Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Next Stop - Belo Horizonte - Part 4 - Ouro Preto

  Ouro Preto (Black Gold) has got to be the destination city for today!  My English student Rosana had shared with me that this is a place in Brazil I must see someday and since we are so close I think it is going to happen.  Yes,  confirmed with Luiz and the rest of my traveling party,  Ouro Preto it is.  Since I had heard so much about this city of black gold, I took to the internet to learn more and see what the fuss was.
Between 1693 and 1698 a group of bandeirantes from Sao Paulo were exploring the mountains of the Minas Gerais territory in search of minerals and
indigenous people to enslave.  It is folklore that one of these groups of rugged men came across the Tripui creek and along the riverbed, a bandeirante picked up a piece of "black gold".  These gold nuggets were of a purer carat and covered by a thin layer of iron oxide.  The actual person who discovered this gold nugget is not known but once its value was realized it sparked a gold rush to the mountain region and began Brazil's golden age under Portuguese rule.  The influx of adventures looking for fortune formed a small village named Vila Rica de Albuquerque (translates to: Rich Village of Alburquerque).  Minas Gerais was growing fast and in 1720  it became a state and Vila Rica its capital.
Gold was plentiful in the area and the tremendous wealth from the gold mines attracted the intelligentsia of Europe.  Philosophers, painters, sculptures and artists flocked to the small town as it flourished leaving an eclectic array of masterpieces.  As the mines became exhausted the Portuguese Empire began imposing higher taxes and demanding revenue which equaled that of the areas prosperous time.     This crack down lead to the Inconfidencia Mineira of 1789, an attempt for the state of Minas Gerais to gain independence from Portugal which failed.   This uprising is seen as the beginning of the end for the Portuguese rule of Brazil and as history shows, in 1822 the whole country gained its independence from the crown.  Shortly after independence,  the name Vila Rica was changed to Imperial Cidade de Ouro Preto in 1823 (Ouro Preto).   The city continued its prominence in the state of Minas Gerais as capital city until 1897 when the new capital of Belo Horizonte was planned and built. (thanks wikipedia and Ouro Preto official home page for the history lesson)
Enough of the history lesson, even though I found it quite interesting as there was a lot to read.  I am ready to head out to the countryside again and explore this colonial city.  Out of Belo Horizonte we head in the same direction as yesterday but a few miles on our journey we take a quick detour.  Danillo wants to show us the top of the world??  Yes - we turn down some less traveled roads ending up on a gravel road traversing the pot holes as we climb higher and higher.    We pull into one of the remaining parking spots and hop out of the car.  The rest of the climb will be by foot and the view is already spectacular.  I said the "Top of the World" because that is the name of the restaurant which sits on top of a ridge overlooking the valleys and smaller hills below.  As we approach the restaurant it is obviously not open at this time which is fine as no one is quite hungry yet.  The view is sure worth the little detour but soon Ouro Preto calls and we head back down the incline.  I will add this to the must come and try the cuisine on our next visit list. 
As anxious as I am to see this city of black gold,  there is one more stop we make which I am glad we did.  It is about at the half way point and we come to Jeca Tatu.  A Pamonharia which is a restaurant that specializes in pamonha. (read about Pamonha in this post) My first thought as we pull into the parking area is I am still not hungry and would rather just continue on.  However, upon exiting the car we are treated to a step back in time.  A bit unorganized but the collection of old 45 records and antique turntables is quite impressive even for North American standards.  Throughout the little road side stop there are old 45's littering the ceilings and walls.  Sinatra,  Olivia Newton John,  the Beetles are all represented here along with many Brazilian artists I have never heard of.  In the mix of records there is a collection of other artifacts from years gone by and after walking through and looking around I venture out the back door to the little chapel.  A small blue wooded structure with the typical Jesus statue blessing it from above and rosaries hanging within.  A little further down the path is an old school bus clearly nonoperational with a "livre" 
(translation: library) sign hanging at the back door.  Curious I step up the wooden planks and enter into a library of such with books and chairs scattered about.  I suppose one is welcome to come and read for a while as you enjoy the reminiscence of riding one of these yellow bump finders down those old country roads. Remember I grew up in rural Iowa and road the bus to school many years.   We spend a little over an hour exploring this road side trap and soon it is time to get back in the car and continue our journey.  There are a few more clouds forming in the sky today and the forecast is a chance of rain.  Plenty to see when we get there so off we travel.
Driving into Ouro Preto is like hopping into a time machine and traveling back to colonial days.  It is quite amazing how nothing has seemed to change,  ok maybe the gas station on the corner would not have been there in colonial times, but that is on the outer edge of the city and of course people today do have cars.  I read online that the city has imposed strict guidelines for new
construction in order to preserve the historical architectural integrity of the community.  A few blocks into the city we arrive at a run down cathedral and our adventure begins.   It is the St. Francisco de Paula's Church built in the beginning of the 19th century.  Walking up to the building through the graveyard, one is transformed to a time when this area was filled with wealth and prosperity.  The structure is perched on a hillside that overlooks the city below.  As I peer off over the valley, I realize this is just one of many churches that protrude above the rooftops of the homes and shops below.  In need of a little repair the structure remains there standing proud.  A sprinkling of tourist dot the courtyard of the church as we head to the entrance.  I overhear a couple of guys speaking English and eves drop a minute.   They are arguing as not everyone in their touring party has the same idea of how to spend their day here.  I come to the conclusion they are not from the United
States either so instead of saying hello, I head towards the large oversize front doors. As I walk I think to myself how I appreciate my own traveling partners and that we all seem to get along without too much banter.   The front doors are wide open and there is a man taking donations at the threshold so I put my coins into the canister and enter.  AMAZING is simply the best word to describe the sanctuary with light blue walls accented with the golden detailed alter in baroque style.   The alter is a good representation of what those days of prosperity would have been like with all its gold trimming and extravagant craftsmanship.   Once again I am a little disappoint as no photography is allowed inside although I do understand why.  I am also not sure there is enough light for my little camera to capture its beauty anyway.
After this church we head to the main square and find a place to park.  From here one can look out over the city and I realize there are many more  cathedrals then I thought.  The skies are turning  gray and since it is going to take a while to see everything so begin I hoping the rain will stay away for a while.  We head off to explore the central part of the city.  The town square "Praca Tiradentes" is located here and is historically known as the location where the Inconfidencia Mineira of 1789 was exposed.  In 1894 a bronze statue was inaugurated honoring the only man to confess to his part in the uprising Jose da Silva Xavier who was known as Tiradentes (meaning tooth puller) because of his expert dentistry.  Today this large bronze statue still sits on its slab of concrete surround by cobble stone streets in the middle of the square.  Definitely not your typical green square found in other cities but it does
have its perks as we find a parking spot easily in a place that would be grass in other cities.  On the one end of the street stands the former town hall which became a jail and later the conspiracy museum which is currently housed in   the building.  Near it is the old governors palace which houses museum of science and technology.  The rest of the buildings on the square are a mix of small colonial style shops and houses. An interesting fact is that the 1988 movie "Moon over Parador" was partially filmed in the square.  Pretty good little movie I might add if you are looking for an oldie but a goody.  OK, I am a little off track and since there has been a lot already in this post and we have just left the car,  I think it is a good place to pause and make this a two part posting.  There is so much I want to share about the rest of our journey mixed with the history I found while researching on the internet.  I hope you have enjoyed it this far and look forward to bringing you the next post with our afternoon in Ouro Preto...  

To  Read Part 5 - CLICK HERE 

Jeca Tatu Chapel 

Cemetery at the church

Library in bus Jeca Tatu

Library in bus Jeca Tatu

Wooden horse - Jeca Tatu

View - Top of the World Restaurant - 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Next Stop - Belo Horizonte - Part 3

What a great night sleep and we wake to another day filled with clear sunny skies.  I am happy the hotel is nice and it has a good breakfast to start our day as we have extended our stay a couple more nights.  I am not sure what is on the itinerary as we get ready this morning but I do know our destination is a little bit of a drive.  There has been discussion of visiting a couple of places not far from Belo Horizonte.  One is Ouro Preto which my English student told me is a must visit in the area and the other is unknown to me.  I am not sure which got voted on for today's journey so I will just have to wait and see when we get there.
We take off a little after 10:00 A.M. driving along the ridge at the edge of Belo Horizonte where the mall is and all the tall buildings are being constructed.  The road leads us out of town to the hilly landscape surrounding the city.  The drive is filled with twisting roads and small third world villages filled with people  going about their usual day.   It is less then an hour and we arrive in Brumadinho but our travels are not quite complete.  Just outside this dirt road filled community we pull into the parking area of Inhotim.  Not sure what we will find here but the parking lot is half full and the driveway leading up to the entrance is lined with beautiful palm trees making quite a statement
Inhotim:  Institute of Contemporary Art and Botanical Garden:  For years this 5,000 acre area was a private farm enjoyed by colleagues of the famous mining magnate Bernardo Paz.  In 2006 he opened the farm up to the public allowing them to enjoy what he and Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx had created.  Of course at this time in our journey I was not aware of what lied ahead. All I could tell is that it was well manicured, it accommodated some wealthy visitors as there was a helicopter pad in the corner of the parking lot, and it must be far removed from the poverty which surrounds it.  This was obvious by the heavily armed guards at its entrance.  As we approach the front gates, I was hoping most of the day would be spent outside as the sun was shining and the temperatures were perfect for a walk.
We pass through the gates to the ticket counters that resemble any ticketing area found in the United States.  After purchasing our passes we gravitate towards the little gift shop.  The shop is filled with hammocks,  butterfly cages and all the other items needed to fill one's yard.  Still at this point I am not sure what we have paid for but it must be garden related by the items in the little shop.  Soon we turn in our tickets and head down the perfectly cobblestone path to begin our exploration.  A few steps and the path splits in two directions around a calm clear little lake surrounded by grand palm and eucalyptus trees.  This was
only one of many man made lakes  that accent the gardens and provide the swans a geese a place to swim within the boarders of the property.  We head off to the left as we see a building in the near distance, just past the little wooden bridge.  This will be a taste of what we will find in this intriguing place.  Upon entering the first building we are required to remove our shoes in the little entryway.  Through the doors we enter the first room which is decorated with all the normal amenities of an home except everything is red.  Yes - everything is ruby red and to be quite honest it is the red which is my favorite color.  I really want to snap a couple photos but we were informed by the girl at the entrance that there is no photography in any of the galleries we will visit today.  (I did end up finding some photos 
Red room photo found on the intenet 
to share with you on the internt.)     I look at all the amazing red, everything you can imagine,  some of it natural and some of it painted this shade of red,  until we get to the other end of the room.  On the floor is some paint  which is spilled and dry.  It is obviously intentionally spilled to guide guests into the next room as it trails away into the pitch black space.  We round the corner and on the opposite wall where the spilled red paint tapers is a light.  As we approach the light it is obviously illuminating a sink and upon closer examination the sink is running red water.  Oddly I find the exhibit to be quite peaceful even with
another internet photo - this one of
the glass room - click to enlarge it
its hint of morbidity.  We head back to the front door,  put on our shoes and track off to the door just a few steps away.  Inside this entrance the young gentleman informs us to keep our shoes on and advises those wearing flip flops are only allowed around the edge of the exhibit.  Once we enter the dimly lit room it is clear to see why.  A basin is covered with shattered glass and above it hanging from the ceiling are different items like wire and cloth pieces which create a maze of sorts.  In the center of this so called maze is a large white ball.  Fortunately I have worn walking shoes so I get to step on the glass and check out the white sphere in the middle.  Once again I am not sure why but it is a wonderful experience but that is what art is supposed 
another internet photo
to do - make you think and experience.  I think of it as an account of a post apocalyptic adventure with shattered ruins all around.  Oh how your mind can wander to different places given the right stimulus.  OK,  in writing this post I realize there is no way to convey the artistic value of these galleries.  I would never be able to share each of them we explored as there are over 500 artists from Brazil and around the world represented throughout the gardens.  To be quite honest there are just too many to share.  I would encourage anyone who loves art and botanical gardens to add this hidden gem to your bucket list.
We spend the rest of the day wondering around the wonderful gardens while exploring the art galleries scattered throughout.  My favorite galleries would have to be the stark white room filled with hammocks as you know I love a good afternoon hammock nap.  The observation deck where you can listen to the center of the earth. The installation which challenges the deforestation of the Amazon region of Brazil.  Housed in a large glass dome,  an enormous log cutting machine with its claws wrapped around a stark white tree with roots embedded in the machine.  This is only a few of the gallery highlights we discovered.  There are so many more wonderful works displayed though out the gardens right next to the wild life and spectacular vegetation.
  Not only was I impressed with the art in the galleries but throughout the gardens lye trinkets of wonderful artistic vision.   The good thing about the pieces in the garden is there are no limitation on photography and it is simply a wonderful day for photographs.     My favorite were the looking balls in the reflecting pools.  The soft breeze pushing them in different direction creating a wonderfully relaxing sound.  Another favorite was the colorful concrete shapes protruding from the earth adding a wonderful contrast to the green surroundings. Oh heck,  there are just too many exhibits in Inhotim that intrigue me
that I would like to share with you and this blog post would just be too long.  I can only encourage you to give Inhotim a high mark on your bucket list.   So much to share and looking back at the day, it was simply wonderful.  Walking all over the 5000 acres sure did not seem like much but I am sure we covered several miles.  At the beginning of the evening we decide to head back to the city and meet up with Ronaldo and Luiz O for dinner again.  It is another great day exploring the wonderful hidden treasure Inhotim.

Interesting facts about Inhotim 

  • The garden is home to the largest collection of palm trees in the world with over 1300 species. 
  • Art - there are about 500 pieces by 97 artists from 30 nationalities. 
  • They have a large education program for the community. 
  • It has the largest collection of living plant species in Brazil with over 4,000 native and exotic species.
  • They have visitors guides in English - you don't find that many places in Brazil. 

 Read Part 4 - CLICK HERE 

If you are interested in other photos Ihotim - I have provided a link to goolge images - enjoy!
picture of Inhotim from Google Images 

where you can listen to the center of the world 
a pipe runs through it all! 

Building nestled among the gardens

another one of my favorites

and another one of my favorites 

Lunch - a little expensive. 

Read Part 4 - CLICK HERE 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Next stop -- Belo Horizonte -- Part 2

Liberdade Square
Well, we found our way to Belo Horizonte (bɛloɾiˈzõtʃi] Beautiful Horizon) and I gave you my first impressions but I did not give any back ground.  Let's start with a little intro about the third largest metropolitan area in Brazil.  The first settlement here was a small farm founded in 1701 by bandeirante explorers from Sao Paulo.  The farm was given the name "Curral d'el Rey" and with its success others soon settled in the area and  soon it became a village surrounded by farms.  Many migrants passed through the small village stopping for prayers at its little wooden chapel asking for a good journey as they set off for the south.
In 1893, after Brazil's independence from Portugal,   many of the states prominent intellectuals demanded a new state capital be created.  This small village was chosen due to its climate and topographic conditions as the new economic and cultural center for the state and the name was changed to "Cidade de Minas" (Minas City).  Plans began quickly for Brazil's second planned city and in 1897 the city was finally inaugurated even with many unfinished streets and buildings.  During the industrial revolution, the name was changed to Belo Horizonte and a massive influx of population occurred leaving the planner's vision struggling to keep up.
Oscar Niemeyer Design
I have mentioned Oscar Niemeyer in a few of my previous posts and feel compelled to mention him here.  In the 1940's a young Niemeyer was commissioned by the mayor of Belo Horizonte to designed the Pampulha neighborhood.  He filled it with wide avenues,  large lakes, manicured parks, a casino and an upscale yacht club.  Mr Niemeyer credits this commissioning as the true starting point of his career and where he began getting recognized for his free thought and ideas.  In addition to the Pampulha area,  there are several buildings throughout the city built with his natural use of curves and free space.  Mr. Niemeyer is such a well known architect in Brasil and around the world,  I had share as I pay a visit to his professional birthplace. (thanks wiki)

Enough of Belo Horizonte history - let's get up and explore for ourselves.  We
rise early and make plans to meet up with Danillo (Luiz's nephew) who is completing his residency here.    He has a few things to do in the morning and since we have a little time we decide to explore by foot. A few blocks from the hotel is the run down Antigo Hotel Itatiaia which sits adjacent to the  Predio da Estacao Central (the old central train station).  In between these two buildings lies the wonderful little park Praca Rui Barbosa, filled with wonderful sculptures, trimmed grass, and blooming flowers.  I can imagine working in the area and escaping here for lunch, a little quiet time or to do little reading.   The Antigo Hotel fits right into my first impressions of the city as it is obviously in need of renovations.  It is
a great old structure standing tall among the buildings which  surround it.   I am sure its history is interesting considering the location it holds in the city.  I understand there is talk of a face lift before the 2014 World Cup, but there is no sign of it at this point so we will have to wait and see.  The Praca Rui Barbosa is simply a delicate oasis in the concrete masses of the city.  With its beautiful fountains, sculptures and French style gardens the park has welcomed pedestrians as they exited the train station since the cities beginning. Today the entrance to the metro central station is located on the square and the old Predio de Estacao (train station) houses the Museu de Artes e Ofícios (Museum of Arts and Crafts).  Opened in 2005 and dedicated entirely to the arts and craft history of Brazil it boasts over two thousands pieces  displayed in this renovated train station.  The Museum has not opened for the day so all we can do is enjoy the architectural beauty on the outside.  We walk along the station covered with graffiti

and filled with clusters of street people.  Not sure if we should continue in this direction we ask a couple walking on the street for anything else interesting to see within walking distance.  They advise us of a park - the Americo Rene Giannetti Municipal Park just a few blocks away in the direction we are currently walking and upon seeing a mobile police station ahead,  we are reassured that is it ok to travel in this direction.
After about a ten minute walk we come to the wrought iron fence which encloses the park and begin to search for the entrance.  On the other side
of the fence we can see carnival rides, some walking paths, and a large pond of water.  The only obstacle for enjoying these things is the fence and we take a little while to come across the grand gate which opens and allows visitors into the park everyday.   We stroll down one of the many paths and my first impressions of this city comes back into my mind.  It just seems dirty and in need of some renovation as litter clutters the flower beds along the walkway.  There is little manicured here and in the mdidle of the large pond lies a large cement structure.  I am sure years ago it was impressive, but today it is missing some of the fountains and in need of some fresh paint.  We find out later that this is the municipal park and it is in the beginning stages of renovation. We spend a half an hour or so wandering down the different paths admiring the ducks and flowers.  Although their is room for improvement in the actual park,  the day is beautiful and it makes the morning so enjoyable.  Soon it is time to head back towards the hotel so we can meet up with Danillo.  On our way back we stop for some freshly squeezed orange juice and come across a majestic cathedral.    Another great example of the Catholic influence in the early years of the country,  today it stands proud with its stain glass windows and tall bell tower overhead. Time for us to get back so we don't spend a lot of time exploring but I am sure it is beautiful and maybe there will be some time in the next couple of days to come back.
We meet up with Danillo and pile into his car for driving a tour of the local hot spots. He has been here doing his residence for a few months and is happy to show us around.  We drive for a while and right away I can tell the area of the city he is taking us to is a little more upscale then where we have been.  The avenues are larger, the homes are nicer, and there is much less graffiti around.  We drive by the area where construction of the new stadium for the World Cup is underway and it is impressive.  I have looked at the drawings for each of the new stadiums and this one ranks up there as one of my favorites along with Brasilias, Sao Paulo and my
favorite Manaus. (*check them out for yourself*)  There are a lot of construction vehicles driving through the street for a while but it calms down as we enter the Pampulha neighborhood where Oscar Niemeyer began to find acclaim for his modernist style of architecture.  First on the list is  St. Francis de Assisi cathedral,  a little catholic church he designed which sits along side a large man made lagoon.  The building has Niemeyers signature curved concrete covered with blue and white tile creating a mural depicting the Saint it is named after and then strategically placed to create wave patterns on the other sides.  Not a typical catholic cathedral in Brazil with its curves and simplistic views.  Actually, when it was first built, the Catholic Church would not consecrate it for some fifteen years because of its unorthodox form.  For me it is a beautiful structure perfectly placed along the blue body of water although its size would surely limit the number of worshipers it can accommodate. 
After a little looking around, we hop back into the car to continue our tour through the Pampulha neighborhood past several large homes and the yacht club where they have a well known ball and fireworks every New Years Eve.  Danillo takes us to a quaint restaurant - Xapuri - 
tucked away in one of the affluent neighborhoods.  It is a rustic place with stables in the back where one can take a quick horse riding lesson if you had time and the desire.  I could look around and explore for hours as the large dining area is filled with intricate details.  The size of the place is massive with five kitchens to serve the guests. I understand on the weekend one must plan ahead to dine here as there is quite a long wait for a table.  It is a weekday so fortunately we are seated right away and a short time after being seated our food arrives.  Wonderful Brazilian food with rice, beans, beef, and a variety of side dishes.  The meal is wonderful and with our stomachs full it is time to head back to our driving tour of the city.
Our next destination is a look out point at the top of a large hill.  Belo Horizonte is definitely growing on the top of the large mountain like hills which lie on the edge of the city.  We travel up one of the roads to the park which overlooks the city.  The park is undergoing some renovations, but that is really ok as our visit is about the overlook and not the park itself.  The air is fresh and their is a cool breeze blowing.  The view of Belo Horizonte is wonderful from here as you can see for miles on this clear day.  It sure is nice to relax a little while and just take in the beauty.  
Next Danillo takes us to another high elevation point in the city where there is a lot of construction currently underway.  A few years ago a mall was built on this mountainous hill and part of that mall is a needle very similar to the space needle in Seattle, WA.  It is said to have a wonderful view and currently houses a well known Japanese restaurant.  We just finished eating so there is no interest in going to the top but the drive through the streets to get there is filled with breathtaking views.   Since the malls completion,  the hillsides around it are being filled with residential towers, each reaching into the skies higher then the one before.  I can imagine the view from some of these penthouses is simply spectacular as they sit perched on the cliffs.  
By this time it is late afternoon and as we head towards the hotel we drive through Liberdade Square and I convince the others to make a stop and take a look
Palace of Liberty
around.  What a wonderful historical area of the city.  A well maintained square which sits in the middle of a variety of well kept old buildings housing government offices,  university classes, and museum galleries.   Down the middle of the square is a pedestrian cobble stone street lined with the traditional palm trees. It is full of people walking their dogs,  reading their books, and playing with their children.  The well manicured landscape is accented with delicate sculptures and fountains.  At the far end of the walking street is a large cast iron fence with a building behind it.  It does not take long for me to gravitate in that
My Favorite Building on the Square
direction to take a closer look.  The building is the Palace of Liberty which was the headquarters for the state of Minas Gerais for years.  Built in 1897,  it housed governors and their families on its three floors.  In the 1960's the building withstood a proposal by Oscar Niemeyer to demolish it as those in power vetoed the idea in honor of preservation.  Shortly after this attempt,  the palace was abandoned by the governing family for a new residence and today the  Palace of Liberty is used ceremonially for the state government.  I would love to come back someday and take one of the daily tours. We just do not have enough time today.  After a quick look through the wrought iron fence,  I briskly walk towards what ends up being my favorite of the old buildings on the square.  A classic building painted a dark salmon color with stark white trim, there is no identification on the building so I can only imagine what it was built for.  What a wonderful corner lot and so 
well maintained.  I snap at least seven photos of the building and as I head back to the others waiting by the car,  I acknowledge to myself  how well kept this area of the city is.  Definitely assisting in changing my impression of Belo Horizonte.Danillo has to head back so he drops us off at the hotel for a little rest before we meet up with Renaldo and Luiz O.  After a little computer time and a nap the evening begins with a visit to a small area by the municipal market which is filled with bars.   In the middle of the round about there is a large fountain shoot water into the dark night sky surrounded by lots of people.  We grab a bite to eat and a couple of drinks and when it is time for us to leave the street is packed with people.  Renaldo drives us up to the look out point where we were earlier in the day to enjoy the city lights and a different perspective.  It is just as peaceful as it was earlier today as the twinkle of the city lights fill the landscape below.  What a wonderful end to a great day and Belo Horizonte gets a little better ranking after a drive around town.  Time to get some sleep  and be ready for the next day.

To Read Part 3 - CLICK HERE 

St. Francis de Assisi - the side view / bell tower

needle at top of hill