Anthony Bourdain has said, “Sao Paulo looks like Los Angeles threw up on New York.” It’s hella big. We got excited when we saw the first few high rises from the plane…and then there were more and more and more. It’s endless.
In spite of the size, we didn’t even read a guide book before arriving. In fact, we did no searching for hostels or locating transportation from the airport. Joshua’s family has hosted two sisters, Daniela and Bea, from Brazil for 6 months of high school each. We took up their family on the “exchange” part of the program during our trip to Sao Paulo.
Bea and her mother, Wilza, picked us up from the airport in the early morning (our flight was ahead of schedule). We arrived at their beautiful condo to a complete breakfast, comfortable beds and a hot shower–it instantly felt like family and home. We went for dinner with Bea and Daniela at sushi (I know we promised ourselves we wouldn’t). It was “all you can eat” and totally delicious. We actually found that almost every meal in Brazil is “all you can eat.” Between the churrascarias and por kilo restaurants, you could literally bury yourself in food.
Our first true Brazilian experience was a Festa Junina, or June Party, which was actually held at the beginning of July—lucky for us! We drove out to the country to a beautiful compound, hosted by friends of Wilza and her husband, Nilton. Actually, the host and hostess were throwing a party for their daughter who is married to a famous Brazilian singer named Luciano (apparently, we get to run with THAT crowd in Brazil). The hosts were planning to tear the place down and had held a party earlier in the year. The attendees demanded they have another party before it was turned into a factory. The June Party was the last event this beautiful house/pool/grounds will see, sadly. It totally lived up to the hype.
We were greeted by men and women dressed in costumes which we were told were “country”–pigtails, painted freckles, bright colors for women, patches for men and plenty of straw hats. It looked more like rodeo clown to me. We started with a few fresh fruit capirinhas before lunch. Joshua decided to have a chopp (draft beer) which the waiters would not let him finish. Every time he turned his head–it was full again. No one can say how many beers he had that day. We ate incredible Brazilian meals, starting with lunch, coffee, dinner and dessert. Then the dancing started, square dancing, conga lines…we participated as best we could. We understand no Portuguese, so the directions were lost on us, but we waved our hats, ran in circles and laughed the whole time! The “wedding” was another part of the party where knowing ANY Portuguese would have helped. Nilton, dressed as a “rabbi,” performed the ceremony. Don’t worry, there was a priest as well. We know they made a lot of jokes because everyone laughed. So, we laughed too. It was impossible not to have a fantastic time. We kept looking at each other, saying, “Are we really here right now?!”
Wilza and Nilton made sure we took in all the sights of Sao Paulo—Paulista Avenue, Ibirapuera Park, Independence Park, the train station, the cathedral and the market for traditional mortadella sandwiches and pastels. We were treated like royalty at their restaurant, Wow Burger. When you can order anything off the menu and it’s all delicious, you know Joshua ended up having two desserts.
Every day we had plans that included sleeping in, eating great food and visiting sights. Their housekeeper, Sue, would rattle on and on about things as soon as we woke up, asking us questions, giving us directions, all in Portuguese. So we nodded and laughed when a fruit shake turned out to be avocado flavored…how would we know otherwise?! We went to the market with Sue to pick out all the fruits and vegetables for the week. Every vendor has a crush on her. She spread the love and bought something from each stand–we were by far the most popular people there…free tastes of anything we wanted AND they carried it all home for us…what service!
Towards the end of our week, we weaned ourselves just slightly from the luxury of our stay. Wilza still drove us to the concert hall, but we took our first public bus from there to dinner and got home all by ourselves. We went to see a Rolling Stones cover band which was an appropriate date night after I finished the Keith Richards biography. I now know too much about heroin and have explained the inner-workings of the band dynamics to Joshua. The cover band was awful. But, we followed it with a nice dinner at another restaurant from THE LIST (which we need to stop looking at, BTW), Mani, #51.
We walked in with no reservation after the concert and had the chef specialties. Our pitcher of sangria cost more than the food itself, but we picked every last piece of fruit from the bottom which was probably a no-no at this upscale spot. We are fighting a battle with ourselves at the moment. These special meals do add up and each one lessens the length of the current trip…but we have to consider, when are we going to have a chance to come back? Should we get the most out of what we can and enjoy the ride for as long as we are on it?!
So we made a crazy decision. We went to #4 in the world. A restaurant called D.O.M. We waited 2 hours for a table while the bartender made us drinks and kept us full of snacks. Bea came with us. We’ve never spent anywhere near as much per plate on dinner. I can’t imagine going as a 17 year old. The food we ordered was perfect. When asked how the food was, Joshua, mouth hanging open, told the waiter, “These potatoes are rocking my world.” Shortly thereafter, another pot of potatoes showed up at our table. The potatoes were almost the consistency of whipped cream, but gooier. They stuck together with a variety of cheeses. It felt like silk on your mouth. Then the chef stopped by and invited us to the kitchen. Again, when asked, Joshua went on and on about the potatoes…the chef laughed and started reciting the recipe. He walked step by step through the instructions, telling us it was simple. As he finished, Joshua said, “That doesn’t sound easy at all!” Alex reminded him that he didn’t say easy…he said simple. Sage advice from the world-renowned chef, Alex Atala.
Before we wrapped up our time in Sao Paolo we had to make a visit to the Futbol Museum. Under the Corinthians stadium (who just won the Copa Liberatador), they have built a museum honoring Brazilian soccer including important statistics, Brazilian soccer legends, footage from all over of the best goals, defense, dribbling, etc. There is one section where you stand under the bleachers and listen to the fans cheer. It’s deafening. We both had chills. It’s totally interactive. For example, the museum discussed a variety of offenses and then each is illustrated with foosball tables set up in each pattern that you can play: W, M, 2-4-4, 1-5-3. Way cool!
We happened to be in Brazil for the Brazilian cup soccer match where the home team, Palmeiras won(at least half the household was cheering for them). Fireworks went off, car horns blared and fans went nuts. To be honest, I’ve never really cheered for a winning team…the Sacramento Kings were the closest when I was in college, UCLA peaked before we got there and after we left, the Giants won the pendant while we were in Florida…well, actually we did see UCLA women’s gymnastics win the National Title in Gainesville. I guess I’m just a sports enthusiast, not a lucky charm.
We finally made plans to leave with Wilza’s help, even though we probably could have stayed for the duration of our Brazilian trip. It was hard to break free from the fun, dynamic family that took us in without question. But, we learned early on in traveling (Miss Molly Murphy Manners) that you never want to overstay if you hope to be welcomed back (thinking World Cup 2014 or Olympics 2016, FYI).