Living in Sao Paulo, it’s just like living in any other large city in the world except:

30 May, 2008

Continuing my random list of the differences we have noticed between Sao Paulo and other large cities in the world:

1 Complete strangers want to know your personal details.

For example, today I was talking to a real estate agent (don’t worry they are scum bags here as well), after the formalities of swapping names and polite chit chat, he asked if I was married? – To which I said I was, he then asked do you have kids yet? Not just did we have kids, but did we have kids yet? I said no, to which he replied well maybe you have not been married very long? I told him it’s been four years, he gave me a sad look – obviously that means we must be having troubles!

Brazilians have a different idea of polite conversation – especially to the English, no one in England would dare ask if you had kids – I am not sure why, but it’s just not considered polite conversation, but here in Brazil it’s a totally normal conversation, we have been asked by people at work, waiters, taxi drivers, just about everyone who can speak English will ask drop these questions into the conversation. It takes a while to get used to it, but once you do,you realise it’s a friendly and enjoyable conversation topic – rather than some social taboo!

2 There’s no English newspapers

Ok technically you can if you are really desperate buy a copy of the International Herald Tribune and USA Today in a few places, but there is no English daily newspaper in Sao Paulo, quite amazing when you consider ther are 20,000,000 people in the city. Again compared to London where you can get copies of newspapers in almost any language from most news agents.

3 You can change the language of TV shows

A nifty feature which is apparently standard on cable TV over here allows you to switch the language of the tv show you are watching, so you can watch M*A*S*H* in Portuguese, Spanish or English, not only can you change the spoken language, you can also change the subtitles language as well – a great tool when you are trying to pick up the local lingo!

4 The rental property market is long, long, term…

The rental market in SP was a bit of a surprise to us, the normal lease on a rental property is 36 months or longer. If you want to rent for 12 months or less you can’t rent a regular apartment, you need to rent what is known as a “flat”. A flat is usually furnished apartment which is aimed at the short term market, flats are much more expensive than apartments – like double the price of a long term rental property!

All long term rental apartments are rented completely empty – i mean completely empty, you need to supply your own fridge, washing maching, cooker and all the furniture. Not much fun in country where all imported appliances have a 60% import duty on them!

Another interesting difference in apartments is that most larger apartments have a small bedroom for the maid to sleep in – usually tucked behind the laundry. As most people who can afford to live in an apartment building can also afford a maid, this is a great idea. The maids room does not count toward the bedroom count though – so a three bedroom apartment, could actually have four bedrooms in it.


Escape from SP part two, we enjoy the beaches in winter (and get sunburnt)…

22 May, 2008

Last weekend we had another mini adventure outside SP, our gypsy house guests Piero and Ana were still with us (as were the numerous late nights and hangovers that come with them) – so we decided to take them on an adventure and see the beaches to the east of SP.

For those of you who aren’t up on your Brasilian geography, SP is (unfortunately) not quite on the coast, it’s pretty close, about 85km from the centre of the city, or about 75km from our place.

The drive to Juguehy – half way between SP and Rio.

As you can imagine with a population of over 20,000,000 in SP, the nearby beaches are very popular. The closest beach is Santos which is also Brasils largest port. We drove through Santos on our drive and it’s a damn big port, the beaches there are pretty good – but as everyone kept telling us the beaches get better the further you are away from SP. So we headed to Santos then north up the coast. The coast is just beautiful, within 20 minutes of leaving Santos you are in really beautiful seaside towns with beautiful white sand beaches and big inland waterways and lush green rainforest. I was just stunning, we kept going up the coast towards Rio de Janeiro, stopping for quick feijoada lunch beside the beach and eventually stopping at the beach (or Praia) of Juquehy or (Juquei depending on where you look). Although there are many lovely beaches along the coast, Juquehy is more spectacular than the rest because it has a large mountain just behind it, so with the jungle like bush even round it’s even more spectacular! The town itself is also really nice, it seemed quite new and very well kept, it’s felt quite posh, there were loads of nice hotels apartments and restaurants and bars everywhere.

We didn’t book any accommodation which is fine now in winter but i would guess not a good idea in the summer months, even though I say “winter” again the weather was magic a nice 24 degrees during the day and lots of sunshine, overnight it was just cold enough to warrant a second layer, so not too bad at all.

We stayed at Juquei Hotel Pousada which was perfect as the restaurant was right on the beach, so we just had to cross the road for dinner and breakfast and we could sit right above the beach – after the noise and rush of SP it was just awesome! The hotel describes itself on it’s website as “the best localisation of the best beach of the Coast North” and whatever that means – we agree!

The beach at Juquei.

As soon as we arrived we went for big walk on the beach, the sand was white and clean, the water blue and the surf was good, there was loads of surfers out, and loads of people learning to surf at a couple of surf schools that were running on the beach. The water was just a bit cold for swimming, but only just, I imagine it must be awesome in summer.

These blokes were not quite sure if was warm enough to actually get under the water.

Of course because it’s Brasil the beach is also a place of business, it’s a bit of a surprise at first as it trading isn’t allowed on the beach in Oz or Nz. But as long as you aren’t pestered too much it makes spending a day at the beach much easier, every few minutes someone will come wandering past with hot corn, cold beer, ghastly sarongs and many other strange and wonderful objects for sale.

Maybe theres still hope for a last ice cream sale before it gets dark!

So we decided to settle down at one of the beer and caiparinha stalls on the beach and enjoy the sunset:

Beachside bar – now thats civilised!

Just a little drink heh Cath?

Ana is a bit thirsty after the walk along the beach

We had a great seafood dinner in the restaurant, even though the normal standard of seafood we get in SP is very high, it was great to have fresh prawns, fresh octopus and really fresh fish. We sat outside in the restaurant till late at night drinking too much Argentinean wine and eating way too much food.

On Sunday we had a quiet morning, a breakfast of fresh tropical fruit on the beach and another long walk on along the bay. We then sat and enjoyed the sun for a couple of hours,

Of course being four gringos we stood out like a sore thumb on the beach, the locals wear slightly less to the beach than we are used to, the gentlemen prefering a nice tight pair of budgie smugglers and the ladies in a brief as possible teeni-kini, here is couple of examples we picked up on this trip to illustrate the topic:

The classic brasilian budgie smuggler, you can dress ’em up and dress ’emdown!

If this isnt enough to put you off your lunch i dont know what is.

Just remember boys, getting amorous in your smugglers can lead to inconvienient things popping up!

So as well as laughing at this couple getting romantic in the sun, we had another great meal, this time grilled fresh fish with toasted coconut, rice and fried bananas while drinking fresh tropical fruit juices – I know it’s a tough life but someone has to do it! After lunch we headed back to SP, only 175km straight up and over the misty jungle covered mountains and straight home on the motorway.

Thus finished another top weekend and with adventures like this you see why we are really starting to love living in Sao Paulo!!!

Winter in Sao Paulo – clear skys and even more polution

21 May, 2008

Its now offically winter in SP, and some days its almost cold, well ok, not really its still 24 degrees during the day, but a couple of times in the last few weeks it has gone as low as 14 overnight. This ends up feeling colder than london cos there is no heating in the flat – so rather than a nice warm centrally heated 20 degrees we end up with a crisp 14 or whatever it is outside.

So with the colder weather, we are also getting more clear skys and less rain, seeing the blue of the sky can be a bit of a shock after months of SP grey, so its very nice to see, the only thing is it brings into stark effect the amount of polution in the air. I took this snap from our place on friday morning last week, and the other one at Fred and Rons farm back in New Zealand just before christmas, as you can see the NZ sky goes from blue to white, while the SP sky goes from blue to brown…..

It can’t be that bad for us though can it?

Another trip downtown, this time with a camera!

20 May, 2008

Last week our good friends Pesty and Spanner (aka Piero and Ana) were in town, for those who know and love them they are once again roaming the world and we were lucky enough to host them for a while on their way to Manaus in the middle of the Amazonian rain forest.

Like most people their only experience of SP was a brief stop over at the not so lovely airport, so Greg took them so see some of the sights around town before we headed for the coast for the weekend. Of course no visit to SP is complete without a trip to the Mercado Municipal to try the awesome bacalhau pastel and our newest treat – some real Brasilian chewing tobacco, which was just as horrible as you imagine it will be.

Piero had his trusty camera with him, so he got these great snaps around the market, the crazy 25th of March street and the quite nice if a bit shabby downtown business area which i know you are all dying to see!

mercardo municpial sao paulo

Mercardo municipale

carving the cod

carving the cod – fresh bachlau

if this place doesnt make you hungry, you probably have a dodgy south american belly!

The italian bread man – who wouldnt buy something off this bloke?

take a break boys, yeah just there is fine…

the very erie abandoned office building across the road from the market

25th of March street – possibly the worlds craziest market – from nasal hair trimmers to samba costumes and carpets..

brasilians love a bargain!

Greg and Piero trying to blend in among the locals…

some of the beautiful buildings in the business district of downtown

the beautiful main boulevard

4:00 – the start of the rush hour(s)……

Fogo de Chao – where meat is king and vegetarians fear for their lives….

13 May, 2008

You know how it is, when someone recommends something as “the best”, “the greatest”, and “amazing” you can be pretty sure that you will end up setting your expectations too high and end up totally disappointed.

Well as soon as we moved to SP (now over five months ago) Fogo de Chao was the restaurant on everyone’s lips, it’s probably the most famous restaurant in SP (just a little bit more famous than The Outback even) and its main claim to fame is it’s amazing meat…..

Now as I am sure our regular readers are aware Brazil is now the largest beef producing country in the world, kicking the beefy butt of Australia and USA and Argentina. But it’s definitely not the most famous country for beef, chances are if you think about South American beef, you are probably going to think about Argentinean steak, and we had some amazing steak in Buenos Aires, so this place had a lot to live up to.

Fogo de Chao is a chain restaurant (which isn’t really the greatest start), but luckily for us, we can walk to one of their SP restaurants, so on a nice quiet Sunday afternoon – with nothing else planned for the rest of the day we strolled over to the restaurant, with the good 5km walk helping us to work up an appetite (see that folks, we walked 5km in SP and weren’t murdered)!!!

The restaurant is massive, it would probably seat 300 people and we luckily arrived just before the lunch time rush. The staff were wearing Brazilian cowboy outfits (ohh shit, it’s getting worse) and there was a massive buffet bar (more points off, it’s in freefall now).

We sat at our table, and were handed the menu:

Fogo de Chao, beef selection

Thats it, the whole menu, nothing but meat, meat, meat and meat, suddenly this place looked like it had some potential; there literally was nothing but meat available, no starters, no vegetarian option, just meat, unlimited amounts of meat!

Now most people have been to an all you can eat restaurant before, but I have never been to an all you can eat restaurant that serves the quality of meat that they do here. Instead of bringing you an individual piece of meat, the waiters are continually walking around the restaurant with giant cuts of meat, cooked and served the traditional Brazilian cowboy (Gaucho) way:

For those of you (like me) who aren’t that informed on traditional Brazilian bbq techniques, the tradition started when the gauchos were out on the range, they developed a simple way of cooking large chunks of meat, skewered on mega skewers (more like a swords) that were slowly roasted over the embers of the fire, something like this:

now thats what i call a bbq

So imagine this (and if your mouth doesn’t start watering there is something wrong with you – like you’re a vegetarian or you may be dead) the restaurant is full of blokes wandering around carrying around massive pieces of perfectly cooked bits of beef – and I mean massive, the steaks on the skewers are all three or four inches thick and each skewer has a range of cookedness – from rare to well done, so you can choose it just the way you like it! As well as 16 separate cuts of beef on parade, they also have a couple of cuts of lamb, half roasted chickens, grilled chicken hearts, roast pork and a variety of sausages….. And the food just keeps coming, they use an ingenious traffic light/drinks coaster system to control the flow of meat:

Please Keep it coming….

My heart has stopped, please stop/resuscitate!

So you just sit down, order a bottle of Brazilian red wine (that’s a whole ’nother post), loosen your belt off a bit, switch your coaster to green and let the meat feast begin…

Each of the different cuts has a different taste, you can grab a few slices of each and compare the different flavours, from the marbled sweetness of the hump, to the straight lean meat of the fillet mignon and my favourite the “ancho” – a cut like a rib eye, with a good mix or marble and lean meat. All of the meat is cooked to perfection, sure in the Brazilian way it’s loaded with salt, but heh this isn’t a restaurant the heart foundation was likely to approve anyway, so in for a penny in for a pound!

The great thing about the traffic light system is you can control the flow of food, take a 15 minute break, enjoy some more red wine a couple of polenta chips (another topic worthy of it’s own post) and generally relax, if you have had enough beef you can switch to lamb for a while, choose between slices off a roasted leg of lamb, or a rack of lamb chops, then some delicious bbq chicken and a dozen grilled chicken hearts (yet another Brazilian treat). As well there is a salad bar, but bloody hell, that salad is just taking up space that meat could be filling in your belly!

So yes, there are lots of other restaurants in Sao Paulo that specialise in preparing Brazilian bbq or churrasco, and now we have been to a couple of others but I have to say, if you have the choice start with the best, Fogo de Chao is one of those places that definitely lives up to its reputation!

Getting tired of the city, the smoke, the traffic, the rush, the crush? Why not take a break in the Brazilian mountains – in a mock Swiss Village?!?!?!?

5 May, 2008

Living in a city can be a drag, living in one of the world’s biggest cities can be a really big drag, so with a four day weekend this weekend we took the chance to go away and see some of the countryside. But choosing where to go in the fifth biggest country in the world isn’t easy, we got lots of suggestions from friends and workmates, but in the end we were intrigued by a little village called Monte Verde, apparently the closest thing to an Swiss mountain village outside Switzerland and only 170km from Sao Paulo – this was too good to miss out on, or was that too good to be true?

The story behind the village is that apparently the area was settled by migrants from Europe, who decided it would be the perfect mountain retreat, so they built buildings resembling those built where they came from. The truth is that it is a relatively new town, with many purpose built buildings that are indeed in a “European” style, but they are very much designed with tourists in mind. We knew this before we went to Monte Verde so we weren’t disappointed when we got there, but I think people who make the journey expecting to be transported to the mountains of Europe may be disappointed.

So it’s about 170km from our house so we had to hire a car, the cheapest car you can hire in Brazil is something called a VW Gol – not Golf, just Gol , it’s the bestselling car in Brazil and a rugged little beast, though not very pretty it’s cheap as chips (a new four door model is only about £8,000) and it’s built just for the South American market specifically to handle Brazilian roads (80% of which are not sealed – or even graded as we found out).

The super Gol

So we headed off Thursday at 2pm with our trusty driving directions printed off Google maps. The instructions we had were relatively simple and for our first time driving in Brazil we were pretty chuffed to get out on the motorway where our instructions simply said travel for 127km then take exit for Um Street. We thought that was street name was pretty funny as we tootled along the motorway at 120km/hr in our 1.0 litre beast. When we got to the 127km mark we couldn’t see any turn offs so we carried on for another 20km and still no turn off as described, but we then reached the next town we quickly realised that instead of heading north for 140 odd kms we had got on the wrong motorway as soon as we left Sao Paulo and instead headed 140km east!!!!

Never ones to panic we quickly checked our map (better late than never heh) we worked out we could head across the mountains in a north westish direction and we could get to Monte Verde without going back to SP again. Looked nice and simple on the map, we could zoom through some nice mountain roads, along a short stretch of gravel road and still make it in time for dinner – or so we thought! The motorways we had driven on so far were fine roads, but as soon as you step off the major roads the quality of roads and signs drops away quickly, as we discovered. So we winded our way through the hills, the rain started to pour down and we quickly realised we weren’t going to be able to average any real speeds, after a couple of hours we finally got to the point where we could nip cross country on the dirt road. Not finding any signs for Monte Verde we stopped at a petrol station to ask for directions, the guy at the desk thought we were comedians and laughed at the suggestion, he told us the road didn’t even exist anymore and we had to take a big detour on the sealed road to another dirt road which would cut us across the mountains. Another hour passed and we reach the point of our next cunning plan, by now having been scared enough driving on the sealed roads, with massive foot deep potholes, completely washed out sections and long section of those corrugations that make you feel like visiting the dentist we started to lose courage regarding our “short cut”.

Again we stopped for directions at a taxi rank in the middle of a cute little town, again the locals thought we were nuts and advised us to take another even longer detour north to rejoin the main north south motorway where we could then drive back towards Sao Paulo and onto Monte Verde. By now we were really starting to doubt if we were ever going to make it, but after another couple of hours crawling through the hills we finally got to motorway and zoomed down towards our turn off.

Now the road from the motorway to the town is about 37km long, this bit alone took us over an hour due to the even more terrible condition of the road, we constantly had to zig and zag across the road to get around the massive pot holes and wash outs. But I am happy to announce that after eight hours of driving we finally made it to Monte Verte!!!!

A Brazilian road just like the ones we drove on

The red route is our actual route, the blue one our planned route

So we stayed at the excellent Pousada das Montanhas a couple of Kilometres from the centre of town. Our accommodation was really lovely, cute little chalets, had great breakfast, but most importantly had we had a massive open fire place in our room which was great, cos it was cold. Ok before you all start, we have just come from London, so we know what real cold is, but for Brazilians this was about as cold as it gets. Overnight it dropped to as low as 10 degrees.

Our Chalet

So Monte Verde itself is pretty interesting and entertaining, it’s basically one long main street (the only sealed street in the town) the street is lined with Swiss and Austrian style buildings.

The main street of Monte Verde

One of the “typical” buildings on the main street.

Lots of the accommodation places are also built in that style as well. We also a saw a beautiful Huf House tucked away in one of the valleys, that really was the last thing we expected to see in Brazil (and Gregs dream house). The town isn’t like a real town, there is no supermarket or anything useful like that, just lots of shops selling the usual touristy stuff, tour operator offering quad bike safaris and horse treks, but what was quite funny (to us at least) was that it actually felt like a real European mountain ski village because everyone was dressed as if it was about to snow! I suppose if you are used to SP and Rios’ constant heat it is pretty cold up there, but come on, do you really need ugg boots, scarves, beanies and gloves when it’s 15 degrees? The food in the very touristy restaurants was also tailored to the “cold” with all of them offering hot chocolate, soups and cheese or chocolate fondues, and everyone was lapping them up.

Overall it was great fun, the place is cheesy as hell, but a real nice change from SP, so we will probably end up coming back here again, or maybe just to one of the nearby towns without the European feel (and prices)!

The weather was terrible the whole time we were there, with constant rain turning the dirt roads into mud baths – luckily no trouble to our little Gol. But by Saturday we had had enough of playing 500 by the roaring fire while the rain bucketed down outside, so we decided to climb one of the nearby mountains. Sure it was raining, blowing a gale and the low cloud meant that we couldn’t actually see anything, but we headed up one of the mountains anyway.

The (lack of) view from Bishops Peak

Cath enjoying the stiff breeze

So now we are back in SP, we made the return journey in a much less painful three hours, and today I bought myself a decent Brazilian road atlas, hopefully we won’t be making that mistake again!