Friday, October 31, 2008

Sydney days forever (Thur-30Oct - Day 37)

(where I am now: The Sydney Australia P&G office!)What time is it: 10:00am - What am I listening to: office background noise)

Weather not being as great the first day – I still remain convinced that this is one of the greatest cities in the world to live in

Weather optional, fun unavoidable …

Crap weather – the party didn’t last. As of Tuesday morning the wonderful blue sky and brilliant sunshine were covered by nasty grey clouds – city transformed itself and partly of my mood as the only thing that I wanted to do was go to the beach. I had Annick taking off a day on Wednesday – the original plan was to visit the northern beaches and the zoo (yeah kiddies!) but we only managed a drive through the wonderful beaches that exist up north. Sydney is amazing in that aspect: 30 minutes away from wonderful sandy beaches, a dream for any person that likes the sea.

Ribbon-like coastline, small little coves and bays, allow so many people (that can afford it) to be close to the water element. We stopped at Avalon, and had some lunch, cozy little place (that even had a fireplace…) and headed back home. DVD time and I know that might not be what you should be doing when you only have a few days in Sydney but still, mood, weather and Annick’s lovely apartment made this a really good choice. Have you seen Holiday? Well I hadn’t and it was pretty entertaining, although the snowy scenery made it just awkward with me being in Sydney. Jack Black rocks by the way.We drove around 19:00 to Bondi beach and Annick’s favorite restaurant – Bondi Italian food – pigged out and by 23:00 we were back home. Quiet day in the suburbs.

Another day – another ferry ride – another dish of fish (anyone complaining?)

Who can complain!? Thursday was another cloudy day and I started feeling quite annoyed with the whole thing – thinking that Japan should have come first on my trip – at least I would be in Australia a few weeks later with (probably) better weather.

It was a big day – Katerina (that’s K) had planned to go with me on the Sydney Harbor bridge climb in the afternoon and frankly, I didn’t really want to do it given the weather. We met near Circular Quay, the main terminal where you take ferries around 10am and took a ferry to Watson’s Bay, one of the lovely ports near Sydney, a really nice residential area. I say it again and again, it’s amazing how people in this city live so close to the water, commute over it to go to work, it’s part of their daily lives. I couldn’t help but think that this is a perfect place for anyone that loves the water and a big city – Adrianna, pack your backs…

Fish was on the menu of course and this is a restaurant that has turned now into a chain and is still managed 4 generations later by the same family. Try some local fish she recommended so we got two fab dishes (Snapper and Barrumundi - to share, the one being SLIGHLTY spicy for Katerina...

Sitting, 10 meters from the seaside, sandy beach and small boats anchored in the cove, seagulls flying around, you could almost think it was Greece - that is until you just looked up towards the horizon and there you saw the magnificent skyline of Sydney… What an amazing place I thought again to myself.

We made it back nicely on time and headed to the Bridge for our climb.

Climb a bridge – the universe will conspire to get what you really want.
I told you I don’t like touristy things – especially if they involve a very high premium. Katerina had booked the climb before I arrived to Sydney and I admit I was curious to see it but very skeptical especially when I found out just how expensive it is. We were a bit too early and the person at the office asked if we wanted to take an earlier climb. My mom always said, “never leave for tomorrow what you can do today” and as usual she was right. Try and understand this please: yesterday’s weather was overcast all around (with a slight chance of rain) and maybe some sunshine in the afternoon. The only time the sun was actually out was during our bridge climb – not the time we had planned but the time we eventually decided to go. Enough about the weather, enough about karma. Time to tell you about the bridge climb and the bridge itself.

Getting to the place you have to “check in”, name, details etc and the move to the area where they suit you up with a special uniform, a harness and a radio set where you can listen to the guy that climbs with you and is responsible for the tour. No watches, jewelry or cameras (boo hoo) are allowed on the bridge because you are actually walking +50 meters above real Sydney traffic – I have a good story later to tell you. After some really good training on how to walk around the bridge you make your way into the structure, a complex maze of pathways and ladders that lead you up to the top. You take small breaks along the way while you guide explains to you facts about the bridge and the city.

It was wonderful! +120 meters above the sea, roaring traffic below and magnificent views of the city and coast simply validated my original impression that this is truly one of the greatest cities in the world. Frank our guide (I think that was his name) made a big difference, nicely telling us the facts but adding in his own stories and experiences on the bridge. As I slowly made my way up, water all around and the Sydney skyline ahead, you just can’t help but marvel at the beauty of the city, admire the structure of the bridge and just try to imagine what it was like to actually build this bridge and have it until around 30 years ago as the tallest structure in the city. See all the cool facts I learned during my climb below...

Sun slightly hiding in the clouds near the end of our tour, I took one final look at the Opera house from above and smiled as we all made our way down to the base of the bridge, so thankful for this…

We made it to the base, thrilled with the experience and thinking about it, just realizing that a wonderful sunset was coming over Sydney…

Sydney bridge facts from the internet (further down facts from Kostas):
  • The Sydney Harbour Bridge may not be the longest steel-arch Bridge in the world, but it is the largest and widest. At 48.8 metres (151.3 feet) wide, the Guinness Book of Records lists it as the widest long span Bridge in the world and until 1967, it was Sydney’s tallest structure.

  • Sydney locals refer to it affectionately as “the Coathanger” .

  • The Bridge carries 8 lanes of traffic, a footpath, a cycleway and 2 train lines. The Bridge’s arch spans 503 metres (1,650 feet).

  • The arch's summit is 134 metres (440 feet) above mean sea level.- that’s where we were!
  • The weight of the steel arch is 39,000 tons.

  • Dorman Long and Co also built The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, England. (George, looks familiar?!?!)

Kostas facts:

  • The Granite structure (rock) has absolutely no usage and it for decoration purposes – it does not hold the bridge, it was more to give the people of Sydney the impression that it is solid (what!?)
  • There have been more that 1000 “Will you marry me” propositions on the bride the past 10 years

  • It has over 6 milion rivets on it

  • Until Sep11 it was pretty easy to access it – students used to go up for drinks there…

  • It weighs only 1/3 of the weight of the Opera house

  • Painting maintenance has started 5 years ago and to be completed needs another 25 (!) years – now that’s a good contract

  • The color of the Bridge is "Sydney bridge Gray" and you can actually ask it like that at a hardware store.

You want to propose – do it right (part I)

The coolest story I got from the guide was the one below on wedding proposals. I see the merit of asking the girl of your dreams to be with you at that place – it’s wonderful, romantic and actually you are tied up with a harness so I guess there’s nowhere to go.

So the first time a guy tried to propose, he got the ring out, fell on his knees but because he was so nervous he dropped the engagement ring before managing to put it on the girl’s hand right into the busy traffic, never to be found again. So now they’ve standardized it. They have the ERD (Engagement Ring Device – I am not kidding) where the ring remains attached to the guy until it is on the girl’s finger and then is secured… Yep, welcome to Austalia

You want to propose – do it right (part II)

I don’t know if it is funny but story number two actually happened to our guide. So Frank is taking up about 12 people on one of the tours and one guy has already informed him that he’s planning on proposing. So he’s made sure that the couple is left as the last on the line to have “some privacy” and is also ready to take a photo of them (only the guide can carry a camera, that’s always attached to him). As the guy falls to his knees and proposes, the girls starts crying and screaming “No!” to him - the rest of the people 15 meters away looking over the whole thing...Did I tell you we are all attached on the same line? That must have been a very long (and embarrassing) way down to the base of the camp. Now you try to make that group laugh with your jokes (and not with the guy)

Talk soon! Have a great weekend!

More Sydney photos!

Watson Bay lighthouse
It's so small & I love it, i want to put it in my pocket

Kostas and Sydney sunset :-)

Sydney Girl & sunset

Kostas posing with the rich and famous that have climbed the bridge

Bridge photos (not mine)

Meet the Sydney Greeks!!! (but that is another story!)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Welcome to Sydney!

Maybe you can't hear what I am saying but I am sure you...get the picutre!
Welcome to Sydney!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Kostas arrives in the land of OZ - Wed29Oct (Day)

(Where I am now: Annick’s beautiful apartment in Dee Why, outside Sydney) What time is it: 06:50am – I couldn’t sleep - What am I listening to: the birds on the trees waking up)
Two days already in this wonderful city, I can’t help but think that this is probably one of the greatest cities in the world.)

Welcome to the land of Down Under… The 3 hour flight form Auckland to Sydney was a piece of cake compared to the long +12hrs it took me to get to this side of the world. Still a bit tired but unable to sleep, I just started thinking a bit about the trip and this second big and very exciting chapter of it.. Australia has always been a place I wanted to see. From the stereotype Crocodile Dundee images, to the immense deserts and beautiful sea, I have always wanted to be here, always wanted to see it. And above all, being more “urbanized” as you’ve realized, I wanted to see Sydney.

Arrivals hall in Sydney airport is immense, people queuing to get passed immigration/passport control – it reminded you a bit of the US but only in the queues. You immediately realize the difference in the attitude of the security officers when you notice how they treat the people. Polite and with respect. Federal police, wearing high visibility jackets and shorts (!) and sneakers wait for you in the hall way. Then as you wait in the queue one of them with the Customs badge (which is a round image of a dog – mega funny) on the side of his shoulder walks around with a big Labrador, sniffing bags and people for drugs: “Cmon, eh, whiiir is it, eh, giid boy” he talks to the dog. I am already smiling. My turn at the counter, lady checks my passports, looks at me and says, “do you mind going with this official please to that area?” Great – the Greek is not going to make it, I thought.
What’s the purpose of your visit?
I am traveling around the world and I always wanted to see Australia, I said with a big smile.
Wait here please (ehm, maybe not the best answer I thought)
She comes back 5 minutes later and with the typical Aussie accent she says, “have a wonderful holiday in Australia”.
Thanks, I say and open my passport, a nice big square stamp – Australia IMMIGRATION, nicely put on a blank page.
I won’t tell you about the thorough controls you go through concerning plants and food – Australia is pretty good at protecting themselves from “imported” pests and diseases.

Outside at the arrivals hall, people waiting for people, a big smile in my face I am starting to realize that I am officially in a different continent and well ahead in time from the rest of the World. My friend K (who has asked me not to share anything further about her – let’s see maybe she changes her mind in a few days) was waiting at the arrivals hall, big smile, “Hello, welcome” she said. «Γεια σου, τι κάνεις» I answered back, sun already trying to make its way through the morning clouds…

Hostel, again but not for long.
I got to Central station where one of the big hostels, Central Hostel (yep original name) is located. The building is an amazing, renovated 8 level building and one of the biggest hostels I’ve ever seen. It’s perfectly organized and clean and it has to be, because it hosts at any time over 450 people! No reservation from my part, I was told that there is a bed but since checkout is at 10:00 it wasn’t ready. I left my stuff there, took some basics in my backpack and a map and off I went to see the city.

Hostel is nice but impossible for me. It is the cleanest and most organized I’ve seen but I admit I’ve had enough of them. This one had hundreds of people, young noisy kids, lonely travelers, backpacker from everywhere you can imagine, I felt it was a bit too many people for me. Am I slowly getting used to being alone? Am I starting to enjoy more the privacy and solitude of just not having another 7 people sleeping in the same room as me? I know I will need to use hostels more in Australia and New Zealand but frankly, if I have a friend that can host me (Annick, thanks so much) I am taking up the offer. Forget the fact that you don’t need to pay for accommodation, it was never about that because these places are both reasonable in cost and I have budgeted for this anyway. Forget the “cultural aspects” of being able to see how people really live and catch up with them especially if they are your friends and colleagues. It’s more about the fact that I think it’s just too big, too annoying for me to have to lock/unlock my bag every time I need to take out something, to climb a ladder every time I need to get to my bed, to shower & change in a tiny little bathroom. When I sent the email to Annick, she was laughing so much with the cry for help. “I knew you would be fed up with the hostels by now” she said and now, sitting at her dining room table typing away while she’s still asleep, I can’t stop thinking that my bed last night was as close as it could get to being home, nice pillow, soft sheets, cover and all.

Go to the city, fulfill a dream.
I left the hostel around 09:30 am on a Monday morning to go towards the waterfront, map in hand, sunshine and big smile on my face. It was turning out to be a “beautiful” day. I have to say that weather makes a whole lot of difference when you are visiting a city, especially on the first day you are here. I remember in Iguazu as well, when I arrived, bright sunshine, humidity, shades of green everywhere could only make you feel you were at the right place. I am saying this because now and since Monday night the weather has been cloudy, even rainy at some point, and I am thinking that I would still LOVE this place but my initial reaction wouldn’t have been the same.

I went down to the waterfront near Darling Harbour (isn’t that a cool name). This is not too far away from the famous Oyster-shaped opera house and Harbour bridge, however because of the different little bays, you can’t see them from there. I walked, east, my left side to the water, until I arrived close to them. As I made the turn, right there in front of my, high up, stood the wonderful Harbour bridge, two big Aussie flags at the top. I looked and looked in disbelief, I was finally there. It’s true for me: the most persuasive way to realize you are in a specific place is to actually see the landmarks that define it. As I made my turn further down the road and just saw the Opera house, this unstoppable amazing feeling of warmth filled me inside. Almost with tears in my eyes and a big smile on my face, “I am in Sydney” I said to myself for the tenth time but now there was no question about it.

Stand left, walk right, LOOK RIGHT!
It’s the little things that make the difference, especially the ones that you are used to doing by habit, that when not the same, make you realize you are in a completely different place. I don’t need to tell you that cars in Sydney drive on the other side of the road (“The correct side”, as K said) That is fine, as long as you are aware of it and for me, frankly, after the visual and emotional overload that I went through getting here, this was the last thing I noticed. Until I had a bus mirror pass inches away from my head.

You see, I sometimes don’t walk on pavements, especially in big cities when they are full, I prefer to walk right next to them on the street always facing the direction of traffic of course. When you see the car coming, you step on the pavement. This was particularly useful in busy Buenos Aires, especially since the first lane was usually reserved for taxis & buses only. Well, all is fine as long as you can see the bus coming because this time the bus came from behind me. It also won’t help if you want to cross a red pedestrian light and you are looking for the cars coming from the wrong direction. As of now, I’ve decided to be a good boy and whenever I cross the street I look, Right, Left & Right again. I was thinking I have plenty of time to get used to this, as one of the funniest coincidences ever, all countries I am visiting until I get back to Europe are driving on the “correct” side of the road: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Hong Kong and South Africa. Maybe I’ll try for a driver’s license…

Manly beach vs. Bondi Beach: 1-0
After visiting the Harbour I decided to take a ferry. With plenty of time to kill and wonderful sunshine, I took the ferry to Manly beach up North. “It is also the best way to get views of the city”, K had pointed a while ago and she was right. As you leave the port, you get to see beautiful Sydney and the bays around it, the Opera House and Bridge, looking so wonderful as you slowly make your way towards the other side, near Manly.

Manly was an amazing surprise for me. It felt that you got all the surf/beach culture you’ve been seeing in films and reading about all in one place. Busy, full of people in shorts, bikinis and thongs, walking about, cool sea breeze blowing in your face and the unmistakable smell of suntan oil in the air. Walking down the Corso (the main street) full of little shops that sell beachwear and any type of food one can imagine (yes also fish & chips! Am I in heaven?) I made my way to the beach. The roar of the sea, so loud, the waves big and white, the sand golden-brown, I felt this is truly the beginning of my “perpetual summer”.

Ill-prepared and badly equipped (no bathing suit, no thongs, no sunglasses) I still decided to take my shoes off and walk by the beach front, freezing Pacific Ocean wetting my feet. I walked up and down for about an hour, looking at the seagulls and people just going by, a perfect summer day.

My beach excitement didn’t last more than a day… Yesterday (Tuesday) I woke up fully determined to enjoy another day at the beach, this time Bondi (pronounced bond-aye, like “aye captain” – don’t be a tourist like me) beach. This is one of the nicest and busiest beaches you’ve seen but not that day. Wind and low temperature and a completely cloudy sky prevented me from enjoying it as much. I know I am biased because of the weather but in the great debate Manly vs. Bondi (think Athens vs. Thessaloniki, Sydney vs. Melbourne) my first point goes to Manly.

But Bondi was special for a different reason and boy do I have a story to tell you…

Some more photos from Beautiful Sydney
Sunset over the Opera House
Wagamama, no corriander please (inside joke)
Ferry ride to Manly Manly beach
Self portrait - Beach pattern
Surfer's paradise
Remember the Seaguls in Nemo? Mine, mine miiiiiine
Opera House view

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Last day – first day, one month gone by… (Day 33)

I've just arrived in sunny Sydney, and posting something I've written on the longest flight I've ever taken +14hrs... Hello Australia!

(where I am now: Seat 28J on LAN 801 flight to Sydney – with a stopover into Auckland)
What time is it: 23:50 Chile time, What am I listening to: Easy Lover, Phil Collins )

Fifteen minutes already in this flight that will take me across the Pacific to my next dream destination, I look back on a month’s of travel and share thoughts…It’s been a month… If you look at it from a calendar perspective, it’s been a month. Don’t ask me to comment if it has gone by fast, I’ve done so many things, seen so many places and covered so much distance on this continent and still, as I was sitting a couple of days ago in the Hostel in Valparaiso looking at the huge South America map on the wall, I can only say that I have seen nothing compared to what is out there. I say this will full knowledge of the limitations of my trip and the conscious decision to see “a bit of a lot of locations”. But still when I compare myself with so many other travelers I’ve met that are touring for 4,6 even 9 months this continent, South America was like an empanada served hot and eaten quickly when it should be a 4 course meal eaten with relish, slowly and with appreciation. No regrets, that is clear. I made a clear choice for this trip from the beginning and I know the price I need to pay for it. As I told some of you before I left, the way this trip has been planned is like a box of assorted chocolates: small in size, varied in flavor, a little bit of everything. And if you are wondering why so many food metaphors, it is because I am starving and these guys are just starting now to serve food. Let’s hope they do it from the end of the aircraft because I will start eating the seats…

So indeed it has been a wonderful, amazing, month full of beautiful stories and experiences, that’s for sure. Going out last night in Santiago was the perfect curtain close for the Latin America adventure. Back in Casa Roja, the hostel in Santiago, I stayed on for the barbeque they organize every Friday. Was worth it – I shared a bench with a few people, some American girls, Scott an Aussie guy living in London, Aaron from San Francisco and Jesus from Peru (not Bethlehem) … They had plans to go out. I was yawning after the second piece of steak: yesterday’s all-nighter in Mascara in Valparaiso and few hours of rest this day had already taken their toll. “It’s your last night in Santiago – for us as well”, smiling Anette from the US pointed out.

“It’s my last night on this continent” I thought and stood up to go and wear my jeans.

The place we went was at the Bellavista neighborhood which is actually famous for its restaurants and bars. The place was called Clandestino, a bar/club joint which before midnight had a strange live band playing. Of course, don’t forget, this is the place where 80’s and 90’s live on, so again I was a happy person. It really strikes you when you start thinking about it: A group of perfect strangers, with their own personal stories and backgrounds, brought together for one night of dinning and drinking, like they were old friends… Sure it’s not always easy and at the end they won’t all be your friends but you can at least say that you met some interesting people. It’s fascinating and sad also in some way if you think about it, many of these people you are unlikely to meet again.We left the place at 04:30, by the time we found a taxi and got to the hostel it was 06:00 am, Saturday noon for Western Europe… I love this time difference.

Cross the line, lose a day.
Where am I: same seat same plane, 5836 miles covered, I am almost above Auckland.
Time/Day: Can’t really tell you. My watch says Sunday 11:45 am in Chile, that’s 17:45 Geneva time and I guess it is slowly dawning Monday morning in New Zealand.
My flight is taking 2 days to complete…It’s funny if you think about it, even mind-boggling sometimes. I left on Sat 25 Oct at 23:00 local Chile time and am arriving in Australia on Monday the 27th at 07:00. The flight & stopover are 18hours. So where did the rest of the time go? I guess it is lost in the gorge of the International Date line. (and I don’t mean a phone line where you date internationally) Funny thing how we’re managing time on this planet. At one moment, I am the last to get into a day (Chile only starting a day when Europe is in the middle and New Zealand are at the end of it.

The moment you cross the line, you’re looking at the end of that day. In reality time is not lost. As a friend said, you are still going to be away for 106 days, that doesn’t change so before I start thinking of it in a more scientific way, I will leave it to that.

Parting thoughts for a continent that will be revisited
I loved Latin America, even if I didn’t see much of it, proportionally to its size and number of countries of course. I wanted to post a few points on what I think were the highlights of my trip and maybe a couple of regrets (let’s just call them things that I should do next time!)

Highlights (not in order of preference or importance)
1. Iguazu waterfalls, the closest I’ve been so far to pure nature
2. Using couch surfing and other friends to get a real image of the places I visited
3. Grilled meat in Argentina and Fishsoup in Santiago de Chile
4. Tango night and Horseback riding in Cordoba with Amparo
5. Santa Fe’s lovely buildings and hospitality.
6. Peña night in Buenos Aires with Menelaos & friends
7. Mendoza’s beautiful parks and wine
8. Beautiful, decadent Valparaiso
9. Andes crossing by bus and view of the Aconcagua
10. All the amazing & different people I’ve met so far

1. Not crossing over to Uruguay for a day when I was in Buenos Aires (didn’t plan the day right)
2. Not going to see the Boca stadium or the Argentina-Chile football game for the World Cup Qualifiers or (wasn’t in BA at that day)
3. Not visiting Patagonia in the South and Jujuy in the North of Argentina (not enough time…)
4. Not going for a gourmet dinner in one of Chile’s famous fish restaurants (was in Valparaiso)
5. Not going out to one of the big clubs in Buenos Aires to check out the “local talent” ;-)

Parting thoughts for you.
As I cross into this new part of my adventure, I want to say thank you for reading and writing. Keeping in touch with you has been a great way to feel less lonely on this solo adventure. I only feel sad about the fact that while you know pretty well what I am doing through this blog, I’m missing out on your daily life & stories. It’s a bit unfair, since I would like to also know what you are doing. When I am back, you can’t ask me how the trip was, you already know very well, so I guess you need to get ready to do some talking about what you have been doing.

Let’s make a deal: next time you write me some feedback or a short message, include one sentence about your daily life. It could be anything: I went to Calamar for a friend’s birthday, I went drinking at So-cho’s, I met yesterday X and Y and went to eat souvlakia, I am preparing to move into my new apartment, whatever, just put it on the mail.I am looking at the little TV screen in the middle of the cabin. A red line tracing the little plane going west, from Auckland to Sydney… Another 2 hours to go before I reach the land of Down-Under and fulfill another part of my travel dream. See you around, enjoy Sunday, I am ahead of all of you today (It’s already Monday morning here…)


Friday, October 24, 2008

Valparaiso means paradise - Thur23Oct - Day 29

(Where I am now: the most wonderful hostel on the planet – Casa Aventura in Valpraiso. What time is it: 21:09,
What am I listening to: Radio Equis – Simply Red “Your babies” / And thinking of my koumbara Nana)

I got here yesterday morning and still can’t get over this amazing city and the vibe it gives me. But before that, allow me start the story from the beginning.

Kostas: Never lonely, never alone this world will never cease to amaze me I woke up quite early on Wednesday morning (08:30) with a pretty serious mission to go to Valparaiso. It was one of these programmed visits to ensure I get a piece of Chile while I am waiting for the “Great crossing” into the next continent, into Australia. Outside my hostel room there was this girl I had seen the night before, speaking French. “Bonjour” I said and she answered back. “Are you travelling today at all?” she asked. What an odd question, I thought. “Yes, I am going to Valparaiso for the day” – ah great she said, so am I. “Would you like to go together?” I asked
“Sure why not” she said and then I asked in French.
“Where are you from?”
“ Actually I am French but I live in Switzerland.”
“Really, where?” “In Geneva”
“What a coincidence, so do I, what area?” I said full of surprise
“I live on Rue de Lausanne”. I was left there with a big smile on my face, completely astounded.

Can you even imagine the probability of meeting in Santiago de Chile, on the other side of the planet a person that lives on the same street as you do and that is travelling by coincidence at the same city?

That’s why I keep saying that this trip and this world will never cease to amaze me. We took the bus together and after a 1hour bus ride we arrived in Valparaiso. For those not familiar, Valparaiso used to be one of the most important ports in the Pacific but its fortunes have taken a serious downturn after the Panama Canal was opened and the ships did not have to sail around South America. It still maintains though part of its old-time glory and above all it gives you a magical vibe from the moment you arrive…

I was happy to be next to water again. This was the Pacific Ocean! The port was busy and smelly like any big port should be, containers being loaded on cargo ships, little boats taking tourists around the port, and beautiful sunshine making all the houses look so wonderful on the hills around. Valparaiso is build on 45 “cerros” (or hills) in a pretty chaotic way, telephone & power cables hanging all around, connecting everything like a spider’s web. Houses are as diverse as it can get, some look like the Brazilian favelas, made out of metal panels, all painted in beautiful colors though, some are wonderful mansions, reminding you of the wealth and prosperity that existed in this city a long time ago.

I walked and walked the hills till my feet hurt but wanted more. Every corner was a photograph worth taking, every house was worth looking at and in the few moments you took a wrong or lucky turn you ended up into an amazing view of the port. Wonderful, lindo Valparaiso. I took the long way uphill to the next hill were Pablo Neruda’s house was- and is now a wonderful converted museum. It took about 40 minutes to look around this wonderful place, little luxury, few furniture but built on purpose to inspire strong feelings and wonderful poetry. I was travelling in space and time…

Travelers: so many all alone, never lonely.
I ended up with Nesrin, my Geneva neighbor, in Casa Aventura, a truly wonderful hostel with extremely friendly staff, well decorated and clean rooms but above all single beds (not Bunk-beds) – I felt like home. That’s when I met Caroline, a 27-year old French teacher and Natalia a 28-year old Colombian living in California, on a scholarship from Berkley, studying architecture. We ended up around 21:00 going to a traditional, no-frills place to have dinner and I realized that I am sitting with 3 different women, all with different backgrounds, travelling all alone. They all said it was great, they all said they loved it. So if you think it is impossible to do, too difficult to work out, it actually isn’t and I have multiple examples to prove it. All with interesting stories to tell but above all with a strong urge to discover, to travel to meet people and different cultures. As the night went on and after a bottle of red and some lovely fried cod, I just started staring at the framed photos on the walls of this old restaurant. Black&white and color, faded and new, all about Valparaiso, the port, the hills, the ships, the people… “I am in Valparaiso, I am in Valparaiso” I repeated to myself, chills running down my spine, smile on my face, unable still to accept that the only thing separating me and the next continent is the vast Pacific Ocean…

A day at the beach, becoming a student again, Mascara in my ears. We woke up to the nicest breakfast I’ve ever had, including hotel buffets and personal efforts. It wasn’t the quantity or the variety, it was just the personal care put into preparing all this. Fresh bread, home-made jam, omelet and freshly cut fruit. I felt like home, in this small hostel. We decided with Nesrin and Caroline to go to Viña del Mar, a small coastal town 15 minutes away from Valparaiso that is a seaside/tourist resort. But before that, you cannot leave Valparaiso before taking a boat ride in the port.

Students, tourists, we’re all the same as long as you play the game. I love negotiating a good bargain. It’s not the saving that interests me so much, it’s more the idea that you manage to get something at a lower price than asked for. It’s a bit like a contest. There’s no real winner or loser for me, it’s more the sport I am interested in. As you can expect, getting on a tour boat to see the port of Valparaiso at a “tourist rate” was something I wouldn’t let go easily. The system works as follows: there’s a huge number of little boats (lanchas) that take people around the port. You can rent them for 10,000 pesos (about 16 USD) and can put about 8-15 people in depending on the size. However, if you are travelling alone, you can’t “join” others, you need to pay the full amount and take one on your own. Having to pay 16 USD (divided amongst the 3 of us) when we could actually pay about 1.5 USD each, when joining group, was something worth negotiating. Don’t get me wrong. For me it is not the amount, it’s the principle. Why try to make more when you can actually fit the passengers on the same boat?
I found a group of university students and became one of them. When we explained to them also what they “lancha guys” were asking from us they immediately played along! We ended up boarding the little boat and sitting amongst Claudia, Carlos and Veronica and another 10 University students with my 2 new French friends and having the whole group talking to the people that were against us boarding, shouting: “These are our friends, we came together!”
What a great trip. Beautiful weather but above all so much fun with the students: photos, questions, where are you from, how long are you staying in Chile and so on…We toured with the boat, got back to the port and bid all our “new friends” goodbye…

Jump into the Pacific, if you can.
Beautiful sea. I love you no matter who you are, no matter where I am. Walking around Viña del Mar reminds you one of these tourist areas in southern Spain, like Torremolinos, outside Malaga. Huge hotel and rent-a-room buildings on the beach front, imposing with their presence but unimpressive in hteir design, almost ugly in their architecture that fill the coastal picture. But focus on the important stuff: the wide and long sandy beach, the crystal blue waters of the Pacific Ocean and the huge roar of the waves. We got there all happy and excited, to catch some sun. It was a great day for tanning but quite dangerous since it was very sunny but rather cool – you could easily get tricked and sunburned. Finally I am using the sunscreen I’ve carried half the way around the world! Getting into the sea though is a different story as this beach and water redefined what I now call the coldest water I’ve ever felt. Think Aigio, Santorini, Mykonos, even lake Geneva in April, before the summer and you might get close. Just walking on the beach next to the surf actually made your feet hurt whenever the water touched them, the roar of the waves reminding you this is also the biggest water mass on the planet. Dishearted I returned to my sun-tanning.

I sent you a message, to see how you are, the time difference I still simply fascinating for me, with me enjoying the early afternoon sun and you probably getting ready for a night out. I just wanted to tell you that I am next to the sea that it is a wonderful day and I dare not enter the cold water. Indeed you were out already, “try the water!” you dared me. I got up, slightly dizzy from the sun & siesta and ran into the deep blue sea under the roaring waves.

Chile & Valparaiso, where our music lives forever. Every night.
In the beginning I just thought of it as a lucky break. It was the first morning when I woke up and was walking in the immense corridors of Casa Roja hostel when I heard it. The cleaning lady had put a small radio on and while she swept the floors, you could hear Human League’s “Don’t you want me”, and then “Rock the Casbah” and then “La Isla Bonita” and then “Hold the line”. Too many good songs in a row to be a coincidence. One of the first days in Santiago, after an interesting and long overdue phone call, I walked the streets in a wonderful mood, using my little radio. The first observation is that there are fewer Spanish speaking stations. The second and most exciting is that the ones that play music in English PLAY 80’s and DISCO. Is this airwaves paradise? I thought to myself as I scanned for the next channel, everytime getting more and more surprised. Is Ody DJ-ing in every single post on the FM band?

I made a similar observation in Valparaiso and also asked one of the girls that work in the hostel. Yes, apparently a big part of this glorious nation is still stuck a couple of decades behind – at least musically - just like me and some people I know.
“Are there any places we can hear this type of music in Valparaiso?”
“Of course! Try Mascara…”
We got there a bit “early” around 00:00, the place is unimpressive from the outside but a wonderful little surprise as you go up the stairs. First a seedy looking area with some tables, rather loud music and a small bar tending people probably in their late twenties, early thirties. There’s a video projector! We get to SEE the video clips of the songs – no more DJ, welcome Video Jay. Am I in paradise? Not yet. We moved into the larger area, softly lit, big, people were dancing to the tunes of Blur, Dépêche Mode, REM, A-Ha (when was the last time you saw “Take on me” on video? ) With Smirnoff vodka at 3USD a glass (and I mean a glass, not a “Geneva” shot) we were setup for success. We left the place at 04:00 as they closed up, passed by the local sandwich shop and got a “completo” (Hot dog with EVERYTHING in it, don’t ask what) and slowly moved up the cobble street making it up to the top of Cierro Conception and into Casa Aventura. Now if this posting has some mistakes, well I am sorry but it is now 06:00 and the sun is slowly coming up, over beautiful Val-Paradise…

A few more snapshots of Valpo...

This looks like Jardin Anglais but it is Vina del Mar (me and Nes, the swiss people)

When Maradona retired, he moved to Chile and is now doing boat tours...

Kostas is now part of colorfoul Valparaiso....

An important message from the peple of Valparaiso: "Turn off the TV, Live your life"
Blue, white, red, unimportant, it's all beautiful
Details from the funiculaire ("odontotos")
Details from the funiculaire ("odontotos")

Self-portrait in hilly Valparaiso
Women's street basketball

Even the garbage bins have colors in Valpo...
The Pacific...
Hotel Brighton...
Global brand - local advertisment...Vina del Mar beach...
Pablo Neruda's home. Note the 4th floor which is his study (with an amazing view of Valpo of course)This is for ODY: Saturday 6th of May