Rio Carnaval!

 

THE GREATEST AND MOST FABULOUS PARTY IN THE WORLD!


It definitely is!!!

And that is my testament, as someone who came from a country of colorful and vibrant festivals--all year long. 

As Brazil being my new home address, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to experience this grandest festival!

The best part of celebrating the carnaval while living in Brazil is that, it's a week-long NATIONAL HOLIDAY!!!

How awesome is that?!? The country is technically giving you no excuse not to go and party!!!


WHAT IS CARNAVAL? (From wikipedia.org)

The typical Rio carnival parade is filled with revelers, floats, and adornments from numerous samba schools which are located in Rio (more than 200 approximately, divided into 5 leagues/ divisions). A samba school is composed of a collaboration of local neighbors that want to attend carnival together, with some kind of regional, geographical common background.


WHEN IS CARNAVAL?

It is a week before the start of Lent and ends on Ash Wednesday. There is no religious connection with the celebration. It is actually believed to be the time to do whatever "crazy" things you wanted to do before Lent. Like you're given a pass to make sins during this week.


HOW CRAZY IS CARNAVAL?

There are street parties on every side and corner of the streets, called samba blocos. As party goers, you can dress up! Think of Halloween costume meets the beach weather. The skimpier, the better! Haha. 


WHAT IS THE BEST PART OF RIO CARNAVAL?

The energy! The samba music! The street parties organized by the local Brazilians! It is literally the biggest party in the world. And most of all, the fabulous parade presentations of samba schools in Sambódromo!


If I have to compare it to a festival back in the Philippines, it's the combination of Dinagyang and Ati-Atihan Festivals--- but like, 10 times more with people and party energy!


If you're into parties, dressing up, and just enjoy life to the fullest--- come to Brazil during the carnaval. You'll be rejuvenated like no other.

For more things to see and do in Rio de Janeiro---check out our DIY Backpacking Guide!


Have you experienced a festival like this?

Is Rio Carnaval on your bucket list?

Ouro Preto, Brazil

 

What's the charm of this place?


Ouro Preto  is a hilly town located in the state of Minas Gerais in the southeast of Brazil. The name if translated is, "Black Gold" because the town was once surrounded with gold mines that produced gold. It is also one of Brazil's best preserved colonial towns and a UNESCO world heritage site.

This trip was an unplanned solo trip during my holidays on Brazil's National Day. This is perhaps the best thing about living and working in this country because I get to enjoy plenty of holidays! ThankyouBrazil! 

From my adopted city, Vitoria, I took a night bus that took about eight hours to get to the bus station of Ouro Preto. (R$200 round trip) 

I found a travel agency that arranged everything for me because I still have to hone my language skills in Portuguese. They also arranged my hotel which was conveniently located right outside the bus station or the rodoviária on the northwestern edge of town.

Boroni Palace Hotel was my home away from home and I did love staying there! (R$850 for 5 nights stay including breakfast).

This was my view from my hotel room of the bus station.

The town's main tourist attractions are the Baroque style churches and houses that has truly made me--- mesmerized! Thus, I called this place, majestic!

I barely read my guidebook about Ouro Preto because I was ready to be awed! And just take it as it is. I was forewarned though-- to be extra careful, since it was my first solo trip in Brazilian soil.


I am happy to report that the town is extremely safe for tourists and I had never once felt in danger! Yes, I made it home in one piece! ;)


Since the town is very steeply and have cobbled streets, you need to arm yourself with the most comfortable pairs of footwear! I on the otherhand, is very much comfortable walking in my flip-flops all day long! These pairs of Havaianas was my best friend! I certainly did A LOT of walking. I can't remember when was the last time I did walk like that.

So let me introduce you to the churches around the town. As a Catholic, this place was certainly jaw dropping! I had goosebumps whenever I entered each of them. There are about 10 churches around Ouro Preto and I had my early Visita Iglesia in some of them....


Disclaimer: All indoor pictures were "subtly" taken by me because it's not allowed to really take pictures.


Igreja Nossa Senhora do Carmo

The Rococo font (in the sacristy), door-case, the altars, and the statue of Santa Helena in this church are all attributed to Aleijadinho-- one of Brazil's most highly-regarded artists. He intricately carved the stones that resulted to such magnificent beauty.

In English, this is the Church of Mount Carmel. Just look at the details of the paintings on the ceiling of the church. How beautiful! The church has undergone numerous conservation and restoration works until 1965. (Entrance fee R$3.00)


Igreja de São Francisco de Assis

The church of St. Francis de Assisi is one of Latin America' most important Rococo buildings. The church combines the finest workw of Aleijadinho and Mestre Athayde-- another Brazilian painter, sculptor, gilder and teacher. My favorite one among all the churches, I've visited! (Entrance fee R$10.00)

Here's a closer look at the façade of the St. Francis de Assisi church. The great carvings, especially the upper one that shows St. Francis receiving the stigmata is believed to have been Aleijadinho's first great carvings amongst the many he created throughout the country.


Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Pilar

The Church of Our Lady of Pilar is the oldest church in the town was designed by one of Aleijadinho's mentors and completed in 1731 to replace the original main church. Despite the rather stark outward appearance, the interior glistens with almost 1000 pounds of gold and almost 900 pounds of silver. The carvings are all breathtaking! (Entrance fee R$10.00)


Igreja São Francisco de Paula

The church of San Francisco de Paula was completed in the 1898, this church took a whooping 94 years to complete. Inside are Aleijadinho's sculpture of the saint after which it is names, as well as a life-size sculpture of the Last Supper.

SAM_1521.JPG

This is the church closest to my hotel and where I attended a Sunday mass. (Entrance fee is free but only opens on Sunday.)


Igreja Nossa Senhora das Mercês e Misericórdia

Also known as the Church of Our Lady of Mercy. It was built between 1771 and 1793.


Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora da Conceição

The church of Our Lady of Immaculate Concepcion is famous for its eight lavishly decorated altars. The cemetery here has the grave of Aleijadinho, and the sacristy houses a museum dedicated to him. Built in 1727. (Closed for renovations.)


Igreja Nossa Senhora do Rosário

*The Church of Our Lady of Rosary was built in 1785 with slave labor. Slaves were forbidden to worship at any other church. The church has a unique shape, with a contour formed by three convergent ovals. (Closed on Mondays)


SAM_1544.JPG

This town attracts more tourists during Holy Week or Semana Santa. I was totally in love of the place that I don't mind going back-- hopefully I can bring my parents who are hardcore Catholics! ;)

*Source Infos: Wikitravel.com and DK Eyewitness Brazil Guidebook.


Have you been to a town with so many churches?

Beijing, China

 

Are you visiting Beijing soon?


More than THE Great Wall, I have quite a few recommendations when you visit the good old 'jing. The lesser known places, or the off-the-beaten-paths and activities, so to speak.

This is much what I can contribute to the city that adopted me for eight wonderful years!

1. Cycle around.

As the song goes, "There are nine million bicycles in Beijing..." This is one of the cities in the world with good bicycle lanes. And it's better to ride your bike to work than take a bus or subway, not only because of the traffic but also avoiding the (stinky) crowd! :P

If you're visiting, the city has introduced public bicycles for rent. But you need to register first at any of these places with your passport: Dongzhimen subway station (exit A of of Line 2), Temple of Heaven subway station of (exit A of Line 5, next to the temple's east gate) and Chaoyangmen station (exit A of Line 2). For more detailed information, click their website.

Once you have a bike, you can try these best biking routes around the city.


2. Hutong exploration.

1909497_1085254805567_886_n.jpg

Hutongs are traditional courtyard residences arranged according to social classes since Zhou Dynasty (1027-256 BC) and are mostly prominent in Beijing. Some of them were turned into commercial courtyards such as, hostels, restaurants, bars, and stores.

Due to Beijing's modernity, these places are becoming extinct. Sadly, the Chinese people failed to realize that this is the authenticity and uniqueness they can offer to the world.

My favorite hutong spots are: Baochao and Beiluoguxiang. Nearest subway stops: Guloudajie (Line 2) to the north and Nanluoguxiang (Line 6) to the south. You can find the infamous, Mr. Shi's Dumplings (74 Baochao Hutong) for your jaozi, Mai (40 Beiluoguxiang) for your cocktail drinks, and Modernista (44 Baochao Hutong) for film screenings & party dancing.

If you're into comedy and art, Fangjia Hutong is the best place to see more of that. From Exit D of Yonghegong Lama Temple Station (Lines 2 and 5), it’s a simple ten-minute walk straight south to the east end of Fangjia Hutong. This hutong entrance is less recognisable than that of Guozijian (with it’s colourful gate), so be on the lookout for the sign.

You can either walk or bike around a hutong neighborhood. Pick your choice. :)


3. Miniature Beijing.

The Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall is the best place to see the whole picture of the city!  It's my favorite, simply because you can immerse yourself in the architectural creativity of Beijing and learn so much after. They have a lot of interactive presentations as well.

The best part of this place: not too touristy & crowded! And in Beijing, it is a heaven's delight. ;)

Information: No. 20, Qianmen Street, Chongwen District, Qianmen Subway Station Exit A, 9:00- 5:00 PM (Tuesday-Sunday), 30RMB entrance fee.


4. Highest and most beautiful view.

Did you know that with just 2RMB, you can have a 365 degrees and a high view of the Beijing? Well, you just have to head to Jinshan Park! It is also the best place to watch the sunrise and the sunset. On a non-smoggy day, of course.

Additional trivia: This is where Emperor Chongzhen hanged himself.

Direction: Take Subway Line 5 to Dongsi Station. Get out from Exit C and then find bus 101 to Gu Gong (Forbidden City) Station. It is opposite to the north gate of the Forbbiden City.


5. Less-touristy Wall.

Understandably, THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA is the most famous and most touristy place in the outskirt of Beijing. And since Badaling is the nearest and most accessible through public transportation, it is the most visited-- everyday. (Let's say an estimated of 50, 000 people and up.)

So would you want to see the people in your pictures or the Great Wall?!? That's why you should go farther! And I suggest that you should take a van-for-rent for a long and comfortable journey. Call this number: 13641057896. He would usually charge 300-500 RMB for the round trip ride.

My favorite Great Wall spots: Mutianyu Wall,  Jinshanling Wall, and Huanghuacheng Wall.


6. From the zoo to the palace.

The Beijing Zoo is not only the home for the cute, giant Pandas of China, but it is also connecting to the Summer Palace. For 40 RMB, you're paying for the entrance fee in the zoo, the Panda's house, and the ferry boat ride to the Summer Palace. As seen here on the picture, the lake is the connecting canal to the palace.

Once you arrived at the South gate of Summer Palace, you need to pay the entrance fee of 20RMB. I highly recommend exploring the Front Hill area. You will have a nice and tranquil view of Beijing from that high spot. Also, they have free Opera Theater performances in Deheyuan Grand Theater. So be ready for this cultural experience that dates back in the late 18th century. But they only perform every hour. Ask the schedule for it.

Direction: Take Subway Line 4. Get off at Dong Wu Yuan Station, get out of the station from Exit A (northwest exit), and you'll find the south gate.


7. Bookish hangout.

Ultimately, my favorite hang out, chill out, and inspirational place in Beijing is The BookwormI can literally spend the whole day in this place without feeling bored at all. But that's just me! ;) So if you're a literary type, like me-- this is a good place to borrow and buy books, magazines, travel guidebooks, and Moleskin!

They have monthly events such as; book launching, talks, comedy nights, and quiz nights. And of course, never to miss their Literary Festival every March.

The Bookworm also serves breakfast all day! How lovely! Plus it's in Sanlitun, so you can go directly to your favorite bar after a quiet, nerdy day! You can head to The Local, which is my favorite Irish-pub in the area where you and your friends can play pool and Foosball.

Direction: 4 Sanlitun Nan Lu, Chaoyang District. Tuanjiehu Subway Station: Exit at the Pacific Century Plaza exit, on Gongti Bei Lu.


8. Dance with grannies.

Pic taken from google images

Pic taken from google images

Beijing has a good number of public parks. And from springtime, you will see Chinese retirees dancing their feet away to the tune of English pop music, tango, cha-cha, and classic Chinese medleys!

This is one of the best way to immerse and enjoy(!) yourself with the old people. So don't be shy to join in with their line-dancing. Trust me, they're very good dancers too!

Houhai Park is probably one of the large groups in the city. But I've recently learned from the news that they're cracking down these public dances and exercises. So just keep an eye to any public park around you. They usually start from 5PM- 8 PM, everyday.


9. Food! Food! Food!

I love Chinese food!!! It's one of the huge reason why I miss Beijing! And the variety of choices from other Asian and Western foods are also endless!


Here are my favorite restaurants around Beijing:

(Don't worry these restaurants have English menus with pictures.)


  1. Baoyuan Jiazi Wu (6 Maizidian Jie, Chaoyang District) for colorful dumplings and eggplant dish. 
  2. Da Gui (69 Daxing Hutong, Jiaodaokou, Dongcheng District), a Guizhou restaurant. I highly recommend their suantuangyu (fish on the soup), yuan xiao (glutinous rice dumplings), and their Dagui style pork ribs!
  3. Beijing Roast Duck Restaurant (Gongti Beilu, just across the Workers Gymnasium) for a cheaper but good tasting Peking Duck! They also serve my favorite Fried Spicy Chicken and Spicy Fish Soup, and other famous Chinese dishes.
  4. Annie's Italian Restaurant (located in all districts) is probably not just my favorite go-to Italian restaurant but also Frenchie's favorite take-out! We literally eat Annie's pizza and pasta every weekend (and every night for him!).
  5. Muse (Sanlitun, Chaoyang Park, and Indigo Mall) is my favorite go-to Vietnamese restaurant. I love their fried chicken, tom yam soup, and Vietnamese rolls! And of course, pho noodle soup!
  6. Susu (Qianliang Hutong, West Alley No. 10) is another Vietnamese restaurant in Beijing. They are located in this hidden hutong alley and you need to reserve a table before you go because they are always full. We love their lunch menu set which is affordable as compared to their pricier dinner menus. Don't pass up to eat their papaya salad.
  7. Element Fresh (Sanlitun and Lido area) is my favorite take-out food. It's fresh and healthy! And they make the best Chicken Teppanyaki Salad and fresh Carrot-Ginger juice!
  8. Macau Taste (Sanlitun) is my favorite Cantonese restaurant. I love their interior set up, too. Their variety of dim sum are a delight to my stomach!
  9. The Tree (Sanlitun) is probably one of my earliest favorite restaurant in Beijing. They have the best wooden-baked pizzas in town. And their Pan-Fried Chicken with mushroom sauce is already a full meal in itself.
  10. Haidilao (all around the city) is not just my favorite, but perhaps the favorite of all Beijing ren. It's a hot-pot restaurant that you have to try whenever you're in China. Yes, hot-pot is a must experience! ;)

10. Quiet bars.

As I passed my 20s, I feel like I no longer belonged in loud bars with pop music, skinny dancing Chinese girls, and expat teenagers. In short, I'm no longer the target demographic of these places! Haha!

Thankfully, there are "quiet" bars that you can go to for a cocktail drink on a Friday and Saturday night in Beijing if you feel too old like me. Or if you simply don't want to shout when you talk to anyone while inside a bar.

I especially love the atmosphere in Ennotera (Sanlitun) for the rooftop setting, Fu Bar (Workers Stadium) for the hidden surprise, Revolution (Sanlitun) for the small crowd, Ming Bar (Sanlitun) for the member-only entrance & best cocktails (they only have 7 chairs inside), and Mai (Beiluoguxiang) for the hutong vibe.

Ahhh, I miss Beijing. But I hope this will give you more to love with my adopted city. And oh, Capital M (Qianmen) is my best recommendation for lovers. They have the best food and the nice view. All in all, a good romantic package for a date night or a date lunch. ;)

This will also help you plan your Beijing adventure: http://www.timeoutbeijing.com/VisitingBeijing.html


Have you been to Beijing? What was your favorite?

Vitória, Espirito Santo

 

Would you like to visit me here?


For a small-town girl like me, I am still, in awe that I always end up in big cities--- huge even, where big things happen! I call myself-- a former Beijinger, a brief New Yorker, and now an adopted Brazilian!

As for my new life in Brazil, allow me to introduce to you the lesser known city and state of Brazil-- Vitória, Espirito Santo which is currently my newest adopted city.


Vitória is the capital city of the state of Espirito Santo. Located in the southeast part of Brazil, which is an hour plane ride or 9-hour bus ride from Rio de Janeiro.


Wikipedia.com: This city was rated as the second Brazilian capital with the best quality of life, according to research institution at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation. This same research institution also claims that Vitoria is the 9th best city in Brazil to work. The capita income among the capitals of Brazil. In 1998, the United Nations rated Vitória as the fourth best state capital in Brazil to live in, rating cities on health, education, and social improvement projects. 

It has also the largest port in handling a ton in Brazil.


But more than those facts. These are the 10 things I love about my new home city:


1. The magnificent view of sunrise every morning-- from my flat.

SAM_4363.JPG
 

2. While my night view is also competing for that top spot. ;)

 

3. The beaches that made it a perfect place to be! While having ice cream or fresh coconut juice.

 

4. The scenery just reminds me so much of home. Coconuts, anyone?! :) 

 

5. Their food is a delight to my stomach. ;) I LOVE IT! Damn, the Brazilian BBQs are the B-O-M-B!

P8011193.JPG
SAM_0428.JPG
 

6. My choices of weekend activities vary from walking, swimming, paddle surfing, and kayaking!

 

7. The architectural and historical buildings and churches around the city, made it fabulous. While the Favelas contributed to the beauty and character of Vitória, too.

GOPR0926.JPG
 

8. What can I say about the people? They are the most beautiful! Literally! And the most chilled individuals. They are ever so friendly, helpful, and accommodating. In many ways, we Filipinos are like them. Prayerful even. 

 

9. The night life scene and party goers look like this...

 

10. I can of course tell you the bad things. But why should I?!-- when there are so many beautiful and positive things to say about Brazil, moreover about Vitória. More than anything, by focusing on the better things, it will even change our mindset about a place, a country, a city, and its people. In my case, I'm jumping high in such joyous vibe just to be here. Thankyouverymuch! :)


Last August, I finally hosted a friend in my flat. My Chinese friend, Chris, whom I met in Beijing through Couchsurfing meetings, and now lives in Sao Paulo-- came to visit me here in Vitoria for a weekend. He brought me so many goodies and we cooked everything that I missed from China.

So I'm still open to hosting friends and families here until December 2017. Just bring me goodies and cook me comfort food. ;)

IMG_0115.JPG
IMG_0118.JPG
IMG_0119.JPG
IMG_0114.JPG

What do you love about your city where you live now?

Harbin, China

 

Where to go for an ice and snow festival?


If I have to choose between hot and cold weather-- I'll raise both my hands and feet, and say, HOT!!!

My body is made for the tropics. Thankyouverymuch! ;)

But on January 2013, I braced the coldest temperature my body can ever take-- -25'C! Weee!

I went to Harbin, China for their Ice and Snow Festival that takes place every Chinese Spring Holiday.

Since, I wasn't leaving the mainland for the Chinese Chunjie (New Year), I decided to go there.

www.ctrip.com-- probably has the best travel deals within China. And true enough, I paid CNY 1,800 for my round trip air flight and hotel accommodation to go to the Northeastern part of China.

I was able to convince my co-league slash housemate slash baker friend slash party organizer buddy, Wilbur.

Together, we explored the foreign city which is almost close to Russia!

St. Sophia Church is an edifice that says more about the Russian influence in this part of China.

Harbin is the capital city of Heilongjiang Province and this is China's original and greatest ice artwork festival, attracting hundreds of thousands of local people and visitors from all over the world.

I did not stand the cold in Harbin.

I kid you not, I was wearing five layers on top, three layers of pants, and four layers of socks! I had to beg Wil to get inside a store, or a coffee shop, or a mini restaurant just to get warm. I also brought a mini faux fur blanket just to keep my hands from the chill. (See pictures below.) Brrrr!

The main tourist attraction is the Ice and Snow World being one of the world's largest ice architecture parks.

It is open from 12:00- 21:00 and had an entrance fee of CNY 330. You need to visit it at night to see the multicolored lights that illuminate to each ice and snow sculptures.

The place was massive and each ice sculpture is humongous!

For photo ops, Wil and I are asking random strangers or taking turns just so we can capture the whole place!

There are two other ice parks to visit, but I couldn't take walking around, in the cold so we settled with Ice and Snow World. They are all accessible on foot or by bus: Ice and Lantern Garden Party (14:00-21:30 CNY 200) and Sun Island Scenic Area (8:00-17:30 CNY240). You can also go skiing to Yabuli International Ski Resort .

Another tourist attraction in Harbin is the Harbin Siberian Tiger Park.  It is the largest natural park for wild Siberian tigers in the world at present.

We've seen wild tigers next to our caged vehicle and walking through a caged corridor, eating their poor prey-- live chickens!

Downtown Harbin (both day & night) looks a lot like this. Since, it's snowing almost every day, the snow ground is too slippery to walk on.

Oh, don't forget to try the Russian food while you're out there. It was my best paid Cream of Mushroom soup! Ever!

 

Where's the coldest place you've been to?

Siargao, Philippines

 

Where to go in Mindanao?


Siargao is located at the northeastern tip of Mindanao and a haven for surfers around the world.

We took a ferry from Surigao City to Dapa. (200 per person/ 3hr & 30 minutes). From there, it took us another 45 minutes to our resort cottage-- Cherinicole Beach Resort. We were lucky to be traveling with the whole Bauson clan because they arranged everything for us-- from the pick up to reservations.

But like many touristy places in the country, you can always find any means of transportation to get to your destination: tricycles, minivans, habal-habal, and bangkas.

Siargao is so pristine and beautiful! And not too commercialized (hopefully, not ever) like Boracay.

A few hours after we settled, we went to a tiny island across our beach resort, called Guyam-- a circular clump of sand and palm trees ideal for picnics, swimming or sunbathing.

We rented a bangka for Php 1,200 for 5 hours.

And once there, we went swimming all the way!

The kiddos tried to build sand castles...

And I helped them find some hermit crabs. Until they went back swimming again...

And eventually, called it a day!

EDITED:

We also went to Magpungko Beach in Pilar, about 35km north from General Luna (GL). The sandy beach is one of the island’s best.

The highlight is the giant natural swimming pool (basically a huge rock pool) that forms to the far left of the beach at low tide.

Unfortunately, we came in too late for the low tide to swim here.

It is said that the water is beautifully clear and inviting, when the weather is at your side.

There’s an entrance fee of Php 50 per person and you can bring outside foods and drinks.

They have a small restaurant and sari-sari store but it’s better to bring your own food, especially if you’re traveling in big group, just like us.

To get to the place, you can rent motorcycles (Php 500/ a day) or ask a habal-habal driver to take you there (Php 300).


Island hopping is the best in Siargao.


According to Rough Guide, Siargao is littered with unspoiled and rarely visited islands, but you’d need your own boat if you’d like to explore them all.

Worry not though, because most resorts can fix you up with local bangka operators.

If only we’re staying longer, I would have visited them all.

 

Here are the suggested islands of Rough Guide:


Naked Island is a little more than a giant sand bar and perfect for lounging in the sun.

Dako Island, means big, is smothered in coconut palms and home to a small fishing community. The villagers will happily serve you fresh coconut.

La Janoza and Mamon, where a powdery white sand beach and a quaint fishing village between these islands is a pellucid lagoon, that’s wonderful for swimming and snorkeling. Both islands are also surfing hot spots.


Siargao is really beautiful! You should come visit it soon!