Thursday, January 31, 2008

Work Hard, Play Hard

Today was our last full day in Rio...
This morning was the culmination of the design projects, that we presented in groups. Yesterday morning was the final exam for the Arts and Ecosystems course, which allowed groups to focus their energies on final production for the presentations today.
The presentations allowed us to share the projects and get ideas and feedback from other groups.
After the presentations were finished, we had an impromptu "pizza party" while waiting for a bus and praying for the rain to keep away.
Good fortune was on our side, and we had the treat of visiting the beach at Grumari for a second time. It was astonishing how rough the surf was this time compared to last time, but we can gladly say that we got our share of sun and the rain kept at bay.
We were lucky to be joined by two of Michelle's cousins who live here in Rio - this trip has been the first time Michelle has met them in person, so she's been making the most of it.
Since the water was too rough to really swim in, some students resorted to throwing sand at each other for entertainment. In our defense, we had an intense experience this month and it was nice to blow off some steam.
After the beach, we cleaned up, dressed up, and headed out for a final dinner with our guide Andre, who has been invaluable and a great guy. After dinner, we had one more chance to listen to some live Brazilian music before tomorrow's departure. Fortunately, our departure is tomorrow evening, so we will have some luxury of time for final packing tomorrow.
Thanks for keeping tabs on us, and please think kind thoughts for us as we hopefully sleep through most of our flight from Sao Paulo to New York tomorrow night!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Visiting the Imperial City

Just like the forecast said, there was plenty of rain for our visit to Petropolis, although it still proved to be a beautiful place to see.  Since we had to drive up through the clouds to reach Petropolis, I was hoping we might be ABOVE the rain, but apparently there must have been higher clouds, too.  Nevertheless, there were periods of less rain, so we took advantage of them to see some sights.
Our first venue was the Gothic cathedral, which is effectively sited - not only is it impressive to find such a labor of masonry in the mountains 800 meters above sea level, but then the spire of the cathedral is on axis with a canal that cuts through the center of town, giving great views from the other end.
Our second site was a visit to the Imperial Palace  - a summer retreat when the temperatures in Rio were too hot.  The gardens surrounding the palace are lush (especially with all the rain), and it was fun to visit the interior, because it has beautiful wood floors, and they give every visitor a pair of oversized slippers to glide around in.  One of the most interesting aspects of the interior was a series of art installations that are inserted in, on, and around the typical museum contents.  Some were interesting and thought-provoking, others were just perplexing.  They included:
a needleworking room that was "overtaken" by a salmon-pink silk cord that wrapped around furniture, etc. - might have been 50 feet long.
a spacious music room that probably normally has verdant views of the nearby mountains, but currently has the interior of the windows covered in views of mountainside favelas (the shantytown slums that creep up the mountainsides in Rio).
two rooms seemed otherwise normal, but had a small sandcastle mold placed on the floor - I don't think we ever figured those out.
After seeing the Palace, we went to check out the carriages next door in the Chariot House, when the skies really opened up.  We then shifted gears from sketching in the gardens to having lunch, then checking out the quirky house of Santos Dumont, an innovator who was a pioneer in aviation.  Clearly he wasn't afraid of heights, because his house is barely perched on the side of the mountain, and to move around the house are a series of small wooden steps with the treads shaped to prevent you from starting up a staircase with your left foot (apparently he was also superstitious).

A few notes on the architecture of Petropolis - other than the Imperial buildings - some of the mansions lining the central canal have a bright, whimsical old-world character than reminded some of us of part of New Orleans (with a lot of added topography).  Also, it was a little surprising to see how large the city is, considering it was simply a summer retreat (although I remember reading that the government was centered here for a decade, so perhaps that makes some sense).

We also found that Petropolis has some gems shops with a wide array of jewelry and crafts - here some shopped for a little bling, and a few found rings large enough to qualify as blang, I think.

Another venue to visit was the Crystal Palace - a glass conservatory that the country of France gave to Princess Isabela as a wedding present (those French are so generous - glasshouse here, statue there...) .  Today the Crystal Palace was empty, other than the chandeliers and a few chairs, but when Michelle visited Petropolis a few weeks ago with her family she had the treat of seeing it full of orchids in what must have been a special event.  Even though the Crystal Palace wasn't full of plants, it was neat to be able to stand inside it and see palm trees in the park outside - a bit of a role-reversal of our typical experiences with palm trees and conservatories from home. 

On our way out of town, we were delighted to come across a chocolate factory, where we found every kind of nut you can imagine, dipped in chocolate.  Yum.

Back in Rio, projects are coming along, with one last work day before the final presentations.
Rain, rain, go away...

Monday, January 28, 2008

Who made the forecast?

Is it really possible that it may rain in Rio every day between now and when we leave?  Who's accepting responsibility for that?
Fortunately, we got our outdoor measurements taken care of yesterday morning, so today our teams were able to draft indoors at the Jardim Botanico classroom.
Tomorrow morning brings our last full-day excursion to Petropolis - at least it should be a scenic drive despite the possible rain.

Send us some sun!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Return to Rio

Well, we've survived our many travels through Brazil, and have returned to our new "home base."  For this final week, we are staying in the Leblon neighborhood of Rio, rather than Copacabana, where we spent our first stay.  Here we are a closer walk to the botanic garden, and students have formed into teams to develop landscape design projects in public areas that each team selects between our hotel and the gardens.  Today we are measuring the sites and making observations, and then we will be developing the projects until we present on Thursday morning.

We hear that there has been a remarkably large amount of rain in Rio during the last week, but we are counting on at least a few hours of sun between now and our departure!  At least the weather was great this morning while we were all out measuring....later this afternoon we are hoping to get over to the "Hippie Fair" to shop for souvenirs to bring home.

Tonight some of us are going to see a soccer game, and our last big excursion will be on Tuesday, when we take an all-day field trip to Petropolis, an imperial retreat city in the mountains nearby.  That promises to be a gorgeous day, with a visit to an orchid nursery along the way.

Keep checking in on us, and help us stretch out this last part of our journey as long as possible; We will be glad to see Delaware, but our bodies might want to stay here in Rio!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Seeing the Capital

Now we have made it to Brasilia, the capital of Brazil that was designed and built as a new city in the early 1960's.  We flew in last night, after several excellent days exploring two major rivers that join to form the mighty Amazon: the Rio Negro and the Rio Salimoes.  Today we will head out to explore the Eixo Monumental, or monumental core of Brasilia, similar in concept to Washington, D.C.'s National Mall.  The architecture of this city is incredible - modern and unusual.  The students particularly liked the Cathedral - inside and out - but running around this enormous city for the day really wore them out!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Clipper Premium - the Boat tour of the Amazon

Our time on the Clipper Premium was a great way to see the Amazon River and the Rio Negro, and the students really enjoyed the ship.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A full range of experiences

Yesterday we woke up in hammocks in the rainforest, and by evening we found ourselves enjoying an incredible symphonic concert in the Manaus Opera House, or Teatro Amazonica. It is an impressive and beautiful structure, which highlights some of the incongruities of the city and the region. We also stumbled across a vibrant parade and Mass celebrating St. Sebastian, so we had the opportunity to see the streets and plazas surrounding the Theater activated with music and choreography - very powerful. Right now we are preparing to board a boat to spend the next few days on the Amazon, so it will probably be Wednesday evening before we can post again, but please check back!