|When you sit at home and dream of Brazil you think of beaches, palms trees, football, the Amazon, samba but not really of Sao Paulo.
Sao Paulo is big. Sao Paulo is really big. From our vantage point at the top of one of the city's tallest buildings, the skyscrapers stretch out in all directions as far as the eye can see. Planning laws are not really a big thing in Sao Paulo and new tower-blocks are being built all over the place. The biggest city in South America is only getting bigger.
Not helping the trend are our friends Emil and Natasha and their four-month old baby Orson - the highlight of our trip to SP!
Leaving Emil and Natasha's lovely apartment in the chic suburb of Jardim (also full of tower-blocks but with its fair share of Guccis, Pradas and numerous other shops that I have never been into) we ventured onto the Metro and into the city centre. After climbing the stairs from Se station and being confronted with the cathedral and lots and lots of people (most of them trying to point me in the direction of the gold shops) I found that I was in... Birmingham! Sao Paulo is obviously a bit bigger and with generally better weather but it is Birmingham's big tropical brother. You enter it with low expectations. If you are driving, you get lost at every turn. It looks completely uninviting. When you actually look around there are some really nice old buildings but they are few and far between and interspersed with a number of ugly 1960s brethern. Once you give the place a chance it has actually got a lot going for it - may be it is not like Birmingham after all! One of these old buildings is the huge Mercado Municipal which, as well as having an amazing display of fresh fruits (most of which don't even have names in English), also claims to sell the best Bolinia do Bachalau (or Codfish Balls) in all of Brazil - washed down with yet another Caipiriniha they were certainly pretty good. Wandering through the market I also discovered that Lula (the president of Brazil) shares his name with... squid!
At the weekend we escaped the city and headed out to Emil's family farm (Fazenda des Palmiras), an old coffee farm near the town of Sao Jose do Barreiro on the border between Sao Paulo and Rio states. When I last visited the farm 13 years ago it was an all action dairy farm with a small house near the end of the milking station. Well things have changed... The original Fazenda has been renovated into the most beautiful house with stunning gardens and were it not for the occasional ¨moo¨ in the morning and some very fresh milk you would have no idea that you were on a dairy farm! The house is also decorated with original pictures by Emil's parents - Clare and Claudio. Claudio's work has required some of our photos to be x-rated and off limits to anybody under 18 or over 60!
In addition to thanking Emil, Natasha, Clare, Claudio and Orson for a wonderful stay I would also like to pass on my special thanks to Claudio for his personal Caipirinha making lessons. Now that I am profficent in all aspects of flip-flop wearing (although I am yet to master running) I am almost as Brazilian as Pele!
Ps. I didn't get time to check but I would assume that Sao Paulo has rather fewer curry houses and terrorist suspects than its British counterpart.