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.