Monday, July 14, 2014

Hiatus

I do intend on continuing the Brazil story, but work and Ultimate have caught back up to me, and those long posts take awhile to write.

In local news, we're harvesting snap peas, snow peas, daikon, and kohlrabi from our garden.  The beets are almost ready as well, but the tomatoes and peppers aren't too happy with the cool weather.

Sam has been cooking fantastic meals from the bounty of our CSA and our garden.  Today's Indian-spiced beans were delicious, and I'm looking forward to the pineapple chutney this evening.  I am very appreciative of his cooking skills and his willingness to feed me while I'm holed up in my office.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Brazil Day 3: Brasilia


The nice thing about most of our days was that we never had anything scheduled to do right away in the morning, so we could wake and get ready for the day pretty leisurely.  On this day, we nibbled on breakfast and then wandered down to a coffee shop so Cassy and Connor could get their caffeine fix.  After that, we were ready to head out to the Parque National, which was said to be inhabited by giant armadillos, anteaters, and capybaras.

The bus ride was longer than we expected, but some friendly passengers assured us we were on the right bus and asked the ticket-taker to tell us where to get off, which happened to be just on the side of a six-lane highway.  How to get back on the bus?  Just wave as it comes into view...

We hiked two trails, the Capybara trail and the Crystal Water trail.  The first was wooded and devoid of any life besides scurrying lizards and giggling high schoolers.  The second was out on a savanna of sorts.  The red soil was vibrant in the sun, and the slight breeze made the tall grasses and short trees wave slowly.  We saw a plethora of leaf-cutter ants trudging along toward their holes in the ground, and took note of hundreds of termite nests in trees, but the closest we came to any of the large animals was a few footprints in the mud.

We returned toward the front of the park hot and ready to take part in the other main attraction, swimming pools fed by natural springs.  It seems that this was also the main destination of a few class trips, as the school kids outnumbered the adults.  A few heard us speaking English and all of a sudden we were being heckled by calls of "Hello!" "American Pie!"  Teenagers really are the same all around the world.

We swam, changed, and left the park refreshed, which was good considering our next adventure.  We went and stood out at the edge of the highway and almost immediately saw our bus hurtling toward us.  We waved, and it crossed two lanes of traffic and screeched to a halt a mere feet behind a car stopped on the shoulder.  Sam says the subsequent ride was a like a roller coaster.  I'll agree, but only in the sense that I do not want my bus ride to be like riding on a roller coaster.  Connor swears that the bus was on two wheels on a few cloverleaf on-ramps.

We got off the bus in a residential area supposedly known to have a scattering of good restaurants, but it was early yet, so we sat down at a little bar to watch the Brazil pre-World Cup friendly match.  The owner, who called himself Tony Bennet, chatted with us and told us about his daughter, Alyssa Milano, and was generally pretty funny and friendly.  He invited us to visit him at his other home in Macao on our next vacation.

First dinner was at a different bar/restaurant where we shared plates of baked potatoes topped with gravy and shrimp, toasted cheese sticks, and deep-fried pockets filled with pork.  We only half knew what we were ordering.  For second dinner, we went back to Green's and to our surprise, they suddenly had English menus!  Was it because of our issues the night before, or were they already planning such menus in light of the World Cup?  We don't know, but it was extremely helpful in ordering a very satisfying dinner of soup, sandwiches, and the ever-present and refreshing lime juice.

Travel tip: In Brazil, the buses run on loops without much of a time table.  Because many buses run past a single stop, you must flag down the bus you want, or it will just keep going by.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brazil Day 2: Brasilia


Everything we read said that Brasilia was not designed for walking.  We ignored that and walked Brasilia.

After a lovely breakfast of egg scramble made by Sam and local melon we found at the grocery, we headed to our first destination of the day, the Office of Tourism, to pick up our tickets to the World Cup game.  We hopped through multiple lanes of traffic to get to the correct building, but couldn't find the office.  We asked a friendly looking man in uniform, and all of a sudden we were being led through an auditorium filled with pretty much all of the police, fire, and rescue personnel in Brasilia.  We had stumbled upon some of the final logistics meetings for the World Cup.

We eventually picked up our game tickets, made a quick stop to drop them off at the apartment, and then attempted to find our second destination, a bus station at which we could purchase bus tickets for another section of our trip.  We stopped at a tourist information center, but the English-speaking helper was out to lunch.  So we decided to get lunch too.  We ate sandwiches and wine outside on a little plaza.  The information from the English-speaker was what we had heard before, "Maybe you could try....," but nothing definitive.  We decided to skip it for now and start sightseeing.

Brasilia is arranged in the shape of an airplane.  There are two wings (north and south) and a central axis running from the cockpit to the tail.  The residential areas and some commercial areas are in the wings, the government buildings are in the cockpit, and the museums and other sights are scattered along the axis from the cockpit to the tail.  We started near the tail and worked our way toward the cockpit.

TV Tower: Mostly under construction, but if it were open it would probably give a good aerial view of the city.  All the construction surrounding it gave us a good idea of how much last-minute updating was going on ahead of the Cup.
National Library: The guy at the desk said that there were more books in his college library than in the National Library.  Based on what we saw, we could believe it.
National Museum: (see photo above): We didn't get to go in, as it was closed for renovations.  Looks nifty from the outside, though.
Cathedral of Brasilia: This is one of the only three postcards of Brasilia I could find, and all of the photos were horrible.  The building is distinctive on the outside, but the stained glass on the inside is really the beautiful part.
Government Buildings: Nearing the cockpit, the avenue is lined with rows of tall, boring, identical government buildings.  At rush hour the lines for the buses fill the sidewalks.  Once we passed this section, we found a row of bushes and trees in which hummingbirds were flitting.  While stopping to gaze, some stinging ants found Cassy's feet.  We quickly walked away.
Plaza: Surrounded by the palace, the congress, the judiciary, and other government buildings.  Like most of the other architecture, it is cement and plain.
Hero Museum (not official name): We ventured into a small museum dedicated to the heroes of Brazil.  We couldn't read the exhibits, and the stained glass memorial was closed.
Eternal Flame for past president: We climbed up the steps close behind some teenagers with McDonald's.  It seems this vantage point is popular with both tourists and bored youths.

At this point it was just past sunset, and we had been walking around for about seven hours total.  Our guidebook said there was a good bar not too far back toward home, so we slowly headed that way.  No luck in finding the bar, but we stumbled upon a small plaza where a street vendor was grilling meat and cheese for a small throng of locals seated on plastic chairs.  We waded in and Cassy's charm garnered us some chicken and bacon sticks, and some grilled cheese sticks.  Delicious.  The men at the table next to us were very friendly and shared some other snacks, some laughs, and hugs when we left.

We wandered slowly home and tried out Green's, an organic food restaurant near our house, for dinner.  We were having some communication issues when a local guy walked over and helped us out.  He suggested we try the acai.  He was very adamant we try the acai.  I thought acai was a fruit that was mostly used in beverages, but the acai came out in a bowl as a very cold custard or pudding with granola and bananas on top.  Acai became my favorite food in Brazil.

After dinner, we tried a local bar for the "national drink" of Brazil, the caipirinha.  It is cachasa (sugar cane liquor) mixed with lime juice, sugar, and limes.  It is very refreshing, especially after a long day of walking.  While we were drinking, a local came over and talked with us.  It turns out he had been a gymnast for the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana many years ago.

Travel tip: Brazilians are really friendly.  If you put a good-faith effort into trying to communicate in Portuguese, they will really do their best to make the interaction work.  The ones who speak English will also go out of their way to help you if they overhear you having trouble, or will just come over to say hi.  These are the best conversations.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Brazil Day 1: Sao Paulo/Brasilia


Did you know that the entirety of the South American continent is east of Detroit?  That makes the jet-lag to Brazil pretty much non-existent, despite the nine-hour flight from Toronto to Sao Paulo.

This whole crazy idea to go to Brazil started with a suggestion in a bar that going to Brazil for the World Cup would combine two things we've wanted to do: travel to South America and go to a World Cup.  The idea was quickly seconded by our friends Cassy and Connor, and before we knew it, we were buying plane tickets, getting up in the wee hours of the morning to purchase tickets to a game, and scouring Airbnb for places to stay.

And then the day came, and all four of us landed safely in Brazil.  We arrived in Sao Paulo, but hung around the airport for a few hours for our next flight into Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.  Brasilia was built as the new capital in the 1960s, and we were drawn to it for the renowned architecture and city planning which makes it unique in Brazil and the world.  It is also in the center of the country and has a very different climate than that of the coast.

The cab ride from the airport to our apartment introduced us to what would be my lasting impression of Brasilia - the crazy driving tactics of the citizens of Brasilia.  We made it safely, however, and after some poor attempts at speaking Portuguese with the doorman, we met with our hostess, Leide, who is a soil researcher at an institute just outside the city and, coincidentally, had gone to graduate school in Kyushu, Japan about the same time I was there.  We dropped off our bags and  Leide very kindly drove us around the neighborhood so we could get our bearings on the grocery store, some restaurants, and where to start our sightseeing.

By this time, we were quite hungry, so we had Leide drop us off at one of the nearby bar/restaurants for our first attempt at ordering food.  It was fairly easy to order beers and french fries, but my "He's a vegetarian" line did not work so well, and so we ended up with what we assumed were some breaded chicken pieces.  We decided we shouldn't forget the phrasebook next time.

On our way home we stopped at the grocery store for breakfast food.  I love grocery stores in other countries.  You can learn about a culture in the grocery store.  We quickly realized that Brazilians do not eat a lot of cheese, do not have open container laws, and are never in a hurry when checking out.

Travel tip: Do not flush your used toilet paper in Brazil.  There are wastebaskets next to the toilet for that.  Sam says that you should not be able to be a developed country without adequate sewer systems to flush your toilet paper.  It didn't bother me that much.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Travels in Brazil

We went to Brazil.
We saw a World Cup game.
We swam under a waterfall.
We joined a street party with Brazil fans.
We took pictures.

Blog posts coming shortly.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The best kinds of friends



When our friend Britt moved, she gave us her tumbling composter.  It needed a stand, however.

When our friends Cass and Connor moved, they gave our other friend Chris a circular saw and a workbench.  He stored them in our garage.

When we wanted to build a stand for the composter, Chris came over and used the saw and bench to build the perfect composter stand.

And thanks to all of our awesome friends, we now have a working tumbling composter!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Before and after



When we bought our house, it came with a few furnishings - some chairs, a few curtains, and an unkempt Ficus benjamina.

The ficus dominated our front porch until this spring, when I finally tackled the job of pruning it.   Now it's clear of dead leaves and stems, tamed of excessively long branches, and tied up nice and compactly.

Instead of being the major feature in the room it now complements the features of the room.  Much better, I think.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Winning smile


There are all sorts of internet sensations involving dogs, dogs on things, and things on dogs.  Millie might be able to make it in the "things on dogs" category, if only she would look a little more excited about it.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Preparation or lack thereof

The eagles have come and gone, the geese are passing through, and many of my friends are planning their gardens, and in fact, planting their seeds starts right now.

I am still trying to figure out what to do with different areas of the landscaping.  There are so many issues to deal with, but no good plan to deal with them.

Currently, I'm thinking:

Lemongrass along the front of the house, directly under the waterfall from our gutterless roof.  Herbs along the south wall of the house (mint, sage, chives, basil, thyme, and the like).  Cone flowers and Black-eyed Susans along the south-west and/or west side.  Alpine strawberries on the north side.  Sunflowers and sweet corn along the garage. Hops, tomatoes, peas, beans, lettuce, and more in the garden. And gooseberries, currents, and/or raspberries along the alley.

We'll look back at this list in September and see what really happened.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Together

Millie and got to be pretty good at cross-country skiing together this winter.  She learned where to run in relation to me and my skis and poles, and I learned to release her from the harness when going down hills (or not, depending on how fast I really wanted to go).

Now that the snow is (mostly) gone, we're back to working on off-leash hiking.  We're also adding bicycling to the mix.

I have read that people with dogs often don't get as much exercise as they thing they will because they now have to devote time to the dog in addition to their own workouts.  I can definitely see where this is true, but my goal for this year is to really see if I can combine the two so that both of us can get some quality exercise in while not annoying each other.