February 24, 2014

Around Cape Horn, #2: Santiago in the Aubrey Hotel

My last post -- Friday's -- clearly reflected jet lag and other stress-makers. I had spent Tuesday spaced out in my Santiago hotel. I wrote that sad story on Wednesday evening, after I'd boarded the ship. It's Sunday morning now.

Thursday -- the first full day at sea -- provided a good opportunity to rest and recover from the long journey south. Friday, during our first port call, we took a bus tour of the Chilean countryside. We saw an impressive snow-capped volcano and enjoyed a lake cruise.

On Saturday, we toured the unspoiled countryside of northern Patagonia by bus. Today we're sailing through Chilean fjords. Photos and details to come.

So . . . how am I feeling? Great. How is the cruise shaping up? It looks like it could equal or surpass my cruise to Alaska last year.

Now, back to the start of the trip.

Santiago and the Aubrey Hotel
I live in a capital city and love all it has to offer. Since the cruise was scheduled to leave from Valparaiso -- a short drive from Chile's capital Santiago -- I thought, "What the hell, why not check out Santiago first?" It’s unlikely I’ll be in this part of the world again. 

When planning a trip to any city, I always check to see if the New York Times has featured the place in its excellent, ongoing series "36 Hours in {wherever}." Those articles in the Sunday travel section always provide great suggestions on interesting things to do, places to see, restaurants to try.

Sure enough, the NYT had covered Santiago three years ago, but the recommendations seemed limited. With additional research, I found that the city has a reputation for being a little boring, and lacks the passion and spark of other Latin American capitals.

It didn't matter. I spent much of my brief time in Santiago recuperating in my hotel room. I'll say this: I'm glad I found The Aubrey, a 15-room boutique hotel that opened four years ago in the city's artsy Bella Vista section.

The British/Australian owners transformed two rundown 1920s mission-style mansions into the city's hottest property. They kept the art deco wood paneling and created a stylish interior that mixes Tom Dixon lamps with 17th-century oil paintings.

A terraced bell tower is set against the backdrop of Cerro San Cristobal, the city’s second-highest peak. Each room is unique, and most have verandas. As I wandered around, I  kept discovering fun places for relaxing and reading.

The Aubrey's Bella Vista neighborhood is filled with restaurants and bars . . . and the young people they attract. I read about and did not experience "the inexhaustible and vibrant nightlife that starts up about midnight.” Finding an ATM and a store that sold batteries was challenging enough.

Yes, The Aubrey was a great hotel. But adding Santiago to the beginning of this trip wasn’t worth the expense and stress. It didn't help that my driver was still trying to find the proper cruise ship pier 30 minutes AFTER after the recommended 3pm boarding time.

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