Friday, July 13, 2007

Greens, Grits, and Okra (The "Georgia" of Brazil)

I must admit that I am feeling a little guilty to be posting another entry all about food, but it is on my mind and relevant to my first week in Brazil. (Not to mention that meals are true events here - in the US you eat because you must, but here it is not uncommon for it to be a 3-4 hour experience!)

Last night, Eric and I were scheduled to eat supper with Andre, Carol, Luiz (who will be Eric's boss here in Brazil) and Luiz's wife (who was actually unable to join us because she got sick.) Luiz wanted to take us to an authentic Minas Gerais Restaurant. Minas Gerais is, by the way, the state in which Belo Horizonte is located. I have read that their food is some of the best in Brazil and is very different than what you eat in other parts of the country, but I wasn't sure what exactly we would be eating. So, we met up at Restaurante Xapuri for supper.

It was a beautiful and very large open air space with thatched roofing and oversized wooden picnic table-like seating. We began the evening with some appetizers, drinks, and conversation. We had Luiz and Carol do all the ordering, so Eric and I were not real sure what we would be served.

An hour and a half later, our meal was brought out to us. It was served family style with a huge cast iron pot of chicken and corn stew, a huge plate of ribs, and about 10 different side dishes. It was a ton of food and we immediately began to load up our plates to give this new cuisine a try. As I took a closer look I realized that I could have been eating at Grandma's house! The side dishes consisted of things like: okra, rice, a cast iron skillet of greens, red beans, and even something very, very close to cheese grits! (I believe it was called anjou - a coarse corn meal type deal that was a little finer than grits.) While it was all prepared slightly different than we would in Georgia, it was closer to fine Southern Cuisine than anything I've ever found in Iowa! :)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Big City - Small Apartments

From the very beginning, when Eric and I first discussed the opportunity to move to Brazil, I thought it would be a really awesome experience both for him professionally and both of us personally. I've always felt that I was blessed to have been born in the United States where my parents were able to live "The American Dream" and I have never needed something that I was unable to have. I thought that living in another country would make me a better rounded person with a more open mind and a greater appreciation for other cultures. On Day 6 of my visit to Brazil I still believe that all these things will be true, but I've also decided that I am going to have to get used the the idea of very little personal space if I am to enjoy my time here!

On Monday, I began my only real task during my week here in BH (the locals pronounce this be-ah-ga): finding a place to live. Eric has a full schedule at the office this week, so I was given the task of looking into housing options. I was very lucky to have Andre's wife, Carol, with me on Monday. She has lived in Michigan as an exchange student and her English is awesome. But, being from Brazil, she was much more able than me to find real estate agents and help me to communicate.

Andre and Carol had given Eric and me a tour of several districts/neighborhoods in BH on Saturday. After driving through the different areas, Eric and I decided we were most interested in living in Belvedere. It is in the Southeastern part of the city and the closest neighborhood to the Case New Holland plant which is located in a neighboring town, Contagem. Besides that, it is also the newest, most upscale part of the city and has the highest elevation. It is my understanding that this area was only developed about 10 years ago, and it is continuing to grow. Most of the building are brand new and the area feels very safe. (We have read and it has been our experience so far, that this city is very, very safe. The crime rate is much lower than places like Rio and Sao Paulo. But, throughout most of the city, everything is covered in grafitti. Now, a rational person realizes that graffit doesn't equal crime, but I have a serious issue feeling safe driving into a garage covered by graffiti every night! There is something not totally comforting for me either when the buildings have 8-10' fences topped with several strands of electric fence. It's the American in me, I think, but still . . .) So, Carol and I set out Monday trying to find agents who could show me apartments in Belvedere.

I looked at 3 different apartment buildings. All three were very nice. They had 24 hour security guards who let people in and out of the building, the parking garages were secured and also had guards. The had nice pools and wonderful recreational areas. The apartments themselves were very nice - hardwood or granite or tile flooring in all the rooms, nice balconies with views of the city, decent closet space . . . but all the niceness took up very, very little space. I looked at 2 and 3 bedroom units and, literally, they were "bed-rooms." If you put a bed in there, that would be all you put in there. There is no such thing bedroom furniture outside of the bed itself. The dining and living areas were combined, which I like just fine, except that there wasn't really enough room for a table, couch, and entertainment center. And then there are the kitchens . . . eeek!!! I've always disliked the small kitchens that I see in the US in homes typically built 40 years ago or so. But compared to what I saw in these apartments, the long narrow kitchens would be luxurious! And then there is the laundry issue: no dryers! You have to hang everything to dry and there is no such thing as central heating and air here, so during the rainy season I am told nothing ever really gets dry. And when everything is hung to dry, that means everything needs ironing. I knew the move would require some lifestyle changes, but I'm not sure I was adequately prepared for all of this! And the really crazy thing about it is that these tiny little apartments cost 3-4 times what an apartment cost in any other part of the city, so I was looking at the best of the best!

But, here's the good news: I won't have to stay couped up in the house all day. At my favorite building, a brand new construction called Picasso, I have many beautiful outdoors options. They have a gorgeous pool and large fitness room. There is a squash court and pool tables. The common areas are very spacious and absolutely beautiful. They have a very large party room with kitchen that is available to rent for parties, and then there are a couple very nice outdoor kichens available to reserve for entertaining. There is a 12 person hottub and a sauna, and then there is a full-fledge movie theater where you can bring your own DVD's and watch it on the big screen! It is as nice as you would find in the most ritzy part of Atlanta or Chicago.

So, overall, my impression is this: the city is large, the living space is not. But if my time is spent at the pool, in the workout room, and entertaining in an awesome outdoor kitchen, I think I will be able to survive just fine!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Fire Roasted Chicken Hearts on a Stick and Other New Brazilian Loves

(Image was taken from Wikipedia - my camera couldn't capture the grandeur from my vantage point!)

So after a multitude of airport delays, changing from the international Sao Paulo airport to the domestic airport by way of crazy bus driver in a city of 18 million people, missing 3 flights to Belo Horizonte, and other general craziness due mostly to the fact that the air traffic controllers are on strike in Brazil, we arrived safely to the city that will become our new home! The Belo Horizonte airport is a little way out of the city so our first impression was not that of a city with 5 million occupants. But after a half hour car ride we began to see it . . . high rise after high rise nested among mountains for as far as the eye can see. Even now, sitting in my hotel room on day 5 of our trip, I look out the window and I am a bit overwhelmed. I have been to big cities, and I am used to high rises, but in the US we have this tendency to build the tall buildings in a localized area but here I must be looking out no less than 20 miles in each direction and seriously, the city just goes forever. It is hard to describe and I'm sure my pictures don't do it justice.

The first night Eric and I were taken out to supper by Andre, who works at CNH here, but will soon be moving to Italy for 2-3 years. We had our first experience with the Churrascarias. At these restaurants, waiters continuously make their way around the room and to your table with large spears of grilled meats. They offer them to you for your inspection and then if you desire it, they will carve off a hunk of meat onto your plate. They bring around everything from filet mignon, to pork loins, to chicken kabobs, to Eric's new love . . . Chicken Hearts. (I personally am rather unable to bring myself to put anything with arteries hanging from it into my mouth, but Eric is a little more adventurous and he gave them a shot and has found his Brazilian love!) Along with tons of meat (I bet you eat well over a full pound of meat before leaving that place!) they have a large buffet of salada which consists of mostly cold vegetables prepared many different ways. At the end of the meal they bring around a large cart of different desserts for you to choose from or you can take my approach and order the warm chocolate lava cake with ice cream - it's a little bit of heaven in paradise! And then there is Eric's favorite part: all of this comes to you for the low price of 22 Reais per person if you go to a really, really nice place (which converts to around $11 each.) Add a couple caipirinhas and a cerveja or two and you get an entire meal at a very nice restaurant for under $30 US and it is considered quite expensive here.

Yesterday I went apartment hunting, but that will be a story I'll have to type a little later. For now, I am heading downstairs to have some lunch and then I will take a little journey down to the mall for the afternoon.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Day 1 of Exploratory Trip: Just air travel

Eric and I flew down to Georgia on July 3 and spent the 4th with my family and doing some wedding planning. Then, this afternoon we caught a flight out of Atlanta to make our way down to Belo Horizonte, Brazil. After a bit of a delay in Atlanta and then another on the ground in Miami, we are waiting now for our overnight flight to Sao Paulo. It is supposed to take about 8.5 hours in the air to get there. My hope is to pop a couple Tylenol PM and sleep through the night . . . me and sleep in moving objects doesn't always combine very well, but I'm going to try real hard tonight! My goal is to stay in as regular of a schedule as possible with eating and sleeping in hopes that I will be well rested and ready to experience all that our new city has to offer. We are supposed to be there Friday through the following Saturday, so hopefully we can find housing and figure out what the heck we are getting ourselves into. As for now, we are just excited to get down there and see what there is to see!

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Blog Begins . . .

I am not usually a huge fan of blogs . . . so one may ask why the heck I am starting this. Well, it was mostly on the suggestion of one of our friends who knew someone who went abroad and used the blog format to keep everyone back in the US up to date with their lives. It sounded easier than making 18 phone calls a week once we are in Brazil to keep everyone informed of our well being and whereabouts. Combined with the desire to keep a record of our experiences and my lack of ability to stick with keeping a journal, I thought if people are expecting it, then I'll be more motivated to type out a few thoughts about our journeys.

No promises on the regularity of posts, but I'll do my best! :)