We read the bus terminal in Sāo Paulo is the largest in the southern hemisphere. We pulled into bay eighty-something, and there seemed to be several more after that, so that description is probably accurate. This makes sense in a city with such a huge population. We heard different numbers, but somewhere in the vicinity of 15 million people, perhaps even 20 million in the greater São Paulo area. Almost the population of Australia!
We had booked through Airbnb to stay in Vila Madelena with a guy called Caio, in a room in his house. It was easy to get there, as the metro station was connected to the bus station, we just had to change lines half way, then it was about a 15 minute walk down a steep alley from Vila Madelana station, which was lined with some street art.
Caio was really welcoming when we arrived. He showed us to our room and around his place, and as it was dinner time he gave us some suggestions to get something to eat nearby. About 2 blocks from his house the restaurant and bar area of Vila starts, and there were plenty of options for us to choose from. We wandered around for a bit, past some rowdy bars with people spilling out onto the streets, then settled on a place called Empanadas Bar. A bar, with empanadas, sounds perfect!
It was busy inside but we managed to find a table, and we ordered a few different flavour empanadas and a beer. They were all delicious, and fortunately made for a reasonably priced meal. The bar itself was quite big, and it seemed most people had been there a while longer than us, perhaps to have a meal and some drinks with their friends before heading out on a Saturday night. However for us, after a day of travel, we left them to it and went to bed!
On Sunday we had picked a few sights to go and see from some recommendations our friend Bec provided who has lived in São Paulo. The first stop was the Mercado Municipal, in the central area. It was in a lovely old building, and was buzzing with people picking up fruit and veg from artfully displayed shops, buying herbs or olives from the colourful arrays, enjoying a meal at the restaurants on the upper level, or munching down a sandwich with about 100 layers of meat and something that looked like a big slab of cheese in the middle. We walked up and down all the aisles, admiring the chaos, the shops and the stained glass windows.
From there, we headed to the area around Luz Station. The above ground section of Estação Luz was in a nice old building, beautifully maintained and still with the same charm it would have had years ago, though the prostitutes in those days might have been better dressed and spent their time inside a brothel rather than on the streets.
We were aiming for a place called Pinacoteca, which houses art exhibitions and a Memorial of the Resistance. There were actually two separate buildings, and we went to the Estação Pinacoteca first. It was a little confusing. After buying our tickets we were ushered into the elevator. Some of the other floors had some art displays which we checked out, then made our way back to the ground floor which had Memorial da Resistência.
This memorial of the resistance was the main thing we had wanted to see there, but was unfortunately the only section that didn't have any English, so we were unable to learn more about it. There were some cells set up with films and audio recordings. There was also a temporary exhibition that was quite interesting though, related to the history of soccer and politics. It had photo's and descriptions of the relationship between politics and soccer locally and internationally over time.
We then went to the Pinacoteca do Estado building which was all art. It had some modern and some older pieces arranged in different themes, styles and periods. There were some lovely works there by Brazilian artists, plus a bizarre installation in the middle of the building made up of mattresses, printed with road maps from different countries around the world. There was one that showed Canberra and the surrounds!
We then went for a stroll around Parque da Luz, before making our way to the area around Sé Station, the downtown area. The Catedral da Sé rose up above us. It was quite majestic at the top of an open square, and we ducked in for a quick look.
The area around, full of homeless people, was quite busy as everyone set up their cardboard boxes and blankets to settle in as night fell. Since the world cup we have read articles that talk about people's experiences visiting Brazil, and the widespread poverty they had witnessed, however up until this point, we hadn't really seen that much other than a few homeless people here and there. Here in downtown São Paulo was a very different story.
We jumped back on the metro at Sé and headed back to Vila Madelena. Caio was keen to join us for dinner, and he suggested a great Mexican restaurant not far from his place. The food was delicious! Both of us had a Los Tres Amigos, with a taco, burrito and enchilada all on one plate, with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and beans. It was a great way to end a day where we had skipped lunch, and even better, we got a voucher to go back and eat the same meal again, for free!
On Monday we had a plan. We would start at the Tomie Ohtaki building, named after a famous Japanese artist, which had an exhibition of another Japanese artist that Caio had told us about. It wasn't far from his place so we went there first up, only to find out it was closed on Mondays.
So we headed for the next stop on our plan, some street art around Vila Madelena. Being on the street it couldn't be closed! The first area we went to was Beco do Aprendiz (Apprentice Alley), though we did find some great pieces before we even arrived there, including a beautiful mural of 3 women.
Apprentice Alley was a little dodgy, but fairly deserted other than one kid who was taking some kind of substance as we walked by. Apparently this alley used to be full of drug dealers until it was cleaned up a bit and painted. It ran behind a bunch of houses in between two streets. The art here was of varying standards, some really good, some pretty crap, though perhaps it's all a matter of taste.
Beco do Batman, the second street art area we headed to, was quite a bit nicer, in an open street, and the quality of the work here in our opinion was much better. A mini van with Japanese tourists arrived while we were there, and they all jumped out and ran around with their video cameras which we found quite amusing. They didn't seem to take much in, but at least they can look back on the video later.
Next stop for us was Estádio do Pacaembu, and the Museu do Futebol built under its stands. It was a fair walk, up and over a hill, and when we arrived at the stadium we discovered that he museum is closed on Mondays! We probably should have checked that first, but never mind.
From there we walked back up the hill, and along Avenida Paulista in search of some lunch. We came across a Bob's Burgers, which we have seen all over the place but hadn't tried, so we thought we would give it a shot. All we can say is we tried one, and we don't need to try another one!
For the rest of the afternoon we just wandered along Avenida Paulista. We found a photographic display near MASP, the São Paulo Art Museum, though MASP itself was closed (Monday!). This had some pictures of flora and fauna from an exhibition that was done through the Amazon, and gave us a good taste of what we might see there.
We also had a look through a shopping centre, and found a movie theatre, though it didn't appear they would be showing anything in English. Back at Caio's we did some research on where to eat for dinner, as we had read and been told that Pizza in São Paulo is amazing. Conveniently, one of the best pizza places, Bráz, was only a 10 minute walk away. We were not disappointed!
We ordered their "famous" sausage bread for starter, which was rolled with pepperoni and served with garlic olive oil. Yum! And then we shared a pizza. There was a huge selection of delicious sounding options, but luckily we didn't have to decide on just one! These guys let you choose 3 flavours on one 9 slice pizza! Not a half and half, but a tres e tres! We selected 3 that Caio recommended and they were all super tasty.
On Tuesday, we had to squeeze in quite a bit given everything had been closed on Monday. We went to the Tomie Ohtaki building first, but when we arrived the queue for the exhibition was about 200m long! Well, we think, as it stretched out the door, down the street and around the corner until we couldn't see it any more. We gave up on that one.
Next we jumped on the metro and headed to another exhibition recommended by Caio. This was by two popular Brazilian street artists, twins called Os Gemeos, known the world over and who recently painted the plane that would transport the Brazilian World Cup team. There was a small queue outside when we arrived, and it was hot, but it fortunately it only took about 15 minutes. The exhibition was also free! Yay!
Walking into the exhibition room was like a smack in the face of colour and strangeness, but it was magical! A lot of the people there were families, and the kids were all having a ball. The walls were stacked with paintings and other colourful riff-raff. Then, behind a back curtain in a dark room was a special surprise.
We walked in and joined the people sitting in silence. In front of us was a large sculpture of a man's head and upper torso. He was opening up his coat which revealed a cavity inside and in the limited light, all we could see was some figurines of naked men on poles. We waited quite some time in suspense, wondering what this contraption would do, then eventually it started up.
Inside was a mesmerising display, which included the naked men on poles, hands, mushrooms, waves of water and a few other items. They are all positioned in a circle and in a slightly different position to the one before and after, so as the insides of this dude spin around under strobe lighting, it appears as though the naked men are tumbling, the flowers are growing and receding, the waves are splashing water and the hands are coming out and retracting from their position. You could watch it for hours, but they only left it running a couple of minutes.
From there we walked back to the Museu do Futebol, just a leisurely hour stroll away. This time it was open! They had an audio guide in English that you could use by connecting to the wifi, then accessing their website for the audio recordings. A great idea, but the wifi was terrible so it didn't work. Nevertheless there was some signs in English to we got the idea anyway.
The museum is pretty cool. There are sections where you can play accounts from football commentators on the best (Brazilian) goals of all time, an area under the stands where the cheers of a crowd are played loudly so you can really feel the atmosphere, displays of old balls and boots, and a really cool section showing the statistics of each world cup along with other things that were happening in the world at the time.
We made our way through the museum fairly quickly, as we wanted to get to Edificio Itália (the Italian Building) in time, which has views over São Paulo, and we heard was free between 3-4pm (though it seems its only open for visitors between 3-4pm). It was a spectacular view! The city stretched as far as we could see in each direction, well until the smog got too dense to see any further. Aside from a few parks, it is one giant, high density concrete jungle. And while from the ground São Paulo was much hillier than we expected, it appeared quite flat from this height.
Our last planned stop for the day was the Municipal Theatre. They ran a free tour at 5pm with an English speaking guide. When we got there, there was a bunch of little beauty queens out the front, in pink frilly dresses and sashes, all having their photos taken on the steps. They would have been aged around 8 to 12, we think each was a winner from the Brazilian states.
When the tour started, the guide informed us that the main theatre couldn't be viewed today, as there was a rehearsal taking place. If we wanted, we could come back tomorrow instead, though as we were leaving in the morning this wasn't an option for us. We did the tour anyway, which was still interesting and showed other parts of the theatre.
It was built in the early 1900's, funded by 3 coffee barons who had travelled to Europe and wanted to replicate the theatre culture in São Paulo. As the government couldn't fund it, the coffee barons put in the money in exchange for paying no taxes for the next 50 years. It was very grand inside, with marble stairs, though the walls were only painted to look like marble.
The guide explained how the first two classes had the lower level seating with better views, and the 3rd and 4th classes had the upper two levels. The floors were of marble on the lower floors, and wood on the upper floors accordingly. The ballroom was beautifully decorated, with crystal from Belgium and marble from Italy, and beautifully painted ceilings. Coffee leaves and beans formed parts of the decorative borders to ensure the coffee barons would be remembered.
We had planned to meet Caio in the downtown area after that, but he still had some things to do, so we went back to the Mexican restaurant and had our free dinner! They were very strict that you had to eat exactly the same meal again. We asked if we could have our meal with just beef this time, instead of mixed chicken and beef, but that wasn't allowed! Having a free meal meant we could afford dessert though, so we were stuffed to the brim after that!
On Wednesday, we were off to our next destination, Ouro Preto. Caio saw us off in the morning, and we caught the metro back to the bus station before boarding for the 12 hour trip.
São Paulo was good to us. The weather was great the whole time, a balmy 25 degrees or so in the day, which was fortunate given the amount of walking we did. It was very different to other places we have seen in Brazil, though in a city of that scale, that was to be expected. It was busy and crowded, but the people are lovely and always smiling.
The roads we have been taking on buses have been quite windy, sometimes too windy to read without the feeling of wanting to throw up, also making it difficult to use the time on the bus productively for things like writing a blog. Also, the buses that we have caught in Brazil are a bit different to in other countries we have visited thus far. They only have one level, and they stop quite regularly at roadhouses where you can get off, use the bathroom, and grab a feed.
At lunch we stopped for half an hour so we had time to eat some pastries and from the per kilo buffet. Later we stopped again at a massive roadhouse, though there we just bought some sweets to snack on. We had banked on another stop later for dinner as our bus wasn't due in Ouro Preto until 11pm, but this didn't happen! Dinner was a muesli bar that night.