When figuring out how many days I would spend in Santiago, I was advised by friends that I should also visit Valparaiso- the bohemian art town 1.5 hrs north from Santiago. So, I booked myself into a one day tour that would take me there but also stop along the way for some wine tasting and a quick stop in Vina del Mar (not long enough for a beach stop but also it was still super cold!).
Picked up at 8am in the morning in a minivan, I met my new tour group which was a mix of an array of international travellers. After driving our of the bustling city centre, we hit the dry mountains just outside of Santiago. If you had forgotten about how hilly Santiago was, this was a great reminder. The motorway takes you into tunnels that go through the mountains and on the otherside, so. much. more. greenery. The hills were now filled with vineyards. We stopped for a coffee and bathroom break (complete with llamas) before piling back into the bus bound for Vina del Mar.
When we were just outside of Vina del Mar we were able to get sweeping views at Valparaiso- houses scaling up the mountainside and not a spare patch of land to be seen. The houses in Vina del Mar were fabulous- so grand and beautifully designed. Our first stop was the flower clock- functional clock on a bed of flowers. Can’t say it was very overly exciting but pretty and colourful and the only time I have seen such a clock.
Next, we took a short drive to the local fish market and then got to see some sea lions out the back where the pier was! Gosh, they were huge and so nimble in the water. I’d never seen any before so what an experience to get so close to them!
Next, driving to Valparaiso!
Valparaiso is a hilly city and famous for its furniculars around the town which are a fabulous idea for increased mobility around town. The town is also famous for its street art and houses the Chilean legislative congress and navy. From the images I saw on Google before the trip, I couldn’t wait to be surrounded by colour and let the inner artist (or lack of) revel in the street art.
Originally a port city, Valparaiso’s coloured houses were a way for fisherman to find their own way home. At it’s roots, this town was born from hard workers
The area of Concepcion Hill is the main tourist attraction and seems to be more developed and happening compared to other parts of the town (and even Santiago). It would have been nice to have spent some time closer to the water where more of the Governmental buildings are. The down town area is more grungy and less polished but there appears to be some nice architectural buildings to see as well.
Back in Concepcion Hill, there were houses with their front facade completely painted, block colours and older buidlings that had some artistical charm. I liked the contrast between place to place which I think adds to the feeling of different puzzle pieces fitted together to make this Hill. There were some stores with local handicrafts and also sellers on the paths around the town. I was surprised that there weren’t more stores, cafes and restaurants. I became aware of the disparities in society in Chile on my trip but don’t know enough to write anything further. Perhaps this is related? Or maybe it’s left like this so as not to disturb the bohemian life?
In total, we spent about 2 hours walking around Concepcion Hill but I really would have liked to spend a day further wondering the streets and hanging somewhere looking out over the water.
We had a lovely lunch break overlooking the water. Obviously seafood was my choice! After lunch, we started our drive back to Santiago and stopped in Casablanca Valley for some wine tasting.
To be completly honest, I’m not a very big wine tasting fan. I’d been on local wine tasing tours but have never been wowed into buying any wines. This hard critic, is not easily pleased!
It was quite a long day so I was happy to be dropped back where I could quickly have some dinner and go to bed. It was nice to see so many different things but I think if I were to go back, I would actually skip Santiago and stay out on the coast instead!
Is there anything else you would recommened to do in Valparaiso? Let me know in the comments.
I feel like Krakow has something to suit everyone. In our case, it was the history. Compared to Wroclaw, Krakow was bustling and more touristy. We caught the train from Wroclaw to Krakow (1 missed train and a 3hr delay later)- we arrived in the evening and luckily we had booked a place to stay within walking distance to the train station. The hotel was outside of the walled old town but only about 10 mins walk away.
The Main Square is the biggest Medieval plaza in Europe and boy is it big. Decked out with restaurants/cafes on all sides and at the time we went, an outdoor market as well as the usual indoor market. It’s so big that the New Years Eve celebrations were done from here. You can easily spend half the day just in this Square. The St Mary’s Basilica which towers over the Main Square houses a fabulous gold covered alter. You can enter for free however you won’t get very close to the alter. Every hour, a trumpet call plays from one of the towers of the Basilica and abruptly finishes. Legends has it that this is said to be in memory of the trumpeter who use to play to warn the town of that Krakow was about to be attacked. The abrupt ending signifies the moment an arrow is said to have killed the trumpeter. If you’re spending as much time in the Square as we did, you will surely hear it.
As always, a free walking tour was the first planned activity to catch the bearings of the city. This tour took us around the Old Town and Kazimierz. We saw much street art along the way and alot more outdoor eateries and cafes/restaurants.
Right in the middle of the square, is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which was once upon a time a market. Today, it is still a market selling knick knacks. Above this market is a lesser known museum but filled with Polish Art. It’s a small museum but houses some of the greatest works from Polish artists.
On the far end of the Old Town is the Wawel Royal Castle overlooking the Vistula river. Here, one of the main attractions is the Wawel Cathedral which is the burial place of Polish monarchs. It’s such a lovely site to just walk around as you can see the sunset, there is the path along the river below and you are just being surrounded by such grand buildings.
One of the darkest but well known site in Krakow is Auschwitz Birkenau. Again, being quite a popular site- book in advance and go early. We booked with the hotel in advance to being in Poland and got picked up from the hotel. The trip from Krakow takes about 1.5 hrs. I was surprised- this site is located in what seems the middle of suburbs whereas I thought it wouldn’t be surrounded by anything.
The first thing that I noticed upon arriving at the Birkenau site is how big it is. I had never imagined the site to be so vast. It is huge and I’m left with a horrid taste in my mouth and a feeling of disgust that such horrible crimes were even imaginable let alone be carried out to millions. With our guide, we were shown around with tales of the atrocities that have occurred here. The mood of the site was a solemn one and eerie. I did see some tourists taking selfies (why?!) which I thought was disrepectful and I know somewhat of a problem at the site. Alot of the buildings at the site are showing signs of age so many of the interiors cannot be viewed. I don’t even think this is necessary to imagine some of the things that had occurred here.
The next half of the day was at Auschwitz where there are permanent exhibitions of all the collected items from prisoners are on display. Compared to Birkenau, Auschwitz is more of a museum and memorial site. There is a lot of information inside and we were actually quite rushed being on the tour. It would’ve been nice to spend more time in the exhibit and read all the information available.
I would suggest to bring lunch and snacks for the whole day as there were not many places to get food nearby to these sites and there is alot of walking due to the size of both places.
On a seperate day, we took a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This salt mine is no longer active in supplying salt. We had again booked with a company that our hotel and well in advance. We got hotel pick up so didn’t have to navigate our way via bus to get there. The lines at the salt mine were insane! I think the staff were so use to the increasing numbers- the mine was actually really well run and the guides fantastic. You will need to pay for a special pass if you want to take any pictures and we didn’t so sadly, there are no pictures to share of this. The chambers inside were huge!
This salt mine was first started in the 13th century I was so impressed with all the sculptures, chapels and rooms. You can even get married in there! The church is even open for mass although I’m not sure when as there seems to be a constant flow of visitors everyday. Inside, our guided group tour was wedged between other groups and I think this is what it’s like all day- just group after group.
For the art fans, Krakow is one of the 6 places in world that houses a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The Lady with an Ermine can be found within the walls of the Old Town. The Czartoryski Museum is THE oldest museum in Poland dating back to 1801 and originated as a private collection from Princess Izabela Czartoryski. This museum is another site where you will need to book in advance as every other visitor also has this on their list.
Krakow has been one of my favourite cities that I have visited and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface. There are many more WWII tours and places of interest that you can go to although time was not on our side. Alternatively, it is the perfect place to people watch in the Old Town or relax by the river watching the sunset.
Let me know what you like about Krakow and what other things/places that you would recommend here.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first town in Poland. We took the bus from Berlin and arrived by evening (5hr bus ride). You know when you’ve seen so many images of a place you know what is awaiting. This was not like that. First off, the name of the city is not pronounced at all like it’s written (vrots-wahf). Second of all, how are the universities in Europe so ornate and beautiful!?
We just stayed in walking distance to the Market Square and the main train station and it was easy to keep walking around. We couldn’t wait to sample the local cuisine and eagerly tried the delicious polish donut- pączki, zurek soup served in a big bread roll, stuffed cabbage and more pierogis during our few days in Wrocław. It was soon decided that we love polish cuisine and couldn’t wait to continue our travels to the other Polish towns on our itinerary.
The market square rivals some of the best that I have seen. Architecturally pleasing and vibrant colours. It was here that we discovered our first pierogi’s and spiced winter tea.
We also went to visit the the oldest part of the town- Ostrów Tumski- which is a short walk from the Market Square and via an island.
With a ticket, you are able to visit parts of the university such as the Mathematical Tower and Aula Leopoldinum which is a baroque hall. And of course, admire their doors! We did a free old town walking tour and a WWII walking tour during our time in Wrocław which was great to get to see the main sites accompanied with explanations.
We also spent part of an afternoon at the Muzeum Pana Tadeusza which is located in the Market Square. It is a great museum on the Pan Tadeusza Poem written by Adam Mickiewicz, which is one of the key literary cultural masterpieces in Poland. There is also part of the museum which focuses on the key events around WWII and post-war period.
If you have time, you might want to bookmark this map to find all the gnomes around the city. They are everywhere! These are not a gardener’s tongue in cheek but a tribute to an underground movement ‘Orange Alternative’ that use to protest (by painting gnomes) in response to the country’s communist rule.
It’s not on the usual list of towns to visit in Poland (such as Krakow or Warsaw) but it’s such a quaint town (or at least the central part anyway) filled with so much charm.
Have you been to Wroclaw and what did you think?