lördag, augusti 15, 2009

Brazil: São Paulo and Paulista Coast...

Just came back from an amazing trip to Brazil. The origin is no less fantastic. In my previous job as a project manager at publishing agency Appelberg, I worked with freelance photographer Paulo Fridman based in São Paulo. Paulo is a great photographer and photo artist whose work you may find at http://www2.uol.com.br/paulofridman/.

During one of our phone calls, it came up that we both had beach houses - ours at island Ven, Sweden, and the Fridman family on the São Paulo Coast, Brazil. "Why don't we visit each other and just borrow each other's houses?" It was a wonderful thought. I have no links to Brazil whatsoever, and this would make an opportunity to see a country most of us have dreamed about. We exchanged photos of the houses, marveled at the thought, and well, if the stars wanted it to happen...

For a while Paulo and I lost contact (I changed jobs etc.) but early last year I received an unexpected phone call: "Hi, it's Paulo Fridman. My family is visiting Scandinavia this summer, since my daughter is an exchange student outside Copenhagen. Why don't we make our plans happen?"

So, last summer Paulo with family were in Sweden (and Denmark, and France, and the UK, but that's another story...) last year, and borrowed our houses in Malmö and on Ven.

And this summer it was our turn to visit them in Brazil.

Planning is half the fun. Ours is no little group, with six family members, so it did require quite some thoughts. We knew we were going to the summer house on the coast, and that we would fly in to São Paulo, and return home from same city (much cheaper that if we had wanted to fly home from Rio, which we looked at.)

The realistic length of the trip was about two weeks, considering schools, vacation etc. In the end, it was Lufthansa tickets that was the best option. We were set to fly out on July 27 and home again August 13. But beside the coast we wanted to see São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and also the Iguacu waterfalls in the south of Brazil, on vote for being one of the global wonders of today. So this was squeezed into our schedule as well.

We spent three days in São Paulo. Of course this is too little for one of the world's really big cities, but we tried to make the most of it.

It all started with a Brazilian super breakfast at Paulo's house: nothing seemed to be missing, and we learned to appreciate pão de queijo, Brazilian cheese breads, Minas cheese (close to ricotta), and many other things.

We walked to the Vila Madalena metro station which gave us a first impression of the city. Initially, we were set for Avenida Paulista, the centre of the city, where we had lunch at Americana, a nice grand hamburger place which really took care of serving beer in a champagne cooler (a great Brazilian habit, we learned later) and also managed a quick peak at MASP, the famous art museum in midtown, showing portraits from grand master painters.

São Paulo is huge, and we only sampled a few of its delights these precious first days. After having bought Brazilian telephone cards at shopping centre Eldorado, we took cabs to Vila Madalena. Vila Madalena is a really good, somewhat fashionable area with lots of restaurants, bars and boutiques. One of Brazil's most famous dishes is feijoada, a filling stew of black beans, chorizo and various meats served with rice, farofa (roasted manioc flour), chili, orange slices and grated kale (grönkål in Swedish), and, in this particular case, roasted pork. The place we selected for our grand premier was São Cristovão on Rua Aspicuelta, a restaurant which everyone interested in soccer just has to see and get the feel of: every wall is filled with clippings from Brazilian football feats during the decades, no star worth mentioning is missing. The youngsters had already started to appreciate guarana soft drinks, especially the brand Antarctica. Everyone enjoyed the food immensely,and from Vila Madalena it was not difficult to walk home...We passed a deli and picked up some wine bottles as I was curious to taste a little more of Brazil's homegrown wine.

Brazilian winter, at least in Sampa (as the city is called locally) can vary from sunny and hot 30 degrees Celsius down to drizzly, cold 12 degrees which we learned during these few first days. Strolling through Jardins, the centre of fashion in SP, the kids (I must be able to call the so although the youngest is sixteen) found a waterhole in Doc Dog, where the seasonal liquidacao (SALES) offered some nice options in fancy t-shirts and other clothing...we lunched at a place recommended by the reliable Lonely Planet guide, the sushi restaurant Kazan at Rua Doutor Melo, where we sampled the whole menu it felt like: miso soup, mushrooms, various rolls, sushi, sashimi. It was really good!

We were invited home to Paulo's wife Leonor's parents for an exciting dinner in real Brazil style the day before we were to leave for the coast. Also here, nothing was missing and just as real countrymen we should have beans and rice every day! We also got some valuable tips on what we should see once we were at the coast. The youngsters ended the night in style at the club Gloria, together with Brazilian and American friends.

One of this trip's real challenges was to fit our whole group into the same rental car. Strict orders about keeping us all down to four suitcases had been issued before flying out, and it was only by sheer luck that all this (and quite a few pairs of newly shopped Havaiana flipflop shoes, which really is a bargain in Brazil compared to here in Sweden) fitted into our Opel Zafira, one of the few cars that can actually house six people. But it did.

Finding our way out of the city São Paulo was, as expected, the most difficult part of our traveling to the Paulista Coast. The goal was Praia do Engenho, which is one of a group of three beaches between Boraceia and Boicuganga on the coast. Once we had found the highway Imigrantes leading from SP to coast city Santos (yes, hometown and club of Pele...)there were no real problems.

The last part of the road leading to the house was the funniest, a dirt track that really deserved its name. The superbumpy bumps here produced laughter in the car every time we passed it during our week on the coast.

Brazilian winter seemed to keep its grip on us, so we made some trips to see the surroundings. São Sebastião is the central city on this part of the coast, so we went there and did some recce, and courtesy of Lonely Planet had a really good lunch at friendly seaside place A Canoa, where I acquainted myself with Moqueca, the brilliant fish stew in Bahia style that contains coconut and various vegetables, served with both fries and rice.

We returned to the same city a few days later in really sunny weather, when heading for Ilhabela, which is a must-see island a fifteen-minute ferry trip away from SS. We had heard a lot about insects so we were armed with mosquito repellent and far too much clothes for this temperature. Vila Ilhabela is the centre of the west side of this island, and here we lunched at Cheiro Verde, which is a typical prata feira place (I noticed that local shop-keepers picked up their lunches to go from this typically Brazilian kitchen). I had fish again, moqueca variation featuring lula, i.e. octopus rings...Some of the youngsters had a short swim to cool down, and we others had to do with a cold beer, lager-style. Probably the best one during this whole trip, and it was in fact Uruguayan.

The amazing Praia do Engenho beach next to the house we stayed in showed its best during one whole day that we spent there, among a few Brazilian families, early surfers and the lonely ice-cream man who was at a seasonal low this week. The beach is 450 running steps long, I counted while taking a barefoot morning exercise. Waves were perfect for our amateur bodysurfing skills, and the water temperature perfect for Nordic tourists like ourselves. And this day the suntan lotion we had brought was happily brought out of the bottles.

Nearby village Juquehy, also a surfer centre, made for a daytrip, only one mountain away, with a little shopping centre and another good restaurant...

(Iguacu falls and Rio will get own stories)

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