About: Capitals of the World

June 11, 2009

It is interesting to think how the world has changed throughout history. One of the most clear evidences of this is how the economical and political center of the world has shifted from country to country throughout the centuries. I don’t believe this list to be exhaustive (and hope some will help me out adding more cities to this list) but here is a list of where I believe has been some of the main “Capitals of the World” throughout history.

• Bagdad – Birth of Civilization
• Cairo – Pharaoh period
• Athens – Greek Classical Period/Alexander the Great
• Rome – Roman Empire
• Ankor Wat – Empire in South East Asia
• Xian – Genghis Khan / Ming Dynasty
• Samarkand – Timur (Tamerlane)
• Venice – 15th Century (Trade with India/Renaissance Period)
• Lisbon – 16th Century (Great Navigation Period)
• Madrid – 17th Century (Colonization of the American empire)
• Paris 18th Century (Napoleonic Period)
• London – 19th Century (Empire where sun never sets)
• New York – 20th Century (Capitalist capital of the world)
• Moscow – 20th Century (Communist capital of the world)
• Beijing – Probably 21st Century (current decline of the US and uprising of China)
• Rio de Janeiro – Beauty (Most beautiful city in the world)
• Sao Paulo – Future capital of the world

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Rome – an amazing start

June 10, 2009

I’m not sure if one should start a trip through Italy by first visiting Rome. This is certainly an incredible city and the 4 days I’ve spent here certainly were not enough. I will definitely need to come here once more (and already made it clear to my host that that is the case and hope to have a place to stay once more when I return – just kidding!).

I only fear that this has created a huge expectation on me on the other places I’ll visit. Nevertheless, somehow, I’m sure that I will not be disappointed. There isn’t ONE single place in my travel that I’m not hugely looking forward in visiting. Below is a list of the places I expect to visit and if someone has any comments/advice on whether I should add/remove a place, please let me know!

• Rome
• Maratea
• Paestum
• Pompei, Herculaneum
• Ischia
• Napoli
• Capri
• Amalfi
• Sorrento
• Positano
• Orvieto
• Siena
• Chianti Valley
• Florence
• Venice


Very first impressions

June 9, 2009

As usual I almost lost the plane to Rome. Although I left my alphabet city apartment in Manhattan, NY at a reasonably comfortable time, the 30 min delay on the L line train definitely was not on my plans. Needless to say, I had to get a cab at Brooklyn Junction and from there rush to the airport. In the end all went well but what a way to start a trip!

In the plane, my first fright! My really first contact with the consequences of the swine flue: the Italian government expected all of us to fill out and hand in med form even before we had left the plane. I recon this is reasonable and the process actually ran smoothly. The immigration process and customs was even more impressive, the police did not even request any forms filled out and non-european travelers did not even have to hold some sort of paper whilst in the country! This is probably the most rational and efficient control but I guess I’m way to used to I-xxx forms and hence find this to be marvelous (as well as feeling more like a human being and not a rat).

Although not cheap (12 euros) the train ride from the airport to the city center (Estacione Termini -main train station) was a quick and smooth ride. From there, had to hop on the subway and within 2 stops was at my friend’s apartment. Although tired from the jet lag, lack of sleep on the plane and carrying my unnecessarily heavy backpack, I still wanted to get out an explore the city as quickly as possible.

My first view of the city was amazing… As I walked out of the metro station Coliseum, the first and incredible sight I had was just in front of me, approximately 50m away was the building itself that gives the name to the subway station. I honestly could not believe it. It took me a few seconds to actually digest the view. It is absolutely amazing and furthermore, all the other attractions next to it already would justify visiting a city but this is only one of the infinite attractions of this incredible city. It is astounding to think that some of these buildings have been standing for over 2000 years. Especially when considering that they’ve survived earthquakes, wars, vandalism, revolts (both social and religious) and obviously the erosion of time. How many wars and crimes have these monuments seen? And how many more will they cope in seeing before giving up and eroding back to earth?

I will surely not bore all with my uninteresting descriptions of all the amazing sites in this city, will only say that one should surely come here, should be in anybody’s top 5 list for sure! (Not sure still about living but definitely visiting).


Discovering the origins of my beloved State of Sao Paulo

June 3, 2009

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Once more I set foot to another travel. Only difference is that this time to a more traditional destination. Actually it might come as a surprise to some of you that it’s the first time I set foot in this country (a half lie but in practical sense, true).

The State of Sao Paulo might not be the best singular example of a region that describes Brazil but it is without doubt the locomotive for the country (similar to California or New York city for the US). It represents approx. 34% of the total GDP of the country and concentrates the best universities, technology companies as well as the best transportation infrastructure in the country. A lot of this is a direct consequence of the diverse immigration the state received. Starting with the Portuguese (of course) but also many other immigrants made this their home state such as Spanish, Japanese, Lebanese, Germans, English (introducing football to the country), etc. But maybe the nation that brought the most immigrants to Sao Paulo during the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century was Italy. Actually, approximately 30% of citizens from Sao Paulo have an Italian heritage.

420px-Manifesto_Emigrazione_San_Paolo_Brasile

Many are the examples that immediately come to mind to expose how much this amazing culture influenced our state. Of course most were excellent influences such as the Italian cuisine which today many would argue has reached its excellence in Sao Paulo (the apprentice overcoming the teacher); the many Italian families that helped industrialize the state such as the Matarazzo family; and many other examples which I will not bore you all with.

Gilberto Freyre has already shown that to understand a population, its culture; mentality and its identity are key. An excellent manner of achieving this is to reach back to the roots of the people. I have longed desired to come to Italy but knew that the right moment would somehow appear. I have recently graduated from my MBA (Stern class of 2009). Besides the excellent education, lifelong friendships were built. In my case, some of them were with more than a handful of Italian friends. This was the final catalyst that caused me to be right now, sitting on a sofa in a friend’s apartment, drinking a Nastro Azzurro, eating some prosciutto and writing this post.

Italy_flag


Set the sail and out to the sea

June 6, 2008

First of all sorry for the delay on another post but sometimes access to the Internet is not as easy as one might think. Besides, there are other things to do when travelling besides looking at a computer.

Next morning after a pleasant sleep with the mosquitoes at the wonderbar hostel we were all aboard the Renegade at 8am. A 52 feet boat with space for up to 10 people to sleep comfortably. Besides the three of us and our Spanish captain, the crew included another two Aussies and a French cyclist (who was cycling around the world for a total of 3 years. He had already completed a whole year by now). After a few safety instructions from Felipe (our captain) we left the bay. Unfortunately we had the wind against us and consequently we were sailing close haul at a speed which would not make us get in time to our destination. Consequently Felipe turned the motor on making our arrival time more predictable. The first day of sail was basically for us to reach San Blas. We sailed parallel to the coast the entire way and the day was beautiful. It was a truly enjoyable day at sea. Guine (the French cyclist) was determined to fish. He probably asked Felipe about it five times before Felipe actually did go down to get his fishing pole and equipment. Although Felipe did claim that there were many fish in the region, we weren´t quite sure of the truth about this fact. Nevertheless, I was hoping to eat some fresh fish.

With the sun almost leaving us, the boat already getting close to San Blas and no sign of any bites on the fishing rod. Suddenly, a noise coming from the rod. A bite! Our captain was already worried with the wheel (as we were approaching areas with shallow water). I then hurried to the rod and started bringing the fish in. It was not an easy fight and it surely did try to win. My energy and desire to eat that fish was what made me going and after a 10 min battle the first jump and the sign of victory. From then on it would just be a matter of not rushing in bringing it in. A mackerel weighing approx 3 – 4 kg. was the catch. Nevertheless, the fish was not the best part of the story. More entertaining was to see the French with all his masculinity hit the fish in the head to finish it off and save us from trying to catch the poor fellow while it jumped around the deck. Guine´s delicacy at first was amusing making all of us laugh at his efforts in trying to hit the fish but slowly he understood what the duty was all about and was successful. We left the dirty part of the process (cleaning the fish) to our captain to finish off.

Amazing, when we got to our first ilsands in San Blas. This is simply how I would describe it, hard to put words. I was simply struck by the beauty of the beaches/islands. It is certainly one of the most gorgeous places i´ve ever been to.

As soon as the boat had securely anchored I jumped into the water. The warm crystalline water is totally unforgettable. My first destination (swimming) was a boat with the Brazilian flag. I was really curious about the boat. It is not everyday that I find fellow countrymen travelling around the world. The captain, an older gentlemen from Maceio. He had just started (3 months ago) his 2nd trip round the world. The first one with his wife and 2 sons. This 2nd trip now with a crew documenting it. With great plans, besides doing a film out of it, the`´re also finalizing negotiations with a large Brazilian channel to make a series out of it. I guess this is the Brazilian way of cruising: getting someone else to pay for your travels. (His boat is full of sponsors which are a memory from his first trip). Hope I´ll be as successfull one day. This encounter reminded me of the pride I have of coming from Brazil. Although the people in this boat have never seen me before, the simple fact of I mentioning that I´m Brazilian to them was enough for recieving an invitation to step aboard. They were extremely friendly and during the little time I spent talking to them we managed to share extremely interesting travel stories.

Later I jumped back into the water to swim till one of the islands. My friends were all there and already planning a football match. Some local Kuna indians had a ball and we had a fun game till twilight. The Brazilian touch was fundamental for my team to score the winning goal. Dinner was delicious and happily celebrated both for the fresh fish we were eating as well as the fun and victorious football match.


Reaching our sailing port

June 3, 2008

6am we were up (almost all of us). The train would leave at 7am so we had to move fast. Of course the Italian businessman had to check his emails before the train left. Somehow, we did get to the train staiton 10 min before the scheduled time. The only problem: the train was not leaving. It was Saturday and during weekends the operator does maintenance of the railway lines and the rolling stock. We ended up getting a bus instead and reached Colon at approx. 10am.

From there we headed straight to Puerto Lindo (small bay area from where we would catch our boat). Another 2 hours later we arrived in our final destination. A small and EXTREMELY simple bar/restaurant was “waiting” for us and there we had some fresh chicken and fries for $1,75. As we were enjoying our food, almost set to order a second round of beers, the barwoman seemed to have guessed our thoughts and brought us our wish. No, it wasn´t the barwoman but yes a simple local fellow sitting at a neighbour table who did the kindness. Amazing how the more simple the people are, the more hospitable they are. Wherever I have traveled this seems to be the rule. And maybe, the reason why I´ve been travelling through so many underdeveloped areas of the world.

Although there was a tempting pool table at the bar (of course, have someone ever seen a village bar without a pool table?), it had been a long day so I returned to the hostel where we would spend the night and had a good night´s sleep (with all the mosquitoes).

We also met our captain this day who passed by the hostel to say hi. A really nice guy, serious and worried with safety. Let´s see how it goes at the sea.


Habana Vieja… Sorry, Casco Viejo

June 1, 2008

The traffic was terrible and I decided to jump off the bus before my stop and go walking. A 500m pedestrian walkway with low price product stores would lead me down to the old quarter of Panama city.

Just a small paragraph regarding the buses I sincerely don´t know what it reminded me the most the colourful buses from Pakistan or the truck “Camel” buses from Cuba. Anyway, it was sincerely a sign of lack of propriety. Old US school buses all decorated with colourful cartoons and images. The one I took once upon a time was driving children in some distant town in Virgina (US).

As I reached the old quarter, houses with paint peeling off, clothes drying from the terraces and most importantly the fallen walls and ceilings in a few buildings. This all reminded me of another Caribbean city Havanna. If someone had told me that I had been placed suddenly in Habanna Vieja, I would easily believe it. Again, like Havanna, very cosy, picturesque and colourful. Just missing the music, cigars and rum. On the other hand, this city has the view of all the cargo ships waiting to enter the canal and head towards the Atlantic ocean.

It is certainly not correct or polite to compare but the similarities were such that I had to bring it in. Already answering questions some might have, I need to say that Havanna does have some extra charm when compared to Panama City. First the plazas in Havanna are, in my opinion unbeatable. A beer in the plaza with the illuminated church on one of the ends, the guitarist playing some son and the cool breeze from the ocean is an unforgeatable Havanna experience which I could not find a match in Panama. Yes, Panama does have the canal (actually one of the drivers that made me come to this country) and the hat (which is actually manufactured in Ecuador) but Cuba has the Son, the “Puros”, the “Che”, the “Ron”, the “Old man and the sea”, …. and I could continue. If Panama is going to seriously focus its economic efforts in tourism, have it as a generator of growth for the country, I strongly suggest they create something new.

Lunch at an excellent chilled restaurant in Casco ViejoÑ Casa Blanca. Even Brazilian music was playing (Gracas a Deus!!! Chega um pouquinho de chu chu chu e cha cha cha). Two upper class girls talked a mixture of English and Spanish behind me. It´s probably the fashionable way of talking. Might show to themselves that both are fluent in both languages

After lunch still found some energy to leave Casco Viejo and head to the ruins in Panama Viejo. Finding a taxi that would get me there at 5pm was not an easy task and buses heading that direction would only leave every 2 hours. Eventually, I did manage to find a taxi not before being warned a couple of times about how dangerous it was for a foreigner to be downtown at that time of day. Interesting that this was only a couple of blocks away from the touristic sites. Nevertheless, I had to agree with the locals as I wasn´t feeling entirely safe. Just out of curiosity, the taxi I did successfully catch took me down to the ruins, waited for me (about 1-2 hour) and drove me back to my guest house for 8usd.

Although controversy, I really enjoyed walking around the ruins. Apparently, from what I have read, the ruins have been severely damaged already. Still I thought the ruins were in great state of conservation and felt that it was possible to visualize the old city quite well. The local government did an excellent job in restoring and maintaining this part of their past. Although it is impossible not to note the neighbourhood surrounding the ruins. Surrounded by shantytowns, the site does not reflect the tranquility and loneliness so typical of city ruins. Hopefully the government will continue the current work of restoring the site and slowly remove this unwanted neighbour to such a great tourist attraction for the city.

I later went back to the hostel as I had arranged to meet the two. They had remained in Boca to enjoy some more snorkeling and beaches. The great thing of travelling with good friends is that you always have a good company. But, if each person wants to do a different activity, the group needs to be open about it and understand whatever each person wants. I guess that we really did excel in that.

We were all exhausted (I had to wake up early for my flight while they had the boat trip) but we still managed to go out for dinner. After having a great dinner in Casco Viejo, we went to La Casona, a reasonably underground bar close to where we had dinner. Unfortunately the place hadn´t picked up yet and the music was not what we were seeking so we headed to Calle Uruguay. A mainstream street with several clubs. Interesting to see but our bodies weren´t coping. The fact that we had to leave early next morning also was not an incentive to stay. All added up, shortly after getting to the street we were already in another taxi heading to the guest house.

PS: I try to “advertise” on Facebook whenever I write a new post. If someone wants me to email them , please let me know. I will also ask the other two to write something here shortly… lets see their comments on my impressions of the trip so far.