São Paulo

Trip Start Oct 25, 2012
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Vila Madalena
What I did
The city

Flag of Brazil  , São Paulo,
Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thursday- February 14

The bus to Sao Paulo was certainly a lot smoother than some of the previous buses. It was not completely full, so we managed 2 seats each and could spread out (within reason) to sleep. It was also on time- so when we arrived at the bus terminal in Sao Paulo, we booked our ticket to Rio asap. The bus terminal in Sao Paulo (according to an email from Mum), is the 2nd biggest in the world. It is also extremely modern and organized. We then had to catch a metro to our hostel. I think the metro is the largest in the world and it is also extremely clean, modern and efficient and many subway stations look like air-port terminals, including the travelators (flat escalators) between connecting lines.

We got a little bit lost on the way to the hostel and needed to pull out the map twice. Within a couple of seconds each time, someone had stopped to help us. I Googled some information on Sao Paulo and apparently it was voted the 4th most 'courteous' country in 2012- well deserved! Every time we needed assistance, people were very friendly and willing. When we made it to the hostel, there had been a bit of a mix-up with our reservation (on both our parts) and we had been booked into the 8 bedroom dorm. They didn’t have any other spare rooms, but the owner was extremely helpful and helped find us another hostel for the next 4 nights. It was a shame, because the hostel was a really nice place with a quiet garden and nice bar/breakfast area- but it made the dorm much more comfortable for the time we were there.

That afternoon, we headed to the Laundromat to wash a weeks’ worth of stinking clothes and wandered the streets near our hostel. We also bought our 3rd adaptor in 3 countries! Late that afternoon, there was a massive storm with lots of thunder, lightning, heavy rain and hail. The roof of the other dorm started leaking pretty badly and a pot plant outside reception smashed. I am glad we weren’t caught in the middle of the city in the storm. That evening we wandered around the suburb we were staying in (Vila Madalena) and grabbed an awesome (some kind of) meat sandwich from a side street and a drink from one of the many bars. Vila Madalena is one of the few areas that it is recommended for tourists to stay- as other areas are far too dangerous at night. That meant the streets were lined with bars- but the prices were pretty standard and comparable to Australia as Sao Paulo is the 11th (I think) most expensive city in the world. Vila Madelena was also built on some extremely steep hills- but in a city of 12 million you build where you can I guess.

Friday- February 15

This morning we had breakfast at the original hostel and then checked into the new hostel. The new hostel was nice and even better located than the previous hostel- as we were now far closer to the metro. We then caught the metro to the station closest to Ibirapuera Park (near the centre). It was about 3km walk to the park, but we stopped at a supermarket on the way to grab some supplies for a mini picnic. The park was really nice and peaceful in the middle of a giant city and I think it is one of the biggest in the America’s- along with Central Park and the park in Bogota. We wandered around the park and past a couple of museums and an Obelisk – although I am not sure of the significance of the Obelisk. There was a nice big lake in the middle of the park with some swans and like the main park in Colombia, there were quite a few joggers and cyclists. We spent a few hours at the park and then walked back to the metro and our hostel. As we were heading home from the metro another storm was coming, but we made it back just in time. Although the storm was far less severe, the rain was pretty constant- so we postponed the plans to go out and instead, we cooked at the hostel and watched a movie.

Saturday- February 16

At the hostel we had seen an advertisement for a 4 hour walking tour of Sao Paulo, so after breakfast at the hostel, we headed to Republica Plaza for our tour. Our tour guides name was Ricardo and his English was pretty good. He was also extremely knowledgeable and the type of information he provided was all too reminiscent of the Contiki assignment I just finished. For example, when the buildings were built, damaged, restored, who they were built for, why they were built and what style they were etc. We saw many of the main buildings, churches, theatres, government buildings and plazas of the area and learned about the history of ‘Old’ Sao Paulo and how it has developed over the years. Much of the city was ‘run down’ in the 60’s and 70’s and many companies moved to another area. Some really nice buildings became favelas at the time and one in particular was overrun for many years. Ricardo told us that when they finally vacated the building, the elevator shafts were full of rubbish and even dead bodies.

We stopped for lunch at a couple of cafes and ordered some sandwiches and drinks. I learned from The Simpsons that Brazil is renowned for its sweet drinks / juices and it did not disappoint. We both ordered an acai drink– and since then it has become a small obsession. From memory, Australia was introduced to acai berries via Oprah a few years ago, when someone was plugging the berries for their weight loss properties. They are a super food native to Brazil and the taste has been described as a ‘grape + raspberry’ fusion. They didn’t really take off in Australia (due to cost), but since they are native to Brazil, they’re not too costly. There is also a dessert with a jelly form of the fruit- but I am still waiting to try that. The 2nd half of the tour was the same sort of thing, except it got a bit scarier as the amount of homeless people increased. Outside the main church there were dozens of homeless people and a couple approached the group. At one point a guy was standing right behind Sebastian and me, aka, 2 very touristy looking people with a backpack filled with phones, wallets, passports, ipods and a camera. There was another guy who came along for the tour and each time he managed to distract the homeless people and get them away from the group. Ricardo also informed us where was safe and unsafe- and unfortunately, every single place we went was not a safe place at night (despite the fact some of the apartments on the main street go for over $1 million). It seemed the only safe place for tourists at night was Vila Madalena.

When the tour ended, we headed back to the hostel to change and get ready to head out that night. We caught a metro to the same station as the park and then headed to an area near Bela Vista (the Italian district in Sao Paulo) for a pizza dinner- as Sao Paulo is home to the most Italian’s outside Italy. The restaurant was lovely, but the pizza was about $27 each (money we could use on something else), so we headed somewhere a bit cheaper for dinner- which might have been McDonald’s. I am going to say we went there for experimental purposes, because I had heard that Sao Paulo had one of the most expensive McDonald’s in the world- so I wanted to see if it was true. Conclusion- prices are pretty much on par with Australia. Myth busted.

We had looked up the bars and clubs in Sao Paulo, but decided to have a quieter night and head for a nice bar. From McDonald’s, we walked about 3.5km (past the park from the previous day) to Skye Bar. It is a very fancy bar that we found on Trip Advisor which claimed that it was for ‘Sao Paulo’s Elite’, but we got in anyway. The bar is on the top of a 12 (ish) storey hotel shaped like an ark. It was a very fancy hotel and entrance, perfect for a formal. The upstairs bar was fully decked beside a 30m pool with amazing panoramic views of the city at night. We didn’t take the camera- and the camera from our phones did not do the view justice, but it was amazing- skyscrapers as far as you could see in every direction. There was also another storm building in the distance and there were some huge strikes of lightning in the distance. I ordered a wasabi mojito (which I now want the recipe for) and we stretched our expensive drinks over a couple of hours while sitting beside the pool. At about 11pm, we walked back to the metro (and caught a cab the last kilometer, as it started to rain) and then headed back to the hostel.

Sunday- February 17

This morning we headed to a nearby, modern, pink and black building which was on front of our Sao Paulo map. The building looked pretty high, but it was more of an optical illusion as it was only 30 storeys. Brazil isn’t home to any huge buildings, and according to Ricardo, the largest 3 building in Brazil are in Sao Paulo- the largest being 42 storeys (170m) high. Inside the first 2 floors of the building were a nice restaurant and a couple of art galleries, which were very abstract. We then caught a metro to Liberdade – the Japanese neighborhood of Sao Paulo. Again, Sao Paulo is home to more Japanese people than any other country, besides Japan. When we got off the metro we were hit with ‘oriental scene’ and the surrounding block was swamped with people walking through the street markets. One street market was specifically for Japanese food and at some stalls the crowd of people in front of the counter was 4 deep. We settled for some gyoza, fish ball things and fried prawns. Yum!

We then walked to the Italian district from a different angle, with the intentions of finding a cheaper piece of pizza- but I probably should have done a bit of research beforehand. The area was about 10 blocks away, but it was in a very bad neighborhood. The buildings were all run down and a lot of people on the streets were homeless. We were even approached by a homeless man who started asking us for something and when he reached into his pocket I think we both metaphorically wet ourselves (thankfully it was for a cigarette). He then followed us for about a couple hundred meters before we stopped at a café. The man behind the counter gave the man a roll without hesitation and he walked across the street again. We eventually made it to the main street in Bela Vista, except it was just 1 ring road, about 500m long, with very expensive restaurants, in the middle of a terrible neighborhood. After our encounter with the homeless guy, we flagged the Bela Vista plans and headed for the new centre of Sao Paulo. The main street with all the major companies is now located on Paulista Avenue. It is a far more modern and safe street and we walked a couple of kilometers down the avenue to check it out. On the way we passed an antique-style market which had a lot of really nice items- especially some of the watches.

On the walk from the metro to our hostel we passed a park with a lot of people, so we decided to check it out. It looked like a music festival with hundreds of people our age drinking and (kind of) dancing to the music being blasted from a ute, except we were both hungry so we headed for dinner. Finally I found a pizza place and we ordered 6 miniature pizzas with different toppings- including catupiry, a Brazilian cheese- which I would describe as a creamy/buttery cheese. Quite bizarre, but pretty tasty. A couple of hours later, I went for a run through the very hilly streets of Sao Paulo. Initially, I deliberately got lost – but as the sun started to set, it was an unintentional ‘lost’- except it wasn’t for long and I found my way back to the hostel without dramas. On the way, I passed yet another ‘party’. Again, there would have been about 300 people on the street, dancing and drinking to a dj on the path. After I changed out of my running clothes, we headed down to check it out. It was really bizarre and we still couldn’t figure it out- but it was like a big ‘Sunday Session’. The music was really good too- kind of hip hop/ house/ Brazilian style. We stayed for about an hour and headed home via the other party in the park. By this time there were probably close to 1000 very drunk people… but there was no music anymore. We stayed for 20 minutes in the hope the music would resume, but it didn’t - not until we heard it start again from our hostel about half an hour later.

Monday- February 18

We had a couple of options left for this morning, except most were museums- which we found out on our walking tour were closed on Monday’s. So, in the morning we headed for one of the main metro stations – with a design based on the Big Ben in London. It was located opposite a nice park and the Portuguese Museum of Language (which was closed). There was also a large theatre and another historic bus station in the area- which were really nice buildings, but again, they were situated in the middle of a rough neighborhood. Homeless people lined the sidewalk beside the park and the lack of other tourists and pedestrians was a bit concerning. We quickly checked out the area and then walked back to Republica (the more central area). On the way, we went up the 3rd tallest building in Brazil (and Sao Paulo), which was designed after the Empire State building. We only got about 5 minutes at the top, but the view was 360° of Sao Paulo- in perfect weather. After a quick detour via the same lunch place as the walking tour (and some more acai), we headed for the 2nd tallest building in the area- the Italia building. This was open from 3-4 for free and again, gave views of the entire city. There was a professional juggler at the top- juggling 5 balls at once- pretty talented. The observatory also gave us a good view of the storm that was coming, so we headed back to the hostel and made it just in time. There was more heavy rain, so I occupied myself with the Super Nintendo at the hostel (circa 1992 ish). It is scary how much Donkey Kong country I remember. So much wasted brain space.

Tuesday- February 19

A 6:30am start before heading to the bus station for our 6 hour bus trip to Rio. 
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