Monday, March 25, 2013

Buenos Aires, A Beautiful City with a Familiar Flare

In the process of trying to complete my matriculation at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, I learned that I needed to have their name on my visa.  To do that, I needed to go to a Brazilian consulate office outside of Brazil.  For me, living in Florianópolis, the closest Brazilian consulate, outside of Brazil, is located in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  So began my trip to a city that I knew very little about until I arrived there. 
Because Brazil has always been my South American country of choice, I had never considered visiting any other country in the region.  Had circumstances not dictated my need to travel to Buenos Aires, I can see now, it would have been a mistake to miss the opportunity to visit a beautiful and interesting city that shares a lot in common with two of my favorite destinations in the US, Washington, DC and Manhattan, NY.

I’ve had the privilege of living on the east coast for several years, specifically Washington DC and northern New Jersey, and there are some principal characteristics of those areas that make them nice places to live and visit.  Interestingly, while in Buenos Aires, I felt right at home because I noticed some of those same characteristics that I loved about living on the East Coast. 
 Because I love “live” flowers, I immediately took notice, in Buenos Aires of the ubiquitous street vendors selling flowers.   The same is true for DC and Manhattan.  Since they were so accessible, while living on the East Coast, it was easy to reward myself with fresh cut flowers regularly.
Second, my attention was seized by the architect and monuments in Buenos Aires.  Since this trip was unplanned and strictly a business trip, to change my visa and quickly return to Brazil, the only research I did prior to leaving for Buenos Aires was to learn all I could about changing my visa and gathering all the documents necessary to accomplish that end. 
Upon arriving in Buenos Aires, the first item on my agenda was to locate the Brazilian consulate office.  On my way to my destination, to my great surprise, as I ran across the busy intersection of 9 de Julio, I saw a tall obelisk, an exact replica of the Washington Monument.  Interestingly, on my last day in the city, on my way to purchase my return ticket to Brazil, I stumbled upon a monument that resembles a combination of the Vietnam Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, DC.  The monument is named, “El Monumento a Los Caídos en Malvinas.”  Similar to both the Vietnam Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, it pays homage to soldiers lost during war.   The appearance of the monument is like the Vietnam Memorial, the names of fallen soldiers are carved into black stones, but the activities at the monument are similar to those at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.  An eternal flame is a part of the monument and guards dressed in historic uniforms are posted at the monument.
Third, I would be remiss if I did not mention the parks, plazas and shops.  Buenos Aires is very urban and holds the distinction of being considered “the Paris of South America.”  I stayed in the Recoleta neighborhood, which reminded me of a combination of Dupont Circle in Washington, DC and the upper east side of Manhattan, NY.  Despite its urban characteristic, it is clear that the city demands its green space.  I was enamored by the plazas and parks that I frequently stumbled upon, and the variety of shops and restaurants that kept my constant attention as I made my way from one destination to the other. The fashion trend in Buenos Aires, for every member of the family, is definitely inspired by Paris.   
Fourth like any major city, with all its wonderfulness and beauty, you must exercise caution.  I was almost the victim of a theft while walking along the busy avenue of Santa Fe.  I was carrying my book bag on my back.  I thought it was secure because I had all the zippers pulled completely to one side.  I was not prepared for the craftiness of three perpetrators as oppose to one.  While one person, perhaps standing to the side of me, slowly unzipped the bag, the other, standing behind me, attempted to rummage through my bag.  Fortunately, I felt my bag moving and turned around, startling the thief and thus foiling their plan.  When I took the bag off my back, it was completely open.  The most surprising thing about the entire ordeal is that I would never have suspected the persons to be thieves.  They were well-dressed and groomed, and looked like your typical employees on a lunch break.  While it seemed strange at first, I became quite comfortable carrying my book bag covering my chest. 
Finally, I know that there is so much more to Buenos Aires that time and circumstance did not permit me to explore, however, the corner of the city that I was able to experience was a great place to start.





Friday, March 22, 2013

Stockholm, Sweden

Gamla Stan

Vasa Museet

Prinsesstårta and Semla

Stockholm's T-Centralen Metro Station

 Stockholm is beautiful! Last week I had a chance to visit Stockholm and over the few days I was there, I enjoyed a culture which is very different from the one in Lyon, France. Even though the weather was still in the 30s, the sun was out every day! I visited the Historiska Museum, which had a great exhibit on the Viking Era of Sweden. There is also the famous Vasa Museum, which is dedicated to the Vasa Ship. The ship sank on its maiden voyage in Stockholm's harbor in the 1600s and wasn't excavated until the 1960s. Gamla Stan(Old town), of course, was lined with tourist shops just like in any other European city. They sold traditional Sami clothing and other Scandinavian souvenirs.
While France has great pastries, I must say that I like Sweden's pastries and desserts much better. Kanelbullar (cinnamon rolls),  Prinsesstårta (Princess Cake), and Semla (cake of light wheat bread with a sweet filling of almond paste and cream) are just some of Sweden's famous desserts which I had multiple times while there! They are usually eaten during Fika (coffee break) and Swedes love Fika!
Not only were the people extremely nice, but every one of them speaks close to perfect english! It is really amazing :) Of course there were plenty of blondes and the average height there for men and women seemed to be a lot taller than in Lyon. The Metro system is very large and many of the stations are known for being like little art exhibits. Several stations are themed and extremely colorful! ...
I can't wait to visit Sweden again. By far my favorite place I have traveled to this year!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Marseille, France

Le Panier

le Vieux Port

Le Notre Dame de la Garde

During my winter break last week, I found a cheap last minute ticket to take the train south of Lyon about 2 hours to the city of Marseille. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, this port city, known for being the melting pot of Europe, has attracted immigrants from the neighboring North African countries over the years. After arriving at the Saint- Charles train station early in the morning, I went straight to the Old Port. Throughout the day I visited the main city-attractions such as the Notre Dame de la Garde, a cathedral located at the top of a hill overlooking the city, and Le Panier. I also had plenty of time to sit on the beach and enjoy the warm sun and 60 degree weather!