City of Gold – Ouro Preto, Minas Gerais
When most people think of Brazil they immediately picture the sandy beaches of Rio de Janeiro, carnival and beautiful women. Having spent a year living in Brazil, I must say that Rio, Brazil’s most popular holiday destination, is somewhat overrated. During my stay in Brazil, I stretched out my time (and energy) over four states and 9 cities. All equaled in beauty, though the most fascinating place I had the pleasure of visiting was Ouro Preto in Minas Gerais.
I had previously seen examples of surviving colonial architecture in Rio, though when I found out that there are whole colonial towns scattered around Minas Gerais I had to explore them. My first visit to Ouro Preto is the most memorable. I flew into Belo Horizonte, the main city in the state of Minas Gerais and drove out to Ouro Preto. Along the way I discovered a different face to Brazil, one which I don’t think most travelers get to experience. I learnt about the Brazilian ‘sertão’, Brazil’s back lands and mountainous landscapes. It was fascinating to see the geography shift from tropical sunset to rich and green countryside within hours.
The drive to Ouro Preto was long and bumpy. I felt lost and disorientated as we ascended into the Serra do Espinhaço mountains and away from civilization. As the mountain roads became smaller and winding, I began to ask myself what exactly it was that I had gotten myself into. Finally I spotted the peaks of roof tops and church towers. It was more than I could ever imagine. Here was a town that had literally been frozen in time. Vila Rica de Ouro Preto, as it was called, translates to ‘the town rich in black gold’. It was founded in the seventeenth century when the Portuguese discovered the gold that lay hidden deep in the mountains. Soon after Ouro Preto began to produce an incomparable amount of wealth for the town and the Portuguese crown. I was excited.
The sheer wealth of this mining town was to be expressed in the care put into building exquisite Baroque churches. If you are, as I am, a big fan of history and architecture, you will fall in love with Ouro Preto. The first thing I noticed was the peace and tranquility in the town. Here are some features of the city that I discovered and loved:
Architecture: The only other city in which I have seen as many churches is Venice. Ouro Preto hosts some of the earliest churches in Brazil. My favorite is a small chapel by the name of Padre Faria. The chapel exemplifies the earliest architectural style for churches in Brazil. Padre Faria is located some 10 minutes away from the historical centre in Alto da Cruz. Nearby is my favorite church, the church of Saint Efigenia of the Blacks. It takes its name from the patron saint of the slave community that once populated this region. Legend has it that an African king, Chico Rei built the church with the gold he extracted when he was enslaved in the gold mines. The church may not be as rich in gold as the churches in the historical centre but it is rich in history. Other churches to visit in the historical centre include Nossa Senhora do Carmo, Saint Francis of Assisi and Nossa Senhora do Rosario.
The Museu da Inconfidência houses important religious artifacts including some rare slave material objects.
The Oratory Museum – I am yet to find another museum that houses as many religious artifacts in such a small space
Minas Gerais is famous for its cooking. There are various ‘pay per kilo’ restaurants that serve typical Mineiro food. Feijão tropeiro is the Mineiro interpretation of Brazil’s national dish feijoada. Qeijo Minas, a soft, white cheese from Minas Gerais is the most popular cheese in Brazil, it’s used to make pão de queijo (cheese bread) which is another typically Brazilian food that anyone who visits Brazil should taste! Try walking down Rua Conde de Bobadela, just off the main square for some authentic Mineiro restaurants.
My favorite restaurant is O Passo Pizza Jazz, a Brazilian-Italian restaurant that boasts balconies looking out over the town, live jazz music and the best pizza I’ve tried outside Italy!
Ouro Preto is the place to go for souvenirs. To the left of the Museum is the famous soap stone market, to the right are various jewelry stores where you can buy exquisite jewelry and precious stones. I would suggest visiting the Perola Ouro Preto boutique inside the local cinema where you can buy natural soaps and beauty products made by the students of the Federal University of Ouro Preto, all proceeds are donated to charity!
Ouro Preto can be reached by coach from Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais (a two hour bus ride) or from Rio de Janeiro’s main bus station (approx. 7 hour’s bus ride).
Other notable towns in Minas Gerais include: Diamantina, Mariana and Ouro Branco.
Life’s A Beach (When You’ve Found the Right Bikini…)
Here is a piece on beachwear in Rio de janeiro. One of my first ever posts was predominately focused on the beaches – Leblon, Ipanema, Copacabana and the stretch of Leme beach, I put up some nice pictures but I didn’t really embrace the topic of travel.
Having spent some time in the Cidade Maravelhosa, I found myself accustoming to beach life. My (almost) daily routine consisted of waking up ridiculously early (the sunshine and warm weather seems to have a ‘get up and go’ effect on me), heading out on my bike, cycling around Lagoa (my apartment was one block away from the lake), breaking off of the Lagoa cycle track at Leblon beach and cycling down to the Ponto do Diabo beach crest behind the Arpoador, a large rock that separates Ipanema and Copacabana.
Being the shy and somewhat reserved British girl that I am (you’d never guess that my mother is Brazilian), I made sure I dressed the part English style… I bought myself some cycling shorts, leggings, large t-shirts, hats, Raybans and factor 30+ sun creams to wear to cycle down to the beach. I bought myself a black bikini from TOPSHOP too. I once sported denim shorts and a gypsy top to which my Brazilian uncle commented “where on earth are you going dressed like that? Do you want someone to steal your wallet gringa?” (gringo/gringa = humerous pet name given to Westerners in Latin America). So I rather sheepishly asked my aunt for some beach wear ‘street cred’ advice.
1. Everyone gets semi-naked on the beach, get used to it. Even my 60-something year old aunt does it. I learn’t to cycle/drive/walk to the beach in my bikini and t-shirt or sarong as opposed to dressing up for a day out. Though I was extremely self conscious at first, I eventually learnt that this is the norm and anything goes on the beach, except for dressing like a gringo. I learnt to love the skin I’m in and because of this I am far more confident in a bikini these days.
2. Bikini = fashion accessory and not just something to cover your privates. Brazilian girls hang out on the beach in their bikinis dressed up like tropical birds. I have never seen such an array of colourful and skimpy swimwear in different shapes and (minimal) sizes. Each time I saw a new one I’d think “no that one’s my favorite… actually no that one…”. Considering the sheer mass of almost naked young ladies on the beach, I became the centre of attention in my BIG black bikini.
So I visited a couple of shopping malls and stores in Rio including the Leblon Shopping and the boutiques on the streets of Ipanema.. Some of the mid to upper price range beach wear stores include Salinas, BumBum and the Girl From Ipanema store. These stores sell beautiful bikinis at a cost. One of the cutest bikinis I saw was bright pink with flamengo and piano key print all over. As cute and kitsch as the bikinis were, the nice ones were quite pricey ranging from a minimum of £30 just for the bottoms. I had to find a smart solution to this… I simply couldn’t spend a fortune on bikinis and one pair just wasn’t enought to compete with the girls at Ipanema!
My aunt introduced me to what is probably the most fantastic shopping experience I’ve ever had – Santa Clara 33. Santa Clara 33 is an eight floor mini shopping complex dedicated to beach wear and clothes. Budding young designers set up shop in Santa Clara in order to start up their bikini businesses. You can find anything and everything related to the beach at Santa Clara! I bought myself two bikinis at half the price on the highstreet. You can mix and match tops and bottoms and if you buy a few pairs they tend to give a nice discount. I find their designs much more exciting and original than those found in shopping mall stores.
There are street sellers who walk around the beach selling bikinis, sarongs, dresses and other bits and pieces for the beach. I would generally suggest sterring clear of these if you’re looking for good quality beach wear that you’d like to wear again and again. I bought myself a bikini on the beach and not only did it not offer support but after one wash it almost completely fell apart. I also bought a beach dress which appears to have survived a couple of hand washes but the elastic is already giving way. You can often find simple, white cotton dresses to wear to the beach at local markets or in Santa Clara 33. I bought my little white cotton dress in Botafogo market just off Rua Visconde da Silva. You’ll find some fantastic fashion and jewlry stalls at great prices and much more traditional gifts than having bought something at the shopping centres. There is also the day market in Copacabana in front of the beach and the hippie market in Ipanema on a Sunday.
So there you have it, beach wear in Rio that doesn’t cost a bomb. You can find more information on Santa Clara 33 at:
Or if you feel like breaking the bank a little:
A Cidade Maravilhosa
It has occurred to me that visitors to my blog are more likely to scroll through my blog posts instead of my travel page so I have decided to post some of my Rio de Janeiro trip images. Some of these have been edited and cropped on instagram. you can check out more of my photos on instagram @: eitelsmart
The sunset as witnessed from Ipanema beach
Beautiful skies – Arpoador
Skateboarder at a skating convention – Lagoa skate park
Cooling down on a rainy day – Parque Lage
Addicted to Rio sunsets – Lagoa
On my way up to the Christ Redeemer
Arms wide open