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Published: October 18th 2015
Palacio do Itamaraty
Home of the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations.
Just like I hadn't expected to stay almost two weeks in Sao Paulo, I wasn't expecting to be visiting Brasilia either. It wasn't on my route, it was out of the way. But when Bruno suggested that I follow him and Carol up there for a weekend, my interest was piqued - I had heard that it was a place like no other and although it would be expensive to get up there, it was still within my budget. So why not?
What would've helped money-wise was the fact that I was charged R$150 instead of US$150 for one of my flights - I thought I had got away with it until the sharp staff at Azul Airlines gave Bruno a call notifying me of the mistake. Damn - that would have saved me a very handy £100!
In order to save on accommodation, Bruno and I took an early morning flight instead. Just like I did in Mallorca a month ago
, late sleeping hours and nights out meant I couldn't get to sleep, so two hours of sleep later I was feeling wrecked and zombied my way onto a flight from Sao Paulo to Brasilia.
Which made my first impressions
Brasilia's landmark church.
of Brasilia somewhat surreal.
Brasilia was built as Brazil's capital from nothing in just three years in the late 50s. With Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil's most celebrated architect, in charge of designing the city and most of its buildings, the city took on what was then an ultra-modern feel. So as the taxi took us from the airport, through town, and to our Niemeyer-designed hotel by the lake, it felt like I had been transported into a 60s Bond film set.
The taxi ride also brought into focus the most annoying thing about Brasilia. The city is so spread out - unnecessarily so - and there is so much open space around that you really need your own car here or else you're relying on taxis. Like we were. Once at the hotel, there was absolutely nothing around it - no shops, supermarkets or any sort of amenities - so you were basically stuck at the hotel for food, water...everything.
So lucky for us that things weren't horrifically expensive. Most hotels in Brasilia cater for government and business clients so rates during the week are usually sky-high - but not many people choose to spend a weekend in Brasilia so
Plenario Ulysses Guimaraes
Where the Brazilian parliament sits.
the rates are slashed. Therefore I was paying £33 a night instead of £80 a night to stay in a typical Niemeyer-designed hotel with all the normal perks and service of a nice, clean, professionally run hotel. With the exchange rate also in my favour, I forgot that I was meant to be backpacking and started taking liberties with the mini-bar.
The hotel's key feature is its design - the 60s retro-chic lobby is probably the highlight of the place, as is the open and outdoor ground floor, and the building's massive rectangular shape.
This functional, minimalist style isn't everyone's cup of tea - lots of concrete and grey, evoking the drab boring satellite cities established in England around the same time such as Slough, Croydon and Milton Keynes - but I quite like them. Their images take you back to different time - in Brasilia's case, back to the retro-future.
Niemeyer had a distinct flair when it came to Brasilia's more important buildings however. We took a tour through one of them, the Palacio do Itamaraty. With its arches, curves, large open spaces and internal gardens, it resembles a 60s Bond villain lair. It houses the Brazilian Ministry
Brazil's parliament building.
of External Relations, as well as many pieces of art and gifts from other countries, as explained by our Portuguese-speaking guide. Luckily, Bruno was on-hand to interpret! We also took a tour of the landmark Congresso Nacional, with its two domes and two skyscrapers sitting upon an artificial lake. This is the Brazilian parliament, which has also retained its ultimate 60s interior, complete with low-level black leather seating, pea-green carpet and circular columns.
My one day of sightseeing was a very hot one, so walking around was a bit of a slog. Sick and lacking sleep, Bruno and Carol went back to the hotel while I continued my sightseeing tour of the city - of which most of the main sights are completely free.
The impressive, avant-garde and relatively modern cathedral is one (evoking Rio's
concrete cathedral) where the lighting inside it is bright, splendid and natural. It is similar to the Santuario Dom Bosco, there the blue glass panels create a unique and tranquil ambience - just a shame I only got there after dark. At least it was free. Perhaps the best thing I did was go 75m up the TV Tower, which was also free. The
Brasilia Palace Hotel
The Niemeyer-designed hotel that we stayed in.
view gives you a fantastic view over the main avenue of Eixi Monumental as well as the unique design of the city.
As well as the city's buildings, it is also the way they are laid out which stands Brasilia apart from other cities.
It is a bit bizarre.
The city is set out like an aeroplane; the Eixi Monumental main street in Brasilia - actually, it is more like a freeway - and makes up the body of the plane. Our hotel is located near the "cockpit". There are then two "wings" - "Asa Norte" (North Wing) and "Asa Sul" (South Wing) which contains all of the residential areas.
There are no street names in Brasilia - instead, the city is split up into sectors, which are then split into quadrants, and then finally blocks. So an address is made up of a sector, quadrant and block.
The sectors each contain different things; for example, all the hotels are located in one of the exclusive "hotel sectors", all the banks are located in another, shops are in the "commercial sector" as are all the hospitals. To make it feel like you have really gone into the future -
Palacio da Justicia
Er, the Palace of Justice.
in a 60s retro kind of way - all the sectors are not named but are indicated by acronyms. For example, Sector SHN is "Setor Hotel Norte" or the "Northern Hotel Sector". So when trying to get to a bar, we had to tell the taxi driver to take us to Setor SBS, Quadra 2, Bloco Q. More often than not however, the taxi drivers will know exactly where to go.
There is just no place like Brasilia.
And there are many taxi drivers in Brasilia. The city is almost set up perfectly for them. There are huge distances between places - the motorcar was seen as the transport of the future and thus the city was designed for them - and lots of one-way freeways with turn-offs to each of the different sectors. This results in lots of built-in U-turns and having to travel past your destination in order to find a U-turn to get back to it. Things were designed this way to minimise the number of traffic lights needed, according to Bruno. It just felt so long-winded and unnecessary.
On my final night in Brasilia, I ordered room service. The life of a backpacker huh?
Inside The Palacio do Itamaraty
Look at those awesome 60s curves.
The food was pretty average unfortunately - it has been the case for the majority of my time in Brazil though unfortunately.
Following my in-room meal however, I had one of those travel moments that reminded me of why I am doing this.
We were picked up by a friend of Carol's, who lives in Brasilia, and were taken to a random football facility, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where a couple of hundred locals had gathered to hear a group of friends perform samba on an outdoor stage. Well, I say 'stage' but it was actually a long table with fairy lights, study lamps and beer on it, surrounded by seated musicians and singers, playing samba. Bruno tells me that this is what is known as "roda samba" or 'a circle of samba'. These are quite spontaneous in nature and this particular group plays at different venues all over Brasilia from one concert to the next. The cool thing about this was that if you were any good and knew what you were doing, you would be welcome to pick up an instrument and join in. The crowd was loving it and the band were playing all the
All the different ministries are housed in these identical rectangular buildings that line the main highway Eixi Monumento, that goes through the middle of town.
hits from the crowd's reaction.
In this moment however, I remembered where I was and lived in the moment. It felt special because I was experiencing something truly local and cultural - a new and unique experience that you couldn't find anywhere else. This is what I want to experience on my travels.
Indeed this experience would not have been possible without Bruno and Carol. You get a completely different experience of a place when you hang out with the locals. Indeed I was even beginning to pick up some Portuguese! Knowing some Spanish, I was starting to find Portuguese quite easy to pick up - I think that if I was to take classes and practice it, that I would pick it up fairly quickly. Although I have found Portuguese generally frustrating, learning the differences between Spanish and Portuguese has at least kept me thinking in Spanish - so in a way, I have been able to keep it up a little bit in a non-Spanish speaking country. Indeed I even got to practice a bit with Bruno, whose Spanish is pretty good.
But yes, I do need to give a big shout out to Bruno and Carol
Palacio do Itaramaty & "The Yellow Submarine"
The building behind is an annex of the palace that extends the ministry's office space.
for everything they have done for me in both Sao Paulo and Brasilia. Hanging out with them and Vini has given me a much deeper experience of Brazil than I would have had hanging out at hostels with other gringos...
...which is exactly what I am doing next as I head to Foz do Iguazu and my first hostel of the trip. Time for the real backpacking to start!
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