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Now that I have been home for a while after my time in Brazil I wanted to share various images that just didn’t fit in some of my other posts and re-share a few of my favorites.  Enjoy!

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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.

Tchau,

Wendy

My first full day in Greece got off to a relaxing start as I slept in long enough to almost miss breakfast at the hotel. Then it was time for the real adventure to begin.

Step one was to move to another hotel where I would meet up with Steph and the rest of the tour group. It was a short walk between the two places so there was no need to grab a cab as I still had only one suitcase to lug around. After arriving and leaving my bags with the concierge as our rooms were not yet ready, I felt the need for a bit more caffeine so I set off in search of a cold beverage, it was already warming up quite nicely so more coffee was not really an option. Mission accomplished I returned to the Hotel Herodion and waited in the lobby for the rest of the group to arrive.

Steph and I were the last ones to have our room ready, which for me wasn’t horrid as I didn’t need to do any freshening up and after taking my bag up hung out in the atrium of the hotel. I must say that while both hotels were nice I would definitely recommend the Herodion, especially if you can get a similar rate. I was able to do that for my last night in Greece and not for the first which is why I stayed at the Airotel Parthenon the first night. While both were clean and comfortable, the feeling at the Herodion was that of a much posher hotel and they had the added advantage of having jacuzzis on the sun deck.

A number of folks from the group decided that they were going to seek out a spot for lunch and then decide what to do, Steph and I were more interested in beginning our explorations, so in the hottest part of day we started our trek to The Acropolis. It was pretty much right around the corner from our hotel so within minutes we were transported into the past. While there are many acropoleis in Greece, the one in Athens is the most famous and is thereby referred to as The Acropolis. Sitting 150 m above the shore of Athens at least portions of its 3 hectare plateau and the buildings that sit on it provide stunning views for spectators in the surrounding area.

As we approached we were first greeted by the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which is a theatre that is still in use today especially during the Athens Festival which I remembered reading about and noting that we should look into the possibility of attending something in one of the ancient venues given that we were in town during the festival. So both Steph and I made that note again and planned on researching our options when we returned to the hotel. Had the box office not have been closed, due to it being that hot midday time, we would have done so right then.

Before reaching the top of the plateau we spent some time wandering around the embankment heading towards the Theatre of Dionysys, seems like a theme is developing here. While this theatre, one of the first ones built in the world, was likely quite impressive at the time, it has not, at least not yet, been restored to show off it’s previous grandeur.

And maybe that is OK. I actually have mixed feelings about seeing things in various states. While it is quite impressive to see things as there were back in the day, if too much new material has been added during the reconstruction what are we really seeing? Many of the reconstructions we saw throughout the trip made it obvious what was old and what was new and that is probably the best approach, along with showing photos of how things looked when they were first discovered and throughout the restoration process.

Thankfully we are learning more about how to do this and thus will hopefully avoid actually damaging what is left through efforts to preserve and reconstruct as is what happened with some of the original efforts for the Parthenon. In that case, generic metal supports were used and sadly began to rust causing further damage. They are now being replaced by titanium rods which are being positioned in such a way that things can be moved around in case new knowledge comes to light about how things used to look.

After that detour, we finally arrived at the Propylaea, the gateway that serves as the official entrance to The Acropolis, and did so as well in ancient times. As this was the first entrance we would navigate, it was quite impressive, as would any more be during the next couple of weeks. The fact that it was a very clear day with a gorgeous blue sky just added to the feeling of awe. After snapping photos from many angles we passed through the gate and were greeted by the Parthenon.

While only a portion of the exterior columns survive and even less of the frieze and pediments it is not hard to imagine the grandeur that this temple once inspired. Also gone of course is the statue of Athena, the Greek goddess of war (among other things) to whom the temple was dedicated. While there are debates over certain elements of its construction, I tend to believe that the curvature used during the construction was done on purpose thus giving the appearance of straight lines. Also, while many people believe that much of this type of construction was possible in such remote locations (here remote due to the steep approach) due to the use of slave labor, I have heard that that was not the case for everything. Specifically, since this was a temple, it was thus built on sacred ground, and in general slaves were not allowed on sacred ground, thus could not have been involved in all facets of the construction. That is not to say that they did not play a role, just that other labor was used as well.

Directly opposite the Parthenon one finds the Erectheum. The Old Temple of Athena which was actually destroyed in 480 BC, it has yet to be determined whether it was partially restored after this, actually sits between them but since the only remains are scattered on the ground it often goes unnoticed. The Erechtheum is most famously known for the “Porch of the Caryatids” or maidens that are the graceful and feminine supporting columns that have each proven to be unique. The temple was dedicated to Athena and Poseidon, the famous trident carrying Greek god of the sea.

Here again we can note another ancient engineering marvel as the temple was built on a hill and thus the NW corner is 9 m lower than the SE corner.

Of course no excursion to an elevated location would be complete without a few images from the top looking down at the surrounding area. Here we have one that looks back at the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Pananthinaiko Stadium that I had visited briefly the day before and will have more tales about later. We also have a shot where we see the city glimmering in the sunlight, this is due to the high concentration of solar panels. I had not thought of it before seeing the glimmers but it makes so much sense in a Mediterranean location such as Athens to actually rely on solar energy.

Turning back to ancient times we get a sense of the intricacies and the massive amounts of stone that were used in building everything when we look closely at some of the toppled remnants. Specifically notice how uniform the spacing of the groves in the columns appears. We will see more of this in the coming days and I will probably bore you with my constant amazement at how this was achieved without all of the electronic aides that we have at our fingertips today.

Also, here is a close up view of the curvature of the columns that I mentioned earlier. While these particular columns are not part of the Parthenon, they clearly show that optical illusions were are work, whether or not by design.

Leaving the Acropolis area we started wandering towards some other buildings and wound up in the Ancient Agora. Note that none of the core areas of ancient buildings are very far from each other, so we didn’t have to wander far. To start to give you a sense of distances, here is a map of the agora area.

Along the way we passed another a look out location the steps up to which were a bit tricky to navigate given that we were not wearing athletic shoes since it was so warm. While these steps are quite worn, many of the others we had already trod were quite smooth making us glad that as hot as we were, given our choice of the time of our adventure, we were awfully glad that it wasn’t raining as in that case things would have been quite treacherous.

Agoras were the market and gathering places of the ancient societies.

Seemingly out of place as we neared the agora, was the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles. While by most standards it is quite old having been built in the 11th century, the fact that it is 1200 -1500 years or so younger than the other things in the area makes it stand out. Though it is definitely not so modern that it is an eyesore and it is quite impressive in its own right.

The Stoa of Attolas was built between 159 and 138 BC by King Attolos II of Pergamon. It used a popular combination of Doric exterior columns with Ionic ones on the interior and is quite striking as the sun casts shadows of the columns across the polished floor. It also provided a nice respite from the sun.

From a distance it actually appears more modern than the church due to the reconstruction that has been done, there aren’t many actual ancient buildings that still have complete roofs. And if you look back at the pictures of the light angles above you also realize that you are looking at a building that has undergone major renovations. Maybe the water fountain and the restrooms inside were also tell tale signs of this fact.

I guess in the end it makes me realize that a mix of the fully renovated with the renovated to still appear old is good, though I think I prefer the latter to be the better part of the mix. While it was nice to get out of the sun and actually enter one of the buildings. And it was nice to see the statues that were inside, yet still actually be outside as this wasn’t a climate controlled, glass door sort of environment.

That said, I think the way things have been recreated in the New Acropolis Museum which I will also talk about in a later post is the better way, leaving the actual structures with a much older feel and enclosing the recreation and the precious artifacts in a controlled environment.

While there were only a few standing structures to visit, there were many other remains of what used to be a center of activity. Some of them had toppled to the ground and others were cut off with only a small portion of what used to be remaining. And of course there were many random looking pieces of stone which make you realize how amazing it is that the archeologists are able to sift through what they find and come up with what seems to be a realistic view of the ancient buildings and the lives of their inhabitants.

There were also outlines of many ancient buildings, similar to what Steph and I had seen when we visited Vaison la Romaine, France two years ago. While I am sure outlines like this are very helpful to those doing the reconstrutions, they also definitely give a new meaning to the concept of a rock garden.

Our last stop was the Temple of Hephaistos, the patron god of metal working, begun in 449 BC and completed between 421 & 415 BC. As with many of the ancient temples, it became a Christian church later in its life and now has the status of an ancient monument. What is probably most amazing for this temple is that amount of it that is still standing, possibly because it served as a museum until 1934. While the interior and the frieze have been gutted, the entire perimeter appears to be in place giving the visitor a somewhat unique experience. Of course, in order to keep things preserved, one can not actually enter.

Here again we were witness to the amazing tricks of the sun and we get a glimpse of how the columns were actually often constructed in sections. Though I must admit I did not notice that at the time and discovered it later in the trip so I will share more about it when we get to that post.

From this photo taken across from the temple you can see that we really had not covered that much distance between the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora.

As we left the Ancient Agora area to head back towards our hotel we found ourselves in the Plaka and the shopping commenced.

My first purchase was a much needed pair of sandals as what I was wearing was killing my feet. I had stupidly been thinking of the cruise part of the trip when I left my Birkenstocks in Brazil so I didn’t have a comfortable pair of open walking shoes. I would up buying a very cute pair of gladiator sandals which I made extensive use of during the trip. It took a bit of time to break them in, so I went through a few bandaids, the next purchase, along the way.

As we wandered the streets picking our way towards our hotel we looked at a number of evil eyes and I bought a simple glass one that will look stunning when work on a piece of ribbon with either a black or white top.

After resting a bit before the group social that evening we explored our concert options and were very happy to find out that there was something that seemed interesting on one of the 25th, one of nights we would be back in Athens. While it was someone we had never heard of, a quick tour of the internet gave us the impression that we would could do worse than seeing Demis Roussos in concert, so we planned to head to the box office after the social.

The social was low key and a great way to start to meet some new folks and relax after a day in the hot sun. Ihla, the owner/operator of Drifter Sister the group we were traveling with organized a round of drinks and some light appetizers from the hotel bar allowing us to just sit around and get to know one another. Some folks had already met, either on previous tours or at the pre-tour gathering or on the flight over, but since I was from Chicago, had been in Brazil, and arranged for my own flights I really only knew Steph at this point. Of course that would change soon and was one of the reasons that the trip was so memorable.

After the social, before heading for an actual dinner, Steph and I set out to get our tickets and it was a good thing that we went then as the box office was just about to close. Sadly the event we could both attend was sold out. Since I was staying an extra night I was able to get a general admission ticket to a symphony performance on my last night in Athens. I could have gotten an assigned seat but figured that if I got general admission I could find others to join me and would not end up sitting alone.

Mission half accomplished we set out for dinner and stopped at pretty much the first place we came to on a promenade near the hotel, the fact that it had very comfortable looking chairs (wicker with thick cushions) also helped. Though when we first sat down all of the comfy spots were taken and we sat on some more standard metal bar fare.

Thankfully before our food came, an appetizer and a small pizza that we shared one of the other tables opened up. It’s not that we were uncomfortable, more that where we were sitting the table was really only big enough for drinks. And yes, we had those too. We both ordered glasses of red wine and because we were on vacation and starting to simply relax we each wound up ordering two more before the night was through (and would be back another time because it was one of the best glasses of wine we found), both tasty and a generous pour.

It turns out that two of the folks from the Tuscany trip Steph had taken with Ihla the year before (yes that’s how I wound up here), Judi & Johnna, were eating at the restaurant next door. If you think indoors this isn’t that interesting, but we were outside, so we were really almost sitting next to each other and didn’t realize until they got up to leave.

We couldn’t convince them to join us in our last glasses of wine, so they headed off and soon after we followed knowing that we had another full day ahead.

Yassas,

Wendy

As those of you who have been following my Brazil posts know, I had only a couple of days between returning to Chicago and heading to Greece. Thankfully from a health perspective I got the upgrade on the flight back to Chicago and actually got a good night’s sleep and since Greece was a pleasure trip I had “bought” a business class ticket with miles.

From a stress perspective things were different. And the unpacking and repacking part was the least of it. Given that Brazilian passport stamps take two spaces and that I took that extra trip to Buenos Aires, I had zero, well actually negative, space in my passport for new stamps. So I was worried that they wouldn’t let me on the plane. Somehow, luck was with me and I happened to call the passport agency just as someone cancelled an appointment and get a slot to get new pages added just before I left.

The stress didn’t end there though, as no one could guarantee that the pages could be added, all I could do was show up for the appointment and hope for the best. So I arrived early, and actually had to leave and come back since I was too early, got in line and got to the first window just before my appointment time. Even then I couldn’t get an answer, only a number to wait in another area to talk to an agent. Finally more than an hour later, might have been closer to 2 hours, I was called to the window and the first reaction was that “it’s not going to happen”. Somehow I remained calm and re-emphasized that my flight was that night, at that point the agent, Brian, looked at my itinerary and became my new best friend as he said he would push it through for me. Then, on further inspection he advised that I actually get a new passport as mine was expiring within the year and so beat up that it might not support new pages. Since he guaranteed that he could push that through too I ran, literally ran, off to get some new photos. Upon returning I was able to go right back to Brian without waiting in another line and start the actual process, from which there was no turning back since one of the first steps is for the agent to punch a hole through it’s photo page. I did thank Brian many times and noted that it must have been fate that I got him as my agent as I have a brother with that name.

Another hour or so later, I had the new document in hand and was headed home to hang for only a short time before heading to the airport. Finally I could relax. And relax I did, first in the Red Carpet Club where I enjoyed a nice glass of wine that I “bought” with the coupons they gave me when I entered and then on the plane in business class (yes, there are perks to traveling all the time for work). Sad, but true, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed by Lufthansa’s business class after having been in one of the upgraded United business cabins a few days earlier. Not only did we have recliners. which I expected, instead of the new flat beds, they were the most uncomfortable recliners I have ever experienced, and I fly a lot and even had been in Lufthansa business class before and didn’t remember such wacky seats. The controls were utterly confusing and when I did move the seat into it’s nearly flat position to sleep it had the effect of being at just the right angle to make me keep sliding down towards the footrest. Yes, I know, most people fly coach for trips like this so have no sympathy, and I am not looking for any. If, however, someday you do get the chance to fly business, I recommend against taking Lufthansa unless they upgrade their cabins.

In the early afternoon we landed in Munich, what a gorgeous airport, not that I really get into those kind of things, but this couple that I had met in the Red Carpet Club where were also on their way to Greece had mentioned this, and they were right. A huge difference from Frankfort which is where I have changed many times before.

There was the standard trek to and through customs, though this time it did feel weird showing them a virgin passport. And it made me reflect on how I was wearing the exact outfit that I was in for the picture since as you know from above, the passport was hot off of the press.

After a quick stop in the club I headed to the gate to board for Athens, and here again I was not impressed with Lufthansa. All of the signs indicated that boarding was imminent yet there was no indication that it was close once you got to the gate. And there was only a figurative attempt to board in any kind of order. Thinking back, it was similar in Chicago, there were supposedly lines for the various cabins which all blended together. In addition there was some pre-boarding, which is find, it just wasn’t clear to those of us waiting when things would actually start moving.

Finally I was in Athens and waiting for my bag, which did arrive, so I did not have a repeat of my trials of my arrival in Brazil. As I was waiting I noticed a sign for Mythos beer and figured that I would have to try that at some point just because of the name, even though I am not a big beer drinker.

Luggage in hand, it was off to my hotel. Sadly, in a way, I didn’t have to go through customs again since I was flying within the E.U. so I don’t have a stamp that proves I was in Greece. I guess I will have to rely on my pictures. Because I was part of a tour, even though I arrived a day early, I had a driver waiting for me. I tell you, that is such a nice thing after hours on a plane and especially in a place where the languages spoken are not the ones you know. It turns out my driver spoke excellent English, but I’ll save the rest of that story for a future post.

Since I wanted to stay up for a few hours and was not yet hungry I began wandering around the area near my hotel. While I had done some research about the islands we were going to visit I had not had much time to look into things in Athens so I didn’t have any real plans for what to try to see, and as Steph was getting there the next day wanted to save most sightseeing for with her.

So I set out and discovered that Hadrian’s Arch was steps away from my hotel, the Airhotel Parthenon, which was not only in a great location, it was clean and comfortable and the service was excellent. I had actually seen the arch on the way in to town so I knew it was close and it was a good welcome to Greece, and later a good parting shot to my quick trot around a part of central Athens. Of course it also felt good just to be walking after spending the better part of a day in transit.

I continued wandering to see if I could get any good shots of the Temple of Olympian Zeus without getting inside the gated area as by this time everything was closing or closed for the night. I succeeded.

Despite the fact that you can probably already appreciate the grandeur of this structure from these far away photos, I’ll let the cat out of the bag a bit and tell you that the ones you will see in an upcoming post should do a much better job of evoking a sense of how magnificent this building was, and for that matter, still is.

On the way in my driver had noted the Olympic stadium from the 1896 revival of the games and I didn’t think it was too far away so I figured I would try to find it. Of course the streets aren’t exactly in a grid, seems to be a theme of places that I visit, and I headed off in the wrong direction. Along the way I was met by a Roman bath that was visible from a small bridge which was built into the sidewalk.

Since I was actually headed towards Parliament instead of the stadium I actually saw my first view of some of the protests that have been all over the news. It really wasn’t a big deal as they were efforts in place for crowd control and since I had no reason to explore things further in thatdirection I simply turned around and ducked into the park that I had been walking past. It turns out, I had stumbled on the National Garden of Athens, a very unexpected find in the middle of a hot and dusty city. Not that I minded the heat, I actually relished it after having come from late fall in Brazil a few days earlier. Athens was actually experiencing hotter than normal weather and I heard that it had gotten close to 40 that day.

Upon exiting the garden, I finally got myself headed in the right direction and found the Panathenaic Stadium. Again, it was too late to go inside, yet standing there under the Olympic flags, which refused to fill given the stillness of the air that night, was quite an amazing feeling. It was actually a challenge of almost Olympic proportions to get to the stadium, as the road I needed to cross had quite heavy traffic and the lights didn’t change to allow pedestrians to cross very often, and when they did the didn’t stay that way for long.

By now, as you can probably tell, it was starting to get dark. This was also a welcome change as it was probably around 9 PM and back in Porto Alegre darkness sets in between 5 and 6 this time of the year. I still was not very hungry but figured it was wise to eat something to try to adjust my clock so I headed back towards the hotel.

Along the way finally got my first glimpse of the Acropolis, not that I had been actively looking for it, for whatever reason, but it was nice to get that first glipse on the first day in town. It’s a bit hard to see, but if you duck your head under the streetlight and twist slightly to the left, it’s there.

Finally dinner was inevitable, though hunger still eluded me, and I opted for a location just around the corner from my hotel. Since it was a fantastic night, I selected a table near the pedestrian plaza and perused the menu. I decided to actually order something solid, the gyros, and of course some wine. Both were good and I must have been hungrier than I thought as I didn’t leave too much of the gyros on the plate when all was said and done.

All in all it was a good first few hours in Greece and time to get some sleep to prepare for the rest of my adventures.

Yassas,

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

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

As I mentioned in my teaser post, Rio (pronounced He – Oh here, as the “r” is spoken so far back in the throat that it pretty much sounds like an “h” – somehow I missed this one in my post a few weeks back were I talked about language) was fantastic. We left work a bit early on Friday to catch early evening flights, mine was at 6:02 arriving in Rio  at 8:04. After claiming our luggage we grabbed a cab to our hotels and freshened up a bit before meeting up with others for dinner. Sarah and I were staying at the same place, the Copacabana Rio Hotel, which was pretty decent in my mind and nicely located at the end of Copacabana near Ipanema.

While freshening up, Sarah and I both independently grabbed the mini-bottle of sparkling from our mini-bars for a pre-dinner drink. It was awful (and came complete with a straw), neither of us was able to finish ours. Soon enough we hooked up with folks on other flights and arranged to meet in front of the Marriott across from Copacabana. Immediately it was obvious that we had changed climates, as it was around 10 PM and still 23 C outside, nice.

After getting the whole group in one place, we headed off trying to find Fagulha Pizza Bar and Grill. We wandered in a circle for a bit and eventually found our goal, and it was well worth it. Brazil seems to have a passion for buffets and variations on buffets. Anyone who has eaten at a Brazilian restaurant where waiters bring huge skewers of meat to you table should be able to picture this quite well. This night we found a new variation on this, a pizza buffet. Not the kind where pizzas stand for hours under warming lights waiting for the right consumer. Here, the pizza was fresh and brought to the tables just like the meat on the skewers. I think this is a concept that could catch on in the US. In addition to the pizza buffet they also had the standard walk up and fill you plate option which a couple of folks opted for. Being a pizza place they had a decent wine list, including a Malbec in the half bottle size and I was able to get the taste of the awful sparkling out of my mouth.

Before moving to our next destination had dessert, usually this is nothing special to think of, here again we ventured into something very Brazilian, dessert pizza. Basically take a thin pizza crust (think southern Italy and southern France thin) and add chocolate possible with some fruit as well, or frosting, or bananas coated in brown sugar or something similar and voila, you have dessert pizza. I think this is also something that could catch on in the US.

At this point the night was young, at least by Rio’s standards, as it was only a few minutes past midnight. So we grabbed a couple of cabs and headed to the Lapa neighborhood to one of the most famous night clubs in Rio, Scenarium, some people say that it has become so popular that it is not the best place to go any more, I must say that didn’t bother me, it was quite fun and we didn’t leave until a bit after 3, which is not normally my style, so score one for Scenarium.

After taking advantage of the included breakfast buffet, as late as possible given the time we ended the night before, Sarah and I headed out towards Ipanema beach figuring we would meet up with the others later. After walking a while in the gorgeous sunshine we actually ran into Jimmy. And he had already been in touch with Udit, so we headed towards the water to wait for Udit and just chill a bit. I hadn’t planned on swimming on this outing so had to accept just wading in a bit getting my feet wet, the water was quite nice.

As we were hanging out there, quite a commotion arose and we realized that there were some folks swimming who needed help and they were getting it. Quite quickly a number of members of the life saving team were paddling furiously towards those in need of help. It was hard to keep track of things as they developed so we had to patch pieces of the story together.

First one woman was brought to shore who looked quite tired and was immediately helped by what I assume were her friends.

A bit after that, someone was waving a red flag a bit off shore, and shortly thereafter we found out the reason. It was a member of the life saving team flagging in a rescue helicopter from which another team member jumped and then to which he escorted the man in trouble to be taken to the beach in the rescue basket (note in the photos below it is one of the rescuers alone in the basket, not the man who was in trouble). It as pretty amazing how close to people on the beach the helicopter was able to maneuver during the operation.

During the rescue, a boat came in a dropped a net, at first I thought it was a fishing boat, Udit suggested that it was a net to make sure folks didn’t get pushed further from shore, in the end I think he figured it out. Apparently, there can be up to 200 of these rescues on a busy weekend, so I guess they are well trained.

After a lot of debating, well more like indecision, the four of us (Jimmy, Sarah, Udit, and myself) decided to head to Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar) and take the cable car for what promised to be some fantastic view of the area.

There are actually two cable cars, one to a mid-point landing where one can relax, shop, eat, etc. and even embark on a helicopter ride. While waiting to buy tickets and again on the ride to the plateau we heard from some other members of our group and decided to wait for them at this mid-point and proceed to the top together.

In addition to folks getting some food and water, Sarah and I each bought a pair of Havaianas, or Brazilian flip flops which seem to be for sale just about everywhere in Rio.

The views from the mid-point gave us a feel for just how big Rio is and how it is nestled among many hills with so many bays that it is no wonder it is famous for its beaches.

As with any coastal city, it has its share of harbors full of boats and what seemed to be a fairly activesailboat racing community as there was quite a large flotilla visible for most of the day which had all the indications of being boats on a race course. Of course this also served as a reminder that I will be missing the entire racing season this year, well, I might be able to pick up a race or two on my break in June/July.

The second is much higher and affords even better views. From the top you could get a view of both Copacabana (near beach) an Ipanema (in the distance). While I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact location of our hotel in the photo, suffice it to say we were 2 blocks from the Copacabana beach and about 10 blocks from the Ipanema beach, so essentially close to the end of the point that you see, a bit more towards the Copacabana side.

In addition to a more complete view of the entire area, there was a trail that ran down and around in a wooded area that afforded a bit of a break from the sun.

On the way back down, a few folks stopped for the helicopter ride which I passed on in order to save at least a little money towards Greece. We were also considering hang gliding the next day, so I was keeping my options open for that instead.

After a short rest in the hotel we met up for some drinks and snacks before checking out a concert we had seen them setting up for on the Copacabana beach. It wasn’t quite the size of the Rolling Stones appearance but it was quite popular with a reasonably sized spill over crowd in the street. It turns out that we had stumbled on a Concerto Especial – Praia de Copacabana by Orquestra Simphònica Brasileira. After much searching online upon returning to Porto Alegre, I was able to find the program to share with you.  There were printed versions floating around that evening, however we were unable to obtain any and that made the search that much more difficult.

29 de maio, sábado, 20h
Praia de Copacabana
PREFEITURA DO RIO E O GLOBO APRESENTAM: AQUARIUS – ‘A MÚSICA DOS GRANDES MESTRES’
Celebrando os 70 anos da Orquestra Sinfônica Brasileira
ROBERTO MINCZUK, regência
GABRIELA PACE, soprano
EDINÉA DE OLIVEIRA, mezzo-soprano
ATALLA AYAN, tenor
SÁVIO SPERANDIO, baixo
Shostakovich Abertura Festiva
Haendel Aleluia (Messias)
Vivaldi Quatro Estações – Primavera – 1º movimento
Bach Aria (da Suíte Orquestral nº 3)
Jesus, Alegria dos Homens
Mozart Sinfonia nº 40 – 1º movimento
La ci darem la mano (de Don Giovanni)
Lacrimosa (Réquiem)
Berlioz Sinfonia Fantástica – O Baile – 2º movimento
Verdi La Donna è Mobile (de Rigoleto)
Bizet Abertura de Carmen
Puccini O Mio Babbino Caro
Wagner Cavalgada das Valquírias
C. Gomes Protofonia (de O Guarani)
Tchaikovsky Pas de deux (de O Quebra Nozes)
Villa-Lobos Melodia Sentimental
Trenzinho do Caipira
Stravinsky O Pássaro de Fogo – Final
Beethoven Sinfonia nº 9 – Ode à Alegria – Movimento Final

As the finale started, we decided to head out to find a place to eat given that it might be hard to keep track of each other as the crowd dispersed and nearby restaurants would likely get overwhelmed very soon. After walking a few blocks to again do our own version of crowd control we stumbled upon a Mediterranean restaurant which was a good find as the food was good and this is a good option when you have a vegetarian and a vegan with you.

After the late night the night before, Sarah and I headed back to our hotel leaving the guys to head out for some night life. Before parting though we made a plan for the next day, meet at Ipanema in the morning, starting at the separation between Copacabana and Ipanema, walk along the beach looking for the fist place renting chairs, grab some and text the others to let them know you are there.

It worked like a charm, Sarah and I arrived first after a short detour through the Hippie market (for Portuguese speakers) where I bought a beach bag to replace the hotel plastic laundry bag I had stuffed my beach stuff in. Upon arriving at the beach, a bit away from the junction we headed back towards Copacabana, we noticed things were getting more crowded the closer we got so we stopped a bit early and rented some chairs. Thankfully we also noticed that the chair vendors had numbers on their booths so it was quite easy to direct the rest of the folks to our location.

As the day progressed everyone eventually showed up and we took turns swimming and taking breaks to find food.

We spent a lot of time on the beach that day, so much in fact that we had to ponder the question of where to find a public bathroom more than once. It is truly bizarre, miles and miles of beach and not a restroom or port-a-potty in site. It turns out that there are facilities at each life guard station where one can pay R$1, a price worth paying. However, even this seems inadequate as each station only had one stall, so there was a bit of a line, and we were there during off-season.

Other than for the aforementioned bathroom, once you are on the beach there is really no reason to go anywhere, other than maybe for a swim. Vendors walk passed regularly selling anything from sunblock to various food items and beverages. And if you don’t like what they have you can venture up to the carts right next to the street to find a few more options.

My favorite was the toasted cheese, no this was not a grilled cheese sandwich, it was a piece of white cheese sprinkled with oregano that the vendor had on a stick and toasted on a little grill that he propped in the sand while we worked. We also walked to the stands for some caipirinhas, a local drink of fame.

Before the day ended I also bought a new swim suit from one of the vendors walking passed. Kind of a bizarre thing to buy without trying it on, yet it seemed like one of those when in Brazil do as the Brazilians do sort of times, though in actuality they probably don’t buy the suits on the beach.

After hours of sun and a bit of sunburn we decided to venture on as the sun was starting to dip below the buildings. Our plan to head up to the Christo Redempter statue was foiled since not only was it covered in scaffolding (we knew this ahead of time) the tram to get to the top was also closed. So we changed direction and headed to yet another beach to catch the sunset, some drinks, and dinner.

After a dinner of Sushi and other Japanese fare we planned to meet again in the Ipanema neighborhood for drinks. There we found a nice outside table where we sat for a couple of hours simply relaxing. Again Sarah and I headed to the hotel as the guys headed on for what turned out to be an all nighter culminating in watching the sunrise. Though I don’t think it could have been that great of a sunrise as the next day dawned windy and wet with a temperature more than 5 C less than the day before.

At breakfast Sarah and I decided to head to the Cathedral. When we pulled up we were both wondering why we had decided on this as neither of us had envisioned the modern site that greeted us, and then we wandered inside. It was quite amazing to see the light that had broken through the overcast sky steam through the plethora of stained glass windows.

Given that we still had a bit of time before we needed to head back to our hotel and eventually to the airport we looked in our guide book for something else in the neighborhood and discovered a tram that left from near the Cathedral and wound it’s way through the hills of the neighboring area. It turned out to be pretty cool, starting off by crossing the roads below on an 18th century aquaduct. It was a bit of a rickety ride across yet pretty cool. Come to think of it the entire tram ride was a bit rickety, it just adds to the excitement.

After crossing we wound through streets, up and down hills, and saw some interesting architecture and art.

On the people side we had some interesting passengers. Shortly after we started out we were joined by a young man you was quite the acrobat. He started out just skating the rails as show in the picture and by the end was doing hand stands holding on to the hand rails on the outside of the car. At the midpoint of the trip we were joined by many children apparently on their way home from school as the tram becomes a school bus when there is room.

There were also just some views of life in the town and a view of a castle off in the distance.

We had wanted to tour a favela that morning and were not able to since the tour was sold out before we tried to sign up. It might have been a good thing in the end given how the weather turned out and we can always come back another time, it is only a 2 hour flight from Porto Alegre. We did have a view of one from the top of our hotel.

So that was Rio. All in all a great weekend with two lovely days of temps around 30 with lots of sun and lots of good food. There are many places to see in Brazil, yet I can see going back again, it’s kind of like Goa in India, not somewhere that you only go once.

Of course I can’t complete this post without some notes on my thoughts of the Olympics being hosted in Rio, and no this is not me being a sore loser since Chicago didn’t get them, I had mixed feelings about that happening.

In general I think it is great that 2016 will be the first Olympics in South America. That said, Rio might disappoint some Olympic viewers who are used to more western accommodations when attending the games. And if folks are not used to being approached continuously with people selling their wares that may also lead to some discomfort as can the views of poverty that are not hidden away. First and foremost, as with just about any Olympic city there is going to be a traffic issue. We were there during off season and sat at times in traffic that was moving quite slowly. There is a subway but it is not extensive and I don’t know what the plans are for expanding it before the games begin. I wish them well, and I am almost interested in trying to attend the games to see what they do, yet I might have to rely on TV coverage and hope that it is close to accurate.

Tchau,

Wendy

I found it interesting, one evening when I was cutting paper and taping stuff to index cards in preparation for a training session that I was leading in the upcoming days to reflect on learning and the timing of things we learn. And how, as Robert Fulghum stated a few years back, we really learned just about everything we need around the age of 5.

For starters, as I mentioned in a previous post our Brazilian office is located on the PUCRS campus in Porto Alegre. We have a couple of large workrooms and some conference space on the 7th floor of the Computer Sciences building.

The campus is quite beautiful with lots of greenery and a very interesting grandiose sculpture and fountain just passed the front gate.

Since I don’t have any photos that correspond directly to the rest of this post, I am just going to scatter the campus ones throughout to hopefully keep things visually interesting. I have included photos of both the greenery and the buildings as well as some shots of the fountain.

I believe I previously mentioned how the washing machines here can be quite frustrating to operate and how most of use believe that one of them is actually broken. I tried to be a good citizen and help my fellow travelers by mentioning this to our office manager so she could call the hotel and advise them of the situation in Portuguese. A few of the staff there speak some English, enough to get most of what we need accomplished, and this was just not in that category. So she called them and they wouldn’t believe her that the machine was broken and instead agreed to give me lessons on how to use it. Yes, it is in Portuguese, but there are pictures next to the words that mean you can pretty much figure out what the buttons mean. Anyhow, I agreed to be taught, kind of that kindergarten them of being humble.

Interestingly enough, when the women from the desk went to show me the operations she started speaking with one of the cleaning people and she told her that the machine was broken. Of course I smiled and chuckled, and it just proves that even when you know you are right, sometimes it does make sense to just go along for the ride and let the other person discover what you already know.

Last week went by quite fast as I started running training sessions for people in the office who have been working here for several months and this meant fitting them around their project schedules. Thus I would have a session from 8-10 one night followed by another from 8-10 the next morning. In addition to that I still have a few modules of content to flesh out.

All in all it turned out to be a bit of a rough weekend. I was extremely tired from the week so I went right home from work instead of going out to dinner with folks. It was relaxing, yet some loneliness set in and kind of stuck there for two days. Calling my friend Barb at home helped, thank goodness for Skype, yet I was still just missing my friends and my stuff.

And it didn’t get any better when I held my weekly battle with the washing machine again on Saturday. While they had admitted that the one was not working a few days earlier, I had no way of knowing whether or not it was fixed so opted to use the one that had a better track record. Of course, having slept in, someone had beaten me to it so I had to wait for their stuff to finish before starting my load. While I was waiting the staff wandered in and figured I must be having problems, when in fact I wasn’t, so I wound up trying to explain why I wasn’t using the other washer, and that didn’t go very well.

All in all it left me feeling as if they were treating me as stupid just because I don’t speak Portuguese. Yes, I wish I knew more of it, and I don’t. That doesn’t mean I am dumb, it just means it is hard for me to communicate here. I can’t really put my finger on exactly what they did that made it seem as if they thought the former, it might have been insisting on showing me how to push the washer buttons while pointing to the recently written out English instructions. Yep, that was probably the biggest contributer. And it left me, I’ll just go right out and say it, “p***ed off”.

So please, take this lesson away, when dealing with a non-native speaker in your own country, realize that they are likely just as educated as you, and also very frustrated by the fact that they are having a hard time communicating. It is not easy to learn a new language, even when you are immersed in it every day, and especially when folks around you seem to want you to speak perfectly before trying to understand you.

Just as you would with someone at the tender age of 4 or 5, give the person support and be ready to give them space if they seem frustrated. They are likely just overwhelmed and need your support.

By Saturday night I wasn’t feeling much better and wasn’t sure if I wanted to go out to a co-worker’s birthday party. Another co-worker convinced me to goand it was probably a good thing. Although I should have gone home after the official party which I got to around 10 pm. I am not sure exactly when it started since the invite didn’t actually include a time, which is really not surprising to me after having been here as long as I have. The clock just isn’t quite as central to things here as in the US, it seems a bit more central than it was in India, however, only a bit. It has been really hard to get folks used to a training class that starts at the time it is scheduled, and getting people to RSVP with any kind of advanced notice is equally grueling.

Anyway, back to Saturday night, I knew folks would be arriving at various times, and not wanting to be the only English speaker there I had a couple folks call me as they headed out so that I could arrive around the same time. That actually worked quite well. Of course, then I had to figure out what to drink. I wound up with a gin martini (with Tangueray, ok, not great) and olives (with pits – sorry dad, no blue cheese). I am not sure how much if an Vermouth was in it, so I sipped it very slowly as I had already had some wine with dinner. And I would have stuck with wine if they had been selling it by the glass, though given my experience with wine here, maybe it was a good thing that they weren’t.

That said, the birthday boy’s wife was drinking a local sparkling wine and asked me if I wanted to try it, and surprise of all surprises, it wasn’t half bad, so after my martini I switched to that. And that is where I should have let the evening end, instead I opted to go with folks to the night club after we left the bar. OK, I’ll admit it, I’m too old to enjoy going to a club at 2 am that is smokey and there is no space to move, yet you are supposed to be “dancing”, if you call getting stepped on by someone is heels while you try to avoid stepping on someone else with your heels dancing. No, I’m not bitter, I just didn’t last long, mostly I was tired and I had a hard time breathing with the smoke that had nowhere to go given we were in a windowless room. Maybe this is another pre grade school lesson, know your bedtime and respect it. Of course the time will have changed since those days of being shorter than everyone other than your younger sibling(s), but there is something to be said for listening to your body and trying to get enough sleep, even on the weekend.

And another early life lesson that I often reflect on here, seat belts. Well, maybe not so early life for me given that I do recall standing in the back seat next to my brother for some road trips, but as it is said in Anything Goes, “Times have changed“. I am confounded as to here, as in India, how folks just don’t seem to see the importance of seat belts. Those of you who were on my mailing lists back in the India days recall my talking about how we often had to beg and plead when renting a car for the weekend to make sure it had working seat belts. Here, they seem to be operational about 50% of the time, at least in the back seat of cabs. The ones in the front seem to work, though not all the drivers use them. There is one driver that we get regularly who just loops the belt as lightly as possible as he can over his lap before approaching the check point that we pass each day on the way to work. Most of the other drivers slip the belt on for this and off again later. Not sure which is worse, both are bucking the system, and the second group is only protected for a small amount of time at a well known check point.

Sunday had promised to be an adventurous day of heading out to wine country and given the weather we had it would have been spectacular. However, we only had one Portuguese speaker slated to go with us and when she had to cancel last minute we had to postpone the trip. Hopefully we will be able to reschedule for the weekend before I return to the U.S. At least I finally have found two reds at the grocery store which are not fruity, so I can enjoy some wine with dinner.

Where the theme of learning comes to bear most is in what I am here to do, and that is to facilitate training for the ThoughtWorkers being hired into this very new office. Doing that has gotten me to reflect on the things we are teaching and how they too are really things we learned at an early age. Of course there are new twists and applications otherwise there wouldn’t be anything to teach. Given that we are a consulting company, while we focus on technology at the end of the day we are providing solutions for clients and that means we are consulting, a lot of what we teach focuses on consulting. Here again it is wrapped in other concepts, all of the things we need to do to build software. Yet, in the end, it all builds on creating and nurturing relationships. This is otherwise known as playing well with others and is something we each do, unless we are living in a cave, everyday of our lives.

There is one thing that makes it harder here, and that is consulting in a second language. It is tough enough to be on your best behavior when at a client site when you and the client speak the same native language. When you are a non-native speaker avoiding the simple mistakes such as misspelling words in an email is much harder and requires constant vigilance. Add to that avoiding talking about inappropriate subjects, something else we all learned early on, where the subject list can vary by culture and you have a very tough assignment. And the list goes on and on.

I may have mentioned that one of my Brazilian co-workers was headed to Paris for his honeymoon and asked me for recommendations. So a couple weeks back I dusted off an old email that I had sent to someone else for their trip to Paris (this was quite a feat as the email was in our old crusty system – Lotus Notes – run away) and polished it a bit with some updates. He returned to work this week raving about Maille mustard and Veuve Cliquot. It feels good to have been able to show somebody something that you like so much and have them appreciate it, not the same kind of things that we shared with each other in kindergarten, but still a show and tell when it comes down to it.

I finally wore the Inter shirt that I mentioned in my last post to the office on Tuesday. Luck would have it that the first folks I ran into post training session, where I think people might have been too focused to care what I was wearing, were Gremio fans. One even had the nerve to send me an IM asking if all of my clothes were dirty. Of course I replied that the opposite was true, only the best ones were clean!

Up next, a weekend in Rio!

Tchau,

Wendy

Or actually your d’s, t’s, e’s, ….

Now that I have been in Brazil for a little more than a month, I felt that it was time to write a bit ab0ut the Portuguese language, more precisely about Brazilian Portuguese.

I figured that it would be a little bit easier for me to learn Portuguese as an adult than it would be for some others since I am already an intermediate French speaker, which I also learned as an adult. Thus the part of my brain that is used to learn languages, the part that shuts off if we don’t exercise it by the time we are in the middle years of grade school, has been turned back on. It may not have the capacity to process a full stream of information but at least there is a trickle of activity.

In some ways I was right, and I will get to a bit more on that later, yet the lack of time ahead of the trip and the lack of time once I have been here to really study the language has been the biggest hindrance. I really feel badly that I was unable to at least learn a basic travel vocabulary before I arrived, as I really feel much more comfortable in a location if I can communicate at least somewhat in the native tongue. And I feel that I am being disrespectful of the place I am visiting to have not found the time to do this beforehand. Note to self, I must remember that in about a month I will be in Greece, another location with another language that I don’t know, so I must learn some basics before I fly there.

That said, I am making some very slow progress in building a minimal vocabulary. And I am basically able to communicate to navigate around with my minimal set of words and lots of pantomiming and pointing.

What I didn’t expect was to find as many similarities between French and Portuguese as I have found. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised since they are both romance languages. And I had seen a number of similar words during the little bit of investigating I did before leaving the U.S. For example, the numbers 11 (onze), 14 (quatorze), and 15 (quinze) are spelled exactly the same and 12 (douze – doze), 13 (treize – treze), and 20 (vingt – vinte) are similar.

Of course, the similarities end with the spellings. The pronunciations are as different as those between English and Portuguese. Some of the things that I struggle with daily are

  • “d” is sort of pronounced ch, I think it is really more dch and find that quite hard, for example
    • bom dia (good morning/day) pretty much sounds like “bom chia” with the m sort of swallowed as many ending French consonants
    • Lucas de Oliveira (the name of the street where I live) pretty much sounds like Luca(s) ch’Olivera or Luca(s) ch’wallivera
  • “t” seems to pretty much be similar to “d” in that it becomes a “ch” (at least when it is in the middle of a word), for example
    • continuar (which actually means what you think it does) comes out as con-chin-u-eh
    • vinte comes out as vahnch
  • “e” at the end of a word is pronounced, sort of like the vowel of “le” in Alleluia when singing, for example
    • onze is basically onz-eh
    • quinze is basically kin-zeh

I have less trouble understanding the locals when they use Portuguese pronunciations for English words

  • they almost always pronounce the “ed” at the end of the word, for example
    • worked becomes wor-ked
    • helped becomes hel-ped
  • they also pronounce t as “ch” in English words, for example, when folks were flying to San Francisco for the project they talked about their connection in Char-loache (Charlotte)

Related to this is an observation that a few of us were discussing over the weekend.  It seems as if we have a much easier time understanding English spoken with Portuguese “mistakes”, or for that matter any other accent that someone visiting the U.S. has, than folks here have understanding our incorrect Portuguese.  Likely this is because we have been exposed to more people attempting to speak English that the Brazilians have been exposed to people attempting to speak Portuguese. And that also likely extends to when I massacre French in France yet they usually understand what I am saying.

Of course that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when trying to get home after work and the cab driver just doesn’t seem to recognize the street name, and if they do eventually recognize it they seem to pronounce it differently than the driver the night before did, and the driver the night before that…. Thankfully the hotel where we stay is named Bela Vista and this is pronounced pretty much as one expects and even if the hotel itself is not that known the whole area near there seems to be known as Bela Vista. And if that doesn’t work, there is another hotel a few doors down, The Blue Tree – can you guess how to pronounce that – that just about every cab driver seems to know.  The only trick with using that is getting them to stop a few doors early with lots of pointing and a few “las” and “aquis”.

Another somewhat bizarre thing that I have noticed is that I often find myself slipping into French instead of English when I am trying to use Portuguese.  For example I’ll say oui instead of sim, or through in a d’accord every so often. When talking to some co-workers I discovered that this isn’t all that strange, and it relates to my thoughts above about having reawaken a part of my brain. It turns out that once you learned a second language as an adult, when studying the third and subsequent ones you are indeed using a different part of the brain than when speaking a language you learned when you are young. And while you are exercising that part of the brain to learn the third language, it is much easier for it to jump in with words from your second language than for the other part to jump in with words from your native tongue.

In addition to thinking about languages, and actually spending some time trying to learn some new Portuguese as well as practice my French, I did do a few things of interest over this past weekend.

Friday night most of us from the States as well as two folk from the Brazil office went out to dinner to try one of the restaurants we had noticed the week before and wanted to check out. It turned out that we stumbled upon an excellent pizza place that featured Uruguayan beer (which I didn’t really take to as it was quite light) and a traditional Uruguayan sauce on the pizza which tasted just fine though I can’t say that I noticed anything distinct about it. I had a four cheese pizza, complete with gorgonzola, ymm, and eventually ordered a bottle of wine to share which was quite nice.

I basically laid low on Saturday, though I did get to both the grocery store and the mall where I bought a few cap sleeve T’s to wear under jackets and sweaters as well as two new dresses and some much needed new tights. I also spent some time browsing in the music section of the book store where I made some purchases of some local tracks as I like to do when I travel to new places. I don’t know if the stuff that I bought is at all popular. It seemed like a good mix and I enjoyed what I heard at the listening stations in the store. After I listen to the whole CDs I’ll let you know more about what I actually bought.

Saturday night Sarah and I finally went to see “Alice” in 3D. It was good, not as good as “Avatar” and it was nice to hear English for length of the movie. Though there was a moment after we paid and entered the complex that we thought we had accidently wound up at the dubbed showing instead of the sub-titled one. We both breathed a sigh of relief when the movie finally started and the first, and remaining for that matter, words were in English.

On Sunday I wrestled with the washers again, this time however I got there early enough to get the better one and to have a dryer available once my clothes were washed.

Finally it was time to play tourist again and I headed out on a city tour with 2 local co-workers, Barbara and Caio and Caio’s girlfriend. Mostly I got some ideas of some places that I would like to go back to since the bus didn’t really slow down to make it easy to take photos, and only stopped for about a minute at the cathedral.


One of the first places we passed was the planetarium, which I want to check out and see if it is worth going to a program at.

Throughout the tour we passed a number of colorful buildings, many or which the color is due to the fact that the exterior is covered with mosaic like tiles, less patterns than a mosaic piece of art, yet tiled none-the-less.

There were also some interesting window treatments. Shutters are on just about every building here a and provide many interesting photo ops. The one below is unusual as they are usually closed. For instance there are the large metal vertical shutters on my hotel room windows, and just about every day I open them to get the light into the room in the morning, and just about every night when I come back the person cleaning has shut them. Sometimes I open them again at night to not feel so boxed in.

In addition we drove passed some sculptures and statues,

the oldest street, a fruit market, a mural,

a juxtaposition of old and new, a gutted building,a cool structure next to the fire station

and, the BBQ store (I might have to use that extra baggage allowance I get after all to take some of this fine outdoor cookware home).

The weather for the tour was a bit cooler than other days (it was about 15) and quite a bit cooler than the day before where it was an absolutely gorgeous 27. Of course even when it was 27 many people were walking around not only in long sleeves, but in multiple layers of long sleeves and/or with coats. Thankfully the weekend was nice, as starting Monday evening it has been raining pretty much non-stop and yesterday this was accompanied by some howling wind that was driving the rain against (and in some cases through) the windows. I guess it is a sign that fall is really in full swing – although despite the weather and the lack of long hours of daylight it is hard for my to comprehend that it isn’t spring.

The rainy weather meant that when we had another BBQ, like the one the first week that I was here, we spent the whole time inside the kitchen and cooking pit area rather than sitting outside next to the pool.

Finally, no post can be complete without an Inter reference, yes the tour went passed the stadium, it also passed that other location which was not deemed photo worthy. And as part of my shopping, this was actually post movie shopping, I picked up an Inter mug to use in the office and an Inter hoodie.

Tchau,

Wendy

Wait, there is one more thing that I just have to sneak in. As I was talking to my folks Monday morning on Skype my U.S. cell phone rang and it showed up as a “private” number which I found odd as the only number that generally shows up that way is my parents. So I ignored the call and didn’t think much more of it right away. When I finished my Skype call, I checked my email and there was a message in my inbox from the US Embassy in Buenos Aires stating that some cab driver had turned in some of my forms of identification over the weekend. At first I was suspicious that this was some sort of spam, and so I researched the phone number they gave and the return address and it was indeed legit, plus the fact that they gave some detailed info about 4 things that had been in my wallet added to the believability of it all.

The mail said that I could stop in and pick these things up any time. Clearly that wasn’t going to work as it would be easier to get a new license when I get back to Chicago than to fly back to Argentina. So I replied asking if they could send the documents to either the Embassy here or in Chicago, and even better they are sending them directly to my condo in Chi-town were they should arrive a week or so before I do. The whole thing is pretty surreal. From the fact that the driver took the time to turn the items in, to the fact that the Embassy took the time to look up my email address (and I think phone as well as my guess is that is who was calling), to the fact that they are willing to send the items directly to my house.

Now it is really time to go,

Tchau

Before I get into my activities of the weekend I have to relate one of those stories of being somewhere unfamiliar.

Friday afternoon I was feeling the need for some caffeine and didn’t want yet another overly sugary espresso from the office machine (it tastes so bad without the sugar that I have given in and generally just get the sugared version) so I headed down to the cafeteria on the ground floor of the building.  On the way out I mentioned to some folks that I needed a Diet Coke, to realize as I said it, what I really meant was that I needed a Coca-Zero.  I know there is supposed to be a difference between them, and I think I can actually tell what it is when I have been drinking one and switch to the other, but in this case it really was the same in my mind, only in a can of a different color.

The oddities didn’t end there.  As I was paying for it, I decided to get rid of some of the coins that I had amassed, it is easy to do that here as there are 1 R$ coins and 2 R$ and 5 R$ bills.  So I as digging to the bottom of my purse for the 0.50 R$ incoins I needed in addition to the 2 R$ bill I had already grabbed and I was having a hard time finding the last quarter.  While I could have grabbed some smaller change to add to the total I wasn’t really in the mood to look at each coin and figure out it’s value, as I don’t have the feel for them yet.  Finally I came across something that said 25 on it, yet it wasn’t at all like the other quarter I had in hand.  The first was gold and round in shape, this one was silver and I think hexagonal.  I figured it was something that was still hanging around from another currency and was going to keep looking when the woman at the till nodded to indicate that I had found what I needed.  Later, during the weekend, I discovered the same phenomena with the R$ 0.10 piece(s). Very bizarre if you ask me.

That said, I must note that the workers in the cafeteria downstairs have been very patient with me and my less than basic Portuguese.  They always show me the receipt so that I know the amount and they are very patient as I try to use non-verbal means of communication to indicate what I want.

On Saturday morning the theme continued with what has become a somewhat standard weekend breakfast for me.  I take some sausage, salami type not breakfast type since it keeps better, and fry it kielbasa style, then scramble some eggs with some herbs de provence (they are worth the money) and maybe add a little grated cheese for a substitute for bacon and eggs.  If I want toast on the side I use what is similar to a tartine in France, pre-toasted bread that keeps much better than the fresh stuff which has either moldy or become hard as a rock a few days after buying it.  I might be able to keep some regular bread in the fridge, though given it’s small size it is probably worth keeping the space for other things.

After breakfast I spent some time online figuring how what I was going to do to explore the city, and found that it didn’t seem to be too far to the harbor. So armed with directions from Google Maps I set out for what was to be just shy of an hour walk figuring that I needed some exercise and that if it looked like I was heading somewhere that I didn’t want to be alone I could always grab a cab.

From the first turn the directions were wrong, yet I found my way to one of the streets I was supposed to take using a bit of intuition.  That intuition failed shortly thereafter as I never found the next one.  So I ended up walking down a street that had seemed interesting a couple of nights back when I was in a cab on the way home from work.  And I was heading away from the water which I didn’t know at the time yet had a funny feeling. It didn’t turn out to be all bad as I stumbled upon a shopping area complete with a little gadget shop that had, among other things, clocks for sale and I found one that I liked.  It seems that here, just as in India, time is not all that important and clocks are not standard in hotels or service apartments.

After wandering a bit further I decided to go ahead and grab a cab and actually make it to the water.  After being dropped at a museum that I had selected as a reasonable landmark to get to I wandered a bit there and then set out to my actual destination.  At first I wasn’t sure I was allowed to enter the dock area as there was a gate completely with security guards.  I figured I would give it a try and between some hand gestures and believe it or not a bit of French not only= figured out it that it was allowed, I walked right in.

It was a nice break from the bustling cacophonous metropolis of the city streets and despite it being a working harbor being near the water was quire peaceful.  The buildings themselves provided some great photos.

And there was what I thing was a white heron, not sure if it was a great white or not as I don’t know if that species is indigenous to Brazil.

Upon returning home I ran into two co-workers and discovered that they, as well as I, were interested in heading to one of the local shopping malls to find a few apartment supplies.  They were headed to the grocery store first and I wanted to eat lunch so we agreed that they would call me when there were ready to grab a cab for the mall.  It was a successful trip, I was able to buy a little camp stool that I can use for a foot rest, a cutting board, and finally a wash cloth. It really wasn’t actually a wash cloth, more of a very small finger towel that will serve the purpose since yet another difference here is that wash cloths just don’t seem to be common and this isn’t the only country I have noticed that in, I saw the same thing in the UK.

I finally broke down and attempted to use a Brazilian can opener and to my surprise was quite successful.  I had many trepidations before making this attempt recalling trying to use something similar at some point in the past and only winding up with a mangled can.  Well, not to worry, I got the can open and didn’t wind up with a cramped hand.

The reason for taking this brave step forward was the want to finally cook the white beans I had purchased a while back.  They had been sitting on my shelf staring at me, calling my name, only to be turned back by thoughts to the dreaded can opener.  Finally I could wait no longer and voila I had one of my favorite French side dishes prepared in next to no time.  The smell was heavenly and reminded my of the south of France.  It is amazing how some of the simplest food can take you back to previous adventures and I find myself wondering what food from here will be the thing that I crave when I leave.  Will it be the BBQ, quite likely, or maybe those chicken hearts (I guess that counts as BBQ too).  Maybe it will be the black beans cooked with just the right amount of meat mixed in to give them that savory flavor.

Given that the beans were a success, and that I had made a variation on the rabbit and sausage recipe I had first tested in France (using chicken as well as some other substitutions) I decided to actually crack the cover of my French cookbook and look for a new challenge, a new recipe that I might be able to approximate with the ingredients that I can find at the local supermarket.

I selected Entrecôte au Chèvre knowing that at least I could find some good beef for it.  It looked simple enough, four ingredients, and I also know that I most likely wouldn’t find the savory and figured the stand by of herbes de provence would make a find substitute.  I had no idea if I could find goat cheese, and the answer was no, so I found some other cheese that looked like it will melt and figured I would give it a go.  I also bought cubed beef instead of making the sauce to pour over a filet since I knew I would want to cook enough to keep leftovers and eat it throughout the week.  Most intriquing however was the fact that the recipe called for white wine, this was just enough of an unusual combination that I had to give it  a try, and it would let me use up some white that I bought that could only be used for cooking.  Yes, I know, only cook with a wine you are willing to drink, well, I did drink some of it and I just couldn’t let it go to waste.

The original plan was to do the shopping on Sunday and cook the dish that night.  Of course this all changed when the grocery store was shut that day in celebration of Mother’s Day (same day, different expectations).  So I went shopping on Monday night and saved the cooking for Tuesday.

So now for the drumroll for the results.  I have actually been cooking this as I have been writing and it turned out pretty decent.  I do wonder how it would taste with all of the proper ingredients and will add that to my list of things to do once I am back in Chicago. I can’t say the same for the bottle of red that I opened to go with it, once again I seem to have found something way to fruity for my tastes. Unlike the white I cooked with it is drinkable, I just won’t be buying it again.

I find it interesting how themes can materialize in life.  On my last trip to India I finally read The Da Vinci Code which was a bit after the masses yet before the movie was released and now I am reading The Lost Symbol. I don’t care how much people say that if you read one Dan Brown novel you have read them all, I am enjoying the second one as much as the first and it looks like once again I beat the movie.  Oh, and this time I am reading it electronically on what is my latest best purchase for traveling, previously it was my Bose headphones which still do rock when you need to tune out the background noise on a plane.

On Sunday, some of us decided to go to the botanical gardens that we pass every day on our way to work.  Silly us, we decided to head off the beaten path right away and wound up in some mucky areas.

Eventually we doubled back to find the more common paths along with a pond covered with little floating plants that from a distance it looked like it could be a bog.

Since it only took us about an hour to tour the gardens we decided to head towards the water and see if the timings worked out right for one of the boat tours before going back home.  I was concerned that this was going to be exactly where I was the day before and that the tour wouldn’t leave until 3.  Turns out it was near there yet different and there was a tour at 2 which gave us time to grab some snacks and look around the art center next to the harbor that used to be a power station.

The tour itself was quite nice affording us views of the entire city skyline which give a sense to just how big Porto Alegre is and made me realize that I had relocated from one city on the water to another.  Same.  Only different.

Reflecting back to both Bangalore and Aix it is interesting that both of those cities felt more accessible, perhaps it is all because of the language and maybe there is something bigger going on that I have yet to discover.

The trip went through a narrow channel where visions of the houseboat tour in India came back to me the end of which opened up onto some very exclusive homes with manicured lawns and private boat launches, think North Shore of Chicago.

We then circled around the point and sailed past a more local feeling area with lots of colorful fishing and utilitarian boats as well as a marina, think a little more like Gary Indiana with a lot more color.

Best of all, it was an absolutely gorgeous day to be on the water.  Given the rain that was coming that we have had for the first two days this week, it was even more special. And yes, that is a bridge in the distance, this theme continues to make itself known as summer (or winter here) often includes a Mac race for me where a bridge looms in the distance towards the end of days on the water.

The weekend ended with a laundry battle to remind me once again of the differences.  The machines here are very slow, when they work at all so I wound up sitting in the laundry room waiting. reading, waiting for the machine to stop ,mid-cycle so that I could push some random buttons in hopes that it would start again and even higher hopes that it would move to the next phase of the cycle.  While this was going on I was talking with a woman, from São Paulo who is moving here, and she told me that the reason they have old style top loading washers here, not that that is the only reason they are slow, is because when the front loaders where introduced nobody liked them since they couldn’t see the soap getting all sudsy and thus they didn’t think that their clothes were getting clean.

A few more intriguing differences that I noted during the first part of the week are that salads here are served as very large leafs of lettuce that have to be cut in order to consume them (compare that to in France where it is an insult to the hostess to cut your salad), unless I can figure out how to change the language on my new local phone I will have to figure out how to turn predictive texting off as it doesn’t recognize many of the English words that I want to use, and the paper napkins here seem to have a layer of plastic embedded and as such are far from absorbent (I seem to recall them being somewhat similar in India).

Please don’t take my calling out these things as complaining, it is more just a set of observations of how while we live in a very small world it is also a very large one where people have various things that work a certain way and when they travel extensively they are going to be exposed to many other ways of doing and seeing things.  Some of these may be great new ideas for them and others may make them uncomfortable, yet all will, in the end, if the traveler is open to anything at all, make that person a better global citizen and much more understanding of visitors coming to their homeland.

Tchau,

Wendy

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