Monday, September 19, 2011

Cross Country Travel - Day 7

On word - RAIN - that is what we wake up to today and so we are in no hurry to get moving. It is the latest we have allowed ourselves to sleep in and it sure is nice to wake up in a room that is warm and we don't need pounds of blankets to survive. The rain puts a damper on our plans to see a little more of Porto Alegre before we head to our next destination.  We have breakfast, check out, and off we head towards downtown to see the historic city market before leaving the city. After a short drive we arrive downtown and it is but with people everywhere.  Most of the people are walking with  umbrellas attempting to stay dry. After we circle around for about fifteen stay dry. After we circle around for about fifteen minutes looking for a parking spot without any luck.  We decide the city market will have to wait until our next visit to Porto Alegre and so off we drive. 

Today we are driving down BR 101 which brings us along the eastern coast of Brazil.  OK - maybe not quite as close as Highway 1 along the California coast in the USA but if the weather was better and the sun was shining.  The drive would be beautiful I am sure, but today I can only imagine.  Sunny is not our luck and the drive is a little boring and I have to admit that I doze off from time to time.  The good thing about dozing off is that we soon arrive in Florianopolis (our destination), a city with a population of approximately 400,000 located on the Island of Santa Catarina. I should say most of the city is on the island, as part of the it is on the main land and some on the surrounding small islands. I know you are probably curious about the history of the city and since it is raining and already late afternoon,  there is not much more to share of our exploring so I will give a little history (thanks wikipedia once again).   
Archeologists have found proof that the area was first inhabited by the Tupi people who were native to Brazil over 4,000 years ago.  Settlement by Europeans began by Portuguese around 1514 and continued when the Bandeirantes came and explored the region.   The city was located halfway between two of the largest seaside cities in South America of the time, Rio de Janiero and Buenos Aires. This made it a very important port and helped attracted businesses and immigrants and sparked growth.  Then when the Federalist Revolt started in Rio Grande do Sul,  it soon spread to the city (then named Desterro).  During the revolt the city became the Federalist Capital of the Republic. After some time, Brazil contained the rebellion under the leadership of President Marechal Floriano Peixoto.  He ordered the shooting of many people  being held in the Anhatomirim Island Fortress who were considered enemies of the state at that time.  In response,  it is said that the people of the city then changed the name to Florianopolis to show loyalty to Brazil and President Floriano. Over time the city has changed and today it is known for it's beaches and tourism.  People come from all over the world to vacation here. 

Now you have a small history of Florianopolis,  so I will take us back to today's journey. We cross over the bridge connecting the continent to the island and the connection between the city and tourism is apparent. The shoreline is filled with high end condos and hotels.  It is late afternoon and raining so darkness is starting to set in early.  Instead of finding a hotel right away we vote to take in the city market.  I am sure our hunger played a part in this unanimous vote and I voice my desire to eat fish during our visit since we are so close to the ocean.  We figure I should be able to find that in the market.  The market is crowded with people, scurrying through the rain on their way to destinations unknown.  Some quickly without anything over their heads and some a little slower under the cover of their umbrellas.  The streets are simply beautiful with the people hurrying home for the evening all with the colonial buildings as a back drop.  As I step into the Central Market I am hit by the strong aroma of fish.  The market is full of vendors selling everything from fish and produce to clothes and home goods.  Very eclectic like most of the street fairs I have visited and I consider searching for souvenirs.  At one point I wonder if the clothing and trinkets purchased at the market would be saturated with this smell which is so strong.  I decide not to make any souvenir purchases at this time.  The mustard colored building which houses the market is U shaped with a patio in the middle for anyone who wants to grab a bite to eat.  Today it is not very useful with the rain coming down.  We spend some time looking around at the merchandise and have no luck finding food.  It soon becomes time to find a hotel so we hop back in the car and cruise around awhile.  Finally settling on a great hotel in the middle of the city.  Room service lasagna is our dinner plan as a rainy travel day has made us tired and lasagna seems like an excellent comfort food option.  It will surely be a good night sleep as the pelting rain on the balcony will help lull us to our dream zone.  Oh yeah, the outside temperature has come up to a more comfortable climate.  I am however disappointed that the forecast for tomorrow is more rain.  I guess I will just have to wish for sun and see what happens.  GOOD NIGHT!

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City Market Florianopolis

City Market Florianopolis

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Cross Country Travel - Day 6

Since we are touring around Porto Alegre (poɾtu aˈlegreh) today,  I figure I will start this blog with a little about the city and it's history.  Porto Alegre is also know as the Happy Harbour and it is the tenth largest municipality in Brazil.  The city has almost one million five hundred thousand people calling it home.  It is also the capital of Rio Grande do Sul which is the southern most state in Brazil.        
The history of Porto Alegre dates back to 1772 when immigrants from Portugal founded the city.  It was primarily settled by these Portuguese people until the late 19th century when a influx of immigrants came from Germany, Italy and Poland.  The immigrants probably chose to settle here as it is  located where five rivers converge to form the Lagoa dos Patos (Lagoon of the Ducks).  Since the foundation of the city, it has been an important port as well as a chief industrial and commercial center of Brazil.    
Porto Alegre is positioned on the coastline of Guaíba Lake.  The lake is deep enough to support the largest ships bringing cargo to the state and of course connects directly with the ocean. This makes the city an vital port for the region and the lake provides a home to many different species of birds and wildlife.  (thank wiki...)
Now that you have a brief history of Porto Alegre (and I do to) it is time to head out and explore... see what we can see. We decide to head  downtown through the city streets and as we get about five blocks from the hotel, we come across a beautiful church at the top of a hill. It is easy to decide to stop and take a look but not so easy to walk up the hill as we find a parking spot on the street below.  I say climb because it is a steep hill that stands between us and the front of the cathedral.  The climb is quick and I am the second one to round the corner with Luiz ahead and Junior following behind.  The church is amazing. and I gaze on its beauty and the square across the street which perfectly complements it.   I head towards the Catedral Metropolitana de Porto Alegre's (Cathedral of Porto Alegre) entrance walking by some street people sitting up against the building.  As I get close to the front door someone taps me on the shoulder and as I turn, it is not Junior who I expect and I jump at least 2 feet into the air.  The man (obviously from the church)  profusely apologizes for startling me, at least I think that is what he was doing in Portuguese.  All I could get out is "Não falo português - Eu sou um americano - falo Inglês" (I don't speak Portuguese - I am an American - I speak English).  Junior soon catches up and helps by adding translation and by this time I am laughing about the situation.  After my heart rate returns to normal I step inside the entrance to gaze on the etched glass windows of the front doors.
  I continue inside and the sanctuary is magnificent with tons of natural light raining in from the dome above allowing pure light to illuminate the wonderful murals and details of the church.     After a little while,  I head back outside and cross the street to the square in order to get another view of the front of the cathedral.  I had not realized just how beautiful the front was until I crossed the street and turned around.  What spectacular mosaics depicting the history of the church and the state of Rio Grande do Sul.   The church is also known as the Catedral Metropolitana (Metropolan Cathedral) and history of the building dates back to 1780 when construction began. 

The parish existed before the building and as far as I could find the first worship was held in the newly finished nave in the year 1793.  The church has had many additions and remodels over the two hundred plus year history but has always served Porto Alegre as the center of the Catholic Church.   (Church's Website - in Portuguese)

Now standing in the square,  I look around and it is a lovely square with moss dripping trees and buildings surrounding it built in many different architecture styles.   The square named: Praça Marechal Deodoro has been in existance since the beginning of the city and today those buildings surrounding it make up the center of politics, history, and social activities for the city and the state of Rio Grande do Sul.  Piratini Palace, seat of the State executive power; the building of the Legislative Assembly, the Public Ministry's Palace,the Palace of Justice, Theatro Sao Pedro and the well known house of Solar Pamiero are all  located on the square. 
In the center of the square is an impressive statue "Monumento a Júlio de Castilhos".  Named after a governor of Rio Grande do Sul in the late 1800's.  The statue was finished in 1913 and has spurred debates on the interpretation of the great monument since.  Today, my traveling companions and I discuss the graffiti that litters the base of the statue and how graffiti is a plague Brazil still needs to deal with. We have seen it in every city we have visited.  I share memories of Chicago and New York in my earlier years and how those cities were full of this type of vandalism.  Hopefully these Brazilian cities can figure out a way to curb it and allow the true beauty of their architecture and art to radiate through. 

We are done visiting the square, but not quite ready to head back down the hill to the car.  As we drove to where the car currently sits, we had noticed a street which went under another street and the tunnel was so interesting we wanted to walk the few blocks and check it out.  As we walked I again noticed the sidewalks of the city.  Brazil's sidewalks amaze me as many of them are mosaics of rocks which created beautiful artwork.  All so creative and almost all are different then the next or the last.  We finally reach our destination and once again are not disappointed. We are actually on the street that goes above the tunnel and so begin to walk down the sides.  The street is lined with trees and their canopies hover over the cars quickly passing by.  Along the side of the tunnel, the walls have concrete arches which separate the street from the sidewalks and provide the support for the walkways that have been created to get from the street below to where we are. Since our car is on the street below it does not take long for us to decide to stroll down to the lower street so we can return to the car and continue our days tour of the city. 

We arrived in the downtown area and find a parking spot.  It is Sunday so a lot less busy as the other day when we arrived.  The first thing I notice as we begin our self guided tour is all the military presents in the city.  Porto Alegre has a history well entwined with military as it is the capital of the southern most state of Brazil and often called upon to defend the territory against neighboring countries of Argentina and Uruguay.  Not to mention a couple of uprising where the people of the region attempted to succeed from Brazil.  Today there were men throughout this particular part of the city dressed in military uniforms at their posts.  I am not sure if there was a base located here or what but we did come across some buildings that looked like military quarters and a military museum.  As we walked along we came across another wonderful cathedral. 
Ingreja Nossa Senhora da Dores
All white with two tall steeples reaching into the heavens above, the Igreja Nossa Senhora das Dores graces the  center of the city with its beauty and elegance.  It simply  catches your eyes as you are walking towards it and doesn't let you look anywhere else.  I had to wait until we walked away from the church to notice some of the other remarkable buildings on the street.  Passing by the central library,  city hall, some beautiful squares and many more architecturally stunning buildings on our journey.  We stop and ask for directions before arriving at a beautiful street lined with tall palm trees.   This  area is full of buildings that house the Rio Grande do Sul Museum of Art which surrounds a park currently under renovation in preparation for the World Cup.  We head in and take some time to explore a couple of the museums in the area and enjoy the Brazilian art.
After walking around and enjoying the architecture in the area, we are off to a new destination: Farroupilha Park.    It is a short drive through the city and fortunately we quickly find a parking spot to leave our car when we arrive.  My first impression of the park is that it is very large but is in need of some attendance to pick up the trash.  Down the middle of the park is a large reflection pond and we begin walking down the path on the one side of the pond.  All along the path there are benches filled with Porto Alegre residence.  It seems like each one has their thermos and cuia  in hand.  If you want to know about cuia please read Cross Country Day 4 which talks all about this regional tradition and mate drink.  At the end of the reflection pond is a grand duel arch with a gentleman playing bagpipes in one of the arches.  We stop and listen for a while and leave a small donation before we head off to the street market which trails down the end of the park.  Filled with the vendors selling hand made goods and all kinds of different items. 
This market is rich with local culture and accented by the colorful buildings on the streets behind.  There are also entertainers mixed throughout the vendors and we stop a while to enjoy a juggler as he tosses soccer balls up into the air with ease.  We find a nice place to have lunch and as the market begins to close, decide to head back across the park.  We arrive back at the car and quickly get in and drive away.  You may ask, why am I sharing about our departure from the parking lot.  Well,  we leave quickly because there are now guys hanging around who are wanting to get paid for watching vehicles who have parked in the lot.  This practice is common in many cities in Brazil and most of the time we pay them a small fee.   This time we do not feel they deserved it as they were not here when we arrived and may have arrived five minutes ago for all we know.  OK - I know...enough with that little side note.

We spend the rest of the afternoon driving around looking for sights like: Fundacao Ibere Camargo Museum - a wonderful architectural building which I look forward to visiting the insides on a future visit, Internacional Stadium - a soccer stadium for the local professional team which was filling with fans dressed in red today for the afternoon game,  Marco's Barra Shopping - a large mall recently built in the city, Ponte do Azenha (Azenha Bridge) which spans a creek with one way streets traveling in opposite directions on each side.  As we pass by the bridge I point out how there are palm trees growing down the middle of the bridge and wonder how they can grow there,  I only find out later that this bridge is famous and that these palm trees are actually from California.  The seedlings were imported and planted here when the bridge was built.

Fundacao Ibere Camargo Museum                              Internacional Stadium
After driving around a while, there is still some sunlight left so we decide to travel across the Ponte do Guaiba (Guaiba Bridge) which was the first movable  bridge built in Brazil over fifty years ago.  The draw bridge allows ships to travel to the city's ports and vehicles to travel over the Guaiba River to the small town of Guaiba and then further on west into Brazil.  The bridge is a large concrete structure and we are left to imagine what it's like as the road is lifted up for the ships to continue there trip up river.   After we cross the bridge there are few places to turn around as we travel over several islands and waterways before reaching solid ground.  The largest thing I notice is the poverty of the people living in this area.  All along the low lying areas there are shacks made of left over or maybe I should say creative building materials.  The yards are often full of garbage and I soon realize that the people who live here head to the city to collect garbage to find their treasures. It is not a great reality of Brazil to explore and after driving a few miles and seeing a lot of these neighborhoods we are ready to turn around.  I have had many friends ask me if I have noticed the poverty of Brazil and up until this point I have seen some but have not been overwhelmed by it.  This little detour has surely allowed me to see the poorest of the poor living in Brazil. 
We return to our hotel to get ready for the evening which is highlighted by coffee with family of friends from Mineiros,  We meet up with them at a great little coffee shop that rivals any in the United States.  Quite a contrast from what we have seen today but this is truly the reality of this country.  The night goes well with laughter, coffee, and light eats.  Soon it is time to retire for the evening in our heated hotel room (even though the temperatures have really gone up and we don't need the heat). Tomorrow is another half day in Porto Alegre before we head out to our next destination.

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cross Country Travel - Day 5

Morning has broken... cold as it is.  If you read day 4,  you know there is no heat in our hotel so we woke up under layers of blankets as the outside temperatures dropped close to zero Celsius (thirty two Fahrenheit).  Time to quickly get ready, put on our jackets and headed to breakfast.  I do want to make sure my readers know that there are hotels with heated rooms in this region of Brazil if you want to travel here in the winter.  But when we arrived at the hotel,  those rooms were taken and I guess that is the risk you take when you don't make reservation.  I am sure we could have driven around and found a hotel but for one night we can make it work. 
The morning air is brisk but we have some site seeing to do so we are out the door around 9:24 A.M.  We drive down a road past a bright orange house (I had to mention it as it truly woke me up and I had to share that Brazilians are not afraid of using color to paint their homes) exiting Canela on our way to a destination unknown to me.  A little over four miles later we arrive at the entrance of Caracol State Park and pay the fee to enter.  It is a beautiful park with trees full of Spanish moss and other plants hanging from its branches and growing on their trunks.  It reminds me a lot of Savannah, Georgia. The parking lot is about half full and around the parking lot there are little shops full of art created by local artist on sale.  We leave the car and walk down the path where we are greeted by a couple of guys in front of a structure that looks like a ranger station. 
The guys are selling entrance to the tower that overlooks the valley but since we already paid at the gate, we decide to take a look around and continue walking down the path.  Why does this short narrative make my blog you ask?  Well, there were several people walking down the sidewalk with us and each of them made some comment about how they already paid to enter the park.  None of them want to pay again as they complain that this is how things works in Brazil. Always trying to have people pay more, but I think this is how tourism works as there are many places in the United States where you pay to enter only to find a part of the attraction requires more money to participate (Georgia Aquarium, Arnold's Park,  Stone Mountain, just to name a few). But, back to my day... soon we come across a observation deck that extends out about twenty feet over a valley.  As we get on the platform I quickly realize why we have come
to this particular park. Luiz had mentioned a waterfall he wanted to show me and this is where the waterfall is and it is like no other waterfall I have ever seen.  Oh yes,  I have been to Niagra Falls, and it is spectacular, but this Cascata do Caracol (Caracol Waterfall) is spectacular in a whole different perspective.  The Caracol River comes roaring over the edge and drops at least forty stories (426 feet) onto rocks below.  I say an edge as the basalt rocks of the cliff which are behind the waterfall follow the plunging water for about twenty stories and then recede.  A huge cavern then takes the rocks place behind the plunging water and the water continues plummeting with nothing but air behind it until it hits the rocks below.  Well nothing behind it immediately as there is earth somewhere and trees are growing at the edge in the cavern creating a backdrop.  The Caracol Waterfall happens to be the second most visited tourist spot in Brazil and I can see why.  (thanks wikipedia)

After spending a little time there observing the waterfalls grandiosity from the observation deck,  we decided to get a little closer as we are supposed to be able to hike to the base of the waterfall.  As we walk, we continue to enjoy the park and all it splendor.   I am a little disappointed as we arrive at the entrance of the 927 stairs which would take you to the base of the waterfall as it is closed today.  Bummer!   We will have to be satisfied with a short walk through the park along the river and plan this adventure if we ever make it back to visit.   There are some other smaller falls and it is quite relaxing and tranquil as we continue to enjoy our morning in nature. 
Time to leave the park and check out Canela so we hop back into the car and drive back into town past the orange house.  (Oh - if you ever go to Caracol Falls - there is another option to see the falls - it is from the cable car that gives you wonderful panoramic views of the falls- at least I hear and this will be a plan for me if I ever return)  We end up in the little downtown area and I feel a little off kilter.  They have snowmen on the corners, holly decorated street lanterns, and other "winter" decorations all about the city.  Then I realize again, that it is winter here and they could have had snow recently. (how quickly I forgot last night's cold temperatures)  This is definitely a tourist draw for this little community.  Snow in June?  Quite a bit different then what I was expecting and there are signs all around the city waiting for the people and the little white flakes.  Thank goodness the weather forecast is for warming temperatures and no snow.

At the end of the main street it is impossible to miss the Catedral Nossa Senhora de Lourdes (Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes) or also known as Catedral de Pedra (Cathedral of Stone).  This spectacular structure built of the local basalt rock -- towers into the sky 215 feet (65 meters).  Construction in English Gothic style, construction of the church began in 1941 and as far as I can tell was finished in the late 1980s.  One fact about the church I found interesting was that the tower houses 12 bronze bells (known as "independence bells") imported from a foundry in Crespi Italy.  They took their home in the tower in 1972 and some time after that they stopped working.  The bells spent around twenty five years without producing a sound until 2005 when they were repaired and today they chime for all in the surrounding area to hear.  (facts thanks to wikipedia and a Brazilian website - I hope my translation was accurate.)   The interior of the church has the usual spectacular stain glass windows complimented by some incredible artwork.   A grand church and a must see if you are in the area.

OK - time to walk back downtown and look for chocolate.  Yes the city Canela (which means cinnamon) is known for it's chocolate.  But before we get to the chocolate stores, I  am greeted by a man on the street in the traditional dress of this region (a gaucho).  I advise him "não falo português" (I don't speak Portuguese) as he hands me a flier for a local restaurant he is promoting and attempts to share with me. I know many Americans like me,  associate gauchos with the grill masters at Brazilian Steak houses found in the good old USA.  Well those grill masters come from this region of Brazil and a "gaucho" is actually a cowboy who has a well known style of dress.   The typical outfit would include a poncho (which doubled as a saddle, blanket and sleeping gear), a facon (large knife), a rebenque (leather whip) and loose-fitting trousers called bombachas,  belted with a tirador, or a chiripa, a piece of cloth.  This style of dress is only seen from time to time anymore and he allows me a quick photo with him  before we head off to buy some chocolate.
Little chocolate shops litter the city of Canela with their fronts screaming for travelers to stop for a photo opportunity.   The shops compete for the travelers with a variety of life size chocolate statues.  We stop at a cute shop and I quickly fill boxes with chocolate of all kinds for my American friends.  The cashier tells us to make sure we head upstairs to see what is up there before retreating to our car.  Of course our curiousity is heightened and we head up past

the chocolate waterfall and life size chocolate figures.  We come to a room with music playing.  After futher investigation,  we see two kids ice skating, but this is no regular rink - the kids are skating on chocolate.  Yes chocolate.  I watch a while and think of putting on a pair of skates myself,  but it is a small rink and we have more of Canela to see.  (OH - by the way the chocolate I bought in Canela was deliscious)

Our next stop in Canela is at one of the well known Colonial Cafes.  I had several Brazilian friends facebook me on which cafe to try so I know it is a must experience for our visit.   Luiz has already chosen one for us to eat lunch at and it is not much further down the road.  A Colonial Cafe is a restaurant where you sit and the wait staff brings everything coffee to your table. Salty and sweet,  cheese and bread, meat and starch, are soon filling our table ready for a taste.  The experience is unlike a buffet as it is all there at your fingertips.  The meal is wonderful and I can put this in the books as another pleasurable eating experience in Brazil. 
As the afternoon clicks in,  it is time to head to our next destination Porto Alegre so we say goodbye to the  Rota Romatica region of Brazil. As we drive the first few miles I wonder if I will return someday to see it during the hydragia season (October - December).  Miles of roads framed with hydragias in full bloom.  It must be spectacular but for now I will have to be satisfied with the post cards we purchased.  The drive to Porto Alegre takes a few hours and I have to admit I sleep a bit so it is very quick for me.  As we arrive in Porto Alegre it doesn't take long to realize that this is a good size city.  We manuever to the downtown area which is bussling with people. At one point we turn down a street that is absolutely full of people and I wonder how we are going to navigate it.  The people reluctantly move as we drive no more then one mile an hour and they don't really have another choice.  (thank goodness it is only a few blocks)  My first impressions of Porto Alegre is that it is full of wonderful architecture,  history,  military importance, people, and the city must rely on the waterfront for a lot of its character.

Off to find a hotel,  we end up stopping at a few hotels before settling on a nice hotel with heat.  Since the sun is about to set we quickly unload the car and head back to the waterfront.  There is a famous spot to watch the sunset located near the old power plant that has been turned into a tourist center.  As we park and cross the street, there is a band playing while a man sings.  It takes a while for us to figure out what he is saying as his English is very poor.  Junior and I laugh a minute as neither one of us can understand him. 
The waterfront has a row of vendors selling food and other products to the thousands of  people who have gathered to excersize, socialize, and watch the setting sun.  We walk out on the pier and I soon notice a square of caution tape on the ground.  After a closer look,  I see a pair of birds.  One is playing hurt trying to keep people from going to close to the other.  It is obvious that these birds have chosen a bad place to lay their eggs and someone has tried to assist them with a caution tape berrier.  I watch for a while with a small group of other people and wonder if this is a wasted effort or will these two birds be proud parents of little hatchlings this laying season. We decide to walk along the water as the sun disappears over the horizon.  Soon it is time to head back to the hotel and get ready for tomorrows further adventure in this great city - Porto Alegre.  
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