Santiago, Chile: A city to live in

The ever-present Andes mountains looking down over Santiago in the central valley of Chile

Have you ever visited a city in a foreign country and said to yourself, “I could live here”? We’ve had this feeling only a couple of times in our lives. The most notable time was when we visited Sydney, Australia a couple of years ago. When we returned home, we said this to our son: “If we had visited Sydney 30 years earlier, you would be Australian instead of Canadian!” More recently, we had a similar experience: perhaps not quite as passionate, but close. We thought the same thing when we visited Santiago, the capital of Chile: We could live there. And we don’t even speak Spanish. But back to the beginning of our Santiago story.

We arrived in Chile not at an airport after a tiring 10-hour flight (that would come later – on our way home), rather via cruise ship – cool, collected, rested and met at the terminal by our wonderful “Tours-by-Locals” guide, Leo. We had arranged a four-day Santiago-area sojourn that we hoped would give us the flavour of the city and beyond –wine and mountains were calling to us.

The wonderfully personable Leo also turned out to be a passionate and exceptionally knowledgeable Chilean who generously shared the secrets of his country. We were in for a real treat. That treat began with our tour of the port city of Valparaiso before the inland trip to Santiago and the Andes.

The most striking thing about Valparaiso was the street art. Much more than what we have come to know as graffiti, this street art provides the true essence of this port city that is past its heyday. The opening of the Panama Canal (which we had recently transited) made sure of that. Before ships could make their way from Europe and the east coast of North America via that shortcut, they had no choice but to round the southern tip of South America and make their way north along the coast. Valparaiso was a major stop on that route. But no longer.

After getting a sense of Valparaiso, Leo took us up the coast to Vina del Mar, a seaside bedroom and vacation community before heading inland via the very well-maintained, four-lane divided highway.

As we entered Santiago proper, the first thing we were struck by is the ever-present Andes. Every time you look up you could swear that you weren’t in a big city because all you can see in the distance is mountains. The city lies in the country’s central valley about 1700 feet above sea level. A city of some 6 million people, Santiago is also one of the oldest of the major metropolises in the Americas. It was founded in 1541 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Valdivia. What makes this city especially interesting is the juxtaposition of the old – represented by the centre of the grid-like old city and the exquisite examples of modern architecture. Like our home town of Toronto, it is also a city of neighbourhoods, each with its own character.

The old city square is not a place you want to meander through without ensuring the safety of your wallet. Gazing around at the old and the new, you might forget that you are also surrounded by throngs of unemployed immigrants hanging around either doing very little or waiting for jobs as Leo explained.

We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel which is located in a leafy, upscale residential area known as Viticura. As Leo explained, each of these districts within the city has its own mayor and municipal building. The one in Viticura is an extraordinary modern structure on street bordering the most exquisite city park.

The “town hall” in Vitacura, Santiago, Chile

Everywhere you look there were places for people to picnic, play and just enjoy being outdoors. The ponds were full of swans and flamingos. And where else in the world might you see a Nespresso bar at a Sunday street market? In Vitacura, for sure.

We spent a couple of our days in the Santiago area in the city proper, another in Chilean wine country, and another up in the Andes in places that no other tourists seem to have found – thanks to Leo. But those are stories for another day!

…and if you have a few minutes and want to see a bit more…


Capturing your travel: Evolving travel visuals and tips for shooting video

We shot this at Tucker’s Beach in Bermuda a few months ago.

Every travel magazine has one: the ubiquitous travel photo contest.  And if you’re anything like us, you have either submitted one of your treasured gems, or have at least thought about it.  Then, when the winners are announced, you might offer that the photos are terrific – but you have ones that are just as good.  The question is: why do we take photos (and video) when we travel?  And how can we make them as great as possible?

For us, we are less focused on taking that perfect, contest-winning or publishable shot than we are in capturing some visual memories that we can take out months or years later and remember the feeling of the place.  Over the years we’ve changed, too, though.

Our very first travel photos together were on a trip to Venezuela about six months before we were married (of course we both have photos from earlier, but our travel photos verify us as a couple from that hot & humid trip 25 years ago).  Those fuzzy photos were taken with good old film, on some kind of simple camera – although it’s hard to remember now – there have been so many over the years.  And although we can’t remember the camera, we certainly remember the experience whenever we crack the cover of that old photo album for a trip down memory lane – regardless of how truly awful they are from a technical point of view!

Patty always makes sure to take a few photos that will make for great desktop backgrounds on her various computers. We took this one this past winter on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Through the years, one thing that we realize has changed is our intentionality about those photos.  We used to just point and shoot.  Now we compose and think about what we’ll see when we get home.

That intentionality is never clearer than when we’re shooting vacation video.

We acquired our first video camera eight months after our now 23-year-old son was born (OK, we’re bad parents since we didn’t have one from the moment of birth but we can live with that!).   The first few years were spent taking ever decreasing hours of video of the growing child.  Capturing video of our travels began with those family vacations – first Disney World, then onto Barbados, Jamaica, then the European bus tour with a ten-year old, to the sophisticated Queen Mary 2 trans-Atlantic last summer with a suave and cultured 22-year old in an Armani tuxedo.  As those vacations progressed to ever more discerning approaches to choosing place and experiences, so too did the sophistication of our video logs.  In fact, that growing sophistication has been indirectly proportional to the size of the cameras!  The one we use now is easily popped into a pocket, and takes videos of a quality that was unheard of when we first started capturing our memories this way.

Art is the videographer in charge of production on most vacations, although Patty as the assistant videographer gets handed the equipment from time to time.  Art’s ability to capture scenes has improved so much that there is little editing needed on the return home these days.  Gone are the days of pointing and shooting and shooting and shooting.  Brief pieces of video that capture moments are threaded together to tell a story.

St. Margaret’s Bay, Nova Scotia (our back yard last week).

Our tips for shooting video that people will actually want to view after a trip:

  • Learn how to use your camera before you leave for your travels.  This might seem like one of those obvious suggestions, but you’d be surprised how many people have no idea what their camera can actually do.
  • Practice using the camera before you leave. Actually push buttons, shoot footage and look at what comes out.
  • Actually look at what’s in your picture before you start shooting.
  • Shoot in short pieces.  Stop and move to a different view and shoot another short piece.  No one wants to see three minutes of the same scene.
  • Try to shoot scenes in which there is actual movement – otherwise you might just as well take a still photo.  Three minutes of a tree is three minutes of a tree (and in video time, three minutes is an eternity!)
  • Turn off the camera before putting it away.  Another seemingly obvious one – but we’ll bet the price of our next vacation that most of us have had what in our family is laughingly referred to as ‘camera-bag incidents.’  You know the ones.  That’s when you leave the camera running and put it in the bag or your purse  only to find you have 15 minutes of video from the inside of the bag.  (Of course, the obvious possibilities for juicy commentary inadvertently caught are tempting.) We came home from our first visit to Venice with a terrific video of the floor of a gondola.  All you could see was feet – but you could hear the gondolier belting out a Verdi aria.

One of Art’s finished videos that we like from last summer…