I eagerly looked outside of my window at an entirely different world. Having only visited Europe thus far, I knew I was in for something entirely new. In my research, I discovered São Paulo is actually the largest city in South America. Knowing that, I saw right away how clustered everything appeared to be. There was no wasted space, and the nicest of high rises could be situated right alongside the dirtiest of slums. It was really fascinating to see this whole new world, and I could not wait to explore with one of my fellow crewmembers.
Wandering out of the hotel, we first made our way to Avenida Paulista, which is pretty much Brazil’s equivalent to New York’s 5th Avenue. Packed extensively with shops, eateries and the like, this street is one of the most notable spots in São Paulo. Stopping first at the ATM, we pulled out Brazilian reais (pictured below), which is about a third of the value of an American dollar.
We strolled in and out of stores, half window shopping and half trying to calculate how the prices would match up to our bank accounts (math is hard!). Inevitably the calling of chocolate won us over beyond all other retail stores (even the Starbucks next door). We entered Chocolates Brasil Cacau
, which was filled with sweet truffles and gift boxes. At the counter, you could order café and other treats, then stand at high tops that lined the center of the store to enjoy. A group of businessmen were gathered around these tables, talking in Portuguese and sipping espresso. I couldn’t resist ordering morango com chocolate (chocolate covered strawberries), and oh my goodness were they to die for! They ladled the chocolate straight from a fondue fountain, and I loved that it didn’t harden like our dipped strawberries do in the states. I wish I could have more just looking at it now!
Morango com Chocolate
To finish our treats, we wandered down toward the Museu de Arte de São Paulo
, or MASP
. Well known for its housing of fine art, the building itself is a feature of modern Brazilian architecture. It features a distinctive concrete and glass structure held up by red beams. We went to enjoy our desserts on the ledge next to the museum, when I became aware of something very characteristic in this city…
Museu de Arte de São Paulo – MASP
The homeless population in São Paulo is very profound. Their lives seem very intricate, and often times it seemed that they made up the majority. Below I included a picture of the shelters often found on the sides of buildings, under bridges and scattered throughout fields. It was fascinating to observe their lifestyles, and generally the permanence you felt in the way they carried about their business. Overall they were kind-hearted folk that mostly kept to themselves, or wandered about with goods to offer for sale. It was absolutely heartbreaking and perspective-shifting.
We continued on down the avenue, and quickly things seemed to shift. We started in an upscale financial district, and as we wondered, our surroundings turned into more and more of a slum. The sidwalk concrete was broken up, stores seemed to change from retail to discount furnishings or resale, and graffiti began to adorn the buildings all around. We entered a grocery store to collect a few items to bring home. In my haul were two of Brazil’s leading caffeine preferences, Pilão Café
(#1 coffee in Brazil) and Guaraná
(soft drink similar to Mountain Dew, flavored by the Guaraná plant). As we expected, the prices of everything were extremely cheap by our American currency. We gathered our items and continued on our way.
After many miles of walking, we stumbled upon probably the coolest graveyard I’ve ever seen. Thank goodness we were there during daylight, because it was even eerie when the sun was shining. It was called Cemitério da Quarta Parada
, and it housed large and intricately unique graves. Off of both sides of a main road lined with tall looming trees, the graves were perfectly aligned and statuesque. The road lead to a building (or velório) in the center, where there was a funeral taking place. As we walked through the cemetery, we noticed people openly weeping and grief-stricken, which I found out later is cultural custom at funeral gatherings. Another noticeable thing about the graves was they all seemed to be raised from the ground, and have a door on the front end. Some of the doors were missing, revealing what looked like a grave, possibly with the allowance of room above for additional family members as they passed. I was unable to find any more information on this through my research, but I found the whole set up very methodical and intriguing. Below I have pictured the most distinctive of all that I found, where it looks like the man is leading the woman through a door. This cemetery was absolutely captivating.
Cemitério da Quarta Parada
Now you may have begun to ask yourself, where in the world were we headed to have come by all these random places!? When I was looking up things to do before my trip, I found what ended up being my favorite place in São Paulo
. Beco do Batman
(yea that’s right, Batman) is the nickname for an area in the Vila Madalena
neighborhood of the city. It’s an extremely popular area because of the concentrated graffiti that lines the streets. If you’ve kept up with any of my wanderings (specifically Sunshine in Seattle
), you know how fascinated I am with graffiti. Of all the street art I have come across, this otherwise indistinguishable street hosts some of the most beautiful pieces I have ever seen. Every type of aesthetic, from black and white to bursting with color, could easily be found at Beco do Batman
. We even found the Bat signal – see below! This area found its creation in the 1980s by local art students, and is now preserved by the community. Take a peek at some of my absolute favorites!
Beco do Batman (can you spot the Bat signal!?)
While Beco do Batman
was my favorite place I visited on this trip, the dinner that happened after was definitely the best thing I ate. It was a meal that could change a life. But before I get into all of that, I’ll share here that I started out dinner by ordering a caipirinha
, which is Brazil’s national cocktail. Made with cachaça
(sugarcane hard liquor), sugar and lime, this drink is light and refreshing. Don’t let that deceive you though, because they are dangerously strong. The only thing that could have made my caipirinha
better would have been a beach to go along with it.
So our dinner venture took place at Vento Haragano
, a Brazilian churrascaria
. All meat here is cooked in a churrasco style, which roughly translates to ‘barbecue’ (or heaven, depending on the context). The set up for the meal is simple. You sit, and then dinner comes to you. We noticed right away a round piece of green paper at each place setting, and the underside was red. Oh my gosh, green means go! Next thing you know, you’re surrounded by every kind of meat and cut imaginable, ready to be sliced fresh and placed on your plate. And you guessed it, they’ll keep floundering you with food until you cave and flip that little piece of paper over to the red side. I couldn’t help but silently thank people like Ron Swanson for making this meal possible.
Brazilian churrascaria at Vento Haragano
With our inability to speak any Portuguese, we had no idea what we were eating! No complaints though. The strangest thing we consumed (which we found out later) was actually chicken heart! Oddly enough, we could still tell it was from a chicken… Glad I ate it, but I wouldn’t recommend. Too chewy.
Brazilian churrascaria at Vento Haragano
Next I suppose I have to include that on top of all of this they also had two large buffets with salad (and ALL the toppings), antipasto, and even sushi! Advice from one foodie to another- make sure you wear stretchy pants for this one. We were even brave enough to venture ordering sorbet afterwards, and enjoyed the delicious morango (strawberry) and côco (coconut) flavors. I can’t say it enough, a Brazilian churrascaria 100% lives up to the hype. Even better yet, with the currency exchange, the whole ordeal wasn’t even all that expensive!
Morango e Côco Sorbet
The next morning I opened the curtains to this beautiful view. Aaaaaah.
São Paulo, Brazil
Taking a Guaraná
with me for an extra boost, we hopped in a car and headed up through the central part of the city. Our first stop was Templo de Salomão
(Temple of Solomon). This incredibly striking structure is actually an exact replica built by the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God
in São Paulo
. Apparently the outside is exactly like the original that was built in Jerusalem, except for exaggerated dimensions. Inside there is apparently a replica of the Ark of the Covenant
, which was a gold clad wooden chest that cased the Ten Commandments
. The building was actually just recently inaugurated in 2014, and is used both as a house of worship and a world headquarters for the Church. Even though it’s huge, it blew me away when I found out this place could seat 10,000 people! It was pretty incredible to see this all come to life in the most unexpected place. I especially loved the flags that adorned along the sides of the temple, and made sure to catch a glimpse of my beloved red, white and blue!
Templo de Salomão
Next we made our way down Avenida Celso Garcia
to our next destination. This street was heavily saturated with all kinds of shops. It felt a little like Chinatown, with people selling purses and watches everywhere you turned. As we enjoyed the sunshine (and I tried to ignore my aching feet) we found our way to the Mercado Municipal
Another central spot, this market is filled with all sorts of familiar and local fresh foods. It was absolutely packed with people wandering around and selecting items. Here we decided to get lunch, and we sat at the bar of a small eatery that looked promising. I ordered the pastel de bacalhau, or fried cod. I remembered reading that codfish wish a popular cuisine in Brazil, so of course I had to see what all the fuss was about. It’s served all year round, but especially in the New Year, and was simple and satisfying. They offered me olive oil as a condiment, which I took and drizzled on the inside as I ate. The oil definitely heightened the flavor without making the dish heavy, and thankfully I didn’t get any weird looks, so I’m guessing I used it right. I would love to be able to eat this back at home!
Pastel de Bacalhau
I was super fond of the stain glassed windows that lined the sides of the building. It was such a nice touch and added to the overall atmosphere.
Upon leaving, I saw an opportunity I had been searching for, fresh agua de côco (coconut water) straight from the source! I was giddy that for only R$5 (equal to $1.51) I could enjoy this popular tropical drink. It has long been custom for street vendors and markets to either cut or bore a hole through the top of the fruit while it is still green. These young coconuts (who haven’t aged enough to turn brown like we commonly recognize them) house much more liquid and meat than their older companions. They’re cut straight from the tree, and soon handed to customers with a straw. Delicioso!
Agua de Côco
With coconuts in hand, we continued past many more shops uphill to Páteo do Colégio
(School Yard), which is a historical Jesuit church and school in the city. The name also applies to the square in front of the building, and it’s significant because São Paulo was actually founded right here in 1554!
Páteo do Colégio
Walking past Praça da Sé
, which is considered the city’s central point, we made our way to the São Paulo Cathedral
. When I first look up, the site of it took my breath away. Leading to the church steps were tall beautiful palm trees, which guided the eye to the church’s two large towers. The cathedral is considered neo-gothic, despite having a Renaissance-styled dome (actually inspired by the Cathedral in Florence – I promise that blog post is coming soon you guys!).
São Paulo Cathedral
Being the largest church in São Paulo, the inside featured beautiful high arches and enough pew room for 8,000 people. I loved that because of the position of the sun, some of the stained glass windows’ light seemed to dance on the church walls. It reminded me of looking into a kaleidoscope as a kid.
Below the main altar there was also a crypt, which was roped off, but apparently is decorated with marble sculptures and has the tombs of all bishops and archbishops of the city. One thing that distinguished this cathedral from any other I’ve been to were the cased prayer candles. Instead of real votive candles, these were actually fake, and could be illuminated for R$3. I had never seen a price tag on a prayer like that before, and I found the whole thing to be very interesting. As we walked through, we noticed that certain Saints had pieces of paper taped over the price, offering a deal for a prayer at R$1 instead.
São Paulo Cathedral
Making our way back to the hotel at the end of the day, I reflected on how different São Paulo was than anywhere else I have traveled. For one, I very stood out from the crowd… Being just under 6′ tall literally had me sticking out like a sore thumb. In European countries, I feel like the average person is taller than back in the states, but the opposite was true in South America. There was also (from what I could tell) not a lot of tourists around like I am used to seeing. When we got to the touristy spots, I would see some fanny packs and selfie sticks scattered around, but overall I felt very immersed in the country. Everyone there was extremely nice, and as accommodating as possible to us English-speaking folk. I will definitely remember this wonderful place, mostly for the kind nature of its people.
Tchau! Until next time!
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