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Despite it being Friday the 13th, yes that is a superstition here as well, this past weekend started with a trek to Dublin. No, not the city, just a bar on Padre Chagas in Porto Alegre. I almost went there the week before as had made tentative plans to meet the guys from the Friday night pizza outing there after the Vive la Fête show and when it lasted until nearly 2 due to the late start figured that they would not be there anymore. I actually figured wrong as they were running late as well that evening.

Anyway, moving forward, a large group of folks, probably 20 or more, from the office decided to head to Dublin Irish Pub after work on Friday. So I dropped my computer at my apartment and headed off to meet back up with co-workers. This meant that not only did I have to get home in a cab, which is getting routine, I had to get to an address on Padre Chagas as well. I did my normal trick of writing down the location on a piece of scrap paper in case I need to show it to the driver and this time it wasn’t necessary. I was able to communicate the address vocally. Now I didn’t say it exactly right in the format of 3 hundred 40 and 2, instead saying 3-4-2, but it worked.

Entry was fairly standard where you get a card on which they record your food and drink for the evening as you order, a pretty great system by the way as there are no issues with splitting the tab and no credit cards left behind bars. One thing was a bit different here as they wanted ID as we entered, I’m not exactly sure that they were carding as they were getting our names for the cards from what we gave them. However, if they did think I was too young to enter that’s pretty awesome.

Interestingly in my case they didn’t exactly write my name on the card. My first name was there and then instead of my last name it had the name of my street. I am not sure if the person at the door had just never seen and IL driver’s license and didn’t know where to look for the name, or if they just couldn’t comprehend my last name enough to write it down.

Being that we were at an Irish pub they had quite a nice selection of beers, including Guinness which I would have later in the evening as I opted to start out with an Erdinger Dunkel, yes it’s German, not Irish, it just sounded good and tasted good as well. Since we had come right from work we also ordered some things to munch on, including the fish and chips I has seen on the menu, they were OK, after all it was just bar food.

When I did move on to Guinness, with my second beer, I was treated with a Guinness like you get in the UK, not the watered down version served in the US. I kind of figured when I ordered that this would be the case since it was listed under chopps and not beers on the menu which from what I have been told simply means that is is unpasteurized thus it tastes better. And after tasting the Guinness here it is a story that I can buy.

As Dublin has live music every night it wasn’t long before the band (Marcelo Brusius) started, I couldn’t find much on them on Google so I don’t have a link for you. What was interesting is that everything they sang was in English so some of us got to talking about this and figured that they actually must also speak English pretty well since while it is possible to sing a song or two in an unfamiliar language it would be hard to do a whole show with feelings regularly without understanding what you are singing.

Over the next few days this made me think more about how much English you actually hear on the radio here. One cab driver even gave me a CD he had pressed of Elton John songs. Given that most people don’t speak much English it seems interesting that there is that much programming. My guess is that people just like the melodies and are OK without understanding the lyrics. That said, I was talking to some folks from the office last night who commented on how they work on their English skills by watching US movies and TV programs with subtitles which is something I have been doing as well, but to work on my Portuguese and is something I have done with French as well. They also commented on how they think it is easier for folks from the US to come to Brazil and feel welcome than for others because they can discuss said TV shows and movies with them so there is a shared culture that does not necessarily exist with folks from other countries.

I spent the rest of the weekend pretty much doing nothing, which was awesome. Partly it was because I have been fighting a cold and wanted to rest up and partly because I know that when I get home I will be faced with all of the unfinished projects I left behind when I came here.

The only other tale of the week revolves around cab fares. Last Thursday I noticed little posters in the windows that showed there was a fare increase and how to calculate the new fare off of the meter until the meters can be reprogrammed. That alone isn’t remarkable. What is more interesting is the conversation I had about this increase with Verónica who mentioned that it was because petrol had gone up, again not super remarkable. The good part is that I related to her how we have the temporary surcharges in Chicago to deal with such increases and decreases and how she was amazed that the price would ever go down. So apparently here they don’t have the seasonal fluctuations nor those tied to the prices of oil, just increases ever so often.

Also somewhat interesting is that while for the first few days the drivers were all diligently consulting their charts for the actual fare by yesterday they were just estimating it. And that brings to mind how the fare is generally only an approximation anyway, as nobody seems to care about monetary demarkations of less than R$ 0.25 and sometimes even R$ 0.50 so the fare is rounded, sometimes down, to a workable number.

Tchau,

Wendy

Between the folks who have left for the US and the awesome fact that Sameer and Disha were finally able to move into their apartment, I am now the last ThoughtWorker staying at Bela Vista. And I would also have been able to move if the change in plans causing me to have to head back to the US early had not happened. Sigh, both because it would have been nice to be in a proper apartment and one near Padre Chagas as well and because I am going home early.

This change of events that left me as the last outpost could have had me bummed about not having folks around that I know, but instead I decided to take the bull by the horns and make sure I had folks to do stuff with and fun things to do.

For the past few weeks I had been hankering for some good thin crust prizza, yes we have pizza in the office at least once a week, sometimes more, that’s not the same. I had a place in mind and you probably know how that can be. So I sent out an email to the office (we are still small enough in Brazil to do that) seeing who might be interested in heading to Punto del Diablo and I got six takers. Between the seven of us we devoured 3 large pizzas and consumed 2 bottles of wine and then some. It was a great start to the weekend.

My plans for Saturday were quite late in the day, a concert (Vive la Fête), yes French music in Brazil.  The start time was advertised as 9 pm so I was able to take care of someblogging (you may have already noticed that), personal budget stuff, grocery shopping, and even worked out a bit. Whew – I’m tired just thinking about it (or maybe that’s the 13 1/2 hour day I worked yesterday).

Typical of Brazil, the show didn’t really start at nine, so after meeting at 8:30 we hung out at the bar next door until 10:30 or so before heading into the venue and the opening band had not even started to play. The best part is, nobody really cared, it was a Saturday night, people were relaxed and they knew the band would eventually take the stage. And so they did, a few minutes before midnight and I was glad I went.

The opening band, I don’t even know there name, was OK. They had a good beat to their numbers but their vocalist pretty much screamed everything, and not in a supported way so you just knew she was trashing any voice she may have once had. In contrast, not only did Vive la Fête have an even better beat, their lead was supporting her vocals, she was still close to screaming, but somehow in a good way where you can tell she had had some training. I’ll leave any discussion of whether or not she was pitchy to the experts on American Idol.

Despite still having energy around 2 am when we left the show I opted not to go on the the next club as I had had enough smoke filled venues for one night. As I think I mentioned in a previous post, here it is technically illegal to smoke in bars, restaurants, and clubs, it’s just not enforced. So when I got home everything reeked of smoke, even my hair, which made laundry a top priority for the next day (or actually that day, just after some sleep).

Sunday plan’s were to go see Inception, which was recently released in Brazil, with Sameer and Disha. Though I am not a Leonardo DiCaprio fan, I was able to look past that and thoroughly enjoyed the movie. And contrary to my thoughts when I left the theater I have not been having crazy dreams based on the movie, or have I?

All in all in was a great weekend. I got a lot done and had fun too, it’s hard to ask for more. As a matter of fact, in preparation for the day when I would be the only person in Bela Vista I had picked this title sans not, the positive way things played out enabled me to change it.

Tchau,

Wendy

I decided to do a short post about the week and then another post for the weekend this time around (mostly because I had two good titles and wanted to be able to use them both).

The week started out kind of slow and I was still feeling a bit homesick, for some reason I was having a much harder time adjusting to being away after my trip home than ever before. I think it was just the timing of everything: my getting a (short) taste of summer before coming back to winter, lot’s of folks that I had been hanging out with leaving right when I got back, knowing that I had spent a lot of money on the trip to Greece so probably shouldn’t travel every weekend here. And to top all of that off, folks are really busy in the office so some of the sessions I am facilitating wind up getting cancelled.

Of course there is plenty of work outside of running the actual sessions as we are constantly refining and updating the material, scheduling the next set of sessions, working on getting a career development framework in place, and adding new optional sessions such as presentation skills to allow folks that have completed the core set of activities to continue learning within the company.

So I was in the office at lunchtime on Monday and joined a group to grab some food. We didn’t know where we were going to go when we left and decided quickly to stay in our building when we got downstairs and felt the cold air coming in the front doors. The menu is fairly limited downstairs as they only have about 10 options, however a few of them change daily and today there was a chicken roll with ham and cheese option that sounded interesting so a couple of us ordered it.

When it arrived, it was a bit different than what I had expected, and really did look like a chicken cordon yellow, i.e. chicken cordon blue with yellow cheese (and I’m not hinting at a good sharp cheddar here) instead of blue cheese. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted just fine, it was just yet another thing that I would never have expected. And as with most things from the downstairs cafeteria, there was way more than one person can eat at a meal.

Given the struggles that we had been having filling the sessions we decided to try something Lourenço suggested and offer some sessions over lunch. This has the advantage that folks can come in an hour early or stay an hour late instead of having to add two hours on one side or the other to attend a full session before or after their client work. It’s been a hit. We have had two such sessions, one with 8 participants and the other with 6 while we have been struggling to get more than 3 to sign up for the morning and evening ones. And since we do a lot of group activities and discussions, the sessions are much richer if we have a larger group, not too large of course as that would make it hard for everyone to participate.

So with things running smoothly, of course something was bound to change. And it did. Due to needs within my company I am going to have to head back to the US 3 weeks earlier than originally planned so I will be leaving here on August 25th instead of September 17th. This definitely puts some extra pressure on me to get things to a state where they can move forward without me here, I have been working towards that from the beginning and have some things in place since I knew I would be leaving eventually, it just means that the last pieces need to come together more quickly than originally planned. And on a personal note it means that I have to make some quick plans to travel the next two weekends to see at least a couple more things here before heading back.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some benefits to going home early as well as I do miss my friends there and I have lots of work to do on my condo. However, the work could easily have waited another few weeks and I have at least been able to talk to most of my friends given the wonders of Skype and Vonage. It is just one of those things that come with long international travel, you miss home while you are away and you miss the place you relocated to as soon as you are home.

OK, enough of the sappy stuff, back to the food theme. One of the things I have sadly been doing in some of my free time is catching episodes of Top Chef whenever I can. In the recent show the contestants had to select countries on which to base their dishes and one of them, well I can’t really say selected as it was sadly the last choice available, wound up with Brazil. Also he sadly went home for his dish as he really didn’t embrace the challenge questioning at one point “does Brazil even have a cuisine?”. And his competitors weren’t much help either as one of them asked “did you get Brazil nuts?”. Basically he cooked some beef and rice, an OK choice but he could have been a bit more creative and open minded.

Well, it’s time for me to go off and enjoy my weekend, and maybe work on my next Greece post.

Tchau,

Wendy

Last week we had two more people return to the US, Apurv and Udit. While Udit slipped away silently Apurv decided to go out in style.

First up was a new twist on the BBQ tradition. We all met at the same location and instead of having our standard skewers of meat we forayed into cooking (and eating) carreteiro. Basically think of it as the Brazilian version of biryani. In addition to the change of our featured food item we also drank a traditional winter drink, quentão, which translates to “big hot” and is essentially a mulled wine where the alcohol that has been cooked off in heating the wine is replaced with cachaça.

Turns out, even though the party was in Apurv’s honor, it was not his last night in town, the next night was. So after a training session that ended at 10, Carlos who was helping me with the session decided to join Apurv and a friend from his hometown that he had met recently, quite a chance meeting given that Apurv grew up in India, for a drink at Z Café. Probably needless to say with it being Apurv’s actual last night, it was more than one drink, especially when he started buying. So sometime around 2 we shut the place down and ambled home for a short rest before another day in the office.

The rest of the week was fairly uneventful so on to the weekend.

Saturday was ugly, rain, rain, and more rain. One of those rains that is just steady all day long and makes you want to crawl under a blanket and stay there. So that is pretty much what I did. I did make it out to get some groceries without melting too much and then it was back to the apartment, some downloaded TV shows, lots of Facebook messages, and not much else.

Thankfully Sunday made up for it. It was around 15 and sunny so my plans to head to the Brique da Redenção to do a little bit of shopping were followed through. I headed out around noon with only a fleece as an outer layer, and even that was too much by the end, and wandered slowly down one side of the market and up the other. I didn’t venture into the antiques area as I was really more interested in the artists works and wound up buying a scarf which was not unique but that I liked and four pairs of earrings that were all interesting and different than I had seen elsewhere. Yes, I will definitely now need to get serious about buying a larger jewelry armoire when I get home as things were already overflowing.

An interesting observation at the market was the number of people campaigning for the upcoming October elections. Shown is only one spot where there were many signs being toted around. There were also plenty of folks handing out pamphlets, I turned down the offer figuring I could neither read it nor vote, and booths set up with more information and folks to talk to. I didn’t get any more pictures than this since I had stupidly left my camera at home and the battery on my iPhone was quite low.

Since it was so nice I decided that after stopping back I decided to head back out and walk to Padre Chagas to check out a park down there and maybe look for the one pair of shoes I wanted to buy before leaving Brazil. Brazil is known for their shoes, and as such they aren’t cheap so one pair was a good goal.

Given the gorgeous weather the park was filled with people from all walks of life. There were kids playing on the playground which included a mini zip line, how cool, we didn’t have anything like that when I was a kid. Everyone just seemed to be having a great time and to be very thankful that for once one of the warm sunny days fell on a weekend. Though I did get a kick out of the boy on the left with his winter cap still firmly planted on his head despite the warmth of the day. That said, there was one guy trying to sun himself wearing only shorts, think styles from the 70s and you will get an idea, stylish or not, it was not quite that warm.

Being Rio Grande du Sol there were also many people just hanging out drinking chimarrão, something else on my shopping list. I have yet try the beverage, though I want to, since my crazy US bred inhibitions against sharing something like that with others, it is drunk through a shared straw, always kick in.
And no sunny day park visit can be complete without the Coke and cotton candy vendors. These I was not tempted by as I am pretty picky about the form in which I eat/drink my sugar. Do notice that the cotton candy vendor appears to be listening to a portable radio, probably a futebol game. I am pretty sure Inter was playing sometime that day, though I don’t know exactly when, since as I was leaving for Padre Chagas, passing the Blue Tree Hotel, their bus was outside and the team members were boarding and signing autographs. And shortly after that the bus, accompanied by a police escort, passed me as I was talking to Sameer and Disha who happened to be returning from the grocery store at that time.

Of course that park itself had some sights to see so all in all it was a nice relaxing bit of time spent soaking in some much needed fresh air.

After the park I was off to find the shoes. It was a successful mission, costly, but successful (it is one of those that if you have to ask how much, …..). The shopping itself was interesting as the store where I got them was a temporary store meaning that they will be open for a couple of months, selling what they can, and then they will shut the doors. The reason being that rent in Padre Chagas is very high, which probably also contribute to the cost of the shoes, which by the way are awesome – I may never be able to walk in them, but as my co-workers noted when I was describing them, “that’s not the point”.

And the whole shoe thing came full circle yesterday when upon returning to my desk there was a Dove chocolate wrapper sitting there that said “Shoe shopping is therapy!” as one of my Facebook posts over the weekend had asked if shopping qualified as group therapy.

Tchau,

Wendy

This was a week of good-byes as both Sarah and Jimmy headed back to the US after being in Brazil for months.

Sarah was the first to leave, on Thursday, so she really needed to make some final purchases of gifts for folks back home. She, and I, had both liked the artwork we had seen at the weekly “Brique da Redenção” or brick market, if you navigate to Expositores, then to Artesanto, and finally to Box 117 you will see Daniel at his exhibit. The past Sunday we had made plans to go, before the mall, and the all day rain more than dampened them as the market was completely shut. Thankfully, we had stopped and talked to the artist on a previous visit and Sarah had his card with his blog, email, and phone. Since his English is quite good she was able to call him and arrange to come to his workshop to make her purchases and asked me if I wanted to go along. I figured why not, as the weather may not cooperate on other weekends as well so I should go when I had the chance.

Thankfully on of the guys from the office here, Rodrigo, offered to give us a ride there. If he hadn’t we probably never would have made it since the directions given by Google Maps weren’t exactly right, and even with the right directions we wound up almost getting lost. Eventually we found his place, on a fairly residential street with a school nearby, his workshop is in the garage which is under the house and is somewhat hidden by the painted gate that greets all of his visitors.

I had hoped to get one of what he called “bikeosauroses” when we saw him at the market, listed as sauros on his blog. As often is the case with artwork, he didn’t have them any more. He said he might be able to make another but is was becoming hard to figure out how to describe the one I had liked the most as we didn’t have the blog in front of us. Instead, I looked around at what he had and wound up with a borborleta (butterfly) that can be hung on the wall of illuminated by attaching to a lamp and a couple of his signature piece, the gecko.

I also was very interested in a fairly large sphere (caotictopus on his blog), as my place in Chicago is in need of some larger and more dimensional artwork. He was kind of surprised that I would want it given that it was a bit heavy and he knew that I had to fly it home with me, and I assured him that I didn’t think it would be an issue. As I hadn’t expected to spend that much money, I didn’t have enough cash with me to purchase all of the items, and I asked him to add a holder for a candle inside the sphere similar to what he had in a companion piece that I was not buying. So we arranged for Rodrigo and I to come back on Friday to pick of the final piece and we did just that. I also needed help getting everything to my apartment that evening, especially since I forgot to take the other pieces home each of the past two days.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful.

I had planned on attending a coding dojo Wednesday evening in the office, but since it was open to non-ThoughtWorkers eight folks who signed up didn’t speak any English, so Greg and I had to take a pass. It wasn’t the worst turn of events as that was Sarah’s last night so a number of folks were going out to Z Café in Padre Chagas for dinner and drinks and we were able to join them.

Friday there was a separate outing for Jimmy’s last night that I didn’t go to as it looked to be more at a bar than a restaurant and I really am just not that into the bar scene anymore. Instead I grabbed dinner with Fernando from the office at Press Café, where I had eaten before so knew that they had a good menu and that I could get a decent glass of wine.

There was one good thing with Jimmy leaving, well for me at least. He had purchased a real coffee pot when he got here and offered it to me, even though he knew I had my little individual metal French Press, since there was no need to take it back to the US. I of course accepted  my inheritance as I was getting a bit tired of having grounds swimming in every cup of coffee I made since the grind here is a bit too fine to work correctly in a French Press.

Even though I had already been chewing on my ground infused coffee, I nearly immediately made a pot and I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t indulged in one.

The rest of the weekend was a bit lonely as I had to get used to not having as many folks around to do things with, but it gave me the time to catch up on my blog (as you may have noticed by the number of times I have posted in the past week) and on some other of those tasks that one just keeps putting off when there are better things to do, and of course they are the kind of tasks that pretty much anything is better than doing.

Tchau,

Wendy

We are almost up to the present, at least as far as Brazil posts go. I figure once I get caught up here I can start to tackle the many adventurous days in Greece.

Going from fall to spring to summer and then to winter in the matter of a month is quite an interesting experience, and one that I would not highly recommend as it is likely, that like me, by the end you will be feeling a bit under the weather (pun absolutely intended). Especially given that this type of transition also involves spending hours on airplanes with their dry, recycled air and changing time zones more than once.

To recap, I left Brazil in fall on June 12th arriving in Chicago the next morning and in spring. A few days later I headed to Greece, still spring though quite a bit warmer as it had gotten to 40 (yes that’s in C) that day. While in Greece, spring turned into summer and that was the season du jour when I arrived back in Chicago on July 1st. Then there was a short jaunt to California, little change in seasons and time but more airplane air. Finally I headed back to Brazil on July 11th leaving summer to wind up in winter the next day.

And what makes things even worse is that the heating and insulation here are just not that good, so even if it is around 10 C outside it can be quite chilly inside, so much in fact that in our office folks have been having to leave their coats on and wear gloves. Now considering that we all work on computers all day long you can only imagine the challenge of working wearing gloves.

I can sort of understand the lack of infrastructure for heat since it is really only cold for a few weeks each year. What makes less sense to me, at least in new buildings being built is the lack of the use of insulation. This is the same thinking that one sees in central and southern California where buildings are built without any insulation since it doesn’t get that cold. Somehow the fact that insulation can keep it cooler in the summer, which here can reach 40 C, is either not realized or just ignored.

On top of this, many of the building don’t have ventilation systems, so to keep the air moving, the windows are left open. Imagine needing to use the restroom when it is less than 10 and there is a breeze coming in from outside.

At least in my apartment I can choose to keep the windows shut, well generally. There was one day that I couldn’t figure out why the bedroom area was just not heating up the way it normally did when I had the heater on full blast in the living area. It wasn’t until I suffered through a chilly night of unrest and awoke to more traffic sounds than usual that I realized that the maid had not only opened the bedroom window when she had cleaned the day before, she left it wide open. It was hard to notice this the night before as both the blinds and the drapes had been drawn tight. Thankfully it wasn’t a rainy night or my room might have gotten wet in addition to cold despite the shutters.

I felt bad, as I didn’t want to get her in trouble, but I had to say something to the folks at the front desk to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I don’t care if she opens it while she is cleaning, but please close it before leaving, especially since some nights I don’t get home from work until around 10:30 at night by which time the temperature has dropped close to the overnight low.

Over the weekend, a few of us went to one of the malls where I thought about buying a few more warm clothing items, or maybe a pair of fingerless gloves. In the end I didn’t buy anything as I really don’t need more warm stuff in general, and clothes here are actually quite expensive.

Work wise, things are going well. I am getting back into the groove of things, running sessions and thinking about the long term plans for training and career development for the office.

I have also started attending Portuguese lessons in the office. We are planning on having someone on site twice a week for an hour each time to get us a bit more of a working knowledge of the language. I wish we would have started this three months ago, but at least now it has become a reality.

Tchau,

Wendy

With the abundance of BBQ in Brazil, which if you have been following my posts you are quite aware of, it should be of no surprise to you that I had yet one more chance to enjoy one of these feasts during the last week before my holiday. This time it was back to the BBQ pits that are adjacent to the futebol fields where TWers often head for pick up games on weekday evenings. And this time there was actually an occasion for holding this event, some folks from one of the clients were visiting from the US.

Since I still have not become brave enough to try my skills, which I know lack severely, at futebol I was destined to hang out in the BBQ pit area during the game. This turned out to be a very good thing, as Luis, who was preparing the BBQ that evening, was more than willing to run it as a BBQ 101 session to teach us gringoes the tricks of the trade.

First there is the fire. And this is not a simple charcoal grill we are igniting, it needs to burn long and steady to cook the meat just right. So, you start with an old wine or similar bottle and wrap it in newspaper which has been tightly rolled the idea being that when this is surrounded by coals and lit you will get a convection current and a very hot flame.

Once the bottle has been prepared it is set inside the BBQ pit and surrounded by charcoal, here again don’t think of the 4th of July and Kingsford briquettes, this is a mix of something like that and what looks like actual pieces of wood that have been treated is some way to burn very hot.

And now you move to the meat, that’s right you get this fire stuff ready and leave it, that is you don’t light it until all of the meat is ready.

The main work with the meat is the skewering which differs for the type of meat. This night we had 4 types, the first thing to hit the skewers was the sausage which is traditionally placed on the double skewer with each link being pierced twice. At some BBQs there are a number of different sausages, some of which have a good kick to them which is surprising given the general lack of spice in the food here, however this night we only had one.

With that simple task behind them, the chefs moved on to the entrecôt which is not traditionally used in a BBQ since it is not always the best cut of beef. This needed to be sliced to get it into a form where it could be placed on the spear. Think of how you slice a tenderloin when you stuff it making a compact thick piece of meat into a larger thinner one.

It was then time to move on to the good stuff, the picanha, of course what makes it so good is, as with many things, the fat content. Note that this cut, as well as the entrocot, are placed on a skewer that looks more like a narrow sword than the skewers used for meat in the US.

Through all of this skewering one must use a note of caution to check the length of the skewer versus the depth of the BBQ pit occasionally, as you want to make sure that the meat will not be up against the wall or hanging out of the front and thus not cook properly.

The final meat for the evening was a slab of ribs, which was a bit of a challenge to skewer given the bones, but worth the effort.

Things are almost ready to cook now, there is just one step left, the salting. This night we used a simple method where dry salt, sort of like rock salt, is sprinkled generously (maybe sprinkled isn’t the right term) over all of the cuts of meat other than the sausages, actually I don’t recall if the ribs were salted, probably since there was no other seasoning or rub present.

The other two options for salting are to add the salt to water and sprinkle the meat with that mixture or to marinate the meat in the salt for hours before skewering. Given that folks had purchased the meat on the way to the BBQ pits, the last method was not an option.

Now for the final two steps, the grilling and of course the eating. And these are in a way combined, as at a BBQ you don’t wait for everything to be done to eat, you just eat things as they are ready. So given that you pretty much start cooking everything at the same time, the first thing off the grill is the cheese and it is wonderful. Often it is a smokey provolone that is enhanced by the smoke of the BBQ and the pieces are melting and dripping as you pop them in your mouth.

There is a bit of liberty taken with the cooking and serving order, in that generally things are placed on the fire in locations or an order which saves the best for last. So knowing this you would think we would all wise up and wait for the end to eat as we know what’s coming. However, by the time all this prep is done it is generally getting late and we are generally hungry so we dive into the first things available with a furry meaning that we are often stuffed before the spoils are ready. Here again we often choose poorly as we still wind up finding some room for these best pieces and thus, as with many buffet type meals, we wind up eating way too much food.

Of course if you ever go to a Brazilian BBQ restaurant keep this in mind as from what I have heard they will do the same thing there to try to keep from having to serve too much of the good stuff.

Tchau,

Wendy

As you may recall, a couple of weeks before I headed back to the US some us had planned a trip to the local wine country which we had to cancel at the last minute due to our one Portuguese speaking friend being unable to go. Since we had already planned on the trip to Rio the next weekend that left us the last weekend before my vacation to try again.

This time we had a few more Brazilians interested, including the wife of the guy from our office who had the party the night before we were supposed to go the first time and offered to organize things for us. She did a great job of finding us not only a driver, but pre-selected three places to visit and a stop for lunch (food included in the price) for only $140 per person. This was actually bargained down from $155 per person since we had seven people going with us.

Given that what she forwarded to us in email was in Portuguese, and the translation engines didn’t help much this time, we weren’t sure if we were joining others or if we would be alone. A couple of thing that made us curious about this was the choice to leave ay 7 am, as we had suggested leaving at 9 and that we had to meet the driver downtown rather than being able to arrange a pick up at our hotel.  The fact that it mentioned the train as an optional extra made us wonder a bit more whether there would be a stop at the train for those interested picking them up again later. Turned out it was just us and no train stop. Perfect.

So we met at 7 am for our departure, well 4 of us were there at 7 with Sarah just making after oversleeping. Jimmy had already texted both Sarah and I saying he had decided not to go. Then we waited, and waited, and waited, and tried to call the other two with no luck. So shortly after 7:30, and some quick price negotiations given the smaller group, we piled into the van and headed out of town. We did a quick stop on the way for some water and snacks and then continued on to our first vineyard.

Along the way I observed a number of instances of fiscalização electrônica which are essentially electronic speed bumps or more specifically a cross between a speed bumb and a red light camera. It is always interesting to me when living in a country other than where I was born to see how various infrastructure things are prioritized. While I can see how this type of system is quite useful in a location where traffic laws are generally treated as suggestions, it seems to me as if other things such as modern insulation and heating, for example, would be of a higher priority. I am not saying that concentrating on this is right or wrong, as I don’t have the background with which to make that type of a determination, I am just noting that these types of things often get me thinking about the different ways that societies move forward.

For part of the morning, as we neared our destination, we were enveloped in a thick fog, making me very glad that I was not driving. Since we were in a hilly area, we would pop in and out of the fog backs depending on our elevation. To give you an idea of the lack of visibility I have included this photo from just after we arrived at our first stop. If I recall correctly, there where times during the drive that you couldn’t even see this far.

Salton, established in 1910, was our first stop. Who would have known that Brazil has been making wines for 100 years. We had a wonderful tour where we learned the history of Salton as well as learned (or re-learned in my case how wine is made). Our guide kept apologizing for his English, which was actually quite good, and he was very knowledgeable. He answered many of our questions that were over and above his normal tour speech, including letting us know that Salton normally does not export their wines, and are instead working in increasing the knowledge of Brazilians about wine. It did sound like they export on a case by case basis, but I doubt I will find anything in the US anytime soon, which is actually quite sad since as you will see from my tasting notes later, they actually had some good products. The fact that they have been around for 100 years means that they will be celebrating later this year, and that might make another trip to the region worth the effort.

The tour began with a look at some wine related artwork that was incorporated throughout the property. Not only was it quite pleasing to look at, it turns out that the figures depicted are actually of workers in the winery. Our guide was not yet in any of the works as he had only been working there a short time having come from the winery where we were heading to next.

We then saw the large production, fermentation, and bottling areas before proceeding to the climate controlled barrel room where the reds where aging nicely. The area in front of the storage room is available for private functions, too bad it’s too long of a drive for one of our monthly meetings as it would be a much better locale than the smokey bar we were at for our last meeting.

Proceeding into the awards room, we saw that it was filled with certificates from all over the world, including this one from France, so I guess they must be doing something right!

Our final stop before heading out onto the wonderfully manicured grounds was the original fermentation room with very large barrels made of a wood that was not good for the wine and thus had to be coated to prevent contamination. A far cry from the concerns of today of the percentage of French versus American oak.

The grounds were amazing. Not only were there the terraced fields one would expect, there was also a sundial on the façade of the building crowned with a statue of Dionysus, the god of wine, as well as fountains an manicured lawns.

It was then off to the tasting room where we all decided to upgrade and pay the extra to taste the premium wines, generally I feel it is worth doing this but I can rightfully be called a wine snob so for some it may not be worth the price. In this case, we were able to get one of the fees back when after tasting Sarah and I combined our purchases to get to the total amount that was required for the rebate.

What we tasted was surprisingly good, since while Argentina and Chile are known for their wines, Brazil is still an up and comer in this industry. There were a few that we didn’t like, but you find that everywhere. I was very impressed with their top end sparkling wine Èvidence and actually bought a bottle to bring back to the US to share hopefully during a trip to Ravinia. I also bought a Licorso Intenso which was a very unique dessert wine and a Virtude Chardonnay which we weren’t actually able to taste due to limited stock but promises to be good based on our sampling of their mid-range Chardonnay. Sadly since I am writing this after having been home and now being back in Brazil I don’t have my tasting notes with me so I can’t really share any more information.

Given the length of the first tour, it was now time for lunch, so we hopped back into our van and drove through some spectacular vineyard areas across some rather narrow and bumpy roads. We were unfortunately driving too fast to get any good snaps of the vineyards or the local life we observed along the way.

Lunch itself was served in a buffet at the table style with many options, and they were very accommodating for Sarah’s restricted diet making a special plate of pasta for her, she was also able to eat some of the items already included. One of my favorite dishes was the tortellini soup, probably because the broth was warm and a bit salty and I had been feeling a cold coming on (the old chicken soup remedy).

The next winery, Casa Valduga was right next door to the restaurant. The deal there was not quite as good as we had to pay for the tour and the tasting, we got a nice glass to use which we got to keep, but were a bit disappointed as we had been led to believe that our tour from Porto Alegre included the base tours. We also had an issue with our stupid US credit cards not having the chips in them, so we had to pay cash for the tour, later when I bought a bottle of wine mine worked so they must have had different machines.

The tour was good from an information level, though this time it was in Portuguese with a short translation for Sarah and myself. At Salton we had a private tour and here we were part of a large group so we had to go with the flow. Just as at Salton, they started with an overview movie, the difference being that with the private tour they were able to show an English version and here Sarah and I pretty much had to guess what they were saying based on the images. After the introduction they did show us a good portion of their “guarded” sparkling cellars and explained the riddling technique which was invented by Veuve Cliquot.

As it had turned into quite a nice day, when we stepped outside onto a terrace to view the vineyards we had spectacular views while being kissed with sunshine.

Despite our guide giving us tastes of many wines that we did not taste as part of the tour, I only bought one bottle as the prices did not seem to give me what I felt was a good value. That said, it might be a nice place to return to in the future as they have a hotel on site and offer wine tasting classes to their guests, I am not sure if they have an English option, but it might be worth investigating.

As it was now getting late in the day, our last stop, Dom Cândido, did not include a tour, which was OK as in one day there is only so much you can glean from multiple cellars. Instead we were able to taste their offerings for free and buy if we wished. Generally I feel obligated to buy at least one bottle wherever I taste, and here it was hard as the stuff just was not that good. The first thing we tasted was a Muscatel which was OK but I have had much better so I finally settled on a bottle of Gamay since you don’t find that everywhere and sometimes a chilled red is nice.

Now, quite tired we piled back into our van and headed to Porto Alegre. It was an OK trip, taking longer that we would have liked of course, and our driver didn’t seem to know how to leave the heat on so we were quite cold at times, but we made it. And at the very end our driver came through for us by offering Sarah and I a ride back to Bela Vista in the van that was much less costly than grabbing a cab.

Tchau,

Wendy

I returned to Brazil on Monday after a wonderful vacation in Greece and a short but sweet trip to visit my brother and sister-in-law and their 3 little girls.

Now that I am back I will once again be publishing regularly, there will be something every Wednesday, and for quite some time a lot of things in between there as I catch up on the last few days in Brazil before my holiday and share many wonderful stories of Greece. So you will likely want to check in regularly or maybe consider finally subscribing so that you get an email whenever I post something (it is simple to do, just enter your email address in the box at the top left of my page and click the “Sign Me Up” button).

To get things started let me share some thoughts on being back here after a month away.

I must admit, while I was in the US, in the middle of what seems to be shaking out as a gorgeous summer, I was not completely thrilled with getting on a plane and heading to winter again. It had been very nice to see my friends and family and to get some work done in my condo. Plus there were some things that just didn’t happen, for instance despite trying hard I was unable to get out sailing (hopefully when I return in September there will be one or two nice days and I can tick that off of the list then).

In addition, I was getting very tired or packing and unpacking, and packing and unpacking, and packing…. not to mention spending time on airplanes. So sadly before I left home one of the highlights in my mind was that I would at least be in the same place for a couple of months. And because of some of the loneliness episodes that I had the last time I was here, despite having a great time in many many ways, I packed a few more things to lug along to keep me busy.

Thankfully, in the first two days back I am finding out why I really do like being here despite the things that I have given up to do so. When I walked into the office there were greetings and smiles galore and as I started to talk to folks they want to find out all about Greece and seem genuinely glad that I am back.

And then there is also the work, preparing and running training sessions is a great opportunity for me. Not only do I enjoy doing it, it also allows me to work on some skills that will help me do my normal assignments, writing code for our customers, that much better.

That’s about it for now, as I don’t have any photos from the past two days. Don’t worry though, there will be many in the next few weeks as I share my many tales of Greece and continue to explore Porto Alegre and other locations of Brazil.

Tchau,

Wendy

I left Brazil a few days back for a brief stay in the US and am now off to Greece tonight for a vacation.

I was hoping to get the stories of our wine tasting trip and the lesson in how to BBQ out before leaving and that just didn’t happen. Don’t fret, the material will still be there for the writing when I return on July 1st. Until then, the page has been left intentionally blank.

Tchau,

Wendy

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