Sao Paulo – Sightseeing, a hotel on a hill and important travel learnings

The second part of my Brazil journey was all about sightseeing inside of Sao Paulo and reflecting on my learnings for future travels.

Saturday #2 – Sightseeing

Tree in Parque do Ibirapuera

Tree in Parque do Ibirapuera

After the first weekend it was quite clear to me that hanging out on the couch all day would not be an option for next saturday, which is why I asked my Brazilian colleague Rodrigo if he wanted to show me the city on the weekend. He did.

Our first stop was Parque do Ibirapuera. The park is comparable to New York’s central park in terms of meaning for the locals. Its is one of the main spots to hang out on sunny days, be it through the week or on the weekend. It is walking-sized and it has many interesting features like the Obelisk of Sao Paulo, a planetarium and the Museum of contemporary art. On sundays you can see many families here, people running and the best view is the one you get from the bridge over the main lake where you can see airplanes crossing the skyline.

Fresh coconut drinks

Fresh coconut drinks

Shortly after we continued to the Mercado Municipal. This is the main marketplace in Sao Paulo and you can buy hundreds of thousands of different products here. Starting with traditional brazil liquors – Cachaças – and traditional food like Feijoada or Mandioca Frita. Brazilian food is very rich in deserts, there are hundreds of them and each one is more tooth-killing sweet than the next. The most impressive display were the fruits they offered. Mercado Municipal is the only market in Brazil that offers many kinds of fruit all year around and the variety is sheer endless. Until that day, I didn’t like pineapples but when Rodrigo handed me a slice of it I didn’t want to be impolite. It was the best pineapple I ever had and in Germany I never found anything comparable.

Fruit at Mercado Municipal

Fruit at Mercado Municipal

After some more tasteful encounters we continued our trip over to Catedral Metropolitana, Sao Paulo’s main church. It took 40 years to built the cathedral and it is amongst the largest in the world. It is located quite exactly in the centre of Sao Paulo and next to one of the main metro lines. The area is very nice, but you should really look out for pickpockets as this is a very touristy area and they want only your best 😉

Sao Paulo Cathedral

Sao Paulo Cathedral

In the evening I was in for a special treat. Rodrigo took me to his favourite Churrascaria. Churrascarias are traditional restaurants that mainly serve meat. The meat that I had tried so far was excellent, Brazilians really know how to do kickass medium-rare steaks. The place is called Montana grill and is located south-west of the park. What happens here, is you sitting at a table with a paddle that is green on one and red on the other side and – as you might have guessed – it tells the waiter to either stuff you some more or to pause until you can breathe again. They walk around the place, each one serving different kinds of meat, searching for green paddles to deliver happiness to. You can try all sorts of meat and you can have all sorts of sides with it. It was the best damn meat that I ever had. Period.

Sunday #2 – Saying goodbye

The last day of my trip was a boring one again. I had to do some wrap-up work at the office and so I only had the afternoon to myself. I went shopping along the Avenida Paulista, got some traditional food for a friend of mine who cooks and went home after that.

In the evening, we went to the rooftop bar of the Hotel Unique. The taxi drive was about 30 minutes from our apartment. We later found out, that it is actually in walking distance and that we made a certain taxi driver very happy that evening. The Hotel is located on a small hill, thus overlooking the whole city.

I had moved from a 5000-people town to 3.5M-people Berlin only 3 months ago, which was quite a difference to me. But when we stood on top of that Hotel and were not able to see the outskirts of that humongous city, that deeply impressed me. Sidenote: When I came back to Berlin, it seemed very rural to me. Sao Paulo is among the 10 biggest cities of the world and although it’s outskirts touch the ocean, going to the beach can take 2-3 hours on weekends.

Sunset

Sunset

That night concluded my first overseas trip and sparked my lust for more traveling even further…

Learnings: What I’d do differently today

Decide for one bonus program, stick with it.

You can earn shitloads of miles if you decide early and use the system cleverly. You will waste money if you don’t.

I use Star Alliance, because they have the biggest fleet and you can get a credit card which comes with insurances for rental cars and health. It’s not cheap but you can break even with a one-week car rental sometimes.

Never EVER stay at home, just because you’d go alone. Never EVER stay at home, just because you’re scared of the unknown.

Go were you want to be and you’ll always be with at least one person who’s happy were you are. Step outside of your comfort zone, even if it’s only one step.

‚Big‘ is a very relative term when it comes to cities.

When I came to Berlin, it seemed huge to me. When I came to Sao Paulo, it was unbelievably huge. Coming back to Berlin, it seemed small and when I travelled to Mexico city last year, I never had the impression of being in the 3rd biggest city of the world. If you’ve been to one of the bigger cities for a few days in your life, you can handle every other city just fine!

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Sao Paulo – How to waste a day and a trip to the zoo

Sao Paulo, Brazil. The first time to leave Europe for me… August 2011.

Circumstances

A two week business trip, but luckily I had the weekends for myself to explore the city a little bit. I was working for a Brazilian E-Commerce company and Berlin HQ decided I had to go there exactly three days after I started my job. The actual journey was delayed three months but my travel orders came in over night anyways… weeee!

So the flight was booked from Berlin TXL over Paris CDG and then to SaoPaulo GRU. I had one hour of stopover in CDG which I thought back then, was plenty of time to probably even see the Eiffel tower. Boy was I off, I barely made my connecting flight because CDG is a hellhole of an airport! It is stretched widely and you can probably spend 30min going from one terminal to the other, just the walk.

My first transatlantic flight was calm and comfortable. Although it was booked in economy, I had two seats to myself and an iPad to watch my favourite movies. That was the last time I ever had that comfort, except for one other flight.

Brazil

When I arrived in Brazil, I had been advised to take a taxi to the apartment, which was about 100$ US from the airport to downtown Sao Paulo. I shared a small apartment with two other colleagues from the company that I worked for.

Entering Sao Paulo

Entering Sao Paulo

They told me to pack warm clothing, as it was winter over there, so I did. Mistake. Winter in Brazil is probably warmer than summer in Germany, so 70% of my suitcase’s contents were useless to me. Locals were strolling the streets in fur coats at 15°C though. Tough shit!

One of the first things that I noticed in SaoPaulo was the smog. I had never experienced smog before and although I have seen worse nowadays, it was horrible to me back then. Coming into the city, you cross several huge factories and oil refineries along the highway, that give you an idea of the industrial upswing that this country is going through right now. That is the ongoing theme everywhere, at least that was my impression: Upswing! Everybody is working hard, skyscrapers shooting into the sky, electronics stores and luxury clothing everywhere. The city is filled with young and ambitious people that want to be rich by 35. The sooner the better.

Sao Paulo skies

Sao Paulo skies

Everything is very expensive in Brazil, especially consumer electronics and entertainment. Blu rays were sold for 2-3 times the price compared to the U.S. and it is beyond me how anybody in this country could afford it. Another thing that is wildly expensive, is chocolate. Especially Swiss and German chocolate has gold-like prices and so I brought two kilograms of Kinderschokolade for my colleagues: I placed it in the middle of the room and left for a 10min greeting with the CEO. When I came back, all of it was gone and the wrapping lay around like the leftovers of a shark attack. I was kind of glad, that the massacre had taken place without me.

Exploring my hood

The first days were filled with work, so there was no time to explore. Not even the neighbourhood. We had lunch at St. Etienne’s almost everyday. It is a very nice little diner in the Jardins region in Sao Paulo. Jardins means ‚Gardens‘ and is one of the nicer neighbourhoods in the city. The name is misleading though, it is more of a concrete jungle. I discovered one park, near the Museu de Arte de São Paulo, the Parque Tenente Siqueira Campos.

Burger at St. Etienne

Burger at St. Etienne

A few hundred meters from the company office, the Avenida Paulista crosses the city. This street is one of the main streets of the city and it stretches for about 3km. These are filled with few historic buildings, like the Residência Joaquim Franco de Mello. There are several large buildings, skyscrapers and some shopping malls. While you can find surprisingly few U.S. style companies, like McDonalds, Burger King and Starbucks in the side streets and small neighbourhoods. The main roads are filled with them as you know it from other cities in the world.

Park bench

Park bench

Saturday #1: How to waste a day

After a few days, the weekend was there and my colleague had plans to show me the city throughout the weekend. So what happened was, that we ended up on the couch, in front of the TV and watching the Bundesliga game of Bayern Munich. My blood pressure leaps through the roof thinking of it, even today.

Pool

Pool

He had a friend coming over with beer and sausages and since I didn’t want to go out by myself – also because I was a little bit afraid to be honest – I just stayed in. When the game was over, it was already late in the evening and the motivation to go out was about zero for everyone of us.

Wasting time

Wasting time

I love to waste time, I really do! If it’s cheap time. You know, when there’s nothing else to do, when you’re somewhere you’ve been before and when you’re not missing out on anything that excites you. But, especially today, wasting 12 hours of daylight in a country that I’ve never seen before and that I’ll probably never see again, seems like complete madness to me! Totally unacceptable! I rarely say ’never‘ and I am not an advocate of ‚Carpe diem!‘ or such stuff, but something like that never happened to me again and I am very, very sure that it never will!

Sundays are Zoo days

So the next day, I jumped out the comfort zone that was our couch and headed into the city on my own. I was so badly prepared, I didn’t even have a map of the city let alone mobile internet or something like that. Just a few bucks and the desire to see more of the city.

Metro

Metro

I ended up buying a metro ticket, probably the wrong one but it got me into the train and I just rode around for a bit. The tunnels were kind of… like… tunnels and so I got out of the tube after some five or six stops and looked at the map in the entry. The zoo was not far from here and since sundays are good days to do zoo’ing, that’s were I went.

Tortoise

Tortoise

I had to cross a few side streets, wander through some quite sleazy neighbourhoods and then I ended up at a 8-lane highway. But since the Zoo was visible on the other side and there was mild traffic, I just ran for it.

The Zoo is quite big and there were many different species, but the lack of respect towards those animals is, until today, something that irritates me. Same thing in most other Zoos that I have been to, all over the world by the way. There were ostriches that were electro-shocked to move around the vehicles, apes on leashes, and deer that were chased inbetween the safari jeeps for ‚action‘. Other than that, the Zoo was fine and a nice sunday experience.

Deer

Deer

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