Spirit Airlines Review

Flying somewhere nowadays can require some financial planning. Airfare can be expensive for the days and times that you are  looking for. I’ve spent weeks looking for a good deal on airfare from Washington, DC to Chicago, Il and would always come across lower $300 tickets. Every time I looked online I thought to myself “I could find something better than this!” Until I did find something better – Spirit Airlines offered airfare round trip for $150. Amazing price – I didn’t even think about the catch.

Here’s the catch:

Flying with Spirit, you are responsible for paying for your luggage. So yeah, no free carry on. However, they do allow you to bring one free personal item.

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The check in process is paid if you do it at the airport. Free if you do it online.

Seats – they are also paid IF you want to choose where to sit. If you are flying solo and don’t care where to sit like me, no need to purchase this.

The airplane was ok, like any other. The crew was actually really nice and made the announcements comical in the beginning. The crew also gives a “lucky winner” 5.000 miles to use toward another airfare.

The duration of my trip was 4 days, so packing was tricky but possible with that one free personal item (I will review my packing bag on a future post).

Overall, Spirit wasn’t that bad. Great price range if you are planning to pack incredibly light.

 

 

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Santiago de Chile

 

Greetings!

I have been so caught up with school lately and did not have the time to post about this amazing trip. Well, here I am!

Back in August, Nick and I traveled to South America to visit my family in Brazil. We had issues with our flight on our way there, which resulted in the loss of an entire weekend. Due to ‘weather-related issues’ our flight from Washington, DC to Miami was delayed for 3 hours, and once we finally arrived in Miami, our connection flight had already left. Because of the Olympics, we could not get rebooked right away which made wait for three days until the next available flight. Anyway, it was a very ‘bumpy’ start but once we arrived in Brazil we had a good time. We spent a total of 21 days overseas – 16 days in Sao Paulo, Brazil and 5 days in Santiago, Chile.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Santiago is the biggest metropolitan city in Chile. The city is beautiful, very European like. Although it was winter season, Santiago felt warmer than Sao Paulo. The Andean mountains surrounding the city were breath taking. Everywhere you went in the city you could view the snow tops if you looked up. People were very friendly and welcoming. There was a lot of history, poetry, and street art all around the city. As one could expect, the Pisco and wine were amazing there! We rented a small apartment through Airbnb close to Santa Lucia metro station, to make the access easier.

Here is the itinerary we planned for the 5-day trip:

Day 1 – Santiago Highlights

We arrived in Santiago at 2:00am. So we took a taxi to the aprtment, rested, and left later in the afternoon to go on a free [tip based] tour in Santiago. This tour is called Santiago Highlights and it gave us an overview of the city as we walked around to explore. The tour requires booking online, but it is free and easy.
http://tours4tips.com/tour/santiago-highlights/


Day 2- Valparaiso + Grafitti Art + Pablo Neruda

Next morning we left early to go to the bus station and catch the bus to Valparaiso, at the coast of Chile. The bus station is metro accessible, the tickets cost about $15 dollars round trip for the two os us, and the ride took about 2 hours. The main purpose of this trip was to explore the grafitti street art on the hills of Valparaiso and visit La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house. I strongly recommend booking the grafitti tour in advance for the morning time and leaving Neruda’s house for the afternoon. The tour has a lot of walking involved and the view from Neruda’s house is amazing after noon time.

Turbus https://www.turbus.cl/wtbus/indexCompra.jsf
The link for the graffitti tour is http://www.valpostreetart.com/walking-tours.html
The link for La Sebastiana is http://www.fundacionneruda.org/en/la-sebastiana/visitors-information ( Tour can be booked there, no need to be booked before hand)


Day 3- Santiago offbeat + San Cristoban Hill + Pablo Neruda’s house

Then again, we used Tour for Tips to take the Offbeat tour. It was really refreshing and we felt like we were exploring the town as locals. We learned some political history from the Pinochet’s era and visited a historic cemetery. The tour ended at a bar, with a drink called Terremoto. It was delish!

Later that day we headed to San Cristoban Hill where we took the tram up top and enjoyed the beauty of the city skyline. The panoramic view was breath taking! Pablo Neruda’s house is located by the foot of the hill and I strongly recommend combining the two once you go there.
Link to Santiago offbeat tour http://tours4tips.com/tour/santiago-offbeat-walk/
Link to San Cristoban http://santiagotourist.com/cerro-san-cristobal-spectacular-panoramic-view-of-santiago/


Day 4 – Concha y Toro + Souvenir shopping

We felt like visiting a winery was a must on this trip. We decided to visit Concha y Toro, probably the most popular winery in town. To save us from falling on a tourist trap, we did not book a paid tour for this. We planned to take public transportation to the last metro station of the blue line (Plaza de Puente Alto) and from there we took a taxi to Concha y Toro. This way is much more economic – the metro cost C$1600 pesos round trip for each of us and taxi came to C$13000 – 15000 pesos each way.

I am a souvenir junkie. I always reserve some time in my trips for souvenie shopping! Surprisingly, the best souvenir and handmade market was 5 minute walk from our apartment in a place called Santa Lucia Arts and Crafts Market. They have it all, go there! The best souvenir I got was a replica of an Alpaca with real fur. I come to find out that I am allergic to the fur, but I loved it anyway. Brought him home! Also, alcohol is relatively cheap there so we grabbed a couple of bottles of wine and Pisco to bring home.

Souvenir shopping ( By Santa Lucia metro) http://santiagochile.com/santa-lucia-arts-crafts-market/
Concha y Toro Vina http://www.conchaytoro.com/tour-wine-experience/reserva-tu-visita/
GraFREEtti art tour in Santiago (if time allows) http://www.stgostreetart.com/walking-tours.html


Day 5 – Cajon de Maipo 

This trip took the entire day and it was booked through Viator.com. The tour company picks you up at the hotel, as long as you are staying in the metropolitan area, and they provide food and wine. We had a small group of tourists in a van, they were all from different countries – Italy, Spain, Brazil, US, England, and of course, Chile. We spent all day together so we had an opportunity to get to know each other and I got a chance to practice my Italian skills too, which was very nice! During the trip we went to Cajon de Maipo, by the snowy mountains. It was very cold there, appropriate attire is needed!
The trip cost $100 dollars for each person, but it was worth it. I don’t enjoy skiing but if you do, I’d take this day for a skii trip to the mountain. Cajon de Maipo was my next best alternative to snow fun!

Cajon de Maipo trip https://www.viator.com/updateShoppingCartItem.jspa?itemId=581787894

CURIOSITIES AND INTERESTING FACTS:

DOGS – There are a lot of dogs in Santiago. You will see that they seem to be all well fed and most wear clothes. People in Santiago care for their furry friends and help them survive during the cold weather by feeding them and providing them with both shelter and clothing. At parks, you can see little houses placed there for the doggies to sleep. Very cool!

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MONEY CONVERSION – That took awhile. In Chile they use pesos and high numbers. While American dollar and Brazilian real can be comparable and easy to calculate at a rate of $1: R$3; converting dollar or real to pesos was hard to do so in the begining. I had to look up what they converted to and practice my math skills. At the stores, I calculated everything to make sure I was getting a good deal or not spending too much. Always took my time!

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – Santiago has a very functional metro system. The price is the same all around. When choosing your hotel, choose to stay close to one. It will make your trip way more efficient!

FOOD – Santiago is a somewhat expensive city, and that was proven through the price of food. Don’t keep yourself from trying different restaurants, in fact, that helps make the experience richer. However, if you can, try balancing your expenses with food by buying items at the store too. We bought some things at the store to have breakfast at the apartment, and sometimes we would pack food for lunch too so that we could spend more at dinner. That will help you keep have the best for the least when you travel on a budget.

FOOD LABELS – One thing that I found very interesting was that at the grocery stores, most food packages had large labels in front indicating whether the product was Alto en Calorias (high in calories). I asked someone why and they said that Chile is a country with a high diabetic population and that the labeling was required to be displayed in order to help minimize the issue and help the ones who already suffer from it.

UBER – Uber was actually cheap to use, when you converted cost to dollars. It was also very easy to use and we had a good experience with it. On our way out, our flight left at 7am so we had to leave the apartment at a reasonable time to make it to the airport. I was nervous to rely on an Uber at 4 am, but I took a risk and it all worked out fine. I recommend!

METRO MAP

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New York City through the lens of history

Ellis Island, 1900’s – Immigration is at its peak. Through Ellis Island, United States welcomed over 12 million of immigrants through early 1900’s. Those people of diverse backgrounds, helped to build the United States that we see today. They sold all they had back in their homelands to move to the land of opportunity. At their arrival at Ellis Island, people were carefully screened for physical and mental illnesses as they would only be admitted into the main land if they were fit to work. About 2% of the immigrants were excluded from entering the country – if they carried a contagious disease or if the inspectors thought the immigrant would likely become a public charge. The ones diagnosed with having certain diseases, were marked and taken to different wards at the Ellis Island Hospital in hopes to be treated and nursed back to health. Immigrants helped shape the country as a whole and diversify our society. All we have today, we owe much to them.
Decades after the immigration wave died down, Ellis Island was abandoned in 1954. Fast forward to another century, in 2014 the contemporary French artist JR brought the “shadows” back to the abandoned hospital with the installation called “Unframed – Ellis Island.” The installation on the walls and windows of this abandoned hospital is really powerful and worth a visitation. With so much care and thoughtfulness translated into art form, JR surely brought the Ellis Island abandoned hospital back to life.

Click on the circles below to see images in full!

For your reference:
http://www.jr-art.net/projects/unframed-ellis-island
http://www.statueoflibertytickets.com/?gclid=COSKgKbJyc0CFcJahgodmk4Fmg
http://www.libertyellisfoundation.org/ellis-island-history#Arrival

 

New York City through the lens of art

New York City is one of the cities where you can always find something new to do or something new to see. This city is as beautiful as it is chaotic.
New York City tells its own story through the dirt plastered on the walls underground and through much artwork found on the streets above ground. People walking to and from places in the City; make the island of Manhattan one of the busiest in the planet. Unfortunate is that people rarely stopped “to smell the roses.” Maybe they are just used to the scene. More than telling a story through an artwork, street artists are sending a message through each piece, many of which are of social nature.
With so many laws that make street art mostly illegal in New York City, the work put on the streets should be more contemplated. After all, having your artwork on the walls and streets of New York is a true victory. That is, if you don’t get caught.

Click on the pictures below to see them bigger!

 

 

 

 

Sao Paulo in 72 Hours

By population, Sao Paulo is the biggest city in South America. São Paulo state has 645 municipalities and a population of approximately 40 million inhabitants. According to the latest statistics by IBGE, Brazil’s main government research institute, the population in the city of São Paulo (also the capital of Sao Paulo state) is about 11 million inhabitants  (Forbes).

I was born and raised in Sao Bernardo do Campo, in the state of Sao Paulo.  The state of Sao Paulo is a great representation of the urban scenario  with a lot of traffic, street art, difference in social realities, and lots of people who make the streets mean but also very charming. I compare it to New York, despite the lack of lights. The city that never sleeps.

I wouldn’t say that Sao Paulo has as many tourist attractions as Rio de Janeiro, but it surely has a lot to enjoy.  People usually come to Sao Paulo for layovers or business reasons. In this post, you will find a guide to a 72 hours in Sao Paulo.

Let’s start with the basics:

Metro
Sao Paulo has a large coverage of public transportation. The metro, covers the majority of the city and it is very easy to navigate. Here is the 2014 Sao Paulo metro map for your reference

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Stay
It is always a good decision to opt for convenience when you don’t know much about the place that you are visiting and have little time. I strongly recommend to book a hotel room by  metro station. The spot that I find most convenient is anywhere by Paulista Avenue. This busy street is the heart of Sao Paulo, close to many metro stations, theaters, restaurants, bars and to a shuttle stop that connects you to the International Airport of Guarulhos. When we traveled to Sao Paulo with my in-laws, we stayed at a place called Trypp Hotel by Paulista Avenue and a block away from Augusta Avenue and Consolacao Metro Station. By staying closer to a metro, you become a more independent tourist and you don’t have to worry about drinking and driving.

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Things to do at a metro radius

Mercadao Municipal de Sao Paulo (bacalhau pastel, bologna sandwich)

The Municipal Market of Sao Paulo (Mercadao) is a must for everyone. This is the most traditional gourmet hub of the city with a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, sweets and foods in general. The building  was designed by the architect Francisco Ramos de Azevedo in 1926 and it was opened on January 25th in 1933, the day of Sao Paulo’s birthday.

When you go to Mercadao, go hungry. There are two traditional foods that everyone should try, Bacalla fried pastry and bologna sandwich. In case you are not a meat eater, there are several other foods to try, including a long variety of fresh made juices!

Among the gourmet places, we have traditional Italian and Portuguese restaurants serving the most delicious food. The “lanchonetes” serve the three items I mentioned above and it is beyond delicious. Check it out!

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Mercadao is open:

Monday through Saturday from 6 am to 6 pm.
Sundays and holidays from 6 am to 4 pm.

Metro Station:
Sao Bento – Blue line

Augusta Street(Restaurants, Bars, shops)

Augusta Street is a “travessa” from Paulista Avenue. It has a more hip vibe with nice restaurants, bars, and many co-op type of shops.  In those shops you can find mostly artsy items, hand made by a young adult population. Some street art and one of a kind accessories can be found at Augusta Avenue.
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Paulista Avenue (Masp, Livraria Cultura)

Paulista Avenue is like the Wall Street of Sao Paulo. Thousands of people go there to work every day, making this location very crowded at times. But Paulista Avenue is not only the financial heart of the city but also the most loved address of the people from Sao Paulo. Museums, cultural centers, street art, restaurants and bars make this place special. After work hours, the bars a filled with people who want to avoid rush hour traffic and metro clutters. After all, we can always use a happy hour after work!
Here are some of  the main attractions around Paulista:
Masp, Centro Cultural São Paulo, Casa das Rosas, Itaú Cultural Institute, Centro Cultural Fiesp, Sesc Paulista, Museum of Image and Sound, Museum of the Brazilian Home, Brazilian Museum of Sculpture, Caixa Cultural Galeria Paulista, Galeria Ouro Fino, Shopping Frei Caneca, Shopping Paulista, Shopping Center 3, Shopping Pátio Higienópolis, Trianon, Orthodox Cathedral, Consolação Cemetery.

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The one place you must eat at is Black Dog. This is a hot dog place but with a Brazilian twist. The hot dogs are created on a similar system as Subway; you choose a style of hot dog and add the toppings you want. All hot dogs are pressed. This is a must!
http://www.blackdog.com.br/

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Batman Alley (Street Art)

Sao Paulo is the home of many wonderful street artists such as Os Gemeos, Alex Senna, Rodrigo Branco,  Zeh Palito, L7M and Tikka. Street art can be found all around the city of Sao Paulo, but there is one place that is a must see if you enjoy street art, Batman Alley.
Batman Alley (Beco do Batman) is an open air gallery situated in Vila Madalena by the Clinicas metro station. The art space started back in 1980, when a drawing of batman was found on the wall. The location is well preserved and very desired by the artists. Street artists contribute to their artwork on the alley walls on a regular basis, so each time you visit you may see something different.

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When visiting this area, also check out the store La da Venda. It is located right at the adjacent street to Beco do Batman, at Harmonia Street. They sell handmade, vintage and one of a kind items.

Street art galleries can be found around Batman Alley and you can also purchase prints at A7MA gallery.

Choque Cultural is also a gallery worth visiting. It is small, but free. It features some artwork from local street artists.
https://www.facebook.com/ChoqueCultural

Beco do Batman
End.: Rua Gonçalo Afonso e Rua Medeiros de Albuquerque – Vila Madalena – São Paulo.

Lá da Venda
End.: Rua Harmonia, 161 – Vila Madalena – São Paulo.

A7MA galley
Rua Harmonia 95B Vila Madalena Sao Paulo
http://a7ma.art.br/

Feira Benedito Calixto

This is a open air market located at Square Benedito Calixto and it is about a 12 minute walk from Batman Alley.
This fair features handmade items, vintage and clothing collections by one of a kind artists. It is almost like an Etsy fair! Worth checking it out  to find some treasures to bring home.

Praça Benedito Calixto, 158/162 – Pinheiros – São Paulo – SP

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Hey It’s Mi Blog

Martinelli Building (First Skyscraper of Sao Paulo)

Giuseppe Martinelli was an Italian immigrant who migrated to Brazil in search of  prosperity. He was very successful and he built a respected “equity” in a little over two decades.The building  Martinelli was the first skyscraper of Sao Paulo. It was built in the beginning of the 20th century, with about 30 floors and  a 360 degree view of the city of Sao Paulo.

The building is open for visitors Monday through Friday 9:30am-11:30am and 2:00pm – 4:00pm.

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Liberdade (Little Japan)

Liberdade is Sao Paulo’s little Japan.
In the beginning of the 20th century, not only the Italians but also the Japanese  migrated to Brazil in search of a better life. Since then, the Japanese immigrants concentrated in the region of Liberdade and their culture has been preserved to this day. It is estimated that about 400 thousand Japanese and later generations live in Sao Paulo (Cidade de Sao Paulo).

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In Liberdade you can find all sorts of Japanese food, grocery stores, department stores and architecture. At the stores everything is displayed in both Portuguese and Japanese languages.

The Japanese language has been taught through generations and majority of people of Japanese heritage who live in Liberdade are able to speak Japanese fluently.

On weekends they have a street market where they make food on the spot like fresh Yaksoba, sushi and fried ice cream. Yes, fried ice cream!

http://www.cidadedesaopaulo.com/sp/br/o-que-visitar/atrativos/pontos-turisticos/200-liberdade

I hope you can make your time in Sao Paulo fun!

Tee

 

 

10 Things to Do in Rio de Janeiro

 

Sugarloaf

This is one of Rio’s most beautiful landmarks and probably one of my favorites. The Sugarloaf Mountain is comprised by two separate mountains. In order to visit, you must ride a cable car from the base to the top of the first mountain and then you need to ride another cable car to the top of the second mountain. Once you get to the second mountain, there is a relaxing small park with a trail around it. If you are lucky, you might encounter a couple of little monkeys and beautiful birds.

The whole visit should take you approximately 2,5 hrs. to complete. I would recommend combining that with a visit to the Red Beach at the bottom. This way you can fully experience the Sugarloaf from the bottom to the top.

I recommend starting in the morning by visiting the mountains first then coming back down for the Red Beach and the trail. I feel like you can enjoy more this way.

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Christ the Redeemer – Corcovado

This is a must see in Rio!
You don’t need to be religious to enjoy this landmark. This place is fantastic and provides you with a 360 degree view of the city of Rio! You take a train up to the top and once you get there, you must walk flight of stairs to get to Christ’s base. There’s a chapel inside the monument but unfortunately a trip into the arms is not available to the public.

It can be very crowded during the day making it stressful to take a perfect picture with the Christ or to take pictures of the landscape below.  I recommend going in the morning or late afternoon to avoid big crowds. Also, choose to go when the day is clear. You can’t see much when the day is cloudy.

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Escadaria Selaron

This is one small spot in Rio that is worth seeing. At Escadaria Selaron, take time and see the different countries represented and artists honored on the staircase. It is usually a very busy place, so people are always around. Lapa, Escadaria Selaron and the Santa Teresa Tram station are walking distance from each other, so you can plan an afternoon to see all three.
R. Joaquim Silva, S/N – Centro, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 20241-110, Brazil

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Santa Teresa Tram

This tram goes through Santa Teresa and on top of Lapa Bridge into the other side. The tram is yellow, very vintage like and small. The ride is free so expect lots of tourists to be waiting at the station for a ride. Each tram can take up to 40-45 people.
You can plan to visit Lapa, Escadaria Selaron and walk up to the tram station for a ride. You can also do the reverse itinerary, leaving from Rua Lelio Gama which is very close to Metro Carioca Station.

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Forte de Copacabana

Located a few blocks south from Copacabana Palace, Copacabana Fort is a former military base that provides you with a beautiful view of Copacabana. For about $2 you can walk around the grounds and visit their museum and café. Make sure to walk all the way to the end of the fort so you can enjoy the best views of Copacabana!
http://www.fortedecopacabana.com/historical-museum-of-the-army-and-copacabana-fort.html

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Feira de Sao Cristovao

Located outside of Rio City, in Sao Cristovao, this is an attraction for the ones who wish to see more of Rio. It is a great place to buy souvenirs for cheap and to experience some of the culture from the North of Brazil. This place is of a size of soccer stadium and is full of tents, where people sell all sorts of things. There are a couple of restaurants serving food from the Northern region and stages where people perform typical dances. It is very entertaining!

Rua Campo De Sao Cristovao | Sao Cristovao, Rio de Janeiro,State of Rio de Janeiro 20921-440, Brazil

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Maracana

Maracana is among the five biggest soccer stadiums in the world. Recently renovated for the World Cup, Maracana is able to host about 78,000 fans. We went to Maracana to watch a match between Fluminense and Gremio. The teams were from different states so the match was friendly and energetic. When the teams from the same state play against each other, the matches can become more heated. Either way, it will sure be a good time!

Av. Pres. Castelo Branco, s/n – Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 20271-130, Brazil

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Jardim Botanico

This place is stunning! Jardim Botanico (Botanic Garden) hosts some of the most beautiful tropical flowers and plants worth seeing. Jardim Botanico is a place to unwind and breathe fresh air. However, it is a popular place and the line to buy tickets can get very long. If possible, try visiting the park on a weekday.

  1. Jardim Botânico, 1008 – Jardim Botânico, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22460-030, Brazil

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Copacabana Beach

This is the most popular beach in Rio, and possibly in the world! Like all other beaches in Brazil, Copacabana is a public beach and is open to its visitors 24/7. Obviously, the beach is very busy during the day with people exercising and bathing. When the sun goes down, the entertainment is moved to the edge of the beach where various tent bars open so people can get some food and drinks. In Copacabana beach you can get coconut water and alcohol anytime.  Beautiful sand sculptures are displayed for the tourists by South American artists. It is free to take pictures but the artists expect contributions.

You can also rent a bike and ride up and down the famous wavy boardwalk of Copacabana.

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Praia Vermelha
Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) is located at the bottom of Sugarloaf Mountain. There you can enjoy a more intimate beach or a nice walk around the sugarloaf. At the trail you are able to see various birds flying around and little monkeys jumping from tree to tree.

 

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References and Tips

Stay:
When looking for a hotel, give preference to the ones located at the beach front so you would be closer to the main attractions.  At Atlantica Avenue, there are several options that you can choose, ranging from two to five star hotels.

Safety:
As with many big cities, it’s so important to be cautious and responsible. To prevent any bad experiences, take into consideration some helpful safety tips:

  • Look like a local – when traveling in Rio, dress as basic as you can. Avoid flashy types of clothes, watches, jewelry and electronics in public. Look like a local.
  • Watch the drinking – make sure that you are in a safe place with safe company before starting the heavy drinking. Illegal substances easily circulate in the nightlife scenario, so it is important to be cautious when it comes to alcohol.
  • Pick up a map – before heading to Rio, make sure to learn about where you’ll stay and the surroundings from a map. Once you’re there, try to plan your routes before heading out of the hotel instead of utilizing a map in the middle of the city.

Currency and Money:
Right now it is a great time to visit Brazil as the exchange rate is approximately $1 to R$4.00 .When going to restaurants and paying for entrances at attractions, you can and should use your credit card. Most of the financial institutions in the U.S. do not usually charge you any fees for using your card abroad. Make sure to consult your credit card company before leaving home. When in Rio, bring your credit cards but also bring cash with you. You will need cash to buy a metro ticket or delicious coconut water at the beach!

Transportation:
Take advantages of tours when available. If you’d rather do each attraction on your own, I recommend using taxi cabs. The concierge from the hotel should be able to call a cab for you.
When going to farther places, you might want to take advantage of the metro system, too. Sometimes they can be quicker than cabs.

5 days in Ouro Preto

I am originally from Brazil. Although I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, the majority of my family is from another state: Minas Gerais. Last summer, my husband and I took a trip to Brazil where we spent about six weeks visiting family and friends. During our time there, we took a few days to visit the Cidades Historicas de Minas Gerais (historic cities of Minas Gerais) to include Ouro Preto, Tiradentes, Mariana, Sao Joao Del Rei e Congonhas. We took 5 days to make this visit perfect!

I don’t usually drive in Brazil, so we rely on public transportation for the majority of our trips in the country. It is usually available and it makes the adventure more fun when we are there. So, to get to our main location, Ouro Preto, we took a flight from Sao Paulo to Belo Horizonte (Capital of Minas Gerais) and then we got a shuttle from the airport to the bus station and a bus from there to Ouro Preto. IT DOES seem like a lot, but there’s no other way to get there, unless you drive.  About driving – you might not want to drive in Minas Gerais, especially in Ouro Preto. This state is known for its mountain landscapes therefore the roads can be very sinuous to drive on. Ouro Preto in particular, is a very hilly city, very tricky to drive. So I left it to the locals.

Well than here it would be Day 1:

  • Flight from Sao Paulo to Pampulha Airport (Belo Horizonte)
    1 hour $150
  • Shuttle from Pampulha Airport to bus terminal
    30 min  FREE
  • At the bus terminal, take bus to Ouro Preto with the company Passaro Verde
    2 hrs R$30

We are huge advocates for AirBnB. We stayed with an amazing host in Ouro Preto. Beautiful house and amazing reception. With Airbnb you can get wonderful rates and an amazing experience. So, before searching for hotels, take a look at Airbnb to see if you find something you might like and message the host for further information. The communication with our host was wonderful and he was very kind to come and receive us at the bus station to take us to his home. There he showed us the house and the room where we going to stay. He gave us a key and a map. He was by far the  best hosts we ever met through Airbnb.

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So as far as Day 1, get settled, get a map and go out to hunt for a place to eat.

Ouro Preto means Black Gold in English and it is a city listed on the world heritage list of UNESCO. It was founded at the end of the 17th century, and was the focal point of the gold mining in Brazil’s back in the 18th century. With the exhaustion of the gold mines in the 19th century, the city’s influence declined but many churches, bridges and fountains remain as a testimony to its past prosperity and the exceptional talent of the Baroque sculptor Aleijadinho (UNESCO). This extended to the nearby towns along the Estrada Real (Royal highway) to include Mariana, Congonhas, Sao Joao Del Rei and Tiradentes.

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Since our stay was in Ouro Preto, we decided to take tours to the nearby small towns so we can optimize our time and learn about the architecture of the places. We found a very nice day-long tour that took you around the other historic towns.  The tour takes up the full day, only about 5 people come at a time and the driver picks you up at the place you are staying. Tours like that are not too hard to find online and most hotels will facilitate booking for a tour. We decided to take two tours.

Day 2: Tour Ouro Preto e Mariana
This was our second day in Ouro Preto. We were picked up at the house at 8:00am to join the other group members to initiate our tour. During this tour we made a couple of stops around Ouro Preto to include one of their smaller mines, the artisan market, a gem jewelry shop and a couple of churches. The biggest highlight of this tour for me was visiting the Francisco de Assis church, it is lovely! The church of Saint Francis of Assissi is a rococo Catholic Church, with the entire inside art done by the most famous sculptor of the state, Aleijadinho. The church is located in downtown Ouro Preto and is open for visitation most days of the week from 8:30am – 5:00pm.
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In Mariana, we visited some of their other churches. You will see that there are a lot of churches in this area. Lots! But each one has so much art and history inside that it is beyond amazing. The tours are often offered in Portuguese, but I believe that English tours are also offered. Our tours were in Portuguese so I would translate all to my husband.

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The tour ended about 5:00pm that day and it was becoming dark, what I call, dinner time! Downtown Ouro Preto there are so many cute little restaurants serving typical state food in a large variety of dishes. There are a couple of places that serve Italian and American, too.

A taxi cab from any point A to any point B will cost you R$20 (reais). So, plan to spend that much at least once a day. Going down the hills is easy; going back up is more challenging, especially after having had a lot of good food!

Day 3: Tour Congonhas, Sao Joao Del Rei and Tiradentes

Sao Joao Del Rei is the farthest destination of this tour, so we decided to take this tour on day 3 of our trip. Again, the van driver came to pick us up at the house by 8:00am so we could initiate our tour. In this tour we got to see a variety of places to include some of Aleijadinho’s paintings and golden plated interior churches, visit the house of a famous wood sculptor and go in a bigger mine by the end of the tour. It was a beautiful day and worth every minute!

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We were dropped off at downtown Ouro Preto and it was time to hunt for a place to eat. This night we went to this tavern called Restaurante Café Gerais, which is a very intimate and romantic place. There, my husband and I got to try one of their local brews, Ouropretana.

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Day 4: Explore Ouro Preto on our own
On Day 4 we woke up at around 9 or so. Mornings can be chilly in the Mineiro winter! So we showered, had breakfast and went down the hill towards downtown.
As we got to the downtown area, we went to a the Casa da Moeda where in the past it served as money printing house but now it functions as a museum/ art gallery free of charge. When you visit the upper floor, the view from there is simply charming.

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We went up to Tiradentes Square and decided to grab something to eat. On the way out of the restaurant we passed by a Cachacaria shop (Rum factory shop). They were offering a Cachaca (Brazilian rum) tasting that day. I felt like we had to stop and go in. There were about six kinds of cachaça to try, and as a good ol’ rum you just drink up as a shot. We were feeling great after leaving the cachacaria!
The name of the place is Cachacaria Milagre de Minas. Worth checking out and buying some rum!
After that we went uphill and visited the Museum of Science and Technique of Ouro Preto. It offers a great photo opportunity from up there! The museum is supported by the Federal University of Ouro Preto and displays different expositions of natural history and science. My favorite part was the gem stones section. We were able to see several variations of gem stones found in the mines nearby and state wide. So many different colors and names!

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By the time we were done visiting these two places, we were ready to have some food and drinks. I cannot remember what place we went to that night but I guarantee it was good.

Day 5: Souvenir shopping

On day 5 we went to the Confidencia Museum and Our Lady of Carmo church, both by Tiradentes square. The museum walks you through a timeline in Brazilian history displaying original artifacts from that era. Lots of royal and colonial objects can be found there.

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Our Lady of Carmo church was another church to visit. Not surprisingly, an amazing interior full of history and art was there to be appreciated.

We stopped by an ice cream shop after leaving the church. It seemed appropriate 🙂

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After that I made sure I took some time to do some shopping. I confess that I am a big souvenir person, but I like grabbing things that represent the culture and the place. Since I live far from home, those little things kind of bring home close to me here in the U.S. Among the things I made sure to bring home were banana rum, a bottle of Ouropretana beer, cookies, wooden sculptures, magnets (of course) and a homemade bath mat. At the artisan market place you will see lots of limestone works; they are beautiful and reasonably priced. The reason why I did not purchase any of them was because I did not want to carry too much weight back home since we each had a carry on and a backpack.

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Day 6: Head home.

Quick references and tips:

Stay:

Find something interesting at https://www.airbnb.com/

Our Host in Ouro Preto and his listings can be found at:

https://www.airbnb.co.in/users/show/11807212

Year calendar of events:

http://www.ouropretomg.com/ouro-preto-events

Packing:

Pack light

Student discounts:

Most churches require a fee. Most of them accept student ID’s for 50% off discount. Bring that with you, if you have one.

Tours:
http://www.ouropretomg.com/ouro-preto-tours

Cheers,

Tee

How to successfully visit Foz do Iguacu (Iguazu Falls) region in little time?

For this trip we did not have a lot of time, only two full days and two half days. So things had to be planed down to all the little details.

One thing about me: I love making the best of the least. I knew that time was short but I wanted to visit all the main attractions in the area.
Here are the things I consider to be the main attractions in Foz do Iguacu:

  • Iguazu National Park (Argentina’s Side)
  • Iguazu National Park (Brazilian’s Side)
  • Bird Park
  • Binational hydroelectric power plant (Brazil and Paraguay)

Those were the main places to see during our stay. Everything else would be a bonus to us.

A little about the Iguazu Falls:
guazu National Park, with the Falls as its main feature, was added to the World Heritage List for two reasons: its exceptional natural beauty and because it’s the habitat of rare and endangered species.

The Argentinian side of the park measures 49.200 ha. The adjacent Brazilian side is another World Heritage Site.
The waterfalls on both sides together span over 2700 m., and have a height of 80 m.Iguazu is an indigenous (Tupi-Guarani) name, meaning Great Waters (worldheritage.org).

Important note: this trip was taken during Brazilian winter at a temperature of high 70’s.

To find a good place to stay we searched at AirBnB. We found this place made out of ship containers that looked really cool. They have a very nice atmosphere, they offer breakfast and they have an indoor bar. It was an easy decision for us! The hotel is called Tetris and is located walking distance to downtown and to bus stops.

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We were coming from Rio this time, and we left there in the morning to arrive in Foz midafternoon.  The airport in Foz is very close to the main road where the hotel was so it took us no time to arrive at the place. We checked in and we arranged with the receptionist for a next day tour to the falls on the Argentina’s side.

In the evening, we went out to buy a plug adaptor on a nearby grocery store. It happens that this place has adopted the new Brazilian standards of outlets and the hotel ran out of adaptors to sell. Without one we wouldn’t be able to charge anything for the next day.

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We found the adaptor and a very nice little restaurant down ways from the hotel where we went for dinner. We had typical Brazilian bar food and Bhrama beer.

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Portal Sabores

Next day – Tour Falls Argentina

The tour picked us up at 8:00 am in order to initiate the day. In the tour there were 8 of us, all different nationalities. It is important to remember that Argentina may require you to pay for a reciprocity fee in order to be admitted in the country. Me as Brazilian did not have to worry about that. However, my husband for being an American was required to pay for the reciprocity fee. This fee is something that can be processed and paid online and IN ADVANCE. The link for that is found below. Make sure to print several copies for your record too.

http://www.embassyofargentina.us/en/consular-section/reciprocity-fee-for-us-citizens.html

So we headed to Argentina. Technically only 20 minutes away from the hotel but since we had some complications with the van we were in, we had to stop at the bridge that connects Brazil and Argentina for a couple of minutes until the new van came along. Some would say “bummer” but I’d say “awesome” because it gave us the opportunity to be in two places at the same time! (How cool is that?).
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The tour guide is responsible for taking our passports and reciprocity fees (when applicable) and take to the immigration officer. She quickly gets all passports stamped and we continue to roll.

Our first stop was at the “mark of three frontiers” (marco das tres fronteiras). From there we were standing in Argentina but looking over the river we could see both Paraguay and Brazil. Another cool thing was that this place is where two rivers meet, Iguacu and Parana. You can clearly see them meeting when looking at the waters!
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We headed to the park. The entrance fee was included in tour but the fees are based on your nationality- if South American you pay one price, if from elsewhere you pay another.  In text tip: when in the park in Argentina, make sure to bring Pesos. They do not convert well when using foreign currencies and you may end up losing money when spending money there.

I am so glad that we took a tour that day. The Argentinian side is full of trails where you are in direct touch with nature. Those are trails located directly above the top of every water fall. Such an exhilarating experience! I am sure that it would take much longer to complete those trails if we didn’t have a tour guide.

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Our highlight was being at the top of the Devil’s throat. Wow. Just, wow.

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I wore my Fitbit and I remember getting about 25,000 steps through the day. Be sure to wear comfortable clothing and shoes.

In the park, you have the choice to pay a little extra for a boat ride. I confess that I did not ride it because I was scared. Very scared of the water as well as scared of the way it took to get to the boat. It seemed very slippery! You might think differently, so don’t be discouraged!

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http://www.iguazufallsexcursions.info

Our tour ended at about 6:00pm with our return to Brazil. We arrived completely tired but so happy with how the day went. We showered and we went out to grab a bite to eat. As we returned to the hotel we sat by their bar to drink some beer and play cards. Great night!

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Following Day – Brazilian side + Bird Park

Ok, these two were very convenient. The bird park is located down the road from the Iguacu National Park. We left in the morning at about 8:30am and took the bus from across the street. We did not book a tour for that one. The bus was a straight shot from where we were and it took about 30 min to get there. The bus number is 120 – Parque Nacional and it cost about R$2,65.

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We got to the park, paid the entrance, got into a shuttle and we were dropped off at the end by the trail. The way I describe the experience at the falls from the Brazilian side is that you have a VIP view of the whole thing. It is stunning! You do get to experience nature by walking on the pathway that leads you closer to the falls. In text tip: bring a rain coat for that. You get wet as you are walking on the pathway.

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Lots of wildlife is around – many raccoon like creatures that walk around among the visitors and beautiful birds and butterflies flying around. Now, watch for your food and your belongings, because those raccoons love to steal them! In text tip: if one of those creatures steals something from you, let go, don’t fight it. They can scratch you and give you diseases.

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The highlight of the day to me was seeing a toucan flying free in the wild among us. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!

To walk around the falls took us only about 2 hours. It is much smaller compared to the Argentinian side. Of course, another boat ride was available if you were willing to pay a little extra. Again, I declined. Just can’t do it!
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At around 12 or so we left the Iguacu Falls and headed down the road to the Bird Park. My husband is terrified of birds while I just love them. I appreciate his bravery going with me to this park because as you walk through the park, most exhibitions consist of you walking in the bird sanctuaries and being face to face with those birds. The best part was the macaws’ bird cage. There should have been about 100 macaws in that enormous sanctuary.  They were loud and they would fly freely from side to side. I was absolutely amused while my husband was terrified. But he was also excited to be facing that fear and experiencing such a thing.

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At the end of the exhibit, you were able to hold macaws on your arms. That’s when my dream came true and my husband became a “zoom” specialist photographer hahaha

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After the bird park we took the bus back getting off at the hotel. It was about 4:30 so we decided to grab some drinks until it was time for dinner.

Last day – Itaipu Binational Power Plant

We made sure to get up early, pack and check out before doing anything. We left our bags in a locker room while we went to the Binational in the morning. Our flight would leave only at 3pm so we had some time to kill.

We took a cab to get there and paid for an English tour, which cost us about R$25 reais each.

This power plant is one of the biggest in the country and it is shared with Brazil’s neighbor Paraguay. The tour here includes a visit inside the property where they show visitors how things work with all of the giant turbines. Within the property, you can cross freely between Brazil and Paraguay, since Itaipu is located in both countries. It is incredible to see how everything works and how big things are in a power plant.

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Between Brazil and Paraguay

The tour shouldn’t take more than about 1 or so hours to finish.  We planned with the cab driver who took us there, to pick us up at a certain time. This way, we made sure to leave the Binational at a good time to make it back to the hotel.

We headed back to the hotel, where we picked up our bags and left to go to the airport.

And that was our quick trip to Iguazu Falls!

Quick reference and tips:

Where we stayed:
https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4508243

Check if you need a visa:
http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesible/indexN.php?visas

For Americans only:
http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/argentina.html

Iguazu Falls Argentina:
http://www.iguazuargentina.com/en/

Iguazu Falls Brazil:
http://www.cataratasdoiguacu.com.br/portal/paginas/131-natural-heritage-site.aspx

Wedding Bouquet and Boutonniere

A friend of mine invited me to be one of her bridesmaids for her big day. She and her, now husband, decided to tie the knot last December in a small civil ceremony with a small reception for friends and family. They are still planning to make a bigger celebration in the future so both of their families are able to celebrate, since she is from Brazil and he is from the U.S. Even though they decided on a small ceremony first, I wanted her to have a very special day. One way I found to help with that was to make her a bouquet and him a boutonniere.

Naturally, I went online to search for some inspiration and a tutorial on how to do it. I chose to incorporate some soft colors with eucalyptus to give that romantic look to it.  At the end, I was very happy with the results, and so were they 🙂

The whole process took me about 1 hour to make and the materials were easy to find.

Where to find flowers?
I went to both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods to find the flowers I was looking for. They have a great selection, great prices and they seem to be always fresh.

Where to find craft materials?
I went to Michael’s and Joann Fabrics to find the ribbon, plant tape, glue,lace etc. They most certainly have all of that there.

Here is what you will need to make your bouquet and boutonniere:

– Flowers of your choice (For this bouquet I used eucalyptus, hydrangea, roses, peonies and baby’s breath)

-Flower tape

-Satin ribbon (not wired)

-Lace ribbon

-Glue

-Glue gun

– Scisors

– Flower pins

-String

Step 1: Have a clear working surface and open up all of the flower bunches releasing them from the elastic tie. Separate them by type and lay the flowers on the surface area. Separate the flowers that you will use for the boutonniere and reserve.

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Step 2: Put flowers together starting with the biggest flowers and adding the others around. I personally saved the eucalyptus and the baby’s breath for last because they will give your bouquet volume and charm at the end. The smaller head flowers can also be added at the end (as if you were pinning the bouquet with them) in order to add color to it.
Before tying them together, make sure you are happy with how they came together.

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Step 3: Make sure to hold the bouquet tightly with one hand while you start tying it together. Depending on the thickness of the bouquet, you may want to use an elastic band first before using the tape.
Get the tape and start taping around the bouquet for about 4-5 inches or so. Cut the tape and release. Make sure it is all very secure before moving on to the next step.

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Step 4: Grab the ribbon of your choice and wrap it around the bouquet. Wrap it in a way that it overlaps but not so much. Just about a half inch each turn. After the first turn, put a slab of glue at the beginning of the ribbon and glue the first round of ribbon. Keep wrapping until about 4-5 inches down the bouquet. Glue the end of the ribbon at the last round of wrapping. Use flower pins to pin down the ribbon in a row but ATTENTION: make sure that the pin doesn’t go through the other side, you don’t want have a bloody hand bride! When pinning, pin it in a 45 degree angle to be safe.

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Step 5: Here you can decorate it with lace or other decoration item that you please. That could be another type of ribbon, rosary bids, something borrowed, a pin… After all of that is done, cut the ends of the bouquet in a 45 degree angle to easily absorb water. Find a jar, fill about 1-2 inches of water and place the bouquet in it so it doesn’t die. You can choose to put it in the fridge as well. Remember that if you are using roses and hydrangeas, you might want to make the bouquet the day of. Those types of flowers do not last very long.

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Boutonniere
For the boutonniere all you will need are:

-Glue and glue gun

-two flowers of your choice (choose the smaller ones)

-small width ribbon

-string

-flower pins

How to make it:

Separate the flowers that you are gonna use on your boutonniere and reserve. I used baby’s breath and another type that I cannot recall (sorry) as they seem to last longer and not need much water. Put them together having the most voluminous and taller one on the back and the smaller one in the front. Tape the stems. Wrap the ribbon around it until about 1,5″  and glue it together.  Decorate with a string. Put two flower pins in the back so the groom can pin it in his suit. Wala!

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I hope that you liked it and that it gives you some inspiration.

Cheers,

Tee