Petrópolis: Imperial City in the Sky

Another four day weekend and another trip outside of Rio de Janeiro. This time we chose to stay in the state and visit the mountainous forest area of Petropolis with our good friend Thiago. A two hour drive up the hilly and beautiful scenic roads takes you to this historical town that was the first purpose built city in the country. I have no idea what purpose built means, as I am sure when the colonial settler landed in Rio de Janeiro, they were building homes for a purpose then too.

One clear purpose of Petropolis was to house the royal family and become the imperial city. The richest and most privileged colonists of the time including the king, queen, princes, and princesses were all residents here.

The city is dripping with history. Every building has a plaque outside explaining who used to live there and what these celebs did. We found the creator of the brewery we visited and thanked him kindly for his amber deliciousness. One thing we've been trying to do is learn more about Brazilian history and this was a great place to do this, but more importantly, feel it. It is one of those cities where you can almost transport yourself back in time and hear the conversations that would have happened in the street. The only problem was these imagined conversations were in Portuguese, which we are still not exactly fluent in!

The city of 300,000 is calm and peaceful – a world away from Rio de Janeiro. It is a pleasant hideaway from the chaotic city that can at times be overwhelming. We did not miss the hustle and bustle of the city during our long weekend there.

I wouldn't say that Petropolis is a must-see in Brazil but for long term travellers and expats like ourselves, it certainly is a lovely way to spend a few days.

The road we took from Rio to Petropolis
Excited little travellers we are!
The gate at the beginning of the imperial city
Imperial Museum - a very interesting place on the inside with a huge selection of photos of Dom Pedro II.
He really was a narcissist. Brazilians have mixed feelings about his reign.
The grounds around the museum are beautiful.

In the evenings the Imperial Museum hosts a historical show that is very different to anything we had ever seen. They project a video onto the water spray of a fountain. Truly spectacular and well worth it even ifyou don't speak Portuguese.

Beautiful Catedral de São Pedro de Alcantara at night
And during the day
Palacio Amarelo (Yellow Palace)
Some of the houses looked very Portuguese, with lots of tiles for decoration.
The city felt very quaint and naturey
Igreja (church) Luterana de Petropolis
There are a few canals that run through the city and although the water level was very low when we visited, they added to the European feel of the place. I bet someone, at some point has called Petropolis the "Venice of Brazil"
The Main Square. 
Here's a bit of wildlife for you Gary! I'll let you figure out what it is though.

We really liked the view of this church, as I'm sure you have guessed!
The Bohemia Brewery is a great museum / advertisement for beer. However, it was sold as a
brewery tour and that to me means you get to see a working factory, which we didn't. And
that is arguably 
the most exciting thing that can happen to a young buck of a chemical
 engineer like myself.
Cervejaria Bohemia - sadly these bottles were empty but there were a few beers included in the tour!

This is all the information we need to set up our own brewery.
Grab grab grab beer beer beer
I was fine to drive home!
The Petropolis Monument / Obelisk outside our hotel
Santos Dumont's house, He is the "father of flight"
Replica of Santos Dumont's 14 bis aeroplane.
I wouldn't have liked to tackle these stairs after the brewery tour!
Santos Dumont flew an airship at 77 km/hr
And of course, we saw a Mico!
Crystal Palace
This is called "The House of Seven Errors", which apparently means "The Spot-the-Difference House"! It was built by twin brothers who split it down the middle and each designed a side. How many errors/differences can you see?
This is the Quitandinha Palace - it's a huge, Austrian looking palace used to be a hotel and casino. Now you can look around for free at some of the extravagant and luxuriously decorated rooms, and it is used for conferences and corporate events.
It was our final stop before heading back to the city of Rio.

Minas Gerais In My Mouth

As David already mentioned in a previous post, the food from the state of Minas Gerais is considered to be particularly good. Although we only had a handful of meals during our trip, we did our best to sample as much as possible and here are the highlights:

Our first meal was in Sete Lagoas, on the way to the caves. David spotted a popular looking place that was similar to the kilo restaurants I described last month. I say similar because you didn't pay-per-weight, but rather paid £2.50 for as much of the buffet as you wanted, provided you only had one piece of meat. There was then an extra (very small) charge for each additional piece of meat. The food was really nice and we tried a couple of Minas dishes - okra and chicken, and beans with quinoa. Both were very tasty and a great start to the culinary adventure.

One of the main dishes we were really keen to try on this trip was feijão tropeiro - everyone I spoke to before we left mentioned this as one of the best Minas dishes. We tried it several times and I have to say the last time was the best by far but regardless, it is a really delicious way to eat beans. As you can see in the picture below, it's a dry dish of beans, egg (scrambled or fried), sausage, cabbage and sometimes pork scratchings. Everything is mixed together with the ever popular, sand-like farofa, which adds a lovely nutty flavour and brings the whole dish together. You can probably tell I was a big fan and Dave is always happy to eat a dish that contains multiple sources of protein!

Here is some slightly inferior (but still lovely) feijão tropeiro that we had at a churrascaria in Belo Horizonte. This type of restaurant serves "barbecued" meat. It is not the all-you-can-eat meat rodízio that you know as Brazilian BBQ in the UK, although that does exist here. Basically you order various cuts of meat by weight to be grilled. There is usually a minimum weight that you have to order per cut. We got some sausage, a wonderfully tender chicken breast with garlic sauce and some chicken hearts (for Dave).

Overly salty "linguiça"
"Corações de frango" with Worcestershire sauce

Next up was a lunch in Ouro Preto, where we opted for a restaurant that had a queue out of the door and down the street. Obviously. It was another buffet, with a flat charge for as much of everything as you wanted. There were a lot of typical Minas dishes: pumpkin stew, steamed pumpkin, okra and chicken, feijão tropeiro, quinoa and beans, cabbage, polenta and more. Our plates were piled high and a bit of a mess so the picture isn't great but I just want to prove to you that we eat vegetables whenever we get the chance!

One of the most famous foods from Minas which is eaten and loved all over Brazil is pão de queijo. This "cheese bread" comes in the form of a lovely crisp little roll made from cassava flour and cheese (often parmesan), with a soft, gooey centre. It is enjoyed as a snack at any time of day but is particularly popular for breakfast. As simple as it may sound, there is one problem we Gringos have when ordering this oh-so-common delicacy - pronunciation. There is a subtle but VERY important difference between the way to say "pão" and "pau". The former means "bread" and is a nasal sound that Brits are not used to making, whereas the latter is a much more comfortable, Batman and Robin sounding "POW!". But we're obviously foreign so surely we can be excused this tiny error...right? Wrong. Unfortunately, unless we pinch our noses when we order, we run the risk of asking for "cheese dick". Yup, "pau" means stick/peg/bar and is a very common slang word for a penis. Thanks Brazil.

Two espressos or "cafezinhos" with a round pão de queijo and a biscoito de queijo, which as far
as I could tell is exactly the same but a different shape and much safer to order without a cold 

or a peg on your nose! Amusingly Dave did pinch his nose when he ordered the pão.
The state of Minas Gerais has a lot of farmland, and we visited a restaurant that has a real farm-house feel. It is called Restaurante Xapuri and it was beautiful. There is a horse-riding field at the back of the restaurant and hopefully these pictures will give you an idea of just how rustic the place is. We ordered a pumpkin, stuffed with carne seca (a kind of dried beef) and topped with the famous Minas cheese that everyone raves about. It was huge and we had to take half of it back to the hotel for supper but we didn't mind at all because it was delicious. It came with rice, bean stew and garlic-fried cabbage - well worth the drive from the city centre if you ask me! But then again, I wasn't the one driving! The restaurant is huge and has a shop where they sell the many sweets, candied fruits and other desserts that they make. We were too full to try any of them but they looked lovely.

Plus free coffee and coconut cake for dessert!
Cheers Dave!

So that's all of the important Minas food done but there are just a couple more things we'd like to show you:

First up is was a dish of wonderfully tender beef, coated in a very popular cream cheese here called catupiry. It doesn't have a strong flavour and is lovely a creamy. Surprisingly, it makes a good pizza topping. Next to it is broccoli rice.

Next up is the obligatory meat-on-stick, although in this case it was more like a pork sword! Pretty standard grilled meat but with the interesting addition of a farofa coating. I hope you know what farofa is by now because I'm not explaining it again!

This cheeky little number is a kiwi ice lolly that we rewarded ourselves with after a long day of sightseeing in Ouro Preto. The reward may have also involved a passionfruit and lemon ice lolly...and a lychee one too! We were hot and tired and deserved it, trust me! The shop had huge freezers with what must have been over a hundred different flavours of ice lollies in and a lot of them were Brazilian fruits that I had never even heard of! One of the nice ladies that worked there took pity on my bemused face and let us sample a couple of the Amazonian fruit flavours. She thought she was being kind but let's just say there is a very good reason those flavours are not exported to Europe! I didn't know so many foul, bitter tasting plants were considered edible!

And finally, if we hadn't had enough weird food for one trip, we bought some sweets. This flavour combination is often called "Romeo and Juliet" and comes in the form of ice creams, cakes, sweets and probably other stuff too. I have no idea why it is named after the greatest love story of all time (excluding Brad and Angelina of course) because it is weird and disappointingly average. Cheese and guava. A kind of concentrated guava jelly is commonly eaten with cheese and crackers here, but why anyone felt the need to make sweets out of it is beyond me!
So there you have it. A true Brazilian foodie food post about food from Brazil.

Helo Borizonte

For the past couple of posts we have been exploring a state of Brazil called Minas Gerais and so far we have told you about a trip to Sete Logoas to see a cave, and a drive south to a quaint and beautiful historical town called Ouro Preto. The capital of Minas Gerais is a city called Belo Horizonte and it was the hub from where we took these trips and where we lay our heads.

When you mention this city to Brazilians they normally start salivating. This isn't because there is a high number of rabies cases but because the city is known for its delicious food. Katie will of course be blogging all about the food, which I'm sure by now you are all dying to see and read about, but for now, let’s take a trip around the city.

I guess our hotel is a good place to start. We stayed in Savassi, an area of Belo Horizonte known for its night life, and we had this wonderful view from our balcony on the 15th floor:

We spent the evenings walking around to bars and restaurants and enjoyed the fact that the city was considerably less manic than Rio. It also felt safer. Not safe but certainly safer, although the usual precautions needed to be taken. As mentioned, Savassi is well known for bars and music and on the first night we sat outside drinking craft / micro-brewed / alcoholic liquid beer, listening to a live band. It was relaxing and sitting outside on a warm evening, drinking a beer is always going to feel like a treat to us Brits.

BH has plenty of daytime activities, besides gorging on delicious food. Very close to where we stayed was the Praca da Liberdade. This little square was very pretty and very popular with runners and joggers, which was entertaining in its own right as the place wasn't that big and they looked squished together.

After a walk around the little park we went to a museum called Memorial Minas Gerais Vale, and what a great museum it is! It is very interactive, explaining the history of the state from its slave roots, through the gold rush and beyond. Nearly everything is in Portuguese so a lot was lost in translation but even still, it was a couple of hours well spent.

Walking around town, it was impossible not to notice a number of old churches, buildings, and graffiti that were worthy of being snapped.

Palacio Da Liberdade
Basilica Nossa Senhora de Lourdes

The central market or Mercado Central is a very busy market. Recommended as one of the top things to do in the city, it was an interesting place to visit and was the sprawling, confusing mess one comes to expect from most markets. As I mentioned last time when talking about markets in Rio, the attitude of stall owners was very welcoming and not so “rich foreigner – let’s pull him into my shop and barter aggressively.”

Interestingly, there were several bars nestled in between the stalls, overflowing with people washing down the delicacies with beer. There were also plenty of coffee shops and places to try traditional Minas snacks. Aside from the food, there was a good balance of tourist tat, local produce and useful household items, and the general cost of things in the market seemed fairly low by Brazil standards.

The parking situation was bizarre. Cars drove in and up a ramp, and literally parked on the top of the market, which resulted in a rather annoying ricochet effect, with all of the constant horn-beeping bouncing off the walls and filling our ears. It also made me question the air quality inside the market…

We ate some fresh pineapple in the aptly named Pineapple Square, where they also sold watermelon. As we were leaving we came across “bird corner” where there were hundreds of beautiful birds for sale in small cages. Interesting but cruel… We didn't eat any this time.

The next part of our journey in Belo Horizonte was a visit to a combined botanical garden and zoo. We saw a huge number of animals there, from birds to monkeys to snakes. It was a great way to spend half a day, as the sheer size and outdoorsy feel made it different to other more concrete-concentrated zoos.

Obligatory ice lollies

We even saw a Brazilian leopard with her young

Check out those roots!
An agouti, which is the size of a very large rabbit
Crazed Cuckoo
Turtle riding a crocodile

Next up was the Hippie Fair. This Sunday-only market was hectic and huge! It was fun to walk around and take it in but it is definitely a bit manic. I bought Katie some earrings because I am a great boyfriend and we both had a smashing time window shopping (or whatever the market version of that is!) around all these stalls. We even bought a new pet for our flat and we named him in honour of his birthplace.

He's quieter than his name suggests.
Next to the market is a municipal park that is worth a gander. A little bit calmer than the market (although it also had a theme park at one end!).

On the final day of our holiday we took a drive south to the area of town called Mangabeiras, which has a great view point to watch the city from. First we mistakenly went to the park in search of the mythical view point. It was interesting but not what we had come to see.

We saw a wild coati that was fond of aqua de cocos
After some soul searching and anxious clock-watching (our flight was soon!) we managed to find the view point. It was definitely the best view of a city I have seen for a long time. A must-do if you have a clear day and transport to get here. For everyone who wants to find this place – it is here. The info on google is surprisingly sparse.

So there you have it. Our wonderful first holiday in Brazil. I know some of your will be rolling your eyes, wondering how I (Katie – italics remember!) can possibly call it a holiday when I have been on holiday since February. But it’s hard work being so relaxed! Oh and David has been working really hard so whatever you think about me, I'm sure you'll agree that he deserved it.

I'll be back soon with another food post for you to feast your mind's mouth on and then we'll be whisking you off to the dizzying heights of Rio de Janeiro's mountain city, Petropolis.