Our first Sao Paulo venture is along skyscraper-studded, Paulista. This financial/shopping district avenue has it all! A blitz of restaurants and cafes, shops of every description, a sizable upscale mall and plenty of ATM’s to replenish one’s cash-stash. Vehicles race along Paulista’s eight lanes; bike lanes are packed with whizzing cyclists. We join the throng of pedestrians wisely waiting for a green-light to halt the fury, then nimbly forge across to check out eye-catching shops on the other side.
On Sundays Paulista is closed off to vehicle traffic, wherein the locals roam freely – strolling, running, skateboarding, roller-skating, biking (still in the bike lanes only) and dogs on leashes a-plenty… I’d wager the dogs equal the number of people.
As well as Paulista being the name of this famed avenue, the citizens of Sao Paulo State are known as Paulistas, while the inhabitants of Sao Paulo city refer to themselves as Paulistanos. Sao Paulo (dubbed Sampa by locals), is the largest city in Brazil with a population of 11 million (2010 census), and despite complaints about traffic, pollution and street crime (there is a high degree of police presence to thwart the latter), most residents wouldn’t dream of living elsewhere.
Our Sao Paulo Photos
The concrete environs are interspersed with green spaces. Our hotel’s reception manager, Tillita, advises, “Don’t miss Parque do Ibirapuera”. Not far (at least for us avid walkers), we come to a massive stone monument in the middle of several insanely busy roads across from the park entrance. We take time to see the sculpture Monumento às Bandeiras (literally, Monument to the Flags) from every angle. The burly riders on powerful steeds followed by a brigade of men on foot, some pushing a gigantic canoe overland is the work of Italian-Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret, and is a tribute to the ethnic groups that form the culture of Sao Paulo – the bandeirantes, indigenous tribes and blacks.
The bandeirantes were Portuguese settlers and fortune hunters who played a dark historic role. Early on, the colonists discovered the land and climate were ideal for sugar cane, prompting the bandeirantes to capture indigenous peoples for slave labour in the cane fields. Expeditions in the 1690’s into Brazil’s interior lead to the discovery of gold. In response to extensive labour needed for the mines, the bandeirantes profited in slaves brought in from Africa. After slavery was abolished, and mining was on the decline, coffee became the main export, wherein thousands of European immigrants came over to work the fazendas (coffee estates).
Crossing over to Ibirapuera Park, we find how right Tillita is! The roar and squealing brakes of bumper-to-bumper traffic is replaced with the twitter of birds, and the chorus of geese, ducks and swans floating about a man-made lake. Tall trees, flowering shrubs and splotches of grass side the paved pathways dotted with walkers, joggers, cyclists, skate-boarders…and once again, numerous leashed canines following their masters’ lead.
Another quest is to seek out the star of the “old centre”, Teatro Municipal; first opening its doors in 1911 for opera, ballet and musical productions in an ambiance of Belgian crystal and gold-leaf. The pristine frontage of the edifice does not gel with the back, where we see the walls and statues graffiti covered – no doubt the insignia of the far-out-looking youth who have taken over the space behind the theatre with a stage where rap performers blare out messages.
In the nearby Praca de Republica (Rebublic Square)…the Sunday craftfair is happening. We stroll between the canopied tables of crochet work, handmade jewelry, wood art, handsewn clothing, jars of preserves, and dolls dressed in elaborate costumes for “Carnaval” (a riotous annual festival held prior to Lent, the 40-day period before Easter in the Catholic religion).
In one corner of the market, we are drawn by beating drums to a demonstration of the Brazilian martial art, Capoeira. Participants execute rhythmic moves to the beat of traditional single-string percussion instruments called Berimbaus. This martial art was formulated by the black slaves to fight off their oppressors after escaping the sugar plantations and congregating in primitive settlements called Quilombos. When slavery ended in the late 1800’s, this martial art was prohibited, but lived on in Capoeira experts being hired as body guards, hitmen and illegal fights. Now it is taught around the world.
The next day we aim our walking shoes towards Sao Paulo Cathedral (Catedral da Sé de São Paulo in Portuguese), a.k.a. Catedral Metropolitana. Before the grand staircase to the church doors is a well-treed area with statues of religous signifance, and where homeless people snooze in any patches of shade they can find.
Although the first village church of logs, mud and straw was built in 1589, the original church constructed on the same spot as today’s cathedral dates back to around 1616; followed by many more demolishings and rebuildings. The neo-gothic structure we gaze upon with renasaissance-style domes was begun in 1913, was completed four decades later in 1954, except for the towers which were finished in 1967. Major renos were undertaken between 2000 and 2002.
As we step into the rather austere interior with pillars the size of old growth forest trees, it is easy to envision it’s capacity to hold 8,000 worshippers. The crypt holds tombs of bishops, archbishops and important historical figures, such as Tibiriçá, the Guarani’s tribe chieftain, who welcomed the first Jesuits to this area in the 16th century.
We carry on to Mosteiro de Sao Bento (Sao Bento Monastery) where the Benedictine order settled in 1600; the present structure dates back to 1910. Pope Benedict was accommodated here during his visit in 2007. We are entranced by the paintings, sculptures, stained glass and mosaics. In the same complex is a bakery where monk-made breads and sweet buns are sold…which we load up on, loving every last bite!
According to Rick, a bustling shopping milieu fits me like Brazil’s fast-paced Samba, and Rua 25 de Março (March 25th Street) is just such a place! Like ants racing about, bodies jostle for space, many juggling packages the size of stoves – I adapted quickly to this frenzy…Rick dutifully follows. The street is lined with shops of every description – clothing, jewelry, bags, name-brand knock-offs, DVDs, electronics, food. Street vendors compete with more of the same. As well, you can squish your way into three main malls for yet more variety stores, wholesalers, and counterfeit consumer goods.
Being in the midst of bodies weaving and darting like schools of fish brings to mind that this street was once the river bed of the Tamanduatei River. In the 19th and early 20th century a series of engineering projects realigned the Tamanduatei and Anhangbau rivers, moving them and the port further to the east. The original street name, “Rua de Baixo”, refers to the low (baixo) position of this area in relation to the surrounding streets. In 1865 the name was changed to commemorate the date of Brazil’s first constitution signed on 25 March 1824. If asking for directions, it is good to know that locals often refer to all the side-streets and adjacent markets as “Rua 25 de Março”.
For another “must see” we take the top calibre subway system to Pateo de Collegio. A great monument adorns the outside square. Inside the historic Jesuit church and college, now a museum, we see where the city was born and where the first mass was held on January 25, 1554. The rooms hold sacred art collections; a section of the original wall is encased in glass.
From here we walk to Luz Park with lots of modern sculptures, and then go on to Mosteiro da Luz (Luz Monastery) to seek out the Museum of Sacred Art. This Monastery was founded in 1774 by Friar Galvão, whose body is buried here. The building is the retreat location for “Order of Conceptionists” Nuns who live in seclusion and prepare the famous miracle pills of Friar Galvão. I’m in! I check out the small shop with holy souvenirs but don’t see any little pill bottles, and my “pouco” Portuguese does “nada” to clear the puzzled look on the nun’s face who is manning the shop, so I leave empty handed.
Another day, while walking to the gigantic Shopping Eldorado Mall, I have yet another chance to succumb to my propensity to “never pass an open church door without a peek inside”, and “Our Lady of Brazil Church” is jaw-dropping in lavishness with its blue mosaic tile images on the walls, rich wood and gold-laden altar, and above a spectacular painted ceiling resembling many of the masterpieces of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel.
Once we reach the mall, and after checking out some of the levels and a requisite cappuccino, we focus on our primary purpose – a “trial run” to locate the designated spot in the mall parking lot where in a few days an Azul bus will whisk us to the Viracopos Airport (VCP) in Campinos to fly Azul Airlines to Foz do Iguacu (this 1hour-20minute bus ride is included in the price of the flight).
It is soon time to bid farewell to Sao Paulo, and the Transamerica Hotel….for a while. This will be our home base in between other Brazil city hops, and other country visits – and for many more interesting and enjoyable Sao Paulo excursions.
Suggested Sao Paulo accommodation – Transamerica Executive 21st Century – Highly recommended. Friendly professional staff, fine amenities – good value. Please note: there are 2 Transamerica hotels in Sao Paulo, our great stay was at the one on Alameda Lorena, 473 Jd Paulista.