Bonding in Brasilia

Brasilia Travel Blog

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged about my South American holiday. According to my previous post I should be writing about Sao Paulo in this blog but there has been a change of plan. I shall skip the chronological order and write about the places which I enjoyed the most first and then complete the other locations.

 

When the maximum fun you have had in a country comes from the least touristy place then it has to be either the people or the experience. In my case it was both.

 

Day 1 - 11th Dec 2009

 

Sitting at the Foz do Iguassu airport waiting for my flight to Brasilia I started flipping pages of a small booklet I was carrying called “interesting facts about Brazil”. The articles about its capital cities and currencies were really interesting.

 

Brasilia is the latest capital of Brazil. I say this because Brazil has been in the habit of changing its capital more than once. From 1549 to 1763 Salvador was its capital. Rio de Janeiro took over from 1763 to 1960 when it handed over the reins to Brasilia. On the 21st of April Brasilia celebrates 50 yrs of being a capital city and celebrations are in order.

 

Another Brazilian habit is changing its currency. It used to be the Cruzeiros (Cru“zeiros”) until 1986 when inflation forced them to drop three zeros from the currency and from its name as well. The new currency was Cruzado which was still carrying too many zeros and again another three zeros were dropped and the Cruzados became Cruzados Novos (New Cruzados). Cruzados Novos died in 1990 and Cruzeiros which had died in 1986 came back to life. Brazil’s dislike for zeros continued and in 1993 three more zeros were dropped from the re-born Cruzeiros and they turned into Cruzeiros Reais. Finally, in 1994 the Real which died in 1942 was re-born and the dislike for zeros seems to have been laid to rest. Thankfully as of today the Real is alive and kicking!

Another interesting fact is that the old bills had historical characters but the noble intentions of paying homage to their leaders became an embarrassment when these bills started losing value very fast. Nowadays, the bills only have images of Brazilian animals on one side and a female character, representing the republic, on the other.

 

There were too many zeros floating in my mind and I knew exactly why Brazilians must be very good at mental maths! Added advantage! - Frequent changes in currency can successfully keep any counterfeiters at bay! I realized that my boarding call was being announced and I quickly walked towards the gate.

 

At last, I was boarding the flight to Brasilia and in about three hours I would be coming face to face with my online friend Suzana.The countdown was on its last legs.It had been quite a long wait from 30th July 2009 (her first mail to me patiently answering my long list of questions about Brasilia) to 11th Dec 2009. I had met Suzana on Livemocha.com, correcting her English exercises and we became friends soon thereafter. Knowing someone on the net is one thing and meeting them face to face is a totally different ball game. I’m sure being a girl she would be more anxious and wary than me. She already knew I love to write a lot but how would she react when she realizes that I also talk too much?!!

 

An anxious me located my favorite aisle seat on TAM flight JJ3886. I was on seat 8C and once seated I realized I was not the only one anxious there. Seat 8A was occupied by an equally anxious Cleo going to Curitiba for a promotion test from her bank. My flight had a brief stop over at Curitiba where Cleo would be getting down. Cleo and I got talking (remember I talk a lot? J) and I soon realized she had also been bitten by the Caminhos das Indias bug. She spoke very little English but we did manage to strike a conversation with our broken English and Portuguese respectively. She was living in the beautiful city of Florianopolis and advised me that I should not miss it on my next visit to Brazil. If we managed to keep in touch she and her two children would be my guides the next time!

 

Curitiba came and went and my mind was solely focused on Brasilia! Still a bit anxious I picked up my heavy bags from the luggage belt and proceeded towards the exit. I looked around and didn’t see anyone resembling her. Just as I was looking around I saw her rushing in with two other girls. Yes! It was Suzana with her eyes searching for me and looking a bit tense as she knew she was late! I was standing behind her and gently tapped her on the shoulder to say hi. She was all smiles and welcomed me with an affectionate Brazilian hug. She introduced me to her friends Poly (who had got her car to drop me to the hotel) and Diana (who was to be her English speaking interpreter for the afternoon).

 

Suzana had already warned me more than once that her spoken English vocabulary was that of a five year old and all I could reply was- I love kids :) Poly drove the car with Diana sitting in the front and Suzi and me at the back. There was so much to say that I didn’t know where to start. It was kinda amusing that I was sitting next to Suzi but talking to her through Diana sitting in the front.  

 

The moment we came out of the airport parking I could notice that Brasilia was a planned city. Wide roads, lot of open spaces and huge buildings was a landscape very different from the cities I visited previously. It had the air of a modern city and of course, with that came some traffic snarls but nothing unbearable.

 

In about half an hour we reached my hotel Mercure Lider, Brasilia. I would later realize that this would be the best hotel during my entire holiday. More of that in the hotel review section. Suzi and her friends left after telling me that the next day (Saturday) morning they would pick me up at 10 a.m. and show me around their city!

 

I checked into my room and immediately headed down to the reception to enquire about any nearby supermarkets. If you have traveled long enough you will know well that milk and water are the two most important things you must stock up on as soon as you check into a hotel apartment. Buying water in the hotel can be a criminal waste of money and must be left for emergencies alone. The hotel staff was more than helpful and directed me to a shopping centre just 5 minutes from the hotel. I walked across to Brasilia Shopping Centre and found Lojas Americanas a Brazilian retail chain formed by three Americans in 1929. I bought the bare essentials I was looking for and headed to the food court as I was feeling famished.

 

It is not easy to find Veg food in a meat loving country but food courts never let you down. After going around a bit I decided to try my luck at an Italian place called Spoletta. It was like finding a gold mine. Fresh Italian veg food cooked right in front of me!! Yummy! I had a feast that evening and was sure that I would be looking out for Spoletta wherever I went in Brazil.

 

While I was checking my mail in my hotel room that evening Suzi came online and it was kinda funny chatting with her on the net in the same city! We exchanged briefly our first impressions and discussed the next day’s plan.

 

 

Day 2 - 12th Dec 2009

 

Rise and shine were the buzz words that morning. I got up early, got ready and reached the lobby at 10 a.m. waiting for Suzana and her friends to arrive and start my city tour.

 

10.30 a.m. nobody in sight and I wondered if I had got the time right. I SMSd Suzi and she mssgd back saying they were running late. Thankfully hotel lobbies are a great place to spend time. I was busy observing and soaking in the local culture so to speak when Suzi walked into the lobby with the cuddliest little girl I had seen in a long time. She introduced me to Maria, Poly’s 3.5 yr old daughter who had the most beautiful smile and full of energy to run around and have fun.

 

So what does Brasilia have which no other city can boast of? (I mean other than SuzanaJ)? Well, for one, it is one of the most planned cities I have visited.

Brasilia is a very precisely and geometrically designed city based upon LeCorbusier's theory of La Ville Radieuse ("The Radiant City").  Absent are the narrow streets and congested neighborhoods of the old cities.  There are clear, hygienic self-sufficient building blocks specialized by function, separated by large tracts of open landscape and connected by concrete superhighways.  Brasilia is divided into distinct sectors --- residential sectors (with people being entombed in large apartment blocks known as superquadras), hotel sectors, embassy sectors, banking sectors, commercial sectors, warehouse sectors and so on. It is a city of distances and commuting by foot is often not possible.

I am not sure if I like such a precise and segmented city. As a traveler it takes away the joy of discovering new places in obscure corners or the concept of getting lost. My opinion as a resident might have been different though. One thing I was sure of was that I would have a fun time as I had great company that morning. Poly and Suzi had got Michelle and Betty with them. So it was one guy, four women and a little girl! I suppose that just about sums up the male : female ratio in Brazil. Ok Ok I can see my male friends getting really jealous but guys, I swear I didn’t know about this until much after I landed in Brazil!

 

Suddenly I realized that I was surrounded by too many intelligent women, all doing their Masters or Phd. I had to act and sound intelligent. Thankfully, Maria was a good excuse to act like a bobo (“silly” in Portuguese).

 

We started by visiting the TV tower to get an excellent panoramic view of the city. From the viewing gallery one can see how big the city really is and how well planned it is. On the grounds of the TV tower there were lot of small shops and being a Saturday it was like a mini bazaar. I was surprised to see a lot of shops offering clothes and accessories from India, once again thanks to the TV soap opera about India. Sadly the quality was not all that great although the prices were reasonable.

 

We hung around there for a while until everyone was hungry and then proceeded to a shopping centre for lunch. I had already learnt that one of the two things Brazilians love is eating, the other being caring for pets. Every other shop I saw so far was either a restaurant or a pet shop!

 

Food courts I have noted are just about the same in every major city and a great concept to eat what you like and yet eat together. Being the weekend the place was full but we did manage to grab a table and enjoy our meal. Post lunch I even got my birthday gift in advance. I was celebrating my birthday on Monday the 14th of Dec and we were all going out for dinner.

 

We then proceeded to the sector which housed the square of three powers, The Congress, the Presidential Palace and the Supreme Court. We walked around a bit but the heat was really getting to us. The heat even got the better of little Maria’s balloon which burst in her hands! After walking around a bit more and taking some pictures we got back to the hotel.

 

Michelle and Suzana stayed back as I had to go through with them all the goodies I had brought from India. It was Indian Santa time and fun chilling out until it was time for them to leave.

 

It was my best day in Brazil so far and I was delighted that I shared the same chemistry in person which I shared online. The next day only Suzana would be able to spend time with me and we decided to check out some more places she thought I must see.

 

Day 3 - 13th Dec 2009

 

I call day three the ‘Brasilia walkathon’. Right from morning when Suzi came to the hotel we started walking. We went to a nearby mall to get some coffee and the famous Brazilian Pao de Queijo which they can eat endlessly. After roaming around the mini-mall a bit it was time again to walk and talk. I was forcing Suzana to speak in English and it was fun looking at her searching for words. We walked so much that her vocabulary had increased from a 5 yr old to a 9 yr old. I had my first experience of Brasilia’s metro which I must say is pretty good. There is a station called Park Shopping and the moment you exit the station within minutes you are in a really big shopping centre. We checked out the mall until we were hungry and I was delighted to find another Spoletta. It was tough to find a place to sit though. The food court was so packed that we ultimately ended up sharing a table with a local family who were kind enough to accommodate us.

 

Christmas was less than a fortnight away and the mall was buzzing with activity and Santa of course. Christmas season is fun time particularly this year as the world seemed to slowly come out of the fear of recession. Happy children with indulgent parents always make a pretty picture.

 

It was nearing 3 p.m. and time for Suzana to get back home as it was Sunday and she didn’t want to miss going to the Church. She invited me to her apartment to meet her roommates and then accompany her to the Church. It sounded good. I wanted to meet her other roommates and it would be my first visit to a South American church!

 

I got back home rested a bit and took the bus to Suzana’s apartment. It was my first meeting with Bruno and Simone and Michelle was there too. We chatted a bit and Emmanuel another friend of theirs joined in. We clicked some pictures, exchanged music files and sipped some coffee by which time Suzana was ready for Church. It was time for another nice long walk which I absolutely enjoyed. Church was fun too as it was Christmas / New Year time and I was introduced to many of her friends who were surprised that I had come all the way from India to visit Brazil. Most Indian visitors to South America are usually American citizens or US residents of Indian origin.

 

It was dinner time when we left the church and my hungry Brazilian friend and I decided to grab a bite a local fast food joint. Yummy crepe and some juice was enough and we were ready for another nice long walk back home. It was very fulfilling day. I got to know my friend better as we spoke on a myriad of issues. We laughed at lot and that’s what matters at the end of the day.  The next day was my birthday!

 

Day 4 - 14th Dec 2009

 

It was a lazy morning and being behind India time I had loads of wishes waiting for me when I got up and checked my mail. I got a couple of phone calls too and eagerly looked forward to our dinner in the evening. The guys had informed me that we would be going to a place called Pizzaria da Mama where veg food wont be an issue.

 

I had the whole day to myself and called Jovania in Gionia to tell her that I would be taking up her offer to visit her little town three hours away from Brasilia. I would travel by bus Tuesday morning but would have to be back to catch my flight departing Wednesday evening. She advised me against taking the bus saying I wont be able to find her place on my own and offered to send me a driver whom her family knew. That sounded perfect and she asked me to travel the same night after my dinner. She would book a hotel for me. I couldn’t believe this was all being done by a person I just met on the plane a few days back. I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my birthday.

 

It was nearing 7 p.m. and I was all packed and ready to check out before I went for dinner as I had to travel to Gionia immediately thereafter. I waited in the lobby for Suzi who was supposed to take me to the restaurant and her other friends would directly meet us there. Suzi arrived a bit late but I had no complaints as she had to spend extra time to get dressed in the Indian clothes I had managed to pick up. She looked very pretty and almost Indian!

 

The restaurant was full and buzzing with activity and that much crowd on a Monday evening was a sure sign of good food. Soon after everyone arrived we started getting served loads of Pizza slices and it was a very interesting experience. I had never had chocolate or banana and cinnamon pizza before. Poly who had earlier excused herself gave me the best surprise by turning up with little Maria. We had a great evening and before I realized it was already close to midnight and the driver who had to take me to Gionia had arrived.

 

It was time to say good bye to a wonderful bunch of people I had met for the first time but made me feel as if we had known each other for a long time. I wished I could spend a few more days in Brasilia but I had my tickets booked and they could not ignore their lab work. My sixth sense however told me that this would not be my last visit to Brazil and Brasilia in particular.

 

My only regret that evening was reaching the restaurant late and missing Amelia who had come to meet me there and left before I reached. However, I was not going to give up that easily and on way back from Gionia to the airport I would make sure to meet her at work and at least say hello in person.

 

I will be writing more about meeting wonderful Amelia and Gionia’s generous mother daughter team of Jovania and Jordana in my future posts.

 

This has been my longest blog so far and special thanks to you for your time and patience if you have reached this far!!

TravellinChic says:
Great experience :) Thanks for sharing :)
Posted on: Nov 09, 2010
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photo by: vulindlela