Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Rest of Sao Paulo

OK… two days later and I’m back online with an update. We arrived back in Rio late Monday night to find the Internet access out. Its back up today on this rainy Tuesday morning.

The rest of the weekend in Sao Paulo was as much fun as the first few days. We met up with more friends on Saturday night at a small cocktail party or “Chilling” as I’m told it is called. This is essentially a small party where Champagne is served while everyone gathers for the night ahead. The party was hosted at an apartment not far from our hotel in the Jardin neighborhood so we walked over.

Afterward, Elio and Daniel played tourguide and hosts for the evening and drove us to The Week, which is probably the largest night club I have ever seen. Thursday was a holiday in Sao Paulo (Sao Paulo Day) which meant many had a long weekend and the club was packed. We danced well into the night to the sounds of DJ Joao Neto -- another friend in the group (are you seeing a pattern here?)

On Sunday, Elio and Daniel again proved the gracious hosts and escorted us to brunch at the apartment of Paulo, another friend in this big group who was gracious to have us all over for a Sunday afternoon. From his rooftop, we could see much of the city of Sao Paulo... which looks like haphazard skyscrapers in every direction. We spent much of the afternoon at Paulo's eating, laughing and translating the jokes from Portuguese to English for me. It was the perfect way to finish up a great weekend. I'll say it again: there is nothing like getting to see a city through the eyes for the people who live there and I'm grateful to Elio, Danile, Paulo, Marcos, Ney and everyone else in Sao Paulo for opening their homes to me.

Monday was a lazy day for us as we packed to leave the hotel and explore the city for the last time. But, first of course, came the long lunch at a wonderful restaurant known as A Figueira Rubaiyat. This outdoor restaurant is literally built around what must be a 200 year old tree. The glass awning above and stone walls surrounding are built for the tree limbs to pass through. The setting was perfect for a lazy lunch and the meal was great (except, unfortunately, for Chris.) We finished up the trip with some shopping and a late flight back to Rio.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

City of the Night

Anderson tells me that if Rio is the “City of the Day” then Sao Paulo is the “City of the Night.” If the past 48 hours is any indication, I agree.

In Rio the activity surrounds the beach. On Thursday afternoon, the beach was packed from noon through the late afternoon. When we were out for dinner on Wednesday night, the area seemed relatively quiet with the exception of a few restaurants.

In Sao Paulo, we got a very late start in the day and we went well into the night. Dinner (a late dinner) was with friends of Chris & Anderson’s at a new pizza restaurant. Chris tells me the Brazilians claim their pizza to be the best in the world. It was delicious, but I’m not sure it beats a good late-night, greasy piece of pie at one of the ubiquitous Ray’s Pizzas in New York. Now that’s pizza.

The dinner was really great. The kind of evening that I felt like I was among friends the moment I met everyone. Thankfully (and selfishly) they all spoke English so I wasn’t out of the conversation at any point. And, in the few instances where the conversation was in Portuguese, I managed to understand the general point.

I rather like Sao Paulo. If you loosely compare Rio to Miami, you can compare Sao Paulo to New York City. Much more cosmopolitan. More exciting. (More shopping.) ;-) Rio seems much more relaxed. And, of course, that because it's very much a beach town... or at least the 5 square miles of it that I have seen so far are. Sao Paulo has the buildings, wonderful neighborhoods and lush parks. There is one down the street from our hotel that looks like a micro-rain forest. Absolutely beautiful. So, if I had to choose between the two cities to live, I might lean toward Sao Paulo.

I’m grateful that I have hosts while I’m here. For one, it certainly gets me over the language barrier. While I’ve managed to make it through many countries without knowing the language, it’s always nice to have someone who can help you. I’m impressed that Chris has learned what appears to be very fluent Portuguese in a few years time. Language hasn’t ever been my strong suit. (Poor Mrs. Moran, my high school Spanish teacher. She tried so hard to teach me.)

But, traveling with hosts also gives you an insight into the culture and community that is almost impossible to see when you’re traveling alone as a tourist. I think some of my most poignant travel experiences have been when I have known someone at my destination and learn the city from an insider’s perspective. I'm getting to see Brazil through my friends' eyes and that makes the trip even more rewarding.

And, on that note, we’re off for another night on the town with more new friends.

I'm Going to Get Hit

I’m going to get hit. I know I am. It’s just a matter of time, I fear.

Crossing the street in this city is a blood sport. Pedestrians definitely don’t have the right of way. I’ve yet to be in a cab that stops for any kind of traffic signal. And, even when you have the little green “Walking Man” sign you’re not in the clear.

Keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Traveling in Pants

So, I've renamed the blog.

I'm beginning to realize that I am in a country where the culture dictates you should not rush. This worked to our favor last night as we rushed to catch our plane to Sao Paulo. And, although I probably don't want to admit it, my friend Donna London at AOL will attest to the fact that a culture that caters to the last minute and tardy is probably a good thing for me.

Chris, Anderson and I had been to the gym late in the day on Thursday. Our flight was at 9:30. We were going to leave the apartment at 7:30. I decided I needed to leave the gym at 5:30 if I was going to have enough time to shower, pack and be ready. So, off I went and left them to finish their workout.

By the time Chris and Anderson had returned to the flat, I was showered and changed... and just about packed. Ready to go. Chris looked at me with some surprise and asked why I was dressed up. (Mind you, I merely had a pair of cargo pants and a white golf shirt on. Dressed up? Hmmm..) I replied that I liked to Travel in Pants. Chris immediately suggested that be the name for my blog.

Its very apropos for me, as I do get a little uptight traveling some times. Rob will tell you I can't sit still in the gate area... pacing and repacking my carry on bags over and over. I don't take this casually.

But, I also think that people don't honor Travel today as they used to. I remember when we traveled as a young family and everyone was dressed up. Eastern Airlines. Going to Georgia to Sea Island. Everyone was dressed in coat and tie. Not any longer. Perhaps that's a good thing that it has become so common for everyone to travel. Others would tell you they miss the good old days.

Last night we were traveling more "by the seat of our pants" than "in pants." Our late start, combined with heavy traffic, got us to the airport about 30 minutes before departure. In the States, it would be "game over." In Brazil we had enough time to run from one end of the terminal to the other (couldn't find our airline's counter), check in, go through security and relax at the gate.

Security alone was so very casual. No "remove your shoes." No "remove your computer from the bag." Just take the metal out of your pockets. Surprising in this day and age, but lucky for us last night. We made our flight and made it to Sao Paulo without any other problems.

Although I may Travel in Pants... I'm going to enjoy this country where you can travel by the seat of your pants.

Go Mike, Go!

Speaking of being connected to home, I've been closely following the progress of my friend, Mike DeFlavia back in Washington. Mike is competing to win a car at the Washington Auto Show. He won some sort of drawing to be one of a dozen or so people to compete for one of three cars. All he has to do it touch the car longer than anyone else.

You can see him here at the Auto Show. He's the guy in the white shorts and dark hair all the way to the right on the white car.

Of all my friends, I think Mike is probably the only one I know who is both crazy enough to attempt something like this and persistent enough to win. My friends and I have said all he needs to do is talk to the other folks non-stop. One by one they'll likely walk away.

Good luck, Mike!

UPDATE: After surviving I think 3 or 4 days standing, sitting, sleeping next to a car Mike made it all the way. Unfortunately, so did a bunch of other competitors. From what I can tell the prize was determined by a drawing or Bingo game and Mike lost.

Forty Pounds of Connectivity

It’s amazing how attached to technology I’ve become. I’m sitting in my hotel room in Sao Paulo waiting for the Hotel Engineer to figure out why the Internet access in my room isn’t working. I haven’t been online in almost 24 hours and (aside from the hassle of not being able to update my blog) I’m suffering withdrawal. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I can’t travel these days without my laptop, my digital SLR camera, three lenses, my pocket camera, a video camera and of course all the wires, transformers, adapters and everything else that goes along with them. I have an entire 40 lbs backpack that I’m lugging around Brazil just so I can have my electronics with me. So much for hitting the open road unencumbered.

Hopefully I’ll be back online soon so I can file this blog entry. ;-)

(Apparently, I am back online as I've been able to make this post.)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The First Day in Rio

Our flight landed around 8:00 this morning after a long night. I did manage to sleep through the night and was grateful that Delta hands our eyeshades throughout the cabin. (I told the flight attendant that she made my day.) I also had a neck pillow that my colleagues at AOL gave me as a going away gift. Boy did that come in handy. And, of course, I had the Ambien that my Doctor gave me. I think that helped the most of all. ;-)

Chris was kind enough to come to the airport to meet me. While I've traveled quite frequently to foreign lands, I was a bit anxious about this particular arrival knowing I was carrying bags for a month and that Chris had recommended I not take the standard tourist cab but go up the escalator to find a city cab. Suddenly this seemed like TOO MUCH WORK. Sensing this, he met me at the airport. Thankfully, Chris stands 6'7" tall with a head of blonde hair. He stood out well from a enormous crowd of Brazlians.

After getting us back to the apartment we quickly went down the street for some food and a walk to the beach. Here I am at my first Visit to Ipanema.

And, here is Chris and me on the beach.

The rest of the day was spent getting acclimated to the new surroundings. Both Chris and Anderson take language lessons in order to better speak each other's native tounge. They're doing well -- this coming from a guy who left poor Mrs. Moran hanging in High School Spanish Class after having had at least two years in her class! Not unlike high school, while Chris and Anderson studied, I slept.

But we did make it out to the beach. Lots of customs to learn. Where to get the beach chair from. Who to order the drinks from. Where's the restroom. (Answer: too far away). But, the most important custom I learned today was how to order the Caipirihnha on the beach. These guys walk the beach with two to four coolers over their shoulders w/ all the fixings for these sweet drink and sit down right in front of you to mix them. Hmmm, tasty!

The rest of the day included the Gym, some casual Portuguese lessons for me, another nap and a late, late dinner. As I type it is 12:01am on Thursday and time for me to officially bring this day to a close.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Pack and Panic

It’s hard to believe it, but I’m sitting on a plane bound for Atlanta where I will connect with a flight to Rio de Janeiro. I have talked about this trip since early November when I first finalized plans to leave AOL. And, with very few exceptions, I sit on this plane with no other plans than to arrive in Rio tomorrow morning and depart on February 21. I don’t think I have ever been this casual about travel plans. I wonder what that says about how different this trip is for me.

I packed two suitcases… the larger with about a month’s worth of clothes. The smaller, with about a month’s worth of supplies for Chris and Anderson including protein bars, peanut butter, bed sheets and other things they can’t readily find in Rio. As for my own stuff, I just piled clothes into the suitcase until nothing else would fit and assumed I’d buy anything else I needed when I get there. As my good friend Jill reminded me, they do have stores in South America. ;-)

Rob drove me to the airport and stuck around for a bit to visit and say goodbye. It’s hard to believe we won’t see each other for a month. I don’t think I’ve been gone from home this long in one block since I lived in Rotterdam in 1996 while attending the Rotterdam School of Management. Hopefully, his studies at the University of Maryland will keep him so busy he won’t know I’m gone. ;-)

The First Leg

January 22, 2007: Time to get serious about this blogging thing. I just spent a great week in Florida starting with a visit with my parents and then a celebration of my friend’s 40th birthday.

My mother and step-dad became snowbirds last year when they purchased a condo at Jonathan’s Landing in Jupiter, Florida. It’s a great spot in a very nice golf community and I’m glad they have it. Many of their friends are in the area and they seem to enjoy their time there their days occupied with golf, shopping or work – and their evenings occupied with dinner dates. We had two very nice dinners – first with the Jeffers and then with my Uncle Jack DeKorte and his friend Cinny.

Paulette and Jack were kind enough to drag me out to the golf course – something I haven’t done with any regularity in years. And, I’m pleased to say my game wasn’t entirely unrespectable. Jack was having fun with his new oversized Driver – a present he received for Christmas. Paulette, unfortunately, was preoccupied with Franklin Lakes Borough Council business and was called to her mobile phone during the afternoon's outing.

On Friday I moved on to Fort Lauderdale where a group of us celebrated Jeff Sheweys’s 40th birthday. His partner, Ran, coordinated the weekend for about a half dozen of us at a local guesthouse where we spent much of the days relaxing and most of the evenings eating, drinking and dancing. It was a great weekend of catching up with old friends and topped off with meeting some new ones as well. I also had the pleasure of meeting up with Brenda Yester, a good friend from Carnival Cruise Lines who is always my partner in crime at the Travel Industry conferences. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and on Monday morning at 4:45am I woke to continue on to the next leg of my journey.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Oooh... I hope my Mom doesn't see that.

Sunday's New York Times Travel Section has an article about the safety of Rio de Janeiro. I have had a lot of people warn me about Rio in the past few months as I've discussed my travel plans. But, I have just as many friends who travel there often -- including my friend Chris who lives there and with whom I will be staying -- who tell me they have never felt unsafe in the city.

Frankly, as I think about it, there is enough crime in my home city of Washington that I'm probably as likely to be involved in an incident here at home as I am on the road.

Monday, January 8, 2007

The Itinerary

I found this neat tool on the blog of my friend Martin. From time to time I'll use it to plot out my 2007 travels. Here's where I plan to go in the next few months.

Jan 17 - Palm Beach
Jan 19 - Fort Lauderdale
Jan 23 - Rio de Janeiro

Maps generated by the
Great Circle Mapper -
copyright © Karl L. Swartz.