Friday, December 31, 2010

Rio: Kickin it with the 30-something wanderers

I arrived in Rio de Janeiro by bus on Monday the 27th around seven in the evening and my first experience was poop. The first taxi driver quoted a price double what the hostel told me it should cost. The second driver, who didn't turn on the meter despite my insistence and then turned it to the higher priced bandeira 2 in what I thought was a scam (though learned later, was not [oops, my bad])--actually made me get out of the taxi 2 blocks away from the bus terminal, which we both knew was a sketchy area. The third price was also a rip-off, but I took it anyway, in a huff, because I was out of patience and only wanted to safely get from Point A to Point B.

"Get your act together, Rio." I thought.

Point B was Rio Hostel in Santa Teresa. Because I was exhausted by work and travel, and because I have visited Rio three times before, and because I was most thrilled at the prospect of relaxing in the company of new friends (first 3 days) and old friends (next 3 days)--I had no intention of lifting a finger to sightsee, no intention of partaking (this time) in the madness at Copacabana na hora da virada. Nope. I just wanted to hang out, meet, read, sleep, wander a little, and clink a few glasses in the evenings.

I got exactly what I wanted.

My first impression of the Santa Teresa hostel was average. And from an accommodation standpoint, it is. Good showers, decent beds, average charm.

Excellent rooftop bar and patio with a little pool.

What made my stay far better than average, however, was the tribe of travelers (as is frequently the case). The night I arrived I met the Chinese-American Francis; Ryan and Todd, the retired Canadians; Jens the German Convention Engineer; Breno the Carioca and Vanessa the Gaúcha, a hard-partying duo that live in Belém do Pará (among others); all but one sharing an unusual characteristic for hostelers, we were aged 34 to 41.

Ryan & Todd

This brings a couple of notable differences to the experience.

1) We still partied hard, but only one bottle of hooch got smashed over the entire three days.

2) I had the delightful and unexpected sensation that my favorite hobby, traveling--and, more specifically, hosteling--was growing with me.

I was surrounded by neat people of my ilk who, for whatever reason and with whatever experience behind them, have made a conscientious choice and effort to take their lives on the road.

Jens, me, Frank, Tim, and Sarcastic Brit #1

Ryan speaks Japanese and just finished a 40,000 km bike ride from his native Winnipeg to Chile. Pfft.

Todd has had so many surgeries to correct hockey-related injuries that he is nearly robotic. And he is the Giver of Absinthe.

Vanessa works at the Theatro da Paz and sometimes gets funny looks due to her irresistible urge to get her groove on.

Americans Frank and Tim had the most opposite personalities and interests but the tightest bond of any brothers I have ever known. Super cool guys.

Dutch Elsa just left her position as a counselor with the penitentiary system to do a kiteboarding and culture tour of South America.

And there was Dutch Skip, Francesca of Milan, a few sarcastic Brits for good measure, and so many others...

Elsa and Tim (Apparently, double-fisting would be a trip theme, as you will see in the next post.)

My stay at Rio Hostel gave me itchy feet. One of the options for 2011 I have been kicking around my head for some time now is a slow backpacking tour of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, et al. Hmmm.

But first, New Years Eve...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays! Boas Festas!

I had a really nice Thanksgiving at Lawry's with Andrea, Thiera, Beth and Aaron.

Take one!

Take Two!

Don't take yourself too seriously!

Ahhhh, my cousin Beth and her husband Aaron. They are real cards, those two. Bless 'em!

Fast forward through a December full of work to last Friday. I was super-tired, nearly to tears, as I stood silently on the L platform at Jackson, waiting for the red line to carry me home to my dirty laundry and packing duties. Suddenly the guy next to me exclaimed, "Are you seeing this?" and I peeked down the subway tunnel at the approaching train.


It was the Holiday Train, or, as it should be known, The Jingle L!

Thank you Universe, for the sense of humor when I need it most!

The train is *decked* (Fa La La, Ha ha!) inside and out. The conductor is Santa-suited and full of cheer and jokes on the loudspeaker, which simultaneously broadcasts the Chicago CTA's unique blend of Holiday Hits: from James Brown to The Chipmunks. People were actually singing along!

That was uplifting.

Today, I am with my family. Tonight I'll be en route to São Paulo. Tomorrow I'll be en route to Rio de Janeiro.
Warm wishes for a wonderful holiday--with whomever, wherever you are "home".


Wednesday, December 22, 2010


That "walking in a winter wonderland" lyricist was an idiot.
Just kidding!

Myth #1

Snow is gorgeous! [1) When it falls, and 2) you don't have to navigate through it.]

Otherwise it's just...

On a few occassions this winter, though, I escaped with a soak in the Chicago Hilton hot tub, which comes with a view.

Myth #2

I don't know about you, but I call this a french press. In my experience, they are not at all easy to come by in Brazil, and when I have found them, they were pricey. So when I saw this one for sale at Metropolis (a café that is grossly overrated, by the way), I chuckled. Yeah, right.

Myth #3

The old lime/lemon-limão/lima debate!

All sorted?

[Blog note: you will notice the formatting is all off--fonts, colors, spacing. That's because the computer at hand is a Microsoft product and I'm too tired to argue.]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sunday: Tribute to USAmerican Breakfast

Mmm, pancakes at Bananas Foster. Only, they aren't just pancakes, they are Hot Cakes. So, they're, like, deep fried. Essentially it's like eating funnel cake for breakfast.

So wrong, yet, ohhh so right.
They make a mean spinach, feta, and mushroom omelet with hollandaise sauce too. Lord have mercy.

I have decided that breakfast is the thing I miss most about the U.S. Well, aside from family... Foxypants...

...and Spot, who just heard me say, "breakfast."

I must add that, contrary to the largely held belief of my foreigner friends, no, USAmericans do not, in general, have these massive, cheesy, sugary, sausagey, bacony feasts every day. For me, it's a delightful, occassional treat--or a hangover cure!
Bom apetite!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Playtime at the MSI

One aspect that makes The Museum of Science and Industry so great is all the interactive stuff. Buttons, levers, mirrors, videos, whisper chambers, scientists and docents everywhere will ensure that you are as entertained and stimulated as you are educated by your day.


The Baby Chick Hatchery always gets a crowd.


There are big-things-made-little, like this delightfully detailed train set. Beyond what you see (the model of the Chicago skyline complete with functioning traffic lights!), miniature "L" and commuter trains run their respective routes through a model city and suburbs, and freight trains are routed off, twisting through the forests and mountains in the model, destined for a miniature Seattle in another part of the hall. Neat.

And there are big-things---still---big. Looking again at the photo above you'll notice that the model is under an airplane: that's a real Boeing 727 suspended up above!

The Muppet exhibit was cool though no photography was allowed so the store puppets have to suffice. (Funny aside: I met two girls from Porto Alegre in the shop. Always a small world.)

The Hubble IMAX program was wonderful! I want to be an astronaut when I grow up.

(Louquinha) Paulistinha

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Touch, Hubble and Muppets!

As you might have gathered, I'm curious. I love space stuff, underwater stuff, size-changing stuff, and random question stuff. I received my new iPod Touch last week. I have been working a lot lately, so I haven't even had a chance to hit a wifi café to set up most of my new applications, but I am having fun with the new toy nevertheless.

I discovered iTunes U and promptly downloaded a variety of free podcasts and video lectures: a Critical Reasoning seminar from Oxford; French 102 (to see if any of my high school French lessons still reside in the crevices of my brain); an introduction to Game Theory; a Yale lecture on The Speeches of Joaquim Nabuco (in Portuguese!); and Brazil's Gold: How Rio Won It's Olympic Bid from Wharton, to name a few. I also discovered Ask the Naked Scientists. By gum, it's brilliant! The 30 minute podcasts, in which scientists answer questions submitted by listeners, provide an absolutely perfect accompaniment to my L commutes. The British accents lull me into my happy place while I learn just-enough about all sorts of interesting topics. This morning, for instance, I heard about some Mexican cave-dwelling, blind scorpions that evolved the ability of sight again after migrating to the light of the surface; how scientists study the moods of octopuses; how genetics plays a role in our individual pain sensitivity; why falling hot water sounds different than cold; and more. Neat, Jeeves.

[Speaking of educational diversions: octopuses, octopi, octopodes.]

Fittingly, as I'm on a science bent at the moment, tomorrow I am going to my favorite Chicago museum, The Museum of Science and Industry. Of course I'll visit my favorite happiness exhibit. I'll also check out two fascinating new ones: the Hubble IMAX show and Jim Henson's Fantastic World.

Yay for Muppets!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November Sun

It seems to me that this has been a much sunnier November than usual. It has certainly been warmer--with the first couple weeks of my stay well into the 60s F (10s C). For all of my bellyaching, I have greatly enjoyed the walking I have been doing along quaint, quiet northside streets and among autumn foliage.

I took this picture during my morning commute on November 11th--they were setting up the outdoor seating at the Artists' Cafe.

Truly unreal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What do you mean you don't like pumpkin pie?!

(That's what I had just exclaimed to my friend Andrea as she snapped this photo.)

I made one Sunday for the first time ever. Those close to me know I'm neither a cook nor a baker. (I'm more the bartender type.) But it was a chilly, lazy, November day and I was feeling comfort-y, domestic-y and oven-y in my stylish new Chicago apartment. And I adore pumpkin pie.

It was a success and I enjoyed the process so, who knows, maybe I'll learn my way around a kitchen yet.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chicago (III)

I am back in Chicago for the (unforeseen) third time in 2010. As per usual, one of the first orders of business was to pay a visit to Grandma (a.k.a. Foxypants). This time, she didn't know I was coming to town. So, on Tuesday the 2nd, I deplaned at O'Hare International at 5:30am after a nearly-sleepless, 10-hour, overnight flight, dropped my suitcase at Dad's, went out for pancakes, and then drove an hour and a half to Foxypants' place in Wisconsin. That was one of my more half-baked plans, but it worked: she was completely surprised.

Since then I have been working and working out. Determined to not carry 15 pounds of "holiday baggage" back to Brazil with me like I did last January, I have a pretty strict exercise regime in place to counter the reunion dinners and holiday parties. Among the initiatives: "training" for the upcoming
Turkey Trot and Santa Hustle, and doing the Dailey Method about four times a week. Exhausting like woah, friends.

But that doesn't mean I'm not managing any fun. Fully capitalizing on my pseudo-tourist status, the calendar is peppered with social/cultural events that I always meant to do, but never got around to when I lived here, like
First Fridays at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Adler After Dark, and a dance performance by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project. Not to mention the parties...

'tis the season!

Have a great weekend everyone, in all parts of the globe!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Peru: foreshadowing?

While waiting on Paulista for the airport shuttle last week, I overheard a woman inquiring about the same. A taxi split three ways is the same price as the shuttle, so within minutes, we were exchanging introductions on our way to Garulhos.

Over the next hour and a half I had the pleasure of getting to know Edelweiss and her son Franco, my new friends from Lima. We talked about their Hungarian lineage and modern ties to Brazil. Conversation meandered to cuisine and I learned about the Peruvian culinary trend Cocina Novoandina and Gastón Acurio.

Edelweiss warned me not to skip Machu Picchu when I succeed in making that Bolivia/Peru expedition that's been burning a hole on my hotlist. She also told me to look into Arequipa, the "white city," which I will include on my (eventual) itinerary. In fact, Edelweiss and I have been emailing since our chance meeting and the articles and photos she has sent are making my feet itch.

Whenever I get there, I would be grateful to meet that wonderful pair again.

And, what an entertaining surprise during an otherwise-dull commute to the airport!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

other random bits of laughter

It's Election Day (Round Two). It has been a heated and contentious race so, frankly, I'll be glad to see the day pass. With it, there will not only be a new President, but there will also be far fewer demonstrations clogging the streets (well, more like "normal" for a South American nation). And quirky campaign stickers such as this one for the ex-boxer Maguila (who was disqualified from running in the election after all, for failure to present his criminal record to the Election Board) won't be littering the corporate corridors at lunchtime.

Forget Maguila, though. An even worse embarrassment to the country was the election of Tiririca, whose campaigning must have looked something like this:

On another topic, as much as I loathed seeing the odd Starbucks around São Paulo a few years ago, I confess that now I am extremely thankful. It's the only place I can satisfy my urge for a giant, iced coffee. It's also a nice (safe) place to bring my laptop and work somewhere other than my bedroom. I'm not the only one who appreciates them now--they are everywhere now, nearly as prevalent as in Chicago. The mall near my house has two. And they always have a creative new way to spell my name.

I would wager that 90% of the t-shirts manufactured in Brazil that incorporate English (very chic, you know) contain more than one spelling and/or grammatical error. However, this one was so bad that I had to buy it. I figure I can use it as a teaching tool.

(click to "embiggen")

There's a little lancheria around the corner. A real mom'n pop kinda place that serves sandwiches and omelets in an unassuming corner shop. Amusing, I thought, that they missed the point of lining up clocks on the wall to show the hour in some of the world's most fashionable cities.

One more for the running series on little-things-made-big: a gigantic Tic Tac dispenser, filled with (probably) millions of cereja and maracujá candies!

In case you're curious what the Yuppie's are noshing these days, the chain restaurant América serves a salad of watercress, cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, and fresh mushrooms in a lime and caper dressing.

Oh, and for dessert, they tease, American-Style Pancakes. A) I don't think so. B) My kinda pancakes are not for dessert.

I'll be savoring the real thing on Tuesday. With a side of Pumpkin Spice latte.

Pre-election, post-inclusion: My 1st Brazilian Family

Something cool happened tonight.

First, a throwback. I've been visiting Brazil, reading about Brazil, and/or living in Brazil for about six years now. Of course it all started with an ex-love... but from him I didn't learn much about the country's history or culture. No, I learned on my own. I'm proud of my perseverance in this regard, because I believe it sets me apart from a lot of people. I mean no insult in the observation that, of course, when one falls in love with someone from a culture/country different from one's own, most are inclined to learn about that foreign place/identity. Rather, my objective is to note that, when that relationship works, the learning curve is probably a smoother road. In my case, however, and quite in line with my general life experience--everything. moves. in. reverse.

So I fall in love. I get destroyed. And *then* I continue my passion for the other culture. I throw myself to the wolves by moving, alone, to a place where I don't speak the language, don't understand the nuances that are plainly obvious to everyone else, and struggle daily to acclimate to a truly foreign world.

I think this might be the first time I have given myself credit for this battle (and to face it, it has been a battle)--in my own mind, let alone publicly. But I am proud of myself, for this otherworldly expedition. And tonight, for the first time, I felt really rewarded. I felt really included.

Eu, Carolina, e Neida - olha, já tomamos muito vinho: 'tamos meio-bêbadas então...

Sunday is election day in Brazil. More specifically, the day of the run-off election for the next President. On Friday, Neida (Carol's mom) and Leila (Carol's aunt and my friend/Portuguese teacher) came to stay with us (Carol, Mari, and I) for the weekend. We have been living it up: eating at the nicest french/baiana/arabian restaurants. We shopped at the weekend street fairs and wandered the cutest streets in the neighborhood. And at the end of the day, we sit around talking about everything under the sun, not the least of which, the election.

But as we opened another bottle of wine tonight I had a realization: I was being included in a family discussion. Polemic and feisty, sometimes calm and sometimes agitated, but all the time--I was included. I listened, I understood--and when I didn't understand, they invited me back into the fold with an explanation. For the first time in all of my "Brazilian experience," I felt like I was part of a family here in Brazil. And uau! (wow!) what an amazing triumph. It has been a long time coming, and a lot harder-won than many, but I'm getting there. I am becoming a part of the place which has been a part of me for years.

Neida and Leila with mouths full at Consulado da Bahia

Me. Satisfied.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

heard (II)

"I've only had three bad breakups in my fantasy world."

"But it's your fantasy is that possible?"
"I'm a pessimist."

"When a lesbian couple has PMS at the same time, pffff... well...
that's the Everest!"

"When you choose an IT profession, you also have to choose from a menu of disadvantages. You could be overweight, for example. You could be addicted to MSN or to gaming. Or you could drink a lot. I chose Warhammer and drinking."
-Ivan I

Friday, October 29, 2010

See you, Sunny Sampa

Last weekend we changed our clocks ahead an hour for summertime. Que chato que voltarei pra Chicago novamente bem na hora de inverno!! Bah!

I am posting this photo of the blue sky (seen from my bedroom) and these colorful little flowers for my own benefit--to look upon when I'm feeling cold and a little vitamin D deficient... week.

By the way, it struck me, on my wandering path through Vila Mariana on Monday that, sometimes, São Paulo reminds me of England, on prozac.

Eu te amo, Sampa!
Já volto!