Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ola and welcome to Brazil, now where are you staying!?!

May 4th – May 19th, by Jason

Well we hopped onto the Royal Jordanian city shuttle and quickly arrived at Amman airport, with about two and a half hours on our hands. Luckily a chocolate chip cookie at Starbucks was a nice treat and a good way to use up the last of my local currency. We boarded the flight to Cairo and were pleasantly surprised by the service on Royal Jordanian. It was a quick flight (about an hour and 15 minutes) on a new jet with meal service, exit row seats and very friendly flight attendants! We arrived in Cairo only to be continually disappointed with Egypt…this time the transfers between terminals at their airport are complicated, infrequent, not well marked and we ended up going around the whole airport two and a half times before we finally arrived at the correct place. Unfortunately Cairo airport does not allow check in until three hours prior to departure, so we had plenty of time on our hands (8pm – 12.30am) and we couldn’t use the business class lounge (we were both upgraded on this segment of the trip) because it’s only after check-in and immigration. We finally made it back there and enjoyed the lounge for about two hours and finally boarded our 3.30am departure to Istanbul.

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It was a Turkish Airlines flight and while service in-flight was fantastic (I was stuffed!) the seating left much to be desired! They had literally taken a row of economy seats (6 across) and just used the middle seat as a giant arm rest…so really no extra seat space, rather disappointing. We arrived in Istanbul just before 6am to request a seat for Swiss up in business class, only to be denied by a few different folks. We figured they would at least let him join me in the business class lounge for our 5 hour layover, but they wouldn’t even do that. Very disappointing service by Turkish Airlines! We finally boarded the flight to find over 20 empty seats up in business class. I made one last ditch effort with a flight attendant on-board but she wouldn’t allow him to join me up there…rather disappointing since he’d paid money to upgrade his ticket fare class and was willing to spend miles (which would’ve meant additional revenue for Turkish for the currently empty seat via reimbursement from United Airlines and Star Alliance.) At this point it was rather upsetting but there was nothing we could do. Let’s just say the difference in seats between business and economy class is quite, ummm, big (pun intended!)

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After 14.5 hours and a quick hop over Africa and the Atlantic and we’d arrived on our last continent (and now the 6th continent either of us had visited,) South America!

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We arrived in Sao Paulo around 7pm on Wednesday night after a rather smooth flight (and thankfully for Swiss they were pouring stiff drinks back in Economy!) We were waiting in line at immigration when we were approached by immigration police (as was everyone else in line) asking to see our passports and also the address and directions to our destination in Sao Paulo (ie. Where are you staying??) We quickly passed through immigration, collected our bags, breezed through customs and hit up the ATM for some local currency.

 My 6th continent! Arrival in Sao Paulo!

The nice lady at the tourist information office hooked us up with directions, maps, ideas, etc. A quick bus ride to the metro station, three different metro trains and we were at our new place, the Saci Hostel. A new place run by some young Brazilians, it’s a fantastic little hostel less than 5 minutes from the metro and in a very nice and very safe neighborhood. We grabbed a quick bite to eat at a local little shop (our first indication that many Brazilians don’t speak English, and guess what…Portuguese is not that same as Spanish!!) with a very nice owner and it was time for bed to work off this jet lag!

Thursday morning we were up and ready to figure out what the hell we were going to do here in Brazil for three weeks. But first, it was time to find a guide book! After sleeping in we caught the metro downtown to Se station where we grabbed a quick lunch and set off to a neighborhood our hostel recommended as having some used book stores. Turned out to be nearly ALL used book stores, but sadly nothing in the guidebook sections was both recent and in English. [On a side note, to any DGS Alums who are reading, I did spot the Zumdahl we used in AP Chemistry with Mr. Mayfield back in '97/'98 on a shelf, a real trip down memory lane!!]

The second hand bookstore hunt for a new Lonely Planet As seen in a used bookstore in Sao Paulo, my old AP Chemistry book!

We headed back to the metro and whisked over to Av Paulista where there are some more tourist friendly (ie. nice but also expensive!) bookstores. I picked up a copy of "South America on Shoestring" by Lonely Planet [if anyone would like to purchase a nearly new copy of the latest edition when I get home, just e-mail me!! ;-)] We took the long walk home along Av. Paulista and had a relaxing evening and dinner at a local cafe.

Friday morning we set out with the goal of checking out Parque do Ibirapuera, getting Swiss a new memory card and walking the entire length of Av Paulista! A quick metro ride near the park and we weren't actually that close! We walked through a residential neighborhood and happened across an electronics store but they didn't have SD memory cards, but the shopkeeper was kind enough to tell us they were near by in "Shopping" [the brazilian portuguese word for a shopping mall] but the directions were lost on us. We wandered into a nearby mall that was quite high end and without any SD cards for sale, so it was back off to the park. Parque do Ibirapuera is one of the largest green spaces in São Paulo and a nice place to relax. The area includes monuments, museums, restaurants, walking/biking trails and a lake, among other amenities. We stayed for a while to soak up the sun and I caught up on some reading.

The lake in the middle of Parque do Ibirapuera Parque do Ibirapuera At the park, with a nice view of part of the Sao Paulo skyline

Afterwards it was off in search of the elusive memory card and conveniently along the way we happened upon a neighborhood farmers market that was closing up. It looked pretty good and while we didn't buy any produce, there happened to be a local pastéis maker drawing quite a crowd along with fresh squeezed sugar cane juice man right next door. We stopped for lunch and then it was off shopping.

The food vendor at the end of the random farmer's market we ran into Lunch of fresh Brazilian Pastez

Luckily the first place we wandered into reminded of an Asian market with many stalls (many staffed by the numerous Brazilians of Asian decent) and Swiss picked up a memory card and I scored a blank DVD.

Sao Paulo on Av Paulista

We finished our walk and yearned for something more, so it was off to the nearby soccer (futebol for our non-US based Portuguese speaking readers, football, futbol or Fussball depending on where you're from) stadium to check out the Brazilian Futebol Museum. A large, new and modern homage to the tradition and spirit of soccer in Brazil (the country with the most World Cup championships, 5, and having appeared in every World Cup tournament since its creation.) A very well done museum and a fun experience, worth the R$ 6 admission (just over 3 USD.) Even better was the excitement we found outside afterwards. Apparently two groups of young people had a fruit fight over something (which involved shields and fake swords also) up a hill just outside the stadium. Looked like fun...from a distance ;-) haha

We have no idea, seen outside the Football (Soccer) Museum Swiss and Sao Paulo municipal football stadium

Friday night we were on a search for pizza, a supposed São Paulo specialty. We were directed to Pizza & Arte, a local place near to our hostel that served as a pizza restaurant, local watering hole and also inside a miniature art exhibition gallery. The owner spoke little English but did a great job accommodating us with a delicious pizza (it would give most SF artisinal places a run for their money) and a few beers to wash it down with. We also got to see local residents just hanging out, with a manner of dress and casual attitude that reminded me a lot of San Francisco. We were the only ones eating as it was early by Brazilian standards (8pm, gasp!) but it was a delicious dinner!

Delicious Sao Paulo pizza!

Swiss stayed up to celebrate the birthday of one of the owners of our hostel, Barbara, while I called it early evening and in desperate need of some rest.

Saturday morning was a dreary start and the weather did not clear up much during the day. We decided it was time to book a flight from Rio de Janeiro (our next destination) up to Salvador (very far up North) as we'd found a fare that was less than the bus ticket up that way and 14 hours faster. Interesting thing about buying domestic tickets from Brazilian airlines through their websites, they only sell online to Brazilian citizens (those carrying a Brazilian CPF number or national identity number) Without that number you CANNOT complete an online purchase. So it was back Av Paulista to a travel agency where after a bit of a wait we booked our ticket and they charged us just R$ 5 more than the online fare we would've otherwise paid (I don't know how they make a profit with that little markup, but I won't complain!) We were joined by our new friend, Tine, from the hostel, and she was happily off shopping while we got our tickets. From there it was off to Liberdade, the traditional Japanese neighborhood in São Paulo. Brazil and specifically the city of São Paulo is home to the largest Japanese population (and their descendants) outside of Japan. A stroll through the neighborhood showed a uniquely Japanese / Brazilian fusion neighborhood, but like the SF Japantown neighborhood, the new immigrants from Korea and China have also left their mark, turning it into a bit more of an "Asian" neighborhood rather than something entirely and uniquely Japanese. It was still a fun little stroll through a neighborhood that reminded me of Asia and of course we stopped off for a nice lunch, Tine had some Chinese stir fry, Swiss got a Sushi boat and I had a delicious bowl of Japanese pork ramen (all ordered from a Portuguese menu!)

Walking around Liberdade with Tine Swiss devours his sushi sampler

Of course with our luck the rain had rolled in right as we were leaving for the subway station and it started raining on us on the walk there. By the time the subway had rolled into our station and we got off at our stop it was pouring outside! We had earlier made plans to stay in, watch a movie and eat junk food (microwave popcorn, chocolate, etc) and so we needed to head to the grocery story, about a 5-7 minute dry walk from our hostel. Luckily Tine had a poncho and Swiss was wearing a jacket to keep a little warm, but I was in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt...it was a long walk to the grocery store...

Yeah, no umbrella or poncho!

...and a long walk home! :) We watched a movie (Pulp Fiction) and enjoyed some junk food and relaxed...it was fun to have a nice Saturday night in.

Sunday was a rather uneventful day and I won't bore you with any details, but we left the hostel, took the subway directly to the bus station, bought a ticket for a bus that was leaving just 4 minutes later and promptly boarded our bus to Rio de Janeiro (about a 5 hour ride) We arrived safely and after a little confusion about which bus to take, we were on our way towards Copacabana and our new home. We checked in and grabbed a small bite to eat at a little Kilo restaurant. An unique piece of Brazilian culture, these kilo restaurants are everywhere! Now I don't mean to judge (OK, who are we kidding, yes I do!!) but the place we went wasn't that good. While the whole experience put us off and we didn't try any others, I can't imagine buffets where you pay by the kilo to be very good either way. After a long day of traveling it was time to call it an early night.

Monday was a business day and there's not much to write about. It was cloudy and the weather was somewhat crap so we stayed in and tended to "business," ie. we uploaded photos and I wrote the blog entry I was very behind on! We got back to an old habit, too, that night...mainly of cooking dinner instead of going out. It turns out that Brazil is a relatively expensive country (after having spent 6.5 months in Asia, Japan excluded, do not argue with us, it's relatively expensive.) I think we also had this romantic notion in our heads that South America was as cheap as Southeast Asia which is of course not that case. The cost of a single night in Brazil for lodging has jumped to nearly $30 US for 2 people, compared to $6-15 in most parts of Asia, so still cheap than Australia but more expensive that where we'd spent the last 6.5 months! It called for us to tighten up the budgets and watch the money just a little closer. Actually its kind of nice to get back to cooking after eating out nearly continuously for 6 months...so it's not all bad either. While on our way to the supermarket that night we ran into Maggie and Chris, our friends from Canada we met back in São Paulo and we made plans to try and meet up the next day.

Tuesday we were up and ready to go a little before 10am and off to walk towards Ipanema / Leblon neighborhoods and the botanical gardens. The walk looked small on the map, and where we'd budgeted 30 minutes to get there, it took us just under an hour and a half to actually get there by foot. Needless to say we missed Chris and Maggie (although apparently they were also late because they misjudged the distance and we probably didn't miss each other by much, oh well!) so instead we went to a nearby barber shop and got haircuts. With some broken spanglish and a few spanish words they happened to understand we both walked out with pretty good haircuts. The afternoon was spent on Ipanema enjoying the waves, the beach and catching some sun (I can't come home too pale after all this traveling!)

The laguna in Rio Just west of Ipanema Beach Ipanema Beach

Some cooking back at the hostel that night and chatting with the others staying there (Sam from Italy, Luke from Sheffield and James and Gabreila from the UK and Peru respectively…a little UN meeting if you will.)

Wednesday was a quiet day really not worth mentioning. My leg was not feeling too hot so we took it easy and I rested it. The weather was crap so our next sightseeing trip to head up Sugar Loaf Mountain was put on hold for clearer skies. Thursday our wishes were answered with beautiful/clear blue skies and a great trip up Sugar Loaf. We had originally hoped to hike up to the half way station and then take the tram the rest of the way but that trail was closed for repairs and my leg wasn’t quite 100% so we took the cable car the whole way up. The views were amazing and we packed a lunch to enjoy up there. The first station about half way up allows for great views of the Rio city airport and we could watch flights taking off and landing!

Swiss and Rio from half way up Sugar Loaf Looking out on Rio Mother and baby Swiss and me before going up to Sugar Loaf in Rio

We of course completed the journey up to the top with even more amazing views of Rio and it’s amazing beaches and shoreline!

Rio and Copacabana Beach Swiss and Copacabana Beach Rio (Copacabana and Botafogo) The Rio city airport Coming down from Sugar Loaf

We tried to get a little more sun on Copacabana Beach but with the tall buildings just across the street blocking the late afternoon sun it was a bit of a fail. We enjoyed another nice evening hanging out back at our hostel. Swiss even got to practice his Swiss German with one of the employees at our hostel, a Swiss guy from Basel now living in Rio.

Friday was a big day for us! If I hadn’t already mentioned it, Bootie, a now (since we left) thrice monthly party at DNA Lounge which has expanded around the world in the last 6.5 years was starting their latest monthly party down in Rio at a club just 5 blocks from our hostel. It was a sign we had to go! (I really enjoy going back home and it’s one of the few clubs I’ve ever heard Swiss say he enjoys going to! The following day was a futebol match at Maracana stadium, between Fluminense (the local team) and Atletico GO. We headed over to the Fluminense club office to buy our tickets for the following days game and while there we met a local Brazilian who lives in NYC now and heard these gringos speaking English.

The tiniest ticket vending window

He introduced himself and asked us if we’d like to join him for the game. He’s back in Rio for knee surgery and was headed to catch one last game before he was couch ridden for a few weeks. We grabbed his cell phone number and made plans to meet the next day. The weather was crap again so we didn’t do much else and since Rio has quite the late night life scene and well, frankly, we’re old men relatively speaking when it comes to staying up late. We headed out to Fosfobox around 11pm and thanks to my SF drivers license we got in at the friends rate. Inside I introduced myself to A plus D, the creative duo behind Bootie who were down to celebrate the new regular club opening in Brazil. We had a great time and it was fun to have an experience that really reminded me of home!

Saturday was a bit of a late start, obviously, but we successfully met up with Pedro and enjoyed a real Brazilian soccer game at one of the largest stadiums in the world, it was also a good time!!

The subway ride to the game Outside Maracana Stadium Enjoying a pre-game cerveja with our new Brazilian friend Pedro With the Fluminense mascot Waving the team flags

Sunday was a gorgeous day in Rio, finally, and so we headed out at a decent hour and enjoyed a full afternoon of sun and beach.

Hanging out on Copacabana Beach

Monday was a day to explore more of the city with our new friend Azra from London. We took the streetcar up to Santa Teresa and walked around the streets for a little while, stopped for a nice beer at a German cafe and then a walk over to Escaderia Selaron, which was very cool!!

The Santa Teresa Tram Hanging off the tram Views of Rio from Santa Teresa The tram in action Escadaria Selaron Swiss and me at Escadaria Selaron Escadaria Selaron

Tuesday we went on a hunt for a new watch for me, specifically a new Swatch watch! We took the bus over to Leblon, a nice high end shopping district with many foreign shops. Unfortunately, though, Brazil considers watches to be a luxury item and taxes them at a very steep rate, making the cost of a Swatch nearly 4 times the cost of the identical watch back home. Needless to say I didn’t purchase a watch there. While in the mall, though we spotted a “Bob’s Burger” which is the Brazilian McDonald’s. While Azra chose a healthier option of frozen yogurt, we had a burger from said chain. Let’s just say that it was a dry and disappointing experience and McDonald’s offers a better (albeit unhealthy) experience! From there we headed down towards Ipanema and stopped at H. Stern. Apparently Azra is a bit of a gem expert and Brazil is a HUGE gem nation and we were walking by their world headquarters. So we stopped in and enjoyed their free tour and afterwards the gem viewing with complimentary coffee to boot! A very informative tour that we stumbled upon and with a great price of: FREE!

For our last night we decided to check out a semi-famous little local place that has a special signature sandwich, filet mignon on baguette with sliced pineapple and melted cheese. In case you were wondering, it was delicious!

Filet Mignon with cheese and grilled pineapple...delicious!!

Wednesday would mark our departure from Rio, our longest stop of the trip now at a 10 day stay! It’s a gorgeous city and a lot of fun, definitely a place I’ll return to. Next stop Salvador!!

4 comments:

autobodypart8 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alvin said...

You guys didn't partake in any samba lessons while in Rio?

Selah said...

I'm so curious about the post you removed...

Tine Svingen said...

I love the pictures from your flight with Turkish Airlines. Buisness class vs. economy class...
Had a great time with you guys. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

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