Living in Curitiba: The Goldilocks City

Living in Curitiba: The Weather

The people from Curitiba, Curitibanos, are like most people I have met in that they love to complain about the weather.  They are fond of lamenting the fact that there can be 4 seasons in each day because you must have clothes to cater for each of the seasons.  In the summer, half of the locals continually moan about the insufferable heat, and in the winter the other half just bang on about how cold they are.

The last couple of weeks have seen an upswing in these grumblings as the weather has changed from a pleasant Indian summer into a wet and cold autumn.  Not that I am complaining, though.

The Goldilocks City

I have written before about how the bi-polar weather here in Curitiba can be a problem when you have small kids, and this is mainly because the infrastructure in homes means it is often colder indoors than it is outdoors.

However, as far as the actual weather is concerned, I have come to the conclusion that Curitiba is blessed with what must be close to being the best weather in the world.

You see, when it’s hot it is rarely too hot.  I have lived in both Rio de Janeiro and Taipei and in both of those cities it can regularly hit 40, and then stay there for months.  In Curitiba if it gets to 35 it is unusual.  As well as needing less air conditioning, this has the advantage of keeping dengue away (for now).

And when it is cold, it is rarely too cold.  It can get down to zero for a few days, but never the -20 with snow from November to Easter that I experienced when I lived in Poland for a year.  The advantage of this is that you can wear something other than shorts every day of the week.

And ok, it can be grey and overcast a lot.  But not like London.  I spent one winter in London when I didn’t see the sun for about 4 months.  This was because I went to work on the underground in the morning and when I came home it was already dark.  On the weekends it was either wet, cloudy or I was in bed recovering from a particularly hard night.

When it is cloudy in London, it can be cloudy for months on end.  When it is hot in Rio, or freezing in Poland, it will be like that for a long time.  In Curitiba, in the midst of a freezing and wet winter, we can have the odd beautiful, warm day.  And when it’s been over 30 for a couple of weeks there is a good chance that the next few days will be wet and only in the 20’s.

We don’t get hurricanes or twisters.  We don’t have earthquakes or volcanoes.  We live far enough away from the sea, and high enough up the mountains to not be worried about Tsunamis or the rising seas due to global warming.

We get the odd storm which can result in some floods and sometimes a landslide, but nothing like other parts of Brazil.  The storms we get are proper storms with rain lashing down, bolts of lightning and claps of thunder.  Powerful, invigorating and amazing.

And so Curitiba is the Goldilocks city because it is never too hot and never too cold.  In fact, it is usually just about right.

Images

Goldilocks by Vlolscraper CC BY-NC 2.0

Old, modern and organic in Curitiba by Radamés Manasso CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Living in Curitiba: Garden Plans

 

Living in Curitiba

Finally, after what seems an interminable wait, we are in our new house.  Despite living in Brazil, the house we have bought could have been transplanted from a typical British terrace in any city in the UK.  The first thing that practically everyone who has visited has said is that it feels like a very English house.  Some people think it was my idea to buy this place, but it wasn’t; when my wife first saw it she fell in love with the place and had to convince me to make an offer.

When looking for a new place to live we looked at a lot of places, both flats and houses.  We were siding towards a couple of apartments because most houses we saw used up all of the space with the house and left nothing for a garden.  It seems to be very common for houses in Curitiba to take up all the land with the building and leave nothing for nature.  We asked ourselves what would be the point of having a house if you couldn’t have a garden.  You would get all of the downsides of a house without many of the positives of having an apartment.

This house, though, has two gardens: one at the front and a slightly larger one at the back. I say gardens, but in Britain they would probably be called ‘yards’ as they are pretty small.

We have small gardens, but I have big plans.

Living in Curitiba

It’s only grass at the moment, but give me time

I want to grow some vegetables and herbs in the garden.  The herbs will probably be in their own plant pots and placed on window sills, the tops of walls and even bolted onto the sides of walls.  I am in negotiations with my wife to taking over a part of the front garden to plant some vegetables like lettuce, leeks, carrots and what not.

I want to do this because I like the idea of cooking food that I have grown nd knowing it is all 100% organic.  I also like the idea of getting Mr T to help me and show him where food comes from and engage him in how plants grow.  I am under no illusions as I know there is a fairly good chance he won’t be interested at all, but at least I will have given him the opportunity.

My wife wants the garden to look nice.  She wants flowers and colour and smells and all that stuff.  I have no problem with this, but as space is limited we are going to have to think very carefully about how we manage both objectives.

One possibility that we have found so far involves using old pallets for a vertical garden.

There are also videos on youtube about using old plastic bottles to create vertical gardens.

What my wife and I do agree on is finding plants that naturally repel certain insects, like mosquitoes and other things that bite.  I get nasty reactions to certain types of insect bite, and it looks like my son has inherited that particular trait from me as well.  We’ve been told that Marigolds are good and Citronella are good for this, as is Catnip but I am not sure how easy it is to find Catnip here in Curitiba.  I’d love to grow some Catnip just for the idea of growing drugs for cats, but we’ll have to see.

Living in Curitiba: Garden

No room for a swimming pool.

I mentioned earlier that one of the reasons to plant stuff is to teach my son about the birds and the bees, so to speak.  He, of course, gets a lot of input into what we will end up growing and so far the one thing he wants is sunflowers.  I am very happy to plant these, but we will have to wait a few months as winter is coming.

What he really wants is a swimming pool.  I think a paddling pool might have to suffice.

Anyway, those are our tentative plans at the moment.  We are all really looking forwards to getting our garden going and I suppose ony time will tell if our plans come to fruition or not.

If anybody has any tips, links or general advice for how to make the most of limited space I would really appreciate any comments you might want to leave below.

22 Things You’ll Never Hear Somebody From Curitiba Say

Araucaria, a symbol of Curitiba

Araucaria pine tree, a symbol of Curitiba by Willian Menq CC BY-NC 2.0

1. What this city needs is another shopping mall.

2. This holiday weekend, what I’d really love to do is sit in a traffic jam for hours on end and then stay near the beach while it rains the whole weekend.

3. I’m so proud of how my city is preparing for the World Cup.

4. It’s ok, we won’t need a lift home after the party, we’ll just flag a taxi down on the street.

5. Didn’t we get the best games for the World Cup?  I mean Iran v Nigeria and Honduras v Ecuador!  I’m so excited.

6. Is it just me or is the traffic getting less and less every day?

7. Let’s go to Rua 24hs for a few beers and something to eat.

8.  With my central heating, double glazing and tight-fitting doors and windows I hardly ever notice how cold it can get.

9. I’m sure the new metro system will be ready next year.

10. We have the most successful football teams in the world.

11.  Curitiba International Airport is just so international.

The Oil Man, Curitiba

The Oil Man, another symbol of Curitiba

12. I just can’t find an Italian restaurant in this city.

13. One thing you can be sure of, everything on sale at the market in Largo do Ordem on Sunday mornings is pure top quality.

14. I always stand to one side on the escalator in case other people want to get past.

15. It’s my birthday, so come on down to that German bar in Largo do Ordem for a big night out.

16. Carnival in Rio and Sao Paulo has got nothing on Curitiba.

17. The parks in this city are totally overrated.

18. When I grow up I want to be just like the oil man.

19. It’s impossible to get a decent drink around here so I’ll just have Nova Schincariol

20. Only R$15 for the toll road down to the beach?

21. Bridges?  No thanks.  Sitting in my car for 20 minutes watching a train cross the road really chills me out.

22. I hate pine trees.

 

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Carnival in Curitiba: Zombie Walk

Ready for the Zombie Walk, Curitiba

Ready for the Zombie Walk

We don’t do carnival in Curitiba.

We have a couple of pre-carnival days a couple of weeks before the big holiday, but from the Friday before carnival the vast majority of people in this city escape to the beach, another city in Brazil that celebrates carnival or anywhere else at all.

The city is left to people who have to work, have no way of getting out or who just don’t like the idea of carnival.

There are a surprising number of Brazilians who actively dislike carnival.  A lot of them live in Curitiba.

The city is empty.  There is no traffic.  The restaurants that are open don’t have queues.  It is relaxing walking around the parks without the normal hordes.  It is almost like a ghost town.

Except the ghosts are zombies.

Because, while we don’t have samba and blocos, we do have a very alternative crowd left in the city.  The sort of people into psychobilly music, the living dead and motorbikes.  So they get together and have their own parade through the city. A parade of zombies.

A lot of people put a lot of effort into their costumes.  There are references to various films, songs and video games.  The creativity is astounding.

There are also people who just slap a bit of red make-up on at the last-minute.

They all get together in one part of the city and walk to another part where there is live music of the pstchobilly/heavy metal variety.  There are Hells Angels and families, lots of young people and the odd pensioner.

Funnily enough, there is hardly any police presence and, to my eyes at least, not a bit of bother.

So next year if you are in Brazil but don’t fancy the same old carnival routine, come down to Curitiba for a bit of peace and quiet and a lot of zombies.

We don’t do carnival in Curitiba.  We do the walking dead.

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Zombie Walk Curitiba Official Site

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Another alternative carnival

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6 Things Curitiba Gets Completely Wrong

Official seal of Curitiba

Curitiba’s coat of arms (Wikipedia)

Last week I sang the praises of my adopted city by looking at 7 things it gets completely right.  In the pursuit of balance, here are 6 things that Curitiba gets completely wrong.

1. Pavements

The pavements are a disgrace here.  You rarely see anyone walking, and this is at least partly because it is so bloody dangerous.  I have heard lots of stories about people falling over on loose paving stones or having to walk in the middle of the road because the pavements are taken up by parked cars.  You almost never see anyone in a wheelchair, or elderly people so I have no idea how isolated they must feel if they don’t have anyone to drive them around.

And when you do find a nice bit of pavement, somebody has probably parked their car on it.

2. Public Works 

All public works take forever.  If they tell you it is going to take a year, it will take at least two, maybe three.  And it is quite possible that it will never be finished.

Modern wheel barrow

All you need to build a coach station (Wikipedia)

The coach station is undergoing a huge refurbishment which was supposed to have been finished  in December 2012 (Source in Portuguese) but is now predicted to end in May 2014, if we are lucky.

I often go to the coach station with my son to look at all the coaches and it is amazing how few people I see working there.  That might be explicable if they were using lots of machinery, but, apart from a few tractors, everything is being done by hand and wheelbarrow.

Unfortunately, everything that was planned for the World Cup is either tragically late, will only be finished after the games are over, or have been cancelled all together.

3. Playgrounds

There are lots of parks around the city, but none of them have decent playgrounds for kids to play in.  If they have anything at all it will be a steel slide with jagged edges or a climbing frame in a sand-pit which also acts as the local toilet for all the wildlife in the area.  Dirty and dangerous.

Táxi

The Lesser-Spotted Curitibano taxi (AnaElisa)

4. Taxis

There just aren’t enough of them.  We have the same number of taxis today as we did in 1974, and in that time the city has tripled in size. (Source in Portuguese)

5. The Metro

There seems to be this idea that the only way Curitiba can be taken seriously as a major city is if they have a metro system.  This will cost billions, not produce any solutions to the traffic problems because it will only consist of one line and take far longer than necessary (see point 3 above).  If they took the same money and invested it in their already very good bus system they would really have something to crow about.

6. Electricity pylons

The local government or the electricity providers (each one blames the other as far as I can tell) refuses to put the city’s electricity cables under the ground.  Instead, we have all the electricity running on pylons above the streets.

This makes the city look ugly, but worse than this is that every time we have a storm the cables fall down and we get power cuts.  Towards the end of 2013 we had 4 afternoon storms which lasted between 10 and 40 minutes.  Each one resulted in a power cut that lasted a minimum of 4 hours.  It particularly irked me because I had deadlines looming and no computer or internet.

There’s probably plenty of other stuff as well, after all every city is crap at something.  These are the ones that attract my ire, but if you know Curitiba and can think of any others, just leave a comment below.

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7 Things Curitiba Gets Completely Right

English: Flag of municipality of Curitiba, cap...

Curitiba’s flag kind of reminds me of another one I know well. (Wikipedia)

I have been living in Curitiba for a while now and, while it might not be the best city in the world it certainly has a lot going for it.  Here are 7 things that I think Curitiba gets completely (or at least mostly) right.

And in the interested of balance, here is a post called ‘6 Things Curitiba Gets Completely Wrong‘.

1. Recycling

The numbers vary, but it seems that around 80% of the waste produced in Curitiba is recycled.  This is an extremely high number and one that should make most other cities in the world blush in disgrace.

Edit: Since posting this it has been pointed out to me that the figure is 80% of collected waste is recycled, not 80% of produced waste.  This is still an impressive figure, but it does make a difference.

2. Public Transport

Ok, so it isn’t completely right.  There are problems with the public transport system in Curitiba, but in relation to everywhere else I have been to in South America it is pretty bloody good.

3. The Weather

English: Winter skyline in Curitiba.

Winter skyline in Curitiba. (Wikipedia)

We have seasons.  We get summer and winter. Sometimes in the same day, but at least it isn’t always baking hot or always pissing down with rain.  I lived in the UK where it always seemed to rain, and in Rio where it was always hot.  Curitiba seems to strike a nice balance between the two.

4. Cold People

They come in for a lot of stick from the rest of Brazil because they are cold or snobbish.  They don’t talk to you on the bus and if you are in the lift with them they all get their phones out and stare at them as if they have something really important that they simply must look at right now.  They don’t, it is just a good excuse not to have to look at the other person in the lift and start a conversation.  Anything beyond how are you is a deep and meaningful conversation.  For me, this is great.

5. Beer

There are now lots of places to buy decent beer.  It might be expensive but we have the option.  There are also a number of small artisan or micro breweries popping up all the time.  Thank god we don’t have to always drink Skol or Antartica anymore; it would be enough to drive a man to sobriety, or pinga.

6. Food

The Italian food here is amazing, due to lots of Italian immigrants.  But we also have some excellent Arabian food, German food and quite a few other types.  We even have quite a good Indian restaurant now.  The variety is here, as is the quality and it is usually affordable.  (One proviso, please stay away from Santa Felicidade.  All the tourists go there to eat because it was an Italian neighbourhood, but in my experience the food is over-priced plastic rubbish).

Greenhouses at night in the Botanical Garden o...

Greenhouse at night in the Botanical Garden (Wikipedia)

7. Parks

There are lots of big parks all around Curitiba.  Curitiba is a strange big Brazilian city because it doesn’t have a beach, so these parks are our beaches.  They are also, more often than not, used as flood plains so that when it rains all the water has somewhere to go.

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Ilha do Mel: Curitiba’s Best Beach

Alfredo Andersen - Ilha do Mel

Alfredo Andersen – Ilha do Mel (Wikipedia)

Ok, so it isn’t really Curitiba’s best beach, but that is because Curitiba doesn’t have any beaches seeing as how it is up on a plateau about 1, 000m above sea level.  However, in about an hour’s drive you can be at the beach (assuming you aren’t trying to drive there on a holiday, when it can take 3 times as long) and they all have one thing in common: they are crap.

They are all long and flat without any real charm to them.  The sand is usually packed down so that walking on the beach is like walking on soft concrete.  The water is often dirty, and usually cold and the currents can be very strong.

There is, however, one exception to all of this.

Ilha do Mel (Honey Island) is an island about a 30 minute ferry-boat ride away or an hour and a half from Paranagua.  Most of the island is a nature reserve and the numbers of visitors are restricted to about 4,000.  As soon as you get off the ferry, if not before, all your stress disappears because the way of life here is a lot more relaxed.  The reason for this is, I think, the fact that there are no cars here so everything goes a lot slower.

On the east cost of the island, which faces the Atlantic, the wind is strong and the waves are usually very big.  I’ve been told that this is the best surfing in Paraná although, as a non-surfer, I couldn’t tell if this is true or not.

On the west, more sheltered, side there is practically no current and the waves are very gentle, making it perfect for families.  The view is somewhat spoiled by the huge ships coming into port, but you can ignore them after a few caipirinhas from the beach front bar.

You can walk up a few hills or just lounge around in a bar or on the beach.  There is music in a few places, but never too loud to piss anyone off.  There are boat trips around the island, or to go and find some dolphins.

It almost has everything.

The only thing that is missing is a doctor, so that when your 2-year-old son dislocates his elbow all you can do is beat a hasty retreat back to the mainland.

And that’s when the stress really hits you.

Further Reading

I am still reading ‘The Magus’ by John Fowles.  As it is such a long book, and I have so little time I think I am going to be reading it for a while yet.  It has become very complex but the writing is excellent and keeping my interest up.