Published: July 18th 2008July 1st 2008
Home for me is a seaside town with a funicular, so the port city of Valparaiso, with its 15 ascensores
, on the face of it had some similarities. After spending 2 days in "Valpo", I had to concede that the similarities were indeed purely superficial, with the lack of good fish and chips here a glaring difference.
Valparaiso is spread over more than 40 hills, a Rome (or Sheffield) squared, and many of its residential areas are filled with the kind of colourful houses and street art that characterise the Bellavista neighbourhood of Santiago. Sadly, the smog that blights the capital is also a fixture here, and neither the dock area nor the busy streets running near it add to the city's appeal. With Chile's navy being based in Valparaiso, there are plenty of sailors floating around in the historic centre, and a few frigates moored off the coast added a slight air of menace.
The funiculars are - unlike the one in Saltburn - not primarily for tourists, with local people using them as a means to negotiate the steep slopes. With most of them terminating at a viewpoint, they're a tourist magnet too. Built in the late
19th and early 20th centuries (the earliest is slightly older than Saltburn's), they're a delightful anachronism, with their slow, creaking progress up the hillsides giving you time to look down on the whizzing 21st century traffic below.
The most distinctive to me was Ascensor Polanco, reached via a tunnel echoing with footsteps and dripping water. This rises vertically - and hence is pretty much just a lift - and, at the top, is connected to the neighbouring hill by a metal walkway. A wooden platform at the top of the tower gives some of the best views of the city, an added bonus being that the supporting planks aren't flush and give teasing glimpses of the ground 18m below.
The street art was also a little different to Santiago's, and I was pleased to see a lot of cat graffiti (of, not by). One area, the "Open Air Museum", contained a set of murals commissioned by the city which were some of the dullest in Valparaiso, and certainly less rewarding than the one-offs encountered during aimless wandering. However in general the combination of pastel houses and random outbreaks of street art was a picturesque one, and definitely worth
more than just the day trip from Santiago that many visitors give it.
From Valparaiso, it was back into Argentina again.
There are more photos below