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.