Monthly Archives: March 2019

Brazil, Recife and Olinda – colourful buildings, Jewish heritage and carnival puppets

I am now in the north eastern part of Brazil which has a different feel to it. Still big cities but more friendly and laid back than in the South (at least that’s my impression).

Olinda is about 5km from downtown Recife and provides nice views from the main (and somewhat dilapidated) church over the City of Recife

Olinda is another town full of colourful buildings that I never get tired of seeing. And they like their mosaics too!

Below is a typical handicraft area from this part of Brazil. Lots of colour, African influences art, wooden carvings and a lot of cheesecloth?!

Then back down in Recife we recommenced our Jewish heritage tour visiting what has now been proven as the first ever synagogue in the Americas. A lot of Sephardic Jews left Portugal and came to Brazil after the Inquisition but had to live as Jews in secret for many years. They had a brief respite when the Dutch came into power and were allowed to worship freely but then the Portuguese returned and they went back into hiding.

This synagogue was only discovered in the 90s and was first thought to just be an old building but further excavations allowed them to find the Mikvah ( under glass below) which means it now attracts scholars from all over the world to see it. It has been well preserved. Also interested to see the original steer name and the current street name both being displayed.

The photo below was one in the museum area above the synagogue – and also there is one of my Dad. I thought this chap could have been related to our family as he looks like my Dad and my uncles! What do the Babani’s think?

Finally we visited the main square and the official centre of town and then the museum that houses a lot of the papier mache figures used at carnival time – quite the collection!!

I especially like the combo of Batman Mao and me – what a motley crew!

Brazil, Armacao dos Búzios and Salvador de Bahia

A stop in the small seaside of town of Armação dos Búzios involved a boat ride on a local schooner with various stops for those who wanted a swim (not me). It was the town that Brigitte Bardot made famous in the 60s when she stayed there with her Brazilian boyfriend to escape the paparazzi in Rio.

It was formal night on the cruise that evening so we all glammed up a bit for a yum meal at the Keller Grill on board. All very tasty as usual.

Next stop, the UNESCO protected and former Brazilian capital of Salvador de Bahia – as we head north on the Brazilian coast it becomes more humid and there is also more African influence in the cities with a touch of Christianity and voodoo. It is a place that everyone told us was quite dangerous but we had a good time wandering about having first ridden up the elevator to get to the upper old town and of course there were loads of tourist police about so that helped:).

The colonial houses are wonderful pastel colours and we got a sunny day rather than the predicted rain so that made me happy.

Brazil, Rio de Janeiro- a busy day. Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer, museum of Tomorrow, Kobra’s mural, Sao Bento church, the beaches

An early start today to take the 140 year old train up Corcovado (the hunchback hill) in Rio to see Christ the Redeemer statue and avoid the worst of the crowds. Here’s my art shot of the train!

I caught a tiny peek at the station out of the window but it’s amazing how quickly the weather can change in 25 minutes. Stage one of the journey was fab.

But here’s how it had changed at the top by the time I got up there 😦

And then 20 minutes later 🙂

It never became clear enough to see Sugar Loaf Mountain but I was grateful for the sun we saw.

Rio is all about beaches so I followed up being way above sea level to heading back down to it to check out the famous beaches of Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana (and now I can’t get either of those two flipping songs out of my mind!).

Ipanema below including the bar where that song was written about 50 years ago (btw the girl from Ipanema is still alive and well)

And at the Copacabana it was great to see the wave boardwalk and the Copacabana Palace Hotel – definitely fancy staying there if I visit here again.

En-route back to the ship I paid a quick visit to the closest church attached to a monastery and also the Museum of Tomorrow – built for the Olympics and a lovely building as well as having very cool exhibits.

Finally, I loved loved loved 💗 the brilliant massive street art mural right by the dock by the artist Kobra. Apparently the largest single piece of street art in the world – each face represents a different continent.

Brazil, Petrópolis

I decided to spend my first day in Rio de Janeiro outside of the city visiting the country town of Petrópolis about 90 minutes drive from Rio high up in the hills. It is where the former Portuguese royalty had its summer palace which is now a museum (I’ve become a bit obsessed with Portuguese royalty of the 1700s to 1800s!!)

First the drive out of the city- past favellas on the hillside and many by the road. But also into the much prettier countryside and up a very steep hill towards Petrópolis.

We stopped at a former casino that only lasted four years in the glamorous 40s but was then abolished due to the strong Catholicism of the First Lady of the time. It is now a hotel and convention centre on a man made lake is the shape of Brazil!

The town does of course have a cathedral and the tombs of some of the former royalty plus some excellent stained glass windows.

Then on to my first churrascaria in Brazil. There is no point being a vegetarian in this part of the world. Delicious and it keeps on coming unless you beg them to stop! Beef, chicken, lamb,sausages, chicken hearts and on and on…..

The museum in the former palace was very interesting but no photos allowed inside so exterior below plus one of their carriages and a little local wildlife!

Brazil, Ilhabela…. my 102nd country

For those of you who are eagle eyed – yes I’ve jumped to country 102 as I’d miscounted on my master list (I use the website to keep count). Will keep it up to date from now on.

First stop was the small island of Ilhabela and it was raining! I decided to just scout around the small port side town and check out the haviana shops – I’m determined to buy a pair in Brazil. But now I’ve also discovered their rival Ipanema – so that complicates things:). No purchases yet.

Very little on this island other than natural beauty inland and beaches but the town made for a nice stroll on land.

The cultural centre and church are the main places to visit plus the ultra modern Christ on the cross.

They are fond of mosaics here and you can see the town portrayed in them – spot the mosaic and real church.

And in the cultural centre I stumbled into a room that was full of carnival papier mache figures – spookily real.

Uruguay, Montevideo – my 100th country.

Delighted to have started my lengthy cruise with Seabourn Quest that departed from Buenos Aires. First stop was Montevideo, capital of Uruguay and my 100th country visited. So now I am targeting 120!

Montevideo is less enticing than some other places I’ve visited in South America. It is clean and organised and relatively safe but lacks somewhat in character.

The main plaza has some interesting old and new architecture and of course a statue (they like them a lot in South America). This one is Artigas the founding father of Uruguay which is a country that should not really exist historically – it should either be Argentina or Brazil – but when everyone else in South America was agreeing to be subsumed under either Spain or Portugal this little area refused and hence became their own independent country.

Below is the ox cart and bullocks sculpture which I did love – it is a beautiful giant piece of art.

A whacky place to visit is the Alchemist’s House which sits amongst the modern condos in a swanky area of Montevideo. This owner believed in transmutation and so the house has many symbols reflecting this as well as odd shaped rooms and numerous staircases that go to nowhere.

The owner donated it to the local government (but they abandoned after he died for 30 years) on the proviso that when he returned after his death it would be given back to him! He was very confident but so far it is still government owned!

Finally a bit of tango dancing to end the day – I just watched.

And then a drink with Lucinda – one of my fellow travelers.

Argentina, Buenos Aires, Teatro Colon and El Tigre- last few days.

Always good to get out of the city sometimes so I took a trip to El Tigre which is a 45 minute drive from central BA but a world away in style and pace.

Once again I utilised the Services of the excellent guide Patricia from Eco Buenos Aires

First we made a stop at the beautiful rose garden in one of the central parks.

Then a quick stop at the memorial for the people killed in two terror attacks in the 90s in Buenos Aires aimed at the Jewish population but which in fact impacted many others. Each block represents someone who was killed and each has an etching on it determined by their surviving relatives that reflects who they were individually – hence everything from handbags to bicycles. A really nice idea to humanise a memorial.

In El Tigre we had a look at the local market – the wood required for wicker is grown here and so there are a lot of woven goods and then a boat for a leisurely ride through the islands that make up El Tigre. They are only accessible by boat and include permanent residents and those with summer homes as well as a lot of recreational sites for picnics and walks. Supermarkets are accessed by boats carrying all manner of goods.

Then we made a stop at the house of Victoria Ocampo – an early feminist and creator of a feminist magazine that run during the 30s to early 60s. She was quite the lady – did what she wanted and scandalised many but i think she was pretty cool and her own person.

On my last day I paid visited Teatro Colon – the Italian style magnificent opera house in the centre of BA. Refurbishment was completed about three years ago and the outcome is splendid. Book your times ticket in advance as there are only limited spaces for English speaking tours. A highlight of the city for me together with Recoleta cemetery.

Next stop – my 100th country!!!

Argentina, Iguazu Falls – tips for a two day visit from Buenos Aires

It is easy to take a side trip to Iguazu Falls from Buenos Aires and as this spot had been on my ever extending bucket list for some time I was not going to miss the opportunity. It was indeed magnificent.

Yes you could just do an overnight trip (flight time is 90 minutes each way) but I recommend two nights so that you can take it in properly and also because it is in the rain forest where there is not unsurprisingly a lot of RAIN! If you stay two nights you are more likely to enjoy some sunny moments or at least clouds without rain – and that is worth it.

I stayed two nights – one in the the city (Orchideas Hotel – 3 star standard) and one in the Iguazu Falls Park (Gran Melia). If I did this again I would spend both nights in the lovely Gran Melia as it is a 5 minute walk into the park meaning you can be in just after 8am and able to enjoy the walks before the crowds. It has views of the Falls, a beautiful pool and generally a cool vibe and direct access to the Park is the biggest attraction. There is very little to do in the town (other than the excellent Argentine Food Experience) and it is not far to get a car to take you there and back – if you leave late afternoon you can see whatever you want to see in the town before the Experience).

You can organise yourself onto one of the many tours around the park or do it yourself. I took a tour with EcoIguazu which included my accommodation in Iguazú and a tour guide. All the logistics were well handled by this company but the main purpose of the tour guide seemed to be logistics so if getting from place to place bothers you then use one. I could have done the Park visit alone – as indeed I did on day 2 from the Gran Melia. You buy entrance tickets and choose whether to go on the train, take the Devil’s throat walk and/or the jet boat (a waste of time in my view as it seems ridiculous to pay so much money to get thoroughly drenched – but I guess that’s just me as others seemed to enjoy themselves?!?). If you are interested in the history of the Falls and the geography and geology of the place then I suggest you get a private official guide in the park so that you can bombard them with questions which was not so easy to do with a group of 10.

The train journey takes you to the highest point where you can see Devil’s Throat and there are two other walkways – both take about 45 mins to an hour. The upper walk and the lower walk (which would provide much the same view as being on the boat but only getting wet from the spray).

Because it rains a lot I strongly advise one of those attractive rain ponchos(!) – a long one. If weather is warn then shorts and a t shirt under that is fine. Use Mosquito repellant – they didn’t bug me but they did bite me! Also keep valuables in watertight containers or leave them in your safe. When I say wet I mean wet! Don’t bother with umbrellas – not enough space on the walkways to use them without banging into other people.

Finally, the Argentine Food Experience is something different. A fun way of learning about local food, doing a bit of cocktail making and cooking (they do most of the work), meeting some fellow travellers (it is not a large crowd so quite fun) and drinking local wine. My kind of evening and they do it very well.

The walkways used in Iguazu. They are designed so that the base is fixed but the slats you walk on can be removed when the river is due to flood at which point it comes way over the top of these walkways. The water is brown due to previous heavy rains which churn up the ground – this is not the case all year.

The Iguazu Express below is somewhat misnamed but nice journey through the rain forest up to Devil’s Throat and check out the view at the top!

There is wildlife to be seen – see below and I did see some toucans flying – very cool but too quick to take pics. I kept a watchful eye for jaguars, ocelots, tapirs, capuchin monkeys and snakes – especially when walking early in the morning (you cannot enter the park before 8am) – didn’t see any – fine with that except would have liked to have seen a tapir.

The Gran Melia Hotel Iguazu – a haven in the park with the falls in the distance.

Same pic, different filers:)

Views from the Upper circular walk.

In Iguazu Town.

Scenes from the Argentine Experience and my rather pathetic effort at an empanada. It tasted a lot better than it looked!

The Frontier Experience – The river changes colour where the rivers of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. Can be seen when in town.

Argentina, Buenos Aires – the highlights. Recoleta Cemetery, La Boca, Evita, Casa Rosada, El Ateneo bookshop, MALBA, the Cathedral

What a great city Buenos Aires is – and an excellent place to spend a few days just taking in as much as possible. Great climate at this time of year too – perfect for wandering about.

First stop is the renowned Recoleta Cemetery just down the road from my hotel – the beautifully restored Palacio Duhao plus gardens

The cemetery is especially famous for its sumptuous mausoleums (cUSD12000 per square meter to buy), for being the place where Eva Peron (née Duarte was buried) but the big surprise for me was to find “the only Jew in the cemetery”! Note the Star of David on Benjamin Breitman’s tomb.

My fabulous guide was Patrica Kanelson of Ecouruguay (but don’t be fooled bye the name – they do excellent small group or private tours in Iguazu and Buenos Aires too). Another must see is the La Boca area – once a run down port but now a lively and extremely colorful area – one of the few parts of the City that does not look early century European.

The European feel plays out in the charm of the surroundings – cafes and parks.

And there are always reminders of Evita as you stroll past the Casa Rosada – and the balcony she waved from is first floor (or 2nd if you are from the US) 2nd balcony to the left of the main arch. Apparently the guides have to let some visitors know that Evita did not actually sing Don’t cry for me Argentina from that spot (or indeed anywhere else!).

Then a quick whirl round the main cathedral – especially well known as this was home to the current Pope before he headed out to the Vatican 3 years ago. I also caught the changing of the guard that takes place every two hours by the main tomb.

Of course I couldn’t not go an visit any art galleries so I chose MALBA which focuses on Latin American art and includes one Frieda Kahlo and one Diego Rivera. Like the country the art is very colorful .

Last stop is one of the top three named most beautiful bookshops in the world. It’s called El Ateneo and by chance the store is owned by the family of someone I met in Melbourne who now lives back in Buenos Aires! It is wonderful – formerly a theatre and now a book haven for everyone to enjoy.

Australia, Sydney – a week of catch ups, food and cruise ships viewings

A sunny day in Sydney (and it is not always sunny contrary to the myth) is hard to beat for jaw dropping views of two icons – the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House set amongst the twinkling waters of Sydney Harbour. And at this time of year it is a different cruise ship every day. I also revisited the Botanical Gardens – one of my favorites and discovered Barangaroo Reserve (thanks for the recommendation Trish) which is a piece of land preserve with indigenous plants slap bang in the middle to an area of Sydney which is being very built up – so great a bit of green is being retained.

Night time is always special too.

I visited my friends Vidya and Gana and was treated to home cooking at “Gana’s Kitchen” – just a few samples below of the many dishes we got to taste. Wonderful meal. Great company too which included my old mate from long ago – Doug.

Talking of friends it was marvelous to catch up with more friends and get some more home cooking (thanks Jane and John and Nigel) – some of them are below. Lovely to see you Mark and Liza, Trish, Christina, Catriona, Nigel, Joel, Lana and Christopher.