Friday, 10 August 2012

Road Trip: Santa Teresa

I'm going to be honest. I haven't been posting a lot lately because I've been feeling really disheartened with things here in Brazil, and after a string of bad luck I really didn't feel that motivated to write, or feel that I had anything worth sharing with you! In addition, we have been having major problems with our internet provider, and have barely had any connection for a good few weeks now, making it almost impossible to get any posts written and posted.
Well, now that's changed. I have put the negative thoughts behind me and am now getting back to seeing the good side of things, and we have also just taken out a new contract with a new internet provider (and it's a much faster connection, too!) so I thought it was about time I got myself back on here and started posting again!

Last week, after having had a month off work (the perks of being a teacher!), I was absolutely desperate to get out of town and go on a little road trip. We had actually been planning to do so for a couple of weeks beforehand, but our car decided to spectacularly break down after a trip to visit the hubby's family, costing a lot of money and leaving us car-less for a long while! So when we finally got the car back, we decided to go on a little day trip to a nearby town called Santa Teresa, which is a little place that was colonised by Italians and is said to be a great place to go and experience the Italian influences on Brazilian culture, as well as sampling some culinary delights.
I was  looking forward to snuggling up in a cosy little cafe with a real Cappuccino, having a wander round the village and tracking down the waterfall I'd heard could be found in the countryside nearby, before returning for a hearty Italian lunch of something really comforting and traditional, like Lasagne or Gnocchi.

Now, I know I said that I was back to positive thinking, and I am. But I must say, this place was such a disappointment!
For a start, most businesses were closed, and we didn't find one single cafe to stop off for a coffee at. Not one. By the time we arrived (I said it was nearby - well, two hours away is nearby by Brazilian standards as the country is so enormous!), we were both desperate for a drink and a spot of lunch, so we asked around in order to find out what the most popular restaurant was and where we could find the best Italian food. Bear in mind that the reason we were expecting to find such things here is because so many people from the town we live in had told us time and time again that we must go there and that we would love it.
Well, we were told that we had one of a couple of choices for lunch, and then directed to what was supposedly the best and the most traditional of the bunch. So off we went, and what a let-down it was! It turned out to be just a normal Brazilian Self Service restaurant (you pay per kilo) with extremely few options available, but as we were so hungry we ate there anyway. After that, we had a little wander around, but the town was, to be honest, quite ugly and dirty, although there were some cute, colourful buildings which I took a few snaps of, which you can see here.
So, after dejectedly concluding that there was, in fact, nothing to do in Santa Teresa, we decided to leave after less than an hour! It seemed like a good idea to salvage what was left of the day and head to the state capital, Vitoria, which was about half an hour away. We always enjoy going there, as it is a lot more up-to-date than where we live, and there are plenty of coffee shops and nice restaurants to eat at. There's also a huge shopping mall there with a 'Zara' inside, so as you can imagine, it makes me feel right at home, although it's not an ideal situation for my bank card to find itself in!  
But anyway. As we were leaving, lo and behold, the car - which had just been fixed - started making the same funny noises it had been before, and so we had no choice but to come straight back home again! A two hour drive to eat a cold lunch and then come back again - not the most successful of days out, haha.
Anyway, we tried, and we at least got a little bit of a change of scenery. And I always enjoy getting out of here for a bit, even if we do just end up in the car for the whole time! I'm not sure what exactly people enjoy about  Santa Teresa, but we have since found out that people usually tend to go there for traditional festivals and parties, which is when you can find Italian cuisine and do wine tasting, so I imagine that's the reason that we have heard good things about it.

So, rubbish road trips aside (I'm not too disappointed any more as we are planning another one on the next bank holiday - not to the same place though, obviously!), this week I finally went back to work, as it was the start of the new semester. It feels good to have something to do again and to be able to fill my day with more productive things, although I must admit, I have been completely cream crackered every night! I kid you not, I actually fell asleep at 9.30pm every night, and that is quite something for someone who is more accustomed to hitting the hay at about 1am! I think it had something to do with the sudden change - suddenly being back to being on my feet all day. But aside from that, it has to be said that teaching can be quite mentally tiring, too, what with unruly classes of teenagers and then, of course, the odd student who doesn't want to learn. I've got some really noisy groups this semester, too! I'm a bit snowed under at the minute, trying to get back into the swing of planning my classes and getting enough material prepared in advance, but actually, I don't mind after weeks spent with no work, no internet and nothing worth watching on TV!

That's it from me today. I hope you're all doing well!


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Festa da Junina: The June Festival

It's now officially Winter here in Brazil, and right on cue, the nights have started to get just a little bit chilly. Winter here, as I have mentioned before, is nothing like what we are used to in the UK, and it's still scorching hot during most days. At night is when we notice a little bit of a difference, and we even get the opportunity to throw on a jacket, which I personally love doing. It's funny how when you live somewhere cold, you dream of being able to go out jacket-free, yet when it's hot all the time, you start to run out of different outfits to wear, and so you look forward to being able to accessorise a little bit and put on some sort of cover up and perhaps a light scarf to make things that little bit more interesting!

The first sign of winter, for me, in undoubtedly Festa Junina (June Festival) or, as it's also known, Festa de Sao Joao (Festival of Saint John). The festivities were introduced by the Portuguese, and while there are celebrations throughout Brazil for the occasion, it's particularly associated with the North East, so if you choose to head up that way at the end of June then you will undoubtedly experience the best festivals in the country.

Festa Junina is basically a chance to thank St John for the arrival of the rainy season, and also just to celebrate rural life in general, so you will see people dressed up in traditional costumes, with the men decked out as farm hands, and the women with gap-teeth, gingham dresses and pigtails, which is always quite amusing!
There is usually a big bonfire on the evening on 24th June, and lots of dancing inside an Arraial, a huge, old-fashioned tent reserved for special occasions such as this. There is always a quadrilha, which is a big group dance led a couple dressed up as a bride and groom, usually with over thirty other couples also taking part.

Traditional food is served throughout the celebrations, all of them based around corn! The popularity of corn-based foods here in Brazil has always been something of a mystery to me, and I was intrigued, in the beginning, to learn that corn is thought of as a dessert food! Throughout the year, you will see corn-flavoured ice cream on the menu at every Sorveteria (ice cream parlour), and you can often find desserts made with corn if you visit traditional Brazilian restaurants and cafes in the countryside. During Festa de Sao Joao, you can expect to taste Pamonha, a sort of mashed, sweetened corn mixture flavoured with coconut milk and wrapped in fresh corn husks and boiled. There is also a savoury version, which contains the additional ingredient of minced meat, but personally, I am not familiar with it, so I'm not sure whether it's as popular. Bolo de Fuba (a cake made with cornflour) is also eaten during the festivals, as well as various other sweet creations involving corn. I'm not really a fan, personally, as I prefer my corn as a savoury food, but there is one dish I am quite partial to, which is Canjica, made with whole maize kernels, milk, sugar and cinnamon.


I haven't been able to take part in any celebrations as yet, as I've been so busy with end-of-semester paperwork, but there's going to be a little festival here in the town that I live in, which starts on Thursday. The hubby and I are definitely going to go and get a piece of the action, although I'm not sure we will be going the whole hog and getting dressed up! I'm also not convinced that the music is going to be my cup of tea, as I'm not really a fan of Forro, but I'm going to get into the spirit of things all the same, and will make sure I take a few snaps to share with you all.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Secret Project and The Diamond Jubilee

Well, wasn't I bad at posting throughout the month of May?
I hope you didn't mind too much, but I am well and truly back now, I promise!

       - My best friend's baby, born a few weeks ago -

Aside from some other issues which I don't want to bore you with, I have also been keeping myself extremely busy with a new little project. I won't go into great detail about it just yet, as I don't want to Jinx it, but the long and short of it is that I am going to be launching my own little online shop, which hopefully will be happening in the not too distant future! I am reeeally excited about this. As some of you will know, if you have been reading my posts for a while now, I had been feeling a little bit stuck since I've been here in Brazil. When I say stuck, I mean that I've often felt that I've had to put many of the things I wanted to do in life on hold to be here. Now, don't get me wrong, it was my choice to come here, and I'm happy that I did. After all, I had a pretty good reason to do so, and it's been one hell of a learning curve, which is still going strong. But I have often felt frustrated that being here has made it difficult for me to go into the area that I would really like to work in (Journalism) and to do other courses that interest me. Because, believe me, there are many. I love to write, I love to be crafty and creative, I adore fashion, am really interested in both Nutrition and Psychology....the list is endless. I suppose, really though, it was having all this free time (my husband and I work shifts that are more or less the opposite of each other) that made me realise what I really loved doing, and having the options taken away from me only made we want them more, so perhaps in a way, it has been a blessing.
Anyway. I'm going off on a tangent there. The point is that I was feeling almost stagnant not being able to do any of those things, and also feeling a bit helpless thanks to the pittance we teachers earn (my husband and I want to move back to the UK whenever we are financially able to do so, and it was driving me mad feeling as though I couldn't do anything much to move things forwards a little bit! I know some of you are probably thinking that I could have got other jobs over here, but actually, it's not as easy as you would think, especially living in a small town in the depths of a behind-the-times state, as I do!).
So having this little project in the pipeline, and knowing that my very own website is being designed as I type this is literally thrilling for me, as I feel that I am finally doing something that I can be really proud of! Of course, it remains to be seen whether or not my little shop is going to be hugely popular, but I have been - and will continue to - work very hard to make this work, and whatever success I do have will make me very happy!

Other than that, what have I been doing? Well, getting snowed under by paperwork at school, for a start.I think I mentioned in my last post that as it's coming to the end of the semester, I inevitably have mountains of homework and tests to sift through.
Did anyone watch the Jubilee celebrations over the past few days, or have any celebrations of your own?
 I watched a lot of it on TV with my husband, and it made me really miss home! I thought of all the people gathered together sipping tea and eating cake to mark the occasion, with their colourful bunting and cute china tea sets, and it just made me want to surround myself my all things quintessentially English!
I felt so sorry for the Queen, having to go about her duties alone over the last two days. After being married for sixty-five years and always having had Phillip by her side, it must have felt really strange for her, and I thought she looked quite overwhelmed at times. Although, who wouldn't be when faced with millions of people waving adoringly and singing 'God Save The Queen' at you over and over?
I also thought how odd it must have been for Prince Phillip to have had to watch proceedings on the television, as he has never been able to see a Royal event from that perspective before! But Charles's speech on Monday night was just lovely, and I thought he dealt with the situation extremely well.

Something very important which I can't believe I haven't mentioned yet, despite having posted a picture of him at the top of the page, is that my best friend's gorgeous little baby was born a few weeks ago! I was hoping he would make an appearance last time I was over in England, and encouraging my friend to do things like eating a Vindaloo, and bouncing around the house in order to hurry him on his little way, but alas, he was having none of it and popped his little head out just a week after I'd left! Now that's what I call difficult.
In the photo, he's wearing a cute striped car babygrow, which I gave to him. I can't wait to meet him at Christmas!

I'm off on a little road trip to Vitoria on Friday, as I need to pick up some documents from someone there, so I hope to be able to spend a bit of time shopping, relaxing on the beach and eating a delicious lunch. I'm definitely going to be taking advantage of the chance to get some nice photos, so fingers crossed I'll be sharing those with you at the weekend.

Hope you're all well!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Little Update

Hi everyone, hope you've all had a lovely weekend!
Personally, I've been holed up at home with a nasty cold and a temperature, which is not ideal in this heat, but then again, when is it!? Anyway, due to this, I feel like I've got very little of interest to tell you about this week, as  from Monday to Friday things are always pretty much the same: Work.
On the subject of work, I'm sooo glad the semester is coming to an end. I always seem to start off with such enthusiasm (well..sort of!) and as the weeks pass, it wanes and wanes. I think it has something to do with the fact that, at the beginning, it's so much easier to come up with fun games and activities for my classes, especially if I have never taught them before. But towards the end, I have always run out of ideas, and I really stress out about not being able to make my classes enjoyable enough! I know what I was like at school, and it really made a difference when my teachers got us to do something a bit different.
The other thing about work is that allll my students have been coming in with colds, sore throats and flu, because the 'winter' is closing in (some winter...29 degrees today!). Now, I'm glad that they are not lazy and that they still make the effort to come to class when they are not feeling their best, but honestly? I'd rather they stayed at home. All that happens when they come in is that they sneeze their way through the class, in a closed room with air conditioning, spreading their germs around, and then sooner or later, everyone else gets ill....INCLUDING ME! And yes, I still have to go in and teach them tomorrow, even though I have been bed-ridden all weekend. Wah.
I must admit, I'm not in the best mood, because I had lots to do this weekend. I've got a HUGE folder of paperwork and homework to get through, plus the house needs cleaning, immediately. Isn't it ridiculous how if you are ill for just a couple of days, everything turns into a mess? I also haven't felt up to doing any washing, or speaking to anyone on Skype, which is a shame as it's usually a highlight of my weekend. Ok, I know what you're thinking.."She must have really boring weekends". Well, I never claimed that this place was exciting, and actually, I really rather miss my family and friends. But, I was also looking forward to a nice sunny weekend relaxing in the garden, doing a bit of sunbathing, reading in my hammock and having a barbecue. We've only had one sunny weekend since we moved in here, and we had the Mr's family visiting, so we haven't really had a chance to fully enjoy our new garden yet.
Anyway, in the end, the highlight of my weekend turned out to be the delicious chocolate brownie at the top of the page, brought to me by the Mr. Every cloud, and all that.
Please excuse me for not having anything more interesting to say, but I am not at my best! Tomorrow, if I feel up to it, I'm going to get on and write about my favourite Brazilian beauty discoveries for you (mainly nail varnishes/polishes, but whatever.)

In the meantime, if there are any English teachers out there who have any great ideas on livening up advanced level English classes then do please let me know! I'd be happy to share some of the activities I have done with you in exchange.

Hope everyone has had a wonderful weekend!


Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Best and The Worst of the Week!

Why hello. I thought it was about time I showed you some pictures of our new place, and while I'm here I think I'd like to have a little rant about something that happened to us today!

First things first, here are some pictures of our wonderful new garden, complete with hammocks and barbecue. I must say, I am absolutely loving having this amount of open space outside, especially after having been confined to an apartment for three years, with only a balcony for fresh air! Now, we have space enough to exercise in the garden, and for the dog to run around (he's thrilled, by the way, as is the cat), and I can go out there any time I want to to sunbathe or just to lie in my hammock, reading, which I have to say is one of my favourite things to do when I'm having a lazy day.
I don't know if you can see from the pictures, but the yellow building behind the big table is the house. The pink building you can see at the end of the garden in some of the pictures is a shed.
Last weekend, my husband's parents came to visit us as it was Mothers' Day, so his brother and wife also came over and we had our first barbecue in the new garden! The Mr's father decided to take charge, which unfortunately resulted in a lot of overdone meat (!). He also thought it a good idea to take the skins of the plantains we had bought in order to barbecue them...and then promptly forgot about them. Cue, a lot of black bananas. Oops! Having said that, he did manage to do some pretty good picanha and calabresa before any of this, and we were all full by the time anything was burnt anyway, so all was well!

So, what did I want to have a rant about today? Well, I'll tell you.
The Mr and I had left the house and driven into town to attend an appointment. To help you picture the scene, there are no multi-storey carparks here, or carparks at all, for that matter,  as it's a small town, but that means that it is always chocca with cars trying to hunt down spaces, and sometimes it can take a while to find one, which can be quite stressful. Today, we were in a little bit of a hurry, as we had to get to our appointment by 10am, and it was already quarter to. 
So anyway, we drove around for a while, but as it was a Saturday, town was even busier than usual, and there were even fewer spaces available, so we found ourselves in a queue of cars down this particular little road. It took a while, but eventually, the cars ahead of us moved on, and I spotted a space to our left. "Look, there!" I said to the Mr, but he frowned and said "Err, I think that lady is saving the space". Wondering what on earth he was on about and thinking how ridiculous the concept of anyone saving a parking space was, I looked over and saw that there was, indeed, a lady standing in the middle of the parking space, but I was sure that if we actually started manoeuvering the car into the space then she would move. But no, she looked at us, shook both her head and her finger at us and tutted, which in English seems like you are being told off, but in Brazil basically means "No, no, no". I immediately got angry and sat seething in the passenger seat while the Mr asked her what on earth she thought she was doing, and she responded that her friend/boyfriend was coming to meet her in the car, and that she was saving the space for him. The Mr said to her, "But you're a person, you're not a car. You can't do that", and started driving the car into the space again, but this woman just stood there and folded her arms, refusing to move!!!! I mean, can you actually believe this??? How ridiculous can you get!? The stupidest thing was that she was causing a right old scene in front of everyone (everyone knows everyone in this town), and didn't even seem to be embarrassed about her behaviour, and the fact that what she was trying to do was totally stupid! In fact, if anything, she was acting as if we were in the wrong for asking her to move! Even more ridiculously, the Mr gave up and drove off, letting this poor excuse for a person win, and I'm fairly sure that she'd already done it to a few cars in front of us, too! I was fuming, and wished I had been able to tell the woman (she couldn't hear we from where I was sitting) how pathetic I thought this was. Everyone wanted a parking space. Everyone had to queue and wait. IN THEIR CARS. Why did this woman think that she was something special and that she was entitled to have her boyfriend completely jump the queue, leaving other people without anywhere to park and maybe making them late for important appointments!?
Seriously, it literally took me about an hour to calm down after that, I was so annoyed! The Mr was annoyed that he hadn't said more, too, but because he runs a restaurant here, and, as I mentioned before, everyone knows everyone, he has to be careful about the way he treats people as he can't run the risk of alienating customers. Not that he would have cared if he had alienated this particular woman, but people talk.
While we are on the subject of ridiculous queue-jumping, I have two more good examples of how some people seem to have no idea about rules, manners and social etiquette.
I was queueing for lottery tickets the other day, and I was at the back of the line. This girl came up behind me and said, "If anyone comes along to queue, can you tell them that I'm behind you and save my place? I've got to go and do some other things first". Errrr, NO!? She hadn't even been in the queue at all, and she thought that I, a complete stranger, was going to do her dirty work for her, not to mention advocate the kind of behaviour I am completely against. To be honest, I just gave her a funny look and said "Err..yeah, ok", but I had no intention of doing it, and by the time I got to the front, I had 'let' at least five people in behind me, and she was nowhere to be seen. Ha.
I mean, what goes on in peoples' heads!?

Monday, 30 April 2012

Brazil For Newcomers.....Part 1

Caipirinha, the national cocktail!

Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

I have been asked, by some lovely readers, to provide some insight into settling into Brazil for those of you who are new to the country, so today's post is aimed at giving you a few basic tips on getting to grips with your new life, as well as some hints on what to expect in your first few months! Please don't be put off by the first few -I thought I would be frank and honest with you, rather than sugar-coating the whole thing. But if you keep reading, then you will see that it's not all bad!

First of all, I cannot stress enough how important it is that you learn Portuguese. I know everyone says this to expats, but it really is true, especially if you are moving anywhere outside of Rio, Sao Paulo or Brasilia, which are a bit more cosmopolitan and have established expat communities. Personally, I moved to a small city in a state of Brazil that's little-known to foreigners, so when I arrived here, I was very much on my own in terms of my nationality and language. I had tried to learn a bit of Portuguese before I came here, but teaching yourself at home from a book just doesn't cut it, because the pronunciation and intonation of Portuguese is different to any other language I have ever come across. Yes, the written word looks a lot like Spanish. But does it sound like it? Hardly.
Learning as much Portuguese as you can, as quickly as you can, will open many doors for you, and you will find that it is the gateway to making friends and finding work, and that's just for starters. It's true that the best place to learn Portuguese is in a country where it is spoken, but try to be at least a little bit prepared when you come. Not being able to communicate can make you feel extremely isolated, and if you are a chatty person like me, you will soon tire of having to sit quietly trying to understand other peoples' conversations. This being said, I don't want to put you off, or make you feel rubbish if you can't understand everything straight away. Realistically, you will have to be patient, as language acquisition takes time.

Some little things in your day-to-day life that you are likely to find either frustrating, annoying or upsetting are:

- The constant, huge queues at the banks. You can forget telephone and internet banking, for the most part.

- Flanelinhas. I have previously written a post about them, which you can find here.

- I can't speak for the whole of Brazil, but if you live in a place like I do, then be prepared to be talked about. This can be daunting at first, but just remember that you are a novelty, and many locals will be intrigued by you, especially if you are going to live somewhere where there are few other expats.. It sounds stupid, but it's true. You should also get used to being stared at, as this is common and does not seem to bother people much here.

- In Portuguese, it is quite acceptable to say "Give me a sweet", or "Bring me some water" without saying please. This is not, in fact, people being rude - it's just that it's not considered impolite to ask for something this way over here, so don't be offended if someone speaks to you in this way. However, it is still important to say thank you.

- Clothing and electronics are very expensive in Brazil. It is wise to stock up before you come.

- Religion is a prominent part of the Brazilian culture, and most people here go to church several times a week, including teenagers and children.

- There is a large divide between rich and poor here, and both are quite extreme.

- If you plan on getting married, starting a business or applying for a long-term visa over here, then make sure you have everything you will need, and that it's all been notarised/translated/legalised where necessary. The legal system in Brazil is slow, and these are all long processes, but if you come prepared then things will run a lot more smoothly.

Chapada Diamantina

Pedra Azul, ES

Some other things to consider:

- Many people will want to practice their English on you, as the majority of Brazilians want to speak the language for one reason or another. Of course, not everyone can afford classes though.

- The weather is H-O-T. Enjoy it! Summer in Brazil is the most enjoyable time of the year, with everyone heading off to the seaside to sunbathe and swim on the beach by day, and party by night. There are so many beautiful places to visit, and it's wonderful not to have to worry much about whether it will rain and spoil your plans. Actually, that applies year round (of course there is some heavy tropical rain at times, but it doesn't usually last).

- There are lots of Brazilian dishes to try, and barbecues are a common occurence. However, they are done a little bit differently over here and are very much focused on MEAT! It is more common to pick at slices of meat than to sit down with a plate with lots of side salads etc. Brazilians use a lot of salt and garlic when cooking, and desserts, cakes and chocolates are very, very sweet. However, there is a huge variety of fruit to try over here, some of which I had never even heard of, and it's most definitely a pleasure getting to sample them all. Some other highlights of Brazilian cuisine include Brigadeiros, 'Pao de queijo' (cheese bread), Acai, Coconut water and, of course, their world-famous Caipirinhas.

I'm going to leave it there for today, but as I have previously mentioned, this is going to run as a sort of series of posts, so that I can add new tips and pieces info as and when they come to mind, or whenever you request them!
To all of you newcomers, I hope this has given you a few things to think about for starters. These are mostly things I wish I had known before I moved to Brazil, so with any luck, they will be of some help to you.

I hope the photos I have included will enable you to keep the positives in mind!

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Coming Up....

Hi everyone, just wanted to apologise for my lack of posts in the last couple of weeks! I have been having some internet trouble, as well as my camera being broken (which means no posts, and no nice photos for posts!)
My internet does now seem to be co-operating with me, so I am hoping to get a few posts up this week.

What to expect:
- Brazil for newcomers (as previously promised - again, the internet issues have so far prevented me from doing this. We have been in the process of moving house, so we had to get everything re-wired and set up!).
- Beauty, Brazilian style. Not sure how this one will go down, but I feel there are a few Brazilian discoveries which deserve a mention, mostly good, but there may be the odd  dislike in there too!
- My new home! I will get some photos up of that when we are all finished with moving in.

I wish I had been on some exciting trips to tell you about lately, but sadly that is not the case!
As I've said before, please let me know if you have any requests.

The above photo is ofalake near where we live, and it's one of the biggest in Brazil! We often go there to swim, sunbathe and have lunch, so I just thought I'd share it with you, and brighten up this post at the same time!

Thanks for your patience with me! New posts coming soon.



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