What can you say about BH, a city of 2.5 million inhabitants, but still with the friendliness of a small town. Strangers still greet each other on the street, and everyone is always willing to help you out. Very different from the first impression we had, when we arrived and saw those huge highways, viaducts and heavy, aggressive traffic (Friday 5:30pm, at rush hour). It reminded me of São Paulo again. Belo Horizonte has everything a big city can offer but with a homemade flavour. Slower and warmer, it makes you feel at ease.
Our place to stay in BH could not have been better. For the first time on the trip we stayed with a couchsurfing host, in the Santa Teresa neighbourhood. Oliver, from São Paulo, but
who’s lived in BH almost 20 years, and now with all the quirks of a local too! A cool, relaxed and open guy to help us with everything. He gave us a city map, explained everything about BH, where to go, eat, see art and have a drink. When he finished telling us all this, we were sure that three days would not be enough to see this amazing city – even though after all we ended up staying two more days. Thank you for your welcome Oliver, you were great!
As I am crazy about markets, our first stop was to visit the city’s Central Market. We went for lunch, but before we had any food inside us, we were already in dangerous territory, surrounded by cachaça shops! The millions of free samples, with flavours of coconut, passion fruit, corn, are a risky proposition on an empty stomach! Ok. Time to stop! Let’s eat something. So we went to the food section – organised chaos. Everyone is standing, laughing, eating and drinking. It takes a while for you to start to understand the system here, but after a few minutes you’ll be on the balcony with a beer in your hand, screaming your request to the chef. Crazy! Too good!
In the market here you can find everything- animals, chickens, parakeets, rabbits, dogs, cats… The best wines, the best cheese from all over Minas, anything to fix your house or in your kitchen. And the best cachaças, of course. It was an amazing experience, I would go back there today to do it all again.
We also visited the Municipal Park, right in the centre, well tended and full of tall trees. A good place to escape the sun and the busy urban streets. We drank some fresh coconut water, and watched the rowing boats paddling backwards in the lake. We hadn’t the heart to tell them they were doing it wrong. Maybe it’s a just a Mineiro thing?
Pampulha, a very special spot. Another project by Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil’s most famous architect. Maybe not the best… but certainly the best known internationally. This was his work from the early 1940’s – they say it was a test-run for his later work in Brasilía. Here, too, he was invited in by Kubitschek, who was at that time the mayor of Belo Horizonte.
We rented bikes and did the 19km route, around the artificial Pampulha lagoon. It’s beautiful! At each of the main buildings we stopped to learn a little more of the architecture of this master. Entry into almost all the buildings is free. The most famous is the Church of Pampulha (the only one that isn’t free entry!), a very unusual style for the 1940’s, a unique arched construction with a famous tiled facade. It fits surprisingly well with the surrounding landscape.
We also saw JK’s weekend house, the Art Museum (originally a casino) and the Ball House. All very modernist, many curves and of course, lots of concrete. One of Brazilian architecture’s marks from the 40’s and 50’s, and one of Niemeyer’s signatures.
The Art Museum held an exhibition of street art and graffiti. The often anti-establishment street art, shown in a stark modernist building is quite a contrast. I can already imagine all of these buildings with their plain concrete curves, instead covered in huge and colourful murals. Could be very interesting? Another feature worth seeing (and hearing!) in the museum is the auditorium, the acoustics are perfect. If you stand in the middle of the hall, and talk or make any sound will listen to spread for a few seconds, it’s amazing! It’s worth going Pampulha just to play with this acoustic. You’ll be impressed!
Out in the city in the evening, we couldn’t miss trying a few local bars. The Santa Teresa neighbourhood has a famous reputation, very well deserved it seems. Always with a cold beer, a hot cachaça, or some hot snack to try. And not to mention the friendliness of the people, always smiling and making conversation. Very good indeed! One in particular stood out – from the outside it looked like nothing at all, a metal shutter and some colourful plastic chairs. Totally normal. Inside, really cheap cold beer, and to our astonishment several radio-controlled drones and adult toys, nothing sexual! Old tape players, helicopters, games consoles and drones …. Something very different for a local bar, the barmaid told us it was all part of her husband’s collection. That’s just his hobby. A very different mix!
One of the nights we met André, a childhood friend who is now living and studying in BH. Focused hard on his studies and job hunting right now. He is working on a masters in sports psychology, talking to him we found an area entirely new to us. Fascinating and unexpected. Working with athletes pushing their performance to the limit, and getting even more out of them.
After almost a week in Belo Horizonte, we have to hit the road. Next stop, Inhotim, my birthday present, and one of the largest open-air museums in Brazil.
All the details of this amazing tour in the next post …
Bike Rental at Pampulha: R$10 / €2.50 per hour