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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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.

My Little Part of Curitiba

I live in the city of Curitiba in the state of Paraná in the south of Brazil.  It is a relatively prosperous city and also quite organised.  In the last 30 years the city has expanded at a phenomenal rate which initially saw the city expanding geographically.  In recent years it has reached the limits of this expansion and so more and more new high-rise buildings are going up in the centre of the city, often at the expense of old, traditional buildings.

These photos have been put together as part of the Mulitcultural Kids Blog project called ‘Your Neighbourhood Around the World.’

A View from the Balcony

Paraná Football Club stadium and Mercado Municipal in Curitiba.

Paraná Football Club stadium and Mercado Municipal in Curitiba.

I live on the 19th floor of a building at the edge of the city centre.  This photo looks out to the front and left of my building where you can see in the background the football ground for Paraná FC.  This is the third biggest team in the city and for the last few years they have been languishing in the second division.  At the moment they are in 4th place and hoping to win promotion back to the top league.

Just in front of the football stadium you can see the coach station which is currently undergoing a refurbishment which will hopefully be ready in time for the world cup.

In the foreground you can Mercado Municipal, or the City Market.  This is the best place to go for fresh fruit and vegetables.  Also, if you want some special ingredients or a really good bottle of wine you’ll find it here.  It started out as a small market in the white building on the left but has since expanded to take up much of the block.  Earlier in the year they opened to latest extension which you can see as the glass fronted building to the left.

Building Site in Curitiba, Brazil.

Building Site in Curitiba, Brazil.

In recent years Curitiba has resembled a building site as the country has experienced a boom.  This photo looks straight out of the front of our flat and you can see what will be the tallest building in Curitiba when it is finished some time in 2015.  It is difficult to see, but just behind this building is the football stadium for Atlético Paranaense where they will be holding games for the World Cup, assuming it is finished in time.

Looking Down on Curitiba

Looking Down on Curitiba

And this is the view straight down from our balcony.  You can see a play area with a football pitch and basket ball court as well as the other buildings.

Mountains

Serra do Mar, Curitiba

Serra do Mar, Curitiba

This is the view from our building.  You can see another building going up as well as the mountains in the background.  They are partially hidden by the clouds but when the sun is out they are pretty amazing.  Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve seen them for the last 10 days due to the cloud cover.  On the other side of these mountains is the beach, so most Curitibanos know them very well.

A Very Long Road

Rua Viscond de Guarapuava, Curitiba

Rua Visconde de Guarapuava, Curitiba

Apart from a few neighbourhoods, Curitiba is based on a grid system.  This is one of the main roads in the city and is usually jammed with traffic.

School

This is my son’s pre-school.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but they inside it is pretty cool.  This is a common feature of buildings in Curitiba in that they often look quite bland from the street, but once inside they come alive.

A pre-school in Curitiba

A pre-school in Curitiba

Play Areas

A play area in Curitba

A play area in Curitiba

We have lots of parks in Curitiba, but very little in the way of swings and slides and other stuff you usually get in parks for kids.  This is a little space near my flat that has a public football pitch/basketball court.

Trees

Parana Pine

Parana Pine

Curitiba is famous for its pine trees, known as the Araucaria or Paraná Pine.  These trees are at the back of my flat and to be honest they aren’t very good specimens.  When you get a proper old tree they are very impressive.

A Traditional Building

An older building in Curitiba

An older building in Curitiba

In this photo you can see an older, more traditional style of house.  Most of them have now disappeared to be replaced with high-rise buildings.  The graffiti on the walls next to the house is in front of vacant land.  I have the feeling that pretty soon the vacant land and this old house will be built on.

Public Transport

A dedicated road just for big orange busses in Curitiba

A dedicated road just for big orange busses in Curitiba

A big orange Curitibano bus

A big orange Curitibano bus

Meet any Curitibano and it won’t take long for them to tell you about their transport system.  Apparently they invented the bi-articulated bus, and although I can’t find any evidence for that they certainly have a very extensive system of dedicated roads just for busses and emergency transport.

The Market

This is the market that was in the photo from my balcony, but this time from street level.  You can see the old part and the new part more clearly here.

Mercado Municipal, Curitiba, from street level

Mercado Municipal, Curitiba, from street level

Curitiba and its Bipolar Weather

A picture of a Snow Crystal taken by Wilson Be...

Could have been taken in Brazil (Wikipedia)

It was cold here in Curitiba a couple of weeks ago.  And I mean really cold.  On one night it got down to -3!  And it snowed!  That’s how cold it was.  It hasn’t snowed here since 1975.  Ok, if you blinked it would have missed it because it lasted about 5 minutes and didn’t settle at all.  And it was probably more sleet than snow.  But still…it snowed!

Usually I can tease my friends a family back home because even in the winter we often have better weather than the UK.  This time though Britain was experiencing a heatwave while we had our most extreme cold snap in a generation.

This city, despite being the coldest state capital in Brazil, this city is not prepared for the cold.  There are a lot of homeless people who were in danger during the cold snap and this lead to the local council opening up their shelters for the homeless and their dogs.  Usually, dogs are not allowed in which means that lots of people decide to stay out on the streets, but it was so cold the rules had to be relaxed.  It was sold in the press by more than one person as a way to save dogs rather than people, which kind of tells you a lot.

Sakura

A little bit of Japan in Curitiba (RadamesM)

Individual Curitibanos rallied around to donate warm clothes to the homeless.  This was mainly done through the council and charitable organisations, but I also saw one tree in Praça do Japão with some hooks nailed into it and clothes left on the hooks.  Under the hooks was a sign inviting homeless people to take whatever clothes they wanted to help them keep warm.

At times it was even colder inside houses than outside.  There are very few homes with insulation, and even fewer with double glazing.  The windows that we do have are usually fitted badly so that there is always a draft, and this is amplified by doors with a one inch gap under them.  With no central heating we have to turn to either space heaters or lots and lots of blankets.

This can be a problem for parents with young children.  After a story and a bath you tuck your two-year-old up in bed with an extra duvet to keep him warm.  When you look in on him 20 minutes later you see that he has thrown all of the blankets and sheets off and his almost shivering in the cold.  This is even worse if he refuses to wear the warm pyjamas you bought him.  Fortunately, my wife found a great solution the last time we were back in the UK: blankets with zips so that they can’t be thrown off.

As so often with the best ideas, this one was blindingly obvious as soon as somebody else told me about it.  It really seems to have worked as Mr. T was much warmer this year than last and doesn’t seem to have suffered from the same amount of coughs and colds.

Of course this week we have the opposite problem.  7 days after half freezing to death the city was enjoying a mini-heatwave with temperatures approaching 30 degrees in the day.  It has been a case of needing sunglasses and sun cream rather than hats and scarves.