Downtown madness and great food: Day 2 in Brazil

11 Feb

My first full day in Sao Paulo was fantastic, mostly thanks to one of those travel rules that always holds true: Only a local can really show you a place. And I was lucky enough to have that situation today.

Eduardo and Camilia were my hosts today, thanks to a colleague in Seattle who introduced them to me via Facebook. These Paulistas took time away from their busy lives to show a complete stranger — me — their favorite parts of Sao Paulo. For the whole day. How’s that for friendly natives?

They met me at my apartment and then we took the subway into the center, the oldest part of the city. At first it was fairly uncrowded, seeing as this the Carnival holiday period and most people are off work today and tomorrow. They marveled at how easy it was to walk through the city’s largest subway station, a place that would be wall to wall bodies on a normal workday.

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Inside the cathedral.

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We went into the Sao Paulo cathedral, a place so big an actual service was under way in one alcove and you would have barely noticed it.

We marveled at some of the wonderful classic architecture, including some buildings restored within the last few decades. The city was founded 450 years ago.

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My wonderful hosts for the day, Eduardo and Camilia.

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By late morning it was beginning to get hot – Unlike the day before, there was no rain this day to cool things off. This was to become a mini-theme for the day.

While Camilia shopped for her job, Eduardo and I walked a little father afield to see the Luz train station, the structure of which was imported from England. Near there we walked through a bit of a dicey neighborhood to a train station that has remodeled into a concert hall. Unfortunately, it was closed for the holiday, another mini-theme for the day.

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The crazy shopping district of 25 de Marco Street.

From there it was time to return to the downtown core. Eduardo led me through the Sao Paulo version of “crazy town” – 25 de Marco Street. By now the holiday shoppers were out in droves and it was scrunch time. “I’m looking for a way out,” Eduardo said. Eventually we escaped the throngs and made it to a cafe where we cooled off and I was introduced to two Brazilian specialties: ice-cold draft beers called choppes (show-pay), and pao de queijo (cheese bread). They hit the spot! Camilia rejoined us here and was able to cool off as well.

We walked from there to the wonderful Mercado Municipal, or public market. Picture Seattle’s Pike Place Market doubled in size and placed under one big roof. It was the highlight of the day for me. The fruit stands included these amazingly exotic fruits like the pitaya. I sampled a couple of pieces and it was sweet and delicious.

Next up was lunch in the upstairs area of the market that is nothing but restaurants. I thought we’d be in for a long wait for a table based on the crowds of people standing around, but Camilia worked some kind of magic and we were seated in a few minutes.

Lunch featured two more Sao Paulo specialties: the pastel, which is a pastry stufffed with meat or cheese or palm hearts, and the mortadella sandwich. The latter is this massive meat sandwich that looks simly too big to eat. We split a couple of them and they were wonderful – along with several more draft beers of course.

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The pitaya are the reddish friuts in right center of this photo.

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The specialty of the house at the market: the mortadella sandwich.

From there we waddled back to a subway station to ride back to Paulista Avenue where they’d parked their car. They drove me to see the alternate universe of 25 de Marco — a very nice mall in the nicest part of town. It was a mall where dogs are welcomed, and clearly people were taking advantage of that. I have never seen so many bejeweled canines anywhere.

After that, they drove me back to my apartment via a quick look at one of most famous series of buildings, the Latin America Memorial complex designed by famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.

Oh and we also found a foreign exchange booth at the Radisson, which was a savior for me because the banks were not open during the holidays.

I bade them farewell and could not believe how lucky I was to have met such hospitible Paulistas. If even a small percentage of the population is as welcoming as Eduardo and Camilia, it would be an amzing thing.

As the sun set I walked around the paths at Ibirapuera Park, Sao Paulo’s equivalent to Central Park in Manhattan. This is clearly where the physically fit folks come to show off their sculpted bodies.

I finished the day at an Italian restaurant, and I was a completely tired puppy!

Next up: a flight tomorrow to Belo Horizontal for the last day of Carnival.

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The sun set on Sao Paulo as seen from Ibirapuera Park.

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