With it being my last weekend in Brazil I really wanted to get to one more place to explore things I would never otherwise had the opportunity to see. My first choice, Iguazu Falls, was too expensive at short notice with the round trip flight alone topping $400. So I opted for a bus trip to Gramado which I had heard was a popular destination for the locals.

The first challenge was booking a hotel room, yes here again was that pesky language issue. Verônica from the office was very kind in making phone calls for me to try to reserve something. However, the one that had been recommended only had 1 room left, a suite for I think around $1000 per night, no thanks. So we tried a few others and there were no rooms, speaks to the popularity. It was not looking good as my translator left for the night and I was hoping to head out the next evening. Thankfully almighty Google came to the rescue and I was able to find a booking site, in English, and a couple of places that had rooms. I think there were 3 rooms left total through this site, so I figured it was best to just book something that looked nice and was reasonably close to downtown. It was a bit more than I wanted to pay, and since I actually went for the higher priced of the two remaining rooms it came to a bit over $200 for the night (it turned out to be worth every penny). The less expensive room was only $20-30 less if I remember correctly.

I still didn’t know exactly what I was going to do once I got there. I knew there was shopping, not that I needed to buy much more stuff to get back to the US. I had also been told about a city tour, the chocolate options, and a few things in the neighboring city of Canela.

As I headed home Friday, thinking of my adventure ahead, I realized that I had forgotten to ask anybody about where the bus station was in Porto Alegre. So in a bit of a panic I quickly got online once I reached my apartment and found Barbara still at the office and ready to help. Whew.

So I chilled out on Friday night, packing a few things trying to travel light since I didn’t know if I would be able to get a late check out or secure bag storage on Sunday afternoon. I decided not to try to push too hard to make the first bus in the morning, after all this was to be a relaxing weekend, so I wound up heading out for the second bus (9 am) of the three I had been considering. Here the waiting began, that bus was sold out so I had to wait for the 10 am bus, not too bad of a delay and there were plenty of places to relax at the bus station, so I picked one and had a double expresso which was once again the size of a standard cup of coffee. This time however, as opposed to at the São Paulo airport during my first trip to POA, I had time to enjoy it.

Finally it was time to board my bus, though not after a bit or nervousness that perhaps I was at the wrong “box” since with 10 minutes until departure there was still no sign of a bus, and this was the origin, not a point along the way where they just stop to pick up folks. Not to worry, I was in the right place and shortly was settled into my seat reading away as we headed out of town.

I am not sure I have mentioned in previous posts that I purchased a Nook eReader before heading to Brazil the first time. Next to my Bose headphones it is probably the best travel purchase I have ever made. Before buying it I considered both it and the Kindle as well as just getting an iPad. My decision against the iPad (which I still may buy for other reasons) was that I wanted a true reader with a screen adapted for reading in any condition. My decision for the Nook (v. Kindle) was that it has a touch screen interface instead of an alphabets worth of buttons, runs Android, and  gives one access to countless free Google books. Five months later I am still happy with my decision.

Back to the weekend at hand. Since I could only buy a one-way ticket in Porto Alegre my fist task upon arriving was to purchase my return ticket for the next evening so that I could plan my time in town well. After that I headed off in a cab to my hotel. Here again I should have done a bit more research early on as the hotel was about 6 blocks away and given that I had only a small backpack with my, I could have easily walked.

Getting checked in went ok, despite the language issues, however trying to find out about tour bookings and schedules was not so easy. Eventually the first person with whom I was working called on his associate who spoke more English and some headway was made. But that is jumping forward a bit, first I must tell you about my fantastic room. As I mentioned above I went for the fancier room, mostly because the photo showed an awesome canopy bed. I was not disappointed. The whole decor was stunning and it all felt very elegant. Of course it also felt as if it might be a place seen by many-a-honeymooner (maybe the heart shaped chocolates added to this feeling), my take on that is if I waited to book a room like this for that I could be waiting a very long time. I am not saying that what I have, with all of these travel opportunities is not great, it’s just a trade-off. Of course there is also no guarantee that if I had stayed in one place that I would have met anybody either.

There was also a lovely double door the opened onto a balcony with a spectacular view. And the fact that it was turning out to be a very warm weekend added to the enjoyment. It was so nice that I actually contemplating buying some lighter weight tops to wear as I had only brought some fairly warm long-sleeved ones given what the weather had been and given that I was at a higher elevation than that of Porto Alegre. I guess that’s a better problem to have than being too cold.

Since I had been traveling for a number of hours and hadn’t eaten much before leaving I was getting quite hungry so I decided to set out for some lunch before figuring out exactly what else to do with the day. I had found out that there is a city tour that runs pretty regularly so it would be possible to hit that after feeding the beast. After a short walk past numerous shops with lots to buy, danger Will Robinson, I settled in at an outdoor café whose menu looked quite interesting. Here again I had to wait for an outside table, but only for about 10 minutes which gave me enough time to peruse the menu and figure out what I wanted for lunch. This was not an easy task as many things looked good and most were quite different from the standard southern Brazil fare in that there was quite a bit of French influence visible. I decided on a steak in a port wine sauce and then waited for my table.

After being seated I thought the only decision I would have to make was my choice of wine. I didn’t really want half a bottle so was quite happy when there was an option to purchase a couple of wines by the glass. That done all that was left was to order the steak. Being so engrained in the entrecôt I had beeneating lately I completely forgot that I would have to specify how I wanted to steak cooked, and of course I had no idea how to say what I wanted in Portuguese. I almost ordered something else, and after what felt like forever, just as I was about to change my mind, the waiter determined that he understood what I wanted and went off to put in my order. Once again I was not disappointed, having pink meat was so divine.

Very full, and happy, I set off to find the city tour which was supposed to leave from in front of a church at the end of the street where I had eaten. It was easy to find the church and not so easy tofind the tour, there were no signs that this was the location, thankfully I waited anyway (seeing a few other people show up, especially the family with two kids, that looked like they might be there for a tour made this a bit easier). Finally somebody official (and the trolley) looking showed up and I was amazingly able to communicate enough with him to make sure that I was in the right place.

And we were off. While I didn’t understand any of the commentary, it was too hard to guess some of what was being said, and it was quite easy to admire the large houses and the French feeling of so many things. My co-workers had told me that the city had a Swiss Alps village feel to it, and while I can’t comment on whether or not that is also true, to me it felt very French. From the menus which I mentioned earlier, to the names of the hotels and restaurants, and even down to the trees. Yes, the trees. Fairly early on I noticed a tree that looked just like the plane trees that all all over Aix-en-Provence. What is so interesting about these trees, at

least in Aix, is that during the winter they are trimmed back to have virtually no branches. And when spring comes they send out new growth so fast that within a week or so it looks as if the branches have been there all along. Sadly I didn’t get a photo at that time and spent much of the rest of the tour hoping for another sample as well as a good part of my walk the next morning. The best shot I could come up with was of a much smaller specimen.

Most of the time the trolley was moving, so it was hard to get good pictures of some of the homes, however the one here was probably the most impressive estate, yes estate, as I am sure you can see the lovely iron gate separating it from the rest of the world.

After winding past a few other lovely homes we wound up at Lago Negro where we were able to get off of the trolley and walk around for a bit. Of course this meant one more bout with Portuguese to make sure I really know when to be back. The lake was OK, but a bit too touristy for me with the swan rides and pirate ships. That said, there were some live swans as well. And if I had been staying a bit longer, I could have gone for a carriage ride, yes also touristy but a bit more in my book of things to do than a navigating around in a swan paddle boat.

Since I had a bit of time left after wandering to and from the shore I checked out the nearby shops, yes more tourist stuff and bought a magnet, since I had yet to get something for Brazil and a few other small things for gifts.

In the end, it turned out that the best views of the lake were actually from the other end that we drove past after restarting the tour.After we wound our way around back to downtown I headed to the tourist office I had seen as we headed out and asked about things to do the next day. Again, a challenge which once again somehow resulted in a success. I booked a 5 hour tour to Canela that included most of the things I wanted to see there, and being a tour a few things that were not on the top of my list. Before finding this, my option would have been to have the English speaker from my hotel drive me around which I must admit made be a bit uncomfortable.

With the booking done, I stopped in one of the many chocolate shops to buy a few sweet treats for later and then headed back to the hotel for afternoon tea. When I told them about the tour I had booked, they called to verify that I had things right and to let them know that if a morning tour opened up I was actually not interested in it, earlier I thought I was and then decided that sleeping in was a better option. And this resulted in the tour company offering to let the staff person accompany me on the tour free of charge as an interpreter. At first I didn’t think this was a good idea other and then I remembered something I had been told about the culture, that when folks offer to help in Brazil they really want to do so, not like in the US where often the offer is made with fingers crossed that it won’t be accepted, and that furthermore, refusing such an offer is often seen as an insult, so I figured the best thing was to go with the flow and that it would be more comfortable this way than with just the two of us in a car.

Post tea, I headed back into town (this was only a few blocks away) and did a bit more shopping, mostly of the window variety. I had had my heart set on a fondue dinner as it is one of the things that for which Gramado is well known, however after my large and somewhat late lunch I was just not getting hungry enough to enjoy it even after stopping for a glass of wine and chilling for a bit.

The day turned into a wonderfully warm night as I just kept walking and wandering around.

On the way back to the hotel and the fondue place that I still hoped to check out I stopped to grab some artistic photos of a tree that was lit by some amazing purple lights that I had seen earlier that evening.

Still not hungry enough for a massive fondue meal, I opted to get a bit more wine at the grocery store along with some light fare of olives and cheese and settle in next to the hotel fire place. And to then relax in the whirlpool tub in my room. All in all it was a nice evening to cap off a wonderful and quite busy day.

Finally it was time to crawl under the canopy for a well deserved night of sleep.

Given that the return time of my tour was fairly close to when my bus back to Porto Alegre was to depart, after a huge breakfast at the hotel I decided to make sure I knew the most direct route to the depot so that I could get there quickly that evening. Then I set out on that search for my unsuccessful search for that tree. Although it was not a complete waste as I needed the walk and I wound up wandering through some interesting and colorful areas.

I also got to get a good shot of the church I had been seeing all day the day before poised on a hill above downtown. We had actually passed it the day before on the trolley tour but I didn’t realize it as it was across the road from something else that was catching my interest at the time.

Overall it was just great to meander and take in the feel of a relaxed Sunday morning viewing everything from parks to street signs adorned with larger than life grapes to a cat that wasn’t quite sure whether to look at me or search for a reflection in a murky pool. Mostly I think it was nice to be somewhere with weather that made me want to be outside and it was nice not to have to think of the fact that I would be leaving Brazil in only a few days.

It was now once again decision time, do I go for it and eat fondue for lunch, despite my big breakfast or possibly regret not having sampled this famous fare. I must admit I had been checking out the many fondue menus during my walk and stopped to look at one last one as I headed back towards the downtown area. I was leaning towards coming back to that one and trying to figure out the right timing to eat as late as possible before the tour yet had not made up my mind when I reached the hotel. Eventually I caved and was not unhappy that I did so, and could justify it given that I wouldn’t have time to eat dinner before getting on the bus after the tour.

No, I didn’t need a three course meal, but it was amazing. First was the cheese, a definite weakness, yet I couldn’t eat all of it as there would be no room for anything else. So it was on to the meat, which was very interesting as I had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be some very thin cuts of beef, pork, chicken and sausage that one cooked on a very hot grill at the table. Prior to cooking a slice, the grill is salted to keep the meat from sticking.

And of course there were the sauces, you can only see about half of them in the photo and sometimes the best results came from mixing a couple together. I didn’t know what all of them were for sure, that Portuguese issue again, but was able to enjoy none the less. Yet I think the best part was that in addition to enjoying the meat, I recognized the picanha, I was learning something during my stay here.

Again I didn’t finish everything, I didn’t even touch the chicken as there was too much other good stuff, as I had to leave room for dessert which of course was chocolate! Here again there were many ways in which to enjoy it, some of which I had not thought of before, such as the chocolate cookies, which actually while interesting were not the best. I think the old standards of pineapple and banana tied for that honor.

Now, very stuffed – maybe even more than if I had eaten fondue the night before, I headed back to my hotel to wait for the tour group. And in typical Brazilian fashion, the van was late, sigh, as this is something I just could never get used to in India and was also unable to get used to in Brazil.

After picking up some folks from one other hotel, everyone else had already been picked up, we headed to our first stop, the chocolate factory. Since it was a Sunday, the factory was not in operation so we watched a short film, in Portuguese, and then had some time to wander in the gift shop. We did also get a sample of hot chocolate, which was quite nice. If I wasn’t leaving Brazil in only a few days I probably would have bought a few things as chocolate is hard to pass up. Sadly, despite my love for chocolate I had to pass on any large purchases as they would have gone to waste.

Next it was off to the Museu do Vapor (yes, the steam museum) which definitely would not have put on my list if I were building my own itinerary, and I must say, it lived up to my expectations. I guess I would compare it to the plethora of wax museums in the US, also which do basically the opposite of peaking my interest.

Next was an old mansion which was pretty cool. Unlike many similar places in the US we could just wander through without a guide and we could go upstairs. Each room had many items that were interesting as well, and here things were the same as back home where you can’t actually go into the rooms.

Some of my favorites were the music room and the toy room. There was also plenty of antique furniture as well and an old stand alone bathtub and a very fancy chamber pot.

Though I think my favorite spot was an empty tower with a multitude of windows that let in copious amounts of light and a nice breeze. It would be a great place to sip some coffee or just sit and read.

Speaking of coffee, of course there was also a restaurant where you could get food influenced by the past. Given my huge lunch there was no need to sample anything, though I did grab a Coke-Zero for the road before we wandered out to look at the surrounding grounds.

Finally it was time to head to what was the main driver in my trying to get to Canela in the first place, the waterfall and the sky ride (think ski lift) to get a better view of the waterfall. Here again the waiting theme played out as as we pulled up we were told that we might not have enough time to ride as the lines were quite long. At first I didn’t understand this at all as I thought my interpreter was talking about “fires” and was wondering if there was smoke causing things to be closed. But no, it was “files”, aka lines, and it was not clear we would be able to get to the front of them in a timely enough fashion to stay on schedule. Thankfully we were able to, as I would have been pretty bummed to have to have passed this up for a steam museum.

It was quite a long wait, around 45 minutes I think, but it was a pretty cool site once we embarked, and even better when we got off and were able to hike down the gorge a bit for better views of the falls. Of course I wish we had had more time as I would have hiked even further down, and if I had come with just the hotel staff person and not the tour I might have been able to do so, but in the end I still think I made the right choice. Interestingly enough, here, as everywhere else, he was able to get into the attractions for free because he was serving as a translator. You would have a hard time finding that kind of support in the states. So we rode the chair lift together, although I thought he was going to back out for a while as he was quite nervous, but we survived and I got some good views along the way.

There were some similarities with the US again, as there were photo posts set up at a couple of places to take snaps of people as they cruised by in their chairs. Anyway to get another buck, or Rais, out of folks.

As it was getting on towards evening, in addition to photos of the falls, I was able to get some great shots of the colorfully painted valley and the sun itself. It was a great stamp on the end of a wonderful day.

But the day was not quite over. We still had one stop to make, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes also known as Catedral de Pedra (Rock Cathedral). We were given about 20 minutes to wander around and get photos, but for some reason I thought we only had 5 so did a power effort at seeing and shooting the site. Also, as it was Sunday, there was a service in progress so I didn’t feel right taking pictures inside.

Having seen things and not really feeling like going for a second look I passed the time practicing my creativity by taking moon shots. After that I wandered into a few of the shops across the street but I wasn’t really in the buying mood, I know, a rarity. Of course as I was doing this my stress level was rising as the time until my bus back to POA was shrinking and it was looking like many folks from the tour would be late getting back to the van.

In the end it all worked out and I was able to get back to the hotel with enough time to spare to pack up a few last things before heading to the depot. This also gave me one more interesting hotel tidbit as when I walked in they gave me the wrong key. Now that can happen, but here it got me thinking that maybe it didn’t matter, as the key really didn’t look all that unique.

Finally it was time to leave, so I said my good-byes and made the short walk to my bus only to arrive before the bus. Some things never change, at least not in the course of one day.

This time I was not as lucky as on the day before and had someone sitting in the seat next to me, and it was someone who thought the the arm rest ended about an inch or two into my seat. So I had to adjust accordingly, as well as to find a spot where I was able to get just barely enough light from the waning overhead to read.

And the trip back was longer, it was still an Executive trip, but it did not stay on the highway as the one the day before did. Eventually we made it back to my staring point, but here again I got confused and thought we were at the airport as our first stop as on the way out we stopped there after leaving downtown so it made sense that we would stop there first on the way back. I was wondering why so many people were getting off at the airport, but still remained oblivious until we pulled out and I realized where we were. Oh well, I couldn’t do much at that point.

So I figured that it was ok anyway as it might feel safer to get a cab at the airport at that hour of the night anyway. And it probably was. Of course I also thought I might get a better driver, and that was not the case. The guy just didn’t seem to understand my address at all no matter how hard I tried. I often have the problem of having the driver think I am saying 1801 instead of 1081 and this night was no exception, so to try to make my point I dropped the 1000 part and concentrated on the 80 part. Bad idea,the driver then thought wanted 800, so he drove to the end of my street and I had to then get him to circle around and get back to 1081. With the prevalent one way streets this added at least R$ 3 to the fare which I refused to pay, I figured that at home I make the case to not pay extra when a driver makes a wrong turn, so why should I do anything different here. Of course, I had to make my argument in Portuguese, and you all know how that has been going for me. Well tonight somehow I was able to get my point across, between my words and my body language, the driver finally gave up on getting any more that the R$ 20 that the fare would have been, heck it might have been less, but it was definitely not more than R$ despite what the meter said, and I was home, or at least at the place I would call home for a few more days.