Impressions of Brazil

mc26

I am recently back from Brazil – I  gave a talk in Maceió and then spent a lovely few days in Sao Paulo with a friend. So I thought I would write down some impressions whilst they are fresh in my mind. Brazil is an amazing country – love it. This was my second trip. So here, in no particular order, is a list of things I noticed:

  • Little electronic devices on tables in restaurants, which you can use to summon the waitress with.
  • It’s a large country! Was a three-hour flight from Sao Paulo to Marceió.
  • There seems to be a culture of not drinking wine and it’s practically impossible to just get a glass of wine.
  • Beauty salons are big out there! I didn’t see a single woman without perfect designer eyebrows! Waxing, manicures and pedicures are a must.
  • No one even thinks of going out in Sao Paulo until midnight.
  • Riots across the country. Started because of a proposed increase in bus fairs, then spread to lots of other things people were unhappy with.
  • Similarity of Portuguese to Spanish. Very few people speak English, managed to get by with my Spanish – had some good chats to taxi drivers 😉
  • Tapioca – fried with ham and cheese is a must for breakfast. Cheese balls also popular.
  • The food is wonderful!
  • Coffee at the beach? Forget it!
  • They have day beach resorts with swimming pools and restaurants that you can book into.
  • Maceió has a wonderful market – where you can get lovely gifts, like crochet goods and beach bags.
  • There are electronic devices in hotel rooms to indicate you want your room made up.
  • The Samba music is to die for.  Saw a great band called ‘ocerta – pra sempre’.
  • When you have a pedicure you need to take flip flops 😉
  • There are different plug sockets across the country – very confusing.
  • There is an amazing book shop/liberaria in the centre of Sao Paulo with a great coffee shop.
  • There are restaurants where you pay for the food by weight.
  • At clubs you get issued a card, which you then use to get drinks with and simply pay at the end of the evening.
  • The juices/sucos are to die for, as are the exotic fruits.
  • You see lots of roadside stalls selling fruit and would you believe it cooked lobster!
  • Caipirinha – wonderful drink.
  • I got a love book about Brazilian food and culture, which I will enjoy making recipes from.
  • Saw some cats with very unusual markings.
  • The beaches in the North East are wonderful.
  • Maceió beach road is closed on Sundays so kids can play.
  • The conference dinner had a cocktail bar.
  • Santander bank has serious security controls but is lovely inside and you can get free fresh coffee.
  • All the woman have huge handbags!
  • There is a car parking service at a lot of restaurants and bars.
  • The Santo Grao coffee house is the best I have ever been to.
  • There is a nice museum in downtown Sao Paulo.
  • Street music is everywhere.
  • The food market in Sao Paulo is wonderful.

So just a few thoughts – was a great trip.

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By gconole Posted in Travel

Goodies from South Africa

I have just got back from a great trip to South Africa, my first time there! I was there with five of my colleagues from Leicester. We did twelve presentations and workshops at UNISA – South Africa’s major distance educational provider – they have around 350, 000 students! We didn’t have much time to explore, but we did manage to get to a lovely market on the Sunday, called Rosebank. I was impressed by how clean and modern everything was and the people were really lovely. I bought a number of things including some South African music (Vusi Mahlascla – Naledi Ya Tsela and Miriam Makeba – The unforgettable) – great, great music! I also got some cute salad serving spoons with giraffes on 😉 and two cookery books. Looking forward to trying out the recipes. Paul our host also gave me a tin of the famous Chakalaka – it’s a kind of mild vegetable curry – delicious! So overall a good trip both personally and professionally. Hope next time I get more of a chance to see the country!

Singapore sling

I’ve just returned from a week in Singapore. I was attending a meeting of ICEM, where we were planning the annual conference in Cyprus in September and hearing about the proposals for the 2013 conference, which will be held in Singapore. We were staying in a lovely area, Clark’s Quay, which consists of lots of restaurants and bars by the river. It’s a mixture of quaint colourful buildings juxtaposed with gleaming skyscrapers. My favourite was a hotel, which consisted of three skyscrapers with a boat on the top!!! We walked about little India, which was awash with colourful stalls. Food and drink are expensive, but clothes are relatively cheap. I might have done a little shopping 😉 Of course we had to stop and have the mandatory cocktail in Raffles, an impressive building!! We finished the trip off with a night safari, which was excellent. The food was simply delicious; we had a hotpot one evening in a local shopping mall. Each person has their own pot of boiling soup, to which you add vegetables, meat and fish. We also ate at Jumbos, which is a seafood chain and had a fantastic feast including chilli crab, delicious but messy! You get given a bib to wear! I loved the mix of old and new buildings; there was some fantastic architecture. The campus we visited at Nanyang University was massive and beautifully laid out. Everything is so organised and clean, but there are signs everywhere saying you will be fined for doing this and that! As you might expect it was hot and humid, guaranteed to rain briefly every day. It was pleasant to get back to the coolness of the UK. Overall a good trip!

By gconole Posted in Travel

Copenhagen

It was nice to be back in Copenhagen this week. It’s a great city with some fantastic architecture and great food and a laid back relaxed atmosphere. I arrived late on Sunday, but Monday night I headed into town to Nyhavn, a lovely busy area full of restaurants and bars by the water. Wednesday evening we had a river cruise, shame it was raining but still pleasant enough, then I headed off to see friends, who are currently working in Copenhagen. The transport system is cheap and efficient, it’s very easy to get around and the main part of the city is quite compact. I’ve had some fantastic meals there, both this time and on previous trips, lots of fish and fresh vegetables! The conference venue was in an area called Synhavn, in what was the Nokia buildings, absolutely amazing architecture! Took lots of pictures and also pictures of the fantastic artwork in the building, which I plan to use for future presentations. So overall a fun and productive trip!

By gconole Posted in Travel

The travel bug…

I’ve been reflecting on why I love travelling so much. When I was young I spent my whole time working,  just to get me through university– in social services during the day and at a pub at night. Meantime all my friends were travelling around Europe on the student Euro-train ticket. They would come back flushed and excited with wonderful tales about all the places they had been – France, Spain, Germany, Greece, etc. I was so envious! I didn’t actually go abroad till I was 18 when I went to visit my best friend who was staying with her grandparents near Bordeaux. My ferry was late and I missed all my connections, ended up walking across Paris, chatted to lots of interesting people and had a ball! Now I am lucky enough with my job to get to travel lots, unfortunately I don’t always have a lot of time to sightsee, but I pack in what I can. I love being immersed in a new culture, the sights and sounds, the language, architecture and food! Having learnt a little Spanish has made my trips to Spanish speaking countries so much more meaningful. Forthcoming visits include Copenhagen, Singapore, Dublin and South Africa! Will blog about my trips in due course. 😉

By gconole Posted in Travel

Tales from India

I recently had the honour of being invited to talk at the EDGEX conference in Delhi. It was my first trip to India, somewhere I have always wanted to go. There wasn’t a lot of time for sightseeing, but I did manage to sneak off a few times to visit some of the local markets. As you might expect these were spectacular, full of vibrant colours and amazing materials. I bought a few things for the girls and couldn’t resist buying a shalwar kameez and a dupatta (scarf). I wore it for my talk the next day; it’s a beautiful blue and so comfortable!

The day after the conference, the organizers kindly arranged for a bus to take us to Agra. The journey was supposed to take three hours, but actually took five. Mind you stopping to ride on an elephant didn’t help!  Nonetheless the journey was fascinating watching the street life as we went along. It was shocking of course to see the poverty and the conditions that so many live in, but also there was a vibrancy about it- cows, rickshaws, street vendors everywhere and as for the driving? Chaos there didn’t seem to be any rules at all!

Everyone knows the iconic image of the Taj Mahal – with the view of the water leading up to the building, but nothing prepares you for the sheer scale and beauty of it. It’s made of very hard marble and literally shimmers in the sun. The fact that it was built as a mausoleum by the Moghul Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth giving birth to their 14th (!) child, only adds to the romance about the place.  What I didn’t know is that he also planned to build a symmetrical equivalent building in black marble on the other side of the river, for him. Which would have been designed to reflect the Taj Majal. Some others think that the plan was to build a garden built of black marble. Anyway it never happened as he was overthrown by his son, things were tough in those days!

Picture can be found here