South America travel blog



Circumcision of Jesus

Panoramic View

Carnival puppet

Puppet Museum



Mark Zero

Golden Chapel



Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We had a full schedule today as we combined the towns of Olinda and near-by Recife, (pronounced Hay-see’-fay; the R has an H sound) guided by Leonardo who spoke beautiful English. We are not losing any of our Road Scholar travelers yet, but we gained six, plus our new lecturer, Rodrigo Maia, who all joined us today on our excursion.

When we got to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Olinda, which means “Oh beautiful”, we moved into three smaller vans to negotiate the narrow and hilly cobblestone roads that took us to our first destination, Convent Sao Francisco, the first Franciscan convent in Brazil, built in 1752

The convent was build in the baroque style and Dutch influence was evidenced with walls covered with Delph tiles throughout and very heavily carved wooden chests and panels. It sits high above the ocean giving a panoramic view of Recife and its natural barrier reefs, which give Recife its name.

From our vantage point we could see Igreja da Misericordia, the oldest Carmelite church in Brazil.

Our next stop was the cathedral, Igreja da Sé, that had a rather plain interior. One notable piece was the panel showing the only known depiction of the circumcision of Jesus.

Then it was down a very steep hill, with everyone holding our breaths that the van’s brakes would hold, to visit a puppet museum. I imagine puppets as small doll-like models, but these were quite a surprise. I keep being reminded that Carnival is approaching, and these puppets were very large that people will get into and dance around in at Carnival.

Carnival takes different approaches depending on where you go. We heard about signing up to get into a Carnival group in Trinidad, the excitement of Carnival in Fortaleza, but Recife has the most multi-cultural Carnival that attracts thousands of people with no restriction on belonging to any group; so supposedly is the most fun. I wish I could be there.

We next went to another puppet museum, Museudo Mamulengo Espaço Tiridá, with a collection of about 1000 pieces divided into puppets, musical instruments and puppets in stage settings engaged in everyday activities.

They showed great creativity by the artists.

When we entered the Skillus Restaurant for our buffet lunch, we each got a ticket from the doorman. We had a satisfying lunch with an unusually large sushi bar, plus many items to please anyone’s dietary allowances. Anything not included in our prepaid lunch, i.e., alcoholic beverages, the waiter noted on the card. As we left, we had to get our card stamped by the cashier and turned in to the doorman. No one got away without paying!

We passed a large area of teaching hospitals, regular hospitals and laboratories. There is also preparation for the World Cup Soccer in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Boa Viagen is the most exclusive street in Recife with high rises along the seashore. Statues are more numerous, because new buildings (I’m assuming businesses) built after 1992 have to include a statue by a local artist. We stopped at the beach warning of shark attacks;

some of our group actually dipped their feet in. When a port was destroyed some years ago, so was a huge estuary where small fish lived that was food for the sharks. When the fish were destroyed the sharks looked for other food. Unfortunately, surfers were a good target, along with other swimmers: 54 attacks with 18 deaths. Now, surfing is forbidden and shark attacks have declined.

Close to the beach, a disc designates Mark Zero from which all distances are marked.

Looking across the boulevard the streets splay out like the fingers on your hand; beautifully ornate buildings that are well preserved.

We walked to Sinagoga Kahal Zur Israel, the first formal synagogue in all Americas, now a museum, where some of our group visited while others walked around admiring the colorfully painted Dutch-inspired neighborhood.

On the bus we passed the Governor’s Palace, other government buildings, the lovely Teatro Santa Isabel, and a square with a huge baobab tree before arriving at the Golden Chapel, and “golden” it was. I don’t think any surface was spared gold gilt.

The baroque vision in gold was built at the end of the 17th century to show the world that this colonial outpost could rival the architectural splendors of Europe. Next door, the Franciscan church of Santo Antonio is the oldest in Recife, and is spared much of the gilt. Thanks to the huge wealth of the sugar cane plantations during the 16th and 17th centuries, no cost was spared in its buildings and churches, which number no fewer than 62 historic churches. And we saw only three? How did that happen?!

Our last stop was to prison.

No, we were not arrested! The residents of the city did not especially like a maximum security prison situated in the middle of their city so they had it shut down. What do you do with this big eyesore? It really wasn’t such an eyesore when it was converted into a craft center. Merchants sell their wares from each of the cells, and the merchandise is mostly locally made. There is still one cell from the original where an average of 12 prisoners were kept in a single cell.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Today is a day at sea. Rodrigo Maia gave lectures in the morning and afternoon on Colonization of Brazil. He is very articulate, speaks perfect English and is very well prepared. He gives us “food for thought” as discussion topics and ends with music from Brazil that he combines with images reflected in the music. Even though we don’t understand the words, the pictures speak for themselves. I’m looking forward to the rest of his lectures.

We began another cruise segment yesterday, so that means another Captain’s Reception before the formal dinner tonight.

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