Carioca Foodie: Academia da Cachaça

In my quest to try new restaurants around Rio de Janeiro, I’ve decided to start a new series called “Carioca Foodie!” Last week I suddenly realized I only have less than three months left here in Rio, and I want to make the most of that experience. Ever since Carnaval ended, my friends and I have been in this lazy mood, uninterested in trying new things or exploring new places. But now that I feel pressed for time, I have new found energy to explore!

Yesterday we tried out Academia da Cachaça, a well known cachaçaria in Leblon for its creative drinks and good cachaça. After having multiple awful caipirinhas in Lapa, I was determined to have some good drinks. The menu had everything from simple caipirinhas made with lime to fancier bar creations with thing like honey, cinnamon, passion fruit or coconut. The first drink I had was the Fina Flora which was made with pineapple, orange and peach juices mixed with cachaça. The drink came in a tall glass with the various colors separated making it look like a beautiful tequila sunrise. It was deliciously fruity, and not overwhelmingly sweet or too strong; yet, by the end of it, I could already feel a little tipsy.

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The second drink I had was the Brasil ao Cubo which came with cubes of lime, lemon, passion fruit and jabuticaba (a brasilian type of grape) and cachaça Cristalina. When the drink was first served, the cubes of fruit mixed with the clear cachaça looked gorgeous! However, it smelled extremely strong because it was just cachaça and unmelted fruit. I waited a bit, and mixed in the fruit before tasting; but once I did, it was really delicious. The mix of fruits made a really unique flavor, and the cachaca was so much better than the normal 51 that I am served. Just in case you are unfamiliar, 51 is the cheapest form of cachaca you can find in stores. It costs about R$8 per bottle, which is equivalent to less than USD$4. Anything at the price is bound to taste awful, no matter how much sugar and lime you mix in it. Thankfully, this drink was made with better stuff, because although a little on the strong side, it was still easy to drink.

 

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These two drinks were enough to get me sufficiently tipsy. We also tried some of the snacks available. Although extremely overpriced for the quantity and quality, it was still good to munch on something while we drank. The Pastelzinho Mixto, which had shrimp and cheese empanada snacks, was quite good. The shrimp ones had full pieces of shrimp and the cheese ones had a lot of flavor. My other friends got bolinhos de quiejo (fried balls of cheese) and escondidinhos (shephard pie-like dish), which were apparently pretty good too. Still, the prices were too much for the quantity. The other drinks that my friends got were delicious as well! I highly recommend the ones I got as well as the Capeta and Brasileirinho! I wouldn’t quite recommend the plain caipirinhas with lime or maracuja because they aren’t the best; but it seemed like you couldn’t go wrong with the “bar creations” section.

Overall, the drinks were pretty good. Although the restaurant was a little pricey, it was still nice to feel fancy and buy creative drinks. Every once in a while you have to treat yourself! 😉

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A quick weekend in Sampa

This past weekend I traveled to São Paulo for some tourism and Lollapalooza! It was nice to leave Rio de Janeiro for a couple days and enjoy a different culture in Brazil. São Paulo is basically the New York City of Brazil, with over 20 million residents, hundreds of cultural centers, theaters and cinemas and thousands of restaurants and bars. The city has the largest Japanese and Italian populations outside of Japan and Italy, as well as a significant Lebanese and Syrian population. Even though I barely had time to explore the humongous city, I was still able to squeeze in a little sightseeing and eat good food.

The nice thing about Sampa is that it has an elaborate metro system, making it extremely easy to get around the city. We stayed in Vila Mariana, in the south part of the city, so most of our sightseeing remained in the area. We were able to venture over to Vila Magdalena, Liberdade, and Parque Ibirapuera. My favorite part of the trip was exploring Vila Magdalena, a cute little hipster neighborhood that is popular for its art galleries and graffiti-covered streets. It reminded me a lot of Adams Morgan, my favorite neighborhood in DC! We got to see the well-known urban gallery called “Beco do Batman,” which is a street in Vila Magdalena covered in brightly-colored murals of graffiti. Any attempt at modern art that I have done seriously feels so amateur compared to what I saw on that street. The creativity and vibrant colors were mind-blowing.

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Later the same day we went to Liberdade, Sampa’s “Little Japan.” It is said that the largest Japanese population outside of Japan lives there. We spent some time exploring the Japanese supermarkets, where we found some beloved Japanese snacks like pocky and bubble-gum flavored Guarana. Then later, we ate the most delicious “Lamen” at a restaurant called Aska. The restaurant serves giant bowls of Ramen noodles and soup topped with meat, boiled eggs, seaweed and veggies. It was amazing, and probably some of the best Japanese food I’ve had.

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Saturday was spent all day at Lollapalooza! It was fun, but definitely a lot more relaxed and tame than other music festivals I have attended. I got to see Imagine Dragons, Kid Cudi, Lorde and Disclosure. Unfortunately, on our way home, my stomach reacted badly to some meat we had eaten on the street, and so the rest of the night I felt miserable, trying not to throw up on the metro. Lesson learned: don’t always trust meat on the street. On Sunday, we relaxed, enjoyed some Mexican food in Vila Mariana (where I got to have some awesome spicy salsa and tacos!) and then explored the Parque Ibirapuera. The park was beautiful and bustling with skateboarding Paulistanos, families picnicking people walking their dogs, feeding the black swans or just relaxing on the sides of the lake. We even got to see teenagers re-enacting some sort of medieval/ renaissance jousting tournament with costumes and fake swords. It was so lively and great for people watching.

I definitely did not get to see everything I wanted to see in Sampa, but it was still fun and a great way to get out of Rio de Janeiro.

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Reflections on Carnaval

Carnaval is officially over and Rio is back in full swing. The entire week of Carnaval felt like a dream, a complete escape from reality, and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, my liver and I are quite frankly glad that the city is back to normal. As mentioned in my previous post. Carnaval mostly consists of large block parties with thousands of people dressed in costumes, dancing to music and drinking the entire city’s supply of Smirnoff Ice and Antarctica beer. Overall, the motto of the entire week was “rally.” If you didn’t rally, keep going, keep pushing it, you were gonna miss out on this crazy experience. 

My favorite blocos or block parties that I went to were the “New Kids on the Bloco” which played 90’s music and the “Sargento Pimenta” bloco which played Beatles music. I think I enjoyed those two blocos the most because I recognized the music and was able to sing along to some of the songs. My favorite part of Carnaval was getting to dress up in different costumes, as if it was a giant 5 day Halloween festival. Some people were extremely creative in their costumes, like my friend Laura, who used her crafting skills to create elaborate, sparkly costumes that stood out in the crowd, while others simply wore some type of animal ears.It surprised me that the most popular costume among Brazilian girls seemed to be a bride, complete with a bouquet of flowers and a veil on their head. Halloween/ Carnaval is a time when you can dress up as anything you aspire to be, yet in the US, a bride costume is widely unpopular, despite the fact that many girls dream of walking down the aisle and having the perfect wedding. 

Here are a couple photos, taken by my friends, of the Carnaval street experience!

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I also had the amazing opportunity to attend the Champion’s parade at the Sambodromo. The parade is what most people picture when they think of Carnaval, with giant colorful floats, girls in sparkly outfits and lots of samba music. Now this is pretty accurate, but what I didn’t know before attending was that each samba school tells a story with their different floats, outfits  and music. We were able to see the top 6 samba schools of the year, each with a different theme, like the History of Brazil or Toy World. The parade started at around 9:30 PM and ended at around 6:30 AM. It even rained for four or five hours of the parade and we had to stand there in ponchos and watch as the schools went by. The rain really sucked, but once the winner, Tijuca, presented itself, it was morning, the rain had stopped and the sun had risen . It was actually quite a beautiful thing, coupled with the most elaborate floats and creative costumes of the entire night. Despite being sleep deprived and standing there in the rain for hours, I really enjoyed the Sambodromo.

Below are photos I took on my phone

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Carnaval was a crazy, memorable, once in a lifetime experience, and I can safely say that I survived it.

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Bloco do Sargento Pimenta

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I apologize for the delay in posts! This past week has been Carnaval, and celebrations last from 10 am in the morning to late at night! Carnaval, for those who are unfamiliar, is a giant festival held every year before lent. Basically, people party for 5 days straight until Ash Wednesday. Pictured above is a view of one of the block parties called Bloco do Sargento Pimenta, or Sergeant Pepper block party, in which the live band sang Beatles songs mixed with samba and funk music! It was fantastic and so much fun!

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Brazilian Pizza

Though traditionally Italian, pizza is something you can find all over the world. But coming from a country where eating pizza is our favorite past time, I was particularly excited to go eat this food the other day. My coordinator took us to a well-known pizza place situated at the bottom of Rocinha, as a welcome to our first week of school.

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Pizza is somewhat of a phenomenon in Brazil because Brazilians enjoy creative toppings like quail eggs or hearts of palm, yet pizza is most commonly served without sauce or even ketchup in place of sauce! Other toppings can include mashed potatoes, grilled sausage, fresh corn and peas, catupiry cheese and even bananas and chocolate for a sweet pizza. In fact, a Brazilian pizza dinner would not be complete without having dessert pizza. Plantains, doce de leite (dulce de leche), guava paste and nutella are common toppings. The doce (sweet) pizza we were served had cheese and then chocolate and bananas on top. I wasn’t a huge fan of the cheese underneath, but it wasn’t too bad! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this meal, and highly recommend eating pizza here in Brazil.

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Thanks to my coordinator for allowing me to use her photos!

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Thoughts on my first week of class

Yes, I am actually taking classes here in Rio and not just traveling and going out. I promise. Tuesday marked the first week of class at PUC-Rio, and this semester I am taking five classes. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have four classes back-to-back from 11 AM to 7 PM, on Wednesdays, a four hour class, and on Fridays a two hour class. So far my classes are a little boring, but since it’s the first week (syllabus week), I assume it will get better later.

I am taking two classes in Portuguese, “Globalization, Politics and Culture” and “Community Development;” two classes in English, “Portuguese language and culture” and “Brazilian History;” and one Portuguese language course. My English classes are so easy and require little effort, so it is nice to have them as buffers for my language class and classes in Portuguese. My Globalization class is probably my hardest class, but it’s also my favorite because not only am I an international relations nerd but there are also a lot of Brazilians in the class who are extremely helpful. The readings for the class are all in English, which makes the class easier, but the teacher lectures in Portuguese, so I really have to focus and take notes during the class. But I love being challenged, and the class is a great way for me to improve my language skills in Portuguese.

My Community Development class is a little different. The class is under the social services department and focuses on the “comunidades” or favelas here in Rio. It discusses how people organize together within a community, what a community consists of, and how we should define a community. The class has no homework, and is very group-focused, which means the teacher pairs foreigners with Brazilians to encourage inter-cultural exchange. What better way to learn about community development than from students who actually live in those communities? The professor even has plans to take us around some of the communities/ favelas, so that we can truly understand the inner-workings of them. It’s quite interesting so far. 

Overall, my classes are not that bad; but unfortunately, they move much slower than classes in the United States. Also, our grades depend on only a midterm and final, which means that if we do badly on one test, then there is no chance of bringing the grade up very high. Additionally, “Brazilian time” extends to classes. We usually start class 30 minutes after the set time (sometimes the teacher doesn’t even walk in until 20-30 mins later), and we are often let out 15-20 mins earlier than scheduled time. It’s a different lifestyle that I am not quite used to yet, but I think eventually I will learn to enjoy the relaxed, informal atmosphere.

The best part of this week was the opening party that the campus threw for all the students. Every Thursday, the little villa of department houses near the university throws a party on the street, filled with samba music, funk, popular American music, beer, and lots of and lots of students. Last Thursday was the first and biggest one of the year and it was so nice to leave my 7 PM class, grab a $2 beer and relax with my friends.

I guess you could say I survived my first week of school in Brazil?

 

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First vacation in Ilha Grande

I just returned from a 4 day trip in Ilha Grande with twenty of my friends from the university. Though exhausting, I had the most wonderful time exploring gorgeous beaches and hiking endless trails.

On early Wednesday morning we all arrived to the bus station at 4 am, ready to leave for our 5 am bus. But in typical Brazil fashion, the computers were not running properly, and so we could not exchange our reservations for tickets. The ticket lady thankfully agreed to allow us to use our printed vouchers as tickets. But then at 4:45, the computers magically began working again, and the ticket lady was determined to register and print all 40 of the passengers’ tickets. Half of our group managed to get tickets by 5 am, and tried to tell the bus driver to wait for the rest of us. I assumed it would be okay, because Brazilian time always runs 30 minutes late. Yet I was still nervous, as the ticket lady took her time to enter each passport number and name on the reservations. At 5:15 AM, one of the guys in our travel group runs in to tell us that the bus was leaving and that we needed to board now! We began yelling at the ticket lady that our bus was leaving and she calmly said that it wouldn’t leave. Finally at 5:20, tickets in hand, we run out to the boarding platform, only to find no bus, and one of the girls in our group yelling at a bus driver. The bus had left without 7 of its passengers. Finally, after a bit of yelling and muttered comments of “how could they do this?!”, the bus turned around and came to pick us up. By 5:30, we were officially on our way to Ilha Grande.

We arrived on the island around 9:30 AM, and sat around until our hostel rooms at the Biergarten Hostel were available. The hostel was cute and had a beautiful patio area for guests and non-guests to enjoy. And the upstairs location, where my room was located had hammocks to lay on, and a kitchen area to cook food. After a quick lunch at a local sandwich shop, our group of twenty people decided to do a hike to a waterfall and then beach! The hike was not too bad, except for one extended uphill part, which had all of us sweating and breathless. After a little over an hour, we arrived to the the Cachoeira de Feiticeira, a large waterfall with a pool area to swim. We enjoyed ourselves there for a while, and then hiked to the Praia do Iguaçu, a gorgeous beach with warm water and soft sand. Eventually, we took a boat back and relaxed in the small village of Abraoo where all the restaurants and hostels were located.

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The Hiking Group

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Cachoeira de Feiticeira

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Praia do Iguaçu

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Praia do Iguaçu

On Thursday, we decided to hike to Lopes Mendes, a beach on the south side of the island, which was deemed one of the prettiest beaches in the world. The hike was about 2 hours long, but consistently altered between uphill and downhill trails. It got pretty tiring after a while, and as soon as we began to see sand on the trail, we began sprinting towards the beach. The sand at Lopes Mendes was the softest, most powdery sand I have ever felt, and the water was unbelievably clear. No boats were allowed on the preserved beach, and so we really were able to enjoy swimming around, despite how cold the water was.

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On Friday, we were going to hike the mountain peak in the middle of the island, but decided against it because it was a hot day and we wanted something simple. We, along with a new Brazilian friend from the REI group, decided to hike to Praia de Dois Rios, because we were assured that it would be a fairly flat hike to the beach. The first 20 minutes of the hike were rough though because we took a short cut that cut off 40 minutes from the normal trail. The short cut was just as steep as the trail to the Cristo, but since we were not expecting it, we quickly began panting and stopping for water every 5 minutes. Finally, once we reached the flatter trail, it took about 2 hours to reach the beach. The beach, also on the south side of the island, is much less accessible by boat than Lopes Mendes, and so people must walk to and from it. Thus, the beach was practically deserted. It was so serene and peaceful, I might have actually liked it more than Lopes Mendes. The beach is sandwiched between two rivers, which funnel into the ocean, and a forest full of howler monkeys. We enjoyed the view for a while and then walked along the shore, picking up unique shells and listening to the sounds of the waves crashing in.

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After returning from Dois Rios, we realized we had just walked 16 km (10 miles) round trip! Can you believe that? We were only 3 miles from completing a half marathon, and we did not even realize it. Silly Gringos.

On Saturday, after waking up completely sore and tired from the Dois Rios hike, we decided to relax on a boat trip along the north side of the island. With multiple beer packs in hand, 25 of us boarded a little boat and set sail around 10 AM. We hit up four beaches along the north, but none compared to the two beaches we visited earlier. Honestly, the most fun part was goofing around with friends on the boat, but we still enjoyed jumping off into the water and playing fute-volei (soccer and volleyball combined) when we arrived to the various beaches.

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Overall, it was one of the best vacations I’ve had!

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Palmeiras em Jardim Botânico

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Hiking up Cristo Redentor

Today I sweated like I have never sweated before in Rio.

A group of my friends and I decided to conquer the challenging trail up the Christ Redeemer statue that looks over the south zone of the city. Normally, tourists take a van or train up the statue, but me being an avid hiker and also a student with little money, I was determined to hike up.

Originally, we were supposed to hike up with a free guide from Couch Surfers who does the hike every Monday; but unfortunately, he never showed up! Luckily, there was another foreigner near by who showed us where to start the trail. The hike began at Parque Lage, a gorgeous residential area in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood, which has now been renovated into a visual arts school. It was so serene and beautiful; I definitely want to return just to do homework or relax in nature. Funny enough, the mansion is famous for making an appearance in Snoop Dogg’s “Beautiful” music video.

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The path to the Christ Redeemer started off relatively flat and simple. The incline was not too intense and the path was clear. On our way, we passed by three small waterfalls and managed to take a few group photos. At the third waterfall, the path changed drastically. All of a sudden, we had to start climbing up rocks and grabbing at tree roots to pull ourselves up. Somehow I ended up being first of the group, as I eagerly climbed up. But within ten minutes or so, I was panting and sweating.

The trail continued like this for another hour or so, with some easier parts than others. But towards the end, we were practically rock scrambling and had to pull ourselves up with a metal chain attached to the rocks! But when we finally got to the end, we all collectively said “oh, that wasn’t too bad!”

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And it really wasn’t bad. I think some parts were much easier than hiking on Morro Dois Irmaos because it was just as steep at some parts, but there were far less rocks or roots to grab on to.

The end result was completely rewarding and worth the sweat.

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Urca and Pão de Açúcar

So after a month of living in this amazing city, I am finally getting around to seeing the biggest tourist attractions. Yesterday, my friend Janine and I joined a group of other exchange students in Rio de Janeiro to hike Morro da Urca, the smaller mountain of Pão de Açúcar. The group, Rede de Estudantes Intercambios (REI) is a well-known group that organizes activities for international students around the city.  So Janine and I were excited to meet new people outside of the PUC-RIO exchange group, and of course finally see Pão de Açúcar.

The meeting spot was Praia Vermelha, a small little alcove beach that gives off a quieter, more relaxed vibe compared to Copacabana.

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We stayed there for a bit, enjoying the view, as we waited for other students to trickle in. Finally, an hour later (in typical Brazilian fashion), we began the hike. For the first 10 minutes or so, the trail was flat and simple. We chatted with the other exchange students and even got to see tiny little Macaque monkeys!

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The trail veered off into a steep part with lots of stairs and climbing, but it was definitely not as challenging as Dois Irmaos seemed. Finally after about 15 minutes we reached the peak of Urca. The views were amazing. They had even positioned benches and picnic areas for people to look out at the view and watch the sunset. I decided immediately that I would return just to sit and enjoy the view for hours.

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We took the cable car up to the final mountain,  Pão de Açúcar, and got to see these breathtaking views.

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All in all, it was a fantastic hike.

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