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So I am now on the flip side of my post from a bit over two weeks back, sitting in Frankfort waiting for my flight to Chicago. As always the way home seems slower than the way there and this time it is compounded by having a very early first flight from Jerez to Madrid and a total of three flights. At least the next flight is the last, the longest, but it also should be the most comfortable. The challenge is staying awake enough so that I can actually sleep when I get home tonight.

In some ways I am ready to be back home, even if it is only for one day, not quite ready to face the fact that work awaits me again on Monday with it’s normal weekly jaunts between Chicago and Calgary. At least there is a 3 day weekend in a couple of weeks to help remind me what it is like to relax.

Stay tuned over the weeks to come as I actually write up the details of our adventures in addition to the pictures I have already shared on Facebook.

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In preparation for leaving I began the packing effort last  Tuesday and am continuing it this morning. While the bulk of things will somehow be packed tomorrow afternoon I wanted to get a bit of a head start on some things that I just wouldn’t need here anymore as well as my metal globe as I had to make sure I could fit it somewhere.

As I started packing I realized that I never posted pictures of my second apartment here, the bigger one that I got when I came back from holiday. So I finally took some this morning to share.

Yes Roxie, those are the pictures  you drew for me hanging on the walls. Actually, one of them is from Juliette.

Overall Bela Vista has been a reasonable place to stay. It’s not the best digs I have had, yet also not the worst  (the place I had in London or maybe La Quinta in San Bruno take that honor). While knowing that I was staying there again would not prevent me from coming back (there is not much that would), I am glad to hear that ThoughtWorks has found another building with long term stays that is closer to the trendy neighborhood with restaurants and night life and has more staff members that speak English.

I think the two things I miss most are a couch and a bathtub. Here as you can see the bathroom is quite small and the sink is actually outside of it, not a design that I find very attractive in general. Also, there really isn’t any storage space for the daily products so the counter gets quite cluttered and the maid has to work around all of this stuff daily.

Of course I do also miss having a gym and despite bringing a bunch of my own equipment down here, I really was not motivated enough to work out regularly without a class to go to. Yes there are other creature comforts that I have back home such as a full (still almost new) kitchen and a flat screen TV, but  I don’t miss those that much, I think the excitement of being somewhere different and all of the relationships one makes as well as all of the things one learns make up for a lot of the stuff left behind.

When it comes close to leaving somewhere there is always a large last minute list of things to do, both on the leaving end and on the returning to end. Here there has been no exception.

First up was the “need” to see one more destination before heading stateside. From the beginning I had wanted to go to Iguaçu Falls, however with the short notice of the change to get back early flights there were just too prohibitive, especially after Greece. Instead I went to Gramado which is reachable by bus. I won’t relate the tales of that trip here so stay tuned for a dedicated post.

So yes, second is to finish up the blog entries that are in process and get them posted so that I can concentrate on the remaining Greece posts when I am back in the U.S.

The rest of the things are much more mundane and on the leaving side include

  • packing
  • managing the cash balance
  • managing the food supplies, or at least somewhat attempting to
  • figuring out how much stuff I bought
  • giving away things that I can’t or don’t want to take back
  • buying a few more gifts for folks back home
  • contacting work about getting my new laptop a few weeks earlier than planned

And  those on the destination side include

  • restarting services such as NetFlix, satellite TV, DSL
  • deciding whether or not to restart my land line phone
  • looking for a boat that needs crew for the few weeks left in the season
  • planning for Alumni Band weekend
  • changing some appointments scheduled for immediately after the original return
  • figuring out which French class to register for (if AF-Chicago replies to my email that would help a lot)

Of course there is one more not-so-mundane thing and that is planning and having a good-bye night out. So tomorrow night a bunch of us are going one more time to Z Café as I count the hours until flight time.

There was more that I wanted to include here, pictures of the area around Bela Vista where there are some great buildings, statues, and flowers. I am simply out of time and will just have to hope that I really do get back some day to capture those and to take the trips that I didn’t get to take this time. In addition to Iguaçu I really wanted to get to the Amazon as well as Uruguay and Peru, especially Machu Picchu, and I never did make it up to see the folks from Columbia that I met on the cruise in Greece. I did investigate that and it was just too long of a trip for a weekend, not to mention quite expensive.

OK, I guess I need to get back to that packing and get ready to go to work.

Tchau,

Wendy

With the Acropolis behind us, it was now time to explore some of the other sites within central Athens. They actually have a pretty good system worked out for all of this, you buy one ticket at the Acropolis which is actually a set of tickets that get you in there as well as to the other various sites in the area.

First up was the Roman Agora, a smaller and more organized development than the Ancient Agora we had visited the day before. Looking up at the sky past what remains of the entrance one starts to get a feel of the immensity of this former marketplace.

As opposed to many other locations, touching the columns was allowed here which affords us an opportunity to really appreciate the scale of these structures, even in photographs. Keep in mind that the tops of the columns here are missing, so the actual structure was even larger. Though it is still hard to express in words the feeling of awe that one gets when wandering around these locations. Even when not much is left of the previous glory, it is still possible to imagine the activities which took place. Here we would have seen commerce being transacted as folks visited the shops and offices within the structure.

The octagonal  Tower of the Winds, also known as horologion or timepiece, built in either the first or second century BC, is the most preserved of the ancient structures within the agora. In ancient times it functioned as both a weather vane and a water clock. Additionally it contained a number of sundials.

While Aeolus, the son of Poseidon, was the god of all of the winds in general there were also gods of each of the 8 winds. Each is sculpted on the corresponding face of the tower. These gods are collectively known as the Anemoi which comes from the Greek word for wind, anemos, which in turn is the root of anemometer, the device used to measure wind speed. Below each frieze was one of the sundials.

  • Boreas (N) was strong and violent and was often depicted with the conch shell through which his wind whistled
  • Kaikias (NE) carried a shield full of hail stones
  • Euros (E) carried a vase pouring out the rain he carried from the east
  • Apeliotes (SE) often caused a refreshing rain welcome by the farmers and was often seen carrying fruit
  • Notos (S) was known to bring the storms of late summer
  • Livas (SW) was often seen holding the stern of a ship
  • Zephyros (W) was the gentlest of the winds known to usher in spring
  • Skiron (NW) was a bearded man who carried a cauldron as the sign that winter was coming




The Fethiye Cami (Mosque), built in 1456, commemorating the fall of Constantinople, is also fully intact, not surprising given it’s youth and the fact that it still functions as a storehouse of archeological material. It is technically not part of the Roman Agora standing just outside of it’s once grandiose walkways, we only “stumbled” upon it since it as in the same ticketed area.


I am not sure how they related to the sites we were visiting, but there were some very interesting earthen urns right outside of the mosque.

We spent a little more time wandering around the enclosure and noticed that there was still a remnant of the water that used to flow through the area. Sources state that in addition to the shops and offices at this location there was a public restroom built for 70 people. It probably looked something like the ones described here, only larger. Despite my recalling what our guide would later tell us on Delos about the toilet actually being a social gathering spot where folks would linger awhile, one can only imagine the number of people that must have frequented this agora to require space for 70.

Having taken in everything we could here, we left and meandered the streets in the area a bit as we headed towards our next destination. We were in the neighborhood known as the Plaka a wonderful location with a lot of character in both the streets themselves and the folks frequenting them. Yes, it is the center of the tourist area and you have shops selling just about everytrinket available, including many of the evil eye charms or nazars that I had purchased the day before. The streets are narrow and often stepped making motored navigation extremely interesting. And many of the restaurants take every spot they can on these terraces for setting up tables, when Steph and I say this we knew we had to come back here for dinner on one of our free nights. We didn’t actually know, or really care, which one of the restaurants we dined at, we just figured it would be a unique experience.

Our next destination was the Temple of Olympian Zeus which I had been seeing from a distance for days and thus I was really interested in getting an up front view. It was worth the wait.

Both the grandeur and the detail are stunning. From the elaborate Corinthian capitals to the columns themselves it was both awork of art and a feat of engineering as here again we see the perfection in the spacing of the 24 flutes. Despite most of the remaining structure being in one corner, thankfully two columns remain at the opposite end to give one a sense of the scale of the ancient temple.

Here we also finally see evidence of how these columns were constructed in pieces which where then stacked skyward. If you look closely you can even see the notches in the stone where stabilizers were inserted between layers. While they didn’t extend through layers adding even more support, the fact that they existed at all is a huge testament to the knowledge the creators had, especially when you note that Greece is in one of the most active seismic zones in the world..

On the way out we got yet another glimpse into the scale of this temple as can be seen here where I am sitting on the remnants of one of the columns that didn’t fare so well. And also when you look back across some other partial columns towards the Acropolis.

Given that we now had about an hour until we needed to meet back at the hotel to head off on our cruising adventure we didn’t feel we had the time to visit the Panathinaiko Stadium and instead wandered across the street into the National Gardens of Athens where I had spent some time my first evening.

This time we went further in and discovered quite a bit of art work throughout as well as a small fountain, a fairly dried up man-made lake, and a small zoo. There was actually quite a lot for such a small corner of land in the middle of central Athens. And we also just got to do some people watching as we strolled through.

We also heard the voices of another set of protestors likely marching at or near the nearby parliamentary building.

A very full morning complete we headed back to an organized yet slightly frenzied departure from the hotel to our cruise ship as we had to somehow get 18 people, complete with luggage, into 6 cabs in a matter of  minutes.

Shortly after arriving at the our Variety Cruises ship for our Jewels of the Cyclades cruise we were ushered into the salon of the M/S Galileo, a 51 meter motor sailor with 26 cabins, to wait for our cabin assignments. We knew we were going to be treated well as soon as we sat down as we were immediately given glasses of juice and made to feel quite welcome by the sharply, yet casually, dressed crew.

This was not the same type of cruise as I had been on in November on board one of the mega ships operated by Royal Caribbean, nor would I have wanted it to be. The Greek islands are best explored by being able to anchor here and there and duck into some of the less commercial harbors. Not that we would be able to do as much of that as if we were sailing on a 40-50 foot private charter, but we would make much faster time between ports allowing us to see more islands in our short one week at sea.

Finally, after two days of living out of the top of a suitcase it was possible to unpack, as we were not changing rooms every night any more. We then headed back up to the salon for a safety briefing followed by the all important welcoming cocktail party including drinks and wonderful lamb, cheese, and olive appetizers. It was a great start to what would turn out to be both a fun packed yet relaxing week of sun, sea, and islands.

As we headed out onto the Aegean Sea we got a glimpse of the two of the newest Olypmpic stadiums built for the 2004 Summer Games, the bowl shaped Athens Olympic Stadium used for, among other things, the opening and closing ceremoniesand the New Karaiskaki Stadium, with it’s signature red iron work, home of football during the games.

Upon boarding we were informed that our itinerary was being changed, as was noted as a possibility when we signed up, due to weather. This is the one downside of being on a smaller ship, you can’t sail in all of the conditions that the big boys (or should I say girls since ships are generally referred to in the feminine) can play in. So instead of heading for a quick stop at Poros we left a bit later with a destination of Santorini mid day the next day. Once underway, we explored the ship a bit more, making our way up to the sun deck fairly early on where you see our fearless leader, Ihla, hanging out.

Along the way, just before dinner we stopped for a short swim under the Temple of Poseidon on Sounion which lies at the southernmost tip of the Attica peninsula of mainland Greece. The change was a bit confusing as there is also a sanctuary of Posiedon on Poros that I had on my “like to explore list”.

While it was cloudy and thus a bit chilly I figured that it was necessary to test the waters, especially in the shadows of Poseidon, it is not good to get him on your bad side when sailing. It turned out to not be bad at all and I actually stayed in for around 15 minutes and thus got to know some of the new folks a bit more. You will probably laugh at me for the next revelation, it wasn’t until I was in for some time that I remembered we were in salt water and thus I didn’t really have to work all that hard to stay afloat.

We also skipped our swim stop at Kimolos and our walk of the upper city at Foelgandros but would make up for it with additional stops added later in the trip.

We were then treated to a reasonable sunset, we weren’t sure we were going to have much of one due to the cloud cover, and things cleared just enough to get us enough color in the sky to make us really feel like we were sailing, or at least motoring.

The first dinner on board was a pretty elegant affair with a choice of menu options for our entree as well as a nice starter and salad. It was a sit down affair and the food was excellent. The only complaint was that we had been led to believe that local wine was included with dinner and this turned out not to be the case since we had had access to an old brochure. It didn’t matter that much anyway since they were not really up-selling it too badly, charging only 3 Euros a glass. Given that we were a captive audience they really could have charged quite a bit more.

Oh, there was one other thing, since the seas were a bit rough, a few folks were not feeling the best upon sitting down to dinner. I can relate to this having had a similar thing happen on our Mexican cruise, which surprised me then given my sailing background. Though at least there I was able to make it through dinner and just needed some Perrier and fresh air to calm my stomach. For the folks here, the real trick was to stop eating and just sleep the night away hoping for calmer seas and/or the seasick meds to kick in by morning. For me this was back to more of the motion I am used to with this boat being much closer in size to what I am normally on, much bigger but closer, than the 15 deck luxury liner in Mexico.

Yassas,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tchau,

Wendy

I promised you the story about my English speaking cab driver. He was so helpful and would be a wonderful model for cab drivers world wide.

First, I had forgotten about the fact that when traveling between E.U. countries there was no need to go through passport control and he kindly and knowingly reassured me that I hadn’t missed a queue somewhere and could be on my merry way.

Almost immediately I complimented him on his English and we had a discussion about how it only made sense for folks in the tourist industry to speak English as well as Spanish in order to provide a better experience for their many visitors.  While as I have said before, I like to make an effort before traveling somewhere to at least be able to communicate my basic needs, I had not had the time to prepare before this trip and was so comforted on arrival that I would not feel lost in a sea of people due to language gaps.

Eventually the conversation turned to the weather and how it had been 40 there that day and the day before. Of course with the amount of time I have spent outside of the US I knew this was pretty dang hot, and bless my cab driver’s heart for not knowing that and taking the time to convert that to F for me.

For those of you who have not lived in as many C locations, or those in C locations understandably confused by the whole F thing let me impart a little trick I have relied on over the years. The official formula is C * 9/5 + 32 = F, notice that 9/5 is close to 2. So if you fudge that and then fudge in the other direction by changing the 32 to 30 you get something much simpler looking 2C + 30 ~ F. And it works pretty well in the weather temperature range, as a matter of fact at 20C it gives exactly the same answer of 70F. Of course as you get farther away from 20C it is less accurate, so just fudge a bit more.

And if that doesn’t work for you, I’ll share something my friend Barb shared with me from one of her co-workers (they teach junior high math).

30 is Hot   –   20 is Nice   – 10 is Chilly   –   0 is Ice

So the next time you find yourself hearing or seeing a forecast in C (for the US folks) or F (for the others), don’t panic, fudge it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tchau,

Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tchau,

Wendy

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