Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: South America 2009

Exploring the megalopolis

It was another bright sunny morning and, weather-wise at least, it promised to be another glorious day. After confirming that the Club Lounge had no breakfast offering at weekends and that the main hotel restaurant looked a little too grand for our requirements, we decided to eat at the Starbucks branch across the street, noting that, like everywhere else, it had security staff stationed at the door. A brief trip back to the room soon had us ready to confront head-on this rather daunting giant of a city, home to a staggering 18-25 million people. (Nobody knows the exact figure, because there are so many slum-dwellers who are off the official radar.) With a rather black sense of humour, I said to Bruce : "Right, let's go and get mugged!"

We didn't intend to conduct a full-scale sight-seeing blitz of this city in the way that we'd done in Buenos Aires, but nor did we want to give up on it. A little-known fact is that the population contains 1.5 million ethnic Japanese, the largest Japanese community in the world outside Japan itself. We thought this might be a good place to start and took the metro to the Liberdade oriental district. The subway proved to be a perfectly reasonable way for visitors to get around and didn't really feel any different from its counterparts in New York, Paris or London. We had a stroll around the oriental district, with its distinctive lamp-posts, and then headed in the direction of the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral. A short distance away, we found the attractive Patio do Colegio, site of the Jesuit College and reckoned to be the place where Sao Paulo was founded; apparently the first public Mass was celebrated there on the Feast of St Paul in 1554, giving rise to the name.

Liberdade oriental districtStreet market and freeway!Metropolitan CathedralMetropolitan CathedralJesuit CollegeCollege SquareCollege SquareCollege SquareCollege SquareOrigami butterflies in College SquareCollege SquareEdge of the crowded market district - it would get much busier!

Moving on, we made our way to the Municipal Market. As we headed downhill towards the market, the streets became resolutely working-class in character and absolutely choked with throngs of Saturday-morning shoppers. With a smattering of street entertainers adding to the atmosphere and colour, it was quite an experience! The market itself was impressive, the dazzling displays neatly organised into logical sections. Unfortunately, it was all just a bit too busy to start messing around trying to take pictures. The original intention had been to grab some lunch in the upstairs catering section, but again, it was just far too busy. People were waiting to pounce on tables as soon as they were vacated.

We therefore made the climb back up to the main part of the city centre noting that Sao Paulo, like parts of Edinburgh, is one of those apparently multi-layered places, with networks of streets on different vertical levels. We soon found a nice restaurant and chose an outside table. There were one or two visits from beggars, but the restaurant's security man was on the scene in an instant, moving them on in a reasonably good-humoured manner. After lunch, we tracked down the Tea Bridge, the impressive Municipal Theatre (said to be inspired by the Paris Opera) and Republic Square, before deciding to call it a day for now. An easy series of metro rides brought us swiftly back to the InterContinental - unscathed! - for a well-earned rest. We spent the remaining time until sundown lounging in the otherwise deserted pool area, each sipping a Caipirinha, the lime-based signature Brazilian cocktail.

Attractive city centre buildingsBuilding near the Municipal TheatreSao Bento churchMunicipal TheatreTheatre, statue and local urchinDepartment store

For dinner, we chose a pizza restaurant just a couple of blocks from the hotel. It had nice wood-burning ovens, but the most impressive feature of all was the salad bar! I am not normally a fan of buffets, but was happy to make an exception in this instance. The extent and quality of the spread were both excellent and I noticed throughout the meal that staff constantly tidied everything up to make sure that the food was invariably well presented. For a change of scene, we took coffee at a nearby open-air bar / cafe.

Saturday 23 May

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