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!