Apr 26, 2011

Life Out of a Suitcase - guest post

I wrote a guest post on Life Out of a Suitcase titled "so then...I learnt the secret to slimness (rio de janeiro)". Check out this new website created by fellow AIESECer, Nithya, for 20-something female expats and travelers. There's already a great selection of posts from around the world.

Mar 27, 2011

O Maior Espetáculo da Terra / The Greatest Show on Earth

Carnaval in Rio took place March 5-9 this year and everyone had three days off work to enjoy the holidays. My Carnaval was spent seeing more blocos (as described in my last post), and going to the famous parade along Sapucai Avenue in the Sambadrome stadium. I had less fun at the blocos during Carnaval than the previous weekends because of the rain, immense crowds, difficulty getting around town and higher risk of pickpocketing, but it was still very fun! The costumes that some people were wearing on the street were incredible.

Seeing the parade was definitely the highlight. They call it ``O Maior Espetáculo da Terra`` (The Greatest Show on Earth) and they must be right. It IS the most spectacular thing I have ever seen!

I went for two nights. Once for the first of two nights of the competition, and once at the Champions Parade. The first night we went an hour before opening time and bought tickets from the scalpers for just 30 reais (about 18 dollars), and sat in the cheapest seats (Section 6). We were at the last bleachers before the parade exits. Our bleachers were behind a large VIP section so we were significantly further back than all the other bleachers. We couldn´t see the paraders until they arrived at our section, but between then and the exit, it was definitely enough time to see all the floats, paraders and performances as they dance past. It was a little harder to see the details on the costumes and floats that far back, but I could still see a good amount and my pictures were almost as good as my pictures from a more expensive section at the Champions Parade (Section 4). So the cheap seats were definitely the best value, especially considering one can easily pay over ten times that much on other sections.

I also enjoyed going to the competition night more than the Champions Parade, because the spirit was higher, the paraders were more plentiful and everyone was trying a lot harder. A lot of the paraders even took off their hats during the Champions Parade, which took away from the full effect. I don't blame them though - those costumes are hot! The Champions Parade went by much faster though. It ended early – at 6 a.m. (started at 9 p.m.).

The winner was the samba school, Beija-Flor (Portuguese for humming bird, or literally – kiss-flower) whose theme celebrated the life of Roberto Carlos, the King of Brazilian Music. Second place went to Unidos Tijuca with their horror movie theme. And the third went to Mangueira, one of the most tradition samba schools, with a theme that celebrated the life of a famous Mangueira samba musician. Fourth place went to Villa Isabella who had a theme of ``Hair`` and had Gisele Bundchen standing on their final float. It was a little strategic in my opinion, considering the event flyers had Pantene Pro-V adds featuring the supermodel.

Without a doubt, the crowd-pleaser was Unidos da Tijuca. Most people think they should have won and that Beija-Flor bribed the judges. Or the judges were just entranced by the presence of Roberto Carlos on the final float. Who knows. The only school that people cheered ``Campeão`` (champion) during both nights I was there was Unidos da Tijuca.

Here are some photos of the real winner in our hearts:

We were shocked by this jaw-dropping, or should I say head-dropping routine.
Harry Potter and the flying table.
Notice the cars on the float…
…and they are actually transformers!
Jurassic Park
This Storm Trooper wear is flexible enough for samba. Darth Vader has it easy.
An innocent swimmer dives into the pool, only to be surprised by what´s lurking below.
Watch out Indiana!


Mar 3, 2011

Block Party

The main attraction of Rio´s Carnaval is the famous parade of the Samba Schools in the Sambadrome at night. But during the day there is much parading and merrymaking to be done. During the days leading up to, during, and after Carnaval, there are the blocos. Blocos are Carnaval street bands that parade around the streets, often on top of moving trucks, with crowds of fans parading after them, dancing samba, singing, wearing funky costumes and drinking. In Rio, they are free and fantastic. Last weekend there were 63 different bloco performances going on in the city. I only made two of them. One per day. That´s tiring enough. I tried to make two others, but the blocos tend to start at times different than scheduled so as to avoid overcrowding. Over 500,000 people were attending the blocos on the beach of Ipanema/Leblon on Sunday.

As quoted by Stone Korshak of the Rio Times ``Public gatherings of this size anywhere else in the world would be either alcoholic free and/or topple governments.``http://riotimesonline.com/brazil-news/opinion-editorial/editorial/one-more-week/

There´s a Chico Buarte song about a carnival band and how everyone and everything stops when it plays. Here are two stanzas translated into English.

The serious man who had money, he stopped
The lighthouse keeper who had benefits stopped
The girlfriend who had the stars,
She stopped to watch, listen and give way

The weak old man forgot the tiredness and thought
Qu'inda was too young to go out and danced on the terrace
The ugly girl looked out the window
Thinking that the band played for her

The original song can be heard here.

Here are some photos of some of the ones I have been to:

Banda de Ipanema warming up
Sympatia é Quase Amor bloco throwing ribbons in the air
The crowd going wild for Empolga às 9 at Ipanema Beach
Followed by a concert on Ipanema Beach

Parading with the Mendigos bloco
Carnaval starts this weekend. And I must say, the blocos are more than ready! 

Feb 13, 2011

Buenos Aires

My friend and I went to Buenos Aires for a recent long weekend, and we were totally enchanted by the beautiful city. The city is a special blend of old and new, and European and South American. The city was planned like a European city, with a wide street (the widest in the world – Avenida 9 de Julio) resembling the Champs-Elysees, beautiful architecture, and many well-kept parks. Other areas of the city had impressive modern skyscrapers.

It was nothing like Brazil, but certainly not unaffected by their neighbor. More Brazilians than any other tourists make it over there (they don´t require a passport). In fact, many locals asked me if I was Brazilian--even before I opened my mouth and started speaking Portanhol (a mix of Portuguese and Spanish).

Our first evening was spent walking and dining in the modern neighborhood of Puerto Madero. This is a newer area of the city, by the river with many chic restaurants and modern architecture. It´s gorgeous and reminded me a little of Yaletown-False Creek in Vancouver.

Puerto Madero

Later that night, we walked over to a Milonga (a tango club), where we watched all these couples dance tango. It was so interesting to watch them dance. They were all so graceful and intense. Most of the women danced with their eyes closed. One gentleman asked me to dance and when he realized I was a foreigner, he gave me a dance lesson. 

The next day we had an early start to beat the tourist crowds at Café Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Buenos Aires. We had submarinos (steamed milk that you stick a bar of chocolate in and stir).

We walked over to the Congresso Nacional building where we joined a free city tour that we found out about on trip advisor www.bafreetour.org. The tour took us along the famous Avenida del Mayo, stopping at special points, until we reached the Casa Rosada (Pink House) where Argentina´s National Government works. I had been wanting to see the Casa Rosada ever since I was a little girl, when I discovered that Argentina had a pink parliament building while playing Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego on the computer.

Casa Rosada
Afterwards we had lunch and walked around San Telmo (an old neighborhood famous for restaurants and tango). We also had some dulce de leche ice cream at Fredo´s (their best ice cream chain). And then we took a taxi to La Boca, the most touristy part of town. All the buildings are very colorful there and you can watch tango on the streets, eat outdoors, and buy souvenirs. Almost a little too touristy with all the people trying to sell you something, but still one of those places you have to see.

The colourful buildings of La Boca
The rest of the day was spent shopping on Florida Street where our hostel was (Hostel Suites Florida). It´s not the recommended area for shopping (Santa Fe Street is) but we still found some good deals. And we had dinner at a Parilla (steak house place). It was very expensive but it was the best and biggest steak I´ve ever had. And it went great with a glass with some local malbec red wine. Muy rico.

Steaks here are bigger than in Texas
On our final day, we visited the Recoleta Cemetary, where Evita Péron and many wealthy people were buried. It´s not your typical cemetery. It´s filled with small buildings containing family coffins, many buildings of which had statues of angels and other magnificent decorations on them. Quite a site.

Recoleta Cemetary
We next made it to the Japanese Gardens, which unfortunately were not very zen. It so happened that day that there was a cosplay –a competition to see who could have the best animé character costume. The garden was filled with mobs of teenagers posing in strange costumes.
We then walked over to the zoo, which was awesome. And then it was time to catch our flight. And now I´m missing Buenos Aires…But at least I have a bottle of malbec and some alfajors (dulce de leche between two cookies) to help me remember.

Jan 19, 2011

Big City

Last weekend I took a 6 hour bus journey down to São Paulo, Brazil´s largest city and commercial capital. 13 million people – the third largest city in the world, apparently. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro are rival cities. Both have strong stereotypes about the people who live there. Cariocas, the people of Rio de Janeiro, are known as being laid-back, lazy, starving artists, and beach bums. Whereas, Paulistas from São Paulo are known for being uptight, working stiffs.

The feeling in São Paulo is very different in Rio. It’s a concrete jungle away from the coast.

We arrived early in the morning on Saturday after taking an overnight bus, dropped our bags at our hotel and then walked to a nearby 24-hour bakery/restaurant. I was first to order and our waiter punched our orders in a hand-held machine. Before he finished taking all of our orders, my papaya had already arrived. This was strange, because the service in Rio is typically very, very slow. I have found that in Rio, if I want  service, I need to wave down a waiter, almost like a taxi.  Every restaurant and bar that followed had great service too.

My local friends down there (who I knew from before in Canada) all arrived early to meet us too. And they were the best hosts/tour guides ever.

We saw:
-Avenida Paulista – their most famous street of tall commercial buildings (not very impressive for North American skyscraper standards – but still a cool street)
-Mercado Municipal – a city market (reminded me a little of Granville Island in Van) where we had yummy mutardella sandwiches
-Museu de Paulista – a museum of São Paulo history, also on a beautiful garden but unfortunately it was raining
-Vila Madelena – Aspicuelta Road– a great bohemian bar distract
-Liberdade – the Japanese area of town (like a Chinatown but Japanese), I bought the best gyoza I´ve ever had on the street there.

Liberdade, the Japanese area of town.

Municipal Market

We were lucky that we went for a weekend and on summer holidays when the traffic was less. São Paulo does not have the beaches, mountains and laid-backness of Rio, but it has its own charms – better food, shopping, nightlife etc. I think if I were to live in S.P., a lot of my frustrations with living here would go away (i.e. having to wait a long time for a lot of things), but then I´d miss the natural beauty and energy of Rio.

Jan 16, 2011

The Holidays in Rio

It was really interesting spending Christmas and New Year´s Eve here. If I could describe the holidays in one word it would be BIG.

Things that were BIG here from Dec. 1 – Jan. 6th:

1)      The World´s Largest Floating Christmas Tree
On Dec. 4th I witnessed the lighting of the World´s Largest Floating Christmas Tree. It was quite a spectacle. Fireworks came out from inside. For the month of December the tree floated around the large lake in the middle of the city (controlled by a guy who would live in there). And the lights of the trees would change from different designs: bells, angels, presents, candles etc.

2)      Nativity scenes contest
       Throughout the city in December, there was a contest for creating 3-D nativity scene sculptures. Some were very creative. My favourite was made entirely from plastic pop bottles.

3)      Shopping Mall Décor
I have never seen commercial Christmas decorations like this before. Giant santas, sleighs, cone-shaped Christmas trees, big flashing lights. All bigger than I am used to at home. And the malls had your typical ``pictures with Santa`` areas.

Christmas decorations inside the Shopping Leblon mall.
4)      Christmas Concert on Copacabana
Roberto Carlos, ``the King`` here, gave a free performance on Copacabana Beach. Over 2 million attended.

5)      New Year´s Eve on Copacabana
There are many spectacular parties to end in Rio and the rest of Brazil for New Year´s. But the biggest is on Copacabana Beach. 2 million people were there. There were 4 stages of, each with several different acts set up on the beach.  At midnight, synchronized fireworks came from 6 different barges along the beach. The Summer Olympics logo was also released for the first time. The traditions are to wear white (for peace), to offer flowers to the sea for the Candomble godess Yemanja, and to jump 7 waves in the new year.

The crowd dressed in white on Copacabana Beach on New Year's Eve.
And on another BIG note. My family and I took a trip to Iguassu Falls. They are not the world´s tallest or the world´s widest falls, but many say that they are the World´s Most Spectacular Falls. They are composed of 275 waterfalls. They sit along the border of Argentina and Brazil. We went across to the Argentina side to see some of the falls from above, but the Brazilian side had a better view.

Iguassu Falls