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