Category Archive for Art + Design
Goth Alternative Buenos Aires, Argentina! Recoleta Cemetery, Palermo street art, Eva Peron restaurant, La Cabrera.
Don’t cry for me, Argentina… The truth is, I had a spectacular time in Buenos Aires!
While exploring the South American city, I channeled Eva Peron’s style in a mid-century-style white dress. However, BA also has a hipster side, as you can see from the street art of the Palermo district.
Wouldn’t you like to see the coolest parts of Buenos Aires with me? Follow along as we dine at the Eva and Juan Peron themed restaurant, scout colorful murals, and indulge in steak and gelato.
(My ivory sweetheart dress is from Unique Vintage. Click the pics below for more of their gorgeous styles:)
And of course, this ghostly Goth paid a visit to Recoleta Cemetery — thanks to everyone who recommended the graveyard to me. Read on for Argentinian tales of the dead…. (All photography by Joey Wong.)
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city, with a European feeling: picture wide, tree-lined avenues and stately architecture. You can tell I was delighted to come to Argentina for the first time thanks to LATAM Airlines, which has many international flights to EZE (Ezeiza International Airport).
I’m wearing my new Alexander McQueen / McQ sunglasses from Sunglasses Shop. Love the tortoiseshell pattern on these chunky frames, which have a vintage feel that matches my outfit. If you’re looking for fabulous summer shades, Sunglasses Shop has tons of authentic, luxury glasses available at low prices on their site.
Buenos Aires is divided into various “barrios” or neighborhoods. One of the hippest barrios is Palermo, which consists of several sections: Hollywood, Soho and Viejo.
Spend time walking around Palermo, and you’ll run into cute boutiques, independent fashion, coffee shops, boutique hotels, bars… and lots of vibrant urban art.
Palermo’s rainbow backdrops were the perfect place to shoot outfit photos. I’m wearing this Unique Vintage 1950s champagne ivory swing dress, called the “Carole.” Inspired by 1950s style, this long champagne frock has an ivory lace overlay, and boned sweetheart bodice with spaghetti straps — and even side pockets!
Here’s another similar Unique Vintage white dress. Plus more styles from this retro-fashion brand below:
Argentina was once a wealthy Spanish colony, until its emancipation during the War of Independence (1810-18). Today, Buenos Aires remains a thriving cosmopolitan capital, nicknamed the “Paris of South America” for its world-class fashion, art and architecture.
(I spent the whole day walking around, so I paired my outfit with sparkly slip-on shoes.)
Buenos Aires is one of the most developed and easy-to-navigate cities in South America. Travellers love to come here to enjoy life to the fullest: tango dancing, leisurely meals, walks through elegant neighborhoods, and lots of red wine.
Close-up on my choker necklace by Reykjavik‘s Aurum by Guðbjörg. This Asterias design is inspired by the waves and natural forms of Iceland’s landscapes. I’m all about eye-catching jewelry that reminds me of my travels, so this is a personal favorite.
I paired my outfit with a headband and scarf from Tokyo, Japan (where I’ll be heading back soon). Always trying to be one of the birds and flying away…
A curtsy in front of one of my favorite murals, an eclectic collage by BA Paste Up.
The creative Palermo area is well worth a visit, for a peek at the youth / alt subcultures of Buenos Aires.
Now, for a darker destination… La Recoleta Cemetery, home to dramatic Gothic tombs. Don’t you love the Egyptian-looking one above?
Located in Buenos Aires’ Recoleta district, this famous graveyard is the final resting place of many notables, including Eva Perón, several presidents of Argentina, and Nobel Prize winners.
‘The woman in white” fit right in with these aristocratic mausoleums arranged in rows.
From these images, you can tell why Recoleta is considered one of the world’s most beautiful cemeteries.
Established in 1822, La Recoleta graveyard covers 14 acres. Many wealthy residents were buried here; their families put up elaborate marble mausoleums to “keep up with the Jones.” The architectural styles range (Art Deco, Art Nouveau, Baroque, Neo-Gothic), and the graves mostly are well-maintained.
These despairing angels, throwing themselves on the door of the dead… beautifully carved, and so Goth!
Arr, looks like a pirate be buried here. I was curious about these skulls and crossbones from 1875… but dead men tell no tales.
We arrived at Recoleta Cemetery as the sun was setting: the perfect golden hour for photos. Not long after, the custodian rang the bell to make sure everyone left before sundown… lest they be drained of blood by vampires, or something like that.
(Love how the top lace layer of my Unique Vintage dress captured the light. More designs from this retro vintage inspired designer below.)
We let the undead rest in peace, and walked on to our next destination…
… El Ateneo Grand Splendid bookstore. The name says it all: this is an exquisite 100-year-old theater that was converted into a book shop.
(On the right, do you see me up on the balcony, doing my best impression of Eva Peron giving her “final speech” to the people?)
Located in Barrio Norte, El Ateneo preserves the pomp of the former Grand Splendid Theater, which opened in 1919. The bookstore retains the gilded theatre booths, red velvet curtains over the stage, and Italian ceiling frescoes.
This venue has been at the heart of Buenos Aires’ entertainment industry over the years. In the earliest days, tango singers made recordings inside. The theatre became a cinema in the 1920s, and hosted the first “sound films” of Argentina. Today, the space is a wonderland for book lovers, and maintains the spirit of the Teatro Gran Splendid.
Buenos Aires’ food scene is also world-renown. The local specialty is, of course, Argentinian beef. Try the traditional “asado” or barbecue, or go to a “parrilla” (steakhouse) where the meat is cooked on metal grills by the same name.
I researched the best “parrillas” in Buenos Aires, and noticed that La Cabrera steakhouse had rave reviews. I arrived at the bright, rustic courtyard-style space in Palermo Viejo — and was greeted by the chef himself, Gastón Riveira!
Chef Riveira opened La Cabrera in 2003. Today, he’s celebrated for his outstanding menu that offers over 25 highest-quality cuts of beef, sides and Argentine wines. He’s now also a cookbook author and has three restaurant locations in BA, as well as in Paraguay, the Philippines, Dubai, Brazil and Peru.
Our attentive server was great at explaining the various specials and cuts, and showed us a photo of the various “done-ness” to choose from. If you’re not big on meat, don’t worry — La Cabrera pays close attention to all its dishes, including vegetarian options and sides. We received a generous portion of caprese salad, with the freshest pesto, tomatoes and buffala. With a glass of local Malbec (red wine), it was the perfect start.
Here come the big guns. Tender short-ribs, and a spectacular Wagyu steak — one of the best in my lifetime so far. Many steakhouses overlook the side dishes, but not La Cabrera. The chimichurri green sauce, mustard and garlic dips, pureed squash, and mashed potatoes were total umami.
For another “only in Argentina” meal, make a reservation at Perón Perón resto bar (Address: Ángel Justiniano Carranza 2225, 1425 CABA, Argentina). This theme restaurant is dedicated to Juan Peron, President of Argentina three times in the mid-20th century, and his iconic wife Eva Peron — aka Evita.
Try to reserve the special table, right in front of this shrine to Eva Peron! She smiled above us as we ate, surrounded by photos, candles, and vintage memorabilia.
Eva Duarte rose from poverty to fame as a stage, radio, and film actress. She married Colonel Juan Perón and became the First Lady of Argentina upon his presidency. “Evita” is beloved for her dedication to labor rights and women’s suffrage, and a foundation that helped low-income and working class Argentines. When she died from cervical cancer at age 33, Eva Perón received the title of “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” by the Argentine Congress.
The menu at Peron Peron captures the spirit of their politics, with cocktails named “We are the resistance” and “Nestor is alive” — a delicious mix of cynar, ginger syrup, angostura, fresh lemon juice and mint. (The name is a reference to Néstor Carlos Kirchner, President of Argentina in the 2000s with a Peronist ideology.)
We were feeling a bit “beefed out,” so we began with my beloved sardines, flavored with paprika and vegetables.
For the main, we had a large and juicy portion of South American pacu, a freshwater fish related to the piranha. This rustic “meal of the people” paired perfectly with red Sangria (ginger syrup, fruit and Justicialist Party wine). The drink came in a pinguino jar, which was popular among the working class in the 1920s and 30s, and inspired by the penguins of the Patagonia region.
The menu stated: General Peron said it loud and clear… “When one is hungry, no bread is stale.” At Peron Peron, however, everything was a fresh as could be.
The restaurant isn’t a gimmicky tourist attraction — it’s a loving tribute to the Perons. All around, you can see paintings and photos: old headshots of Evita from her acting days, the couple waving from a parade car after winning the election.
Many groups of “Peronist” locals gather here to dine and chat politics. Twice a night, the restaurant broadcasts the “Marcha Peronista” song. Their supporters stand up, wave napkins around their heads, bang the tables and sing loudly to the refrain “Viva Peron!”
Stuffed and satisfied, I was glad to return to my Wimdu apartment rental. I had a superb stay in this local flat, which let me live like “one of the people” in Buenos Aires.
It was a breeze to book this apartment with Wimdu: the search engine pulled up available listings with photos and reviews, and this cute one caught my eye. I messaged with the owner, and easily picked up and returned the keys to the concierge at the lobby. I’m very glad I stayed here, as it was inexpensive and located centrally in San Telmo (I’ll show you stories from this district in the next post).
Let’s end on a sweet note, and a bonus food tip. Eat all the gelato, while you’re in Buenos Aires! The city is famous for its ice cream, which goes down especially well after a day of strolling under the sun. Locals told me one of the best gelaterias is Rapanui in Recoleta / Barrio Norte, and they were correct. I ordered a heavenly double scoop, and picked up dark chocolate to bring home as well.
Have you visited the city of Evita? What are your impressions of Buenos Aires so far?
Space Goth Mermaid is the theme of the day… because I’m in colorful Valparaíso, Chile!
“Valpo” is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and boasts some of the best street art in the world. This hip, rainbow-covered city is only a 1.5 hour drive from Santiago — making it a perfect day trip during my LATAM Airlines adventure in South America..
If you’re an art and culture seeker, you will adore Valparaiso’s vibe. Artists from around the world flock to this Chilean port city, to add their works to this open canvas.
Walking around, you’ll come across wall-sized murals, graffiti, found art, 3D installations… sky’s the limit, when it comes to creativity in Valpo.
Santiago is a popular hub for LATAM’s many domestic and international flights. If you’re in the capital of Chile, I urge you to take a day to explore the nearby Valparaiso. It’s an inspiring place to walk around, find unexpected art (some of it with political themes), and take a million photos.
(All images by Joey Wong, other than some iPhone snaps by LC.)
How to travel here: Valparaiso is located 120 kilometers west of Santiago. To get here, we rode the metro (subway) to Santiago’s Pajaritos station, near the end of the red line. Then, we bought roundtrip tickets for the bus that leaves every 30 minutes or so for Valpo. There’s no need to book in advance, as there are plenty of seats especially on weekdays.
Two bus companies, Turbus and Pullman, travel this route for $5-10. Both are about the same price and quality; we went with Turbus, and found ourselves in a modern carrier with comfortable reclining seats. We enjoyed this view of the Chilean mountains, and napped the rest of the way. (The ride is about 1.5 hours.)
When you arrive at Valparaiso bus station, you can look for the tourist information booth in case you have questions. The staff can help you find the local bus stop outside. Ride it to Plaza Sotomayor, the large central square.
From Plaza Sotomayor, you can take the old elevators up the various hills to see street art.
Valparaiso has over 40 hills, stacked with brightly colored houses and public art. There are quite a lot of stairs and slopes, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring sun protection.
I put together a “Space Gothic” outfit of the day. I combined Goth with cyber-galaxy colors that match my hair, as well as the murals around me!
I’m wearing a long Lip Service skirt and top from Salemonster (they have a large selection of alternative brand fashion, at reduced rates!). My pink cat-eye sunglasses are by Irregular Choice. This designer is known for its Rococo fabulous shoes, as you can see below…
If you aren’t keen on walking up and down hills, you can use the funicular “ascensors” built in the 19th century. There are 15 of these rickety metal elevators, which take you up the slopes for a few coins.
Some of Valparaiso’s districts can be a little sketchy (we were warned to be careful with our DSLR camera and belongings). To avoid any issues, I recommend that you stick to the main sightseeing areas. In any case, that’s where you will find most of the street art!
What’s the best way to get around Valparaiso? I recommend that you take the funicular or walk up El Peral. Once you reach the top, you’ll find a glorious view of the water, as well as an old palace and a fine arts museum.
From there, you can stroll around and enjoy the colorful works around you. The murals have wonderfully diverse styles and subjects. As a horror fan, I was delighted to see the Creature from the Black Lagoon!
While you will find street art all over Peral, the main streets are Monte and Cerro Alegre, Capilla, Miramar and especially Templeman.
How did Valpo become a tableau for worldwide artists? Around the 1920s, Mexico had a burgeoning muralism movement. This inspired Chilean poet / diplomat Pablo Neruda to invite artists to come to his city, and get creative.
Valparaiso was already known as the “Jewel of the Pacific” for its beautiful Pacific Ocean setting. However, now it’s best known as a laid-back, hipster destination covered head-to-toe in eclectic art. It’s a great place to art-walk, followed by a leisurely meal of empanadas and pisco sours at a local cafe.
I enjoyed seeing the contrast between old and new. Valparaiso was a major seaport in the 1800s, during Spanish Colonial times. Today, these churches and palaces stand next to quirky murals.
Many local buildings invited artists to decorate their storefronts. I was amazed at the variety of works throughout Valparaiso: from graffiti tags, to intricate portraits, to three-story narratives.
“Aliens welcome.” This sounds like my type of town!
I’m wearing a spider pin that reminded me of the one Cheryl Blossom wears in the Riverdale TV series. My spider brooch got stolen from my luggage.. but thankfully, it was only a $7 pin that I got here!
There’s so much to see in this port city with dozens of hills. Some people join a guided walking tour, in order to see the highlights. We preferred to walk around on our own, and come across gems like this ostrich by chance.
It’s impossible to see all of the paintings in Valparaiso, and artists are constantly creating new works. I enjoyed taking snaps of whatever caught my eye. A drainpipe refashioned as a cat-girl’s mouth, a studio with sculptures made with found objects.
“Herrrreeee’s Johnny!” I’m clearly surprised to see Jack Nicholson from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, one of my favorite horror films. (I even had the VHS tape of it, back in the 9os!)
Some of the most interesting works convey a socio-political message. This one is a graphic commentary on religion and colonialism in South America, and the oppression of native Chileans.
I was impressed by the level of talent found in Valparaiso. There’s a sense of community among the (mostly young) artists as well.
Even the streetlamps and drainpipes get a technicolor makeover.
The local government supports creators with workspaces and resources. The result: glorious murals like this one.
This serene, blue “happy hippie” face was one of my favorites. Note the greenery growing out of his ears!
The pink sunglasses are Irregular Choice; shop more of their designs below:
Not all parts of Valparaiso are accessible for everyone. Be prepared for a lot of walking, including up and down lots of stairs.
How beautiful is this mural? If I came back to Valpo, I’d join a guided tour so that I could learn more about each specific artist.
Look out for the uniquely decorated stairs. This one looks like a kite, if you view it from a distance (see the diamond on my left). Another staircase looks like piano keys.
At the top of ascensor Peral, take a moment to enjoy this panoramic view of the city and bay.
And don’t miss out on the tiny details. Street signs, telephones and other unexpected objects get an artistic transformation here.
How sweet it must be for these local residents, living / working / studying / playing amidst these colorful creations!
These mosaic steps next to the funicular called out for a photoshoot.
As I explored, I took snaps of skeletons and other Gothic creatures (as I thought these would be of interest to you!) Here’s a cheerful fellow riding a bike.
A smiling skull, and two Frankensteins. Is he holding a clam on his fingertip?
Some of the skeletons had an anatomical feeling.
Others reminded me of the naughty Day of the Dead skeletons I saw in Tulum, Mexico.
Chile’s national poet, Pablo Neruda, adored living here. As he put it, “Valparaíso, what an absurdity you are, how crazy: a crazy port. What a head of dishevelled hills, that you never finished combing. Never did you have time to dress yourself, and always you were surprised by life.”
I think Neruda’s words sum up the eccentric atmosphere of Valparaiso today! (If you haven’t seen The Shining movie, you need to rent it.)
Isn’t this “street art city” a wonderland? Have you heard of Valparaiso before this story?
Perhaps these images may inspire you to book a flight to Chile on LATAM Airlines, and climb this rainbow staircase for yourself!
PS: if you enjoyed my space Goth outfit, here are more skeleton styles below. Click the thumbnails for details:
Futuristic Architecture in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil! Museum of Tomorrow, Niemeyer UFO building, Sofitel Ipanema hotel.
If you came across a flying saucer, what would you do? Personally, I’d beam myself in!
I think you can tell I had an (inter)stellar time in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The city turned out to be one of my favorite stops on my LATAM Airlines trip in South America.
Rio is a laid-back destination for anyone interested in Brazilian culture, food and beach life. It’s also home to a few unexpectedly “spacey” attractions that stirred my imagination…
Let’s start inside my spaceship. This cosmic wonder is actually the MAC Niterói Contemporary Art Museum, designed by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
The MAC is located across the water from Rio de Janeiro. To get here, you can take a ferry across the water, or Uber over the sleek bridge to Niteroi.
Oscar Niemeyer is the modernist genius behind over 500 structures in Brazil, including the civic buildings of the new capital Brasilia (established 1960). With white concrete and flowing curves, his architecture looks like something out of a sci-fi movie.
The stark, curving walls are the perfect setting for avantgarde art. Above is Ayrson Heraclitus’s exploration of the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé religion. Visitors hear the clank of metalwork (representing Ogun, the warrior god) over footage of worshippers cooking feijoada (a local stew presented as an offering).
My travel partner and co-photographer was Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation, Bitch, and other bestselling books). We adored the “Anna Bella & Lygia & Mira & Wanda” exhibition, which put the spotlight on four leading Brazilian contemporary artists.
Above is a movable metal sculpture by Lygia Clark. In the next room, Mira Schendel’s Zen minimalist works express “transcendence from the zero spectrum” (that’s how the didactic label put it!)
Doesn’t this look like a scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey?
I was impressed by Wanda Pimentel’s fine linework; she paints women’s feet and domestic objects, in a “critique of society’s suppression of privacy.” We also loved the political art of Anna Bella Geiger, which rallied against “burocracia” and censorship during Brazil’s dictatorship.
Be sure to take in the spectacular view of Rio, from the red ramps that wrap around the flying object. You can spot Sugarloaf Mountain, Christ the Redeemer and other landmarks across Guanabara Bay.
Then, walk down the spiral staircase to the bistro, where you can drink caipirinhas and browse handmade jewelry inspired by Niemeyer.
Oscar Niemeyer is one of my architecture heroes, and I was over the moon to finally visit one of his masterpieces.
If you’re into experimental art (and aliens!), the Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Niterói is one of the coolest museums on planet Earth.
On another day, Elizabeth and I visited Rio’s Museum of Tomorrow, which also looks like an intergalactic shuttle! Designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Museu do Amanhã opened in 2015 right before the Olympics.
The museum and urban plaza rejuvenated the Porto Maravilha waterfront, which was once a run-down district of Rio.
Calatrava’s innovative design looks like a spacecraft hovering over water. The silhouette was inspired by the bromelia flower, which he saw in Rio’s Botanical Gardens.
The visionary Museum of Tomorrow is unlike any other. The experience focuses on five questions: Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we? Where are we going? And how do we want to live together over the next fifty years?
Visitors receive a touch card in their language of choice, for interacting with the displays. At the end, you can measure your consumption footprint; mine was not great, as I fly more than 100 hours a year…
(Leather wrap bracelet by Bulgari Serpenti.)
The high-tech exhibits make you think about global matters like population growth, ecological and climate changes, and distributions of wealth.
First, we entered a “cosmic portal” and watched a 360-degree film by City of God director Fernando Meirelle, which traced our development from the Big Bang to today. Then, we explored four giant cubes with mixed-media displays, highlighting different aspects of the “5 questions.”
This cube had 1200 fascinating images arranged in pillars. They show global examples of prayers, sensations, relationships, power, body modifications and other human expressions.
The Museum of Tomorrow lets you reflect about our impact on the planet. These Stonehenge-like screens present real-time numbers about global gas emissions, ozone depletion, ocean population losses…
On the right, Daniel Wurtzel’s dancing fabrics convey the constant flux of matter. (No relation to Elizabeth, but the last name was a neat coincidence.)
By the end, you’re encouraged to think about the possibilities for transformation. We entered a wooden structure based on an indigenous longhouse, with an Australian “tjurunga” (symbolizing the passing on of knowledge) in the center. Music and lights mimic the cycles of sunset and sunrise.
At last, you emerge from the cocoon. As Elizabeth put it, “I am a purple butterfly looking into the future and everything is beautiful.”
The large picture-windows reconnect you to the present. Santiago Calatrava designed a reflection pool around the building with filtered water that is pumped in from the bay, and then released back.
A Frank Stella sculpture appears to float on the water. Hearts for the neofuturistic Museum of Tomorrow and its message of sustainability.
Our guide Rodrigo took us to the nearby mural by Eduardo Kobra. It’s the largest in the world, at 190 meters long.
The Brazilian street artist created this rainbow work for the Rio Olympic games.
The “Ethnicities” mural depicts five indigenous faces from five continents (Brazil, Ethiopia, Thailand, Northern Europe, and Papua New Guinea). They represent human ancestors and the colors of the rings on the Olympic flag.
Within a few years, “Olympic Boulevard” has become a tech center with green spaces, public events, live music and nightly fireworks.
However, Rio’s beaches remain the heart of the city. Copacabana was favored by celebrities in the mid-20th century, but today, Ipanema beach is the place to be.
I loved walking by the ocean, especially on weekdays when Ipanema Beach is uncrowded. Groups gather in different “postos” or divisions; there are areas favored by hippies, LGBT, families, etc. You’ll come across groups of friends playing “football” (Brazil’s beloved national sport) and other games near the crashing waves.
I encourage you to book a hotel by the beach. My stay at Sofitel hotel let me live out my “girl from Ipanema” dreams: I only had to cross the street to have my feet in the sand.
(Book a stay at Sofitel Ipanema Rio here.)
The Sofitel made me feel at home with artistic interiors and surprise fruit plates, and staff that knew me by name. My 5-star room was decorated in mid-century modern tropicalia, with a picture-window that opened up to this view of Ipanema.
Every morning, I looked forward to Sofitel’s breakfast. You could choose from the buffet (the selection included a refreshing green detox juice, and coconut yogurt smoothies), or order from the menu (I always got the acai with banana, and tapioca crepe with cheese and vegetables).
We had lunch at the hotel’s 23 Ocean Lounge, located on a sunny terrace next to the swimming pool. We tried fresh cocktails made with Brazilian fruits, and ate local grilled fish followed by coconut mousse, while enjoying views of Ipanema and Copacabana beaches.
With a mod couch like this, waiting in the lobby was a pleasure! (Elizabeth is with Rodrigo, our outstanding local guide who also works as a TV fixer and speaks multiple languages.)
Sofitel Ipanema Rio de Janeiro is in the best possible location. You can walk over to the beachfront, or visit the fashion boutiques, cafes, jewelry stores and art galleries two blocks behind the hotel.
Most of the stores are on Rua Visconde de Pirajá. Brazilian fashion tends to be airy and relaxed. I was a fan of the footwear designers Melissa Shoes and Schutz Shoes; see below for some of their styles.
It was refreshing to be in a destination that doesn’t feel “touristy.” Very few people speak English in Brazil, even in major stores. I enjoyed the challenge of trying to communicate with hand gestures and bits of Portuguese!
Rio de Janeiro is the place to shop for swimwear and resort fashion. (Find a similar red and white striped bikini here.)
Every Sunday, the road by Ipanema is closed to cars, which lets locals ride bikes, roller skate and walk along the shore. I strolled along the beach every day, and enjoyed the views (I’m talking about both the scenery and the fellows in it!)
Rodrigo recommended that we check out Botafogo, an up-and-coming neighborhood with outstanding restaurants, live music bars and nightlife.
We had dinner in this neighborhood, at Iraja Gastro — and it turned out to be one of the best meals I had in South America. Chef Camila Anacleto welcomed us to the cozy restaurant, known for its contemporary tasting menu with Brazilian influences.
We began with two addictive plates: mandioca (cassava) chips with grana padano and clarified butter, and churros of cheeses and herbs.
At Irajá Gastro, each dish is made with sustainable ingredients. Above is their latest version of caprese (it has gone through six variations so far): a brilliant combo of buffala mozzarella, basil oil, strawberry and tomato sorbet.
The open kitchen adds to the relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant. It’s a perfect place to have a special meal with friends, or celebrate an occasion.
We adored the fish of the day with toasted coconut and avocado. On the right: an innovative ravioli with fondant palm, chestnut and canastra cheese. Below it is my juicy Angus entrecote cut of the day, with mustard and vegetables. It paired perfectly with a bottle of red Guaspari (Iraja Gastro carries an extensive Brazilian-only wine list).
The meal had a sweet ending with a berry marshmallow dessert, and “bolo de brigadeiro” — hot chocolate cake with vanilla cream poured on top.
A trip to Rio isn’t complete without seeing the spectacular view from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain (Pão de Açúcar). We rode cable cars up the two elongated mountains, which resemble traditional loaves of sugar.
Elizabeth and I took this photo from the top of the first mound, Urca Hill (Morro da Urca).
Visitors can walk around and take in the sights from 360 degrees.
When you’re ready to ascend the next peak, hop into the second glass-walled cable car. In three minutes, you’ll be at the top of Sugarloaf.
Do you see the crucifix-shaped silhouette on the mountain in the distance? That’s the famous statue Christ the Redeemer, on the peak of Corcovado. The 38-meter Jesus has his arms outstretched, and appears to be blessing the people from high above.
“Cristo Redentor” was completed in 1931 by French sculptor Paul Landowski and Brazilian engineer Heitor da Silva Costa. It’s the most recognizable landmark of Rio, and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Both locals and visitors gather at the top of Sugar Loaf to take in this glowing sunset over Guanarana Bay. It’s one of the best spots in the city for golden hour.
Rodrigo then took us to the nearby Urca district, and ordered us caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail, made with sugar, lime and cachaça — a sugarcane liquor). The seawall is a lively hangout spot for young locals, who play music and drink while watching the moon rise over the waterfront.
I also loved sipping tea and watching the pink skies from my window at Sofitel Ipanema hotel.
Elizabeth and I went outside to Ipanena beach for the last rays. Our trip to Rio was outstanding, and we’ll remember it for life.
It’s a great time to visit Brazil, as the complicated and expensive visa process has changed. In the past, you had to complete a detailed application that included bank statements and an employer’s letter, and leave your passport at the consulate for up to a month. Now, if you’re a citizen of Canada, United States, Japan, or Australia, the process is simpler. You can apply online for a Brazil tourist e-visa and receive it within a few days.
Did you know Rio de Janeiro had such trippy, extraterrestrial attractions?
Time to fly off in my UFO… but more stories to come soon, including my dream journey to Easter Island!
Cuba vintage car tour with Havana Urban Adventures! Renting a classic convertible, Callejon de Hamel Santeria.
When you think of Havana, Cuba — do classic cars come to mind? These sleek, 1950s-era automobiles are the only rides on the road in this fascinating country, where time seems to have frozen.
My dream was to ride down the Malecon in a vintage convertible… and this came true thanks to Havana Urban Adventures!
Urban Adventures offers one-of-a-kind, offbeat experiences in cities worldwide. These aren’t your typical tours; they’re small group or private adventures that let you dive deep into local life.
Read on to see how I cruised through Havana in this slick red “almendrón” (the Cuban word for antique auto)…
… and learned about Santeria (the Afro-Cuban religion of divine spirits), at the art-filled Callejon de Hamel.
(Photography by Asta Mail and me.)
In my first post about Cuba, I wrote about the joy of staying in a “casa particular” (Prado Colonial) and supporting local businesses. (You can read the full review here; definitely reach out if you’re looking for an authentic place to stay in Old Havana.)
When we made a booking with Urban Adventures, we received vouchers with confirmations of the start time, location, contact details and other info. In our case, the classic car came straight to our front door to pick us up for the 2 hour ride.
“Best day ever” is accurate, when it comes to their tours. As you may recall, I also linked up with Urban Adventures in Athens and Bucharest. I’m impressed by how their guides are always full of passion for their hometowns. In this case, Armando (Mandy) greeted us with a smile, and whisked us off on an adventure.
While the driver navigated, Mandy filled us in on the colorful sights around us. We rode through Habana Viejo and Miramar, where we glimpsed colonial architecture, monuments, and the glamorous Fifth Avenue. Such a joy to ride through these streets in an antique car, and soak it all in.
Our first stop: Plaza de la Revolución, or Revolution Square.
Behind me, you can see a memorial to Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the four leaders of the Cuban Revolution (along with Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and Che Guevara). Manny explained that “Vas bien, Fidel” (You’re doing fine) refers to the supportive comment he made to the leader during his speech to the people.
Next to him is this iconic counterculture portrait. I’m sure you recognize the face of Che Guevara, the guerrilla revolutionary! Che’s slogan, “hasta la victoria siempre” (Until victory always), exemplifies how he always strove to the fullest in his quest to help the people of Latin America.
On the other side of Revolution Square rises José Martí Memorial. It’s a tribute to this 19th century national hero of Cuba, and consists of a statue of Marti, a star-shaped tower, and gardens.
Cuba has a fascinating political / cultural history that is unlike any other country (and very different from its neighbors in the Caribbean).
I was keen to learn more about the Communist takeover from a Cuban perspective, so I later visited the Museum of the Revolution (Museo de la Revolucion) in Old Havana. It’s filled with black and white photos of the leaders, and facts / records that may surprise you. I recommend it to all my fellow history buffs.
Onward to Vedado, a more modern and residential district of Havana. We drove through neighborhoods with beautiful homes, and then stopped in Havana Forest to take photos.
Asta and I were surprised to see this jungle area, in the middle of busy Havana! We took a moment to explore this lush park, featuring a river and waving trees.
Many Santeria practitioners come here to perform rituals in the stream, including animal sacrifices. Keep an open mind, and if you see worshipers dressed in white, don’t point a camera at them.
(There’s more on this Cuban religion further down in the post, so read on.)
We passed by the sprawling Colon Cemetery, founded in 1876 in the Vedado neighbourhood. Named after Christopher Columbus, there are over 500 mausoleums covering 140 acres. I’ll have to come back next time to walk through this impressive graveyard, packed with white tombstones.
There’s truly no better way to get into the spirit of Cuba than by taking an old American car tour. What’s the deal with these antique vehicles everywhere?
In 1959, Fidel Castro banned foreign vehicle imports, making it impossible to purchase cars from abroad. Since then, pretty much the only wheels on the road are remnants from this era, when American expats cruised through Havana in hot rods.
Our Urban Adventures vintage car tour ended with a drive along the Malecon, as the sun was setting. We sat in the back of our cherry red convertible, and took in the soft breeze and warm light…. pure Cuba bliss.
I loved spotting cars with space-age “tail fins”, a 1950s signature. So many classic American names on the road here: Chevy, Plymouth, Buick, Ford, Oldsmobile.
The Malecon is Cuba’s seawall, which wraps along the coast for 8 km (from Old to Central Havana, and ending in Vedado). You’ll see locals hanging out on the stone wall at all hours, but the scene is most beautiful at sunset.
We ended the journey at The Hotel Nacional de Cuba. It’s a grand, historic hotel that was the favorite of 1930s American gangsters, famous crooners, and silver screen stars.
Inside, we looked at a display that celebrated National Hotel’s most famous guests, including Yuri Gagarin, the first human in outerspace (who met Castro in 1961, and was celebrated in Cuba). Such a cool spot to drink a Mojito and reflect on the old days.
I think these photos say it all… Urban Adventures’ vintage car tour is the sweetest way to explore the neighborhoods of Havana! More info here on how you can book a ride with them in an antique American convertible. (You can even put in a request for a specific car color.)
Asta and I loved our Urban Adventures tour so much that we did another the next day. We met guide Yanet for the Afro-Cuban religions tour, which let us explore Santeria and the local spirituality. As always, our experienced guide enabled us to get insider access to a subculture.
The journey takes place at Callejón de Hamel, a hub filled with alleyways of bright murals and sculptures. The artist, Salvador Gonzáles Escalona, began this project in 1990 to renew the surrounding neighborhood, and create a space for the Santeria community.
We admired the colorful paintings by Salvador, mixed in with works made from scrap objects like bathtubs, pinwheels and mechanical tools. The eclectic vibe reminded me of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens.
I wore a rainbow-witch outfit that day. You can find many of my clothes for sale here on Depop; contact me if I can send you anything from my personal wardrobe!
Our guide, Yanet, explained the installations and spoke about the roots of Santeria. This Afro-Cuban religion has origins in the native spirituality of Africa, and became syncretized with Catholicism during colonial times (when slaves were brought to the New World).
Cuba’s spiritual practices are a mix of local customs, folklore, and beliefs from various sources. Some people mistakenly associate Santeria with voodoo, but these two are very different (voudou is a syncretic religion practiced mainly in Haiti.)
Callejon de Hamel is free for anyone to visit. It’s hard to imagine that this once was a sketchy, desolate area: Salvador has transformed it into an inviting, positive space. You can often catch musicians and rumba dancers performing in these alleys.
Yanet taught us about the orishas, or gods of the Santeria pantheon. One of my favorites is Elegua (on the left), represented as a playful child or old man. Visitors leave Cuban cigars in his mouth to keep this trickster happy.
There’s also a god of war (Changó), goddess of love (Oshún), a mother figure (Yemayá), a hunter (Ochosi), healer (Babalú Ayé) and more.
Santeria translates to “worship of the saints,” as there is a creator god and a number of lesser deities. These orishas rule over various aspects of human nature and endeavor, and you can call upon them depending on your particular situation.
When the colonialists shipped Africans to the Caribbean to work as slaves, they also baptized them as Catholics and banned their tribal faiths. However, the Africans still worshiped their orishas in secret, by associating them with Christian saints like St. Christopher. Santeria therefore developed as a unique syncretism.
We met a babalawo, or priest. His role is to be a spiritual adviser, and help people in various ways — including by fortune-telling with the tossing of shells.
Urban Adventures has special permission to enter the home of Salvador (the artist) and his family. We got to see their personal shrines to the orishas, where they make offerings of food, and bow in a way that touches each elbow to the ground.
In Santeria, each practitioner is associated with one protector deity (which you determine through ritual and the advice of the babalawo). This family member’s orisha is Yemaya, the fierce mother of the seas — hence the blue decorations, shells, fish and other objects related to her.
These personal shrines stay with them their entire lives. When Iku (the deity of death) arrives, the babalawo consults the spirits to find out what to do with the objects (burn them, bury them, etc).
We loved learning about Cuban spirituality and culture up-close. If you simply walk through the streets of Old Havana, you’ll come across colorful aspects — like this costumed parade of stilt-walkers.
The colonial legacy is everywhere to be seen, especially in the dramatic architecture and tall doorways.
Havana is a safe city, and “chill” is the best word to describe the residents. You’ll see locals hanging out on doorsteps, and chatting with their neighbors.
Headwraps and bright clothing are a common sight.
I came across a fortune teller, clad in white and with strands of beads draped around her neck.
Havana is also associated with author Ernest Hemingway, who lived here from about 1940-60. Many tourists visit his favorite bars, La Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, where he drank daiquiris and mojitos. (I didn’t visit, as I was more interested in seeing the romantic gardens all around Havana.)
We ran into more street art by Yulier Rodriguez. His provocative, signature style is unmistakable.
How fitting to find a motorcycle, in front of this mural of Che Guevara! When he was a young medical student, Che rode 5000 miles through South America (as documented in his book “The Motorcycle Diaries.”) The journey opened his eyes, and stirred his dream of seeing a united Latin America.
On the right, we see “Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil” (Study, Work, Rifle), the motto of Cuba’s Communist Youth Union.
It was interesting to learn the Cuban point-of-view of historical events and figures. They highlighted achievements such as the excellent medical and educational system, which is open to all Cubans regardless of their income.
Without doubt, Havana is a city of music and color! Where else can you pay 2 CUC ($2) for a mojito, and enjoy an energetic rumba?
These silly boys welcomed us back to our casa particular, Prado Colonial. I’m all about supporting small local businesses, and staying with a casa is one of the easiest ways to do so. (More info and photos of our hotel here.)
Gracias Havana Urban Adventures for making my “greased lightning” goals a reality! If only I could take this classic auto home as a souvenir…
Have you been to Cuba? Planning a trip? Feel free to leave a comment if I can help you with travel tips, and I’ll gladly reply.