Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Top 10 Finds In Sao Paulo 2013


A couple of months ago I was scanning through my Twitter feed when I came across a ‘Top 10 Must-Visit in Sao Paulo’ list. It was written by one of those international bloggers who seem to travel all over the world with the sole intention of making top 10 lists of absolutely everything. This was the first time I’d seen this particular blogger writing about Brazil so naturally I was intrigued to see if I'd been to many of the places included on her list. As I scrolled through I wasn't surprised to see some of the usual suspects on there; Ibirapuera park, the Municipal market and the bohemian district of Vila Madalena had all made the cut. However I was pretty baffled to see the cities expensive bars and restaurants making up the rest of this list. Some of these were places I've visited, had an exquisitely bland time in, paid a fortune for the pleasure and then vowed never to return.

And that was when I hit upon the idea of writing a similar list, for someone visiting Sao Paulo on a budget. The city might be an expensive place to live in, but that isn't to say you need to spend a whole lot to have a great time here. In fact, all of the places I’m about to recommend are either fairly cheap or free. My selection comes from the discoveries I've made in 2013, the places and events that I've really appreciated over the last 12 months. Some are annual events whilst others are places that are open every day; hopefully they will give some ideas about where to go and what to do if you're coming to the city for pleasure without a huge budget.

So, without further ado, my countdown:

Praça Benedito Calixto

When my friend suggested visiting a Saturday afternoon flea market my response was less than enthusiastic. I had visions of walking around stalls of old trinkets and worn out, moth-smelling women's clothing

Sometimes to discover fascinating places in Sao Paulo though, you have to suspend any preconceived ideas you have of what they're going to be like. I was pleasantly surprised when I did just this at Benedito Calixto and had a great time. As well as the live samba band playing nearby the many food stalls (one of which dishes up traditional food from the North East of the country), there is plenty of art work on sale, stalls selling vinyl records and an alternative crowd soaking up the market's laid back atmosphere, beer in hand.

Praca Benedito Calixto really comes into its own around 5pm when these vendors start packing their stalls away. This is the time crowds start to spill out of the nearby bars, gather on the street and get down to the serious business of socialising. There will be opportunistic beer vendors dotted around the street too, selling ice cold beer on the cheap. So you're likely to find that an afternoon here amongst this gay friendly crowd certainly isn't going to break the bank. 

Praça Benedito Calixto, 112, Pinheiros, São Paulo - SP, 05406-040.

Pita Restaurant

I was instantly sold on this Lebanese restaurant the moment my friends and I were seated outside in the patio area. The restaurant has a real rustic charm to  it, a charm that is further enhanced by the very reasonable prices on the menu. If you're sharing a bottle of wine with a friend and eating one of the delicious main courses, you're likely to have change for a 50 real note; which in a city like Sao Paulo is quite an attractive prospect! Especially when you consider the quality of the kebabs on offer, the intimate setting and the very friendly staff.

Address: Rua Francisco Leitão, 282, São Paulo - SP, 05414-020

Website: http://www.pitakebabbar.com.br/

Green Sunset

This party is set in the grounds of the MIS museum, which is reason enough for being included on my list! But in addition to the outdoor location there will be an internationally renowned DJ (or sometimes two) spinning electronic music from 4pm to 10pm on a Saturday afternoon, and your ticket also includes entry into the art exhibitions inside. At 14 reais, tickets for this monthly party are very reasonably priced and so perhaps unsurprisingly, they always sell out quickly.

The majority of people here are well dressed, so if you’d planned on wearing something you’d usually dig up the garden in…my advice to you is, just don't!!! To get your ticket, check out the MIS website in the weeks leading up to the event (these parties are generally held on a Saturday in the middle of the month) and then either buy online or head down to the museum to pick it up (tickets are limited to two per person).

It’s not just the tickets that are reasonably priced here, but the drinks once you’re inside. There are also vendors on hand to sell light refreshments and a free welcome drink on arrival. Green Sunset doesn't really get into full swing until around six o clock and it goes until ten at night, so works as a great pre-club party for those with stamina!

Address: Avenida Europa, 158 - Pinheiros, São Paulo - SP, 01449-000, Brazil.

Website: www.mis-sp.org.br





GVT Live Music- Show Cazuza

Last month I went to a free concert in Parque da Juventude, a tribute to the late singer Cazuza. What made this show so unique was that it wasn't just going to be a collection of singers performing his hits, but Cazuza was actually set to appear in the form of a hologram. I'd never seen a hologram included as part of a live music show before, and I was pretty intrigued to see what it was all about.

As the concert started the atmosphere within the crowd was electric. Although what I was seeing wasn't nearly as significant for me as I'm sure it would have been to the many Brazilians watching, I really enjoyed being in the midst of that crowd. Listening to Gal Costa sing for the first time and seeing Cazuza 'perform' were both pretty special. 

This event might have been a one off, but throughout the year the city of Sao Paulo plays host to a variety of other music events. Since moving here I've seen the likes of Gilberto Gil, Maria Rita, Daniela Mercury and Vanessa da Mata at free shows, as well as a whole host of other less well-known Brazilian artists. If you're in Sao Paulo for the weekend, you might want to check sites such as Time Out Sao Paulo here or MyDestination Sao Paulo here to see if there is an opportunity for you to also get a free taste of some of the big names in Brazilian music.

CALEFAÇÃO TROPICAOS 

Perhaps the most unusual space I found myself partying in 2013 came courtesy of Calefaçao Tropicaos. This free event was held in the Casa das Caldeiras, a huge disused boiler house not too far from Barra Funda station. It was large enough to accommodate three dance areas; one of which being in outside area where the DJ was spinning funk and soul on vinyl. There were also reasonably priced food and drinks on offer, clothes stalls and even a space created exclusively for children to play in. The atmosphere was very laid back and there was an eclectic mix of people of all ages there, dancing away their Sunday night blues in an incredibly unique venue.

Calefaçao Tropicaos isn’t limited to just setting, and this year I've had the pleasure of attending other free events organised by these guys in both Tracker Tower and in Parque Augusta. So my advice to you as we head into 2014 is if you want to experience Sao Paulo’s more underground scene, you could do a lot worse than check out Calefaçao Tropicaos. 


I've included a link to their Facebook page here.

Praça Pôr do Sol

Photo Credit- Remo Alberto Pierri 
In my humble opinion, there is no finer place to watch the sun set in Sao Paulo than at Praça Por do Sol. This place feels fairly intimate and on weekends is likely to be full of everyone from dog walkers to groups of friends, couples to guitar players and beer sellers and capoeira performers. And when the sun eventually dips behind the skyscrapers that dominate the city's skyline, you might just find yourself joining in with everyone caught up in the moment and applauding the suns departure from the city. 

Address: Praça Ignez Guimarães Soares Pestana, São Paulo.


Voodoohop

"There is a free party in the centre of the city this afternoon," said my friend, "let's go!" I looked at her like she was about to drop the punch line. A party in the centre of the city? In the street? Erm...Is this safe? She responded with a reassuring smile: "Trust me, you're gonna love it!"

And she was right. Not only was the party safe (and largely free of the crack addicts and beggars I'd expected to see ), but it was clearly popular with an alternative crowd. As the parent of 
Calefaçao Tropicaos, it will come as no surprise to hear that there is an underground vibe to Voodoohop Parties too (Voodoohop and Calefaçao Tropicaos often collaborate on projects), they are fairly sporadic and the venues change frequently. Voodoohop is not limited to these free parties on Friday and Saturday night events either, as the editions with a cover on the door are very popular too. Yet the one thing that is consistent is the quality of each event. Voodoohop boasts an eclectic and varied line up of DJs that never seem to fail to deliver. 

Check out the website: here or Facebook page here for more details.

Festival das Cores (Holi) Brazil

One Saturday afternoon in September, myself and a few friends went over to Vila Lobos park to check out the free Festival das Cores event (I'm fully aware by now of how tight I sound, I should point out that I do sometimes pay to go out too!). This event is based on the Indian Holi celebration, a religious Hindu festival in which dry powders of a variety of different colours are thrown up into the air to mark the arrival of summer. The event we attended had a bit of a twist though, instead of traditional Indian music we were expecting, we were offered a number of electronic DJ's, including DJ Goldfish. I'm not going to lie, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this guy with a name like this but the organisers clearly knew what they were doing by giving him the headline slot. As the cloak of darkness wrapped itself around Villa Lobos park and the party drew to a close, I heard many people say how much they'd enjoyed the event and that they'd hoped to make it to India to experience an authentic Holi festival. 

I'd love to visit India too, but 2014 isn't likely to be the year I get round to it. So in the mean time, I like many others, have my fingers crossed for another Holi edition in 2014. If you're in Sao Paulo in Spetember next year, you might want to check out the events Facebook page here.

Estadao

I’m surprised it took me so long to discover this absolute gem in Sao Paulo's culinary crown. Located in the centre of the city (not too far from Republica station) this restaurant is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is guaranteed to be packed over the weekend. Why? Well I suspect this might have something to do with one item on its menu, the Pernil (pork) sandwich. 

Costing less than 20 reais and literally cooked to perfection, this isn't just great value for money, it is like nothing I've ever tasted before. (Admittedly though, it tastes even better at 5am after leaving a night club than it does at 6pm when you’re eating it sober!)

The diner-like restaurant is just on the right side of chaotic and with incredibly fast service and some pretty interesting looking people eating here, it really is a must-visit. You’re not likely to find many tourists here (the staff are incredibly accommodating to foreign visitors though) so don`t expect to see the place listed in too many guide books. However Estadao comes highly recommended by not just myself, but the unpretentious crowds you're likely to find queuing for food at any given time of the weekend.

Address: Viaduto 9 de Julho 193 | Triangulo, Sao Paulo

O Mercado Festival Gastronomico

With some of the city’s top chefs turning out to this event to cook dishes costing 15 reais or less, O Mercadao Festival Gastronomico has certainly become a must-attend event in 2013. There are some pretty interesting drink choices on offer (Banana flavoured beer anyone?) and a DJ on hand to spin some old school funk and disco. Mercado flits between the venues of Mercado Pinheiros and Modelodromo do Ibirapuera on sporadic Sundays (generally once a month). You’re likely to find yourself amongst an eclectic mix of people; from parents with young children to hipsters and everything else in between. 

I attended my first Mercadao earlier in the year with my friends, showed up at 2pm and expected to stay for just an hour or so. However with plenty of interesting food to try and some alcohol induced dance moves to bust out, we were surprised to find ourselves being amongst the last to leave. I really can't recommend this event highly enough (unless of course, you're on a diet!).

For more information on my top find of 2013, check out the Facebook page here.


Well this will be my last post of 2013, so I'll use this opportunity to thank you all for taking the time out to read my blog this year; and also to wish you a great Christmas and all the best for 2014!

What do you think to the list? 
Did I miss out your favourite? What would have been your number one?
Any recommendations for 2014? 

Monday, December 9, 2013

Brazilian Women On The Beach: Sexy and They Know It?

Last year my Brazilian friends and I took a trip to the beach with one of my friends from back home in tow. After an hour or so of sun bathing in the heat, she told me that she was going to take a dip in the sea to cool off. As soon as she'd walked out of ear-shot, my friend Carlos quickly sat up in his reclining chair, looked at me and asked me quite urgently; “why is your friend wearing an old woman’s bikini? On the beach?”

I looked at him like he was about to deliver his punch line. I mean, where else was she going to be wearing her bikini? But he was looking at me very attentively as if this was a perfectly reasonable question that demanded a perfectly reasonable answer. Perhaps sensing that I was at a bit of a loss for something to say, he continued. “Everyone is looking at her, you need to talk to her and tell her she needs to buy a new bikini, a smaller, Brazilian one”.

Can you even imagine that conversation? “Look, I think we need to go shopping, it’s your bikini. It is offensively modest!”

Now I’m no expert on bikinis, but the one in question looked retro and nothing at all like I’d expect an old lady to wear. Yet admittedly, compared to the other Brazilian bikinis on the beach it had clearly been made with much more generous portions of fabric. As a keen runner my friend also had a toned body yet obviously just felt comfortable in what she was wearing.

My friend however, didn't.

“This style is quite normal for English people”.

“Andrew, here is Brazil not England! Tell her to buy a new one!”

Another one of our friends (whose tight Lycra was accentuating his recent love of fast food) was listening in and was keen to confirm what Carlos was saying. “She should maybe buy a new bikini Andrew, you should tell her. Women don’t wear bikinis like this on the beach in Brazil”. 

Only in Brazil would you be criticized for wearing too much by someone whose gut is spilling out over his speedos. 

This incident made me wonder just why these tiny bikinis were worn by so many women here. I mean, aren't they worried that their bikinis don't tastefully conceal any lumps or bumps? Most women I know back home would never consider wearing a dental floss bikini, even if they'd spent months dieting or working out to feel comfortable in one on their summer holidays. 

“Why do women wear such small bikinis?” I asked my Brazilian friend not long after spending my first summer here. 

Her crumpled face betrayed the fact that she thought this question was pretty stupid; as if I’d just asked her to explain something obvious, like water.

“Well” she began with an air of toleration in her voice, “I wear mine because it’s practical; I know that when I wear it I’m going to get an even tan, it is going to be comfortable and also light to walk around in. Much lighter than I imagine those heavy board shorts foreign men like to wear”.

I was convinced that this response was a one off; I’d never heard of women wearing a bikini because they are ‘practical’ before. Believing I hadn't got an answer that was reflective of what most Brazilian women thought, I then asked the same question to other female friends. And when they answered that they also found these small bikinis to be ‘practical’ I became suspicious; as if everyone had somehow collectively conspired to hide something from me. 

I just didn't get it.

Weren't women wearing them because they were inviting you to look at their bodies? I guess me wondering this said more about me as a Brit than it did the Brazilian beach culture. You see, in the UK outside of ‘lads mags’ or tabloids you don’t see women sporting such small bikinis (which admittedly is down to the less than tropical weather we get!). And perhaps because the women on the front cover of 'lads mags' exude an aura of sexual confidence, recently magazines have started to conceal these images and selling the magazines in ‘modesty bags’. 

These thin sheets of dark plastic ensure that images of the women wearing very little are kept hidden away from those who find these images offensive. 

There is after all, nothing modest or tasteful about a woman in a tiny bikini, right?

Well if you’re walking onto a beach in Brazil with this mindset, you might just find yourself asking why Brazilian women didn't get this memo! Dental floss bikinis don't seem to be nearly as sinister over here, as instead they seem to be staple beachwear.

Which I imagine is great if you're a woman with a toned body, but as I mentioned before, far from it just being the attractive and toned women on the beach who demand your attention in these bikinis, it’s also larger women who do this too. In one of my earlier blog posts I mentioned how I’d seen an overweight woman in Rio sporting the tiniest of bikinis.

"She emerged from the sea, legs looking like bags of old meat and rolls upon rolls of skin over her bikini bottoms and I was absolutely mesmorised. She looked like she didn't have a care in the world"

At the time I remember contemplating how I’d expected her to look. Embarrassed? Ashamed? Apologetic? Well she wasn't at all. Looking back I’m pretty ashamed at myself for thinking this, she looked at ease with herself on that beach had every right to wear whatever she felt comfortable in. But I guess the one thing took me by surprise was that she wasn't as self conscious as I’d have expect her to have been.

Nowadays I have come to respect and even admire that many women on the beach sporting the dental floss bikini have less than toned bodies. They seem to be free of the morbid insecurities that affect so many Brits. But it was for this reason I initially thought that people here just didn't care what they looked like on the beach.


Well, I was wrong!

Larger women walking around like this don't represent all Brazilian beach dwellers, as I discovered when discussing with a student how refreshing it was to see them wearing practically nothing. 

 “Andrew, fat people on the beach in tiny clothes belong to a certain class of people; the lower classes. Very overweight middle and upper class Brazilian women wouldn't dream of going to the beach in a small bikini and walking around like this”.

Here we go again, I thought. Sometimes I feel like I could be forgiven for thinking the lower classes exist purely to rile the hell out of the middle and upper classes here.

“But what if YOU gained 20 pounds and your friends invited you to the beach?” I asked.

“Well, then I just wouldn't go, or I’d cover up! But I care about what I look like, me and my friends like to look good on the beach so we work out when we can. We do our best to never gain weight in the first place”.

Then I became incredibly confused. What I was hoping to do was identify was one homogeneous Brazilian beach culture, but the deeper I dug, the more I realised it was more complicated than this.

But what I do know to be true is this; whilst some in the UK might be too conscious to dress in a way that their Brazilian counterparts would dare to, the way most Brazilian women embrace the dental floss bikini isn't a reflection of how ‘hot’ they think they are. Admittedly there will be some women who will runway-walk down the beach in their bikinis like nobody's business, showing the world what their mama's gave them. But are all Brazilian women in their bikinis like this? 

No. 

Despite what it might look like to the untrained, unaccustomed foreign eye; Brazilian bikini wearers are certainly not ALL wearing them because they are sexy and they know it! 

What do you think about the beach attire on the beaches in Brazil?