Friday, December 26, 2014

Life Through Museums - Recife

The best way to discover the secrets of a big city is through its museums. In these wonderful places you will see all the history and culture of its humanity.

Only within the hallowed walls of a museum can we trace the history of a civilization and have an idea of how it worked.  Recife was founded by the Portuguese in 1537 and is the home of several artists, musicians and writers; it is also home of more than 20 museums.

The History of Recife and Pernambuco is unique. During the centuries of colonization, Pernambuco saw millions of immigrants and slaves from all over the world flocking into the state.  As a result, it is a diverse land with an array of cultures, religions, languages, colors, flavors, and histories that make up its intricate heritage.

This cultural melting pot has become a regional hub for museums and galleries. These are accurately depicted in the many specific places that are scattered throughout the city, inviting the tourist and the locals to discover and rediscover the individual and collective memory of the city.

A museum can be a fascinating place, and no one is the same as the next. Several museums have become so famous that they are destinations in themselves attracting millions of visitors who flock from across the world to view their exhibits.

The "Instituto Ricardo Brennand" museum

Inaugurated in 2002 by the Brazilian collector and businessman Ricardo Brennand , one of the most important names in contemporary exhibitions in Brazil, The Brennand Museum is a mock-medieval building exhibiting art collected by the Brennand family, that displays around 2,000 pieces of ceramic works, paintings, manuscripts, sculptures, weapons and much more.

The Institute holds a permanent collection of historic and artistic objects of diversified sources, ranging from the early Middle Ages to 20th century, proceeding from Europe, Africa, Asia and America with strong emphasis in objects, documents and artwork related to Colonial Portuguese and Dutch Brazil. The task of preserving the memory of the Netherlanders' moment of glory in Brazil has been adopted by the Brennand family at the beginning of the 19th Century.

The museum also houses one of the largest collections of armory in the world, with 3,000 pieces, the majority of which was produced in Asia and Europe between the 14th and 19th century and the largest private collection of Frans Post's paintings from the 17th century Dutch colonial period in Pernambuco.

The Brennand Museum is headquartered in a castle-like set of structures, named "Castelo de São João". The complex is surrounded by a huge garden endowed with artificial lakes and a number of large-sizes sculptures such as “The lady and the horse” by the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, considered one of the living artists who are most recognized and quoted in the world from Latin America.

The museum also offers a beautiful park area for walks and a cafeteria - a great day out for the whole family.

Nearby the Institute, Ricardo's cousin, Fransisco's marvellous sculptures and paintings can be seen at the Francisco Brennand’s Ceramic Workshop (Oficina Francisco Brennand) - in fact, the cover photo for the article shows what awaits you at its entrance.

Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue

The Jewish museum and cultural center is the oldest one in the Americas, dating back to the 17th century. Founded in 1630 by Jews who were once expelled from Portugal and settled in the Netherlands, this museum is part of the Pernambuco historic heritage.

Kahal Zur Israel (Rock of Israel), flourished in Recife from 1636 until 1654, when the northeastern portion of Brazil was taken back by the Portuguese. The less tolerant Portuguese expelled the Jews, most of whom went to Suriname or the Caribbean island of Curaçao. A small group settled in New Amsterdam, nowadays New York City, marking the first Jewish presence in North America. It later moved to the Upper West Side, where it is still called "The Portuguese and Spanish Synagogue."

Based on old maps, archeological excavations uncovered the remnants of the synagogue, including the original Mikvah - a bath for religious ceremonies - under six layers of floors. The restored synagogue reopened in December 2001.

Since then it has become one of the main stops on the city's tourist circuit and its archives attract scores of Brazilian and foreign historians.

There are four synagogues in Recife but many Jews choose to celebrate their weddings and Bar Mitzvahs in the Kahal zur Israel because of its symbolism. The synagogue is also at the center of a broader cultural renaissance. In November of every year, a Jewish festival offering dance, cinema, and food, from Gefilte fish to fluden, attracts around 20,000 visitors.

The place where the first synagogue of the Americas was once situated has recently been identified and its structural foundations located under the large houses, numbered 197 through 203, on the street known as Rua do Bom Jesus, previously Rua dos Judeus (Street of the Jews) in Old Recife.

The Museu do Estado de Pernambuco (The State of Pernambuco Museum)

This historical and antropological museum created in 1929 has a wide and varied collection of pieces that are striking references in Pernamnuco's state history and includes panels about the battles of Monte Guararapes and Tabocas.

The museum collections contain over 12 thousand works of art which invite the visitor to a journey into the local history, from pictures of the Brazilian Colonial Period as well as the Dutch invasion (1630–1654), to those of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Currently the collection of the State Museum has more than 14,000 items, adding important collections that are distributed in the following categories: Archaeology, Indigenous Culture, Dutch presence in Pernambuco, Sacred Art, Afro-Brazilian culture, Iconography, Furniture, Porcelain, Crystals and Painting, with Canvas.

Periodically the museum hosts the “Salão de Arte Contemporânea de Pernambuco”, when emerging artists are selected to represent the new generation of local professionals who will help maintain and shape the new profile of the local art scenery.

The Museu da Cidade do Recife (Recife City Museum)

 This 'Fort of Five Points', built by the Dutch in 1630, is the symbol of the Dutch resistance.

The museum stands out in its collection containing iconographic documents of importance to the preservation of social and urban history of Recife.

Also it houses pictures, reproductions of old paintings (painted by Franz Post) and objects that describe Recife since the period of Dutch rule, such as over one thousand antique photos, tableware, Portuguese and French tiles, among other pieces.

The memory of the cultural capital of Pernambuco is represented by about 150 thousand images and pieces from old houses and the Church of the Good Lord Jesus of the Martyrs, now demolished.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Guaranda Carnival

One of the most famous popular festivities on the yearly calendar of celebrations in Ecuador is the Carnival staged in the central Andean city of Guaranda, capital of the small province of Bolivar. What makes this particular Carnival famous is the intensity with which the local population takes the fiesta, joined by thousands of national and international visitors, and also the particularities which make it different from those that are celebrated elsewhere in the country or abroad.

Guaranda is a quaint city, located in a fertile Andean valley, on the western slopes of the colossal Chimborazo Volcano, Ecuador’s highest mountain, rising to over 21.000 feet above sea level. The scenery that surrounds the colonial style city and its condition as important crossroads for the commerce between the Andes and the Ecuadorian Pacific Coast, make it interesting in many ways.  It is also known as the “City of the Seven Hills”.

Unlike more traditional Carnival celebrations, basically “imported” by the European cultures which conquered the Americas in the late 1400’s, the Guaranda Carnival claims to have its own ancestral roots, those of the Pre-Hispanic cultures which inhabited the present-day territory of Ecuador before the arrival of the Incas or the Spaniards. According to history, local legends and traditions, the Carnival was celebrated to honor Mother Earth and nature, who they worshipped. The central character was the Guaranga Cacique or Lord, who presided over the entire celebrations. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived, they introduced their own version of Carnivals, basically originated on the Roman festivities, which later were located by the Roman Catholic Calendar as a prelude to the period of Lent, the Holy Week and Easter Celebrations.

The Guaranda Carnival is a fantastic display of joy, colorfulness, music, dancing, eating and drinking. People literally abandon themselves to the pleasures of partying for several days without stop and leaving aside any other matters or concerns. Bright costumes, symbolic masks, parades, singing and sharing the traditional drinks and foods of Carnival with relatives, friends, neighbors and even strangers is the norm. The celebrations feature intense sessions of throwing each other water-filled balloons, water buckets, perfumed water, flowers, talcum powder, flour and other elements, while one single “official” song fills the air continuously day and night. The festivities are a reflex of the profound syncretism or blend between the indigenous cultures, traditions and cosmology and those that were brought by the European conquerors and the Catholic religion.

The Guaranda Carnival kicks-off with the “grand entry” to the city of the “Taita Carnaval” (“Taita" is the kichwa word for “Father”), which occurs around ten days before the actual festivities. It is an impressive parade, presided by a prominent male member of the local community, who represents power, wealth and, in this case, is also the provider of happiness, presents, and food and leads the party spirit. His characterization earns him the respect and gratitude of the massive party-goers. As in most indigenous-rooted rites, the Taita or Father is accompanied by a “Mama” or Mother, in this case the “Mama Carnaval”, who joins in presiding over the lively rituals, which include dressing-up in representative costumes and disguises with painted faces or masks and vociferously chanting the Carnival song to the beat of drums, flutes and panpipes. Parading through the city’s main streets, the exuberant caravan is escorted by musicians, bands and poem readers who recite verses which also fuse the indigenous with the European, producing dramatic samples of the “mestizo” culture.

A basic element of this festivity is the spirit of sharing. As in past epochs, when the local tribes prepared abundant food and beverages for the visitors from the surrounding areas, the concept of sharing with friends and strangers alike the food, the drinks and the joyful party spirit has been preserved up to these days. The signature beverage of the Guaranda celebration is the “pajaro azul” (meaning blue bird), a strong alcoholic concoction made of sugar-cane based fire-water and local herbs which give the drink its bluish coloration. The more indigenous rooted prefer to stick to the ancestral “chicha” drink, a fermented maize-based brew. Food includes roasted guinea-pig, potatoes, maize and pork prepared in many traditional and certainly delicious ways.

The main festivities last up to a whole week, from the 26th February to the 3rd March in 2014, and are also related to the ancient celebrations around the Spring Equinox, to which the Carnival is usually very close in time. It takes some three and a half hours to reach Guaranda from Ecuador’s capital city of Quito, on a very scenic drive south along the Pan-American Highway, passing Ambato and then taking a southwestern branch of the Pan-Am. So, if you have the chance, don’t miss the opportunity of being a part of this amazing celebration already included in Ecuador’s inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage expressions.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Visiting Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu may be one of the most well-known monuments on Earth, but there are still many who have yet to discover the beauty of this place. Here are some of the reasons why you should consider adding this destination on your wishlist.

What is Machu Picchu?

This is an easy question, but I am sure there are some who still don’t know much about this famous archeological site. Machu Picchu was once a thriving city of the Incas, a stronghold whose stone walls defended the Inca Empire for years. Made entirely out of stone, the city is made up of countless homes and palaces. While archeologists today are still trying to find out if Machu Picchu was a military base, a ceremonial site, or simply a retreat for the wealthy, one thing is certain: the legendary “Lost City of the Incas” (and UNESCO World Heritage site) is worth visiting.

 Where is Machu Picchu?

Located high in the Andes (at over 2000 m), this Peruvian site was the center of a series of trails. Machu Picchu is also surrounded by the Urubamba River, which is known for being extremely windy and difficult to navigate. Tropical forests complete the appearance of a city with a unique, yet isolated position.

 Who discovered Machu Picchu?

When reading about the inhospitable landscape, you might immediately wonder who was able to travel to such a remote area, and find the city in the first place. Funnily enough, while the locals knew of the site, Spanish conquistadors were never able to find it.

It wasn’t until 1911, when Hiram Bingham, a professor at Yale University, first laid eyes on the mysterious city. Famously, Bingham ended up “discovering” Machu Picchu by accident – he was supposedly on a mission to discover an entirely different city. Nonetheless, Machu Picchu soon became known to the world.

When should I visit Machu Picchu?

While the site is open year-round, it is highly recommendable that you visit Machu Picchu between May and September, the period also known as the dry season. July and August are the busiest months, and while travelling during peak season offers you many travel options, it is also very crowded.

Travelling during the rainy season may not be so hectic, but it also restricts the number of ways to travel to the Lost City. If you’re not afraid of a little rain, November and April are ideal, as the weather is far too unpredictable in the remaining months.

How do I get to Machu Picchu?

Due to its location, Machu Picchu might seem difficult to reach at first. However, after flying to Peru, it is only a matter of time until you find out how easy it is to get to the Lost City. During the dry season, bold tourists can try hiking, zip lining, or biking, but there are many other possibilities available. If you want to travel comfortably, then you can get to Machu Picchu via bus, minibus, or even train. There are many travel agencies which offer a variety of tours, so it’s only a matter of finding what is best for you.

Why should I visit Machu Picchu?

Why not? It’s a unique experience in which you can learn about an interesting culture, while also enjoying the breathtaking Peruvian landscape. If planned wisely, a trip to Machu Picchu (and its surroundings) can be done even if you’re on a budget. Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Parintins - The Amazonian City of Brazil

The city of Parintins is a small Amazonian city that is situated in a fairly inaccessible part of Brazil, and is most famous for the Boi Bumba festival which draws visitors from around the world every year.  One of the distinctive features of the city is that it is impossible to get to by car or bus alone, as it is located on a large island in the Amazon river.  The city is one of the largest settlements in this part of Brazil, and is located on one of four islands in this stretch of the river that was originally one island that became divided through erosion caused by the Amazon

Because of the river itself, the majority of visitors to Parintins do so by boat, with a variety of river ferries and launches traveling down the river to Parintins every day from the city of Manaus.  The city also has a small airport which welcomes flights from other airports within Brazil, and does occasionally take some charter flights from elsewhere in South America, mainly in the week leading up to and after the Boi Bumba festival.  The method of transportation will largely depend on the individual's preference, as the boat does offer a great view of the forest, but is a long journey, while the flight is much more convenient for those without the time to spend traveling.

As it is only a small settlement of some fifty thousand people, there is not too much need of an extensive transportation system in Parintins, although there are still a few taxis available, and are particularly useful when traveling to and from the airport, which is about three miles from the Parintins city center.

The Boi Bumba Festival is one of the most popular and interesting festivals in Brazil, and is based around the story of a bull which is reincarnated by a shaman represented by the magical music produced by the drummers.  The festival involves several performances that range from puppets and parades through to storytelling and theater, and one of the most impressive sights is the ornately dressed dancers who delight the visitors.  The culmination each night is a theatrical show, followed by a celebration of local food and drink.

For most of the year Parintins is a relatively quiet and peaceful Amazonian town, but during the festival that takes place over several days at the end of June, it is a noisy and fun place to be.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mexican Christmas Foods

Christmas is a time to get together with family and friends to celebrate, and food plays a big part in any Mexican Christmas celebration. In Mexico it is customary to have a family dinner late on Christmas Eve (Noche Buena). Here are some of the foods that are traditionally eaten at Christmastime in Mexico, either at Christmas Eve dinner or during the festivities leading up to Christmas such as las posadas. If you're in Mexico for Christmas, be sure to sample these festive dishes, and if you can't be in Mexico for the holidays, you can add a Mexican touch to your celebration by including some of these foods.

Ensalada de Noche Buena - This salad usually contains lettuce and beets, but other ingredients vary according to location and the chef's preference, and may include apple, carrot, orange, pineapple, jicama, pecans or peanuts, and pomegranate seeds as a garnish.

Tamales are cornmeal dumplings which may be prepared with a variety of different fillings. They are wrapped in corn husks (or occasionally banana leaves), and steamed. 

Bacalao - is a popular recipe in which the cod is stewed with tomatoes, capers, olives, and potatoes, but it may be prepared in a variety of ways.

Romeritos - A green leaf vegetable with small leaves, this plant resembles rosemary, for which it is named. Romeritos are most often served as romeritos en revoltijo, with shrimp cakes and doused in mole. 

Pozole - Pozole is hominy soup made with pork or chicken and seasoned with chile and garlic. It is served with garnishes of shredded lettuce or cabbage, thinly sliced radishes, avocado, oregano, and lime wedges. 

Pavo - The Christmas turkey may be roasted, or it may be served with mole, a rich sauce made of ground chiles and other ingredients.

Buñuelos - Served with a hot drink, buñuelos make an excellent treat on a cold night. This crispy fried treat is like a sweet tostada which is sprinkled with sugar or doused in syrup. 

Ponche Navideño - Mexican hot fruit punch is made with tejocotes (Mexican hawthorn), which look like crab apples but have large pits and a unique flavor. Guavas, apples, and other fruit are added and the drink is flavored with cinnamon and sweetened with piloncillo. 

Rosca de Reyes - This sweet bread is served on King's Day (Día de Reyes), on January 6, but may start appearing in Mexican bakeries around Christmastime.

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Best Things To Do In Sao Paulo

As the largest city in the country it is no surprise that a large proportion of visitors to Brazil arrive in Sao Paulo, and it is a great place to get a taste for Brazilian culture and also offers some wonderful attractions. Sao Paulo is the economic capital of Brazil, and is the country's wealthiest city with some remarkable areas including the skyscrapers of the downtown area where many large companies are located. Whether you are traveling to explore the culture and eat at great restaurants, to enjoy the activities in the area or are simply arriving in Sao Paulo before continuing on to the rest of the country, there are plenty of things to do in and around the city.

The first impression that many people will get is that Sao Paulo is just a large modern metropolis, but for those who take time to explore the city it actually has a wealth of historic buildings, and there are several areas that are well worth exploring. One of the most important and impressive sights in the city is the Catedral da Se, which is a fairly modern cathedral that was built in the first half of the twentieth century, and has two main towers rising over ninety meters, while the stunning interior is decorated to reflect Brazil and its culture. The Ibirapuera Park is one of the most important and popular green spaces in the city that has been beautifully maintained, while the Pico do Jaragua is a wonderful walk, and offers a spectacular view back over the city.

See The Brazilian Grand Prix

The Brazilian Grand Prix is traditionally the final race of the Formula One Season, and returned to the Interlagos Circuit just to the south of Sao Paulo in 1990, after a decade away. Brazil has had a long history of producing great racing drivers, and it was during the rise of local hero Ayrton Senna that the Sao Paulo authorities invested heavily in making the circuit the modern and exciting race circuit that visitors can see today. Today, visitors will see that Ferrari driver Felipe Massa is the local hero, and the stands are crammed with fans clad in the red colors of his team, which makes for a superb atmosphere in this exciting race.

Explore The City On A Bicycle

In the majority of cities the mere idea of riding a bicycle through the city center would be quite fearsome, but every Sunday and on public holidays the city opens up many miles of cycle lanes among some of the main sights of the city. Known as the Ciclofaixa de Lazer, this system offers visitors a great way to get an alternative perspective on the city, and will usually allow plenty of interaction with the locals who also like to ride between the major sights including the Ibirapuera Park and the Avenida Paulista. The route itself is designed for families and leisure riders, so most people will be taking a relaxed ride which helps to make it an enjoyable experience for visitors.

Climb The Banespa Tower

This skyscraper in central Sao Paulo was first built to be the headquarters of Banespa, the State Bank of Sao Paulo, and when building began in 1939 it took inspiration and many of its design features from Frank Lloyd Wright's Empire State Building. Standing at over 161 meters tall it was the tallest building in the city for over two decades, and is still one of the most prominent buildings.

Fortunately for visitors, they don't have to walk all the way to the top, as an elevator takes them up to within two flights of stairs of the viewpoint, which offers a spectacular panorama taking in sights like the Catedral da Se and the Martinelli Building, which was Sao Paulo's very first skyscraper.

Carnaval And The Gay Pride Parade

These are two of the largest and most impressive events in the Sao Paulo cultural calendar,  and visitors in the city during each event will find it to be a great spectacle with a wonderful atmosphere. The annual carnival takes place during the bank holiday at the end of February and the start of the March, and has a parade of wonderful floats with excellent samba dancers, and while it isn't as large as the Rio Carnaval, it is still a great event. Sao Paulo's Gay Pride parade is the largest such event in the world, taking place in either May or June on the Corpus Christi bank holiday, and also has a wonderful parade with a great party atmosphere with plenty of dance music and drink throughout the event.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mar del Plata

Mar del Plata, translated as "sea of the Plate region", is the 7th largest city in Argentina. 

With 30 miles of coastline, Mar del Plata has sections of beach that have their own personality just as neighborhoods in a city have distinct local flavor. Some beaches are geared more toward the college crowd (such as Bristol)and surfers (headed to Playa Varresse) while others are dedicated to a family friendly feel (such as La Perla beach). 

Downtown beaches including Bristol, Popular, Punta Iglesia,Las Toscas are centrally located and often very full. However, they have benefited from recent renovations and have the infrastructure to handle many thousands of sun worshipers. Get there early, or, cruise a bit further down the coast to see if you can find a spot at a less hectic beach. 

Mar del Plata beaches have been described as the most crowded in the world, often dotted completely with the multi-colored tops of beach umbrellas. The busiest, most wild, and expensive months for visiting are December, January, and February. Things slow down in March, when families and retired couples are drawn to a slower paces and slightly more affordable accommodations. While these are the busiest months, the city never closes down. There will always be a hotel or bed and breakfast option, catering to those who are interested in the cultural and recreational activities offered during the cooler months.

Mar del Plata offers much more than just sand and water. When the sun goes down there is a lively night scene including the area of Alem street and Irigoyen (known for its many pubs and nightclubs) and the coast and Constitution Avenue. Also, there are museums, zoos, casinos, shopping, and other recreational activities that draw people to the city. Here are a few of the attractions:

  • Casino Central de Mar del Plata
  • Juan Carlos Castagnino Municipal Museum of Art
  • Museo del Mar
  • De Los Padres Lake and Hills
  • Zoo El Paraíso
  • The Museum of Natural Science