April 13, 2018
Conveniently it begins pouring torrentially when I leave the apartment at noon. And I had been forewarned that it has been raining heavily around noon time. Great, just what I needed for that perfect urban walkabout. My plans for the day are modest, nothing more than traversing a section of Chapinero south of Calle 66.
My first stop has got to be the European Bakery, where I manage to snag the last bretzel, made to perfection! They also have a number of other German pastry specialties that look reasonably authentic, probably the only other place in this country. The employees are mesmerized by my eloquent exposition on the wonders of their baked goods, although all I have had here are the bretzels.
But why don’t they open a location in La Candelaria? Many of the tourists who come here are German, and the Candelaria is generally awful for pretty much everything. Admittedly, I walked through the streets of the upper Candelaria when everything was closed, but judging by my impressions, I wouldn’t be too optimistic. And the western/lower side of the Candelaria is hardly that memorable, despite the seemingly innumerable small but very mediocre eating establishments.
A small plaza extends out from Calle 68 as it reaches up to Carrera 7, in the lower limits of Zona G’s exclusive retail area, but certainly no less fancy. There are kiosks selling coffee, bao, pizza, and pulled pork. The pulled pork and pizza may be very good, but are hardly that exotic in Colombia. The bao is, although no matter how well made they may be – and judging by the variants offered and odours wafting from the kitchen at the rear, they may be quite good! – at a starting price of COP $9,000 per bun I have to shake my head. The market will bear whatever it bears, but that is just outrageous.
I am skeptical about the quality of the coffee at La Divisa, but the charming young attendant assures me the coffee is excellent. The small outlet looks very fancy, but then most of the coffee I have enjoyed here is good to very good, but definitely does not stand out as the top end of what Colombian coffee can offer. And yet: her coffee is very good, definitely more flavourful, nuanced, and with a sophisticated finish, much better than anything I have found here. Fabulous! Nothing like another discovery!
I continue to find the neighborhood somewhat elusive, a combination of run-down luxury, run-down, ghetto, and somewhere intriguing. The sense of discovery is prevalent, from the lesser to the more posh, visible poverty comingling with established privilege in terms of the scholastic institutions and luxury accommodation. The area revolving around Calle 72 and Carrera 7 is probably one of the most diverse I have seen in the city, other variants including residential versus commercial, intimate versus very public, glass-and-metal versus the ubiquitous brick, run-down-tenement versus the retro Tudor structures common in this area.
The landscape becomes increasingly bleaker further to the south of 72nd, but even on Calle 64 you find the posh bakery La Tortáta, one of the most exclusive such establishments in this general area of Chapinero, and quite out of place amidst the drab commercial and residential structures. Carrera 7 also changes visibly south of 72nd, becoming more drab and run-down. It would also be hard to gauge the quality of the area based on the people you see on the street, since they largely just seem like anywhere else.
Nuestra Señora de Lourdes would seem like a romantic locale in Chapinero, but while the church of itself is evocative with all the typical Catholic artifacts and the surrounding plaza spacious, this far west of Carrera 7, the city becomes grimier, never mind that the area around the church is apparently a hub for gay prostitution. Fringes of the plaza also attract dodgy-looking characters, although in the blocks surrounding the church, the verdict is really quite mixed, with interesting and unique retail and hospitality establishments mingling with much more tawdry sensibilities. It doesn’t help that a lot of the architecture in the area is really terrible.