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Paradise Valley

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Ascensor Monjas

Colorful maze – Port on the Pacific – Poets and artists – Yummy seafood (Map this!)

Colorful. Maze. Steep. Food. If we had to pick words to describe Valparaiso, these come readily to the mind. Valparaiso is Chile’s major seaport on the Pacific ocean. A narrow strip of land and many hills with colorful houses forming a dramatic backdrop, it reminds me a little of San Francisco.

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The streets of Valparaiso are narrow and winding, unlike San Francisco’s orderly grid (for the most part). This adds to the charm of the neighborhoods, every curve brings into focus a different view. One moment one sees huge mansions perched precariously on the edge of cliffs, another a cemetery raised on a natural rock ledge. The deep blue of the busy Pacific can be seen from everywhere with container ships and huge cruiseships majestically ploughing the seas.

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Valparaiso. For panorama click here

Staircases are everywhere to climb the steep hills. Or, you can take the ‘ascensores’, elevators that look like cable cars to transport people who do not want to trudge uphill. This is the city of poetry and art, Pablo Neruda’s house is a prominent landmark, set amongst a neighborhood that boasts murals painted by Chile’s foremost artists. The layout of the house is similar to Valparaiso: narrow claustrophobic staircases suddenly open up into large, airy spaces with fabulous views.

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The city is obsessed with food. Two of the restaurants we visited had not only great food, but the chef-owner personally described each and every dish on the menu in loving detail, describing the provenance of the ingredients and his philosophy of food. More than I have ever had in San Francisco! And of course, excellent Chilean wine is everywhere, at restaurants you rarely spend more than $20 a bottle for a wonderful Pinot Noir.

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Neruda museum

Today we ate at a simple seafood restaurant. The seafood soup was one of the best that I have tasted, mainly because it was stock full of seafood goodness, mussels, clams (the Chilean macha or razor clam is sweeter than regular clams), prawns, and scallops. Some fellow travelers we met told us about piure, which we also found in our soup. Piure looks like a small orange brain and has an intense sea flavor. Abalone and barnacles are common items on menus.

As I write this, I am sitting in our nice room in a Victorian house perched at the edge of a cliff, looking out over Valparaiso. Strains of live music float up from the plaza down below through the wide open window. The weather is perfect for an evening walk and I am already looking forward to a tryst with wonderful Chilean food and wine.

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Cerro Polanco

For more pictures of Valparaiso click here.

2 Responses to “Paradise Valley”

  1. fred says:

    Do you feel better about Chile now? Your previous posts said you didn’t care for the country.

  2. Neena says:

    Hi Fred,
    What a difference Valparaiso is from Northern Chile! People are absolutely friendlier and the food is fantastic. I think in the North it is all industrial towns, they are not used to tourists. Of course, we did have that fabulous experience at Chacabuco with Maria and her family.

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