A Travellerspoint blog

Good horizon

We check out Brazil's third largest city

storm 30 °C
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Caroline

After a restful (Sam) and sleepless (Caroline) night on the overnight bus from Brasilia, we arrived in Belo Horizonte. I had a nap while Sam planned our amazing itinerary.

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Locals cooling down in a city fountain

We started by walking to the Mercado Central, the Vic Market of BH. There were whole stalls just selling cheese and others just selling chillies. Another place was selling parrots, but we bought some Brazilian cheese bread (pão de queijo) and sugar cane drink (caldo de cana) from a nearby shop. We took our feast to the Municipal Park, a large park in the middle of BH.

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Thanks for the tip on the sugar cane drink, Tony - delicious!

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Municipal Park

Next, we visited a few churches. One actually had a service on, limiting our sightseeing - the first time that has happened on the whole trip.

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The finally stop was the Praça da Liberdade, BH's main plaza. There's a number of important colonial buildings surrounding the square that we visited: the Memorial Minas Gerais - Vale, an odd contempory museum, and Museu das Minas e do Metal, a museum of mining propaganda. Mining is a huge industry in this area and the recent BHP/Vale Brazilian mining disaster is only 2 hours drive from BH.

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Conservatory of Music on the Praça da Liberdade

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Another Niemeyer creation, the architect who designed most of the buildings in Brasilia

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The Police force were having some kind of gathering in the Praça da Liberdade and were having a lot of fun with their sirens and lights

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Sam's plan for 'a better world' displayed in the mining museum screens

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The following day we headed north to Pampulha Lake. It's a leafy area based on the concept of the Garden City, which Sam studied in great detail in his second year of uni.

We visited a chapel designed by Niemeyer (they love him here!).

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We found these animals grazing by the Chapel. We later learnt from Google that they are the largest rodents in the world, native to Brazil

We walked around the lake to an architecture museum, which appeared to be Sam's urban history subject in museum form.

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Another walk further around the lake and we arrived at the Museu da Arte Pampulha. It looked promising from the outside but unfortunately is currently under renovation and was completely empty.

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Hot and bothered after a lot of walking, we caught the bus back to the hostel before going to Savassi for dinner, a suburb bursting with restaurants and bars. We tried some traditional Brazillian dishes - lots of beans, rice and meat, but much tastier than that sounds. Sam had been researching intensely since arriving in this former Portuguese colony and finally found what he was looking for in Savassi...

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Portuguese tarts!

Posted by samoline 15:27 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

A capital time

Exploring Brasilia, Brazil's 55-year-old planned capital. Yet another long entry, but there are lots of nice pictures

all seasons in one day 31 °C
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Sam

We flew without incident from Foz do Iguaçu, to São Paulo, then to Brasilia. Actually, there was a hairy moment, when our plane seemed to pull out of its landing coming in to São Paulo, and then it took the pilot ten minutes to tell us why, and then he only did it in Portuguese. Anyway, we arrived in the capital safely. There are probably more exciting places in Brazil, but we'd heard the architecture was great, and I was keen to experience a modern planned city.

It took all of fifteen minutes for our taxi to get to our accommodation, and we only had to stop once - to look at the map. The well-designed road network makes the entire city seem like a efficient freeway, with exit ramps and underpasses coming off the main boulevards. But planner Lucio Costa assumed that all residents would have cars, so it's not particularly pedestrian-friendly, and the public transport is a bit lacking too. Most of the residential areas are 'superquadras' of massive apartment blocks surrounded by trees and lawns.

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The city is designed in the shape of an airplane, with residential and commercial areas in the 'wings' and the major government buildings in the plane's body

It started raining almost as soon as we arrived, but our Airbnb host gave us a lift to the TV tower so we could fit in some sightseeing. Unfortunately it was closed. We had a bit of a look around and returned home.

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"I ♥ Brasilia"

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We fitted in the bulk of our sightseeing on the Monday. The hemispherical National Museum was closed, but we had a good look at the 'crown of thorns' known as the Metropolitan Cathedral. It's even more spectacular on the inside than it is on the outside.

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The National Library

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The National Museum

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The light, airy, beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral

Then we walked along the Esplanade of Ministries, which has row after row of functional (read: ugly) ministerial complexes. There's nice green space and plenty of food vendors at the bottom of each building though.

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We ended up at the 'cockpit' of the plane, where we saw the Supreme Court and an eternal flame, representing a president-elect who died before he could assume office.

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The Supreme Court

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Tancredo Neves's eternal flame, with Congress in the background

Then back to the Congress building, which is a concave structure symbolising inclusiveness of all ideologies. Our tour was in Portuguese (our guide apologised, in perfect English, for not speaking any English) but she translated it into Spanish for us. It made us realise how much Spanish we know and can understand!

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We saw a few ibises just hanging out near these pools

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The plush blue senate assembly. The patterns near the front were made by a member of the cleaning crew with a vacuum cleaner

Then over the road (running across six lanes of traffic) to the Itamaraty Palace, the foreign affairs building. Its exterior has pleasing curves, and it's surrounded by a calm pond, but the real treat is inside. Landscaped gardens, a stunning bannister-free staircase and modern sculptures make for one pretty good entrance hall. And then on the roof is another garden, looking out over the body of the plane.

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We went home via the Dom Bosco Church, another eye-catching modern work. The vast array of blue and purple stained glass is brilliant, and there was a practising orchestra when we turned up which made it even more serene.

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In the evening, we took a cab across a large artificial lake (clearly a copy of Lake Burley-Griffin), walked along the shore and had dinner while masses of fairy lights lit up the path.

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Tuesday was less busy, partly because of rain. We went to the banking sector in the morning, where we passed through eighty-five layers of security to get into the Bank of Brazil's money museum. There was an interesting exhibit on the development of Brazilian currency - due to inflation and a multitude of currency changes, the new real (from 1994) is worth 2.75 quintillion of the original real. And we saw an old Australian $10 note that we hadn't seen previously.

Then over to another bank, which has stained glass windows representing all of Brazil's 24 states.

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Distrito Federal (Brasilia)

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Then we went back to the cockpit to catch up on a couple of things that were closed the day before. First, a disappointingly brief museum near the eternal flame, then over to the Palace of Justice (the Legal Ministry's offices). There was a complete lack of signage and security staff, so we waltzed in through the front door, an entrance we're now pretty sure is reserved for foreign dignitaries.

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We went looking for someone who could give us a tour, and a very patient lady who spoke no English but excellent Spanish came to our assistance. Only somehow, she didn't understand or recognise that we were tourists, and thought we must have been there for an event. After a long talk with security staff - who were obviously perplexed as to where these two sweaty VIPs were supposed to be - she finally clicked that we were just ordinary gringos. She explained that they didn't do tours (they've been suspended for more than two years, we read later) but she gave us a history of the building anyway before sending us on our way.

When we left, there were seven guards between the road and the building entrance, perhaps overcompensating after our unintentional security breach.

For dinner, we took a picnic out to the City Park, keeping our food safe from a watchful goose.

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On our last day we took a walk on the weird side at the Templo do Boa Votades, set up by the cultish 'Legion of Goodwill'. It's certainly a striking building, and in the Temple of Peace you follow a spiral path, absorbing the energy of the 21kg crystal suspended in the roof above.

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Don't really get it? Yeah, well, neither do we, and we were there.

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Inside the Temple of Peace. You need to walk along the black spiral into the middle of the circle, and then out via the white spiral

Then over to the JK Memorial, dedicated to former president Juçelino Kubitschek, whose idea it was to build Brasilia. It housed his tomb, his library, and a museum of JK and Brasilia-related artefacts.

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Then employee Guilherme gave us an unsolicited and overly comprehensive tour of the Indigenous Peoples Museum, which had some more artefacts, or "objeches".

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And we got a brilliant view of the city from the TV Tower, getting some sense of the airplane layout. We had more of a view than we wanted, really, because the sole lift stopped working just as we got in it to go down. Luckily they had emergency stairs as well.

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Then in the evening, our host took us out with her extremely cute 2yo to the Plaza of Crystals,

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which is across the road from a extremely pleasing echoing shell structure.

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Now we're off to catch an overnight bus to Belo Horizonte, Brazil's third biggest city.

Posted by samoline 12:55 Archived in Brazil Comments (2)

Water Falls

Magnificent waterfalls and a lot of rain in Iguazú/Iguaçu

rain 23 °C
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We flew from Montevideo to Puerto Iguazu via Buenos Aires. It was our third time entering Argentina - earlier we'd come in via Ecuador and then Chile.

Anyway, we got in after 10pm, but could still definitely feel the difference in humidity. Our taxi driver and hostel owner told us that there'd been a huge amount of rain - due to the 'child's current' (El Niño) - and so the rivers were at a much higher level than normal.

We confirmed this the next day. Two of the five things we wanted to do were closed because of the river level, and the third, a walking path, wasn't technically closed but was so muddy that it was impassable.

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Still, it hardly rained while we were there, and the waterfalls were unbelievably powerful. Jaw-dropping at first sight, and pretty amazing after that as well. Apparently they're flowing at five times the average rate at the moment.

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The impressive network of boardwalks gets you close enough to be drenched by the spray. And just a little bit back from the edge, the crowds disperse and you can catch a glimpse of the rainforest.

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Normally it's a full day trip, but because of the closures we were done by mid-afternoon. So we caught a bus back into town, and went for a walk to the 'three borders' monument. From here you can see Brazil and Paraguay across the rivers Iguazu and Parana respectively. There's also a nice series of fountains, which the local kids were really getting into.

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Brazil on the right, Paraguay on the left

We went out to dinner to celebrate our last night in Argentina and to use up our last pesos.

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Friday was another travel day, crossing the Argentina/Brazil border into a land where we speak 0% of the local language, rather than 20% as in Spanish-speaking South America.

We negotiated the bus hopscotch and border control, and then eventually found a working ATM before crashing at our hostel.

It's a bit out of the main town, and when we went to the supermarket to get stuff for dinner, we were the subject of great interest. The butcher asked us (in Portuguese, translated later by a fellow shopper) who are favourite football player was. And the woman bagging our groceries was keen to practise her excellent English on us.

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On Saturday the rain miraculously stopped, and we were back at the falls, this time on the Brazilian side. It's set a bit further back, and gives a better overview. And there's only one walking path, compared to the many in Argentina. But it's a spectacular walk, and it finishes up right next to the falls where the spray is ridiculous.

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The native coatis, a racoon-type creature, which beg for scraps of food from visitors and apparently have a mean bite

After we had our fill, we walked across the road to the bird park, which came highly recommended by one Ray Wang. It was awesome - shrieking macaws, fighting flamingos, and delightful toucans among the highlights. Good call Ray.

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A hyacinth macaw

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Twocans

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In the butterfly house

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Friendly macaws

Then back into town to relax.

Bonus video:

Posted by samoline 12:08 Archived in Brazil Comments (4)

Montevideo!

Soon to be updated to MonteDVD and then MonteBlu-Ray

sunny 27 °C
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Sam

On Monday morning we caught a morning bus from Colonia to the Uruguayan capital. Unfortunately we only had a couple of days, so we were keen to get stuck in. We made the most of the gorgeous weather and walked from our airbnb apartment to Pocitos beach.

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It's a beautiful spot, and not at all crowded. Sun-bakers abound, though, and others were playing a kind of beach bowls. There's a huge Montevideo sign at one end, which we had to ourselves.

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We walked home via Parque Rodo and saw some cool street art.

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A beautiful lake in Parque Rodo

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Across our street

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The next day - our only full day - we went into the old city. It's a hodgepodge of architectural styles, from rundown colonial buildings to classical columns and sixties skyscrapers.

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A mansion turned museum

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The central bank

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A beautiful Gothic skyscraper on the main square

We peeked into the Museo del Carnaval as well, seeing a couple of floats that looked a bit old and uncared for.

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Then we had an early and a huge lunch at the Mercado del Puerto, near the port, which has a poultice of steakhouses. Our goal was to conquer the 'chivito', a huge steak sandwich and Uruguayan delicacy. We succeeded (just).

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We staggered over to the huge and grand Metropolitan Cathedral,

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and then to the Andes Museum, dedicated to the victims (and survivors) of a Uruguayan plane crash in the Chilean Andes in 1972. 16 of the 45 on the flight managed to survive not only the crash, but more than 10 weeks in the freezing mountains, resorting to eating their dead friends at one point. It was a harrowing and uplifting story, and the curator himself made sure to point out a few of the finer points to us.

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Around the main square we saw the mausoleum of Jose Artigas, a national hero, and dropped into the old Presidential Palace.

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Artigas

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The Uruguayan coat of arms (note the cow, representing the beef industry)

We continued to the Teatro Solis, the continent's oldest theatre. It's pretty spectacular on the inside, with five levels of seating and a stunning roof decoration.

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Finally, still running off the energy of the chivito, we finished off with a walk to the Legislative Palace.

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Well, not quite finally - we managed to make it back to the coast for sunset.

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On our last morning we walked along the seaside, eventually reaching a bit of land jutting out into the sea, from where you can look back on the city centre.

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Overall, a very cool city, with great beaches, parks, history and food. Highly recommended.

Posted by samoline 12:02 Archived in Uruguay Comments (2)

Uruguay-ing to love it

Colonial charm in Colonia del Sacramento

sunny 24 °C
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Sam

Friday was wet and miserable, but luckily we didn't have much to do, other than pop across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay. It should have only taken an hour, but with immigration procedures and a long delay, by the time we arrived it was late afternoon. Not a very exciting day.

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Saturday was great though. The sun was out, and we set off to explore the cute old city of Colonia del Sacramento, which was transferred between Portuguese and Spanish rule seven times in less than a hundred years. But those turbulent days are well and truly over, and today its cobblestone streets, delightful old houses (dating back to the 17th Century) and shady plazas make for a great walk.

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An abandoned house

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A car with giant fish...

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The Basilica, which dates back to 1680

We stopped in at the municipal museum, which had lots of stuffed birds for some reason and a giant glyptodon shell.

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And we climbed the lovely lighthouse for a great view of the town - you can even see Buenos Aires in the distance.

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We went into the Portuguese Museum too, which had some brilliant maps from the 16th Century, like this one, with a very squashed South America and a very non-existent Australia:

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Sunday was also sunny, and while we'd seen most of the main attractions the previous day, we did some more wandering.

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Caroline liked this street, but I thought was a bit 'plane'

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A modern sculpture in a colonial-era fort

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The old city gate

In the evening, we joined the crowds on the waterfront and watched the sun set.

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Colonia is pretty much a tourist town - the old city area anyway - but it's big enough to accommodate everyone, and it's stunningly beautiful anyway so who cares. It's also significantly cheaper than anywhere in Argentina, mostly because there is no currency crisis here. And the locals seem very friendly (even though they speak WAY too fast for us). So we're really enjoying it here, and are sorry we're not in Uruguay for longer!

Posted by samoline 16:34 Archived in Uruguay Comments (3)

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