Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Meals at the Metro: Venda Mineira

There's a road near the Botafogo Metro that is lined with restaurants. Fourteen of them to be exact. In an effort to get to know my own city, I've challenged myself to try all of them at some point throughout the year. 

Kelly is joining me on this quest and last night, while trying out our first restaurant, we came up with a grading scale of sorts. Because we're obviously the newest food critics here in Rio.

We're going to grade each restaurant in five categories-- ambience and environment, service, menu, wait time, and food quality. And when we've finished all fourteen restaurants, we'll probably have our own Food Network show and, more importantly, we'll actually be able to make some suggestions when someone says "Where do you want to eat tonight?" besides Bibi Sucos.

Restaurant #1: Venda Mineira

Venda Mineira specializes in food from Minas Gerias, which is another state of Brazil. I've eaten at a couple of different restaurants that serve food from Minas Gerais, and in my opinion, the food is always very hearty and warm. It's stews and meats and food that I want to eat when its cold outside. 

Linguiça Acebolada com Cachaça-- Sausage and Onions with Cachaça

Ambience and Environment- 3
Like most of the restaurants near the Metro, Venda Mineira had some seating inside and some seating outside. Kelly and I sat outside and it rained pretty hard while we were there. Luckily there's a fairly large overhang, so we didn't get wet at all. Point for Venda Mineira. The restaurant didn't inspire me to take photos of all the cool decor, but I also didn't feel like I was in danger of catching any weird diseases from just sitting at the table. Which, I suppose, is a win.

Service- 3
Our service is rarely stellar in Brazil (that isn't to say that it's always bad, it's just rarely AWESOME) and I think its because a lot of waiters get nervous when they see that we don't speak Portuguese. I really just want to give them all a pat on the back when we walk in and tell them that it's going to be more painful for us than it will be for them.

Our waiter at Venda Mineira was really friendly and apologetic when he had to come to our table twice to say that they didn't actually have what we had ordered and a third time to say that they didn't actually cook what I had ordered. As we were paying, he complimented our Portuguese which definitely won him some brownie points.

Menu- 3
I'm a fairly picky eater, though I'm trying to be adventurous, and I had a bit of a difficult time choosing what I wanted to order. They didn't have a ton of choices and out of those choices, they weren't even serving a lot of those foods. I settled on shish-kabobs, and then feijão rico (like a bean stew), and then finally sausage.

Wait Time- 2
We timed it. We waited for 50 minutes before receiving our food. FIFTY MINUTES for some sausage, pastel, and french fries. We spent 10 of those 50 minutes looking at the menu and then proceeded to spend 40 minutes waiting. Un-happy campers.

Food Quality- 3
Despite the long wait, the food was actually delicious. It was so. much. sausage. I also got a little loaf of French bread with the meal and eating some sausage and onions with bread was a good choice.

Overall Score- 14/25
If I'm looking for a hefty helping of linguiça acebolada, then this is definitely the place where I will go. Other than that, I could kind of take it or leave it.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Time When Anderson Varejão And I Had More In Common Than I Thought

It's no secret that I love Cleveland. I love Ohio. I love where I grew up. Would I recommend it to someone going to the States for the first time? Unlikely. But I love it. It's the city and state that raised me. 

And I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Do you know who else loves Cleveland? (Former) Cleveland Cavalier Anderson Varejão.

That's right. 5'6" me teacher and 6'11" basketball player him have more in common than I originally thought. Not only do we both have a strange affinity for Cleveland, but we both love to hold to Brazilian flag above our heads, we both attended the NBA Global Games in 2015 (one of us as a player and one of us as a spectator), both of us have lived in countries that have required us to speak English/ Spanish/ Portuguese. 

I may never walk down the street and have random people screaming my name and running up to me (though that is what happens when I see my students in the grocery store), and our salaries may never be comparable, but Varejão and I love the same cities. And as he says in his good-bye letter to Cleveland fans, "Home is where the heart is, and my heart will always be in Cleveland." Lar é onde o coração está. E meu coração sempre estará em Cleveland. 
In a similar way to how Brazil holds a special place in my heart, Cleveland has also become a part of me.  

Taking Over Taiwan: Transportation, Temples, and General Shenanigans

Brace yourself, it's about to be a bumpy ride. Not in a bad way. Just in a "here's all the other pictures from Taiwan that I want to share, but didn't know what to do with" sort of way. 

I saw some pretty wild things while in Taiwan. Asia is SO different from Latin America (duh); I think I walked around all week with my eyes as wide as saucers. 

Let's start at the beginning.

Transportation. I'm no stranger to flying, but flying to Asia almost killed me. Actually, flying there wasn't too bad, but flying home made me want to die. I've been spoiled with flights to Rio because, while they are long, they're overnight so you don't actually lose a day or anything. Flights to Taiwan left in the morning, so between that and the time differences, I spent two days traveling. About 28 hours, but two days. When flying home, I was traveling for about 34 hours, yet left and arrived on the same day. It was rough.

I did get a few more stamps in my passport, a stopover in Japan, and my first experience in First Class (four times, but who's counting?). All in all, the flying to and from Taiwan wasn't the worst think that has happened to me. Thank you, ZzQuill.

As far as transportation in Taiwan, is there anything we didn't do? My preferred mode of transportation (in life and in Taiwan) will always be the scooter. Made even better in Taiwan because full body ponchos (to protect from rain) and face masks (to protect your mouth and nose from cold) are encouraged. Over the course of my five day stay, we also traveled by MRT, local trains, bus, and HSR (High Speed Rail). Because who doesn't love taking in the views of Taiwan at 160mph? Don't worry, barf bags included. 

Temples. Along with bubble tea shops and scooters, Taiwan has more temples that I could ever count. And it was awesome. Tracy took me a number of different temples both in Hsinchu and in Taipei. In Hsinchu, she taught me how to check my destiny and I walked away with mine-- written entirely in Chinese. I'm still waiting for the translation, so hold tight. We also went to a temple that was inside a night market (which is where I found the Buddha statue) as well as Longshan Temple, both of which are in Taipei. 

Noms. I didn't eat anything too wild while in Taiwan. Really this sort of thing is best done when in a large group of people so that you can all get something different and just taste little bites. For example, I wanted to try grilled cuttlefish, but knew for certain that I didn't want the whole thing. Lots of Taiwanese food is best for shares. Tracy and I did indulge in dumplings, bubble teas, sticky rice and bamboo leaves, shaved ice covered in strawberries and condensed milk, sweet potato balls with plum powder, noodles with meat (which we ordered by pointing to what a man was already eating at the restaurant), mochi, wax apples, dragon fruit, jujube, and some 7/11 treats like Passion Fruit Yogurt Green Tea and chicken rice wraps. After four and a half years of rice and beans, Taiwanese food was a nice change of pace.

General Shenanigans. Let's be real. If your life isn't full of shenanigans, are you really even living? I definitely had my fair share of fun in Taiwan, so it was certainly a successful trip. Not only did we kill ourselves laughing with the whole row of Asians across from up on the train whip out their GameBoys (circa 2000-ish?), we also starred in a variety of photographs with Asians (some of whom approached us by saying "this would look great on my Facebook page." Wait, what?), shopped for any and all Chinese New Year decorations (it's the Year of the Monkey now, by the way), scootered all over Hsinchu in search of adventure and mochi (which, of course, we found), and mastered peeing in squatty potties (I only peed on my foot once, how's that for an accomplishment?)

I also learned about five words in Chinese, all of which I can recognize and none of which I can say. So if anyone wants to write a sentence about a big, middle, person who is hot and has tea, I'll gladly read it back to you. Anything else and I'm out. I can say "thank you" in Chinese which is startling similar to how you say "pee" in Portuguese. Imagine my surprise in hearing hat for the first time.

And with that, Taiwan officially tops my list as the cutest little country I have ever been to.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

500 Days of Rio

Today officially marks 500 Days of Rio.

Not 500 days in Rio because, you know, I went on vacation to the States (and Honduras and Taiwan). But it's been 500 days since I've moved to Rio.

Do you know what you can learn in 500 days? Do you know what you can do in 500 days?

You learn Portuguese, but more so, you learn how to play a mean game of charades. You learn your favorite spots to watch a sunset and your favorite barracas on the beach. You learn the best flavors of caipirinhas and whether or not you need to order them with sugar. You learn if you prefer cachaça or vodka or maybe even sake.  You learn to always flush your toilet paper. You learn to never let your fingers touch your food unless you want to be on the receiving end of a Brazilian mean mug. You learn to brush your teeth after lunch because it's proper dental hygiene. You learn how to type on a Brazilian keyboard without messing up and how to type ç, ã, and â (or any other vowel) without looking up the codes. You learn how to get flight upgrades and which days are the best for traveling. You learn how to make new friends and how to create your own family. You learn different ways to keep in touch with the friends and family that you left in the States.

You can laugh with fourth graders, you can cry because of fourth graders. You can do experiments and create tests. You can have Science Fairs and Timed Tests. You can attend meetings-- both with parents and with other staff. You can celebrate birthdays, you can celebrate Carnaval. You can send the students you met in their first year of elementary school off to their last year of elementary school. You can choose your favorite beach and spend every sunny weekend there. You can visit the Sugarloaf, and the Christ Statue, and the steps in Lapa. You can eat pizza, you can eat feijoada. You can travel to some of the most beautiful beaches that you have ever seen. You can see dolphins and sea turtles all in the same day. You can hang glide and you can paraglide.

In 500 days of Rio, I've had good days and I've had bad days. Luckily, I've had more good days than bad days. I've become more independent while simultaneously more dependent on my friends and family who I have left in other countries. I've been more adventurous, but also more of a homebody. After 500 days of Rio, I've finally started to find my place here.

It hasn't always been easy. But after 500 days of Rio, I can wholeheartedly say that it's been worth it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Heading Home: Honduras 2016

Although it never used to be, but January is quickly becoming my favorite month of the year. I spend time with my family and friends in my beloved hometown in the States, I spend entirely too much time on airplanes traveling to destinations that most people don't know exist/ confuse with a more popular country (no, Taiwan and Thailand aren't the same country and Honduras isn't in Africa), I eat weird foods, I set foot in my tierra amada where I get to hug my babies every day and have coffee with friends, and then just as life out of suitcase starts to be too much, I return back to Brazil as summer is coming to a close and spend my days at the beach.

It's a hard life, but someone has to do it. And I volunteer as tribute.

As I did last January, I flew to Honduras this year to spend ten precious days with some of my favorite people. I spent four days in Siguatepeque hanging out with my kiddos and visiting my old stomping grounds and then spent the next six days on the missions trip with Pilgrim.

The homecoming was phenomenal. There's really nothing like driving into your old hometown; seeing the restaurants where you used to eat every week, passing the same vendors selling the same goods at the same spot on the side of the road, smelling the scent of burning trash which is somehow simultaneously gross and comforting, walking into the four walls that you called home and opening your arms to the students who taught you how to be a teacher and the friends who walked beside you as your navigated life in a place so far outside of your comfort zone. 

We laughed. We laughed so much. We worked on Language homework (which is more fun when Miss Caitlin isn't your teacher anymore). We completed Reading Logs (which are still a drag). We played soccer. We went out for coffee/ lemonade. We dined together for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner. We spoke English and we spoke Spanish. For four short days, we were doing life together again.

And then on Sunday, some of my favorite people from Pilgrim came down and I got to spend a week showing them my beautiful city. Our days were spent in the mountains singing "Un simple muchacito que se llamaba David" ("Only A Boy Named David"), painting nails, and having VBS with the local children. In the afternoons, we really lived the Honduran experience-- which included riding in the back of pick-up trucks, eating at Norberta's, driving up a mountain to buy fireworks and then shooting them off in the middle of the street, and eating ice cream at the Mennonite store. 

I think I was Honduran in a past life. Truly. There's no other way to explain the love I have for these people and this country; how at home I feel when stepping off the plane and how devastating it is to leave.

It's my dream in life that everyone can experience Honduras, and, hopefully, love it as much as I do. For those people who can't physically go to Honduras, for whatever reason, I used my top notch iMovie skills to put together a video montage of my favorite week of the year. This is Siguatepeque. This is our Honduras.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Taking Over Taiwan: Modern Toilet

Not only does Taiwan love temples, gates, and Hello Kitty, but they also love themed restaurants. Well, Taipei does anyways. When creating my "Taiwan Must-Dos" list, I came across a variety of themed restaurants including airplane theme (resembling the cabin of an airplane), hospital theme, Hello Kitty theme, and toilet theme. They also have cat cafes, where you can drink coffee and hang out with kitties at the same time! Go ahead, Google it if you don't believe me. 

Despite my affinity for travel, the airplane restaurant didn't appeal to me at all. In retrospect, it was probably because I had just spent over 24 hours on a plane and had another 24 hours coming up in the not so distant future. 

Since Tracy and I are mature adults who never make inappropriate jokes or laugh at bathroom humor, we figured that eating at the  toilet themed restaurant, Modern Toilet, would be a real drag. (HA!) Because who wouldn't want to eat food out of a toilet bowl or a squatty potty while sitting on toilet seats and staring at piles of fake poop that are in sinks which make up your table? It didn't deter us, that's for sure.

Neither Tracy nor I have very high expectations when it comes to food and we've both eaten some questionable things (though she's more adventurous than I am), but we were both pretty surprised with the food at Modern Toilet. Sometimes it can be a little dodgy when going to theme restaurants because you end up paying for the experience as opposed to quality food. At Modern Toilet, we paid for the experience AND got really good food. I had chicken fettuccine alfredo and Tracy got something a little more Asian. Unfortunately, the pasta doesn't come in toilet bowls, which is something I wish I knew before ordering it. 

The price of the meal does come with a drink and a free ice cream, served in a squatty potty, of course. You could also pay extra to have your drink in a to go cup-- shaped like a urinal. 

^^ Our dining experience summed up in one short sentence.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Taking Over Taiwan: Yehliu Geopark

Tracy frequently posts photos and recaps of all her adventures on her blog, Tracy Jo Travels, so I had been creating a list of "Must Sees" while in Taiwan. Of course, I had many things to see on my day in Taipei and various things to do around Tracy's hometown, but we were on the hunt for a good weekend activity. It was a toss up between seeing the monkeys in Kaohsiung and climbing on the natural rock formations in Yehliu Geopark. As Tracy had recently visited the monekys for a second time (and I see monkey on the regular while in Rio #snobby), we decided to go to Yehliu.

We spent Saturday morning scootering around Hsinchu, visiting the mangroves, spending a morning at the ocean (Notice that's ocean, not beach. There is a difference.), and putting ourselves into a food coma via Passion Fruit Yogurt Gree Tea and chicken rice wraps from 7/11 (if you are in Taiwan and don't consume either of these, you are dead to me). 

Sometime in the afternoon we boarded the train for Taipei where we checked in to Six Star Hostel, which is the nicest hostel that I have ever stayed in. Seriously, it was nicer than most hotels that I frequent. Tracy and I stayed a shared dorm room and each bed came with a private locker (and lock) and TV within the bunk bed and black out curtains. Unfortuantely, the black out curtains don't block out the sound of your dormmate's cell phone ringing for 30 minutes at 6am. Yeah, I'm still a little salty about that. Another plus is that the bathrooms come with a whole control panel for your toilet which could, honestly, keep you busy for awhile. Oh, all of this was $17 per person. Talk about bang for your buck.

After being spoiled by a sunny and warn day on Saturday, we were pretty bummed to walk out of the hostel and be met with a pretty steady rainfall. The good news is that rain ponchos are quite fashionable in Taiwan, so we just popped into the corner 7/11 (which are seriously everywhere and are your one stop shop for EVERYTHING in Taiwan) to buy some ponchos and change into flip flops. And to purchase my daily Passion Fruit Yogurt Green Tea and chicken rice wrap, girl's gotta eat. 

We took the train to Keelung where we then waited for a tourist bus to take us to Yehliu Geopark. Basically it's various rocks that have been formed by different types of erosion and weathering (Could this be a 4th grade field trip? Seriously, it fits right in.) and it's actually way cooler than it sounds. The sun made a grand appearance for a couple of hours, so we were able to give our high-end fashion ponchos a break. Tracy and I spent all afternoon wandering around, checking out the different formations-- some of them famous (hello, Queen's Head and some of them not. In typical Taiwan fashion, we were also the stars of a number of group photos with strangers. 

It began to rain after a couple of hours and that was our cue to leave. Ponchos came back out to play and we waited by the tourist bus stop for thirty minutes. An hour. An hour and a half. Almost two hours. At which point we were no longer staying warm inside 7/11 and the bathrooms were closed so I couldn't have another Passion Fruit Yogurt Green Tea and the dumplings at the self-service counter were looking a little sketch anddddd then we realized that public transportation leaves for Taipei every 15 minutes and we were probably the dumbest people on the planet. 

One HSR ride later (another check off the ol' Taiwan bucket list) and our weekend of adventures came to a close.

Seriously, Taiwan, like Rio, has a little bit of everything. Beaches, oceans, mountains, cities. There's something for everything and I was blessed to experience a small part of it for a weekend. Next trip to Taiwan will include a visit to the monkeys.

For all the seasoned travelers looking to explore Taiwan (especially Yehliu Geopark)--
We took a local train from Taipei to Keelung. It left the Taipei Main Station and cost about NTD40 ($1.20USD). The trip out there took about an hour or so. Once arriving in Keelung, we caught a tourist bus to the Geopark. To get to the tourist bus, walk outside of the train station and continue straight ahead. You will cross a pedestrian bridge and on your right you will see a Tourist Center. At the tourist center, you will see a map of the two different lines you can take and the places each will stop. The Geopark is the last stop on one of the lines, but I can't remember which one. It cost NTD50 ($1.50USD) and the drive took about an hour.

The tourist bus dropped us off (and should have picked us up) right at the entrance of the Geopark. The entrance fee was approximately NTD80 ($2.42USD). You could receive discounted tickets if you present an international student ID. There's also free lockers within the visitors center.

I don't know how much the bus cost to get home because I paid with my Easy Card, but I know that we turned right out of the visitors center and followed that road until it came to a T and the bus stop was right there. According to Google Maps, the bus comes every 15 minutes or so and we didn't wait very long. The bus dropped us off at the Taipei Main Station in Taipei about an hour later.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Taking Over Taiwan: Taipei and Shilin Night Market

After leaving Cleveland on Tuesday morning, I arrived in Taiwan late on Wednesday and since I wasn't super keen on the idea of trying to travel from Taipei to Hsinchu to Tracy's house on my own, I spent the night in Taipei where she met me on Thursday after she got out of school.

I've been to a lot of questionable places throughout my life, but I was a little nervous about going to Taiwan as I had never been to Asia, don't speak the language at all, wouldn't have cell phone service, and would be traveling alone. Since I was arriving at night, I wanted to find a hotel/ hostel that would pick me up at the airport as well as have luggage storage. I wasn't sure how safe Taipei was and since I wouldn't be caught dead lugging a suitcase around Rio or Honduras all day, I felt safer knowing that I'd have a place to keep my luggage with I explored Taipei while waiting for Tracy. So I stayed at Four Points by Sheraton in Zhonghe which is a little bit out of the way of some of the major attractions in Taipei, but the hotel offered a free shuttle service to the MRT (aka, the train) every hour. I had to take a taxi there one time and it cost me NTD100 ($4USD). 

I ended up not having anything to worry about anything because Taipei is incredibly safe, the tourist destinations all have an MRT station, the people are incredibly willing to help as soon as you show any sign of looking lost (and a lot speak English), and everything is also labeled in English. Really, I felt like I was a pro in Taiwan after only a few hours in Taipei and I don't even feel like a pro here in Rio yet. 

I was in a bit of a daze after waking up in ASIA!!!, so I didn't have a huge Taipei To-Do list. My basic itinerary included Chiang Kai Shek, 228 Peace Memorial, Taipei 101, and the Taipei Zoo, if I had time. Which I did. 

Chiang Kai Shek was my first stop and the temple is visible as you exit the MRT station. If you were to listen to the GoPro video that I was filimg, you would definitely hear me say "Holy crap." I mean, seriously, the temples are giant and they were the first temples I had ever seen in my life. I couldn't tell you a single thing about the importance on Chiang Kai Shek, though I am pretty sue he is an important person in the history of Taiwan, but the temples and memorials are beautiful. Every hour there is a changing of the guards ceremony within the memorial which I hadn't necessarily planned on seeing, but I ended up being there right as the ceremony started, so why not stay?

If you're lucky, you'll get your first Asian asking to take a picture with you. If you're really lucky, he'll ask you to take a picture holding his dog. Seriously, what is this?

From Chiang Kai Shek, I walked about four blocks-ish to the 228 Peace Memorial Park where I really just wanted to see more Asian architeciture, but there is also a memorial building paying homage to those killed in the February 28, 1947 killing as well as the National Taiwan Museum. 

After taking way too may selfies, I got back on the MRT and went to see the famous Taipei 101. Which I was just told that was built to look like bamboo-- who knew? Like Chiang Kai Shek, Taipei 101 was right there when coming out of the MRT station. Right. There. 

I went inside and bought my ticket up to the observatory (NTD500, $15USD). Unfortunately, it was incredibly foggy, so I could only go to the 89th floor as opposed to going all of the way up to the 91st floor. The views were also a little... gray. But still, it was really cool. After leaving Taipei 101, I wandered around outside for a hot second. As in, I never even crossed a street. During my wandering, I stumbled across a LOVE sculpture, bringing my grand total up to three (NYC, DC, and Taipei). 

My affinity for zoos took me to the Taipei Zoo (NTD60, $1.80USD) where I saw pandas and little Taiwanese gardeners wearing those conical straws hats. The pandas were part of an exhibit, the gardeners were not. I also ate my first meal in Taiwan which consisted of Ramen noodles and Sprite. #adventurous  

My time exploring solo came to an end when I met Tracy at the train station and we rode to Shilin so that I could experience the famous Shilin Night Market. Taiwan is pretty famous for its night markets (they're exactly as the name suggests, markets that take place at night) and most cities in Taiwan have one. The Shilin Night Market is HUGE; we ended up going twice while I was in Taiwan and I'm sure I didn't see it all. There's a ton of shopping (both souvenirs for tourists and clothes/ accessories for those living in Taiwan) and so. much. food. I wish I had a bottomless stomach and was traveling with a large group of friends (to share in case I got something weird) because I wanted to try everything. I think I tried coffin bread, sweet potato balls with plum powder, wax apples, other various fruits, and bubble tea during our first trip there. We also got to see people who were fishing for little tiny crawfish using some fishing line tied to a stick. I'm not overly sure what it was about, but I was quickly distracted by cutesy socks or wax apples or something else so bizarre. The Shilin Night Market definitely stimulated all of my five senses. A lot. And all night long. 

And as a side note- TOMS booties are awesome and adorable and comfortable and are not cut out for walking over 12 miles through all of Taipei. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Asian Adventure: Taking Over Taiwan

"I'd learned so much by going to familiar places that I figured I'd learn twice as much by going to a place I knew nothing about."

There are some many perks to teaching at OLM. Including, but not limited to, an extended Christmas break each year. Our break starts around Christmas and goes until the beginning of February. And it's awesome. Especially because six weeks of vacation right smack dab in the middle of winter is the perfect time to travel around the world. Last year I spent almost four weeks in Honduras. This year I decided to shake things up a bit and headed halfway around the world-- to Taiwan.

Tracy and I studied the same major at Ashland together, were both in ADPi, lived on the same floor in the senior apartments, andddd took most (if not all) of our education classes together. She moved to Taiwan earlier this year to teach English and who I am to pass up free lodging in another country? I'll mooch when it comes to traveling, #noshame.

I don't know if I ever actually planned on going to Taiwan, I just kind of mentioned going to visit Tracy in the same way one would casually talk about winning the lottery. Like a "Oh, wouldn't that be nice?" and then we all move on. But then one day I randomly checked flights and tickets were cheap and the next thing I knew I was texting Tracy to tell her that I was coming to visit her in January. No one can ever say that I'm not impulsive.

January arrived and so did my trip to Taiwan. Along with some snow and crappy weather which ended up cancelling my flight out of Cleveland and pushing back my travel plans a whole day. Talk about a bummer. I finally did arrive though and after taking a luxury taxi to my hotel in Taipei and snuggling up in my king sized bed for a restful first nights sleep in Asia, I was able to spend the next five days trekking/ scootering all around Taiwan with Tracy. 

And thank goodness for GoPro cameras because I was able to get the whole thing on film. For your viewing pleasure, I give to you Taking Over Taiwan 2016.