Rio de Janeiro – The final South American stop

The final post of an amazing trip is always the most difficult to post because at this point, I have settled back into real life and am attempting to do my second-to-least favorite thing, unpack. (Note: my least favorite is actually doing the packing). On Wednesday, we left beautiful Salvador for another amazing city, Rio de Janeiro.

We arrived around 3pm to Rio after an easy hour and 45 minute flight. We took a taxi to the incredible hotel, The Fasano. Someone told us before we left that we would have a hard time leaving the hotel and boy were they right! The infinity pool at the hotel that sits right on Ipanema beach is magnificent.  

    
   

When we arrived and settled into our room, we had caprinhias at the pool and then got ready for the event of the evening – a Brazil Cup football (soccer) match. This match was played at the famous Maracana stadium in Rio and was a match between two local teams Flamengo and Vasco. It was such a cool experience to be there cheering on the teams. The stadium was louder than most American sporting events we have been to! 

  
On our second day, we woke up early and went straight up to the roof to enjoy the pool. We wanted to be sure to take in some rays today since the next day was a bit cooler and we figured would be a better day to sightsee. The clouds were supposed to roll in a bit later in the day so we booked a tour for the afternoon. For breakfast, we got acai bowls – one of my favorite things to eat in New York. Acai is a reddish-purple fruit that comes from acai palm trees that are in South America. I got mine with banana and granola in it and it was delicious!  

 
After we ate breakfast, we walked around Ipanema beach, ate a delicious lunch of too many appetizers at this cute cafe called Felice Cafe that was recommended by the hotel. Around 2:15pm we were picked up by a van from our hotel to go on our favela tour. The word “favela” means slum in Portuguese. These favelas are so interesting because they mostly sit on two or three mains roads then houses are built up around them and they contain these mazes of alleys and stairs to get up. Many of the residents do not pay for electricity or water and just steal it from the electrical poles. Some families have owned their homes for so long that they do not even pay rent. The drug dealing and other crime in favelas used to be much worse but since their recent pacification in 2008, the crime has decreased. Since then, people have begun touring favelas, staying at hostels and even attending parties in favelas. It has become an interesting part of the culture in Brazil and is very interesting to see. We visited Rochina, the largest favela in Rio, and Vila Canoas.  

    
   
My favorite part of the tour was visiting this after school program in Vila Canoas. We learned that children in public schools are only in school until around noon and sometimes show up with no teachers because they are often on strike. The public schools in Rio do not provide enough support for their students. As a future educator, this broke my heart. It was very special being able to walk around the school, see the classrooms and some of the children. Visit Para Ti Website Here  

   
After our tour was over, we went out to this dinner at a restaurant that was recommended by the hotel in an area called Leblon. They informed us that Giuseppe Grill was the best meat and fish in the city. We enjoyed the decor and had a good meal but did not find it to be any better than some restaurants in New York. Thus far, Salvador was taking the cake for best food!

Our third day was our day of Rio tourism! We began with acai bowls and then took a taxi to the base of Corcovado, a mountain in Rio. We took a train to the top of Corcovado to see the most famous monument in Rio – Christ the Redeemer. The statue sits on the tallest mountain in Rio and is 13 stories high and overlook and blesses the entire city. It is really massive when you are up close but we didn’t admire its beauty for too long being the good jews that we are!  

    
   
After our train ride down Corcovado, we headed to our next tourist spot – Escadaria Selaron, the stairs of Chilean artist Jorge Selaron. These beautiful steps are located in the Lapa area and are covered in tiles from over 60 different countries. We walked up and down admiring all the different tiles and searched for a tile of Boston but were only able to find New York City (and Chicago, Alaska, Georgia, Maine… very odd our hometown wasn’t included!)  

    
 
Next, we walked through the city to the business center of town and ate at this 120 year old restaurant called Confeitaria Colombo. The restaurant had massive ceilings and the walls were adorned with mirrors. We had a very decadent lunch!  

 
The last stop on our day of Rio tourism was Pao do Acucar or Sugarloaf mountain. Everyone told us how incredible the views from Sugarloaf were but it wasn’t until we took the two cable cars up the mountain that we could really understand what they meant. You can really see the entire city with its beaches, favelas and mountains and it was spectacular!  

    
 
We were exhausted form our busy day so we took a nap then went out to dinner at Restaurant MEE, an Asian fusion Michelin star restaurant at Copacabana Palace. We had a delicious late dinner with a bottle of sake to celebrate our final night in Rio. Our trip went by so quickly! That night, we decided to go out on the town. Per some recommendations from friends, we headed to Rio Scenarium, a huge samba club. We had a fun night dancing on the different floors to Brazilian music. After, we headed to the hotel and discovered that the bar at our hotel turns into a small nightclub at night so we had a glass of wine there then headed to bed. We had such a blast on our night out in Rio!

The next morning was our final day in Rio. We checked out of our hotel then spent the rest of the day relaxing at the rooftop pool at the Fasano until our 9pm flight back to New York. Our trip was so incredible and I cannot believe it has been a week since we left! Until the next trip…

Salvador – Brazil’s Happiness Capital

We arrived in Salvador on Wednesday evening after a connection in Sao Paolo. We figured we would be able to eat in the airport since Sao Paolo is the largest city in Brazil but their offerings consisted of ham and cheese sandwiches and cup of noodles – so gross. When we landed in Salvador we were picked up by a driver from our hotel for a pricey $6. We opted to do this instead of taking a cab because Salvador is much less touristy than some of the other areas and many people do not speak English. We arrived at our hotel, Aram Yami, and could not believe how gorgeous it was. Aram Yami is rated #1 on Trip Advisor and is a small, boutique hotel. The hotel’s decor was charming and the staff spoke nearly perfect English and made us feel right at home. After the first portion of our trip staying in hostels, it felt so great to be in a hotel and “splurging,” although splurging at one of the nicest and best rated hotels in Salvador was around USD$150  per night. Our room was on the top floor and had two private balconies overlooking the entire city. The hotel had an infinity pool and we sure felt spoiled!  

Here are some photos of the outside of the hotel located in Santo Antonio, just next to Pelourinho, the lobby of the hotel, our room and the infinity pool:

    
   

We arrived around 6pm so we were ready to go out for a delicious dinner. We heard great things about the food in Bahia. Bahia is the coastal state that Salvador is in. Bahian food consists of lots of fish so I was excited to try their local cuisine. The hotel recommended a restaurant called Maria Mata Mouro in Pelourinho. We walked through the colorful streets to the restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious bottle of Argentian Malbec followed by the traditional dish called Moqueca, which is a delicious fish stew. This was by far one of hte best meals we have had so far. I love Bahian food! The restaurant also had this adorable back garden area which made the meal even more enjoyable.  

   

The next day was supposed to be gorgeous with highs around 85 degrees so we decided to explore the famous beaches of Bahia. Although the city of Salvador has a number of beautiful beaches, the truly spectacular beaches are a bit of a drive from Salvador. We decided to hire a taxi to take us an hour and a half North to Praia do Forte. Since this would be our best day of weather we felt we deserved a day of relaxation on a beach. We enjoyed caprinihas and took in the rays.  

    
 

After we both finished reading our books, it was around 2:30pm and we were hungry for lunch. We walked to the cute beach town to explore a bit more. The next Bahian food we wanted to try was Acaraje. Acaraje is a ball of deep fried peas filled with shrimp and vegetables in a spicy sauce. It was so delicious and super spicy! We even had locals playing this interesting instrument with a caribbean sound as we enjoyed our lunch.  

 

  

   

After lunch, our taxi driver took us to the Tamar Project in Praia do Forte. This is a sea turtle preservation area where they help sea turtles survive. We got to walk around a look at these incredinle animals. They are so cute and grow to be massive!  

    
    
 
After we walked around the Tamar Project, we headed back to Salvador. We jumped into the pool at the hotel then showered and got ready for dinner. We had dinner at a Japanese restaurant that was recommended along the water in Salvador. The restaurant was cool and the outdoor patio had glass panels so you could see into the water but the food was average. 

The next day. we woke up around 8:30am so we could go explore the city. We enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the hotel and headed out to explore the streets of Salvador. The incredible thing about the city is the colonial architecture and the colorful buildings. Salvador was the first capital of Brazil when it was colonized by the Portugese and is actually one of the oldest colonial cities in all of the Americas. It is now the third largest city in Brazil in terms of population. It has a ton of African influence as well because it was a major port for African ships bringing slaves over from Africa. It is a dark part of their history but Salvador embraces its African influences in a beautiful way. Here are some gorgeous views of the city of Salvador and the streets of Pelourinho or the historic center. The name Pelourinho was actually named after a whipping post used for African slaves that used to be located in the center of town.  

    
    
   
As we continued our tour around the city, our next stop was taking their elevator to the lower part of the city. The city is connected by these two elevators that connect the lower and upper towns. When we got to the lower portion of  the city, we walked through this market that used to be used to trade slaves. Outside of the market, people were perfoming Capoeira, a combination of martial arts and dance.  

   
When we took the elevator back up, we explored the views of the water from this history museum.  You can also see the elevator that we took as well.

   
Another special thing about walking around Salvador is the Bahia bands that are all over doors and churches. They symbolize three wishes and different colors represent different things. We loved the vibrant colors that adorned Senhor do Bonfirm.  

    
   
For lunch, we ate at this culinary school that came highly recommended called SENAC. It was a buffet style  and the food was ok but the service was great and it was definitely neat to support a local culinary school. After lunch, we went back to the hotel to enjoy the sunset in the pool. For dinner, we ate at Poro Reste e Bar. This restaurant was brand new and actually owned by a woman that used to work at our hotel named Bia. She was so nice, the decor was great  and we had a great experience there.

   
After dinner we wanted to get a true cultural experience. Apparently, Tuesday nights in Salvador are the best night to explore. Salvador is Brazil’s happiness capital for its street parties and music that take over the cultural center of the city. Walking around the streets you could really see why. It was so much fun dancing in the streets with the local drummers. We also went to a show called Geronimo but we actually prefered the free street music instead! Walking around Salvador at night was just as beautiful as during the day but you have to be careful past 11pm because it can get a bit dangerous if you are not careful!  

  

  

  

  

  

  

We were so thrilled that we decided to go to Salvador and spend our day in Praia do Forte. We sure did do it perfectly! I loved the Bahian food and would love to go back and explore more of their amazing beach towns next time. The next and final stop on our journey is Rio – I cannot wait to share our experience with all of you!

“Poor Niagara” – Iguasu Falls, Brazil

We woke up once again bright and early at 5:15am in Cusco to catch our flight to Iguasu Falls. Everytime I travel, I learn more and more about people and new tips for travelling. Our new lesson from this trip was do not trust anyone that works in a hostel with important information. The night before, the hostel worker, after I insisted on checking out that evening, told us that we could check out in the morning, get a taxi within ten minutes and arrive to the airport in Cusco only an hour before our flight. I was hesistant since I know the ‘hostel speed’ is slower than most and an hour before seemed like not much time. Of course when we woke up, their credit card machine wasn’t working since it was early and the computer needed to ‘wake up’ and then the taxi took 20 minutes to arrive. We thought were still fine on time until we arrived to the airport with a line for LAN airlines that was out the door. Since LAN is One World and I have gold status on American Airlines, I somehow convinced the guy that since I was One World Ruby that I could go in the priority lane, which you technically can only do if you are sapphire or emerald. Luckily, it worked and we were right through security – Thank god for Priority Status! 

We arrived Friday evening to Foz do Iguassu in Brazil. We were very excited to arrive to the second half of our journey. We got to the hostel, Che Lagarto, and were very impressed. The hostel was more like a hotel than a hostel. We took amazing hot showers and washed all of our disgusting trek clothing that was creating a disgusting stentch in our suitcases. Finally I had clean Lululemons to wear! On our way to the hostel, we asked our taxi driver if there was a good Brazillian steakhouse nearby that he recommended, he mentioned this place called Churrascaria Bufalo Branco. When we got to the hostel, we wanted to confirm that this was a good spot so we asked the front desk what they preferred. This one guy was overly pushy and suggested this other one that was 20 minutes away and reached to these pamphlets that were sitting on the front desk, as if they had some deal with the restaurant. Based on the lesson we learned earlier we decided to go to the other place since the reviews online were good and we didn’t trust the hostel worker. Before we left for dinner, the hostel had free Capirinhas on the rooftop so we had two of the cocktails then walked to the steakhouse. The Brazillian steakhouse ended up being very mediocre. I guess we will never know if the people at this hostel were right or not. We are looking forward to trying another delicious steakhouse when we get to Rio where we know they are great!

The next morning we slept in until 8am – we couldn’t believe it! What a joy it was to sleep past 6am! We grabbed free breakfast at the hostel then headed out to see the waterfalls or cataratas in Portugese. It was really starting to sink in that we were no longer in Peru. Atleast in Peru, we both know enough Spanish to get by and communicate. We both know zero Portugese except hello, thank you and we don’t speak Portugese. This leg of the trip would certainly be much more difficult because of the language barrier. We finally got on the public bus to the falls, which took 30 minutes longer than the people at the hostel told us – shocker! We got off and immediately went over to Helisul, the helicopter company that flies you over the falls. I had already been in a helicopter with Auntie Missy when we flew over the Apostales on the Great Ocean Road in Australia but wanted to experience the falls first from above. Gabe had also never been in a helicopter before. This was an awesome way to view the falls before going up close to see them ourselves. 

Here are some photos from the helicopter ride. In the last one you can even see a rainbow:

    
     

  

After our helicopter ride, we got our tickets to enter the national park and took a bus to the start of the trail. People had told us that the Brazil side was not as great as the Argentina side but since Americans need visas for both countires, we didn’t want to pay $250 just to pass over into Argentina for a day. Also, with only one day we likely wouldn’t have enough time to do both. We got to the head of the trail and got to see the falls from afar. At first, we thought that perhaps they were right about not getting too close on the Brazil side. We saw gorgeous views from afar but nothing too close. As the trail progressed, we got closer and closer until we got to the point called Devil’s Throat where you are literally standing on top of the falls! Boy were they wrong. We got soaked just standing there and had a long trail along the entirety of the falls. Eleanor Roosevelt was sure right when she said, “Poor Niagara” after seeing these falls. They are massive and unlike anything we had ever seen before. As we walked along the path, they just kept going and going. It is so cool to be at such a spectacular place that is on the border of three countires in South America – Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. The pictures don’t even do the falls justice. If you ever have the urge to come to South America, do not miss a trip to see this amazing natural wonder.  

    
    
   

Another interesting thing about our trip to the falls were these graphic photographs on the buses and all over signs walking into the falls of this bloody human hand with warnings saying “Don’t feed the Quatis.” We were both very confused about what a Quatis was and why we would ever feed them. It became very clear what they were because the Quatis or skunk/rodent-like  animals were running all over the trail along the falls. I, of course, screamed everytime one came near me as Gabe tried to photograph them and laughed.

Here is a Quatis:  

 
Here is an awesome photo that Gabe took at the falls of a butterfly: 

 

After we finished the trail, I decided to be the best girlfriend ever and go with Gabe to the Parque do Aves or the bird park. If any of you do not already know, birds are high on my list of least favorite animals. It is something about their flapping that really grosses me out. I did think it would be cool to see a toucan but I wasn’t thrilled about going in general. Gabe loved the bird park while I held on tightly in the parrot cages. I must say, some were very pretty from afar but not when they flapped past me.  

    
 

Following our trip to see the birds, we had nap time then went to dinner at this sushi place called Taj. The restaurant was trendy and had a DJ and everything and even charged a R$5 cover charge. We have learned that the food in Iguasu is not the best but we didn’t go for the culinary experience – we went to see the falls and were thrilled we did! Sunday morning we were off to Salvador, Brazil! 

Dublin, Ireland -> Boston, MA USA

Here we are at the Dublin airport once again! This time, we are heading back to Boston, Massachusetts, USA!! I can’t believe it has been 36 days since we left for Europe. During that short time I have visited 10 different countries and seen 19 different cities. The trip has finally come to an end and I am so grateful for having this amazing opportunity. It was great seeing cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Prague again while also exploring new cities like Geneva, Berlin and Florence. Of course the only thing I can think about is my next adventure, although I know the time has come for me to settle into the “Real World” and start my career. (Auntie Missy and I will be planning a new adventure in the next 2-4 years so I have something to look forward to!!)

Thank you to all my family and friends who supported my adventurous spirit as I begged my Mom and Michael to go on this trip. It was worth every minute!

My blog will now go on hold until the next adventure… (T.B.D)

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The Final Destination: Paris

We arrived in Paris on Sunday night and wanted to get right to the sightseeing since we knew we had way too little time to see everything Paris has to offer. That night we got off the metro by the Eiffel tower and of course enjoyed delicious crepes then got to see the Eiffel Towel lit up at night. It was so beautiful to see!

The next morning we woke up early to make sure we could see as much as possible. We grabbed some lunch then headed to the Louve. The outside of the Louve was very cool to see!

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Honestly I was very unimpressed with the Mona Lisa. That was really the only painting we wanted to see with the minimal time we had. The painting wasn’t that great and it was even smaller than I had imagined. The Louve was also poorly air conditioned and so overcrowded. Obviously we had to go but it was definitely not my favorite stop on our trip.

After the Louve we walked through Notre Dame. Notre Dame has some of the most beautiful stained glass I have ever seen. I wish Jews had more synagogues like that! Afterwards we took a silly little bicycle taxi to the Luxembourg gardens and then walked through them. After we stopped for another savory crepe but it was a buckwheat crepe which we decided was too authentic and not yummy enough for us Americans. We ate outside right next to the Pantheon so we could catch one more sight before the day ended!

The final day we woke up and got on a train to Versailles. Everyone said that Versailles would be a one day trip but we made it an efficient one and did it in a half day! We had way too much to see in 2 days to make an entire day out of it. Versailles was beautiful. The palace was so enormous and the grounds were even more spectacular.

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Our trip to Versailles did take slightly longer than planned but we went straight to the Eiffel Tower after. We wanted to take the lift up to the top but instead we opted to buy tickets to the second level and whether take the lift up, saving us a ton of time and money! I definitely got a huge leg and butt work out walking up all of those stairs though! It was totally worth every minute. The views from the top were unbelievable and I am so glad we made time for it!

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After the Eiffel Tower we headed to the Arc de Triomphe to see our final major landmark in Paris before sundown. The arc was massive and definitely a must-see in Paris!

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Tonight, our last night in Europe, we went to see a show at the famous Moulin Rouge. It was like nothing I have ever seen before! There was amazing dancing, lots of amazing sets, costumes and sparkles everywhere. We even got a free bottle and a half of champagne! My one complaint was the number of “ta-ta’s” I saw. I guess it is to be expected but it was as if every female costume had holes cut out for their breasts, a bit strange! The show was amazing regardless, even though I couldn’t understand a word of the French!

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No Such Thing as the Dollar Menu in Switzerland

Flying into Geneva was absolutely amazing. Our plane flew into to this beautiful green city surrounded by mountain tops. We checked into our hotel, which luckily we found last minute (apparently some European allergy conference is going on, who knew!)

Our first mission was to find Swiss chocolate and go to see the United Nations building. Apparently Trip Advisor lied because our hotel staff were slightly incompetent. They gave us a chocolate place that was closed, gave us incorrect directions and told us the UN was closed on Sundays, it’s not. Anyway, we took some photos outside the UN but planned on returning Sunday for a full tour.

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Afterwards, we went back to the hotel to change for dinner. We wanted to eat along the lakefront but apparently the Swiss are the wealthiest people on the planet and a typical appetizer costs 25 Swiss Francs. I guess that’s why they kept off the Euro, out of the European Union and why everyone keeps their money in Swiss bank accounts! We finally found a lovely little tapas place in as park that had great food.

Here is a view from the restaurant with the lake and the fountain in the distance:

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The next day was our big day of sightseeing. We started our day at the United Nations in Geneva. The main headquarters of the UN are in New York City because they make all political decisions and house the UN Security Council, although the UN in Geneva houses the humanitarian, human rights and disarmament units of the UN. It is almost like the house of peace for the world! It was so great touring the rooms where all the recognized nations of the world (except the Vatican City!) come to discuss humanitarian rights. The building also holds a piece of artwork from every member nation which was really beautiful to see. This was probably one of my favorite tours in Europe so far!

After the UN, we went for lunch at an Indian food restaurant. We thought it was a cheap place but I think Switzerland is the most expensive place I have ever been. I think the Swiss Franc is even stronger than the UK Pound! Even a Happy Meal at McDonalds costs 7 Francs and a water at Starbucks was 5 Francs!!!

Following our “cheap” Indian lunch we got on a Lake Geneva boat tour. It was so beautiful to cruise around the lake and see the different sights along the coastline. It was so cool to see the French and Swiss alps along the coast of the lake!

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After getting off our one hour tour we took a walk through a famous garden and saw the flower clock. The clock wasn’t very impressive but the park overall was gorgeous, as was all of Switzerland! I definitely want to come back to Switzerland when I’m really rich and see the Alps in the wintertime.

Less than 12 Hours in Madrid

Unfortunately, our flight from Ibiza to Madrid was delayed a few hours which really cut into our time in Madrid. We got to our hostel, ran into some guys from BU that we met in Barcelona then grabbed a bite to eat. We went with our hostel to a bar then to a huge club called Kapital. Our flight left early in the morning so we had to get up and go to Geneva, Switzerland! Good thing I have already visited Madrid.