Tuesday, June 29, 2010

JC and bacon-y popcorn

Today we visited Cristo Redentor, the Christ statue that overlooks Rio. Somehow, when there were no clouds in all of Rio there were clouds around the peak when we got to the top. The view was still good but there were quite a few clouds billowing about and slightly obscuring pictures. We had a good view of Botafogo bay, Copacabana and Ipanema and the statue is pretty iconic so I'm glad we visited despite the weather. You can even take an escalator most of the way up to Cristo (stairway to heaven?) It was quite chilly at the top so we didn't spend a long time there. This tourist attraction was sadly lacking in the adorable little macaquinhos or micos we saw at Sugarloaf so I think the latter was my favorite of the two.

After getting down from the mountain we walked around Langeiras and were tempted to try some popcorn from a sidewalk stand. This stand had a tasty caramel popcorn and a version with seasoning salt. Both were delicious but we may have stopped too soon because we later saw stands selling bacon flavored popcorn (in addition to carmel, plain, and buttered). So now that I've tried every kind of churro filling (chocolate, doce de leite, doce de leite con coco), popcorn flavors will be my new frontier. There were even double sided popcorn/churro stands, which may have been the greatest invention ever in addition to the plastic ketchup packet opener we were given at a restaurant over the weekend. Sarah put ketchup on her pizza for the sheer joy of opening the packet.

I'm pretty sure the world might end because tonight I did not have chicken for dinner. Instead it was meat and potatoes with a side of chopped cooked vegetables (with requisite r&bb). My host dad and I had a conversation about Brazil's World Cup chances (in Portuguese of course) and it sounds like there's not expectations of a win for this team. Spain is the favorite. No one likes Dunga as a coach because he's so 'zangado,' which he explained as unhappy and as one of the seven dwarfs from Snow White, so I believe it translates to 'grumpy.' He said Brazil's playing efficiently but not beautifully and that the game against the Netherlands is supposed to be a tough one. I hope Brazil does keep winning though, three day weekends are nice.

As an aside, my phone is fully functional now :D

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

No school on Friday

Because Brazil's playing! There are extra classes on Wednesday to make up for the missed day though.
Yesterday was the first day of winter but it was 70 degrees so I'm not really worried.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Hamburgers and phone adventures

I recently bought a Brazilian SIM card so I could make calls to my host family and other friends in Brazil. The first step was unlocking my Verizon phone so it would work with the new chip. After this, I tried making a call with the chip in my phone. I was greeted by a phone recording speaking Portuguese so naturally I understood nothing. I handed the phone off to my host parents and they spoke to an operator and explained I had to call back in 24 hours and enter a CPF number. It's after 9pm now and we called yesterday around 9. Today my host dad spoke to another operator and from what I can tell had to give her his life story. She asked how long he lived in Rio, his address, I think his birthdate, and then his CPF number. I asked my professor today what a CPF number was and from what I can tell it's sort of like a forever record that banks have access to if you get into debt or something. Sarah, who's been living in Rio for a few months, had explained earlier that to activate a cell phone a Brazilian citizen had to give their CPF number, which she likened to a Social Security Number. She said this was because people in jail would smuggle in cell phones to inmates and they would make calls and plan crimes and whatnot. So now I have to wait two hours and then I can make a call. Hopefully this works!

Over the weekend I watched the Brazil game at Copacabana beach with Sarah and cheered along with everyone at Brazil's lovely goals. During halftime we were on the hunt for churros and of course because we were looking for some, couldn't find any. At the beach there are tons of vendors on the sidewalk and even more with coolers on their shoulders weaving through the crowd watching the game, selling their wares. I saw tiny pies, cotton candy, soda, bottled water, chips, gum, dresses, and jewelry pass by me for sale. But sadly no churro vendors were walking around the beach. Instead we got boiled corn covered in butter which was very tasty. We also ran into Ramin on our halftime churro search and he was sipping on some agua de coco so I will have to try one too. Holding a coconut with a straw sticking out of it is pretty quintessential beach so that definitely needs to happen. When Kaká was sent off everyone on the beach gasped/cried out and I may have shed a tear. After the game we ate at a place called Giraffas, or Giraffes, that had some very tasty looking hamburgers pictured on the wall. Seeing the hamburgers and fries on the menu made me think it was a fast food type restaurant but in addition they sold actual dinner food, like a chicken fillet with a side of rice and beans, or a steak. Also it was not fast. We waited about 10 minutes behind two people just to order. I think one of the registers was broken or something. When we did finally order the woman told us it would be a 10 minute wait. It didn't take that long and the burgers and fries were worth it. Sarah said it took so long because they made everything when you ordered it, which I guess is kind of nice, but I think they were taking too long peeling potatoes for fries.

On the way back to the metro we were walking along when suddenly Sarah yelled "Churros!" and pointed to her left. I screamed "Churros!" and we both dug in our wallets for reales to buy the tasty fried sugary dough sticks filled with warm caramel or dulce de leche sauce. I tried the dulce de leche and it was delicious although I can't decide if I like it more than the chocolate, both flavors are delicious in their own right.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The game and Sugarloaf Mountains

Tuesday morning dawned and Brazil was going to play North Korea at 3:30 in the afternoon. I had nothing to show my support for the home team and everyday I saw at least half of the people in Rio wearing a yellow and green jersey. I had just to get my own. Luckily every street corner, by law, must contain at least one vendor selling something with a Brazilian flag on it. Just kidding about the by law part. But really, on *every* block there is someone selling jerseys, flags, vuvuzelas, hats, or yellow and green air horns. At the stop where I get off the metro there's an open air market with rows and rows of yellow and blue (away color) jerseys. I bought one and felt fully prepared for the game.

Rio de Janeiro was one of the many international cities chosen to host the International Fifa Fanfest, which is basically a gigantic screen on Copacabana beach where the games are shown for free. We headed there after lunch on Tuesday and the metro on the way there was literally packed. We barely squeezed into the metro car and avoided the closing doors. People were shoulder to shoulder until the end of the line when we got off and headed to the beach. We approached the Fanfest area near the entrance but there were a lot of people crowded around there not going in. Employees were standing in the entrance telling people the Fanfest area was closed! We were a little disappointed but followed the crowd to the opposite side of the Fanfest area. In the description of the whole venue setup the guide mentioned something about a screen being turned out to the beach when the home team was playing so upwards of 100,000 people could watch. The Fanfest area hadn't looked that crowded so I was hoping the guide would be right. Luckily it was and behind the first screen there was another giant screen facing the opposite way and out onto the open Copacabana beach (away from the Fifa Fanfest tent setup). We wandered over to a spot on the sand and stood with the other fans watching the game. It was tense and relatively quiet until Brazil finally scored. Horn blowing and talking were at a minimum as everyone was focused on the screen. Of course, this changed when Brazil made its first goal. Everybody cheered and jumped up and down for a few minutes after the goal. Everyone left the game pretty happy but the guy next to us said Brazil should have won by more.

After classes on Wednesday a group of us went to Sugarloaf Mountain. The R$44 ticket for the two cable cars up seemed a little steep but the views at the top were definitely worth it. The quick ride up to the first mountain gave us a great view of Copacabana beach and the bay it borders. There were lots of cute little monkeys, which might be these marmosets, near the eating area. They were playing around between the chairs of the dining area and practically posing for pictures. There were a lot of other tourists with us too, a group from China and New Zealand, and probably other countries as well. Antonio, from BridgeBrazil, acted as sort of a tour guide and helped us get to Sugarloaf and answered a lot of our questions about Rio in general, since he's from here. He explained that cariocas (people from Rio de Janeiro) don't come up to Sugarloaf because it's so expensive, so it was just us tourists at the top of the mountain.

The quick ride up the second cable car brought us to Sugarloaf and a great view of Flamengo and Niteroi, reachable from Rio by a long bridge. We could see the Christ the Redeemer statue in the distance and we stayed until the sunset. On the bus back to the metro, Sergei was talking to a carioca who said we should wait an hour or so before taking the metro because it's super crowded around 6 when everyone heads home for work. So the four or us (Rita, Leslianna, Sergei and I) stopped at a restaurant for a snack, or 'lonche.' It's a pretty common practice to go to a restaurant after work with friends before heading home. I had grilled steak on a stick with sides of manioc flour and salsa (chopped jalapeno, onion, and tomato).

I just saw a commercial for McDonald's while watching the England x Algeria game and it reminded me of a McDonald's poster I saw on the metro. McDonald's is doing a promotion (http://www.mcdonalds.com.br/favoritos/) where on different days of the week they offer different kinds of sandwiches for countries playing in the World Cup. Today is McEstados Unidos day and the burger has American cheese, bacon, and barbecue sauce on it. There's a McDonald's near the Uruguiana subway station and a KFC down the street in Centro. I also saw a Subway walking around Flamengo once so there are a few US chains down here. Since I'm writing about food... yesterday I had a churro and it was pretty much the most delicious thing ever because they're made hollow and then filled with either chocolate sauce (mmmmm) or dulce de leche, which I'll try next time. After I was feeling patriotic so I bought a yellow vuvuzela, a flag I've hung in my window, and Havaianas with a Brazilian flag print on them from the open air market near the metro. There's everything from headbands, bracelets, and swim trunks in green and yellow at the market. I love that wearing something with a Brazilian flag on it, or a jersey, isn't touristy (like wearing an I <3 NY shirt in NY) but more normal. There's at least 3 flags in windows per apartment building and every other car seems to have a window-clipping mini Brazilian flag flowing as it zips along. It reminds me of people wearing Steelers jerseys in Pittsburgh.

Today we went to a sushi restaurant I discovered yesterday after I turned the wrong way down Rio Branco while heading to the metro. Afterward we got some super tasty froyo from Yup! There are lots of frozen yogurt places around town although the one we went to only had regular and green grape flavored yogurt. In class we learned about a lot of local dishes so I will have to try feijoada, a meat and bean stew, and farofa, a kind of flour and egg omelette/quiche. But I'll try almost anything for lunch as long as it's not chicken, since I get plenty of that for dinner everyday.
Just heard a vuvuzela...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Picture update

Pics from the Sugarloaf mountains and a few from the Brazil x N. Korea game up.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Day of School

(As I type this I hear vuvuzelas outside) My host parents wanted to give me a ride to school on my first day and school started at 8:30 am. Guess what time I got there? 6:45 because I was hustled out the door still chewing a piece of coffee cake at 6:30am sharp. The door to BridgeBrazil wasn't open, which is understandable, since they open at 7am. I was awkwardly standing on the steps in front of the door until I asked the security guard "Aberta?" and pointed to the door. She then phoned up to the cleaning lady who kindly let me in so at least I could awkwardly wait in a chair. I started to read the newspaper on the table and read a really interesting article about Poster Boy, who appears to be the NY version of Banksy. He's really into pop culture collages in NY subway stations. He was working anonymously for a time but then he was arrested for vandalism, although no one's sure they caught the right guy. Having sufficiently impressed myself with my ability to read Portuguese because it's pretty similar to Spanish, I noted that it was still a long, long time until 8:30am. After wasting time on the internet in BridgeBrazil's computer lab it was finally nearing 8:30 and other students were trickling in. 5 of us were ushered into a room to take a placement exam to determine our level of Portuguese. Since I was a beginner and we were advised not to guess if we actually didn't know the answer (so we wouldn't get placed incorrectly) I ended up leaving a lot of answers blank.

Then it was time for Orientation with Veronica Horta (the program director). We received a packet of information that contained the Official Guide to Rio, maps, and a spiffy calendar of afternoon events/excursions. For example there's a field trip to Pão de Açucar on Wednesday and a showing of the movie Cidade de Deus, City of God, which the Hastings at home didn't have, on Thursday. Veronica gave us important phone numbers and some common sense tips, like don't go wandering around dark, deserted alleys flashing cash and laptops and some things I didn't know such as that a 10% tip is usually included on restaurant bills, you don't tip taxi drivers, and that Hospital Copa D'or is the best in Rio. After the info session we all went out to lunch together to a 'restaurante a kilo' where you serve yourself buffet style and pay by the weight of your plate (by kilo). There were various green salads, bean salads, fruits, fish and meats (sausages, chicken, steak) to choose from. French fries and mashed potatoes made an appearance on the buffet too so I won't have to worry about missing those! I had a Coke to drink and I'm pretty sure they're fizzier here than in the US...

When we got back to school we were split up into groups based on our level of Portuguese and I was with Rita, Ramin, and Hakib in the beginner group. Our teacher Daniele was super energetic and very animated for the entire class. Trying not to say too many words in English, she ended up acting out a lot of the vocabulary words we learned. We also played some guessing games where we had to describe a famous person/ character using our newly acquired vocabulary. Spongebob Squarepants was pretty tough. We also learned lots of basics like 'qual é o seu nome?' (what's your name?), 'muito prazer' (pleased to meet you), and 'moro no Rio de Janeiro' (I live in Rio de Janeiro). Aaand we got to pronounce lots of letters with extra decorations like in the phrase 'vocês são mineiros?' We got a 20 minute break halfway through our lesson to stretch our legs and grab a snack so I popped over to the papeleria across the street and got a sweet notebook. It actually doesn't look that exciting but I think the fact that I bought it in Rio and that each page has the days in Portuguese will greatly improve the quality of Portuguese notes taken in it. The fancy little coffee store next door had a Nutella drink, which sounded pretty exciting (I'm guessing Nutella melted in coffee?) that I might try if I'm ever tired enough to choke down some coffee. There was also a juice bar and little pão (bread/bakery) shop nearby. During class Spanish came in handy because a lot of the words look similar but the pronunciation is completely different, so reading Portuguese I can understand a lot but listening I only get a few words. All in all it was a great class, I learned a lot, and I feel much more confident speaking what little Portuguese I do know.

After class we found a place to exchange our money and I have a few Brazilian coins to add to my collection since the exchange rates don't quite round to a real. Upon successfully navigating the metro, remembering the way home from the metro station, and buying a few things at a pharmacy I sat down for dinner with Lucia and Claudia. We had chicken, (no big surprise but it was in a tasty kind of yellow curry with potatoes), fried eggplant, and the requisite black beans and white rice (which I will probably stop mentioning because we always have them).
Hopefully tomorrow I'll get downtown early enough to browse the open air market by the subway. They had tons of jerseys for sale and since Brasil is playing tomorrow I need to get my fan gear. Maybe I'll get a vuvuzela...

Since that was a really long post here's a cute Brazilian music video. My host dad has loaned me his external hard drive of music so I should be an expert on Bossa Nova and Brazilian music in general in a few days.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Argentina and the Military Museum

As we watched the Argentina/Nigeria game my host mom cheered on the Nigerians. She explained her dislike for the Argentinians, "You know the movie 'Everybody Loves Raymond'?" I told her I did. She continued, "Well in Brazil 'Everybody Hates Argentina.'" She didn't really say why, just that Brazil doesn't like Argentina. At least when it comes to soccer. After the game we drove over to the old military fort, now museum, at Copacabana beach. On the way we saw Ipanema beach, of The Girl from Ipanema fame. The fort is situated right at the end of Copacabana beach so you can see the entire beach and get a pretty good view of the Sugarloaf mountains too. (Pics up).

We got back from the museum just in time to see the US and England game. My host parents and I sat down to watch the game with a bowl of popcorn. After Green's sloppy almost save I learned the Portuguese word for 'mistake,' either frangaso or frango. But wait you say, isn't frango also the word for chicken? It is! Apparently there is a story or song about a goalie not being able to concentrate or play well because he hasn't had something to eat (something like chicken). So it's sort of related to chicken. After half time, both of them fell asleep 10 minutes into the 2nd half so I have a feeling they weren't as excited about the game as I was. USA!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Metro e Reais

I rode the metro today and it was actually a lot like the lightrail in San Jose and the subway in New York City. All of the lines are color coded and the station names are on giant signs outside each of the stops. I got a rechargeable metro card that you swipe at a turnstile to get into the station. Lucia showed me the way to the school I'm taking classes at so hopefully I won't get too lost on Monday and the metro stop is pretty close to the apartment. The area around my school, which I think is sort of a downtown area was really crowded. The metro cars were almost full and there was a lot of traffic. Just like the area around Flamengo there are tons of people selling things from carts and stands on the sidewalks. We walked by at least 20 people standing on the sidewalks handing out little slips of paper, all for money-lending services. There were roasted nuts, popcorn, more churros, pastries, fresh fruit, magazines, noise makers and of course lots of Brazilian jerseys for sale. In addition to the noise from the honking cars and people, everyone selling the yellow and green horns was also blowing on them so it kind of sounded like we were at a futebol game. At the grocery store, even Pringles got into the soccer spirit and their cans say Pringooools!

Apparently tomorrow is Valentine's Day in Brasil, Dia dos Namorados. Wikipedia tells me the Brazilians don't celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14th because that's too close to Carnaval. Lots of the shops around town are selling the same kinds of things we see around Valentine's day; flowers, chocolates, and generally lots of heart shaped things. Lucia and I went into a store and there was a gigantic pile of red heart shaped pillows saying cute things like 'Hug Me' or 'I love you,' but of course em Português. While wandering around the store I saw the popular brand of flip flops Havainas, which I see almost everyone wearing, but also Gisele Bundchen flip flops. There was a giant cardboard cutout of her next to the display. Who knew. I need Gisele's sandals. There were store employees scattered throughout the store who had walkie talkies and just sort of stayed in one place and watched people, they may have been like security guards making sure no one was shoplifting. There were also people like this at the grocery store we went to later. We picked up some passion fruit, which look pretty plain for having such an exciting name. We drank the juice with dinner, with a little sugar added, and it tasted just like passion fruit flavored drinks I've had before.

After wandering around town looking for an ATM that had the Visa logo, I finally have Reais! HSBC Bank had an ATM I could use. It took a few tries to get it though, the card swiping was a little weird, but the menu was in English so I was finally able to get some money out. The exchange rate is about 2 to 1 so the R$70 I took a picture of is about $35 US. Reais look similar on the front but on the back they all have different animals on them. Most shops that take credit cards take Visa so I should be able to get by just using my card.

And now a belated lunch update: Lunch was chicken (frango), arroz, feijões, chopped zucchini in a kind of cornmeal flour, fried manioc/casava, a shredded cabbage-like green, and to drink a bright green juice made with limes and the same kind of cabbage green we were eating shredded. It was pretty tasty, mostly lime-y, but was a lot better with sugar. Everyone added some artificial sweetener, the same kind that's set out at breakfast to add to coffee. Lucia also made a really good chocolate coffee cake.

Manioc e Africa do Sul

Sooo South Africa just scored. I thought that was kind of unexpected since Mexico was dominating the first half.
Munching on fried Manioc/Cassava right now. It's a little crispy on the outside and soft on the inside like a french fry and it's got kind of a potato-y consistency.

My host mom tells me she doesn't really care for soccer but we're watching the game anyways. She was remarking about how the 2014 Copa en Brasil will be a big hassle because of all the people and the noise.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Lucia and I walked around Flamengo a bit and I saw a few of the streets around the apartment. Most of the shop storefronts opened out onto the street so at the little food shops you walk right off the sidewalk and you're at the counter. There were also vendors on the street selling churros and popcorn as well as people sitting on the sidewalk with their wares spread around them. There was everything from flip flops and watches to shirts and Brazilian flags for sale.

There were shoe stores, a few clothing stores, lots of cafes, news/magazine stands, pharmacies, and small grocery stores. All of the stores had yellow and green decorations and plenty of people were sporting Brazilian jerseys. I did see one Italia t shirt, but there were far more people wearing green and yellow. One little boy had gone all out and was wearing a jersey, a green hat, green star sunglasses, and waving a Brazilian flag. We stopped at a grocery store to pick up some produce and they had a lot of fruits and veggies I recognized like snow peas, carrots, tomatoes, apples, oranges, coconuts, pineapples and limes. Though there were a few fruits I didn't recognize so I'll have to take my camera into the grocery store sometime.


Here's breakfast this morning: Toast, butter, grape jam, cake, coffee and white cheese. The cheese was very tasty and I even had a little coffee with a lot of sugar. My phrase book says a typical breakfast is coffee, milk, juice, bread, jam, cheese, ham, and fruit so this is pretty authentic. (Photos up on Picasa)

Claudia came home from school and we had leftovers from yesterday for lunch. We watched a bit of TV (she likes Two and a Half Men) with Portuguese subtitles.

Someone had a radio in the courtyard of the apartment and I heard some of 'Party in the USA.' A guy started to sing along and then settled for whistling along. It's been proven. Miley is loved all over the world.
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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Plane ride

The plane from Albuquerque to Houston was a whopping 3 seats wide and since it was so tiny we felt every bump as we flew along. Soon enough I was in Houston, hustling over to the international terminal at the far end of the airport. I found my spot on the 7 seat wide, 2 aisle behemoth (the largest plane I can remember being on) and settled in. My seatmate Monica was from Rio de Janeiro and assured me that it was beautiful there and I would love it, but I should keep track of my money.

I thought the plane ride from Houston to Rio de Janeiro was going to seem a lot longer than it was. Luckily Continental has excellent taste in primetime drama and there was a channel devoted to CSI. I was treated to CSI Las Vegas and New York with a barely bearable interlude of CSI Miami. Dinner was fine, beef and rice, with a cute little prepackaged brownie. A few hours after dinner I went to sleep and an hour or so before reaching Rio de Janeiro the cabin lights came on and breakfast was served. Breakfast was, of course, continental. We got declaration papers before landing and then waited in a long customs line once we were on the ground. The guy behind me had a fun British accent and was discussing construction plans with someone but other than that customs was pretty uneventful. I grabbed my bags and headed out of the airport. Right before you get to the exit of the airport there are 4 booths from different cab companies with a woman hanging out of each window asking loudly "Taxi?!" I passed them and found a woman holding a sign with my name on it. I hopped in a taxi and headed to Flamengo to meet my host family.

With my Portuguese phrase book in hand I found out the taxi driver, Carlos, had lived in Rio de Janeiro for 57 years and had two sons. He spoke English as well and pointed out an impressive looking castle in the distance, the favelas, or slums, near the highway, the Sugarloaf mountains, and part of the path the Carnaval parade takes around the city. There was a lot of traffic on the highways and everyone drives little four door cars but I saw a few small SUVs. Quite a few motorcycles were weaving in and out of the cars on the highway, honking every once in a while. Medical/police vans with blinking blue lights tried to get by and cars sort of moved out of their way but not too hurriedly. There are police booth/stands along the road with umbrellas and one cop car and policeman. The policeman at the booths all had really big black guns, maybe AK-47s?

I was in the city around 10am and since both of my host parents work they had asked a friend to meet me at their apartment. She spoke English, Spanish and Portuguese so we switched between Spanish and English as we spoke about my trip. I unpacked and then we headed to the beach since it was so nice out, sunny with a little breeze and a few clouds, probably 70 degrees. Even though it's winter weather.com tells me it won't get any colder than 60 degrees which is great weather anyway. The beach was gorgeous, nice white sands and blue sky. The water near Flamengo isn't the cleanest for swimming in but we just laid out in the sun. It was pretty empty with just a handful of people around us since it was the week and not an extremely popular beach. You can rent beach chairs and the bathrooms nearby cost $1Real, which is about .50c. There was a guy walking around the beach selling cokes from coolers so it's all pretty convenient.

Claudia, my host sister, got home and we ate lunch prepared by the cook/maid Lucia (which is also my host mother's name). All meals are served with arroz y feija~os, rice and black beans. We had a shredded chicken dish with cheese rolled in a pancake type bread.

I took a nap and then my host mom Lucia got home and we chit chatted a little bit and then had dinner. Dinner was a chicken Parmesan type dish with arroz and feijaos again. My host dad got home a little later and now everyone's doing homework or watching TV as I type away. I saw a little bit of the news and some of a soap opera. I can pick out a few spoken words once in a while that I recognize from Spanish but not too many. Written Portuguese is a little easier as a lot of the words are the same or cognates in Spanish.

The apartment is on the 6th floor in a nine or so story building that has kind of a courtyard structure in the middle. All of the apartments (I think) have windows that open into the center. If I look out the window in the kitchen or bathroom I can see into a neighbor's kitchen or bathroom. Not that I was being creepy and looking... The neighborhood is nice, lots of tall buildings which look like hotels and apartments. Hopefully I'll go exploring tomorrow because I need to head to the bank that's down a block to change my US dollars to Reales. The street by the apartment is still pretty busy and I can hear cars driving by.
Pics are up on facebook and hopefully tomorrow will be another exciting day!
Thanks for reading this far, this post was looong :)