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BRAZIL TRAVELOGUE

1 - The Road to Iguacu

2 - Iguassu Falls Nat'l Park

3 - Macuco Boat Safari

4 - Iguazu Falls Rest.

5 - Foz Tropicana Aviary

6 - Rafain Churrascaria

7 - The Road to Noronha

8 - Fernando de Noronha

9 - Sueste Bay Snorkeling

10 - Farewell to Fernando

11 - The Road to Rio

12 - The Hippie Market

13 - Sugar Loaf Mountain

14 - Copacabana Palace

15 - Too Much Gluten

16 - Botanical Gardens

17 - Buzios

18 - Copacabana

19 - Ipanema Beach

20 - Plataforma Show

21 - Corcovado Mountain

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BRAZIL

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ARRIVING TO BEIJING
CHINA TRAVELOGUE - DAY 1 - ARRIVING TO BEIJING


Brazil Flight on Varig
Boarding Varig at the Rio de Janeiro Airport.

FLIGHT FROM STOCKHOLM TO BEIJING

There is only one non-stop direct flight from Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) to Beijing Capital International Airport (PEK), and that is Air China.  We normally would have opted for this flight, as it is the shortest, but for this trip, we would be returning to Stockholm from Bangkok, Thailand, so the easiest routing in our case was with FinnAir, who flies both to Beijing and Bangkok, 1-stop through Helsinki.  The flight was an overnight, relatively painless, and FinnAir had a nice seat-back entertainment system on the plane to make it go by quickly.  In a short 8 hours and change, we arrived.

   

After a pretty uneventful flight, made easier because we paid a few bucks extra for extra legroom, we touched down in Warsaw Poland.  We were coming to Warsaw primarily to see Andrea Bocelli in concert, as he was only playing there and Riga in Europe in 2009, and we had just been to Riga the month before and hadn't been to Poland before.   As we exited the airport, we were immediately swarmed by people claiming to be taxi drivers offering us rides to our hotel.  One guy showed us his very official-looking taxi driver badge, and next thing I knew Sandra was handing him our hotel address.  Although we knew better than to go with him in general, we hadn't done our homework and didn't realize just how much we were about to get ripped off.

   

As we followed the driver to his car, parked in the regular parking garage, I asked him how much he wanted.  120 Slotzy!  That was about $40.00 at the time.  I had read in the airplane magazine that a fare of about 80 Slotzy was usual (though later I read online that it should be about half of that), so I knew he was ripping us off, but for some reason, after bargaining with him was unsuccessful, I reluctantly agreed.  I must have been tired from the flight or something. Oh well, stupid stupid stupid.  We made it to our hotel and paid him his 120 Slotzy and were on our way.

Tilapu Dam at Foz do Iguacu
Itupu Dam in Foz do Iguacu - World's Largest
   
   
San Martin Hotel - Iguassu Falls, Brazil
San Martin Hotel in Foz do Iguacu, Brazil.

THE HOTEL - MAMAISON LE REGINA

The Mamaison Le Regina hotel turned out to be a beautiful little boutique hotel, much nicer than we had expected.  The bellman met us right away and took our bags, the lady at the front desk was very nice and showed us the facilities before sending us up to our room.  There was a nice bar in the lobby with a very comfortable seating area and complimentary chocolates, a Michelin-rated restaurant (we didn't try it, but it looked nice), and torches lining the walls in a gothic but modern fashion, very original we thought.

   
The Superior room we booked was very nice, everything looked very new, and the bathroom was one of the better ones we've had.  There was a big desk, easy for both of us to work on at the same time, a flat screen tv, and complimentary wi-fi and high speed internet by LAN.  Throughout our stay, the staff at Le Regina made us feel at home, and were always very friendly and helpful.  The location was great too - right outside the city walls of Warsaw's Old Town, it was a piece of cake to walk where ever we wanted to go, whether Old Town, New Town, or the Royal Route.

THE EVENING

After settling in, we headed out to check out the surrounding area.  It was a glorious afternoon - bright and sunny without a cloud in the sky, warm (about 80 degrees), and just a light breeze to keep it comfortable. 

We were immediately taken by Warsaw's Old Town.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Old Town was completely destroyed during World War II by heavy German bombing.   During the communist rule in the 1980s, it was completely rebuilt to look like it originally did, and it was so cozy!  We had no expectations going into Warsaw - we pictured a gloomy communist-era gray with nothing much to see.  We were very wrong.   Old Town and the surrounding parts of New Town along with the famous Royal Route (where many of the famous palaces and parliamentary buildings are located) were bursting with life and color - both the attractive buildings and the brightly colored flowers that lined all the balconies and the sidewalk cafes throughout the area. 

With all the flowers everywhere, the sidewalk cafes, and french balconies, Warsaw's Old Town reminded us of Paris believe it or not.   We walked the cobblestone streets, marveled at the perfectly restored buildings, smiled as horse-drawn carriages wheeled tourists through it's center, and snapped photos in it's lovely market squares.   We loved all the sidewalk cafes, which were everywhere, and quickly found ourselves a seat.  The first restaurant we tried was Barbakan.  Here we tried the local Polish beer Zywelc, at the recommendation of our taxi driver, and it was quite tasty - malty and smooth like a stout, but light in body and not at all bitter.  Of course we ordered as typical of a Polish meal as we could find - I had Roast Duck with Apples and a bowl of Zurek (Polish soup with sausage and eggs served in a sourdough bowl), and Sandra had soup with dumplings in it along with a bread bowl of XXX, a Polish specialty consisting of beef, sauerkraut, and XXXX.   We thoroughly enjoyed both of our meals, and were really full.  I was really surprised by how flavorful and tasty the food was throughout our trip to Poland.

We walked up through the market square, through the city walls, and up the Royal Route.  On the way through the marketplace, we couldn't help but notice the gargantuan mugs of beer people were drinking at one of the cafes - they were huge!  I made a mental note to come back and try one before we went back to the hotel.  We checked out the Royal Palace, the Presidential Palace, and several other very nice buildings, and noticed that ice cream was apparently extremely popular in Warsaw - there seemed to be an ice cream kiosk on every corner, and they were all busy!  There was some sort of bicycle protest going on that day, and thousands of bike riders filled the streets of the Royal Route.  Kind of interesting - we didn't know what was going on until our tour guide the following day told us.  I think she said that it was to protest the lack of bike lanes in the city.   As the sun was setting, we made our way back toward the hotel.  On the way, of course, we had to stop in at Bazyliszek for one of those massive beers on the patio. 

We asked the waiter if we should sit down or wait to be seated, and he said to sit where ever we liked.  We did, and eagerly anticipated that monstrosity shaped like a mug of beer.  Unfortunately, we were left to anticipate it for over a half hour while we were totally ignored.  Finally I waved down one of the waiters, and he came over and asked if we had ordered yet.  We said no, we hadn't even been brought a menu yet.  He left for a moment, returned with two menus, threw them on the table in a heap and walked away without a word.  Wow, we thought, nice service here.  Another half hour went by with no service, and we were getting upset now - nearly an hour and we hadn't even been able to order a beer yet.  Finally, I managed to get a waitresses attention, and she came over and took our order.  Another 15 minutes later, she came out with a tray full of beers, set it down on someone else's table, and proceeded not just to serve that table, but to take the orders of about five different tables around her while our beers sat there getting warm.  As we debated whether just to walk out, she finally came over and gave us our beers - at last!  We asked for the check immediately because who knows how long we'd have to be there otherwise.  We were completely finished with our liters of beer before she came back with the check, so again we had to flag her down and remind her.  All told, it was just shy of two hours for us to drink one beer.  Needless to say, we weren't happy and did not return to Bazyliszek for food or more drinks, even though it had probably the best patio area in the Old Town and would have been very nice to sit at.

Now it was getting late, so we headed back to the hotel to rest up before heading out to have a late night snack.  All the restaurants seemed to serve food until at least 11:00 PM, so we figured we had time.  After a quick rest, we walked back down the cobbled streets, to a curious restaurant we had seen earlier that had swings on their patio.  The swings were on rails, rather than regular swings, so had a back and forth horizontal motion rather than a pendulum swinging motion - very strange, first time we'd seen a place like that.  XXXX turned out to be much more than we expected.  We started out on the swing patio, but we decided that being stationary for the food would be much easier, and we were already feeling seasick.  We ordered a cheese plate to start with a bottle of white wine.  The cheese plate was outstanding - much more than expected.  We should have just stopped there - it would have been enough.  However, we'd already ordered a second course - I ordered a Zurek and Sandra ordered some assorted Perogi (dumplings filled with different things - kind of like Ravioli).   All our dishes were outstanding, and our waiter was picture-perfect.  He was well-trained and attentive, and did everything right.  We ended up relaxing there for a couple hours, just enjoying the wine and picking at our food and talking.  It was really nice, our favorite restaurant in Warsaw during our stay.

THE NEXT MORNING - GUIDED TOUR OF WARSAW

Today we hired a private guide to show us around Warsaw.  Ewa XXX was waiting for us in our hotel lobby as we came downstairs, right on time at 9:00 AM.  After a brief introduction, we walked outside to her car and drove to the starting point of our tour, just outside the city walls of Warsaw's Old Town.  In contrast to the previous day, this morning was gray and cloudy, no blue skies to be found.  We were thankful we took the time to take a few pictures yesterday because today's photos were going to be dull due to the weather.  We started our tour at Castle Square, home to the Royal Palace, which had been restored in XXXX.  Ewa shared with us the history of the palace and the Old Town in general.  We didn't know anything about Warsaw before coming here, so it was all very interesting and new to us.  Ewa spoke fluent English, and her accent was easy to understand, which was nice - some other tour guides we have had in the past had such thick accents, it was very difficult to understand what they were saying, even though they seemed knowledgeable and were friendly. 

We walked the streets of the Old Town, visiting such churches as St Johns Cathedral, where we went inside.  Ewa told us the story of the church, as well as about Watong Poliski, the fabled hero of the Warsaw Uprising, who was honored with a plaque near the entrance.

               
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