Vietnam – Day 5 – My Son Sanctuary

Today I woke up at 5:00am with an alarm. Why so early? Well today I was heading to My Son Sanctuary; about an hours drive away.

The My Son Sanctuary is a cluster of abandoned Hindu temples that were constructed between the 4th and 14th centuries by the kings of Champa. Champa was a collection of independent Cham societies that extended in roughly the same area that today is central and south Vietnam from the 2nd century until 1832, when Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mang absorbed and annexed it.

The temples at the My Son Sanctuary are dedicated to the worship of the god Shiva. Some of the temples lay in partial ruin. Restoration began in 1937 by the French and ended in 1943. Unfortunately many buildings were again destroyed in the Vietnam War in August 1969 and the surrounding area became dangerous due to unexploded land mines. Restoration began again since being recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1999, with the majority of the money being funded by the Italians and Japanese, as well as some money from the Ministry of Culture of Vietnam.

I had rented a motorcycle from the villa the previous night for 110000 Dong ($6.85 CDN). I set off around 6:00am and stopped at a local coffee shop close to the sanctuary called Café Que Huong (Liberty Café). I had coffee with the owner and took a selfie together. After having the coffee I continued towards the sanctuary.

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Parking at the sanctuary was 5000 Dong ($0.32 CDN). After parking I ate some hand pulled noodles in a chicken broth at the restaurant at the entrance before walking to the electric tram that would drive me to the start of the ruins.

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I explored around the ruins and it was pretty quiet until about 10:00am, when the tourist groups started showing up. I finished walking around the site at around 11:00am and was hungry again so I decided to have more noodles at the restaurant before getting my motorcycle and heading back to the hotel.

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The ride back to the hotel was very hot and the traffic was heavier. It took a lot of concentration and it was pretty slow going. I stopped on the way back to the villa for some more beer and some more Doritos. I spent the afternoon hanging out at the pool.

At around 6:00pm I decided to head into town for dinner. I went to a restaurant called Vinh Hung Restaurant and had the famous local Hoi An dish called Cao Lau Noodles. Cao Lau Noodle dishes typically contain pork and greens, with rice noodles that have been soaked in lye water, from a famous local well, giving them a unique texture and colour that sets them apart from other traditional Vietnamese noodle dishes. To be honest I absolutely love the flavour and texture.

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After dinner I walked around and explored the night market, before riding the motorcycle back to the villa.

Check back tomorrow as I dive head first into a Vietnamese cooking class and take a tour on a traditional Hoi An Basket Boat.

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Vietnam – Day 1 – Ho Chi Minh City

After some much-needed sleep I woke up at around 5:00am. The hotel I was staying at provided a complimentary set breakfast, which started at 7:00am. I hung out in the hotel room until it was time for breakfast. For breakfast I had some Pho. After breakfast I started my adventure around the city.

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The first stop was Ben Thanh Market, a massive market that’s been around since the early 17th century. The market was destroyed by fire in 1870 and was rebuilt to become Saigon’s largest market. The market was moved in 1912 and renamed to it’s current name, and the building was renovated in 1985.

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The second stop was the Ho Chi Minh City Museum, also known as Gia Long Palace. This building has a very rich history dating back to 1885.Construction of Gia Long Palace was constructed between 1885 and 1890. Gia Long Palace was designed by the French architect Alfred Foulhoux. The palace spans two floors and was building using classical Baroque architecture with a blend of European and Oriental influences. The building was essentially symmetrical with a winding staircase in the middle of the building. Interestingly the building was built with three deep underground tunnels which lead from the palace to other parts of the city so that government officials could escape in the event of a coup. The building was intended to house the Museum of Commercial Trade, which showcased products and goods of Southern Vietnam, but it was not used as intended and was instead used as the residence of the Governor of Cochinchina. In 1945, control of the palace changed hands many times. It started on March 9th when French governor Ernest Hoeffel was arrested, and the Japanese took over the palace and used it for the residence of Japanese Governor Yoshio Minoda. On August 14th the Japanese handed over the palace to its puppet Empire of Vietnam government to be used as a residence. A mere 11 days later on August 25th the Viet Minh seized the property. The building then became the headquarters of the Provisional Administrative Committee of Southern Vietnam, which was later renamed the “People’s Committee of Southern Vietnam”. On September 10th the British occupied the palace and made it the Allied Mission headquarters, thus evicting the “People’s Committee”. About a month later on October 5th the building was then again occupied by the French; first as a temporary headquarters of the High Commission for the French Republic in Indochina, then as the official headquarters of the Commissioner of the French Republic in Southern Vietnam.

On June 2nd 1948 the French handed control of the building to the Provisional Government of the State of Vietnam, which established its headquarters there. It was later on used as the Palace of the Premier. On January 9th 1950 a massive protest with over 6000 students and teachers demanding the release of students arrested for advocating Vietnamese independence occurred in front of the building. Over 150 people were arrested, 30 injured, and 1 killed. From 1954 to 1966 the palace was used as a residence for numerous government officials, and was renamed to Gia Long Palace by Bao Dai. The Supreme Court of the Republic of Vietnam utilized the palace from October 31st 1966 to April 30th 1975, when the Fall of Saigon occurred, ending the Vietnam War. On August 12th 1978 the Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee ordered that the building be used as the Ho Chi Minh City Revolutionary Museum, a propaganda museum, later being renamed on December 13th 1999 to its current name of Ho Chi Minh City Museum.

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The third stop was the People’s Committee Building, also known as Ho Chi Minh City Hall. The building was built between 1902 and 1908 in a French colonial style. It was renamed in 1975 to Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee. While I was there a group a graduating school children were getting their group photo taken.

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The fourth stop was the City Opera House. I just took a photo of the outside, as the inside was being used for graduating children. The building was opened in 1900 and shaped very similar to the Opera Garnier in Paris, with 800 seats to entertain the French. The Opera House was damaged during World War 2, and because of the criticism of the fascade and high costs of organizing performances the government tried to turn the theatre into a concert hall. Decorations, engravings, and statues were removed, and the building wasn’t restored until 1955. After the Fall of Saigon in 1975, the building was restored again to its original function as a theatre, and the façade wasn’t restored until 1998, on the 300th anniversary of the founding of Saigon.

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I then stopped by the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre to purchase a ticket for the 5:00pm showing; more on that later. The cost of the ticket was 200000 dong ($11.40 CDN).

After purchasing my ticket, I went to the War Remnants Museum. On my way to the museum I met a couple that was also from Canada and we chatted on the way to the museum. The girl had just had her phone stolen out of her hands while she was sitting for dinner the previous evening, so she warned me to be a bit vigilant. The War Remnants museum was built in 1975 and contains exhibits related to the Vietnam War and the first Indochina War involving the French. Just a word of warning that some of the following images may be disturbing to some viewers.

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I was starting to get hungry so I searched out some food on Google Maps. I settled for Saigon Sakura Japanese Restaurant. On my way to the restaurant I snapped a few quick photographs of Independence Palace. Independence Palace, also known as Reunification Place, was built between 1962 and 1966. It was built on the site of the former Norodom Palace. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the Fall of Saigon on April 30th 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through the gates.

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For lunch I had some sushi rolls, but not too many as they were phenomenally expensive; even more expensive than at home. After enjoying the delicious lunch, I walked to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon and the Saigon Central Post Office. Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon was built between 1863 and 1880 by the French in a Romanesque style. The Saigon Central Post Office was built between 1886 and 1891 in Gothic, Renaissance and French style. Inside the Saigon Central Post office there are two painted maps that were created just after the post office was built. One is a map of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia titled “Lignes telegraphiques du Sud Vietnam et Cambodge 1892”, which roughly translates to “Telegraphic lines of Southern Vietnam and Cambodia 1892”. The second map of greater Saigon is titled “Saigon et ses environs 1892”, which roughly translates to “Saigon and its surroundings 1892”.

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It was getting quite hot out at this point in time and I was still a bit jet lagged, so I walked back to the hotel to rest for a few hours. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a Circle K convenience store to get a few beers to enjoy in the hotel room later on. By the time I got back to the hotel it was about 2:30pm. I relaxed until roughly 4:30pm and then walked to the Golden Dragon Water Puppet Theatre. The show was extremely well done and in Vietnamese, but I didn’t need to understand Vietnamese to understand what was going on.

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After the show I walked to Nha Hang Dong Pho, and had a Hue style clear both with pork knuckle. It was honestly not very good, despite the good reviews online. I was getting tired so I walked back to the hotel. On the way back it started raining, but not too hard.

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Check back tomorrow when I explore more of Ho Chi Minh City, and explore the Cu Chi Tunnels, before jet setting off to Hoi An / Da Nang.

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A Tribute to Notre-Dame

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Paris, France in March 2018. One of Paris’s most iconic landmarks is Notre-Dame. Sadly yesterday, on April 15th 2019 Notre Dame caught on fire, presumably from the construction activity that was taking place. I wanted to take this time to showcase the beauty of this wonderful building in its former glory and dive into the history of the cathedral.

The construction of Notre-Dame started in 1163 and wasn’t completed until 1345, a whole 182 years later! The cathedral is sacred to the Virgin Mary and was considered to be one of the first examples of French Gothic architecture style. The construction of the cathedral utilized an innovated technique of rib vault and flying buttresses to support the roof. This would later on lead to the quick spreading of the fire as the majority of the roof was constructed of wood. The cathedral featured beautiful rose windows and a beautifully sculpted interior.

Construction was started under guidance of Bishop Maurice de Sully and was completed in its first iteration in 1345. In the 1790’s Notre-Dame suffered from vandalism and neglect during the French Revolution, with much of its religious imagery being damaged or destroyed.

In the 1800’s several events occurred; the cathedral was the site of the Coronation of Napoleon I as Emperor of France, the baptism of Henri, Count of Chambord, and the funerals of several presidents of the Third French Republic. The cathedral became famous in 1831 when Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame was published. A major restoration project occurred between 1844 and 1864. In 1963 the façade of the cathedral was cleaned, returning it to its former glory. Another cleaning and restoration project was carried out between 1991 and 2000.

After the fire occurred the French president Emmanuel Macron stated that Notre-Dame would be rebuild. The billionaires behind luxury giants LVMH Group, Kering and L’Oreal have pledged a combined total of over $550 million towards the resurrection of the beautiful Notre-Dame, and the Pinault family has pledged over $110 million as well.

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Chile – Days 10 & 11 – Travel Day, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales

Today we both woke up at 6:45am. We finished packing our bags and had our complimentary buffet breakfast. Today the breakfast was much better than the previous two days with a better variety of food. Perhaps its because we went a bit earlier than previous days.

We drove to the airport and I returned the rental car to Budget. It actually went quite quickly without any issues. We went through security, which took about 2 minutes since we were the only ones in line. After heading through security we purchased some bottled water for the plane and then sat in a coffee shop and had some coffee’s before boarding a Sky Airlines flight to Santiago.

Upon arriving in Santiago we purchased some McDonald’s for lunch. I had a 1/4 Pounder with Cheese, while C had a Big Mac and fries. We both shared a cola. We had a few hours to burn at the airport so I did some photo editing, and C did some drawing. We purchased some sandwiches from Starbucks for dinner on the next flight. While waiting for the flight we noticed 8 PDI (Investigations Police of Chile) surround an incoming LATAM flight and wait for the passengers to deplane. They surrounded a guy and took him away from the plane. We were not sure what it was all about but I suspect he was a wanted person of interest.

The next flight was a Sky Airlines flight from Santiago to Punta Arena’s. The flight was one of the smoothest flights I have ever been on and the sky was completely clear with beautiful breathtaking views of Torres Del Paine National Park prior to our arrival at Punta Arena’s.

After arriving at Punta Arena’s airport I went to the Europcar rental check-in desk and the experience was a night and day difference to my experience with Budget in Calama. I was upgraded to a very nice fully loaded Nissan NV300 diesel truck and the whole check in process took less than ten minutes.

We loaded our bags into the truck and drove to our accommodation for the night; Hostal Ventisqueros. It was a cute B&B style accommodation run by this very nice lady who didn’t speak any English but we got by with Google Translate. One humorous thing to note about the hotel was the extremely small bath tub.

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After checking in we purchased some groceries for the morning breakfast and then went for a walk along the Punta Arenas boardwalk. The sunset was absolutely beautiful and we took many photos. Sadly it was then time to head to bed because we had to get up early in the morning for a Penguin Tour!

The next day we had to wake up at 5:00am, as the Penguin Tour started at 6:00am. We drove to a nearby coffee shop to get some coffees and we ate the food that we had purchased the night before. We drove downtown to the Solo Expediciones tour office. The tour was a bit late starting because of numerous late arrivals, but the buses eventually set off at around 6:45am. During the bus ride the girl next to me got sick and yacked all over the floor, getting a bit on my jacket. I felt really bad for her because she was about to be getting on a boat. Her dad took everything in good stride and helped to clean it up the best he could.

The bus arrived at the dock at around 7:30am. We boarded two large zodiac style boats and heat towards Magdalena Island. Before we head to the island we took a quick stop close to Isla Marta where there was literally thousands of sea lions and birds bathing in the sun. It was an incredible sight to see.

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The next stop was Magdalena Island. We were only allowed one hour on the island as they want to try to minimize the amount of distress that we cause the penguins. This was especially important at this time of the year because they were just having their baby chicks. It was such an amazing experience to see thousands upon thousands of penguins on the island. The average amount of penguins on the island is said to be about 300,000! Most of the island is roped off and people follow a set route that takes about one hour at a snails pace. This gives everyone ample opportunity to take photographs of the penguins.

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After boarding the zodiacs to head back to land we were greeted with pisco sour’s, cookies and coffee. The pisco sours were very strong! The seas were extremely calm today and we were told we were pretty lucky to have such a beautiful and calm day. We arrived back on land, boarded a bus (different one this time because we wanted to avoid the bus we took where the girl had her episode), and took the bus back to the Solo Expediciones tour office. We arrived back at the office at around noon.

When I went out to my truck I had a panic because I saw what appeared to be a parking ticket, but it turns out it was just a parking slip that I had to pay for parking in a paid zone. I wasn’t sure how this worked so I was a bit panicked. At first I decided that perhaps I would ignore it, but then I didn’t want to get into trouble. I decided that we should go for lunch and that I could ask one of the people there how the parking system worked in Punta Arenas.

For lunch we went to La Marmita. The server explained to me how the parking system works; basically you have to find a person that prints the slips to settle up the tab. I ran out to go find one of the people while C stayed behind at the restaurant. Turns out its actually harder to find these people than I would have thought. I spent a good 20 minutes literally running around to find one of these people. I eventually found one and settled the tab. While I was gone C ordered me a pisco sour because she could see that I was a bit stressed out. Upon my return I ordered a guanaco (llama) stew and she ordered some seafood soup as well as a delicious ravioli. We both agreed that this was one of the best restaurants that we’ve ever eaten at. The price for this reflected that at nearly $80 CDN.

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We spend the afternoon walking around Punta Arenas, before purchasing groceries at the local Unimarc. Punta Arenas has numerous very well preserved Art Nouveau and Art Deco style buildings, which excited me as both are my favorite styles of architecture. Art Nouveau was prominent between 1890 and 1910, and Art Deco was prominent between 1910 and 1939. I have wrote about these in detail in numerous other posts but two that come to mind with lots of photos are my USA Route 66 trip in 2018 (link), and my New Zealand trip in 2016 (link).

We purchased enough groceries for the next 3 days in Puerto Natales. Groceries down here are a lot more expensive; 3 days worth of food cost nearly $80 CDN.

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It was time to start our 3 hour drive to Puerto Natales. The drive was long and boring, but about 15-20 minutes away from Puerto Natales the scenery changed and became extremely beautiful and we were getting excited for what was the come for tomorrow!

We checked into our accommodation; DT Loft (Dorotea Loft), which is run by the local ice cream store in the front. The ice cream store runs four of these beautiful mid-century modern lofts. The price was actually very affordable at $360 for 3 nights. We both agreed it was the cutest place we’ve ever stayed at. The loft had a beautiful blue 1950’s themed kitchen and living room area. From the living room you step up into the bedroom loft area, which houses an exceptionally comfortable king sized bed. At the very back of the loft is a gorgeous well appointed bathroom with a rainfall shower.

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After settling in we made some gourmet nachos for dinner. After dinner I messed around on my computer for a bit while C messed around on her iPad before we both head to bed.

Check back tomorrow for our adventures to Torres Del Pain park!

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Chile – Day 8 – Anita & Chacabuco Ghost Towns

Today I woke up at 6:45am coughing uncontrollably. My cold was definitely getting worse. C was still sleeping and I let her sleep until 8:00am and then woke her up. We had the complimentary buffet breakfast in the hotel and then set off to explore.

Today we visited a very famous Chilean ghost town near Calama called Chacabuco. On the drive out to Chacabuco we came across another ghost town called Anita. Anita was an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1902 and abandoned in 1912. The town fell into quick disarray and is not that well preserved. Vandalism covers most of the Anita property. Our next stop was Chacabuco; the main highlight of the day.

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Chacabuco is an abandoned Nitrate or “Saltpeter” town that was founded in 1924 by the Lautaro Nitrate Company and soon fell into ruin as the nitrate mining boom in Chile came to an abrupt end in the 1930’s The Germans had invented synthetic nitrate and by the end of the 1930’s most of Chile’s nitrate industry came to and end. At one point in time nitrate provided 50% of Chile’s GDP. Chacabuco finally shut its doors in 1938, where it remained closed until 1973. In 1973 things took a dark twist and the town was reopened as a concentration camp during the Pinochet regime in 1973. Chile was under a Military dictatorship from 1973-1990.

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I was really starting to struggle with my cold so we drove back to Calama and went to a pharmacy to get some decongestant medicine. We spent the late afternoon resting before venturing out for some delicious corn and egg pizza from La Pizzata; yes you read that correctly it was corn and egg.

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After pizza we walked back to the hotel and watched half of a movie before going to bed.

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Chile – Day 5 – Valparaiso & Santiago

Today I woke up with a headache at 6:45am so I got dressed and walked across the street to the Shell gas station and purchased an Americano and then sat in the lobby of our hotel while catching up on Social Media. I went upstairs at 8:00am and C was ready for breakfast. For breakfast we went back to the Panini Cafe that we went to two days ago. I had a Neapolitan panini and a double shot americano, while C had a Belgian waffle with strawberry syrup as well as a Cappuccino.

We hung out in the hotel room in the morning while I did some work and C drew on her iPad. We checked out at noon and left our bags at the hotel for a few hours while we explored Valparaiso a bit more. We explored the community of Bellavista. We decided that even though Bellavista was nice that we enjoyed the other cerro’s that we had visited on the previous day more than Bellavista. After exploring Bellavista we decided we wanted to track down a restaurant that served Arepas, which is a bun made of ground maize dough or flour and then stuffed with meat and cheese. Arepas are actually not too common to Chile, as they are a Colombian and Venezuelan food, but we were craving it since we had them at one of my colleagues houses back home. We came across the one of the only places in town that served them (according to Google Maps); Sazon Chevere. I had pulled brisket with cheese, and C had pulled chicken with cheese.

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We picked up our bags at 3:45pm and took the train (also saw a homeless dog sleeping on the train who seemed very cute and peaceful) and walked back to the bus terminal to take us back to Santiago. While walking back to the bus terminal a guy tried to pull a typical tourist theft scheme on C but we caught it in time and nothing was stolen. The scheme typically occurs by someone saying that your bag is open (even when it’s not) and that some stuff fell out, which you then scramble to find, and someone else will then quickly slip into your pockets while you’re panicking and steal your phone and/or wallet. I recognized this right away. This type of scheme is very common in South America and some parts of Southeast Asia.

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We took a 5:15pm TurBus bus back to Valparaiso. We were fortunate enough to have seats on the upper deck with a view out the front, which was a really nice view. During the bus ride I started to come down with a cold.

We arrived in Pajaritos at around 7:00pm and took a $6.40 Uber ride to City Express Hotel beside Santiago International Airport (SCL). We checked in to the hotel and had some dinner in the bar. I had a burger and some local beers (Quimera Amber Ale & Quimera Pale Ale), while C had spaghetti and a glass of white wine. Both beers were quite excellent! It was then time for us to head to bed as we had to wake up at 5:15am for an early morning flight.

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Chile – Day 2 – Santiago

Today we woke up at 7:00am. We got ready fairly quickly and then walked to a nearby Starbucks. I had a regular drip coffee and C had a Chai Tea Latte. We then walked back to Santa Lucia Hill and explored the hill. Santa Lucia Hill sits on top of a volcano that last erupted an estimated 15 million years ago. On top of the hill is a beautiful park, chapel, and Fort Hidalgo. Fort Hidalgo was recently restored and reopened to the public and traditionally a cannon shot is fired at exactly noon.

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After exploring Santa Lucia Hill we walked over to Plaza De Armas. Plaza De Armas is the main square of Santiago. It is the centerpiece of the initial layout of Santiago and the square grid pattern of the city was laid out from here. Santiago (officially known as Santiago de Chile) was originally founded in 1541 by the Spanish conqueror Pedro de Valdivia. Santiago has a population of 6.3 million people and is home to 40% of the entire population of Chile.

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Right across from Plaza De Armas is Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago which took 52 years to build and was first opened in 1800. Previous cathedrals stood in its spot but were destroyed by earthquakes. Chile is known to have some of the world’s largest earthquakes in recorded history, with the largest being the 9.5 magnitude earthquake on May 22, 1960 near Valdivia, Chile. That particular earthquake left 2 million Chileans homeless, killed approximately 6000 Chileans, and created Tsunami’s that reached as far as Honshu, Japan. The 18 foot high waves reached Honshu about 22 hours after the earthquake and left 1600 homes destroyed and killed 185 people.

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After visiting the beautiful Cathedral Metropolitana de Santiago we walked through the nearby Central Market and over to Centro Cultural Estacion Mapocho, which was a former railway station (built in 1913) that was converted to a cultural center/musuem. The beautiful semi-restored train station is built in Art Nouveau style architecture, which is some of my favorite architecture, alongside Art Deco and Mid-Century Modern. You can refer back to my France blog posts, among others to see some other beautiful Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture.

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We continued exploring the area and came across a hip modern area called Eurocentro, and narrowly avoided a protest in front of the University of Chile. There were about 30-40 armed military personnel with riot shields ready to pounce if things got out of control.

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After that we took the Yellow Metro line from Santa Ana station to Departamental station. Santiago is home to one of my favorite style of Metro systems; the rubber-tyred Metro. There are only about 25 systems like these in the world and I’ve been on about 1/4 of them. The rubber-tyred Metro was first applied to the Paris Metro in 1951, and is also used in Montreal, Canada. The benefits are better grip, quieter, and a better ride.

After exiting Departamental station we walked to the nearby community of San Miguel, which is a rundown lower income community with many tenement buildings. The appeal of this community to us was the huge open street market and the massive murals on the sides of the tenement buildings.

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We were getting hungry and were in search of Arepas, which is a Venezuelan & Columbian food that is fairly popular to Chile as well. Arepas is made of ground maize dough and is cut in half and stuffed with cheese, meat, tomatoes, etc. You can have it in many different styles. We took the Metro and walked to numerous places on google maps that supposedly sold Arepas, but sadly they were closed or didn’t sell them. We settled on some amazing freshly made pizza at a nearby restaurant. We ordered a Neapolitan style pizza, which absolutely delicious.

After eating we explored the rustic community of Varrio Italia, before walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. Originally we were supposed to stay one additional day in Santiago but we opted to go to Valparaiso a day early starting tomorrow.

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