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Published: January 22nd 2013
Amazing Street Art
Works such as this as found on walls all over Valparasio
My new favourite city in the world is the crazy, quirky, kooky, arty, twisty-turny, topsy-turvy city of Valparaiso. The whole city is built around a landscape of 42 hills, and looks like it was designed by either an eccentric genius, a very brave architect or a madman. The city is a maze of steep, winding streets that coil around the hills and climb up and down. The layout is random and chaotic. Getting from A to B is not intuitive, and you'll find yourself going via C, D and E in the process. If you look at Valparaiso on a map, it looks like someone threw down a bowl of cooked spaghetti when they planned it. Adding to the confusion, there is a rabbit-warren of side passages and stairs which link many of the roads. If you want to walk around Valpo (as the locals call it), you'd better get those legs warmed up and prepare for a hill-climbing, thigh-burning experience. If you want to drive around Valpo, your car had better have a strong engine for the uphill climbs and decent brakes for the descent. The other transport choice is the Ascensors, a network of 19 vertical trains that are
Houses built on impossibly steep hills
scattered through the city. Built in the 1900's, only a handful of them still work, but the government is trying hard to revive the others.
The gravity-defying houses of Valpo are an eclectic mix of styles and are typically brightly painted. They cover every single hill, which makes for a picturesque, if slightly messy, backdrop to the city. One of the most awesome and memorable feature of Valpo is the street art. Hundreds of houses and shops are covered in extensive murals. Think street graffiti, but refined to an art form. The designs included animals, mountain scenery, abstract art and punk-influenced cartoon characters. The sheer variety and beauty of these murals was staggering. It has become fashionable to decorate your house in this fashion, and the amount of street art. Some people might invite a local artist over to paint their house, and keep him supplied with fine food and wine as payment. There are also street art festivals where artists come from all over the world to create fresh murals. There's also a lot of traditional graffiti and "tagging", which is crude and ugly, and done illegally by kids with spray cans. But even amongst street ruffians there
Sinister Street Art
Looks vaguely menacing
is a code of conduct. Not a single mural in Valpo had been vandalised or tagged with spray paint. It would be considered the height of rudeness. So by having a piece of beautiful street art on your house, you can avoid ugly graffiti.
My favourite piece of street art was hidden down a side alley. It was a saucy collage which had the inscription "El Pollo Al Veladore". This translates to "chicken on the bedside table." It's a Chilean phrase for having an affair. Imagine two naughty people working together and having a fling. The naughty couple would buy lunch at a supermarket (such as a roast chicken) then rent a hotel room for an hour. The lunch would be placed on the bedside table and would be eaten after a tumble between the sheets! Whilst in Valpo I did a walking tour. I was at the meeting point at 10am, and saw a small dog running towards our group. He was moving at an impressive speed, hurtling along as fast as his stubby legs would carry him. It was as if he was late for something. The dog skidded to a halt in the middle of our
Chicken on the Bedside Table
or "El Pollo Al Treladore" in Spanish
tour group and started receiving lots of patting and stroking. We started on our walking tour a few minutes later and the dog came trotting along with us. He kept pace for over an hour, stopping with us at traffic lights, and crossing safely when we did. Our tour guide told us that he joins the tour every single day! What a clever dog, getting all that attention and the occasional titbit of food from us tourists. I wonder how he knows when it's 10am each day? I didn't see him wearing a wrist-watch. Do dogs even have wrists??
On our tour, a hideous hybrid building was pointed out. The bottom three floors were the original building, made from traditional stonework dating back to the 1800's. Plonked on top of it was an extension made from modern materials. It was an enormous and unsightly glass cube that added an extra eight levels to the building. It looked ridiculous on top of the original building. The building below is owned by some critical local business , and the story goes that they applied for planning permission for this glass cube and got denied. The town planners said "it would be
a monstrosity! It isn't in keeping with the buildings around it". They replied by saying "fine, in that case we will simply relocate to another city". Such a move would have been detrimental to Valparaiso, and so the town planners said to them "we've had a change of heart. We love big glass cubes! Please go ahead and build it". And so it was built, to the dismay of all the Valpo residents who were in uproar. A strongly worded letter was written to UNESCO, and now Valparaiso is a World Heritage city. As such, any buildings or extensions must conform in style to the surrounding buildings.
Intetesting fact: Valpo was the first city in South America to have a fire station. Can you imagine what life was like before official firefighters? Your house is on fire. You run to wake up your neighbours, who start waking up THEIR neighbours, and so on. Soon the whole town is filling buckets, pots and pans with water and rushing to your house. The fire station I saw had fire trucks with the following word on the side: "Feuerwehr". This means Firefighters in German, which was unusual. Apparently, this fire station is
View over Valpo
I found this fabulous viewpoint on an afternoon wander
manned entirely by volunteers of German descent. There are 19 fire stations in Valpo, and each one is crewed by people of a different country. Impressive!
My hair was starting to get wild and unruly, so I sauntered into a barbers for a trim. I was attended to by an elderly gentleman who put me into a reclining chair and swung me back until I was nearly horizontal. Now, normally a barber will move around you to reach each part of your head. Not this guy. He stayed rooted in the same place and spun my chair around instead. Which made me dizzy and also meant I couldn't see what he was doing in the mirror. Which was worrying because I had asked for a number 3 headshave, and he was hacking away with scissors instead of a shaver. There was nothing lost in translation, he was simply rubbish. I didn't realise the extent of his butchery until I got home and looked in the mirror. I had uneven tufts all over the place and looked like I'd been attacked by a stray dog. I had to tidy up my own hair using the scissors from my Swiss Army
Most houses in Valpo are painted LOUD
One evening I signed up to a Chilean cooking class. It was hosted by Boris, a gay Chilean guy who was exceedingly camp and an absolute hoot. He had us in stitches. There were eight of us in the class and we were all given tasks. He gave me the onions to chop. He said "I always give the men the onions, because I love to see a man cry". We learnt to cook six dishes, which included Pastel de Choclo, which is similar to a Shepherds Pie except it has a crust made from a delicious concoction of puréed sweetcorn and eggs. We also learnt to make Pisco Sour. This is my new favourite cocktail and is the National Drink of Chile. It's tasty and deadly. Consume with extreme caution because they creep up on you, and after drink number four you start to forget people's names. After six you forget your own name, and after seven you lose the ability to use stairs. The ingredients are quite simple. Pisco (which is a grape brandy), lemon juice, sugar syrup and egg whites. The trick is to get the proportions just right. Oh, and to shake well whilst
Cocktail Shakin' Class
Mixing Pisco whilst doing Salsa
dancing Salsa. Boris was the national Salsa dancing champion, so he made us shake a tail feather whilst handling the cocktail shaker. We learnt some interesting Pisco variations too, with ginger, and with basil and chilli. Pisco may be the national drink of Chile, but it's also the national drink of Peru and there is a serious rivalry between the two countries. Each country claims the drink originated in their country, and that theirs is superior in taste. But Peru actually had a town called Pisco, whereas Chile didn't. This gave Peru a distinct advantage in the ongoing Pisco War, so Chile decided to level the playing field. The town producing the most Pisco in Chile was called La Union. In 1949, the Chilean government passed legislation to change the town's name to Pisco, to help cement their claim. Never mention Peruvian pisco to a Chilean or vice versa, unless you want a fierce and animated argument on your hands!
Whilst on the subject of food and drink, let me introduce you to two more Chilean specialities. The first is a fearsome cocktail called the Terremoto, which means "earthquake" in Spanish. Apparently you will feel the earth move after
Valpo by Night
Huge and sparkling
a few of these. I think you're more likely to feel your stomach move, because it's ingredients are white wine, grenadine and pineapple ice cream! The second item is a specialty that was created in Valpo. It's a dish called Chorillana which is basically a food mountain of sliced steak covered in chips, topped with fried onions, cheese and chilli sauce. The most magnificent hangover cure ever!
(More photos at the bottom of the page)
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