A week in Sao Paulo

Mystic of Holyhead (successor to Lynn Rival)
Rachel and Paul Chandler
Wed 21 Aug 2013 23:13
With Lynn Rival safely tucked up in Bracuhy our only concern on leaving her was the damned rat.  We'd not seen or smelled any sign of it for a week so we were hoping it had jumped ship somewhere on our Ilha Grande cruise. Perhaps it had been horribly seasick in the bigger seas on the ocean side of Ilha Grande? Just to be sure we scattered rat poison pellets everywhere and blocked access to all the cubbyholes before we left.

One of our friends here, Assis, drove us to Angra dos Reis to catch the mid-day bus to Sao Paulo.  It's a 7 hour journey.  The route, along the coast road, through Paraty and Ubatuba, and then inland, climbing up through forest-covered mountains, is all very scenic.  Shortly before Sao Paulo we reached the motorway and then had a surprisingly quick run through the vast suburbs.  Sao Paulo's main bus station is one of the biggest in the world and is clean and well organised.  We switched onto the metro and following instructions found our way to Silvio's apartment, close to the new business district, southwest of the historic centre.

The view from Silvio's 20th floor apartment; sadly nose clips are required if you go close to the river

Silvio and his partner Lilian have recently returned from sailing around the world on their yacht Matajusi.  They are both from Sao Paulo so their invitation to visit was an opportunity we couldn't miss.  Sao Paulo is the largest city in Brazil and one of the top 8 in the world.  It's infamous for its poverty and crime but is also a very wealthy, cosmopolitan and sophisticated city, with much in common with large European cities.  We certainly found plenty to see and do.  It doesn't have a very attractive historic centre but it is fascinating and easy to explore, with many stunning modern buildings as well as good museums and a never-ending choice of restaurants. 

Paulistas claim this 19th century post office is the largest in the southern hemisphere . . .

 . . . and the grand institutional style is also represented by the Municipal Theatre . . .

 . . . not sure which is the front

Not to be outdone, the Luz railway station has an imposing ticket hall

Cultural highlights included our visit to the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) which had an exhibition of works by Lucian Freud.  Apart from loans by the British Council, quite a few of the pieces are on loan from a museum in Caracas of all places.  The permanent exhibition has many great European paintings,  including one wall with three rural scenes from England: a Gainsborough, a Turner and a Constable.

 In the commercial district financial institutions surround the tiny historic centre, where the Jesuits founded the city

Have they stolen the Empire State Building?  No, it's the Banespa building, now owned by Santander

We got the lifts to the top of the Edificio Altino Arantes (aka Banespa), a mini empire state building which provides wonderful views of the city, free.

Gosh - I wonder if those Jesuits realised what would grow from their 1554 college!

The power house of Brazil!

We also visited the Institute Butantan, where they milk snakes for their venom to create antidotes.  We learned all about the venomous snakes, spiders and scorpions we might encounter in Brazil... 

Snake houses (hopefully ex-snake houses) at the Butanta Institute

this pit viper was behind glass - he's one of the most venomous snakes

Silvio and Lilian took us to their local street market where the choice of fruits and vegetables was outstanding.  We kept being offered fruits to try so ended up eating a lot free before we had Pastel for lunch.  Pastel is a Brazilian speciality which takes some getting used to, a very rich deep-fried pastry. 

The local pastel stall, near the new business district called Berrini

On Saturday we went to the Mercado Municipal, where the choice of fresh produce and imported delicacies is amazing.  The atmosphere is also great, with so many people milling around, enjoying the pleasure of choosing some nice things to take home to cook, or to have a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls.  Unfortunately both Paul and Silvio got food poisoning from their choice of lunch - a crusty roll crammed with leg of pork - bought from one of the very popular food stalls.

The Mercado Municipal has four main entrances with stained glass windows, flying the flag of Sao Paulo state

and inside it's huge, serving the needs of a city of over 20 million

but we couldn't find cheddar!  Just as well, the real Parmesan was selling at over £140 per kg

Saturday shoppers - the locals dressed up for the unusually low temperatures, which we thought very pleasant 

After a week we were happy to get the bus back to gentle Bracuhy but we really enjoyed seeing 'Sampa'.  We saw another side of Brazil.  The Paulistas are more serious and hard-working, but still very pleasant and polite.  The rush-hour is just like in central London: a crush of squashed, stressed but very patient people.  Whenever we got on a busy train we were always offered seats by younger people.  In Brazil it's not just the disabled or pregnant who get priority.  In most museums the over 60s get in free.

We also walked quite a lot and felt comfortable in most places.  The only place we didn't like was around the Cathedral where there are a lot of rough sleepers.  In the prosperous areas security is obvious.  Men in dark overcoats with earpieces are everywhere.  We had to enter through a double gated 'lock' to get into Silvio's apartment block and couldn't see into the security guardhouse because of dark bullet-proof windows.  Cars enter the basement parking through a similar, larger, lock.  Helicopters buzz around the city night and day, for those who can afford not to get stuck in the traffic or have their feet touch the ground.

Our mid-day bus spent an extra 2 hours in the traffic leaving the big city so it took us 9 hours to get back to Bracuhy, plus a 25 minute walk back to the marina.  And, what of the rat?  No sign.  Phew!