Sunday, October 12, 2014

A trip around Santiago

Whenever I go to a city, I try to take a narrated hop-on and hop-off bus tour to explore the sites. While it was not necessary in Santiago since I had wonderful guides from the Catholic University, I had a couple of free hours one afternoon and decided to explore the city on the Turistik bus. I think it was one of the best narrated tours I have taken, and I have been on dozens over the years.(Istanbul and Athens were two of the worst!)

I realized this tour might be special when I was provided with a bracelet to wear throughout the day. While I was disappointed it wasn't good for 24 hours (which is often the case in other cities), the bracelet was a very professional approach compared to the fragile tickets one usually receives. Here are some of the stops on the tour.

Plaza de Armas-the historic centre of the city- was the first stop. According to the guide program, when the Spaniards established cities they used the main square as the centre of the planning axis. While some of the significant nearby public buildings are undergoing renovation,
I was surprised other privately owned commercial buildings near the square had been allowed to become quite rundown. I was told this was the result of new office and retail developments moving away from the downtown.

Sadly, many of Santiago's significant older buildings have been destroyed by earthquakes and fires over the years. However, one remaining 18th century structure is Casa Colorada, which today  houses the Santiago museum. I went inside only to discover it is closed for renovations.
However, I was disappointed to see a large overbearing structure had been built next door, dominating the central space.
I must say I was often disappointed by the juxtaposition of old and new developments around the older part of the city. The architects had obviously never heard the Arthur Erickson speech about the importance of relating new buildings to their surroundings, even if their surroundings are going to change.
The immediate area includes a network of vibrant pedestrian streets that were full of people. Based on what has happened in other cities, I predict that in years to come, this area will regain some of the glamor and glory it had centuries ago.
The Mercado Central building has had an interesting history. It was initially planned as an exhibit hall for artists but subsequently converted to a public market. Like many markets around the world, today it contains more tourist oriented activities and restaurants, since the main market is across the river at La Vega.
Plaza de la Constitucion is home to the 18th century Moneda Palace, the presidential headquarters, and other important government building.
Santa Lucia hill is a most significant historic location in the city.  My guides from the School of Architecture Karin and Marie Jose took me there on my first day, where I sampled a most unusual local drink featuring a whole apricot.
It was quite a climb up, but offered an interesting view of city skyline dominated by what looked like 70's apartment and office towers. I was told many were newer....they just looked older. A better view is provided by a funicular that unfortunately has been out of service for some time.

Providencia is the upscale neighbourhood where I stayed. Its origins are tied to Canada since the sisters of the Divine Providence arrived in Chile from Canada at the mid 19th century. Apparently they had initially set out for Portland Oregon, but that's another story.

Sanhattan  (the name mixes Santiago and Manhattan) is the city's impressive new financial and hotel district. It has been developing since the 1990's in a location that's closer to the city's east side where the business executives who live. There is also a golf course nearby.

Parque Arauco is considered Chile's most important mall, although MallPlaza is the largest developer of mall properties in the country. Like many of the city's shopping malls, it features a high level of recreational activities including theatres, bowling, ice-skating, etc.

Patio Bellavista is located in Bellavista, a very lively part of the city. Here one finds the zoo, the funicular, and a number of museums, theatres, restaurants and pubs. I was impressed with the number of museums around the city. Compare that with Vancouver.

I previously had lunch at Patio Bellavista which at one time was going to be a couple of highrise buildings. However, some local community acitivists (one of whom came from Toronto and with whom I had dinner) opposed it and it is now a lively mix of 90 restaurants, shops, hotel, and bars.

I found it interesting that Santiago's mall developers have not yet discovered what Vancouver developers have recently discovered, namely that retail malls are a great location for higher density housing. But this too will come.

While there is much Santiago can learn from Vancouver, there is much Vancouver can learn from this South American city. I wrote about some of these things in a Vancouver Courier column, which will be reprinted in a subsequent post.

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