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São Paulo and I were together for two years. She was high-maintenance from the start; this, I knew going in. She would order the most expensive thing on the menu, sometimes flirt with other guys, and make me pay dearly whenever I didn’t call at the exact time I said I would. She knew her worth and she played with my heart, but I knew deep down, she loved me: when we were in sync, when our energies mixed and we danced and played and reveled in each others’ company, we knew we had a good thing going. I won’t lie; the sex was volcanic. And be it in her brand new Mustang or her little red Corvette, we rode fast and wild, and I would always end up broke, spent, and sprung – she was The One.

But I couldn’t afford her and, one day, she let me go. And I was bitter for a while, heartbroken and rejected.

The next time we saw each other, a few weeks later, she welcomed me back to dance and play and revel. Over a cafezinho at Bella Paulista one Sunday morning, she looked at me and admitted that every once in a while, she envied what Berlin and I have because we were marrying for love. But in the very next moment, when I asked her to marry me, she just stared out the window and said nothing.

I paid for our coffees and we walked out into the bright sun, our feet hurting from the previous night’s debauchery and still a little lightheaded from the party favors. She kissed me deeply and passionately before getting into her car with a tchau, disconnecting and leaving me with only three reais to catch the bus home.

I see her less frequently these days, though our rendezvous are no less intense. Neither one of us has brought up the m-word again, especially since we’re each married to someone else.

But what if…?

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My friend and São Paulo-native Rodrigo Pitta loves that damn place so much, he’s filmed three music videos in his hometown. Here’s the newest. I’m already booking my flight back down to see her.

As evidenced by the Dutch-built Stadthuys, the over 230-year-old Hindu temple, and the Chinese-inflected Kampung Kling Mosque, Malaysia’s multicultural colonial port of Malacca has been fought over and ruled by a succession of Asian and European powers since it was first established over 600 years ago. Offering safe harbor during the ferocious monsoon season for trading ships threading between China and India—a virtual crossroads of the world—the city pulled in abundant riches and a pallet of cultures.

Tossed like a hot potato between the Malays, the Javanese, the Vietnamese, the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the English, Malacca is home to architecture, food, religion, music, and other traditions that reflect the various flags flown over the city, and which influence the dominant cultures (Malay, Chinese, Indian, mixes of the three) that populate it today. Malacca’s tangled history and relaxed, Caribbean-like atmosphere make it a popular stop on the backpacker trail, but there are still a few secluded corners that occasionally go tourist-free. Here are a few of Malacca’s beauty spots.

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The first thing you notice about Switzerland’s largest city – Zurich – is that, by comparison, every other city in the world looks worn-down and raggedy. The whole place smacks of affluence, from the clean comfort of the airport to the understated high-end street fashion (even old people rocked dark denim and leather jackets by somebody famous). In Zurich, they riyotch, beyotch.

Early industrialization and the development of banking services (a business not exactly pure as Alpine snow) helped the Swiss obtain one of the highest per capita standards of living in the world. Food and clothing in Zurich aren’t necessarily the cheapest, but public services and infrastructure are top-notch. I flew into a world-class airport on a world-class airline, hopped a train to the main station, where I met up with my CouchSurfing host (Björn – Swedish name, Swiss dude) for some lunch-time Thai, then took a sleek and efficient tram to within a block of his apartment.

Great Domes of Zurich

I rested a bit from the 12-hour flight until Björn got home from work and we hit the streets of Zurich just as the sun dipped behind the Alps to the west. We walked around the old town, and I marveled at how multicultural the place actually is (I encountered Brazilians, Eritreans, Sri Lankans…), in spite of murmurings about Swiss xenophobia. It was strangely comforting to be in a place surrounded so completely by mountains; I’d lived in Bogotá, which sits on a high plateau surrounded by the Andes, but with 8 million people, comforting is the last word I’d use to describe the Colombian capital.

Skyline at sunset.

Conversation took us past 900-year-old churches and 21st century electronics stores, then down towards Lake Zurich where we hopped aboard one of the water shuttles that augment the city’s transportation options.

Lake Zurrk

According to Björn, the whole city is walkable in about 45 minutes, and we seemed to be testing out that assessment. Finally, as the temperature dropped into the upper-40s, Björn broke out the fondue set and we had some traditional Swiss potatoes and cheese for dinner. So much for my no-carb vacation.

Downtown shopping alley. Expensive.

The next day? Cold, gray, and rainy: perfect weather for a museum visit! The castle-like Swiss National Museum – Landesmuseum Zürich in German – chronicles the history of Switzerland from the Stone Age to modern times, even mentioning the Swiss role as financiers of the slave trade (no pics allowed). I’m always shocked in European museums by the amount of guts and gore that appears in depictions of Christianity: severed heads and people nailed to crosses and whatnot. Victory over violence, my brethren! I was also mildly chided by the old lady taking tickets at the entrance to the museum’s World Wildlife Federation exhibition because, as an American, I’m in some way responsible for America’s lax environmental policies. I just let her talk, responding every now and then with a “Yes, ma’am.”

Landesmuseum Zürich, where they filmed ‘The Haunting.’

Then, I shivered over to the nearby Museum of Design Zurich, mostly because I was sans-umbrella, and caught the temporary exhibition on skyscrapers (my favorite type of building). Photos, blueprints, and scale models of structures in major cities comprised the exhibition, and I took the opportunity to draw São Paulo’s Copan building in the guest book, since other people had drawn buildings in the guest book.

I took this picture on the low-low.

Soon, it was time to grab my onward flight to Berlin, departing from Zurich Airport’s über-chic “low-cost” terminal.

The hoodrat section of Zurich Airport.

Björn, thanks a lot for the Alpine hospitality! Zurich, you are small but sophisticated and your people are worldly and affable. I will be back!

Zurich’s got “something for every taste.”

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The other day, a friend asked me where I’d like to go next, now that I’ve got 30 countries under my belt. There’s still much of the world to see, aside from some of my favorite places that consistently call me back. Many places still incite visions of adventure whenever I see their names on a map, and here are a scant few (in alphabetical order):

Angola (above)

One of the homes of world-famous Brazilian martial art – capoeira – and one of the most expensive countries on the planet, it’s the culture of Angola that interests me. I’ve heard that it’s very similar to northeastern Brazil, but with a particular musical swagger all its own.

Australia

Packing for Perth. Image by TSM Photography.

I’ve yet to make it Down Under, and though Sydney is definitely on the itinerary, I’m also trying to hit Melbourne (artsy, bohemian, so I’m told), Queensland (tropical beaches, tropical beaches, tropical beaches), and Perth (just cuz).

Greenland

Titanic, she ain’t. Image by TobyAdamson.co.uk.

Greenland just looks cool as hell. Icebergs, li’l tiny villages at the edge of the sea, ludicrously-large landforms…as a native Floridian who travels mostly in the tropics, I’ve never seen anything like it! Well, I’ve flown over it and was duly impressed.

Libya

Roman ruins in Libya. Image by meena me.

Yes, there’s unrest going on in Libya right now, but unfortunately, unrest is a part of life. That still doesn’t stop me from thinking about trekking up to some of the best-preserved Roman ruins still in existence, called Leptis Magna. I hope to get there before they become – wait for it – ruined by mass tourism.

Papua New Guinea

Li’l Man in PNG. Image by carteretislands.

Not only does PNG, officially the only country in Oceania that borders an Asian country, offer up an interesting local culture and is off the radar of most travelers, it’s also got the Carteret Islands, which are in the process of inundation due to global warming. And, somehow, it’s got black folks. There’s something they’re not telling us (raises eyebrow).

Where do you want to go?

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Top image: Luanda at dusk by Mondo123.

Back in 2009, I took a three-month round-the-world trip to a planned five continents, and with the help of Fly Mother and some Zip-Lock bags, I was able to squeeze an adequate amount of clean underwear and other necessities into two very light-weight carry-ons. Observe:

That would be: One dress shirt and a pair of khakis, some jeans, 6 pair of draws, four pair of socks, 3 white tees, swim trunks, gym shorts, four short-sleeve t-shirts, two long-sleeve tees, and a pair of size-13 loafers.











Ta-Da!

Gracias, Mamita!

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I’m participating in Vai Via’s 15 Day International Travel Challenge, but doubling-up, as I’m not a daily blog poster. So…

Day 06 – What does “home” mean to you?
Of course “home” will mean wherever my family is, but I consider my circle of good friends as family as well, so there’s no geographic limit to “home” for me anymore. There’s also the feeling of belonging to a place, of walking down the street and being claimed by that place. For the moment, that place is São Paulo.

Day 07 – Besides people, what did/do you miss from home?
Barbecues, driving through cities at dusk with the perfect music for each place, cheap domestic airfares, cheap everything.

Day 08 – A favorite food from another country/culture
Mangú (mashed plantains) from the Dominican Republic. Yum! And a nice, flavorful chai from India (though they sell that at Starbucks here).

Image credit: razc

Sometimes, I stumble upon photographs and other memorabilia that draws me in, reminding me of the transitory nature of culture and of travel itself. Often, what attracts us to a place isn’t the place by itself, but the place at a specific time. Timing is everything, after all. The 1970s were Venezuela’s time. With the country’s second major oil boom, money and people flowed into the capital city, Caracas, sometimes faster than the speed of sound. Air France, in fact, ran the Concorde once a week to Caracas from Paris. Wonder what kind of party favors they had floating around the cabin?

Here are a few shots of the city in the ’70s, when caraqueños rocked curly ‘fros and bell-bottoms, punching down the expressway (or stuck in traffic) in Mustangs and Camaros, Oscar d’León and Rubén Blades eight-tracks plugged into the stereo.

Image source: razc

Now, this is music:

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In October, the air in Warsaw is cold.  Broad concrete sidewalks and large, drab Soviet-era constructions refract that chill, always present in spite of waning autumn sunshine.  But there is color that warms the streets in bursts: the golden, meaty glow of 24-hour Turkish doner kebab stands; the fluorescent charge of rooftop corporate logos that read Marriott, Orange, and Marks & Spencer; the multi-hued hum of nightclub signs hawking boobs and booze.  This weekend, with nighttime temperatures in the lower 40s, I was tempted to drop by one of these clubs for a little post-Cold War action and see how the Poles party.  With the Polish economy on fire and a future as bright as the Coca-Cola sign overlooking downtown, Warsaw is already overcoming its woeful history with vigor and style.

Warsaw’s story is a tragic one, full of conquest and destruction: after rounding up the Jews into Europe’s largest ghetto, the goddamned Nazis razed 80% of the city in quashing an uprising of the oppressed Poles, with over two million killed under Hitler’s grand plan for the virtual eradication of Poland and its people.  Once solidly under Soviet influence, the Russians imposed on the city Europe’s then-tallest building, the 757-foot-high Palace of Culture and Science, an ornate but foreboding skyscraper that reigned in solitude over the Polish capital for three decades. But sleek, modern towers in blue-tinted glass and corporate marquis now vie for air supremacy and a colorful, completely rebuilt Old City vibrantly outshines the functional but dour residential and office blocks built during the Cold War.  Almost no flat surface is spared from advertising pasteboard, not even the Palace of Culture and Science itself, as Warsaw proudly asserts her devotion to capitalism.

A brief weekend in the city certainly isn’t enough time to get to know the people, but I found the Poles to be polite (my presence elicited a few looks of interest, but hardly any stares in an overwhelmingly white—pale—city) and quiet, but helpful when asked and generally very fluent in English, which was good since I didn’t understand a word of Polish.  Not a word. A trip to a party or two gave a glimpse of Polish rhythm (they kept up pretty good with Rihanna) and the women are attractive and stylish (read: hot), high-heeled boots being the ladies’ footwear of choice.  Clothes, I found to be inexpensive.  Food, not so much.  I did, however, snag a 50-euro-a-night rate at the four-star Mercure Warszawa Grand via Momondo.com only two nights before the trip (no, they did not pay me to say that).

As Poland marches toward further integration with the European Union—they still use the złoty, not the Euro—prices will go up, but so too will the number of visitors, who come to experience this accessible bit of the former Communist Bloc (or, literally, Warsaw Pact), or to take in a bit of history about Nazi occupation and Polish resistance or research composer and favorite son Fryderyk Chopin at the city’s inexpensive but excellent museums.  Warsaw will also lose a bit of its Wild West feel, that air of anything-goes recklessness and conspicuous consumption that accompanies the first throes of unbridled capitalism in a society that hasn’t had it for very long; now is the time to go, before Starbucks, KFC, and Subway complete their conquest.

Meanwhile, even the city’s youngins are staking their claim on the de facto anthem of worldwide youth culture, hip hop (I mean, we don’t really break dance no mo’, but we applaud the effort).

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