Monday, June 21, 2010

BackTrackin', Brazil Edition - Only in Rio...?

I know that people around here often say "Only in New York..." to something that is pretty odd or out there that only a New Yorker would not bat an eyelash, but I thought I would tell you about my experience that is psuedo-touristy but maybe an "Only in Rio..." kind of experience.

I had the wonderul opportunity of going to the Escaderia Selaron in Rio with my guide, Madson. Where and what is this? For those of you familiar with hip hop music videos, you've actually already seen this site in Snoop Dogg and Pharell of the Neptunes' video for the song "Beautiful." Don't remember that particular MTV/BET moment in time? Click on the link for a reminder.

Here are the Escaderia Selaron in all of their glory.
The Escaderia Selaron is a work of genius or perhaps madness depending on who you ask. Located in the hot (although not always safe) nightlife district of Lapa, Jorge Selaron began to transform these stairs leading from Rua Joaquim Silva and Rua Pinto Martins in 1990. Selaron is an artist who also draws and paints, but his biggest claim to fame has been these stairs made of colorful carefully broken tiles that he continues to craft and reshape continuously. Here's a close-up of what the tiles actually look like.

He claims that he will never stop changing the stairs until the day he dies. After his project became famous, people from around the world started to visit him. He began asking them to bring tiles from their country of origin. Recognize any of these places?

So every artist has their signature style or image; and for Senhor Selaron, it happens to be the the image of a pregnant Black woman. Hmmm...some people have their theories (I think this is the one I favor) that this is the image of a woman who was his pregnant lover who died in childbirth/or was pregnant with his child and they had a major disagreement, which destroyed their relationship. Selaron says it's a personal matter. A'ight, bruh. I understand. What do YOU all think? He's even created a version of the image with HIS head on the pregnant body. Here's the image on one of his tiles.

A mural with Selaron's head on the pregnant body. Kinda freaky, ain't it? This was in anticipation of this year's World Cup.

My guide, Madson, seemed to be pretty cool with Senhor Selaron, so he brought me to meet him. Oh my...what a guy!! I want to say that Senhor Selaron took a little liking to me. After starting to speak to him in my 5 year-old girl Portuguese, I just started speaking Spanish, which weirded him out but made me more comfortable that I wouldn't sound totally crazy and that we could actually talk and understand each other. After learning that I was born on a small island in the Caribbean, I think that totally set him off. You see, his goal to collect a tile from as many countries in the world as possible, and here he saw me as a golden opportunity to get a tile from a teeny little island that (no offense to my people) probably doesn't have a population that may make the trip to Brazil. He started letting me pick out one of his drawings to take FOR FREE. He even posed for a picture with me!

Madson told me that it's the first time he'd ever seen Senhor Selaron react this way. While I'd like to think it was perhaps my magnetic personality (Ha!), I think it was more that I was from someplace a little exotic. Either way, it was nice to get the royal treatment regardless of Senhor S's motivations.

I have not forgotten him and his request for a tile from my little island homeland. Sadly, I have not been back to island A as much as I would like in the past few years, but I intend to keep my promise to him. Senhor Selaron, you will get a tile from me someday soon!!

Have you been to any local curiosities or met any local "celebrities" during your travels?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Where to Next? - Bali

Hey y'all,

For the "Where to Next?" posts, I'll be featuring places that I am going to next OR where I'd like to go next (no worries, there's a list!). So...WHERE am I going next?

Beautiful Bali!!!

There are temples Everywhere!

The beach at Nusa Dua. We probably won't make it over there, but after seeing this picture who knows?

I can't even use the word "excited" to describe how I feel right now, as this will be my first time traveling to Asia. Woo hoo! Also as some of you may know, I'm still technically a newlywed (under a year counts, right?), so this trip is also my HONEYMOON...10+ months later. Husband J and I just went on a small get-away to his home state of Rhode Island since we weren't able to go on the international honeymoon that I would have liked. So how did we (okay more like me) make the choice to go to Bali?

1. It's a new place. I am the more adventurous of the two of us, and Husband J usually goes along with what I suggest. Smart man! ;) I definitely wanted to go to Asia, since I'd never been before. I knew for a fact that I wanted to go to a location that would be new and interesting for me. Try Anything Once, right?! Also the Caribbean actually isn't that interesting of a relaxing travel destination for me since I am actually from the Caribbean and much of my family is still there. If I am going to go to that part of the world, I'd rather just go to my home island and have the added benefit of seeing my family too. I think some time I will talk about my "issues," both personal and otherwise, with Caribbean tourism, but that's for another time.

2. Dollar, dollar bill, y'all. I knew that going to Asia would allow us to stretch our funds a whole lot more than Europe, and even in some respects, the Caribbean. While we are paying more to travel to Bali than we would other locations, once we get there we can find food cheaply (a meal for two for less than $10! I think so!) and extremely affordable shopping (although I'm not a big shopper but maybe the prices will spur me on!). I also think the lower prices allowed us to get the chance to stay in hotels that we wouldn't normally be able to afford (or willingly spend the money. That means you, Husband J. Hee hee! ). I will say that we could have stayed at cheaper places than we are, but this our honeymoon and I was thinking "romance" (and not holding back!!) when I booked our hotels. You can find gorgeous hotels in Bali for $100USD per night or less, if you look.

3. Culture, culture, culture. Bali has so much to see and discover: art and specialty handicfrafts, actives volcanoes, its own form of Hinduism and gorgeous temples; and native Indonesian dance are just some of the things I hope Husband J and I get to experience on our trip. I have a hard time with the idea of traveling very, very far away and not interacting and learning about the local culture around us (or not leaving the hotel for that matter), so it was important to me that we be in a place that emphasizes the culture of its people.

4. Spas! A $10USD one hour massage. Need I say more? :)

Now no trip is without it's drawbacks. I can't wait to go, but I wish were going for longer than the 11 days we'll be gone. Husband J didn't want to travel for too long due to work constraints. Also this is probably the longest plane trip that I will have taken so far in life. One 18 hour flight with a layover in Hong Kong, and then about another 5 hours to Bali from there. I've done the 18 hour flight before, but I didn't have to do it again until four months later! Any recs for long-haul plane travel? I'd love to hear them.

Here are some preview pics of some of the places where we'll be staying.

We leave next week, so you haven't gotten rid of me yet! Ha! :)

Does anyone have any tips on surviving long-haul flights OR better yet getting over jet lag? If you've traveled to Bali, do you have any tips for us?

Monday, June 14, 2010

A K-Town Birthday

I love Korean food. Let me say that again. I LOOOOOOVVEEEE Korean food. I was first introduced to it by my college roommate, Roo Mi. :) Since it was her birthday this past weekend, she invited many of her friends, including me and my husband J, to one of her favorite NYC Korea Town restaurants, Kun Jip. Never one to turn down a trip to K-Town, Husband J and I met up with Roo Mi and a group of her friends which was comprised of many a foodie, including a copy editor from my favorite food publication, Food & Wine (I've been a subscriber for seven years!!).

Between talk of a food-focused trip to southern Italy and whether David Chang's (of Momfukufame) pork buns or reservation policies are really worth it, we chowed down on a Korean mini-feast. First out, the panchan (or banchan). This has got to be one of my favorite aspects of Korean restaurants 'cause it's pretty much FREE (you read that right, FREE) small side dish/appetizers that come out right before the meal and are shared by the table. I've even had an entire panchan spread by joke. Here's the panchan spread we received in all of its glory.

I'm going to make a feeble attempt at showing you and naming the some of the panchan dishes we got this time around. Roo Mi, if you're reading, or anybody else that knows more about Korean food than I do, please correct me if I am wrong.

KKakdugi or Ggakdugi. This is actually a type of kimchi, (which generally means fermented vegetables but the most familiar version of this dish is made with Napa cabbage, a type of Chinese cabbage) a daikon or radish cut into cubes and seasoned with red pepper.

Gat Kimchi (Fermented mustard greens kimchi )

Gyeran Jjim, a steamed egg casserole made with egg, water, scallions with other optional ingredients. Like many dishes in any cuisine, everyone's got their own recipe. It's still boiling when it reaches the table!

Hmm...I haven't figured this one out yet, but I know it's spinach! :)

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By the way, we haven't even gotten to the main courses yet! They came out soon after. Here was the feast (again, bear with me if I got the names wrong!).

Maewoon Dduk Boki, pan fried cynlindrical rice cakes in a great simple, spicy sauce with vegetables

Bo Ssam, boiled or steamed pork with fresh oyster, Napa cabbage and other accompaniments

Mandoo Gui, deep fried pork and vegetable dumplings

My portion of the Yook Gae Jang, a hot and spicy beef stew with vegetables and slices of beef. Scallions and mushrooms are often included.

When I eat Korean soups, I usually add rice to my bowl.

Bulgogi, marinated barbecue beef. Husband J appreciates beef when we go out since I don't cook much beef at home. I'm a bad wife, aren't I?

We all couldn't believe our eyes when the Haemool Jun Gol came out. So much food! But hey, that's what we were there for. This spicy casserole-like soup comes with a variety of seafood, including some good 'ol octupus, noodles and vegetables.

Here's one of the Kun Jip waitresses cutting up the octupus with a pair of scissors. The octopus was definitely chewy. :)

Here's my portion of the Haemool Jun Gol

Since I was out with a group for my friend's birthday I couldn't take my usual notes on flavor, etc.. I wanted to actually pay attention to my fellow diners. :) I thought Kun Jip was good (not amazing) the last time I went there with Roo Mi, but now I know why that's the case. I don't think I ordered Kun Jip's specialities! Whoa! The Bul Go Gi, the Yook Gae Jang and most everything we ate were pretty heavenly. Everything was full of flavor, just the right amount of spice (if I haven't told you yet, I like spice), pretty darn fresh, hot and ready to eat. If you're looking for atmosphere, then this isn't the place to go. It looks and feels like a busy diner, but I like it that way. There are lots of other places to go if you want lavishly decorated dining room and servers with flourish. There was a line the entire time I was there, and I can see why. I know why Roo Mi is a regular. I'm sure we'll be returning again.

By the way, this was a birthday dinner, and what's a birthday without cake? One of my lovely fellow birthday dinner guests got Roo Mi a cake from a bakery further down the street. I believe it was KoryDang?

This was the first time I'd ever had sweet potato cake! The frosting was light with far from overpowering sweetness, and a welcome relief from much of the spice we'd just eaten. The cake portion consisted of a light white cake with surprise! Small chunks of sweet potato. Sweet potato cake, unlike pie, is something I would have never though people made, but it was almost refreshing. Hmm...can cake be refreshing? We were all pretty full but ended up finishing most of the cake anyway. A great end to the meal.

That was probably one of the best and biggest Korean meals I've ever had. I can't wait 'til my next one. Roo Mi, Happy Birthday again!!

Friday, June 11, 2010

BackTrackin', Brazil Edition - Samba, Soccer & Sun

The Cidade Marvilhosa (the Marvelous City) is a dream on a sunny, warm day. If New York City had world class beaches two blocks from the subway like this, I don't know what I would do with myself.

After a few days of rain and spending most of my time indoors, I was ready for Rio in all its natural beauty. Rio is a very large and spread out city, so that day I enlisted the help of a guide, Madson, to get me around. Plus, I was a little starved for conversation, so it was nice to be able to talk to someone about everyday life as a Carioca (a Rio resident).

Actually one of my favorite stories from Madson was about the Brazilian version of Election Day. Apparently, everyone gets the day off, and then goes to meet their friends and family to hang out after they vote. Plus to get certain government services, you've got to prove that you voted that year! Honestly, I kinda like that in an odd way. So many people in the US don't vote and take it for granted. We didn't get into it so much, but I wonder what Brazilians think of their required voting system.

Anyway....after many winding roads, a quick shuttle bus ride and an elevator, I finally made it to Rio's most recognizable landmark: Corcovado or Christ the Redeemer.

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I'm squinting, but I made it!

There were definitely some great views from Corcovado. It provided a great vantage point for seeing much of Rio, including Sugar Loaf Mountain (see below to your left).

After Corcovado I went off to see the Sambadromo (Sambadrome). Brazilian Samba isn't necessarily what you see on Dancing with the Stars. It's the music and dance form that is the heart and soul of Brazilian carnival that takes over Rio and Salvador to the north (and other cities) each February. The volunteer groups of musicians, dancers and parading singers called Samba Schools used to parade through the streets, but the costumes and groups got so big that they built a staging ground for them to parade, the Sambadrome. Each Samba School gets an hour to parade to strut their stuff for judges who crown the best Samba School each year.

Here I am practicing my samba skills in the Sambadrome. The security guards appreciated my feeble attempt and gave me some applause. Obrigada (thank you!)

Off to the side of the Sambradrome, there was a small museum and gift shop. The picture above is actually a picture of a picture of one of the porta-bandeira (one of the lead women in the front portion of a samba school's procession) of the Beija Flor samba school that won a few years ago. As I am sure you can imagine this is a pretty big honor. Plus, in addition to the big schools that parade through the Sambadrome, there are small, local samba schools that play music, sing and dance through the streets of Rio. This was just a taste of Rio's samba culture, and I wished I had time to experience more. I was so disappointed that I didn't get to see a samba school rehearsal, many of which are open to the public and are essentially Saturday night practices and parties rolled into one. I don't want to go there. I'll tell you why I didn't go in another post.

One of my final stops that day with Madson was to Maracana Stadium, which is the main soccer stadium in Rio that hosts international and local games and will serve as the main stadium for the 2016 Summer Olympics. O jogo bonito (the beautiful game) is a national obsession just in case you don't know. Pele, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka have all played here. It's like a living Brazilian soccer shrine.

Pele's feet, Pele's feet!!

Here I am at field level.

One of my favorite parts of the Maracana visit was watching what this guy here could do with a soccer ball.

He's bouncing it off of his shoulder. Nice...

I even had a chance to see a real live Brazilian professional game a few days later. This was barely a playoff game and had the same energy as probably the Superbowl here in the U.S. I have to admit that I don't think we here in the US are superfans like the rest of the world. People were going wild and screaming at least an hour BEFORE the game.

Here I am before a game between Flamengo (from Rio) and Atletico Miniero (from the Minas Gerias province)

This picture doesn't show how HUGE all of the flags and banners are. Some banners covered large chunks of the crowd. Amazing!

This guy is prime example of an excited Carioca Flamengo fan.

The local Flamengo team got beat (and badly) by the visitors from Minas Gerais by a score of 3-0. It was so bad that people started leaving well before the end of the game. I kinda felt bad for the hometown crowd. Sports make me emotional, so I was glad to not feel disappointed. :)

Oh yeah, by the way, Rio has great beaches. DDDDUUUUUHHHHH!
Yeah, Ipanema Beach is gorgeous for lack of a better word.

You can get pretty much anything on the beach from massages, manicures and an entire lunch. You want it; you got it!
Many of the colored beach umbrellas are vendors. Every carioca has their favorite.

Here I am at a beach whose name I don't remember. Oh well. Less people here.

Sadly, I didn't get a chance to really enjoy the beach. WHAT?!! Yeah. I know epic fail on my part. It was my last day in Rio, I was getting picked up to go to the football match super early, and I just wasn't in the mood to spend time shopping for a skimpy Brazilian bathing suit. That sounds downright awful, doesn't it? I was just glad to take in the general beach splendor, people watch and to just be in awe. One day I'll return.

If anyone's been to Rio, what was your favorite part of your visit? Did you get to take in any futbol or samba?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

BackTrackin', Brazil Edition - Intro

Hey, all!

Welcome to my first BackTrackin' post! In these posts, I will highlight some of my past travels. Let's start off with my trip to Brazil. I went to both Rio de Janeiro and Salvador in the state of Bahia in Northeast Brazil in October 2008. This trip is waaay before I became a blogger much less one who writes about food and travel!

Brazil has a special place in my heart because it's the first time that I'd ever traveled completely alone. No companion; a guide for one day and that's really it. I'd taken a year of Portuguese back in college waaaaaay back when (**cough! 1998-1999..cough**), so I whipped out one of the few books at had left to remind myself. Let's just say that for the duration of the trip I had the vocabulary of a maybe 6 year-old; but, hey, that's better than nothing. As with most people anywhere in the world, many Brazilians appreciated the fact that I even spoke any Portuguese at all. One nice man was even surprised that there were Brazilian Portuguese language classes offered at my university.

Why Brazil? Well, I've been drawn to Brazil, especially by Afro-Brazilian culture, for ages. My major in college focused on studying people of African descent in the Western hemisphere. I've always been intrigued by the idea of syncretism, and have always found cultures that mix African and European (and everything in between) to be particularly intriguing. Besides, have you ever felt the beat of samba and wanted to sit still in your seat? Haven't you seen a picture of Rio's beaches and wanted to hop on a plane in a hot second? I have, and I did!

To begin, I'm reproducing with some editions a post that I wrote originally for Here it goes. By the way, I'd love to hear about any great Brazil travel tips and stories in the comments section.

My first stop in Brazil was to the beautiful city of Rio de Janeiro, a place known for its caipirinhas, skimpy bathing suits, pulsing samba, and breathtaking landscape. I am sure you want me to tell you how cool it was to sip some great tropical juice while getting a massage on the beach, but that didn't really happen. Rio was having probably one of its dreariest Octobers on record, and the beach was totally off the menu for the first few days. October in Rio has the same type of weather as a lovely (or wet) April in the Northeast U.S.A., so the first few days I was there I experienced quite a bit of rain and overcast skies. Rio is a city that needs to be appreciated for its natural beauty especially on a sunny day, but there's quite a bit to see if you need some shelter and don't mind leaving the Copacabana/Ipanema beach area that's so popular with tourists.

Anyways, what's there to see in Rio on a rainy day and Copacabana Beach looks like this?

Churches! Lots of 'em....

Downtown Rio has got loads of beautiful churches and other sites all with fascinating history and importance to Brazil.

Here is the Igreja de Nossa Senhora de Candelaria with its mix of Baroque and Renaissance architecture

The Noval Catedral Metropolitana built in 1976 and serves as Rio's primary cathedral. Many of Rio's major public worship services are held here.

The inside is stunning even with very little daylight

Here's the roof. I spent quite a few minutes just staring into the ceiling.

Here's Rio's former metro church, the Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Carmo de Antiga Se, which was used frequently for major events until 1980.

There are museums in Rio as well, but for my time there I primarily took in a lot of sites. For those in Rio with some desire for even more inside time, check out the Museu Historico Nacional for a taste of Brazilian history, and I suggest the Museu de Imagem e Som for shutterbugs and other photography buffs.

Also Rio has a subway! Yes, I know that is not particularly fascinating, but since I am lover of rapid, underground public transportation I couldn't resist (can you tell that I'm a New Yorker?). Rio's metro system is clean, runs frequently and is a good, cheap option for traveling between the beach areas into downtown.

Yes, I am a big nerd and took a picture :)

Next up: watch me dance some samba in public, possibly play o jogo bonito (the beautiful game) otherwise known as soccer, and I'll actually post some actual pictures with me in them! :)

For those who have been to Rio, do you have any advice for taking in the city on a rainy day?

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