A postcard from La Sebastiana, Valparaiso

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I love looking inside people’s houses. Peeping through cracks in curtains or looking in every room when I’m invited into someone’s home – I just can’t help it. I love looking at how space is used and how it shapes the behaviors of the inhabitants. I love to see what someone’s living space tells you about them.

So when I found myself outside La Sebastiana, home of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, I didn’t hesitate in visiting. It didn’t matter that I’d never read any of his work, or that I only knew him from his appearance in Il Postino. I wanted to see the colour of his wallpaper, the layout of his kitchen and how much natural light there was in his living room.

I saw all this and more. I saw his eclectic collection of fine art and kitsch. I felt the extension of space created by the wide windows which took up the whole side of the house, looking out over the city below. I navigated the odd-shaped spaces of stairs, tiny corridors and split-level rooms. I smiled at the holes in the bathroom door, the sailors’ bar of alcohol and the old carousel horse with gaudy colours and flared nostrils.

Visitors’ info: La Sebastiana

Street art in Valparaiso

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Valparaiso is simultaneously one of the most beautiful and one of the dirtiest cities we’ve visited. Houses are built all higgeldy-piggeldy on steep hills, covered in scrap metal and paint leftover from the shipping industry. The uneven pavements are covered in dog poo and creakingly old or out of service funiculars make getting around both a pleasure and a pain.

But the really magical thing about Valparaiso is the street art. It seemed like every surface that could be decorated, was decorated. The reason for this, I learnt on a walking tour of the city, was to discourage taggers from vandalizing property. If a house or shop has a planned piece, or mural, it’s respected and left alone. If a wall is just painted a block of colour, it becomes a blank canvas just asking for taggers to use.

I took so many photos it was hard choosing which ones to use for this photo essay. What in any other city would have been super cool became just average in Valparaiso. These are some of my favourites.

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Tours 4 Tips in Valparaiso

I’ve always thought a walking tour unnecessary. Why pay for something you can do for free using a map and guidebook? Besides, following a set route takes away from the fun of exploring (and the grafitti-patterned streets and rambling hills of Valparaiso are absolutely perfect for exploring on foot).

But the Tours 4 Tips walking tour in Valparaiso came highly recommended from both our hostel and other travelers we met, so we decided to give it a go. The concept is simple: join the tour but pay at the end, whatever you think it’s worth.

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It was, in my opinion, definitely worth the tip. The guide actually spends money taking you around Valparaiso! I don’t want to give too much away, but you get to ride some cool types of public transport and enjoy a couple of tasty treats through the course of the tour.

It gives a nice introduction to Valparaiso, but still leaves you with plenty to experience on your own. Although the tour covered some of the same places we’d already been to on our previous day’s exploring, I learned new facts and saw aspects I’d not only missed (like the cute art collective where we ended the tour) but wouldn’t even have known were there if the tour guide hadn’t shown us (fire stations, for example, are still run by the members of different ethnic communities that founded them years ago).

This may be the perfect tour for someone who doesn’t like tours!

Things to consider:
Most of the tour takes place outside, so bring protection from the elements. There are some stairs and uneven pavements, but overall it’s pretty easy going (certainly easier than most of Valparaiso).