Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sao Paulo, Brazil

I had not heard about Sao Paulo. It did not strike me at all until a work trip was planned there and I decided to make the trip.All I had heard really about South America, was Brazil. The continent was not familiar for me other than this one country. I always used to tell Sree, we should make a trip to Brazil and Peru. It was mainly because I had seen movies shot here, and wanted to visit the place to see the beautiful locations. I also did think that this place is going to be really different from the other places we have seen. But I had never thought I would be visiting Sao Paulo, Brazil on work. It did not excite me at all to tell you the truth, because of course its going to be work,  and  I had no idea how hectic it was going to be and was not expecting any fun. And being away from family was yet another thing that was affecting me. But in spite of all this, and my utter lack of excitement, there is something inside me that wanted me to enjoy each day and wanted to do a good job once I was in Sao Paulo.
Knowing me, I merely get excited by something new each day especially in a new place. So I started looking forward to knowing Sao Paulo once I landed. First impressions, the city is super crowded and traffic is terrible. I did hear a fact, that there are helipads on top of buildings so people can fly from one building to the other, and I totally believe it now. In my tour of the city, I also saw helipads on the roofs and it did not surprise me much.

The Hilton, where I was put up was very nice. A decent room and amazing gym on the 28th floor excited me quiet a bit on day 1. I had an great workout and crashed. 
View from the 28th floor

Day 2, I was pretty excited to go to the Apple Store, which was opening up and the reason for me being here. I was so excited to see the store front, that my colleague  had to click some snaps immediately of mine. Ofcourse, under my insistence.
In front of Apple Store, Morumbi.
The upcoming  days were full of excitement and work for me and my team members. But lets forget work for a bit here. In the evening we went for dinner to an amazing stake house( Don't know the name, will fill in when I know it). People told me the food in Brazil is bad, but I think it was the opposite for me. I think more than the meat, I loved the salads here. So many different varieties.
And lots of nice conversations ( Yup, I agree, it was more fun for me than others who has to hear me talk, but who cares).  Some pics of the food I tried.

Pão de queijo ("Cheese Bread" in Portuguese) is a small, baked, cheese-flavored roll, a popular snack and breakfast food in Brazil

Me trying one out

Caipirinha  is Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaça(sugar cane hard liquor), sugar and lime

Amazing salads!

I was told about Caipirinha by a friend of mine who had been to Sao Paulo and  I was all set to try it as many times I can. And some combinations were amazing, but some  with passion fruit etc did not go too well with my colleagues and they were practically cursing me for ordering the weird combinations:). I am not going to explain more, but the fact that I had one Caipirinha daily during my  trip here should give you an idea about this drink.

More on food, the fruits here are amazing. The papayas and guavas that the hilton breakfast consists of are the sweetest you can find. I believe  they are directly shipped from the Amazon. Delicious.

One of the landmarks of Sao Paulo is the cable bridge. When you actually search for images of Sao Paulo, that is the first one that comes up. And surprise! The Hilton was right near the bridge and I have seen it from different angles. When I am in a new place, I try to relate to that place as much as I can. Earlier, a place was just something I wanted to tick, but now its no longer that, I want to love and enjoy the more local stuff which makes the place what it is. I have always had a thing for bridges. For example, I love the Golden Gate bridge. It makes me feel so proud that I live in the same city as it does. Similarly, loved the fact that I was able to see the cable bridge so close!

Pic I took from the 28th floor

From the wikipedia : 

The Octavio Frias de Oliveira bridge is a cable-stayed bridge in São PauloBrazil over the Pinheiros River

A pic from web

Over the week, we were gearing up for the most exciting day for us with long hours at work, that was the Apple Store, Morumbi opening on April 18th 2015 and it was so exciting to see a new store opening and the amount of people waiting to get into the store and explore what it is all about. I think this was one of the most exciting and fulfilling days at work for me.

On a beautiful Sunday, I went out with teammates to go see the Mercado Municipal Market
This is one of the largest markets in Sao Paulo, and it had practically all kinds of fruits, nuts, wine and cheese and a lot more. Some of the tropical fruits that you find here are similar to the ones you find back at home, in Kerala. The shop owners were eager for us to sample their produce and also to get us to buy some.
A carnivorous plant

This is Pestel. Local Brazilian Snack. I did not like it much.

Dragon fruit

I believe you get an idea about this market with the pictures:).
After the visit to the Mercado Municipal Market, we were invited to a very nice barbecue party. And what is even better, the host's better half was one of the most famous pastry chefs in Sao Paulo. The barbecue was fun, with lot of caipirinhas, beer, food, laughter and amazing cakes by the one and only Rafael Barros, owner of Opera Ganache. He is something similar to a food network star here:)

Me trying out beer for the first time

Cake by Rafael

The team

Amazing Caipirinhas

With the hosts!

Ok, you must be thinking I am only having fun. Trust me there was work too!

I also went out with colleagues to try out the Sky Bar on top of Hotel Unique on one of the nights. It had spectacular views of Sao Paulo and I wish we had more time to hang around there. It was already too late by the time we went here, due to winding up stuff at work.The food was good. I tried the Pizza here. I have always heard that Brazilian pizza is different. My colleague tried a different one, so I could get a taste of both. It was too big to finish, and surprisingly they don't do togo. That was unexpected, so had to waste a bit of it.

Sky Bar

Pizza - Mexicana

The next day was my trip to Rio on work. Since it was just a day trip, I was not even remotely thinking of seeing anything there.  We flew from a domestic airport in Sao Paulo. The flight was just 45 minutes. Landed in Rio and took a cab to work.My first impressions of Rio was that it had more open space than Sao Paulo and its closer to nature. Traffic was really bad. The weather was pleasant. The landscape was the perfect combination of mountains and sea. After around half day of work, we started back to the airport, with a quick pitstop at the Copacabana beach. The traffic was so bad, it took us 45 minutes to reach the beach. I took some snaps and dipped my leg in the warm waters.
The beach was crowded, and to tell you the truth, you really need time to actually hang out here, which we did not have. Next time, on a family vacation, I hope to see more of Rio.

On the way back to the airport, we could see "The Cristo"  or "Christ the Redeemer" at a distance. This is one of the popular tourist spots here in Rio, and would atleast require about 5 hrs to go visit, enjoy the view and be back.
Copacabana Beach.

It took us almost an hour and half to reach the airport. Thankfully we had left early enough. Have heard stories of people missing flights in the traffic.

I was lucky to be in Brazil during its 4 day holiday weekend. Though we worked all 4 days, the fourth day I had a bit of time in the morning, before we started off to work. My colleague suggested a private tour, which The Hilton would book for you for a reasonable price. I jumped on to the idea of seeing Sao Paulo at the comfort of a private tour guide who spoke english.
I booked a 3 hr tour and the guide Louis, promptly met me at the lobby and we planned out the route.

We started off with seeing Morumbi which included riding through the posh neighborhood where we could see the "House of the Government" and the homes of extremely wealthy people. Some of the apartments and homes were in the range of 4 million US dollars to 18 million US dollars!
In contrast to it, there is also one of the biggest slums in Sao Paulo in Morumbi. He asked me not to take photographs while we were driving through the slum, and we drove a bit and had to drive out in a bit because of traffic jam. But I got the picture of how it is. The slums have people from all walks of life, and Louis mentioned they stick to each other and the community is very bonded. They don't pay property tax and they also steal electricity. Coming from India, this is not news for me, but I was surprised with the contrast of high rises overlooking the slums!

Slums of Morumbi

Our next stop was the Soccer Stadium. I know nothing about Soccer, but I was still excited to be in one. This Soccer stadium was not part of the world cup.

We then drove to two of the main streets in Sao Paulo. First we travelled through Oscar Freire street which is a tree lined street, and resembles a lot like the small town streets with paved footpath and beautiful shops on either sides.  So many people walking and window shopping. The famous Havaianas shop is on this street. We did one more street , where all the furniture shops were, which I don't remember the name of. Then we started off to Paulista Ave. This is one of the most popular avenues in Sao Paulo with high rises on either side. Paulista Ave is also the home to the famous art museum in Sao Paulo. Busy street, tall buildings. 
Something odd that stuck out to me was, even though there were signals at every juncture, you also had people with stop signs to make sure you stop at the signals! Imagine such a boring job. Louis mentioned that its an extra precaution to make sure people stop at signals. You will not see this in the US. So someone stands there during weekends from morning 6 AM to evening 4 PM. You see this in India, but in India, we don't have good roads, or signals and traffic rules are crazy. I was not expecting a human intervention to the traffic system in Sao Paulo.

Famous brand of Flip Flops!

Back to Paulista ave. Most of the old houses here of the coffee bearers who came down to Sau Paulo is now re constructed for commercial purposes. There were a few preserved houses which I could see. Did not get a good pic of it.

As we drove further, Louis also explained to me that Sao Paulo is the city of Graffiti artists. Street art is so famous here that we could see these beautiful graffitis on practically every wall here. So colorful and so unique. Each one different from the other.

The graffiti artist: Kobra. The graffiti is of Oscar ne Mayer - great Brazilian architect who designed the capital Brasilia

From here, we went to Japan town. Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese population outside Japan. We passed through Japan town and Louis mentioned that all the people we see here, can't speak Japanese at all. This is the 5th generation of Japanese immigrants and they are more Brazilian than Japanese. The japan town spans for about 8 streets.I did not get to take much pictures here

Japan Town

Next stop was this amazing Cathedral. This was in Old Sao Paulo downtown. Louis mentioned to me that this area is not at all safe, and asked me not to take any pictures from the outside. So he dropped me off at the side, and I did a quick look inside the cathedral. It was very calming. I think churches always have that effect on me, especially ones with a lot of architectural elements to them. I sat down on the bench for a few minutes taking it all in, the high ceilings, the colored glass, the lit candles and the people.

The last stop was the Ibirapuera Park. On the way to the park, I also saw the civil war monument, the area where the people who lost their lives during the civil war were buried. The park was crowded being a holiday and I was dropped at the curb. I walked around the park for about 30 minutes and by then it had started drizzling. I could see people doing different activities like biking, playing badminton, having a picnic, jogging. The park also hosts four of the museums in Sao Paulo and there was a lot of interest from folks to go see these museums. That is something I learnt in this trip, people here love museums. In Sao Paulo city alone we have around 125 museums. Louis mentioned to me there is a lot of interest in music, dance and art here. The park was 1/3rd of the central park in New York and still felt very huge and there was a lot you could explore. There were also many stalls selling coconut water though I did not buy any. I headed back to the hotel from here and thanked Louis profusely for giving an amazing tour of Sao Paulo. I got to know the city more from him and it was totally worth the 3 hrs.

stall selling coconut water

As the last day of my work here came, I was surprised to see that I was going to miss the store, working from the back office in the store, the vibrancy around it and also the new experiences I had in this city.  I also got introduced to Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and Selina Gomez songs by my colleague and have now become a fan of these. We keep listening to these while we work now. A trip which I was not at all excited about, turned out to be a very memorable one and  I have to thank my partners in crime for this:)( pic below). Without them I don't even think I would have had so much fun in the past two weeks, inspite of long hours of work. Guys, thanks for the wonderful conversations, and the help throughout. 

Thiago,Phuong and Cam