of Valparaiso and empanadas

We ate well in Valparaiso, at Restaurant Montealegre, overlooking the vastness of the cityscape, colorful alleyways, precipitous streets, art houses, tucked away eateries, a young crowd, a hip crowd. With 250,000 people, it’s fame and glory enjoying a revival after being left in the dustbin of another century. Valparaiso was an important port for 19th century shipping. The Panama Canal cut off its much of its largesse, cut off its legs, tarnished the star of the Pacific coast. Yet, it endured. Strategically placed, blessed with ocean and mountains, natural resources and determination, a newer generation is overlooking its recent shortcomings.

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We ate well. Someone suggested, and we six others acquiesced instantly, the taster’s menu, course after course of seafood, morsels of meat, exotic vegetables, sublime desserts, crunchy to creamy, savory to sweet. A round or two of pisco sours to start the festivities, then wine, of course, several bottles. It was just the right amount of everything.

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Afterwards, we trekked around the area, up one inclined street, down the near perpendicular next. Valparaiso is a steep city and there are fifteen public funiculars to transport people on grades too vertical for healthy walking. Along the way, shops, coffee houses, art stores, galleries, kind of a cross culture blending 1960-1980’s American pop and traditional Chilean/Indian ethos which combined for an imaginative reinterpretation of history, past and present.

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IMG_0910We were in a nice section of town, perhaps “the” nice section. The streets were clean, not as much graffiti, loads of young people inhabited coffee houses and cafes, and there were oodles of boutiques filled with colorful bric-a-brac, tchotchkes and whatnot’s. Valparaiso is a UNESCO designated city, a city with pride and heritage.

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Then we funiculared (okay, not a real verb) down to the plaza where driver Oscar and his tourmobile were waiting to start the two hour ride back to Casona Carrera, near Talagante. First though, a stop at the elegant Sheraton Hotel on the waterfront for another round of pisco sours while watching the sun position itself for a quick exit into the smog-o-sphere that envelopes the area. We drank well.

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Snoozeville back on the bus, at least for some. I was glued to the wide window sponging up as much of the Chilean landscape as I could. When darkness finally conquered the remaining light, I glimpsed billboards, storefronts, cinemas, the pattern of traffic and roads redefined in halogen and neon.

Around seven o’clock, tour leader Mac suggested we stop for take-out empanadas as we would likely be hungry later. Oscar knew the perfect place. It was like a McDonald’s roadside fast-food eatery except they made and sold only empanadas. The place was jammed and there were three men in the lot directing cars to available parking spaces. Oscar and Mac came back with a covered box full of aromatic empanadas.

I have never been an empanada fan. I’ve found them to be nothing more than unflavored doughy pastry with scant filling. The Chilean version was a revelation. The flaky pastry was minimal and they were stuffed to the point of bursting. There was a half dozen flavors but I was filled to the gills after one. We polished off the rest at breakfast the next morning. We ate well.

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