Sunday, October 17, 2010

Traffic and being impounded

I forgot how terrible the traffic is to get out of the aiport. I think it took 15-20 minutes just to get onto the main road. There's a lot of construction in the area, which makes things worse. While the ever-present dust was expected, the persistent horn honking was also lost to memory. Something to get used to since everyone uses their horn. Lucikly, the hotel driver wasn't one of them. The driver taking us to work and on our weekend excursions also isn't a heavy horn user. But he is a pretty aggressive driver, which comes after 14 years of driving I guess.

The traffic going to a shopping mall on Saturday was quite heavy, but it allowed us to have a glimpse of the city. We've been impounded in our walled apartment/hotel complex that such a venture out is welcomed. Our compound has one entry/exit point, which is a number of security guards are stationed. They use a mirror to look under every car. The hood and trunk is opened for inspection, along with the doors of the car so that a dog can sniff the interior. If everything is OK, a round concrete post is lowered so that we can pass. I appreciate the security, but I dislike being imprisoned. I miss having an apartment and being able to walk to restaurants, shops and buy fresh produce from the local vendors.

After just one dinner in the hotel, I've been ensuring our schedules are arranged so that we can dine outside. It's a bit tough when most restaurants don't serve dinner until 7 or 7:30. We've decided we would rather work late during the week and get a late start on the weekends to be able to remain outside the walls a little longer and experience life as it should be lived.

Sunday Times of India, October 17

I don't think I've ever seen an article like this in a newspaper. How interesting. I guess it's not typical otherwise it wouldn't have been newsworthy.

Seen on page 16 of the front section of the Sunday Times:

Guj man seeks hubby for his 50-year-old live-in partner
Ahmedabad: Ramnik Parikh, 65, is a busy man these days. He is looking for a husband for his live-in partner of two years - 50-year-old Sunanda. Just this week he brought Sunanda from Nadiad, some 60km away, on his motorcycle to meet three prospective grooms.

"Sunanda is very warm and loving. She and I are having compatibility issues because of difference in our educational backgrounds", Ramnik told the prospective grooms, all in their 60s. He will return with Sunanda to the Veena Mulya Amulya Sewa (VMAS) marriage bureau in two days to meet more prospective grooms.

At a matchmaking fair for divorcees in Ahmedabad early this month, Sunanda said she had divorced early in life in Bangalore. In 2008, she was approached by Ramnik's sister after Ramnik found her address from an all-India marriage meet for seniors. Sunanda liked Ramnik and they sighed a Maitri Karaar', a sanctioned live-in relationship in Gujarat. However, their relationship is on the rocks.

"I am highly educated, while she is just Class VIII pass. It has become a mental mismatch," said Ramnik. Sunanda claims Ramnik is under his daughter's influence.

Wheelchair through the airport!

I arrived Wednesday evening after a terrific direct flight from Newark, NJ (love the near-flat beds in business class and the shelves in front of each seat, which was perfect for propping up my foot) and was whisked through the Mumbai airport by a hard-working wheelchair attendant. The flight attendants on the airplane convinced me to travel by wheelchair after they saw me hopping out of the bathroom (at one point in the trip, my foot hurt and I wasn't able to put any weight on it). As one of the flight attendants put it, "It would take you 6 months to walk through the aiport." She wasn't joking. It's long and there are a number of small inclines and declines (which are problematic when your foot isn't flexing properly).

This guy pushed me while also wheeling my 4-wheeled carry-on bag and was huffing and puffing up the slight inclines. I offered to hold on to the carry-on bag myself, but he declined. As we waited for an elevator to descend to immigration, he did put the bag between my knees and that worked out well.

Immigration was a breeze when you're in the handicap line! My attendant took my passport and entry form to the immigration officer and came back immediately to whisk me to baggage claim. No questions asked! It was also comfortable sitting in a wheelchair at baggage claim since it seemed to take forever for the bags to appear.

After my bag finally arrived, we headed to customs (by this point, I'm holding the handle of my 4-wheeled suitcase is in front of me as he continued to push...what a sight it must've been!). I was greatful I didn't have to lift my bags onto the x-ray machine since my hard-working attendant took care of that as well. Just before we left customs, he asked for the customs form and his tip. I gladly gave him a nominal tip and fretted that I should've given him more.

He continued pushing me to the car waiting for me in the parking garage. The car driver was carting the luggage so the load did lighten up a little. Luckily, it wasn't a hot evening and once he deposited me into the Mercedes Benz, he was off.

I'm glad I listened to the flight attendants. If not, I probably would've still been limping through the airport by the time I arrived at the hotel! Thanks Continental!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Nearly 6 months since last entry?

Can't believe it's been that long since I last traveled internationally. Don't get me wrong, there has been plenty of travel in these past 6 months, but they've all been to domestic locations - Midland, Michigan; Philadelphia; Honolulu; Vermont; and 2 weeks of touring farm country in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

I long to not understand a word people around me are saying. Or to order from a non-English menu. And soak up the sights, sounds and smells of unfamiliar places.

If all goes well, I'll be back on the road on Tuesday. I was supposed to depart on Friday but a nasty cat bite turned into an infection, which has kept me in bed for nearly a week. The swelling is slowly going down. I can put more weight on my foot and walk very slowly. I'm doing everything in my power to get better quickly so that being on an airplane for 18 hours will be possible with some comfort.

If all goes well, Tuesday will have me on the plane to Mumbai. It's been 2 years since I was last there. Two years since the terrorist attack. I look forward to seeing how the city has recovered and being able to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of a familiar place.

Let's keep our fingers crossed that all goes well!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

3:1 Ratio?!

One of my colleagues and I were discussing something I've noticed here lately. Why are so many beautiful Brazilian women married to overweight, unattractive guys? I met the wife of a former colleague this morning....he's pudgy and she's thin and very attractive. And last week this guy said he expects his wife to remain slender! Over the weekend we visited the house of my girlfriend's aunt and uncle. The cousins with their spouses were also there. Once again, icky, fat, lazy guys and lovely women.

So I asked my female 23-year old colleague about this during our after-lunch walk. She said that it's really hard for women to find a guy in Sao Paulo, and possibly the entire country. The women to men ratio is 3:1. Yikes! And of course if you narrow your criteria to exclude guys who couldn't provide for a family, are bad men, etc. the ratio is even worse! She said it's gotten so bad that the women are really aggressive at the clubs and will go after the guys. Therefore she has an American boyfriend.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Weekend in the country

I'm grateful to have friends in a number of cities around the world so that I'm able to experience life as a local in the 3 weeks I am able to spend in a location. I have a girlfriend who used to work for our company that invited me to spend the weekend at her family's farm outside of Sao Paulo. She promised me a weekend of walking, relaxing and fresh air. How could I say "nao"?

We left at 8:30 pm Friday night and drove north for 3 hours. Silvia has 2 kids (6 and 2) and a nanny that came along with us. Having help is pretty typical in Sao Paulo. Silvia has a cook/cleaner and nanny during the week and often one of them helps out on the weekends. For this trip, the best part was having the nanny in the back seat taking care of the kids, who quickly fell asleep (Silvia's strategy is to leave at night so they would fall asleep), so that we can chat.

Her family's farm is north of Sao Paulo near a town called Mocaca. The farm was originally a coffee plantation, but is now sugar cane and vegetables. The advent of mechanical harvesting machines has relegated coffee to flat lands. Much of the area we traveled is hilly. Her farm is in a small valley, but has too many hills for coffee. Most of the family isn't interested in maintaining the farm so most of the land is rented to other farmers. There are 5 houses on the farm. One that her grandmother still owns, which is where we stayed. Caretakers and domestic help live in the rest. There are some cows, horses, chickens, quail and one pig on the farm. There's no internet access and no cell phone service. The farm road is unpaved and red dirt gets everywhere.

The family home has 5 bedrooms, a wonderful porch, a pool, and a private church next door where Silvia started the tradition of family members getting married. The church was built in 1909, although Silvia didn't think the house was that old. The ceilings in the house were extremely tall and the home was filled with antiques - furniture from France, flow blue pottery, china cabinets full of stemware. The windows have blue shutters and no screens. Lucky for me, the mosquitos were not in full force. Although the housecleaner who made my bed every morning closed my shutters in the afternoon I opened them up at bedtime. It was wonderful to sleep with windows open after being in a hotel for two weeks!

We woke up after 8 on Saturday. Breakfast was homemade bread toasted in a cast iron pan with homemade jabuticaba jam , a honeydew melon, and coffee com leite (warm milk). Silvia and I went into Mococa to buy some groceries for dinner and I got to experience a real meat counter in Brazil. The display case was no different than what one would see in the U.S. But inside the case, huge cuts of meat hung on hooks. You ordered the type of meat you want (such as sirloin, rump) and how you want it cut - thin, thick, ground, pounded, cubed, etc. It was fascinating watching the butchers skillfully trim the beef and cut the meat. With 4 butchers and a long line of people buying quantities of meat for the Sunday barbeque, it took us awhile to get served. But since Silvia doesn't cook and isn't used to buying meat like this, it was good for us to observe what others were doing. We ended up with ground meat from the same cut of meat that I saw another guy request to be ground. Why not! 
After our supermarket experience, we drove into the heart of Mococa to see the old town square, church and houses. The church was lovely from the outside, but nothing spectacular, but beautiful on the inside. As Silvia explained, people in Brazil are very supportive of their churches and take good care of them.

We spent the rest of the day playing with the kids and farm dogs, reading on the porch and took an afternoon walk for 1.5 hours while the kids listened to music at the neighbor's house (the cleaning lady) with the nanny. The neighbor was having a barbeque and her son had friends over to play the guitar and sing. The cook made us lunch and dinner so meals weren't a hassles (except getting Sofia to eat was sometimes a challenge....why do kids dislike eating so much?!).

Sunday morning Silvia and I took another walk in the morning to check out the lake. This is one of the roads we walked and the vista we enjoyed. It was a truly relaxing and special weekend. I really appreciate Silvia showing me a slice of her life.

First Futbol Game ..... GOL!

Quick impressions..... wow .....50,461 people in a stadium that holds 55,000 in a residential neighborhood with streets going in every direction imaginable. The poor people who live nearby has to put up with boisterous people partying pre-game (no alcohol inside the stadium so people sell beer from coolers or alcohol from the back of pick-up trucks pre and post game), plus the street vendors selling food and souvenirs and people parking on any street remotely close by.  And this was a 9:30 pm game! We were lucky in that one person in our party of 10 had a membership and was able to park in a special space at the stadium and our driver dropped us off (the joys of having a driver!).

It's a sea of people making their way to their assigned stadium gate. Many drink outside until close to game time. We quickly drank our beers (Skol - pretty bad beer) and made our way inside.
Although our tickets have seat numbers printed, there is no assigned seating ... that is, the seating doesn't matter. It's first-come, first-serve. We were sitting in the blue section, which goes from the goal to the center of the field. We arrived about 45 minutes early to secure decent seats and ended up near the goal. The game was the Sao Paulo Libertadores against Colombia's Once Caldas. It was a critical game for Sao Paulo because they had to win to stay in the race for the World Cup.

Because the opposing team was from another country, 99.99% of the attendees were rooting for Sao Paulo. This was the section assigned for Colombia and it was pretty deserted.

In contrast, here's the section where the fanatics sat (one level above us and to the left). This section cheered throughout (lots of singing with a drum beating in the background, stomping, and jumping up and down) and it looked like many were standing the entire time. After Sao Paulo scored, there were a few sparkler-type fireworks going off in the section. Quite a fun section.
The game was rather boring since both teams played terribly. I don't know much about soccer, but I know enough about how it's important to set up shots in hockey and to pass to open basketball players to know that the home team did not do either well. But somehow they did score a GOL! in the first half. The game ended 1-0.

We made our way to the streets with the hoards of people and were able to get out pretty easily and were home by 12:15 am. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to experience futbol in Sao Paulo!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lunch, then a walk

I love that almost everyone in offices in São Paulo walks around the block after lunch. The narrow sidewalks can get a bit congested, but how wonderful that they get out and move. Walking around the block takes 15 minutes with little congestion. I look forward to the walks almost as much as lunch! 

The canteen is a good one. They're pretty health conscious at work so there's always a brown rice option for rice and beans. Grilled chicken, steak and salad bar are always available in case the entree choices aren't appealing. For dessert, there's always fruit (e.g., watermelon, persimmon, orange, pineapple) in addition to something sweet. And best of all, the calories are posted for all items!

Although I do farily during lunch, eating a pão de queijo (cheese ball) for breakfast isn't really healthy. But how can I resist? They're soooooo good! At least I only eat one!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dental hygiene in Brazil

It's been 6 years since I've last been to our offices in Sao Paulo and to my surprise I see this on the wall in the bathroom. Yes, it's a dental floss dispenser! You push down on the lever on the left and out pops a thread of floss. Many Brazilians brush their teeth after lunch, as evidenced by the number of cubby holes containing small purses with toothbrush and toothpaste. So why wouldn't they carry their own floss? Perhaps the floss vendor made an offer the company just couldn't refuse?! 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Swiss Civility

A couple of friends who live in Switzerland described the Swiss as being very civilized. Their ski resort areas are very civilized (mountain top restaurants to serve the skiers and hikers are common), their train system is civilized (always on time, orderly, with routes that make sense), stores are not open on Sundays so that everyone can enjoy being with their family outdoors, assigned seats at movie theaters are reserved in get the picture. A Canadian friend thinks the Swiss are like his countrymen - boring.

I enjoy the beauty of the country and the civility of its people. It's one of my favorite places to visit.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Virgin Rail Trip

I can’t say enough good things about Hotel Krebs. Not only was the price right, staff very friendly, and the rooms well appointed, but the breakfast was delicious and they even had champagne to make mimosas! Too bad we had to head out early to catch the 8 am train to the Jungfrau region and beat the crowds. These are the 3 mountains we will get to see.

First of all, this is a VERY expensive day trip. We had no idea what the cost would be. Imagine our surprise to see 354 CHF first pop up on the screen at the train station…..oh, that’s for 2 people and includes a discount for tourists. Still, at 177 CHF that’s more than thewell appointed hotel room in Interlaken! But this is something we want to do, so we get our tickets and start on our journey. Most of the time is spent on trains in awe of the gorgeous scenery.

The first leg of the trip was a train ride up to Grindelwald (left yellow route) at about 3300 feet (Interlaken is at 1860 feet). It’s about an hour to get to Grindelwald with a few stops in between. One stop is to uncouple the train going to Lauterbrunnen, which we’ll take on the way down the mountain. The other stops are “upon request.” A lot of the snow has melted at the lower elevation. The view is lovely and we can see the mountains in the distance under a cloudless blue sky.

At Grindelwald we transfer to another train to Kleine Scheidegg (6762 feet). There are a lot of ski areas nearby as evidenced by the number of lifts we see. At this point, there’s definitely a lot of snow around us. We also see 3 hot air balloons floating way up in the sky. They look so tiny and don’t even appear to be moving.

The train to Kleine Scheidegg is smaller than the other trains and takes about 20 minutes. It’s also full of skiers and tourists. Skiers are usually wearing their ski boots and carrying their poles and skis. There are also kids and adults with wooden sleds. There are even smaller trains with wooden seats and an open cart in front for the skis.

Kleine Scheidegg is full of skiers. There are trails everywhere around us and lifts in many different directions. There’s a beginner’s hill here so a line of kids were ready to make their way downhill. The amount of snow up here is incredible. There’s a good 3 feet on the rooftops and even more underfoot. The air is refreshingly cold and clean. There are hills and mountains all around us and vast open areas for skiing.

We transfer to yet another train to go up to the Top of Europe through the mountains. Almost the entire trip is in tunnels, but we stop 3 times. Once at Eigergletscher (7612 feet) where there’s a restaurant and the start of a ski run. Eigerwand (9400 feet) has a “view point” for a photo opportunity and Eismeer (10368 feet) where we get yet another photo opportunity. I think they make these 5 minute stops to also help us get a little acclimated to the elevation. The trip takes about 52 minutes. The train is comfortable with a flat screen showing information about the history of the tunnel, the first people to climb the face of Eiger (Ogre) mountain and subsequent climbers, and what to expect at the top. In the tunnel the temperature was 2 or 3 C.
When we finally arrive at the top and it’s -15.8 C with 45+ kph wind speeds. Thank goodness the place is enclosed. But there are 2 opportunities to venture out in the cold and take photos (we did and froze our fingers). We were both a little dizzy from the altitude and tired easily when climbing stairs. We saw everything we could – the ice palace (walls, ceiling and floor of ice), the Sphinx where the observatory is (and the highest point at 11,782 feet), the outdoor plateau (brrrr!). We were limited in what we can do because of the cold and snow. Apparently in June they allow skiing and Husky dog sledding. Yes, there’s still snow up in that elevation in June! W took lots and lots of pictures in an hour then grabbed lunch and took the 12:30 pm train back down to Kleine Scheidegg.

Kleine Scheidegg was now full of skiers but it never felt crowded. I think the vast openness of the area disperses the people well. As we descended toward Lauterbrummen skiers were all around. There were lots of kids being pulled on sleds or riding face first among cross country skiers. I loved slowly pullin into Wengen (at 4180 ft) and seeing skiers ski through town between the hotels. Some could even get off the run and walk right to their hotels!

The trains back to Interlaken were full of skiers leaving for the day. Most were day trippers with no bags, just equipment. We arrived in Interlaken at 3 pm. Yes, we spent 6 hours on trains and about 2 hours walking around at the Top of Europe. Was it worth the 177 CHF? Yup! I’ve now been to the highest altitude train stop in Europe and froze my fingers in -16 C weather while taking in the beauty of some incredibly tall mountains. Plus watching all the skiers around me made me think that it would be fun to give it a try. So David….you may have to get me out there!

More photos are on Facebook -

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Interlaken....not to be confused with Interlochen, MI

I'm spending the weekend (Saturday & Sunday) in Interlaken, Switzerland. It was a good 2+ hours on the train from Thawil....after changing trains in Zurich, Olten and Bern (actually I didn't have to get off the train in Olten because my train continued to Bern....luckily I had enough time to get back on after figuring this out).

I love the Swiss trains. They run on time (like clockwork!) and it's easy to navigate their train stations and figure out where to stand to catch the second class cars. It's not cheap, but then everything in Switzerland is expensive. My roundtrip train ticket cost 130 Swiss Francs, which is about $123. A roundtrip ticket from Thawil (about a 10 minute express train) to Zurich is 12 Francs. But the system is so well coordinated that the connecting trains arrived after a 5 minute (or so) wait.

Interlaken is in the southern part of Switzerland between 2 lakes that are a beautiful crystal clear green-blue in color thanks to the mineral content of the water. We're surrounded by tall, snow-covered mountains. It's known as the Jungfrau region. We're here to go up to the "Top of Europe" at 3454 meters and see the 3 surrounding mountains - Eiger (Ogre at 3970 meters), Moench (Monk at 4107) and Jungfrau (Virgin at 4158). The Moench is between Eiger and Jungfrau so that he can protect the virgin. We'll take a 2-hour train ride up into the mountains and stop at Eigergletsher (2320 meters) before taking a cable car up to the Top of Europe. It'll be cold, but should be spectacular....if the skies are clear.

Today we walked around a small portion of Brienzersee lake to take in the sights. There are lots of walking trails in this city and people were out getting fresh air and sunshine. The mountains are absolutely beautiful covered in snow. I've played tourist in Luzern in the fall when the caps were covered in snow, but this was breathtaking.

Interlaken appears to get a lot of Asian tourists. The shopkeeper across the street said they get a lot of Chinese, Korean and some Taiwanese tourists. There are a LOT of watch stores here, obviously catering to the Asian tourists. My friend Ken says that people stay in Interlaken and ski during the day nearby because it's cheaper than staying in a resort town (he just skied in Zermatt for a week and spent $3,000 for a hotel, food, and ski passes). We're staying at Hotel Krebs for 150 CHF, which is incredibly reasonable for Switzerland. Breakfast, internet access, and a tourist card (ride the bus and train between the 2 Interlaken stations for free) are included. A perfectly situated hotel near the train station. I highly recommend it to anyone staying here.

Overall, Switzerland is a pricey place to stay and especially to eat. All week we've been spending about 50 CHF to 100 CHF for 2 people to eat dinner. The inexpensive end is for 2 soups and salads and wine (wine is usually less than 10 CHF) or a pizza and pasta. Tonight we went to an Indian restaurant (typically inexpensive in the US) and spent 81 CHF for 2 vegetable dishes, 1 chicken dish, 2 orders of bread and 3 glasses of beer (at 3.50 CHF that's inexpensive). Might be better to drink more and eat less. I'm so glad I'm on an expense account!

I have more photos of Interlaken and from the train ride at

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Cold, Snowy Switzerland

It's been frigidly cold since we arrived on Sunday. -3 Celcius upon arrival and every morning it's below 0 - between -1 and -5. As I write it's snowing. Small flakes gradually coming down with bursts of more rapid movement in between.

We've been working long hours and I've had no time to blog. But a quick post....

We love the coffee breaks during the day and coffee time after lunch. If you eat with a European in the canteen (cafeteria), at the end of the meal he/she will ask if you'd like to have a coffee. We bus our trays and walk over to the "cafe" side of the canteen, get a coffee and sit around small round tables. Because the Lindt chocolate factory is not far, eating Lindt truffle balls with your coffee is common (dark chocolate is a favorite). It's a wonderful way to relax, chat and digest before returning to the office.

I'm heading to Interlaken on Saturday to meet-up with a friend. It's a 2 hour train ride into the Alps. I'm looking forward to seeing another side of Switzerland. Too bad I don't ski!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Busy year for blogging

This is beginning to look to be a heavy travel year for me. I've already spent a week in Brazil in February and am getting ready to spend 2 weeks in Horgen, Switzerland (about 30 minutes outside of Zurich). I leave on Saturday, March 6 and look forward to seeing friends, the food and the wine. Of course the surroundings are incredibly beautiful (mountains, Lake Zurich), especially when covered in snow. I like to stay in a small town called Thawil in a modern hotel across from the train station, which makes popping into Zurich easy.

April I'll be back in Brazil for 3 weeks. This time in Sao Paulo. I hope good friends will release me from the confines of the hotel so that I can enjoy seeing more of the city on the weekends. And take me shopping. The earrings I bought (see 2 posts below) could use a necklace to go with it. ;-)

It's likely that I'll be back in Mumbai later in the year and possibly Shanghai as well. Although experiencing a location for the first time is always fun, repeat visits allow me to delve deeper and better understand the culture. Plus developing cities such as Mumbai and Shanghai never stay the same. They're both growing like wildflowers and seeing the changes firsthand will allow me to make my own assessment whether or not the changes are for the better.

Stay tuned!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ribeirao Preto Airport

There was a downpour when we left Rib Preto on Thursday afternoon (typical summer afternoon downpour) and the power did go out! Luckily the generators kicked on so they could still check us in. It was only out for 10 minutes or so. And they did bus us to the plane because of a little rain. 

This photo is of the air conditioning system at the Ribeirao Preto airport. There was a whole row of them in various sizes. None were on when we were there, although the temperature was in the low 80's and humid. I wonder how they manage all of the remote controls for these units?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ribeirao Preto Hotel

OK, the photos of this hotel's pools may make this look like a terrific place to stay, but we were discussing its drawbacks last night and had a good laugh.

1. Two of my colleagues have been "spit" on with ice from the air conditioner! One actually called the repairman and found a solid block of ice within the components! Both also complained that the A/C wasn't keeping their room cool. I was lucky because my A/C worked great and could get the room down to 70.

2. Two of them also report that the TV or cable box isn't working. One could only get 2 stations (one showed Brazilian Big Brother in the evenings, which she wasn't enjoying). The other was stuck with one (he called the repair guy a number of times and is now on a first-name basis with him!). Although I didn't watch TV, mine seemed to be operational and offered a number of stations.

3. The beds are really firm. One wasn't able to get a good night's sleep since he arrived 3 weeks ago. I' ve actually slept on worse (in one hotel I slept on the comforter to add some cushion to the bed). This same guy also said the pillows were terrible because they were so high. He failed to notice that there was a Pillow Menu on the desk with 6 differerent types of pillows available (from "Sleep and Health" to "Firm Support" to "Goose Feathers" and " Baby") until we brought it up last night.

4. The desk chair is all wood with no cushion. It's probably the most uncomfortable chair I've ever sat in (no indentation for your butt). I don't think they really want us to work at night because the ethernet cable isn't long enough to work on the bed.

5. Every day Housekeeping would remove the comforter from the bed, fold it up nicely and store it on a shelf in the closet. Every night two of us would put the comforter back on the bed. I prefer having the weight of a comforter on me when I sleep. Housekeeping must think Americans are nuts because we can't sleep with just a sheet and a cotton blanket.

The positives were 2 heated pools and apparently one had a bartender that made the best caipirinhas and it was easy to get onto the highway to drive to work (which then meant we needed a driver to go out and eat each night). That's about it. We had a hysterical discussion about the hotel last night while driving home from dinner. Had everyone's complaints surfaced earlier, we probably would've changed hotels. I give my colleagues bonus points for making it through 3 weeks in this hotel. We saw our option, located across the street from last night's restaurant, and regretted not changing hotels earlier. Oh well, at least we could laugh about it!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

6 x 48?

After dinner at a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse) and in a meat stupor, we took a walk at the shopping mall where the Walmart is the anchor store (the other anchor is a furniture store). It's a typical mall filled with lots of clothing, shoes, electronics and jewelry stores, food court (with McDonalds) and a cinema. What was unusual was seeing a Toyota dealership. And beer cafes in the middle of the walkways, much like one would see a Starbucks kiosk. There were quite a few people sitting at little plastic tables and chairs and enjoying their beer with carrot sticks? Yes, carrot sticks served in a glass with ice. Maybe they know something that we don't?

The jewelry lover that I am, I had to peruse the stores and window shop. Large dangly silver earrings are easy to find. The most beautiful pair was in a jewelry store with no prices (red flag....expensive items!), but some items had tags with "6 x 48" or "6 x 52". I asked my colleague why the pricing was tagged such that the shopper had to perform their own math in their head and he had no idea. I couldn't resist trying on the earrings and finding out their cost. Second red flag.....I had to sit in a chair and try on the earrings. They really were beautiful and cost 1,100 Brazilian Reais (a bit more than $600) - ouch! Considering they were white gold with some small diamonds, I guess it's a good price but I passed. We asked about the reason for the pricing in the window and immediately remembered that in Latin American countries breaking up payments on a credit card was common. For example, in Colombia you're always asked how many installments you would like to break the charges into when you pay by credit card. Even if the bill was $5 at a grocery store, they would still ask, "Cuantos pagos?" I guess I could've paid for the earrings in installments, but I can't justify paying $600 for a pair or earrings that I would  be afraid of losing.  But I could always change my mind before now and when we leave on Thursday......they were quite unique.

P.S. OK...I ended up buying them on the last day we were in town.  Too gorgeous to pass up.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Rain = no electricity and internet?

So my colleagues who have been here for the past 2 weeks tell me. That would explain why the airport didn't have any power when I arrived. And apparently busing to the terminal was because it was raining a little (still think it would've been faster to give us umbrellas).

I'm typing as a storm is passing nearby and hoping the internet doesn't go down anytime soon. We had 2 one-to-two minute power outages at work during lunch. "It's normal," they say. But it was a beautiful sunny day!

Beef and beer apparently has been the mantra for the past 2 weeks for my colleagues as well. Ribeirao Preto is known for their draft beer - called chopp. The claro (clear) chopp seems to be popular. But chopp escura (dark beer), creme chopp (with a large head), and black and tan were also on the menu (in Portuguese of course). And the beef? Well, the Brazilians like their beef.  We'll hit the churrascaria later in the week.

The landscape is beautiful. Rolling hills, green sugar cane and corn fields in red dirt. The city of Ribeirao Preto has lots of high rises and looks big from a distance, but seems to be manageable once you're in it. I hear its population is 500,000. Big enough for a large Walmart and Carrefour anchoring two separate shopping centers. We'll go shopping later in the week as well....only three more days to go!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Welcome to Ribeirao Preto!

After about 14 hours of traveling, I've made it to Ribeirao Preto, located about 3 hours from Sao Paulo and about a 40 minute flight.

I'm grateful that I had a 3.5 hour layover in Sao Paulo because clearing immigration, customs, walking to the terminal next door, and after 2 check-in desks said I couldn't check in with them, I had about 1 hour left to kill and it was lunchtime.

I got into eating Acai bowls in Hawaii and found a fast food burger place that sold them! Acai are Brazilian berries so I had to try a bowl where they originated (although a burger and fries sounded awfully good!). The Acai bowl wasn't icy as they make them in Honolulu, but still sweet and refreshing with banana slices (no granola). I ordered a fruit cup, which made it a little more exciting than Acai and bananas. It was quite filling and I hope to find more opportunities to eat them since no one in Houston seems to sell them.

I was warned that the flight to Ribeirao Preto was on a small commuter jet and the RAO airport was tiny. I didn't expect that they would bus us from the jet to the terminal when it would've been faster to walk. Instead, the bus made a big circle around the planes and deposited us on the far end of the building. I had to take a picture to show just how close the plane and terminal were. The bus had to return to pick up remaining passengers.

The power appeared to have been out at the airport. The lights inside were off yet they were still letting the planes depart. There're improving the terminal so baggage claim didn't require any electricity - guy in tractor delivers the bags and deposits them one-by-one on a platform. Wouldn't you know it, my bag was one of the last to be delivered.

The hotel van was waiting for me. The guy doesn't speak any English, but listens to pop music in English. The hotel is about a 10 minute drive, shorter if we weren't behind a horse-drawn cart hauling a mattress.

The hotel is a resort with 3 swimming pools (first one is outside of my room, the second one is heated and a fat guy is hiding in the water under the swim-up bar, didn't get to the third one yet). Unfortunately, it's a little rainy today and I doubt we'll be finished with work early enough to enjoy the surroundings. But everything is very green and the soil is red. It's really quite lovely here and I hope to add more photos to the blog later in the week.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Next stop Ribeirao Preto, Brazil

I'm always amazed that this blog gets repeat visitors checking it out and feel badly that my posting level has decreased.

Since my trip to Colombia, I spent a week in London over Thanksgiving with my boyfriend and returned to Hawaii for the holidays.

2010 looks to be a good year for least the first half of the year! I'm traveling to Ribeirao Preto, Brazil for the first time on Feb 6. It's a city about a 3-hour drive from Sao Paulo. It's been 6 years since I was last in Brazil and I look forward to eating cheese balls and fresh fruit for breakfast!

We're staying at a resort (yes, it really is for work!), but unfortunately I won't be there long enough to enjoy the weather or facility. But expect to see photos and whatever observations I have time to make so come back in February!

Playing tourist

NOTE: This is a post I drafted while in Colombia but didn't publish until 3 months later!

On Saturday I had the opportunity to play tourist in Bogota. My bodyguard and 3 policemen accompanied us (one drove the car, the other 2 were on a motorcycle to stop traffic). Felipe and I hit Museo de Oro (Gold Museum) first. There we learned everything from how gold from pre-historic times to its use as ornaments of shamans and tribal leaders. It was interesting to see how gold went from dull and simple shapes to more elaborate forms as people realized it could be flattened into thin sheets, poured into wax forms, and manipulated with tools. I love that the museums here allow you to photograph the works as long as the flash is turned off (versus Buenos Aires when I got scolded for photographing myself in front of a pile of artist-arranged candy). Of course, I took advantage of that!

After the gold museum, we hit the Botero museum located in the old part of town called La Candelaria. This was taken outisde of the Botero museum. I wish we could walk around the area. It's quite charming, even with rain clouds looming.

Botero is a famous artist from Colombia, known for his depictions of fat people and equally fat still lifes. The museum also has a scattering of paintings by European artists such as Picasso, Miro, Monet. Best of all, it's free!

Next to the Botero museum is the coin museum and another art museum primarily of Colombian artists (although there was one Texan in it!). The highlight was a vault containing 3 large decorative objects from churches. They were from the 1700's and the amount of gold, emeralds, pearls, amethysts, topaz, etc. in them were amazing. I wanted to take a photo, but they won't allow it. We had fun trying to find the diamonds after reading the placard. All were very tastefully done. The emeralds were of an incredibly dark green. Some of the stones were huge. No wonder they're kept in a vault!

A friend told us to stop at a French bakery located at the top of one of the streets in La Candelaria. Amazingly enough, we drove by it so we had to stop for the almond pastry and coffee. It was delicious and hit the spot.

The next stop was a jewelry store to buy emeralds. My bodyguard took us to a shop that looked like any other souvenir store, but in the back behind a locked door was the jewelry store. I was looking to buy a ring to go with the necklace and earrings I purchased on my last trip and my mother wanted a pair of earrings. Colombia is one of the largest emerald producing countries in the world, along with Brazil and South Africa. The choices were wide. I easily found the perfect ring. They were kind enough to resize it in 1.5 hours.

While we were waiting for the ring, we visited the Simon Bolivar Home, a short walk from the store. He spent 10 years in the house, although he wasn't there often, from 1821-1830. It's a small home full of period furnishings. The gardens are lovely. There's a large outdoor bath and small pool, which we were wondering how often either were used since Bogota is rather chilly. It was a good way to kill time and wander the grounds.
After we picked up the ring, we grabbed a bite to eat at Sopa de la Madre y Postres de la Abuela. I had a Sancocho - a soup (in this case with ribs) with a potato, yucca, plaintains, and corn and accompanied with rice and avocado. Adding some aji gave the soup a kick. I was stuffed and called it a day...until it was time to go out for the evening!