|Strutting through Valparaíso and Viña del Mar||1 | 2 | 3 | 4|
VALPARAÍSO, CHILE — We temporarily put the comforts of our Santiago bed and breakfast behind us this morning, and headed out to the bus station to grab a bus to Valparaíso. The buses run every fifteen minutes, so it was easy enough to hop on one right away, and it's a direct ride, just under two hours from station to station. Best of all, we didn't have to wait for the bus to get full! Now that's class.
Valparaíso is intriguing. It's only a year away from becoming eligible to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site (the requirement is to have 500 years of recorded history), so the city is putting a lot of work into cleaning things up, making old buildings look better and improving tourism facilities (read: jacking up prices). The 18 funiculars — essentially tethered pairs of cable cars that go up and down steep hillsides — are strangely anachronistic, and in some ways, it's impressive that they're still in operation.
We first walked around the Congress building, the only arch-shaped building I'd ever seen (seems inefficient, albeit cool), and read about Pinochet's "brilliant" idea to move the legislature away from the rest of the government in Santiago, then proceed to blow $100 million on this structure, at the site of one of his boyhood homes. Great guy...I'm sure the Chileans really miss him.
We grabbed a snack in a bakery around the corner (I still can't get over all the really good kuchen in this country), then rode a collectivo bus to the center of the action at Plaza Sotomayor, near the port. This was beautiful plaza, which only looked a little odd because cars drive right through it. The tiled concrete just immediately gives way to paved roadways, so that from a distance, it looks like a mistake. It was a whole different story a year ago, though, when the entire plaza was just a giant every-car-for-itself parking lot. (Now they have a real lot underground.) I can only imagine how bad it looked then.