Monday, 26 May 2008

Back to São Paulo

Goodness, I'm writing this very late indeed. But I headed back to São Paulo from Rio, and over there went for a picnic with the SP vegans. And made some pastries for the road since the hostel had an oven. The picnic was excellent, a beautiful park / forest very near the city. There were all kinds of trees identified by a biologist who was along, but please don't assume I'd remember any of them. And even some monkeys, yay! :-)

And there was indeed more and more awesome vegan foods to be found. It seems there are quite a lot of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in SP, not the kind of numbers there would be in India of course, but relatively many, and of high quality. The picture on the left is from Fulo, which is supposedly the best veg restaurant in town. I don't really know about that, it was fine and more expensive than most, but didn't seem that amazing.

Then on my last day in Brazil we went to walk around in a number of parks and I took pictures of Brazilian wildlife. And of course more food... Anyway, I don't have the time to write much now but it was great fun, the people amazing, and I'm eternally grateful to them for making the trip to Brazil so special! :D

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Rio de Janeiro

The bus ride from Campinas to Rio takes about 7 hours, including a half hour stop which happened to be in a place that had lots of beans in a buffet, and well, I love beans! So it was a happy arrival in Rio, where I booked a hostel bed during the bus ride. At Botafogo beach, from where it is easy enough to go anywhere. I was quite surprised really to see that Rio really does look like the pictures, those little hills and beaches and forest are right there in the city, and of course the Christ statue watches over everything in its quiet magnificence.

The weather wasn't the greatest to begin with, but I still wanted to see the beaches even if they were empty and walked up to Copacabana and eventually Ipanema. The odd thing to me about these beaches was that they don't have any breakwaters so the waves are humongous! Great for surfing, but not so for swimming. At Ipanema I thought I was imagining it when I heard someone call my name, but no, there were the Swedes from the conference! So I hung out with them the rest of the day, pretty nice.

The next day I decided it was time to go up and meet Jesus, since he had been watching over for a while already. It's quite impressive, the statue, especially when it's lit up at night. There is a train that goes up the mountain, leaving from Cosme Velho (which can be easily reached by bus from Largo do Machado metro station). Built in 1884, this was the first electric railway in Brazil and with even live music included, it is quite a nice ride. At the top of the Corcovado mountain stands Cristo Redentor or Christ the Redeemer, a statue of about the size of a 13-storey building. It's also a good place for taking pictures of the city in general.

The idea was to then leave for somewhere else, possibly the national park they decided to protect in my name(!) to honour my visit to the country, but after considering the short time left, the long distance to anywhere north and the cooler weather in the south I decided to just stay in Rio. So I spent the day at the beach, and discovered that they sell smoked tofu in the health food shops... it's quite expensive, even more so than the similar stuff in Europe, but tasty and useful when the vegetarian restaurants are either closed or just too difficult to find without a map. Another easy option is to go to the pizza places, pick the vegetarian pizza and ask for it without cheese (sem queijo).

The following day I headed up to the Sugar Loaf mountain (Pão de Açucar), which provided quite nice views again. And then on to a restaurant in Botafogo called Vegan Vegan, I had seen it before but as usual it was closed whenever I was ready to go there, it's only open from 11:30 to 15:30. But everything they serve is vegan, and this was feijoada day! It was really tasty, the lemon pie I had for dessert wasn't as good as the coconut custard I tried the following day.

I went to the Ipanema beach from there, rather nice but on the way back there was a negative experience as I walked through a tunnel and around the mid-way point saw a greoup of three guys coming the other way. I smelled trouble but knew I had nothing valuable so I went on. When I was passing them, one of them, a teenage boy put his hands in my pockets and said "money, gringo", while another one, a grown man, was taking my bag. Despite the pockets being empty I was much more keen on keeping the kid out of my pants than on anything in the bag so the guy got away with it and ran to the other side of the street. I wasn't nearly bothered enough to run over the traffic to get a bag with just 35 reais (13 euros) in it, so I just waited annoyed and after taking the plastic bag with 20 reais in it the guy brought the bag back to me. Unfortunately my postcards were in the same plastic bag, losing them bothered me a lot more than the money.

The incident gave me a puzzling question though, although it was just one man and two teenage boys, having nothing valuable made it an easy decision to do nothing. But I started wondering what would I have done if the same situation would have occurred when I had my wallet and phone etc on me. Would I be willing to hurt anyone for the sake of stupid material things? I still don't have a definite answer to that. I guess I would've tried running away, despite only wearing flip-flops.

The day left a bad image in my mind of Rio, and so I was even more determined to head back to São Paulo the following evening. I checked out of the hostel, took my bags to the left luggage counter at the bus station and went to see the Botanical Gardens. This was autumn and definitely the wrong time of the year for that. Hardly any flowers at all, and the trees didn't seem so exciting. Afterwards I walked over to Ipanema, seeing all passers-by in a much more suspicious way than I ever had before.

It was already getting dark after 5 pm so I just sat at a beach bar watching the sea and people playing volleyball until I figured it was late enough for dinner. I had read that one vegetarian restaurant, Vegetariano Social Clube, would be open until midnight so I searched and found it. I ordered the tempeh à portuguesa and it was really tasty! I never had tried tempeh with seaweed before but they seemed to go together quite well. Afterwards I just headed to the bus station, waited for an hour or two and then took the overnight bus to São Paulo. It seems there are more people in the overnight than daytime services, but it was still comfortable enough. Seven hours, but I couldn't really sleep on the bus. The picture collection of the Brazil trip overall is here.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Campinas, Brazil

Next city in Brazil to make it sound less like a vegan heaven since really, it's not. Campinas is the second largest city in the state of São Paulo, with approx. 1 million inhabitants. However, the conference was arranged in a fancy resort-style hotel (Royal Palm Plaza), where I also stayed, and it's badly isolated from the city with just motorways on every side. Even the nearby shopping mall is hard to reach on foot. The hotel had a really nice pool though, and that's where I spent all my lunch breaks. I guess swimming instead of eating can't be too bad for the health if not done for too long, can it?

The hotel breakfast was nice with lots of bread and jam and heaps of fruits. And of course the stuff I didn't touch. Oh, and cereals, which are quite tasty with fruit salad. Lunch, well, they had a lunch buffet and it did have all sorts of beans and salads, but I figured that I wouldn't be able to eat the price's worth of veggies and hence would be paying for the meat too. The nearby shopping centre also didn't have any veg food other than the supermarket. For dinners, we went to town a couple of times, but it seems vegetarian restaurants in Brazil are generally only open at lunchtime. The regular restaurants would first say they have nothing vegetarian, but after asking about some specific things would generally find or make something vegan.

And then there was the banquet. The other thing about Campinas is that it's the place where Brazilian coffee got started, and the conference banquet was held on the very first Brazilian coffee farm. Which sounds way cooler than it was. There isn't really a trace of coffee-growing left now, just a touristy place that does use some coffee beans for decorations. And it seems I just don't like coffee, even the Brazilian kind. I can stand a cup per day but don't enjoy it and more would be torture. Sorry. Anyway, the only vegan thing at the super expensive banquet that I hope to be reimbursed of was the starter salad. I thought the veggies were too until I tasted them, a buttery taste. Should've asked.

Well, I didn't see much anything of Campinas other than the hotel, so that about concludes this one. At the end of it I went to the bus station and the queue for tickets to São Paulo, but then noticed there was a counter for Rio de Janeiro also, and given that my new friend in SP would be busy, I decided to go where I haven't been before and sat 7 hours on the bus to Rio. But that's the next post.

Monday, 5 May 2008

São Paulo

Finally in South America! My initial view of São Paulo, the slums seen through the bus window on the way from the airport in pouring rain weren't so exciting, but it has definitely picked up since. The metro system is quite alright too, even if they don't have full maps on all stations. Tired status and rain made sure there was nothing much on the day of arrival, but I did have a walk and got my shoes wet.

On the second day I was almost ready to pack up and go to Rio when I got a reply from a São Paulo vegan on VeggieConnection and changed my plans to meet her in the afternoon. Then, walking on Avenida Paulista, someone suddenly pulled my sleeve and after a second of wondering if he wanted money or directions I realised it was my former tango teacher Giggio! He stopped here on his way back home to Argentina. Then I found a great vegetarian buffet restaurant (Apfel) for lunch, with vegan things clearly marked, and very tasty.

Good things only improve sometimes. After lunch I met this local vegan who turned out to be a really nice girl. She and her friends took me to an organic food fair with a section for vegetarian stalls. They even had vegan white chocolate! Incredible, I've never seen such a thing before, and it was so yummy! In the evening we went to a vegan pizza place where they bring slices of pizza around and you can pick as many different kinds as you want, and some BBQ soya sticks and soy-shakes to go with it. Their vegan "cheese" was really well done too, it melted much like the real stuff. No idea where to get that stuff yet.

The next day (well, today) they invited me to a vegan birthday party, lucky me. So not only did I get to spend more time in their amazing company but also got some more great vegan foods and even birthday cake! This time the food was East Asian style and that's a tad less exciting for me, having had heaps of great cooking of that style on the other side of the planet. Afterwards we went off to a place that serves 10 different flavours of vegan ice-cream. Not that it'd be ice-cream weather, it's only about 20 degrees, but just for the sake of trying out this amazing stuff. Really good it was too, and of special interest was the açaí ice-cream, since I didn't know of the fruit before.

Off to Campinas for the conference in the morning, but very happy indeed about São Paulo now. :-) And the pictures can be found here, although I must apologise for the lack of good photos this time.

Friday, 2 May 2008


For once no big delay in my blog entry! Yesterday I had a day in Paris on my way to Brazil (where I'm currently waiting for room cleanup and listening to the pouring rain). Only changing planes for a few hours, but I went to the city, snapped a lot of photos and had a great meal. So I'll put here a few photos of Paris, but let me tell you of the dinner place. It's just south of Notre Dame cathedral, a place called Le Grenier de Notre-Dame. It's a vegetarian restaurant, and vegan foods are clearly marked in both French and English. I forget the name of the dish I ordered, but it was something bérbéré. I think it was the only one. Only order it if you're hungry, it's quite a lot for one person, and the best thing in it is the homemade seitan, it's truly delicious! But expensive also, around 17 euros.