aCanadianInBrazil does Florence

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Florence (Firenze in Italian) was a very beautiful city, but I found it very small. Minha Namorada and I were there for three nights, and with the exception of a couple museums, we saw basically everything. Now, our timing has to be taken with a grain of salt, as we did travel shortly before the COVID-19 outbreak, and the tourist crowds were significantly reduced, but there just wasn’t that much to do in the City. I think a week there would be far too long.

One significant drawback of the small crowds was the lack of taxis when we arrived. We ended up waiting at the train station for over half an hour, even after calling one. Note: do not expect anyone to help you find a taxi – I found the people at the train station were too busy to be willing to help. Finally, one older gentleman agreed to help us, despite his poor English. After that, we learned to call ahead to arrange for a taxi.

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Michaelangelo’s David, at 5.17 meters tall, it was much bigger than I ever imagined.
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It was weird to view Michaelangelo’s David from angles not normally photographed

The best part of our trip was probably seeing Michelangelo’s David. Now, I had known for a long time of the name, but it was only when there that I realized it was a sculpture of King David from the Bible. As well, David is much larger than I ever would have guessed. Sadly, it has been damaged over the years, including by some saboteurs, but it still is a wondrous site to see. Looking upon it, one gets the impression that this marble man could move at any moment.

As well of interest, is the fact that many famous artists from history are buried in Florence. Viewed as a high honour to be buried in the churches, the Basilica di Santa Croce is the burial place of Michelangelo, Bartolini, Galileo, Machiavelli, and many others. The reason for the burials in Florence, is that it has a long and storied history as a center of wealth and intellect. It is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, and even served at the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from 1865-1871.

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Some of the artwork of the Basilica di Santa Croce, the burial place of Michaelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and others

Florence is also extremely walkable, and is viewed as one of the most walkable cities in the world. Other than when you have to carry your luggage to and from the train station, I don’t see any need for taxis/transit. We booked our tour of the Florence Duomo online ahead of time, which included skip-the-line passes, but you should be aware that there are also free tours offered in the Duomo. So, check those times, and if you don’t mind a wait in line, you may be able to save your money.

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The inside of the Florence Duomo, built by Filippo Brunelleschi. He refused to tell anyone how he built it, to protect his work and prevent others from copying it. Entire theses have been written by architecture PhDs trying to replicate this fifteenth century work
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The Florence Duomo is also known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, and remains a fully functioning church

One thing to be aware of, depending on where you stay, when hotels offer an “Italian Breakfast” in the room, it will be basically a croissant and a coffee. Even ordering additional food for breakfast, Minha Namorada and I were often left hungry in the morning. I felt like a Hobbit always wondering what I wanted for “Second Breakfast.”

aCanadianInBrazil does Rome!

For our Honeymoon, Minha Namorada and I we went to Italy, and our first stop was Rome.

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Rome is a beautiful history with an amazing history – almost everyone studied the Roman Empire in school, and Rome was, of course, the epicenter of the empire. Walking down the street, you will see amazing sights that you can’t imagine in Canada. 500-year-old buildings are “new” there, with even the historic first churches being relatively modern compared to the surroundings. One of my favourite sites we happened upon by chance, we just walked a corner and noticed a cordoned off area, and it was actually the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death. We were surrounded by such history, it was amazing.

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This tree marks the spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed by the Senate. Supposedly, 60 people agreed to stab him, but he had only 23 wounds

The Tour of the Coliseum was fascinating; at the same time, it felt both larger and smaller than I had imagined. The most crazy part was seeing the inner workings from underneath the floor of the coliseum. I’d heard that animals of all sorts were kept there, and entire teams of workers were kept to create large battles between men, or beasts, or even sometimes mimicking battles at sea, but I never thought of all the mechanisms that were needed underneath – in a time before the light bulb, there was an entire underground theater production, where people would toil for days without seeing the sun to put on the gladiator games. While gladiator battles were obviously controversial, it was fascinating to see the mechanisms and technology that existed even then.

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Roman Coliseum – apparently all sorts of people and animals were kept underneath in nearly complete darkness for days before their gladiatorial battles

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I didn’t find most of the museums very interesting – it was far more fascinating to walk the same streets as St. Peter, Mark Antony, or Cleopatra would have walked. To see the stones worn from the steps of people millennia ago. These were things we simply don’t have in Canada. Museums move things from their original location, and don’t always display them as they once were. One more “modern” (by Roman standards) area where I did find things fascinating was the churches in Rome – and there are a lot. Generally, within a block, you would see two or three churches. And they actually had amazing artifacts in them. We saw pieces of the Jesus’ cradle, and the chains that St. Peter wore when he was arrested before being put to death, and numerous other artifacts with a rich storied history. Because the churches tended to only have one artifact, I found they had much better descriptions than the museums, which are more worried about keeping traffic flowing and being concise in their descriptions. Churches are more contemplative locations, and the history helps show the significance of the place. As well, because Rome used to be the center of the Papal States (which continue today as Vatican City), the previous Popes placed a strong emphasis on commissioning the very best artwork for the churches. The statues, paintings, and carvings in the churches were among the best that I saw – and churches are almost universally free to enter.

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The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was one of my favourite churches in Rome, beautiful inside, and with a fragment of the cradle of Jesus Christ

Some tips about travelling to Rome though:
1. Tipping is expected in your hotel room for the maid staff.
2. Tipping is not expected at restaurants, generally they won’t even give you an opportunity to do so.
3. Almost nothing is included when you go to restaurants, water is extra, as is table bread (which they may bring even if you don’t order it), and always make sure to check whether there is a “service” or “table charge” before going into a restaurant.
4. Uber is more expensive, by far, than Taxis.
5. Despite the reputation, the trains aren’t any more reliable than TTC/GO.
6. Rely heavily on your hotel concierge and TripAdvisor for restaurant recommendations, we chose not to and often found the food was no better than is available in Canada. We probably only had two really good Italian meals, and one of those has a franchise on Yonge Street in Toronto.
7. Prices are expensive, even Europeans we met visiting from outside of Italy complained to us about the prices throughout Italy.

Travel with us! Gallery update

Given the recent COVID-19 issues around the world, I thought my readers might appreciate an updated gallery, so you can travel with me and Minha Namorada (my girlfriend… I guess I should say Wife actually).

We took our honeymoon in one of the hardest hit countries for Coronavirus, so you may not be able to visit there anytime soon. To see it with us, please visit the Gallery for aCanadianInBrazil does Italy!

Révellion or Brazilian New Year’s Eve

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Just a short article today, as I’m still a bit jet-lagged from my honeymoon.

New Year’s in Brazil is very different, and yet very similar to that in Canada.  I do find the festivities are a little bigger in Brazil – in fact, when I returned to Brazil for my (religious) wedding in February, I already saw advertisements to reserve a table for Réveillion (New Year’s Eve) for this coming December 31st.   While New Year’s has taken on the name Réveillion, it doesn’t have the large dinner that is associated with it in some parts of Canada.

I get the impression from stories of friends that most places where it is warm they ring in the New Year on the beach, and Brazil is no exception.   Entire families go out on New Year’s, and the party does not stop until late into the night/morning.   Roads near the coast tend to be shut down, not by law, but by the giant crowds that flock to the beach.  Even people from the interior tend to travel to the coastal cities for celebrations, and the hotels are massively expensive as a result.  Book early if you are going.

Along with Minha Sogra (my mother in law), we stayed out until at least 5:00 a.m., and we were still some of the first to head home – only one couple (who have young children) that we were out with went home before us.    There was a lot of music, dancing, and drinking throughout the night – remember, in Brazil you can drink on the street.  I heard on the news later that week some people had spent three nights in the beach partying, although at that point I think it’s more accurately just called camping.

Christmas is still the major holiday, but, like here, New Year’s is more for friends – so that’s why the festivities can almost seem larger.  While Minha Sogra was with us, we spent the entire night with Minha Namorada’s best friend and her family – it was especially nice because she and her boyfriend got engaged that night.

There are still lots of religious activities going on for New Year’s Eve, you may find an outdoor religious service or two, and I definitely saw some religious groups doing festivities, but that’s always common in Brazil – religion is a large part of everyday life.

Two days later, Meu Sogro (my father in law) was so excited to take us to visit his small town that he started calling us at 2:30 a.m. to see if we were awake and ready to go yet – that led to a very difficult morning as you can imagine, but is a story for another day.

Outlets in Brazil

When travelling to Brazil, you’ll probably at some point consider the fact that you’ll have to charge your electrical devices, and you’ll wonder about the outlets – will you be able to plug everything in? Unfortunately, this is not an easy answer. Because, in Brazil, they have three different types of outlets (not counting the large-device plugs for fridges, air conditioners, etc.).

The first outlets are actually the North American standard – these are more common in older areas, but Brazil changed outlet type a couple times.

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Type B Outlet

The second type are probably the least common, but could be easily made backwards adaptable so that new devices could use prior plugs with minor modifications – this way people didn’t need adapters for their day-to-do.

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Type C Outlet

The third type are no doubt the safest – they are the only properly grounded outlets, and the outlets themselves are slightly recessed so as to avoid that short period when both the metal is exposed and the electricity is still flowing. It also helps reduce the chance of sparks when plugging/unplugging a device, as the spark is better contained in the plastic cover.

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Type N Outlet – Fasouzafreitas [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D
However, this is only half of the battle – you also need to check your device, because the Brazilian power system is generally on 220v. While this has some benefits for devices that run on both (my cellphone charges so incredibly quickly), this does mean that some electrical devices can be damaged if you use them without a transformer. Most devices will be fine, but its still best to check.

So, if you are wondering what adapter to buy before travelling to Brazil, the answer is “don’t.” Buy an adapter after checking into your hotel and determining which type of outlet you need – it varies too much right now, and even Minha Namorada carries an adapter with her so that she can use outlets wherever she goes. This also has the added benefit of being cheaper, since there isn’t enough demand in Canada to make Brazilian Adapters profitable, you’d have to buy a high-end universal adapter here to ensure it covers Brazil, whereas you can get them cheap at the hotel in Brazil, or even cheaper at a local mall.

Doctors in Brazil

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I sincerely hope you don’t get sick when on vacation. Brazil has some great doctors and clinics, but being sick during the holidays is just not fun. But, should you get sick, you should be assured that you will be in well-trained hands.

Should you have to go to the doctor for an emergency, remember that most travel insurance providers require you to call them prior to receiving treatment, or at least at your first opportunity – this can often be done by someone on your behalf if you are in a life-threatening situation. It is for this reason you should keep a copy of your insurance in your wallet, and a digital copy should be sent to one of your travelling companions before you go. That way, you can access it, and your friend can access it, should you need. Most travel insurers will help you find the right care, and from someone who speaks English, which is a lot more useful in an emergency.

However, you might get slightly sick in the country, but not so much that you consider it an emergency – what if you just catch a cold, or have a bad cough. Your travel insurance isn’t designed for this, but if you want to make sure it isn’t something more serious/get some advice on the correct over-the-counter remedy, you’ll want to talk with a doctor. Now, Canadians are scared about going to see doctors in foreign countries for good reason – getting a band aid from a hospital in the United States can cost over $600, but you needn’t be as concerned in Brazil. Brazil has a mixed private-public system (as a Canadian, you’ll have to pay either way), but their system is not nearly as expensive as in Canada. If you have an illness you just want checked out while vacationing, try a policlinica. These are essentially walk-in clinics like in Canada. During one visit, I had a bad cough that worried Minha Namorada, so she insisted I go. After less than a fifteen minute wait, and about $30, I had visited a General Practitioner, and he’d suggested some medicines that I could take – of note, I could have chosen to see a specialist in the office, although those were a bit more expensive. Unlike in Canada, GP’s aren’t gatekeepers in Brazil, so you don’t need a referral.  Your only issue then is the language barrier, but time isn’t of the essence in a non-emergency situation – so either call ahead and find out if they speak English, or you can use your phone in a pinch.

When going to the pharmacist to fill any prescription, I generally ask for the generic brand of the medicine. Like in Canada, it is essentially the same product, and getting the brand name is paying for the trademark.

Christmas In Brazil

This year Minha Namorada and I spent Christmas (called Natal) in Brazil. There were both a lot of similarities, and a lot of differences. Of course, the main difference, was the weather. They don’t exactly have White Christmases in Brazil. I found it initially hard to get into the Christmas Spirit because of this – Christmas is so associated with winter in Canada that once the hot sun hit me, it suddenly felt like it was no longer December. Brazil is the land of eternal summer after all. I did somewhat miss the feeling when you come in from a bitterly cold winter day and tear off the winter gear as the warmth from inside slowly soaks into your frozen limbs. The feeling of slowly warming up is very much associated with Christmas to me, but I’m also one of those crazy Canadians who loves winter. But, watching fireworks by the beach for Christmas is pretty good too.

Brazilians, like many French Canadians, traditionally have their Christmas Dinner at midnight on Christmas Eve. Many families don’t actually stay awake that late nowadays, but it has led to many more people having “Christmas Eve Dinner” rather than “Christmas Dinner” – Christmas being a day for relaxation and spending time with family. Christmas Eve, though, has many parties and outings, which start and end late, due to family commitments that run well into the evening. For example, we were out until about 3 a.m. drinking with one of Minha Namorada’s cousins, and some other cousins were at a party until 7 a.m. Christmas morning itself, is usually spent sleeping as a result.

Santa, or Papai Noel, as he is known in Brazil, is still just as prevalent, although his clothing doesn’t make as much sense when its not cold. I’m not sure the extent to which kids believe in Santa. Minha Namorada said it wasn’t that common, but when I showed my sobrinha (niece – actually one of Minha Namorada’s cousin’s daughter) the NORAD Santa Tracker, she was fascinated and constantly asking me to update her as to where Santa was and where he was going next.

The food is actually extremely similar to food in Canada. I would not have been surprised at all to have had that exact same meal in Canada.

While Christmas gifts are common in Brazil, neither myself nor Minha Namorada come from families that are big on buying presents for Christmas. We’d both rather just spend the time together, and maybe do a little bit nicer meals around the holidays.

I don’t have all the pictures we took, as we mostly used Minha Namorada’s phone.  check out the gallery in a future update for them.

Hand Gestures in Brazil

When travelling in Brazil, you will no doubt notice that hand gestures are different. There is a distinct lack of the North American “OK” gesture, and this is not without reason. The OK gesture commonly used in North America, is very similar to an offensive gesture in Brazil (and other places), as it technically means “asshole” in Brazil, but carries a stronger connotation. It is best thought of as the equivalent of giving the middle finger – essentially, the opposite of a North American’s intention. While the Brazilian may realize your intentions – either by realizing that you are from abroad, or from their own consumption of American Media, it is still best to avoid the potential conflict.

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Instead, Brazilians use another popular North American Gesture, the standard “thumbs up”. It is used in a multitude of situations, far more than any other hand gesture. When I first arrived in Brazil, I noticed it immediately, and it really leaves a person with a feeling of friendliness. Generally speaking, I try to follow Brazilian culture when I visit, and so I try to integrate the thumbs up regularly. I use it instead of waving thank you, alongside anytime I say “obrigado” (thank you), and anytime I want to show a kind gesture. But, this is not the only reason I do this. I also know that I talk with my hands more than I should, and it would be very easy for me to accidentally use the okay gesture without thinking about it. By consciously using one gesture, it prevents me from absent-mindlessly using the inappropriately using the other.

I would note that Brazilians still will understand if you were to use The Finger, but I would highly recommend against using it in anger – my experience is that Brazil has a bit of an Honour Culture, and it is not a good idea to attempt to offend someone. Tempers can easily flare in Brazil, people do not back down as easily, and situations can develop quickly into a level of conflict that was not initially sought. It is better to avoid confrontation – luckily, Canadians are generally less confrontational than other cultures, so this should not be a significant issue.