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Patagonia state of mind – part 1. Santiago

It took me nearly two months to sort the photos that I made during my three weeks in Patagonia. Even with careful screening and editing, I don’t think it’s possible to post all of them here so I chose only the ones I thought would show the soul of each place I visited without much of an explanation. In my opinion, each of these photos has a story to tell. Patagonia is such an eclectic place, I cannot begin to tell how much I enjoyed being there. Before, I thought it was a place you can visit only once in your life. Now, I think it’s a place worth coming back to.

My journey started in Santiago, Chile. Back, when I was studying in London, I had a friend named Francesca. She was a daughter of Chilean ambassador in London and had a beautiful house in Kensington with servants and three course meal each day. I used to come over after my classes and her world to me – post Soviet child looked like something completely magical, straight out of movie. I’ve never met anyone from Chile before and I knew very little about the country.  For all the experience I had with Francesca, her country looked like a dream place to me. I would have never guessed that one day I will go there for my honeymoon trip.

We arrived to Santiago in the morning after a really exhausting 27 hour flight from Tokyo. It would have been much easier if we flew through LA but transit visa to the US was such a pain in the ass, I had to fly through Canada.

Thanks to tripadvisor and months of thorough research and review reading, I found the perfect place to stay in Santiago, a hotel called Meridiano Sur.  I hate huge corporate hotels. Whenever I go somewhere, I try to choose a small place, usually run by a family. It doubles the pleasure of your trip because the locals give you many useful advices and take care of everything you might need from the best place to eat to all the reservations and unconventional walking routes.

The relatively new and upscale Providencia neighborhood became our base camp in the city. The hotel looked more like a villa with only 5 or so rooms. It had Pablo Neruda poems on the walls and a nice patio in the garden where we had our breakfast each morning. The room was small but had more closet space than our entire apartment in Tokyo. Everything was spotlessly clean and smelled nice. The living room had a free library that we used to learn more about the city and its outskirts.

When we got to the hotel I was so exhausted I could barely stand on my feet. I went straight to bed and slept through the day. When I woke up it was 8 in the evening and pitch black outside. Although we lived on one of the most famous restaurant strips in the city called Avenida Providencia, almost everything was closed because it was Christmas.

We managed to find a small Italian restaurant with great ravioli and pizza. As always we ordered our food Tokyo style : salad and bread for the table and two main dishes. As always we didn’t think it through because when they brought us our food, we realized the salad alone can get us full. Tokyo servings and South American servings, let’s just say are quite different. We had to leave half of the food on the table.

The next day, after 10 more hours of sleep I was back to my normal self. We had a nice raspberry pie breakfast in our little garden. In summer it is extremely chilly in the morning and evening, but during the day you cannot escape the heat. So, we sat in the patio covered with blankets but came back in the evening with sunburns.

Santiago has a very convenient and safe Subway system. We used it to travel to various destinations. Our first stop was the Palacio de la Moneda.

From La Moneda station we walked towards the Presidential palace where we saw the change of guards ceremony with carabineros orchestra that performed a special Christmas concert in the square.

Then, we moved to the Plaza de Armas – heart of the city.

Catedral de Santiago is one of the oldest and most significant churches in the city. It is really huge and has constant services in its alcoves. There was a beautiful Christmas display of Nativity scene.

In Russia, orthodox churches use icons and paintings for decorations. In south American catholic churches, they use wooden statues of saints and angels.

After spending almost an hour within the walls of this beautiful church we visited Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino. It had a nice collection of burial arts and textiles that used to belong to Maya tribes.

These statues were used as guards to the Maya graves.

For lunch, we went to El Mercado central – Santiago fish market.

Every shop owner was very friendly and talkative. We chose a nice place that served fish soup and grilled salmon. For some reason, each table had lemons on it.

You were supposed to cut it and use the whole thing on your dish to accentuate the taste of a fresh catch. I never cared for lemons on meat or fish so I had my soup  without it. ^-^

From the market we walked to Bellavista barrio that lays in the footsteps of San Cristobel hill. It is a new neighborhood that was recently re-developed into a stylish and upscale area full of restaurants and night clubs.

There, we took a cable car ride to the hilltop to Cerro San Cristobal parque metropolitano. The highest point was decorated with a marvelous statue of Virgen de la Inmaculada concepcion.

From the hill we could see the whole city and enjoy a nice breeze that made the afternoon heat more or less tolerable.

A little to the left, we discovered a small church that was used by Pope John Paul II for a mass in 1984. Again, wooden statues everywhere. ^-^

After the refreshing trip to the hill, we visited La Chascona – Pablo Neruda’s town house that was styled as a boat due to his neverending love for sea. I bought couple of poems there. I wish I spoke Spanish..The area around the house was very colorful – full of wall art and graffiti and artists workshops.

In the evening, we were lucky enough to get a table without reservations at Astrid y Gaston – one of Santiago’s most critically acclaimed restaurants. It’s famous for authentic Peruvian haute cuisine and complex cocktails.

This was the best Pina Colada I have ever tried.

The next day, we took a trip to Valparaiso – a colorful seaside village, 2 hours away from Santiago. More about it in the next Patagonia post. ^-^

Dima’s birthday in Shibuya

Dima has turned 20 this weekend so we gathered up to celebrate it at a nice Italian restaurant in Shibuya and then in Camelot – Dima’s favorite club (yeah, I know kids but whatever, it was his birthday). Now, he can use his real ID to enter clubs, yay! Hopefuly, next time we can go somewhere classier like the Blacklist or Velours.

He brought his friends from guest house : two English teachers, two Russian girls and Americanized Brazilian guy – who was very funny. Rodion, Serezha and Yamada san also came so it was a fun party!

Rodion couldn’t find the place so I had to run in my little black dress almost all the way to the station to pick him up. Besides his usual weirdness he was already tipsy from another party. He brought “unagi pie” as a birthday present to Dima. For those who don’t know, unagi pie is a cookie that tastes like a french toast but that is made of unagi – fresh water eel. It is also known to be an aphrodisiac. I think Dima was quite offended with the present as he claims he has no problems in that area whatsoever. ^-^

In Russia, whenever we decide to have a birthday party, we pay for everything out of our own pocket. In Japan, guests are the ones paying for themselves and for you. They are also usually the ones organizing the party. All you have to do is show up, blow the candles and receive the presents.

Dima did his party Russian way so when I asked the English teachers for the money I was about to collect from everyone and pay for the food while he was in the toilet, they turned me down. I was quite embarrassed but also shocked. How could two 40 year old dudes let a 20 year old student pay for the entire dinner? I can never understand how loosing your face in front of everyone is less important than lousy 60 bucks you refuse to pay…

After dinner, we went up the hill to Camelot. Dima ran to the station to get some discount fliers for the entrance and me, Serezha, Yamada san and Rodion went to the bar next door for some tequila shots and Mohitos to wait for his return.

The bar was closing so they gave us 15 minutes to have our drinks and get out. Later, in the club I switched to beer again and that’s when my head started to spin. I got so drunk I thought club dancers were cute! Now, I look at the picture and think never, never drink beer after tequila. ^0^

The club had no pictures policy so of course I took as many as I could. I hate when clubs do that. I am taking a picture of me and my friends, why do I need to ask your permission to do that?

This is the last shot I took before turning green and leaving the party. Luckily, I recovered well the next day! ^-^

Pizza on the beach

It’s my second time to sneak into Laura’s hotel and stay at her room free of charge. She is a spokes-model for French perfume on a night shopping channel so the agency rents her a room in a nice hotel in Makuhari every time she has this job. It has an onsen and a great pizza restaurant and it’s right by the beach. I arrived there on Friday evening and stayed till next morning. We took couple of pizza out and ate on the beach which was quite windy so I had sand topping on my Napolitana.  ^-^

The grass on the beach had the same color as my hair so Laura had this idea of taking my pictures while laying on it. Unfortunately the sun was high in the sky so I couldn’t force myself to keep my eyes open. This is literally the only picture we managed to take.

If you want to enjoy a beach in Japan, it’s better to come before the season starts. Endless crowds make it impossible to find a solitude or take a picture with no one on the background. Winter beach is the best. It’s empty and the colors are gorgeous. You can have a big stretch all to yourself and do whatever you want.

Laura has such an eye for taking good pictures. Whenever I see her stopping and looking around I know that she got inspired with something. She notices things I don’t. Like this picture for example. It was just a small passage from hotel to the beach with trees on both sides. Yet, she noticed these beautiful patches of light coming through the leaves and how beautiful would it look when shot from the bottom up.

I wish I could spend more time in Makuhari but I had to leave right after lunch for Dima’s birthday party (see the next post).

My new toys

I have forgotten all about “My gadgets” category recently. I change my PCs, cameras and phones so often, I don’t have time to blog about them.. But these two beauties are gonna stay, I love them.

This is my very first single lens camera – Lumix DMC-GF1. It’s an entry level and some say not even a single lens camera but rather something they call “micro four-thirds” but nonetheless it is so very different from what I used to have and it takes absolutely gorgeous pictures. I bought pancake lens set, exactly like on the picture but in black. It’s compact and the lens are very bright, giving me an opportunity to take night scenes in astonishing detail. Despite the missing language support it has intuitive interface that I could use right away without reading manual. Thanks to various presets, I need to do only very little. I am thinking of buying zoom lens as well, definitely before my brother’s wedding in July. ^-^

The second camera is a compact Sony DSC-TX5 released only last week. It’s very light and I can carry it in my pocket or bag on a daily basis. The main feature is waterproof and dust resistance. I can use this camera 3 meters underwater and when shooting something in rain or snow. My poor Lumix suffered a lot in the Laguna de los tres in Argentina. The weather kept changing every couple of minutes for burning sun to freezing rain and then snow. I took only a few pictures there before Lumix got absolutely soaked with water and I had to put it away. With Sony I can take pictures while skiing and swimming. In fact, pictures from Hokkaido were taken by Sony. It also doesn’t have any language support which is quite weird because the same model is being released worldwide. Why not implement the support into a camera and sell the same one around the globe like Canon?

До новых встреч..

I have finished my shootings for NHK “テレビでロシア語”. My last show will be on air next week Tuesday and then they start to re-run it and will do so for another two years. It’s been a challenging half a year but so very exciting.  Now, this experience is a part of my life and I am going to treasure it not only because it helped me grow as a person but also because it gave me an opportunity to meet wonderful people and make good friends.

Each one of them is so unique and talented, so full of dreams yet already achieving so much. During this half a year I was inspired again and again to try harder, to do better, to push myself to the new limit. I am so thankful to all the staff for their patience and kindness and their love for all things Russian. I felt they were better Russians than I was, always willing to learn more about my culture and language, always being so meticulous about it.

Our programs were a lot of fun. We were shooting in a huge studio against a blue background that was used as a base for computer graphics on the screen. Everything in our room was drawn, nothing but our table was real.

So if you look at the studio picture it is all blue but on TV screen it looks like we are sitting in a travel agency room. ^-^

The atmosphere during each shooting was great! Everyone was so friendly and so understanding every time I forgot my lines or mispronounced some words. They gave us time to practice and surrounded us with such care and attention. While, they shot other blocks, me and Serezha were joking around, taking pictures and just chatting. Nobody ever said anything, we had the total freedom.

The person who inspired me the most was our Russian teacher Numano Kyoko. She is undeniably talented and smart and endlessly kind. She is the one translating Akunin books into Japanese. She also teaches Russian at Tokyo university and makes such a huge contribution to the cultural exchange between Russia and Japan. During our conversations, I realized how much she knows and how unbelievably modest she is about all her achievements.

She also plays piano, write books and organizes various academical events. She is the true Russian at heart. After the last shooting, we went to Sungari – Russian restaurant in Nishi Shinjuku for uchiage. There, she gave us a traditional Georgian 10 minutes toast. She spoke about the Russian culture and it’s oversight in Japan and I could feel true passion and devotion behind her words. She said all the right things, words that make you cry, words that unite you and words that make you remember the day for many years to come. She made me feel so special and so proud to be Russian. Here, in Japan and especially in Tokyo stereotypes about Russia found their way into the consciousness of Japanese and it is very hard to escape them on an every day basis. There are times when I prefered not to reveal my nationality… But despite all the misconceptions now I am more confident and happy to be myself and to carry all the greatness of Russia into the hearts of people around me.

On the day of our last shooting, I met one of my best friends Vincent at NHK who was shooting the French show in the studio next to ours. The French TV program was starting a new season and Vincent who did it last year was invited for a special episode. This year, they have a celebrity guest – a runner-up to Miss Universe 2007. Because of her, the halls were filled with reporters and journalists waiting for her to be done.

It was also the only show where me, Serezha and Dima were together in the same scene. We ended our series with famous Russian proverbs. At that moment I felt like I could do this forever. It was so much fun, all my nerves were gone and I just enjoyed it. A little too late I guess hehe.

A tale of a traveling postcard

With my crazy schedule in Chile and tiring hikes each day, I procrastinated my postcard writing business till the very last moment when I was about to cross border to Argentina. I bought stamps at the hotel and wrote three postcards on the bus hoping to drop them off at the border but there was no mailbox and no opportunity to ask someone to do it for me because the location was remote and because I couldn’t speak any Spanish. So I took a leap of faith and left postcards on the seat of the bus with a note attached to them asking to drop them off at any mailbox in Chile.

I already had the stamps on and I really wanted the postcards to arrive from Chile as I sent them from every place I visited during my Patagonia trip. I took off leaving the postcards behind and hoping that whoever finds them will be kind enough to help. After all, the bus was leaving back to Chile in the evening.

When I got back to Tokyo, I received 4 out of 5 postcards that I sent to my husband.

The last one was missing, the one I left on the bus. I lost all hope to get it until yesterday when I found it in my mailbox lying modestly among the advertisement junk.

It had Mexican sticker on top of my original stamp which means that it was paid to be re-routed. I was really amazed and filled with joy and appreciation to whoever sent it to me. Imagine that! A postcard left on the bus in El Calafate found its way back to me after all this time! It truly is a miracle that proves again and again that there is some good in this world!

Snowy weekend

Last weekend I went to Sapporo for cross-country skiing. The day the spring finally came to Tokyo I went back to winter, tons of snow and freezing temperature.^-^

I hated skiing as a child because of my gym teacher who found pleasure in torturing me any way she could. Last time I stood on skis was almost 20 years ago so I thought I would totally suck.

However, it came natural to me, I glided  across terrain and down the slopes with a good balance and fell only once where the slope went down in a curve. I flew straight into the snow-drift by the road with my skis high in the air. It was pretty funny!

And of course since I was in Hokkaido I ate lots of delicious food – my favorite was soup curry, this time with sweet cabbage and tofu. We even splurged on crabs and sashimi. ^-^