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Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas - days 3 - 4

On the 24th, Lenira and Paulo left to meet their family at the beach south of Porto Alegre. We were on our own to celebrate our Christmas in Gramado. Besides the bright lights and cheerful store front decorations, the area around Gramado and Canela has attractions for young and old alike. It is full of things to do. [I recommend that if you make this trip you rent a car - we didn't we hired a taxi for the day... cost as much as a car and gas for 3 days but we didn't have to drive unfamiliar roads, some of them dirt - for the most part there is quite a lot of distance between things and if you want to go slow, not within a time frame, driving is best] There is the teleferico in the Parque do Caracol that takes you up, circles the platform and as you head down it feels like you are soaring out over the forest. Cascata do Caracol Teleferico (7)
Cascata do Caracol Teleferico (18)
Gramado (41)
Canela old car museum and the last day (136)   Gramado (32)
Canela old car museum and the last day (4)
Canela old car museum and the last day (50) 
In Gramado, there was Santa's workshop and home. You can see where the elves sleep during high season, where Santa reads all the letters he receives, and even tour his wine cellar. There are several places to buy "the best chocolate in the world". You can visit the antique car museum - one of the best I have ever visited - and a museum of the history of the steam engine with miniature working steam engines showing all the ways man has used steam since the late 1880s. And finally, there is a camp grounds and an open cable car in the Parque da Cachoreira, that I took one look at and said, "that is for young people - no way!" In the end even Santa needed a few hours in the hammock to rest and recover from the holidays.
Parque da Cachoeira (10)
Parque da Cachoeira (25)
Canela old car museum and the last day (30)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas in Gramado - end day 2

After spending the afternoon in the wine country, we finished our drive to Gramado. There was a long line of cars - stretched for miles into Gramado and local people walking along the road. We ended up missing the evening program and parades. It took nearly two hours to find our hotels, get settled, and to make our way back to Gramado's center. The lights, and  storefront decorations satisfied, exceeded, all my Christmas past and present memories. There were hundreds of people and cars, everyone in a festive mood: eating, strolling, laughing, lifting their children high to see all the action.

Lenira and I sang Christmas carols as we walked from one end of the main street to the other - at least we sang the words the best we could remember. She found I'm dreaming of a white Christmas on her IPOD, so we sang all the words start to finish. I sang as loud and as off key as I wanted (no real option there) - no one even glanced at me - it was just another part of the show - we all enjoyed ourselves.
My recommendation is that if you want to do Christmas in Gramado - you reserve a hotel room in the downtown center, (6 months in advance) park your car and walk everywhere – AND get there early to avoid the traffic mess.

More of day two–Serras Gauchas

THE mystery of Portuguese - Serras Gauchas translates into cowboy hills.  Except in the restaurants, I never saw a cowboy in these hills. Gaucho is masculine but in Serra Gaucha is feminine because Serra is feminine - this is pronounced Ga USH o - how am I ever to remember these things?
Back to travel - After the side trip on Maria Fumaça, we drove out into the countryside around Bento Gonçalves. This area is predominately German/Italian in heritage. There is no mistaking the differences between Rio de Janeiro and Rio Grande de Sul. The houses are painted in bright oranges, yellows and blues. The vineyards are impeccably kept, streets of the cities clean - everything has the feeling of prosperity and loving care.
I think the loving care is more important than the prosperity. Even the most basic homes have a coat of paint, flowers in front of the house and a garden including grape vines in the back. These small gardens and the rolling green hills reminds me of Italy.
For the Christmas season though, it was in the mid-upper 70s in the day, the sun was bright and hot, the nights in the low 70s - for me, a Michigander, these temperatures are not at all giving the feeling of Christmas.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Gramado - Hortensia capital

Last week I proudly posted pictures of the Hortensia in Condominium Stucky - now we have just returned from a Christmas trip to Gramado, just north of Porto Alegre in Brazil. The Hortensia grow wild there.  They are planted and then just left on their own to spread up and down the hills. They run along the roads for miles and miles. I know there are supposed to be over 80 varieties, but I only have seen those common in the Friburgo area. In Gramado, I saw the more common blue, plus purple, pink, and almost pure white. also a different variety dark blue in the middle with light blue petals outside. Enjoy.




Cascata do Caracol Teleferico (12)

Day two - a ride on Maria Fumaça

A ride on Maria Fumaça was not in the plan - but thank goodness Paulo enjoys impromptu activities because this is too great to miss. While Lenira and I ate breakfast, the guys hustled up four last minute tickets and we started our day. One thing you have to appreciate about Brazilians is their ever-ready ability to have fun. This group started at 9:00 am with a taste of wine (not me - not before noon... too American) and a dance or two on the platform, then loaded up, waving and cheering and blowing mock whistles (this I did - remember when the trains passed by when you were a kid? Woo Woo!)

When everything settled down there were German singers, Italian singers, a comedy skit and, of course, more wine for entertainment. At about 35 minutes, the train stopped for a station break, photo op, wine and more music, then took off again.

There was one crazy moment when we had blocked a road crossing and a line of Semis honked and blew their whistle to greet us as we passed. Totally great fun, a good way to enjoy the back roads without having to drive.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Christmas in the wine country- day one

Meet Paulo and Lenira, they are from the Porto Alegre area and as wine lovers had never been to the nearby wine country. They had been many times to Gramado to see the Christmas decorations and programs, and enjoyed telling us about great time they had had. Camillo and I decided to spend this Christmas in Gramado and they decided they would take us there via the wine country.
SO on the 22 of December, we met at the airport in Porto Alegre and after a great lunch with Lenira's sister at A melhor galeteria - Via Vêneto, we began making our way to 'the wine country' of Brasil.
I have to admit that Camillo and I have not EVER been fans of ANY Brazilian wine.  The reds are .... well I have no words, maybe immature fits, and the whites are just okay.   But the wine country of Brasil itself - comes Close to having the look and feel of Umbria in Italy - Do you realize how beautiful I mean it is by saying this?   Umbria is my MOST favorite place in Italy.
Sorry, I have to back up a moment - the restaurant - Via Vêneto a small family restaurant specializing in Galetto - a little roasted chicken, flavored much like a Cornish hen, got us started with a glass of local spumante - it was light, bubbly, cool and refreshing in the heat, a very good start.
Camillo and I generally travel with a loose plan, sometimes with reservation but not always. Paulo on the other hand discusses plans but then adjust them by the minute as he thinks of things we should see. After many hours in the car, weaving in and out of towns of his youth, and stopping for a moment at the Perterlongo Winery in Garibaldi, we arrived in Bento Gonçalves. Once in our first planned destination, it took only 35 minutes to find a hotel to our liking, make plans to meet for dinner, (With both Camillo and Paulo the next meal is of utmost importance.) and to jump into a hot shower.
End Day One!