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.

Click here to read Cross Country Travel - Day 5
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