Alexander Nevskii Church from Sense Rooftop Bar at Dusk

Euphoria in Bulgaria

This is one of those impulsive “let’s be a tourist” trips. I booked the air ticket and the hotel, and not much else. Upon arrival at the hotel, the concierge advised me that central, old town Bulgaria can be explored within a couple of hours, which would leave me with a couple of days of day excursion out of Sofia. At the end I settled on Traventuria tour company to visit Plovdiv and Koprivshtitsa, and V Tour to visit Rila Monastery and Buyana Church.

A quick google on Bulgarian history reveals the richness of the country.  The list of empires/group of people occupying Bulgaria is long and each has left a strong influences on modern Bulgaria: the Thracians, the Persians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans and the Communists.  I have always been into archeology but somehow Bulgaria was never really in my visit map for this reason.  I could not have been more wrong!

Sofia

Although the central part of Sofia can be easily explored by foot within a couple of hours, I did find some amazing places.  I started walking from Alexander Nevsky church until the end of Vitosha Boulevard (shopping and eating street). The Alexander Nevsky Orthodox church is beautiful inside and out, although it is relatively recent (end of 19th and early 20th century).  It also holds interesting icons exhibitions in its crypt.  A short walk, I find myself in the St. Sophia’s church which was built on earlier a few earlier churches – as early as 3 AD.  My favorite part is the archeological ruins in the church’s foundation. There are remains of Roman mosaic tiles and my favorite is the one depicting the Roman paradise. I have put the pictures of buildings and places that I think are worth noting below.

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St. Sophia Church – one of the earliest church in Sofia’s history and its use varied depending on the faith of the Emperor in power

Roman Mosaic depicting Roman Paradise

Roman Mosaic depicting Roman Paradise

Alexander Nevsky Church, Sofia, bulgaria

Alexander Nevsky Church, Sofia, bulgaria

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church

National Opera House, Sofia, Bulgaria

National Opera House, Sofia, Bulgaria

Pedestrian eating and shopping street - Vitosha Boulevard

Pedestrian eating and shopping street – Vitosha Boulevard

I have to admit being in Sofia made me a bit of an alcoholic!  Alcohol is so cheap that I drank quite a bit. After walking around, I spent a few hours in the rooftop of Sense hotel where I stayed. I tried the rakia-based cocktail. It was yummy and not too strong.  I also stayed there long enought to try Metaxa, a greek cognac, and a bulgarian white wine. The upside of all these drinks??? I was rewarded by a beautiful sunset view of Alexander Nevsky church and Tsar Osvoboditel boulevard and the Vitosha mountain range.

View of Vitosha Mountain from Sense Rooftop Bar

View of Vitosha Mountain from Sense Rooftop Bar

Alexander Nevsky church at sunset

Alexander Nevsky church at sunset

View of Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard

View of Tsar Osvoboditel Boulevard

“Spiced Balkan Experience” rakia-based cocktail at Sense Rooftop Bar

Plovdiv

Plovdiv is the second largest city in Bulgaria, after Sofia. Its historical area hides many ancient treasures. We visited the Roman amphitheatre and the Ethnography museum housed in quaint wooden village house. We also walked along the narrow cobblestones streets and admire the beautiful cottages.

Ethnography Museum in Plovdiv

Ethnography Museum in Plovdiv

Ground Floor of the Ethnography Museum

Ground Floor of the Ethnography Museum

Upper Floor of the Ethnography Museum

Upper Floor of the Ethnography Museum

Village Houses in Old Plovdiv

Village Houses in Old Plovdiv

These two neighbors must have gotten along very well, even their houses almost touched!

These two neighbors must have gotten along very well, even their houses almost touched!

Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv

Roman Amphitheatre in Plovdiv

The area of Plovdiv is made up seven hills. The old Plovdiv was built on top of three hills and this view was taken from the fort on top of one hill facing towards the other three hills. The seventh hill was a quarry to build the city and it is now gone! Price of progress.

View from the hill in Plovdiv

View from the hill in Plovdiv

Koprivshtitsa

Koprivshtitsa is a quaint mountain village where a revolutionary, Todor Kableshkov, was born. It was here that the “April Uprising” rebellion against the Ottoman Empire started in 1876.  The village in quaint and there are a few old village houses that can be visited. The house of Todor Kableshkov’s family is a notable visit. It was cosy and well-maintained. Carpets are very widely featured in these village houses to add color and celebration mood.

Exhibition of Carpets - Typically Displayed Throughout the Village House

Exhibition of Carpets – Typically Displayed Throughout the Village House

An Example of Village  House's Dining and Gathering Area for Men

An Example of Village House’s Dining and Gathering Area for Men

Upper Floor Sitting Area in Todor Kableshkov's Family Home

Upper Floor Sitting Area in Todor Kableshkov’s Family Home

Todor Kableshkov's Family Home in Koprivshtitsa

Todor Kableshkov’s Family Home in Koprivshtitsa

Rila Monastery

A beautiful monastery in the Rila Mountain range.  It is dedicated to St. Ivan.  It is not an ancient monastery. The main buildings and church were rebuilt in 19th century, but it contains beautiful wall painting (frescoes) and significant relics of various saints (picture not allowed).  Upon arrival, I was the only tourist there and I could really feel the beauty and magic of the place. One can also send a postcard from here, but whether it arrives or not, it remains to be seen :)  It is also worthwhile to visit the Ecclesiastical Museum and the Monastery Tower (for the view).  The most interesting item in the Museum is the carved-wooden cross, Rafail’s cross. That exhibit alone makes it worthwhile to visit the monastery.

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Rila Monastery (Church is the building on the right), the building in the backdrop is the part of the Monastery).

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Monastery Tower at Rila Monastery

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The 32 Saints whose relic are displayed inside the Rila Monastery church. This has special powers. Painted on the outside wall of the church.

Rila Mountain in the backdrop - photo taken from Monastery Tower.

Rila Mountain in the backdrop – photo taken from Monastery Tower.


Buyana Church

This small, nondescript church obtained its UNESCO heritage status for the beautifully conserved frescoes inside.  One painting of Jesus’ crucifixion shows beautiful details and advanced techniques. (Photos not allowed).  It is a must-visit in Sofia.

Buyana Church

Buyana Church

Food & Dance

I was excited about Bulgarian food because I hard lamb was a specialty.  However, upon arrival, it seems that lamb has become expensive (reared less in the country) and most daily dishes are made of chicken and/or pork. I also found the food a little bit on the bland side, compared to its neighbors. Or perhaps I had too high expectations. I mean with names like Kebabche and Kufte (which are very similar to delicious Turkish cuisine), I suppose I was expecting some mouthwatering meat on my plate.  The tastiest food usually involves the use of cheese in the dish, such as cheese Banitza (cheese in filo pastry) and Shopska salad.  I did manage to try lamb dish that is typically cooked to celebrate St. George’s Day on May 6. It was served with salad and rice pilaf (which comes with chopped liver – so this is quite unique!) at Pri Yafata restaurant. The food overall is not bad, but it is also not outstanding like a few other countries I have been.

St. George's Day Lamb at Pri Yafata

St. George’s Day Lamb at Pri Yafata

Shopska Salad in Plovdiv

Shopska Salad in Plovdiv at Restaurant Daniya

Kufte and Kebabche at Restaurant Daniya in Plovdiv

Kufte and Kebabche at Restaurant Daniya in Plovdiv

On the positive side, the food is very affordable. I spents less than EUR5 for a beer, two meats, and shopska salad for lunch (Bulgaria is one of those places where mineral water and beer cost the same).  Tuna tartare in one of the fancy restaurants, Rooftop at Sense Bar, cost me EUR10, in Singapore, the same dish would cost me double that amount, at least. In general, the ingredients used in the food are fresh and natural. Bulgaria is an easy place to be for one who religiously follows #cleaneating. Yoghurt is widely consumed and it is not only from cow’s milk. I managed to try sheep and buffalo yoghurts too.  Both are very fresh and served with nuts and honey.

Being a tourist, of course I had to go to one of the touristy restaurant serving Bulgarian food with traditional folk music and dance. I went to Chevermeto. It was a great experience. Bulgarian music is beautiful. Here I really enjoyed the lyutenitsa (spicy red pepper dip).

Meal at Chevermetto - From top clockwise: Buffalo Yoghurt with Nut and Honey, Lyutenitsa Pepper Dip, and Pork Kavarma

Meal at Chevermeto – From top clockwise: Buffalo Yoghurt with Nut and Honey, Lyutenitsa Pepper Dip, and Pork Kavarma

On the drinks side, I tried rakia (which is their liquor made from fruits). I tried grape rakia and rakia made from roses. I never knew Bulgaria produces rose oil used widely in cosmetics. I never knew that rose oil can cost USD20,000 per ton! That is why when I saw rakia made from roses, I just had to try! I also tried Boza, which is a fermented drink from grains like wheat, but it contains no alcohol.  Bulgarian wines are widely available. I tried a few (from limited selections of wines by the glass) and none was very notable for me to bother to note down the details. They are decent, cheap wines.

Society and Modern Bulgaria

Talking to the local people, there a few issues that are very wide-spread in Bulgaria.  Since joining the EU, many younger generations have left to seek their fortune somewhere else.  The population of Bulgaria has declined by half a million in the last few years due to migration. For a country with 7 million of people, this is a significant number. There are villages where only older people are left. Low salary is also an issue for the locals. For tourists, everything there is cheap!  Alcohol, food, transports…tourists can be kings in Bulgaria. This is not so for the locals, whose average wage is EUR350 monthly. Despite the lower salaries/costs of operating in Bulgaria and decently educated people and Bulgaria’s access to the EU market, it is incredible that the country is not progressing economically. I was told that corruption is still rampant and is a major issue. The other reason is the generation gap between the middle age and the young people. The middle age group is used to Communist way of living, and they are not used to the current situation of open market.  Regardless of the reasons, fingers crossed that things can get better for Bulgaria, or we will have a cheap destination in Europe for many more years.

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Complicated Kiev and I Love Complicated

My motto is to spend time and money visiting new places and countries before going back to the same old places regardless how good they are.  Life, most of the time it seems, has other plans! I am now back in Kiev for the fourth (or fifth??) time and counting!

Central Nave of St. Vladimir's Church, Kiev, Ukraine

Central Nave of St. Vladimir’s Church, Kiev, Ukraine

My 1950s  Chevy Taxi to Habana Airport

Cuba #TBT

What a shame that I did not start documenting my travels before Guatemala in late 2012.  I would have loved to record my experiences and impressions of Cuba, visited one year prior.

Cuba has been making space in the news lately. With an eye to the future, the government has been relaxing some rules and implementing new rules that in the long run will develop the people and its economy. Americans are now also allowed  to visit Cuba. How exciting for them. I, for one, for my own selfish reasons, am not too thrilled. I would have loved to come back to La Habana one more time sitting still in its 1950s glory and explore the eastern side of Cuba all the way to Santiago.

My trip to Cuba with my bff is still one of the best trips ever! There was no archeological ruin to see or worthy museum worth visiting. The whole of Cuba when we were there, is one gigantic museum for the sociologists for its social structure and behavior; for the Architects for its colonial rundown buildings from its heyday; for the motor enthusiasts for its antique cars (love my pink chevy taxi); and for economists due to its dual currency/dual economy based on the Convertibles (CUC) for tourists and its Cuban Pesos for the locals.

Everywhere you go in Cuba (we went to Havana, Trinidad, and Cienfuegos), you will always see and hear people singing and dancing.  They are really happy, go-with-the-flow people.  Being able to speak Spanish also got us a little bit closer to them. We chatted with a few of them, and they were always curious about us.  I am glad I went with my male bff though. The moment we split, I was slightly harassed by this one Cubano, in the Old Havana. He followed me around for a while and after I managed to lose him, he waited to accost me when I was heading back to the my hotel in front of La Floridita (one of Hemingway’s fave haunt for his booze).   The guys offered to pay me USD5,000 for a letter of invite to visit Singapore, which I politely declined.

To be honest, I did not remember doing much in Trinidad and Cienfuegos. I remembered some beautiful beaches and an old and beautiful hotel in Cienfuegos where we met an old singer who looks like una bruja (a witch). I remembered we went around Trinidad looking for this famous underground cave club.  That was fun!  Though luckily I had my bff turned bodyguard that night!  I remembered dancing salsa a couple of times (I am always lost with Cuban salsa!).  In Cienfuegos, we hired a car and driver who got his gas illegally.  I remembered we took a boat ride which ended up taking forever because our captain sucked and we always got stuck on the water plants!  I remembered a beautiful waterfall and we swam there.

In Trinidad and Cienfuegos, we did a homestay where we had amazing local home-cooked food. God bless Abuela Eleanor for her Coca-Cola chicken and amazing mojito made with 7-year Havana Club rum.  Her house was also a museum in itself – from the high ceiling and colored glass windows and door (very colonial style) to the little trinkets she kept!

Cuba really made a deep impression for me. I love the people and the whole atmosphere.  I wish one day I could go back and relive the feelings again.

Street Food!

Cray Cray Calcutta

Finally I made it to India, for a dear friend’s nuptial, a country that intrigued and intimidated me at the same time. Intriguing – due to its vast cultures and vibrant colors and the famous, glamorous, long Indian weddings. Intimidating – due to its established reputations of unsavory business practices and violent bursts towards the feminine gender (foreign and local), and my experience taking SBS bus no 167 heading towards Little India in Singapore (I got off after one stop as I could not stand the spice mixed with body odor smell).  My motto has always been “traveling breaks stereotypes” and it is proven again on my Kolkata trip.

Pre-Trip

I was most excited about buying the saris for the wedding events. I love India for its clothing and vibrant color and embroidery work. I love the gaudy, bling-bling, and gold jewelries they all seem to fancy.  I met a lady who has a shop next to my office building and we tried on so many saris before I settled on two I love, and we chatted about the various Indian clothing: lenga, saris, USD6,000 kashmiri handiwork. That was the fun part.  The stressful part is the other items we have to consider to bring (given of our stereotypes): ointment oil to mask the various smell, fully packed medicine pack including carbon pills allocation for about 40 pills per person for four-day trip, a set of clothes for everyday in case the city is that dirty!  This is on top of the stress of packing for a two-day dress-up parties!!! Yes, it’s tough being a girl!

During The Trip

So this trip is really so far so good. The restrooms in the City Centre shopping centre were clean. The people were clean. They were mindful of personal space as the place got more and more crowded. The sales guys at Shopper’s Stop were polite and helpful. The shopping was great! I wanted all the jewelry they sell. I had to exercise all self control from not buying too much!

Our experience in Kolkata is very positive.  The men were polite. My sister and I did not receive any impolite stares.  We did not feel uncomfortable just being the two of us (inside the mall – we did not try it outside on public streets).  I suppose India is a big country with 30 provinces and many subcultures. What we read on the newspaper has been bad when it comes to violation against women (locals and otherwise), but I suppose we did not know the full picture and context of the incidents.

Peculiarly, we also noticed that people loves to give recommendations here, even for something as simple as choosing which Dhal (lentils) dish to order.  Upon our arrival at the hotel, we decided to order room service for dinner. A minute after calling in our order, the staff called me back and told me “Miss, I have been giving your order some thoughts. I think it would be better if you order the black dhal, instead of the other one”.  We thought it was quite hilarious!  That he gave even our order an afterthought and we appreciated the service of course!  We were told that it is quite an Indian culture to give advise.  In India, they rather say something as to being thought stupid by staying quiet, while is most other cultures, it is best to stay quiet instead of saying something stupid and be thought stupid by others.

The Wedding

As foreigners, we have heard and read about the famous Indian weddings, where the celebrations last from two days to one week long and there are many dancing and singing, fantastic food, and special appearances on the mighty elephants or beautiful white horses. And it really was true!  We had such an amazing time attending and participating our friend’s wedding. His family was super hospitable. They really took care of our well-being and made sure we had everything we needed.  They really appreciated and expressed that appreciation for our efforts of wearing saris (for girls) and kurtas (for guys).  All his relatives danced and sang for him.  Everyone is so talented!  As guests, we really had an amazing time.  They also went all out with the decorations, such as small pyrotechnics for the groom’s and bride ceremonies. And the mehendi (putting on henna) is also an experience in a lifetime.

Bride's mehendi

Bride’s mehendi

One of the most memorable experience is of course, the Bharat, where as part of the groom’s entourage, we danced and celebrated with the Groom on the white horse and a marching band playing the festive music.  In the old days, where the Groom and Bride came from different villages, the Groom and his entourage would go to the Bride’s village and pick her up.

Getting ready for the Bharat

Getting ready for the Bharat

The Real Taste of Kolkata

On our first day, we got a taste of Kolkata from the comfort of our car. We drove past slums, Victoria Memorial, Mother Theresa’s house, and Chinatown.  The slums in India is pretty bad. Some people really does not have the basic necessities of life when it comes to shelter.

One of the huts we passed by

One of the huts we passed by

On this one street, we saw the Goddess of Calcutta in every alley and every 10 metres or so. And most are decorated with bright lights and loud Bollywood music.

Goddess Kali

Goddess Kali

We also rode on the famous aircon-less Ambassador taxi! It was a pleasant ride!

Our Ambassador taxi ride arriving at our hotel

Our Ambassador taxi ride arriving at our hotel

We got our 10 minute taste of real India when we visited Kolkata’s New Market. When one goes to India, photos do not do it justice.  One needs to take a video to capture all the honking and the noise.
I had a migraine after five minutes. I felt a little verge of panic attacks as we walked through the crowded areas (it was not even that packed).  I actually had to puke out our beautiful lunch at the Oberoi’s La Terrace after the day’s city trip.  It is a combination of the migraine and the motion sickness.  People really drives like crazy there. They do not follow their lanes. They swerve. They honk continuously.
I still did not hate it though.

New Market Kolkata - Full of people and car honking

New Market Kolkata – Full of people and car honking

The Food

Lamb! in Peshawri in ITC Sonar…oh God!  I am drooling even as I am writing this a week later. Every bite was so juicy and full of flavor (thanks to the 24-hr marinade).  And the bread! The fish!  Everything! Wow, truly the best meal we had in Kolkata, and we snuck out in between the wedding events to make it there.  The best decision we made.  Not to say the other meals were not great.  As a matter of fact, the meals we had were amazing throughout the trip, and that included our hotel’s in-room dining. The ‘kosha mangsho’ (lamb dish typical of West Bengal) is to-die for as well.  The meat melted in your mouth.  The spice thrilled your nose.  And the marrow in the bone may clog up your arteries, but man, it was wonderful to slurp on the bones.   In truth, we were worried about eating curry from morning to night four days in a row – that it might be too much for our stomach to take.  However, we just could not stay away from Indian food while we were there. Even as we cautiously bit into our food, we forgot all about our worries the moment our tongue tasted the food and our brain processed the yummi-ness of each bite.  One advise on food: when in Rome, do what the Romans do!  Eat local specialities.  Chicken tikka masala can be found anywhere!  But ‘kosha mangsho’ and ‘dal makhanwala” can’t.

Lamb at Peshawri restaurant in ITC Sonar

Lamb at Peshawri restaurant in ITC Sonar

PS. for those who have sweet tooth and are foodies, you might have notice that this discussion section does not touch on desserts at all.  This is because Indian desserts are just cloyingly sweet and heavy.  The milk based desserts are also too heavy for my personal taste.  Go ahead and try a bite and decide for yourself.

Due to hygiene issue possibilities, we also skipped the famous street food.  However, we did manage to try Phuchka. Check out what it is and other street food here.

Finale

Surprisingly we adapted well to India. Yes, we were in our own world most of the time due to the wedding program, but it really is not as what I expected. As I was leaving, I actually was already looking forward planning a return trip to India for a real adventure.  No one got ill from food poisoning and other digestive issues. Thank goodness! No one met any bodily and verbally harm during the trip.  It all went smoothly.  Well, the airport of India is an experience of its own as one departs. Luckily a friend who left earlier gave us all the tips and everything went smoothly.  It is amazing the number of people they employ to do redundant work though. I received three security check stamp on the boarding pass. Although the boarding pass was issued electronically (obviously), they wrote down the details manually in a lined big notebook after security check.  As we leave the waiting gate towards the plane, we have four people checking our passport and/or boarding pass within 10 meters of each other (and they can see each other as well).  All-in-all, it was an experience!  I never saw that before and I had been to 46 other countries prior to India.  As I mentioned that to others who have been to India, I was told that it happens country-wide. Interesting. Well, I admire the government’s noble intention to create jobs for its 1 billion plus citizens.  We have definitely been surprised on many level, but we have barely tasted India and we are looking forward to more.

Mate and Thermos To Last The Long Day At Iguassu Park Entrance, Argentina

Good Ol’ Mate

Drinking yerba mate is such an ingrained culture in the Mercosur region of South America. Starbucks in Brazil sells ice cold mate tea. Surprisingly, mate is absent in the Argentinian Starbucks. In Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay, you would see people walking around with their mate cup, thermos, and bombilla (the metal straw). When we were visiting Iguassu Falls, we see people bringing their mate cup and thermos, and some design of the thermos even comes with a space to put the cup. Our guide for the Jungle Jeep safari is even funnier. We were traveling in the jeep and we would go down to make stops to look at some plants (for like 2 minutes from the jeep), and he would hold his thermos all the time! In and out of the jeep! The thermos is attached to his arm!

The Thermos Is His Baby

The Thermos Is His Baby

Mate is so prevalent that even trendy gift shops in these countries would have various designs of mate cups and matching thermos (luxurious ones from high quality leather to funkier newer designs from silicon on the outer part).

Trendy Matching Thermos and Mate Cup

Trendy Matching Thermos and Mate Cup

Trendy Mate Cup

Trendy Mate Cup

And they share the mate with everyone and anyone, even strangers. When we visited some offices, they would just have the mate cup and thermos at the reception desks and anyone can just fill it up and drink from it. It is a bit of questionable hygiene standard, but I suppose they have had no epidemic outbreak, so all is good. I did share mate with one of my local contact, forgetting about my flu. The next day he got pretty sick, worse than me. Whooops! This time around I quite like the flavor of the mate. I suppose it is an acquired taste. Eight years ago, I loved my coffee sweet (with sugar or sweeteners). These days I can drink them black with no sugar.

Mate and Thermos To Last The Long Day At Iguassu Park Entrance, Argentina

Ready to Roll: Mate and Thermos To Last The Long Day At Iguassu Park Entrance, Argentina

In Paraguay, they drink their mate cold due to the hot and humid weather. They add lemon to the mate. It tastes milder and very refreshing. In the other countries, they drink it hot. And on one of our road trips, we made a stop at one of the gas stations to prepare our mate. And they have a machine that sells hot water for mate.

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) - Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) – Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) - Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

Mate Amigo (Mate Friend) – Hot Water Machine To Prepare Our Mate For The Road

They also sell mate everywhere! In the supermarkets, you can see various brands and blends of mate. I saw one for the “nervios” (nerves) and one that is blended with gingko biloba. I suppose the connoisseurs of mate would be able to tell the difference.

Mate For The Nerves???

Mate For The Nerves???

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Mate With Gingko Biloba

In Asia, yerba mate has been promoted as one of the drink for weight loss. I say losing weight always comes down to what you eat and how much you move. I still see many obese people in Brazil. And many guys in Argentina and Uruguay have massive bellies/beer paunches. And these people drink mate every day. So you decide whether this is for real or a fad.

There is one regret I have from the trip: I did not buy any yerba mate to bring back!!!

 

la foto 12

Good Samaritans

Flying into Guarulhos can be pretty intense. I had to return to SP to catch my flights home.

It got worse once the plane safely touched down after being held in the air in a holding pattern for at least 15 minutes. Taxiing to the gate took 45 minutes. And after that it was one line after another.

So I thought I would do my good deeds for the day – being an a good samaritan that I am – and lay out some tips to make your trip to Sao Paulo a little bit manageable for those have not been here – literally or figuratively.

Tip no 1:  Do not connect international in GRU with tight connection. We got off the jetway and saw a crowded hallway. Three staffs (the first two of course were cute but BLUR to the max!) being questioned later, we found out the line was for international connection. We were supposed to weave our way through those people to immigration and baggage claim.

Line Blocking Our Jetway For International Connection

Line Blocking Our Jetway For International Connection

Tip no 2: Make yourself eligible for priority line at the immigration (bring your little kids, crutches, pregnant wife, or your grandpa to pass the priority line), or bring anything to distract thyself. I just spent over an hour at crazy immigration line.  People here is hmmm — interestingly, unsurprisingly unproductive. Each immigration booth has two staffs (one to enter passport details to a PC and one to chop the passport). And they were still very slow. And to the lady who directed people at immigration:: we were in the foreigners’ line. I think it is safe to say that once you said “22” in portuguese three times at the top of your lungs, and no one went there, it is because we are foreigners and we do not understand portuguese. So there is no need to start screaming at us. You are such a dumbass, girl!!! And not, trying to be OCD, but how can federal agents of Brazil (aka immigration people) show up to work in their own casual clothes!!! Maybe if they get a proper uniform, they would take their job seriously!  (NOTE: I just passed the outgoing immigration. They wore a uniform – though it was a polo t-shirt style and they were fast and friendly.

Horrid Immigration Line at Guarulhos Airport

Horrid Immigration Line at Guarulhos Airport

A Typical Sign Showing Groups With Priorities To Board or Queue (It's a LAW!)

A Typical Sign Showing Groups With Priorities To Board or Queue (It’s a LAW!)

Tip no 3: Stay in a hotel who will arrange a private car and driver for USD100. I did that first time round and it was painless! This time I chose a small boutique hotel who does not arrange that. I queued 15 min to pay for official taxi (USD60). Then I had to queue for another 20 min to take the taxi. This will be the most well-spent USD40 after a long haul flight and crazy immigration.

Line for Official Taxi

Line for Official Taxi

Last but not least: Come prepared with tons of patience and positive attitude. Remember your attitude is the only determinant whether you are having an ordeal or an adventure.

Wishing you loads of fun and safe travels.

View of Paraguay River

12 Things About Paraguay

Here is a list of things I noticed on my four-day stay in Paraguay:

1. The typical locals are polite and speak softly. They are not very alert in general. They get flustered when someone ask them questions (even if they are easy questions).

2. Asuncion is like jakarta 30 yrs ago. Some areas remind me of Menteng. There are few tall buildings.

3. People really rolls their “R” and speak with weird accent. It is hard to understand their spanish.

4. Paraguay is a very young country in the context of demographic profile – it will boom in 10-25 years (half of the population is below 15 y/o). One can already see the beginning of the growth: apartments, restaurants, local consumption (gdp growth last year at 12 percent). Despite the large socio economic gap, in the last eight years, there is growth in low to middle class. In a few years, there will be growth in middle to upper class.

5. Papaya served with seeds (also in argentina, uruguay, and brazil). Random I know! But papaya seeds are always the first thing we remove at home!!!

6. In Ciudad del Este (near Brazil border and Iguassu Falls),  it feels like mini brazil. There are a lot of brazilian companies and workers. Even the paraguayan workers would speak portuguese first until they realize you do not speak it then switch to spanish laced with portuguese accent. Also I was told in the east there are many more chinese and arabic descent population. Ciudad del Este is also where all the electronics are. There is a saying: if it is not in the Ciudad del Este, it either does not exist or you are not looking at the right places. I have this silly fear of going there – that someone will steal my iPhone 5s and I will have to buy it back from them. LOL. It is a joke! Most things being sold there are new.

7. Local typical food is rice and meat (comfort food cooked at home). A lot of the local, cheap, streetside eating places serve lomitos (sandwich with meat and lettuce and tomatoes and eggs) – similar to Uruguayan chivito.  I was also invited to another asado at home. It was great!  Similar to the one I had in Uruguay (posts on this is coming).

Guiso of Meet and Rice - Usually Comfort Food At Home (I stupidly ordered overpriced version in a restaurant LOL)

Guiso of Meet and Rice – Usually Comfort Food At Home (I stupidly ordered overpriced version in a restaurant LOL)

8. Complicated country: The War of the Three Alliance (1865-1870) demolished rich paraguay (when Brazil/Uruguay/Argentine colluded and attacked paraguay, it was the end of their wealth and demolished half of their population). These days the social issues are a little bit different. Outside the old train station, we saw hundreds of Guarani Indians living in stations asking for land. Also, military ruling in more recent history demolished a lot of the colonial buildings (they were not concerned about restoring or maintaining any buildings). I am showing you some of the photos of the gems left.

Government's Palace in Asuncion

Government’s Palace in Asuncion

 

Cathedral in Asuncion

Cathedral in Asuncion

9. Possibly the “safest” place in South America. My local contact would leave the car unlocked and window opened as we fill in gas and went inside the store – with our luggages and backpack in the car. We would be sitting in the patio and he would just throw the wallet on the sofa and  the sofa is right off the street. In Europe, it would have been stolen in two minutes.

10. But the worse drivers on Earth. We almost got into an accident and got hit by a big truck. Though it did not stop me from enjoying the sunset.

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

Dusk in Paraguayan Countryside

11. Kidnappings by “revolutionaries” still happened every now and then. A 16 year old boy was just kidnapped a few days before I arrived. That was why there were many police on the highway. We were stopped and searched. They opened my luggage too. These “revolutionaries” are also criminals and marijuana farmers.

12. Surprisingly, from the legal enforcement and political stability point of view, Paraguay is probably the BEST in the MercoSur region (apart from Chile).

Hope this short list intrigues you a little bit on Paraguay, possibly a country often ignored for the purpose of tourism.

Food for thoughts! Nothing more!