Man, did the press make a big deal about all the problems Brazil would have hosting the World Cup or what? I’m glad we didn’t listen and went anyway: the whole experience was perfect!
It was nice to be able to stay with my aunt, but it was even nicer that she lived right across from the hotel where the US players were staying. And it gets better: my cousin M. is the assistant manager of the hotel that hosted the Portugal team. So we got to see and hear (helicopters and police all over) when the US team went in and out of the hotel and then my cousin would bring us the latest on the Portuguese players: did you know Cristiano Ronaldo (2013 best soccer player of the year) likes to take a bath with white rose petals before a game?
On the day of the USA vs. Portugal game, we went in front of the hotel to wish the US players good luck. Although there were lots of curious eyes around, the boyfriend was the only American yelling “USA”. We got to see the goalie Tim Howard, the dreadlock hottie Beckerman, and the captain, Dempsey, who had broken his nose in the previous game.
My cousin A. dropped us off the closest he could get to the stadium (Arena Amazonia), which was still a couple miles away because of all of the closed off streets, but we didn’t mind walking: the energy was almost palpable. Getting into the stadium was super easy too: there were no lines and everything went very smoothly. So impressed with the organization!
The game was a good one. USA needed a win to automatically move on to the next phase, while a draw wouldn’t be too bad either. Portugal needed a draw or a win to be kept alive. A loss would mean they would go home automatically. Portugal scored first, although not with a goal by Cristiano Ronaldo, their most famous player. Then US scored two goals and we thought we were going to win, but on the last SECOND, Portugal scored another one… Actually, a score of 2-2 wasn’t too bad: both teams left happy and we left for an all-you-can-eat soup feast nearby.
The next day there was a Brazil game and we decided to be where all the action was: FIFA Fan Fest. In each host town, FIFA would close off an area for spectators to watch each game on several screens. In Manaus, this fest was in Ponta Negra, a nice area by the beach. Just to get in we had to stand in lines and go thru multiple security checkpoints. Once in, we notice how there were more than 40,000 people in the area, which was supposed to be the limit. There were probably double of the people there, the noise of the horns was deafening, and the heat was unbearable. We barely found a spot to watch the game. But it didn’t matter: the Amazon jungle was surrounding us and the experience of a lifetime in Brazil was already unforgettable.
People always ask me how is the food in Brazil, and I always say it’s the same as in the U.S.: pasta, chicken, burgers, potatoes… But that’s because I grew up in the Southeast. In Manaus, we still had all of that, of course, but my aunt made sure we also tried all of the typical things from the Amazon and their diet consists of mainly three things: fish, fruit, and whatever they can make from the manioc root.
Pirarucu is the largest fish of the Amazon and one of the largest freshwater fish in the world, growing up to 10 ft. long. At our boat tour of the Amazon, we saw them being spearfished and my aunt prepared a baked one for us with lots of olive oil and herbs: delicious. On a different day, she cooked another fish, which was even more interesting. The ribs of the tambaqui are so big, we ate them with our hands, just like pork ribs.
To accompany every meal, there is always something made from manioc. Also known as cassava or yuca, this starchy root has many uses, but it needs to be prepared correctly or it can be toxic. If dried and made into small sized little pearls, it is called tapioca and can be eaten as a snack. Then from the flour, you can make different cakes, breads or a white crepe topped with fruits or maybe just butter. Toasted manioc flour is called farofa and served as a crunchy side dish. You can also fry it and eat it like French fries, and make into a broth for tacacá, a soup with shrimp. There are so many more dishes made from manioc, that potatoes take a secondary role as a starch in the Brazilian Amazon (but certainly not in its native Peru).
Fresh fruit markets are everywhere in Brazil, including on the side of the road, like the one we went to on our way to Café Regional (typical brunch place). We saw lots of fruits, including tucumã (a small orange fruit from a palm tree) and cacao (yup, the fruit they make chocolate from). At Café Regional we tried tapioquinha with tucumã, two different kinds of manioc cake, and fruit juices, like passion fruit, and cupuacu, which ended up being the boyfriend’s favorite fruit in Brazil. The fruit itself is not very edible, but the white pulp is made into juice, jelly, mousse, candy… It is considered a superfruit, much like another Amazonian fruit that is more popular in the US: acai. This one is a berry and the most common use is for juices and smoothies eaten with granola, bananas, and condensed milk. Good news: Whole Foods sell frozen acai juice in the US.
Growing up my parents took us to lots of different places around the world, but not to the Amazon, which is baffling considering they met at the capital city of Manaus, and I still have many aunts and cousins living there. So when the boyfriend and I found out we had been able to get World Cup tickets for a game in Manaus, I was beyond excited! Sure, a game in Brasilia or Rio de Janeiro would be fun too, but Southeast Brazil is not a vacation spot for me. It is where I grew up, so it’s too familiar. However, going to the Amazon, now we’re talking about a cool vacation!
We stayed with my aunt D. and her son, A., who speaks English since he had lived in Nebraska during high school. His good experience in the US was certainly a part of why my parents allowed me to move here. As with any typical Brazilian family, their hospitality was fantastic. Their long-time maid cooked us huge meals every day with all the typical fish and fruit from the region, and they showed us lots of interesting places.
With D., we went to Largo de São Sebastião, a cultural and historical area, with a plaza full of screens for the World Cup broadcasts. In front, it is the Teatro Amazonas, or Amazon Opera House. Built in the 1880’s, with all the money from the rubber boom, it still houses many concerts and plays throughout the year. One night, we went to a show called “Estrelas do Amazonas” (“Amazon Stars”), where famous Amazon artists sang music related to Brazil and soccer, in honor of the World Cup.
The next day, A. and his wife J. took us on a walking tour of the historical downtown. We saw local modern artwork at the Paço da Liberdade, an old city hall now converted into a cultural center and with beautiful views of Manaus. We strolled through the old cobblestone streets to see some of the renovated historical houses, and then made our way to the port area, which was crowded with street vendors. Nearby it was the Adolpho Lisboa Central Market, with arts and crafts, tea bags from every herb and plant found in the Amazon, and fresh fish. The sights and sounds were at times overwhelming (but not so much as India), so I’m glad we were there with our cousins who knew what they were doing.
On one of the days in Manaus, which is a big city in the heart of the rainforest, we booked a boat tour to see some faraway places on the river. The small motor boat was supposed to have a tour guide besides the captain, but because of the World Cup, Manaus received almost 100,000 tourists in two weeks and guides were not available for every tour. Good thing I speak Portuguese and was able to chat a bit with the boat captain. From the port of Manaus, we went up the Rio Negro until it met the Amazon River, which in this area is called Rio Solimões. The Amazon River is the largest in the world by water discharge and when it meets Rio Negro, the waters, of different density and speed, don’t mix for miles. The Encontro das Aguas (Meeting of Waters) is a beautiful natural phenomenon, with black water on one side and brown water on the other.
On this boat tour, we stopped at many floating houses. In one of them we saw how the largest Amazon fish was caught, on another one we had a huge buffet lunch with all you can eat fish and fruit, and one a third floating house we had contact with several wild animals: monkeys, alligators, snakes, and the cutest sloth ever.
The small boat was able to go to the Igapós, which are flooded parts of the forests. Besides observing how people lived (they have floating schools, houses, churches…), we also saw one of the largest trees in the Amazon (Sumaúma or Ceiba), and giant water lilies, with leaves up to 3 meters in diameter.
In the afternoon, after a 1-hour ride, we arrived at Novo Airão to swim with the legendary pink river dolphins. We waited a long time since there were too many tourists around, but when a big boat full of Portuguese people left, the dolphins came to see us. They have really long noses and are truly pink. The natives believe that if a female swims with a pink dolphin at night, she becomes pregnant.
Speaking of natives, our last stop was at an Amazon tribe. We saw their thatched roof houses and a dance performance, which I got to participate in. The boyfriend was a little uncomfortable since they were in their native attire (naked from the waist-up) and because of the loads of tourists there for the World Cup, but all and all it was a great experience to have. The village was on top of a hill with a beautiful, peaceful view of the Amazon River. An unbelievable experience, especially considering there were no mosquitoes in sight and no one got sick! Definitely one of the coolest vacations ever and I can’t wait to go back (well, the boyfriend would even consider moving there).
We definitely felt we would never sleep again while in New York City. While Washington had a lot more history to take in, NYC was filled with shopping and fun. We covered all of the must-sees: Times Square (and the huge candy bars at Hershey’s), Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building (even more beautiful views at night), Central Park (where we bought hot-dogs, pretzels, and pizza), 9/11 Memorial, Wall Street, but we also squeezed in a subway ride and a trip to Chinatown. Since my students love theater, favorites included the Broadway show “Jersey Boys” and a tour of Radio City Music Hall (they had had the Tony Awards there the night before!) where we got to meet a Rockette.
At the end of the trip, I was so proud of my students! Not everyone can travel like this, always on the move. For 5 days, they had slept only 4 hours each night, and, although there were some bumps (girl drama… blisters…), we all survived and arrived back in Reno with more experiences and cool things to share than we ever thought possible. Not sure if I would want to do this trip with them every year though. It’s been a month and I’m still exhausted!Traveling: New York City with my students We definitely felt we would never sleep again while in New York City. While Washington had a lot more history to take in, NYC was filled with shopping and fun.
For years I have been trying to share my love of travels with my students not only though stories and pictures, but by trying to set up international or domestic school trips. Unfortunately the school where I work has mostly low-income families and even the money for the deposit would be hard to come by. This year, one of the companies I had been working with waived the minimum number of students and I took four of them to Washington, D.C., and New York City for a very fast-paced tour.
It all started at the Reno airport at 4 am, and after a few hours of flying we met our tour guide and a group of 20 middle and high school students from Houston, Texas, who would be joining us for the next 5 days. We went straight to the Air and Space Museum, which proved to be far too big for only 1 hour, but I enjoyed seeing all the old planes again, especially because I had been reading about the start of aviation on Bill Bryson’s book “One summer: America, 1927”.
Then off to several memorials, including two that became my new favorites: the Korean War Veterans and the Martin Luther King Jr. ones.
The next day we had more memorials (“I had no idea the reflection pool was real!”, said one student) and more museums (the Natural History one was the students’ favorite) in the schedule, but the highlight was the change of guards at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. We had such a full day that by the time we made it to Embassy Row, I think everybody was asleep.
We also had a tour of Mount Vernon (George Washington’s home) and the U.S. Capitol building, with its many statues and paintings. So much walking made the students really tired (mentally and physically), but it was well worth it.
I just got back from my month-long vacation and there’s so much to write about! Before I start bombarding everyone with hundreds of pictures, let me just start by updating you on some of the things that happened in June before my summer travels, like watching the band Neon Trees at the Knitting Factory. Super fun songs!
Most places we’ve been going to in Reno have been near downtown or in Midtown, since that’s what’s close to the boyfriend. It’s nice to just walk everywhere. It took forever, but we finally had a beer and a glass of wine at Craft. Too bad they only have one table outside.
For a nice dinner out we tried Scampi. We were surprised for two reasons: the ambiance and the food were awesome and so much better than expected, but we were the only customers in there on a Saturday night! They need to revamp their marketing, because that place should be packed every night. After dinner, we had dessert at Great Full Gardens, which is always good and always full.
We were still in town for the opening match of the 2014 World Cup, so to get ready for our Brazil trip, we went to 40 Mile Saloon to watch Brazil v. Croatia. Since the game was on a weekday at noon, the bar wasn’t very full, but I’m glad I went and taught the owner what a caipirinha is.
Another place we tried in June was the Lobster Buffet at the Boomtown Casino. At first it seemed very appealing to spend less than $30 for all-you-can-eat lobster, but after trying to get my first one out of the shell, I gave up and splurged on the several desserts instead.
Although all these places in Reno were fun, my favorite June moments were these: cooking chicken satay with the boyfriend at home and taking the dogs to the river near Iddlewild Park. Always nice to relax before a big summer!
Ps.: Almost forgot to mention this lunch: the five of us pictured below started working together at the same school 5 years ago, but for the new school year some of them are moving on. It’s the end of an era…
Ps. 2: Notice how I didn’t mention any running in June…Eating and More: Reno in June I just got back from my month-long vacation and there’s so much to write about! Before I start bombarding everyone with hundreds of pictures, let me just start by updating you on some of the things that happened in June before my summer travels, like watching the band…
Since everything always comes full circle, we finished my 30th birthday celebration watching the dogs run around and play in the water in Lake Tahoe.
Thank you everyone for making my 30 years in this world so memorable and worthwhile!30th Birthday Celebration – Part 4 Since everything always comes full circle, we finished my 30th birthday celebration watching the dogs run around and play in the water in Lake Tahoe.
So lucky my 30th birthday fell on a holiday weekend! I actually had my big party on the actual day, May 25th, which was a Sunday, and the boyfriend made me wait until then to open my presents! He did good: maps so I can pin where I/we’ve been and a trip to the coast filled with fun and food.
We also had a relaxing morning grabbing some coffee at The Hub and taking the dogs to the river downtown with my friend J. who came from the Bay Area for my b-day.
In the afternoon we had a great party filled with wine, whiskey, raw vegan food, chocolate cake, friends, dogs, and gifts!
Yes, you read correctly: raw vegan food. I ordered fake tacos, raw falafels, and mock tuna appetizers, plus chocolate truffles without sugar from The Seed. Everything was delicious, but I’m sure all the guys where confused about the lack of meat on a holiday.
As party favors, I had M&M’s made with a picture of me on one side and “thank you” on the other. C’mon, you know you want your face on chocolate candy too!30th Birthday Celebration – Part 3 So lucky my 30th birthday fell on a holiday weekend! I actually had my big party on the actual day, May 25th, which was a Sunday, and the boyfriend made me wait until then to open my presents!
The second day of celebrations actually had four parts. First I met four girlfriends at the Reno Blow Dry Bar. You start with a scalp massage and a glass of champagne or wine. After they wash your hair, they blow dry and style it for you. Although it’s a little expensive, it’s kind of addictive and I went there 3 times in May alone. For my birthday, I also had my eye make-up done. With all the pampering, it’s impossible not to get out of there feeling fabulous.
With my hair and make-up done, it was time for drinks in a nice dress and high heels (suit and tie for the boyfriend). Since I can’t really afford to eat at Lulou’s, we at least had some drinks there. Almost 15 friends showed up for this part of the celebration and they made it really special. Of course the drink of the night had to be a pink one.
Our party moved to Brasserie St. James, one of my favorite places in Reno. A high-end Midtown hangout, it’s a little pricey but still affordable. The boyfriend and I shared the Argentine barbecue, which was super tasty, but could’ve used more meat instead of so many roasted vegetables. We had a large table for 15 and at the end they brought out a brownie with candles.
To finish the night, we had more drinks at Chapel, but we couldn’t keep going for too long since we still had Part 3 of celebrations the next day.30th Birthday Celebration – Part 2 The second day of celebrations actually had four parts. First I met four girlfriends at the…
For years I was dreading turning 30. I used to flat out lie about my age: I turned 21 at least 3 times and I was 25 for 4 years in a row. Finally, in the past year I’ve matured enough and realized it is okay to be 30: I am a happy, healthy, and accomplished woman (homeowner, world traveler, marathon finisher… all check!) with lots of close friends and family. That’s a reason to celebrate! And that’s what I did for 4 days during Memorial Day Weekend.
Part 1 of birthday celebration involved going to South Lake Tahoe with the boyfriend and the dogs. When I moved to the area over 10 years ago, it was the beauty of the lake that made me stay. I don’t want to live in Tahoe anymore: too small, too much cold… but I am grateful to live close enough so I can go there anytime I need a pick me up. Just seeing the lake when I’m driving makes me relax and vow to enjoy life as much as possible.
As you all know by now, I love to eat. Usually my go-to place for fine dining in Tahoe is “Edgewood”, but this year why not try something new? The boyfriend took me to “Jimmy’s at the Landing”, a new lakeside restaurant that opened six months ago. The menu is Modern Greek, which means no spanakopita or baklava, but lots of Greek flavors in their wood grilled dishes. We ended up ordering the 5 for $45 appetizer deal, 2 entrees, and a dessert, in addition to 2 drinks and a bottle of wine. Yup, that’s how we do a 30th birthday dinner!
The appetizers were brought one at a time, which made me feel I was having a 7 course meal. By the time the entrees arrived, I was so full I didn’t care they were really small (the cauliflower dish was delicious, but tiny). A highlight of dinner was actually the mojito made with ouzo, but everything tasted so good, it brought back memories from my Greece trip 5 years ago with each bite.
During dinner I also had a little surprise for the boyfriend. Since I just ran a marathon and was having a big birthday, I thought it would be fun to do a photo shoot to showcase my healthy looking body. During dinner, I showed the pictures to the boyfriend and he almost fell off the chair. Nice to see I can still cause this reaction at 30!30th Birthday Celebration – Part 1 For years I was dreading turning 30. I used to flat out lie about my age: I turned 21 at least 3 times and I was 25 for 4 years in a row.