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Walking around downtown
You can take the metro to the "La Moneda" station and go to look at the new Plaza de la Ciudadanía and the underground Centro Cultural La Moneda (http://www.ccplm.cl/). These are some of the projects already completed for the bicentenary in 2010. The Plaza is perfectly flat with grass and a reflecting pool and fountain. There are ramps down to the Centro Cultural and as you walk down you have a stone wall beside you with water cascading down it from the fountain above.
The space itself is lovely, very airy and lit by natural light as the roof is formed by rectangles of opaque glass. It is not all in full use yet as there is a Cuerovaca restaurant and a cafeteria of the same name. There is an art cinema. There is also an exhibition centre with handicrafts from all over Chile. There is a very small area in one corner where you can buy handicrafts at very good prices but with a very limited selection. In the rest of the large space are handicrafts sorted by geographical area. In the middle of the room is a huge map of Chile, lit from underneath, which you can walk all around. Different flags mark the different areas and their handicraft. The map itself is wonderful and well worth seeing. It gives you a true idea of Chile's geography and size (or, perhaps, its length).
The next level down is often used for visiting or temporary exhibits housed in two galleries at either end and there is often a small charge, less than a dollar, for going in.
On the bottom level you can look up at the roof made of the opaque glass slabs and see people walking over it in the Plaza above. The bottoms of their feet show dark on the glass and the rest of them show as elongated shadows angling off.
One of the best things about the Centre is the fact that it is frequently full of Chileans enjoying the new space and the exhibitions. There are a few tourists but not many. The Craft exhibition has some English translations and there aresome guides who speak basic English.
Above ground you can visit the courtyards of the Presidential Palace (La Moneda), which is open to the public until about 6pm. With a quick and friendly security inspection by the Presidental Guard, you're invited into the two courtyards of the palace. In 1973 the palace was bombed in the infamous coup of September 11 of that year. General Pinochet then rebuilt the palace and reopened it as his headquarters in 1981.
There are now two places to eat in the Cultural Center, Café Torres for sandwiches, fresh fruit juice and lighter fare, and the Cívico. The Cívico is run by the well known Cuerovaca restaurant. It will cost roughly US$25-30 per person to eat there, but their plateada (a typical Chilean pot roast) made of wagyu beef and accompanied by blue cheese gnoccis is worth the price. They also do a fixed menu lunch which is very good value.
From there, you can take the metro two stops to Universidad Católica and go to Calle Victorino Lastarria, to the Museo de Artes Visuales at the back of the Plaza Mulato Gil. The space is very beautiful and just right for showing contemporary art. Upstairs is the little Museo Arqueologico which seems to have a nice sample of many different collections.