Oktoberfest!

So this week I had a trip down to Blumenau, home of the Brazilian Oktoberfest, and São Paulo.

I’ll review this in four parts – the holiday itself in Blumenau and then São Paulo will be here, but I’ll also talk about the travel and hotel experience on my travel blog, travelramblings.co.uk too!

But here is part 1 – Blumenau and the Brazilian Oktoberfest!

This is something I had been wanting to go to for the last couple of years, and finally this year the opportunity presented itself.  For those who don’t know, the town of Blumenau in South Brazil hosts the second largest Oktoberfest in the world.  This region of Brazil was settled by Germans, and has some German heritage (a few German style buildings, the odd wurst, and plenty of beer!).

Unlike the original in Munich, it also always occurs in Oktober, starting in the 2nd week of October normally it seems.

We arrived in Blumenau on a Tuesday morning, or rather we arrived in Navagentes, the closest airport.  There is around 1 hour bus journey then to Blumenau itself (there is an airport shuttle that is free if you are flying Azul or TAM, or R$50 on Gol).

The Oktoberfest party itself takes place in the Vila Germanica, on the edge of the town, and I must say I was a bit disappointed in the centre of Blumenau itself during the day – nothing really was going on related to Oktoberfest!  There are numerous bars, although some of the best happened to be closed during the day as well…  There a a few touristy things to do, some museums, and the opportunity to go to some of the local breweries – unfortunately the most famous of these, Eisenbahn, has recently stopped during brewery tours, but there is still a bar and shop on site.  We want to ‘Bierland’, around a 45 minute journey from the centre by local bus.  These did still show us around the small brewery and talk about the brewing process.  Don’t expect a visitor center – it really is one of the brewers just walking you around their operation for 15 minutes and telling you about the beers.  Of course, there is a bar on site to then sample them.  

There is also the Museum of Beer, which I think it is fair to say could do with a little refresh!  They had a small CRT TV playing their video on the history of brewing in Bluemenau (only in Portuguese).  And the other exhibits were not the most inspiring unfortunately.  However, the guide was very friendly and gave me lots of information guides in English.

A must for any tour must surely include the Cat Cemetery.  Yes, you heard right!

Anyway, enough of the day, as it perhaps wasn’t the most inspiring of starts!  At 6pm, the main attractions starts.  You can get tickets online, R$10 each, in advance for entry to the Vila Germanica.  Here there are 3 huge beer halls, a small german styled village, plenty of stands selling wursts, mugs and hats, and of course lots of stands selling beer.

You have to buy tickets from various cash desks to exchange for beer.  It was always by 400ml, and cost from R$5 to R$8 – a good buy generally I’d say!  There were numerous breweries represented, including the main sponsor Eisenbahn, but also Baden Baden, Bierland, Das Bier, Container and a couple of others.

Entertainment was various bands in each hall, all themed around traditional brass ‘Oompah’ bands.   There was also a nightly meter of ale contest, the princess of the competition etc.   

  And the beers themselves.  We sampled a selection from various breweries, and generally very impressed with all.  I just wish, like in a British style beer festival, if actually wanting to taste the beers it was possible to get them in smaller  glasses to make it easier to try all of them!

The Wednesday evening featured the parade, which is on every Wednesday and Saturday, and was a definite highlight.  Make sure you have a cup to catch some free beer!   

    
    
    
 We stayed two nights, with one afternoon and evening, one full day, and the next day just enough time to have breakfast and head to the airport.  This was more than enough time… In fact, I felt we could have shortened one night even and not missed much, by going to the festival after the parade.  We only went to the Vila Germanica on the first evening.  The second, we spent in a bar/pub called ‘The Basement’.  English themed (in look anyway), serving a wide selection of local beers, with a great blues band playing.  We went there due to it’s excellent trip advisor rating, and it was a great bar.

After this, we caught a plane to São Paulo for the rest of the holiday!  See more in the next post.

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What’s happening with Rio?

Record levels of the Real against the US Dollar and the Pound…  That’s nice isn’t it!  If you are a tourist coming here.  For a Brazilian, it is making going to the US or Europe extremely expensive.  Indeed I understand that flights to the US are being cut back as Brazilian passengers are thinning out.  There are however some excellent deals on flights right now to the US – I saw a return to JFK from Rio for just $350 USD the other day on AA.

Today we are trading above R$4 to the USD, and R$6 to the GBP…

And in other good news…  This weekend there was a lot of trouble and violence in Zona Sul.  On Sunday and Monday there was a series of muggings and attacks around the beaches in Copacabana, Arpoador and Ipanema.  There was a major arrastão on Sunday, and a series of different incidents on Monday, stretching as far as Botafogo and Humaita, rather than the normal tourist heavy hotspots…

On Sunday we were out having lunch near Praça General Osorio, and were told to be careful leaving as there was a big fight going on just a few meters away on the beach.  Needless to say, we went the other way.

What’s happening?!  Yes, it was a nice weekend, but there are plenty of those…  2015 has seen more arrastãos in a month sometimes than I heard of for the whole of 2014.  Maybe I just pay more attention now, but for sure they have increased.  For those not familiar, an arrastão is where a load of kids/guys storm through somewhere, mugging everything they can…   And unfortunately it seems to be becoming a regular occurrence on the beaches in Zona Sul.

It was never the safest place in the world, but for me I see so many things going down hill….

However, on the plus side, I now live only a few tens of metres away from a new branch of Guerin, one of the best bakeries in Rio for french style breads.  Having said that, I actually think the croissants in Zona Sul have been better lately!!  Heresy some might say, but from arriving and finding all bread was terrible, it has improved a lot… just not that cheap, unless I think in pounds now… then things do start to seem cheap here now at R$6….   My mind moved from a divide by 3, settled on a nice divide by 4 technique in 2014, and slowly pushed to divide by 5… now I have to keep learning…   maybe I need to refresh my 7 times table for when I need to know that, and at the rate it is going, it might even be by the end of the year!

What’s going on with the exchange rate!?

So a bit of a bad period financially again it seems in the world…
Chinese stock market crashes, depression in the US and European markets…
And Brazil is in a recession, even if it seems to be in the depths of denial! On an campaign video two weeks ago PT (Dilma’s party) were talking about how there is no crisis, it is all down to the media overplaying it and scare mongering. This week she has made a statement saying that perhaps it is worse than first realised…

And I see no where better to show that than a look at the exchange rates. For me, I am interested in the rate against the pound.
Today we are close to hitting R$5.6 to the GBP (oops… I checked at midday, seems we have shot past 5.6 since then to 5.64). When I first arrived in Brazil it was around 3. Enough said?  Actually, perhaps a few pictures can be worth a thousand words!

Looking at the last 90 days (all rates courtesy of Oanda) shows quite how much it has changed lately, from 4.8 to 5.6 representing almost a 20% swing, which for any Brazilian wanting to go abroad makes it a very expensive prospect…

last 90 days

In fact, looking back at the 3 years I have been in Brazil, it is a fairly solid trend of increasing. I have highlighted the 2.9, which was around when I got my Brazilian work contract.

last 7 years

In fact, we have to go back a long time to find when it was last like this! 2002 was the previous time the exchange rate reached these levels… In fact, in the last 20 years, it has only been anywhere near here twice, and had a very volatile journey from 1995 to 2015… From around 1.5 to 5.9!

last 20 years

But for a Brazilian, the current state of the economy must be very worrying. I had hoped that the rate was stabilising, but it seems not with another increase over the last 2 days. There’s lots of people talking about setting a new record of hitting 6 by the end of the year… It doesn’t even look like we will have to wait that long unfortunately.

Of course, for anyone visiting Brazil, now is a great time, and in fact every day is that little bit better!  I’ve had many posts in the past about how expensive things here can be, however now some things that used to seem expensive are now seeming far more reasonable when I think in terms of pounds.  And as a fan of fine dining, Rio and São Paulo can have some true gastronomic bargains going on with a great set of Michelin Star restaurants to visit, as well as just a great set of restaurants that didn’t quite make it in the first ever Michelin Guide for South America.  For me, there’s a visit to D.O.M. is coming up in October and I can’t wait!

What a lovely winter!

So my promise to post more regularly…. seems to have taken me 4 months to get to this post! And it has been a very busy and hectic four months indeed, both with work and personally. But that’s not my excuse for not posting!

I’m having a nice postponed weekend of Monday and Tuesday off, as we are in the heart of Test Events for Rio2016 right now, meaning I end up working some odd days and hours. I do like having midweek days off sometimes, it can be a lot quieter to get things done than weekends.

In more recent memory, August has had the most fantastic spell of weather, with only around 2 or 3 evenings with some light rain. Other than that, it has been a beautiful 25-30 every day. However the drought situation, in São Paulo especially, hasn’t gone away; there is a desperate need for lots of rainfall. It’s been spoken about for months, even years, about how bad the situation is. In Rio, although there have been some warnings, the situation is not as drastic. I understand they have rolling water outages in some areas of São Paulo, with people getting up at the very early hours to collect buckets of water as water isn’t flowing during the day. And of course, when the majority of the electricity comes from hydroelectric power, that means power outages too.

At home, we are now the proud owners of a new sofa!! I wish I had done this long ago – truly live transforming to have a big comfortable recliner sofa in front of the TV:) We had the sofa that came with the apartment as the back of the room, and a bean bag chair and a couple of dining chairs at the front to watch TV – not the most comfortable arrangement always, especially with any guests round. With the decline of the Real against the Pound, it does make some things here now far more affordable. Indeed, even imported goods now don’t always seem extortionate! At last check, it had reached 5.5 R$ to the £… From 2.9 when we arrived here in 2012…

Of course for someone paid in Reals, it doesn’t make a difference to the costs here, but for someone whose salary is based in Euros, Dollars, Pounds etc, it makes the city seem far more affordable all of a sudden. Unfortunately, the other way round is also true – Brazilians going abroad now are having holidays costing a hell of a lot more than a few years ago. I’ve heard that some of the airlines are cutting down their frequency of flights to the US, as they just aren’t getting the passengers right now because against the dollar, it has moved similarly from just above 2 to around 4 dollars to the Real now.

This month saw 1 year to go onto the Olympics, and at the rate this year is flying by, it really won’t be long until we get there! Although for sure there is a lot of work to be done still, progress in some areas is picking up, and there are some good signs out there. One of my biggest worries is the metro extension to Barra. There has already been some noises about this not being ready on time, and if it is not ready for the start of the Games, getting to the Olympic Park would be a nightmare. Even with the extension, it won’t be easy – a metro followed by a bus (BRT – big bendy busses running in private lanes). Without it…. it would be chaos for sure.
In front of my apartment I have a new station being built, that actually looks to be making good progress now (although very late from when I first moved here and it was expected to be done). The station entrances are up, but there is still lots of heavy construction going on – who knows what is underground! Further down the road however at the location of the next station, or some of the areas where they are doing work above ground, I really can’t see any change above ground in the last year really… And this is only in the first 4km of the extension. For some odd reason, there are only putting one single stop then in São Conrado, and then another in Barra. There for sure is plenty of work going on in Barra, and with it being several months sometimes between when I go that way, I can see big changes each time I do go.
What I haven’t seen any news on lately is where the tunnel is, which was heavily set back by subsidence in Ipanema when they first started tunnelling. The surveyors are there every day measuring still, although actually I have seen them less in the last month it seems, so perhaps the tunnel is now past us and moving on?

Owning a cat is always an adventure! Only one major breakage so far (a lamp)… And trying hard to make sure the sofa remains scratch free. She does like sitting on it… taking up the largest seat for herself of course!

Oh… and I smashed my rather nice Riedel swan neck decanter…. we moved it to keep it safe from the decorators who were in and the cat, and then I broke it forgotten where it was… And then last night I also cracked my oldest decanter, which although cheap (I think €10 or 15 from 2004!), it had survived a lot of journeys and a hell of a lot of wine through it! But a slight knock had a crack spread unfortunately. So now no decanters… But, as it has been pointed out to me, these are just material things, which even if the exact one cannot be replaced, the role it serves can easily be replaced. This is not true of everything. So, taking advantage of the exchange rate, Riedel glass wear is far cheaper in Brazil right now than in the UK! So time to build a new collection, and hope it survives shipment back to the UK!

Let’s see how long it takes me to post next time… Hopefully not another 4 month gap!

Where’s my postal vote!

This is my first time being abroad during an election, and I was a very good boy and registered with my previous council where I lived in the UK well in advance (September last year) for my postal vote.
I had a letter from them confirming they had received my application, and my postal vote would be sent out.

Yet here I am, 2 weeks to go, and no postal vote… The average postage time from the UK to Rio has been around 2 weeks. I’ve had some as quickly as 1, some as long as 3. Postal votes should have been sent out from early April I’m told (the day after registration for candidates closed, so the 10th April I think).

Two weeks have gone, and I am starting to get worried! Even if it arrives on Monday, I’ll have to FedEx it back to ensure it gets back in time to be recorded!

Anyone else living abroad in a similar situation? Any advice?

Life with a pet! And other stuff…

So our cat is rather spoilt…  She even has a water fountain.  But it’s been a fun couple of months as we get to know each other!

Vets in Brazil seem good, and although not cheap not hideously expensive either.  In fact R$90 for her first set of vaccinations was cheap is say.  But R$150 for her initial check up.  The anti flea treatment is around R$40 a month.  We’re using Animale on Vinicius de Moraes.

Pet accessories certainly aren’t cheap.  A covered litter tray was an import, as was the water fountain.  And the nice covered bed we got her… She prefers pretty much anywhere else to sleep!

But if she ever misbehaves (jumping on the table, eating our dinner once when I wasn’t looking…) it’s hard to keep mad for long! 
I’ve also started a second blog!  To track my travels, and let this one concentrate on Brazil. I’ve been fortunate enough to earn plenty of air miles coming and going to make use of them on travels, and I started reviewing them.  Take a look at travelramblings.co.uk if you want to find the best way to travel London Rio in my opinion!

And the other thing I’m finally starting is a bit of decoration.  Having lived in my apartment for two years, trying to make it a bit more homely.  Starting with some lovely flowers from Girassol in Leblon, more pictures on the walls, a lick of paint on the terrace.  Updates to come!

We’ve also got a herb garden growing.  The basil has done incredibly well, providing us fresh basil all the time.  The mint is doing ok, the thyme too.