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Published: December 22nd 2010
We arrived in Sao Paulo Saturday morning with low expectations. I knew that unless the food was over the top, we would likely be disappointed with the city, as I hadn't heard anything overly positive about it. One thing became apparent very quickly and that was how expensive it is here. We actually found it more expensive in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro than we did in Tokyo last year... I'm not sure if that is more indicitive of how bad things are in Japan or how good they are in Brazil.
On first impression, Sao Paulo didn't have that boom feel to it like a typical Chinese city does these days. I really didn't even see a construciton crane in the sky... Most of the buildings looked like they were built from the 1950's to 80's. Outside of a few exceptions (see video) there wasn't much in terms of unique architecture nor did the buildings have much polish to them. It might have also have been the parts of town we were staying in. Sao Paulo is a huge city of 20M people with many areas.
Upon arrival, Shauna crashed and I wandered... I can spend hours
after arriving in a new city wandering the streets, shopping malls, markets, grocery stores, etc... I always find the first few hours the most stimulating as my mind readjusts to a new environment. One of the first things I noticed was how cool it was. I didn't bring anything heavier than a long-sleeved shirt... This was in contrast to the previous week when the temperatures were up near 30c. We also had to deal with rain during this period.
We had read, heard, and were told about the security issues in Sao Paulo and Rio, so we were on guard -- particularly the first day/night of our stay in a new area. While a security presence (police, security guards, fences, cameras, etc.) was everywhere, we never had or saw any security issues. One can see the security concerns with the banks as all of them have mulitple ATMs, but to get in to see anyone involves going through security similar to an airport. I guess this is one way to get people to use ATMs...
There is no typical looking Brazilian. Immigration has come from all over the world and today there are large contingents of Italians, Japanese,
Chinese, Germans, Koreans, Lebanese, and Africans. A lot of interracial marriages over the decades, so one can't really define the Brazilian face. We were asked mutliple times for locations as even we looked like locals!
I found the Avenida Paulista, the main commercial street, a bit sterile. This was certainly a convenient location for the new center of town and the metro, but Paulista was really just lined with banks, buildings, and small shopping malls. We actually had a quite a walk to get to the restaurant area in Jardins (south of Paulista). The food was good, but it seemed like all we were eating was Italian. Don't get me wrong, we were eating well, but I was hoping for the WOW factor like I get in Southeast Asia. That lack of that and the lack of Asian restaurants disappointed me a bit.
A typlical meal was also different. No one just brought bread to the table. It was either artisian bread with something like a tapenade or little appitizers. They were good, but they were extra. No would even ask if we wanted it -- it was just assumed.
Our first full day here was on a Sunday, so we decided to take in a number of Sunday markets. They were mostly craft markets, but still worthwhile. The first one, which was in the Centro district, offerred us the best souvenier shopping of the trip. We then headed to Libertdad, which is the Japanese district, for some Japanese street food. The area was packed like sardines, so we didn't stay too long. For some reason, Shauna doesn't seem to like large crowds.
Monday was a holiday, so much of Sao Paulo was closed down. On our flight down from Newark, I sat next to a young lady from Sao Paulo, and she offered to show us around today, so we took her up on her offer. We had a lot of fun with Renanta and her friend Luciana. They took us ot Vila Madalena, which was a nice little neighbourhood a ways away from the central part of town. I will never forget when I asked Renanta whether she had ever been robbed. She said seven times! One time she was actually kidnapped for a number of hours! I was now really on high alert regarding security.
A lot of the restaurants here are of the buffet style, but with one twist -- they charge by the kilo -- usually in the $R20 to $R50 range. Americans should take note... Churrascaria (Brazilan steakhouses) were also high on our list, as I love their salad bars and how they bring the meat around on skewers. If you want a piece of meat, you turn over your disk to the green side. A waiter will stop at your table and slice off a small piece of meat from his skewer. With the little thongs supplied, you take the meat off as it is cut. There are dozens of different types of meat to choose from including chicken and pork, but beef is the dominate one. While there are Brazilian wines, there isn't much of a wine culture here. Nearly everyone seems to drink beer and big bottles of beer at that!
Tuesday ended up being a rain day. Fortunately, I had held off on the museums for a day just like this. As soon as the rain started the umbrella vendors popped out like weeds after a summer rain. I ended up picking up two umbrellas during our trip -- not good planning there... The most impressive museum we took in was MASP, which had countless paintings from the world's masters. I also found the organization of the paintings by era educational. We stopped into an Italian restaurant for our first pizza, which was good. With all of these Italian restaurants, I could swear I was in Italy. With that said, we had one of best dinners of the trip at a French restaurant in Jardins.
For the last two nights, we decided to move to the old downtown (Centro). We had only made reservations for four nights at the Golden Tulip and they were fully booked after that. Centro had all of the historical sites, but the security issue was also at a different level. Fortunately, we ended up at the best hotel of our trip, which was the recently renovated Jaguar Novotel. It was very much a business hotel, but excellent quality and location. We did as much as we could on Wednesday for city seeting. Lonely Planet had a nice walking tour, which I was able to download onto my iPhone. This area certainly exceeded our expectations. While Centro gets pretty quiet in the evenings and Sundays, the weekdays were fully of life and streetscape. The older part of town was a little rusty aroun the edges, but heaps of potential. Lots of police presence... They had these small mobile stations all over the downtown. Our day wouldn't have been complete without seeing Cardboard Man. His clothing was totally made up of cardboard -- nothing else... Having the Bovespa (Brazilian stock exchange) here doesn't hurt, as it seems to give the area a certain amount of credibility. There was a beautiful strip of Italian restaurants nearby, which made for a great stop for dinner. The Italian restaurant we went to the first night had an interestingly layout. First, we ordered the salad bar, which was second to none for an Italian restaurant, as the antipastas and cheeses were phenominal. A lot of dishes in Brazil are also ordered for two. Tonight wasn't any different, as we shared a large calzone.
Interestingly enough I noticed that Metro News was also here in Sao Paulo. The business model is the same. After looking on Wikipedia, the paper is all over the world and apparently quite successful.
On Thursday morning, I went down to the Central Market for some photos. There is something about markets that I love. I can always spend hours in them. We checked out the Bovespa later that morning, which was very well done. While everything is electronic now, the trading floor has been nicely converted to a beautiful visitors center complete with coffee shop, book store, museum, trading board, etc. Apparently, an average of 450 people a day pass through it. Another interesting site was the vantage point we had from the top of the art deco Banespa building that overlooked Sao Paulo. This city is huge! All I could see for miles was office and apartment buildings. It is incredible to think that this growth has really just taken place in the past 100 years. We ended the day with a bike ride around Parque du Ibrapuera and dinner at a local Churascaria. Our walk back from the metro station at 23:00 was not quite as scary as I thought it would be. There were still lots of people on the subway and lots of peope on the street back to our hotel. So far so good on the security front...
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