Ah Barça… you are unique!

La Sagrada Família, one of Barcelona “symbols” 

As the daughter of an architect, I grew up hearing about Barcelona: the super successful revitalization of the city and its development plan because of the 1992 Olympics that  everyone uses as example,  plus the unusual works of Gaudí are facts that I’ve known since childhood. But ironically the first time I visited Spain in 2002 I didn’t go to the Catalan city and my father only got to personally explore all that he knew from the books last year in 2010. Besides Barcelona, ​​he visited other cities in Europe, but came back saying that nothing compares to Barcelona. And I thought: Of course, it must be like an amusement park for him! Until this year that I had the opportunity to return to the Spanish country and made sure not to leave the famous Barça out.

I had already been in the regions of Madrid, Andalusia and Extremadura. When I arrived in Barcelona, ​​in the Catalan region, in a way I didn’t feel I was in Spain. The strong nationalist spirit is easily felt and perceived. All road signs, for example, are in Catalan and not Spanish. Moreover, it seems to be the most European city in Spain: super cosmopolitan, there are people from all over the places.

However, the diversity is not only on the various faces and languages ​​that you hear when walking. Barcelona has numerous attractions for all tastes! A little antiquity appreciated in the Gothic quarter and Roman ruins. A lot of art and of so many styles … the city looks more like an open air museum with its parks, buildings, houses, streets and churches that always present some artistic and decorative element. There are many events and many stores in each neighborhood you visit. And to all this that makes it worthy of being called a major metropolis, it is added the Mediterranean climate with its beaches, sporting venues and little fairs.  I also have to mention the Barcelona soccer team, the greatest champion over the last decade, that adds value to the city as well.

As a tourist, I love walking by the places and realize myself walking in the midst of people (visitors like me and residents). But unfortunately my days in Barcelona were super short and so I tried one of those tour buses. There was much to be seen and I wouldn’t be able to enjoy much if I just rode public transport (especially considering the neighborhood – and mountain – Montjuic, where many attractions are). Therefore, I suggest doing so in case of a quick passage through the city. For € 20.70 you can go up and down the bus as many times as you want and the waiting time at the bus stop is no more than 7 minutes. In addition, there is an audio guide that provides information in many languages about all the places you pass by.

Despite being the most expensive city I visited in Spain, the subway surprises and gives the option of buying a travel pass with 10 rides for € 7.95.

I leave you with three links of great informational sites about the city. The first one is the official tourism agency of Barcelona. The second is TripAdvisor, my favorite travel site. And the third one, stay.com, where you can assemble your own itinerary and then download it as a PDF.

And the conclusion? My father was right … Barcelona is unique! 😉

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Sintra, a delightful surprise on the Portuguese mountains

As the locals and tourists from Rio de Janeiro seek in Petropolis  the pleasures of the mountains, so it is with Sintra, a Portuguese village in the region of Lisbon, which the highest point at 528 meters above sea level.

The Portuguese royal family while in Brazil boosted the emergence and growth of Petropolis and even more so the Imperial family, when Dom Pedro II followed his father’s plans and ordered the construction of the family’s  summer palace. In Europe, the history goes further back to centuries ago and in Sintra, its famous castle, which belonged to Muslim leaders and Portuguese kings is dated from the eighth century.

About 35km away from Lisbon, you can get to Sintra by car or by train. Once at the station there are free maps and information about the main attractions. Also from the station, there are buses that take you around town, including to higher places of the mountain where there are palaces and also the castle.

The Cultural Landscape of Sintra was elevated to UNESCO World Heritage Site and nothing better to understand why than reading the features presented in their application: a cultural unity that has remained intact in a multitude of parks and palaces, manor houses and their gardens and forests, little palaces and chalets inserted in the middle of an exuberant vegetation, extensive walled sections that crown the highest peaks of the mountains. Also, a gathering of meditations convents between cliffs, forests and fountains; churches, chapels and shrines, centers of faith and art; ultimately, a cultural intact unity in a gathering of archaeological sites that link to age-old occupations several times.

If you have time on your trip, I totally recommend that you book a weekend to enjoy this city. But at least on your way to Lisbon, reserve a day to spend there. The prices are a little higher than the Portuguese capital but are rewarded by the delights they offer.

Sintra is bordered to the south with Cascais and to the west with the Atlantic Ocean

Moorish Castle – Initiated during the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula, was disputed between Muslims and Portuguese kings

Pena National Palace – one of the best expressions in the world of architectural romanticism of the nineteenth century. Summer residence of King Ferdinand II

The traditional sweet “Travesseiro” (in English, pillow) from the factory and cafe Periquita

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A Tour Of Segovia!

If you are living in or visiting Madrid, you should definitely set aside a day to visit Segovia, a remote, ancient city! The town belongs to the province of Castilla y León and has about 57,000 inhabitants.

Besides the possibility of renting a car to get there, trains are the most common means of transportation to reach Segovia. There is a high speed train which takes about 30 minutes from Madrid and also the local train that takes 2 hours from Atocha station, the main station in the Spanish capital.

When arriving in Segovia, you can catch a bus right in front of the station that only costs a few cents and leaves you right at the famous aqueduct that is almost 2000 years old (and still works)!

It is not known precisely when it was constructed, but estimates vary between the late first century and early second. It is the most important Roman civil engineering work in Spain and along with the city has been declared World Heritage sites.

Passing through these arcs in the Plaza del Azoguejo, there is a reception center for visitors where you can pick up maps to assist you in the walking through the city. Down the streets Cervantes and Juan Bravo and you’ll pass through monuments and historical buildings that are now house schools and government institutions.

It is worthwhile to stop for a bit at Plaza San Martin, where the Church of San Martin is located, which has Mozarabic aspects in its construction. This type of art refers to the Iberian Christians who lived in territories conquered by the Muslim during the Arabic invasion in the Iberian Peninsula. They kept some of their customs without converting to Islam.

A little further from the Plaza San Martin you will find the Convent of Corpus Christi, which was the former Mayor synagogue and soon you will BE in the Jewish quarter, A population that grew in Segovia during the Middle Ages when the tissue industry exploded. Following the walls of Segovia, built when Alfonso VI of Leon took the city from the Arabs, besides a beautiful view (depending on the time you go, you can see the snow still not melted on the mountains in the background) you can also see the Jewish cemetery.

Finally, you arrive at the Alcazar of Segovia, the royal palace first documented in the year of 1122. It was the favorite residence of some kings and one of the inspirations for Disney’S Cinderella Castle. Besides the domestic visitation in which you drool AT the architecture, arts and diamonds, you can also make a visit to the highest of the towers. The full visitation costs € 6.50.

On the way back from the Alcazar, take the Daoiz Street that will lead you to Plaza Mayor. There you will enjoy European bars as well as checking the Cathedral of the city, the most beautiful I’ve been till today. It was the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain, has 18 chapels and three portals. The visit costs 3 €.

In just one day you can appreciate this word heritage site that lives especially from this “one day tourism”, blends many cultures and has been investing each day more, including launching its candidacy for European Capital of Culture in 2016. And why not? 😉

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Exploring Paris with Nat!

Instead of writing the itineraries I’ve recently done in Paris, I decided to relate them on video to share with my family, friends and everyone that comes to visit my world here! Forgive me for the video quality, it was made with the most practical camera I had and also impromptu. Besides, it is in Portuguese, but there are still so many things just to be seen.
It is all recorded and edited in order. We stayed in a hotel next to the train and subway station Gare Du Nord. For being close to the Montmartre hill, that’s where we started our tour. From there on, you will visually follow most of our steps!
There are things, though, that you need to be there to feel… the charm while you walk through streets like Boulevard Saint-Germain, the taste of the sweets and croissants, the breeze of the Seine, the romanticism of the so famous City of Lights… 🙂

48h in Paris transmitted in 14 minutes of video!

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TOP 5 churches to visit in Rio!

The so called marvelous city, Rio de Janeiro, is well known for its beautiful landscapes, for the nature that inhabits close to the urban life, for its beaches, sports activities and so on.
But Rio is also about so much more! The city holds a large collection of historic and cultural buildings and monuments, many as a legacy left by the time when the city was the Imperial capital!
Thinking of this, I selected five churches I think it should not be missed!

1 – MOSTEIRO DE SÃO BENTO

This monument of colonial art is located downtown city, on the hill of St. Benedict. It was founded by Benedictine monks coming from Bahia in 1590. The building was built along the seventeenth century. The facade follows the Mannerist aesthetic while the interior goes from baroque to rococo. The feeling is of utter fascination when you enter the temple, all lined with gilt. There are guided tours in the church and there is Gregorian chant in every Sunday Mass! A must for lovers of baroque’s exuberance!
Open daily from 7am to 6pm.
Mass on Sundays at 10am.
Address: Access via ramp: Rua Dom Gerardo, 68 – Centro – Rio de Janeiro / Access by elevator: Rua Dom Gerardo, 40, 5th floor
Phone: 55 21 2206-8100

2 – CANDELÁRIA

The church of Candelaria soon stands out for its importance in history and its greatness amid the bustle of downtown, almost bordering Guanabara bay. Its origin dates back to the early seventeenth century when a storm nearly caused a ship called Candlemas sink. A couple of Spaniards was traveling on this ship and made the promise of building a chapel if they got to save themselves. And so it happened. This story can be seen in the murals inside the church, decorated in a mixed neoclassical and eclectic.
The visitation hours are: Mon-Fri, 7.30am-4pm – Sat, 8am-12pm – Sat 9am-1pm
Address: Pio X Square – Center
Phone: 55 21 2233-2324

3 – SÃO FRANCISCO DA PENITÊNCIA

Behind a plain façade lies a Baroque church considered one of the most important in the country. The interior is eccentric in style. The gilded altars and walls cover the entire available surface and the painting on the wooden ceiling, which depicts the glorification of St. Francis, is in illusionist baroque style. It is located at Largo da Carioca, in Morro de Santo Antonio, in a set that also includes the Convent of St. Anthony. Also, the church today functions as the Museum of Sacred Art. It’s worth to phone them before leaving to go there because it happens to be closed very often.
Visitation Hours: Mon-Fri, 9am-12pm, 1pm-4pm
Address: Largo da Carioca, 5 – Center
Phone: 55 21 2262-0197

4 – IGREJA DO OUTEIRO DA GLÓRIA

It’s worth planning a day to visit this church that so many people get to view over the Glória hill when passing through the Flamengo Park. You can get over there going up the steps or taking their slant car. Besides providing a beautiful view of downtown, of Glória neighborhood and the Guanabara Bay, this church charms with its monumental pillars, vaulted ceilings and tiles. Inaugurated in 1739, became the favorite of the Portuguese royal family. And soon there were baptized many members of the imperial family, including Dom Pedro II and Princess Elizabeth.
Address: Praça Nossa Senhora da Glória, 135/204
Phones: 55 21 2225-2869
55 21 2557-4600

5 – LAPA DOS MERCADORES

And finally the little church that graces a charming street in the alley of Ouvidor Street, between Mercado and Primeiro de Março streets. The interior is decorated in rococo style. Looking at its ceiling I remember one of those well-decorated cakes! It originated in 1743 when merchants and area residents raised a small oratory. Inside the church you can see a statue that was hit by a shot during the Second Revolt of the Brazilian Army and despite having fallen from 25m high, has not suffered much damage.
Hours: Mon-Fri, 8am-2pm
Ouvidor Street, 35 – Center
Phone: 55 21 2509-2339

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Wandering in Copacabana…

Just before the 2010 World Cup start I was working in public relations of a tourist show house. The work mainly consisted of visiting travel agencies and hotels. So I walked a lot around the city and especially around Copacabana.

Organizing some of my papers, I found these notes from those days in Copa and I thought maybe I could turn them into a post. I remember writing in my notes, during one of my solitary lunches, things that had called my attention and that I really enjoyed during my working walks.

The whole neighborhood in the rhythm of the World Cup. The streets decorated, the objects to cheer, shirts from different countries, the Havaianas (flip-flops) designed with the colors of all the teams, the FIFA arena being built. As a soccer lover, I was excited to see all that noise brewing (especially this one that occurs only every 4 years). 2014 will be beautiful!

Another thing that fascinated me was seeing old buildings well maintained. In general, we tend to walk looking forward or down and we miss so many details by not giving a little look up. After seeing a building in Copacabana called “Yankee” I laughed!

Getting to discover more restaurants, bars and window shopping was also nice. I’m not a big shopper, but I loved when my eyes found something different like a Beatles shirt or several articles about Bossa Nova.

And to explore the most visited tourist neighborhood in Rio was certainly exciting. Even more when, during the visits, I got myself talking with professionals who are in this business for years and very receptive shared about the tourism activity and its history in Rio.

At most, it was that rush of people that usually excites me. A little chat here and there, smiles from strangers. Suddenly see a popular manifestation on the street and join a bunch of curious people that end up exchanging ideas. Oh, it’s like a Brazilian band named O Rappa sings … in this sea of people I feel myself whole!

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The majestics

The hotel chain today incorporates advances in technology, architecture, arts. Whoever follows it is always amazed by the new releases.

And who wouldn’t want to stay in one of those Asian hotels with all that luxury and greatness? Or one of those skyscrapers or well decorated buildings – some of which have a different theme on each floor?

There are people who, like me, prefer (or must) save when the time to choose the means of accommodation comes, so it is possible to invest and spend on other things. But it costs nothing to dream!

And I, in my dreams, tastes and passions, don’t get myself thinking of this modern hospitality. What really fill my eyes are those old hotels, full of history, romance.

And as the largest example, the Copacabana Place, my beloved. No matter how many times I pass by the palace, it always makes me sigh. Opened in 1923, in a still sparsely inhabited Copacabana, it was inspired by two famous hotels in France: the Negresco in Nice and the Carlton in Cannes.

Another example is The Plaza hotel in New York. Surrounded by modern neighbors, the stately Plaza is there since 1907. Three years ago on its centennial, there were celebrations with ceremonies and fireworks. Through how many movies have we not stepped into this hotel? Perhaps the one that most comes to my memory is “Home Alone 2.”

In my imagination I sleep and wake up in a suite facing Copacabana beach, the so called princess of the sea, I swim at its pool and dine at the Cipriani restaurant! Who knows? Maybe one day 😉

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