptonite U-locks. We had brought bike lights and helmets from the States.

Waiting…
img_3659

A worker rolls out Tony’s sweet blue ride.
img_3650

Good thing Tony was kitted out and ready to go! (Just kidding … it’s only a mannequin. But don’t you think Tony needs tattoo sleeves?)
img_3646

The guys let me pose like I know how to fix a bike. I do not.
img_3652

Por qué Trek? Because it’s awesome!
img_3654

Drumroll, please… Ta da! You can’t really tell from this photo, but parts of the frame are dark purple with sparkles. I love her.
photomania-7b8293d69b39877131d12e3042cb7ff6

Unfortunately, it started to rain about the time we got home with our bikes, but as soon as the skies clear, you know where we’ll be!

Soaring over Santiago at Costanera Center

Wherever we go in the world, there’s an irresistible urge to climb to the highest point for a bird’s-eye view. I started to make a little collage of all the sky-high places we’ve visited, but there were too many! Check out this small sample.

Here in Santiago, I’m guessing the surrounding mountains hold the key to ultimate panorama photos. I’ll let you know when I finally get out of town to check them out.

In the meantime, we rode to the top of Latin America’s tallest building Monday afternoon. The 300-meter-high Gran Torre Santiago, a 15-minute walk from our house in the Providencia neighborhood, is one of four skyscrapers comprising Costanera Center. It offers a 53-second elevator ride to the observation deck on the 62nd floor.

Compared to other skyscrapers we’ve visited, this one was a bit … well … short. However, the 360° view of Santiago really helped me understand the city’s layout. On land, we frequently seem to drive circuitous routes to get from Point A to Point B. Now I realize we are navigating around those gorgeous hills.
p1080255

From the observation deck, we could pinpoint some neighborhood landmarks but couldn’t identify our apartment building. Later, I compared my photos with our apartment’s location on google maps and found it.
apartmentsearch

Providencia cools off in the building’s shadow.
p1080259

Compulsory cheesy selfie with our new friends, Pi, Laura, and Sara.
img_3643

A half-hearted attempt to research the building revealed few interesting facts other than how the financial crisis of 2008 stalled construction for 10 months. But a poster at the observation deck said construction of the Gran Torre Santiago involved 6,000 workers, 350,000 square meters of concrete, and 105,000 metric tons of steel.

The Skyscraper Center websites describes the building this way:

Torre Costanera’s design comes from it’s close proximity to the Andes, and the need to distinguish the tower against this dramatic backdrop. It has prompted a simple and clear form. Rising from the northwest corner of the development next to the Mapocho River, the glass-clad tower has a slightly tapered, slender form that culminates in a sculptural latticed crown. The four corners are indented to accentuate its slenderness. The glass surface of the tower strikes a delicate balance between transparency and reflectivity. At the top of the tower is a dramatic steel and glass structure, providing a unique and elegant silhouette. This is a 21st century building, both technically and aesthetically. It is designed with state-of-the-art structural and mechanical systems, including a highly advanced outrigger system to account for Santiago’s high level of seismic activity. The cooling tower draws its entire water supply from the adjacent San Carlos canal.

A visit to the 105th tallest building in the world? Check! Cross that off my bucket list.

Adventures in Teaching and Travel