A couple of months ago, a friend of mine posted a photo on her facebook-timeline: A small boat floating on a light turquoise lake in front of a high wall of ice.
What a mesmerizing sight! It just sucked me in. Just looking at this picture, I felt the cold crawling up my spine. I was convinced I could see my breath if I exhaled. This place must be a mysterious place, a world of its own, governed by some beautiful, chilled ice-queen.
It was the National Park Los Glaciares in southern Patagonia.
I had to see this place for myself. As soon as possible.
Dramatically jagged mountains, covered by a picturesque layer of eternal snow overtowering fir-covered hills. Trouts jumping in ice-cold turquoise waters of glacier lakes, rivers, and creeks.
Not Swiss enough? Well, the town of San Carlos de Bariloche cranks it up a notch by manufacturing some of the world’s best artisan chocolate and making you pose with a Saint Bernard dog – including the small barrel of rum around the neck; his neck, not yours.
I’ve heard that there are people travelling periodically to the region west of Tokyo just to take a good shot of Mount Fuji.
This majestic, perfectly shaped volcano – that erupted lastly in 1707 – seems to be hiding behind clouds most of the time. Therefore, it can be a challenge – or a hobby – hunting the best view. Or at least a glimpse.
Which island was my favorite? Argh, do you really make me choose again?
I dislike comparing. I detest better or poorer.
I like different! I like the beauty and the excitement that comes with diversity.
This said, if again, you point a gun to my head, I’ll say Fogo was my favorite. Fogo, because it is the most varied one. It has beaches and greeneries, but also rocks and lava. It is lovely and bizarre. Full of stories and history – a true inspiration.
The desert and especially the artificial oasis of Huacachina are a major tourist attraction. Since Peru has so much natural beauty to offer, I don’t get why everybody is going to an artificial oasis – but after all, I did, too. You can hike through the sand or – much easier – slide it down on a board. Sand jeeps drive you in wild circles up and down the dunes. Around the artificial lagoon, there are cozy restaurants and bars – hanging out one or two days out here can be very relaxing.
Reward for an exhausting hike uphill on the powdery sand of the oasis Huacachina. In the backdrop the city of Ica.
Getting off the bus in Arequipa in the morning, I felt super dizzy. Was it the unsound sleep? Was it the altitude? Was it a mix of both? Who knows. Even a little shaken, I fell in instant love with this white, elegant city where recent nobel prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa was born in 1936.
In front of the Catedral de Arequipa, protests from the workers of the mines surrounding Arequipa. They are digging for ore, silver, and gold – a trade, that destroys the nature and the workers.
Start your tour at the Plaza de Armas and just walk the streets and alleys with your eyes wide open. This colonial town is just so beautiful.
Picturesque Ollantaytambo was the last stop of an organized tour that I took from Cusco.
I had booked it beforehand on the internet at Coca Tours which was a big mistake. I had trouble finally getting the ticket since their office was closed as I arrived in Cusco, and checking the prices in town, I paid about triple of the prices you get at the stalls around the plaza. Again: no(!) pre booking in Peru!
The highlight of my trip to Peru, one of the highlights of all my life’s travelling – the legendary Machu Picchu.
Going up. The next floor is already in heaven.
It was our friend Pachacútec Yupanqui, today greeting his subservients at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, who ordered his people to build this settlement in 1450. There were up to 1,000 people living in the temples and dwellings of this city built on terraces.
“The model city of Brazil” – that’s what my Portuguese teacher Marcy had called Curitiba. And although this town, home to almost 2 million people which makes it Brazil’s eighth largest city, is not really spectacular, it’s worth the visit. It has lush parks, a well maintained historic center, modern buildings such as the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, celebrating Brazil’s star-architect. Their bus system was exemplary for many other Latin American cities. And if all this does not impress you, go on a wonderful day trip and take the scenic train to Morretes.
Today, Curitiba’s first town hall is an inspiring culture center for everyone.
Yes, Curitiba might not be famous and does not deem exciting at first sight, but you sure will have a great time here.
Curitiba was a pioneer city when it came to public transport, so it’s also easy to get there: There is a train station and right next to it an overland bus station, and of course they have an airport that’s easily accessible by a shuttle bus that goes about every twenty minutes from dawn till dusk.
A very convenient stop is at the Teatro Guaíra on the east side of the Praça Santos Andrade.
The Santos Andrade square is a good point of orientation – and it’s also the spot where the free walking tour starts.
The Praça is not only a beautiful square with many sculptures of famous men – all facing the Universidade Federal do Paraná all the way across from the theatre, it is also a good point to start exploring the city center.
Of the 11 statues on the Santos Andrade square, only Ms Lala Schneider is facing the Teatro Guaíra, the others have to look towards the university.
You can do it bye:yourself – or you can join the interesting and fun free guided tour. May I remind you – it’s called ‘free’ since you are not obliged to pay for it…hence, I cannot understand how people actually do not pay for it: these guides work for tips, guys!
Our walking group posing in front of one of the iconic tube-shaped bus stations. (Photo: Curitiba Free Walking)
Fun fact: They installed the flower pots to the left and right of the pedestrian street so people get used to walking in the middle, formerly reserved for the vehicles, too.
Typically Curitiba – an ingenious project at every corner: Here a former streetcar, now transformed into a small library where e. g. people can leave their kids while shopping.
Right behind the University is the Praça Generoso Marques with many buildings that show the tradition of immigration to Curitiba: Stores and restaurants founded by Germans and Lebanese and who not.
Haberdasher “Casa Edith”, founded by Lebanese immigrant Kalil Karam, who came to Curitiba in 1909 and named his store after his daughter who was born in 1913.
The nicest one is the Paço da Liberdade: Built between 1914 and 1916, it used to house the first town hall.
On the back of the building is Maria Lata d’Água, a memorial of the slaves being part of the multicultural and multiracial formation of Brazil.
Later it was used for the collection of the Museu Paranese until it became a wonderful community center with space for different cultural activities, a computer room where everyone can go online for free, a library and a very charming coffee house.
Just opening: The classic – and classy – coffeehouse.
Catedral Basílica Menor Nossa Senhora da Luz –
The Cathedral Basilica Minor of Our Lady of Light
At the back of the building, you’ll find yourself at another majestic square, the Praça Tiradentes with the Catedral Basílica Menor Nossa Senhora da Luz.
Walking right of the Cathedral, you’ll get to the Tv. Nestor de Castro. Here one of Curitiba’s stars, the artist Poty Lazzarotto created murals depicting scenes from the life in Curitiba and its surroundings.
Poty depicting Curitiba’s icons like the tube-shaped bus stations or the palm house at the botanic garden. To the upper right, he depicted Paulo Leminski, a Curitiba born poet of Polish descendance.
Poty’s work is found all over Curitiba. While here he used colorful tiles for his images, he decorated the facade of the Teatro Guaíra in monochrome clay. However, his style can be immediately recognized.
First Presbyterian church at the Setor Historico of Curitiba.
Right behind Tv. Nestor de Castro begins the Setor Historico, the historic sector with colonial houses and cute little churches, with many bars, restaurants, and specialty shops.
Since Curitiba experienced a lot of immigration over the years, there are many museums – such as the Museu Ucraniano – and memorials – such as the Memorial Alemão, the Memorial da Imigração Japonesa or the Memorial Arabe – all over the city. To get to see them all takes time since actually, only the Memorial Arabe is in the very city center.
This plain Moorish edifice houses a library of Middle Eastern culture & a sculpture of the writer Kahlil Gibran (born as Gibran Khalil Gibran in Lebanon).
A good option to get to see more of Curitiba is by Linha Turismo, basically a hop on hop off bus, only that you get five tickets so that you can re-board four times (which is enough for Curitiba, take it from me). The whole tour in one go takes about 2.5 hours.
Oscar Niemeyer had a good eye for architecture.
Of course, there are also various art museums to be visited, the most famous one being the Museu Oscar Niemeyer, located in the Centro Civico district north of the city center. If you don’t mind walking, you can get there in about 20 minutes. Otherwise, there are many buses going from the center to the Centro Civico.
The tunnel connecting the “eye” and the main building.
Oscar Niemeyer (1907 – 2012) is certainly one of world’s most important modern architects. He was friends with Le Corbusier and together they designed the UN-Headquarter in New York. Not only did Niemeyer design Brazil’s capital Brasilia, his buildings are also to be found in England, Italy, France, and many other places.
Oscar Niemeyer – eternalized in a mural in São Paulo by Brazil’s greatest muralist Eduardo Kobra
The museum, that’s of course designed by the master himself, houses an exhibition on his work in one gallery, but the rest shows changing temporary exhibitions.
The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 a. m. to 6 p. m. and the entrance fee is 20 R$ (6 US$)
What is it with tiles in Brazil? There is the Escadaria Selarón in Rio, there are Poty’s tile murals all over the federal state of Paraná – and here we have a small detail of Rogério Dias’ huge mural at the Praça Rio Iguaçu. Could it be the Portuguese heritage?
Another iconic place not to be missed while in Curitiba is the Jardim Botanico, the botanic garden southeast of the city center.
One of Curitiba’s most iconic buildings, the palm house at the botanic garden, became the city’s logo.
While the garden will not overwhelm you with its variety of plants and flowers, the palm house has practically become the Logo of Curitiba – and you can take really nice pictures of the premises and the view of the city.
A day trip to Morretes, a town located 70 km / 44 mi east of Curitiba, is not to be missed. Actually – the journey is the reward, at least if you are taking the Serra Verde Express. This train, consisting of many different wagons, takes you during three hours through the most scenic landscape. Along the
Serra de Mar, the Atlantic rain forest and through the untouched, rugged mountain scenery. Steep slopes and high bridges – it’s like being on an old fashioned, extremely slow roller coaster.
Way up high on a what seems to be an improvised bridge – heading for Morretes.
After three hours – you think it cannot get any better – you arrive in picturesque Morretes, where already at the town’s entrance children greet the travellers by standing in front of their houses and waving. It is all so idyllic!
Once you arrive at the train station, to your right is an information window where you can ask the friendly lady for a map of Morretes. You probably won’t get lost without it, but I like knowing where I am and what it is that I’m seeing.
Leaving the train station, you find yourself on the main square Praça Rocha Pombo from where this little piece of paradise can be conveniently explored walking.
There are attractions at the outskirts to be reached by buses, but after three hours on the train I felt like walking – and the town of Morretes, which by the way has about 15,000 inhabitants, is such a cute little place.
Being located in the Serra da Graciosa, every corner you turn, you are overwhelmed by a majestic view!
Wherever you go, there is a view – and what a view that is!
There are the Paróquia Nossa Senhora do Porto and the Igreja de São Benedito, but there are lots and lots of cute little houses – many of which are restaurants or specialty shops.
The guesthouse Nhundiaquara (deriving from the Tupi-guarani-language nhundia = fish and quara = hole) is been opened in these historic structures in 1945. The main structures, however, are from the 17th century.
The food is probably good everywhere since food is good everywhere in Brazil. However, I picked a restaurant that was not that centrally located since I wanted to go away from the crowds and tourist groups. They don’t have a website, but I can tell you that they are called Dois Chefs and are on the left-hand side when you’re going from the iron bridge towards the old graveyard – which is totally worth a visit, too.
The old cemetery. Even here: a view.
As a souvenir, I decided to buy a variety of tiny Cachaça bottles of different flavors such as ginger, pineapple, passion fruit, mint, and some others.
The stands selling all sort of local delicacies are a great opportunity to stock up on souvenirs.
There is one train going to Morretes at 8.15 and during high season another one at 9.15, but that one has only expensive, luxury seats.
Choo choo – let’s hit the rails! Me, waiting for the adventure to begin.
There is a wide range of different tickets and packages: from a simple ticket for 95 R$ (29 US$) to a package including extra tours to Paranaguá or Antonina – both located on the banks of Baía de Paranaguá, the Paranaguá bay, that will cost you almost 500 R$ (more than 150 US$). But also the tickets to Morretes can go up to 360 R$ (110 US$). You are then seated in a nicer wagon with better seats, there is a bi-lingual guide and drinks like soft drinks and beer are included.
The other man’s grass simply cannot be greener….
You find all these options on their website that is really good and clear. The process of booking, though, is terrible: You book and then you have to wait till they answer you to confirm.
According to their website, this can take up to seven days.
I booked two months ago and still have no answer.
Since I was quite frustrated with this booking process, I just got up pretty early in the morning to be at the station ahead of time.
At least in the cheapest wagon, they had still a lot of seats available – and it stayed quite empty during the whole trip.
….no matter how much you’ve paid for your ticket; the landscape remains the same – breathtaking!
It’s quite ironic: since most people either go on an organized tour that books seats at the more expensive wagons, the cheap ones stay basically empty. So you pay a fraction of what they pay and you have the wagon for yourself and you can move around according to the changing scenery.
Of course, you can also take the train to go back to Curitiba. But it’s far cheaper – about 22 R$ (less than 7 US$) and faster to go back by bus.
Since in Curitiba the bus station is next to the train station, I’d recommend you buy your return ticket right after you got your train ticket. This way you are all set and don’t have to worry that the bus might be full.
If you have the time, just go to the station one or two days before and arrange everything ahead – especially during the high season and the Brazilian school holidays.
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